Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Governor General's Speech
It was a great pleasure to listen to the Governor-General when he opened this parliament in July this year. I have been reflecting upon his speech, and of course he was talking about what happened on 18 May: the return of a Morrison government, the return of the Liberal-led coalition government. The Governor-General said in the speech:
They voted for a government that understands Australians are focused on raising their families, running their businesses, working hard, volunteering, and caring for their family and friends.
I hear those words from the Governor-General and I know that's what this government is focused on and I thank him for those words. May 18 was a stand-out day not only for the coalition but also for Australia. The number of people who perhaps doubted that we might win the election, and win the election in our own right, were many. But, I must say, since that time it is amazing the number of people who have come up to me and said, 'Thank goodness you won.' A sense of relief washed over the nation on 18 May when people realised that they'd maybe had a near-death experience of an opposition that was promising to ramp up taxes. Of course we are facing economic headwinds at the moment, and there has been enough things said about it in the main chamber. We are facing economic headwinds, and had we faced that huge hike in taxation, which they had intended to place upon the nation, we would be in a far less viable position today.
This election is the first election where I represent new parts of South Australia to Grey. Previously, I represented 92 per cent of South Australia. I now represent 92.4 per cent. We sadly lost a seat out of South Australia, and that is a bit of a long-term marker on our population growth. We have been growing, but not as fast as the other states. When you lose a seat to one of 11, it means quite significant boundary changes. So I welcome the communities of Clare, Balaklava, Mallala, Two Wells, Roseworthy, Port Wakefield and all those others in between. You bring to me new industries that I have to strife to understand as quickly as I can, one being irrigated horticulture down on the Adelaide plains. I point out that Two Wells is around about 32 kilometres from the CBD of Adelaide, so the electorate of Grey now stretches from 32 kilometres from the CBD of Adelaide to the Northern Territory, to Queensland, to New South Wales and to Western Australia. It is an enormously diverse seat. It is an incredible privilege to represent it. It is a quite taxing regime for me to try and get my head around all the separate industries that lie within it so I have a good working knowledge. I'll be working hard to fully understand—or understand as best I can—the irrigated horticulture industry. I have had the opportunity to visit a few businesses down there already, including Perfection Fresh tomatoes, a wonderful, huge facility not so far out of Adelaide, and I have been to visit Days Eggs and the Clare Valley. I've had some wineries to represent before, but not as big and as successful as the wineries that sit within the Clare and Gilbert valleys—the Clare Valley in particular. There are wonderful labels there, some household names, and some people who are very big exporters and employers. It's a great industry. I had the great privilege of attending Peter Barry's Jim Barry Wines 60th anniversary not so long ago—a celebration dinner. I look forward to increasing that knowledge of the industry and the people within it.
The Governor-General's address gives me an opportunity to talk about the wonderful things that are happening in Grey as a result of government policies and what we are intending to do in the near future. I cannot talk about Grey and not talk about drought. I'm pleased to report that it does not affect all of the Grey area or all of the population—most of the area, it must be said, but not the population in the productive areas. The southern areas are actually experiencing quite good seasonal conditions and in fact had some very good seasonal conditions last year. But we have had 19, I think, drought community grants go out in Grey, so that's 19 affected council areas. I have 27 councils in the electorate of Grey. Nineteen have been granted $1 million each to bring on community works and to engage locals to undertake that work. There was the sparky I talked to in Wudinna, who had two apprentices. He said, 'I can afford to keep them on now as a result of the work I've got to do in the community coming from the drought community grants.' That's a really good outcome.
Of course, we've put $3.9 billion into the drought future fund. At the moment we're dealing with changes to farm household assistance in the House, which will allow people to benefit from farm household assistance when they meet the other qualifications for four out of 10 years. That's a significant advance on where we've been previously. So there is increasing support as well for farmer-specific programs.
One of the things we committed to in the lead-up to the election was to make sure that the South Australian section of the South Australian Dog Fence was brought up to standard. We have about 2,150 kilometres of the dog fence in South Australia. If you like, it's what separates the cattle country and the dogs of the north from the sheep industry. The sheep industry in South Australia cannot survive without an adequate dog fence, and 1,600 kilometres of it are over 100 years old. I was very pleased, firstly, to host the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, over in Jamestown for the show last year to get the ball rolling. One way or another, leading up to the election we made the commitment of $10 million from the Commonwealth. The state government matched that commitment of $10 million and the growers are putting up $5 million. That $25 million will replace 1,600 kilometres of the dog fence, which will serve South Australia for the next 80 years at least. We're really looking forward to that.
And that's what you can do when you manage the economy properly and the government has money to spend on important infrastructure. I must say that it's been a pleasure to work as closely as I possibly can with GFG Alliance's Liberty Onesteel and Sanjeev Gupta in Whyalla. I welcome his presence in Australia as a visionary who is prepared to have a go. That sits very well with the Australian character, to have a go. We believe that those who have a go should get a go. Certainly, Sanjeev Gupta is giving a real go to the people who live in Whyalla—there is a new spring in their step, if you like.
We have a long way to go, but in the first instance the contracts he has signed or is negotiating, and the things we continue to speak about with him, plan to lift the production of the plant from around 1.2 million tonnes a year to 1.8 million tonnes a year. There is a string of investments associated with that. But, not to shoot too low, our good friend Mr Gupta is actually doing a feasibility study on producing 10 million tonnes of steel in Whyalla a year. It's worth reflecting that Whyalla has about 40 per cent of the Australian steel industry. In fact it has all of Australia's structural steel industry. I would say very strongly that this country needs to make structural steel. We couldn't imagine, with the instability that sits within the world, that we would sit on a continent that cannot produce its own steel, considering the fact that we have copious quantities of iron and copious quantities of coal, which are the main ingredients for making steel. So that's a very good outcome and we will continue to work with Mr Gupta.
Over the gulf, Nystar in Port Pirie has been taken over by its major shareholder, Trafigura. I think this is a really good outcome; Trafigura have more resources to make sure that they can handle the debt portfolio that sat with Nystar. Of course, the new plant over there is in the stages of being commissioned at the moment. There have been a few teething problems, but that is not unusual for a new smelter. It ensures the longevity of the plant in Port Pirie, which has sat there for more than 100 years already. I think it will be there for at least the next 50 on the strength of that $600 million investment there.
Our fishing and aquaculture industries continue to be major contributors to our economy. I often say that in Port Lincoln and the electorate of Grey we have the biggest fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere. Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, if you happen to get across to South Australia and you happen to get to Port Lincoln, let me tell you to go out to the marina and have a look at this magnificent fleet when it is in port. These are fishermen who really care for their kit and it's a sight to behold, whether it's the 39 prawn boats that work on the Spencer Gulf fishery, the tenders that work in the tuna industry or those that actually go out and catch the southern bluefin tuna. This is tuna that they bring in at around 11 or 12 kilograms and in six months turn into 22- or 25-kilogram tuna. We are working on an international quota, and we can only quota the tuna as we catch them; if we can double the weight of the tuna after we catch them, you can see the value in that. So these are very good industries. There are oysters, mussels, southern rock lobster and abalone. It's a great place to visit, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas; I suggest you do it. If you like, I can line up for you to swim with the sharks, as I did for the minister at the time, Minister Greg Hunt.
In Grey, one of the things my constituents always tell me is 'You have to do up this road', 'Got to do up that road', 'Our roads are in a mess'. I have to say I think our road network has been improving over the years, but it takes time. At the moment, this Commonwealth government has committed $480 million—from the $100 billion infrastructure package—into Grey for new major road infrastructure. Bear in mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, these figures are, by and large, matched by a 20 per cent contribution from the state of South Australia. So we're putting up $160 million for the duplication of the Joy Baluch AM Bridge at Port Augusta. Currently it is a bottleneck and a high safety risk, with all of the emergency services in Port Augusta living on one side of the gulf, and many people living on the other side. From time to time, there is an interruption of the bridge. It is a 35-kilometre alternative trip around the top of the gulf. This is a great safety valve. The traffic loads are continuing to rise as the minerals, the resources of the north, are being developed and bankrolling South Australia. So that's a great investment.
Down at Port Wakefield, it's one of the main road intersections in South Australia, where traffic peels off for the Yorke Peninsula and then the rest of it keeps going north and west to Port Augusta then maybe Darwin or maybe Perth, depending on which way they are going. We are spending $72 million—there will be a state contribution as well—for a flyover, an overpass, in Port Wakefield and dual lanes through the town and around the town. Currently, dual lanes come all the way up to the town and then stop, meaning that it is a major bottleneck. It will be fixed.
We are putting $45 million into the Horrocks Highway. This is the road that leads up to Clare, to the wonderful tourism assets of the Clare Valley. So that is a very good outcome. I am looking forward to work starting on that in the first quarter of next year, as I am to the work starting on the bridge and in Port Wakefield.
On Eyre Peninsula, the Eyre Highway, we have committed $100 million. Of that $100 million, $25.6 will be allocated to lower Eyre Peninsula to deal with the closure of the more-than-100-year-old narrow-gauge railway, which had reached its use-by date. Of course, there will be extra grain traffic coming onto some of the roads, and we will be seeking some money there to make sure we get wide shouldering, levelling out of roads, fixing up intersections, more passing lanes and, particularly coming into Port Lincoln, a slow-down lane as you come down the hill into the port. Those things are happening.
We've allocated $50 million for the Barrier Highway, and I'm very pleased to acknowledge $64 million will be for the beginning of duplication work on the Augusta Highway, which sits to the north of Port Wakefield, which I have spoken about before. It carries around 4,000 to 5,000 vehicle movements a day—and that number is increasing. We will start work on duplicating that highway. The $64 million won't take us the 200 kilometres all the way to Port Augusta; I understand that. But we'll start down the bottom and we will see how far we go. Then the member for Grey will be rattling on the Treasurer's door and making sure we get the rest of the money to finish off the job. Because I'm a great one, Mr Deputy Speaker, for getting started on the job! I often quote Yogi Berra, a US baseball player who became a commentator. He is famous for such quotes as, 'It ain't over till its over,' and, 'It's just like deja vu all over again.' My favourite quote from Yogi Berra is, 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' I think that's a philosophy for life—when it comes to the point of decision, for goodness sake, let's make a decision. So I'm in favour of the $64 million going into the duplication of Augusta Highway, because we've made a decision that we're going to get on with the job and make it start. Let's bring that on.
I thank the brave and resilient citizens of Kimba—my home town—and of Hawker and Quorn, who are currently participating in a ballot to decide where the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility might go. I'm looking forward to it going ahead in my electorate. I've always been a supporter of it. I tried to nominate my own farm but ran foul of some regulations; in fact, I think I'd have to give up my seat if that ever actually happened. Both communities may reject it, and if they don't want it then so they should reject it. But I've always said it's a great opportunity for a small country town somewhere in Australia: 45 jobs and a $31 million package to help them to adapt, to build community infrastructure to deal with the changes. That's a good opportunity and I thank them for their tolerance. I've already voted and I'm looking forward to the rest of the citizens getting on and doing it.
In Grey we have the NBN 99 per cent enabled. That's a pretty good outcome. If you live in Grey you can get on the NBN.
The NDIS rollout is going well. Sure, there are some teething issues. We always knew there would be a shortage of qualified staff because this is ramping up so fast. But I thank the minister for his diligence in this area. We are sorting out the issues as we go. It's generally going pretty well.
I gave a speech on energy in the House yesterday. I had Minister Taylor in the electorate recently and we visited two of the proposed pumped hydro sites, one at Goat Hill, near Port Augusta, and the other one down at Baroota, near Port Pirie. There's another one in the Middleback Range, which is the property of GFG Alliance. It's a disused mine site. All of those are great possibilities for firming up the abundant supply of renewable energy in South Australia.
We've had the Mobile Black Spot Program. Thirty-nine projects either have been completed or have funding coming down the pipeline in round 4—39 in Grey. I say on mobile phone black spots that it won't matter how many we get; there'll always be gaps. It's that kind of technology. But we really are filling in the gaps. Thirty-nine is a very good performance considering that it is only this side of politics that has ever put any money into mobile phone reception in Australia. It's a good outcome, and I thank the coalition government for bringing back the programs from the Howard government that were dismissed. I might point out while I'm on that—because a little bit of history never hurts—that when the Labor Party came to power there was a $2 billion telecommunications regional and rural fund. The idea was that it was going to produce an income ad infinitum, forever, to deal with communication issues in rural and regional Australia. Of course that got hoovered up in about the first eight months, never to be seen again.
In the lead-up to the May election I managed to get a commitment of $12 million for the rebuilding of the accident and emergency entrance at the Whyalla hospital. There are all these things that we can do, Mr Deputy Speaker. There's huge expenditure going on in regional Australia.
I missed out on headspace. We are delivering three new headspace centres. We already have one in Port Augusta, delivered under the previous government. Now we have one up and operating in Whyalla and one opening in Port Lincoln soon. And we have a 'flying headspace' out of Port Augusta, which the Royal Flying Doctor Service will be operating for us. In fact, it's happening at the moment; it's already working. I was talking to one of the nurses the last time I was up in Marree. These are fabulous outcomes. This is a government investing in mental health for young people in some of the most difficult to access areas of Australia. I hope to get some more headspace centres in future. I have said publicly that I really think we need one in Port Pirie as well, and I will keep working with the Minister for Health to try to bring about that outcome.
But all of these things can only be paid for if you run the economy and budget well and you're not borrowing money all the time. It was a great outcome this year to see, when the final figures in the budget were announced, a very, very tiny deficit. It was far less than one per cent, for all intents and purposes a balanced budget. In the next 12 months, the next budget, we will be looking at a surplus, and I am absolutely confident the Treasurer will deliver it.
I rise to comment on the address-in-reply to the speech that was given by the Governor-General earlier this year in opening the 46th Parliament. I particularly noted a comment where His Excellency said:
We are one of the world's oldest democracies; our freedom has produced a cohesive society that makes us the most successful immigrant and multicultural nation on earth.
That's very true. I am very proud that Australia, in my view, is the most successful multicultural nation in the world. As the member for Lalor would agree, we certainly have one of the most successful multicultural states in the world, in Victoria, very well led by Premier Daniel Andrews—a state that celebrates multiculturalism and diversity. We're two very proud members for electorates in that fine state.
It is an honour to be here representing Holt in this 46th parliament. Can I say that because I haven't had the opportunity to formally thank the people of Holt and those living in the City of Casey for the honour of representing them and being their representative in this 46th parliament. It is an incredibly diverse constituency with a lot of young families. It's very car dependent and it's one of the fastest growing areas in Australia. It is a great area to represent.
We obviously know what happened on election night. It was a disappointing night for the Labor Party. The voters obviously spoke with a loud, clear voice. The Labor Party will listen to the Australian people and learn lessons from the result. We are going through that process now in a careful and methodical way. But it's been raised with me that 48.5 per cent of the Australian people did vote for the Labor Party, and I would take issue with some of the commentary that I have seen from people, not necessarily within the Labor Party but other commentators, and I would remind them that that percentage of people did in fact vote for the Labor Party at the federal election.
As the federal member for Holt, I can say that last year—I think the member for Lalor would empathise with this—we had a fairly substantial redistribution. The very character and nature of my seat changed. The suburb of Endeavour Hills, which had been part of Holt for 28 years, went into the federal seat of Bruce. Areas like Doveton, Endeavour Hills, Hallam and Narre Warren came out of Holt. That was a significant loss of over 40,000 voters. But I was rewarded by getting new areas and very different areas to those areas that I just mentioned. I'm quite excited, having been down there on the weekend and been there post the redistribution. It's a very different constituency in that portion of the electorate, because it fronts Western Port Bay. It's the first time in Holt's history, since the seat was formulated, that it actually has a coastal element to it.
With that coming into the constituency it offers fresh perspectives on the seat. It changes the character of the seat quite substantially. The areas of Blind Bight, Botanic Ridge, Cannons Creek, Clyde, Devon Meadows, Junction Village, Pearcedale, Tooradin and Warneet—most of the places that I have just mentioned are coastal elements of the constituency. They are in a World Heritage Area. They're in an area that is unique for its flora and fauna, and they also have great people. I was at the Warneet sailing club on the weekend. We're talking about a very inclusive community, a welcoming community, a community that wants to share this very unique coastal landscape with the rest of the people of Victoria. It's the home of the weedy sea dragon, one of the rarest and most beautiful creatures on the planet. It's great to be part of that now and for that to be part of Holt.
You'll be hearing a lot more from me about great places like Moonlit Sanctuary; I note a lot of celebrities go there, and it's run very well by Michael Johnson and the Johnson family. Again, it is a very unique part of the world. Tooradin is an amazingly spectacular part of Victoria, with a very rich history. It is part of the Healesville to Phillip Island Nature Link. As I said, there is just so much diversity. Why am I talking about this? Because it is a very significant area. It's got great people that are real social entrepreneurs, and I look forward to telling you more about them in my time here in the 46th Parliament, talking about how I can assist them and about projects of significance to these people, and lobbying on their behalf.
Having said that, I want to talk about seats like Holt that are categorised as outer suburban seats. Australia's outer suburbs are home to five million people, and in just 15 years another 2.5 million people will call the outer suburbs home. My electorate of Holt is home to some of the fastest growing areas in Australia—Cranbourne East and Clyde. There is an increasing need for much-needed social infrastructure in these rapidly growing suburbs. As the member for Lalor would know, that need has been identified very successfully by the Andrews government, with the issue being very capably led by the member for Cranbourne, Pauline Richards, who was elected at the last state election. The state government has realised that there needs to be significant reinvestment in these amazing growth corridors. That's why you see roads being widened, sky rail being put in, an additional rail line being put in between Dandenong and Cranbourne, hospitals built and enlarged, schools being built. It shows what a proactive government can do. Those significant reinvestments in what I call the social infrastructure are one of the reasons why Daniel Andrews and the Labor government were re-elected so substantially.
Those investments are what the people in the outer suburbs are looking for, but that's not what the people in the outer suburbs have been receiving from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. There's nothing that I've heard in the rhetoric of the Prime Minister that gives me any level of reassurance, in my constituency and that of the member of Lalor, who is here with me, that that style of reinvestment by the Daniel Andrews state government is going to be made. That's bad. It is bad because, for example, the Casey Hospital, which is just outside my constituency, in the federal electorate of La Trobe, doesn't have an MRI machine. We have a catchment area of probably 300,000 to a million people, but that doesn't warrant the installation of an MRI. The federal government haven't spoken to the state government. The state government has built a seven-storey wing at the Casey Hospital. You can see it from one end of my constituency to the other. It's that big, you could probably see it from the International Space Station. It is a significant investment by a state government that is committed to providing these services.
Prior to the election, when then opposition leader Bill Shorten came down to Victoria, we were going to invest $22.9 million into the City of Casey because of the rapid expansion of the population and because there needs to be more investment. We needed to expand the emergency department and create another, I think, 22 beds for a mental health ward to expand the provision of mental health services in the region. Even though there is significant investment by the state government, the population growth is so great. In relation to partnership, we hear a lot about the activities of the Morrison government and COAG and how they're working together with the states, but I haven't heard of an MRI machine going into the City of Casey. I haven't heard of additional, much-needed infrastructure spends—new schools, new roads outside of the Monash Freeway, new rail. I've heard none of that whatsoever. I've heard a lot of criticism, but I haven't seen the co-investment that Mr Morrison speaks about. That's absolutely significant and what that means, for example, for the roads.
Again, prior to the last election, had we been successful, a Shorten-led Labor government would have invested $75 million in partnership with the Andrews Labor government on two major roads in my constituency. One's Thompsons Road—we were going to assist with the duplication of the roadway between Dandenong-Frankston Road and Berwick-Cranbourne Road. I was there for the announcement with other members of parliament and state members of parliament with Daniel Andrews and Bill Shorten prior to the election. That's not going to happen.
There's also another very significant stretch of road: Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road between Thompsons Road and South Gippsland Highway. I had the misfortune of having to drive back after a function at Warneet last weekend, and one may as well have been in the city. We're talking about an area that's about 47 kilometres outside of the CBD, and one may as well have been in the CBD, because the traffic just banked up almost from Thompsons Road to South Gippsland Highway. The space is available, but we can't just leave everything for the state government. I would say the state government in the seat of Cranbourne has probably invested close to a billion dollars in terms of infrastructure—it could well be over that. Now, if you look at what the federal government was investing—a couple of million versus $1 billion perhaps—that clearly indicates to me what their priorities are; they just don't prioritise it. I think I will be reminding the people who were stuck on that roadway about the fact that, had we been elected, we would have had that significant co-investment, working hand in hand with the Andrews Labor government. But that's not going to happen. I'm waiting, and I hope that the Morrison government will in fact do that: match the spending that the state Labor government puts in.
The other thing I wanted to turn my attention to was the issue of jobs and wages in the south-eastern region. We know that we've had something close to about 29 years of unimpeded and uninterrupted economic growth. The interesting thing is that we have not had 28 years of unimpeded, uninterrupted real wage growth and real wage increases to match cost of living increases. In fact what we've had, as a consequence of the previous government, the Turnbull government—sorry, the Abbott-Turnbull government—
Ms Ryan interjecting—
I keep on losing track, Member for Lalor; I've got to remember the holy trinity: the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. We've had cuts to penalty rates. In our area, because we have so many young families, our young families require penalty rates just to keep their heads above water. As governments, we encourage people to go and live the Australian dream, to buy their property, to raise their kids in the outer suburbs and to lead the life. Because it's a very car-dependent constituency, because it is so far out, we have again significant investment in public transport, but it doesn't match the fact that we have many, many workers in the construction and trade industry who can't catch a train to go to their job; they've got to use a car. That's why you've got to have a government that matches that aspiration by providing the roads for them to travel on so they can do their jobs and—they might be married, they may have a partner; they may have kids and they might be working in retail—don't have their penalty rates cut. They can send their kids to the schools that they want to, even government schools. They can pay the mortgage.
This is something that I think Mr Morrison should reflect on: when he talks about how well the economy is going, what I am hearing consistently from people and major employers connected with the manufacturing network down in the south-eastern suburbs is a suppression of demand, a grave concern that we're in something like a retail recession. We're actually in a period of time where the economy is not travelling well. So, we have the government saying, 'We're getting into surplus.' 'This is really great' and 'You've never had it so good.' Come down and say that to the people in the south-east—the ones that are struggling because they've had their penalty rates cut when they're working at Myers at the Fountain Gate shopping centre. Or talk to those mums getting their kids off to school who are struggling to pay school fees, to pay for school uniforms or to pay for travel when petrol goes up to $1.75 a litre.
One of the things that I think should be noted here, given that you've got massive car dependency and a lot of people who need cars, is that, when petrol goes up, as it did recently, to $1.75 per litre, it's almost like a mini interest rate rise. And that's probably not familiar to people who make pronouncements about the economy going so well. What would they know about a Tuesday morning when the price of a litre of petrol eventually cycles down from $1.75 to $1.29 and you have mums and dads and tradies queuing up for anything up to half an hour to get their fuel tanks filled? Does that seem to be factored in? That isn't discussed. Consider energy costs, for example. The government's been talking about the work that it's been doing on dropping energy costs. That's interesting because I recently heard of a constituent whose energy bill went from $600 per quarter to $2,000. It went up just like that. Then, when he shopped around, like the government told him to do, it dropped from $2,000 to $1,700 in that quarter with no guarantee that there weren't going to be further price rises.
So I'm hearing rhetoric about jobs, about the roads going so well that apparently you can drive on roads that are really congested, and about people being able to pay their bills, yet the great social service providers, like the Cranbourne Information & Support Service, have people knocking down their doors to come and see them. And these are not just people who are on welfare or pensions; these are people we'd regard as being middle Australia. They're going to the Cranbourne Information & Support Service for vouchers to pay for food, to help them with school clothes and to help them get past having all these bills coming in. So tell me: how can the economy be going incredibly well when we have increased levels of concern expressed and when we have people from Cranbourne Information & Support Service, like Leanne Petrides, who's been the director for a number of years, saying that they haven't seen it this bad? Something must be going wrong. The economy that is supposedly going so well, Member for Lalor, can't be. Something must be going wrong. I think it is quite clear that cost-of-living pressures are not being matched by increases in disposable income for people in the south-eastern suburbs, particularly when that's exacerbated by a cut in penalty rates. I will come back to this in future addresses, Member for Lalor, because I don't think the problem's going to be solved, notwithstanding my drawing the House's attention to it.
I do want to talk about a very exceptional community in my constituency, which is not a huge community. I want to talk about the Oromo community and its impact on the world stage and the contribution that Australian Oromos have made to a peace process. I bring your attention to a recent Nobel Peace Prize that has been awarded. One of the most hopeful changes that I've seen in the 21st century has happened in Ethiopia recently. Nearly three decades of authoritarian rule have been overturned. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has come under intense challenge, but there's been a change and it's a change without violence. It was done by a protest, almost like an Arab Spring, to some extent, in Africa, but it's not reported on much. In the face of popular protests and in desperation, the regime felt compelled to hand over the reins of government last year to a young and dynamic gentleman who became the Prime Minister: Abiy Ahmed from the Oromo Democratic Party. According to democracy expert Larry Diamond, since coming to power in April 2018, Ahmed has released political prisoners, loosened media controls and implemented a wave of other reforms, including appointing one of the most respected opposition figures to head the country's electoral commission in advance of the elections due in 2020.
In Africa, entrenched authoritarianism exists amongst nation states, but, with 100 million people, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and it's become a peaceful multiparty democracy. The implications for the continent are enormous. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation and, in particular, for his decisive initiative to solve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. There were three people in the course of the dark days of this, before they transitioned—Biftu Gutama, Sinke Wesho and Abdeta Hanna—who would lobby me consistently. Congratulations to them. We've seen one of the most peaceful transitions of power in the 21st century. It's they and the people of Ethiopia who should be commended.
Serving the people of Leichhardt for more than two decades has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. It is a role that I have undertaken with passion, energy and unwavering commitment, although I have to say I have sometimes ruffled a few feathers. I've always prided myself on listening, acting and delivering for our community. This past election was one of the toughest I have contested but was certainly one of the most important in a generation. Far North Queenslanders flatly refused the high-taxing and divisive politics of those opposite. Now that the election has been run and won, it is time to get on with delivering the projects that I announced during the campaign. I'd like to take the time to speak about each of them and the importance they have for my community.
First is the Captain Cook Highway. The Morrison government will invest $370 million to bust congestion along the Captain Cook Highway so that those, like me, living on the northern beaches can get home to our loved ones faster, safer and sooner. It will dramatically improve the way of life for thousands of residents. The funding for this game-changing project was announced in this year's federal budget. The project, linking the Cairns CBD with the Smithfield bypass, will see significant upgrades to three major roundabouts along the Captain Cook Highway. It will also include additional inbound and outbound lanes between Airport Avenue and Yorkeys Knob roundabout. The project will include significant intersection upgrades at Arnold Street, Whitfield Street, Tom McDonald Drive and Airport Avenue. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Advance Cairns for their leadership and their unwavering support and advocacy for this project.
Another one is the southern access corridor stage 5, which is for work on the Bruce Highway. Far North Queensland continues to benefit from the largest infrastructure spend in the nation's history. The $180 million project involves a grade separation upgrade at the Bruce Highway and Foster Road intersection in Cairns. This project will build on existing commitments made along the Cairns southern access highway, including upgrades between Edmonton and Gordonvale, Robert Road and Foster Road, and Kate Street and Aumuller Street. The total Bruce Highway package across the five stages is in excess of $1 billion.
The federal government will invest $190 million also towards Peninsula Developmental Road stage 2 to ensure the sealing works along this bucket-list road continue. The Peninsula Developmental Road has been listed as part of the federal government's $3.5 billion Roads of Strategic Importance program. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie, when I came into this place in 1996 there wasn't one kilometre of bitumen along the 450-odd kilometres of Peninsula Developmental Road, and it was shut generally for three or four months of the year during the wet season. We now have about 200 kilometres to see the road totally sealed, basically, from Weipa to Cairns. It will have a very significant impact on the livability and on the economy of people living along that very, very critical, soon-to-be-bitumen spine.
The federal government is also investing in other roads. There is another $50 million to improve an iconic tourism route between tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory. Funding will go towards sealing an unsealed section of the Gulf Savannah road. That is another very, very important road. The Queensland section of the Gulf Savannah road takes in 313 kilometres, and almost 60 per cent of the road is already sealed. Again, like the Peninsula Development Road, we're seeing the start of the bitumen rolling out, as we are also on the Hann Highway, which will basically give us a sealed inland route from Cairns right through to Melbourne, taking us off the main Bruce Highway. It will make a huge difference, cutting the time from Cairns to Melbourne very significantly. This is very much visionary stuff that's been needed for a long time, and it's being rolled out under our government. There are also flood mitigation and a range of other things that will be achieved.
It was great to have my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and Senator Matt Canavan in Cairns during the campaign for the amazing announcement there, where we announced that we would be investing up to $10 million to ensure the Lakeland Irrigation Area Project was shovel ready. This is another critical project. This investment will ensure that the final engineering and scoping works on this region-defining project are being completed. The project has the potential to unlock over 8,000 hectares of irrigated land and could create more than a thousand jobs during construction, not to mention many local jobs that would be created with the expansion of the region's economy. We know that unlocking the potential of our regional communities goes hand in hand with water security. This will see a small town, the community of Lakeland, grow into a significant regional town, which is something we should be very excited about.
During the campaign I flew to Pormpuraaw, an Aboriginal community on the west coast, and announced that the government will be delivering a historic $105 million investment into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils to fund remote Indigenous housing so that the control of this actually stays in the hands of the communities themselves rather than going through the bureaucracy of the state government where, with the previous NPARIH scheme, a lot of the money was certainly squandered, where we see million-dollar houses being built for individual couples, which is crazy. Under the new rules no more than $500,000 can be spent per house, but the houses can be designed and built within the communities by the communities, giving job opportunities et cetera. We're finding that under that type of program there's a lot of competition for those houses. It's great to see. It also gives a significant amount of empowerment to those communities and a sense of ownership of what they're creating. We're encouraging the state government to match that funding, which they're required to do, and we'd like to see that money also go into the councils so that it can be administered through those councils.
We're also backing traditional owners by investing $5 million in the ongoing construction of seawalls. These ones will be in the Torres Strait, supporting the local communities. They are basically going to be in the central islands within the community there. They are going to be a partnership with the GBK, which is the local PBC or traditional owner group, and My Pathway. The new partnership will maximise the employment and support Torres Strait Islander businesses to deliver the project, again giving significant ownership of the project to the community themselves and having them contributing significantly to dealing with this challenge.
The federal government's $20 million investment ensured the future not only of the Mossman Mill but the entire town and region. The Mossman Mill transition project will unlock economic opportunities in the Mossman community and surrounding Far North Queensland, especially for canegrowers and all those industries which support the existing mill operations. The project will transform not only the mill but also the region through technology and innovation. The project will build on the 560 jobs that the mill already supports and is expected to create an estimated 86 new long-term jobs, which is a major boost for the city. I would like to congratulate Far Northern Milling for their foresight and ingenuity, along with Advance Cairns, the chamber of commerce and the Douglas Shire Council for their advocacy to ensure this project becomes a reality. I would like to, if I could, single out the chair of Far Northern Milling, Maryann Salvetti, for the amazing work she did in putting this whole concept together. What we're going to see now is a mill that will still produce sugar, which mills do, but it's going to transfer into a real biofactory so we're going to see a whole range of products that are going to come out of that which are going to be manufactured using the sugar as a base product.
The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, also announced $60 million for the Cairns University Hospital. Once completed, it will take enormous pressure off Cairns Hospital's waiting lists and our clinical services. The federal government's investment means that James Cook University can purchase land to deliver world-class medical research through the new Cairns Tropical Enterprise Centre in the Cairns University Hospital precinct. It will enable research and education, and it will enable staff at Cairns Hospital to be relocated to the new facility, freeing up space for about 150 beds in the hospital for patients and clinical services. So, again, a very exciting project.
Another one that's very close to me is the federal funding to invest another $1.3 million to facilitate the second stage of development of the COUCH health services precinct in Manunda. The federal government have funded the purchase of land next to the COUCH Wellness Centre to support the future construction of much-needed short-term accommodation facilities for Far North Queensland patients visiting Cairns for treatment for cancer and other illnesses. That additional funding comes on top of a commitment that I achieved at the last election, the 2016 election, for a $1.5 million investment towards the construction of the COUCH Wellness Centre, which was opened in May this year. Cairns COUCH was founded in 2006 by the late Charlie Woodward and his beautiful wife, Pip, and I worked very closely with the Woodward family to secure $8.3 million initially—this was back in 2007—in federal funding that led to the establishment of the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre. The latest investment completes the trifecta of funding that I've fought extremely hard for COUCH. The work they are doing is simply amazing.
Another great one that we announced during the election was that visitors in Far North Queensland will soon be able to walk or cycle the stunning new coastal and hinterland route from Palm Cove to Port Douglas thanks to an $8 million investment from our government. The Wangetti Trail, once complete, will become one of the country's leading adventure-based ecotourism experiences. Funding from the project is part of the government's $50 million national Tourism Icons Package announced in this year's federal budget. The Wangetti Trail was designed by world-renowned trail designer and Cairns local Glenn Jacobs and is a one-of-a-kind experience, attracting hikers and cyclists from Australia and the globe. The Wangetti Trail is expected to create around 150 jobs and will be a significant boost to tourism. This incredible new nature based experience, once up and running, will be a major tourism drawcard for our region. I'd like to thank my colleague Senator Birmingham who braved the elements during the announcement up on Rex Lookout. Soon after we announced the Wangetti Trail—and this is about forward thinking and planning—we then went on to announce another $3.5 million for the relocation and establishment of the Ellis Beach Surf Life Saving Club. That's on the southern end of the trail, which means that the surf club will have the opportunity to capture a lot of those visitors through their restaurant and accommodation they can create there, which will give them a really strong economic base into the future. So we're tying up the ends to make sure that we capture all the economic opportunities.
Another one that I've been working on since I came into this place in 1996 was getting a microgrid or mains-equivalent power north of the Daintree River, and through this election we're one step closer to that via a renewable energy microgrid. We identified a region north of the Daintree River as a site for a standalone environmentally friendly power system. We put our money where our mouth is. We've committed $990,000 worth to the Daintree renewable energy grid, which will take the 100 per cent renewable project to sub already within 12 months. This proposed microgrid will store energy generated by new and existing solar panels, by converting it into hydrogen, which will be stored, generating reliable power and reducing world heritage reliance on diesel fuel generated power, with consumption currently estimated at around five or six million litres a year. This project will also have a battery storage capacity—the first of its kind in this country. I think the grant will support the investigation of new ownership and funding models in the deployment of the microgrid. It is a very, very exciting project and one I would say keep a very close eye on.
We also put $4 million in to create more opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete year 12 through AFL Cape York House in Cairns. I had the privilege of announcing the additional funding at the official opening of the federally funded AFL Cape York Girls House at Redlynch. The extra $4 million will ensure that the AFL Cape York boys and girls houses continue their great work in providing educational support, training and opportunities for students from some of our most remote communities.
We also put $2 million into Cairns Hockey, which is another very, very exciting one. This is going into an Aspire to be Deadly program there, supporting young women making positive life choices and broadening their opportunities. It is a very unique program very successfully run through Cairns Hockey. It has our young Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal women engaging with Indigenous ambassadors, providing mentoring support as well as connection to their own culture and tradition. I congratulate Cairns Hockey on the fabulous job that they have done in that area.
These projects that I have outlined are big-ticket items, and I am proud to have delivered those into the area. However, there are several more projects that I announced during the campaign that, while the amount of money is not quite as great, I think are equally significant. Why? Because these are community based projects and ones that make a real difference in people's lives and projects that will further enhance our community. One was $418,000 towards the Cairns Cycling Club for an upgrade in that area, which is going to make a huge difference. All of these sporting ones, of course, go towards a vision that I have of establishing Cairns as the fourth tropical sports conditioning centre in the world, after Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. This goes a long way to providing the infrastructure that's necessary for us to be able to play in this field.
A million dollars went to the Cairns Men's Shed. The Men's Shed are renting part of a property that is owned by the Scouts Association, and the Men's Shed have done a huge amount of work there. This gives the Men's Shed—a wonderful organisation—the opportunity to acquire that property and to be able to have it as a permanent base. There was $500,000 towards the Paws and Claws animal shelter in Port Douglas, another very, very worthy project. There was $500,000 towards Cairns Basketball. There were also smaller amounts. Importantly the Cairns Men's Shed got $12,000, and $110,000 went towards the Port Douglas Cairns AFL. This went into a club up there, the Crocs up at Port Douglas. As you drive out to the airport, you'll see the Duntroon oval with the white picket fence. Well, we are going to transport that fence up to the Crocs oval in Port Douglas. Aesthetically, it is absolutely beautiful, but what is going to be particularly important about it that it is going to be made out of recycled plastics and it will represent literally millions of pieces of discarded plastic around the oval—so a very, very significant piece. These organisations, as I say, are many of the great organisations in my community, and they make a real difference to people's lives, irrespective of age, race or gender. The local groups of course are the lifeblood of our communities and it is important that we support them wherever possible.
Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to publicly thank and place on the record the work of my amazing staff. They worked tirelessly through the election campaign to ensure that I had the opportunity to deliver the projects that I've just mentioned. I just want to place their names on the record. My lasting gratitude and my thanks to Tamara Srhoj, Adam Davies, Samuel Batt, Natasha Sambo, Rosie Korman, Megan Carey and Tanya Yates, from up in the Torres Strait. I'm sure all members would agree we are only as good as the staff that we have working with us. They are the ones that really have our backs and they're the ones that really make us look good. So I say thank you again very much indeed for a job well done.
I want to thank the people of the electorate of Solomon—the great people of Darwin and Palmerston—for their continued faith in me, for re-electing me as their representative in this House for the second time. Of course I thank my family, whom I love so much, for all their unwavering support: my wife, Kate, our daughter, Sally, and our son, Frank, or Frankie—our children are relatively young—seven and 5½—who put up with a lot with me being away. Kate does an amazing job with the family and I am very grateful for everything they do, and for their love and support.
I want to thank the campaign team, who did an incredible job. I thought we ran a fantastic campaign. I won't go into that much detail about the campaign except to say I'm very proud of the campaign we ran and proud of the team and their efforts. I thank all the volunteers and everyone who, in some way—big or small—helped us to secure the seats of Solomon and Lingiari, and an NT Senate position for Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. I also want to thank my amazing staff. In the 2016 election I had no staff, but a great campaign team. I want to thank my staff for continuing to give great service to the people of Darwin and Palmerston, and the Territory more broadly.
I want to thank my Labor colleagues and our shadow ministers. I particularly thank our former leader Bill Shorten and our former deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who responded to our requests for stimulus for the Northern Territory, and I thank those who made those decisions to back the Northern Territory. They understand that in the Territory we have to overcome severe infrastructure and service deficits. I also want to thank our new leader, Anthony Albanese, for his commitment towards developing north Australia and for visiting the Territory as one of his first acts as opposition leader.
I want to thank the members of the broader Labor movement in the Northern Territory who worked for the election of a Labor government. We were unsuccessful, but they worked hard to help us to secure a better future for Territorians. I'll continue to work hard to hold the Morrison government to account on the commitments and promises it made to the Territory during the campaign—it must be said that they were all too few—and I'll continue to advocate for the proposals that Labor put forward, which were good policies. I think we put forward a great suite of policies that were going to be so fantastic for the Territory, and I think my re-election and Warren Snowden's re-election show that the ideas and the policies that we had for the Territory were supported overwhelmingly by Territorians.
I also want to quickly acknowledge the other candidates who stood for election. It does take a lot of courage and commitment to stand for parliament, and I acknowledge all of the work that they put in. In particular, I want to recognise Mrs Kathy Ganley, the Country Liberal candidate, but also the other candidates—Tim, Raj, Lorraine and Sue—who all worked hard. We disagreed at times on policy issues, sometimes robustly, during the campaign but I want to acknowledge their strongly held beliefs and their work towards getting the support of the electorate. I hope that we can all work together for the good of the Territory in the coming years. For my part, I will continue to work very closely with my Territory Labor colleagues—Warren Snowden, the member for Lingiari, and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy—as well as with the new Country Liberals senator, Dr Sam McMahon. I've already been able to spend some time with Dr McMahon talking about what the Territory needs and trying to get her support for getting some interest in the Territory from the current federal government.
I'll of course continue to represent all my constituents, whether they voted for me or not, to the best of my ability over this term of parliament and into the future. In my first speech in the House of Reps I spoke about where I came from and my love for the Territory. Now, three years on, in this new parliament I want to outline a bit about where we are, where I see our place in the world and what is going on around us in the Indo-Pacific region. I want to talk about the very serious need for us to plan and act in order not only to realise all the opportunities but to prepare ourselves as a nation for the intensity that will be part of the Indo-Pacific, this part of the globe, in the coming years.
From Darwin and Palmerston, the capital of northern Australia, we have a particular view of the world—the view north into the Arafura Sea and beyond. I have significant experience—in some countries more than in others—and a deep interest in the Indo-Pacific, and I am very proud that Labor leader Anthony Albanese has given me the responsibility of leading Labor's regional trade taskforce. I'll be working to encourage our neighbours, like Indonesia, to do more business with us, particularly with Territory and northern businesses but also with businesses around our country.
The massive markets to our north are vital to the future of the Territory. Our close proximity is obviously an advantage. But the big Australian markets to our south also need to be developed so that Territory producers of excellence can find more business partners in the south as well as in rapidly growing countries to our north. Darwin is obviously an important strategic location for our nation in the Indo-Pacific region. I'll continue to work on getting the Morrison government to fully recognise the importance of our strategic location, both for trade and for defence.
We're very conscious of our place in the world. Remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, that within the living memory of some Territorians we have been attacked from our north. We are very aware of the crucial importance of the northern capital of Australia, Darwin-Palmerston, and of greater Darwin and the Territory, to the defence of Australia. I'll be urging the government to live up to its commitment to invest in our defence infrastructure in the north. We need it for our defence and also because it is important not as a prime motivator but as an important job generator for our wonderful Territorians. For example, Labor went to the election proposing a shiplift for both military and civilian ship maintenance, and the federal government has been making rumblings about supporting this project. The NT government have confirmed that they will go ahead with the project, even without the $300 million of real money that federal Labor was committed to. As I've said to the Treasurer and to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and to the Prime Minister, we need a commitment of real dollars for this nation-building project. That would be far better and far more productive than a NAIF loan if that were ever to eventuate.
As I mentioned, I have a strong interest in Australia's bilateral relationship with Indonesia. As Paul Keating put it, our strategic bread is entirely buttered in the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia has had and still has challenges, but I think it's fair to characterise Indonesia today as a vibrant democracy that fiercely values its independence. Indonesia has been a unique and important influence in my life. Not only did I learn the language whilst I was with the Australian Army stationed in Perth but, during Exercise Kangaroo '95 in the Northern Territory, I jumped out of a perfectly good Royal Australian Air Force Hercules aircraft with Indonesian paratroopers. And, at times, whilst travelling through Indonesia, I have met and conversed with TNI, Indonesian National Armed Forces, personnel about a number of things, including access to the East Timor border for the restoration of East Timor's independence. It was great to join the defence minister, Senator Reynolds, recently for the 20th anniversary of the INTERFET going into East Timor, restoring order with international partners, and it is great that East Timor—Timor-Leste—and Indonesia enjoy great relationships, as do we with both nations.
Clearly, Indonesia is critical not only to Australia's security but also to its economic prosperity. Labor has been the party with the vision to understand the enduring importance of Indonesia to Australia's national interest and to regional and global stability and prosperity. We are proud of the role that Labor has played to foster and positively influence Indonesia's development during a challenging journey of reform in recent decades. Paul Keating, for example, built the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, APEC, into a body guiding the overall development of free trade and practical economic cooperation in the region, with Indonesia an important member. Last term, I was honoured to lead an ALP international delegation to Jakarta, where we met with all the major political parties, former President SBY and former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa. That was a great opportunity to meet with so many important stakeholders in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Australia's respect for Indonesia and our commitment to strengthening the relationship were central messages that I conveyed during that visit.
I think we need to commit to ensuring that our words and our actions in the future demonstrate that Australia respects the Republic of Indonesia. Don't get me wrong, Mr Deputy Speaker: we must talk straight, as we have done, but we must consult. There are so many areas where we could strengthen cooperation within Indonesia for our mutual benefit, from business, countering transnational crime, defence cooperation, humanitarian and disaster relief, and sporting and cultural exchanges, just to mention a few. Paul Keating's first overseas trip as Prime Minister was to Indonesia in April 1992, and it was very heartening to see Labor leader Anthony Albanese visit Indonesia as his first overseas visit as Labor leader to discuss our important partnership. I was very proud to join him and our shadow foreign minister, Senator Penny Wong, on that visit.
In terms of our national defence, the reality is that we need to be more self-reliant, with a larger, more capable ADF, Australian Defence Force, that is able to participate in more contingencies simultaneously.
Paul Dibb, the respected defence analyst, has said that China's military presence in the South China Sea has brought its capacity to project military power 1,400 kilometres closer to Australia's northern approaches. He says that Australia's strategic geography as a pivot between the Pacific and Indian oceans is now assuming much more strategic relevance, and this means we have to revisit the disposition of our forces and their capabilities in the north and west of Australia. We need national leaders with vision, who understand our region, our challenges and our rightful role as guardians and protectors of our people and our continent. We need leaders with vision that see our role in forging more cooperative and respectful protection of our region.
As we come to the current statement of Australia's defence policy, the 2016 Defence white paper, much of what is set out in that policy document is largely sound and valid. It states that the Australian government's highest priority is to be the safety and security of the Australian people and the defence of our territory and our interests. Of course, that is paramount for us all. The white paper identifies the strategic changes facing us as a nation, and sets out a program of regeneration and re-equipping of the Australian Defence Force, together with the required projected costings and budgets.
What are these strategic challenges? We're well aware that we're in uncertain times. There are a number of strategic challenges facing us as a nation. I was very pleased last week to join with an ASPI event on the Quad, where strategic thinkers from Japan, Indonesia, the United States and Australia gather to talk about some of these strategic challenges. Many of those are detailed in the white paper, and there has been an acknowledgement in recent times that some of the uncertainties and challenges in our region have sped up.
But, regardless, I think that with the timetable for different strategic challenges we all need to understand that there are a number of areas of significant concern to us, whether they're in the rules based order or in future tensions through trade wars, or strategic competition or in the South China Sea, which most of our exports must travel through. The United States will continue to be our most important strategic partner, that's true, but we also need to think about our current strategy and where we're placing ourselves for the future. That's why I say again that we need to make sure we've got our settings correct.
Federal Labor, in the lead-up to the last election, committed to a force posture review. Modern warfare requires the coordination of land, sea and air; intelligence and electronic warfare; and cyber and space capabilities so that the ADF, as a joint force, can apply more force more rapidly and more effectively when it's required. The white paper said that more emphasis will need to be given to this joint force. What is now apparent, three years on, is that this is what the ADF must be: a joint force, able to apply and deploy its various capabilities as the situation demands. As we heard at Forces Command last week, the Army is becoming increasingly good at teaming and reteaming. We need to do that as an Australian Defence Force. We need to do that as a nation. Our industrial capacity, severely weakened by the current government's goading of the vehicle manufacturing industry to leave our shores, has left a gap. We need to ensure that we have the right industrial settings for the defence of Australia, for more self-reliance. The Northern Territory—Darwin and Palmerston—plays a massively important role. I'll continue to make sure that our electorate does its part.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson. I'm pleased to see you in the chair during my contribution to the address in reply to the Governor-General's speech. My first job, of course, is to thank the people of Hughes, who put their trust in me to represent them in this place in Canberra to stand up for their interests. I'm very pleased that they returned me with an increased margin. So I again represent those people without fear or favour to make sure that I stand up for their interests in this place.
During the election campaign it was very important to stand up for their interests, because we truly dodged a bullet as a nation. If the result had gone the other way, what would have happened to those self-funded retirees, people that had worked hard all their life, that had invested under the rules of the day and that were going to have their franking credits simply stolen? I was privileged to be part of the economics committee that heard some of the evidence in this. What came across loud and clear was that members of the Labor Party and the Greens simply didn't understand the principle. They thought it was their money. They didn't understand that if you are a shareholder of a company you own that company, just like you do if you're a sole trader or if you have a business investment in a partnership. And the profits that that business or partnership or sole trader makes belong to the owner of the business. Then those profits are taxed at the applicable marginal tax rate. That was a concept completely devoid of the Labor Party's understanding. They went after those self-funded retirees at this last election, and we then had the Shadow Treasurer telling them, 'If you don't like it, don't vote for us.' Well, they did that in droves.
The other bullet that this nation dodged was about negative gearing: again trying to drive a wedge of class warfare through and again a simple misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the basic economics. Negative gearing is not some type of tricky tax stunt. It is a simple principle: the costs of your interest are an expense of earning an income and therefore they are deductible when you work out what your pre-tax income is and what you pay the tax upon. Again, it was a concept the Labor Party simply couldn't understand, which would have decimated the investment and housing industry throughout our cities. I hate to think what would have happened.
But truly the real bullet that we dodged as a nation was that we didn't get Labor's 45 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target. For years we've argued in this place about renewable energy targets, but what we've been talking about is really only renewable electricity targets. The electricity sector only makes up one-third of our emissions, so where Labor just didn't want to take our electricity sector emissions at the 45 per cent; they wanted to do that reduction in every other sector of the economy. Stationary energy: people that use gas in their own home for heating and cooking. How did the Labor Party plan to reduce that by 45 per cent? Trucking across the nation: that sector had to reduce its CO2 emissions, which means reduce the use of petrol and diesel by 45 per cent. How is that going to happen without decimating, mainly, many rural areas and without decimating our trucking industry?
What about our aviation industry? Airlines like Qantas and Virgin? Qantas, for instance, emits more CO2 as a company than does the Liddell coal-fired power station. How is a business like Qantas going to reduce their emissions by 45 per cent under what the opposition took to the election, unless they are simply going to take planes out of the sky? If you take planes out of the sky, what do you do to all the tourist industries and businesses that rely on the tourist sector around the nation? This is the bullet that we dodged.
Then, of course, there's the agricultural industry. The agricultural industry makes up 14 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. How is that industry meant to reduce its emissions by 45 per cent other than by a mass cull of our dairy cattle, of our beef cattle, of our sheep and of our pigs? A mass cull would have been required to get to that 45 per cent target. That's the bullet we dodged.
The other concern was how close Labor came to pulling this off, because they went to this election with this huge economy-changing policy and yet they refused to say what were the costs and what were the benefits. They were asked time and time again what the costs were, and they told us, 'Don't worry about it.' What was the cost to electricity? How many jobs could be lost? What would it do to how competitive our nation would be? Just forget about it.
But what it really came to also is what were the benefits? What were Labor going to achieve by their 45 per cent emissions reduction target? Nothing. They were going to achieve exactly nothing. Because we know that—the Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Alan Finkel, has told us and he's made it very clear—it doesn't matter if the entire Australian nation goes down a giant sinkhole, if we close down every industry in the country and cull every single beast, it will make no difference to the temperature. But then Labor say, 'Hang on, what about all nations working together?' Okay, let's have a look at that. We know under the Paris agreement if every single nation meets their obligations by 2030—a big if—and if we assume the modelling about how adjusting CO2 changes the temperatures is correct, the peer-reviewed research in this says the change in temperature will be one-twentieth of one degree, that is 0.05 of a degree Celsius, by the year 2100. That's if every nation does what they're supposed to do.
There was interesting commentary by Bjorn Lomborg only this week. He looked at what happens if every rich developed nation in the world, including Australia, went to zero CO2 emissions not in 2050 but by tomorrow and they then kept their emissions at zero out to the year 2100, the end of the century. Do you know what the change in temperature would be? Again assuming those models are right, it was 0.39 of a degree Celsius. While countries like India and China continue to lift their people out of poverty and continue to need energy to develop their economies and give the people that live in those countries the opportunity for the type of lifestyle that we enjoy in the West, emissions are going to rise and nothing we do in Australia will have any effect.
The other one we heard during the election campaign was the great 'Stop Adani' march. We had the wonderful Bob Brown—we must actually try and strike some Liberal Party or National Party medal for Bob Brown's efforts!—going up there to North Queensland, lecturing those North Queenslanders about how they should live their lives, what businesses they should have and how he knew better than the Indians that were trying to develop it. What a lot of people don't understand is that India already mines more coal than Australia. India mines around 600 million tonnes of coal per annum; Australia mines only 400 million tonnes. When I say only 400 million tonnes, that is a substantial amount. But what India are planning—and their energy secretary said this only last month—is that they need to lift their production of domestic coal from 600 million tonnes to a billion tonnes. One thousand million tonnes: that is what India are targeting; another 400 million tonnes of production annually. This is equal to Australia's entire production of coal, both thermal coal and metallurgical coal. So we truly, truly did dodge a bullet.
We would have thought that after that, Labor would have learnt their lesson. They would have said, 'Look, we understand that we got this wrong.' And there was a glimpse of hope. For a while there we had the member for Hunter saying: 'We should adopt the coalition's emission targets. Let's drop that 45 per cent emissions target.' There was a glimmer of hope there for a few days. But yesterday we saw that glimmer of hope being diminished. Labor Party joined those climate crazies—those people gluing themselves to the roads; causing protests; dressing up in the most outlandish, ridiculous costumes we have seen; dancing in the streets as though they are drug affected. Labor signed up with those people; Labor joined those climate crazies by declaring a so-called climate emergency.
These Extinction Rebellion people are a menace. They are a menace to society. They are a menace to logic and reason and progress, because the policies that they want, which the Labor Party is now supporting, will bring devastating austerity to the people who can afford it the least in our society. One thing really concerns me about this. We all do what we can to try and win votes for our respective sides, but we've got to do it in a responsible manner. Out there in our society at the moment we have young women and their partners deciding that they are not going to have children because they have swallowed this nonsense that there's a climate emergency. We've even heard stories or reports of women having abortions because of their fear of this climate emergency. What are these couples and these women going to think in 20 to 25 years, when they are in their late 40s or 50s or 60s, and they realise that they cast aside the opportunity to have children because they listened to the lies and the untruths spread by some politicians? There will be a day of reckoning for those who are propagandising this emergency.
Let's have a look at some of the many, many facts that we know are completely false. Firstly, one thing we love to hear from the alarmist camp is that there is a consensus. The claim that there is a 97 per cent consensus is a complete and utter fraud. And it should be offensive to people's reason because it tells us: 'Don't worry about thinking, leave the thinking to others. You just go along with what everyone says.' Only last month, to show what a fraud this is, we had a global network of 500 scientists and professionals write to the UN with a message that said clearly, 'There is no climate emergency.' In their letter they said that the warming is natural as well as having anthropogenic causes. They said the warming is far slower than predicted; that climate policies rely on inadequate models; CO2 is a plant food, the basis of all life; global warming has not increased natural disasters. And they concluded: 'There is no emergency. There is no cause for panic and alarm.' That is 500 of the world's leading scientists and professionals.
Secondly, one of the most important ways of measuring how we are progressing and how we are being affected by the climate is the number of deaths that occur annually from climate related catastrophes, whether they be floods, droughts, storms, fires or extreme temperatures. Data on this is kept by the United Nations international disaster database, which goes back with reasonable quality data to the 1930s and, as time goes on, the data becomes more accurate. What it shows is that in the 1930s there were 450,000 people a year who lost their lives from climate related deaths. By 1950 that had reduced to a quarter of a million—that's still an enormous death rate. By the 1970s it had reduced to 50,000 deaths annually from climate related incidents. Since this century started it has been under 25,000, and that reduction has happened despite the tripling of the world's population.
But last year, 2018, we saw the lowest number of deaths from climate related disasters ever recorded: 6,200. That is not because the extreme weather is getting less extreme, it's because we've learned how to use fossil fuels and learned how free markets protect humanity from this extreme weather. This is something that the other side of the argument do not acknowledge and do not recognise.
Thirdly, there has been in recent years a global greening. There are actually more trees on the planet today than when I was at school. I remember being told at school about how deforestation was terrible and how we were going to run out of trees. Well, the peer reviewed science, in an article titled 'Global land change from 1982 to 2016', published in Nature recently on 18 August 2018 said:
We show that—contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally—
That's the prevailing view—
tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 …
So there are 2.24 million square kilometres, an area the size of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria combined, of additional trees on the planet than when I was leaving school and university. That is the peer reviewed science.
What about when it comes to extreme weather? We like to hear from members of the opposition, the climate alarmist movement and the lunatics who glue themselves to the road—sometimes that can be all three—that extreme weather is getting worse. Again, let's have a look at what the peer reviewed science says. Printed in Environmental Hazards was a paper entitled 'Normalised insurance losses from Australian natural disasters: 1966 to 2017', published on 24 April this year. It states, and I quote directly from the science:
Despite broad agreement in the scientific literature and assessments by the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there is little evidence that insurance or economic losses arising from natural disasters are becoming more costly because of anthropogenic climate change … the topic remains highly politicised …
So here we have confirmation of what the IPCC says, that there is little evidence that insurance or economic losses from natural disasters are rising. They looked at the evidence and their conclusion was:
When aggregated by season, there is no trend in normalised losses from weather-related perils; in other words, after we normalise for changes we know to have taken place, no residual signal remains to be explained by changes in the occurrence of extreme weather events, regardless of cause.
That is the peer reviewed science, and yet we have these alarmists continuing to deny the science.
It's also interesting to see what they say about tropical cyclones, because we hear from the Greens and the alarmists that tropical cyclones are made worse because we're burning coal in our coal-fired power stations. Again, the peer reviewed science says:
For tropical cyclone, the clear reduction—
Reduction, that means less—
in losses observed over time … is consistent with declining numbers of landfalling cyclones observed since the late 1800s on the eastern seaboard …
We are getting fewer cyclones, not more. The damage insurance loss from cyclones is less, and not more, and yet we hear the exact opposite time after time.
I could go on, but the last one I'll do is drought. We love to hear people from the Labor Party and from the Greens and from the people who glue themselves to the road say that droughts are caused by climate change. One of Australia's leading climate scientists, Professor Pitman, said recently:
This may not be what you expect to hear but as far as the climate scientists know there is no link between climate change and drought. Now, that may not be what you read in the newspapers and sometimes hear commented but there is no reason a priori why climate change should make the landscape more arid.
If you look at the Bureau of Meteorology data over the whole of the last one hundred years there's no trend in data. There is no drying trend.
So the fundamental problem is we don't understand what causes drought and, more interestingly, we don't know what stops a drought. This is the peer reviewed science. I'd encourage members of the Labor Party not to engage with the Extinction Rebellion people but to study and learn the science and not engage in a scare campaign.
I'm pleased to make a contribution to this debate on the address-in-reply. I was here for much of the contribution of the member for Hughes, and let me say this: there is no more urgent task facing Australia's government than to take action on climate change. There is no more urgent change—
Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—
You can shout all you like.
Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—
Your contributions are utterly unworthy.
Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—
They are utterly unworthy and destructive, not just of what happens in this place but of the future of all of us. In the Labor Party, we take very seriously the science—
Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—
the overwhelming scientific consensus, and no amount of shouting by you can get away from that. You make the same speeches over and over again.
You make the same speeches, the same ignorant and ill-considered speeches over and over again. Let's be very clear, we on this side of the House are committed to doing what the government has said it would do, which is to take action on the basis of the science, Member for Hughes, and consistent—
Through you, Chair, can I say that we are also acting consistently with the obligations Australia entered into through the government headed by Tony Abbott in making international agreements. Members of this government keep talking after that extraordinary speech by the Prime Minister about negative globalism. What we actually need is constructive international engagement. What we need to do is keep our word on the promise we made to the international community and the promise we made to the future. We on this side of the House will do that. We will also recognise something that the government has to do, and that is, under its series of quite extraordinary and comprehensive failures when it comes to energy policy—16 policies and prices going up—more fundamentally, emissions continue to go up under this government. Emissions continue to rise because, fundamentally, there is no policy certainty. That is something that industry is telling us.
Mr Craig Kelly interjecting—
The thing is, Member for Hughes, you have a view, which I understand. You put it to this place time and time again, but it's not the view the government formally espouses, and the government should keep its word. The government of course should do more than that. I was proud to join my Labor colleagues in supporting in the House yesterday recognition of what most Australians want our government to recognise, that we are experiencing a climate emergency, and this is a call for action. This is a call for urgent action which we must respond to. This is a matter that my constituents have urged me to take seriously, and I do. I urge government members to do just the same.
Can I go back to 18 May and say to the electors of Scullin, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity again to speak for you in this place. It is an extraordinary privilege and a great honour. I think all of us who are here, particularly when we contribute to this debate, ordinarily reflect on the privilege and the opportunity we have to serve. I think that, for all of us, this is an extremely humbling moment. Of course, I had hoped to be serving as part of a Shorten Labor government, and that is not the case. That disappoints me personally, but I know it is devastating for so many of the people I represent. I want to say to them here that the struggle in the federal Labor team continues for a more equal country, a good society and a kinder and more inclusive politics. We're now committed on this side of the House to doing much more than simply holding the government to account—although, of course, we must. We are also committed to remaking the case for change, listening more closely electorate and more broadly to the country and applying our enduring Labor values to the challenges of tomorrow.
I know—and this wounds me, and I think the member for Bendigo would agree with me in saying this—we are very proud to be here, but we know the things that we want for our community can only be delivered through a Labor government. Every day I commit myself to doing all I can to see that change, to secure the election of an Albanese Labor government to restore those sort of values that the people for Scullin want and need.
I'd also like to acknowledge that many people in my electorate did not vote for me, no doubt for a variety of reasons. I say to them: I hope that we can continue dialogue. I hope that you will see me as someone who listens to your concerns, even if I do not always act in accordance with them. I take seriously my responsibility to represent everyone in the electorate, and I will do my best to do so.
I'd like to thank, beyond the electorate, a large number of people in particular for their support over the term and through the election campaign. I thank my staff, of course, and I think all of us in this place know that we are nothing without the efforts of our staff to support us, but, more importantly, to support the communities we represent. I feel incredibly lucky to work with people like Lori Faraone, Sally-Ann Delaney and Jim Tilkeridis, Nick Kagorski, Alice Smith, Alexander Column, Jonathan Garry and, more recently, Lachlan Poulter. I'm in awe of the contribution you make to the cause of Labor and to the communities that we represent. It is, again, a great privilege to work with you, and I was humbled by your determination to do everything you could through the election campaign to secure a strong result for Labor in Scullin and around the country.
Election campaigns, of course, are fuelled by people, particularly on our side of the House. I'd like to acknowledge some of the many hundreds of people who made a contribution to Labor's effort in the seat of Scullin. I'd like to speak in this place of the contributions of just a few who made efforts above and beyond the call of duty to seek the change of government that they so strongly believed in and strong Labor representation in the seat of Scullin. I think of Trish Mackin; David Cannavo; Lisa Simons; John Fry; Joe Petrucci; Gurpreet Singh; Arman Mehzinan; Maureen Corrigan; Joe Caruso; John Paddinathon; Sasha Nakovski; Nessie Sayer; Logie Thrownatman; Samille Damir, who chaired my campaign committee so well; Suechtun Onall; Robb Sonza; Decara Mosegrove; Lani Sprag; Ray Fordan; Anthony Marcuzzi; Jim Bannan; Imran Khan; Helen Said; Pam MacLeod and Sure Sharmad. I think also the Labour Whittlesea councillors who I worked closely with through the campaign and beyond: Lawrie Cox, then the mayor; Stevan Kozmevski; Sam Alessi; and Kris Pavlidis for all their efforts and their advice. It's a great pleasure to work with fantastic state Labor colleagues: Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio, Bronwyn Halfpenny and Danielle Green. Working with them in the service of the communities that make up Melbourne's north is always a pleasure, but to have their experience and enthusiasm for campaigning is a great thing. I acknowledge the support of a number of trade unions, in particular my own, the Australian Services Union, and United Voice, which supported me very strongly in the campaign, and I am indebted to them.
All of us are here at a great cost to those closest to us, and perhaps we don't recognise that in this place as often as we should. I am very conscious of the challenges of life at home this week, when there is a lot happening in my family and I am away. So I'd like to say thank you so much to Jill, my wife, and to Daniel and Alice, our wonderful children, for putting up with this role that I have and supporting me in it. It is wonderful to enjoy your support and humbling to see the sacrifices you put up with and the many inconveniences you suffer while I am here and elsewhere working, hopefully, for a better nation.
Before the last election, there was a very significant redistribution in the state of Victoria, and that significantly changed the Scullin electorate. I now represent new elements of the suburb of Bundoora and also some part of the suburb of Mernda that I had not previously. I'm indebted to the conversations I had with residents in both of those communities, perhaps particularly in those bits of Mernda, a very new part of Melbourne with new families arriving and seeking to make their lives. I'm indebted for the insights they shared about the challenges they faced and the opportunities they saw in their communities. It's a particular privilege to represent these people for the first time.
On the other hand, there are many suburbs I no longer represent after five and a bit years. I think anyone in this circumstance feels somewhat wistful. I say to people in Diamond Creek, in Plenty, in Apollo Parkways, in Wattle Glen, in Yarrambat and in Hurstbridge: thank you for giving me the chance to speak for you in this place for two terms. It was a great privilege and I learned a lot from you. I'm devastated that I won't be the local member when the Hurstbridge to Diamond Creek Trail extension is finally opened—amongst many other things—but I'm hopeful I can continue my connection to those beautiful communities in the shire of Nillumbik in Melbourne's green wedge. I think also of those bits of Watsonia North and Bundoora in the city of Banyule that I have previously represented that I won't anymore. I was particularly touched by a couple of residents there who expressed to me their disappointment that they will no longer be Scullin electors. It's those things that really bring home the privilege it is to have been a local representative.
I was also pleased to spend much of the election working alongside my Labor colleagues Rob Mitchell, Ged Kearney—and what an extraordinary result Ged Kearney had—and our new colleague, the new member for Jagajaga, Kate Thwaites. In recognising Kate's election to this House and congratulating her, I acknowledge that this House is a very different place without the former member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, a giant of Australian politics as well as Labor politics and a great mentor and friend to me. I know I miss her. I know a number of people on all sides of the House miss her dearly and acknowledge her contribution, her passion, her depth of energy and her commitment to always seeking the right answer, however difficult it might be.
It was a privilege in the last parliament to be shadow assistant minister in the education team, and I'd like to thank Tanya Plibersek and Bill Shorten for giving me the opportunity to work as the shadow assistant minister for schools and particularly for giving me the opportunity to engage closely with policies designed to better support students with disabilities. It's my great regret that policy effort and the conversations I had around the country will not produce a change in policy over the life of this parliament, but I know the education team will continue to work, and I remain hopeful that perhaps we can see a greater measure of bipartisanship on this most important area of building a more inclusive approach to schools and education, ensuring really that everyone gets every chance to succeed in school and in life.
In the last parliament, I also served as Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I see my friend the member for Bennelong is here. He, like a few of us, had to reflect on some of the constitutional challenges that arose in the last parliament.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will also have very a critical role in this parliament, and I think it is important that all of us, as we go through the difficult and often rancorous policy debates—appropriately part of our role in this building—think about how we can work together to raise the standard of our politics and our political institutions. Our ideas and our ideologies are nothing if we can't convince the Australian public that formal politics matters, and we have some work to do in that regard. Of all the things I hope for over the life of this parliament, most of all I hope we can find more ways to work together in rebuilding trust in our politics.
Of the local issues that were significant in the election, I'd like to touch on two in particular. Firstly, I am pleased that work on the O'Herns Road interchange with the Hume Freeway is finally underway. It's something I have been campaigning for since before I was elected. It's too late, but it's a project that is vitally important to people in the growing areas north of Cooper Street in Epping North and Wollert. I'm pleased to finally see these works underway. I'm disappointed, however, that we're not going to see realised the commitment Labor made under the then shadow minister for infrastructure and cities, the now leader of the Labor Party, to investigate rail to Wollert. Better public transport options are absolutely critical in the northern suburbs to better connect residents of the Scullin electorate to work opportunities, which, in Melbourne, are overwhelmingly concentrated in and around the CBD. These growing areas need much, much better public transport options. I note also that it would be good to see some congestion-busting in the northern suburbs under this government, rather than plans principally located in the south-eastern suburbs. It would also be good to see more consultation with local government and affected communities, rather than after the fact, as has been the case with some proposals in connection to the South Morang train station.
Earlier, I touched on my deep regret that the people of Scullin are hurting because of the failure of people like me to convince Australians to support the Labor team. I think about the loss in schools and early years and early youth workers and I think about the pensioners dental scheme. These are things that really matter to people in my electorate, and I am committed to working my way through all of these issues over the life of this parliament in the team. A lot of the challenges continue. Across Melbourne's north, people are grappling with the cost of congestion, the cost to our economy of the drag in productivity, and the cost to people's lives and health. It's absolutely shocking that, of moneys earmarked in the urban congestion fund, despite the triumphalism of the minister, not a cent was spent that was allocated out of that fund in the last budget, with one exception: the $11 million for advertising was all spent. That seems to symbolise a government that is all about marketing and not about delivery.
I am pleased to have been appointed to the shadow ministry with three portfolios, and I'll touch briefly on each as I finish. The portfolio of cities and urban infrastructure was previously held by the leader and is critically important to this country—the most urbanised nation in the world. I think it is an area where we can reach across the aisle, as we have seen some measure of consensus in recognising the national imperative of having a cities policy. Again, I acknowledge the leadership that the member for Bennelong has shown in this place, but there is so much more to do particularly to realise the potential of city deals as genuine partnerships around shared objectives. Too few of the deals announced do that. Too little work has gone into doing what we have long aspired to do on this side of politics: to ensure that we have separated the infrastructure cycle from the political cycle. Long-term city partnerships around shared objectives are a critical way of doing this.
Being appointed shadow minister for multicultural affairs is particularly pleasing, as I represent a very multicultural community. I am concerned that too many Australians—and they tell me this—do not feel fully included in Australian society because of their faith and because of racism. We're not doing enough to support them. Recent research by Deloitte, commissioned by SBS, shows us the great cost of our failure to harness our diversity. I think it's a great challenge, and it should be a great national mission, to build a renewed sense of what it means to be Australian which gives everyone equal space, which recognises the unique nature of our society, our First People and our access through their generosity to the oldest continuing culture in the world, and then to successive waves of migration, but also to recognise that we haven't done enough to fully harness everyone's capacity to contribute for themselves into our society. Like a voice and like completing our Constitution, making the most of our multiculturalism is all of our unfinished business.
I am also very pleased to support Senator Keneally in her role in the immigration and citizenship portfolios for many of the reasons I have set out in terms of multiculturalism. But there is so much more to do in a society where more than 200,000 people are waiting on their citizenship and where we face ridiculous delays over visa processing—things that really matter in a country like ours. We can and should do so much better by appropriately valuing everyone's capacity and by recognising that we need a genuine debate about immigration in this country and a mature debate about population, without the rhetoric, without the dog whistling.
I am honoured to have once again received a vote of confidence from the people of Bennelong and been returned to this parliament with an increased majority. The 45th Parliament was a turbulent time for the voters of Bennelong, with three elections in four years thanks to an interpretation of section 44, which I have some very strong views on. Despite this turmoil, voters saw fit to return the Liberals in Bennelong for the fifth time since 2010. It was truly a humbling experience to receive this vote of support.
Our local result was hugely impressive. We received 56.91 per cent, a 2.1 per cent increase over our by-election result. For context, John Howard got 54.22 per cent in the last election that he won, when Bennelong included parts of Hunters Hill and none of Parramatta. In that context, this was a great result. Even more impressively, we managed to get 50.82 per cent of first preferences, which is more than in 2016, when we almost got 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
This of course was not a solo effort—far from it. I was just one of hundreds in our team who came out to volunteer for our campaign. They were quite simply the reason why we were able to get such a great result. Much as I would like to, obviously I cannot name everybody here, but I would like to single out a few people who helped above and beyond. Firstly, local stalwart Craig Chung was given the most important job and pulled it off with aplomb. Craig was in charge of manning all of the booths, and it was to his credit that we got every booth overstaffed at times. It was a huge effort. Thank you, Craig. John Bathgate also played a critical role in getting booths manned. John was in charge of manning prepoll, a larger-than-usual job with three polling booths running for three weeks. He did a terrific job, and the results were really worthwhile.
Bennelong is Australia's capital of innovation, so it is only fair that the millennia-old secret to perpetual motion should be uncovered here by none other than the peripatetic David Hayman, who bounced back from working his guts out at the state election to run all the activities that took place at Eastwood over the whole campaign, including prepolling, which required his unbounded energy. The FEC committee was wonderful as our campaign committee. Headed up by local legend Peter Graham OAM, the whole team facilitated open and friendly meetings where decisions were made quickly and harmoniously—always a key to a great campaign. Thanks to Peter for steering the ship judiciously, as well as to Janine Orban for balancing the books, Natalie Hissey—what a star—for keeping everyone up to date and running non-stop, Sarkis for your connections and advice, and James Wallace, who organised a cracking party. Everybody likes a party!
We were also lucky to have sage advice and wisdom from someone who has been here before, namely the former member for Eden-Monaro, Peter Hendy, who has witnessed his fair share of campaigns at all levels and is a vital edition to the Bennelong team. I know he's going to have a tilt for the Senate that is opening up, and I wish him well in that fight.
Most of the people listed above captained booths, but there were couple of dozen others who also performed this vital role. Captaining a booth is a real commitment in time and effort. People see you standing out in the sun all day, but we know that it takes even more than this—collecting kits, setting up booths in the pre-dawn light and, then, when it is all done, packing it all up again and often heading off to scrutinise the vote, then getting the kit back to the campaign team in the coming days. I now know how gruelling all of this is, and I would like to thank everyone who put in this effort from the bottom of my heart.
Returning to individual campaigners, there's a remarkable local family whose help was invaluable, the Lanes: brother, and councillor, Jordan, and twin sisters Kendal and Madison ran one prepoll as well as helping in the office and being up to helping with absolutely everything. It's endlessly helpful people like this that get things done and campaigns won.
Andy Yin was a person who came to us offering to help with our translations. Andy, you were invaluable. Together with Cheryl, he ran our WeChat accounts and oversaw the large amounts of work we did with our Chinese community.
My dear friend Hugh Lee once again was a great help in this campaign, as he has been in every campaign and, indeed, in everyday life. His counsel and friendship are ever valuable, and I'm hugely thankful to Hugh for welcoming me to his local community with such heartfelt kindness.
I would also like to thank Dr Anthony Ching, my dentist, for being a fantastic asset in Eastwood, helping to put on events and reach out to the local community that I would struggle to reach—not because I don't share their ideals, hopes and aspirations, but simply because I don't speak their language. Thank you for all of your efforts, Anthony.
To my dear friend Lieutenant Colonel Paul Kim—he is just a great asset, a great friend in the Korean community. A hero of the Korean army, his help in all of my campaigns has been invaluable, and his friendship is something of just enormous value. He is a great asset to the Liberal Party in Bennelong, and this goes right back to John Howard's time.
Elizabeth Hamilton came to us offering to help and ended up playing a vital role running the special team of voting with a friend. This is a job that requires a certain sort of person: dedicated, organised and deeply caring— attributes that Elizabeth has in spades.
Our most dedicated campaigner, this year and every year, in every campaign, is the great Michael Zakka.
An honourable member: Hear, hear!
You're familiar with Michael. Out and about at every train station and every street stall, Michael was always there with a happy face and infectious enthusiasm. Thank you my friend Michael. I'll see you soon.
I also would like to thank the good people at headquarters, both in Sydney and nationally. They ran a tight ship and provided the support we needed when we needed it. Thanks to Chris, Luke, Cam and the whole team.
Closer to home, I must thank those in my office—it is a joy to go to work every day—Frances, Brendan, Daniel, Tim and Jonathon. So much of the work of this campaign was done by my team, and elections are easier to win because of the hard work that you put in to help me serve the electorate every day. The office would descend into chaos if it weren't for Frances, her steady hand and calm guidance at times. Daniel is the sole reason hundreds of people in Bennelong have got through issues with Centrelink and other departments. Brendan's return from a devastating illness has been inspirational. Tim somehow juggled a thesis and an election with style. And Johnathon, who is my senior adviser, although he is very much younger than me: what a great man and a great friend.
Most importantly, I would like to thank my family, from cousins to a friend called Stad and his wife, Rosemary, the mother of our children. It's a modern family. My daughters, Emily and Georgia, braved train stations and were absolutely heroic on election day and were magnificent at the party. My daughters do know how to party, so the DNA is there! Deb, like all political partners, has to put up with tiredness and crankiness from her partner. I'm sorry, Deb.
Before I finish thanking people, I have one final person to thank, and that's not the person who you might think I would thank. Thank you to the opposition's candidate, Dr Brian Owler. The quality of the campaign is usually determined by the interaction between the candidates. Politeness leads to happy volunteers and aggression leads to animosity throughout the entirety of both camps which, in turn, leads to a very unhappy campaign. We might not agree on all things, but we agree on many things. Brian was always a gentleman on the campaign and our interactions were more than civil and respectful. I consider Brian a friend. The result was a pleasant and happy campaign, and for that I'm very thankful to you, Brian.
It's great to receive a new mandate, because there is plenty going on locally: campaigns to help schools, students, shops, small businesses and families all loom large on the Bennelong horizon. The Bennelong Schools STEM Challenge will be on us again very soon. Educating our future generations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics holds the key to our growth and prosperity as a nation. STEM has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and rightly so; STEM affects almost every aspect of our lives, whether it's the food we eat, the clothes we wear, how we get to work or how we relax. STEM is indispensable to all these facets of our lives and many others. For our economy, STEM is the engine that will power our growth into the future. It is essential to so many of the growing sectors of our economy, such as health, education, finance, mining and manufacturing.
For the last two years, we have hosted the Bennelong Schools STEM Challenge in conjunction with the Re-Engineering Australia Foundation and our friends at Medtronic. Last year's event was a stunning success and featured dozens of schoolchildren using 3D software to design medical centres for the surface of Mars. It was an excellent opportunity for schoolchildren, many of whom were only in years 5 and 6, to show off their extraordinary talents and problem-solving abilities. The event will be on again this year, and we can't wait to see what our schools have in store for us.
The Bennelong Cup is another one of our fantastic initiatives that we run for the students in Bennelong. This table tennis tournament for local students and schools will be on again this year, its 10th consecutive year, which is an outstanding achievement. Back in 2010, I arranged for table tennis tables to be given free to every school in the electorate, thanks to the sponsorship of Hyundai. But after all these years and the rough-and-tumble world of schools—particularly the boys schools, which are particularly rough on these tables!—some of them were looking a little bit worse for wear. Hyundai have come in to replace those which can't be repaired and to repair those which can be repaired. This has been rolling over the last few months, and I'm hopeful we'll get the most out of the schools at the time of the cup.
The Bennelong Cup seems like a bit of fun, but it's underscored by a very important message: Bennelong is one of the most multicultural electorates in the country, with large numbers of families from China, Korea, Armenia, Italy, India and many more places. While this gives us a very rich cultural tapestry to our streets and shops, it often leads to segregation in our classrooms, and particularly in our playgrounds. A simple, fun sport like table tennis can bridge this divide. Not everybody likes to play cricket or can play football, but everybody can play table tennis, and playing sport together creates friendships that cross the cultural divides. The Bennelong Cup looks like it's about sport, but it's actually much more important: it's about community cohesion and making friends.
The Bennelong Village Businesses campaign continues to go from strength to strength. Back when I first became an MP there was a real lethargy about our local shops. The global financial crisis was upon us; some were reducing hours and some were even closing as the economy slowed, which was preventing people from shopping. What was more galling was the fact that what little money was being spent was going to the chain retailers and shopping malls even though there were cheaper and better quality wares just down the road. Surveys showed that only 40 per cent of residents said they shopped at a local business, despite the brilliant local shops and facilities, and we had to do something to turn that number around. The Bennelong Village Businesses campaign was designed to raise awareness of the local shops, to encourage shopping locally and to build community spirit up again. Over the last nine years we've been able to reach out to shopping villages multiple times, plugging them to the local residents—not only for their wares but also to promote the huge number of benefits that come from shopping locally.
There are also big things afoot on the national front. Three more years in government, a firm mandate and the Labor Party in disarray, not to mention our new leadership, means that this Prime Minister will be here for the length of the parliament at least. The future is looking bright. There is one thing, though, that needs urgent attention, which we need to tackle in this parliament. Australia is undergoing rapid change. Population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge based industries are causing profound changes in the urban and regional landscape. The outcome of these changes will depend on how they are managed. In recent decades there has been no plan for how to accommodate the growth in our cities and population. Managing these challenges requires a national vision. We need a national plan of settlement. We must set out a vision for our cities and regions for the next 50 years and beyond. It must take account of the fact that Australia's cities and regions are not sustainable in their current form and will become less sustainable as the population grows and ages. Achieving the required economic, social and environmental outcomes for the sustainability of our cities and regions will require a high level of integrated planning. This is not achievable without the coherent vision which comes from master-planning land use and facilitating infrastructure.
The successful development of both cities and regions is intrinsically linked. Regional development needs to be seen as part of a broader pattern of national development, with cities, towns and regions being developed as part of an integrated whole. Greater connectivity is an essential element of this joint development. Having well-connected cities and regions means that opportunities can be distributed across a wider population. High-speed rail can bring distant communities into close proximity to each other. This in turn would enable a more dispersed pattern of settlement and the creation of polycentric cities without the attendant vices of urban sprawl.
Value capture must be a part of the conception of any infrastructure project to equitably capitalise on taxpayer funds invested. It should be incorporated organically into its planning and development. Suitable value-capture mechanisms should be identified and applied from the outset. Ideally this should involve coordination between different levels of government and project developers to ensure a maximum return on investment. The potential for value capture to contribute to the development of infrastructure has been discussed in two inquiries that I have already chaired, and I will certainly appear in the next one.
More locally, there is one thing that we can do in this building that would increase the dwindling faith people have in politics. Before I conclude, I would like to put in a plug for bipartisanship. As we all know, we are all a lot friendlier off camera than the casual observer of question time could believe. The shouting at question time, the point scoring and the emphasis on style—if you can call it that—over substance all turn off voters. When we focus on fighting each other rather than helping Australians, let's face it: we don't look good. The past shows us how this can be done. Menzies, who founded this party 75 years ago today, and Arthur Calwell used to dine regularly. They would work things out. They would set aside their politics for the sake of all Australians. This was bipartisanship, where the national interest was put above the fight for the best zinger at question time. If we had these ideals again, imagine what we could get done.
So there's a lot going on and a lot still to do, but if I can have a hand in getting these things done, it will be worthy of the good people who I mentioned at the top of my speech who put so much effort into getting me here.
This is my first opportunity in parliament to thank the people of Whitlam, who have generously returned me to this parliament for a fourth term. It's a great honour. It's a tradition in the speech in reply to the Governor-General's address to say a few things about the campaign that was, to reflect upon the people who made a great contribution throughout the campaign, and to make some observations about the things that you'd like to do over the course of the next three years. I intend to follow that tradition.
I'd like to think the reason the great people of Whitlam have returned me to this place once again is that I stand up for the issues which are of concern to them. First and foremost are the day-to-day issues which affect the family home, their personal economy and their health and wellbeing. I know that people in my electorate are desperately concerned about the future of their children—their school education, their university education, the future of vocational education through technical and further education—and I want to assure them that I'll be fighting on these issues, that I'll be fighting for a quality education at every level. Whether it's early childhood or primary or secondary education and whether they decide to go to university, TAFE or neither, I'll fight for them to have access to a system of great lifelong learning, because we know that's going to be the thing that makes the difference between opportunity and lack of opportunity for people in my electorate and elsewhere.
I know the people in my electorate are desperately concerned about the future of health care. I was very happy through the course of the election to secure a commitment of $130 million for the redevelopment of a hospital in Shellharbour in my electorate. I was very pleased that Labor promised it and that the government matched that promise. I'd like to see that we ensure that that money is well invested. The existing hospital grounds and the existing hospital are not fit for purpose to meet the growing needs of one of the fastest-growing communities in New South Wales outside of the Sydney CBD. I argue that the money available from the Commonwealth put together with the money available and already committed from the state, together with monies that may be available from the sale of lands and existing assets, should be pooled together and used to build a purpose-built site that can grow and meet the needs of a growing community. I'll be urging the health minister to work with his state counterpart to do exactly that.
I know that the people of the Illawarra and Southern Highlands are desperately concerned about the region's infrastructure. The region's population is outpacing the infrastructure developing within the region, whether it's community infrastructure such as access to sporting grounds and bike paths, access to schools and education facilities or the stuff we normally think of, such as roads like the Princes Highway. The Princes Highway is the great lifeline that joins Sydney through the Illawarra and the South Coast to the Victorian border and on, and it is desperately in need of an upgrade south of the Illawarra. Money has been committed from both Labor, throughout the campaign, and the government. We call on the government to bring forward that investment to create the jobs and opportunities that are needed now, not, as the government plans to do, after the next election. Further north, road infrastructure such as the Picton Road and Appin Road is desperately in need of upgrading. Picton Road in particular is not in my electorate, but many people from my electorate travel the route on a daily basis going to and from work. It's a dangerous road, one of the more dangerous roads in New South Wales. It is in desperate need of upgrades such as dividing barriers between the eastbound and westbound flows of traffic, and there are a number of black-spot areas which are in need of upgrade. Appin Road is a critical piece of road infrastructure. It is the artery which joins the Illawarra to the growing western suburbs of Sydney and is in need of an upgrade. I'll be campaigning for that.
Rail is critically important in a regional centre, for both freight and passenger movement. We need to see more money invested in the passenger link between Sydney and the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands, and we need to see investment in the long promised but not yet delivered Maldon-Dombarton rail link. I wish that the government had matched Labor's commitment to invest in the Maldon-Dombarton rail link to get that project moving.
We're also deeply concerned throughout my electorate about cost-of-living issues, with pressures on family budgets, particularly through those lumpy expenses such as power bills—electricity and gas—and fuel bills, and, increasingly, insurance bills and school education expenses. We want to see measures in place which will put downward pressure on these bills. We had some propositions around health insurance. We think more can be done from a governmental level. The government obviously has some big levers to pull. They must sign off on every increase in private health insurance. They're subsidising about one-third of the cost of private health insurance. It's a big expense, galloping well ahead of inflation and certainly well ahead of wages. We're calling on the government to do more to address health inflation and, particularly, private health insurance increases.
We're concerned about the environment. Yes, it's true that I come from a coalmining district, but the people who work in the mines, who live on the verges of the mines and who live down on the coast and up in the highlands care about our environment. We want to see more done to protect our beautiful coastal regions, as well as the hinterland and the Southern Highlands—some of the best farming land in southern New South Wales. We want to see more done to protect the local environment but more action on climate change to ensure that future generations can enjoy the kind of climate and environment that I grew up in throughout the Illawarra.
Twenty-seven new members have been elected to this place. I want to congratulate each and every one of them—and I see Josh Burns here—for winning the faith of their electorate and having the great honour to represent their electorate in this place. When I was elected, I was given a number; it's No. 1,036. It's not as honourable as winning a place in the Australian cricket team where you get a number on your cap, but I hold that number dearly. It's a reminder to me of the great responsibility I have in this place. Only 1,036 people before me have held office as a member of parliament. It's a reminder each and every day of the deep responsibility I have to ensure we do not waste a day in delivering a service to our community and to our nation. I'll endeavour to use every day of my time here in this parliament to hold faith to that commitment.
It's a great honour to represent my fantastic region, and we talk about the region more broadly—Wollongong, the Illawarra, the South Coast and the Southern Highlands. I'm delighted that I and Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, have been joined by Fiona Phillips, the member for Gilmore, who is one of those 27 new members who have joined the parliament as representatives of the Australian Labor Party. We ran a fantastic campaign. We worked closely together as a team to ensure that, wherever the boundaries may exist on the map, they don't exist when it comes to providing a unified voice on what is needed throughout the region for the good of the economy, the environment and the people that we represent. That's why in the election campaign we did something very, very different—something we hadn't done before. We put together a plan for the entire region, with $1.2 billion worth of new investments in health, education, infrastructure and services, which would have made a material difference to the people we represent. It is true that, when you don't occupy the treasury bench, you don't have direct access to the Treasury and, therefore, putting in place those commitments is very, very difficult indeed, but it's not impossible. And we commit to our electorates that we will, to the greatest extent possible, deliver on those commitments where we can. And if we can't, there's another election to fight in 2022, and I'll have more to say about that in a moment.
I'd also like to acknowledge the great support that I have had from my volunteer army throughout the course of the campaign. In excess of 240 volunteers gave up their time to assist during the course of the campaign. Your electorate's a bit further north than mine is, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, so it wasn't quite a winter election for you, but I can tell you that on some of those cold mornings throughout the Southern Highlands of New South Wales it was a bit brisk and it did test the mettle of our volunteers. But 240 of them turned out to support the cause and to support me, and I am deeply honoured, touched and moved by their contribution to my campaign and to our campaign as Labor representatives.
I'd like to thank my staff. Some of them moved on after the election but they warrant a mention. Jane Mulligan has worked with me for many, many years, since I entered this place in 2010. Here's a shout-out to you, Jane. Thanks for all the work you did. Allyson Dutton, my office manager, has made a fantastic contribution to my office over many, many years—thank you! To Ben Mofardin, who does a fantastic job on a daily basis answering the constituent issues, the bread-and-butter work of an electorate office: thank you, Ben. Jarrod Dellapina joined my staff during the campaign and has now well and truly got his feet under the desk, but he has been a long-term volunteer while working as a long-term casual for Coles. It's great to have Jarrod on board. Simon Anderson, who was working as my media adviser for a number of months and throughout the campaign and has now gone off to work for government, was very loyal and did a fantastic job. Charlie Gonzalez, Linda Campbell, Maree Edwards and our volunteer corps: thank you so much for all the effort you put in throughout the campaign.
With lots of volunteers it's always dangerous when you select a few, but I think some went above and beyond the call of duty and loyalty. I'd like to give a shout-out to Warren Glase, Graham McLaughlin and his wife Linda, Phil Yeo and Mike Bowern from the Southern Highlands team for their efforts during the course of the campaign. They did an absolutely outstanding job, and not just for my campaign. We had about two weeks off, I think, between the New South Wales election campaign and the federal campaign, when you look at the prepoll—something I'll say more about in a moment.
I'd like to thank my state colleagues Anna Watson and Paul Scully for their support throughout the campaign. A special thanks to our councillors. I've already mentioned Graham McLaughlin up in the Southern Highlands, but Ann Martin, Vicky King, Rob Petreski, Mayor Marianne Saliba, Moira Hamilton and John Murray provided a lot of support. They're great people to go and consult with when you're thinking about investing in community and local projects. Thank you for your ongoing support and during the campaign.
I want to give a shout-out to a very special bloke and a very special woman, Eli and Annie Harris. Eli turned 79 years of age during the campaign. A heart condition and several health challenges did not stop him from turning up—rain, hail or shine, day in, day out—every single day during prepolling on the Warilla prepoll booths. You're a very special man, Eli, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Annie, I don't know how you put up with the bugger, but God bless you, Annie. You're both champions in my eyes. Thank you so much for the loyalty and support that you gave me and all your hard work.
I mentioned prepolling and I want to say something more about it. Voting is one of the most important responsibilities of an Australian citizen and shouldn't be seen as something which is an inconvenience, a pain in the neck or something we just tick off and move on from, because democracy dies a little if that's our attitude to it. Voting is both a democratic right and a democratic responsibility. Throughout the campaign I would often pick up a paper and see countries across the globe—from Russia to Saudi Arabia and many other countries—where people are actually protesting and fighting for the right to vote or their democratic rights or the right to speak freely. It is a salient reminder for all of us who are involved in the democratic process that this is not something we should take lightly.
Prepoll voting has existed in Australian federal elections for as long as voting has been compulsory. Permitting early voting was an important trade-off for the introduction of compulsory voting to ensure that shift workers, particularly, or people who work on a weekend—those people who were unable to attend on a polling day—could cast a vote and ensure that they were enfranchised. Data from the Australian Electoral Commission shows that prepoll voting as a percentage of the total vote has quadrupled, from 8.22 per cent in 2007 to a staggering 32.41 per cent at this election.
While early voting has traditionally been associated with casting a postal ballot, these now account for only a small minority of the total early votes. The problem that I see with prepolling—and I think it's important—is that it's not in the idea, it's in the execution. I'd have to ask the question: when did we have a national debate in this country where we said, 'Instead of having one polling day, we are effectively going to have 15 polling days'? That is what has turned out to happen; effectively, we're having 15 polling days in this country. Close to a third of the population is voting on a day other than the designated polling day. I want us to think about that for a moment; it completely changes the way democracy occurs in this country.
Whether it's the way that people participate on polling day and around polling booths and the turnout for the community events—whether those are the school cake stall or the Lions Club sausage sizzle—I strongly believe that there are not many things which you have to do as a collective or a community these days. We don't have to come together to watch a movie and we don't have to come together to go shopping; there are so many things that can be done from your lounge room. In a participatory democracy, coming together as a community on polling day should matter. It should not be seen as an inconvenience, it should be seen as an expression of our citizenship.
So I think we need to have a debate on the incidence of prepoll. If one-third of the population is polling on a day other than the official polling day then we have completely reshaped the way election campaigns are conducted and completely reshaped the way that the election conversation occurs. And, if we're going to do that, it should be done through a public debate and discussion. It should not just happen by an administrative action or by accident.
I know that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is inquiring into the conduct of this election. I implore them to look at this issue. This should not just be confined to a debate within a committee. It's an issue that should be debated on the floor of the House. We have not had a national discussion about having 15 polling days, and we should. And if that's where we land, then that will be a decision of the Australian parliament and hopefully a reflection of the will of the Australian people. I, for one, don't agree with it. But if I'm wrong, it should be as the result of a proper parliamentary debate and not a slow slide into a transition of our polling practices.
There are so many other things that I have ambition to deal with. I've talked about some things that some people may say are less important, whether it's the administration of our voting or thanking our volunteers. I actually think those are fundamental. Over the course of the next three years I'll be committing to injecting myself into the critical economic debates which are at the core of everything that we need to do. They are the enablers of households and the enablers of communities, but they're also the enablers of what we aspire to do for this nation. I don't think we're on the right track, but these are debates for another day.