Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Governor General's Speech
I would like to start this speech by acknowledging the traditional owners of all the lands of Australia and their elders, who, with grace and good humour, continue to work to find a way to make the rest of us understand how wonderful our country really is.
It is with that same grace that we as a parliament must recognise the First Australians in our Constitution and as the oldest continuing culture on earth. I do not suggest that this will be easy, but great things never are. Our Constitution can no longer be the hallmark of white man's settlement here. The Constitution must recognise those of us who were here first and their deep connection to this land and their culture. It is unjust that we have not yet moved forward with reconciliation.
It was 16 August 1975 when Gough Whitlam poured the sands of Wave Hill Station into Lingiari's hand, handing back the land to the Gurindji people. It was 10 December 1992 when Paul Keating stood in front of our First Australians and delivered what quickly became known as the Redfern Address. Mr Keating confronted our national identity, as he did on many occasions and in many ways, and directly addressed the injustices that our First Australians have been subjected to for over 200 years. And it was nearly 12 years ago that this party led the parliament's apology to our First Australians.
It is a tragedy that in every single measure our First Australians are dying too soon, educated far less, incarcerated too often and suffer more preventable disease. The numbers show this tragedy in real terms: 64 per cent of the total burden of disease on our First Australians is preventable. The unemployment rate of First Australians is 21 per cent, four times the current non-Indigenous unemployment rate. Over one quarter of incarcerated adults in this country are First Australians and nearly half of all juveniles incarcerated are First Australians. Research by the member for Fenner, Dr Andrew Leigh, showed that over the past three decades the share of First Australians in prison has more than doubled from 1,124 per 100,000 adults in 1990 to 2,481 per 100,000 adults in 2018. In fact, First Australians are more likely to be incarcerated than African Americans. This is appalling.
In 2017, suicide was a leading cause of death among our First Australian children aged five to 17. In that same year, one quarter of Australian children who died by suicide were First Australians. And one in 10 households in public housing has Indigenous people living it. It is the social impact of these raw numbers that should break all Australians' hearts.
Eight Indigenous Australians have been members of this place. We celebrate their achievements, but it is the Constitution of this land that must also celebrate our First Australians. That's why we need to start with recognition of our First Australians in the Constitution. The injustices have continued in many different ways, both directly and indirectly. But there is no question: our First Australians have been, and continue to be, subject to cultural and systemic discrimination. It is my view, and it should be that of all in this place, that this discrimination will see no achievable end until we accomplish constitutional recognition. This can only happen by doing what Whitlam, Keating and Rudd have done: confronting our national identity.
No-one is elected to this place without the support of many, many people, and I'd like to take a few moments to recognise just some of those people who've helped and sustained me over the last three years. I acknowledge all the volunteers and branch members who happily volunteered to letterbox, doorknock, phone-bank and spend three weeks on prepoll for our party and me. I am humbled and grateful. I thank them for taking the time to speak to me or email me, because it's their feedback which makes my contribution in this place and our community. I don't have time to name even some of you, but know I am very grateful for everything you do.
I especially thank my staff. They've supported me over the last three years. To Nathan, Christy, Sharon, Samantha, Liam, Caroline, Harriet and the newly arrived Alex and Nicholas: I appreciate very much your support and care for our community. I would also like to acknowledge Loretta Fletcher, who, as the master of booth rosters, made sure that every one of our 50 booths was staffed. I also extend my special thanks to Stella, Ethan, Daniel and George.
The elected members in my part of the world are great, real people working as a team to get our residents what they deserve. I acknowledge them for all their support: the member for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander; Paul Lynch; Anoulack Chanthivong; Greg Warren; and also the Liverpool, Campbelltown and Fairfield Labor councillors.
When we are elected to this place, our families are not; however, they bear the burden of our roles. We all understand the toll it takes on our families. To Larry, my husband: I thank you for your continuing unwavering support and for fostering an environment for me so that I can pursue my dreams of advocacy for our most disadvantaged. To my children, Matthew, Christopher and Andrew; their partners, Chantell, Kate and Siobhan; and my grandchildren, Meaghan and Horatio: you are all the loves of my life, and your support, comfort and counsel is everything I could wish for. I'm proud of you and love you all and I thank you always for your love and support and for giving me the time away from family events.
Governing is about choices; I recognise this. The people of Werriwa need a government that is making choices for them. Unfortunately, this government seems to have no intention of doing so. This was made clear during the election campaign, when the Liberal Party made no commitments to the people of Werriwa. In fact, I received numerous representations from schools, businesses, local community groups and individuals, all with serious concerns about the way this country was heading. Schools were seeking much-needed funding for classrooms and infrastructure for learning. The community of Middleton Grange was needing road connections to reduce congestion on their local roads. I had, and continue to have, countless constituents contact me about the extensive issues they were having accessing the NDIS or achieving funding for their assistive technology services. Many constituents have been waiting for the rollout and repairs to the national broadband network in the many areas of Werriwa where the connections fail to deliver anywhere near the minimum standard. But the Liberal Party made zero commitments on these to my constituents. On the contrary, Labor committed to these people that, if elected, we would address all of those issues.
With the construction of the Western Sydney Airport now underway, this important piece of infrastructure needs planning and delivery that shows insight and forward thinking. We have one chance to get this right. Getting this right means that the airport should be connected to the rest of the region. There should be, and there needs to be, connections not only to the north of the airport but to the south as well so that it is truly part of a 30-minute city and so that that concept doesn't stay a pipedream on paper. Infrastructure Australia has identified the need for the railway and a pipeline for fuel. We need to keep the 65 trucks a day off the road.
We need to get the airport right, but, more than that, the infrastructure needs to be forward looking and not a patchwork quilt of fixes. It needs to be available when the residents move into the new suburbs of Bardia and Edmondson Park. They need schools, childcare and access to healthcare services. How can it possibly be that, in 2019, brand-new developments are being built in Sydney that don't have access to the sewerage system? Gough Whitlam would have been appalled that a member for Werriwa, 50 years later, is still advocating for sewerage provision. In Austral, brand-new homes are being built without sewerage. So here we are in 2019 in metropolitan Sydney and we're returning to the use of septic tanks. It is beyond belief that in a modern, wealthy country developers can build brand new homes in the country's largest city that are not on the sewerage grid.
We hear and talk of the 30-minute city. The revelation recently that trains on the T8 line run late three days out of five in the evening peak is preposterous. Only two lines are that bad, and it needs to be fixed. Actually, in 1975 it was quicker to get from Liverpool to the city than it is now by about 10 minutes. What other options do the people of Werriwa have? The lack of parking and public transport to and from our railway stations place them in nearly impossible situations. Station parking in the Werriwa, Macarthur, Fowler and McMahon regions is full by 7 am—most days it's even earlier. During the state election promises were made that Edmondson Park in particular would receive $40 million for a new parking station, and it would be opened by mid-2020. With only $212,000 in the New South Wales budget for planning and community consultation, the government is putting the people of my electorate last again, and failing to support the growth in this region—despite Western Sydney Airport construction moving ahead. The community has spoken loud and clear: they need parking to make south-western Sydney liveable. I've said, and the community continues to say, we needed this parking when the station opened eight years ago. Now the situation is a sad joke and the promises made by the state government must be fulfilled. I've had hundreds of responses to my petition on this issue, and I'll continue to advocate for this most important infrastructure.
The most fulfilling, yet saddest, part of my job is meeting and assisting constituents with issues they are having with Centrelink or the NDIS. In a rich, wonderful country like ours there should be a safety net for people with disabilities. We need real action; people with disabilities need real action. The late Stella Young, one of the most prominent disability advocates, once said:
No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.
This government knows that people with a disability are waiting: they're waiting for funding, they're waiting for reviews and they're waiting for support. While I recognise the NDIS has succeeded for many of my constituents, it has also failed too many.
There is a systematic lack of resourcing for the NDIS. It's outrageous to think that a person with a disability is waiting for more than three months to have their plan review, receive no outcome and are then forced to go and get quotes again. This is all caused by the government's chronic under-resourcing of the agency, and it seems that not a lot is being done to fix it. Time does not allow me to do a rollcall of the litany of policy failures that my constituents face every day; however, I do recognise that for some the NDIS works as it was meant to, and the choice the scheme is providing is giving people with a disability the support and choices they need.
Social security is just that: it provides a safety net and security to people when they most need it. But it is failing some of those people, and to fail those people has compound effects. The processing time and bureaucratic nature of Centrelink in processing of pensions, especially the disability support pension, seems ludicrous. While the spending of taxpayer money should be under scrutiny, Centrelink has told one of my constituents, who has battled mental illness for nearly 30 years—since she was 13—that she hasn't put enough effort into therapies so that she can get better. This is a disgrace! Her medical professionals have said that although she has been compliant and tried, her anxiety and other issues make it impossible for her to work full time. Like the vast majority of people with a disability, she tells me she would love to work and has found herself full-time jobs on many occasions. But, unfortunately, she cannot sustain the pressure of a full-time job and finds her illness gets worse to the point that she again can't work—and yet Centrelink says she hasn't tried enough.
One of the biggest challenges facing our healthcare system is the cost of chronic disease. It's not only the direct cost, but the associated health issues and complications that arise if you do have a chronic disease. Werriwa has one of the highest rates of prevalence for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in Australia. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the National Diabetes Services Scheme has provided people with diabetes much-needed consumables such as insulin, pen needles, syringes, blood-testing strips and insulin pumps at discounted rates for a number of years. Diabetes is an expensive condition for people who have it and their families. It's extremely expensive for governments and healthcare systems when complications arise. I call on the government to provide people with diabetes access to the new technology faster on the NDSS. This is technology like constant glucose monitoring or flash glucose monitoring and has been proven to give people with diabetes greater control and reduce complications—complications that end up costing our healthcare system more in the long term.
CGM and FGM are technologies that will help improve quality of life with people with type 1 diabetes, not just those under 21 years old. Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, in partnership with Diabetes Australia and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Australia, has published unequivocal data on this. For every person with diabetes, the federal government spends $3,468. Complication arising from poor glucose control means the federal government pays up to $16,698 per patient with complications. Why is it that this government is not making a clear decision to fund both CGM and FGM on the National Diabetes Services Scheme? The decision is clear: as a government, it can save people from the horrors of diabetes complications and save Medicare from the horrors of a budget blowout. The government must make the investment and allow all people with type 1 diabetes access to CGM and FGM on the National Diabetes Services Scheme no matter their age. It's an investment that will save lives and money.
Access to health care has been the hallmark of our society for decades. Affordable, accessible, readily-available health care should be what this government strives to continue to provide to the people of Australia. But there are 60 drugs that have already received positive recommendations for listing by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee that have not yet been listed on the PBS. Patients are going without medicine or risking financial futures just to get the treatments they need. I have constituents who have visited me to tell me their unacceptable situations. For instance, there is a pensioner couple who must decide each fortnight which one of them gets the pain relief because they can't afford for both of them to be on their pain medication. One woman told me of choosing between food or her prescription medication. This is unacceptable in Australia. All Australians deserve access to health care in an affordable and readily accessible way. This government is failing to provide Australians that access—access that Australia has been proud of and renowned around the world for for many decades.
This government and this parliament must make sure that the programs designed to support our most vulnerable Australians actually meet their goal. This government and this parliament have a chance to recognise our First Australians in the Constitution and continue the work of reconciliation. They have a chance to make sure the most vulnerable members of our community have access to the services and support systems they need. They have the chance to make Australia healthier and make sure our health system no longer fails people suffering from chronic diseases.
I will continue to advocate for all this for the people of Werriwa. We're a proud community but cannot continue to put up with the government inaction on the serious issues we're facing. I will do everything I can to support this parliament, protect the human rights of all Australians, support and protect those in our community who are vulnerable and recognise all who have made great their country that we call our shared home. I too will work tirelessly to achieve better outcomes for all the people in my electorate.
I rise to explain to the House what it is the coalition government has been delivering into my electorate of Hinkler in the last two terms in particular that I have been the member. For some context, I think I should explain to the House and to those who might be listening some of the challenges that we have seen in my electorate over a long period of time, how what we are doing is actually working, what we are delivering on the ground and the great results that we have seen, particularly in the last 12 months. First and foremost, my electorate of Hinkler is just under 4,000 square kilometres. It runs from Bundaberg to Hervey Bay. It includes what I consider to be God's country—all the local villages, the seaside villages and the towns. There are lots of beaches, lots of wonderful places to go, visit and stay.
One of the chronic challenges we have had over a long period of time is high unemployment and in particular high levels of youth unemployment. We continue to address this through a range of programs, including the Hinkler Regional Deal and the cashless debit card—a tough but necessary policy. We do need to continue to do more to ensure that into the future those changes are long-term and they are systemic, particularly around our regional economy.
It is good news locally. Whilst we still have a number of challenges around what happens in our local region, particularly around the challenge of income, the per capita income for each individual—according to local government reports across the country—is the lowest of any area in regional Australia, or in Australia itself, at just approximately 32½ thousand dollars. We know that we have those challenges.
We know that between myself and yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker, we fight it out for the highest number of pensioners in each region. I think at the moment we hold the title. So whilst it's a wonderful place to retire; it's also a wonderful place to work, to live and to raise a family, but we need to ensure that those jobs into the future are provided.
The regional jobs and investment package which we have delivered has been substantial. It has meant that there has been private investment, particularly for someone like Bundaberg Brewed Drinks under the Regional Growth Fund. Macadamias Australia, which we inspected just last Friday, is an over a $20 million facility which will ensure more jobs into the local region. It includes an opportunity for tourism. The tourism piece, I think, is very, very strong in terms of future growth. We're famous, of course, for Bundaberg Rum in Bundaberg. The Bundaberg Rum facility delivers some 80,000-plus visitors into our region.
I will defer, of course, to the member for Calare who is in the chamber, who I believe also has a contribution with regard to his electorate and what else is happening. Thank you.
I'm very grateful for the member for Hinkler for that contribution and his deferral. I too would like to make a contribution to the address-in-reply, and it comes, obviously, after the recent federal election where I was very grateful and humbled by the result that we were able to achieve in that electorate. The margin is now at 63 and a third. I would like to thank all of those in our electorate who supported our campaign and, indeed, who supported us at the ballot box. As I said, it's a very humbling result and I'm very grateful for it. The hard work has already commenced in this term of government and we have a lot on.
I would like to not only thank the electors of Calare and acknowledge them, but also thank the many other people who supported our campaign and all of the volunteers in particular, who gave up so much time, particularly in pre poll which—as we know, in some areas of our electorate it ran for three weeks, which was very hard on volunteers. There was a huge commitment right across our electorate in central western New South Wales to get those booths manned. But it wasn't just manning the booths, there was a huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes both before election day and also after election day. I want to thank all of our volunteers.
I'd also like to acknowledge our electorate council for their work including the chair, Peter Pilbeam, who was the chair before the election and now after. I'd also like to acknowledge the other members of the executive at that time including our vice chairs, Sandy Walker and David Veness; Janelle Culverson, who was secretary; the treasurer, Chris Messenger; the membership development manager, Bruce McNeilly and the delegates to women's council, Janelle Culverson and Annie Hazelton. I'm very grateful for their hard work, their support and their wise counsel. I really appreciate it.
I'd also like to thank all of those members who served on campaign committees, as well as the branch chairs. At the time in Orange it was Warwick Baines, in Mudgee it was Sandy Walker—it is now Lloyd Coleman—in Lithgow it was Peter Pilbeam, in Bathurst it was Sam Farraway and in Wellington it was Pip Smith. I'd also like to acknowledge John Holland for his work. Even though I can't name all of the members, because there are just so many who contributed to this campaign in ways great and small, I'd also like to acknowledge Kay Martin, National Party legend from Lithgow, for all of her wonderful hard work.
I also need to thank my hardworking staff, who really help in so many ways. It's not just at election time when staff are working. They work all through a term of government. Their commitment and their service to the people of Calare also needs to be thanked and acknowledged. They include Rosie Pritchard; Sophie Hancock; Xanthie Thomas; Ardin Beech; Paula Elbourne; Sarah Hayes; Maree Ireland; Sam Harma, who was working in our office at the time; our hardworking departmental liaison officer, Caroline Galea; Kirsty Stokes; Rhonda Taylor; and all of our volunteers, who came out in the weather—rain, hail or sunshine—and put the effort in to help secure what was a healthy swing towards us.
As we look across what the Nationals achieved at the election, all members were returned, most of them got increases in their margins, and some transitions were made that were potentially difficult. The doomsayers were talking down the prospects of the Nationals. It's not easy to fight an election in drought, it must be remembered, but we were able to do it. I'd like to acknowledge the organisational wing of the party and, in particular, Ben Hindmarsh, the federal director, and his team for all of their help and support. We're certainly very grateful. I should also mention the trustees of our federal electorate council, Bruce Reynolds and Tony McRae.
These are very exciting times in central western New South Wales. Even though the drought is biting very hard and the effects have been absolutely devastating, there are very exciting projects going on, one of which is the Charles Sturt University medical school. It's a $22 million initiative which will be training doctors in the bush for practice in the bush. You know, Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, how important that is to country communities. It's due to open in 2021. Construction on the new facilities has already started. We worked very hard to secure it, but it is going to make a real difference to the lives of people in country New South Wales, as those young doctors, trained in a curriculum designed for practice in the bush, will basically be the next generation of medical professionals and doctors. They will go through to make a wonderful contribution to country Australia. We're very excited about that. We've also got the new research facility which is being developed at Orange, a further $18 million development. The sky's the limit for the work that that institute will carry out into health outcomes for country people. If you combine the two—even if you take them separately—they are a game changer for country Australia and New South Wales, in particular.
We've also got the exciting project which is the $16 million investment in the new crossing at Dixons Long Point, between Orange and Mudgee. This is going to link these two vitally important regions. People have been pushing for this road since the days of the gold rush, and everyone has said that it can't be done and it won't be done. Well, the first tranche of funding has been released under the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative. The sign-off has happened, so it's ready to go. That funding is waiting to go, and once it's drawn down by Mid-Western Regional Council we should have surveyors on the ground and also an identification of the spot for the new bridge across the Macquarie River. That work will be commencing by the end of the year, once that tender goes out when the money is drawn down. So these are very exciting times.
Of course, we have our project at Mount Panorama—the second race track at Mount Panorama, which has seen a $12.5 million investment to date by the federal government. Again, this is a game changer for our regional economy. It is not only going to encourage motorsport all year round at Bathurst, which is already the home of motor racing in Australia; we believe there will be a motor industry developing around Bathurst on the back of this development. It is a very ambitious project that Bathurst Regional Council is pushing, and I know that mayor Bobby Bourke and his team are right behind it with general manager David Shirley. The previous mayor, Graeme Hanger, was also a great supporter of this project. I attended this year's Bathurst 1000 just a week or two ago, and they had over 200,000 people through the gate over four years. This is a world-class sporting event that gains an international audience. It is Australia's premier motor racing event. I would even suggest that it's bigger than the Australian Grand Prix, and that's taking nothing away from that wonderful event. The tender has gone out for the track design, and we're very excited about what the future holds for that particular project.
It's not all about sports, though. Aged care is also vitally important to our communities in country New South Wales and Australia, and I was delighted not too long ago to announce a $1.5 million federal government investment in an intergenerational learning facility that will be built with the Maranatha House aged-care facility in Wellington. This is going to be a national first, and the folks at Maranatha House have done their research. They've taken the world's best practice, and they're going to be building what is, essentially, a preschool that will have huge benefits not only for the residents of Maranatha House but also for the kids who are going to go to the preschool. I'd like to make special mention of the folks at Maranatha, because I was there for the sod turning for this wonderful project. They're going to come from all over Australia to see this when it's up and running. I'd like to congratulate the CEO of Maranatha House, Debra Matheson, the chair, John Trounce, and the vice chair, Terry Frost. I'd like to thank Linda Sarsfield, and also Ghaffaru Ddin for his work. I'd also like to acknowledge Sajad Khan, Kirk Gleeson, Tim Smith and Irfan Sagri for their contributions.
The Lithgow headspace has also opened in the wonderful community of Lithgow, and this follows a very important investment of over $1 million. The community felt very strongly about this. In recent times there have been some devastating examples of young people taking their lives in the community of Lithgow and its surrounding districts. It has been a huge cause of concern and anguish. The pain has been immense in that area, and the community were crying out for support. That was delivered under the watch of the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and headspace has now opened its doors. It is going to make a real difference to the lives of young people in the Lithgow area. And so I'd like to make mention of some of the folks who are behind the Lithgow headspace, including Bryan Hoolahan, the Executive Manager of Governance and Quality; Peter Rohr; Andrew Paul; Paul Koscar; Clare Knight; Alyssa Fitzgerald; Emily Roberts; Gerrit Williemse; Andrew Meenahan; and Bonita Bassett for their important contributions as well.
Over in the Blayney Shire, we've got some exciting things happening. As I said, this drought is really hurting across all of New South Wales and our areas are no exception, but, despite this, we do have some wonderful community projects being developed which are also stimulating local economic activity. One of them is the Blayney CentrePoint project, which is an indoor sporting complex in the Blayney Shire. We were able to secure $1.9 million in federal funding for that project through the Building Better Regions Fund, and construction of the revamped Blayney pool is now underway. I was out there not too long away, and we were actually walking in the pool. But they are major improvements, and this 50-year-old pool facility is going to be brought into the modern age, because it was getting a little bit old and we live in a cold climate out in the central West, as you know, Deputy Speaker, so it's very important to have these indoor sporting facilities, including the heated pool.
I'd like to acknowledge some important folks out at Central West, including the Mayor Scott Ferguson and all of his councillors; Rebecca Ryan, who's the general manager; Mark Dicker; Gordon Maccallum; Charlie Harris; and the hardworking pool staff—their patient pool staff at the moment because their facility is being upgraded. I like to acknowledge Paul Masters, Tianna Baker, Katrina Chapman, Emma Fenwich, Carissa Garside, Holly Hopkins, Craig Morgan, William Schmarr, Kathryn Toole, Hayden Webb-Pratt and Lanai Whittaker, and from Hines Constructions, who are doing a wonderful job out there, Grahame Tilston, who's the site manager, a man with vast experience; Shaun Van Uum; and Alan Vermeer, who's the senior project manager.
Out at Oberon Golf Club, we've also got some exciting developments. The golf club was able to secure $47,339 under the federal government's Community Sport Infrastructure program. The club used that money to extend its course watering system in order to improve playing conditions and it's also installed a solar power system that will take the pressure off their monthly energy bill. There are about 200 members at Oberon Golf Club. I was up there not too long ago. I'd like to thank all of the members, including Mick English, Katie Graham, Eric Whalan and Rod Hammett for all of their work on that particular project, and I'd like to acknowledge Barry Lang for his work in helping to secure this funding as well and his work for the club generally.
Over at Wallerawang, there are also some exciting things happening with the Wallerawang Community and Sports Club. They've been trying to get the extension to that club completed for years and years, and they kept doing small pieces of work to keep their DA current. But I think they were getting to the stage when they were wondering whether the work would ever really be completed. For example, they put a new fence around it and they do a bit of work on the site just to keep things moving. I was delighted to be able to announce a little while ago a $480,000 grant to actually complete that extension work. It's a true community hub, and it's going to make a real difference to the fabric of the wonderful community of Wallerawang. I'd like to acknowledge the secretary and manager, Stephen Jackson, for his work and his passion for the project; Joe Fraser, from Fraser's Constructions, who donated the earthworks; Greg Machin Plumbing for the wonderful work that they are doing out there; Ben Lane Building; John Gordon Electrical; Chris Muldoon bricklaying; and all of the club members for their ongoing support. It has been a true community effort and it's been a privilege to be a part of that, especially after years of heartbreak in not being able to get that project completed.
There was also $117,000 secured through the community support and infrastructure grant program. East Molong Tennis Club was the recipient of this funding. It has resurfaced two courts, upgraded lighting and replaced the tennis posts. The courts have been completed, but because they are sand based they need watering in and this hasn't been possible yet because of the difficult conditions we're facing with drought. But, hopefully, that work can be completed. I'm looking forward to visiting the club in the next couple of weeks for a hit and to inspect the upgrades. This just shows how badly this drought is biting and the effect that it's having not only at the farm gate but right throughout our country communities and into businesses and our sporting clubs as well. I'd like to thank and acknowledge Andrew Hicks, who is the president; Ben Brown, Hayley Glynn and also Stacey Carthew, who is the secretary at the club. Well done for their advocacy.
And over in Oberon there was a $1.5 million grant to finally get work underway on the Oberon Tarana Heritage Railway. That was wonderful news during the election campaign. I'd also like to acknowledge the work of the committee, including president, Greg Bourne; vice president, Martyn Salmon; John Brotchie; Graham Williams; David McMurray; and Ken Lingabala. Well done to you all.
We also have many other projects, and time doesn't permit me to name them all, but they include the Glen Willow complex at Mudgee. That received $6.95 million under the Building Better Regions Fund. Congratulations to Des Kennedy and all of the sporting groups who pushed for that, including the Mudgee Rugby Union Club and Luke Humphries; the Mudgee Sports Council's Peter Mitchell; junior rugby league; and all of the contractors who were involved in that. I should also mention the mayor, Des Kennedy, and his team of councillors, who have been very passionate about this project, and also GM Brad Cam over there at the Mid-Western Regional Council.
It was a wonderful and humbling result in the electorate of Calare, and the hard work is well and truly underway.
Labor is the party of the social safety net. But Labor is also the party of prosperity. We in Labor quintessentially believe that in the rich, wealthy nation of ours in which we live there is no reason why people can't have access to good health care, why they can't have access to a quality education and why they can't have a roof over their heads and a job to go to as well. We are the party of the fair go—a safety net—and of unlocking prosperity. These are the things that fundamentally make up our party, and these Labor values and principles remain anchored in the core beliefs we express.
In many ways, Bob Hawke is seen as the father of the modern Labor Party, and was certainly the architect of the social safety net as we now know it. Along with Paul Keating, he ensured that Australia is a modern and open economy, not a closed and isolated island. Labor, under Hawke and Keating, always ensured a proper social safety net, for growth is stronger when it is shared, and when wages and living standards rise everyone in the community should benefit.
It is our social safety net that actually enables our economic growth and prosperity too. Those on the government benches have a capricious way of claiming that they are the party of the quiet Australians—the everyday Australian. But I think that since the election the Australian people are starting to see through that. Those on the land, long-suffering from drought, are certainly starting to see through this government's lack of any plan. This government needs to learn that good economic policy is good social policy and vice versa. In my view, good economics and good social policy are two sides of the same coin; they are not two distinct and separate matters. Too often we see the way in which people like to put economic policy over here and an interest in social policy over there, but that is not the right way to look at the policy agenda. The government needs to grapple with the sorts of plans that our nation needs and desires.
The government is fixated on seeing good economics as paying for our welfare system because it sees good social policy—
A government member: How else do you pay for it?
as a cost, not as what it is and what a social safety net can be, an investment in ensuring an increase in our productivity. The government's approach promotes a lopsided sense of growth and lopsided inequality, because the government doesn't understand that these two things are actually intricately linked, as the member opposite just blatantly pointed out through his terrible interjection, highlighting his lack of grasp of this essential idea. When we get the investment in social policy right it isn't a cost to the economy. It is a way of helping our economy continue not only to grow but to deliver for Australians, to make sure that we reduce inequality, to make sure that everyone is a beneficiary of economic growth in this nation.
Part of this is linked to how the greatness of a nation is judged by the way that it treats its most vulnerable. There are a few issues here that I would like to canvass. For instance, when it comes to Indigenous incarceration we are neither a strong nation nor a great one. This is something that we can and must do something about, because we must ensure that Australia is indeed a great and strong nation. Research by Save the Children in Western Australia has found that one in four young people in detention are from Perth's south-eastern suburbs, predominantly the area that I represent in the seat of Burt. In recognition of this shocking statistic, the Youth Partnership Project was founded with the belief that children are not born bad but, rather, are born into complex environments that can lead to significant behavioural problems. The Youth Partnership Project model provides an early targeted support for young people aged eight through to 12 with complex needs by working together with the police force, with state government agencies, with local government and with community services to identify young people, many of whom are of Indigenous background and who are at risk of going down the path towards juvenile justice and, ultimately, juvenile detention. From this model has come the Armadale Youth Intervention Partnership. This place-based intensive intervention recognises that merely being tough on crime does little to remedy the causes of crime and, in particular, does little to stop crime from occurring in the first place. This program is now being expanded from Armadale into Gosnells, but both programs are fighting to make sure that they can continue with their funding.
In WA we spend something in the order of over $50 million a year on juvenile detention. Imagine if some of that money were being invested into programs like AYIP, into early intervention programs which they are doing in AYIP. Imagine seeing that expand and being further implemented across the spectrum of our society. Imagine being able to invest in teaching families and work with families and intervene to assist them with issues such as alcohol consumption while pregnant; being able to deal with issues that concern them, such as abuse and drug abuse; being able to assist with mental health; and being able to teach more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder when so many of those who are in detention are affected by that very, very difficult issue. In those cases, we would be spending a lot less on corrective services and, instead, gaining a lot more from the people that we have helped, not to mention decreasing crime rates. There is an opportunity right here for government to change the story of people's lives from one of poverty and of being another generation that's reliant on welfare and public housing to one of people being able to get a job, being able to increase their education and ultimately being able also to pay taxes. More people healthy, giving back to society and working results in more taxpayers being able to pay tax, more people who are not reliant on a welfare payment from the government, people who are contributing to the improvement of our society. Of course, the reduction in crime improves society for everybody as well.
For every day that a young person is kept out of juvenile detention we save in Western Australia over $800. Given that approximately one in four of the juvenile detainees come from my electorate, the government investment in the Armadale Youth Intervention Partnership program is paying huge dividends. It will not have to spend as much on police, courts and corrective services whilst it will gain a lot more from the people who are being helped, not just the individual children but their families as well. We need to provide more opportunities for at-risk kids not just in my electorate but across the entire country. These are the sorts of programs that are really important to our community. They are critical to how together we can change their story and the story of all of our communities. It's up to all levels of government, though, to support these programs, to connect the grassroots programs to organisations that are able to work on the front line, to prevent the entry of a child into our juvenile justice system.
Similarly on the theme of investment, it's good economic policy to invest in education. The higher the level of education of our students, the more our children and society will thrive here in Australia and across the world stage, and it all starts with early intervention. In my electorate, Challis Community Primary School has recognised that children in the area were starting school lacking some of the most basic language and social skills, and these developmental vulnerabilities were significantly higher for that cohort than across the state or national average. The Challis model brings together high-quality early childhood education prior to preschool and parenthood early intervention programs to complement early learning and address the barriers to child development, along with family support for a consistent scaffolding to optimise a child's progress. This system starts from birth and is delivered through a single point-of-entry contact at the school, ensuring that children start school ready to learn and are supported through their early schooling.
The results have been amazing in such a short period of time. Students that have been part of the program are outperforming their statewide and national peers by up to 95 per cent. But we need more critical mass, not just one school in one community. We need a critical mass of schools within the community that are delivering on this approach, lifting the average performance and the overall outcomes for our entire community together. And we need this to flow through all educational levels, not just at the beginning of primary school and before.
Recently I have spoken in this place about the introduction in Western Australia of Australia's first nationally recognised qualification in automation. This program will not only be available to TAFE students who want to learn technical skills in automation or to upskill their current blue-collar skills in the resources sector; I'm really proud to share that this program will be piloted for year 11 and 12 students in selected high schools across Western Australia, including Burt's own Cecil Andrews College.
Over the last few years as a federal MP, I've had the opportunity to observe the fantastic work at Cecil Andrews College in leading the way in STEM education. They're the only P-TECH school in WA and have had some fantastic success on the national stage with robotics and direct industry-engagement programs. It's programs like these that will train our next generation of miners, explorers and people across so many industries.
The resources industry is one that drives the WA economy. Indeed, it drives the whole Australian economy. Unfortunately, in WA our unemployment rate is still higher than we would like it to be. It is higher than the national average. We must create more jobs, but we also need to upskill individuals to have the best opportunities for not just the work of the future but, quite frankly, the work of today. These new courses, an initiative of the WA state government, working together with our resources industry, will be the first to provide education pathways into autonomous operations to further improve our prospects in growing our economy, our resources industry and, crucially, the jobs that are linked to it.
I'm sad to say that in the federal sphere this government's efforts are significantly lacking. After years in witness protection, Michaelia Cash in August was let out of hiding to acknowledge the Liberal government's failure to support the skills and vocational education and training sector over the last six years of this government. In The West Australian newspaper the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash, conceded:
We need a coordinated national approach to ensure Australian workers have the skills necessary for the jobs of today and the future.
The Liberal government's failure to support skills training during its six-year tenure is what has resulted in this. It has left our nation with a gaping hole in the skills that we need for the future. The failure to have a national approach to VET not only impedes our further development in the defence industry and in resource projects across the country but robs Australians who want work the opportunities to upskill and retrain and those who are coming out of school and want to get their first jobs. The government's lack of action on skills over the last six years only provides more excuses for businesses to use 457-style labour at the expense of local workers. If the government were serious about supporting skills in this country, it would not have cut $3 billion from TAFE and training.
Is it any wonder that wage growth is virtually non-existent and that the Australian economy is withering on the vine under this government?
This is not a plan to ready our nation for new challenges. This new skills package is a fig leaf over the government's wanton disregard in the last six years for growing Australia's skilled workforce and, quite frankly, over the government's disdain for our public TAFE system.
In addition to education and working with vulnerable children, our economy also needs to see an investment in infrastructure. Typically when we talk about infrastructure, there's the importance of congestion busting to create economic growth by investing in our transport infrastructure. And this is very important. But, as I said earlier today in the House of Representatives, unfortunately, in the state of Western Australia right now, we see a situation where it's not about trying to get the government to bring forward expenditure, as much as we'd love to see that happen. What we see is a failure of government to get on with the job of processing approvals through its own departments that would allow shovel-ready projects right now to actually start. There are 6,000 jobs on ice in WA right now because there is a billion-dollar pipeline of infrastructure investment that could be happening if it weren't being held up by this government.
It's also about making sure that we invest in social infrastructure, because it's not just about transport. It's about making sure we have regional sporting facilities. It's about making sure that we have social community hubs. It's about making sure that we have all of the different pieces that go together to make our communities thrive and come together. What we've seen over years now is an underinvestment in these crucial pieces of social infrastructure in our outer urban and suburban areas of Australia. What commitment have we seen to that by the government? They cancelled the program that used to fund this sort of infrastructure. That is a terrible indictment of this government. It's a terrible indictment of the health and the social capital of our communities. But, of course, the government only see social policy as a cost to the economy instead of the investment that it actually is.
Then, of course, we've got the area of health. I need to make this point, because it seems to be lost on government so often. They only ever talk about the importance of a good economy to pay for things. Yes, a good economy pays for things. It's how we have Medicare. It's how we have an NDIS. It's how we have so many good things in this nation. But the critically important thing, especially about a program like Medicare, is that it is an investment in the capacity of Australians to work. We, as a nation, come together to make sure that Australians are as healthy as they possibly can be, because it means that they can stay in their job. It means that employers are not having to pay for their health care, as we see in other nations, which becomes an even bigger drag on the economy. Instead, we come together, we make sure that no-one is left behind when it comes to their health care, and we provide that through Medicare. It is fundamentally important that this is what happens.
But, of course, since the government anointed their fearless leader over 12 months ago, GP costs have increased, on average, to a record high of nearly $40 per visit. They talk about how many more visits people are having to the doctor, failing to realise that the way in which they're currently running the Medicare system churns people through the system. They have to go more often because doctors will only see them for a shorter period of time. It's a very unfortunate situation. It is not the way that we should be investing in our public health system to make sure that people are healthy and that we're proactively dealing with issues in the primary healthcare space. I'm sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, that you, among anyone in this chamber right now, would understand the importance of primary health care as a way of making sure that we don't have the even higher costs of having to deal with people through our hospital system.
One of the other areas in which we have seen that good social policy investment can help our economy is the area of superannuation. When it comes to superannuation, as Paul Keating told the ABC's 7.30 earlier this year, super is forced savings; it's compulsion. And you run the risk that, given the option, people won't have an incentive to save. But some on the government benches say that people can't afford superannuation and they certainly can't afford to see it pushed up. Well, Mr Keating says we can't afford not to. So does the superannuation industry. And they are right.
It's really unfortunate, I have to say, that we have seen comments from members on the government benches that have been critical of the way in which we will see the contribution to superannuation increasing. One of the things that they miss, of course, is that the development of the superannuation industry in Australia by compulsory forced savings not only has meant that we have made sure that millions of Australians have access to savings when they retire—money they can spend as they see fit, something you would think the Liberal Party would be very happy about—but also has seen the development of a huge financial services industry here in Australia. We manage more funds than nearly any other country around the globe as a result of this superannuation system.
The government tries to say that increasing superannuation, compulsory savings, will somehow cut into pay rises. It says we won't see the pay rises that it says should be flowing to workers. Now, we want to see pay rises flowing to workers and, quite frankly, this government is doing nothing at all to see that happen. But the thing they miss—I remember all too clearly, from only a few years ago, when we saw increases from 9.25 per cent to 9.5 per cent—is that, quite frankly, at that stage, when many businesses had wage freezes on their books, if it hadn't been for those increases in superannuation then there wouldn't have been any increase to the remuneration for those companies at all. Quite frankly, these could be the only wage rises some people in Australia receive, and they're only getting them because we're seeing the mandated increase of superannuation savings, which will help those people well into the future. I am concerned about the way in which the Retirement Income Review under this government may well seek to undermine this forward investment that is not just good economic policy, it's also good social policy, because it delivers people the income they need to look after themselves in retirement.
There are so many things that I could talk about in this speech, but there are a few that I want to finish on. Only this week Access Economics released their Investment Monitor, showing the challenges in the Australian economy are principally homegrown—something we in Labor have actually been saying for a long time. We've called for more to be done to address weak economic growth, stagnant wages and unemployment. This isn't political; this is just the hard facts. Access Economics have joined a long line of credible organisations that all have the same facts: the economy is floundering; wages are stagnant; too many people aren't working, they aren't working enough or as much as they'd like to; interest rates keep dropping; and the Reserve Bank have said that there's only so much that they can do. It's a consequence of this government's lack of economic plan. It's a consequence, really, of their political strategy, and it's not working.
There is one more thing that I want to draw to the attention of the House. The government's misunderstanding of the economy matches its misunderstanding of the role of industrial relations. This government seems to see industrial relations as a way in which it can suppress workers and give an advantage to employers, to make sure they can increase their profits while the wages of employees are left lower. But if we want to see a better country, industrial relations has to be a way of protecting the health and safety of workers. It has to be a way to ensure their economic prosperity and their agency in our community. It has to be about involving workers in the means of production to ensure that our community— (Time expired)
I rise today in response to the Governor-General's speech where he outlined the government's program for this term of parliament. I will come back to that excellent speech, but, firstly, although it is five months since the election, I do need to thank the people, the electors, of O'Connor who have honoured me with a third term of representing them here in Canberra.
O'Connor is a remarkable electorate and one that I'm proud to represent. It's 866,000 square kilometres, encompassing a wonderful mining province across the Goldfields, centred on Kalgoorlie; an extraordinary agriculture sector running from Esperance to Manjimup; and covering wheat, sheep and some very high-value horticultural products. Also, on the south-west edge of the electorate, we have the town of Collie, which is the main power generation centre in Western Australia. The very hardworking people of Collie honoured me with a very large swing in the electorate. So thank you very much to the people of O'Connor. I'm here to work on your behalf for the next three years, and this government will continue to deliver the services and the infrastructure that we need and deserve in our wonderful electorate.
I want to thank the many helpers who worked on my campaign and on the polling booths, not only on election day but also on the pre-polls, which were open for up to three weeks prior to election day. That really tested the resolve of our volunteers, but I thank, from the bottom of my heart, those people who helped out through that period. They are the true believers. They are the people who were prepared to give of their time and effort at a time when everybody, every pundit, had written our party off. They still made that extraordinary effort for their values and their beliefs and to support me, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
But, of course, no-one deserves my thanks more than my beautiful wife, Tanya, and our four children, Emma, Annalise, Phillipa and Archie. They spend many, many nights when I'm away from home and I'm not there to help them and support them through life's daily challenges. This is the sixth year that I've been doing that, and they've got another three years ahead of them at least. I absolutely thank them for their sacrifice to support me to do this very privileged job.
I also want to thank Steve Martin, who's my divisional president. Steve has done more than anybody else outside of my family to help me become the member for O'Connor and to support me through the three elections that we've had since I've been the member. Also in my division there is the executive who form the bulk of my campaign committee and, of course, my wonderful staff. I'm very fortunate to have seven permanent or part-time staff, and they do a wonderful job. Not only during the election campaign but during the interim period, we're servicing constituents and making sure that the people of O'Connor are well looked after by the Commonwealth government.
The date of 18 May was a defining moment for this country. It was when the quiet Australians roared. I think there are some implications of what came out of the result on 18 May. Firstly, Twitter will no longer be seen as the go-to platform by the media. Also, I read in the media just the other day that the Labor Party have woken up to the fact that Twitter does not represent the Australian people. The people on Twitter tend to be people who've already got a very strong position, and they reinforce that position on a daily basis with their contributions. But, largely, it does not represent the quiet Australians.
The fortnightly Newspoll has probably brought down four prime ministers in the last 10 or 12 years. The media trawl through those results, analyse them to death and fill the fortnight with them until the next one comes around, when they can reanalyse the entrails of those particular results. I think most Australians now understand that all that a poll does is represent a snapshot in time of the way people feel. While someone who's responding to an opinion poll—for example, mid-term between elections—can perhaps convey their discontent with an existing government, and there are no consequences to telling a phone pollster that you're going to vote one way or another, as people get closer to election day, they very much decide that there are consequences and they vote accordingly.
The all-powerful GetUp! was threatening members on only the coalition side. Mr Paul Oosting said the other day that they were only targeting right-wing coalition members. I'm not sure that the new member for Wentworth would describe himself as particularly right-wing. They certainly went after him, as well as many other coalition colleagues, and I would go so far as to say their efforts were completely counterproductive. If I were a member sitting on the other side and GetUp! said that they were going to come and campaign in my electorate in the next election, I'd be saying, 'Please don't bother, fellows, because you actually do more harm than good.' I think that we won't see much of GetUp! in the future. They have actually got no credibility left, with their bullying and misogyny, particularly of my dear friend and colleague Nicolle Flint, the member for Boothby. Anybody who associates themselves with GetUp! is effectively endorsing that type of behaviour. I think there are not many decent Australians left who would like to be associated with that behaviour.
I've heard other members on our side of parliament delivering their speeches on the address-in-reply and saying that we dodged a bullet—that old-fashioned cliche. Well, I reckon in O'Connor we dodged an intercontinental ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead, because some of the policies that were being put forward by the other side had massive implications. I'll go through the ones that we're all aware of that were Australia wide.
There was the retirees tax, the tax on people's franking credits, the double-taxing of people who are shareholders in companies, who pay the 30c in the dollar tax as a shareholder of a company and then receive their dividend plus the distribution of the imputation credit. I had one particular constituent who came to me who was completely self-funded, living quite modestly. His only income was from his share dividends and franking credits. His income was $38,000, so not the top end of town, not living in a harbourside mansion, just living very modestly, very proud that he'd never had to draw on the taxpayer in his retirement. However, the loss of his franking credits would have reduced his income to $28,000. It is pretty tough to live on that sort of money. That's probably less than a pensioner couple receive through the pension. That was the sort of impact it was going to have on many, many self-funded retirees across my electorate. Of course, Albany, Denmark and the south coast are a retirement Mecca for self-funded retirees, and they were going to be very heavily impacted.
The Labor Party's negative gearing policy would have had two impacts in my electorate. The investors are overwhelmingly people on middle incomes, people earning up to $85,000 a year. Let's face it, for those middle-income earners—the policeman and the nurse—the only way they really have of generating some additional wealth for their retirement is to invest in an investment property. When they've got their current mortgage under control, they might decide that, if they invest in a property, it's an enforced saving scheme. They'd like to think that, in the next 20 or so years of their working lives, they'll pay that mortgage off, and the property will be worth considerably more than they paid for it. It really is, for many middle-income families, the only mechanism they have to build some wealth over and above their compulsory superannuation. Not only that; in many of the small regional towns, the only investors in housing stock are the negatively geared investors. So the opposition's policy would have had a devastating impact on the rental stock in many of the small regional towns that I represent.
Something that went under the radar somewhat was the $3,000 cap on accountancy fees. I have nearly 20,000 small businesses across my electorate. I think I'm in the top three in the nation for small businesses. Any small business turning over a reasonable amount of money would be spending a considerable amount more than $3,000 for accountancy fees. I heard the then opposition Treasury spokesman, Chris Bowen, describe accountants' fees as a rort—'We're going to fix this rort'—which certainly exercised a few of the accountants across my electorate, who work very hard and do a great job for their clients in, legally, minimising the amount of tax that those clients pay. That is within the law. That's what accountants do. That's their job. They were quite taken aback to be described as 'rorters'. So that was another bullet that we dodged.
But, in an electorate like O'Connor, the 45 per cent emissions reduction target would have been absolutely devastating. We have a mining industry, we have a large agricultural sector and, of course, we have a heavy transport sector. All of our goods and services and supplies are delivered via heavy transport, and, of course, the cost of that transport would have gone through the roof. Electricity generation represents about 27 per cent of our emissions, the next highest is agriculture on 19 per cent, transport is on 17 per cent and mining is on 13 per cent. So where do you think a government that had a 45 per cent emissions target were going to go looking for emissions reductions? The answer is: all of those key industries across my electorate, and it would have been devastating.
The other one was 50 per cent electric cars by 2030—just over 10 years away. How would a government force 50 per cent of the population to buy an electric car? I was looking for a Hyundai Kona, which is a little SUV four-cylinder vehicle. I just happened to be flicking through, and the petrol version is around $25,000. Then I saw one worth $70,000! Why was that one worth $70,000? Because it's an electric vehicle. So how would a government force people to buy a $70,000 vehicle and not a $25,000 vehicle? Well, it's quite easy: you just keep cranking up fuel taxes. You just keep putting up fuel taxes until it reaches the point where it's more economical to buy an electric car for $70,000 than a petrol car for $25,000. The impact on the people who live in my electorate—who travel distances of 600 kilometres from Perth to Kalgoorlie, 730 kilometres from Perth to Esperance or 430 kilometres from Perth to Albany—would have been absolutely devastating. But, effectively, if they wanted to get to 50 per cent electric cars by 2030, that's what would happen. It's not only that. The other day I saw a story about an electric vehicle, a Nissan LEAF, one of the smaller electric vehicles. When it was eight years old the batteries needed replacing, and the replacement batteries would have cost $23,000. But the valuation on the vehicle was only $12,000. So you can see the problem that that might have for, for example, students leaving school and looking to buy their first car. It's a few thousand dollars for a petrol vehicle at the moment, but, no, no, in the brave new world it would be at least $20-odd thousand for an electric vehicle with a new battery—hopefully, if they could afford it. So these are some of the ramifications that people in my electorate would have faced, had the election gone the other way.
Of course, that main platform that we took to the election was about tax cuts. We're about cutting taxes for everyday Australians, and we've delivered on that promise: the $1,080 rebate—$2,160 for a couple—for people earning between $45,000 and $87,000 has been delivered and is in people's bank accounts, if they've submitted their tax return. We continue to reduce company tax for companies turning over up to $100 million, and that will reduce to 25 per cent. In the longer term, by 2024-2025 we'll be reducing the tax rate to 30 cents in the dollar for people earning between $45,000 and $200,000. So we've delivered on those already, and there's plenty more to do.
I just want to touch on a couple of local issues and local projects that were funded during the election campaign. Firstly, there's the Albany Ring Road project. This has been exercising the community in the Great Southern for a long time. The first stage of the ring road project was completed in 2007, and we have now put $140 million on the table to complete sections 2 and 3. The state government has contributed $35 million, and that project will be underway as soon as the planning and engineering designs are completed. The money is there and ready to go. We also committed $40 million for the Southern Forest Irrigation Scheme to top up the $27 million that the WA government has contributed and the $11 million that local growers contributed. So that's an $87 million project that will secure water in the Southern Forests region for the foreseeable future. There is $16 million for the Laverton Hospital. Laverton is a little town of 200 to 300 people, mostly Indigenous people, 390 kilometres north-east of Kalgoorlie.
The Western Australian coalition government, prior to the 2017 election, had committed to rebuild the Laverton Hospital. When the Western Australian Labor government were elected in March 2017 they withdrew that funding. Quite disgracefully, the Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, said that the mining company should pay for that hospital rebuild. Well, I'm very pleased to say that the Commonwealth government has committed the $16 million to rebuild the Laverton Hospital with no conditions attached.
We also contributed $70 million to the Roads of Strategic Importance program, which will be implemented across 40 shires in my electorate and also in the electorates of the members for Durack and Pearce. We also funded some small projects: the Kojonup medical centre—the George Church Medical Centre—to top up the $500,000 that was left to the community by the much loved George Church. That was $750,000 to build them a medical centre. There was also $500,000 for the Katanning medical centre, which will renovate the old shire buildings and provide state-of-the-art rooms for a medical practice to operate from. Goldfields Rehabilitation Services received $1.5 million towards operational costs for their program. Unfortunately, that's a service in the goldfields which is oversubscribed. We need to support Goldfields rehab to continue the good work they're doing. There was $278,000 for the Kambalda pool, which opened up some other funds from the state government and several of the local mining companies. And of course the mobile phone program has continued.
There is much more work to be done across my electorate of O'Connor. There are many worthy projects that still need to be delivered and, of course, making sure that the people of my electorate receive the infrastructure and the education and health services that they need. And we also need to address the labour shortages that occur across a large part of my electorate. That shortage of labour is a major economic constraint for local companies and is among my priorities.
I say to my constituents that, after working very hard for them, I recommit over the next three years to deliver that infrastructure and those services that they absolutely deserve and need.
I rise today in the address-in-reply to thank the community that returned me to this parliament. I want to thank my family—long-suffering, obviously—and I want to thank my friends, but, most importantly, I want to thank the people who worked on my campaign.
I want to thank Henry Barlow, Vicki Fitzgerald and Jasminda Sidu, who managed me and the campaign across the many weeks. And I want to thank the Labor members and volunteers who worked so hard in the campaign. Stalwarts in particular were Susan and Stephen Foster, whose work on pre-polls is incredible over many, many years—in fact, many decades.
I want to thank the large numbers—the largest number of volunteers that I've had since becoming the member for Lalor—who helped on pre-poll, who handed out on election day and who did the letterboxing, the doorknocking and the street stalls, and they stood with me on train stations. My particular thanks go to Michael and to Matthew Potts and Henry Barlow for the yard signs that went up over weeks. To all of those people who volunteered to have yard signs, I say thank you once again. I want to commit here that I will continue to fight for our community; for those who voted for me and for those who didn't. I will fight in this place and beyond.
I want to make a few comments about the community that I represent. Obviously, we're in the outer south-western suburbs of Melbourne—sometimes referred to these days as the 'Avalon corridor'. Werribee, of course, is quite famous around the country as the point halfway between Geelong and Melbourne, and the City of Wyndham, of which Lalor is made up, is centred around the small country town that was Werribee when I was growing up.
I represent the suburbs of Hoppers Crossing, Werribee, Werribee South, Tarneit, Truganina, Little River, Wyndham Vale, Manor Lakes and parts of Point Cook after this most recent redistribution. This is a growth area, an area with a population now of 270,000 people in 2019 and with a forecast to grow to 489,000 people by 2041. It is the third fastest growing local government area in Australia. That growth has been considerable, dramatic and sustained over a decade. Currently, and these numbers keep going up, there are 100 babies born to a Wyndham mother each week. I'll let the House consider that for a moment, that's 100 babies born a week to mums in the community that I stand here to represent. We also had the highest number of dwelling approvals in Victoria between July 2018 and April 2019. And it is the only growth area where the median land price has not declined between May 2018 and April 2019, so the growth will continue.
Our gross regional product accounts for 2.29 per cent of Victoria's GRP. We have one of the largest jobs to workers deficits in Victoria, which of course means that many in our community are on the move, up early and in their cars, or on the bus, or off to the railway station, or on to the M1 winding their way through the electorate, through the city of Wyndham, to reach, I must say, our limited industrial precincts where those who are fortunate enough to have a local job may be headed.
There are 17,000 businesses registered in Lalor as of 2018 and that was up 32 per cent from 2016. The majority of those are single operator businesses, people working heavily with their own ABN and many of them spending their days toiling away as lone tradesmen.
There are really interesting things about the people that I represent. Fifty-eight per cent of the residents of the seat of Lalor are 35 years or younger. We are an incredibly young electorate. Almost half of all Wyndham's residents were born overseas and they represent 162 countries. On top of that, the Wyndham Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is the largest in all of greater Melbourne. If you call 100 random Wyndham residents 53 of them will speak a language other than English when they answer the phone.
Together with the cities of Casey and Hume, Wyndham is home to the largest family households in all of greater Melbourne, and more than half of Wyndham households are families with children. So we are young, mostly we are young families. The majority of these households have children under 15 years of age. So it's an area with dramatic growth, it's an area with young families and it's an area where we turn housing developments into communities. People work hard at this. They get up and go to work early in the morning. They come home late at night. They pick up the kids from early education and child care or from after-school care. They get home and then they start the volunteering. Then they get in the car again and they take the kids to training. On the weekends they have got their kids at football, at netball, at soccer, at a myriad of sports, or they've got kids at dancing, or involved in the arts, or off to our fantastic libraries that Wyndham City Council has created. It is a vibrant part of our community. But it is also a community that is often under stress.
What we have in common in the seat of Lalor and in the community that is Wyndham is a desire to live well, to have secure work or to establish a business that provides security for our families. We have high hopes for our children that they will have security in their lives, that they can find a path. That means that education is at a premium in our community. The people value education above most things. They also, of course, value health services, because with young families and the anxiety that comes with a sick child they really value access to a doctor, access to the emergency department at our local hospital and access to our local hospital if needed. I want to commend our local hospital and state Labor government because the mercy public hospital in Wyndham opened its paediatrics unit just this past week and people are very excited about that.
But mostly people in Wyndham want to pass on a better life to their kids and that's why cost of living issues are so important to the people in my community and it's why I need to take a moment to go through a couple of other things.
It became apparent this week that more than 8,000 homes in my community had had their electricity cut off in the last three years. I can't imagine the stress of that. Well, I can imagine the stress, having been a single mother raising three sons and working part-time for about six years on my journey with my family. I imagine the fear of it, but I cannot imagine the reality of it and the absolute, sheer stress of that. On top of that, we have very high mortgage stress rates in Wyndham, where most families are paying more than 30 per cent of their income on their mortgage, and we have the highest rental eviction rates in the state.
Most in our community live week to week, month to month. We pay our mortgages and our rent, and we save for our annual holiday, if we're fortunate. We pay the school fees, we pay the child care and we pay the kinder fees, where we need to. We get the kids to sport and cultural activities. There's not a lot of money left over for luxuries for most of the families who live in my community. Looking to the future, we will rely heavily on our superannuation contributions, in terms of a dignified retirement. Like hundreds of thousands of Australians, we have minimal savings. As I said, we do all of that. We live with all of those stresses—the stresses of the commute, the stresses of finding work, the stresses of keeping work, the stresses of trying to get off insecure work and into secure work, the fears that there won't be secure work for our kids. We do all of that and, at the same time, we build a great community.
But it is important to note how much the national economy impacts on our local economy and how decisions and actions taken or not taken in this place have a direct impact on the lives of those who live in my community. Cuts to penalty rates in our community don't just impact on the stereotypically young part-time worker. Many in our community work in casual or insecure work. Cuts to their incomes directly impact on our small businesses and our local economy. Cuts to pensions have an impact too.
We rely on and, in fact, we pin our hopes on our educational institutions—our early learning centres, our schools, our limited TAFE and our Melbourne universities—for the quality that will see our children pave their way.
We rely on Medicare for our health needs, and shocks to hip pockets because of health issues can disrupt family life. Needing an MRI in our community can mean $400 out of the weekly budget or the savings or a trip to the city to access a Medicare fully rebated MRI. Labor's commitment, which we took to the last election, to grant a fully rebated MRI licence to our local public hospital, the Mercy hospital, was valued highly by our community, and this government's failure to match that commitment is something that my community fails to understand. It has left them feeling forgotten by the government. Worse was the news that this government made a commitment for a third fully rebated MRI licence to the city of Geelong, which is just down the road from us. We are larger than they are, in terms of population, yet there is no access in Wyndham, and this government has shown no sign of changing that in the near future.
Decisions in this place impact directly on our lives. The 2018 budget created an urban congestion fund of $1 billion. That has been raised to, I think, $4 billion now. There has not been one cent, other than the $17 million that was spent on advertising during the election campaign, from that fund. In my community, that decision matters. It means that we are not getting the Wyndham West Link, which would save people 20 minutes getting from Tarneit to Wyndham Vale to take their kids to our local basketball or netball courts. For most people who live in my community, it would save them 25 minutes getting onto the M1, if they're driving, or getting to a railway station. This is about a $50 million spend for one of those bridges and possibly $50 million for the other.
We've got an urban congestion fund there, but we have a government reluctant to use it. And, when it does use it, I'm sure the people in my community think that they'll bypass us and take the money to the south-east, to some other electorate, as they have done with the car parks at stations. There was no commitment from this government to alleviate the issues at the car parks at the stations in my electorate, but there were commitments made to other areas, some of them in inner Melbourne, where there are three or four different options already on the ground for people's commute, whereas, where we come from, it's the train or it's your car; there isn't a third option. There are no buses to the city. There are no trams that connect to anywhere else.
In our community, household budgets are tight. People work hard. Most travel, as I've said, out of the city. Most do that travel because the jobs are not available. Again, the people in my community feel that this government doesn't care about them, because there is no commitment to—no interest at all in—job creation in the city of Wyndham. My community needs a government that understands how the national economy impacts on their lives, how a soaring cost of living, if not met with matching wage or income increases, leaves people feeling vulnerable, leaves people feeling forgotten by this government.
While the Prime Minister talks and talks and ignores the negative trajectory of the national economic indicators, people in my electorate sweat. Anxiety builds about not just their future but the future of their children. On their behalf, in this place, I call on this government to act, to take the advice from the Reserve Bank governor and from business and to use the levers at its disposal to stimulate the economy, through infrastructure spends and by putting back people's penalty rates. This would make an enormous difference in my community.
I urge this government to watch closely the figures of people who are working in labour hire, in casual situations. This can be going on for six, seven, eight, nine and 10 years. Think about young people sitting at home waiting for the text message at 11 o'clock tonight to say whether they've got work tomorrow. Think about how that's impacting on a 26-year-old's life plan. There is no security. Many of them are still living at home in my community because they don't know if they've got work tomorrow. If they've left home, they return. They may have left home, found themselves in debt—in debt to payday lenders, in debt in all sorts of ways—and wind up back with mum and dad.
This government needs to act because, while mortgage holders watch the official interest rates plummet three times in three months, to a record 0.75 per cent, and wait for the banks to pass on the savings, they know that, while this might mean some savings for them, without government action the trend could set in and mean a slowdown that sees job losses and the flow-on to the 17,000 small businesses in our community, who would also then feel the pinch. It's not difficult to imagine. If you're a landscaper, no-one's redoing their garden if jobs are on the line. No-one's redoing their garden if they don't feel secure. No-one's building the extension if they don't feel secure. No-one's upgrading their house and getting that second investment if they don't feel secure in their job.
There is absolutely no way for this government to avoid having themselves held responsible for this. We know that the IMF's World economic outlook has slashed Australia's economic growth forecast to only 1.7 per cent in 2019, down from 2.1 per cent last year. Australia's growth this year is now expected to be slower than that of the US, Spain and Greece. Economic growth is at the lowest levels since the GFC. Household living standards and productivity have declined under this government. Wages are stagnant—people in my electorate absolutely understand that. This government is presiding over the worst wages growth on record.
Almost two million Australians are looking for work or for more work. Many in my community are looking for work and for more work. Household debt has surged to record levels. Of course, that's reflected also in the mortgage stress that I'm seeing in my community. I want to pay tribute to the hard work done by our local community legal centre, WEstjustice, for the work that they have done across the last few years, having saved 400 people from losing their home and being turfed out onto the street.
Business investment in this country is down 20 per cent since the Liberals came to office and is now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. This is a list of agony for a community like mine. Consumer confidence, not surprisingly, is down over the past year, and consumption growth is weak. Australia became one of the two fastest-growing economic in the OECD under Labor and the eight-fastest when government changed hands in 2013, but under the Liberals we have dropped to 20th.
All of this makes people in my community feel nervous. What it does for me is absolutely motivate me to get on my feet in this place as often as I can to convince the government that they need to act. They need to act to ensure that in an area like ours, a growth area, to which people come from all over the world because of affordable housing to set up their families and live, we get a quality education for the children and we have a quality health system to ensure that people dig in and stay in our communities. That is absolutely imperative. On another note, the government need to pay attention to the fact that it is not an accident that there are 162 languages spoken in my electorate. They are our migration policies. We need to support those people. They need to be not waiting four and five years to become citizens under this government. They need to be able to get their citizenship and buy into our country—to have a vested interest in their communities—not feel completely insecure about being able to stay where they have transplanted their lives, had their children and set up their homes.
Those who are fifth-generation Australians need to feel secure too. They need to feel economically secure. They need to know that their kids are going to be able to get a job. They need to know that they're going to have a job next week. Many in my community just want to know that there are good jobs coming and that if they are skilled enough and make a good enough application they will be able to access full-time permanent work.
In conclusion, on behalf of the people in my electorate—those who voted for me and those who didn't—I call on the government to act, to govern for all Australians, to include those in the outer suburbs in their thinking and to pay as much attention to the growing outer suburbs where their policies see dramatic growth but people struggling to forge secure lives. I want them to pay as much attention to the Avalon corridor in the south-west of Melbourne as they pay to the regions and to the cities. I ask for the government to think every day about the people who live in my electorate, about their lives and about the impact that the actions and inactions of the government have on their everyday lives.