Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Abbott Government; Attempted Censure
I seek leave to move a motion against the Abbott government.
Leave not granted.
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Lingiari moving immediately—That this House condemn the Abbott Government for its failure to take any action to protect jobs at Gove and note the callous disregard for the local community has been reinforced by the Prime Minister’s broken promise to visit in his first week as Prime Minister.
It is very clear; the disregard that this Prime Minister has shown for this community is palpable. We know—this community understands—the failure of this government to recognise its hour of need, the failure of this government to do something reasonable to address their needs, the failure of this government to understand the loss of jobs in this community and the surrounding region, and what this will mean. The government fail to realise what this will mean not only for the community of Gove but for the surrounding region.
I said in an earlier contribution that the population of Nhulunbuy was 4,000 people. The regional population—in an area probably the size of Victoria—is 14,000 people. We know that, as direct result of—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The member for Lingiari should be making the argument as to why standing orders should be suspended. He is not making that argument at all; he is just arguing the same points as those he argued in the previous address. Is he going to draw himself to the attention of the standing orders?
It is clear. This House has an obligation to debate and discuss the concerns of the people of Nhulunbuy and the surrounding region. That is why the standing orders need to be suspended. Why did the Leader of the House not allow us to have a matter of public importance debate? We would not have been through this, but he has prevented us from debating the issue. It is extremely important that the House understand the implications of the closure of this refinery for the community of Gove and the surrounding region. We need to suspend standing orders to allow us to debate it properly, to allow the government to respond, to allow us to hear from the government why it is that they do not care about the community of Gove and the surrounding region, to hear from the government why it is that not one of their ministers has bothered to show his or her face in the community of Gove or the region since the announcement was made. This is why we need to suspend standing orders.
Why is it that there is no understanding shown by this government of what the impact will be on services to the community around Nhulunbuy and in Gove itself? We need to understand this. I met some young people at the Nhulunbuy High School last week. We sat and spoke, along with others—with the Leader of the Opposition, with Senator Nova Peris and the local member Lynne Walker. We spoke to years 11 and 12 students about what their prospects are as a result of this closure. They did not know. No-one has been to talk to them. We know that, as a direct result of the closure, the school population will fall from 972 to something like 240. What does that mean for them? They have been given a blatant guarantee by the Northern Territory government that year 12 will go until the end of the year and year 11 likewise, but the teachers have been told that their jobs are guaranteed only until the end of the first semester. What does that tell you? That is why standing orders need to be suspended.
We need to know what this government is thinking. We need to know what answers this government has for the people of Gove and the surrounding communities. We need to know what answers this government has for the kids of Gove—those people, who are our nation's future in that region, are being told by this government that they just do not bloody well care. Well I care, my friends in the Labor Party care, the community cares and I know the people of Australia care. We cannot have this. We cannot have the Prime Minister or anyone else coming into this place and treating the community with such disrespect. It is just not on. As the Prime Minister said—
They are now after 5½ minutes of debate. The member stood there and tried to stop us from seeing the terms of the motion. If the terms of the motion are in the same terms as the motion moved earlier, that is out of order because the motion cannot be asking for the same thing to occur. I will observe them and meanwhile I move:
That the member be no longer heard.
Never mind the children. For most children in Australia an eighth birthday is a milestone worth celebrating—a day of gifts, cakes, ice cream and laughter, a day when you are special; a day when all the bright prospects of life are still before you. But, sadly, there is a legion of children in this country for whom the eighth birthday is something quite different—a day of misery, a day when dreams are put on hold, a day when the poverty slide becomes even steeper. The youngest children of sole parents forced onto Newstart allowance know that Mum or Dad will have to fight even harder to survive. They know that when the youngest turns eight the family will lose up to $110 a week despite the daily grind that poverty brings. Mum and Dad are under further pressure for every moment of every day for every decision, even for the most minor, because there is no margin for error. Every financial decision becomes a major financial decision because there is no flexibility in your ability to have a choice in your spend.
You may think a child would be unlikely to know so much about her parent's or parents' finances. But the children of the poor are always acutely aware of how much they do not have compared to other children. The children of the poor are acutely aware of the social stigma of poverty. They are acutely aware of what it means to wear the wrong clothes, to miss out on meals, to shrink their dreams to fit their circumstances, to hope for less than other kids. These children are equally our future, yet we seem to continually say to them, 'Never mind the children.'
Whilst the terrible scourge of domestic violence tears at the fabric of communities and families, and we all in this House stand united against it, we do our best to stamp it out because we know how insidious and destructive it is. While we fight against that terrible cancer we not only turn our backs on sole parents and their children but enshrine their poverty in legislation, giving their misery and discrimination the nation's and this parliament's stamp of approval.
There are 15,610 sole parent households in the electorate of McMillan, my electorate, with many at risk of or already living in poverty. It is often a hand-to-mouth existence, an existence that sees children getting on with meagre rations of food and lots of hope. Textbooks are hard enough, let alone breakfast. In McMillan households, the financial picture is often bleak, with 29.3 per cent scrounging together a gross weekly income of $600. Often it is much less and too often there are children ensnared in this poverty trap. The previous Rudd-Gillard government said to struggling sole parents: when your youngest child turns eight, we are going to plunge you into even deeper poverty. Never mind the children, they told the nation.
If you are lucky enough to have the love and financial support of a partner, your worries are fewer. You have the support of the welfare system too. A single mother raising children on Newstart begs for help from the Salvos. A woman with the emotional and financial support of a husband and partner has fewer concerns. If she has two children under 12 she will only lose family tax benefit part A when her family's wages are close to $113,000. She will only lose family tax benefit part B when her partner's wage or their combined income is $150,000. The same rules apply to our sole parents but such astronomical wages can only be dreamed of by a Newstart sole parent—and never mind the children, we say. We continue to support one group while attacking the other.
Last year 600,000 children were living in poverty, 300,000 from sole parent families. I made a solemn promise to the people of my electorate to work in their best interests. I made a solemn promise to myself that I would call out injustice against children and fight to ensure that none are forced to live in poverty because of decisions made in this House. I will not say, 'Never mind the children.' In my home town of Pakenham, 135 eviction notices were served in the past three years. Sole parents tied to an existing lease and then pushed onto the Newstart allowance were the most vulnerable in becoming homeless along of course with their children—never mind the children. One local mother of five who was studying full-time, searching for a way out of the poverty trap lost so much money when her youngest child turned eight that she now has been forced to work the whole weekend to pay the bills, just to survive—never mind the children or who is looking after them when mum is at work.
Leongatha Salvation Army captain Martyn Scrimshaw said that many desperate sole parents had knocked on his door, with one woman spending 70 per cent of her Newstart allowance on the basic household expenses of rent and power. 'Thirty per cent of Newstart doesn't leave much for anything else, especially if you're raising children,' Martyn told me. In fact, it leaves about $160 more or less.
A former government minister once famously said she could survive on $35 a day—and changed her mind later—but why force families to take this mean-hearted challenge? It is too easy to say, 'Never mind the children,' for the sake of the budget or the bottom line. But what lessons are we teaching the children about their worth? 'You're not worthy of our support'? 'You're being punished because you don't have a father or a mother'? 'Life's tough, kid; good luck'? Some may say, 'Never mind these children,' but I will not.
If you are a family with mum and dad and three kids and you get family tax benefit part A and part B and you are on, say, $63,000 a year, you do not get a health card to support you at all. But, if you are an older person, retired, with an $80,000 income, you are able to access a health card, which means you can get your prescriptions at the concession rate. But the family with three kids and a mortgage and one income cannot get a health card. They have got to pay the full tick if their kid has got asthma. There are a lot of anomalies that are facing this parliament—and that faced the previous parliament and the parliament before it—that have grown up and that are detrimental to children's health and wellbeing across this nation, especially the children of sole-parent families. It is totally inappropriate for us.
I have lived in relative wealth all of my life. Bron and I have had our tough times, but I have lived in relative wealth. My children have never gone without a feed and my grandchildren will not go without a feed. But there are many families in my electorate and across this nation, up and down the east coast of Australia and around every part, that do go without. Kids go without breakfast sometimes. You might wonder why I am up on this issue. It is because, when I came here in 1990 for the first time—after missing out on two elections before that and finally getting to this place—I said in my maiden speech that I would look after families. And yet here I am all these years later, from 1990 till now—and I know I have been out a few times—and I stand here today knowing that there are children in our community that are discriminated against for one reason and one reason only: by no fault of their own, they happen to live in a single-parent household. I am not going to judge why it is a single-parent household. I do not know. But what I do know in regard to women single-parent households is that, in 40 per cent of these households, the women are in part-time work. They are already trying to eke out a living. And we come along when their child turns eight. If you are in a nuclear family and your child turns eight, guess what—you do not lose a penny. You do not lose a cent. You continue on. And I am very happy that they continue on—we want to support families. But I want to make this point before a quorum is called. It is unfair, and every member of parliament in this place should look at the responsibility that they have to single-parent families and especially to the children within those families. (Quorum formed)
I turn now to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and I offer a warning to this parliament and to the people of Australia. There are those, as we work through the process of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, who believe today that they will be a part of that scheme. I am saying today that the criteria for the National Disability Insurance Scheme will not include all those people today who think they are going to be included. I have warned previously in this parliament that the leaders of the day when this scheme is introduced are going to face the ire and wrath of people who believe that their politicians have told them that they will be supported into the future through the National Disability Support Scheme.
Today we have a disability support pension. Those with manifest disabilities will clearly be part of the new scheme and have that disability support pension as well. There are those on the disability support pension who believe that they will be part of the services provided by the National Disability Insurance Scheme that will not be part of it. There will be those that have minor disabilities who think they will fit the criteria for the National Disability Insurance Scheme who will not. It is not a panacea for everybody with a disability in this country, and the previous government, with our support, have possibly lined the nation up for an expectation that can ever be met. It cannot be met financially and cannot be met in the spirit of the scheme.
I do not want to be the one that puts a damper on the expectations of people with children with disabilities. I say this because I have a background in disability services and have been at the coalface of disability service. I say every day of my life that I cannot enter into the life of a parent of a child with a disability, because I do not have that experience. I can empathise, I can help them support their family and children, but I can never live it because you can never understand what a parent goes through in those situations.
On the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I want to say that this scheme has to be worked through. It is going to take a lot of effort by state governments, federal government and, particularly, the providers, and a lot of issues are going to arise out of the trials that we are currently going through. I say again: it is not going to be what the expectation of the current Australian community is. In the past, I have spoken in similar terms about what were the 'Gonski reforms'. I want more money poured into my public schools, into my public secondary colleges, into my public primary schools and into my low-fee Catholic schools, because that is a major base. We have had some great benefit from the Howard government previously in the area of low-fee Catholic schools. They have new facilities, and I am proud of the facilities that my primary schools have received. But, again, we are raising expectations of funds to be poured out of the federal government, which, to my view of looking to the immediate and greater future, we may not have.
We have prime ministers come and go who say, 'This is my dream,' while laying into the Australian community an expectation, but then they are not the Prime Minister that has to deal with the issues of the day, as the Prime Minister of this day, Mr Abbott, his cabinet and the next cabinet do. I think we have got good people working in the areas of disability, education and health, and I think that with proper financial management of this nation in areas we can deliver better outcomes for our community, but they may not fulfil the great expectation, ambition and hopes that have been laid out for the Australian people in these specific areas.
I notice members have taken the opportunity to thank all the people that re-elected them to this House. Having come to the House and been thrown out several times, I have had the great generosity of many people over a long period of time who have had to suffer Russell Broadbent.
They have suffered me to come back to this place, and I have come back to this place each time. The last time I came back, I was honoured to go from a Labor seat to a marginal seat to a seat that is held by nearly 12 per cent in a country area, where the demographics are basically a Labor seat. That is not down to anything I have done; it is down to the generosity of people who live in my electorate.
If your child is disabled, if your family is going through a tough time and if you do not have people who will speak for you, there are people in this House on both sides of the parliament who are keen and desirous to explore the options as best we can to support you and your family and their values and opportunities. After all, our great desire, whether you have disability or not, is that each child in this country reaches their full and great potential. We are not asking them to be heroes, we are just giving them the opportunity to reach their individual full potential as Australians.
It is a great pleasure to be able to rise in this place in the Address in Reply as the re-elected member for Greenway. I am very humbled, honoured and grateful to the voters of Greenway for choosing to re-elect me to occupy this very esteemed place in our nation's parliament. I am also very honoured to be representing not only my constituents but also a wide variety of interest groups in my respective shadow portfolio responsibilities. They reflect ongoing interests that I have had for many years, and I will continue to prosecute very important issues and those portfolios in this term.
In my first speech I touched on a number of issues, and it is quite startling how some of those are very relevant to the context of some of the debates we have been having in the last few days. I talked about the fact that we live in a globalised economy with a mobile labour market. When you see what is happening in an economy in transition in Australia in terms of manufacturing and when you see what is happening in terms of the need to invest in infrastructure, particularly in broadband infrastructure, these things become very relevant. I also spent a lot of time discussing the issue of diversity of people and place that make up the great electorate of Greenway. Further to that, I want to mention in these short remarks some of the challenges that are facing residents in Greenway and also across Australia.
I gave an undertaking to work hard for the full term for the residents of Greenway, and I hope that it was recognised that I did that to the best of my ability. I will draw on my first speech, which I used as my compass over the first term. Some of the things that I mentioned were that I committed to being a passionate advocate for the best educational infrastructure and resources for all our schools. Education is an area that remains paramount as a policy objective and a key policy area for the people of Greenway. As Greenway is such a young electorate—in fact, one of the youngest electorates in Australia—there is a special responsibility to ensure investments in education.
That is why, over the first term that I served here, I really had a focus on making sure not only that we had the right capital infrastructure but that I supported sound policy for reforming education so that we really did have a needs based model. So I was very prepared to debate and advocate on these issues in the wake of the Gonski recommendations. Equally, when, prior to its endorsement of those Gonski recommendations, the New South Wales government pulled funding from education, that was an enormous issue for people in my electorate—for a state government to go back on its promises of making education paramount.
I talked about the transformational power of education, and that remains as true as ever. I also talked about the importance of Labor's National Broadband Network and its transformational power in how we communicate and work and the enhancement of living standards. I will touch on this later on, but I want to mention something in particular because I think it is very relevant to quote this. I said:
In 10 or 20 years our children will look back on the current debate about the NBN and will be shocked by the short-sightedness of some of the views expressed about the NBN today, particularly the commentary that is fixated on the download path: the false assumption that the NBN is merely a matter of faster emails or web-surfing. The reality is the NBN is not about the download. It is all about the upload.
And that, I believe, is a point that remains absent from the current policy debate which is occurring in this parliament.
Finally, I mentioned the importance of health and the disparity which unfortunately exists: the prevalence of preventable diseases in Western Sydney and some of the survival rates from terminal illnesses. I made a particular commitment to address the disparity between geographic outcomes.
I would like to turn first to looking at some of the things that we, along with the community—and this was very much a first term based on not only listening to but responding to the needs of the community in Greenway—were able to achieve. We were able to achieve great things together that really did make positive differences to people's lives. There was the rollout of the National Broadband Network in Riverstone and Blacktown, which I will go into more detail about. There were upgrades to every local school in the area, valued at over $118 million. Some schools in my electorate, including the public school down the road from where I grew up, had not had any capital investment for 50 years—50 years!—until the Building the Education Revolution program.
We secured over $50 million for a new clinical school and additional beds at Blacktown hospital; a $15 million GP superclinic in Blacktown to take pressure off our hospitals' emergency departments; and a $1.28 million refurbishment of Blacktown TAFE. We had primary healthcare infrastructure grants for many GP services, one of which I would like to discuss; a quarter of a million dollars for an upgrade at the International Peace Park for Seven Hills junior rugby league; new playgrounds at local parks as part of the community infrastructure program; an upgrade of the Riverstone museum; $400,000 for emergency relief services, including the Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre; $5.8 million for the Western Sydney Institute GreenSkills Hub at the Nirimba Education Precinct; and a $50,000 upgrade for the Riverstone Girl Guides hall. While it might sound like a drop in the bucket in the big scheme of things, I cannot tell you how pleased that group was and how pleased that local community was to be getting an upgrade to that hall. And there was the installation of a new $20,000 long-jump pit at Morgan Power Reserve for the Kings Langley Little Athletics. Again, sometimes it is those things which may seem monetarily small which make such an enormous difference to organisations and to people's lives.
I would like to touch on the issue of health in Greenway. As I said, residents and policymakers in western and north-western Sydney, because we have such a fast-growing and young population and at the same time we are all living longer, are confronted with a range of complex and unique health related challenges. It is these challenges that require concerted effort from governments at the state and federal levels to properly address them. Since 2010 I have fought hard to improve health services in the electorate of Greenway. I am very pleased with the investments that we have been able to make, including the ones that I have mentioned.
I want to talk in particular about some of the primary care infrastructure grants, including half a million dollars which was granted to the Bridgeview Medical Practice, in the suburb of Toongabbie. This grant helped Bridgeview expand the services they offer to the Toongabbie community and allowed them to construct six new consulting rooms, a mini auditorium and a resource centre. The practice was also able to provide additional hours of operations each week. I am very pleased to announce that, late last year, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners announced Bridgeview Medical Practice as the worthy recipient of the 2013 New South Wales General Practice of the Year Award. This is a tremendous achievement and I want to congratulate the whole team at Bridgeview Medical Practice. It highlights how funding in this place can play an active role in improving primary care in our communities. As well as this, the Western Sydney Medicare Local, WentWest, has been a success story in our region and an excellent example of how we can work together to tackle preventative health issues and keep people out of hospitals. The funding included half a million dollars to WentWest to roll out the Western Sydney Diabetes Prevention Program—a crucial piece of investment for Western Sydney.
One of the great achievements has been the bulk-billing rates in Western Sydney. In Greenway alone 97 per cent of GP visits are now bulk-billed compared to 87 per cent bulk-billed nationally. It is no wonder that residents are so concerned about any proposal to have a $6 tax on GP visits when we have people who rely so much on bulk-billing in the electorate of Greenway.
I want to turn to the issue of the National Broadband Network. As I mentioned, the inability to access real high-speed, quality broadband services was a huge area of complaint from residents. As this is a growth area, there have been a number of residents who complain that they are unable to access broadband which they consider sufficiently fast. But I even have whole suburbs where people literally need to wait for people to move out before a port becomes available in their local exchange. I want to use the example of the suburb of Riverstone, which was the site of the first Sydney metro rollout. It really is a microcosm of how our local economies are changing. Riverstone used to be a purely rural area, then changing to industrial and now becoming something of a technological hub as it expands.
I cite the example of a local business which has been able to capitalise on the availability of the NBN. I am looking at an article from the Blacktown Sun where it says that the Good Egg Studio in Riverstone has welcomed a technology boost from the National Broadband Network. The Good Egg Studio specifically moved to Riverstone. It offers a 12 by 17 metre studio for photographers and videographers to produce high-tech film for brochures, advertisements and possibly even movies. The co-owner, Warren Kirby, is a photographer and multimedia specialist. He said that the future availability of the NBN—and now he has actually got it, so he is able to utilise it—was the motivating factor for the decision to locate to Riverstone. He went on to say how it would save their clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and effort. I think that this demonstrates how powerful the NBN can be not only in a transformational economy but also for small businesses to assist them to grow.
I think it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the misnomers that continue to be perpetuated thanks to the Minister for Communications. Firstly, the minister claims that there is no need for a fibre to the premises NBN rollout in Blacktown because Blacktown is already serviced by existing Optus and Telstra HFC infrastructure, and that speeds of 100 megabits per second are already available to end users from services currently provided over that infrastructure. That is a complete nonsense. The reality is that the end user services provided over cable technology are heavily user dependent, so the more users at any given time the slower the speeds available. You can read Optus's own submissions on this point. Its HFC infrastructure is not dimensioned for a significant number of users. Also, though claims are made of 100 megabits per second already being available under existing infrastructure, such speeds are not available to all end users. That is why service providers are required to use terminology of 'speeds up to'. We have already had a broken promise which we are all aware of from this government where it gave an undertaking to have a minimum 25 megabits per second to all residents by 2016. Within only a few months the government has decidedly walked away from that commitment.
In the limited time available to me I want to touch on two further things. The first is the diversity of our local community. In particular I want to mention the growing, vibrant subcontinent populations that make up the electorate of Greenway. I was fortunate to be involved in the ministerial consultative committee on subcontinent issues which then minister Bowen initiated. This was an excellent project. Although I thought there would be some typical needs that would be raised by the local subcontinent communities, it was interesting to note that their primary concern was issues of unemployment and underemployment. It was a case of some of the most overqualified people in often some of the most menial positions, which is an issue which has been looked at by various governments but one which we can no longer sustain. We really need as a country to address it in the long term and start doing it properly now.
Finally, I want to thank a couple of people. Most of all I want to thank my little girl Octavia, who has come home from child care today. She has had her bath and she is watching. For poor Octavia all she ever knew from conception to birth and the first bit of her life was mummy trying to get re-elected. Mummy did it, and thank you so much for your support. You and your dad were absolute troopers. I think no-one could realise how hard my family worked and the amount of sacrifice that they made for me to be in parliament, in my first term in particular. I want to especially thank my in-laws, who were absolutely amazing, especially my sister-in-law Sandra, who looks after Octavia when I am not around, and my fantastic mother-in-law and father-in-law Sue and Sam Chaaya. People will not understand the logistics that they had to go through, especially when I was breastfeeding, for Octavia to be in Canberra. They would load up a car on a Saturday afternoon, bring it down to Canberra, unpack everything that goes with having a small baby, look after her all week while I was in here, and then do the reverse when it was time to go home. I cannot begin to explain the logistics that went into it, but I can try to express my untold gratitude to my in-laws, especially, for everything they did for me.
Also, the fact is that Michael, my husband, is a very senior partner in a law firm. For someone to have to put their life on hold to support their partner's career is something you can only say thank you for and something you can only hope that they can continue to do. There were nights when I would get home and Michael had been looking after Octavia for most of the day, and then I would get up during the night to do a feed and he would be up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning doing his work. So, he was literally doing two or three different roles—wife, worker, husband—driving the whole bus, as I like to say.
I want to also thank all the Labor Party branch members in my area who assisted, including all those wonderful people who came out of nowhere, whom I had never met and who volunteered their time. And when I say 'during the campaign', this was three years of effort; this was not a couple of weeks of campaigning. It was three years of solid effort, because, let's face it: I had had a baby and I was in a hung parliament in the most marginal Labor seat in New South Wales in one of the most contentious periods in Australian politics. I do not know anyone in this chamber who put money on me to come back here, but, if they did, I am pleased for their wealth!
There are too many branch members for me to name, and I will be forgiven for singling out one person. I did highlight in my first speech my tremendous thanks to my campaign director, Brian Thomas, a retired professional truck driver who was the driving force in my first campaign. Brian, unfortunately, died on Remembrance Day in 2012, and it was terrible for me to hear the news. I want to thank his widow, Judy, who made herself so available for the campaign and, I think, did the job of two people.
I want to also thank my parliamentary colleagues from the Labor Party for all their support over the first term, particularly those MPs who came to this place and also had small children. They were always willing to give me a hand and help out. Because it was such an effort to make it back here by the good grace of the people of Greenway, I want to reassure you of how determined I am to continue to work hard and make a difference and that my priorities will continue to be the things that are important to you, including health and education, issues of innovation in a changing economy, jobs and job insecurity, and the importance of recognising and making sure we respond appropriately to diversity in our community.
In conclusion, I want to reassure the people of Greenway that I will continue to be a strong local advocate for everyone in our community. I recognise what an important obligation it is to represent one of the youngest and fastest-growing areas of Australia. I am completely up to that task, and I look forward to continuing it with gusto. I made a commitment that I would be absolutely accessible in the first term of my tenure here—that I would not be someone you would see just at election time. I would like to reiterate that for my second term, and I thank the people of Greenway, again, for putting their trust in me.
It is once again an honour to rise in this place to talk and to support the wonderful speeches that have come before mine as we have welcomed the new members to this place and also as we have heard those members who are in their second, third or fourth terms—and for some a lot longer--and to hear what they have to say as we start this parliament.
For me, the 2013 election was really about two things. It was about the future direction of the nation, and it was about what I could achieve with the local community in my electorate of Wannon. I am thrilled to be able to say that on both those points we have been successful. We have a new government—and, oh boy, did we need that new government. We have started the process of heading this country in the right direction again, and that means very good things also for my local electorate.
I will pause for a moment just to concentrate on the specific things it will mean for my electorate, because the Abbott government made some important commitments to the electorate of Wannon if it was successful in winning government, and I would like to detail them. The first was a commitment, which will be honoured—and I was pleased that the Minister for Health, in his first answer to a question in question time, reassured my local community of this—that $10 million would be delivered for an integrated cancer care centre for western Victoria. Now, this has been a community-driven campaign. It has been driven by some of the most wonderful community minded people you would come across. (Quorum formed) It is befitting that Labor have had to call a quorum, because I know what I was saying was dicing them up, cutting them to pieces. I must say that they have felt the need to try and interrupt a speech on behalf of my electorate and on behalf of the nation. That they have had to resort to this tactic says a lot. I see the former minister for health is in the chamber. I was talking about Peter's Project and the $10 million—
I thank the Minister for Education for his kindness. He has shown what a dignified human being he is. I will not make a comparison with his opposite number on the other side because he showed some rather tardy form.
I was talking about Peter's Project, a very important project for my electorate worth $10 million. That is the commitment given by the Abbott government to Peter's Project, to build an integrated cancer care centre for the south-west of Victoria. The south-east of South Australia will also benefit from this integrated cancer care centre. It will save the trip to either Geelong or Melbourne for people in the south-west, a round trip which can sometimes take six to eight hours for people who are suffering from that dreaded disease—cancer.
We also gave significant road funding to the electorate of Wannon. Roads are the lifeblood of all country communities and none so much as my electorate of Wannon. The member for Corangamite was in here a little earlier. Between our two electorates we got $25 million, matched by $25 million from the Victorian state government, to improve and upgrade the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road is a significant tourist attraction. People come from all over the world to tour this road and the fact that we are prepared to commit $50 million, in combination with the Victorian state government, is a great win for my communities and also a great win for the Victoria. We also committed funding for the Condah-Hotspur Road, a key linkage road for our timber industry. This will bring productivity gains for that important industry because the route travelled by timber trucks in my electorate will be reduced by this significant investment.
We made some commitments around crime. Maryborough in my electorate has had an issue with street crime. So we have given $100,000 for 23 CCTV cameras which will make a significant difference for that community, ensuring especially that local businesses feel a lot more secure if crimes are committed. The police will be able to use those CCTV cameras to find and arrest those responsible.
There is $125,000 for lights at Melville Oval. This will enable games of football and cricket to be played at night. Not only will the lights improve training; they will also enable key matches to be played. The aim of the Hamilton Football Club is to play an Anzac Day match against Portland, under lights, in 2015. If the lights are ready, that will be a wonderful community event, a wonderful way to commemorate Anzac Day along with the traditional service.
We saw $4.4 million for the Cobden Technical School and Timboon P-12 School trade training centre, another $1 million for a trade training centre at the Maryborough Education Centre. (Quorum formed) There are also Green Army projects, which are incredibly important. We also have an announcement that Portland will be on our national whale trail, which is significant for that community. So there are these election commitments we will deliver, but there are also the election commitments that we will deliver for the nation. We will deliver those for the nation because they are vital for our children's future.
At the moment everything that we are doing as a government is trying to repair the damage which has been done to this nation—thanks to the previous government—which, ultimately, if it is not repaired, will cost our children dearly. As law-makers of this nation, we have a responsibility to those who will come after us, and it is a significant responsibility. That is why we will bring debt and deficit under control in this nation. It is why we will grow the economy. It is why we will deliver jobs to our local communities across the nation.
We will do this to start with by ridding this nation of two of the most insidious taxes that have ever been introduced: firstly, the carbon tax. What an impact we are seeing this tax have—whether it be on our local dairy processes and on our local dairy farmers; whether it be on our aluminium smelters; whether it be on our small businesses; whether it be on our households, who are having to pay increased electricity bills. The carbon tax has to go. We took that commitment to the last election and we will deliver on it.
The mining tax also needs to go. We do not believe in cutting down industries which are significant wealth and job creators for this nation. We actually want those industries to thrive. At the moment we are going through some difficulties as our economy transitions from a 20th century protected economy to a 21st century global economy, and we have to make sure that we have the fundamentals right, so that our businesses, large and small, can capitalise on that transition. We are no longer a local economy.
Everything that we do here, as a government and as a nation, has implications across the globe, and we have to understand that. If you look at the recent HSBC report into what is happening with emerging economies and the paths that they are taking—in 2050 we will not use the term 'emerging economy' anymore; they will be First World economies like ours. We have to understand that. We have to understand the fundamental challenge that as a nation we must be competitive, and as a government we have to do things as efficiently and as leniently as possible. We have to make sure that as a government we are enablers, because that is the only way we will secure the long-term future of our nation and the long-term future of my electorate, the wonderful electorate of Wannon. (Time expired)
I want to start by thanking the voters in the electorate of Sydney for once again allowing me to represent them in this place. It is an honour that I am conscious of every day and a responsibility that I take very seriously. Each of us, no matter what office we hold, is here only at the will and with the permission of the people who send us here. I aim every day to do my very best for the constituents that I represent.
There is no more important work in the Labor movement, our political wing, than making policy that keeps people in work. On our watch, we created a million jobs and kept unemployment at historic lows, against the prevailing trend in other major economies. Our stimulus packages in response to the global financial crisis, which those opposite voted against and still deride, meant Australia was alone among OECD countries in avoiding recession. It is a big deal, and we should not forget it. A generation of Australians were spared the ravages of recession and joblessness because of the political courage of the world's best Treasurer, the member for Lilley, and the previous government.
We began building the NBN. Prime Minister Gillard and her state counterparts landed the Murray-Darling agreement. Against a mountain of opposition we put a limit on pollution and a price on carbon. The Liberals say that they believe the global warming science, but they are not prepared to do a single thing really to reduce the threat of climate change. Bizarrely, the two parts of our policies that they most oppose are the market signals of carbon pricing and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which would actually make money for the government.
We delivered health reform and made the most significant investment in health and hospital infrastructure in living memory. In my electorate I attended the opening of the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre, and in the neighbouring electorate the Kinghorn Cancer Centre. Both of these were made possible by the hard work of fundraising committees, but there was also nearly $170 million in Commonwealth investment for Lifehouse, and around $70 million for Kinghorn.
On 1 January the kids dental program Grow Up Smiling began, although I note that the government has been very careful not to publicise it. We now have the best five-year cancer survivor rate in the world and we will improve those numbers even more with better screening, plain packaging of tobacco and Gardasil vaccination extended to boys as well as girls.
We designed and began the rollout of DisabilityCare—and I want to pay tribute to my friend the member for Jagajaga for the extraordinary amount of detailed policy development and the supervision of the beginning of that that she is responsible for—a progressive reform that goes to the very core of what Labor is about, making people's live a little bit easier.
We delivered better school reforms so that every child, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn, can get a great education. We built new infrastructure in every primary school in Australia and many, many high schools, and I am proud of this record. We are proud of this record, and it is why everyone on this side of the House will fight this government's efforts to dismantle it.
What lies at the centre of the Labor record is the idea of equality of opportunity. Government cannot fix your life if things are going badly, but the decisions that governments make can make life harder or just a little bit easier. Labor exists in our national life—at least in part—to soften the harsher edges of our society. Our work is to make sure that: no matter where you are born or who your parents are, you have a fair shot at life.
Labor also exists to look to the future and to prepare for the opportunities and challenges of a changing world. Labor has been very successful in eliminating many of the inherent material inequalities in Australian society over the past 100 years. Because of Labor we have got an age pension, and it was Labor in our last term in government—again, under the stewardship of the member for Jagajaga—which delivered the biggest ever increase in the age pension.
Because of Labor we have a universal health system. Because of Labor we have a fairer and higher quality education system and because of Labor people now have more adequate retirement savings. But we should not kid ourselves that the only inequality that exists in Australia is material. Late last year for a few days marriage equality was a reality in the Australian Capital Territory, and I would like to recognise the hard work of ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher for seeing the legislation through but of course also the thousands of committed and idealistic marriage equality campaigners who have worked to make marriage equality a reality—if only for a week. But, as we all know, the High Court has ruled that marriage laws are for this parliament to decide, and so we must.
But our project for a fairer society goes hand in hand with a strong economy. I mentioned earlier the priority that Labor puts on jobs: all of our actions during the GFC were designed to prevent the devastation of widespread unemployment. That is why it is particularly shocking that, as the global economy begins to recover, the Liberal government is presiding over the destruction of full-time jobs—the worst destruction of jobs since the recession of 1991-92; more job losses than during the height of the GFC, and what is worse they do not seem to have any plan to stop these jobs washing offshore.
Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had articulated plans to grow Australian jobs at least in part through our economic engagement with the growing economies in our region. They looked ahead to the opportunities and challenges that we face as a nation.
It is humbling to be selected as Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson. I am following in very giant footsteps: HV Evatt; Bill Hayden; my friend Gareth Evans; Kevin Rudd, who has been so generous with his time; and Bob Carr, of course. I also should not forget Gough Whitlam, who was foreign affairs minister when Australia recognised China at the end of 1972.
Labor has a proud history when it comes to shaping Australia's foreign policy. It was John Curtin who, when the country faced its greatest threat, made it clear that Australia looked to our new ally, the United States, rather than our old friend, Britain. He put Australian interests above all else.
It was Ben Chifley's government which led Australia's pioneering work with the United Nations in the aftermath of the Second World War, with Australia becoming one of the first signatories to the UN Charter. Chifley's external affairs minister, 'Doc' Evatt, became one of the first presidents of the UN's General Assembly, and oversaw the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—such an incredible example of an opportunity to put into action and put into international law the values that we all share.
I would also like to just take a minute to mention Labor's Jessie Street, who was a founding member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and before that attended the League of Nations assemblies throughout the 1930s making a marvellous contribution to the establishment of a human rights framework that included the human rights of women.
It was Gough Whitlam's government which led the world when Australia established its diplomatic relationship with China in 1972. It was Bob Hawke and Paul Keating who began to grasp Australia's future as part of Asia, and establish APEC, which set up Australia as a significant player in our region.
Under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard's governments, Australia's role as a significant middle power was cemented when Australia won a seat at the UN Security Council, won the right to host the 2014 G20—really established the G20 as the predominant economic body for deciding global economic and financial matters, replacing the G8—strengthened our relationship with China, turned our relationship with Indonesia from one that public surveys in Indonesia graded as lukewarm to warm, and began planning for the Asian Century and how Australians could benefit from the growth of our neighbours.
We have long sought to articulate a foreign policy which is in the interests of Australia, first and foremost, and consistent with our values as a progressive party. Labor is the party of the fair go. But we do not believe that the fair go should stop at our borders. Australia is a middle power with regional and global interests, the 12th largest economy in the world, a member of the G20 and a founding member of the United Nations. We are a significant player in our region and a constructive player globally.
That is why it is so disappointing to see how this government has already reduced our international development program in the short time they have been in government. This government likes to couch their $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid in the language of thrift: that Australia needs to get its budget in order before we can afford such largesse.
But our international development program isn't largesse. It is not a conceit we allow ourselves when the budget bottom line may be better than usual; it is a necessary and vital part of both our foreign policy, our relations with our neighbours and our responsibility as a good global citizen.
There are many arguments in favour of international development aid for what it can do to help us develop stronger trading partners, lift countries that have previously been aid recipients out of poverty to become strong trading partners of Australia and alleviate security risks and health threats in our region. All of these reasons are no doubt true, but there is another reason that goes alongside these. There is the simple idea that we should, where possible, work to eliminate some of the most dire forms of inequality that exist in our world. This speaks to something larger than a mere policy difference. We see a role for government in tackling inequality, whether it be at home or abroad. Those opposite have never really bought into this. It is not too long a bow to draw to link what the government is doing in foreign aid to what is already taking shape in other policy areas.
It is already clear, less than five months since the election, that this government is not the government they said they would be before the election. The Prime Minister said his government would be one of no excuses and no surprises. The Prime Minister said he was on a unity ticket with Labor when it came to education. The Prime Minister said there would not be any cuts to healthcare. The Prime Minister said Work Choices was dead, buried and cremated. The Prime Minister said DisabilityCare was safe. Yet the country was treated to the spectacle last November of the education minister announcing three or four different education policies in a week, without really ever committing to the previous government's Gonski funding model, and threatening billions of dollars in promised funding. At its heart, the Gonski model is about ensuring that no child in Australia will have their education jeopardised because of where they live or how much their parents earn. Who would have voted for this government if they knew their true plans for education?
In January, we heard the government was considering a $6 fee for a visit to the doctor. While, on its own, to many people $6 may appear not much, what if you have got four kids, you are on a limited income and the kids all get sick at once? More insidiously, however, the threatened charge tears at the very concept of Medicare—that our system is universal and that, if you are sick, you can see a doctor. That is what makes Medicare such a loved part of the Australian social fabric—it covers all of us equally. I was proud to be health minister when bulk-billing rates reached 82 per cent. Who would have voted for this government if they knew their true plans to destroy Medicare?
Just recently, in the last few days, we have been hearing about the government's view on the award system and the awards that many workers are entitled to. We have been hearing the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other members of the government blaming the workers of SPC Ardmona and the workers of Toyota for demanding conditions that the government believe are too generous. Who would have voted for this government if they knew their true plans for the Australian workplace—to ship jobs offshore and attack the pay and conditions of factory workers and others who rely on fair awards?
Just over a month ago it was revealed the government's 'commission of cuts' is looking into privatising the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and that they have changed the 'launch' sites for the NDIS to 'test' sites. Of course, that makes those of us who follow this very nervous indeed. Who would have voted for this government if they knew that, just five months in, Australia's first national disability insurance scheme would already be in jeopardy?
There are already other examples, of course, but these four speak volumes about the difference between us and the government—under threat, less than five months into the new government's term, are longstanding and newer policies that are aimed at taking some of the hard edges off some of life's challenges for Australians.
What we are seeing here, as the Liberals shed their pre-election claims of unity tickets and revert to type, is that the old differences between Labor and the conservatives remain. We are the party which aims to make this country a fairer place. Yet the first moves by this government have been to attack our health and education systems, undermine disability support and attack the pay and conditions of factory workers. It has been a very poor start indeed.
In 2010 when I was elected to represent the people of Solomon in this parliament as the first female member for Solomon I was humbled by the support that I had received from the local community and honoured by the enormous responsibility that had been vested in me to serve the Top End cities of Darwin and Palmerston. The 2010 election and its aftermath was a tumultuous time in Australia's political and social history which came at an enormous cost to the Australian people. The Labor government held power on the back of a damaging partnership with the Greens. The result of the partnership was legislation such as the carbon tax that hurt the national interest and stifled economic growth.
The Labor-Greens alliance imposed a burden on small businesses in Darwin and Palmerston in a way that no serving government should ever be allowed to do again. The carbon tax was imposed on thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of households across the country to keep the Gillard-Rudd Labor government in office. This disgraceful use of executive powers ignored the high cost under which many Territorians' businesses already operate. In a competitive economic environment like Solomon, this was a telling blow to businesses that already operated around the margins. The cost of electricity in the Territory increased by nearly 10 per cent in my electorate of Solomon, all because of the carbon tax—10 per cent! Small businesses have been the mainstay of the Territory private economy for decades. (Quorum formed)
As I was saying, the cost of electricity increased by nearly 10 per cent in my electorate of Solomon, all because of the carbon tax. Small businesses have been the mainstay of the Territory's private economy for decades and have provided jobs and security for families around Darwin and Palmerston. In an election environment where both the major political groupings promised to develop northern Australia, only one has shown it really is prepared to put its money where its mouth is by removing the carbon tax on businesses and households in Solomon. That is why I am so proud as a Liberal member of the coalition government to be able to help to implement the policies that swept us to power on 7 September.
My first three years as a member of the Solomon were rewarding and it was hard work being in opposition. It was the first time that the member for Solomon had been in opposition. My re-election was an enormous privilege, and one that I intend to use for the benefit of all the residents Solomon.
The electorate of Solomon was created in 2001 and covers an area of approximately 337 square kilometres. It was named after Vaiben Solomon. Vaiben Solomon was the most amazing man. He took every opportunity the Northern Territory had. He became—
As I was saying, in some quarters Darwin has a reputation for being a public service town, but this is only a fraction of the story. There is a small but vibrant manufacturing sector, which produces everything from ute trays to water tanks to plumbing pipes to besser blocks, and, as Darwin goes, so do the opportunities for businesses to set up in Solomon. As an example, back in 2009, Perth based business Slumbercorp Australia wanted to expand its operations outside Western Australia—
As an example, back in 2009, Perth based business Slumbercorp Australia wanted to expand its operations outside of Western Australia and chose Darwin ahead of all the other cities on the back of its growing population and bright economic prospects. At its plant in the East Arm, Slumbercorp employs about a dozen workers and produces about 50 mattresses a day for both the local and the national markets, and, according to its Darwin management team, the Territory provided long-term opportunities that were not available down south. And I am pleased to say that the business is here for the long haul.
I urge other manufacturers who are looking to set up in a greenfields market free from the hustle and bustle that goes with larger capital cities to follow Slumbercorp's lead. I also urge those affected by the devastating decisions by Ford, General Motors Holden and Toyota to end vehicle manufacturing in Australia to look at relocating up north when considering all your options.
Tourism, while suffering from the impacts of the high Australian dollar, still employs thousands in Solomon, particularly during the dry season, with cruise ships an expanding section of the market.
There is no shortage of innovation in Solomon. A business which I have had a long association with, SRA Information Technology, shows what can be done if you are prepared to think outside the square. SRA Information Technology was recently named Territory exporter of the year with its multiaward-winning product EnviroSys, a product being used by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. SRA now has offices in Singapore and Texas as well as development teams in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Singapore. Not bad for a small local IT company based in Darwin! As I said, there is no shortage of innovation in Solomon. We well and truly punch above our weight.
The development of the $34 billion Ichthys project in Darwin brings with it the prospect of sustained, long-term economic growth in the Top End over a number of years. The Japanese multinational INPEX, along with Total, from France, and other energy based companies, has formed a partnership to build an LNG plant at Blaydin Point, on Darwin Harbour, that will process gas extracted off the Western Australian coast for at least another 30 years. This project is a game changer for Solomon both in terms of its capacity to create direct and indirect jobs and during its construction phase, which is beginning to ratchet up now.
When I made my first speech in this place, I talked about the impact that the housing crisis was having on ordinary workers and families in Solomon. Darwin still has the highest median capital city rents in the country, a brutal and expensive reality for the thousands of people in my electorate living in rented accommodation. According to Australian Property Monitors, the median rental price for a house in Darwin was $700—that is right: $700 a week—at the end of 2013. That is an incredible $200 a week more than Sydney, the most expensive capital. Similarly, the median rental for units in Darwin was $570 at the end of last year, $85 a week more than Sydney.
Four years on, I have maintained my rage at the member for Lingiari, the previous minister responsible—that got your attention!—for Defence housing. He had the opportunity to save the RAAF base houses in Eaton in the middle of a housing crisis—400 houses. He comes in here and makes out—