Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. This is a government who's harsh cuts continue to hurt Australians, particularly those in regional areas like mine in Northern New South Wales. It's also a government with no plan. The fact is, this Prime Minister is just a salesman. That's all he is—a salesman. He's not a leader. In fact, he's such an ineffective Prime Minister he's running a do-nothing government with absolutely no agenda for the country. They've got no plan for jobs, no plan for wages growth and no plan to address climate change. They've got no plan for infrastructure investment and no plan for investing in our regions. In fact, all we get in the regions is more of the National Party cuts, chaos and lies. That's all we get. We've got cuts to health, education and aged care, cuts to services like Centrelink and NDIS, and cuts to TAFE and unis. There's no plan to address rising power prices and there's no plan for regional jobs, which is so very, very important.
Locals are very, very concerned about the Morrison government's plans in terms of our Centrelink centres. They've got plans to close three local Centrelink service centres: the Tweed Heads south Centrelink service centre, the Tweed Heads south Centrelink call centre and the Tweed Heads Centrelink administrative office. They are all set to relocate to a yet to be determined location. I've written to the Minister for Human Services on behalf of the community to seek his urgent commitment that there'll be no redundancies or cuts to current staff members at any centre and no further decline in the delivery of front-line services to our local community. Our Centrelink service centre provides such essential services that our community relies on, and it's imperative that the services remain easily accessible. Our pensioners and seniors, veterans, people with disability, families, carers, locals seeking work and students all rely on the essential front-line services that our local Centrelink provides. It must be kept there in place for locals.
I'd now like to raise the issue of the New South Wales Liberal-National government's ongoing cuts to funding staff and services at the Murwillumbah hospital. This is a massive concern to my local community, and I condemn the New South Wales government for their constant downgrading of this vital regional hospital. There is currently a real and present threat to the ongoing viability of the Murwillumbah hospital with the New South Wales Liberal-National government slashing nursing staff in the emergency department. This will result in the loss of 2.2 nurses from every 24-hour period—reducing staff from the current nine nurses over 24 hours down to 6.8 nursing shifts in 24 hours. In real terms, this takes the morning shift from three nurses down to two nurses, the afternoon shift from three nurses to two, and a further shift to be shortened by two hours. This, of course, all comes on top of their constant cuts to the hospital. As I often say, National Party choices hurt. But this decision by the Liberal-National government will really hurt my community in Murwillumbah. The local community, the nurses and the doctors are rightly outraged by these cruel and harsh cuts, and there are real and justified fears that these cuts to rostered nursing hours will have harsh impacts on patient safety. Make no mistake: this shameful decision could cost lives. There is absolutely no excuse for these cuts to our nursing services.
Murwillumbah hospital has an outstanding and highly regarded emergency department which our community relies on and uses often. Locals have serious concerns that these cuts could be the thin edge of the wedge for eventually closing down the hospital. There is a very well-founded concern that the National Party will close down Murwillumbah hospital when the new Tweed Valley hospital eventually opens some time in the coming years. As an insight into how busy the Murwillumbah's emergency department can get, nurses recently saw 18 patients from 8 am to 10 am one morning. To remove a total of 17 nursing hours a week will put incredible pressure on the remaining staff.
I'd like to commend Lismore MP Janelle Saffin for her remarkable work as the state member, particularly in fighting this bad decision by a bad government. Janelle has launched a petition protesting the government's cuts to the emergency department. There's overwhelming support from the community, with virtually every business in town promoting the petition in their shops. I'd also like to commend the Murwillumbah branch of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association, firstly for their incredible work as nurses, providing outstanding care and also for their strong activism in fighting these unfair staff cuts.
I also want to acknowledge the recently formed Save Murwillumbah Hospital group, chaired by a local champion Kylie Rose, who is standing up for our community and working tirelessly in gathering signatures for the petition. Working together we'll all continue to send a strong clear message to Premier Berejiklian and the Liberal-National government: no cuts to the Murwillumbah hospital. The slashing of these nurse positions in the emergency department is another broken promise by this bad government. During the state election they promised 280 more nurses and midwives for the area. This was just another National Party lie, just like the broken promise of Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest to have free parking at the new hospital—another National Party lie. Well, our community has had enough. We have National Party members who are in hiding. We have a Premier who just does not care about regional New South Wales. She only focuses on Sydney. The fact is her local Liberal and National party members are weak and silent. So, thanks so much to our community for fighting these harsh Liberal and National party cuts. The Murwillumbah hospital is vitally important for the health services it provides. The fact is that lives could be lost unless the government stops these harsh cuts.
I also want to raise today the issue of nuclear power. I want to condemn the Morrison government's dangerous plan to develop a nuclear power industry in Australia. We're seeing intensifying pressure from the Liberals and Nationals at all levels of government pushing this very toxic agenda. Just recently we saw the new Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, the member for Hinkler, stating that he wants the government to explore a lifting of the ban on nuclear energy. I'm saying to the Prime Minister that he has to come clean about his government's plan for nuclear power and let us know which regions are in his sights—and will it be in my area on the New South Wales North Coast?
The fact is that nuclear power is dangerous and expensive, and it would consume vast amounts of precious water at a time when Australia faces increased water security threats due to the gross mismanagement of this government and, of course, the very harsh impacts of climate change. The fact is that nuclear energy is three times more expensive than renewables, and it would lead to higher power prices, so I stand with my community in firm opposition to nuclear power. This is a major issue from Ballina to Byron and Tweed—right throughout my electorate. We have major objections to nuclear energy, and I certainly stand with them in opposing it.
We've seen many Liberal and National party members starting to strongly advocate this idea, including the Prime Minister, who said that nuclear power is not on his agenda. We've also seen the member for New England and Nationals MP with his bizarre idea that authorities could get around public concerns about the safety of nuclear energy by giving free power to people if they could see a nuclear reactor from their home—quite bizarre. We also have the New South Wales Nationals leader and Deputy Premier calling nuclear power 'the solution to cheaper energy'. This just shows how out of touch the New South Wales Nationals are. Alarmingly, in the Tweed shire, we've seen the Liberal councillor James Owen's strong support for nuclear power, which just shows how incredibly dangerous he is for our region. It's well known that the risky and reckless James Owen can't be trusted and doesn't share our values. In a clear sign that the extremists are dictating the government's energy policy, we're seeing this latest push from the resources minister. But let me make it very clear: if this government pursues its plans, our community will fight every day, every step of the way, to stop them.
I'd also like to raise the fact that we've seen many cuts from this government when it comes to TAFE, at both the state and federal level. The New South Wales Liberals and Nationals are refusing to rule out further cuts to our TAFE courses and are closing TAFE campuses. At a federal level, we've seen $3 billion in funding cuts. We know the New South Wales Premier has already decimated TAFE by cutting 5,700 teachers from TAFE, and we now have fewer apprentices than we did. In my seat of Richmond the figures are staggering. In 2013 there were 2,016 apprentices and trainees in the field compared to recent figures of just 1,506—510 fewer apprentices, which equates to a 25.3 per cent reduction. This is disgraceful and must stop.
I also want to raise the New South Wales government's plans for paid parking at the new Tweed Valley Hospital. On many occasions I have condemned the Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest for his failure to honour his election commitment made over a year ago to stop paid parking at the new Tweed Valley Hospital. Prior to that election he clearly stated that 'parking at the new hospital would be free'. He said that means 'free parking for patients, visitors and staff at any time, day or night'. It was clear that this was a just cheap stunt before the election in a desperate attempt to win votes. Since then he and his Liberal-National government have repeatedly failed to honour this commitment of free parking. They've been repeatedly asked by residents, local media and the New South Wales parliament to come clean on their plans to oppose it. On all occasions they have simply refused to do so. Today we fear it's been confirmed that there will be paid parking there. The Tweed Shire Council had previously passed a motion and written to the New South Wales government condemning them for their plans to do that and asking them to honour the commitment. In the reply from the health minister, we see him say that 'in 2013 the New South Wales Health implemented a hospital car parking fees policy. The Tweed Valley Hospital project will consider this policy as it reviews the funding options for car parking at the Tweed Valley Hospital.' That's a broken promise. You can't promise free parking and then say that all options are on the table.
It should be noted that the original notion from Tweed Shire Council requesting the New South Wales government to honour their election commitment was not supported—of course—by Liberal-National Party aligned councillors on Tweed Shire Council: Councillor James Owen, Councillor Warren Polglase and Councillor Pryce Allsop. These three councillors, shamefully, support paid parking at the new hospital.
I'd also like to raise the fact that this government's cuts to health care and aged care have been detrimental for our region. Health costs have never been higher than under the Morrison government, and when it comes to aged care there have been so many funding cuts and we have so many people on waiting lists for home-care packages. It is incredibly unfair. The reality is that people are now paying higher costs to see a GP. We've seen a record increase in those patient costs as a direct result of this government's cuts and neglect when it comes to health. We all know here that the Liberals and Nationals tried and failed to impose a GP tax; then they introduced the Medicare freeze—a GP tax by stealth; and the Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, extended the freeze, leading to those increases in out-of-pocket costs that people face today. The sad reality is that today, in 2020, there are many people in my community for whom the cost of health care is simply prohibitive. They don't access the tests and treatments they need because they cannot afford to. This is having detrimental effects right across my electorate.
One of the issues that I have raised before and I continue to raise here is the recent changes under the Modified Monash Model, which have seen this government change the classification of Murwillumbah from a regional area to a metropolitan one. Murwillumbah is a regional town of 9,000 people and it's now classified the same as Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane! This is truly absurd. It's a regional country town. My local community are rightly concerned and angry about this very unfair classification. The direct result of the government's actions will have severe implications for Murwillumbah, including the reduction of incentives for medical professionals, including rural bulk-billing incentives, the Workforce Incentive Program and the Bonded Medical Program. It means that medical practices in Murwillumbah will only be available to general pathway registrars and no longer to rural pathway registrars. That means that young doctors who choose the rural pathway can no longer train in medical practices in Murwillumbah. Those incentives have been completely removed.
Make no mistake: this harsh decision means that there'll be less bulk-billing and fewer doctors in Murwillumbah. And it's important to note that there's a very high proportion of elderly people in the town and surrounding areas right throughout my electorate. They have more complex health care needs and require more intensive levels of ongoing care. There's also a huge lack of public transport in Murwillumbah and surrounds on the North Coast generally, so in other areas these locals just can't get to GPs. I have raised this many times, about this government's harsh cuts to our health care services. This change in the classification will make it extremely difficult to attract new GPs to Murwillumbah, as those incentive payments aren't there. I would like to note that Murwillumbah is renowned as an excellent centre for training young doctors and has an outstanding reputation, so I want to see some changes to the Modified Monash Model so the country town of Murwillumbah can access these important incentives. It is not a metropolitan area. It is not Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. It is a country town.
In conclusion, this is a government whose harsh cuts continue to hurt regional Australia. It's a government with no plan. That's because this Prime Minister is a salesman, not a leader.