House debates

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Governor General's Speech

Address-in-Reply

10:51 am

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | Hansard source

While the member for Chifley is here, may I make some gracious comments congratulating him on his address-in-reply. It's no coincidence that much of what the member for Chifley focused on I actually said in this chamber yesterday, and today, when I speak, I will focus on infrastructure and echo many of his sentiments. We share a common border, but also a number of common life experiences, representing people in Western Sydney and in north-west Sydney who are undergoing a time of great change not only in terms of population growth but also in the diversity of the areas we represent. We represent some people who are doing it very tough, and they have done it tough intergenerationally, just as the member for Werriwa would know. It is certainly the mission of Labor to ensure that those people in our community are given every chance to succeed.

When you look at it on paper, both the member for Chifley and I probably shouldn't have succeeded. We are first-generation Australians and the first in our families to go to university. To make it here to represent the local area that we grew up in is an absolute privilege, which is why I think I can safely say, on his behalf as well, we are both so committed to doing everything we can to improve those three words 'quality of life' for the people whom we represent. I congratulate the member for Chifley on his re-election, and my very good friend the member for Werriwa on her re-election as well.

I've had the privilege of serving my community in this place since 2010, and I'm very lucky to belong to a community of kind, decent, hardworking people who just want the very best for themselves and their families and, as I said, their quality of life to be sustained. They don't often ask for much. Sometimes they ask for nothing at all, other than acknowledgement. I spoke here the other day about the sandwich generation, those people around my age, many of whom are women, who are looking after elderly parents often with degenerative diseases, and raising their own children. Their issues are complex. As I said, they're not often asking for much, but they are asking for recognition. At a macro level, the question, 'What can government do to help them?' should be the same on everyone's lips in this place.

I want to thank everyone who supported me and reassure the people of Greenway that I will fight my very best each and every day that I'm a member here to represent their interests and to often stand up for them and take positions that might be unpopular with others but would be the right decisions to make. I want to particularly thank all those community groups, all those people from very diverse backgrounds. I was so lucky on election night when I thanked the people in that room at the Blacktown RSL. I looked around and I saw a microcosm of Australia, people from all walks of life, so many different nationalities, and people whom I knew from sporting groups to mothers' groups. I want to thank each and every one of them for helping me not only during the election campaign but over the previous three years. I do want to single out, because I don't get to do it very often, my family. As the member for Werriwa would know, it is impossible to do this job without the support of your family. In my case, having daughters aged seven and two, I am so lucky to have a husband who has supported me in everything that I've done. They say sometimes it's a great lottery to see what kind of family you get. Well, I hit the jackpot. I married into a family who have supported me in everything I've done. I want to particular thank my in-laws Sue and Sam Chaaya; my brothers-in-law, Charlie and George; my sisters-in-law, Myrna and Sandra; my beautiful daughters, Octavia and Aurelia, who have to cope with me being away in Canberra—and for my shadow ministerial duties—and who didn't get to see very much of me over the election campaign. For both of them the only life they've ever known is their mum being a member of parliament. I lastly want to single out my husband, Michael, who is a partner in a national law firm, and holds the fort day in, day out. He does it without a single word of complaint. So, thank you, Michael, for everything that you've done to support me in my chosen profession.

I look forward to spending the rest of this term standing up for the people of Greenway and fighting for their interests. And it's in this vein that I turn my attention to the issues of infrastructure, both what we commonly call hard and soft infrastructure. That is probably the number one issue, as I'm sure it is also for the member for Werriwa, when you represent a growth area of—south-west Sydney in her case. Those of us in this place who represent outer metro electorates are very familiar with the exponential growth occurring in our capital cities. In my own electorate of Greenway the paddocks around Riverstone and Schofields, and a relatively new suburb like The Ponds—I remember from as recently as 2010—have been replaced with thousands upon thousands of brand new homes. Areas where on the map it was simply paddocks. And now with the new streets that have gone in it is completely unrecognisable, and that's a great thing. It's a great thing that people can move into these beautiful new areas. It's an even better thing, however, when that is accompanied by world-class infrastructure. Be it the case of communications services, we hear a lot about the need for mobile services in rural and regional areas to be improved, which is indeed very valid. Even in outer metropolitan Sydney, I have constituents who are continually are telling me, 'I can't even get mobile coverage in my own home.' So it is a tremendous challenge to keep up with that—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10:58 to 11:11

Local infrastructure links communities. It provides the conditions for people to connect and grow. But in two areas of my electorate it is failing. Riverstone is one such example of failing local infrastructure. Riverstone is located at the very heart of the north-west Sydney growth centre. Over the past decade the rate of development in this region has far outstripped investment in local infrastructure. Roads designed to cater for light residential traffic are now inadequately servicing a growing population. During business hours, Riverstone often grinds to a halt. Heavy industrial vehicles are forced to roll through the main street, and streets are regularly banked up around it when the level crossing on the Richmond line is closed. Ask any Riverstone local and they'll tell you that, as the population increases, it is only going to get worse. Congestion comes with serious damage to local roads, pollution and a decrease in the quality of life of local residents as they struggle to navigate their own suburb.

Addressing this issue has been a long-time focus of the Riverstone, Schofields and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I want to congratulate the chamber on the excellent job it is doing in lobbying to unlock Riverstone's full potential. That is the key word here: 'potential'. Riverstone is so well located. It has such a high degree of entrepreneurialism. In the main street, so many new enterprises have opened—everything from fantastic cafes to local cake shops and bread shops. There is also the quality of service that you enjoy in that suburb. I'm so pleased to see that the IGA has been revamped in the Riverstone Village shopping centre. I will happily go there from my home in Riverstone. If I'm up in that end of the electorate, I'll particularly go there because it has some of the cheapest petrol in the area, and I'll also use the opportunity to do my shopping. But I can understand why residents are so concerned about this, when the main street grinds to a halt when the train goes past because they still have a level crossing with boom gates, which stops the street and all the traffic around it.

I want to acknowledge the chamber president, in particular, Sue Lawrence, and vice-president, Warren Kirby, for their continued advocacy, but also all the members and all the businesses who have got on board, particularly in the last couple of years, as they have really looked at change management and at the way in which they are lobbying to get effective outcomes for not only businesses but residents as a whole. They do that with great sincerity and enthusiasm.

Throughout their consultation process, the chamber has helped to identify a potential congestion solution which would not only reduce industrial traffic through Riverstone's town centre but do so at minimal cost. The Riverstone West precinct is the perfect location for a spine road linking Bandon Road in the north and Garfield Road West in the south. It would allow industrial traffic from the business centre in Riverstone's north to bypass the Garfield Road level crossing, which I just mentioned, and flow smoothly out to Windsor Road and the rest of metro Sydney.

This is an extraordinary opportunity for the federal government to engage in community and business renewal in one of Sydney's fastest-growing areas, an area where the housing completion rate has increased from 15 per cent per year in 2011 to 40 dwellings per week. The unemployment rate in Riverstone is approximately 7.2 per cent, significantly higher than the 3.9 per cent statewide figure reported in January this year. Taking advantage of its prime location as the gateway to the Hawkesbury and neighbour to growing housing estates, Riverstone could become a business hub in north-west Sydney, a vision that can only be realised by creating the local conditions for businesses to thrive.

I recently wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister, in his capacity as the minister for infrastructure, to highlight the need for such investment in Riverstone. Whilst there remains a traffic solution for Garfield Road by 2036, the concept is not yet defined and there is no funding for delivery. In contrast, this alternative road that I mentioned could be delivered by 2021. We have a great opportunity here and now to engage in proactive community building to improve the quality of life for these residents, so I call on the federal Liberal government to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to infrastructure spending and prioritise upgrading roads in high-growth areas across west and north-west Sydney.

I also want to speak about other infrastructure concerns with public transport, and I would note the opening of the Metro Northwest. The member for Chifley, who spoke before me, mentioned some other state projects that are making a difference in some areas, but in other areas the government are still failing. That's not to say that the Metro Northwest project has been without criticism, or that the New South Wales Liberals haven't assumed a self-styled level of infallibility despite growing community concerns about how the project is affecting different parts of our society.

Since my first term in this place I have helped to coordinate a sustained community campaign to increase parking supply at local train stations in the north-west, especially at Schofields and Quakers Hill. Countless doors have been knocked on, petitions sent and letters written demanding that the New South Wales Liberal government take meaningful action to address the situation. And it is a dangerous situation at that. I have spoken many times about Schofields station in this place. If a commuter arrives at Schofields station after 7 am then in some cases they are forced to park several kilometres away and trek on unsteady terrain, often with no footpath, just to catch the train to get to work. It's even more dangerous at night given the lack of lighting along this area. This highlights that building transport networks isn't enough in itself. People actually have to be able to access public transport, which is why commuter parking is so important.

Scores of local residents continue to be rightly frustrated at the sheer lack of parking available, not only at Schofields and Quakers Hill stations but now at Metro Northwest stations. I've been contacted by scores of residents who, when trying to use the metro service, have been forced to pay the daily rate for parking at the nearby shopping centres. Others have told me they have simply given up and are opting to drive instead, which defeats the whole purpose of having public transport.

How the New South Wales Liberals, having seen the impact that exponential population growth can have on existing parking infrastructure at places like Schofields, can deliver a transport project without sufficient parking solutions is utterly astounding. To add insult to injury—wait for this one, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas—the New South Wales Liberals have also cut local bus services in my electorate on the basis that the metro line is now open. Not only is this despite the fact there was insufficient public transport in the first place, but it was barely keeping up with demand.

Following the opening of the Metro Northwest, a number of existing bus routes were changed or cut altogether. Where local residents could previously catch a single bus from places like Rouse Hill and Kellyville Ridge into the Sydney CBD, commuters are now being told to instead board the metro, change at Chatswood for a heavy line train and then, in some instances, catch a bus when they finally reach the CBD. There has been widespread outrage about the changes, but unsurprisingly it is falling on deaf ears. Local Liberal state members have batted away criticism, with one describing the issue as 'relatively contained to a couple of routes'. The same Liberal member also maintained that the number of constituents who had complained about the bus changes were 'in the teens'. In response to that member, I would refer to some of the 10,400 north-west Sydney residents who have signed the change.org petition to reverse the bus cuts, many of which come from the shared parts of our electorates.

I recently wrote to the New South Wales Minister for Transport to raise my concerns about these changes. Unsurprisingly, the buck was passed to his parliamentary secretary. Well, she might as well change her title to 'parliamentary secretary for condescending travel advice' because all she offered by way of resolution was as follows: 'I am advised that customers north of Bella Vista have several options for travel to the CBD. They can access Sydney metro services from Rouse Hill or Kellyville stations and transfer to a Sydney train service at Chatswood or Epping. And, further, those who access route 607 express can now access bus routes 665 and 735 to Kellyville metro station.' I hate to break this to the parliamentary secretary, but Greenway residents already know they can get the metro and change multiple times. That's not the point. These bus services were convenient and they were working, and that is why these people are angry. New public transport options are supposed to improve the liveability of the local area, not mark it harder for local commuters. And the coalition in this place and Macquarie Street like to talk a lot about congestion-busting. I can confidently say that a great way to bust congestion is to have public transport that people can actually use.

The final point on the north-west metro relates to its safety. When the New South Wales Minister for Transport and Roads announced that services on the metro would be driverless, there was a genuine concern for commuter safety, and that concern was rightly articulated by the rail, tram and bus union, but the concern was ignored by the New South Wales government simply because it was made by another party. And those concerns were right. There has been widespread reporting of metro doors closing on unsuspecting commuters. There have been reports of parents being separated from their prams as the doors close, and their children are taken without their parents to the next station. I can speak from personal experience. I recently caught the metro with my elderly father, who is 88 years old and has a walking stick; a companion; and my 2-year-old in her pram. And we decided, because he had a specialist's appointment coming up in Chatswood, we would see if he could use public transport to get to this appointment. So I told him, 'Park at my place. Park at Glenwood in the morning, and we'll go in my car to the nearest and park there.' We went to the nearest station, Bella Vista, at 9.00 am. There was not a single park. We went to Kellyville station further down the line. There was not a single park. So I said, 'Well, we'll go to Tallawong station.' We drove out to Tallawong station near Schofields. There was not a single parking spot. By this time, I could have driven to Chatswood, but I said, 'I will not be defeated.' So we parked at Rouse Hill Town Centre, paid for parking and caught the metro in. On our way home, in the time given—I can't go through all the details—we were getting on board. We weren't dallying and weren't being delayed or anything. We got on board and, unsuspectingly, just as I boarded the train with the pram and was helping Dad, who had his walking stick, the doors literally closed on us. I was there, having to force the doors open while my elderly father tried to steady himself while another commuter pulled my child's pram off me. Somehow we managed to be okay, but you can see a situation here where there are clearly safety issues that need to be addressed.

I call on the New South Wales Liberal government to look soberly at this model that they have adopted and also to understand those very important issues of accessibility. Infrastructure shouldn't just be an abstract buzzword thrown around in this place. It's important for communities like mine, which are growing so rapidly, and it needs serious investment to improve the quality of life for local residents. Without meaningful and decisive action, this situation is only going to get worse, and that is one of the key things that I will be fighting for over this term in this parliament.

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