House debates

Monday, 22 September 2008

Grievance Debate

Flinders Electorate: Human Security

9:10 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Urban Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to speak this evening about three issues which cause grievance in relation to human security in the electorate of Flinders. I will start if I may at a railway crossing where I attended on Saturday. It was the Bungower Road railway crossing in Somerville. We were in the presence of Gwen Bates. Gwen Bates is the mother of Kay Stanley, who, sadly, was killed at another railway crossing along this particular line—the Frankston to Stony Point line—when she approached the railway crossing, was unable to see the flashing lights in the sunlight and there were no boom gates. Gwen Bates is not able to revisit the site of the loss of her daughter so a group of perhaps 40 to 50 people visited the Bungower Road site. The reason we visited it is that it is also, in an urban area, a railway crossing that has no boom gates. It is also the site where, sadly, a local resident, Geoff Young, was lost in the not too distant past. There are still no boom gates at the Bungower Road crossing, nor are there boom gates to be found at the Baxter-Tooradin Road, Reid Parade, Urquhart Court, Park Lane, Disney Street or the HMAS Cerberus main entrance.

This is an urban area that has seven railway crossings with no boom gates. These are, sadly, just two examples of which I am personally aware, having visited the site where Geoff Young was lost—and I pay respects to his family—and having spent much time with Gwen Bates who has embarked upon a very simple campaign since the loss of her daughter, Kay. She wants to see every urban railway crossing in Victoria have boom gates and then ultimately see every railway crossing, urban or rural, to have boom gates. An accident is an all too frequent occurrence and as Gwen has said, ‘In this day and age, in the 21st century, if you can find $16 million for a Cezanne painting, surely you can find money to cover all of the railway crossings in the state.’ It is I think a fair ordering of priorities.

I think that represents something of profound importance. When you come into contact with somebody, who months after the event is still convulsed by an uncontrollable grief, it causes all of us as legislators and as elected representatives to remind ourselves of the profound human duty we have in this chamber—in this place—to make sure that we deal with the critical and human security needs. Covering our crossings to make sure that there are no more tragedies like Geoff Young’s and to make sure that there are no more tragedies like Kay Stanley’s—who was, as Gwen Bates has reminded me on many occasions, carrying her grandchild—is something that we have to do. There is no question in my mind.

This brings me to two other profoundly important human security needs within the electorate of Flinders. On Phillip Island the closure of Warley Hospital has led to the loss of critical care facilities. That is, sadly, something which has happened since the change of government. We had a two and a half million dollar package and it was funding which was to go to the Warley Hospital to keep it open. That money was not matched by the incoming government. That was not expected. It was one of those areas where I had genuinely believed an offer by our side would have been matched by the other side. That sadly was not to be and my grievance with the minister has been made elsewhere. The result of that however is real and continuing.

This week what we saw on the front of the Phillip Island paper was very clear. In the Phillip Island and San Remo Advertiser there were stories of residents who have come close to death, and it was revealed that medical staff on the island had witnessed an alarming scene, with nurses or critical care people literally having to fight, plead and beg Melbourne hospitals for a bed, given that there were no emergency facilities left on Phillip Island for a patient to receive the lifesaving medical attention they needed.

This is the 21st century. This follows on from what I said about the railway lines. Of course the path of human progress means that there are always many gaps that we need to fill and our needs grow. I recognise this. But there are areas where we have gone backwards. The loss of a hospital, after the new government walked away from a package which had been agreed with the hospital previously, puts residents in rural Australia in real and present danger.

This is not some political talk; this is the evidence of families who have faced risk and in many cases have had enormous hardship. I have met with families who since the loss of Warley Hospital have had to travel well and truly off the island, sometimes for an hour and a half, sometimes for two hours, in critical moments to find a bed. As a result, in a community with many elderly people, there is a great deal of uncertainty, a great deal of emotional hardship, and that personal security which was guaranteed by the presence of a hospital on the island has been lost.

This is a grievance debate, and I grieve the loss of this hospital. I grieve the fact that neither the federal nor the state government in December 2007 and January 2008 were willing to take responsibility. We heard a lot about the blame game, but this was a classic example where neither the new federal government nor the state government were willing to take responsibility, and a hospital died. A community lost its history and an important part of its human security and future. The message is very simple: Phillip Island needs high-quality medical care. If the government will not resurrect the hospital, it must do everything to dramatically improve the quality of care and services to a level which, at the very least, equals that which was there previously.

Concern for senior residents brings me to my third area, and that is in relation to another part of my electorate, the southern peninsula. This area—Rye, Rosebud, Dromana, Tootgarook, all of these towns—is home to perhaps the greatest concentration of seniors within Victoria. My electorate of Flinders is the demographically oldest electorate in Victoria. It has the highest proportion of seniors over the age of 60, with a heavy concentration in the beautiful area of the southern peninsula in particular. It is a natural retirees’ home.

We have seen an increase over the last six months in the demand for food vouchers, and financial support has soared to unprecedented levels. This is a matter of deep human concern. I do not blame the current government for that. It is part of the challenges of the times, but I do say that we are responsible, on each of our watches, for that which we do to respond to new challenges which arise in our time, on our turf.

The Vinnies Kitchen at Rosebud has served nearly 500 extra meals so far this year on top of its usual service. The Salvation Army is helping 200 struggling residents a month, many of whom are seniors, in particular pensioners who are struggling on what they have to make ends meet. These are people who have served Australia, who have helped build Australia and who are suffering quite dramatically. The combination of low pensions, rising fuel prices—and fortunately we are seeing some amelioration on that front—increasing grocery costs and soaring housing costs has contributed to this problem.

Against that background of new events in new circumstances under a new watch, we need to take steps which will help our most senior residents. That is why I respectfully but categorically say to the new federal government that it is time to reconsider the opposition to the $30 a week rise in the base pension rate for single pensioners. Each new generation and each new government has new challenges and new responsibilities. These new challenges to pensioners must be met. These are people who deserve better. I pray that they are supported. (Time expired)