Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2018-2019, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2018-2019, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2018-2019; Second Reading
Before the debate is resumed on this bill, I remind the House it has been agreed that a general debate be allowed covering the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2018-19 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2018-19. The question is that the bills be now read a second time.
Last week, I finished the last of 21 community forums across my electorate, from Kingscote in Kangaroo Island to Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula and right up to Houghton and the Lobethal communities at the other end of my electorate. Over the course of March, I heard from over 500 people at the forums. They were from all ages and backgrounds, from school-age environmental campaigners to self-funded retirees. Despite their differences, they all wanted the same things: action on climate change, access to quality education and affordable health care, and a focus on regional infrastructure. We have many of South Australia's fastest growing communities in Mayo—Mount Barker, Aldinga and the south coast—and we need to ensure that our roads, schools and hospitals will meet the growing need of our regional communities.
For the Kangaroo Island community, access to health care is indeed an urgent matter. The island's sole medical practice is based in Kingscote. It is difficult to secure an appointment with the GP due to the demand for services. The residents must also contend with travel costs and time spent travelling to and from Kingscote. I'd just like to say that Kingscote and Kangaroo Island, as a community, now no longer have any form of public transport across the very large island, which is deeply concerning. That's why I'm calling on the federal government to provide seed funding for a trial of a GP outreach service based in Kingscote that could also travel to Pandana, Penneshaw and, indeed, American River. Affordable access to high-quality health care is an issue felt keenly across my electorate, with the shortage of GPs resulting in the downgrading of emergency and after-hours services in a number of community hospitals. And that's why I'm calling on the government to make a significant investment in the Mount Barker hospital emergency department.
I do welcome the announcement of $8.6 million that was provided for the expansion of the emergency department, but many experts in the community believe that this is not enough. This is really just a bandaid solution. Based on the seven per cent population share of the nation, SA alone should have received $93 million of the government's proposed $1.3 billion community hospital program. So $15 million for a hospital infrastructure project that serves a local population catchment of well in excess of 80,000 people—and particularly as Mount Barker itself is set to grow to 55,000 people—is not only fair and reasonable but means that our community will receive the level of health care that it needs and deserves. With respect to health care, there is such a difference between whether you live in metropolitan South Australia or in regional South Australia. We really are treated as second-class citizens.
Dental care is often overlooked, but it is a fundamental aspect of health care. Unlike when you visit your GP, or even for a trip to the hospital, the majority of the costs for a visit to the dentist are funded by the patient, with Australians paying 58 per cent of out-of-pocket costs of dental care, compared to around 12 per cent for a GP visit. Because of the cost, over two million people avoided or delayed going to the dentist, and the situation is particularly challenging for those on low incomes, like our aged pensioners. That is why I'm committed to seeing the federal government fund a voucher system that enables people on the age pension to claim up to $1,000 for dental care in any two-year period. That must be able to be delivered in their own local community and that's why the voucher system that exists for those up to 18 years of age should, I believe, also be there for age pensioners. This should be the first of many steps in creating affordable access to dental care for all Australians.
The greatest policy failure of our current generation and of this parliament is our inability to move on climate change. No other policy issue has been plagued by such partisan attacks and no other policy issue has heralded the repeated fall of Australian prime ministers. Mayo is already feeling the effects of more volatile rainfall, with flash-flooding becoming a regular occurrence. Our communities on the Lower Lakes and beyond know only too well the devastation caused by drought. However, the lack of large-scale government support for long-term environmental rehabilitation and futureproofing means we are doomed to see the same story of agricultural and environmental distress repeat itself. My coastal communities are increasingly concerned and affected by king tides, severe storms, coastal erosion and sea level rise. My coastal councils are desperate for assistance because this is a problem that local governments simply do not have the financial capacity or expertise to address.
But, as is often the case, the community has provided the leadership that is so sorely lacking from government. Community environmental NGOs provide hundreds of thousands of hours of dedicated volunteer labour and a very cost-effective way of leveraging funding for maximum environmental benefit and effect. However, federal government funding for these organisations has been irregular—it has been scattergun. It has been diminishing the ability of our community environmental NGOs to maintain their capacity and provide consistent environmental assistance. A funding floor will guarantee that capacity will be sustained and long-term community and environmental projects can be started and finished.
It is an important truism to state that education is critical to the future prosperity of our community. Education creates so many social benefits, including better employment outcomes, lower crime rates, improved civic engagement, reduced rates of drug addiction and healthier families. Transitioning young people from schooling to further education, whether that be vocational education and apprenticeships, on-the-job training or indeed tertiary education, is a major predictor of their future success. I know from my previous work in the youth sector and my regular meetings with local educators that we need urgent capital upgrades to Mount Barker and Victor Harbor TAFE SA campuses. If we don't act now, the ageing TAFE facilities will significantly restrict the quantity and quality of courses they can offer our young people, impacting severely on their future. It is utterly ridiculous that in my community, where we have one of the fastest growing regions, being Mount Barker, young people cannot do any construction courses at the local TAFE. It just beggars belief. If we want our young people to stay in our regions and in South Australia, we need the major parties to invest in quality training. That's why I'm calling on the government and the opposition to make an investment of more than $500,000 in Mayo's TAFEs. It's not a huge amount of money, but it will mean the world of difference.
We must ensure that our public schools have the resources they need to meet the increase in demand, and that is why, as the education spokesperson for Centre Alliance, I negotiated an extra $424 million for South Australian schools through the Gonski 2.0 education reforms, with an extra $66 million for Mayo schools. But we need more. Schools across my electorate, from Eastern Fleurieu School in Strathalbyn to Mount Barker South Primary School, are at capacity. Multiple classes are being jammed into busy libraries or forced outside even during heatwave conditions. This simply should not be happening in a modern country like Australia. I am committed to improving education outcomes for Mayo and I will work with all levels of government to deliver fairer and stronger funding for our schools.
Finally, as a regional and rural electorate and with limited public transport options, it's imperative that our local roads are maintained. It is unacceptable that I have constituents saying that their cars are actually being damaged as a result of our local roads falling into disrepair or that their friends won't come and visit them because they need a four-wheel drive to do so, and that's in places that are 50 kilometre or less, as the crow flies, to the city. To account for this inequity, South Australia for many years received supplementary road funding from the federal government. This funding recognised that South Australia had more than 11 per cent of the nation's local road network but received less than five per cent of national road funding. The previous Liberal government cut this funding in 2014. Centre Alliance successfully fought for the reinstatement of the supplementary road funding in South Australia in 2017, but that funding is coming to an end. Once that funding was reinstated, South Australia's regional councils received an extra $40 million over two years to assist with maintaining our extensive local road network. This funding is due to expire at the end of this financial year, on 30 June 2019. It is imperative that the government commit to extending this funding. It is fundamentally unfair that South Australia is left behind with respect to regional road infrastructure. I will continue to work hard for a better deal for our regional and rural communities right across Mayo.
Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental, social, economic and political challenges of our time. If we don't get it right our children and grandchildren will be paying the price and we will be counting the costs for generations to come. Climate change and the environment are top-of-mind issues for the people in my electorate of Wentworth. They're also of great concern to Australians everywhere. This will be a climate change and environment election, and the time to act is now.
Just this morning, I met with Cassy Faux and Lauren McGrow, who were victims of the recent Tasmanian bushfires. When you consider there have been disastrous floods in Queensland, prolonged drought and storms, as well as a million dead fish in Menindee on the Darling River and a dramatic drop in temperature following a very long period of hot weather, it is clear we are seeing a rise in the prevalence of extreme weather events. I've spoken a number of times in this House about the need for urgent climate action. The cost of inaction will be significant.
Another important part of the climate argument is the impact on our environment, and today I would like to speak about the growing problem of ocean plastics. In the past fortnight, we saw a whale in the Philippines that starved to death after it ingested 40 kilograms of plastics. Forty kilograms is an enormous amount, and this was a wake-up call to all of us that we need to take action to limit the amount of plastic that is dumped into oceans and rivers worldwide. The global population is living, working and vacationing along the coasts, and coastal populations are in the front row for the greatest, most unprecedented plastic-waste tide ever faced. According to Boomerang Alliance, 275 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated globally each year. In 2016, over nine million tonnes of plastic entered the world's oceans. Ocean currents have formed five gigantic slow-moving whirlpools called gyres, where the plastic collects. Most of the plastic debris sinks or remains in the gyres, but a significant percentage of it is suspended in ocean water where it endangers sea life or washes onto our coastlines daily.
The CSIRO recently completed a survey which found that that three-quarters of the rubbish along Australia's coast is plastic. Most of it comes from Australian sources, not the high seas, with the debris concentrated near cities. I was a volunteer this year in Clean Up Australia, and you couldn't miss the plastic debris.