Thursday, 24 October 2019
Governor General's Speech
In my contribution on the address-in-reply, I'd like to initially focus on the election and say how honoured I am to have been re-elected as the federal member for Richmond. I'd like to start by thanking the people of Richmond for the incredible privilege of representing them, advocating for them and being their voice in this parliament. The electorate of Richmond is made up of remarkable individuals and vibrant communities, from Tweed Heads right through to Ballina. I'm a proud member of the Australian Labor Party and I want to thank all our local members and supporters for their continued faith in me. Also, to my wonderful, loyal staff—Reece, Inge, Kylie, Jurgen, Marie, David, Rani, Jack, Peter and Max—thank you.
In my election campaign locally, I promised to keep working hard to make the North Coast an even better place to live, and I'm determined to keep doing just that. Every day, I continue to fight for our local community, and I remain committed to fighting for better services and outcomes right across the North Coast and for the people of regional Australia, who have been forgotten by the government. I'll detail some of the election commitments later in my contribution—ones that I want the government to fund in my region.
My focus is very much on job creation in our area. We need further investment in infrastructure, we need greater training and education avenues and we need to keep our regional economy strong and viable so that there are increasing employment opportunities. In terms of the election, I've said this many times to the people of the North Coast: my door is always open, and my assistance is always there. In terms of the parliament and the broader community, Labor will continue to hold the government to account, and we'll also continue to define what we stand for and our values.
Since the election, amongst my community on the North Coast there has been a prevailing feeling that the only agenda the government have is a harsh and cruel one. The government are defined by the people they're against and the Australians whom they impact detrimentally by their actions. This will be the legacy of the government, as well as their lack of action on important matters. They're not fixing the NDIS. They're not fixing the NBN. They're not reversing their cuts to pensions. They're not reversing their cuts to the ABC and SBS. They're not properly investing in our schools, TAFEs and universities. They're not properly investing in our health and hospital services. They have no plan to effectively act on climate change. They have no plan for regional jobs and no plan to sustain and grow regional economies. Yet what we do have from the government is a continued attack on workers by pushing for cuts to penalty rates and workers' conditions.
As large parts of Australia suffer the worst drought on record, the Morrison government's inaction has caused distress in so many communities who are facing severe water crisis. We're so concerned by the reports of towns locally and nationally facing the possibility of running out of water and the loss and suffering they are experiencing now. After six years of inaction on water security, the Morrison Liberal-National government continues to waste time, when communities are desperate; they are running out of water. When it comes to rural and regional towns and their water, the government are so out of touch. We urgently need a practical plan to cope with the drought crisis, because our regional communities are hurting. The government need to act now. It is that urgent.
Also, the Morrison government have a very shameful economic record. The fact is: the economy has floundered for years under the Liberals and Nationals, and the government have no plan to fix it. Their record is defined by slow growth, stagnant wages, weaker productivity, higher unemployment and underemployment, surging net debt and higher household debt. Australians are very worried about their wages, their job security and their cost of living. Again, the government are doing nothing. They have no plan to meet the economic challenges facing our nation and no agenda to build a bigger and stronger Australia.
There are many people in my community who experience so many issues with so many services, particularly Centrelink. The stories from families and pensioners are becoming far too common. The ongoing erosion of Centrelink resources has put enormous pressure on its ability to meet and address the issues of many of my constituents who find themselves in critical need. This is particularly evident for those locals who have to apply for either age pensions or disability support pensions, with massive, unacceptable delays occurring. Of course, the same is said for the NDIS, where there are unnecessary and huge, unacceptable delays, which are often putting people's lives and wellbeing at risk. Under the government, we've seen a lack of funding for the NDIS and a lack of planning. We've seen the staffing caps. What they need to be doing is fixing that and delivering for the people who desperately need the NDIS to work properly.
Also one of the issues of greatest concern on the New South Wales North Coast is the lack of home care, particularly with the ageing population that we have. There are a distressing number of older Australians waiting for the care they need, and the list in my region just grows longer each year. Of course, as a nation we should judge ourselves by how we treat our elderly, yet the Liberals and Nationals have done nothing but cut aged-care funding, and there is no plan to reverse those cuts. The fact is that as of June 2019 there were still 120,000 older Australians languishing, waiting for a home care package, and this included more than the 72,000 older Australians on the waiting list with no home care package at all. Shamefully, many people are dying, waiting for their home care package. This is truly unacceptable.
We also have the Morrison government ignoring the calls from many people to increase Newstart. Again I call on them to act. There is an urgent need to raise the rate of Newstart. The fact is that in my region we have a massive housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and people receiving Centrelink benefits are the hardest hit. Families and individuals without secure full-time employment who rely on some sort of Centrelink allowance to survive are really doing it tough; they are struggling. With a quarter of Newstart recipients aged 55 or over, many locals who've worked all their lives are now living in poverty and struggling to find affordable accommodation. The government needs to act and urgently look at raising the rate of Newstart.
The government has also failed to deliver on the NBN for Australians. In particular, those Australians living in regional areas have been hit really hard. Constituents tell me constantly that they're frustrated because they can't get any decent internet access. There are very slow speeds and there's lots of buffering. The NBN is critical infrastructure for Australia's future for so many different reasons. One particular area in my electorate, Cabarita Beach and Hastings Point, can't even get connected to the NBN, and delays have been ongoing. Time and time again residents have been told the service will be rolled out, only to be told of another delay, another excuse. One particular constituent has been in contact with my office since 2015. He was told his NBN connection was due in mid-2018. Then it was early 2019, then mid-2019, then late 2019. Now, after more delays, we find that residents and businesses of Cabarita Beach and Hastings Point have been told to expect connection in March 2020. That is clearly unacceptable. For this constituent, who is a small business operator, these delays will have serious financial impacts and will put at real risk his ability to keep trading. This is an unacceptable situation and I've made representations to the minister. This situation must be fixed. The mismanagement of the Liberals and Nationals continues to impede the rollout of this very vital service. Put simply, locals in my area are suffering due to the faults, the slow speeds, the down time and the poor service. It is that bad that in 2017 alone complaints about the NBN increased by over 200 per cent.
I remain staunchly committed to advocating for better regional services, and I believe that the North Coast deserves its fair share from Canberra. That's why I'll continue to fight for the commitments I campaign for, especially for important infrastructure projects. In fact, major infrastructure projects are important enablers of regional economies, and they also deliver many jobs during the construction phase. Indeed, we all know the Reserve Bank governor has called on the government to invest in infrastructure to lift employment and wages and to drive economic growth, and that applies especially to our regional areas. The government must start investing very quickly in infrastructure projects.
In terms of the Labor election commitments in Richmond, first and foremost, the Kirkwood Road and Kennedy Drive interchanges are two of the most strategically important infrastructure projects which would ease congestion, reduce travel times and meet the growing needs of our region. They are, in fact, game changers. These two road projects will not only create jobs and economic activity; they will, of course, lift productivity over the longer term. They have so many benefits. We made a commitment that a Labor government would invest $52.2 million to progress work on the Kirkwood Road interchange and the Kennedy Drive interchange. Our region has, indeed, benefited from a number of major projects that were funded by the former Labor government, yet at the recent federal election only Labor committed to fund these two projects in full. They were completely ignored by the National Party. I call on the government to invest in these important projects. They are vitally important for our future growth.
I also remain committed to fighting for funding for the regional Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport and its much-needed runway upgrade. I was very proud that during the election campaign Labor committed to investing $10 million in this important project. Funding of the project will enable the widening and strengthening of the runway, which is a crucial part of the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport's capacity to accommodate future, larger domestic aircraft. We have a growing region; we have to have this runway upgraded. It is very vital and critical to our region's thriving tourism industry. The airport is ranked in the top 10 regional airports nationally. It is owned and operated by the Ballina Shire Council. There is ample scope for greater investment now, particularly across rural and regional Australia. I urge the government to invest in economies and in projects like the ones I've mentioned: Kirkwood Road and Kennedy Drive, and the vital upgrade to the Ballina Byron regional airport.
In terms of the other election commitments that Labor made, I will also continue to fight for funding for Wedgetail Retreat, which specialises in palliative care in a purpose-built facility and for the MurwillumbahCommunity Centre's food HUB at the Red Cross centre. Again, I call on the government to match those investments and invest in these important projects
I'd also like to take this opportunity to hold this government to account on the promise they made during the election campaign, namely a new cancer treatment centre in Tweed Heads. Regional communities deserve access of the very best cancer care, and I shall continue to call on them to honour their promise to invest in this very important facility. This is very important, because we do know that the Nationals have a history of saying one thing and then doing something after the election. I'll continue to hold this government to account on this very important election commitment. It's vital that we all do all that we can to address the difficulties that patients face in regional communities, because we know that in the regions they experience poorer health outcomes than in the cities, and patients often have to travel greater distances to access the vital treatment they need. A new facility, a radiation facility in Tweed Heads, would assist in bridging the gap when it comes to cancer care and the outcomes of patients. I urge the government to honour that commitment. I will keep holding them to account, because we do need to have that cancer facility in our region.
We see, right across the board, when it comes to health services some really startling and remarkable moves by this government in their continuing to undermine Medicare, which is devastating for the regions as well. There are currently record high out-of-pocket costs and record high waiting lists to access health care. Under this Prime Minister out-of-pocket GP costs have increased from $36.45 to a record high of $39.55. Out-of-pocket specialist costs have increased from $80.20 to a record high of $91.50. Under this Prime Minister private hospital out-of-pocket costs have increased from $308.75 to a record high of $314.50. Under this government private health insurance premiums have risen around 2.8 per cent. And, again under this government, waiting times have increased to mean one in four people have not been seen on time in emergency departments or are waiting for elective surgeries. This is not good enough. We need to see much more investment in our health and hospital services.
Another big issue that many people in my community have, which they've raised with me many times, is about the government's dangerous plans to develop a nuclear power industry within this country. We are seeing intensifying pressure from the Liberals and Nationals, at all levels of government, pushing this very toxic agenda. It's one that I have raised in the past and will continue to raise. It's so important for my community. I stand firmly with the community in firm opposition to nuclear power. We, all of us in the New South Wales North Coast, have major objections to nuclear energy, particularly because the impact on coastal communities would be devastating. Nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and consumes vast amounts of precious water, which is why we're concerned about the government expanding on it when we have coastal communities like mine. Here we have a time when Australia faces increased water security threats, and yet we have this government pushing hard with its agenda for nuclear power. Again, we see it at all levels of government in New South Wales. We see it at federal, state and local. They need to stop. Our community will fight them against this every day. Nuclear power is just too toxic.
I'd also like to mention, of course, some of the harsh impacts of our state Liberal-National government as well, which really impacts our region. One of those is the need for more police. Under this state Liberal-National government we've seen massive cuts to our police numbers. In my community they blame the Nationals and the state member for Tweed, who's cut those numbers. We're just not keeping pace in terms of the fact we're one of the fastest growing regions. We need to give our police the resources and numbers so they can do their job effectively. But the fact is, under the Nationals locals are hurting and they're putting police officers unnecessarily in harm's way because we don't have enough police on the ground. As a former police officer myself, I understand the importance of having appropriate numbers of police on the beat in our communities to ensure that locals remain safe. I've launched a community petition for more police because locals tell me their neighbourhoods and streets are being targeted by criminals who see New South Wales as a soft touch and are even coming over the border from Queensland to commit their crimes in New South Wales. But I've seen firsthand the pressure our police are under, and crime is out of control in our region. Our police are combating ongoing violence, break-and-enters and increasing ice use across the North Coast, and we consistently see in our local media reports of crime being out of control. And so I will continue to stand up for our community and continue to advocate for more police across our region. It is vitally important.
I again want to take this opportunity to commend our local police for the remarkable work they do. I know how hard they work. They're under very difficult circumstances with the lack of resources that they do have there. I'd like to thank the Labor leader, Jodi McKay, and also the New South Wales shadow minister for the North Coast, who recently came to Tweed to launch this very important community police petition. It's an issue that we will keep talking about.
Another big issue that has recently been raised in my community is a betrayal by the Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest, who has backflipped on an election commitment he made about having free parking at the new Tweed Valley Hospital. In the election campaign he promised locals free parking with no time limits for patients, visitors and staff. We have read in the past few weeks that that was just an absolute lie and he's now backflipped on that. We now know there will be paid parking there. It really is a complete betrayal of locals, and many people are deeply concerned about it. Of course, many patients and their families and also staff feel totally betrayed. They were told there would be free parking there, and, of course, we now find out that it's going to be paid parking. That will also have a massive impact on the surrounding areas in Cudgen and Kingscliff, which, of course, will just be inundated with cars. So again I call on Geoff Provest and the Liberal-National government to honour their election commitment for free parking at that hospital. It's vitally important and distressing so many people within our region.
I'll always hold Liberal-National governments to account, whether it be at federal or state levels. We do have so many concerns locally, so many broken promises, so many cuts to services. It is right across the board and deeply distressing our community. And, speaking of our community, I would like to add, as I'm summing up, what an incredible, remarkable and diverse region we have on the New South Wales North Coast. We're very fortunate to have such active, committed and diverse community groups, sporting clubs, and organisations right across the region. I'd like to mention the Richmond Community Grants Hub in my electorate, which was established—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11:42 to 11:53
In closing, what I would like to say is what a wonderful community we have on the far north coast of New South Wales. It is a remarkable and diverse area, and we're very fortunate to have such wonderful, committed, active and diverse community groups, individuals, sporting clubs and organisations. They are truly remarkable, and they all have a very deep commitment to our area and to improving it.
I'd really like to mention a program in my electorate which I recently established. The Richmond Community Grants Hub was established in response to the very growing demand from the community for more information about available funding opportunities. I'm pleased to say that so many groups have signed up so far, and they're able to receive information about different funding opportunities that may be available to them. It's just wonderful working with these community groups and helping them to potentially secure some of that funding as well. It has been a huge success, and I encourage any other groups that might like to get involved to please sign up to my Richmond Community Grants Hub so that we can keep you informed of any potential grant opportunities that do arise. I really look forward to working with those groups to secure future grant funding so that together we can make the area an even better place to live. The New South Wales North Coast is truly the best place in Australia to live.
It is an absolute honour to represent your community here in our federal parliament, and I again thank the people of Richmond for re-electing me as their member. It is indeed a privilege and an honour that I take very seriously. My door is always open to them and I'm always available here to help them. I will keep being their strong voice in Canberra.