Thursday, 1 August 2019
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading
One of the things that's become clear in the weeks since the election is that this government has no vision for providing services to the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury. They have no vision for providing health services. And not only do they have no vision but they have no interest. Hawkesbury Hospital has had no federal government investment in the last six years, no capital investment. Labor committed $2.5 million to assist with upgrades. This hospital could do with a whole range of things, including upgrading its emergency department. The population around the hospital and the number of people who come to the hospital are growing, and the state government has failed to get any construction under way to meet that growing need. So guess who bears the brunt of it? Hawkesbury Hospital. While $2.5 million could make a difference, there's not a cent committed by those opposite. If they wanted to have a vision for the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, that would be one place to start.
The next place to go would be Nepean Hospital. While outside of the electorate of Macquarie, many people who live in my electorate work at that hospital and it is our largest major centre. Labor committed to a world-leading cancer centre at Nepean Hospital, had we won government. That's a vision for what our community needs, particularly as the whole population of the west grows. That's something else this government could adopt and we would be thrilled to work with them on that, and I'd be very happy to work with the member for Lindsay in pursuing that.
The other thing our community needs is MRI. There is not a single MRI machine in my entire electorate—4,000 square kilometres and not one. There's one in Calare, the neighbouring electorate, that the people in my community sometimes access, miles and miles away, or they have to go to Penrith. More than that, I had an email from one of my Kurrajong residents who told me she has to travel a long way from home to get to it. Some people have to go to the North Shore or eastern suburbs of Sydney to get an MRI in the time they need it. We made a commitment that, if Labor won government, we would put an MRI in the public hospital at Katoomba and that would be a start.
There is also a need for an MRI machine in the Hawkesbury. There is no MRI between Penrith, Rouse Hill and Lithgow. It's a huge expanse. And all that's happening at a time when this government gives a lucrative MRI licence to a clinic in Adelaide operated by the vice-president of the South Australian Liberal Party, in spite of one being within five kilometres of that clinic. Maybe that's what we did wrong in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.
Health is not being served by this government. There is no vision for it. Mental health is another area where there is scant attention paid. The Morrison government committed to a satellite headspace service to look after young people with mental health needs in Katoomba. That is going to barely scratch the surface. Our commitment was for a full-service headspace—that's one with wrap-around services. They are so important for young people when they have an early diagnosis of mental illness or when they have a general feeling of being mentally unwell. This is where we can actually make a significant difference, so to see the commitment for a satellite service is incredibly disappointing for our community. And what's more, there was not a single mention of the Hawkesbury, a huge expanse of area with an unmet need and an unrecognised need in official terms for youth mental health. But we know on the ground that the needs are really high, so Labor's commitment was $5.5 million. If this government came along in a bipartisan way to work on that $5.5 million, we could make a significant difference for young people.
As well as mental health services and hospital services, there's another area where this government has no vision—that is, services to help women who have managed to escape from domestic violence. Labor's commitment was for a $1.2 million capital investment to buy a property. People who've worked in this sector in the Hawkesbury for up to 30 years have said to me this is something that's been missing in all those 30 years. They need a home that could be short- and medium-term accommodation for a couple of families, to give them a chance to be able to re-establish their life back in the Hawkesbury rather than a have to leave and move to Penrith or move to other parts of Western Sydney, simply because there is no accommodation available for women and their children in these circumstances. People actually want to be able to re-establish back where their network is. They may have to temporarily leave but they want to come home and they should be able to come home, back to their family, back to their friends, and back to their support networks. These are the sorts of things this government could do, if it really wanted to invest in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. I know it's really easy to say, 'Well, you didn't win the election and you made lots of commitments.' That's true, but it isn't actually about me. People in my community are entitled to vote for the person they want to represent them, but every single government has a responsibility to deliver the services that people need in the areas where they live. I'm happy to work with this government to see if there is something we can do on a bipartisan basis, though, frankly, I have little hope for that. It's been six years of Liberals, six years of neglect, six years in which the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury have seen very little.
I rise to support these very important appropriation bills. I'm certainly very grateful for the endorsement that the government's program received at the recent federal election. Legislation like this is going to help fund very important projects for country Australia, particularly central western New South Wales. So I'm very grateful for that endorsement and I'm very grateful that the margin in the Calare electorate increased at the last federal election to about 13.3 per cent, which was very humbling. I think that was an endorsement of the important work that this government is carrying out, and a rejection of the politics of division, which we unfortunately saw during that campaign. There is far more that unites us as Australians than divides us, and I think that Australians want to see a positive agenda. They want to see things getting done in their local communities, and that's why this legislation is so very important.
One of the very important projects which we're working on is the new crossing at Dixons Long Point between Orange and Mudgee, the new road and also the crossing over the Macquarie River. There was $16 million allocated in the budget for that. Folks have been trying to get this project done for about 160 years, and no-one's ever been able to do it. They've talked about it; there have been studies done on it; there have been commitments made by various governments, but it's never happened. Yet, in the recent federal budget, there was $16 million allocated to this project. It will cut travel time significantly between the Mudgee region and the Orange region. It will link those two regions up for tourism, for industry, for health services and for commerce, and it will help open up the central west. It's the Holy Grail of unfinished road projects in our region. I was very grateful that the Deputy Prime Minister got behind this project—he came out to see it recently—and that it did receive strong endorsement and support from local governments in the area, most particularly the Mid-Western Regional Council, which is going to be driving the project, and the Cabonne Shire Council. It was very heartening to see RMS commit to helping administer this project as well. We're going to need all parties together to finally get this done. One of the great things about being back in government is that we can now see these very important projects through.
Another very important project that we've been working on is the Orange regional conservatorium and planetarium. During the election campaign, there was a $10 million commitment to make that project a reality. Conservatoriums around the region do wonderful work. They're mainstays of country communities, and one of the reasons that people want to move to regional Australia is the strong cultural and arts scenes that our communities have, and right at the heart of these are often our conservatoriums. The Orange conservatorium have outgrown their current home. They do wonderful work and employ over 30 professionals musicians and teachers, and instruct hundreds of local music lovers each year, so they play a vitally important role in our community. They've been trying to get a new home for a long time, as has the Orange Planetarium, which seeks to educate the next generation about the stars and what lies beyond our own planet. These two bodies have come together to form a new conservatorium and planetarium, and they were absolutely delighted with the $10 million announcement during the recent federal election campaign.
I'd like to pay tribute to the work of some key people on that project. Many have been involved over the years, but I just want to mention Donna Riles, who is the music director of the conservatorium; Kelly Dent, who does wonderful work as the business manager; Trevor Hazell, who is the chair and who is well known to people in Orange for his work in our community; Dr Robin Williams, who is the deputy chair and another very well-known figure in the Orange and Molong areas and, indeed, right around the central west; and Elspeth Sullivan, who has been a tireless advocate for this project and has been one of the key drivers. I'd like to congratulate Elspeth for her work. Councillor Russell Turner has been passionate about this project as well, as has Rod Somerville, the chair of the planetarium. And of course we couldn't leave out Mayor Reg Kidd, who very warmly welcomed the news of this $10 million funding. At the time, he said:
We are excited about the substantial announcement today for the Orange Regional Conservatorium and Planetarium which when constructed will complete the world class civic square in Orange, adding to the Museum, Gallery, Library and Civic theatre …
The investment in Cultural precincts is important as it supports the long-term development of creative economies, bringing about substantial economic outputs and employment, as well as significant social benefits.
This project will benefit the region through teaching, creative development and tourism for many decades to come.
We're very keen to get cracking on this very exciting project. I want to thank all of the people who have pushed for it over many years and congratulate them on a job well done. There's obviously still more work to do, but we are very excited about what is going to be achieved through this funding.
The Bathurst Railway Museum is another very exciting project that this government has been able to fund. It's due for completion in December this year at a cost of $4.6 million, and the Australian government has invested $965,000 in this project. This is alongside the New South Wales government, and there was also assistance from Bathurst Regional Council. It's forecast to generate $6.9 million in benefits to the economy in the next 20 years. Ben Chifley is known to have helped educate younger train drivers, and perhaps some older ones as well, at that very site, so it is a very historic site. Construction is taking place at the moment. It is going to be absolutely extraordinary; a wonderful community asset.
I'd like to congratulate Mayor Graeme Hanger for his passion and drive on this project, as well as Deputy Mayor Bobby Burke. The deputy mayor was here yesterday, as was Orange mayor, Reg Kidd, working on local projects that we can achieve for our area. I'd like to also mention the general manager from Bathurst Regional Council, David Sherley, and also the council's museum unit, led by Alan Cattermole and Janelle Middleton. Well done to you both. I'd also like to make special mention of Ben O'Regan, who is the project manager; IDG Architects, led by Tony McBurnie; Tablelands Builders, led by Robert Barlow; Freeman Ryan Design, who are the museum content designers; and John Holland, and Transport for New South Wales. I'd also like to make special mention of Bonny and Paul Hennessy, who have donated an extraordinary model railway, which is a reproduction of the historic Bathurst to Tarana line. As I mentioned, former Prime Minister Ben Chifley was a proud railway man, and we're all very proud of this investment in Bathurst and its history.
Speaking of railways—and there are a lot of railway fans out there, let me tell you—we've got another exciting railway project up and running in Oberon. It's the Oberon Tarana Heritage Railway. The federal government has committed $1.5 million to help restore the branch line to carry a heritage tourist train through the area. This is a very exciting project. Stage 1 involves the installation of 5.6 kilometres of new railway line, the purchase and placement of new sleepers, drainage, earthworks and labour costs.
The Oberon Tarana Heritage Railway have received grants in the past but, whilst they have the trains and some track, they haven't been able to run the trains in any meaningful way. This funding is actually going to get the trains running again. So I'd like to congratulate the president, Greg Bourne, the vice president, Martyn Salmon, the treasurer, John Brotchie, and also the committee members Graham Williams, David McMurray and Ken Lingabala and acknowledge their really important hard work and commitment. They have been passionate about it over many years, and their dream is going to be realised through this wonderful funding.
But it's not just our railways and our railway museums which are being assisted by the federal government. It's also communities right around the region, including Canowindra Showground. During the recent election campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister visited and announced $250,000 for new amenities at the Canowindra Showground. Canowindra is a wonderful town. It's a beautiful town and part of the heartland of Australia, with a wonderful main street. As anyone who lives in the bush knows, our showgrounds are the very heart of our country communities—not just shows but all sorts of activities are held there. In fact, at the Canowindra Showground this weekend, I'm starting the 24-hour Tractorthon, which Roy White is organising. The tractors will be going around the showground for 24 hours, raising money for Little Wings.
I'd like to make special mention of the show committee members and congratulate them for all of their hard work. It's a great pleasure to attend the shows out there every year, but it goes well beyond that. I was recently out there for the Canowindra Balloon Glow, where they got thousands of campers and visitors for the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge, which goes over about a week. Then there is the Balloon Glow at the end, which is quite spectacular and takes place in the evening. So thank you to Geoffrey Beath, the president, well done to you; William Watson, who is the secretary/treasurer; Andrew Holmes, the former president, and a wonderful man very committed to Canowindra and its surrounding districts, and agriculture in general—so well done to you, Andrew. I thank Wendy Bowman, who is on the committee; Daryl Fliedner, also on the committee; Sam Stranger; and Don Percival who is a committee member but also president of the Canowindra Lions Club. I want to thank the Canowindra Lions Club for all of the work that they do. They're always out at the showground working on something or supporting some very important community event. I also thank Peggy Nash, who is an honorary life member, and I thank all of the volunteers who make a contribution, both big and small, to the Canowindra Showground. It is a much loved community asset. It's a pretty town, and it's a pretty showground, and this commitment of $250,000 is going to go a long way to help bring the facilities into the modern age. When you have an event like the Balloon Glow, where you can have 10,000 people at the showground at a time, resources really are stretched, and the community has pushed for this for a long time. So it was very welcome news from the Deputy Prime Minister. It just, I think, shows what you can do when you've got your economic house in order, when you can actually run a surplus for the first time in over 12 years. You can get key projects like this done, which make a real difference to the lives of people in communities right around Australia.
It's not just the infrastructure that's being funded; it is important services—for example, the Lithgow headspace service, which we are soon to open, and which has had strong support from the minister for mental health. It's been pushed for in the Lithgow community for quite a while. There have been some tragic recent examples of young people taking their lives, and that's why getting this headspace service up and running in Lithgow has been such a priority and has been so very important, and with a commitment of just over $1 million, that official opening is going to take place and will hopefully make a real difference to the lives of young people in the Lithgow area.
We've also got great projects like the new Charles Sturt University and Western Sydney University medical school, which is going to be opening in 2021, which will train the next generation of country doctors. We've been pushing for that for many, many years. It will help, I think, alleviate the doctor shortage in country areas. We've also got the new world-class medical research centre opening in Calare, in Orange, which will bring together the best in rural research. So there are some very exciting projects there.
There is also the upgrade to Mount Panorama, the second racetrack, with $12½ million committed over the last term of government, which will transform racing not only in Bathurst but around Australia. Bathurst is the spiritual and physical home of motor racing in Australia. Again, it shows the great support you can give country communities if your house is in order, you're running a surplus and you've got great economic management.
In the last week we've seen new data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research confirming what we already knew about this government, which is that it is unable to provide a plan for jobs for young Australians in particular. We see that this tired and out-of-touch government continues to let down people seeking an education to help them get a better job. There's no plan for jobs and no plan for skills. In the last week, all we've heard from the government is continued criticism of Labor, because they've come back and they've got no agenda for the future and no way of mapping out what they'd like to do to ensure that young people get the opportunities they deserve. What's their plan for young people in Maranoa or Page, where one in four people are jobless? Do they think that those people aren't having a go? They are certainly not getting a go.
Australians are relying on this government to come up with an economic plan, not just a slogan or a series of slogans. They need a government that is prepared to invest in education and in skills, to make sure that families have a future and that their young people have the opportunity of a world-class education. After six years, instead of a plan for jobs, a plan for the economy, a plan for skills or a plan for education, what do we have? We have record low wages growth. We've got debt of more than half a trillion dollars. This government has doubled our national debt, which is pretty rich from people who campaigned on the debt and deficit disaster. We've got one of the highest rates of personal debt in the developed world. We've had five years of weak productivity growth. We've got falling living standards, with people paying more for education, child care and medicines. We've got chronic underemployment and youth unemployment. We've got the Reserve Bank slashing interest rates to record lows. That's not the sign of a healthy economy. I remember when Joe Hockey was the Treasurer he talked about interest rates being an indicator of an economy in crisis. Well, they've fallen dramatically since that time. Despite the Prime Minister getting up during question time and boasting about the unemployment rate in this country, we now have a jobless rate that sees us at 19th in the OECD. We were eighth when Labor was last in office. We are now at the lowest ranking that Australia has experienced since these OECD records were kept. That is a shocking indictment of this government.
Young people are want to train, people who want to retrain or re-enter the workforce after being out of the workforce, people who want more hours of work—all of these people have been failed by a Prime Minister that continues to cut vocational education and training. In case you weren't convinced of how unimportant this is to this government, you only need to look at the fact that they've put Michaelia Cash in charge! I mean, truly. At the NCVER conference that the minister attended recently, she said when trying to defend the government's abysmal record on vocational education, 'This government is about jobs, jobs, jobs.' That is the message. Well, people are going to need all three of those jobs to make ends meet given what's happened to the labour market. People are working fewer hours and in insecure work, cobbling together income from different jobs to try and make ends meet.
When it comes to vocational education, the Liberals have presided over a crisis in the sector. Vocational education has been attacked day after day by privatisation, poor regulation and unhealthy competition among dodgy providers gouging the system. Since coming to office, first Prime Minister Abbott, then Prime Minister Turnbull and now Prime Minister Morrison have cut $3.6 billion from our vocational education and training sector.
According to that latest NCVER data that I mentioned earlier, since 2014 the number of apprentices and trainees completing their qualifications has dropped to 56.7 per cent. Since 2013, we've seen apprentice and training contracts decrease by 30.2 per cent, from 271,000 to 189,000. We've seen TAFE campuses shut their doors. In South Australia, seven TAFE campuses have closed and 700 jobs have been lost. In New South Wales one-third of the TAFE workforce have lost their jobs. We've had campus closures at Dapto and Quirindi. At Padstow college the impact of the government's cuts to TAFE has seen the commercial cookery courses cut, no information technology classes and the automotive workshop closed. Students are being locked out of vocational education because of rising fees, and we have 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals came to office. We are presiding over the decimation of the vocational education system at the same time as we see high youth unemployment and skills shortages. These things should never exist even separately, but the fact that they exist at the same time in the same economy in the same society is an indictment.
No job should be on the skills shortage list longer than it takes to train a person to do that job. Despite the fact that we have youth unemployment rates of nearly 25 per cent in places like Coffs Harbour, we still see jobs, like panel beating, which have been on the skills shortage list for 20 years. Automotive electrician has been 21 years; motor mechanics, nine years; hairdressers, five years. Every other week, we hear stories about training providers going belly-up, leaving students unprotected, in many cases out of pocket and without the qualifications they need. So fixing this mess depends on restoring the funding that's been cut, getting the regulations right and focusing on training Australians for the jobs that are actually going begging in our economy at the moment. We've seen story after story. In Western Australia just recently, Western Australians have been missing out while WA mining companies are employing more and more overseas fitters, electricians and boilermakers.
The only way that we can fix this funding crisis is to restore the funding in full and to make sure that we've actually got the quality assurance that has gone missing from the system. Labor has made a very strong commitment that we restore TAFE as the central provider of vocational education in this country. Of course, TAFE and universities should stand side by side and work together to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity of a great education. When we were growing up, in our family my parents didn't say you had to go to university or you had to go to TAFE or you had to pick one over the other. What they said was, 'You need to get a job and do something that rewards you and that makes you a contributing member of our community.' I think most families feel the same way. They don't privilege a university education over a TAFE education. What they want for their kids is a job that will give them a good income, security, stability; something that gives them rewarding work. So, whether we choose university, TAFE or apprenticeship, we need to ensure that our systems make it possible for every person to make the choice that best suits them.
I've had the privilege over recent years of visiting a lot of university campuses and also many, many TAFE campuses right across Australia, looking at the aged-care training facilities, the nursing training facilities, the disability care training facilities; the laboratories that they are using to train these workforces; engineering and metalwork facilities. People could be employed in metal manufacturing and engineering and as electricians in the near future in the projects that we see around the country. We're not training young people for those jobs. We need to make sure that our TAFE system and our university system are both excellent, because nine out of 10 jobs that will be created in coming years will require either a TAFE or university qualification. The days of leaving high school, getting an entry level job and working your way up through an organisation just don't exist anymore. What we see more and more, in increasingly complex jobs and increasingly sophisticated workplaces, is an expectation that people will have a postsecondary school education, and there is increasing difficulty for people who don't. So making sure that our TAFE sector and our university sector support this workforce as it changes is absolutely vital.
I want to acknowledge the contribution of my dear friend former senator Doug Cameron, who did so much policy development in the vocational education sector for Labor before he retired at the last election. Doug will always be one of TAFE's most ardent defenders. In his time as the shadow minister for TAFE and vocational education he fought against every cut and shared in the successes of the constituents that he met.
We have seen so many uplifting stories of a second chance at education that vocational education has delivered—the 43-year-old single mum who had left school at 15, getting her first qualification and her new job in early childhood education and care, or a refugee who is now a university law student because of the English-language and tertiary preparation course that she did. These stories are the human face of our investment in vocational education and the reason that it's so important that we get this right. These examples tell the story of what a properly resourced vocational education system can do, not just for the individuals that I've met along the way but for our economy as a whole. It's through creating the skills needed in these shortage areas that we will see further economic growth. As Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said, 'Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run it's almost everything.' Skilling our workforce for the jobs of today and of the future is the key to unlocking the potential of every person in this country but also to sustaining our economy as it changes.
What we saw from former Prime Minister Abbott, from former Prime Minister Turnbull and now from Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister, is the neglect of our vocational education system. That neglect will flow on to economic growth. By investing in our public TAFE system we guarantee jobs, productivity, economic growth and fairness. Instead of ripping out more than $3 billion from vocational education and training, we should be reinvesting in these systems, not only for the individuals that need this education but also for our nation as a whole, to guarantee our prosperity into the future.
I'm pleased to rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, which gives me the opportunity to raise a few pertinent issues. Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to New South Wales Senator Kristina Keneally for her fantastic promotion of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference. Senator Kenneally's comments have made sure that this conference gets very wide publicity in all the newspapers, TV programs and talkback radios, and for that we must thank her.
The CPAC is the most highly respected and prestigious conference that has occurred annually in the USA for the last 46 years. We've seen previous speakers such as President Ronald Reagan, President George W. Bush and the current President, Donald Trump, over recent years. This year, it is coming to Sydney for the first time. We've got really radical speakers such as former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, former Labor leader Mark Latham, former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, my colleague Senator Amanda Stoker, Nigel Farage from the Brexit Party, Janet Albrechtsen and Indigenous leaders—
An opposition member interjecting—
I know you're not laughing there! There will also be Indigenous leaders such as Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price.
An opposition member: You can have them!
Yes, very nice! This is the thing. You hope that Hansard caught that—what do you call it?—intervention, or whatever you want to call it. These are genuine people working hard in their Indigenous communities to uplift Indigenous Australians, and we have comments from the Labor Party saying, 'You can have them!' That says everything. Good people—Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine—are being criticised by the Labor Party because they have a slightly different view about the way that we lift up Aboriginal and Indigenous Australians' prosperity and welfare. The Labor Party vilifies these people. What a disgrace!
But, having said that, I must confess that what we heard from Senator Kenneally—although I congratulate her for the publicity that she's given us—is a disturbing trend that we are seeing in our society. Instead of debating someone that they disagree with and bringing their ideas out into the open, people ridicule them, if they think their ideas are wrong, instead of staying silent. They are shutting down debate. There is censorship. This is a track which we are heading down which I see as very dangerous for the future of our nation.
Another issue I'd like to raise, especially at a time when we see many of our children, gullible and naive, being brainwashed in our schools and indoctrinated into a doomsday cult. One of my constituents sent me a copy of what is actually being taught in our schools in New South Wales. This is from a history textbook called Pearson History New South Wales S.B. This is what our children are being taught in school. I'm quoting directly from the text. It says, 'Government responses to climate change vary.' It goes on to say: 'Prime Minister Tony Abbott, elected September 2013, made international headlines as a climate change denier. He declared that scrapping the carbon tax was his top legislative priority. He abolished the Climate Commission, whose purpose was to provide information on global warming.' Let's just go through that statement. Remember, this is not some commentator on the ABC or what someone's writing at the Socialist Alternative. This is in our New South Wales history textbook that's being taught to our kids in our schools today.
'Tony Abbott made international headlines as a climate change denier.' The 'denier' slur is directly related to the Holocaust deniers; it is an abhorrent use of the language. It has no place in our history textbooks whatsoever. 'Made international headlines'—what international headlines? I asked the author of this text to explain what international headlines he is talking about. There were no such international headlines. He has just simply made this up to suit a political agenda to brainwash kids in New South Wales schools. Then it goes on, 'He declared scrapping the carbon tax as his top legislative priority.' Does the author discuss why that was; that the carbon tax had no effect whatsoever on greenhouse gas emissions and that it just increased the cost of living for all Australians? Where was that ever discussed? Then it goes on, 'He abolished the Climate Commission.' He defunded it, because we had a group of people simply spreading mindless propaganda, mainly one—
An opposition member interjecting—
Yes, the tinfoil hat of Tim Flannery, who walked around the place saying it would never rain again. Even the rains that fall would never fill our dams. That is what our so-called climate commissioner was telling us. And I remember what Prime Minister Abbott said at the time. He asked why the taxpayer should fund these people when they are prepared to give their opinions for free. And yet we have this comment: 'The Climate Commission wasn't to provide information.' It was to provide disinformation, to run a cover for why the Labor government at the time could put in a carbon tax, which put up the price of electricity and put up the price of the cost of living for all Australians.
This article goes on. It talks about Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It says, 'Prime Minister Julia Gillard, June 2010 to June 2013, introduced a minerals resource rent tax as a response to climate change.' Deputy Speaker Georganas, you were here on the floor of parliament when that minerals resource rent tax was introduced on 1 July 2012. I thought you were. I was here in that parliament. I actually remember debating that bill, reading through the legislation and reading through the explanatory memorandum, and I couldn't find any mention of climate change in that bill whatsoever. I couldn't recall anything. So I went back and double-checked. Did I miss something? No!
The minerals resource rent tax that was brought in by the Labor Party had absolutely nothing to do with climate change whatsoever. It was a simple revenue-raising method on our resources sector. And here we have something that is simply factually incorrect being taught, again, in a school textbook. This is the nonsense that is being taught to our children. If they get a basic fact like that wrong, how much else is wrong in this textbook and in the nonsense that is being taught to our kids?
It goes on. It says, 'Climate change is noticeable in Australia with more frequent, extreme weather events.' Where are they getting that from? If you look at the evidence—we have to look at the evidence and we have to base it on the science—there is no evidence whatsoever that there are more frequent extreme weather events in Australia. Let's just have a look at some of what the science says, because I know there are some people in here that look at the science and look at the data, and there are others who believe in superstition and religion. What do we say about cyclones? There is a peer-reviewed study published in Nature in 2014 titled 'Australian tropical cyclone activity lower than at any time over the past 550-1,500 years'. That is the science. You only have to look at the data from the Bureau of Meteorology on tropical cyclones landing in Australia to see the trend is down, so you simply cannot say that about tropical cyclones. It is a complete nonsense. Again, the author of this text is just making stuff up, without any reference to the science or the data, to suit his political agenda.
Then it goes on to talk about the 2010-11 Queensland floods being examples of more extreme weather. We can have a look at the data, again from the Bureau of Meteorology. Yes, those floods in 2010-11 were extreme, but they were actually only the seventh-highest floods recorded in Queensland since 1841. There were six floods that were more significant, with the highest in 1893. The 1841 flood was also higher, as was the 1844 flood, as was the 1974 flood. So yet again what is written in our school textbooks and is being taught to our children is completely made up, completely without any factual basis whatsoever.
It goes on to talk about the 2002 to 2006 drought being evidence of more frequent extreme weather. Yes, the 2002 to 2006 drought was severe—as is the current drought, and we in this parliament are doing everything we can to support our regional areas that are suffering through this drought until it breaks, and break it will. You only have to go to a nice chart which I've actually had printed and hung up in my room and which is something that I believe should be distributed to all schools to counteract this misleading propaganda that is being taught. It's titled '119 years of Australian rainfall'. When you look at it, it shows us exactly what Dorothea Mackellar stated: we are a land of droughts and flooding rains. You can look back through our history for the last 120 years, and that's what's happened. We've had three, four, five, six years of drought, then three, four, five years of rainfall, and that same pattern has repeated over and over. If you look at the data, again from the Bureau of Meteorology, and you look at rainfall in places like the Murray-Darling Basin, all you see is great variability. There is no trend of continued drought. Yet this is what is being taught to our children in our schools, indoctrinating them into a doomsday cult where they are being taught to believe that the world will end in 10 or 12 years.
I agree with the comments that the new member for Longman made in the House yesterday, that, if we are going to teach the issues of climate change in our schools, we need to teach all the facts. We can't teach some biased nonsense without any scientific backing—in fact, the complete opposite of scientific backing—without any factual data. We can't teach it like a religious text in our schools. When those children become indoctrinated into this cult—and I have seen them come through my office—they simply can no longer reason logically and look at the facts. We have seen people gluing themselves to the road. So brainwashed are they, so indoctrinated into this cult are they, that they glue themselves to the road. How do they form these opinions? Yes, they may listen to the ABC, but, when they are being taught this nonsense in our schools, what hope do they have?
When it comes to disproving the claims that we are going to more frequent extreme weather, let us again look at the science and the data. There was a peer-reviewed paper, published earlier this year in Environmental Hazards, by researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Colorado. It simply shows that there was no increase in insurance losses from natural disasters and weather events from 1966 to 2017. In fact, the researchers found that, for cyclones, the trend is declining. They found that, for bushfires, for normalised losses, the trend is declining. They found that the worst year we had in this period for natural disasters was actually 1966, when we had two major cyclones hitting Queensland and we had droughts, floods and major fires affecting the nation. That was 1966. What chance is there that this peer-reviewed research—the details and the truth—will be taught in our schools? Unfortunately, it appears there is none. I would call on the ministers for education in New South Wales to look at this text, Pearson History New South Wales, and have it withdrawn, because it contains completely incorrect and false statements and is misleading our children in their schools. (Time expired)
I rise to speak in support of the appropriations legislation. Certainly since 1975 Labor has taken a principled position in terms of supply, that governments are entitled to supply and to function effectively with a distribution of revenue, irrespective of whether we support specific policies or programs in that budget.
I want to take the opportunity to talk about a number of local issues germane to my electorate. They principally concern Australia Post. The first one is the 4306 postcode issue. The postcode 4306 is a series of numbers in my electorate which has caused consternation to local residents. There have been two postcode regions, historically, that 4306 has covered: one, the Blackbutt region and the Upper Somerset region; and then, separated into the region known as the Karana Downs region in western Brisbane, around rural Ipswich, near the RAAF base at Amberley, down towards the new estates in the Deebing Heights area and Ripley Valley.
The problem here is that metropolitan areas are being classified as regional. The former member for Ryan and I worked in a bipartisan way to make sure that Australia Post treated seriously the concerns of residents, particularly in Chuwar, Mount Crosby, Karana Downs and the rural parts of my electorate. Fortunately, back in February 2018 Australia Post saw some sense and changed the 4306 postcode for the upper region to make it, from memory, 4314 for the Blackbutt region. That helped people who lived around Linville and Moore and the country towns in the Upper Somerset region in my electorate.
The Karana Downs region has been redistributed into my seat by the Australian Electoral Commission, and I will continue to advocate for people there. The implications of not changing the 4306 postcode for those people—residents as well as business owners—is delays in mail delivery and problems in terms of delivery cost, the cost of insurance, cost to business, cost to residents. Those areas were cut off in the 2011 floods and the problems caused to local residents there were very, very severe. They were isolated. Some of those people were not flooded themselves but had to pay much higher insurance premiums.
I'm calling on Australia Post to do the right thing. They promised me in correspondence and discussions I've had recently with Christine Holgate, the CEO of Australia Post, that they would look at this issue again after the parcel distribution centre covering all of Queensland was opened in Redbank, just outside my electorate in the eastern suburbs of Ipswich. I applaud Australia Post for creating that distribution centre, which employs a couple of hundred people across my electorate and the electorate of Oxley. But now is the time to fix the 4306 issue and assign a new postcode for people living in that area so that they will not experience the extra business costs, the insurance problems and the express-delivery issues they have each and every day. I want to make sure that the people who live in that area are treated in a fair and just way, and I'm calling on Christine Holgate and the whole Australia Post management to do the right thing by the people of the Karana Downs region.
Before question time yesterday, I received a number of emails from people and contacts in relation to an issue which had not been brought to my attention by Australia Post and where there was no consultation. Much to my shock and horror, I received, just before question time, an email from David Jancik, the senior manager of government relations at Australia Post, to advise me, subsequent to the advice given to me by local residents and business owners in Ipswich, that in fact Australia Post was closing the Ipswich post office located at shop 5, 114 Brisbane Street, Ipswich, permanently from 5 pm on 13 September 2019. The message then said that local residents could get redirected to other post offices around the place and get their mail redirected. This is an unnecessary, outrageous and insulting decision by Australia Post in one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia. As Amanda Lee Harris said on my Facebook page, 'We must be the only city in Australia who will not have a post office in its CBD.'
I know about the problems that, as a result of the decisions made by the now sacked Ipswich City Council, the CBD has been enduring for years. There have been a lot of vacancies in the CBD in Ipswich, as some businesses have left and others have struggled. I know there are real concerns about the CBD redevelopment. I am confident that the interim administrator, Greg Chemello, is on the right track and that, when we have a new council elected in March 2020, the CBD redevelopment of Ipswich will finally be completed and businesses will be back in the CBD. Patronage will improve and, of course, residents will move—as is the case all around the world, not just in Queensland—into high-rise and other types of inner-city dwellings. Residents will move into the CBD and will like that lifestyle, as we've seen in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Many people have enjoyed it in the Ipswich region as well.
I want to quote some local residents, and I want to remind Australia Post of their obligations to the people of Ipswich. We are the sixth biggest city in Queensland. We are one of the fastest-growing regions in the whole of Australia. This is what a number of people have said. The Ipswich Turf Club have the address PO Box 1, Ipswich 4305. As was described to me by Janet Tansey, that has been their postcode and PO box 'forever'. She advises that redirections will only take place for six months. She asked if Australia Post, following redevelopment of the mall, will reopen a post office, and she asks what government businesses in town will do—private delivery or collection?
ICYS, Ipswich Community Youth Service, says:
Assuming this means we will need a new PO Box number, this will be a huge cost on businesses and not-for-profit organisations like us who have had this post office for many many years! Changing letterhead, business cards, branding, correspondence with all our government funding bodies and the hundreds of stakeholders we do business with will be a HUGE toll on us and honestly far too costly and time-consuming for us to comprehend right now.
Jodie Kochman, who is a disability advocate in Ipswich—and I really commend Jodie for the great work she's done over the years—says:
It is the most frustrating thing as a post box holder. I am now faced with finding an accessible alternative. Including height of box and accessibility of the post office itself.
Not only that but the impact will be felt as I will not have any other reason to visit other small businesses in the area, and I am not the only one who checks their mail and grabs a quick coffee or stops in to grab lunch etc.
Mike McInnes, a well-known businessman in Ipswich who recently met me in relation to a community organisation that I think Mike is the president of and that does a lot of good work for homeless people in the Ipswich area, said:
As a small business owner and a customer of Australia Post the decision to close just makes it even harder to do business in Ipswich CBD. This decision needs to be reversed—
I say amen to that—
or an alternative service needs to be provided.
Arthur Needham, who, by the way, lives in the Karana Downs region and is very well known in cricketing circles in the Ipswich and Brisbane area, said:
My dear Shayne, there seems to be a serious attempt at the destruction of the core of Ipswich despite the fact that it's going through a major and long overdue total regeneration.
Karen Ladlay, who's the Tower Central Cafe owner and whose business is directly opposite the post office said:
… it was sad news.
'That post office has been in Ipswich as long as I can remember and I've been there 40 years.'
I've lived in Ipswich all my life, and I can't remember a time when it hasn't been there.
This is simply unacceptable behaviour. It's an appalling decision by Australia Post. I call on Australia Post to listen to the voices of business owners and the Ipswich community and reverse this decision immediately. The lack of consultation in relation to the closure is a disgrace. Australia Post should listen to people in relation to this issue. It simply is not good enough for Australia Post to say that it's going to look at some sort of community postal agency and that it's going to keep us in the loop on this issue. I applaud the deputy editor of The Queensland Times, Andrew Korner, for taking up this issue. I've spoken to Andrew a number of times about this. I applaud The Queensland Times for its advocacy and for standing up for our local community. It's about time that the minister intervened in this issue. It's about time that Ms Holgate did the right thing. I have enormous respect for her through my previous work when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing and she was at Blackmores. She is a fair person. She is a good CEO. I'm asking her to intervene and do the right thing by the people of Ipswich.
I have to say that this is a very disappointing outcome. The impact on Ipswich, which has gone through such a hard time, with court cases involving former mayors being charged with and then convicted of serious criminal offences and with the dismissal of our council—morale in Ipswich is bad enough without this happening. I think all of us in our community need to work together to turn Ipswich around.
We don't need to be punched in the head by a decision like this. The Ipswich chamber of commerce and the Springfield chamber of commerce do a terrific job. I'm proud to be a member of both chambers. But to look at what's happened here and think that it is the right decision because a lease may be up or patronage may be down is not understanding that we have about 230,000 people living in Ipswich; we have inside our borders the satellite city of Springfield with about 45,000, which will grow to about 110,000 in the next decade and a half; and in about 20 years time the Ripley Valley, which is inside the city of Ipswich, will have 120,000 people. And Ipswich itself is growing. We are projected to have about 460,000 living in Ipswich in the next 20 years. We'll see changes. We've seen Rheinmetall constructed in the eastern suburbs, we've got the RAAF base at Amberley—the biggest military base in the country—and yet we have being made decisions like this that are a disgrace, that neglect Ipswich, that insult Ipswich, that treat us like second-class citizens. We're part of the city of Ipswich—I'm proud to say I was born and raised in Ipswich—and we're proud of being part of South-East Queensland. But we should not be left behind and treated worse than any other area in South-East Queensland or across the country.
I know the chamber of commerce will get behind this campaign to reverse the decision. I'm calling on it to do the right thing. I know that the state member for Ipswich, Jennifer Howard, has been very vocal about this. She's calling on Australia Post to reverse its decision. I'm calling on other politicians likely to stand up and on business owners to stand up. And I'm calling on this government—this government who seems so often to be in office but not in power—to do the right thing by my local residents and stand up for the people of Ipswich. This closure is a disappointing decision. This closure is not pro-business. This closure is nothing but a punch to the guts of Ipswich. This decision is not in the best interests of our city. This is not a decision that looks after our community, and the government should intervene. If Australia Post won't do the right thing, the government should stand up for the people of Ipswich. I'm calling on the minister to intervene and save the Ipswich post office.
We all make commitments during election campaigns, and I promise my community of Lindsay that I'll work really hard to deliver what I promised during the campaign; I'll advocate for many projects on behalf of my local community. Prime Minister Morrison and I toured our beautiful Nepean River, where he rowed as a kid. We are investing in the river to make sure that it stays healthy for future generations. We're investing in infrastructure to create jobs in Western Sydney, to ease congestion on our local roads and upgrade community facilities so local families and kids have active, healthy lives.
We committed $63½ million for the upgrade of Dunheved Road, and, in my maiden speech, I talked about the importance of having a safe road. When my husband, Stuart, was an Olympic athlete, he was hit by a car when cycling home from training. So, personally, it is very important to me to ensure that our roads are safe for all of our community. Dunheved Road has grown from a local service road to a major arterial road, and it forms a strategic role connecting the Northern Road to the newly opened stage 1 of the Warrington arterial road. Dunheved Road runs east-west through the local suburbs of Cambridge Park, Cambridge Gardens, Werrington Downs and Werrington County. During the election campaign, I doorknocked many of those houses and collected many signatures from people across our community wanting to ensure we upgrade this very important road. Dunheved Road is experiencing crashes and road-safety issues, particularly at peak times. Increased traffic and trips generated by the Western Sydney Airport together with residential growth along the Northern Road corridor and the proximity of the university campus impact Dunheved Road. The upgrade will address critical road safety and traffic efficiency issues. Once completed, there will be improved road safety and improved access to local amenities for local residents and people living in the surrounding suburbs.
We also know that, while congestion is a problem for many people accessing car parks to catch the train to work, many people in our community travel out of the area each day for work. In Western Sydney, only five per cent of people work within 30 minutes of where they live. I know what it feels like to catch that train to work—15 hours a week spent commuting. So that's why we're investing in more commuter car parking in Kingswood Station, North St Marys Station and Emu Plains Station, and we'll work closely with the New South Wales government to deliver this much-needed infrastructure.
The Morrison government's biggest investment in Western Sydney is the $5.3 billion to fund the construction of the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport and $3.5 billion for stage 1 of the North-South Rail Link, which I can proudly say runs from St Marys in the electorate of Lindsay to Badgerys Creek. During the construction of the Western Sydney international airport there will be over 11,300 jobs, and within five years of opening there will be 28,000 jobs, including jobs in construction, transport, logistics, retail, hospitality and professional services. The important thing is that there will be local jobs for local people living in Western Sydney. Construction has recently started on the Sydney Science Park, a $5 billion integrated science, research and residential facility in Lindsay, another example of the airport's ability to create local jobs and drive our economy in Western Sydney.
There are a number of community projects that I worked hard for during the campaign, and I will be delivering them for our community. Some of these include the Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre upgrade. I was very pleased that Prime Minister Morrison visited this facility and met with many community members and families who use it every day. Funding for the internal refurbishment of the centre will take place. The Penrith Whitewater Stadium is a place that I know very well. It is an Olympic legacy venue from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. This is a venue that has created some of our best athletes in the country, including Jessica Fox, who is an Olympic champion. We've secured funding to transform the stadium into a high-performance centre with new athlete and visitor facilities, and we know that it's accessed by international athletes, Australian athletes and, very importantly, by local families. We're funding the Chapman Gardens Sports Precinct in Kingswood for the construction of a new amenities building. The upgrade to the building at both the football field and the softball field is really important, and it's been many years since these fields have received any attention. There will also be an installation of an irrigation system to the cricket fields.
As I mentioned, our families love the Nepean River, even our Prime Minister does. The river is an essential part of our local community that families use every single day, and it is important that we look after it for our future generations. That is why I was proud to announce funding for the Nepean River health upgrade. This will assist with native revegetation and weed management. Local organisations such as Muru Mittigar and Penrith council will be assisting with this invaluable work to ensure that our river is healthy and our local families can continue to enjoy it. We're committed to the Cumberland Conservation Corridor project to conserve our natural environment. Again, this is a very important local community project.
Safety is important to our local communities, and that is why I was proud to secure the community safety package. This funding will assist with the delivery of light poles on the Great River Walk between Jamison Road and Nepean Avenue, and CCTV cameras in St Marys, Kingswood, Werrington and Penrith CBD. Our community and our small-business owners deserve to feel safe, and I welcome this project. I look forward to seeing the benefits in our community, such as social cohesion and, absolutely essentially, the creation of a stronger community.
My focus is always on our local economy and the creation of more local jobs. It's at the centre of everything I do. Not only are we delivering congestion-busting infrastructure projects but we're also delivering programs to ensure that local people can re-engage with the workforce, and access training and personal development that they need for education and employment opportunities. One of these programs is the dependence to independence job program. This will provide funding for youth in search of work to partner with a Lindsay based organisation—school-industry partnerships—to support young people in finding employment and receiving mentorship during employment, which I think is very important. I worked with women in social housing in a previous role, before coming into this place, and I found through work that I'd previously done that mentorship can be the one component that helps somebody stay in a job, so this is a very important role that I commend. We are also investing in the Inspiring the Future program, investing in our young people in Lindsay. This funding will see the ongoing rollout of the program across local schools. It connects local young people, and it has a particular focus on young women being connected with professional mentors.
As I've said before, Lindsay is home to nearly 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is important that we encourage our younger generation to access the best education and employment opportunities, and that's why we secured funding for the Western Sydney Indigenous jobseekers program. This funding will be provided to Muru Mittigar to connect local Indigenous students with job providers, and has guaranteed 154 job placements.
Our community facilities play a very important role. I've often said that community spirit is at the heart of everything we do and what drives people in Lindsay, and this is very important to me. The community halls upgrades project will provide funding for upgrades to four community neighbourhood centres within the Penrith local government area: Arthur Neave Memorial Hall, St Marys Community Centre, St Marys Senior Citizens Centre and the Floribunda Community Centre, which I was very pleased to visit recently and where there were lots of kids enjoying dance programs.
Another community organisation that plays an important role in our community is the Luke Priddis Foundation. The foundation supports children and families affected by autism. Earlier this year, we announced funding for the Luke Priddis Foundation digital hub to turn the foundation's offices into a digital hub to assist young people with autism. I will be very pleased to work with the foundation on the delivery of this very important project. We're delivering funding for Panthers on the Prowl. This will be delivered over two years to fund the full suite of Prowl programs. The Prowl schools program has been active since 2002 and has had an impact on over 250 young people and their families. The projects are aimed at building kids' self-esteem, social skills, resilience and leadership and at improving student motivation and engagement. Another fantastic program in our communities is the St Marys school lunch program, run by Christ Mission Possible. We've secured funding for the ongoing delivery of this program, which provides meals to at-risk young people in St Marys based schools. I know Christ Mission Possible well. They do fabulous work in the community of Lindsay, assisting people experiencing homelessness.
This week—and I like to speak this this subject—I talked about the Cranebrook Breakfast Club and how we worked together to deliver funding for the purchase of a new bus. This is very important for local children in Cranebrook. The bus will pick them up from their home and deliver them to the Breakfast Club so they get something good to eat, and then they get to school. The vehicle means that the centre can double the number of kids that are being picked up and dropped off at school each day, and these are some of the most vulnerable kids in our community. They usually have a very low attendance rate at school.
Ratha's Place in St Marys is a wonderful local disability employment provider, and I was very pleased to work with the team there to secure funding for the purchase of a new refrigerator truck so they can continue training and support for their employees that have an intellectual disability.
Another great achievement is the funding we secured for the Western Sydney Community and Conference Centre. This will assist in the establishment of a state-of-the-art community centre within the existing Panthers precinct and means that lots of local not-for-profits—small, local not-for-profit organisations—will be able to have an office space so they can continue their much-needed work in our community.
The Morrison government is investing in local jobs. It's investing in community upgrades and congestion-busting infrastructure for the people of western Sydney and for the people of Lindsay. It is absolutely one of the most critical things we can do in Western Sydney as Western Sydney continues to grow. Essentially, we need to ensure that we have this infrastructure investment and that we're also investing in jobs of the future for our kids. This means linking schools to higher education, workplace training and employment. This will ensure that our local kids won't have to commute out of the area like many of us do now. They'll have those local jobs. I'll be working hard over my term in parliament to ensure that we are delivering these projects and more.
As I talk about local kids and local schools, I very much enjoyed this week having another school, St Nicholas, come to Parliament House and share their experiences that they've had. I think it's very important for local members of parliament to ensure they stay connected with their community when they're here in Canberra. One of the top questions the kids asked me was about infrastructure, so it is a big issue in our community. They want to know how we'll deal with population growth through infrastructure. Another thing they asked about was future jobs. The kids of today in our schools in Lindsay are thinking about their future, and I am very pleased that I'll be a member of parliament working hard to ensure there are more local jobs so kids can stay and not have to move out of the area as they grow.
I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and associated legislation. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, 'The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable.' It is also the true measure of a government. Let's look at the coalition government's scorecard. Next month, going into their seventh year in office, how have they treated our most vulnerable Australians during their time in office?
Older Australians are some of the most vulnerable in our community. We call them the greatest generation—those who endured World War II and then the Cold War challenges that came after that. They showed courage, and they came from parents who came through World War I and the Great Depression. They are a wonderful generation. Let's look at how the coalition has looked after them. When the Labor Party declared that aged care in Australia was in a state of national crisis, the immediate response from Prime Minister Morrison was to accuse us of fearmongering. Eventually, however, when faced with scandal after scandal, Prime Minister Morrison was forced to concede that a royal commission was actually needed. But, by then, the sector was at breaking point. South Australia's Oakden aged-care facility was just one of many. It had been closed some 12 months before the announcement, after horrific evidence of elder abuse and neglect was uncovered. The Prime Minister made the announcement to hold a royal commission the day before the ABC's show Four Corners was to air a two-part investigation into treatment of the elderly. We see the master of spin before substance striking again—the great advertising person who is now our Prime Minister.
How did the aged-care sector get to this point? Well, the coalition government had been neglecting the aged care sector for six years. There were dozens of reports, reviews and inquiries about how to improve aged care, which were all left to gather dust on the shelf. The number of older Australians waiting for their approved level of home care package was growing day by day, under different ministers. It is well over 100,000 and still edging northwards. Basically, governments—Labor and Liberal—have had 60 or 70 years to get the settings right, but the coalition has got it very, very wrong. They've cut almost $2 billion from aged care. No wonder the sector hit crisis point. The royal commission has commenced hearings. Horrible stories of abuse and neglect are being heard. While we wait for the royal commission to do its job and carefully collect evidence, older Australians across the country are still left vulnerable.
There is more this government could do right now to protect older Australians. The Earle Haven aged-care facility had to close suddenly, leaving residents and their families frightened and distraught. There are many questions the government needs to answer about that closure. Did cuts to residential aged-care funding contribute to the closure of Earle Haven aged care? Does the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have strong enough powers to protect consumers? Are current regulations for residential aged care strong enough to stop this kind of event happening again? The recommendations that will come from the royal commission will be essential for the aged-care sector going forward, but the coalition government cannot afford to sit on its hands waiting for these findings. This government has not done enough for vulnerable older Australians. It needs to act so that older Australians can feel safe from abuse and neglect and secure in the knowledge that they won't be thrown out on to the street at the will of a provider.
In Australia, human dignity is seen as a birthright. We say Jack's as good as his master, and, perhaps, even better. We pride our ourselves on not leaving anyone behind. It's part of that core Australian value of mateship. Our welfare safety net is not an option; it's who we are as a country. It helps to define us. For six years, the coalition government has done nothing to help the unemployed. Instead, it has a very good line in shaming the unemployed. 'If you have a go, you'll get a go,' is basically saying, 'If you do not have a job, that is your decision.' Or there is, 'The best form of welfare is a job.' I agree that there is much dignity in labour—in employment—but what about those areas of Australia where there aren't enough jobs for the number of unemployed people? That's not recognised by those opposite. Just yesterday, we had the minister for employment releasing figures on how many unemployed people have had their payments suspended. It was offensive. It was an attempt to label the unemployed as dole bludgers. I suggest you look at the hashtag to see what it's really like to be looking for work. I thought we were better than that as a nation. I thought even this cold-hearted coalition government was better than that.
We know Newstart needs to be increased immediately. Newstart is inadequate. It is, I would suggest, almost impossible to live on. There is no dignity in trying to get by on less than $40 a day. There is no dignity in being labelled a 'dole bludger' when we have a Prime Minister who actually goes out and says, 'No, no, all those people on Newstart actually receive significant other payments.' As it turns out, 52 per cent of them only receive $1 extra a day. So if you pool that $14 over the fortnight, you might be able to get a burger and a milkshake, if you're lucky. There is no dignity in being told those who have a go, get a go, when you're doing everything you possibly can to get a job and no-one will actually give you a go.
The government's robo-debt scheme is so seriously malfunctioning that it is time for it to be scrapped. Their machine has gone rogue, and 160,000 Australians have been hounded for debts they did not owe. The stress and hurt these claims have caused cannot be measured. On 7.30 and other television shows, we have seen a mourning mother being hounded for an alleged debt owed by her deceased disability pensioner son. We see a widowed 79-year-old hounded for $67.55 from 1998 that he never actually owed. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 429 Australians under 35 have died after receiving a robo-debt notice.
Legitimate debts should obviously be claimed, but the robo-debt scheme using a computerised calculation that is claiming false debts. There is no human oversight of these claims, it would seem. Once a claim has been sent, the recipient bears the onus of proof to establish that they do not owe any money; the onus of proof is effectively reversed. Some of these debts are many years old, and obtaining the historical documents to prove your innocence can be painstaking and sometimes impossible. Robo-debt is inaccurate, harsh and unfair. It is a cruel attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is the function of good governments to make sure that the processes they put in place are working and are appropriate and that the penalties are commensurate with the debt. Clearly, the robo-debt scheme fails that test, and it doesn't help having an incompetent minister administering it.
I have a very multicultural electorate, with many people who were born in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, about 20 of the 50 or so countries in Africa, New Zealand and all around the Pacific all living in one part of the southern suburbs of Brisbane. Moreton relies on connections with overseas places. It is good for our business, good for trade opportunities and good in so many ways. Because Moreton is such a multicultural seat—the most multicultural in Queensland—as you'd expect, many have family and friends overseas who often visit and some who end up migrating. So my electorate has a large proportion of people who are well versed in dealing with the visa processing component of the Department of Home Affairs. Let me tell you, many of them are alarmed by the Morrison government's plans to privatise our visa system. You don't hear too much about this scheme, because the government knows that Australians don't like the privatisation of public assets and functions, especially in Queensland and especially one as critical as deciding who gets to come into our country. We know if we don't get it right we've seen 30,000 people arrive on planes and claim asylum under Minister Dutton. But under Minister Dutton's plan, private providers will be given licence to run Australia's visa system as a for-profit business. This could also lead to cuts to services, increased visa fraud and data security risks. Privatising our visa processing system could mean replacing most, if not all, visa processing workers with a fully automated process.
We know how well technology has worked for Centrelink's robo-debt system, don't we? It didn't go well at all. Would we trust that same technology that brought us robo-debt—with all of those complications and wrong calls—with actually issuing visas for the people who come into Australia? As one former deputy secretary of the department said recently, 'What if the company that wins the bid to take over our visa system ends up transferring the visa-processing work overseas?' This might save some costs; labour costs obviously are a big part of such a process. But what about the risk?
I love this nation too much to risk our citizens' lives with someone outsourcing a project to the lowest possible bidder, especially if they go overseas. An Australian visa would be many times the annual salary of low-wage economy staff members. Would Australian taxpayers have to cover the additional cost to monitor and investigate anything if there is corruption? We already have hints of corruption going on in our visa process now. Imagine if it's outsourced to a for-profit company—the one with the lowset tender?
Is the Australian public happy to take on such a risk given our attitude to issues such as border control and visa integrity? Under this government over the last three years we've seen it go from 9,000 people arriving and claiming asylum at our airports, and then up to 18,000 the year before last, and then up to 27,000 most recently. Minister Dutton has lost control of our airport processing procedures already, and we're going to see them try and outsource some of this visa processing.
In things like this, I think a little bit of economic nationalism is needed, where we put Australian jobs and Australian security ahead of the cold, hard economic decisions being trotted out by those opposite. It's not as if visa privatisation has worked out that well in countries where they have outsourced the system. Let's have a look at the United Kingdom, which privatised its system a few years ago. Let's see how well it is functioning there, a very comparable country we have many connections with. We end up with—who would have thought, in a for-profit operation?—high fee charges, people being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to be able to submit their applications, and some applicants having to pay for a premium service when the regular service was actually not available. So why is Prime Minister Morrison, a former immigration minister, hell-bent on going down this route? I think it's because the government don't believe in the provision of good services, and they would rather hand over control of one of our most vital services to the lowest bidder.
Rather than a short-sighted sell-off, we need to upgrade our visa processing systems. We also need to make sure that the visa processing is owned, managed and operated by the Australian government with Commonwealth staff, and that the staff are provided with the necessary resources for them to operate effectively. Australians don't want second-rate services, and it is too dangerous to outsource this. We want world-class services that will enrich our economy and make sure the jobs stay here.
We know this coalition government has made cuts to many vital services in this country. Deputy speaker Zimmerman, I take your mind back to that shocking Joe Hockey budget, the first line-up of cuts. What we actually see opposite is big cuts done quietly and then little, loud handouts. That's the way they operate, whether it be in environment, whether it be in local infrastructure, whether it be in education. I'm going to focus on education in the time remaining. They are not prepared to spend big money providing actual services that will make the lives of all Australians better; that would cost money that might endanger their precious surplus target.
Being an advertising man, the Prime Minister knows that when you have a dud product, you need to distract with something bright and shiny. It's a classic marketing trick. Turn on the television any day of the week and you'll see it in action—especially late at night, when you can get a set of steak knives if you buy something. Buy one and get one free and all of those sorts of things. There is nothing wrong with steak knives. They are useful, and people generally want them—I know, as a son of a butcher. That's the trick. They are a sweetener to buy a dud product. The Morrison government has turned itself into a daytime or late night Demtel classic television spruiker.
It cut funding to actual education but is giving away trinkets to schools as a sweetener. I'm referring to the grant funding for local schools. Don't get me wrong; I encourage all my schools in Moreton to apply for these grants of between $1,000 and $20,000. Some of my 50 schools will get something, but what they won't get is more funding to support them to better provide the education they want their students to have and which their students deserve. They will get some shade sails, but what about having seven teacher aides? They will get shade cloth, but what about seven teacher aides who can actually make a difference?
The same can be said for the Morrison government's Communities Environment Program. The government has no policy to address climate change—none at all—so they give trinkets of funding to community-led environmental projects. Local community and environment groups can apply for funding of between $2,500 and $20,000 for eligible projects. As I said, big cuts done quietly and little, loud handouts—that's the way they operate. Again, I will be encouraging all my local environment groups to apply for this funding, but it's not addressing the actual problem of rising emissions and the devastation that will be caused by this government's lack of action.
This is a smoke-and-mirrors government. They use every marketing trick in the book to try to look like a government, but you hardly need to scratch the surface to find the true beast: a shonky salesman trying to sell a mirage. (Time expired)
I relish this opportunity to speak to the appropriation bills because they represent the delivery of government service, delivery of government commitments, and excellent examples of the Morrison government's values and beliefs in supporting Australians right across our great country. Of course I do want the opportunity to refer to the bills from the perspective of my electorate of Groom. I do that in the context of representing an electorate based around the city of Toowoomba, which is Australia's largest inland private sector city. It is the second largest inland city in this country behind Canberra, but Canberra is not a private sector city, of course.
Our government took significant commitments from the last budget, endorsed at the election, to the people of Australia in relation to tax relief. That was about us not interfering in people's lives but simply ensuring that they have the opportunity to get ahead. From a small business tax relief perspective, I can refer to the 18,020 small businesses in Groom that are already benefitting from that tax relief. They cover the services area; they come from agriculture; they are involved in manufacturing and construction; they involve all of the trades; they are engaged in retail in our great city and the towns of Oakey, Pittsworth, Highfields and the many villages in between. 18,088 small and medium-size businesses in Groom will benefit from the instant asset write-off scheme, which enables businesses to invest in machinery and equipment, now up to the value of $30,000.
There is a significant continuing focus on the individual as well. In the Groom case, 62,731 low- and middle-income earners will benefit from income tax relief this year, many receiving the full tax offset of just over $1,000 per individual. Again, that is already beginning to flow. As the Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg, reminds us so often, it is about supporting people to earn more and to keep more of what they earn. That is what is happening in Groom.
We support our community to achieve its objectives and to pursue business interests by ensuring we have appropriate infrastructure in place. I am very proud of the fact that the Warrego Highway, that major east-west corridor from Brisbane through south-west Queensland and travelling through Toowoomba, continues to receive attention from our government. Under the Roads of Strategic Importance program, we're very much focused on future upgrades, not only in Toowoomba and to the west of Toowoomba, across the electorate, but in the connection through to Ipswich to the east as well, because that is a major freight corridor. If you travel on that highway at the moment, you'd say it's in pretty good nick, but our government takes a long-term view and is allocating the funds now for the decade ahead and beyond to ensure that we continue to maintain it for both local passenger traffic and freight as well. It is about efficiency and safety. For the Gore Highway from Toowoomba through to Goondiwindi it is the same issue. It is a road of strategic importance linking us to the south for freight and passenger travel.
Just west of Toowoomba is the Brimblecombe Road intersection. I am very pleased to get a commitment to that in the budget. It is now a major connection for those travelling from the west, from Oakey and Dalby and further west, wanting to make their way to the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport. But that intersection has seen some terrible tragedies, and I'm pleased to say that the government has committed to upgrading the intersection as soon as we can get the state government organised to get on with it. The money is on the table.
New England highway turning lanes for the PMVs—protected military vehicles—at the Borneo Barracks at Cabarlah—that's part of our national security effort, and being based at a Cabarlah, the significant upgrades there mean that defence industry spending is happening in my electorate. Here again we're working with locals to make sure these heavy protected vehicles can integrate with that traffic safely.
There is the upgrading of the Warrego Highway through Toowoomba itself, at East Creek and West Creek, at the Kitchener Street intersection and at West Creek adjacent to our Police Citizens Youth Club. These were the scenes of significant flooding tragedies—in fact, deaths—in 2011. This is the final part of the jigsaw puzzle to fix up all of the drains, all of the streams, through Toowoomba for flood mitigation. The flood mitigation at the ring-road near our railway station has been quite significant. We have committed to supporting council in this last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
There are bridge renewals right across the electorate. Then there are the big ticket items. The Inland Rail, as it crosses the Groom electorate adjacent to Toowoomba and then heads east to the Brisbane port, will be such an economic boon for our region. In fact, it already is, with the InterLinkSQ intermodal freight terminal already under construction as we speak, ahead of Inland Rail coming through. That's the private sector taking signals from our government and getting on with the job, getting ready for the excitement of the future. Similar plans at Wellcamp will mean so much for our region and for south-west Queensland.
I refer as well to the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. The state government has funded 20 per cent of the cost of this $1.6 billion project. The federal government has funded 80 per cent, almost $1.2 billion. The state government have been managing delivery of the project. It's behind time, but finally we've got an opening date and, just in recent days, we've got news about the tolls for light trucks, heavy vehicles, cars and motorcycles. This is evidence of what we can secure from a government that's got a sound budget and is interested in infrastructure. I'll be using exactly that approach to continue to advocate in the future for a Highfields connection road to that massive growth area north of our city.
Our city is recognised as a Refugee Welcome Zone. It has been a great pleasure to work with Minister David Coleman since 1 July, just over the last month, as he has taken on coordinated responsibility for various refugee support programs—the humanitarian refugee program, which means so much in our city; settlement grants; and fostering integration grants, which I've been able to secure for various agencies in our city, including the Peaceful Humans group, who work with Yazidi women and children, and Canvas Coworking in Toowoomba, a business incubator again assisting immigrants—refugees, in this case—to look at their own small-business opportunities and the Adult Migrant English Program. We worked very hard on that and secured significant support from the government prior to the election for settlement grant funding for Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Support services, run by CatholicCare. Minister David Coleman is focused, with me, on ensuring we continue to make sure we've got appropriate supports in place, and hence a high-level delegation from his department is in my city at the moment reviewing our circumstances.
PFAS at Oakey has had a significant impact on our local community. Last weekend, Oakey Together was an event run by the community to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Oakey Army Aviation Centre. The whole community came together—me, councillors, state members, community representatives, the Oakey Chamber of Commerce, one and all. It was a massive turnout to celebrate what is positive about Oakey, this beautiful little town in which I spent much of my childhood. PFAS has been a challenge, and I'm proud to have been appointed just in recent days to the PFAS Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I will be able to look at my own community and those affected elsewhere around the country. I'm certainly very proud that earlier this year we secured the first settlement of an unlitigated claim between a landholder and the Commonwealth—the first in the country.
There has been plenty of discussion of late about climate and environment. I'm very proud of the fact that, in my part of the world, we have representation of virtually all energy sources. I talk about coal, gas, the renewables—solar and wind under development in my part of the world; the bioenergy plant just west of Toowoomba at Dalby; and the fact that the Minister Angus Taylor is overseeing the shortlisted proposal at Cressbrook Dam for a pumped hydro project under his new generation program. That shows how innovative we are. It's a pity that the state government has not moved yet on the New Acland Coal Mine Stage 3 proposal. I had the then environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, in our region three years ago when he provided the final federal approvals under the EPBC Act for that expansion. More than three years later, the state government is still dragging the chain. We are anxious to see some progress there in the very near future.
From a health perspective, I am proud that the Darling Downs local health network has seen increased funding since 2013 of more than $104 million. That is set to increase by $200 million to 2024-25. That is a massive increase of 300 per cent over that period. That fact really puts to bed the lie from those opposite during the election campaign. Funding has increased for our health service in our part of the world. There are an extra 231,056 GP services bulk-billed in Groom electorate under our government. That bulk-billing rate now stands at 84 per cent.
I can refer to the facts equally in education. I note the comments of the member for Moreton previously about school funding in his electorate. Maybe he needs to go and do more work on it, because every one of the schools in Groom, state and private, has received significant increases in funding and will continue to do so—about 50 per cent per student in the public sector, for example, over the decade to 2029. I have used examples that are available on the school funding education estimator, including Oakey State High School and Harristown State High School, which will see an increase of around $2,000 per student over that period.
We can only guarantee such essential services—stronger health and hospitals, historic high bulk-billing rates, the record number of PBS listings, school funding support right across the electorate that I referred to—if we have a stronger economy. That is exactly what the Morrison government has been focused on, has planned for and is delivering, as evidenced through these appropriation bills.
In conclusion, I want to talk about the values, as I said at the start, and the beliefs that we bring to our electorates as a government and, in Queensland, as the LNP. Freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of association are the building blocks of our community: people from different backgrounds and beliefs coming together in peace and harmony and contributing to the common good; freedom of citizens to choose their own way of living, subject to the rights of others and the laws of the land, of course. Freedom of the individual and the importance of the family are the bedrock of our community. We want a government that supports that. We are a government that supports that. Sustainable level of debt—we don't want to impose unfair burdens on future generations, whether that is in terms of our economy or our environment. That is why we focus on smaller government getting behind people right across Australia, particularly in my electorate of Groom. We're putting those values into action. We're encouraging the development of individual wealth and prosperity, people enjoying the highest standard of living they can, with health and essential education services to support them. There are tax incentives for individuals, families and small business. There are the health, education and other essential services that I've provided examples of across Groom. There is the stewardship of our environment. There are our landcare activities, and those that I have been supporting right across the board. There are those industry and community support mechanisms that I have referred to, and the fact that we can deal with the challenges facing our local economy from time to time. Of course, there is national security and the broader picture. Above all else, there is harnessing the magnificent potential of our region and allowing people to achieve their own objectives, to pursue their own dreams and not encumber them with ridiculous legislation and regulation that might affect them in an economic way, particularly in a small-business sense. I'm very pleased to speak to this appropriation bill. It is living proof of our values and our beliefs in supporting people—in my case, in the wonderful electorate of Groom.