Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Debate resumed from 15 November, on the proposed address-in-reply to the speech of Her Excellency the Governor-General—
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, express our loyalty to the Sovereign, and thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to the Parliament—
on motion by Ms O’Neill:
That the Address be agreed to.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to the address-in-reply. I was going to speak about the re-election, about the results in Isaacs and, indeed, about the Labor results in Victoria. I am very pleased to be returning to this place for the second term of a Labor federal government. I congratulate my colleagues old and new. I look forward to working with our Prime Minister to deliver the progressive agenda we have for Australia.
There were mixed results around the country in the election just past, but Victoria saw a strong preference expressed by the people for the return of a Labor government. I am particularly pleased to welcome to this place my new Victorian colleagues—the member for La Trobe, Laura Smyth; and the member for McEwen, Rob Mitchell, whose long wait to join us in this place is finally over. We did think the new member for McEwen was going to join us a little earlier, at the end of the last election.
In Isaacs, there was a swing to Labor of 3.33 per cent. I sincerely thank our local community for again trusting me as their representative in the Australian parliament. It is a privilege to serve in this place and Isaacs is a unique and wonderful electorate to work in and to represent. I want to thank my family. One does not often get the opportunity to thank one’s family. In particular, I thank my wife, Deborah; my children, Joe, Tom and Laura; my father, George; and my mother, Phyllis. Without the love, the support and the inspiration that my family provide me on a daily basis, it would be impossible for me to do this job. I cannot thank them enough.
I want to thank also the dedicated staff who have worked tirelessly in my office in Melbourne and also in my office in Canberra over the last three years—Tim Lisle-Williams, Monica Bladier, Brett Collet, Julie Coventry, David Barda, Paul Haseloff, Youhorn Chea, Claudette Macdonald, Laura John, Alex Fawke and Salazar Youhorn. In case anyone thinks I have had excessive churn in my office, I have the great good fortune to have a number of permanent part-time employees, and others have worked as volunteers but on a very long-term basis, which is the reason for the large number of people who work in my electorate office. I would also thank those who have worked in the Parliament House office here in Canberra, particularly Desmond Ko, James MacGibbon and Elouise Fowler.
I had hundreds of volunteers throughout the first term, but obviously more particularly in the campaign just past, despite the cold and rain of a winter campaign in Victoria—indeed, I would hope never again to fight a campaign in August. There have been very few August elections in the history of Australia and there is a very good reason for that, as we have just found out. In the cold and rain I had hundreds of volunteers handing out with me at train stations in the morning, assisting at street stalls, doorknocking with me and handing out on election day. It would be remiss not to mention at least some of these volunteers: Duncan Wallace, Tom Daley, Nola van Klaveren, Jackie McInroy, Nola Baker, Melanie Blewett, Roz Blades, Pinar Yesil, Jim Memeti, Kevin Gaynor, Trish McMullin, Russell Cole, Noel Pullen, Wendy Phillips, Cam Macdonald, Tony Falkingham, Alex Hicks, my sister Michelle Ball, and, in particular, Graham Malcolm, whose work in setting up my campaign office in Edithvale and running all over the electorate was invaluable.
I also thank my state parliamentary colleagues for the assistance they have given me over my first term in this place and also through the last election: Jenny Lindell, Janice Munt, Tim Holding, Jude Perera, John Pandazopoulos and, from the upper house, Adem Somyurek. I wish all of them the very best in the Victorian election coming up on 27 November.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone whom I have not directly named who assisted me either on the campaign or throughout my first term—whether it was handing out pamphlets, coming to mobile offices, handing out how-to-vote cards or simply informing me of some important local issue or giving me some wise words of advice, which I very much appreciate whenever they are offered.
One of the great joys of the job as a local member is to see how investment in the local community makes a meaningful difference for schools, for sporting clubs, for community centres, for business and for welfare organisations. In Isaacs a lot of the improvements to local community infrastructure came through the stimulus packages, which helped stave off the recession that threatened Australia during the global financial crisis, helped keep unemployment below six per cent and gave communities like mine in Isaacs a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure.
Our Labor federal government invested more than $100 million in local schools throughout my electorate thanks to the Building the Education Revolution program. It has been fantastic to see the finished results at schools throughout my electorate. Resurrection School in Keysborough has literally been transformed with innovative new buildings. The school serves a lower socioeconomic community in the very much newly-arrived immigrant suburb of Keysborough, and part of the community also comes from Springvale South. That community is now served by a school which has truly wonderful new buildings.
I could mention Carrum Downs Primary School or St Joachim’s Primary School, both of which have multipurpose centres that are going to be valuable assets to serve the whole of the Carrum Downs community. I could also mention an independent school in my electorate that did what so many independent schools were able to do with the funds that were provided through the Building the Education Revolution program: they added the funds provided by the government to funds they had raised and built a building. Mentone Girls’ Grammar School was able to bring forward by some five years the completion of an early learning centre, because it was in round 1 of the Building the Education Revolution program, and it is a truly excellent addition to that school. Of course, these are only the buildings that are finished; there are many more that are partially constructed and will be completed over the course of the rest of this year and into the first part of next year.
I would have to say that one of the most disappointing aspects of the election campaign was the opposition’s misleading attacks on the Labor government’s spending in schools. My experience with school communities and principals, when it comes to the BER program, has been overwhelmingly positive. I can say that several times during the campaign, and before the campaign, I invited the opposition leader to my electorate to speak to local school communities like the Noble Park Primary School who were funded under the third round of the program.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 5.29 pm to 5.42 pm
Noble Park Primary School is an example of a school funded under the third round of the BER program. They were worried about losing their funding and much needed infrastructure if the coalition won the election. The opposition leader never showed up in response to the invitation that I gave him to visit my electorate and, indeed, he persisted with the promise to cut funding to schools whose projects were in the third round. Happily, the Labor government has been re-elected. Happily, the opposition leader remains in opposition. He is completely out of touch with local school communities and their needs. He is out of touch with the employment opportunities that were created by the BER program, and these are opportunities which have helped keep our unemployment rate at extraordinary lows, even through the global financial crisis. When I visited BER project sites, a theme that I heard over and over again from people working on the sites, from their managers and from tradespeople working on the projects was that they would not be in those jobs and working on those projects had it not been for the BER program. There is an old saying: crisis creates opportunity. The Labor government grasped the opportunity which was provided by the global financial crisis to improve local communities with new projects and upgrades to existing infrastructure.
There is a buzz around Noble Park in my electorate after one of its major landmarks, the Noble Park Swim Centre, with its iconic water slide, was given nearly $7.3 million under the government’s community infrastructure plan to completely redevelop the pool into a community hub. I have been working very closely with the City of Greater Dandenong on this project and cannot wait until it is complete. I am very pleased to hear that the Victorian state government has just agreed to also contribute to the project so that an indoor warm-water pool can be built for community use. It will make what was already a very good project a truly excellent project.
The $3.3 million Kingston Heath Soccer Complex is already up and running in Cheltenham. That is another community infrastructure plan project. That soccer facility will help local soccer clubs like the Bentley Greens enjoy superb new surfaces and modern facilities. It was a great pleasure to open that facility with the member for Hotham a few months ago. There is no doubt that the venue will be a boon to the game in the south-east of Melbourne.
The construction of the Tatterson Park playground was also funded by our federal government and the City of Greater Dandenong. It will assist young families in the new estates in Keysborough in my electorate with a safer environment for their children to play in. Another major part of the stimulus program that manifested in my electorate was the unprecedented social housing funding, which will mean better access to quality public housing in Chelsea Heights, Noble Park and Dandenong. I was fortunate to have the then minister for housing, the member for Sydney, visit the area on two occasions to see directly the benefits for our local community from the significant investments that have been made in social housing.
In my first term as federal member, the Queen Elizabeth Centre in Noble Park has received two rounds of funding. I recently visited the Queen Elizabeth Centre to see how local migrant families are benefiting from programs designed to improve their English and social skills while giving their young children social interaction through play. The $19.4 million Frankston Trade Training Centre will serve 13 schools in Isaacs and Dunkley when it is completed on the site of the Chisholm Institute in Frankston. This will be a great boost to the local area, which, on a national scale, suffers well below average high school retention rates. Why the opposition would want to scrap this training centre is a complete mystery to me. It is vital that those of our high school students who are more suited to trades training or who wish to undergo trades training have that opportunity rather than being forced onto the dole queue.
Other federal government funding has supported manufacturing companies in my electorate, such as Cleantech Ltd and Frontline Australasia in Dandenong South. Cleantech produces new filtering processes, and Frontline does cutting-edge work in the development of cold spray titanium technology. Both of them, like many other manufacturing companies in south-east Melbourne, are demonstrating the strength of research and the depth of manufacturing industry that exists in Melbourne.
The first term of our government was defined by the global financial crisis and our necessary, immediate and decisive response to it. Australia has a fantastic economic story to tell. It is a story which is the envy of the world’s other advanced economies. Within a week of the global financial crisis, the Labor government responded with the first of two fiscal packages and a government guarantee for our banks that provided effective and early confidence in the banking and retail sectors. While it is the case that the global recovery is remaining patchy across the world, with some 30 million more workers unemployed than three years ago, Australia is leading the way with around 5.1 per cent unemployment, a budget that will be in surplus in 2012-13 and a peak government net debt of only six per cent of GDP in 2011-12. That is an unemployment rate of around half that of the US and Europe—and, just as a comparison, the collective net debt of major advanced economies is expected to hit around 90 per cent of their GDPs in 2015.
The miracle economy, if I can call it that, is no accident. Our government acted quickly, strongly and decisively to come out of the financial crisis in better shape than any other advanced economy. As a direct consequence of that, Australia has emerged from the worst global financial crisis since the Depression, with low unemployment and a buoyant economy. It is worth noting, yet again, the OECD Economic Survey report of Australia released this week. It was glowing in its assessment of not only the current state of the Australian economy and the conduct of the Reserve Bank during the global financial crisis but also the policies that were put in place and that are continuing to be put in place by our government.
I am honoured to have been appointed to the roles of Cabinet Secretary and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. I am very much looking forward in this term to assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the member for Charlton, in putting a price on carbon, improving the nation’s energy efficiency and increasing our use of renewable energy. We will be working on establishing a price on carbon for Australia. It is one of my biggest disappointments in my first term in parliament that the parliament failed to pass the legislation that would have created the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, an emissions trading scheme. On three occasions this measure, which would have put a price on carbon for our country and reduced carbon emissions, was blocked in the Senate by the coalition and, I need to add, the Greens.
The state of this parliament—the make-up of this 43rd Parliament—is one which holds no fears for me, and nor should it for anyone who wishes to see stable or progressive government in this country. In the past 21 years, every state and territory has experienced a minority government, most of them serving a full term. Certainly the Victorian experience of the Bracks government from 1999 to 2002—which was the first term of the current Labor government that is still in office and is, I hope, going to be re-elected on 27 November—shows that minority government can, far from being unstable or an environment in which governments cannot get things done, be stable government. Indeed, it shows that there are exciting opportunities through the need to build consensus to produce real reforms. I am looking forward to building consensus in this parliament on issues like climate change, the economy and health reform. I have already enjoyed working with our parliamentary colleagues—the Independents in our House and the lone Green member of the House—on a range of matters, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to pass legislation that will improve our society and Australia’s place in the world.
Coming back after an election in which our side has lost several members is a powerful reminder that no seat can be taken for granted. Some excellent Labor members lost their seats at this election, and I would like to acknowledge Sharryn Jackson, Damian Hale, Jim Turnour, Brett Raguse, Arch Bevis, Jon Sullivan, Chris Trevor, Kerry Rea and Maxine McKew for their service in this place. I pay tribute in particular to the service of the former member for Brisbane, Arch Bevis, including his excellent chairing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which I had the privilege to serve on with him in the last parliament. I would also like to thank four members who retired at the end of the last term: Lindsay Tanner, Jennie George, Duncan Kerr and Bob Debus. I greatly appreciated their advice and comradeship during my first term, and this place will be worse off for their departure. I wish them all the best in their post-political lives.
I would like to conclude by welcoming all new members to this place, but in particular those I have mentioned, my new Labor colleagues the member for McEwen and the member for La Trobe. In addition I welcome my Labor colleagues the member for Canberra, the member for Fraser, the member for Throsby, the member for Chifley, the member for Robertson, the member for Greenway and the member for Bass. I trust that all of those new members will enjoy their first terms in this parliament and find it as rewarding as I found my first term in this parliament, which was the last term. I look forward to working with all of you, the new members, in making the case for fairness, compassion and Labor’s progressive reform agenda.
I am once again very grateful for the confidence the people of Cowan had in me in the recent election, which saw me re-elected with an increased margin. It is a great and humbling responsibility to be an elected representative, and representing the people of Cowan is the greatest honour I have ever had. I sincerely thank the people for their support.
There are, of course, many people who had a part in the successful Cowan campaign. I will start with my family, because without their support I would have been unable to devote the time needed to properly represent and work for my fellow residents of Cowan over the last three years. My wife, Kelly, is strongly supportive of me. She has for three years now asked only to be told when I would be home and does not make me feel guilty about being out all the time. Without her support I would be nothing. My daughters, Emily and Rebecca, also do not make me feel bad for working seven days a week, because they know I am on a mission. Also, I would thank my mother, Connaught, for working her third election for me in Cowan. Her support is always appreciated. Family is where we derive so much of our strength and our ability to go on in this challenging environment from. While I love doing this work, if it ever looked as if it would cost me my family then I would not do it. I therefore thank them for their unwavering support.
As members of parliament we work hard but the reality is that our effectiveness is maximised by our staff. We cannot assist all our constituents without great staff. I know that they always work hard and are never afraid of the extra hours required. My office manager is Helen Power, who has been with me from the start, just before the declaration of the poll in 2007. She is the wise counsel who has always served me and the Cowan community well.
Bill Coghlan has worked for me almost as long as Helen has and his people skills have proved an asset in our office’s relations with community groups and organisations within Cowan. Always positive, Bill, with his irrepressible optimism, has served me well. I thank him for his work and efforts over my first term and throughout the recent campaign.
Ryan Blake is a young staff member who has developed well and is most effective in dealing with constituents and policy matters. He has been a great asset to the team and works very hard. He is always present in all the campaign activities, and it is great to have Ryan as part of my team.
I also thank Lien Nguyen, who works for me on a part-time basis. She has been a great asset and has been instrumental in working for Cowan’s Vietnamese community and helping me to better assist my large number of Vietnamese constituents.
For two years I had Tim Brooks on my staff; however, for personal reasons he returned to his native United States about three weeks before the federal election. Tim was a very effective member of the team.
With just a few weeks to go in the election campaign, following the recommendation of the state director of the Liberal Party, my team was greatly reinforced by the arrival of the highly experienced Simon Morgan. An immediate asset, he was able to turn his extensive campaign ability to great achievement with the Cowan campaign.
Beyond my immediate team I was greatly supported by Senator Michaelia Cash and her staff, who volunteered so strongly before and after normal office hours and on the weekends. They were dedicated and highly effective contributors who provided both practical support and sage advice through the whole campaign. I thank them all, especially Lisa Scott and Marilyn Krawitz. They seemed always to be there for me and I acknowledge their efforts. I also acknowledge the efforts and support of Whitney Jago and Sarah Cunningham.
I was greatly pleased to have the support again during the campaign of Cheryl and Colin Edwardes, who gave the campaign team a great deal of local knowledge and political input when we needed it.
I also thank all my volunteers, who worked so well on the day of the election and came out in support in the weeks and months prior to the actual day. Your efforts helped to create a momentum that was critical when it counted.
The Hon. Chris Ellison was also on the team and was absolutely critical in coordinating the campaign. We were able to achieve a great deal due to his efforts and those of his friends and associates. Chris has been an outstanding mentor and his long-term support and belief in me has only served to strengthen my view that, despite the cynicism of some, politics is ultimately about loyalty, trust and integrity, and I hope that will never change.
When I think back over the months and weeks before and during the formal election campaign, I feel a great sense of warmth and regard for my supporters—those who worked for our cause, those who let us put up signs, those who made donations and those who spoke to me indicating their support, as well as the thousands who voted for me. On this day I thank and honour them for their faith in me.
It is also appropriate for me to acknowledge the sterling assistance of the state director, Ben Morton, and his deputy, Ben Allen, together with the whole WA campaign team. As the WA results show, they clearly got it right and I could not possibly have asked for better central support than we received during the campaign.
I would also thank the state President of the Liberal Party, Mr Barry Court, and the immediate past president, Danielle Blain, for their strong support and efforts for the entire Western Australian campaign—a perfect effort.
I also express gratitude to my federal and state colleagues for their support throughout the term of the last parliament and the campaign. I thank the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, for his strong support; Julie Bishop, our deputy, for everything she has done in promoting and supporting me; and our other frontbenchers including my good friend Bronwyn Bishop, who has made many visits to Cowan, all of them effective and greatly appreciated. Thanks also to Scott Morrison for his visits to Cowan. Kevin Andrews has always been willing to support me and I greatly appreciate his support. The Hon. Eric Abetz was there for me, as were Malcolm Turnbull, Ian Macfarlane, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, Steve Ciobo, Andrew Southcott and of course Greg Hunt, who has made two highly effective visits to my electorate.
At the state level I have of course been well supported by my local state MLAs: Paul Miles, the great member for Wanneroo, and Andrea Mitchell, the star member for Kingsley. I thank them both for their very strong support. I also thank my local state MLCs Liz Behjat, Michael Mischin, Peter Collier, and Alyssa Hayden from the East Metropolitan region for their great support. I was also very fortunate to have the support of Premier Colin Barnett, who visited Cowan and has supported me on many occasions.
I also take this opportunity to thank my close friends in the Macedonian, Vietnamese and African communities, who advise me so well on the issues that are of great concern to those communities. Their advice and support up to and including election day was most appreciated. It is when you see who is willing to work with you on election day that you see who is authentically there for you, so I thank them wholeheartedly. Ultimately the issues that are of concern to these communities are significant. In the case of the Macedonians, one of the big issues that they wish to have resolved is for their homeland to be called the Republic of Macedonia. I hope that comprehensive international recognition can be achieved; however, that will require the Hellenic Republic—the Greek government—to agree. I look forward to such a day.
In the case of the Vietnamese people, their issues and circumstances are deeper still. For those of us here in the federal parliament who have significant Vietnamese communities in our electorates, or a good knowledge of Vietnamese culture, we understand how hard they work and how important family bonds are to them. When you visit Vietnam you see the same strong work ethic and commitment to family that Vietnamese Australians display so clearly. The difference is that here in Australia when you work hard you receive the reward. In Vietnam, you work hard and you do not get the right return for the effort. Yet, as it stands, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam holds back its population. It holds back the relatives and the friends of Vietnamese Australians with archaic political and economic instruments. While the ruling elite of the Vietnamese communist party does well, the Vietnamese people themselves cannot fully benefit from their efforts because the system does not allow them to do so. This is what I mean by issues being very deep with the Vietnamese community in Australia.
I take this opportunity to ask: why did the Rudd government fete and fawn to the general secretary of the communist party in a visit to the parliament here in Canberra last year? Of course we have an obligation to receive and accord due respect and regard to a visiting government leader, but why was there such a reception, such pomp and ceremony, accorded to a non-parliamentary political leader?
My view remains that single-party systems are not legitimate systems. My view is that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam holds back Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. This is the Vietnamese people’s tragic reality: they are held back economically, politically and religiously. As a single-party state, the government of Vietnam is not subject to the scrutiny that a democratic, multiparty system provides, and that is why there are so many questions relating to the legitimacy of the territory agreements with China and the concessions to Chinese companies regarding the bauxite mining operations in the highlands of Vietnam.
It is little wonder that the level of dissent—all peaceful, of course—is rising, when there is no opportunity for the communist party to be scrutinised and held accountable. I look forward to a time when the shackles are removed from the Vietnamese people in Vietnam and they can finally enjoy the fruits of their labour. I look forward to democracy and the freedoms that we enjoy also becoming part of the way of life in Vietnam.
I have in recent times had more involvement with the African community. In particular I speak of the African Christian community. I know how positive they are about their lives now in Australia. They are very happy to have been given the opportunity to live and work in Australia and they are prospering. I see their community as being able to embrace the benefits and freedoms that Australia can provide. They believe in working hard to achieve success, and they do not believe in a welfare culture. While the colour of their skin may be different to most Australians, they have an Australian attitude of working hard but also looking after those who are in need of temporary assistance. They are good Australians and they add great value to our community. In the future I would like to see them have their own church building; that would give them the opportunity to add further value in the wider community. I look forward to seeing an even better future for their community.
I would like to take a moment to reflect upon an issue that was a significant one during the election campaign and one that is certainly of great concern to the people of Cowan, and that is border security. We often hear the words ‘dog whistle’ bandied about in this place by the Greens, Labor or the media—I suppose to try and suggest that those who support a return to strong border protection policies are in some way motivated by a less than honourable personal prejudice. I reject this view entirely. As I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate to have the shadow minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, visit Cowan during the campaign. On that occasion, we were able to meet with some people who have come to Australia as refugees. They expressed incredible frustration that, under the Rudd-Gillard government, those who are waiting in camps overseas to come here are effectively punished by doing the right thing, while those who arrive on illegal boats cause delays to the processing of legitimate, legal refugees.
During the campaign the coalition took a strong stance, designed to deal harshly with illegal immigration and people smugglers, and we do not shy away from that. Conversely, the Labor Party promised to establish a processing centre in East Timor but neglected to check with the East Timorese first. They also solemnly pledged that there would be no expansion at the Curtin detention centre, yet within days of cobbling together a government the Prime Minister broke that promise in one of the most brazen and deceitful moves it has yet been my misfortune to witness during my time in this place. It will do nothing to deter people-smuggling. Indeed, the recent announcements of holding facilities in Northam and Woodside in South Australia are encouragements, not deterrents, to illegal arrivals. These decisions are rejected by the local communities and are evidence of the government lurching from failure to failure.
I am proud that amongst my strongest supporters in Cowan, including a significant number who handed out how-to-vote cards on election day, are those who came to Australia as refugees and who have made our local area their home. It staggers me that the Greens, some in the Labor Party and some in the media, as well as so-called refugee advocates, cannot see what is obvious to the people who actually have firsthand experience—that there is a right way and a wrong way to come to this country. I call upon the government to think through the wider ramifications of its weak and hopelessly ineffective border protection policies. Those who suffer most because of its failures are those who wish to come to this country legally, work hard and become good citizens. We should not be making their task harder by making the task of people smugglers easier through ineffective policy responses to this urgent and challenging problem.
During the recent election campaign the coalition made a number of significant commitments to the people of Cowan. Whilst the Prime Minister may have been able to piece together a government on the floor of this House, at least for now, the Labor Party was soundly rejected by the people of Cowan, who instead voted for the positive local action plan I put forward. I would like to touch briefly on some of its key elements, as these are things I am determined to keep fighting for.
One of the biggest concerns local residents in Cowan frequently mention to me relates to crime, particularly mindless vandalism. To that end, the coalition pledged to fund five mobile CCTV trailers that would be dedicated specifically to patrolling specific districts in Cowan. We already have a couple of such units operating in the City of Swan, and they have proved most effective in fighting crime. I will continue to push for more.
Likewise, local residents are extremely concerned about the speeding and hooning which takes place in residential areas. Those who engage in such activities are, to put it bluntly, idiots who show a flagrant disregard for the property, rights and safety of local families. To help combat this, the coalition pledged to fund a significant number of mobile speed humps, which would be used to combat hooning in local hot spots. These speed humps have previously been installed in some parts of Cowan to great effect, and I look forward to working with the Liberal state government to see what more can be done in appropriate locations.
I believe it is essential that we look after the interests of seniors in our local community. We must do all we can to ensure that seniors have access to facilities and services that allow them to enjoy social activities and retain a network of friends, which is so important in maintaining a healthy and independent lifestyle. That is why the coalition made a significant funding commitment to build a dedicated seniors centre in Ballajura, whose senior citizens group currently does not have its own building. I will continue to fight for this important community facility, which I believe is critically important to the health and welfare of our local seniors.
It is not my intention to go into the specifics of my campaign; however, I would say that the Cowan Liberal campaign for 2010 was, like my 2004 and 2007 campaigns, a fight defined by integrity and honourable behaviour. My campaign was done by the book in a spirit of fair play. I only wish the same could be said of my main opponent. We observed the rules and the by-laws and responded to legitimate concerns quickly, which stands in stark contrast to a number of breaches of those by-laws by the Labor campaign. They never acted on the many complaints made about their illegal signage and in fact only delayed removing their signs. The disappointing part was that the local government seemed less than enthusiastic in pursuing those Labor Party breaches and, in the case of illegal signage at a house in Wanneroo Road, took two months to have the signs removed. I note that it was one week after the election that the signs were finally taken down. I await the results of an external investigation into that and other matters regarding the inconsistent application of by-laws by one local government authority before deciding whether to take the matter any further.
As with all campaigns, I learned a lot about the way our opponents operate. In particular, I noted the partisan involvement of local government councillors. Their willingness to associate themselves with the Labor Party so clearly at the local government level is not really surprising, as I always knew who they were, but it is interesting that they chose to be so clearly partisan in a fight that was going so badly for the Labor Party. I suppose their perceived loyalty to the party in adverse circumstances gives them some status in Labor circles. To date, I have adopted the position that it would be wrong for me as a federal MP to become involved in local government elections. However, given the experience of the recent campaign coupled with the blatant partisanship shown by some councillors, I imagine that if a genuine, committed, community based candidate approached me for an endorsement on material they paid for using their own funds I would strongly consider it. Put simply, those residents living within certain wards deserve better than the sub-par service being provided by the clapped-out Labor hacks who currently dominate some of these councils. Some of them sadly appear to be more interested in the welfare of the ALP than they are in improving the lives of those whom they are elected to serve.
As the federal member for Cowan, I am deeply committed to supporting the local community and making it stronger. I see the positives and the potential in our children who will one day lead this country. I see that it is not through luck or a view that society owes them something that they will achieve their success but rather through hard work and a view that their destiny lies within the palm of their own hands. Sadly, there are too many people in Australia who do not see their own power to achieve success but rather hope to win Lotto or wait for their horse to win. There are too many who look for others to blame for their own problems. It is only once you look in a mirror and see the cause of your own problems that you can then also see in that same mirror the strength in yourself and the origins of your own success.
In this term of the parliament, I restate my commitment to the people of Cowan, not as some VIP or the lord of the manor but as the chief servant of the people of Cowan. I will continue to be approachable. I will continue to listen and I will always try to help the people of Cowan with their federal, state and local government issues. The people of Cowan can expect that I will be even more involved in the community. They will see me a lot. I regret that perhaps they will not always be able to walk in off the street and see me without an appointment because I will be out in the community. However, I guarantee that I will be out in the community more often, and they will certainly see me and have the opportunity to speak to me in those locations. I am 100 per cent committed to the electorate of Cowan and serving the people to the best of my ability. I thank the people of Cowan for their faith and confidence in me. It is a great honour to be elected as the member for Cowan and a great responsibility that I acknowledge again here today.
I begin my address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech, firstly, by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are gathered on and thanking them for their continuing stewardship. Secondly, in order to counterbalance any suggestion that I do so through some out-of-place tokenism, I also wish to acknowledge all others. In the Australia of 2010, just who are the others I refer to? That is what this speech will attempt to explore. On one level, when you strip away all the ceremony from the commencement of the 43rd Parliament, today I am replying to the words of the country girl from Ilfracombe who, on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, detailed the policy framework and legislative agenda for the Gillard government. I sat idle throughout the ceremony that took place in the main chamber, in the Senate and along the well-trodden route between the two chambers. It was different from the start of the 42nd Parliament, Deputy Speaker—your first as well, I seem to recall. Back then, that ceremony created a sense of awe, fear and wonder in me. This time around, as a mere ‘attendant lord’, I was able to soak in a lot more of the details. This time, there was a Governor-General from Queensland addressing the nation. Her Excellency, after her stylish genuflection to political correctness, wherein she deftly affirmed our Indigenous peoples as the first law-givers of our land, said:
I also acknowledge the remarkable circumstance of our nation having its first female Governor-General and first female Prime Minister.
This historic conjunction should be an inspiration not only to the women and girls of our nation but to all Australians.
It demonstrates this is a land of freedom and opportunity. It should reinforce to every girl and every boy, that in this wonderful country, they can aim high and see their hopes fulfilled.
I come from the great state of Queensland, which has a female Premier, Anna Bligh, and our third female Governor, Penelope Wensley. Governor, Premier, Governor-General and Prime Minister—all women. Only a few short years ago, all these leadership roles were held by males—the same as it ever was. Perhaps now one might smell a gentle change in our seasons. Does this mean that the modern Australia that has created the 43rd parliament has a feminine agenda? I do not think so. Perhaps it is more of an historical fluke that merely goes some way towards righting some past wrongs. If 51 per cent of the chamber were female, there might be some possibility of a new wave of change and equity. However, the agenda of this place is determined more by policy and party than by chromosome. Some things are different, but much stays the same.
For me, it was not just the great, vacant swathe of green leather on my side of the chamber that made the tide of pomp this time around a different affair. It was the same mace and crown imperial and even the same speaker—eventually—who led us from this chamber into the mysterious red haze of the Senate. The ceremony’s difference was due to the underlying tension that flows from the voters of Australia, who delivered almost evenly balanced numbers on the floor of this parliament. Consequently, there is a questioning of the presumptions that go with the, ‘We’ve always done it this way,’ starting point of forming government. Why? Because Australians have not done it this way for nearly 70 years.
Sometimes politicians make history with their words and sometimes historians utilise our words to reflect the history they want to write. Seventy years ago our 14th Prime Minister, John Curtin, famously said:
Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.
That was a watershed moment. Where will we be as a nation in 70 years time—perhaps when the next hung, or balanced, parliament comes around? We have changed so much since Curtin commenced something truly indicative of Australian independence—one of the first things, you could argue. Unfortunately, it was declaring war independently on a foreign power.
Nevertheless, it is worth revisiting the Australia of the last minority government, nearly a decade before the Nationality and Citizenship Act, more than 25 years before we had a referendum that counted Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders more appropriately and nearly 50 years before the Australia Act ended our connections with the United Kingdom. Well, it almost completely ended them—not that I am suggesting anything disrespectful in a response to the Queen’s representative. We love our Queen—God save.
Domestically, we are also a different nation from that of 1941. We are still a nation of migrants, but now the people who get off the plane or the boat have roots reaching back to a much bigger variety of countries. Yet, slowly but surely, they become Australians—‘new Australians’ first, and then what? ‘Old Australians’? If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the ‘first Australians’, is everybody else a ‘second Australian’? Where is the cut-off between ‘new’ and ‘second’?
Those are rhetorical questions, but they relate to the ‘other’ I touched on in my opening remarks. Just what is this ‘other’? Just what is this Australia? For thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have understood Australia as a land of the Dreamtime. They maintain a strong spiritual connection to the land that most whitefellas cannot understand. The land is their food, culture, spirit and identity. There is a Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song from the movie One Night the Moon in which the settler, the farmer, sings, ‘This land is mine,’ and the Aboriginal response is, ‘This land owns me’. ‘This land is mine’-’This land is me’—two different voices, different perceptions.
If we step from the early Aboriginal times into the colonial period, we see in the literature and song of that time a hard life of settlers, drovers, jumbucks, convicts and explorers. It was in those times that emerged those common Australian ideals of hard work, mateship and the rebel underdog standing against the establishment. During last century it was phrases like ‘true blue’ and ‘the lucky country’ that seemed to capture something of the Australian identity. But when Donald Horne coined that famous phrase in his book by the same title, The Lucky Country, he was being ironic. He described an Australia of the 1960s that did not think for itself, that was bolted to its past with ‘colonial blinkers’. And he wrote this challenge:
If we are to remain a prosperous, liberal, humane society, we must be prepared to understand the distinctiveness of our own society.
I say this challenge remains before us today.
Much of Australia’s search for identity has been defined, I would suggest, by what we are not. If my name were pronounced in French, I might declare that we are not French. Phillip only beat La Perouse by six days, so merely because Governor Arthur Phillip hauled the Union Jack into the air before the tricolour our identity has a strong British flavour. We know this to be true, although there are members of the House like Mr Combet and Mr Ripoll and ‘moi’ who may say it differently, but the three of us are almost accepted as Australians. I forgot to mention that D’Ath is another French name that might be appropriate.
In fact, the composition of this chamber shows that this modern nation is quite accepting of many backgrounds. We have Jewish Australians, Muslim Australians, Aboriginal Australians, Welsh Australians and even English Australians like the Leader of the Opposition. The adjectival part of these descriptions—the Jewish, the Muslim, the Aboriginal, the Welsh and the English—helps to describe the MP’s roots but does it really help us to understand what they are now, what we are now and what we are as a nation and who we are as a nation? Am I defined by my French, Italian or Irish heritage, or by my country childhood or the state high school that I attended or my religion? Whose bones do we feel underfoot? Can I, as a whitefella, only feel Burke and Wills, or must we as a modern nation learn to feel the memories of the Murris whom they wandered though, lost? Are we defined by sporting prowess? Are our successes or are our losses, like Gallipoli, more important? Or are we better assessed by how we treat our neighbours and those experiencing times of need?
The United States of America has the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. These help to make sure that all Americans, irrespective of their roots, have a set of ideals that transcend geography, race, religion, ethnicity and political persuasion. Sure, the gap between reach and grasp in the United States might be significantly larger than in Australia, but at least the Yanks know what they are reaching for, more or less. In fact, more Australians seem to know the words from their Declaration of Independence better than our marvellous Constitution.
The British also know their identity. Sure, they are grappling with what exactly it is but they are cogitating from an unshakeable state of Britishness. Nevertheless, Australians have a political system that is sometimes called the ‘washminster’ system—bits from Westminster and bits from Washington. We owe much to both these countries, the United Kingdom and the United States, for our political ceremonies and structures. These countries have influenced our culture and our sensibilities, yet still today we characterise ourselves as a nation equally as much by these countries’ legacies as by the fact that we are not British and not American. Yesterday they definitely shaped who we were, yet equally today they help to define who we are not because now more than ever Australia needs to find out what it stands for.
In the face of challenges like climate change, ageing, a vibrant multicultural swirl, media connectivity combined with social isolation, internationalism and fluid capital this is definitely not the time for a meek parliament. Now more than ever our nation needs us to be bold; if not, then history will harshly and horribly judge this 43rd Parliament. I passionately hope that there is a time of bravery and vision and strategic national positioning before us. And there can be because I proudly assert something right now that might upset the member for Lyons and perhaps some of the members opposite. I am going to use a word that Mr Oakeshott suggested was almost forbidden in this chamber—that word is ‘mandate’.
I am not talking about a trip to the footy with another bloke; I mean mandate in the sense of parliamentary legitimacy. Every time our Prime Minister steps up to the dispatch box that was a gift to Australia from the British parliament she has a legitimacy that stretches back long before those 17 delicate minutes on 7 September 2010. As a Queenslander, home of the world’s first Labor government, I know it stretches back even further to before the formation of our political movement under the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine. It goes back to Cromwell and the Magna Carta and every assertion of rights beforehand.
It does not matter if a group selects a leader by a thin majority—what is important is that there is a leader with legitimacy. The challenges in front of the Gillard Labor government are many. We see the traditionally strong economies of the OECD under assault, some even under siege, and the GFC has arguably accelerated the power shift from North America and Europe towards East Asia and our neighbourhood. We are particularly vulnerable to shifts in Sino-American relations due to our roles as trader and ally. And, alongside emerging superpowers like China, we see nations like India and Indonesia changing the power dynamics of our neighbourhood.
I believe that our art and culture can help to define our national identity, shore up our role in the Asian community and also benefit the economic bottom line. Therefore, we should take more of our art and artists off shore to our neighbours. No longer should our Asian neighbours be the lights seen below the wings of the planes carrying Australian performers to Europe and North America. So contrary to the assertions of some of the fear merchants, now is not the time to be insular in trade or cultural exports. In the hope of drumming up fear some people bleat that Australia should not become another’s nation’s quarry.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 6.25 pm to 6.38 pm
So in the hope of drumming up fear, some people bleat that Australia should not become another nation’s quarry. They say, ‘Put up the trade barriers and raise the tariffs.’ That is very short-sighted and completely unrealistic. In fact, there are two meanings in the dictionary for the word ‘quarry’. It reminds me of a saying that the rabbit believes it is mesmerising the anaconda, but not for long. Australia must be fully aware of its size and relative strengths, yet it must still be a brave leader wherever possible on the world stage, particularly when it comes to acting on climate change.
The Taiwanese in my electorate have taught me much about aspirations in the real world. We should not be guided by the meandering mutterings of misguided myopic bumpkins. If the misguided and ignorant do not properly understand our history, how can they help shape our destiny? So I call on this Gillard Labor government to invest significantly in Asian languages and more artistic exchanges with our neighbours, particularly our near neighbours. This should change in a modern Australia. I believe that additional interactions and cultural exchanges with our neighbours can help to shape and define our modern identity. There is no need for anybody to fear a dilution of our British culture and history. Australia will be a stronger nation if we recognise our past, yet step purposefully into tomorrow.
An Irish singer once said that we glorify the past when the future dries up. I see rain ahead, not dry bones. Australia has a brave new world of other possibilities before it and I welcome them, full of faith, hope and charity.
I rise today as the federal member for Macquarie. The Macquarie electorate is vast, steeped in the history of this nation and bonded by location. The electorate encompasses all of the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains local government areas. Both regions are unique and hold a special place in the history of this nation. The Hawkesbury region became the food bowl of Sydney, as Governor Lachlan Macquarie established towns and farms to feed the growing colony. The Blue Mountains unlocked the barrier to lands beyond the mountains and by so doing played a key role in opening up the Western Plains as the colony expanded and grew. This year, 2010, we celebrate the bicentenary of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s term of office and the legacy he left in the Macquarie towns he established, four of which are in the electorate of Macquarie: Windsor, Richmond, Pitt Town and Wilberforce.
In 2013 we celebrate the historic crossing of the Blue Mountains by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and Charles Wentworth, with re-enactments and events to mark history’s page in the narrative of our nation. Much has changed in the region over the last 200 years, yet the charm, beauty and productivity of our region have remained. Today, Macquarie is home to many new families and families descended from first European settlers, whilst still remaining home for many descendants of Australia’s original inhabitants—the Dharug people and the Gundungurra people, who lived across the region from the Hawkesbury River, across the Blue Mountains and out towards Lithgow and Bathurst.
The unique regional lifestyle is an inviting environment for small business. I recently attended the local Blue Mountains Biznet awards and was impressed by the professionalism, innovation, energy and determination to overcome the challenges that exist across the electorate of distance, resources, access to services and a lack of infrastructure from a citycentric state Labor government. There is a strong sense of stewardship through the many diverse and thriving environmental networks. The families which have lived across the region for generations and those more recent residents are passionate that the lifestyle we enjoy is maintained.
Macquarie also boasts too of many iconic tourism attractions that draw visitors from across the world—the amazing Blue Mountains World Heritage National Park and the mighty Hawkesbury-Nepean River. I am indeed humbled, yet privileged, to be the member for Macquarie. The election campaign drew out a range of issues and challenges people across the region face on a day-to-day basis. As their federal member I will be a strong voice for the people of Macquarie, who question and challenge the change, the backflips and the broken promises of this Labor government. Together with my colleagues I will scrutinise the decisions of this government. The waste resulting from the Building the Education Revolution project is one example. Mistakes and mismanagement of the BER project undertaken at Cattai Public School, East Kurrajong Public School, Faulconbridge and Mount Victoria public schools and at other schools across the nation are completely unacceptable. The waste, damage and personal safety of people in their own homes as a result of the home insulation debacle must never be allowed to fade from the public record. This was a failure of monumental proportions. The money that was wasted could have been spent on other, worthy programs. Many community groups, volunteer organisations, such as the Rural Fire Service and charities, would have put that money to good use. And, of course, there is the mining tax and the impact that will have on the cost of living.
During the lead-up to the election, I announced a range of initiatives that, if a coalition government had been elected, would have made a difference to the people of Macquarie. Those initiatives I wish to highlight now, but can I assure the people of Macquarie that I will continue to fight on their behalf for what will make a real difference to their lifestyle, their futures and their opportunities. One was making the roads safer and supporting more freight to rail. The region needs a plan for the future for adequate road and rail infrastructure. The Leader of the Opposition and I met with local action groups and concerned residents whose message was loud and clear: an integrated rail and road system is essential for keeping our roads safe.
Another initiative was improving local hospitals and health services. As a start, I have a petition ready to be tabled to have the mobile breast screening service returned to Springwood and Richmond. Access to health care is a major challenge for the people of Macquarie and all residents across the region, and I had several initiatives that would have assisted with some of the challenges. I will continue to fight for these initiatives: $1 million to support the expansion of after-hours GP services to relieve some of the delays for treatment at local hospitals.
One example of how the people of Macquarie have been let down by the Labor government is this one. A teenage boy broke his leg in a motorbike accident. His mother took him to a major regional hospital in greater Western Sydney which services the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. They were told it would be a 10-hour wait. His mother told me that no attempts were made to make the long wait even remotely comfortable. There were not enough chairs for all the patients to sit down in peace while they waited the many hours to be attended to. It was 2½ hours before the first consultation and six hours before there was any relief for her son. Eventually the boy’s mother had to help the doctor plaster her son’s leg. Sadly, stories like this are not a one-off occurrence.
I also pledged $1.2 million for a CT scanner for the Katoomba hospital. People now have to travel long distances out of the region to access specialist services. Wherever possible and practical, we need to be bringing services back to the region. I also announced $200,000 for the Erik Hausoul Sarcoma Foundation. Every year hundreds of teenagers are diagnosed with sarcomas. The survival rate is low due to a lack of awareness about the importance of early detection and a lack of research to find suitable treatments and, more importantly, a cure. The funding would have helped the foundation develop education and awareness programs for parents, students and schools relating to teenage cancers and sarcomas.
If the coalition had been elected, its $1.5 billion plan for better mental health—a plan that is real action that will make a difference—would have gone a long way to improving Australia’s mental health situation. $1.5 billion would have funded 20 early psychosis intervention centres, 800 mental health beds and 60 additional youth headspace sites around the nation.
Another major initiative I announced on behalf of the coalition was funding to improve roads and $250,000 for Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon tourism, as part of the coalition’s $14 million domestic tourism development grants scheme. With the fluctuations in the Australian dollar, that domestic tourism scheme is needed now more than ever.
To address the pressing matter of local crime for communities in both the lower mountains and also in the Hawkesbury, the coalition if elected had committed $450,000 for CCTVs for Hazelbrook, Winmalee and Glenbrook.
During the campaign, I announced $15 million to establish a conservation corridor to protect the Cumberland Plain woodland in greater Western Sydney. This was described by the Vice President of the Western Sydney Conservation Alliance, Mr Wayne Olling, as ‘the greatest conservation commitment of any party’. If the coalition were leading our nation in government today and if we have the opportunity in the future—which I will fight for—we would have a project to link a continuous corridor of significant remnants of bushland and open space to protect greater Western Sydney’s endangered flora and fauna species.
And I made other commitments to further protect and preserve the environment in Macquarie, where bushfires and floods alike threaten precious wildlife as well as communities, businesses and our regional economy—$2 million for Blaxland and Glenbrook solar towns projects; $1 million for solar schools in Blaxland East Public School and Colo High; $500,000 for the University of Western Sydney’s biofuel study to convert algae from the Hawkesbury River to energy, something that would have made a real difference; and $250,000 for green army projects in Knapsack Reserve at Glenbrook and Yarramundi Reserve, two projects that not only would have helped our environment but would have provided training and employment pathways for our younger generation. I have also been active in making representations for funding for flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley and funding for improving water quality in the Hawkesbury Nepean river system.
The preservation of the Richmond RAAF base in its current capacity as a defence facility is another major priority for which I will continue to fight. The RAAF base employs around 3,000 people and is one of the most active bases in the Air Force. Approximately 14 per cent of total gross regional product and over nine per cent of total regional employment come from the base. The RAAF facility’s runway is located on a flood plain. It is not capable of accommodating heavy airliners nor is it an appropriate site for a second Sydney airport. Labor needs to come clean with the Richmond community and tell us once and for all what its intentions are for our historic base.
I am also committed to making representations to local government to ensure the local community’s voice is heard on matters that are important to them, supporting improved public transport services and the relocation of jobs to the region and investing in a sustainable future to protect and preserve our local environment. These are matters that affect the daily lives of people living in the electorate of Macquarie.
I am dedicated to encouraging our young people to reach their fullest potential, to take on responsibility and to become leaders not just for their generation but for future generations. To that end I established a youth leadership program, the Macquarie Youth Leadership Forum, and we have completed the 2010 forum. The forum is dedicated to developing future leaders through practical exposure to core leadership values such as service to others, integrity and courage. It is critical to the future of our region and our nation that the community invests in the next generation of leaders. I particularly want to thank sponsors of the forum—Value Valley Meats, Woolworths Richmond, Bendigo Bank North Richmond, Rachael Goldsworthy Realty, Coles North Richmond, Audio Visual Warehouse, HR King and Sons Hardware and Bendigo Bank Katoomba. I thank them for their commitment to our young people.
If elected to government the coalition had a direct action plan that would have answered many of the concerns raised by the people in Macquarie and indeed across the nation. People are hurting as a result of Labor’s incompetence, financial mismanagement and broken promises. Already Labor has reversed an election promise, demonstrating an utter disregard for the cost-of-living pressures faced by everyday Australians such as the families, pensioners and small business people of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains.
Just prior to the election the current Prime Minister announced: ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ Broken promises will become the norm for the Labor-Greens-Independents alliance. Look at the promised citizens assembly of 150 ordinary Australians to debate the carbon tax. Now that a carbon tax is back on the agenda, this assembly’s job will be to decide what the carbon cap should be, a far cry from deciding whether a carbon tax is in the nation’s best interests. A carbon tax is the first product of the secret deal between Labor and the Greens. A carbon tax would mean a short-term extra 25 per cent electricity price hike for pensioners and a likely medium-term doubling of the cost. Families and pensioners in the electorate of Macquarie are already being forced to decide between light and heat or food. A carbon tax will hurt each and every one of us as increased costs are passed on to the consumer. Labor simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing and keep downward pressure on daily living costs. How can the Labor government be trusted to keep its promises on taxes and on the environment? The coalition had a direct action plan that achieved sustainable environmental outcomes without the introduction of a carbon tax. I am determined to continue to work with the community on matters of concern and to work with individuals to achieve the best outcome for their circumstances.
In closing, I want to thank most sincerely all the people who supported me and the people of Macquarie throughout the campaign: my dedicated team—and they know who they are—if I listed everyone today, we would be here for a very long time. I want to thank every one of the loyal and hardworking volunteers and my shadow ministerial colleagues, who visited and offered me support. In particular, I wish to acknowledge Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Marise Payne; their support for and commitment to the greater Western Sydney region is indeed unwavering. I especially want to thank the people of Macquarie for giving me the opportunity and for placing their trust in me to represent them, to give voice to their concerns and to raise in this national parliament what is important to them.
As the member for Macquarie, I will ensure that the people of Macquarie have a strong voice. The individuals, families, small business owners have dreams, aspirations and goals for their lives, for their communities, for the people they employ, for the people they work with for their children and for their grandchildren. They have a commitment to their lifestyle, to their local community and to their neighbours but also to their environment. What is important to them is that they have every opportunity to build a future for themselves, to make choices and to have an environment in which they are confident that the decisions they make will reap a reward. In this current environment, that confidence is not secure.
With Labor in charge, confidence is challenged on a daily basis. The economic environment is questionable. Their future is in doubt. I assure them that, on their behalf, I will fight for their best interests and I will work with them for what is important to them. I assure them that I will do the best I possibly can to represent them and to ensure that in this place what is important to them is heard and responded to.
It is a great privilege to speak today on the address-in-reply on the occasion of the formation of the 43rd Parliament. As always when we speak on these occasions, I want to begin by thanking the people of Calwell for their generous support and endorsement of me as their federal member. This is the fourth time that the people of Calwell have endorsed me as their member. I think most members would agree that it is a humbling experience to have been given this very precious opportunity, which comes with privileges but also with responsibility. It is a responsibility that stretches to the representation of the people—in my case the people of Calwell. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously. As the achievements have been great and the challenges many, I want to place on record my full commitment to carrying out the task of representing my constituents, their needs and interests, with the same fervour and passion that I had when I was first elected to this House in 2001.
I want to especially acknowledge all those who worked on my campaign. In particular, I want to thank all my local branch members and party members, community groups, all those who volunteered throughout the election campaign and on election day and of course my staff. Being involved in a campaign is a very difficult and cumbersome business—I think we all know that—and we owe our successes to the people who volunteer their time to help us. So thank you to all those involved in the federal campaign for Calwell.
I also want to take this opportunity to welcome the new elected members to the House. This is a parliament of many firsts. We have our first female Governor-General, our first female Prime Minister, our first Indigenous member to the House of Representatives—the member for Hasluck, I would like to congratulate him on his appointment—and our first member of Muslim background, the member for Chifley. I want to single out the member for Chifley in particular, because my seat of Calwell has the largest Muslim constituency in Victoria and the second largest in Australia. So his election to this parliament is of particular significance to the people of my electorate.
I think these many firsts are a reflection of our country as a land of opportunity. I do believe it makes this parliament more reflective of the diversity of the Australian community and I think we are in a very good position in the 43rd Parliament.
I also congratulate my parliamentary colleagues who have been re-elected in what is a new and very challenging work environment. I put on record my feeling of sadness that many of the members of the 42nd Parliament were not re-elected and my sadness for those who have left us willingly, who have retired. When we come up here we come up in classes. I came up in a class of 2001 and it was difficult for me to part with the former member for Throsby, whose presence in this place I enjoyed immensely. But this is the nature of our job. We come and go and we hope that at the very end we have made some small mark and some difference to this parliament and to our communities.
In the seat of Calwell, Labor achieved a swing towards it in the two-party preferred vote in the election of 2010. This comes on the back of a very large swing to Labor in the 2007 election, which was almost double the national average. It is a reflection of the fact that—and I note this not because I wish to pat myself on the back—for working Australia and for areas such as my electorate of Calwell the Labor Party still resonates as the party that is most responsive to the interests of that electorate. In that sense I am very pleased to be representing a wonderful constituency.
I also take the opportunity to congratulate the Speaker, the Hon. Harry Jenkins, my neighbour in the north of Melbourne but also a friend and colleague. I am very pleased that Speaker Jenkins is presiding over the House of Representatives in the 43rd Parliament. It is a very challenging time for him as well—and for others who are on the Speaker’s panel, yourself included, Mr Deputy Speaker. Harry has executed his role as Speaker magnificently. He has brought his own personal touch of good humour and admonishment. I am sure we all enjoy his speakership and I could not think of any other member who would be better placed to preside over this parliament than Harry Jenkins.
Thank you very much. There are many important issues that are going to be debated in this parliament. We have all certainly hit the ground running. For my part I intend to provide an input in these debates and welcome the opportunity to have issues that are important to the Australian people placed high on this parliament’s agenda. Of great importance during this parliamentary term will be proposals put forward to amend the Constitution to recognise our first Australians. It is about recognising the struggle and the enormous sacrifices that so many members of Australia’s Indigenous community have made and continue to make in their efforts towards seeking recognition and justice. It is about honouring the Indigenous people of this land. They are the oldest continuing culture in history. It is about ensuring we continue to move forward in our nation’s long journey towards reconciliation and ensuring that Australia’s founding charter embodies the spirit in which the path of reconciliation is being shaped.
Targets associated with the Closing the Gap report, investment in housing, health, early childhood, economic participation and remote service delivery will help ensure that Indigenous communities across Australia benefit from the government’s agenda. This agenda will see the advancement of the plight of Indigenous Australians strengthened by the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. I welcome these initiatives, which are an important feature of the government’s agenda. I have a very large local Indigenous community—in the north and outer metro of Melbourne—and I know that they welcome the government’s agenda.
I also welcome the government’s continued investment in our health system. I always talk about the health needs of my electorate. The structural reforms that will serve to improve access to health and hospital services will be an important landmark in the improvement of the overall health and wellbeing of ordinary Australians. I strongly believe that the upgrade of primary care facilities into GP superclinics, as well as the construction of new dedicated GP superclinics, will deliver real improvement in front-line health services. The rollout will see the creation of a GP after-hours hotline for families not only in my constituency of Calwell but across Australia. Families will be able to receive support on weekends or very late at night. We know that for families with sick children the evenings are always difficult and the services they require are not always easily available. This kind of investment will ensure that Australians are able to link directly to those qualified to provide the best support but will also help ease the pressure on our emergency departments in hospitals across Australia.
Calwell is home to 162,000 people, with the overall population forecast to grow by 54 per cent from 2006 to 2030. Importantly, the aged population is forecast to grow by 179 per cent from 2006 to 2030. The Hume local government area has a growing community with a high number of young families. By 2013, Hume city is expected to reach a population of 177,299. That is an increase of 10,000 people from 2006, and the population will exceed 240,450 by 2030. With the way time flies nowadays, 2030 is not very far away. It is a phenomenal increase in population. The two groups that are increasing most in population are young families and the elderly, so you can imagine the pressure that that will bring to bear on a whole series of services, particularly health.
That is why the people of my electorate are very much looking forward to the GP superclinic announced for Calwell by the Gillard Labor government. The government has invested $7 million in our community through the national health and hospital reforms. I can assure the community that this will go towards the building of a GP superclinic, which will take pressure off existing health services. It will offer after-hours GP services and provide training for future health professionals. A GP superclinic will address some of the major areas of need and we very much welcome that investment. It is a credit to the government’s strong management of the economy that our community has secured a GP superclinic. Through the Gillard Labor government and the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Australian people can be certain that health will continue to remain a priority for this government in the years to come.
The government’s agenda is comprehensive. The agenda not only takes Australia into the future but is designed to support policies across ministries and departments to cater for a whole-of-government approach. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the government’s continued rollout of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure enterprise, the National Broadband Network. The NBN, in lifting productivity across the nation through high-speed, affordable broadband, will not only expand and create new economic opportunities but improve the delivery of health and education programs that have been announced to date and will be announced in future. Where access to medical specialists is not as readily available, internet based consultations will prove vital to greater accessibility of services. This is particularly important for Australians living in regional and outer suburban areas, who, by the middle of next year, will be able to have access to a new Medicare rebate for these consultations. This will introduce all the benefits of technology to meet the needs of Australians and grapple with some of the problems that the delivery of health services encounters.
There is also the issue of social inclusion and, in particular, addressing the very important issue of homelessness. It is hard to talk about homelessness without talking about a denial of the opportunities afforded to most Australians—opportunities which exist on the premise that a person is living in the comfort and security of a stable home. On any given night up to 105,000 of our fellow Australians are homeless, totally separated from the connection to all that was once theirs and from it losing all opportunities that would otherwise be available to them. With a lack of a point of stability, it is difficult for homeless people not only to obtain and keep a job but also to participate in many other of life’s various aspects.
If we are going to change the landscape of opportunity for the homeless across Australia, we as a government need to create supported and sustainable living arrangements and social housing programs to accommodate our most vulnerable citizens. We need to ensure that, as Australia moves forward into a progressive future, it does so in the company of all its citizens. From key initiatives aimed at halving by the decade’s end the rate of homelessness and offering accommodation to all people who do it tough or sleep out, specialist housing services will be made available and new initiatives, programs and services to tackle issues of social inclusion and housing affordability will be created.
In the Australian context it is home which serves as a basis for all other opportunities afforded to us. Housing targets will only be effective if they are complemented with other support programs. It is primarily an issue of social inclusion. That is why I welcome the federal government’s social inclusion agenda and the creation of new initiatives, programs and services to tackle issues of social inclusion surrounding the efforts aimed at tackling homelessness. Such a multifaceted approach will help Australia tackle this complex social problem.
This is about building a more inclusive society and, despite our strong economic growth and the positive signs reflected through social and economic indicators, there are still entrenched disadvantages affecting the lives of many Australians and, indeed, many of my constituents. The government’s social inclusion agenda aims to increase the level of social and economic participation so that no Australian is left behind and so that, as our economy grows, every Australian is able to tap into the increased wealth and opportunities that come with it.
It is also about continuing to invest in our schools, continuing to invest in communities across Australia and continuing to support social inclusion measures. Of course, education is the great enabler. In recent days I have had much pleasure in being present at the recognition ceremonies for many of the schools in my electorate as their Building the Education Revolution programs have been officially opened. I attended four such openings in the last two weeks, and each and every student, teacher and parent I have encountered is absolutely rapt with the new facility in their school community. They are very grateful and they want me to convey to the government their deep gratitude and their many thanks for the resources that were made available to their school community.
I do want to name some of those schools, because it is very important to recognise the good work that they do. I want to make reference to St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College, which received $4.6 million. They built a magnificent new languages and science centre and a new library. They are absolutely delighted and so am I. Being a former language teacher, I have a particular interest in language centres and I am very pleased that the kids at St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College are going to enjoy learning in a wonderful environment. St Anne’s Primary School in Sunbury received $3.2 million under the National School Pride Program and Primary Schools for the 21st Century, as part of the BER; Sunbury Heights Primary School received $3.2 million—again, under the National School Pride Program; Campbellfield Heights Primary school received $2.1 million; Greenvale Primary School received $3.2 million; and there was $3.2 million for a multipurpose centre at Roxburgh Homestead Primary School.
This is a significant amount of money and these are significant structures. They are not school halls. They have been characterised as school halls and a waste of taxpayers’ money. I want to say to the House that these are not school halls; these are highly sophisticated, high-tech facilities that equip children for learning in the 21st century. They are situated in an electorate that is known for its socioeconomic difficulties. I said that education is a great enabler. It is the means by which we transform the lives of children, and our young Australians need to be given every opportunity possible. It is our responsibility to give them every opportunity possible to develop to the best of their abilities. Children require a complexity of opportunities. Home and school are two of the most significant institutions in the lives of children. We know that when the home environment is out of kilter with the school environment or there are difficulties in the home environment, this impedes the progress of young.
As a former teacher, and having taught in portables, I have a great affection for portables but I also know that teaching in the 21st century must accommodate technology. I do not know what I would be like with the great whiteboards that I saw in my schools last week; I do not think I would be able to use them. But the kids take to them like ducks to water and it is incredible what they can do. Sometimes you have just got to stop and forget the cliches about halls and taxpayers’ money being wasted and acknowledge that a lot of taxpayers in my electorate and across this country believe and recognise that the money spent in the Building the Education Revolution is not only money well spent but money that should have been spent a long time ago.
I want to thank the government for taking my local schools into the 21st century. I make no apologies for the fact that my electorate has received a lot of money, and I know that it will be to the benefit of everyone in the electorate but in particular the young people in my electorate. I do not want to forget Bethal Primary School. Their building is so sophisticated that they do not quite know how to use it yet. Bethal is a school that has been disadvantaged and in many ways has been the subject of a lot of vandalism. The pride that they feel is enough to make one weep. (Time expired)
It is a pleasure to rise in this important debate, the first debate of the new parliament. In beginning my contribution, like many other members I want to point out what a privilege it is to be the member for Casey in Victoria and to have been elected as the member for Casey for the fourth time. As many members have articulated during this debate, none of us would be in the House of Representatives without the support of our electorates and without many people working long hours to ensure our election.
I want to first of all thank the electors of Casey for the confidence they have shown in me again. As has been the case since my election in 2001, that confidence will be reciprocated as I work my hardest to represent them to the best of my ability in this House of Representatives. As members know, we all rely on the strong support of party volunteers who believe in us and want to see us elected and re-elected, as the case may be.
At the outset I want to thank a number of members of the Liberal Party in Casey who worked so hard, not just throughout the election campaign but in the lead-up to that campaign, as they have done in previous elections—Fran Henderson, the campaign manager; Annette Stone, the Chair of the Casey Federal Electorate Conference; Jill Hutchison; Byron Hodkinson; Jim Dixon; Peter Manders; Brian and Maria McCarthy; Rex McConachy; Neil Gryst; John Lord; Brent Crockford; Denise Jeffs; Nadia Carretta; Pamela Gemelli; Andrew Hallam; Nicole Blair and Estelle Wallingford are some of the people who worked very hard on a daily basis. I also want to pay tribute to the many other branch members who also contributed in the lead-up to the campaign and, naturally, on polling day itself. I want to pay tribute and say thanks to so many members of the community who were prepared to help on election day. They were not necessarily members of the Liberal Party but people who wanted to support me and our cause in this election and who volunteered their time.
Election day in a democracy is an incredible thing, as my friend here at the table discovered for the first time. And my colleague across the way has experienced a couple of times now the sheer event of nearly 90,000 people voting at however many polling booths you have in your electorate. In my case it is about 40. In both of your cases it is many more, I suspect. To see that happen and to see the volunteers and the man-hours that go into that is incredible. We are all here because of the dedication of so many others. That dedication of volunteers beyond politics is something that is very evident and key in the case of my electorate. It is a community that stretches from the outer eastern suburbs beginning in Croydon right out into the Dandenong Ranges and into the Yarra Valley. It is a diverse community but it is a very united community and it has a very strong volunteer spirit. We see it in the contributions of individuals. We all see this in our electorates and in the contributions of community groups.
In this address-in-reply contribution I want to pay tribute to some of the people I have had the pleasure of working with. As a member of parliament I work very closely with people who are dedicated to important charities and causes within the electorate and with people who are dedicated to their own particular community within the wider electorate. I want to take the time to single out a few who have put in extraordinary efforts on individual events. There are some who, for many years—decades, in fact—have contributed to not just one or two organisations but to many organisations.
Firstly, I pay tribute to Hendy O’Toole from the Croydon Lions Club. I first met Hendy a couple of years ago. She came to me because she wanted to raise money for and promote awareness of bionic ears for people with hearing loss. She was profoundly deaf as a younger lady and benefited from a lot of the research. She decided to give something back and to raise some money, and she did so by walking the Kokoda Track. She put those two events together. It was a pleasure to work with her and so many of her friends. It is a tribute that she completed the walk and raised $10,000 for the cause, but she also raised a lot of awareness in the local community and that will have a ripple effect going forward. I want to, in this House, pay tribute to her. The money that she has raised will go to a very great cause.
I want to also say thank you to a number of local business men and women in the electorate. As we all know, small businesses in particular are very much the backbone of our local economies. Their decision to employ someone can make the difference between a young kid having an opportunity, particularly in some of our traditional trades. Last year I began the Casey apprenticeship and traineeship awards. I called on a number of local business leaders to not just judge the awards but also conduct them, select the criteria and choose some of the winners. I wanted to recognise some of the outstanding apprentices who are embarking on careers not just in traditional trades but also in the new and emerging trades that we see in so many of the industries that are transforming the outer east and the Yarra Valley. I want to thank Phil Munday, of a Phil Munday’s Panel Works; Jeynelle Forrest, of Rustic Charm Restaurant; Clive Larkman, of Larkman Nurseries; and Nick Fraraccio of Stevens Glass. They all put in a lot of time—and it is very busy running a business. We often met at about seven in the morning. They received nominations from right across the electorate and judged them together as a group. As you can imagine, it was a very difficult task. I thank them for that.
I also pay tribute to those who received the awards. The two encouragement award winners were Steven Miller and Aung Luri, the two runners-up were Ashley White and Ashley Turnham and the ultimate winner was David Donchi of DBM Plumbing. David is an apprentice plumber but he made a mid-career change. He is a mature age apprentice who decided well into his working career that he wanted to take up a new trade. He was prepared to make that incredible sacrifice and he dropped a lot of income to do that. He is a first-class employee—his business recognised that—and his award was very well deserved. Of course, those awards will be occurring again next year and that committee I mentioned will be there again putting in the volunteer hours to promote trades and apprenticeships and jobs and careers in small and medium sized businesses in the electorate of Casey.
We also have volunteer groups putting in hours on a week-by-week basis. There are a couple of groups I want to single out for mention, including those in the Montrose community who worked very hard over so many years to redevelop the recreation reserve there. They were able to do that with some money from the state government and a significant grant from the previous Howard government. That has been a long-term project and it would not have come about if it had not been for the hard work of the community and leadership from people like Julie McDonald, who led the way in raising community funds for a state-of-the-art playground that has now become a hub for young families within the electorate. So I pay tribute to that community. I also pay tribute to those in the township group, who have worked on so many town improvement projects, including the alleyway artwork project with the help of so many young artists from the local primary schools in the area.
Similarly, the Monbulk Living and Learning Centre is a major redevelopment in the centre of Monbulk. It will be a community hub with a library, childminding facilities, cafes and galleries. It will be the central hub. It opened just a few weeks ago—unfortunately, that was on a Thursday when I was here in Canberra. It had received a $2 million grant from the previous Howard government—and I must point out that that money was made available when we were running surplus budgets.
It would be remiss of me not to point out so many of the other groups, but time does not permit me to mention them all. The RSLs, which work so hard right throughout the year, were in fact running services in our community just last week. Eric Dosser from Lilydale, Neil Gryst, Sam Berry and Ron Batty from Croydon, Ted Beard from Monbulk, and Derek and Betty Crittenden from Mount Evelyn, thank you for everything you do. Over the last few years, we have seen a return of the Anzac Day service at the Cenotaph in Montrose. This has been possible due to the hard work and effort of Bob Hovenden and the Montrose Lions Club.
We in this parliament who are speaking on the debate that began with the new parliament must rightly reflect on national issues as well. Of course, as we begin this new parliament, we cannot help but reflect on what has occurred within the government over its period in office from November 2007. Before the election—in fact, 4½ months ago now—the new Prime Minister on her first day stated that the government had lost its way, and for 4½ months the government has demonstrated it has well and truly lost its way. The Prime Minister said that the government had lost its way on a number of policies. What we saw in the last parliament was the government failing the key tests of government. Those tests include the test of competence and the test of honesty.
On the test of competence, we all know only too well the policy failures from ceiling insulation through to school halls and solar panels. But we have also seen a failure of honesty when it comes to policy promises from this new government, and we have seen it in the period since the election. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister made it very clear that Labor would not introduce a carbon tax. In fact, not only was the Prime Minister insistent but the Treasurer, Mr Swan, said that claims that Labor would introduce a carbon tax were hysterical. Now we see them planning just that. There was a promise to open a detention centre in East Timor, even though it was news to the East Timorese, and now we are seeing more detention places here in Australia.
There are other examples but the important and disappointing point with this new government that has had two Prime Ministers in less than three years is that, when it comes to promises, the promises are always big but then one of a few things happens to those promises. If they are kept, they are implemented incompetently, and, if they are not implemented, it is because they have been dumped—or, in some cases, there is a combination of the two. Ultimately, we see that the poor decision making by the government here in Canberra, be it on economic management or on policy implementation, is paid for financially by all our communities. The policy failure here is borne in the towns and suburbs of our electorates. A government that announced it had lost its way on 24 June and is still lost today is not a government that is going to find its way. As the member for Casey, I will at every turn hold this government to account and at every turn stand up for my constituents who pay the taxes and bear the brunt of this incompetence and failure.
I have, from time to time, agreed with members of the Labor government on various issues. There have been a couple of instances where we have seen members of that side recognise the dire situation of incompetence and policy failure. One such person, of course, is Senator Doug Cameron, who recently—and you will have heard this, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, from many members—likened the Rudd government to ‘having a political lobotomy’, and referred to backbenchers becoming zombies. Nothing has changed. Senator Faulkner, an elder of the Labor Party, recently pointed out:
… Labor is struggling with the perception we are very long on cunning, and very short on courage.
In one of the member for Griffith’s final speeches before he became Prime Minister, an address in 2007, he said:
… Australia needs a government that will help the nation fulfil its promise, rather than a government that makes promises it can’t fulfil.
Those words haunt this government. We have seen administrative failure. We have seen a government that demonstrates that it cannot govern competently, as I have said. But we have seen a government that is quite prepared during an election campaign, on a number of fronts, to make promises, with its fingers crossed behind its back, only to go back on them as soon as the parliament returns.
It is our democratic duty to hold this government to account. I will do so with full vigour, in all the forums of the House, because it is my job to represent the best interests of the electors of Casey, because the decisions taken here very much affect the sorts of lives and opportunities that families, small businesses, pensioners and retirees have in Casey, in Melbourne’s outer east and in the Yarra Valley.
By the age of 15, I might have understood, like most members of this House, that there are 18 players in an Aussie Rules team. But I am still to fathom why a few individuals in the Labor Party were indulged in regard to the allocation of seats at the last federal election in New South Wales after a very odd redistribution. It is for that reason that, tonight, I will concentrate more than normal on thanking a large number of people for their contribution to my campaign in Werriwa.
In the campaign, the way in which seats were allocated meant that I and the new member for Fowler were not able to avail ourselves of the very large amount of largesse the Australian taxpayer provides to incumbent members. That was the first difficulty in the campaign in Werriwa. Obviously, I had to also arrange for an office and could not conduct the campaign from my Reid electoral office. Similarly, the distance from the area where many of my former supporters reside to Werriwa is quite significant. Finally, there was the reality that the previous member for Werriwa had been very popular locally, and there was a very vicious campaign by one particular press outlet in the electorate. So to limit the swing to eight per cent was, in a sense, an accomplishment, given that this tended to be the city-wide swing.
I therefore want to put on record my appreciation of a large number of people who helped in this campaign. Many of them were at first reluctant to accept me because of the decision of the national executive to impose me, rather than, as should have occurred, having rank-and-file selection ballots throughout the New South Wales electorates.
I want to thank councillors Anoulack Chanthivong and Aaron Rule, the then mayor; Wendy Waller, a councillor of Liverpool; Councillor Anne Stanley, the president of the federal electorate council; John McLaughlin, the president of the council; locals Owen Hooper, Brad Parker, Charishma Kaliyanda and Tim; Moinul and Masood Chowdhury; Brother Buryia; Farooq Iqbal; Vicki Meadows; all of my staff, but most particularly Steve Christou and Maurice Campbell; Dr Ali Sarfraz; Paul Drayton; Ian Pandilovski; David Voltz; Antonio Bifulco; Scott Mills; Mark Wine; Karl Appel; Kyle McGregor; Helen Samardzic; Mustafa Agar; Christopher Gosling; Sarah Frazier; James Kater; et cetera. Many of these, of course, came from my former electorate of Reid and are people with whom I have had a longstanding connection.
I also want to thank a significant number of ethnic communities, who, unsolicited, flocked to my campaign. Amongst those communities were the Sinhalese, Tamil, Arabic, Filipino and Bangladeshi communities, as well as those from the subcontinent of India and Pakistan, and Pacific islanders. I guess that over a long period of time I have been very active in multicultural and ethnic affairs in Sydney, and this was rewarded in large measure by a significant effort by these people on polling booths—people who were not party members but who welcomed me to the electorate because of my historic connections with these communities. So, in the end, I very much thank the people who contributed to the campaign for my ultimately having what I thought was a reasonable result.
One of the issues that I want the government to press more strongly on is the question of carbon trading. We had comments about how there was no commitment et cetera at the last election. Quite frankly, I think this issue is bigger than those commitments. I think that one of the failures in the last parliament was the reversal on this matter after Copenhagen. The opposition are comforted by events in the US congress, by the fact that it seems that as a result of the mid-term elections things might be slowed down. They are comforted by comments such as that from Tea Party Wisconsin representative Ron Johnson, a plastics millionaire:
I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity, or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.
They are comforted by that kind of comment. They are also comforted by another Tea Party quote I saw last week that, because apparently there was some biblical reference where God had said that he would never punish the world again, we can be comforted that there is no problem.
Quite frankly, I think that in American politics we should have far more respect for the fact that, back as early as 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson said that fossil fuels were a significant problem in regard to climate change. That was in 1965. It was similar with President Carter, in the period 1975 to 1985—a million years ago as far as some people are concerned. It was reported by Garry Wills in a review of the book White House Diary recently that in that period fuel use in federal buildings was restricted, solar panels were inserted in the White House, there was a regulation of gas consumption in vehicles, and tax breaks were provided for wind technology. This significant crisis that the world faces was seen by some US presidents, as I say, as far back as 1965. And we have people apparently getting some comfort from the idea that Obama might have to back off for political reasons. I would hope that we have no vacillation, no weakness, by the Labor government in the period forward.
We of course face very significant crises on a national level. It has been projected that Australia could face by 2030 a further one degree of warming temperatures, up to 20 per cent more months of drought and up to a 25 per cent increase in days of very high and extreme fire danger. The results of these will be manifest in an increase in the frequency and severity of drought conditions resulting from climate change and reduced availability of water. The frequency of drought may increase by up to 20 per cent over most of Australia by 2030. The changing climate will threaten agricultural production. We have already had food riots throughout large parts of Africa and the Middle East because of the twin problems of the diversion of crops towards fuel alternatives and the drought, and also, of course, the continuing concentration of agribusiness in the world. If the temperature rises by two degrees, our national livestock-carrying capacity is predicted to decrease by 40 per cent. Temperature rises, with population growth, are projected to see 3,000 to 5,000 more people die each year from heat related illnesses by 2050.
It is also interesting to note that not everyone has been sitting on their hands, despite the fact that some people would urge that. Across the 12 largest economies, over US$177 billion of economic stimulus packages have been earmarked for clean energy initiatives. The United States, with $67 billion, and China, with $47 billion, are the biggest investors. Some suggest that the US is already halfway to meeting the target it submitted under the Copenhagen accord.
Very conservatively, 90 Australian animal species have so far been identified as at risk from climate change. We note that the South Korean government recently introduced a bill that will enable emission trading and that the government aims to put green growth at the core of growth strategy along with commitments to investment two per cent of GDP in green technologies.
People who take some comfort from the apparent position of China at Copenhagen would perhaps be interested in recent articles in the Financial Review. In an article in the Financial Review of 9-10 October 2010, Diane Lin, fund manager of the Sydney based Pengana Asia Equities Fund, noted:
… China has about 1 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and consumes 10 per cent of oil exports; it has 14 per cent of the world’s known coal reserves and consumes about half the world’s coal exports.
Because of China’s growth, it is a major user of these raw materials. The article noted:
This radical proposal shift to renewable energy is aimed at reducing the rate of increase in carbon emissions by about three-quarters over the next decade.
And the article further noted:
Much higher improvements in energy efficiency, technological breakthroughs in solar, wind and storage technologies could help achieve far higher reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
The Chinese government have walked down this road. They are beginning to actually do something, but such is the move that another article in the Financial Review, from 19 October 2010, talked about complaints by the United Steelworkers Union in the United States that China is now providing too much assistance for green energy. Interestingly, the same day that an investigation was launched by the United States in regard to these issues, China’s Community Party Central Committee held its annual congress and, according to the article:
Top of the agenda for the congress was the next five-year plan for the country and its focus on renewable energy, genuine attempts to reduce carbon emissions and to promote green technology and energy conservation.
The article further noted:
It is worth noting that Suntech has its derivation in this country. Its owner was trained at the University of New South Wales. That is another example of how Australia lost significant technology and significant production in a growing industry because of a lack of support.
Australia has particular responsibilities. A recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature ranked Australia in the top 10 most unsustainable countries on the planet. We were ranked eighth in that study and were joined in that list by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the United States, Canada and others. Dermot O’Gorman of the WWF says, ‘Every Australian person requires about seven hectares to live their current lifestyle.’ The report also found that the earth has lost a third of its biodiversity since 1970.
Those urging action are many. The government’s climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, has been on the record again saying that there is a need to act swiftly, that delayed action is a recipe for failure and a recipe also for industries moving out of this country, and that there is more for countries that are a lot more active on these fronts to actually accomplish.
The first eight months of 2010 were as hot as the first eight of any year since 1998, despite the fact that there has been a drop in the El Nino. We are in a time when the opposition are attempting to talk about the costs and are trying to divert away the issues. We saw it from them again in question time—not all the opposition but some elements of the opposition. They ridicule the problem and have recourse to the opinions of a minority of scientists, who have been absolutely overwhelmed by the mass of scientific evidence from around world. The opposition continue to cite a minority of people who are usually identified with corporate interests, many of whom receive financial support from the petroleum industry and other industries with a direct interest.
I hope that in this term we have a government that acts swiftly, acts strongly, makes sure that Australia is in the forefront and understands that countries like Denmark and Spain have gained by being active and understanding that there are industries for the future, and understanding that for the world this is very necessary.
Another issue I want to talk about is the question of the government’s contribution with regard to schools. In the electorate of Reid $114-plus million was spent on 137 school projects over 55 schools. As I go around the electorate, I obviously come across a few issues where schools have not got the total satisfaction of what they would have liked. There has been clear evidence in New South Wales, compared to the rest of the country, that there have been issues of mismanagement with regard to these. But on balance, overwhelmingly, we have a situation where people are congratulating the government for what has been accomplished.
People have talked about what has occurred in education as being the best thing that has happened in three or four decades. I can see it at All Saints Senior Catholic College at Casula and the construction of a science centre. I was out at Dalmeny Primary School the other week and they were absolutely jumping as they showed me what has occurred out there. At Macarthur Adventist College, we had 125,000 go towards refurbishment of buildings, shade structures, sporting facilities et cetera. This is, as I said, a significant fillip to education at Unity Grammar college with 150,000 for the refurbishment of buildings, green upgrades, sports facilities et cetera.
Throughout the campaign I had people in education, I had parents, I had schoolchildren asking me why the government was not more positive about its contribution. I ran into the president of the Catholic principals association of New South Wales, whose main criticism in life was the fact that the Labor government had not more widely promoted letters that she had written on behalf of all Catholic principals about the gains made through this construction. A failure of the government in the election campaign was to drive home over the previous year the realities that not only were these educational measures gains for education in this country, but they also avoided a critical recession that would have occurred in this country.
I come from an area that was built around the construction industry. It was an area that in the 19th century was characterised by the timber industry and later by a significant number of brick-making enterprises. In the old electorate of Reid there continues to be significant employment in that industry. I have an association with a large number of builders and developers, particularly in the small flat sector and in the housing construction sector. They might not all vote Labor, but a number of them have said to me that the action by this government in the last term for construction and keeping the industry going—making sure the building supply companies could sell their product, that the builders could pay their employees, that people could get jobs—was crucial. As I said, it is a bit of a failure that people came away with an impression over a year that because nothing occurred in this country—because we are not in the newspapers with Ireland today or a few months ago with Greece, because we are not there in joint headlines, because we do not have unemployment of 10-plus per cent which the United States has had for significant parts of this year—it was all never a possibility; there was never going to be a recession in this country. We have overcome the problem because in this case we have been so successful. And I do not for a moment ignore the contribution the previous government made with regard to the budget. But to say that we could have sat on our hands for that period and done nothing and therefore have hoped that all was well was not good enough.
I also note that for all the talk about the deficit in this country, when you look at the proportion of our GDP, the current budget measures, we are at the lower end of the spectrum internationally. Most European countries would be extremely pleased to have a GDP proportion of debt that we have. I do believe it was one of the more significant contributions made over that period for two reasons: to counter the recession the world endured over speculation and lack of regulation in the investment sector and also because these measures were worth while on the social front. This was a major accomplishment of that period and I would very much salute the efforts.
I also want to recognise tonight in this parliament that the Hindu Council of Australia is conducting a Diwali event with politicians from both sides of the parliament. India has been a significant migrant source over recent years due to skilled migration. Diwali is a very important event in the Hindu, Jain and Sikh cultures, and it is certainly testimony that for the eleventh year it is being held in this parliament in the dining room. Of course it is not only here; this is a major international event. From Suriname and Guyana in South America, to Mauritius near the African coast, these are countries where it is even a public holiday. So I salute the Hindu Council for doing that. It is also a council which is engendering in young Australian Indians a measure of protecting and preserving their culture, but also recognising they live in Australia with the culture and laws of our country.
Next week marks three years since I was elected to this place as the member for Parkes. It has been the most rewarding, challenging and interesting period of my life. The seat of Parkes that I contested at the last election is somewhat different to the seat of Parkes that I contested in 2007. In 2007 the seat of Parkes contained 107,000 square kilometres. At the moment it is 256,000 square kilometres, which is 34 per cent of the landmass of New South Wales. It does present some challenges to represent an area that goes from the Riverina in the south to the Queensland border—to represent communities from Dubbo, which is a thriving city, to Mudgee, another large regional town with a growth spurt, to Narrabri, which is experiencing growth from mining, to agricultural communities like Moree, Coonamble, Walgett, Warialda, Bingara, and down into the south to places like Nyngan, Cobar, Lake Cargelligo and Condobolin. It was a great privilege that I got to know the people in these communities over the last three years and indeed, some of them over the last few months.
I would briefly like to reflect on what was achieved as a new member in opposition over the last three years. I would also like to acknowledge assistance I have had from government ministers over that period of time. The first crisis I confronted as a new member a few weeks into the term was the start of the collapse of ABC Learning. Although she is no longer a member of this place, I would like to acknowledge the help that Maxine McKew gave me in that period of time, and other ministers who have helped me out with issues. Such is the nature of this place that what is seen on the outside is only the conflict. I guess the conflict is an important part of what we do here but it is also important that we acknowledge that we can work in a collaborative arrangement and that we do get assistance across parties.
Without a doubt, I believe the greatest achievement that I was able to help achieve as a member of the opposition was the defeat of the emissions trading scheme. The previous speaker tonight spoke about the issue of climate change and the issues that the world is confronting with regard to climate change, but the issue of the emissions trading scheme was not whether you believed in climate change; it was whether you believed that what was being proposed under the emissions trading scheme was going to alter the environment. I believe that a lot of this was driven by a section of the community that has great concerns for the environment but somewhat affluent lifestyles. While it may be okay to trade in the station wagon and buy a Prius and tick the green square on your power bill and pay a bit more, and maybe pay a few offsets when you take your family to holidays in an aeroplane, if you are a pensioner in western New South Wales and the cost of electricity goes up then you have no other choice but to turn off the switch. If you are a cement worker in the town of Kandos and the cement plant closes because cement has become 30 per cent cheaper when imported from Asia, you are not suffering a minor inconvenience because of the emissions trading scheme; you are suffering the loss of your job. Indeed, for a town like Kandos, it is suffering the loss of the main reason for its existence. As an aside, unfortunately I lost the towns of Kandos, Rylstone and Gunnedah in the redistribution. I trust that the member for Hunter will keep their issues in mind when the issues of carbon trading and carbon tax come up in this parliament, because it is something that is very much at the forefront. It is not an abstract argument to the people of Kandos; it is very real. So I believe that we were able to build the case.
It is interesting to note that, at the end of 2008 and early 2009, only members of the Nationals publicly stated their opposition. Obviously, as time went on, there was a shift not only within the parliament but within Australian society. Members of the coalition were able to point out that there are other methods of abating carbon rather than imposing a tax. I spoke to a lot of people. I spoke to representatives of the Business Council of Australia and other people. They were trying to convince me of the need for a price on carbon, but ultimately they failed on the question that I always ask: will Australia putting a price on carbon altar the temperature of the globe? Ultimately, the answer was no or maybe marginally. Professor Garnaut indicated in his report that the economic effect on regional Australia would be a downturn of 20 per cent, while metropolitan areas would have a downturn of eight per cent. How could I, as a member representing a regional part of Australia, support something that was going to disadvantage my community at the expense of others?
The other issue was the BER. The previous speaker spoke about that. No doubt, schools were in need of an upgrade, but the BER was a wasted opportunity. No greater was the waste of the BER more evident than in my electorate. The tuckshop at Tottenham achieved national notoriety. Spending $610,000 on a tuckshop that could not fit a fridge and a pie warmer was a scandal—a double-brick edifice. They have spent in excess of, I think, $100,000 in trying to alter it so that they can use it as a tuckshop, when there was a perfectly good tuckshop adjacent to it. It was worse when the same design was put up at Toomelah. Toomelah is an Aboriginal community of 400 people on the Queensland border in the northern part of my electorate. They have complete unemployment. For some reason, they got the same for $650,000. The people at Toomelah could have done a lot of things with $650,000. A double-brick tuckshop was not high on their priorities.
The issue that we have coming up in this parliament that will affect my area is the continuation of the emissions trading scheme. We are not troglodytes in my electorate; we are embracing alternative energy. Indeed, there is a 200-tower wind farm proposed in Coolah, in the middle of my electorate. There are obviously issues with transmission lines that we are working through. BP Solar have a proposal for one of the largest solar power stations in the world—certainly the largest in the Southern Hemisphere—to go in at Moree. They are working through the final stages of that. There is a gas-fired power station being constructed at Wellington in my electorate. So the people of my electorate are doing their bit in looking at alternative energy. Indeed, farmers in my electorate are also doing their bit in looking after the environment by using advanced methods of farming to sequester carbon.
The big issue that we are going to confront is the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. What I would like to put on record is that those communities have already, through water-sharing plans, handed back large parts of the water that they were using. I represent probably a larger section of the Murray-Darling Basin than anyone else here. I have all the rivers in New South Wales, from the Macintyre in the north to the Lachlan in the south. In the Darling-Barwon section, in the Menindee to Mungindi section, they have already reduced their take of water by 67 per cent. The plan is looking at taking another 30 per cent. These people have made the adjustments in good faith. There was a recognition that adjustments needed to be made, and groundwater and river users have made those adjustments. There is a level of anger there because this is coming at them again. Those people are not unreasonable; they have made the adjustment. They have gone through 10 years of drought. I heard people with no firsthand knowledge speaking here about muddy waterholes, dying rivergums and things like that. We have just had 10 years of drought.
If you go and look at the rivers in my electorate now you will see that they are magnificent. I was at Bourke last week. There is eight metres of water in the Darling River at Bourke. The wetlands in the Gwydir are full. The Macquarie Marshes are full. A farmer at Bourke last Friday summed it up succinctly when he said, ‘What people need to realise is that the environment is much more resilient than it’s given credit for.’ And indeed the environment seems to be much more resilient than the economies of regional New South Wales. I think we need to take that into account when we are looking at the restructure.
This is being driven by people outside the area, and it is a great arrogance. If we are going to take the principles of the restructure of the Murray-Darling Basin into account, why don’t we look at the Tank Stream? Why don’t we restore the Tank Stream to the condition it was in when Captain Phillip came in 1788? Why don’t we restore the Yarra to the condition it was in when John Batman discovered Melbourne? If we have to relocate 40 per cent of the populations of Sydney and Melbourne, is that unreasonable? That is what is being asked of the people of the Murray-Darling Basin. I think we should keep this in context. The Murray-Darling communities not only have a right to survive; they also have an obligation to feed the population of Australia and another 50 million people around the world.
The other issue that is coming up is health. Indeed, a close watch on the restructure of health has been going on. In Dubbo there is a proposal—and hopefully there will be a submission for the next round of funding—for stage 2 of Dubbo Base Hospital. Dubbo Base Hospital services not only the City of Dubbo, with 41,000 or 42,000 people, but an area of nearly 200,000 people in western New South Wales, and it needs to be treated with the respect that a regional hospital deserves.
There is already great work going on. Lourdes Hospital is being rebuilt at the moment. Charles Sturt University, thanks to a grant from the previous coalition government, has now opened its school of dentistry. There is a private hospital there. The University of Sydney has a medical training facility there. Dubbo has the ability to be a health hub for New South Wales.
The other thing I want to mention is roads. Everything we buy in a supermarket starts on a local road. At the moment we have one of the largest grain crops in recent memory, admittedly suffering from wet weather at the moment. There are huge concerns as to whether we can actually pull this crop off. The frustration of my farmers is palpable. I worry about the mental health of some of these people who, after so many years of drought, are seeing a magnificent crop rotting in the field because of excessive rain. There was over 60 millimetres of rain in the wheat belt in my area yesterday. And they are trying to deliver this grain on roads that were built in the days of Cobb & Co.
I am supporting the Australian Rural Road Group, which has recently been formed from those councils around Australia with agricultural production in excess of $100 million to recognise the local road issue. We now have multimillion dollar businesses that cannot meet contractual requirements to deliver livestock or grain or even take in contracted fertiliser and such. In the year 2010, the fact that people are living on a dirt road and cannot get their children to school, cannot get to their job in town and cannot get to a hospital after 10 millimetres of rain is a disgrace.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 8.08 pm to 8.23 pm
Before the suspension I was speaking about what I believed would be issues in this term of parliament. I think one of the issues that is relevant to my electorate that we are going to have to confront is the issue of mining and gas exploration and the coexistence of that and agricultural production. That is particularly difficult. There is a lot of emotion and misinformation on all sides, and it is going to take a lot to sort through. Obviously Australia’s strength has been based on the fact that we can produce clean food and we have reasonably cheap energy. To have those two strengths in conflict is a difficult situation and something that we need to be working through. We need to be careful that we do not damage a long-term asset like agricultural land for a short-term gain, which is mineral extraction.
Another issue is, I believe, the issue of this parliament. I believe that the parliament should represent the 150 electorates of the members of the House of Representatives and of the senators. Unfortunately, due to the way the numbers are, some members seem to be having somewhat more influence than others. A word of warning to the government: they will rue the day that they give too much credence to the Greens. The Greens’ policies are damaging to our economy and they are certainly damaging to the people of my electorate and they fly in the face of what is good for our traditional constituents not only in my electorate but also in Labor seats. The low-income and fixed income earners and the small business owners are the ones who bear the brunt of Greens’ policies. The Greens are driven by an affluent group of people with very little skin in the game. There are no Greens who are going to lose their jobs or their position because of a restructure of the Murray-Darling and there are no Greens working at the cement plant at Kandos. I think as a parliament we need to exercise great caution.
You do not get to be a member of parliament, particularly in an area the size of mine, without a great group of people helping you. I would like to acknowledge my electoral council, particularly the chairman, Warwick Knight, the treasurer, Max Lell, and secretary Sarah Johnstone. I would also like to particularly acknowledge Peter Bartley. Peter Bartley is a campaign director extraordinaire who has no peer, I do not believe, in organisation. To organise 115 booths across 256,000 square kilometres is no mean task. The other people I would like to acknowledge are my staff. I run two offices—one in Dubbo and one in Moree. I have five full-time staff and two casual staff. They are the real people who do the work for the people of the Parkes electorate. A lot of the support that I managed to gain—indeed, with a much improved margin—was due to the good work of my staff in an unbiased and professional manner. I would like to thank them for the hard work that they do, working in two offices. Trying to run them as one office is not without its difficulties, and I would like to acknowledge the good work that they do.
The other people I would like to acknowledge are my family, particularly my wife Robyn who is a political campaigner extraordinaire. She will not rest if there is a door to knock on. Indeed, her reputation across the Parkes electorate somewhat supersedes mine. I believe if I went under a bus Robyn would get the job as the member for Parkes with no problem at all. She has given up her career. She is a full-time volunteer for the people of the Parkes electorate. She works for no pay and she travels with me wherever we are, whether we are in Canberra or in the electorate. She makes sure that the issues that I say I am going to follow up get followed up. I could not do the job without her support.
In conclusion, it is a great privilege to be a member of parliament. It is a great privilege to be the member for Parkes. I would not swap my electorate for any other. I look forward to representing my constituents and not only dealing with the issues but also driving an agenda that is going to recognise the great contribution that the people of Parkes have made and can continue to make to the welfare of this country.
I take the opportunity to speak to the House in this address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech, which of course was delivered to the parliament on 28 September 2010, subsequent to the 21 August election. I just want to make the observation that it was a particular pleasure and of quite historical significance that, at the time of the Governor-General’s address, that we had a woman as the Governor-General and a woman as Prime Minister in that process.
I make no assessment, some of my colleagues in the room will be pleased to know, about the relative pros and consequences of either gender—I think they both have so much to offer. But in a representative democracy it was particularly encouraging to see two of the most significant national leadership positions held by women. It was a significant moment in history that I want to recognise.
I also want to take the opportunity to acknowledge some of the women who have not returned to this parliament with me. First of all, I want to acknowledge my colleague Jennie George, the former member for Throsby. Jennie and I had neighbouring electorates within a fairly well defined geographic area that had many issues in common. In fact, we worked pretty much as a two-person team—we were sometimes referred to as the ‘terrible twins of the Illawarra’. The boundary was fairly artificial for us, really, because many of the issues existed in both electorates. A classic example is the University of Wollongong, which sits in my electorate but services both electorates and has a workforce from across both electorates. Many issues were common to us. It is encouraging in those circumstances to have someone who works alongside you and advocates completely as a joint voice for the region. Sadly, sometimes people get a bit possessive and protective of their boundaries. Given that, as we know, electoral boundaries can move quite dramatically, it was a real pleasure for me to have a colleague like Jennie to always work together with. I miss her already and I wish her and Dennis well in their retirement. I am absolutely certain that it will not be a quiet retirement for Jennie George!
I would like to acknowledge that my colleague the member for Melbourne Ports, who is in the chamber tonight, endorses my comments. I think everybody, including the Deputy Speaker, the member for Calwell, would agree. I extend to Jennie and Dennis my very best wishes.
There are two other women whom I became friends with in the last parliament and also miss. Sharryn Jackson was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations, of which I was a member and where I got to know her very well. The committee produced a report on the inquiry into pay equity, a significant proportion of which addressed issues such as the need for paid parental leave in this country. It was a groundbreaking report in that it actually had some significant outcomes. That, I think, reflects the great commitment of the Labor government to progress that issue. Sharryn put endless hours and great commitment into the committee and that report. I of course am not biased by her name when saying that she was a wonderful person. I acknowledge sadly to the House that the ‘Sharon group’ on our side is now down to two when we were very happy to be up to three. I pass on my very best wishes to Sharryn Jackson. I miss her companionship.
The other person I came to know and be good friends with was Kerry Rea, the member for Bonner. Kerry had the dubious pleasure to be seated next to me in the House when the parliament commenced. As she was a Queenslander we had not run across each other at all, so it was a great honour to get to know Kerry. She had a long, distinguished and, I think, very rewarding career in local government before she came to this place and brought a lot of life experience to her position as member of parliament. I think she can take great pride in what she achieved in this place over her term. I will also miss her companionship in this new parliament.
As is traditional, I would like to thank my electorate for its confidence in returning me to the seat of Cunningham at the election. Having made comment on the Governor-General and the Prime Minister, I might mention that, when I first sought to represent my party through our preselection processes in the Illawarra in the early nineties, I quite regularly got questions like, ‘How would a woman represent a steelmaking, coalmining area?’ At that point the electorate had never being represented by a woman at the elected level.
Perhaps they did not know my generation, but that was a bit like a red rag to a bull; it just made me more determined to break through those attitudes. I am very pleased to say that I never encounter that now. Jennie George was elected prior to my election and we have had the state members, Noreen Hay and Lilea McMahon, elected to the state parliament. It is not an issue anymore. I think it is very encouraging, particularly to young women in the area, to see that these sorts of issues are not seen as questions—it is about your capacity to do the role. I must say that having grown up with four brothers, I never quite understood how you would not be able to hold your own anyway. So I thank the electorate for their support at the most recent election and I am committed to continuing to progress both the local interests of the electorate and the national interest, which is important to us locally as well.
I also had a redistribution and picked up some new areas. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to represent the suburbs of Waterfall and Heathcote from the old seat of Hughes, and also the areas of Maianbar and Bundeena from the old seat of Cook. People have been very warm. It is a bit confusing at first when there is a redistribution and people are a bit uncertain about why it has happened and who is going to represent them, but they have certainly been very open and warm to me in giving me an opportunity to get to know them. As I said to them, I am committed to ensuring that they get good and effective representation in this parliament.
The Governor-General outlined the program of this government for this term and it is an ambitious reform agenda. It covers a range of areas that I think already have well-laid foundations because of what was done in our previous term, and in the short period since the election I have already seen some progress on them, particularly in the area of parliamentary reform. We are all living the reality of that day to day as we come to terms with the new operation of the parliament, but I think they were good reforms.
There are reforms to the transparency and integrity of the parliamentary process, including areas such as political donations. They are important issues that we continue to progress. Importantly, there is the proposal to amend the Australian Constitution to recognise First Australians. I think many of us look forward to that succeeding. There will no doubt be a debate about the manner and form in which that will occur. I just hope that that debate, unlike so many in the early days of this government, is conducted in a constructive and positive way to see the goal realised.
We will also acknowledge the role of local government. Given how closely so many of us worked, particularly during the period of the global financial crisis, with our local government authorities and colleagues to have them play a role in keeping jobs sustained in local communities, we must make sure that we all understand how important and significant they are. I think that is important.
There is a raft of economic reforms, including returning the budget to surplus by 2012-13; the introduction of the minerals resource rent tax, which I spoke about in the matter of public importance before the House today; the convening of a tax summit in 2011; and the increase in the superannuation guarantee from nine to 12 per cent. Sometimes I think we forget to remind people that one reason for the great resilience of our financial system is the significant savings of over $1 trillion that exist through the superannuation scheme. That is an important backbone to the financial system in Australia, and to increase it from nine to 12 per cent is important not only for the individuals who will retire with a more meaningful retirement income but also for the nation’s savings.
Additional reforms include the development of national standards for occupational health and safety, and the simplification of tax returns, which are already underway. Most significantly, and I will only touch on this because I have spoken on it on many occasions already, there is the rollout of the National Broadband Network with its capacity to transform our communities and regional economies.
There is also a raft of measures addressing costs of living, including increasing the frequency of the payment of the childcare rebate in order to make it a more financially manageable situation for families. There is also the thing that we all celebrate with great joy, the implementation of the historic Paid Parental Leave scheme from 1 January 2011—it is well and truly time that Australia caught up on that. Other measures include extending the education tax rebate, including one that I cheered loudly when I heard it during the election campaign: increasing family support for teenagers who are enrolled in school and vocational education. It is constantly raised with me that sometimes the most expensive years are the post-16 years, when you are still supporting your young people through education, and that the need for financial support for families during these years is the least recognised. So I certainly welcome that.
We also continue our reform agenda in education and training. In particular, we are developing more national consistency across our education system so there will be more transparency in the reporting process. Of course, key to that is the development of the national curriculum, the My School website extension into increasing transparency measures and a range of measures to support young people to actually stay on and complete their schooling. Only recently, the new member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, and I announced more than $3 million for trades training centres across three of our high schools that are in a consortium together. They are thrilled and you can see how significant that was to them. I take the opportunity in talking about that announcement to acknowledge that, while Stephen does not address the same gender issue that Jennie George did as my colleague, he is a wonderful addition to the team and has worked in great partnership. I look forward to, jointly with him, achieving a lot for both of our electorates. That scheme has been very welcome and it is one area where I could not believe the Leader of the Opposition’s targeting of cuts in the education sector. As a former teacher I may be biased, but I think there is no greater investment that you can make, particularly in the high-school years when young people can get disengaged. It is very difficult to re-engage them.
Health and disability was a major area of reform in our last term, and that continues. I am working with local GPs at the moment to look at things like the development of the GP infrastructure grants that are available to upgrade GP clinics to provide an expanded range of services. We are also looking at the GP after hours hotline and meeting with local groups to talk about the rollout of mental health services across our electorate as part of the national reform in that area.
We also have the National Health and Hospitals Network program continuing. In my state of New South Wales the call has gone out for the local networks and the chairs of those have just been announced by the state government. Of course, we also have the Productivity Commission looking at a national disability insurance scheme—another big area of reform in terms of both health and income support for vulnerable people. There is a great deal to be done there as well.
I am particularly pleased with our commitment on regional development and I want to recognise the new Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean, who is a passionate advocate for the importance of regions and their role in setting their futures. Indeed, he came to Wollongong for the Regional Development Australia Illawarra Branch annual conference, where all the key players and stakeholders in our region come together and, in a democratic way, determine the priorities for our region and how we will work on them. I have had a great deal of feedback already about the minister’s speech at the conference. People were really encouraged and enthused by his genuine commitment to regional development, and that message is important to keeping up their commitment and energy for the task. So I thank the RDA and all the key stakeholders who participated and the minister.
And then, of course, there is climate change. I believe that climate change is an opportunity for Australia—and I come from a mining and steelmaking town. I believe that climate change gives us the capacity to develop the technologies, the knowledge and the skills that the rest of the world will be seeking in the not-too-distant future to transform their own economies to a lower reliance on carbon. For us to get in ahead of the game is an opportunity, not a problem. It means that our innovative and clever tradespeople, researchers, inventors and manufacturing industry, which have done so well in transforming into competitive industries that are at the cutting edge, will have the opportunity—because the carbon pricing system that has been put in place will give the investment incentive—to become world leaders. I think that in 20 years time, if not sooner, we will be looking back and saying that these industries were established from that reform and they created the solid ground for the future.
I want to finish up by acknowledging that the work in my electorate goes on, as it always does for all of us. No member ever retires from this place saying, and certainly my colleague Jennie George reflected on this, ‘I’ve done everything; we’ve solved all the problems; my electorate and region are now well established; the job is done,’ and then handing a comfy sinecure to their successor. The task always continues. There are always new challenges. Our area in the Illawarra is no different. The new member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, and I are enthused about that. We have great confidence in our community pulling together to find solutions, creating opportunities, taking advantage of times and events, having faith in our young people and working together until the end of this term—which I am sure will be a full term given the stability of this new government—and then we will be able to say these are our achievements and we will continue on with the task ahead in partnership with the community, as is the case with all members, to not only achieve outcomes for those we are currently most concerned about but also lay good foundations for the next generation. I look forward to those challenges during this parliament.
I take the opportunity in this debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech firstly to talk about the recent election. For the second election running, my electorate of Calare was vastly changed. In two elections we have almost changed 100 per cent, having changed almost 50 per cent this time. I have had the pleasure within my electorate of gaining places like Lithgow, Oberon and the part of Bathurst I did not previously have. When you add that to Blayney, Orange, Charbon, Parkes and Forbes, you probably have certainly the oldest, if not the best, agricultural country in Australia. This is where agriculture and mining first started in Australia outside of the Sydney basin. It is fairly safe to say that this is where mining and agriculture first got really serious. Without doubt it is also some of the best grazing and cropping country in Australia. And this area has the oldest towns. I think Bathurst was the first official town settled west of the Great Dividing Range; Wellington, which is just outside the electorate, was the second, and Carcoar, which is in the electorate of Calare and within the local government area of Blayney, was the third.
I must express my thanks to the electors of Calare for returning me as the member so I can once again have the honour to represent in this place our 98,000 voters or our 135,000 citizens—men, women and children. Every time you come back after an election you think you get older and more cynical, but I have never yet not taken a deep breath when I have taken an oath on the bible to look after the electorate. That never changes, and it reminds you that you have a responsibility beyond anything you have ever done in your life before.
The electorate of Calare faces some big issues. It is the gateway to western New South Wales, but that gateway has a gate across it called the Blue Mountains. It also has an enormous need for a freeway. Whether you live in Lithgow on the eastern edge of Calare or in Broken Hill, which used to be in my old electorate when I was the member for Parkes, on the western edge heading towards the South Australian border, everybody knows the same thing: until a good, multi-lane freeway is put across the mountains, not only is Sydney constrained from being able to expand beyond itself and relieve the pressure it is under, but so is western New South Wales, whether it is the tablelands, the central west or the far west. Its expansion, its development, is constrained by the fact that every big company knows a lot of things can happen west of the mountains, but mentally they see it as a physical barrier. The fact is it is a very ordinary road, whether it is the Bells Line of Road or the Great Western Highway through Katoomba or through Bell. One is incredibly dangerous and the other is incredibly slow. It is probably the biggest need not only for an electorate but for the whole of the western New South Wales—that is, the need for the New South Wales and federal governments to combine to make that happen. It must happen.
Without doubt the other big issue for the electorate of Calare is water. Not water for irrigation so much. By and large that is dealt with by farm dams for horticulture and in the Forbes shire irrigation happens out of the Lachlan River. It is an issue, even with what has happened lately. Whereas most dams are three-quarters or full, Wyangala Dam is not. It is still only just over 40 per cent. The Lachlan is a river that provides a lot for a lot of people. Even though it is not a river that contributes to the Murray-Darling Basin as such—it dissipates down below Booligal—it provides a lot of production and employment as well as a lifestyle for the people who live on it.
The water issues I really refer to are urban: they are development, they are mining and they are the general thrust of life. Bathurst has a very good dam due to the foresight of its local government and previous state governments. But for the western half of the electorate, a new dam is sorely needed. Yes, they can do short-term measures and pull out of the Macquarie River or the Lachlan River, but a new dam is needed because there are 20-odd possible mining developments to happen in the region. I am not talking about coal; I am talking about minerals which certainly need water for their development and their processing as it happens. Cadia mine and Northparkes mine are going to need water assurance in the future, as will the city of Orange, as will the local government areas of Cabonne and Blayney. These developments seriously need water, and once again that requires both state and federal governments to come to the party to put in a new dam. Obviously local governments can contribute towards it, and I certainly believe the mining industry will, without any hesitation, contribute to it, but we are talking serious money. We are probably talking upward of $200 million, but it has to be found to ensure the future development. It will ensure that when we do get a freeway through the mountains we are able to cater for the enormous expansion that will go to what I believe is probably the idyllic part of New South Wales, which also has wonderful wineries. The members from places like the Gold Coast would not realise the quality of wine that is grown in the tablelands of New South Wales. I should invite the member for Moncrieff into the heartland of Australia—the oldest part of agricultural and mining Australia. The last time I went to his electorate was to watch St George beat the Gold Coast. However we will not go into that.
No, it was the last time I was there. I have mentioned probably the two biggest issues—water and the need for a freeway across the Great Dividing Range, not just for the sake of western New South Wales but also for the sake of Sydney, and that should include rail. Speaking as somebody who has lived their whole life west of the Great Dividing Range, I believe it would be fair to say that, almost without exception, all the people who live in that 80 per cent or more of New South Wales—in whichever electorate it may be—are dependent on its mining, agriculture, forestry and transport. Those are the primary industries supporting it. Whether it is in the coal mines of Lithgow, in forestry at Oberon or in the agricultural industries at Bathurst, people tell me I must go to Canberra and ensure that the Greens do not put an end to what western New South Wales stands for. Without a doubt there is a fear of the Greens holding power in Canberra. Probably the biggest talking point from day one of the last election is the fact that the Greens might hold power. In order the Greens seem to hate mining, forestry, agriculture and then transport.
My phone ran hot the day the local Green said we had to take away any fuel rebates for the trucking industry, get B-doubles off the road and put everything on rail. Do they really think that, in Orange, Cobar, Lithgow or anywhere else for that matter, a train is going to run goods to Woollies or Coles? Of course, those goods have got to go out on trucks. That is the most crazy thing I have ever heard. The Greens hate forestry, whether you grow it or whether it is native forest you cut down which you let regenerate or you replant. The Greens hate agriculture because we use the soil to grow food to feed people. The Greens hate mining because we dig up coal, copper or gold. Where I come from people are not stupid. They know they want to be warm and they know they want to be able to see at night. They are only going to be able to do that if we use coal. Anyone who thinks we are going to feed and clothe the world, keep people warm and give them something to see by at night from just using renewables is living in a dream world. I think most of us know that.
People in western New South Wales have heard some of the crazy Green suggestions of things we should do—including a carbon tax. It is easy for me to stand up for somebody who is not prepared to wear that, who is not prepared to see mining go, who is not prepared to see forestry go, who is not prepared to see agriculture go. You do wonder sometimes where people are coming from and you do wonder sometimes whether they think human beings should exist.
Calare is a unique and wonderful place to live. There are not many places better than my part of the world. I started in politics having one-third of New South Wales, almost 300,000 square kilometres. The electorate of Calare has come down to just over 30,000. I have gone from the South Australian border to the Great Dividing Range as a result of various redistributions. There are very few people, I suspect, who know western New South Wales and all its various aspects better than I do. I am incredibly proud to still be there and to still be a member of the National Party and the coalition.
I do believe that very few people who come into this place are bad people. We believe in what we believe in, and I believe in rural and regional Australia and I believe in my country. But I very much believe that in places like Calare, western New South Wales—any regional part of Australia—we are just part of Australia and sometimes we have to look at the good in everybody rather than just our own. By the same token, health services are not as good outside the major cities, be it Melbourne—where Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou’s electorate is—or Sydney or Perth. Without doubt, health is the biggest issue facing politics today, and Calare is no different. We are lucky to have Orange, which has the only serious medical centre west of the Blue Mountains. However, the small hospitals have to be maintained.
I believe that our policy of empowering locals to have a say, rather than simply having bureaucrats making decisions, is absolutely essential. I would guess that New South Wales and Queensland are the two parts of Australia that have suffered most from governments deciding that everything had to be done on a large scale to allow bureaucrats to move things as they saw fit—rather than allowing the people who suffer from a lack of hospitals and a lack of medical services to have a say.
I remember when I jackarooed in Queensland, quite a long time ago, I thought that Queensland had one of the best medical systems in Australia. That is no longer true, just as New South Wales certainly has the worst medical system in Australia. When I think that Orange, which is over the Blue Mountains, has a small helicopter which is not winch-equipped, is allowed to fly only in daylight, and is an hour’s flying time from the serious centres of Sydney, and Wollongong, which is 12 minutes flying time from Sydney, has a large helicopter and gets fewer calls than Orange gets, I realise the level to which New South Wales Health has sunk in a political sense. It is more important that Wollongong, with all of its safe state Labor seats, gets something it does not need before Orange gets something it does need. Orange has to look after everywhere out to Cobar, 600 kilometres west.
I am still shocked and I still get very angry when I think about the cancer centres of excellence that were set up by the Rudd Labor government to look after rural, regional and remote Australia and the fact that Gosford was preferred to the whole of western New South Wales to have a cancer centre of excellence. I have no problem with Gosford having the best medical services they can have. But Gosford is only one hour from Newcastle and one hour from Sydney—probably less than that—and yet everywhere from Lithgow to Cobar, in fact from Broken Hill, went without. To me that is about as bad and as political as medicine can ever get. It is something that the Rudd government will be forever shamed on, and it was simply because they wanted to keep the marginal seat of Robertson. They did not give one cent of that money to an area 10 times the size and with a far greater population.
I will finish by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the issues that matter to my electorate—but not just my electorate. I consider myself a member for western New South Wales and for regional Australia generally. I also consider myself a good Australian when I need to be. But health is an enormous issue. Hospitals are an enormous issue. Forbes and Parkes have been promised new hospitals but have been sort of put on the back burner and they do not know when that is going to happen. We have lost private hospitals in Bathurst. Thank heaven we do have a new hospital being built in Orange, because Orange is the only serious medical centre west of the Great Divide, and it needs to be.
The rain since Christmas has breathed new life into western New South Wales. Until the last election, I had the most drought-affected electorate in the whole of Australia—without doubt since 2001 or 2002, when this drought really started. To see that country come alive, as it has, is enormous for the whole of western New South Wales. I should add that I hope nobody forgets that rain is not money; rain gives the opportunity to earn it. All of those farmers and their communities, whether people own a pharmacy or whether they work in the local supermarket, are totally affected by what happens to the agricultural situation around them. None of them have made money yet; they have only had the opportunity to make it. The rain that has come has already resulted in enormous losses with the best crops in a decade in Central Queensland, and that looks like it is happening in northern New South Wales. It is a cruel jest that Mother Nature has played for the last decade. There will be a lot of grain. I just hope that it is grain that can be sold to sustain the local community.
It is a privilege and an honour to be back in this place after the last federal election. I take this opportunity to put on the public record my thanks to the good people of Franklin for putting their faith in me as their federal representative for a second term. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the confidence that the electors in Franklin showed in me on election day, with a swing towards Labor not just in the seat of Franklin but also in the state of Tasmania. My promise to the electors of Franklin is the same as it was in 2007 when I was elected: I will work hard and be a strong voice for them, both locally and here in Canberra. Over the past three years I have delivered a significant investment across Franklin that I believe has made a real difference to the lives of local people.
In 2007, in my first speech in this place, I talked about southern Tasmania feeling as though it had been left out in comparison to northern Tasmania. Certainly the investment in southern Tasmania since that time has been redressed. Investments are now occurring on a needs basis for the strategic and economic benefit of all Tasmanians. I am particularly proud of the more than $200 million which has been invested in my electorate in health, education, transport and community infrastructure. I am proud to have delivered, over a three-year period, all of the election commitments I made to local people in the 2007 election. Most construction is well underway or commitments have been fully delivered. Construction of the Kingston bypass, which is a major project in the south of my electorate, is well underway and due for completion in 2012. It is a major bypass and work has been underway for some time. Significant progress has been made. There is also the beginning of the construction of the Clarence GP superclinic. We copped a bit of flak about a year or so ago from my Liberal Senate opponent in the electorate who said it was just a big, empty hole. We said construction was about to happen and, sure enough, construction is now well underway and due to be completed early next year.
I also lobbied really hard to deliver a trade training centre for the people of the Huon Valley. Construction of that will commence very soon as part of Labor’s election commitments from 2007. There is also the Huon Valley Water Scheme. I turned the first sod on 29 June this year. There was $12 million of federal government money towards a $30 million project to deliver secure water supplies for the residents of Huonville, Franklin, Cygnet and Geeveston. For some it was the first time they had a secure water supply.
There was also the Clarence water recycling scheme. We have construction of a major pipe underway and there is construction of a dam also underway. So there have been many significant improvements in the local electorate. Of course, that is without any of the stimulus money that was put into the electorate. Two of the projects under the Community Infrastructure Program that I know have been well received by local residents are the Bellerive oval lights project and the Kingborough twin ovals project, let alone all of the Building the Education Revolution projects.
Certainly in Tasmania, and in every school I have been to in my electorate, the Building the Education Revolution has been very well received by the school community, both students and teachers alike. In fact, during the last non-sitting week I opened four BER projects in my electorate and every single one of them was very well received. It was fantastic to see the children in these new facilities and some of the wonderful things that are occurring in them with some of the new equipment, such as the interactive whiteboards and the new computers, that people are using for the first time in some of those classrooms. It has certainly led to some innovation in some of the teaching.
Of course, there has also been some social housing in my electorate which was also very well received, and the NBN rollout was a big factor in the election in Tasmania. Tasmania is, of course, the first state to receive the NBN rollout. We have even got the state Liberal Party supporting the NBN rollout in Tasmania. Their leader, Will Hodgman, is supportive of the NBN rollout. Indeed, we have had an admission from Liberal Senator Eric Abetz that the NBN was a factor in the federal election in Tasmania. The reason that it was a factor in Tasmania is that it has actually been turned on in three suburbs or cities in Tasmania—in Smithton, Midway Point and Scottsdale, which are stage 1.
It was my pleasure to be there with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Premier when it was turned on on 12 August of this year, during the election campaign. It was amazing to see firsthand how some of this technology will work. We spoke to a woman by the name of Peggy who was using the NBN to help her manage her health issues. One of things that Peggy said that really hit home to me was that it was like having a friend in her home, having this equipment that allowed her to manage her condition from her own home. She could contact the health professionals that she needed with the touch of a button. It was fabulous to see.
We also saw some of the students in the classrooms via the NBN and some of the advantages that will have for innovative education. The NBN is about more than just faster downloads. It will change the way we deliver health services in hospitals and in people’s homes. It will change the way doctors and clinicians engage with patients, and there are many initiatives that will improve primary and preventative health care. It will also, of course, deliver particularly well for areas like Tasmania and rural and regional Australia. It is really important that people start to understand the concept that this is not just about broadband and faster speeds; it is actually about better government service delivery and it is about better services for rural and remote communities. It will drive innovation in many of the areas of health, education and e-commerce. So there are many advantages to the NBN rollout.
During the election campaign we also heard from many of my constituents about some of the concerns that they had. One of the concerns that I heard very clearly at the doors in the electorate was the concern about Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister. It was a real fear in my electorate because they associated that with cuts to health, cuts to education, cuts to the trade training centre—that was a particularly big one in Huonville—and cuts to computers in schools. They were also really concerned about the wind-back of the NBN, as I said. People were fearful, and we saw in Tasmania a swing towards the Labor Party; the largest in the country. It was very clear that there was something a little bit different going on in Tasmania.
The other thing that was really important in Tasmania was the historic pension reform that Labor did in our first term. There is a larger majority of Tasmanians that are reliant on government support payments, and certainly an increase in the pension and that pension reform ongoing into the long term will benefit many Tasmanians. I am sure that the people in my electorate who have contacted me are very pleased with that reform.
The other things that I wanted to talk about are some of the election commitments that I made during the campaign. One of the things that we talked about during the campaign was the trade training centre, which was from the 2007 trade training centres commitment. One will be under construction in the Huon Valley later this year. The Liberal Party did actually commit to it in the last week or so of the campaign, which I know was very satisfying for the local community because they were then free to understand that, regardless of who won, that trade training centre would be built. It is very much needed in that local community.
One of the other things that I campaigned on was Centrelink services for the people of Kingston. Kingston is a very fast-growing municipality, and at the moment they do not have a Centrelink office. We had a petition for Centrelink services to be delivered in Kingston. We announced that Centrelink services would be delivered via a co-location with the Medicare office—one person being available there, and two kiosks. We hope to have that up and running by 1 July next year. We are in discussions with the minister about getting that delivered as quickly as we can.
We also have an election commitment for $2 million for the planning works to commence on the intersection between the East Derwent and Tasman highways to improve safety for local residents. This commitment has been very popular with local residents. There is a real safety issue in accessing the Tasman Highway from the East Derwent Highway on the eastern shore of Hobart. Those planning works will begin next year. There will be further money coming from the next round of the nation-building investment in infrastructure in Tasmania. We understand that the project in total will cost around $15 million. We look forward to working with the state government to be able to deliver on that one.
There is over $200,000 for ‘save the suburbs’ projects across the Kingborough and Clarence municipalities: $80,000 for lighting in the Clarence Aquatic Centre car park, Warrane Green Belt Park, Stanley Park and Astor Park for safety for children and families of an evening, which as we know is pretty important; $75,000 for lighting in the Kingborough Sports Centre car park; $50,000 for CCTV in the Kingborough CBD; and $20,000 for solar lighting for Kingborough War Memorial Park. These are local commitments that were very well received by local residents, and we look forward to making announcements in the future on when that money will be available so that these projects can go ahead.
I have talked about the result in Tasmania, but we all know that the result nationally delivered a minority government, the re-elected Gillard government. We want to deliver a stable, effective and secure government over the next three years and we have been working with the independents and the Greens in relation to securing a stable government. As we have seen in the last few weeks that has worked quite well so far. I am looking forward to working with the Prime Minister to ensure that that continues to go well and that the people of my electorate receive their fair share of the nation’s funds and the nation’s commitment in terms of access to ministers and access to resources.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank a few people from the campaign. Of course, that starts with my family. As all of us in this place know, you cannot do this job without a supportive family. As a parent of three children, I know that that has its particular challenges. I want to thank my children, Lochie, Andy and Georgie, for their continued support. My daughter has moved from wanting mum to no longer be an MP to hoping that I might last long enough for her to vote for me in her first federal election. That is certainly progress. Of course I want to thank my husband and partner, Ian. We are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary next year. Ian has been a great support to me in this job and I certainly could not do it without him.
I want to thank my loyal and dedicated staff, who have been working exceptionally hard for me over that period. I get a lot of feedback from the local community about the quality of my staff and about the services they provide to the local community when I am unavailable. Their commitment to the electorate and to me has been overwhelming, and I want to thank them all sincerely for their efforts in the campaign, for their continued efforts and for their efforts over the last three years. I want to say thank you to my campaign team, especially my campaign manger and long-time friend, Labor senator Carol Brown, who has been my friend now for 26 years. She is a great campaign manager. She is very difficult to say no to, which I think is totally the point of a campaign manager. She worked very hard during that campaign, as did the many volunteers, the doorknockers, the people who put up posters, the people who delivered letters, the people who worked on stalls and the people who worked on polling day handing out how to votes. I thank them all very sincerely—because, as we know, you cannot do this job without all that support.
Finally, I also want to acknowledge and pay tribute to Duncan Kerr, who held the seat of Denison for 23 years. Duncan was a senior government minister during the Hawke and Keating years and made a very valuable contribution to the people of Denison and in fact to the parliament and to the intellectual rigour in terms of policy on this side of the House during those 23 years. I have known Duncan for a very long time. In fact, his campaign in 1987 was the first federal election campaign that I ever worked on. I will certainly miss Duncan and I think this place is a better for having had Duncan here as the federal member for Denison.
It is certainly a privilege and a challenge to stand for office. As I said at the beginning, I promise my constituents that I will continue to be a strong voice for them. To all those electors who put their great faith in me, I will not let you down.
I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to rise on this address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s address. I have the very fantastic privilege of representing again, for what is now my fourth term, the people of Moncrieff, based on the Gold Coast.
The story of the Gold Coast is one I have told in this parliament on many occasions. It is a story about a city that has grown rapidly in the last 50 years. It has been Australia’s fastest-growing city for around three decades and it is forecast to continue to be one of Australia’s fastest-growing cities. It is a city that has been built off the back of the effort, sweat and contribution of people who have been willing to roll up their sleeves and to really attempt to realise their dreams with respect to both enterprise and the social infrastructure that they would like to see in a city like the Gold Coast.
It is a colourful city, comprised of a great mix of people, all of whom have got a story to tell and have come from diverse parts of this country and, indeed, diverse parts of the globe. From my perspective, to have such a unique opportunity to represent them in this, the pinnacle of our democracy, our nation’s federal parliament, is truly a wonderful, wonderful privilege. I am very, very grateful for the trust that the people of my electorate put in me.
The last federal election was certainly the most hotly contested election that I have been a part of. As someone who has been a student of politics for nearly 20 years, the last federal election was one where we knew that both the Labor government and the coalition thought that it was going to be a tight election. That is the reason that there was so much focus and emphasis placed upon the respective policy positions that were enunciated by the leaders of our two major political parties. That is the reason that people took particular interest in the vision, the goals and the direction that the two leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, were attempting to take our nation.
For me, it was also a chance to maturely contribute to the development of policy on behalf of the coalition in the shadow portfolio role that I had at the time with respect to tourism, the arts, youth and sport. That too was a great opportunity and indeed a privilege. To have seen policy positions I had worked on over a number of years developed in collaboration with stakeholders and interested parties from around Australia and to have the opportunity to feed that into what I hoped was relevant policy that would be of benefit not only locally in my own electorate but also more broadly across the country was something that excited me. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to be on the front line when it came to campaigning not only again in my seat of Moncrieff but also in a number of seats across the country and to have the chance to be an advocate for change and reform that I believed was warranted, based on the hundreds and hundreds of conversations that I had had with interested parties throughout the time. This was for me a unique aspect, one I had not encountered previously in the 2010 federal election.
But we know now from history that the outcome was a minority government. We know now that the Independents chose to go with the Australian Labor Party. I think at this point it is opportune to reflect on what that means both in the government’s performance in its previous term and in the government’s performance in its current term. The address that was delivered by the Governor-General—instructed by the government of the day and in particular, of course, the Prime Minster—outlined Labor’s plans for the future of this nation.
It has been remarked that when you change a government you change the fate of the nation. That is certainly the case, because we saw in 2007 at the federal election the handover of power after 12 years from the coalition to the Australian Labor Party. We saw a profound change move across the country—a profound change that in many respects was not anticipated. The reason it was not anticipated was that at the 2007 election the then leader of the Australian Labor Party, the federal member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, said that he was basically a conservative when it came to economics and that he was essentially going to continue many of the policies of the former Howard government—with some notable exceptions of course, the Work Choices policy being one of them.
What transpired over the previous parliament was a Labor agenda that has been rolled out across this nation the impact of which was compounded by the global financial crisis which took place. We saw, under the cloak of the global financial crisis, a rhetoric emerge from the leadership group of the Australian Labor Party that really fitted with what the Prime Minister at that point described as almost a social democratic compact. We saw the evolution of government in this country to an even bigger behemoth. We saw government look at the introduction of new taxes. We saw government go on a spending spree that this country had not seen since World War II.
As a direct consequence of this Labor government we saw a situation now where Australia moved from being in a net asset position with having built up large surpluses and stockpiles of taxpayers’ funds to ensure that we had money available to invest, for example, with our Higher Education Endowment Fund, with money being made available for hospitals and for Medicare and with the Commonwealth finally starting to meet some of its unmet liabilities through the Future Fund. These were crucial funds that the previous coalition government worked on but within the course of less than 24 months the Labor Party undid a decade of good work. Within the course of 24 months the Labor Party had spent the entire surplus, had spent the money that had been saved up for a whole raft of different initiatives such as higher education and Medicare, and the Labor Party presided over a sharp increase in the unemployment rate which saw the unemployment rate move from its record 33-year low of 3.9 per cent upwards towards six per cent.
That was the legacy of this Australian Labor Party. That was what Labor’s achievement was, cloaked at the time with so many hollow promises that were delivered to the Australian people. We saw a government that went to the Australian people and said: ‘We will do something about grocery prices. We will do something about fuel prices. We will do something about the cost of living.’ What did they actually do? Apart from political posturing they did very little. What we saw was a failed Fuelwatch, a failed GroceryWatch and a raft of other announcements like that, all of which were quickly jettisoned.
So in 2010 it did not particularly surprise me that only weeks out from election day our Prime Minister said to the Australian people that she had no plans to introduce a carbon tax and indeed would not be doing it. What do we now see less than two months after the election? We see that firmly on the agenda is a committee focused on the introduction of a carbon tax.
We know that this centre-left Prime Minister with a centre-left cabinet, controlled in many respects by a Greens party that is now emerging as a very influential force when it takes the balance of power in the Senate as of 1 July next year, has a focus on a profound change to the structure of this country. We saw that this Labor government had a plan to tax the goose that had, for this nation, laid the golden egg. Our mining and resources industry is not something that we ought to take for granted. Australia’s mining and resources industry is an industry that has been achieved through the risk of capital and the effort of men and women to ensure that Australia is being competitive in some respects and able to supply our natural resources globally. That is very much under threat now by a government that has spent so much money in such a short period of time that it is now required to put up taxes to try to overcome the fact that it has such a huge deficit that needs to be turned around.
I must say that in the long term, when I as the father of a 23-month-old consider that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are responsible for him now having a share of public debt worth some $7,000 or $9,000, I really wonder what right the Australian Labor Party believes it has to put future generations of Australians into debt. It is nothing if not the height of selfishness that the Australian Labor Party believes it is justified in ramming this country into substantial debt and deficit to pursue its social outcomes. It is arrogance to leave the hard lifting to those that will follow. I think it is a great shame that the Australian Labor Party was successful when it came to saying to the Australian people that it could for all intents and purposes do what it wanted and we would worry about the ramifications and repercussions down the track. That, to me, is a form of government that I believe the Labor Party should be ashamed of.
I think it is simply unacceptable that in debates in the parliament, for example, we have Australian Labor Party members that would stand up and speak of projects in their electorates, crow about how they were supplying this school hall or undertaking this building activity or that rollout of pink batts or broadband, and say to the Australian people, ‘If you don’t want it, vote for the coalition.’ The reality is that there is an asterisk after every one of those offers, and the asterisk that was behind every single one of those statements that were made by the Australian Labor Party was that there was a debt associated with that as well.
More recently, I went to the opening of a new school hall that Labor paid for under its Building the Education Revolution program and that the Labor senator at the time stood up and spoke and crowed about, saying what vision it was to have invested in this particular school project. When I had the opportunity to speak to those children at that school hall and to speak to the parents of those children, I made one point very clearly. I said to them that they should utilise that hall as much as possible, because the children that sat on the floor below the stage, in grades 6 and 7, are the children that are going to be repaying the debt on that hall for the next decade or more. They are the children who will have to spend a decade or more repaying the largesse of this government before they are even at the point where they are able to start to invest their taxpayers’ dollars in future infrastructure. When you consider that for 12 years we attempted to pay off $96 billion of Labor Party debt, and in two years the Australian Labor Party has ramped that debt back up to around $95 billion, that is the legacy that ought to be challenged head on.
I think that, in the fullness of time, the Australian people will judge the latest iterations of Labor’s so-called nation-building projects very harshly. As to the single largest project, the National Broadband Network that Labor is looking at rolling out—a $43 billion network that, for all intents and purposes, nationalises telecommunications in this country again, running contrary to the last 100 years of experience around the globe—they too will question the wisdom of that decision.
I do not dispute for one moment that there are political points to be gained in promising all things to all people. I do not dispute that the Labor Party love walking around their electorates and other electorates saying what visionaries they are for building the National Broadband Network. But I do dispute one thing. In the fullness of time, as this nation, mired in debt, is forced to make hard decisions about what we will do without so we can start to repay the debt, just so we can get back to zero, people will not be quite as grateful as the Labor Party would like them to be.
I come from a services based city. The Gold Coast is a city that does not have government departments. It is built on the free enterprise of its people. It is the small business capital of this nation. It is a city that is built on property development and, as I said, the tourism industry. For our city, the current spending of the Labor government is nothing but bad news. Our city is unlike other parts of this nation where there is a focus on resources, energy and agriculture—the industries and sectors of the economy that are performing relatively strongly. The people of cities like the Gold Coast, which have no agricultural, mining or resource benefits, are the ones who pay the price. In the economic framework as it is at present, we have the Reserve Bank consistently saying that it needs to do something about wage-price inflation and about the more rigid reregulation of the labour force—which in the longer term will also force up wages and cause wage-price inflation to spiral upwards. The consequence is that the Reserve Bank is rapidly putting up interest rates. We have seen six or seven interest-rate increases in the past 12 or so months.
To compound the problem, we have seen the banks move well and truly beyond the official cash rate increase that the Reserve Bank has imposed. Every time that happens, a city like the Gold Coast, with no benefits from agriculture, mining or resources, does it even tougher, because if the Australian dollar goes up, thanks to the interest-rate increases, we are less competitive when it comes to tourism. And, with every interest-rate increase, there is less aggregate demand for the property development industry and less demand for the services industry across the coast. This–and I will certainly reflect on these remarks years from now—I believe is the legacy that, unfortunately, the Gold Coast will need to overcome.
With respect to the actual campaign, I cannot thank enough the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who came out to man my booths in Moncrieff on election day. To those who laboured for long, long hours, both on election day itself and prior to that at pre-polling, I say a very heartfelt and sincere thank you. I had a fantastic campaign team: Kylie Hart was my campaign director and Nick McAlpine was my campaign manager. These two staff members made all the difference to me. They were dedicated, well and truly beyond anything that I would ask of them—dedicated to the belief that we needed a change of government to get Australia back on the right track. For their hard work and their constant, seven-days-a-week work for the entire duration of the campaign—as well as, of course, all the weekends prior to that—I say thank you. I thank Alistair Mitchell, my adviser in the shadow tourism portfolio I had. Alistair was a source of invaluable advice for me on all matters related to policy and matters political. I simply cannot thank him enough for his dedication, not only to his role but also to me. I thank Mike Bruce, my local media adviser and also portfolio media adviser, for his great work, though he had only been with the team for a relatively short period of time. And of course I thank Helen Lewis, my office manager, for her contribution to the campaign.
In addition, I must thank my family—in particular my wife, Astra, and my little son, Asher. I do what I do because I sincerely believe that it makes a difference. I particularly hope it will make a difference in Asher’s life as he grows up. As all of us in this parliament know, our spouses truly are the ones who do the heavy lifting. I simply want to put on record my heartfelt and sincere thanks to Astra for all the nights when she is by herself, for the times when even when I am home it is only for a fleeting moment and for all the times when she, frankly, puts up with demands that I put on her which are well and truly beyond what would be considered reasonable. Finally, to my family more broadly—my mum and dad and everybody who came down to help on the campaign—I give a very heartfelt and serious thankyou to you as well.
Although the coalition was unsuccessful, falling just short of what was required for victory at this election, I fervently believe that we laid in place the framework and did the groundwork required to ensure that at the next federal election we will, I hope, emerge victorious.
Before I call the next speaker, I remind all honourable members of the provisions of standing order 64, which provides that people ought not to refer to other members by their names and ought to refer to their titles or electorates.
Like all members in this place in the debate on the address-in-reply, I particularly want to thank my constituency of Ballarat for again giving me the great privilege of representing them in this parliament. The 2010 election was a very memorable one. For me personally, it was the first time that I have faced an election while also running a household with a two-year-old. I have great sympathy for the member for Moncrieff and for his partner.
The election was also memorable in the sense that I think that, if any election showed just how stark the differences are in this fantastic country of ours, it was this one. Victorian representatives often felt during the course of the election campaign that to some extent we were in a very different place to Queensland as we watched some of the news that was unfolding. Certainly the results in my home state of Victoria, in Tasmania and in South Australia often point to those differences. After the election campaign, it is important to remember our incredible responsibilities as members of parliament, whether in opposition or government, to ensure that this country remains united—where debate is welcomed but where we are all respectful of each other. As we go forward in this quite different parliament, it is important for us to continue to respect each other.
It is a very challenging time. Within this parliament, the Labor Party is very proud to have been able to form and deliver a strong and stable government. The agreements that we have reached with the crossbenches allow for that strong and stable government and I certainly look forward to working with members and senators to ensure that this nation is represented well and that we continue to respect each other in this place.
The election was very hard fought across Australia and on the ground locally. The people across the electorate of Ballarat have again given me the opportunity to represent them. They voted to support a member of the Australian Labor Party to represent them, their families and their communities. I can tell them absolutely that the result in the electorate of Ballarat is not taken for granted. It follows long hours of effort and a commitment to represent the people of my electorate with all the energy and intellect I can muster. I do not take this privilege for granted and I constantly reflect on the importance of the role of a member of parliament and what that represents in our community.
I would particularly like to thank my campaign team for their hard work. They are a tremendous group of volunteers who believe very strongly in the Labor cause but also believe in and have committed to working for me. I would also like to thank my staff, who have been tireless, obviously not just during the course of election campaigns but with all the many, many hours of work they have to do well and truly beforehand. Working for politicians is not just a job; it is absolutely a cause. I know that their families feel that very much as well.
I most of all thank the people who live across the diverse community of the Ballarat electorate. It is a very diverse community. It includes the springs and spa country of beautiful Hepburn and Daylesford, the historic goldmining towns of Clunes, Creswick and Ballarat itself and the thriving destination for young families that is Bacchus Marsh and Darley. The electorate also includes a number of other lively communities in Ballan, Trentham, Blackwood, Myrniong, Learmonth and Elaine to name just a few. It is a very diverse electorate and at times the calls that come to my electorate office reflect the diversity of views and opinions that come from across the country.
It is true that through the hard work of families in these communities and the responsible economic management of the Gillard government we have tackled the global financial crisis. Over recent years, families across the communities have faced significant challenges. People pulled together and they worked alongside the Gillard government in the rollout of the economic stimulus to support jobs and to grow infrastructure. That hard work is developing into long-term prosperity for regional and rural townships. Benefits are flowing to families and to businesses, but it is still slow.
As we head into the Christmas season and hear from retailers about what is happening within their sector, we should remember that despite the fact that we have managed to weather the global financial crisis we are not out of the woods yet. I heard the Leader of the Opposition try and dismiss the global financial crisis as a six-week nonevent when he said that it really did not matter too much to people. I can tell him well and truly of the thousand people who lost their jobs in my community and the 42 workers who lost their jobs just recently with the closure of Hilton Fabrics and of the absolute fear that many companies within my own constituencies have as private sector investment has not started to flow. I absolutely know and understand and get why the government put in place an economic stimulus package and why this package continues to be important. I find it quite extraordinary at times listening to the opposition, as they just do not seem to quite understand that and do not understand how important those economic stimulus packages have been, particularly for regional and rural communities.
One of the things that I am very proud of which led us into the election was that we promised and delivered on our commitment to abolish Work Choices. It was a draconian set of industrial relations legislation and the importance of that reform has not only put fairness back into workplaces but also shown an understanding of the need for productivity and the need for good, sound workplace relations to stimulate economic growth. This is something I am very proud of, and I am very proud to be part of a government that has done that and that has also today announced and delivered on its election promise of extending and improving the GEERS arrangements for unemployed workers. I think that has been a long time coming. In fact, I remember almost nine years ago asking my first question in this place about it, so I am delighted to be part of a government that does understand the need to support industry and also the desperate need to support workers when things go wrong.
I am also very proud that we delivered on a major pension reform by increasing the base rate of the pension. We went even further in our support for pensioners by implementing higher indexation measures to better reflect pensioners’ actual expenses. These two measures have seen pensioners receive increases of around $115 per fortnight for singles and $97 per fortnight for couples combined. We understood the poverty being experienced by people on pensions and we did something about it. We did not just talk about it, we did not just despair about it and we did not just say it was too hard. We did something about it. We can argue that people continue to live in poverty and continue to have difficulties as expenses rise, but Labor stepped up and increased the base rate of the pension. That is on the budget for ever as a net cost to the budget, and that is incredibly important for those people.
I am also very proud of the reforms we have undertaken in education. I know it is easy for the opposition to try and dismiss the Building the Education Revolution; unfortunately they have got some traction in the Australian about that. It has been an extraordinary program. I have had the privilege of being able to open some of those BER projects certainly over the course of the last few weeks, and they have absolutely transformed many of the schools I have worked within. The program has not just transformed the buildings themselves; it has transformed the way in which education is being conducted in those schools. These are schools that have never had libraries before; that have never had electronic whiteboards. This is the case particularly with some of the small rural schools that might have only 15-17 students. They are now able to offer the same standard of educational experience that their larger school counterparts can provide in inner city and regional centre schools.
These sorts of improvements will make an enormous difference to the opportunities that are being provided to the young people in those primary schools, whether they be in the public education system or the Catholic system or are other independent schools. This will mean that we are leaving a lasting legacy for a generation of children and providing an opportunity for a generation of children which will hopefully see them do better than many of their counterparts have done in the past.
I have talked to all of the builders in my own community, and what the BER did was ensure that there was work for these kids’ parents so they stayed employed through the global financial crisis. It also left behind a lasting legacy for the children. In my own district we invested $116 million in local schools. That is a huge amount of money in a regional community when private sector spending had absolutely dried up. That has made an enormous difference and, again, it has left a lasting legacy of new primary school classrooms, school halls, libraries, computer infrastructure and a science and language centre at one of our secondary schools. It has been a great delight to see how that opportunity has been embraced in the school communities in my own district. A lot of the school communities, particularly in the Catholic education system, have been saying, ‘We had this on the wish list but we thought it would be 10 years down the track before we would ever be able to finish the project.’ I absolutely put on the record my thanks to the Prime Minister for this investment—it has made a real difference in my area.
In the area of infrastructure, we have made enormous investments in roads in my district. People who drive down the Western Highway will see that Anthonys Cutting is well under way and well ahead of schedule. The $160 million for that has been part of the Nation Building Program, and it will achieve a number of outcomes in terms of both road safety and relieving the infrastructure bottleneck that has meant that many freight companies have been finding it very difficult to commercially use that route as much as they would like. We have also provided some $404 million for the duplication of the Western Highway from Ballarat to Stawell, and that project has also started. This work will be of enormous benefit to those communities to the east of my electorate, on the Western Highway, who rely on that road for all of their employment and also for the economic trade that occurs along that route. It is a huge investment of over half a billion dollars in the Western Highway alone, which affects the entire community of my electorate. This is only a snapshot of the commitment to infrastructure that the Gillard government has put into my electorate.
It is important in this address-in-reply debate, as we start a new parliament, to look at what else we need to do in the future. It is clear in my constituency that the global financial crisis has not finished. Many private sector companies in the building industry are still very concerned about where their next pipeline of jobs is going to come from. We are slowly starting to see a rebuilding of that, but clearly there are lots of pressures, particularly in a town that is heavily reliant on manufacturing for employment and has to look at diversifying its economic base continuously in order to make sure that it is providing jobs.
One of the really important initiatives is the National Broadband Network. I have been lucky enough in my constituency to have one of the stage 2 rollout sites—the town of Bacchus Marsh, which is very close to Melbourne. Certainly there will be a significant change in the way in which that community does business. There will be an enormous opportunity not just for that township but for all of the townships along the Western Highway as we try and convince NBN Co. that the rollout should then occur not towards Melbourne but out into regional Australia to provide that connectivity to Melbourne. It really is going to transform the way in which people work, the way in which health services are provided and the way in which people actually understand the connectivity not just between regions and capital cities but between regional cities and the rest of the world.
I know the benefits of NBN are well beyond what people think they are going to be now. I do not think that we can even imagine the sorts of things that people will be able to do when they have the high-speed capacity that is offered by the NBN. I am certainly looking forward to working with the business community and the community sector in those areas, and working with local government and also other broader industry sectors to make sure that that rollout actually occurs well, that it employs local people and that we also absolutely take advantage of every single megabyte of the speed of the National Broadband Network.
There has been an enormous amount of health reform, and I think one of the things that I am very proud of is the way in which we are transforming the health system. A lot of the focus, detail and work have been around how the funding mechanisms are working. But, as someone who has worked in that area, the reality of what that actually means in the health sector is enormous. At the preventative end we are trying to establish the National Prevention Agency. A huge amount of money has now gone into looking at issues around obesity, tobacco smoking and alcohol use, and about how you get better synergies with the states and at the local level through local hospital networks to really maximise how you reduce the burden of disease in a community. That is an important initiative that we have done through the health and hospitals reform.
We have also invested substantial amounts of money within the hospital networks themselves so that they can actually do their business better, providing more beds, providing incentives to get waiting lists down and driving quality within the hospital system. That will see more services available for people, but it will also see better and higher quality services available for people.
Obviously you need a workforce to enact some of that, so we have made investments in increasing the number of GPs and specialists, and we have worked to get those GPs and specialists out into regional and rural communities. Again, this is something that I am very proud of.
There are information systems that go with that. The My Hospital website will provide consumers, who are getting much more savvy about these sorts of things, with information about what is happening within their hospital system and enable them to make some choices around where they go and what services they have. This is also really important, as will be the e-health record. That is something that I hope to see driving better consumer outcomes and, certainly, better consumer information into the future.
I am also very proud of the work we have done about GP practices, really modernising the way in which GP practices operate whether that be through the GP superclinic we have in Ballan, or the initiative to improve the capital infrastructure of GP clinics themselves or the provision of better clinical training within those GP clinics. I know that that will make a significant difference.
Obviously, it would be remiss of me not to mention the regional priority round of the Health and Hospitals Fund. I am sure the member for Newcastle is pretty keen on a number of hospitals in her area. Within my own constituency I have already got $10 million to $15 million worth of projects that I know are going to come in for assessment, from Ballan District Health and Care, our district nursing service, which is desperately in need of $2 million to improve its facilities through to the 100,000 meals that are provided out of an incredibly old hospital kitchen out at Creswick, and Djerriwarrh Health Services in Bacchus Marsh, which is in a 1950s kit hospital that was brought across on a ship. It desperately needs its theatres done. I know that there will be a lot of competition in that round and I certainly want to assure people that I will advocate very strongly for those.
We have also made an investment in regional cancer centres of some $52 million in partnership with the state government, which is going to make a significant difference to cancer sufferers and also for diagnostics for cancer not just across my own electorate but throughout the entirety of western Victoria. Ballarat is becoming very much the hub for health, education and business services for the whole of the western district and we want to really support that development and growth.
The area of climate change is obviously one that has been dear to my heart and also one where there are some really good practical examples happening within my own city. The Central Victoria Solar City project, which is one of seven large-scale solar energy projects around Australia, really is going to provide some great examples for the rest of the country as to how you may be able to produce energy locally and the impact of that. I know the member for Newcastle has done very well in terms of some of the work that Newcastle is going to do in that too. I think that, because of the discrete nature of regional communities and the populations that live in them, there is some terrific work that you can do in terms of energy generation and also energy savings. I think Newcastle will provide a great example of that.
Again, I want to say thank you to the people of Ballarat for putting their faith in me again for my fourth term. Again, I particularly want to thank my staff and wonderful volunteers and campaign team. I acknowledge that it is absolutely a team effort. I also want to acknowledge my husband, Mark, and my beautiful son, Ryan. I hope that for many years to come, when he is an adult and reads back through these speeches, he gets why his mum was not always around, but I want to thank him and Mark for the sacrifices they have both made. (Time expired)
Debate (on motion by Ms Grierson) adjourned.