Thursday, 18 October 2018
Matters of Public Importance
Rural and Regional Australia
I think I'm the only dairy farmer from a rural and regional area in this chamber. I'm very, very proud to represent my part of the world, and I'm very proud of being an actual, active dairy farmer. For those opposite: to understand rural and regional Australia, how about you walk a mile in my shoes as a dairy farmer for a start, before you start making comments about what leadership really is?
I want to talk about how proud I am of what we've done as a government in this space. But first I will take you back to look at the simple things that matter most and to look at something that the previous government did. One of the first things that the then Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, did as part of the Labor government was to make significant changes to youth allowance. Any genuine rural and regional member in this place understands how important access to youth allowance and support is for young people who have no choice but to leave their small rural and regional community to go away to study. But the Labor government at the time made significant changes to youth allowance, which meant that young people in my part of the world could not get youth allowance at all. Labor deemed them to be in an 'inner regional' area, and, if you were in an 'inner regional' area, you weren't allowed to go to university—you weren't allowed to get independent youth allowance; you weren't allowed to go and have the same opportunities as someone in a city environment.
The then Labor government made changes to youth allowance to the point where young people were desperate. There were hundreds of young people and their families who came to me. I moved a private member's motion on it and took a consistent approach, a persistent approach, to what Labor did. Frequently, in the supermarket, a mum and a dad or a family would come up to me to say, 'Do you understand just what this is doing to our children and the future of children in rural and regional Australia?'
When you talk about leadership, why not talk about the leaders of the future and their education? But Labor made a major change to youth allowance which actually stopped young people from my part of the world going on to university. I had a mum who said to me, 'I've actually got five kids, and they are great kids; the five of them want to be GPs, but I can only afford to send one to university under these new rules.' How do you think she felt about that? But Labor didn't care about that at all. Labor did not care about the opportunities for rural and regional students.
The members sitting opposite were not here at that time and did not see what it did to rural and regional students. It was absolutely horrendous, and you should hang your heads in shame over that, because it took a private member's motion in here to start to bring the then Labor government to its senses. It was okay to say that young people in rural and regional areas weren't able to access youth allowance! Obviously, you in rural and regional areas don't understand how critical this is.
We've made significant changes that have allowed increased numbers of young people to actually pursue their dreams and go on to university and then to come back to rural and regional areas in time. And I'm very proud of that.
But the damage was done. There were young people who actually changed plans, who said to me: 'I'm not even saying to my mum or dad—or my teachers—that I actually want to go on to university, because I know they can't afford it. So I'm taking another pathway and going into work.' They were the decisions that they made—life-changing decisions. That is what leadership is actually about in here: it's about making good decisions about young people, especially about their education.
I also want to talk briefly about our investment in mobile blackspot towers. When an anaesthetist who lives in Ferguson Valley had to park his car on a hill to be able to get calls, when he was on call, from the local hospital, you know there's a problem. But of course Labor didn't invest one dollar in mobile blackspots. And we have. When I look at the difference that that has made, right around my electorate, to that anaesthetist and then to the health care that's being provided to people in my electorate, I am very, very proud of this program. But I have no doubt that this was not a program that was supported by Labor then, and, if you're talking about regional leadership, this is a core part of it.