Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading
In May this year, the people of Newcastle joined voters from across this vast continent who went to the polls to elect a new government, a Labor government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. I am so very grateful to the people of Newcastle for the faith they have entrusted in me to represent them once again, giving me this opportunity to stand on their behalf in this Australian parliament. I have never stopped standing up for Newcastle since my election in 2013, though at times it was incredibly challenging to push from the opposition benches for progress from a coalition government that never really understood us Novocastrians and never really understood our region. But I'll admit that it is much, much better to be in government, although I am very conscious of never taking a single day or moment of this for granted. We have a big agenda and we are getting stuck in. I'm thrilled to be part of a Labor government determined to build a better future for Newcastle.
Newcastle has always been a forward-thinking and progressive city, and Novocastrians are smart, full of initiative, gritty, determined and incredibly engaged. In fact, in my first speech in this parliament, back in 2013, I paid tribute to Sharon Grierson, my predecessor as the federal member for Newcastle, and to her vision of Newcastle as a centre of excellence for clean energy research and innovation. I thank those former Rudd and Gillard Labor governments for believing in Newcastle and investing in our future. Now Labor has once again returned to government, we're building on that vision and ensuring that Newcastle remains at the forefront of opportunity and progress in all forms of energy, as well as in education, health care, aged care and infrastructure. We're making sure that women's equality is at the heart of all our policies, because what's good for women is good for everyone. It's good for our economy. It's good for our society. This government understands that if you have a big tent and include everyone in it, there is actually more to be gained than by leaving people excluded.
Newcastle was overlooked by the former coalition government for nearly a decade. Now Labor is getting on with the big reforms that will change lives and the local projects that will help shape Newcastle's future. We're delivering on commitments that we made to the Australian people, including cheaper child care. More than 7,300 families in Newcastle stand to benefit directly from those changes. We're expanding paid parental leave to 26 weeks and remedying gross anomalies that, perversely, have disincentivised some parents from being able to take leave because they haven't fitted the traditional model of a family unit. We have now made massive investments into social and affordable housing. There is perhaps no issue that concentrates the minds of people in my community more than the fact that we are seeing generations of Novocastrians being priced out of homeownership and increased levels of homelessness, particularly amongst vulnerable people in our communities. We are delivering on long-overdue climate action and we are delivering cheaper medicines and accessible health services. We are less than six months into government and we are not wasting a second.
I now turn to some of the very localised commitments that we made during the election and that I am enormously proud of delivering. The first—and I note that the member for Hunter joins me in the chamber right now—is the saving of the GP Access After Hours service in our region. The GP Access After Hours service at my local Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital was forced to close its doors on Christmas Eve after years of cuts from the coalition government. At the same time, the operating hours were reduced at the four remaining clinics at the Belmont Hospital, Maitland Hospital, John Hunter Hospital and the Toronto Polyclinic, which sits in the member for Hunter's electorate. All of this was at a time when we were in the midst of a global pandemic and people needed access to quality health care more than ever. It has been a vital service not just during pandemics; I can assure everybody in this house there is not a single family in my electorate that has not made use of this service. It has been vital for every family in our region, but the Liberals turned off the lights and stripped away access to affordable and accessible health services in our region. That was the thanks.
The Christmas present to Newcastle was to close the Calvary Mater clinic doors on Christmas Eve. Labor is restoring that funding as a priority and is making sure that the GP access after-hours service is sustainable long into the future. This funding will mean patients are able to access face-to-face and telehealth primary-care services outside of usual business hours because—guess what!—kids don't get sick conveniently between 9 am and 5 pm. These services will be bulk-billed and delivered by local GPs and registered nurses and will significantly reduce the pressure on our emergency departments. What you earn or where you live should never determine your access to affordable health care.
We have also helped the Kaden Centre in my electorate. Last year I was told that the Kaden Centre exercise clinic for cancer patients was being forced to close its doors. The Kaden Centre provides affordable, individualised exercise programs for oncology patients, some of whom travel long distances to access the support that this centre provides. There is nowhere else in our region that provides the kinds of oncology exercise programs that are provided through the Kaden Centre. I knew we could not afford to lose this vital service, so Labor has provided $1 million to reopen the Kaden Centre and keep it functioning as an integral part of cancer care in our region and beyond.
Let's think about climate change. Our Labor government is taking climate change seriously, and that is why we have delivered on our election promise to set a 43 per cent target to reduce emissions by 2030. This is a baseline. If we can do better we will do better, but to keep us on track we've reinstated the Climate Change Authority, stocked with leading scientists and experts to monitor the targets and provide specialist advice to government. We're investing in solar banks, electric vehicle infrastructure, upgrading Australia's electricity grid, rolling out 10,000 new-energy apprenticeships and skilling the clean energy workforce. That's not all, but it's a very good start.
With our highly skilled workforce, our abundant resources, our industrial expertise and our superb rail and port infrastructure, Newcastle is poised to take full advantage of the new-energy industries. That's why we are investing $16 million for a new-energy skill centre at the University of Newcastle to train the workforce of the future. We're also investing $100 million in a green hydrogen hub at the port of Newcastle. Newcastle, our region, has powered Australia for generations, and investments like these mean that our region will continue to drive forward the next generation of growth and become a new-energy superpower in our region. This new facility will test and invent solutions to global challenges when it comes the use of hydrogen and other new-energy industries. The skills, the techniques and the technologies developed by this project will enable local industry to grow to its fullest potential. We are thinking ahead and we are planning for the future, because that's what Labor governments do.
The Australian Labor Party has always known the value of access to education, which is why we have created almost 1,000 additional new places at the University of Newcastle and we have committed to fee-free TAFE for skills-shortage sectors. I think former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam put it best when he said:
Everybody in Australia is entitled … to the same educational facilities, whether it be in respect of education at the kindergarten or tertiary stage or the post-graduate stage.
I note we are soon to mark the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam as our Prime Minister. His vision and the work of successive Labor governments mean that we now have close to half of all students who complete high school going on to receive a tertiary education, whether that is at university or TAFE. Whether you are in Newcastle or Sydney or Wilcannia, everyone should have the same educational opportunities from the very start. I know that in regions like ours there are people who have really struggled to gain access to tertiary education. Those 937 additional Commonwealth supported places at university are going to open the doors to a whole lot of kids who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to benefit from a quality tertiary education. At a time when so many of our communities are undergoing massive change, a quality education is never more important.
When we look at schools in these past few years, it's been especially difficult for a lot of Australian kids in school, which is why our government is investing $474.5 million over two years to help students bounce back. All schools will benefit from the $203.7 million Student Wellbeing Boost. A new voluntary mental health check tool will also assist schools to identify students who are struggling so they can get the help they need. The Schools Upgrade Fund will provide $270.8 million to support improvements in ventilation and air quality as well as larger refurbishments to public schools. The government will also deliver on our commitment to help tackle the teacher shortage, investing in bursaries worth up to $40,000 each, and expanding the High Achieving Teachers program to attract our very best to what is the most important of professions.
We are investing in transport infrastructure, and rail in particular plays a significant role in connecting people to their families and employment opportunities and improving accessibility and liveability of regional communities like Newcastle. We have committed $500 million for early works for high-speed rail between Sydney and Newcastle, and in the meantime we are working on faster rail. No more talking about it; we're making it happen. Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan will ensure that more trains are built right here in Australia by local manufacturing workers. Every dollar of federal funding spent on rail projects will go towards creating local jobs and providing a sustainable industry.
Newcastle Olympic Football Club is one of the many sporting organisations that were dudded in the government's infamous sports rorts—cheated by almost half a million dollars despite their hard work and excellent submission, which an independent assessment gave a higher score than other projects in then government-held seats which did receive funding. That's why Labor has righted this wrong and returned funding to the Hamilton Olympic sporting club.
We have invested $4.7 million to begin the process of restoring sand to Stockton Beach. We will also fund feasibility studies to identify additional sources of sand to fix what has been a terrible oversight and a critical need in that community. This critical funding would not have happened without strong advocacy and activism of the Stockton community. Their role in the fight to save Stockton Beach has been crucial, and I thank them for their courage, determination and commitment. This victory is yours.
I am committed to the people of Newcastle in representing them in this parliament and delivering for our city.