Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Governor General's Speech
I wanted to talk a little bit about the matter of asbestos in the Greenslopes Red Cross Hall, a matter I've attempted to talk about several times already this morning in this Chamber. Perhaps this time I'll get the opportunity. As I said earlier this morning, the Greenslopes Red Cross Hall—no longer occupied by the Red Cross, of course, but they were the former tenants—is a decrepit and vacant Commonwealth owned property in my electorate, and it's fallen into disrepair and disuse. The property is riddled with asbestos and has now been sitting empty for many years, with nothing between it and the footpath but some temporary fencing, which has been there for much too long. I mentioned this as we were adjourning this debate yesterday, and I'm giving this speech in continuance now. I welcome the opportunity to provide this speech in continuance from yesterday's address-in-reply debate.
As I've said, I've been asking the government to do something about this hall for many years. At the May federal election, Labor committed that, if we were elected to government, we'd provide a significant funding boost to get the hall fixed up, with a view to getting it back in to community use. The LNP didn't match that commitment. Now, six months after the election, our community is still waiting for action to be taken.
I'm grateful to the minister for meeting with me last month about this issue, right here in the parliament. I raised with him again the numerous issues with this site. It's become an eyesore. It's decrepit. It's wrapped around with this flimsy security fencing. There is shade cloth hanging off it and signs up saying: 'Brittle asbestos roof. Danger: do not enter.' It's a real eyesore for the community.
Secondly, the site is just going to waste. So many locals have told me about their fond memories of the hall when it was in use—but it's just sitting there empty. There's a lot of history about the place, too, because of the buildings on the site having been used in previous conflict. I think the government knows this. But despite the remarkable history of the hall, the Morrison government has failed to undertake the necessary maintenance of it since the Red Cross vacated it some years ago.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the run-down state of the property poses serious safety and health risks. For six years there have been warning signs of asbestos and the brittle roof. Yes, there are fences, but anyone who's been a teenager knows that they can be seen as more of a challenge than a barrier. And of course there's a risk of damage and danger if there is wild weather in the south-east, as occurs from time to time and more and more frequently—particularly around this time of year. Every day this dilapidated hall is left abandoned is another day that asbestos fibres could blow in the wind, putting locals at risk.
I've been working as a team with my colleagues—state colleague Joe Kelly MP and council colleague Matthew Campbell—to call on the government to take action without further delay. I wrote to the minister following our recent meeting, calling on the government to address the problems. I respectfully ask that the government take heed of that call. It's time the government took responsibility, started listening to locals and fixed the hall.
In making this contribution to the debate of the address-in-reply, I also want to deal with some other issues. One of those issues is traffic congestion: a crucial issue for the south side. I'm really passionate about busting traffic congestion. It's been a focus of mine since before I was in the parliament and since I first ran for the parliament in 2014 in a by-election.
I've said this in the House before, but the latest data from the HILDA Survey shows that Australia's capital cities are dealing with longer commutes, with an average of 66 minutes each day, and there is no sign of things getting better. Families in my electorate, just like those in inner suburban communities across Australia, have had enough. Traffic congestion throughout the eastern and southern suburbs in my electorate is getting much worse. In fact, we have one of the south side's worst traffic snarls, the Coorparoo level crossing on Cavendish Road. I've been talking about this level crossing for a very long time, calling on the government to actually do something about fixing it up. I've been campaigning to fix it up, as I said, since before I was elected.
At this federal election that was held in May this year Labor made a serious massive commitment of funding to get this particular traffic snarl fixed up, to get moving on it. I called on the government to make a similar, or the same, commitment to put a serious amount of money on the table. It's an expensive problem, I know. The government had put into the May budget $85 million for the Lindum level crossing in a Liberal-held marginal electorate. They did not put any money into the budget for the level crossing in my electorate. There's no reason why a similar amount of money could not have been committed to the Coorparoo level crossing.
I don't begrudge the people of Bonner the amount of money that's been put into the Lindum level crossing. It's an important level crossing. It's adjacent to Iona. There was a fatality there at the beginning of the year, so of course that one should be fixed up. But so should the level crossing at Coorparoo. We shouldn't have to wait until there is a fatality at this level crossing to get the government's attention, to get some real money on the table to deal with this particular level crossing.
The Liberal-National government talks a lot about busting congestion. They've got the so-called Urban Congestion Fund—although I note they didn't actually manage to spend any of it; they did find $17 million to put into advertising about busting congestion but they didn't spend the so-called Urban Congestion Fund and actually bust congestion—and they claim to have this focus. Let's see it in Griffith. Let's see some real money on the table to deal with this terrible traffic snarl. It's an awful, awful situation. Everyone knows it needs to be fixed. The South East Queensland Council of Mayors has listed it as one of the top five level crossings that need to be dealt with in our city.
This level crossing needs to be fixed. We also have schools adjacent to it. We've got Coorparoo Secondary College right down the road from this particular level crossing and, up the other end of Cavendish Road, you've got Coorparoo State School and Mount Carmel a bit further up. We also have Giffin Park right near this level crossing—a really important sporting facility on the south side. It's been a training ground for the Lions for a long time but, much more importantly, this park is where so many young kids go to play Aussie Rules. They don't need to be having to navigate this dangerous level crossing right near the park, right near the school, in order to get there safely. They certainly don't need the traffic congestion that comes from the fact that every time a coal or passenger train goes through, the boom gates are down and the traffic just banks up. And of course in the 21st century it's ridiculous.
We've also got Old Cleveland Road, Stanley Road and massive important roads on either side of this crossing. Cavendish Road runs between them. This doesn't just affect people in Griffith; it affects everyone who tries to commute to the CBD from the eastern suburbs. It affects people in Bowman. It affects people in Bonner. People trying to get into the city in peak hour will tell you: it is an absolute disgrace of a traffic snarl and it's about time that the Morrison government stepped up and actually showed that it cared about this particular traffic snarl. It will actually do wonders for traffic congestion throughout the eastern suburbs of our city if the government was to do something serious in relation to this particular level crossing.
We didn't win the election. I'm sad about it; you're probably not, Deputy Speaker Hogan. The fact is the Morrison government is in charge. You guys need to get your act together. The buck stops with the government. It's time that the government showed some love to traffic congestion issues on the south side in Brisbane because, if you don't do it, then you're going to continue to have this problem. It's just going to get worse and worse, and our cities, for liveability, for productivity, need to have safe roads. They need to have roads that work well, and that means dealing with this particular traffic snarl.
In the last few seconds available to me, I just want to mention a portfolio matter—that is, the second 10-yearly review of the EPBC Act that is now underway. The Liberals and Nationals are now in their seventh year of government, and their cuts and mismanagement are evident in the blowout of decision-making times. There's so much delay. It's actually got to a point where 40 per cent of decisions are now made outside statutory time frames—it was 15 per cent when the Liberals and Nationals came to office. This is bad for jobs. It is bad for development and it is bad for the environment. We should be able to, as a nation, have strong environmental protections and also be able to get decisions made within statutory time frames so that the jobs and development can go ahead where it's safe for that to happen. Thank you.
I'd like to reflect today on some of the people who have made this parliament what it is today, those whose contributions have set the gold standard for all who aspire to sit in this parliament and represent their country and constituents across the nation.
When I was a new member in this place in 2016, along with many others, I was very grateful for the presence in the parliament of those who had served here for some time as Labor members of parliament, both in opposition and serving in Labor governments. They offered newcomers like me advice and allowed us to gain from their vast experience and wisdom. I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a couple of former members who retired at the last election and whose experience and contributions have left an immensely positive and lasting impression on me, on the parliament and, indeed, on the nation.
I acknowledge the current national president of the ALP and former member for Lilley, the Hon. Wayne Swan, a great Queenslander and a great Australian. Wayne Swan—or Swanny, as he's often referred to by so many—has left an indelible mark on this place, and it's very important that his contribution to this country be acknowledged. He left a legacy that is well known throughout this place and a legacy that is still felt by so many people around Australia long after he left the office of Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer of this country. His time as Treasurer and the policies he implemented have been reflected on by so many in this place—particularly, the economic stimulus package, in the wake of the global financial crisis—and recognised internationally, and rightly so.
One, in particular, that stands out is when the Treasurer was awarded Finance Minister of the Year, in 2011, by Euromoney magazine. He is only the second Australian to have won that award, with Paul Keating receiving the Finance Minister of the Year award in 1984, after the introduction of critical economic reforms, including the deregulation of the banking system, the floating of the dollar and the opening up of our Australian economy, in moves that set this nation up for long-term economic success. It's something that no-one else was able to do. Both are representatives in this place of the best of Labor traditions.
Sadly, some of Wayne Swan's good policies were unable to be well established before they were overturned, in this place, by a vindictive and negative Liberal-National government led by then Prime Minister Abbott. When the ALP introduced its carbon emissions policy, during its last government, it was met with outrage from many of the major players in industry and was helped along by an extraordinarily misleading scare campaign that portrayed such things as exorbitant roast dinners. Everyone will remember the $100 leg of lamb that never eventuated or the wipe-out of Whyalla—and we certainly know that hasn't happened—and there were many other falsehoods. It's something that the public now knows, and probably always did know, wasn't true, but they were led along.
That was 10 years ago, and if you look now at the massive power price increases you can see the cost of having no energy or emissions policy at all. As it turns out, it wasn't the carbon emissions policy of the Labor government but six years of the Liberal-National coalition government that has caused power prices to soar, crippling industry growth, driving everyday Australians into a kind of energy poverty. Many of those companies that campaigned against Labor's policies are now, ironically, calling for decisive political action on carbon emissions. Many large corporations have seen the light, so to speak, and are openly advocating for action on climate change. As the CEO of Woodside, Peter Collins, said last year, 'The consequences of inaction are too great.' It's quite an about-face, and you can only imagine where we would be if the nation had been permitted to be a world leader in taking action on climate change through a market based approach. This was a policy jointly led by Wayne Swan and Prime Minister Gillard.
Another one of Wayne's attributes is his sustained commitment to Labor causes and values, including the view that everyone in this country should contribute fairly and appropriately to the community through taxation. He warned against ignoring this issue, of extraordinary tax evasion that sought to undermine the interests of the Australian community, repeatedly during his tenure, particularly against the rise of some very powerful vested interests. In his 2012 TheMonthly essay, Wayne Swan stated:
Politicians have a choice: between exploiting divisions by promoting fear and appealing to the sense of fairness and decency that is the foundation of our middle-class society; between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers.
That was about eight years ago. But these words ring truer now than ever before, particularly when you look at the contributions made by Mr Palmer during the last election—distorting, scaremongering, creating a political environment dominated by fear.
Clive Palmer was highly complicit in preventing this country from having an earnest and honest debate about its direction during the election. Simply put, Clive Palmer told lies to sow fears in the community. He is manifestly anti-Western Australian, going so far as to attack the state government and—bizarrely—misnaming the WA Premier as Mike instead of Mark in a newspaper ad, calling him a communist and accusing him of siding with foreign powers. It was weird and incompetent, and sure came as a surprise to Mark McGowan's brother, Mike! You really couldn't make this stuff up, yet it happened in this country not that long ago.
The Premier of Western Australia was right to single out Mr Palmer as a greedy hypocrite running a disgraceful attack on our biggest trading partner. Look at Clive Palmer now. He's involved in a dodgy process that is now again before the courts. He is an individual who thinks only about himself and he is harming Western Australian trading interests. This is an issue that must be looked at. Wayne Swan was prescient: he saw the likes of the 2019 Palmer campaign coming long ago. Wayne might not be in this place any longer, but I can assure you his ideals and his fight for a fair go remain and they are strong, especially in the new member for Lilley, who gave such a wonderful first speech in this place only a couple of months ago. I look forward to hearing more from her.
While Wayne Swan's ideals may represent the soul of the Australian Labor Party, it could easily be said that Jenny Macklin is at its heart. The former member more Jagajaga is widely respected by politicians, industry groups and communities of every stripe and creed. Humble, hardworking and with a depth of compassion that would engulf this entire building, Jenny is recognised for her phenomenal contributions to Australian social policy and her unwavering commitment to social justice. Jenny's achievements are many and wide-ranging, whether she was in government or opposition. There are too many to mention here but I would single out two that resonate around the nation to this day: the Apology to the Stolen Generations, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Jenny Macklin played an integral part in both. The national apology represented an important and necessary step in our relationship with our First Australians. It is a crucial tenet of reconciliation itself, as we acknowledge what was done in our past, in order to be able to move forward.
Jenny's warm and genuine nature during a period of great difficulty was welcomed and praised nationally. It is said of her, and her efforts in the portfolio of Indigenous affairs, that, 'One of her most important achievements was to take the left- and right-wing politics out of Indigenous affairs and destroy the toxic division between symbols and practical change that had dominated the debate under John Howard's leadership.' Many people here will have seen the photo in my office that was taken on the day of the apology. It is of four Indigenous women standing in the front court of Parliament House. Two of them have T-shirts that each say 'Sorry' and the two next to them have shirts that each say 'Thanks'. They are arm in arm. I think it's one of those remarkable photos of our time that sum up how important it was to say 'sorry', and, equally, how important the generosity is of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, who can so easily say 'thanks' for what shouldn't have been as hard as it was. We thank Jenny for all her efforts, and also former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the whole Labor caucus of the time, and those who supported it.
Jenny's and Prime Minister Gillard's determination under great pressure to get the NDIS off the ground is also a testament to their fortitude and to Jenny's skill in policy development. It's a credit to them both that the NDIS has become a bipartisan institution—supposedly. This is greatly needed, as all sides of politics must work together to solve some of the issues with the NDIS rollout across Australia, which, to say the very least—and it is an understatement—has been problematic. I urge members of the government, and particularly the minister responsible, to please give the NDIS the attention and funding it deserves and that people need. So many individuals and families rely on it for the quality of life that would be beyond reach without the scheme. Only recently, I welcomed the shadow minister for the NDIS, the member for Maribyrnong, to my electorate for a forum, where constituents spoke about their experiences with the scheme. Over 60 people came along and told us of their frustrations and of the delays and the emotional toll the process has taken on family and friends. It was truly awful.
In her valedictory speech, Jenny mentioned being able to share in the life of the community, enjoying a certain level of security and safety, and about what it means to belong. Every Australian deserves that; it doesn't matter whether you're Wayne Swan or Jenny Macklin or anyone else. Those participating in the NDIS especially deserve that level of security and belonging. The politics of fear, division and misinformation have no place in modern Australia and indeed the world. It's up to us to do our part in lifting up that standard and visibly pursuing a return to integrity in politics in order for the trust deficit in Australian politics to drop significantly.
Again, I thank Jenny and Wayne for their amazing contribution to this place and to the Australian community. I wish them a great time in their retirement. I know the former member for Jagajaga, Jenny, loves a gin and tonic, and I look forward to meeting up with her again at some point so we might share one. She dances spectacularly once she's had one of those, apparently!
I'd now like to speak for a few moments about the recent election in this country. Obviously it was a difficult and disappointing time for the Labor Party. It was clearly gut-wrenching after all the hard work of my parliamentary colleagues, our party officers and all our members and supporters—all the work that went into the campaign that was ultimately unsuccessful. Our mission was to deliver a federal Labor government and to support fairness and decency in Australian public life. We didn't deliver on that.
I would like to commend our party elders Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill for the comprehensive review they conducted into the Labor campaign and to all the others who were on that committee that did such a lot of work and a lot of soul searching on behalf of so many of us. I was grateful to have been able to speak with members of the committee during that process. It was a thorough and honest analysis of how we lost the election, and, if we don't pay attention to it, we risk repeating our mistakes. I commend Labor's national executive for its decision to release the report publicly. While it won't be easy reading for everyone, it's something we should all do, and we should think a lot about what it says. As we begin the task of thinking about how to form government after the next election, this document should serve as a blueprint.
It's critical to the best interests of all Australians that Labor does form government in this country, because when we look at this coalition government, which has been on the treasury benches for more than six years, all I can see is a government without a plan. It's a government unprepared to govern—of course, it's a little surprised that it is continuing to do so. It's a government with no agenda and no idea about how to deal with a stagnant economy. Unemployment is rising, wage growth is frozen and almost two million Australians are looking for work or for more work.
The Emerson-Weatherill report found that we were so ambitious in our policy agenda that we ended up with too many policies. We had a strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership from Malcolm Turnbull to the current Prime Minister, and, of course, we left the door open for the government and Clive Palmer to run scare campaigns, which fuelled anxieties among lower-income voters in the outer suburbs and regional Australia that Labor would put their jobs at risk. We had a leader who did a superb job of uniting the Labor Party and seeing off two Liberal prime ministers, but, as the report acknowledged, he was unpopular among some in the electorate.
I really want to thank the member for Maribyrnong for his contribution as Labor leader. He has accepted responsibility for his role in that election, as we all collectively have for our role. I thank him for his ongoing service to the nation and his community in the seat of Maribyrnong. I cannot fault the member for Maribyrnong's commitment to Western Australia. He travelled to WA regularly and has always shown a genuine commitment to our state. We can't forget that it was Bill Shorten's leadership in announcing the WA GST fund that forced the coalition to follow suit, delivering greater fairness for my home state. Notwithstanding how many Western Australians were in the cabinet, they failed to deliver on the WA GST fund until Bill Shorten forced them to do so.
There was, of course, another important factor that contributed to a poor result across the board and a result we had not hoped for in Western Australia. The review concluded that Clive Palmer's huge anti-Labor advertising campaign had a significant effect both on the leader's popularity and on Labor's primary vote. Palmer's advertising was centred on Western Australia, where he has business interests. He was able to get away with fraudulent advertising that in many cases was virulently anti-Chinese, for which he should be condemned by everyone in this House. He ran full-page ads, which were outright lies, that sought to sow fear in the minds of everyday Australians that we would somehow be subject to an invasion.
There is more that we must do if we are to win the next election as the Labor Party. One of my chief concerns about the election campaign was its wholesale central operations run out of Parramatta and the west of Sydney. As a Western Australian it was obvious to me that our campaign workers in Parramatta could never have been expected to fully understand issues that were of concern to voters across the vast state of WA. But I do want to thank all those campaign workers who did their work from the Parramatta headquarters. They were diligent and faithful, they worked hard and they were always on call, but it is very difficult for people based there to understand what's happening on the ground in parts of the country that are vastly different and so far away.
I believe that the next election campaign, Labor's campaign in WA, must be focused on WA issues and must have the direct input and participation of Western Australian people. In this case an election is perhaps time for the party to think about decentralising its efforts. Although we held on to all five of our seats in WA, we have to face up to the fact that our primary vote fell below 30 per cent. I commit myself to working with my fellow Western Australian parliamentarians to turn that around in 2022.
Under Anthony Albanese, Labor has begun the process of spelling out a vision for the Australian people. Our leader has been talking about the importance of jobs and the importance of acknowledging that work is changing and that we, as the Labor Party, must help that transition to make sure nobody is left behind. It is through this approach that we can start the process of reconnecting with the people that we lost. Working people experiencing economic dislocation will never return to Labor unless we respond to their needs. Many people on lower incomes feel they are not listened to. Many are struggling with the cost of living, job insecurity and sluggish wages growth. Many are traditional Labor voters who turned away from Labor on 18 May.
We will develop policies that are in the interests of these people and those of all Australians. We won't become preoccupied with divisive issues that don't concern average Australians, issues that are often driven by vocal special interest groups. Of course, we can continue to be the party of reform and continue the legacy of the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard governments. Our policies can continue to be bold but they must be easily explainable. They must also fit to an overarching narrative that establishes Labor as the party of economic growth and job creation. It's in the national interests that we do better next time, and I believe that we will. I'm looking forward to the future and I'm looking forward to forming and fostering many more warm and productive relationships with colleagues on all sides in this place over the next 2½ years and hopefully, of course, beyond.
Before I end, I will use these last few minutes to wish all members of the House of Representatives and the other place a very happy Christmas. I hope they enjoy a restful, peaceful break over the summer-New Year period. I also want to thank the people who I work with every day back in Rockingham where my electorate office is based. I thank my staff: Kate Gurbiel, Ryan Pavlinovich, Georgia Tree, Jacinta Pember, Jenny O'Reilly, Matej Stasak and my new staff member Andrew Burrell. They are a great team of people. Many have been with me basically since I got elected in 2016. Their commitment to the cause is unwavering. They work long hours, do many other duties as directed and have patience with me, which can be a trial, so I do appreciate them and I thank them for their patience. They always display a respectful attitude to all of my colleagues in this place. They help facilitate me being slightly better organised than I have been in the past, with my picking up the Trade portfolio as the spokesperson for the Labor opposition in trade. They have been able to do a quick turnaround of work and they have been able to get across many complex issues very quickly without the resources that one would have in government. They make best use of the limited resources they have to make sure that I get the best advice so that we can work in that portfolio in the interests of the whole constituency of this country but especially those who seek to support Labor—who have supported us in the past and will into the future. Thank you to my team. You're a delight, and I hope you all get a very good rest over Christmas and New Year's. It has been a very hard year with the election campaign and with a shadow cabinet portfolio. I'm enormously grateful for all your help. I look forward to what the new year will bring. With that, a very merry Christmas to you. I know it's a little way off, but it always comes around quickly. Thanks to all my colleagues for all their support over the year.
It is a great honour and a privilege to be in this place. As someone who grew up in Ipswich as the son of a meatworker, who was a cleaner and a shop assistant, I often find it mystifying and almost magical that someone from a poor background who had the challenges that I had—poverty being the least of them in my family's experience—could be the member for my area. I am humbled by the support that my electorate has given me. This is now my fifth term as the member for Blair. If you think of a country town in South-East Queensland, the chances are I've represented it in the last 12 years. I want to thank my wife, Carolyn, who has suffered from ill health for a number of years, for her steadfast love, affection and support. To my daughters, Alex and Jacqui, and their partners, thank you very much also for your ongoing love and commitment to me. To my extended family, thank you also. I couldn't do this job without your support. To the people of Blair, I will not let you down. I will work as hard as I can, as I've done over the last 12 years, to support you and deliver for you. To my electorate staff, I thank you for what you've done. To my shadow ministerial staff in the last parliament, I thank Jesse Northfield, as well as Tim Dunlop and Melissa Hockey before, for the work that they have done. I want to thank also the branches of the Labor Party—from Springfield in the east to the Somerset branch in the Somerset Region to the north and west, and across Ipswich—for their fantastic support. I couldn't do this without the support of Labor Party members and supporters who stand at prepoll, hand out how-to-vote cards, erect signs, attend at mobile offices, make phone calls, and do phone canvassing, letterbox drops and door knocking with me. Without your undying and unyielding support, this job couldn't be done and our campaigns couldn't be run.
I also want to thank affiliated unions. To my own union, The Services Union in Queensland, to the state secretary, Neil Henderson, and the Queensland president, Jen Thomas, thank you for your friendship and affection, as well as your support of my campaign. I am proud to be a member of a union. I go into every campaign with the Labor Party membership ticket in my pocket and a union membership ticket in my pocket as well. I express my deep condolences to the Australian Services Union for the loss of my dear friend, the national secretary, David Smith, who died tragically and unexpectedly last Friday. He was a mentor and friend to me and he was beloved in Queensland and by the union. I thank the SDA, the AWU, the TWU and the Plumbers Union for your ongoing support as well.
I want to thank the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Sydney. I have worked closely with them for many years and, in the last government, I worked as the parliamentary secretary to the member for Sydney in health and ageing, and I really grew to admire and respect Tanya for the work she does. I want to thank Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, for his steadfast service to the Labor Party and the union movement and for his leadership. I want to thank all those members across the board—across my home state of Queensland and nationally—who supported our campaign. I thank the Queensland branch and the Queensland office, as well as the national secretariat. The election outcome we wanted wasn't to be, and it is a great disappointment to the Australian Labor Party. But we are coming out of our slough of despond, as John Bunyan talks about in Pilgrim's Progress, and we will be there fighting at the next election as we always do because we believe in the cause of Labor, social justice, equality of opportunity and a fair go for all.
And a fair go for all is what my home state and my city of Ipswich and surrounds have not received under this government. We made a number of commitments in this campaign which were absolutely crucial. Road projects, rail projects, support for health services and for veterans, and civic centre and emergency evacuation centre upgrades are deeply and dearly needed in my electorate, and they haven't been supported by the current government across now three terms. These are critical for the city of Ipswich, growing at the rate it is. It will more than double its population in the next 20 years. I have the satellite cities of Ripley and a large part of Springfield in my electorate, and the population is growing tremendously quickly. But this is a government that seems almost bereft of any form of economic plan for this country. We've got people experiencing wage stagnation, rising prices, and the high cost of essentials with power prices going up and child care becoming more unaffordable. And the government seems incapable of getting this country and its economy moving. Productivity is at record lows as well. And, all through this time, this government talks about its plans.
The economy is struggling. If you go to small country towns in my electorate or to suburban shopping centres—I was at Raceview shopping centre; I think I have done 50 mobile offices since the last election—you will see the lack of cars at the shopping centres and the lack of patronage. During the campaign I had cause to travel extensively to country towns and cities across Queensland. In Townsville, Gladstone, Rockhampton or wherever I was going, there were great swathes of the CBD where the shopfronts were closed. We see that even in my city of Ipswich, where businesses are struggling. The economy is growing at the slowest rate since the global financial crisis. Unemployment is stagnant and is at a very high level. More than two million Australians are either unemployed or looking for more work. Household debt is rising. The current government has doubled the debt. They constantly call it our debt. It's almost as if they're in office but not in power. The government have to take responsibility for the fact that the net debt has more than doubled under them and skyrocketed to record highs. Business confidence is down and consumer confidence is down. We see household living standards decline under the current government to a level lower than when this government came to office.
With all these challenges, you would think that the government would think about investing in infrastructure in fast-growing regions such as the Ipswich and West Moreton regions, but they have not. Even in their most recent announcement of their infrastructure spend, there is simply no new money for my electorate, and money seems to be diverted to electorates which had someone wearing a blue shirt on election day. LNP electorates across Queensland seem to get the preponderance of the extra money that has been allocated. And, even then, it's only about $1.7 billion extra. Certainly there is none for Blair. I am pleased that the government has responded—and I wrote a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister on 7 June 2019—in relation to a shocking intersection on the Warrego Highway, and also the Cunningham Highway. The Mount Crosby interchange should be a priority for any government in Queensland—state as well as national. It's a cause of real angst for people on the Warrego Highway, people who live in the northern suburbs of Ipswich such as around Karalee, Chuwar, Tivoli and North Ipswich and even into Brisbane, around Karana Downs and Mount Crosby. I give credit to the current government for finally coming to an agreement on the upgrade of the Mount Crosby interchange. I urged them to do that, and I made speeches in this place in relation to it. They have come to an arrangement with the Queensland government. It will cost $22 million, but I urge them to even bring it forward. There will be a public consultation process in relation to this matter, and I thank the Queensland government and the current government for finally listening to not just my voice but the voice of the member for Ipswich West, Jim Madden, who has also been advocating for this particular project.
But there seems to be nothing in relation to another road project in my electorate. Across the last close to 20 years, we've had agreement from both sides of politics to upgrade the RAAF base at Amberley. Well over a billion dollars has been spent on what is the biggest RAAF base in the country, which is fast becoming the biggest base in the country.
But the road infrastructure along that area has not been upgraded, and still we've seen the growth in suburbs like the Ripley Valley, Deebing Heights and around Willowbank. Labor made a commitment before the last election to put $170 million towards upgrading the Cunningham Highway from Yamanto to Ebenezer Creek. The current government, to its credit, put money behind it but unfortunately didn't bring the money forward and needs to undertake negotiations with the Queensland government to get this going. I would urge the Queensland government to put it back on the radar so that the Cunningham Highway is upgraded. You can't have thousands and thousands of people working on the RAAF base at Amberley and in the aerospace industry it surrounds and the suburbs that are booming in and around that area without the road that connects the base to Ipswich and beyond being upgraded. It's unconscionable, and it can't go on forever.
So, I urge the government—both the Queensland government and this government—to undertake the necessary negotiation to get this project done. It's really critical for South-East Queensland. You can't have an aerospace industry, can't have a base of this magnitude, without this being done. Economic productivity is being stymied. Thousands and thousands of vehicles a day, including trucks, go through that intersection. It's important for connectivity, for the economic development of South-East Queensland.
There are a number of other things I want to turn to. One of the things I have done since I've been elected is put a focus on disability and on seniors in my electorate. I think it's a tragedy that this government has got the National Disability Insurance Scheme wrong. The underspend of $4.6 billion is a disgrace. Anyone who's in this place, in the House or the Senate, would have dealt with constituents who are constantly having problems in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The current government has underspent and is making it more difficult and has completely botched the scheme. I have been working with my staff on case after case to assist people.
One of the things I have done since being elected is make sure that locally we can get information to people who are living with disability, as well as their families and carers. I have given out well over 100,000 of these Blair Disability Links booklets across 10 years. This here is the 2020 directory. So popular were they that I started the Blair Seniors Links directory, and here I have the 2020 version of that. I am about to complete the Blair Sports Links booklet for 2020. This is the 2019 version, with the Ipswich Rangers rugby union team on the front; it was their 50th year, which is great to see. I'm very happy to support local constituents, and if they want to get copies of those booklets they can come and do that. I've had many people, many organisations, who want to come to our region and who want to be in those booklets. There are many great organisations, and I want to support them as well.
One of the big problems we have in a regional and rural electorate is telecommunications. One of the challenges we have is of course the NBN. This will be the shame of the former Prime Minister and the shame of this government. Certainly the former Prime Minister, Prime Minister Turnbull, when he was the telecommunications minister, completely botched the NBN. Fancy spending an extra $21.4 billion over the budget and getting the whole project four years behind schedule. The multitechnological mix that they've got there is not the original fibre plan, and people know it. In country towns in my electorate they know that they're not getting the upload and download speeds. And we've fallen behind comparable OECD countries and other comparable countries that we test ourselves against on economic development, educational attainment and a whole range of indices, and we have got it wrong in this country. The technology mix for NBN has been diversified, but it's been detrimental and has been at a cost of lower quality of services, and users are having to shoulder higher costs but are receiving poorer outcomes.
So, we need to fix this if we get into government next time. I am encouraged by the headland speech of the new opposition leader, the member for Grayndler, in Brisbane last week—I know the member for Lilley was there as well, and other Queensland MPs and senators were there from the Labor side—in which Mr Albanese put this front and centre. We need to address this issue. It's ridiculous that in the 21st century we're falling behind the way we are. I would encourage the government to reassess this.
While I'm on that, I want to congratulate the member for Grayndler and the member for Corio. I'm happy to work in his Defence team in the shadow ministry. I am happy to have this role and I was pleased the member for Grayndler asked me to work as the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and Defence personnel, particularly with the RAAF Base Amberley being in my electorate. While I'm on the subject of RAAF Base Amberley, I want the government to address an issue that is so important to my electorate: the failure of this government to respond to PFAS contamination.
I feel very much misled by the Department of Defence in relation to the impact of PFAS on my electorate. We need a national approach in relation to this matter. I have written to the Minister for Health about people in my constituency being able to get access to voluntary blood tests in relation to the impact PFAS may have on their personal lives. We have seen more and more testing and investigations undertaken in relation to PFAS. But the Department of Defence has handled this incredibly badly. PFAS contamination is not just linked and limited to Oakey, Williamtown and Katherine. It is across a whole range of our capital cities, major towns and ports. Anywhere this contaminant was used it has affected people, including those in and around RAAF Base Amberley.
As I said recently on ABC Radio, when I was a child we would swim in the Bremer River and we would catch fish—we would use it for recreation. But, of course, in the creeks leading into the Bremer River and the Brisbane River—and people still go on the Brisbane River; I see the Bremer canoe race—we see the contaminants that have been identified. Recently, an investigation showed there were issues in relation to potentially major problems in the suburb of Leichhardt in Ipswich, where water from additional creeks was being used on the then golf links before the Heritage Links development took place. This could have resulted in contamination for 325 residents in Leichhardt in Ipswich. The guidelines say, 'Don't eat homegrown produce or chicken eggs'. People in these regions in and around RAAF Base Amberley use water for their cattle and for vegetables they may have grown. So this goes into our meat supply and elsewhere, and there are really big problems in my region, and it potentially affects hundreds if not thousands of local residents in the Ipswich region. But the government seems to have downplayed this issue. I note the class action is taking place. I am urging the government to be serious about a national approach, and to allow blood testing to take place in my electorate.
So there are a number of issues that affect my electorate—affecting the lives of people. The environmental investigation is revealing more and more problems for people locally in our region. The consultation has been inadequate and issues have been downplayed. Whenever I've been at various events—for example, the Amberley consultative working group and elsewhere—I have discovered again and again Defence handling this issue very, very badly. They should do much, much better.
I want to thank the electors of Blair for their support for me. I won't let you down. I will work as hard as I can in the next three years. Thank you very much for your ongoing support.
I think it's fair to say that there's no-one in Australia that's more surprised about the election result than the government itself. We do of course accept the result, but it is bitterly disappointing not just for those of us who were hoping and had thought our way through the plans to form government but most importantly for the community that I represent.
The electorate of Bruce has some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of Melbourne, and indeed the most disadvantaged council in the metropolitan area of Melbourne. I just want to record for the House that the government, despite making hundreds of millions of dollars of promises in seats surrounding it, made not one single commitment to my electorate. The most disadvantaged people in a city of over five million people under this government were not worthy of one dollar in the election commitments. All they've experienced since the election is the government's ongoing attacks on public services; the privatisation of Centrelink; cuts to the National Disability Insurance Scheme; and of course, the disgraceful effort, which is well underway with an announcement expected soon, to privatise the issuing and processing of Australian visas and citizenship—a disgrace.
But it's true to say that the Labor Party, I think, stuffed up this election, and we own that. We're in the midst of our political coprophagia, as we speak, thinking our way through it. But, as we've seen, the government has no plan; the economy is tanking; wage growth is at record lows; underemployment is at record highs—1.2 million Australians seeking more work; productivity growth has stagnated; consumer confidence and business confidence are down; and we see the Prime Minister making it up every day as he goes along with no plan for the economy, no plan for the country. The more he says those words—we hear them in question time: stable and certain—'We have a stable and certain plan,' the more Australians need to understand that that is because there is no plan. Prime Minister, he doth protest too much.
But one thing that has not changed since the election is this government's unrelenting attacks on the most vulnerable Australians. I just want to turn some remarks to the issue of robodebt. We've seen an incredible turnaround just in the last two weeks. Robodebt was inaccurate, unfair and damaging to the most vulnerable Australians. It was a dodgy scheme of debt collection, utilising the power of the state, the Commonwealth logo, to recoup debts that were not owed. It's taken the human out of Human Services. What the government has done with this is grab a computer that takes the tax office annual reported income and spits out a letter if that doesn't match the income that was reported to Centrelink. There's no human left anymore who checks the fortnightly reported income to Centrelink. They just raise a debt notice with no proof.
I want to record the example of Lydia, a wonderful constituent of mine who I met only three weeks ago. She came in, astonished, to have been told she had a debt to the Commonwealth of $22,000. Lydia's over 60. Three years ago—
A division has been called. The proceedings are suspended to enable honourable members to attend the division. The proceedings will resume when the chair of the Federation Chamber is resumed at the conclusion of the division or subsequent divisions. Thank you.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Proceedings suspended from 11:22 to 11:42
Lydia, some years ago, had already paid back $3½ thousand to the Commonwealth for a debt she did not owe. This was because she got a notice claiming the debt. She knew that she'd reported her income correctly to Centrelink every fortnight, but when she tried to get the documents to prove that—the debt was more than five years old—her tax agent said, 'We don't have them, because you don't have to keep documents for more than five years.' She went to the business, but it had gone bankrupt, so she couldn't get the payslips. As she had no way of proving that she did not owe that debt, she was compelled by the brutality, the bullying of the state to repay $3½ thousand she did not owe. Lydia has worked for over 10 years as an English as a second language teacher. She works on an intermittent casual basis, so her income fluctuates throughout the year. Therefore, because of this casual work, she relies at times on income support payments to make ends meet. The government's cruel robodebt has a real human impact and is incredibly distressing. Lydia summed it up to me in one word, which was 'unjust'.
The government, of course, have now hit the brakes on this scheme after immense pressure from Labor and after the threat of a class action. They panicked after hearing from the lawyers but didn't listen to the community, which has been crying out for years about the unjustness of this robodebt extortion scheme. They're still pretending there's nothing wrong. The minister said in question time that backtracking on the scheme doesn't prove that anything is flawed, but it's a very late admission that there's something rotten at the core of robodebt. Questions still need to be answered. What happens to the victims of robodebt over the last few years who have repaid money?
What happens to the money which has been improperly and unjustly obtained by the Commonwealth? This is a harsh misuse of government power.
The government, in effect, has been acting like an internet scammer, scaring vulnerable and innocent people with the Commonwealth crest saying, 'Pay up or we'll get you.' It's had a particularly negative impact—I know from my electorate—on migrants to this country, who struggle to challenge this unclaimed debt and get extra terrified when they see the government's coming after them. Robodebt has had extraordinary impacts on my community after struggling with six years of cuts to essential services.
I want to turn my remarks to another topic, which is the need for Australia to get real on medicine safety. Too many Australians are being seriously injured, sometimes with lifelong impacts or dying, because of the weakness in our pharmacovigilance system. In a recent study the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia estimated the extent of the problem at 250,000 annual hospital admissions as a result of medication related problems and 400,000 additional presentations to emergency departments, likely because of medicine related problems. There's an annual cost of $1.4 billion, and yet 50 per cent of this harm is estimated to be preventable.
I have spoken before about my concerns in this area, and so have many other advocates, but the government is still not taking these issues seriously. Every day of inaction means Australians are at risk of death or serious harm from medicines when it could be avoided. I have spoken a number of times in the parliament about how, almost three years ago, my daughter almost died because she was prescribed an old and dangerous drug, Diane-35, for a purpose for which it was not approved. No-one told her this before she took it. Her doctor did not tell her and her pharmacist, therefore, could not. There was no possibility of informed consent. There was a clear failure to warn of potentially serious side effects, so she took the drug, developed a 64 centimetre blood clot in her leg and almost died after a long-haul flight from Sri Lanka.
I believe this lack of informed consent is wrong in Australia. It is a fact that there is a higher likelihood of side effects when a drug is prescribed for a purpose other than which it is approved by the TGA. Of course many off-label prescriptions are safe. The TGA recognises that off-label prescriptions may be clinically appropriate in some circumstances, but it also recommends that such use only be considered where other options are unavailable, exhausted, not tolerated or unsuitable, in essence, because it is riskier. Failure to inform and warn patients means they cannot decide for themselves, and the quality of the conversations between doctors and patients is therefore diminished.
What was meant to be a family holiday for us quickly turned into a nightmare. If Elanor had been told about the heightened risk of blood clots, she would not have taken that drug, especially before long-haul travel. There were so many opportunities for her to be told of the risks, yet but no-one was required to tell her. These types of iatrogenic illnesses are far too common in Australia. However, due to flaws in our medicine safety system, the real size of this problem is unknown. The health minister declared in July this year that medicine safety is a national health priority. He said:
I am delighted to announce and confirm today that the Australian Government will now move through the Council of Australian Government's process to make the quality and safe use of medicines a National Health Priority. He said:
That work is underway and we will not stop until it is done.
But it's almost six months on and there's no evidence that the government has a plan or any specific commitments beyond the rhetoric. It looks as if the minister needed an announcement to go to the conference so they dreamt this up.
I want to propose again a few areas of concern that should be looked at seriously if the minister is serious about this and willing to look at difficult issues. The areas of concern are: firstly, this broader issue of off label prescribing—again, the practice of prescribing TGA approved drugs for a purpose for which they were approved; secondly, Australia's adverse reporting regime, which is underreporting, as compared to other jurisdictions; thirdly, the transparency of the TGA's operations. I'll flag this as a topic for another day, given the lack of time available.
Off-label prescribing is not a new concern. The general risks have been talked about for years. The medical negligence lawyers are warning doctors. There is endless public reporting that doctors bear increased legal risk for off-label prescribing. Good old Dr Google provides oodles of information about the risks and the clinical and legal issues involved.
I'll demonstrate the problem, quickly using my daughter as an example. The doctor prescribed her an off-label drug. Elanor presented with an indication and the doctor says, 'You should try this drug,' and yet that drug was not actually approved for that indication. Diane-35 was approved for severe acne, when other options had failed, or excessive body hair, in the case of androgyny. They're pretty narrow indications, because the drug makers knew they could never get it approved as a contraceptive pill. They could not; it would not be approved. There are safer, more modern alternatives. The issue here is consent. There's no obligation in Australia for a clinician to tell a patient that the prescription they've been handed is for a drug for a purpose that it was not approved for. The critical feature there of consent is, I believe, that a person should consent to treatment. But how can this be so if they don't know all the facts? I believe we need to look at a positive duty on clinicians. It's there. It says that good clinical practice is that you should foster informed consent and tell patients about this, but it's not mandatory. I'm told by many clinicians who agree with my position that this is controversial because of the doctor's lobby. I'll talk about that in a moment. But my belief is that people in this parliament and the health minister should first and foremost stick up for consumers.
The next thing that happens, of course, when you get that script is you go and get the drug from the pharmacist. In Australia, the pharmacist does not know if a prescription is off label, so the pharmacist has no ability to warn or provide information about possible side effects and the heightened risks that we know will come. I believe we should look at a system whereby pharmacists can simply be notified by a tick box from the doctor if a prescription is being given for a drug for a purpose for which it was not approved. Other countries have this.
Thirdly there is the issue of adverse events. You have to have post-approval monitoring to see what side effects are happening. Again, this goes back to the idea that the clinician should have an obligation to notify of adverse events. In Australia again there is no obligation on doctors to notify of adverse events. I'll talk further in a moment about that.
Through this example of my daughter and what happened to my family, I came to investigate and learn far more about these issues of off-label prescribing. They're systemic; they're not isolated concerns. My view, I know, is shared by various doctors, academics, regulators and colleagues, both in the Labor Party and indeed across the aisle, about the general concerns, and I'll state them, about off-label uses. Firstly, in many cases rigorous scientific evidence of benefit does not exist. Patients taking the drug are not protected by the manufacturer having been required to at least show how this drug has the claimed effect in premarket studies. This is like the situation with all drugs pre-thalidomide and pre-modern drug regulation introduced in the 1960s in all industrialised countries, including Australia.
Secondly, a study of adverse drug reactions in off-label uses without strong scientific evidence of benefit that included over 45,000 patients found high rates of harm with off-label use compared to approved use. Around 20 people per 10,000 experienced harm with each month of off-label use, versus around 13 per 10,000 with approved use. That's not a big difference but when you scale it up it is material. This is not a new concern. The government has known about this for years. For instance, in 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Health heard evidence that the licensing subsidising and monitoring of pharmaceuticals in Australia was far from transparent and effective. The Health Consumers' Council submission suggested seven reforms to improve transparency and safety. One of those seven reforms called for a proper look at the incidence of off-label prescribing:
7. The Commonwealth Government should commission or conduct research into the incidence and impact of 'off label' prescribing. The research should concentrate on the health impacts of off label prescribing and the extent of PBS subsidisation for the off label use of medications. Based on the outcome of this research the Commonwealth Government may consider if over time it is worth encouraging 'off label' prescribing to become 'on label'. This could be achieved by gradually enforcing PBS subsidisation of medications to those prescribed within the approved guidelines. This may encourage pharmaceutical companies to apply to the TGA to expand the range of authorised uses of their products and would help ensure that prescribing practices are supported by robust evidence.
The PBS comment is an interesting point, worthy of exploration in a proper inquiry to help ensure taxpayers' dollars are not subsidising ineffective or dangerous off-label prescribing, because currently the PBS specifies indications for which subsidisation is available, but those indications don't match the approved on-label uses and there is no penalty for, or policing of, prescribers who lie. In essence, in plain English, if you prescribe a drug for an approved purpose when it has been prescribed for another purpose and lie about it, nothing will happen. The truth is no-one really knows the extent or the PBS cost of off-label prescribing.
As I said, to be clear—I just want to put this on the record—off-label prescribing is not always a problem. The submission goes on to say:
Off label prescribing does not necessarily result in adverse outcomes, often patients benefit. But it is unregulated and outside safety parameters established through licencing process. The extent to which medications that are listed on the PBS and prescribed 'off label' receive full subsidy is unknown but the cost is likely to be substantial. The net health benefit (or loss) of off label prescribing is also unknown and warrants investigation.
In essence, we have no real idea of how common this is in Australia or its impact. Furthermore, the HCC cautioned:
However once a drug has been approved doctors are free to prescribe it as they see fit, even in contravention to the manufacturer's recommendations ('off label' use). 'Off label' prescribing occurs so regularly that it has, in many cases, become the norm.
Again I say that I'm not proposing to remove that clinical discretion, but I do think that we should have informed consent. I think we need a proper look at the extent to which this is happening.
There are many examples, not just Diane-35. Firstly, there is the off-label prescription of antidepressants and youth suicide. There is not one antidepressant approved by the TGA for use in Australia among people under 18—not one. Yet, in 2017-18, nearly two per cent of Australian children were prescribed an antidepressant. This practice is completely unregulated and outside the safety parameters established through the licensing process. Worryingly, there is now a statistical correlation in Australia between the rate of prescription of antidepressant drugs for young people and youth suicide. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18, antidepressant prescribing for people between the ages of nought and 27 increased by approximately 66 per cent. In that same period, suicide rates in that cohort rose by 49 per cent. Before this, the rate of prescribing was decreasing, as were suicide rates.
Between 2006 and 2016 there was a 98 per cent increase in intentional poisonings among five- to 19-year-olds in New South Wales and Victoria, with substantial overlap between the most commonly dispensed psychotropics and the drugs most commonly used in self-poisonings. To be clear: correlation, of course, is not causation. The causes of suicide are complex and we cannot draw conclusions based on this data alone. But these statistics now—we have 10 years of them—are red flags that need investigation because there is no adequate mechanism in Australia whereby our regulatory body is required to investigate what is going on and there is no requirement for doctors who prescribe these antidepressants off label to report instances of suicide if they're aware of them.
Particularly worrying is the US FDA's warning that antidepressants are associated with increased risk—approximately double—of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in people under 25 years. I understand that this is a contentious and controversial area. There are many mental health advocates—indeed, some of the most prominent in Australia—who are strongly in favour of such prescribing, while others urge caution. But the 10 years of data now and the epidemic of prescribing should be enough to warrant a serious look at the issue.
Another example is the sedative drugs used in aged-care facilities. The recent royal commission into aged care revealed that antipsychotics, antidepressants and sedatives were being used at an exceptionally alarming rate in Australia's aged-care facilities to control residents. These drugs were mostly prescribed off list for behavioural symptoms of serious diseases, such as dementia, rather than for the purpose which the TGA had approved the drug. They were used on patients far too often for the wrong reasons—to cut costs for the aged-care facilities. The fact that this practice happened is a source of national shame for our country. The epidemic, out-of-control practice of off-label prescribing should be seriously looked at.
They are just two examples. There are other worrying examples. Antipsychotics, such as Seroquel, are used at low doses to treat insomnia in patients without mental illness. Clinical trials have failed to show benefit, yet this practice is widespread. Motilium is used for inadequate breast milk supply. There is no clinical evidence of its efficacy. I note that the EU restricted its use in 2014 to no more than 30 milligrams a day for no more than one week—that's the on-label use—and recommended against off-label use, including for breastfeeding. Ketamine is being prescribed for depression. The list is long.
As I said, the UK and several European countries require doctors to inform patients—it's a legal positive duty—when they're prescribing off-label drugs, so informed consent is required. I'm not proposing that we remove clinical discretion from doctors, but I do think we need to look at strengthening that duty to inform patients.
Also important is adverse reporting. A robust postapproval monitoring system is a critical part of drug safety. A key part of this is to ensure that adverse incidents from taking a drug are reported to increase the body of clinical knowledge about off-label use for the benefit of all consumers. In comparison with similar jurisdictions, Australia now has relatively low rates of adverse incident reporting. The raw data over the last five years is concerning. The majority of reports come from pharmaceutical companies, which are under a legal obligation to report. This has risen over five years from about 9,000 reports in 2014-15 to about 14,000 reports in 2018-19. That's good. Yet over the same period we've seen a fall in the number of reports from doctors—from 4,831 to 4,415. In Australia, astoundingly, there is no obligation on the part of doctors who prescribe drugs to report adverse impacts to the TGA, even when prescribed off label, and only a fraction are reported.
After her near-fatal blood clot, my daughter rang her doctor's surgery and said, 'Have you reported this to the TGA?' I think they freaked out. A week later they rang back and said, 'We've had a practice meeting and decided that that's not appropriate and we don't need to, because blood clots are a known side effect of the pill.' What a nonsensical answer. The point is that we need to collect statistics on how often this is occurring to determine if drugs are safe or not. So why are doctors not obliged to report suspected adverse medication incidents? I get the paperwork argument, but we can automate this stuff now. When a doctor changes someone from one medication to another, why can't they press a button and have that automatically go to the TGA so that we get better data?
Australia needs to think critically about reform because the current system is not effective. If the health minister were serious about making medicine misuse and danger a national health priority, as he said he is, he would look at these more difficult issues.
I congratulate the member for Bruce for taking on such an important issue. He's very right to raise it as a concern. Well done.
It's been some months, of course, since the Governor-General's speech, and I was interested to note, at that time, that the Governor-General's speech focused a lot on our economy. Of course, it is so important that we do focus on our economy, because, when you look around the world at how economies are improving and recovering after the global financial crisis, it is extraordinary that the Australian economy continues to do worse and worse on so many important indicators. It is distressing in the extreme that the Prime Minister has been ignoring the decline in so many economic indicators and pretending to Australian families that they've never been better off. Whenever you hear the Australian Prime Minister talking to Australian families, you hear him saying that times are good, that times have never been better. Families don't feel that way. Ordinary families don't feel like they've never been better off. Most people I speak to are so very aware of the fact that they haven't had a pay rise in years, that all of their expenses are continuing to increase but the family budget is being stretched thinner and thinner.
The economy is growing at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis. We've turned our backs on the efforts that we made during the global financial crisis to keep Australians working. We went from being one of the fastest or the second fastest growing economies during the global financial crisis to now being 20th on the list of fastest growing economies around the world. The OECD, the Reserve Bank—all of them—expect our economy to remain slow and for unemployment to remain higher than budget forecasts over the next two years. The OECD's economic outlook forecasts weak, below-trend growth of only 1.7 per cent this year and 2.3 per cent next year, and forecasts unemployment of 5.3 per cent in 2020. Net debt has, of course, doubled under this government. I find it so extraordinary when I hear the Treasurer talking about Labor's debt. This is a government, which is now in its seventh year in office, that has doubled our debt. It has doubled our debt and refuses to take any responsibility for this fact. Having doubled our national debt, it is refusing to take responsibility for it.
We've got almost two million Australians who are looking for a job, or looking for more hours of work. Living standards are falling. We've got the combined impact of the lowest wages growth on record and two million people who are unemployed or underemployed. That is being felt in the family budget. Wages are growing at one-sixth of the rate of profits. People will tell you that themselves. They'll tell you that they're finding it harder to meet the bills as they come in. In fact, household debt has also surged to record levels of 190 per cent of disposable income. Real household median income today is actually lower than it was in 2013. So, on the one hand, we've got the Prime Minister telling us that Australian families have never been better off, yet every economic indicator—wages, unemployment, underemployment, living standards, household debt—are all pointing to a very different picture. The fact that households are now in so much debt is the reason that successive interest rate cuts have not had the desired impact on our economy.
People are nervous. They're keeping their money in their pockets and paying forward their mortgages, because they're not able to count on a wage rise, are not able to count on getting the hours of work they want in their jobs and are not able to count on having a job, having an income, next year. So, the interest rate cuts and the tax cuts that have already been provided aren't making a difference in stimulating consumer demand in the economy, because of this nervousness.
Business investment is down, too, not just because of poor consumer demand but because businesses don't have the confidence to invest. Business investment is down 20 per cent since the Liberals came to office, and it's now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. This is a government that likes to pretend they are working cooperatively with business to support activity in the Australian economy, but the proof is just not there. In fact, the figures tell a completely different story. Retail trade is at its worst since the 1990s recession. Consumer confidence is absolutely affected. If people don't have a wage increase, if they know that their wages are flatlining, if they continue to struggle with high levels of household debt, then they don't buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, don't make an impulse purchase at the shops on the weekend and don't take the kids out for pizza on a Friday night.
The figures on retail trade tell the story maybe better than any other statistic, other than wages growth, about how families are feeling—the lack of confidence, the lack of security. And we've got a Treasurer who continues to absolutely put his head in the sand on this, to ignore all the statistics. Most ordinary Australians don't want to be poring over retail trade statistics or consumer confidence or wages growth figures, but oh my goodness, we should have a Treasurer who does. We really ought to have a Treasurer who understands that when you get low wages growth, low consumer confidence, low business investment and low productivity growth then these things spell trouble for our economic fundamentals.
You can't have a strong economy unless you've got a government that has a wages policy that would see decent wages growth. You can't have a strong economy if you don't have a government that sees the sense of investing in services like education that improve our productivity, the health of our community and our economy over time. So, I want to go from speaking more generally about the economy to focusing on education and training. When you lock an Australian out of an education you are locking them out of a job. Business after business is telling me that while they see and are concerned about high youth unemployment in their area the people who are coming to them are not trained for the jobs they've got in their businesses. So, what have we got? We've got parts of Australia with youth unemployment as high as one in four or one in five young people; we've got employers who complain that skills shortages are restricting their ability to grow their business; and we've got a failing education and training system where the government has cut billions and underspent on top of those cuts.
We will always be the party that will stand up for working people getting better wages as well as the party that stands up for properly training our young people for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow and retraining our older workers as our economy changes. We know that we need to invest right through our education system, from early childhood education and care, where this government refuses to commit to preschool funding, through to a proper needs-based funding system for our schools. And I note that while it's terrific that the government has provided extra funding to schools in drought affected areas, that only goes to Catholic and independent schools. There are a lot of kids in public schools whose families are doing it tough in drought affected areas. Those schools are finding it hard to fundraise. Those kids are finding it hard to afford books and school uniforms and, perhaps, an excursion. Government continues to cut preschool education, school education, and universities—our system has to address this. But in regional communities in particular, TAFE has been the backbone of our training system. This is where this government has failed to invest in training those unemployed young people, and those workers who are facing changes in their workplaces, for the jobs that exist.
What we've seen is that nine out of 10 new jobs that will be created in coming years will require either a TAFE education or a university education. Labor insists that we need to properly fund both. The government talks about funding for vocational education. In fact they've been actively discouraging young people from seeking a university education, saying that they believe a TAFE education is important and good and so on. But they've actually cut vocational education funding by $3 billion. So on the one hand they say it's a good thing and there should be more of it, but on the other hand they've cut TAFE and vocational education funding by more than $3 billion.
On top of that $3 billion cut—which is there in the budget papers for anybody to see—the government has actually underspent. Even in the programs that they've committed to, they've underspent by close to $1 billion. In the 2014-15 financial year, they underspent by $138 million. In the 2015-16 financial year, it was $247—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12:12 to 12:30
Before the suspension, I was running through the annual underspends of the TAFE and training budget and, as I said, in 2014-15 the underspend was $138 million; in 2015-16 it was $247 million, almost a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar underspend that year; in 2016-17 it was $118 million; in 2017-18 it was $202 million; and in 2018-19 it was $214 million. This is a total of $919 million underspent in the TAFE and training budget. What this means, in real terms, is that apprentice and tradie programs, including things like apprentice incentives for business, support to help people finish apprenticeships and a fund designed to train Australians in areas of need, have all been underspent.
You don't have to look very far. You visit a TAFE and see the desperate need to upgrade facilities in many areas. Some TAFEs are in disrepair. Apprentice and trainee numbers are falling off a cliff, and in many states and territories TAFE programs or whole TAFE campuses have been lost. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, they have been closed or sold off, privatised, by conservative state governments.
The Prime Minister claims that his government wants to 'really lift the status of vocational education in Australia'. But how do you do that when you cut $3 billion and throw in a $1 billion underspend in the same area? Senator Michaelia Cash, the minister, admitted in estimates that these underspends are as a result of what she calls 'less demand than forecast'. We saw another demand-driven program, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, being underspent by billions of dollars—and how do you do that? If you're a government that does not want to invest in the National Disability Insurance Scheme or in TAFE and training, the money might be technically there in the budget but you don't employ enough staff to spend the money.
In this case, what they've done is design programs that are so unwieldy and so unappealing to employers or to people who are thinking about studying in TAFE or doing an apprenticeship that people go, 'Why would I bother?' If you're an employer, you think, 'Why would I bother taking on an apprentice when you've put all these roadblocks in front of me so I don't use this program?' If you're an apprentice, you're turned away at the door. This is not an accident. It's what happens when we consistently design programs that don't meet the needs of students, apprentices or trainees and don't meet the needs of the businesses that are crying out for employees, particularly in areas of skills shortage.
After many years of neglect now by the Liberals, too many Australians, particularly young Australians, are locked out of TAFE. In South Australia, in recent years, seven TAFE campuses have closed and 700 jobs have been lost. In New South Wales one-third of the TAFE workforce have lost their jobs. We saw reports just last week of further job losses in TAFE. In New South Wales we've had campus closures at Dapto and Quirindi, and many more are reportedly being considered by the Liberals in New South Wales. At Padstow College, the impact of the government's cuts to TAFE have been seen in the commercial cookery courses being cut, a lack of information technology classes and the closure of the automotive workshop. There are shortages of workers in all of these industries, yet the New South Wales government's response is to close the courses needed to train the people to meet those skills shortages.
This is a skills crisis created by the Liberals through their failure to invest in TAFE and training. We've got shortages of workers in areas like plumbing, carpentry, hairdressing and motor mechanics. And today, we've got 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when the Liberals first came to office. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship today is fewer than it was a decade ago. There are more people dropping out of TAFE and training this year than are finishing their courses. Businesses are the ones who are raising this with me consistently. Parents and young people locked out of training raise it too, but business owners will be the first to tell you that they are desperate for greater investment in this area. The Australian Industry Group says that 75 per cent of businesses surveyed are struggling to find the qualified workers they need. So you've got 75 per cent of businesses saying that they can't find the staff they need, yet there are two million Australians who want work or want more hours of work. What's missing? What's missing is the link that trains those two million people for the jobs that 75 per cent of employers say they need filled. We've got this terrible mismatch.
I'll finish on this: what are the human consequences of this mismatch? We've got regions in Australia where one in four, or maybe one in five, young people don't have a job. If you look at the devastation wrought across Europe during the global financial crisis where some countries had youth unemployment rates of 50 per cent or close to 60 per cent, those youth unemployment rates have never really recovered. We've been working through the global financial crisis. There have been economic improvements in most economies around the world since the global financial crisis, but, in countries like Greece and Spain where youth unemployment was at those rates—50 per cent or 60 per cent—you still see unemployment rates of 30 to 40 per cent for young people. That's what we saw in the 1990s recession. If you lock a person out of work during a recession, many of those people never work again or never really successfully participate in employment again. That's why we were determined to act during the global financial crisis, and that's why this government should invest in TAFE and training.
I'm very pleased to finally be given the opportunity to contribute to this address-in-reply debate. And, although the federal election seems some time ago now, it's really important for me to state on the record how honoured I am to have been given the opportunity by my local constituents to represent them in this place for the seventh consecutive term. I represent a really wonderful community, and it really is a privilege for me to be their member. I want to thank them for their support over the years and, more importantly, their friendship. Friendship and support are very important, especially for those of us who are involved in this particular public office.
I'm probably going to leave all my thanks for later in the speech, but, continuing on the theme of support, friendship and community: in our communities—and I'm sure all members will agree—we come across some very good people, people who are dedicated to advocating for their community and helping it in whatever way they can. Such a person in my electorate of Calwell was Gary Lewis Jungwirth, who sadly passed away on 13 July this year. When we lose a person like that, our community is much poorer for it. He was a great man. He was gravely ill during the campaign and in the lead-up to it. Despite his very poor health, he made what I would describe as a heroic visit to the Craigieburn prepoll so that he could cast his vote one last time for me as his federal member and also for the Australian Labor Party.
Gary was born in 1951, and he dedicated his life to achieving human rights, social justice, lifelong learning and democracy. He did an incredible amount of work in Timor-Leste, assisting with community development there. He served, importantly, as a councillor on my local council, the Hume City Council, and he was mayor for two terms, firstly in 2000 and then later in 2006. In 2001, when I was elected to this place, Gary was the mayor. He introduced the first Hume City multiculturalism policy and then, immediately after that, the Hume Interfaith Network. He did so because he understood that there was a real need—for local government, in particular—to craft an adequate response to our culturally diverse community. He was very passionate about promoting and fostering social cohesion. In our community at that time, the post-September 11 period, there was a lot of upheaval and—I've spoken about this many times—a lot of stress on our local Muslim community. It was Gary's leadership, through the local council, that drove the multiculturalism policy and the interfaith network. By the way, the Hume Interfaith Network has stood the test of time, and, 17 or 18 years later, it has been a great example of how the various religious leaders, when they come together, can actually foster and develop social cohesion.
In 2007 Gary introduced the Social Justice Charter to the Hume City Council. We were the first council in Australia to have this charter. He was very proud of this, and so am I. This was a dream that Gary held. He was very committed to human rights being at the heart of civic life. Gary's legacy is cherished, and the impact of his work—as a councillor, in particular—continues and is evidenced today. We all strive—and I do too—to emulate him and to conduct our duties with the decency and compassion that Gary Jungwirth had. In order to honour Gary, I'd like to read something from him which is in the preamble of the Social Justice Charter:
Council recognises that every citizen of Hume City is entitled to aspire to a quality of life that allows them to freely realise their potential. This Charter goes 'beyond words' to promote a fair and just society through Council’s commitment to strive for social justice and to address the social, cultural, economic and other factors that impact on the aspirations of its citizens.
Gary Jungwirth was a fighter for human rights. He was a proud Labor man, he loved the Richmond Football Club and he's missed dearly in our electorate.
Sadly, earlier this month, on Saturday 9 November, our local community lost another champion and advocate. We were saddened and indeed shocked by the sudden death of the former senator here Mehmet Tillem, who was a constituent of mine and in many ways shared a common story with me. Mehmet was born in Tavas, Turkey, and he was two years old when he came to Australia with his parents in 1976. He was only 19 when he joined the Australian Labor Party, and he was the first Turkish-born member to come here into the Australian parliament, when he became a Victorian senator from 2013 to 2014.
Mehmet was a fierce advocate for his community, and in particular our local Turkish community, and the broader community mourns the loss of someone who chose political activism as the best way to help his community and to champion their causes. As I said, he was, like me and lots of others in our electorate, a child of migrant parents and, as such, we all share a common story.
John Eren, the state member in Victoria, who was also in the early stages of my political career a local constituent, paid tribute to Mehmet Tillem in the Victorian parliament. I want to quote from John's speech:
Mehmet left behind a legacy of dedication to those who need it most, and those values are what drew him to the Labor Party.
I do want to take this opportunity to extend once again my sympathies to Mehmet's wife Ferda; to his son, who he was very devoted to, Mikail; to his parents, Ramazan and Fatma; to his sister Derya and brother Zafer; and his extended family and friends and also to the broader community.
I've been through three redistributions since I was first elected to this place. They've been disruptive; however, they do reflect the enormous growth that has taken place in Melbourne's northern outer metro centres since I was elected in 2001. And, because of this growth, which continues by the way, we've had to redistribute our populations. As a result I have now lost the suburbs of Taylors Lakes, Calder Park, Keilor, Keilor Lodge, Keilor Downs, Keilor North and Sydenham. I want to bid those former constituents farewell and say to them that they are very much in the good care of the member for Fraser, Daniel Mulino.
I, of course, have reclaimed the outer metro suburbs of Kalkallo, Yuroke, Mickleham and parts of Oakland Junction and of course Craigieburn, which now includes those massive growth corridors of Mickleham, Mount Ridley, Kalkallo and Merrifields and I look forward to representing them and reconnecting with them. Certainly Craigieburn I shared with the member for McEwen—and my apologies to the member for McEwen for retaking Craigieburn from him. The growth in Craigieburn in the last 15 years has been absolutely phenomenal and, when you talk about the growth of Melbourne as a city and its outer metro region, you only have to look to the north and west of Melbourne to see just how phenomenal that growth is.
I recall during the election campaign the Treasurer and the member for Kooyong made an election promise, which really surprised and excited me, that a returned coalition government would upgrade the Craigieburn train station in a bid to curb congestion in Melbourne's growth area. I certainly look forward to that promise being implemented in the term of this government.
As I said, the northern region has grown rapidly and it continues to do so. Research shows, that by 2031, which really isn't that far away, over 300,000 people will move into Melbourne's north. Combining that with the current population that stands at a million, by 2013, 1.3 million people are set to live in Melbourne's north and that will make this region's population larger than Adelaide's. The challenges associated with such growth are enormous. Services and infrastructure for Melbourne's north for the existing and new populations should be this government's priority. When we talk about infrastructure, we have to talk about targeted infrastructure where it is most needed and required in order to ease congestion and make the lives of people who live in the outer suburbs—in the case of Melbourne—far more comfortable and make the rest of Melbourne accessible to them.
The other surprise was a letter that was sent by Minister Tudge at the time—another pre-election promise for a city deal for Melbourne's north and west; another commitment that we are very happy to hear about. Better services, facilities and infrastructure in Melbourne's north and west are long been overdue. I just want to say here today on record that I do hope that Minister Tudge is serious about the government's City Deals. Our people locally believe very strongly in this and, on their behalf, I say that the City Deals need to happen and need to happen soon. I certainly look forward to working alongside the minister to deliver on this.
One initiative conceptualised by NORTH Link that I heartily support and will, of course, lobby the minister for is, within the city deal, the establishment and growth of a food and beverages precinct in Melbourne's north. NORTH Link is a business network and regional economic development advocacy group representing Melbourne's northern suburbs. It does a wonderful job and is right onto this city deal. When we look at the 400 or so food businesses in Melbourne's north—many of which are located in my electorate of Calwell and in the seat of Scullin—we can see this is a strong growth industry. That has led to the creation of the Melbourne's North Food Group, a food-manufacturing corridor that has helped in many ways to replace all the jobs lost with the demise of the car-manufacturing industry and the car component industry, which was a large provider of jobs in my electorate and in the northern suburbs. The food-manufacturing sector has enormous potential for growth, with over 7,000 jobs expected over the next 10 years.
There is the concept of a megahub to be built on 51 acres of land earmarked adjacent to the Melbourne wholesale market. If anyone's been to the Melbourne wholesale market, they'll know that it is a very big and important piece of infrastructure in Melbourne's north. Adjacent to that market, the megahub will provide support and services to an industry that we should be investing in, especially since we've seen such a huge influx of migrants from the refugee and humanitarian program, in combination with highly skilled migrants. We need to create jobs that both the highly skilled migrants and the lower skilled migrants actually can get employment with so that they can establish themselves and take charge of their own destiny. We don't want to be growing our suburbs and settling people in areas where there are no jobs for them, because we all know where that will end, and it won't end very well. Most people will be committed to unemployment for long periods of time, as is already the case in my electorate with a large number of my refugee cohort. The need to create employment is often a challenge, and it has to be addressed, but in this case we have potential, through the growth of our food manufacturing, to provide genuine, real jobs to people so that they can settle with their families and become self-reliant.
I've said this many times before, but there is no denying the contribution made by the postwar migrants to this country, in this case to the food that we eat. That is nowhere more so than in my home state of Victoria, although it is no doubt also so in New South Wales and in Canberra—Canberra's culinary palate has grown as well. But it is nowhere more so than in Victoria. Think about the panini filled with prosciutto and bocconcini that are a common lunch option. I won't go through all the other options, because you might all start to feel that we should stop for lunch! We have a fine tradition of enjoying European foods, but this fine tradition is potentially a little bit under threat at the moment—another little surprise—due to the recent negotiations that have been taking place between Australia and the European Union as we work towards a European free trade agreement. There are things called 'geographic indications' which have emerged as a bit of a problem—they might actually be a big problem if we don't resolve the issue—for our local food-manufacturing industry. The peak dairy farmer groups, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and the Australian Dairy Farmers, supported by industry service body Dairy Australia had a series of events across Victoria aimed at giving farmers the information they need to lobby the federal government, as it progresses through these negotiations, to inform them that a ban on the naming of common cheeses will impact on local SMEs involved in the production of these products. In their joint statement they urged farmers to fight back against the European Union's demand, in the proposed free trade agreement between Australia and the 28 EU countries, that Australia restricts the use of the names of common cheeses. I'm familiar with this, because it's happened in Europe on other occasions. It's now happening here in Australia.
I was contacted by Chris James, the executive director of NORTH Link, and Tony Coppola, the deputy executive director of NORTH Link, who raised these concerns with me directly on behalf of the 400 food and beverages businesses in Melbourne's north. Their concerns about the negotiations with the European Union and how they will impact on the Australian cheese business were raised. In their letter to me they said: 'This issue is of great concern to our Melbourne's North Food Group partner businesses. Implementing GIs will force Australian cheese exporters to change product names and rebrand, resulting in significant financial expenses and an uncertain future.'
Also, the Australian Dairy Industry Council has warned that locally produced cheese varieties with a production value of $180 million, and export sales averaging $55 million each year, could face extinction if the EU succeeds in forcing Australia to accept and implement strict labelling rules. Melbourne's north is home to many cheese producers, and the inclusion of GIs will place hundreds of jobs in the region at stake. So, as a matter of urgency—they've asked me to lobby and I'm making it known in the chamber today—we ask our government to consider the ramifications GIs will have and to strongly contest the inclusion of GIs in the trade agreement.
The free trade agreement will affect SMEs and it will have a detrimental effect on our cheese industry. Melbourne's north has lots of cheese producers. Geographical indications will place hundreds of jobs at stake. One company in particular, Alba Cheese Manufacturing in Tullamarine, expects to suffer significantly if it is no longer able to name cheeses by their current names. For the record, I'm talking about feta, parmesan, mozzarella, bocconcini and others. John Bongiorno, the operations manager of Alba, contacted me and asked me to raise his concerns. Alba is a great family business. It employs a number of our local people, and they are extremely proud of their Italian heritage, which has allowed them to recreate the cheeses that most of us take for granted and now know by their common household names. The inclusion of these geographical indicators on businesses such as Alba is detrimental. The cost alone for these businesses to rebrand and remarket their products will be significant and it may lead to their demise. More importantly, it will lead potentially to a loss of jobs in my electorate. As I've said from the beginning, in a region such as ours, where jobs are required, where lots of growth is already happening, where there is a lot of potential and we look to the future with optimism, we would hate to see such a setback affect our cheese companies.
Sitting suspended from 12:58 to 16:04
When re-elected in May, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride that I had been chosen again to represent my community. As a colleague said, 'Well, Mez, they've had a look at you once, they're happy and they've given you another go.' I'm very grateful for that second go. Soon after, though, I was hit by disappointment because I realised that the commitments I had made to my community would not come to fruition because a Labor government hadn't been elected.
Since that moment, I've thought a lot about that disappointment. The Liberal candidate who ran against me in May did not make one single election commitment—not one. That goes to show how serious the Liberal Party is about the seat of Paterson—not very serious. As the member who was re-elected—and my election commitments were welcomed and endorsed—not long after the election I wrote to each and every responsible minister for every commitment I'd made and asked them to match it. And I want to tell you about these commitments, because I feel that they are so important—and so does our community in Paterson.
Firstly, there are the local school commitments. We committed to $20,000 to upgrade smart boards at Bobs Farm Public School. Bobs Farm is a cracking little school. They've got a peacock as their emblem—I'm quite partial to peacocks actually. I own one. His name's Derek. Maybe I should donate it to Bobs Farm, because that might be all they're going to get out of this government. They need three smart boards at Bobs Farm. They need to be replaced. They're old. They no longer support the learning that we need the kids at Bobs Farm to receive. This is a very small and beautiful school—just 38 students—so it makes it incredibly tough for the P & C to try and raise $20,000.
We need $55,000 for a basketball court and shade cloth over the all-ability play area at Irrawang Public School, another terrific school. There are 320 students at Irrawang and another 33 students in supported classes. There's also a preschool onsite and a community centre that hosts playgroups, parenting classes, home-school groups and support groups, just to name a few. The existing basketball court at the school is cracked and faded. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was just an old concrete slab. The P & C told me they really wanted to get it fixed, but their priority had been covering the cost of the shade cloth, recently erected, over an all-ability outdoor play area. They'd been fundraising for four years. They could afford the shade cloth, but the basketball court was out of reach.
There was $50,000 committed to Tomaree High School for STEM equipment. In 2019 Tomaree High students established a new, dedicated space for students in STEM focused classes. STEM is the new black. Everyone is talking about STEM. The equipment and furniture required for students to learn new skills in coding, designing and producing the material for their experiments is expensive and Tomaree High had exhausted all available funds. Without the resources that the Labor Party committed to, this room will go underutilised, and it's the students who will pay the price for that. There are over 1,100 students at Tomaree High High, and every single year group would benefit from the use of this room—in classes like mandatory technology in years 7 and 8, engineering in years 9, 10, 11 and 12, and physics in years 11 and 12. Given that every single education and industry group is desperate for STEM qualifications, this must be a priority.
There were other commitments. There was a $1.4 million commitment to upgrade and extend the Little Beach boat ramp, to prevent the building up of sand that has left motorists bogged, drifting into the ocean or with burnt-out clutches and smoking tyres. A regular build-up of sand from nearby Shoal Bay has left the Port Stephens council to remove around 6,000 tonnes of sand off the boat ramp, each and every year, and truck it to Shoal Bay at a cost of around $50,000 a year. The Legacy boat ramp is the closest to the open water that's suitable for larger vessels, so it is a big tourist draw card in the bay. A lot of people like the Little Beach boat ramp. If you want to see how popular it is but you want to see how problematic it is, I suggest you go to 'I got bogged at Little Beach boat ramp' on Facebook and have a look at some of the footage. It is quite remarkable. There are 53,000 registered boat owners in the Hunter and 1.3 million tourists visit Port Stephens. That boat ramp needs to be upgraded—pronto.
Fifty full-time jobs for Centrelink across Paterson were also committed to by our government to cope with the demands of people trying to access vital services like Medicare and Centrelink and Veterans' Affairs. We all know how long you have to wait if you phone Centrelink. The jobs have been cut from Centrelink. We wanted to put them back, and I am urging this government to put some much-needed investment into a regional area and create regional jobs for people—good government jobs in places like Centrelink. We also wanted to give $5,000 to Medowie Tigers Playgroup—what a terrific tiger that is, that playgroup!—to improve and expand their resources for local families; $15,000 for an all-ability area for Woodberry Place of Friends playgroup, another sensational group in Woodberry; $16,000 for Maitland Neighbourhood Centre; and $16,000 for Tomaree Neighbourhood Centre. We committed $30,000 for Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services to help these services provide for vulnerable people in our communities. These terrific services are being used constantly by those who sometimes just have nowhere else to turn.
Labor committed $200,000 for the Richmond Vale Rail Trail to add solar lighting, signage, toilets, a miners memorial and a paved track for walking—where you can push prams or you can ride—at the Kurri Kurri end of the trail. That's what the $200,000 would have done. Kurri Kurri lost an entire industry when the local aluminium smelter closed down in 2012. Jobs were lost, and our community is still recovering. The Richmond Vale Rail Trail is an important investment in our community. It will create good jobs in tourism and see small businesses open, but the trail also presents us with a really unique opportunity, and it is something that I'm urging the government to get behind.
We also committed $1 million to upgrade Cook Square Park, the home of Maitland Football Club, to put the Magpies at the expected standard of a national Premier League club and also cater for females and facilitate the participation of players with a disability. The project would have included a new building with amenities, a clubroom, change sheds, a referees room, an equipment room and a canteen, along with a suspended roof to provide a raised viewing platform for those fantastic Magpies games. In July this year, the mighty Maitland Magpies were fortunate enough to host the Central Coast Mariners at Cook Square Park, a game that was televised by Foxtel and attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to Maitland. The existing lighting at the ground, however, wasn't sufficient to televise the game, which left the relatively small club having to move venues and fork out $15,000 for temporary lighting. At the time, my office approached the government to ask for assistance in covering this cost, but, unfortunately, that didn't come to fruition. This is a great opportunity, and I implore the government to match this funding commitment.
This is a costly one: a commitment of $1.6 billion to extend the Pacific Highway—the M1, as it's affectionately known—from Black Hill to Raymond Terrace. This is a big-ticket item, but it is the last stand. It is the last choke point on the eastern seaboard for anyone who is trying to move between Sydney and Brisbane. Every major motoring authority or peak body in New South Wales, Queensland and even Victoria have said this is the last choke point for the Pacific Highway on the eastern seaboard. We need to fix it. I implore the Prime Minister—in fact, I know the Prime Minister travels this route. I know he's been stuck on the M1, on the Hexham Bridge. I know he thinks this needs to be done and he should do it. It is very important not just for the convenience of motorists who are escaping the congestion that is Sydney to try and get north for a bit of Christmas holiday respite but for all of those people who regularly use that stretch of road and for every truckie who has gone up and down through the gears, grinding it out, just trying to get their load north or south. The productivity loss is phenomenal. Get the M1 done; get the Raymond Terrace extension done. We know that this is a vital cog, and, at a time when our economy is subdued, we know that we need some big-ticket items. We know we need some important infrastructure. I congratulate the government in a limited way for their investment in important infrastructure, but I say to them: how can you not fund the M1 when Infrastructure Australia itself has said that it's a high priority?
We must get that done. It is a major, major productivity bump at the moment for New South Wales and Queensland, in some of the fastest-growing areas in our country.
The Pacific Highway, incidentally, is one of the most-used roads in New South Wales. More than 21,000 vehicles use just this little patch of the M1 in the afternoon peak, and this number is expected to increase by over 35 per cent by 2031, or at least 7,500 vehicles. In holiday peak time, as I was referring to there, the speed on the road is sometimes reduced to as low as 20 kilometres an hour. I have to talk to whoever gave me that figure, because I know you just spend most of the time camped. It can take up to two hours going through that patch. You're lucky to get out of first. The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities classifies the upgrade of the M1 as a near-term priority, but over the last six years the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have not invested a cent to progress this project. This project will create hundreds of construction jobs in the Hunter and Port Stephens. It will boost productivity by reducing traffic congestion affecting local residents, tourist businesses and truckies.
One of the other commitments we made was $2½ million for a commuter car park and a very important roundabout in the beautiful little hamlet of Heddon Greta—which I know well; I grew up there—at the entrance to the Hunter Expressway. The Hunter Expressway was a fantastic shovel-ready Labor initiative. We had it ready to go when the GFC hit. The road was ready, and we built it. There's a tip for you: get on and build it. Since the opening of the Hunter Expressway, there have been community concerns, however, about the feeder roads. They've been placed under a lot of additional pressure given that we've had this major arterial built. The government have expressed their grave concerns about safety in the area too, with a previous report stating that there is at least one accident or near miss every day at the intersection where the roundabout is going to be helping out. A roundabout would help eliminate some of that risk, and it's the first step to be taken in road safety for Heddon Greta. It's not the only thing that needs happen. We know that there is more.
Turning onto Main Road, Heddon Greta, has become a battle. I've heard from young families, professionals and elderly people who are just trying to get out onto Main Road to go to Maitland or Cessnock, and they have to allow a lot of extra time in the morning to compensate for how long it takes to get out onto the road. Confident drivers now doubt themselves as they put the pedal to the metal because they've waited for a break in the traffic that just doesn't come. With the approval of new housing developments in the area, this problem only seems to get worse. We need to look at practical solutions to this problem and we need to do it immediately. In fact, residents have taken to putting their garbage bins in their driveways to stop people doing illegal U-turns that are incredibly dangerous. When the local community have to resort to putting their Sulo bins out to contribute to road safety—hello? You know you've got a problem.
We also committed to a very serious project in my electorate. I've left this one to last because it does have a very special place in the consciousness of everyone, not only in my electorate but right across the Hunter region. We committed to $20 million to start remediating PFAS in the drains around RAAF Base Williamtown, which are still a major source of contamination. The community have been calling for this, but the government has not come to the table. Further to the local commitment to remediate the drains in Williamtown, Labor also announced a national PFAS policy. Unsurprisingly, the government did not. Instead, people of Williamtown, Salt Ash and Fullerton Cove have been left to sue their own government, out of sheer desperation. What is that? When you have to cobble together your own class action to sue your own government for something that you had absolutely no hand in, absolutely no fault, and the government stumps up $55 million to fight you, you've got to ask: what is going on in this country under this government?
The people elected this government, and now the government is not even helping them out in their time of dire need. It is completely unacceptable that the Prime Minister has not come to Williamtown to face the people who have been affected by PFAS. So last week I sought to take another step towards redress: after pleading, asking nicely, getting angry, making many speeches and writing letters, I started a petition. Please, Prime Minister, come to Williamtown. Look these people in the eye and hear what they've got to say, because it's so interesting.
I've spoken to potentially thousands of people about this issue since I was elected in 2016. It's interesting: people empathise, they hear you, they say, 'Yes, it's a terrible problem and it needs to be fixed,' but it's not until they get on the ground in Williamtown and sit down and look into the eyes of these people who feel completely destroyed by this situation that they understand. Think about it, Deputy Speaker. You wake up one morning and thumb through the local paper—in fact, you don't even have to thumb through it. You pick it up, and right there on the front page is one of those massive skull and crossbones with, 'Do not enter: contaminated,' in red. That's what it said on the front page of the paper in 2015.
Since that time, people have truly been destroyed by this, and it wasn't their fault. They did nothing wrong. It wasn't as if someone said, 'Don't do this,' and they did it. They did nothing. They bought their homes, they raised their children, they paid off their mortgages, they went to work, they contributed to our beautiful community and they have been left to wallow in PFAS contamination. It is a national disgrace. Prime Minister, please come and sit with the people of Williamtown. They are good people who pay their taxes and who just want what is right and fair for them. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them and I will continue to fight. I know people might be sick of hearing about PFAS, but I will continue to fight and talk about it, because it must be resolved in Williamtown and its surrounds.
If the Liberal government were serious about health care, it would assure my community in Kurri Kurri that the emergency department of our terrific hospital will remain open. Instead, nervous workers and community members are reaching out to me and the state member for Cessnock, Clayton Barr, who's done a terrific job in trying to assuage some of the genuine fear in our community and tell people their jobs are safe. But people are very sceptical about this. If the government were serious about health care, it would provide assurance that Kurri Kurri Hospital's emergency department will stay open to service the people of Kurri Kurri.
If the Liberal government were serious about infrastructure, it would fund the long-awaited extension of the M1 at Raymond Terrace, instead of committing just four per cent in funding over the next five years, with construction being way off in the never-never. If the Liberal government were serious about regional development, it would fund upgrades to the Newcastle Airport runway. Instead, the airport tell me they're anxious that this once-in-a-generation maintenance upgrade opportunity will come and go, and a truly well-upgraded runway will not happen. We must fund this. The proposed upgrades of the airport will allow Newcastle to become a year-round international airport, reaching into the Asia-Pacific. It will cost around $50 million, which is a small price to pay for an international airport that will absolutely inject many, many times more in benefits. In fact, the cost-benefit analysis figure comes out at a compelling 2.8. In terms of benefit to cost, that's pretty good.
If the Liberal government were serious about education, it would fund and restore every dollar cut to every school in Paterson. If the Liberal government were serious about helping our elderly, it would introduce a policy to dramatically reduce the number of older Australians waiting for aged-care packages. I had a 91-year-old woman come to see me the other day. She's looking after her disabled son and she still can't get a home care package. What's going on in our country when a 91-year-old woman caring for her disabled son can't get help! Come on, Liberal government, let's get serious. Let's do some of these well-deserved projects.
I would like to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples as traditional owners of Canberra and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I want to speak today about a part of Australia that is often overlooked by this government. I want to talk about the regions on the fringes of our major cities: the outer suburbs—places like the Central Coast of New South Wales, home to my electorate of Dobell. Nestled, or sandwiched, between Sydney and Newcastle, the New South Wales Central Coast, and regions like it, are left behind by this government. There are many other communities who face similar neglect. We're not remote. We're not rural. The Central Coast is one to two hours from the Sydney CBD in the south and the same distance from the city of Newcastle to the north. We're proud of our community. And we should be recognised as a distinct region.
Securing funding is a constant struggle, because the Central Coast is conveniently 'part of Greater Sydney' when there's money on the table for the regions but 'regional' when there is money on the table for parts of Greater Sydney. Either way, my community too often misses out. The Morrison government has a track record of overlooking regional communities on the fringes of Australia's big cities, including the Central Coast of New South Wales. As a representative of a regional community, I believe that it's time our federal government recognised the economic and social potential of the regions.
In 2016, the Morrison government's Liberal counterparts in New South Wales sacked our two local councils, the former Gosford City Council and the former Wyong Shire Council, replacing them with a mega Central Coast Council, which is now one of the largest local government regions in Australia. The resulting economies of scale—we were told—would strengthen our bargaining power for state and federal funding. Three years later, our community is still waiting.
Since 2018, the Central Coast has been expecting to receive its share of the $4.2 billion Hydro Legacy Fund, earmarked for regional infrastructure. To date, our community has not received a single cent of this promised funding. The New South Wales state Liberal government has big plans for the Central Coast. Its Regional Plan 2036 projects population growth of 92,400 people, or 28.6 per cent. Housing stock will need to increase by 45,000 to accommodate that projected growth, yet local jobs numbers are only forecast to grow by just over 24,000 during the same period.
We currently have around 116,000 local jobs on the Coast. We currently have around 40,000 locals commuting to work in Sydney or in Newcastle each day. This commute often takes two or more hours each way for a local person, door to door, particularly from the north of the coast—to get from home to the train station and then change trains to get to their job in the city. If local jobs grow by only 24,000 but our population grows by over 92,000, we can expect even more people on the trains and the motorway each day travelling to work in Newcastle or Sydney.
The Central Coast needs more local jobs. Are the federal and state Liberal governments trying to create a giant dormitory sprawl for the cities to our south and north? Today, the Coast's top six employment sectors are heath care and social assistance, retail, accommodation and food services, manufacturing, education and training, and construction. I recently surveyed local small-business owners and operators, and they named skills shortages as one of their major concerns in growing or expanding their businesses. At the same time, the Central Coast's youth unemployment rate, which has ranged from 9.2 per cent up to 19 per cent over the last decade, remains stubbornly high and above the state average. The Central Coast business owners need skilled staff. Central Coast young people want the skills to secure a local job and a good future. The Morrison government's cuts to TAFE are making it even harder for young people on the Coast to get the qualifications they need and that employers want—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 16:29 to 16:49
The Morrison government's cuts to TAFE are making it even harder for young people on the Central Coast to get the qualifications they need and that employers want. Three billion dollars: that is the amount this government has cut from TAFE and training, and young people in the regions on the Central Coast are bearing the brunt of those cuts. Students and young people tell me local TAFEs are no longer offering the range of courses they need, so they have to travel to train. Higher fees and travel costs mean many can't afford to finish their courses. In fields like community services and aged care, where there are jobs locally and where courses are available locally, the TAFE facilities are outdated and funding is not being made available by either the federal government or the New South Wales Liberal government to provide Central Coast students with the learning environments they so desperately need. It could cost as little as $1 million to upgrade a building at Wyong TAFE so that students have the facilities that are taken for granted on major city campuses.
I committed to this at the May election and I call on the government to match this commitment. It's urgent. If a Central Coast school leaver wants to go to university, they are likely to commute to find their preferred course. We have a campus of the University of Newcastle at Ourimbah, and it offers some sound opportunities in the areas of health, food sciences and construction. However, many local students still have to travel to gain the skills they need and that local employers want. The Morrison government's restriction on student places in universities further restricts the opportunities available to regional students. Urgent action is needed to reduce the coast's stubbornly high rate of youth unemployment. A good start would be restoring funding for TAFE, creating more apprenticeships and making TAFE more affordable.
Regions like the Central Coast also really need fast-tracked infrastructure. Good governments invest in infrastructure. It improves the lives of all Australians, particularly those in regional and remote Australia. Good governments understand that they have an important role in boosting the economy during tough times by investing in infrastructure. However, this Morrison government will be remembered for wage stagnation, record-low retail sales and a floundering economy. It was the stewardship of Labor's Rudd, Gillard and Swan that saw this country through the global financial crisis without falling into recession. That's what we need from this government now.
In recent months the Reserve Bank governor, the AI Group, business leaders and most recently, the International Monetary Fund, or the IMF, have all called on the Morrison government to provide fiscal stimulus, invest in infrastructure, support the economy, improve productivity and create jobs. While the government has now, under pressure, announced a grab bag of measures, these do not amount to the responsible, proportionate and measured stimulus that our economy needs. You just have to look at how many projects are going to coalition seats to know that this is not the comprehensive plan Australia needs to turn the economy around. And, once again, the Central Coast and other regional areas have been overlooked.
In terms of the infrastructure needs of the coast, I want to talk about our local roads. The NRMA has calculated that years of underinvestment have created a backlog of roadworks on the Central Coast valued at $84 million—the largest backlog of any region in New South Wales. And what is this government's response? To invest $70 million and to skew 90 per cent of that funding to the Liberal-held seat of Robertson. Given that the northern suburbs of the Central Coast in my electorate of Dobell are expected to shoulder the growth of the region, this is just outrageous. The federal government needs to put road safety before politics and properly fund roads in Dobell.
One major transport infrastructure project that would make an enormous difference to many people on the Central Coast is the upgrade of the Pacific Highway through Wyong. The New South Wales Liberal government has said it will not commit to a time frame to even start work on this major upgrade until it has finished works on the M1. Local business people, commuters and every Central Coast resident and visitor who has ever been stuck in traffic on the single-lane highway through Wyong all want to know how much longer it's going to be before work starts. Treasurer Frydenberg asked the states to nominate priority projects for infrastructure funding. It appears that either the Pacific Highway upgrade through Wyong was not put forward by the New South Wales Liberals or the proposal was not listened to by the Treasurer. We have waited over 10 years and, to date, almost $30 million has been spent on planning.
The New South Wales government has announced another $2.5 million for more design works and a plan to stage the upgrade. My understanding is that the designs and planning are largely complete. A commitment of $20 million would cover enabling works, including the relocation of services, the Wyong train station upgrade, a car park expansion and bridge work, that are all part of this major infrastructure project. It is what was committed to by the state member for Wyong, David Harris, at the recent state election. If the government were to commit to this, it would at least give our community hope that this project is on the radar.
When asked recently in New South Wales budget estimates for a start date, the New South Wales RMS said, 'It was a complex project, subject to budgetary support.' No approximate start date was given. As the New South Wales government appears to push even starting work on the Pacific Highway upgrade through Wyong further and further into the future, there is a solution. There is a way to get this upgrade started and delivered for the people of the Central Coast before another decade passes.
The Morrison federal government needs to step up. It needs to invest in projects like the Pacific Highway upgrade through Wyong. As the coast population grows, as new housing estates are built, the congestion through Wyong will only get worse. At a recent rally I saw southbound cars backed up for a kilometre—all the way back to Watanobbi, the next suburb. This was normal weekend traffic flow. No accident, no emergency, just normal traffic.
The economic cost of not building this road is significant. A major call centre is moving from Tuggerah to the Wyong Business Park, located in North Wyong. I recently met with the business park owner, who said the new call centre would mean over 600 local jobs for the area. He told me he believed the construction cost for the new call centre would be increased because of the traffic delays through Wyong. As I've already outlined, the Central Coast needs more local jobs. We need to attract more businesses to the coast. The Morrison government's failure to invest in infrastructure in our region is costing thousands of local jobs.
I want to now turn to our local hospital. Health care is critical to our community. We have young families and older people ageing in place—the biggest user groups of public hospital services. Wyong hospital, where I worked for almost 10 years, was officially opened on Saturday 22 November 1980, so it will be 40 years old next year. Before it was built, local workers contributed money from their pay packets so the community could have a local hospital. I am sure you can understand the pride from our community in our local community hospital. That's why, in 2017, when the New South Wales Liberal government tried to privatise Wyong hospital, my community fought with all its might to keep our hospital in public hands. We won that fight, and just last month the New South Wales Liberals finally turned the first sod for the public hospital's long-awaited redevelopment. The hospital is already struggling to keep up with the demand, so the redevelopment is critical.
The latest statistics from the Bureau of Health Information show that waiting times for surgery in the emergency department at Wyong are among the worst five in the state. The report shows a 12.5 per cent increase in presentations to Wyong hospital in the past three months. Our hospital staff are overworked and under strain. Our hospital is understaffed. Our community looks forward to—and needs—this redevelopment. One element of the redevelopment that could give the community false hope for better services is that the plans include a shell for an MRI machine. The New South Wales Liberal government designs include a shell to house the MRI but the Morrison government has no intention of providing a publicly Medicare-funded MRI licence for Wyong hospital. Patients of Wyong hospital have to be taken by patient transport to an MRI provider for, at times, life-saving and urgent scans. This affects patient care and is expensive for the taxpayer. Without a Medicare-funded MRI licence from the federal government, the state government has no reason to pay for a machine at Wyong for my community. Our community deserves better from this government.
Another cause for concern is the introduction of pay parking at Wyong hospital. The hospital is not close to a train station and bus services are really limited. As a result, hospital workers, patients and visitors are forced to drive their cars to and from the hospital. I have written to the New South Wales health minister, Brad Hazzard, to voice my community's concerns about pay parking being introduced at the hospital. His response was bureaucratic. The car parking fees will be brought in, in line with New South Wales health policy. It's just not good enough. Either they don't get it or they don't care.
Just as we fought the privatisation of our hospital, we will fight the introduction of pay parking. A 10,000-signature petition has already been tabled in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and we are well on our way to collecting another 10,000 signatures. Brad Hazzard must reverse his decision, must act in the interests of local regional communities and not introduce pay parking.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:00 to 17:20
I want to turn my attention now to the Central Coast's natural environment—in particular, to the Tuggerah Lakes. The last major commitment of federal funding to improve the Tuggerah Lakes was under the Rudd government: $20 million. Since then, only $3 million has been invested in our lake system. More money is desperately needed. In particular, we need to invest in gross pollutant traps, erosion works and foreshore restoration.
Our care for the coast's lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries must keep ahead of population growth. More housing and population growth means more run-off. Measures like gross pollutant traps improve water quality. This is what we committed to in the federal election, and I implore the government to do the same. Because, when asked why they live on the Central Coast, most people say, 'Because it's beautiful, because I like the outdoors, because I enjoy fishing, swimming and being on our lakes, beaches, rivers and bushlands.' They need to be properly protected.
I want to turn now to aged care. This is something that I've experienced personally through my father's experience with young onset dementia. On the Central Coast at the moment there are 1,455 older people on the waiting list for home care packages. The royal commissioner has rightly called this neglect. The government's response of 10,000 extra home care packages—less than 10 per cent of the people on the current waiting list—is neglect. People in my community can't wait, particularly for level 3 and level 4 home care packages.
I've met with people like Enid, who's 96 and who is waiting for a level 4 home care package. She was told that she might have to wait 12 months. People who are 96 don't have 12 months to wait for the support that they need. If they don't get this support, then they end up in emergency departments, having had a fall, and then they end up in residential care sooner than they want to be or need to be. It must be a priority of this government to properly address the crisis in aged care, particularly in home care packages.
I will turn now to where I started, at the beginning of this speech. The economic and social benefits of investing in regions like the Central Coast are obvious. They're plain for everybody to see. The economic and social costs of not investing are profound. As I mentioned earlier, on the Central Coast, unemployment rates for young people are stubbornly high and consistently above the state average. Urgent action needs to be taken by this government now for young people in our community. I caution this government that, if they continue to allow the major cities of Australia to sprawl into their nearby regions, they must properly invest in those communities. Otherwise the economic and social costs will be profound.
In closing, I would like to thank the many people who worked hard to see me re-elected in this place. I hope I don't miss anyone. They include Ken and Cheryl Greenwald, John Leonard, Bill Donaldson, Bill Smith, Tony Booth, Ruth Punch, Josh Lucock, Josh Aspinall, Renee Daniels, Margot Castles, Jean Laffan, Bill Thompson, Narelle Anderson, Bruce Rowling, Kim Newham, Ken Zajicek, Narelle Rich, Liam O'Neill, Jim Swanson, and all the Labor Party branch members, supporters and unionists who helped me to be able to win the fight for Dobell.
I'd also like to thank my family, in particular my mum, Barbara, who celebrated her 70th birthday yesterday. Thank you to my mum, who has tirelessly supported me. This was the first election campaign that we had without dad, and it was something that I know was very difficult for my mum, but I want to thank my mum for the support that she has given me in the work that I do. I couldn't do it without you, Mum. I also want to thank my brothers and sisters and their families. This is the sort of job where you need the support of your entire family to be able to do the job you need to do for our community.
It is such an honour to represent the community I grew up in. It's such an honour to represent my home town. It's such an honour and a privilege to be here on behalf of our community. I will do all I can in this place to stand up for our community, to make sure that the regions and the outer suburbs get the attention that they need from this government, to make sure that communities like ours aren't left behind, and to make sure that they have the right infrastructure, the health care and the jobs that people need to make the good life that they deserve. I will make sure that our community is not left behind by this government. I will continue to hold them to account and make sure that our regional communities get the very best that they deserve.