Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020
During the 2019 election campaign, the Morrison government promised to fund the removal of the Coopers Plains level crossing, as I had done. Here we are in March 2020 and no work has begun. We're coming up to one year since that election commitment was made and there is nothing. In July last year, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister:
When will work begin on eliminating the dangerous level crossing at Boundary Road in Coopers Plains?
He didn't answer the question but he did say, right here at this dispatch box, that he would come to Moreton to look at the crossing. Well, it's March 2020 and I'm still waiting.
The Liberal and National party Brisbane City Council has never committed to paying its fair share for removing this dangerous crossing. It's happy to pay for half of the infrastructure on the north side of Brisbane but will only pay 15 per cent when it comes to the south side. I've got a hardworking Labor counsellor, Steve Griffiths, who has been lobbying to get it fixed. Labor council candidates John Prescott and Trent McTiernan have been working hard to bring attention to the infrastructure improvements that are necessary in both the Runcorn ward and MacGregor ward and the benefits that would flow. That's why I was delighted to hear the Labor lord mayoral candidate, Pat Condren, commit to fixing not just the Coopers Plains level crossing but also another dangerous level crossing in Runcorn. Both of these crossings are under RACQ's top-five priority list of dangerous crossings. Pat Condren has committed to one-third of the construction costs of this Coopers Plains level crossing upgrade, which is actually the Brisbane City Council's fair share. I look forward to welcoming a Labor Brisbane City Council who will treat the south side with the same level of infrastructure spending as they spray around on the north side.
The member for Dawson suggested that we should lobby ministers. I lobbied the Deputy Prime Minister. I wrote to the minister. I wrote to the Prime Minister. I did all that I could, but we still don't have this construction project starting on the south side. I did my job as a local member. Now we need the Morrison government to actually step up and fund this crossing.
We're coming up to seven years of this Liberal government, and there is a question on my lips, as on the lips of many others: 'What is the point of them?' What is the point? They've been elected with absolutely no plan for the future of Australia. They don't have a plan for the nation's economy. They don't have a plan to get wages moving or to address job insecurity and the rising cost of living—all these issues that are impacting Australian working families. The Liberal Party and the National Party have taken no steps to really invest in our people. This is a real, real shame. They've let education and health services really decay, and they've done nothing to address climate change.
Of course, there are a number of areas that I could touch on in which they have really failed the Australian people, but I think we can't go past the aged-care system. It has been terrible to see this government leave the aged-care system in such crisis. It has been under their watch. I really find it frustrating, as do many other people, when this Prime Minister constantly blames others and constantly finds excuses about why they haven't properly funded aged care. Well, put it in the budget! There's a simple answer. Of course, we've seen waiting times for aged care explode under the Liberals—by 300 per cent—with older Australians now waiting longer and longer for permanent care or for home care packages. More than 110,000 calls for help have gone unanswered by the My Aged Care call centre over the last three years. Just last week, the government was forced to back down on their plans to privatise aged-care assessments. That had been a terrible, terrible plan and finally, after a lot of pressure, I'm pleased that they have backed down on this. But, of course, we still have their inaction when it comes to this really important system. Our older Australians deserve our support. They have worked hard all their lives and deserve, in their older years, the care and support that they need.
I think for any society a measure of how well they're doing, how compassionate they are and how decent they are is how they treat their most vulnerable—those that require care. Right now, we're doing pretty badly as a country, particularly when it comes to our older Australians. The Morrison government doesn't need a royal commission to tell them that they need to address the shortfall in home aged care packages. This is not the first time I've raised this. I am regularly having to raise in this parliament the long waiting times for home care packages through My Aged Care. Despite the government's announcement of additional home care packages, people are still not receiving the support and care they deserve. People are being assessed as needing high levels of support and are simply not receiving it due to long waiting times. In South Australia alone, 6,073 people were waiting for a package. As we've heard from others, 120,000 older Australians from around the country are awaiting home care.
One of those people is Mrs Charman, who lives in the electorate. She contacted me out of desperation when she was told there would be a 12-month wait before she received the level 3 home care package she needs. She said to me, 'I may not be around to receive it.' Mrs Charman believes she may die before she receives the support she needs. Isn't that a tragedy? She feels this way not only because of the long wait time but because of her own personal experience when it came to her husband. Mrs Charman watched her beloved husband pass away while he was still on the same waiting list that she is on. She says the support came through too late. She was notified that his package had become available after he'd passed away. Her son is worried for her, just as he was worried for his father.
Tragically, this is not the only situation where family members or individuals have contacted me about loved ones where the person has passed away while waiting to receive the care they were assessed as needing. These are individuals that have been assessed as needing a level of support, and just can't get it. More than 16,000 Australians died while waiting for their approved home care packages in 2017-18. The son of a fragile aged woman contacted me with his concerns. His mother was not receiving the level of care she was assessed as needing. He was also worried about her husband, who is himself elderly and was responsible for caring for her and making up for the government shortfall. I made my representations to the minister on the family's behalf. Devastatingly, before the minister's response was received, she had also passed away. Her son said to me, 'They claim the support is there but in reality it's not.' In response, Minister Colbeck claimed that he regretted that the home care package service was not in place before her passing. Well, minister, it is too little too late. Enough with your regrets. Enough with your thoughts and prayers. Do something about this.
This is a matter of dignity for many who wish to remain in their homes. How can people receive timely assessments to gauge what support they need but then be made to wait months or in some cases years to receive this support? We know that our aged-care system is in crisis—and our elderly cannot wait. The government must do better to ensure older Australians get the quality aged-care services they need. No more excuses, Prime Minister, and no more blaming other people. It is time to act now.
In addition to this issue that's affecting many in my electorate, the issues of job insecurity and employment are also on the minds of many in my seat in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Many people are finding the stagnating wages really difficult. Their wages are not going up and, of course, households bills are, and they feel that their standard of living is being reduced—and the government are doing nothing. They have absolutely no plan. Many in my electorate were affected when then Treasurer Joe Hockey goaded General Motors to leave this country. No-one should forget that that the reason that Holden is leaving Australia today is because this government told them to leave—'Pack your bags and get out. We don't want you here any more.' And, of course, now we're seeing the final step, the final consequence, as a result of the then Treasurer, who was part of this government. We've still got the same government that provides no support for manufacturing in this country and does not believe in standing up for manufacturing jobs.
But, of course, there is another challenge that we see in South Australia, and that is making sure that we get our fair share of jobs from the Future Submarine project. When Christopher Pyne was defence minister he said that 90 per cent of the Future Submarine work would be carried out in Australia. That was a solemn, solemn promise. But, unfortunately within, say, 18 months that promised 90 per cent has suddenly reduced to 60 per cent. Now there's only a guarantee of 60 per cent. The increasing uncertainty when it comes to how much work will occur in Australia for the Future Submarine project is concerning, and it's this government who is misleading the Australian people about Australian content. When the Prime Minister flew to Adelaide earlier this year, he didn't face the workers at Osborne; he didn't address their questions; he didn't commit to having 90 per cent of work on the Future Submarine project in Adelaide. Well, it's just not good enough. And Premier Steven Marshall is not holding this government to account and is not standing up for South Australians and demanding answers from this Prime Minister. How, within 18 months, can the amount of work go from 90 per cent in Australia to 60 per cent? This is about government misleading the Australian people before an election—and this government of course has form.
In addition to jobs and in addition to failing our older Australians, the government continues to fail when it comes to those that need government services. We know that there are many people, particularly pensioners, who are struggling to make ends meet—and, indeed, struggling to even navigate the Centrelink system.
Of course, we know that there are many people, particularly pensioners, who are struggling to actually make ends meet and, indeed, struggling even to navigate the Centrelink system. There are many people who do rely on Centrelink at some point in their lifetime, whether that is when they need a social security and support if they find themselves without a job, people requiring child care support or pensioners who have worked a lifetime and now are looking to the government for support. And we have seen this federal government run down our safety net system in this country. The wait times for Centrelink continue to be absolutely appalling. I literally have pensioners that thought that, when it came time to retire and they knew they'd qualify for the pension, it would be a simple process, that all they had to do was register for Centrelink and then they would suddenly get their pension. They are now eating into their meagre savings just to get by just because the system has been run down by this Liberal government.
I think that's because in their heart of hearts the coalition does not believe in a safety net system. It's a safety net for our older Australians, a safety net for those who find themselves down on their luck, a safety net for those most vulnerable in our community. They don't believe in it, and so that is why not only with their language but with their actions when it comes to Centrelink and other government services they have no interest and no commitment to it.
Finally, I'd like to quickly touch on our early education and childcare system. We've got a government that is just not investing more money. They're investing less money when it comes to our early education system, and that is just not good enough. We should be investing in our youngest citizens. Just because they don't have a vote shouldn't mean that we should not actually invest in them. They are our future, and it is so important. But of course what we're seeing is a government that will not commit funding past this year to four-year-old preschool and kindy. This was a very successful program that was introduced by the previous Labor government. It has seen early education and access improve right across the country, including in the most recent Closing the gap report, which showed universal access has brought preschool enrolment of Indigenous children to 86.4 per cent and is on target to meet the 95 per cent target by 2025. So it is a good-news story about investing in early education, but the Liberal and National government will not commit to this in the long term.
We've heard a whole lot of weasel words when it comes to this government. We've heard them say: 'Well, enrolment's up, but attendance isn't good enough. We need to do a review of the national partnerships'—excuse after excuse after excuse. Well, all of those reviews have been done. All of the negotiations have been had with the states and territories, and the test is in this budget coming up in May. There are no more excuses. It is now time for this Commonwealth government to invest in early education in the long term. Fund universal access to four-year-old preschool. Put it in the forward estimates. Stop your dodgy accounting. Stop holding kindies, state governments and community preschools to ransom and just fund them. Bite the bullet and invest in our children. While you're there, fund three-year-old preschool as well. The two years before school are really important moments in a child's education. Actually fund these. Actually work with the states and territories, not against them.
My challenge to the government is for them to actually start funding universal access to early education. Put it in the budget because it has a big impact. While we are there, start actually doing something about childcare fees. You lauded your new childcare system, and all it has done is put fees up for families. Out-of-pocket expenses are soaring. Families cannot afford this, and it is time the government took real action when it comes to investing into early education.
There are so many things that this government could do. We are providing a lot of constructive criticism for you. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see any action, because this government got elected with no plan, but I urge them to take our constructive criticism and get on with the job of governing for all Australians.
The saying goes that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think it is better that we assume that those in the federal political class are not above reproach. We should acknowledge that we are human and some members of government and the Commonwealth service can and will occasionally wander from the high road. It was in January 2018 that I said at the National Press Club that we need to do more to improve transparency in government and have greater accountability in government to rebuild trust in our democracy.
In January 2018, I and our shadow Attorney-General announced Labor's intention to establish a national integrity commission. I said then that politics as usual in 2018 wouldn't cut it, considering the year that we had in 2017 with travel rorts and other matters, but I couldn't have predicted the intervening years between then and now. But we did commit Labor then to create a national integrity commission, a federal body modelled on the lessons of the state anticorruption bodies. It would be a national integrity commission to resolve the gaps and inconsistencies in our current system and be designed to ensure the highest standards in public administration.
It wasn't about partisanship then; it was about building trust. I then said that, if the government of the day wanted to move on this before Labor could form a government, they were welcome to do so. They have not though, or they have done so insufficiently. It's about restoring the faith of people in their representatives in the system of government. Then I said:
I’m not putting this policy forward because I’m aware of any corrupt conduct—if I was, I would report it.
I'm not sure I would say the same thing though. In other words, I think the actions of this government that have been revealed—their actions they took before the election to win the election—now more than ever, underline the need for a national integrity commission. I said then it had to be independent and well-resourced, secure from government interference, and it needed a broad jurisdiction, effectively operating 'as a standing royal commission' with all those investigative powers 'into serious and systemic corruption' in the public sector and those who deal with the public sector. We said then that it should have discretion to hold public hearings when it considers this to be in the public interest. We even outlined it could have a commissioner and two deputies, each serving one fixed five-year term, but, importantly, be appointed by the parliament on a bipartisan basis. The commissioner would make findings of fact, not law, and then refer them to the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions if appropriate. It would report to parliament annually, overseen by a joint standing committee.
It was a big move then but one which I and the shadow Attorney-General had been consulting on for months, if not years, beforehand, to talk about the principles that were outlined. I'm pleased to say that since the election the new Labor leadership has re-endorsed its commitment to this approach. But, today, I would suggest the reform is now even more important than it was two years ago. At a state level, anticorruption commissions have provided a valuable check on unscrutinised power. It is imperative that standards apply, that wrongdoings are exposed and that the public be informed. This will create a better culture—a cultural of accountability and standards rather than a culture of cover-up, hubris arrogance and accounting with impunity. Public support for this reform is only increasing over time and, little wonder, we live at a time where the concept of political shame is in fast retreat. When the attitudes of 'whatever it takes' and 'anything goes' are on the rise, we see in this public life the increasing rareness of ministerial responsibility.
The Prime Minister doesn't like to be told when he's wrong. He has a trademark stubbornness. Sometimes that is a strength, but at other times that is ignorance. A stubborn refusal to eject any of his ministers from cabinet is not explicable by the norms of ministerial responsibility. The tawdry saga of the sports rorts scandal outlined today in the parliament by our leader Anthony Albanese slows the politicisation of the system.
The politicisation of infrastructure and regional grants is a grim story indeed. We know that Senator McKenzie was the sacrificial lamb for the sports rorts scandal, sent down on the technicality of not declaring a membership of a gun club, worth under $300, when in fact it was the impropriety of the whole scheme that made her individual disclosure failings pale into insignificance. How have we got to a state of affairs in this nation where the consequence of these rorts can be described as 'a miracle' on election night? Has anyone else faced consequences or a penalty for this rorting of public finances to try and win an election at any cost? Has anyone apologised to the public over the complete bastardisation of these grants programs? Has anyone explained to all of the clubs who think that they were playing on a level playing field that they weren't—for this mishandling, misspending of public money? No, not this mob. The member for Hume remains on the frontbench despite his trademark bungles and scandals.
When I look at my opposite number, the member for Fadden, things are much worse. Mr Morrison's predecessor, Mr Turnbull—who it must be said seemed to believe in ministerial standards to a greater extent than the current Prime Minister—actually ejected the member for Fadden from cabinet following a series of decisions by the member for Fadden. What did the current Prime Minister do, knowing all of this—knowing that Mr Turnbull considered that the member for Fadden shouldn't be in the cabinet? He rewarded his friends who voted for the spill, encouraging Mr Dutton to run, and miraculously switched back the votes against Mr Dutton once the vote actually occurred. Never have so few been rewarded so well for doing so little.
What has the new Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services done since his Lazarus-style resurrection to cabinet? Some $4.6 billion has been ripped out of the NDIS, and 1,200 Australians with disability have died while waiting to get on to this national scheme. As for the government services portfolio he's presided over, there has, I think, been perhaps the greatest scandal in social security that any government has seen. I'm speaking of course of robodebt. How can a government find no-one responsible for issuing hundreds of thousands of illegal letters of demand on their own citizens? It's causing untold stress and untold harm. I've spoken to mothers who believe their children took their own lives because of the pressure of these robodebt letters. Court cases have had to be commenced. We've seen tens of millions of dollars unjustly taken by the Commonwealth from some of the most vulnerable citizens in the country.
It is a scandal. When the government doesn't have the power to take money and still does because it can, because its the biggest financial operation in the Commonwealth, and then hangs onto the money and forces citizens who were illegally issued with debt notices to go to court to recover the money that the government never had the power to take in the first place—that's a scandal. The only explanation is that when they set up the scheme they (1) didn't get legal advice (2) got bad legal advice or (3) got good legal advice and ignored it. But, at any level, how can we get a government so complacent that it can issue taxpayer money—infrastructure grants—on an unsubstantiated basis to sports clubs who didn't deserve it and not give it to sports clubs who did, or indeed a government that can issue social security letters of demand that it doesn't have the power to issue? Are there any consequences for ministers in this government? It's anything goes.
The government have a sense of deep-seated hubris and arrogance—that because they won the last election that now validates anything they've done since, when, as time goes on, they're underhanded rorting of taxpayer money will show that their election victory was built on the back of taxpayer money that was not given out in the proper way. So, we need to have a national integrity commission. Of course, the most reluctant gentleman I've ever seen to be leader of government business—I speak of Minister Porter—says: 'We're getting on with it. Don't worry about what we've actually done; don't worry about what you can see. Just move on. We're getting on with it.' Their approach so far on the national integrity commission could be described as weak, ineffective, secretive, incompetent, negligent and nonexistent.
As the shadow Attorney-General has pointed out relentlessly, the Attorney-General has belled the cat on what this government thinks passes for an integrity commission. Today the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, made it clear that his proposed integrity commission is so feeble—he didn't use the word 'feeble', but you'll see why I call it feeble in the next few moments—that it will not be able to investigate the Morrison government's sports rorts scandal. Mr Porter today claimed falsely that existing state and territory integrity commissions can only examine matters where a crime has been committed. On ABC Radio National this morning Fran Kelly interviewed the Attorney-General. I will read a few lines. Fran Kelly said:
Well, it's an integrity commission, it's investigating matters of integrity. That doesn't necessarily mean criminal offences.
Attorney-General Porter said:
That's just not correct. So, integrity commissions or corruption commissions or whatever they're called, investigate things which are written into statute as offences.
Fran Kelly asked:
But not the sports grants?
Attorney-General Porter said:
Neither the police nor integrity commissions investigate things that aren't offences. That's just how it works.
The reality is that integrity commissions have a much wider brief to investigate corruption by politicians and public officials. Every existing state and territory integrity commission is able to go beyond the criminal law and examine issues of corrupt conduct and integrity.
I think the government hopes that, with the important and troubling coronavirus, somehow the sports rorts matter and other decisions of this government will go unscrutinised. As they say, this government does not want to waste a crisis. It is appropriate that we tackle the coronavirus, but this nation is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. I actually think that this government has an obligation to the parliament and to all our voters to demonstrate that the political system is not broken and that democracy is not broken. Surveys time and time here and around the world show that an increasing number of our citizens and citizens around the world feel that democracy just doesn't work in the interests of the people anymore, that the fix is in and that individual votes can't change anything. Well, let me be very clear. Democracy, with all its failing, is still the least-worst system we have. It certainly needs improvement. One improvement we can make is a national integrity commission.
This government has flaws that deserve the attention of independent investigation. Question time isn't working the way it should. Despite the questions we ask, this government simply doesn't care anymore if it misleads the House or if it doesn't answer the questions. In an ideal world though this government would demonstrate some integrity now. We need to demonstrate that our democracy is not broken and that the parliament can deal with obvious problems, with scandals and with matters that go to the integrity of the allocation of taxpayer dollars.
We need to do more than just have a national integrity commission. Time doesn't permit me to talk about our need for electoral reform and our need to demonstrate that our democracy is not for sale to the highest bidder with the deepest pockets. I'll save my remarks on that for another occasion. It is well beyond time that this government joined Labor in standing for a strong independent national integrity commission with real powers to let the sunshine in. We need to restore faith in the way that government works. We need to restore faith in the way that politics works. Indeed, before I conclude my speech I'm going to restore faith to the people who are interested in debating in the parliament so, Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.
I rise to speak on a number of local priorities for the electorate of Mayo for the upcoming 2020-21 budget. These local priorities have been identified in consultation with my community, and I trust that the government will recognise that many of these projects have a renewed urgency in light of both the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island bushfires and are vital to the long-term recovery of the regions.
With respect to rural and regional health care, the provision of health care across Kangaroo Island has always been a challenge, with disparate communities distributed across an area one-third larger than the greater Adelaide region. Currently, health services are overwhelmingly concentrated in the island's largest town of Kingscote, leaving other communities on the almost 4,500-square kilometres of island quite isolated from quality health care. With the community still reeling from the recent bushfires and the importance of providing health care to all sections of the community, there has never been a greater need to acknowledge the physical and mental toll of natural disasters. The community preferred solution would see the establishment of a nurse practitioner outreach service on the island, with the potential to develop further into a GP outreach service once demand is confirmed. Based in Kingscote, the practitioner would travel to the townships of Parndana, some 40 kilometres away, and Penneshaw, some 60 kilometres away, and potentially also American River, on a regular basis and provide health services to isolated communities.
Medicare services in Mount Barker are desperately needed. The installation of the Medicare services centre with Centrelink at Victor Harbor has been a great success, and I'd like to thank the government for their constructive engagement with me on the centre. We advocated successfully for that. It means that Medicare sits inside the Centrelink office at Victor Harbor. I now ask the government to extend the same service to one of South Australia's largest and fastest-growing regional centres, Mount Barker.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms that Mount Barker is one of the fastest-growing regional centres in South Australia and is projected to grow from its current population of approximately 33,000 to 55,000 by 2036. The Mount Barker service centre is the other major government service centre in Mayo, and I urge the government to add Medicare to this site. A Medicare service centre in Mount Barker would service a population area that would reasonably include the Adelaide Hills, Strathalbyn, Murray Bridge, Mannum and the Coorong for a total of almost 120,000 people and growing every year. A centre in Mount Barker would predominantly cater for rural and regional communities with a higher average age than metropolitan Adelaide, with digital literacy lower amongst elderly Australians, who often struggle to use online services. Demand for the centre's service, I believe, would be high.
With respect to supplementary road funding, this is something I have been championing in this chamber since I was elected. Supplementary road funding is provided to South Australia in recognition of the fact that our state has more than 11 per cent of the nation's local road network and seven per cent of the population but otherwise receives around five per cent of the nation's share of road funding. It's a peculiarity and it's unfair. In 2017, Centre Alliance negotiated for this funding to be reinstated after it was cut by the Abbott government in 2014. In last year's budget, I welcomed the announcement that the government set aside a further $40 million over two years for supplementary road funding for South Australia, which provides Mayo councils with $4.6 million for the much-needed upgrade of local roads. I strongly urge the government to consider and continue supplementary road funding in ongoing recognition of the inequality that would otherwise result for South Australia if this funding were removed.
There is a freeway interchange in my electorate which, I'm sure you find hard to believe, is a one-way freeway interchange. That is what is known as the Verdun interchange. The interchange on the South Eastern Freeway of Verdun currently only accepts traffic in half of all possible directions: leaving the freeway when driving from Adelaide and entering the freeway when heading towards Adelaide. Upgrading the interchange to allow traffic to enter the freeway when heading from Adelaide and to leave the freeway when heading towards Adelaide would aid traffic flow, especially by reducing unnecessary flow-through traffic into the major tourist town of Hahndorf, particularly trucks, as many local communities must drive through the main street of Hahndorf with its heavy pedestrian traffic in order to return to the freeway. Conversely, it would also allow easier access for tourists seeking to travel to visit Hahndorf and the wider Adelaide Hills region. While Hahndorf itself was not in the fire scar, its survival is tied to the tourism of the Adelaide Hills and the ability for tourists to travel easily to and from the Adelaide Hills.
I have spoken at length with regard to Victor Harbour Road and Main South Road in this place, but I will continue to pursue this until state and federal governments recognise that these projects are in urgent need of funding. In relation to Victor Harbour Road—it being the main artery from southern Adelaide to the major regional centre of Victor Harbour—it has long been in need of additional overtaking lanes and an eventual upgrade to double lanes. Data shows that between 2012 and 2016 there was an increase in traffic of some 34 per cent. During that same period 43 people were either sadly killed or seriously injured. As The Advertiser has previously reported, this equates to close to one person killed or maimed for every kilometre of road over five years.
In relation to Main South Road, I recognise the state government made crucial commitments to upgrade Main South Road to Sellicks Beach. However, I also seek a commitment from the federal government to contribute towards funding an upgrade of Main South Road between Sellicks Beach and Cape Jervis at the far end of the Fleurieu. One segment of Main South Road in particular that needs further upgrading is the hilly, winding section north-east of the township of Yankalilla, between the Inman Valley and the township of Myponga. It's a road I drive on very regularly. This segment also sadly had a high count of serious injuries between 2012 and 2016.
Another road issue and passenger issue is the Aldinga passenger rail. The community of Aldinga, on the outer edges of metropolitan Adelaide, has been growing rapidly at 8.7 per cent between 2011 and 2016, far above the average growth rate of 2.1 per cent per annum. This is likely only to continue upwards with the new Aldinga reception-to-year-12 school, which is expected to open in the 2022 school year. Extending the passenger rail from Seaford southwards towards Aldinga is an important medium- to long-term plan for this growing community, and I urge the state and federal governments to list this on their schedule. With the provision of adequate infrastructure investments, the federal government will ensure that this area can sustainably cater for current and future generations.
My electorate holds the end of the River Murray, the great Murray Mouth. The lower River Murray lakes and Coorong are in urgent need of a dedicated research institute with a focus on water monitoring and management, environmental resilience, climate change mitigation and adaption. It is the most vulnerable part of the river. Specifically, the proposed institute could look at issues such as real-time summaries of the ecological condition of the river to allow for the provision of advice and remedies for intermediate and extreme drought events and to find new solutions for managing water, salinity and nutrient levels in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth in the context of real-time ebb-and-flow conditions. I think spending money on the Murray Mouth is imperative for the health of the whole river.
Speaking of environmental issues: Kangaroo Island is a magical place, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I would certainly urge you to come and visit. One issue we do have on Kangaroo Island is a number of federal animals. We do have some solutions to address this. One in particular is a way that we can get rid of a feral cat issue that we have. There is an eradication program. To ensure that the program reaches its successful conclusion, we will need to make sure that that program is funded into the future. The island is renowned for its environmental tourism and stands to greatly benefit from the complete eradication of feral cats to help preserve its drawcard and environmental heritage. This has only become more important as the community works to protect endangered and vulnerable native species following our devastating fires.
Similarly, the agricultural, economic and environmental destruction caused by feral pigs on Kangaroo Island has been greatly heightened after the Ravine bushfire on the island over January. The best, most recent estimate of the economic cost of feral pigs on Kangaroo Island is $1.65 million between 2015 and 2017, with around half of this impact in 2017 alone. The feral pig containment and eradication work has become increasingly important to island landholders and is now urgent in the wake of bushfires. The Kangaroo Island Landscape Board has confirmed to me that their feral pig eradication work is one of the most urgent priorities, especially as the bushfire recovery effort transition towards long-term and strategic recovery efforts.
The federal government has an important opportunity to capitalise on the excellent outcomes flowing from its initial rapid and timely support. I strongly urge the federal government to consider a $2 million support package over five years for the eradication of feral species. That will help protect agriculture, our economy and our environment.
With the fires we've also had significant damage to our wine region in the Adelaide Hills. The support package provided by the government to grow export of Australian wine and to increase international visitors to Australian wine regions, known as Wine Australia's Export and Regional Wine Support Package, has been a solid success, assisting in growing wine exports by approximately 50 per cent over the three years since its commencement in mid-2016 and supporting local wine regions to promote themselves both nationally and internationally.
I encourage the government to continue to support such an initiative for the wine and cider regions alongside the funding recently provided for the purposes of tourism recovery following the fires. I also encourage the government to establish a national vine health authority modelled on South Australia's own successful Vinehealth Australia, with the body to establish and monitor a national biosecurity strategy that incorporates a national phylloxera strategy. South Australian wine exports have reached $1.79 billion and now generate over $2 billion in revenue for South Australia. In 2019, South Australia contributed almost one-third of the national crush. We are the wine state. However, those figures will drop substantially without careful and urgent management of biosecurity hazards.
Aged care is an issue that I talk about a lot in this place. It's an issue that I care very, very deeply about. The interim report entitled Aged care in Australia: A shocking tale of neglect by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Qaulity and Safety calls the home-care package system cruel and discriminatory. My office has assisted numerous constituents and their families to negotiate and navigate the aged-care system. I can attest to the accuracy of that description. I'm calling on the government to address the unreasonable delays experienced by those elderly Australians languishing on the national prioritisation queue. The government must release sufficient home-care packages to ensure that no individual must wait more than 30 days to receive a home-care package. Further, these packages need to be at levels that actually meet their needs.
There is also an urgent requirement to provide additional aged-care funding approval rounds to ensure that rural and regional residential aged-care providers secure additional beds and access the capital grant program to upgrade their facilities. One example in my electorate in Mayo is Restvale facility in Lobethal. Ensuring the ongoing viability of rural and regional residential aged-care facilities enables elderly Australians to ensure that they stay in their community, and their social and mental health benefits will continue while they are in their community. I think it's critical that we make sure that we don't leave rural and regional Australia behind with respect to aged care. This is a deep concern held by many in our community. Our aged-care facilities, particularly in our smaller towns, are not glitzy, glass brand-new buildings. In many cases they were built in the 1920s or 1930s, perhaps even older. They were originally hospitals and then reshaped into aged-care homes. In our communities, we have an enormous amount of volunteers, people from our community that support our aged-care facilities, but I really am calling on government for a different approach to how we take care of rural and regional elderly Australians, particularly in our aged-care homes.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. When I first thought about running for parliament to become the member for Paterson back in 2016, I couldn't imagine any greater feeling of pride than representing the community that I not only live in with my family but also was born in. My electorate has a vast range of people. There are a lot of blue-collar workers and families in the west, in places like Kurri Kurri and Maitland, and lots of people in the east, who choose to retire in the magnificent Port Stephens area. These areas are growing at an incredible rate and they are becoming more and more dynamic by the day. But, regardless of the identity of my constituents, I still take great pride in bringing their messages to Canberra and in representing them. At the end of the day, even when this rorting non-hose-holding Liberal-National government turn their backs on my community and bunk off instead of bunking down, I've tried to stand by my constituents and to represent them to the best of my ability. More often than not, this has paid off.
When I decided to run in 2016, I put a lot of thought into the priorities of my electorate. Although the list of things that should be done was endless, narrowing those down to a few projects that could be done first was a challenge. When it came to that list, the raising of Testers Hollow was one of the first things. Many locals believe that it should have been raised in the 1930s. In fact, my great-grandparents used to row a little wooden boat across the hollow when it flooded. So I was particularly happy, after I made the announcement in the 2016 election that the Labor Party would, in fact, raise Testers Hollow, that the Liberals decided to back my idea and came to the party with funds. They also pledged a commitment to Testers Hollow, and in 2017 the funds were allocated to the project. Last year, the plans for this section of road were released for public consultation, and today I was delighted to see that tenders have been called to raise Testers Hollow—tick! So far the project is on track, and I'm proud to know that my voice in this place has helped this project move along.
That wasn't the only thing that I've thrown my support behind, and I'm proud to witness results. In March last year I was alarmed to see a 'for lease' sign in the window of my local Kurri Kurri Centrelink, I thought, 'How can this be possible? Why would they be leasing the local Centrelink?' So I set about talking to people in my community. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people, who live in Kurri Kurri, Weston and Heddon Greta who rely on Kurri Kurri's Centrelink. I wrote to the Minister for Human Services and asked what was going on. Then I was directed to speak to the national manager of Centrelink, who told me at the time that Centrelink and the building owners were unable to reach an agreement on the lease. Well, this was a big concern to my constituents in my home town. So I persevered with contact to the minister, to the department and to the national manager of Centrelink, and finally we were able to have a lease agreement and the signs were removed. Little did I know it at the time, but this was actually a huge win. Recent reports show that several Centrelink offices across Australia have been secretly closed down without so much as a phone call to the local member or a conversation with the local community or the staff that work at Centrelink. Disgraceful! Thankfully, Kurri Kurri Centrelink was spared.
Another incredible win for our community is the PFAS class action against the government, which reached an in-principle agreement late last week. I've spoken about this extensively in this place. In fact, I had pause today to reflect on my first speech, which I made as I stood here with dark brown hair and fewer wrinkles. Grey has come and so have more worry lines, and I do attribute it largely to PFAS. When I look back on my first speech and think about what I said on that day, I stand by those words:
This government must stand by the Williamtown community, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in an impossible situation. Their properties are no longer fit for purpose—they are devalued and potentially worthless. Their soil and water is contaminated, their health potentially compromised, their lives destroyed, their anxieties heightened, and their trust and faith in all of us low. The PFAS contamination must be stopped, land and soil remediated, and people who want out must be able to go. Governments cannot be allowed to poison our environment and our people. Governments cannot be allowed to walk away. It is time for this government to put things right.
I want to say that it is good. We called for these people to have options, and now they do. Finally, after almost five long years of speeches, of Senate hearings, of joint standing committee inquiries, of reports, of officialdom, of bureaucrats, of trauma, of tears, my community will finally get the chance to make some decisions about their future. I welcome that. Above all I welcome the opportunity to be able to repair some of the terrible damage that has occurred between our community and RAAF Base Williamtown. Williamtown was always a RAAF community. Thousands of people have come through the base and made it a terrific Defence institution for our country. Then, when we learnt about PFAS, we turned on Defence because we felt so violated, so literally contaminated. So winning this class action means not only can the people of Williamtown get on with their lives, but we can start to mend those breaks that have occurred between our community and the Department of Defence. That is really an important and good thing.
Outcomes like this are what I dreamed of when I got this job. If anyone ever says to me, 'What can a backbencher from a little backwater in opposition achieve in their first term of government?' I would say go and look at the PFAS class action from Williamtown in 2020. We achieved that. We had a win. I am so proud of my community and to serve them in this place.
In November 2017 Newcastle Airport, which happened to share the facility with RAAF Base Williamtown, unveiled its $1.6 million international arrival and departure facilities. It took less then a year for an international route to be announced. I would like to think that my advocacy played a small role in this achievement. In fact, it was interesting when the then CEO of Virgin came to Canberra to meet some of the people who'd been elected in 2016. We were all sitting around a dinner table. He asked us what we would like to have in terms of our electorates. He was just chatting generally to us. People around the table were talking very wisely about tourism and how they could benefit from tourism and how Virgin might play a role. I remember saying at the time, 'I'm from the seat of Paterson. In Paterson we have the fabulous Newcastle Airport. I would like an international route and a lounge. We don't have either of those.' The next day I got a lovely email from the CEO of Virgin, who said, 'I'm not sure we can help you with the lounge, but we might be interested in flying to an international destination out of Newcastle.' So, over the next three months, working with Peter Cock and the board of Newcastle Airport Pty Ltd, we worked with Virgin to get a flight—an international flight. I want to thank the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, who really did help us with that. He expedited some of the processes we needed to get through, so that when we held the Newcastle 500 supercars we were able to fly people from Auckland to Newcastle and back again over the February period of the year. So that has been an enormous success, and now we're looking at how we can expand that service. I'm so pleased that we were able to capture that extra piece of revenue and income for our region, and the supercars have been a wonderful boom too. It's great to work with my colleague, the member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, in progressing our region forward.
The list of achievements that we've had in Paterson is good, but there are lots of things that we want to get on to now. And the very forefront of these priorities is the M1 extension. If you've ever driven between Sydney and Brisbane, you would know where I'm talking about. There's a set of traffic lights when you get to the end of the M1 at Beresfield where you have to sit, often for a long time, behind stacks and stacks of cars, trucks and caravans and everyone who's tried to head north. You turn right at the lights, up over the flyover, down around the big sweeping bend and up over the bridge to Hexham and on your way. Well, that's how it should work. If you're coming from Brisbane back to Sydney, you have to travel over the very antiquated Hexham Bridge, which is a very narrow bridge and has its problems, and back the other way. It is hopeless. In peak times, it's as slow as a wet week, and in holiday times, you just sit, often, for an hour, an hour-and-a-half, to get through two kilometre of road. It is so frustrating for people. The road is used by hundreds of thousands of Australians every single year. It is the last choke point between Sydney and Brisbane. Adding complexity to that, it is one of the main arterial points between western New South Wales and the Port of Newcastle, which sees lots of grain and other goods coming from the west over to the point. And mixed into this we have all our locals, who are busily just trying to get from the areas of Maitland and Kurri Kurri over to Newcastle to go to work. So it is a nightmare.
For the past 15 years, all levels of government and the community have called for this road to be extended. When will the Morrison government and the Berejiklian Liberal government in New South Wales stop dragging their feet? In 2016 Infrastructure Australia listed the Pacific Highway M1 extension from Raymond Terrace to Black Hill as a priority, with a near term of zero to five years. The 2020 Infrastructure priority list reveals this project is still a priority, yet nothing has been done. The Morrison government blames the Berejiklian government. The Berejiklian government blames the Morrison government. If either of those governments cared about regional infrastructure, which they should, the project would be a high priority. The business case would have been completed by the state government and the project would be underway. Instead, only four per cent of the funding for the M1 extension has been made available by the Morrison government in the next five years.
The Pacific Highway is one of the most used roads in New South Wales. According to Infrastructure Australia, more than 21,000 vehicles use the M1 in afternoon peak times and this number is expected to increase by over 35 per cent by 2031—at least 7,500 vehicles. In holiday travel times, the stretch of road is reduced to as little as 20 kilometres per hour, adding over two hours to the journey.
This important project would include 15 kilometres of dual carriageway motorway with two lanes in each direction, bypassing Hexham and Heatherbrae; a new interchange at Black Hill, Tarro, Tomago and Raymond Terrace; and a 2.6 kilometre bridge over Woodlands Close, the Main Northern Railway, the New England Highway and the Hunter River. The project will create hundreds of jobs during construction in the Hunter and Port Stephens regions and boost productivity by reducing traffic congestion—we're always hearing about congestion-busting ideas from the other side—for local residents, tourists, businesses and truck drivers. If you have ever used this road or been stuck on this road this affects you. I'm asking every single person, whether you live in my electorate, North Sydney or North Brisbane: please sign my petition so I can bring it here to Parliament House. I am running a campaign called We Want a Clean Run on the M1. Get on it with me so we can save you time on this last choke point on the M1 between Sydney and Brisbane.
Another huge concern for my constituents has been the recent change to bulk-billing. From January this year the Morrison government and his Department of Health have implemented the modified Monash model, which decides how much incentive doctors in regional areas will receive to bulk-bill. In short, regional areas like mine, like Raymond Terrace and Kurri Kurri, have been put in the same billing basket as the CBD of Sydney. How can this be? It is clearly an error in the model. It needs desperate attention because people in regional and rural Australia, in the seat of Paterson, need as much medical help as those in the CBD of Sydney. The Morrison government must make a change to the modified Monash model.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. This is a government who's harsh cuts continue to hurt Australians, particularly those in regional areas like mine in Northern New South Wales. It's also a government with no plan. The fact is, this Prime Minister is just a salesman. That's all he is—a salesman. He's not a leader. In fact, he's such an ineffective Prime Minister he's running a do-nothing government with absolutely no agenda for the country. They've got no plan for jobs, no plan for wages growth and no plan to address climate change. They've got no plan for infrastructure investment and no plan for investing in our regions. In fact, all we get in the regions is more of the National Party cuts, chaos and lies. That's all we get. We've got cuts to health, education and aged care, cuts to services like Centrelink and NDIS, and cuts to TAFE and unis. There's no plan to address rising power prices and there's no plan for regional jobs, which is so very, very important.
Locals are very, very concerned about the Morrison government's plans in terms of our Centrelink centres. They've got plans to close three local Centrelink service centres: the Tweed Heads south Centrelink service centre, the Tweed Heads south Centrelink call centre and the Tweed Heads Centrelink administrative office. They are all set to relocate to a yet to be determined location. I've written to the Minister for Human Services on behalf of the community to seek his urgent commitment that there'll be no redundancies or cuts to current staff members at any centre and no further decline in the delivery of front-line services to our local community. Our Centrelink service centre provides such essential services that our community relies on, and it's imperative that the services remain easily accessible. Our pensioners and seniors, veterans, people with disability, families, carers, locals seeking work and students all rely on the essential front-line services that our local Centrelink provides. It must be kept there in place for locals.
I'd now like to raise the issue of the New South Wales Liberal-National government's ongoing cuts to funding staff and services at the Murwillumbah hospital. This is a massive concern to my local community, and I condemn the New South Wales government for their constant downgrading of this vital regional hospital. There is currently a real and present threat to the ongoing viability of the Murwillumbah hospital with the New South Wales Liberal-National government slashing nursing staff in the emergency department. This will result in the loss of 2.2 nurses from every 24-hour period—reducing staff from the current nine nurses over 24 hours down to 6.8 nursing shifts in 24 hours. In real terms, this takes the morning shift from three nurses down to two nurses, the afternoon shift from three nurses to two, and a further shift to be shortened by two hours. This, of course, all comes on top of their constant cuts to the hospital. As I often say, National Party choices hurt. But this decision by the Liberal-National government will really hurt my community in Murwillumbah. The local community, the nurses and the doctors are rightly outraged by these cruel and harsh cuts, and there are real and justified fears that these cuts to rostered nursing hours will have harsh impacts on patient safety. Make no mistake: this shameful decision could cost lives. There is absolutely no excuse for these cuts to our nursing services.
Murwillumbah hospital has an outstanding and highly regarded emergency department which our community relies on and uses often. Locals have serious concerns that these cuts could be the thin edge of the wedge for eventually closing down the hospital. There is a very well-founded concern that the National Party will close down Murwillumbah hospital when the new Tweed Valley hospital eventually opens some time in the coming years. As an insight into how busy the Murwillumbah's emergency department can get, nurses recently saw 18 patients from 8 am to 10 am one morning. To remove a total of 17 nursing hours a week will put incredible pressure on the remaining staff.
I'd like to commend Lismore MP Janelle Saffin for her remarkable work as the state member, particularly in fighting this bad decision by a bad government. Janelle has launched a petition protesting the government's cuts to the emergency department. There's overwhelming support from the community, with virtually every business in town promoting the petition in their shops. I'd also like to commend the Murwillumbah branch of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association, firstly for their incredible work as nurses, providing outstanding care and also for their strong activism in fighting these unfair staff cuts.
I also want to acknowledge the recently formed Save Murwillumbah Hospital group, chaired by a local champion Kylie Rose, who is standing up for our community and working tirelessly in gathering signatures for the petition. Working together we'll all continue to send a strong clear message to Premier Berejiklian and the Liberal-National government: no cuts to the Murwillumbah hospital. The slashing of these nurse positions in the emergency department is another broken promise by this bad government. During the state election they promised 280 more nurses and midwives for the area. This was just another National Party lie, just like the broken promise of Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest to have free parking at the new hospital—another National Party lie. Well, our community has had enough. We have National Party members who are in hiding. We have a Premier who just does not care about regional New South Wales. She only focuses on Sydney. The fact is her local Liberal and National party members are weak and silent. So, thanks so much to our community for fighting these harsh Liberal and National party cuts. The Murwillumbah hospital is vitally important for the health services it provides. The fact is that lives could be lost unless the government stops these harsh cuts.
I also want to raise today the issue of nuclear power. I want to condemn the Morrison government's dangerous plan to develop a nuclear power industry in Australia. We're seeing intensifying pressure from the Liberals and Nationals at all levels of government pushing this very toxic agenda. Just recently we saw the new Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, the member for Hinkler, stating that he wants the government to explore a lifting of the ban on nuclear energy. I'm saying to the Prime Minister that he has to come clean about his government's plan for nuclear power and let us know which regions are in his sights—and will it be in my area on the New South Wales North Coast?
The fact is that nuclear power is dangerous and expensive, and it would consume vast amounts of precious water at a time when Australia faces increased water security threats due to the gross mismanagement of this government and, of course, the very harsh impacts of climate change. The fact is that nuclear energy is three times more expensive than renewables, and it would lead to higher power prices, so I stand with my community in firm opposition to nuclear power. This is a major issue from Ballina to Byron and Tweed—right throughout my electorate. We have major objections to nuclear energy, and I certainly stand with them in opposing it.
We've seen many Liberal and National party members starting to strongly advocate this idea, including the Prime Minister, who said that nuclear power is not on his agenda. We've also seen the member for New England and Nationals MP with his bizarre idea that authorities could get around public concerns about the safety of nuclear energy by giving free power to people if they could see a nuclear reactor from their home—quite bizarre. We also have the New South Wales Nationals leader and Deputy Premier calling nuclear power 'the solution to cheaper energy'. This just shows how out of touch the New South Wales Nationals are. Alarmingly, in the Tweed shire, we've seen the Liberal councillor James Owen's strong support for nuclear power, which just shows how incredibly dangerous he is for our region. It's well known that the risky and reckless James Owen can't be trusted and doesn't share our values. In a clear sign that the extremists are dictating the government's energy policy, we're seeing this latest push from the resources minister. But let me make it very clear: if this government pursues its plans, our community will fight every day, every step of the way, to stop them.
I'd also like to raise the fact that we've seen many cuts from this government when it comes to TAFE, at both the state and federal level. The New South Wales Liberals and Nationals are refusing to rule out further cuts to our TAFE courses and are closing TAFE campuses. At a federal level, we've seen $3 billion in funding cuts. We know the New South Wales Premier has already decimated TAFE by cutting 5,700 teachers from TAFE, and we now have fewer apprentices than we did. In my seat of Richmond the figures are staggering. In 2013 there were 2,016 apprentices and trainees in the field compared to recent figures of just 1,506—510 fewer apprentices, which equates to a 25.3 per cent reduction. This is disgraceful and must stop.
I also want to raise the New South Wales government's plans for paid parking at the new Tweed Valley Hospital. On many occasions I have condemned the Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest for his failure to honour his election commitment made over a year ago to stop paid parking at the new Tweed Valley Hospital. Prior to that election he clearly stated that 'parking at the new hospital would be free'. He said that means 'free parking for patients, visitors and staff at any time, day or night'. It was clear that this was a just cheap stunt before the election in a desperate attempt to win votes. Since then he and his Liberal-National government have repeatedly failed to honour this commitment of free parking. They've been repeatedly asked by residents, local media and the New South Wales parliament to come clean on their plans to oppose it. On all occasions they have simply refused to do so. Today we fear it's been confirmed that there will be paid parking there. The Tweed Shire Council had previously passed a motion and written to the New South Wales government condemning them for their plans to do that and asking them to honour the commitment. In the reply from the health minister, we see him say that 'in 2013 the New South Wales Health implemented a hospital car parking fees policy. The Tweed Valley Hospital project will consider this policy as it reviews the funding options for car parking at the Tweed Valley Hospital.' That's a broken promise. You can't promise free parking and then say that all options are on the table.
It should be noted that the original notion from Tweed Shire Council requesting the New South Wales government to honour their election commitment was not supported—of course—by Liberal-National Party aligned councillors on Tweed Shire Council: Councillor James Owen, Councillor Warren Polglase and Councillor Pryce Allsop. These three councillors, shamefully, support paid parking at the new hospital.
I'd also like to raise the fact that this government's cuts to health care and aged care have been detrimental for our region. Health costs have never been higher than under the Morrison government, and when it comes to aged care there have been so many funding cuts and we have so many people on waiting lists for home-care packages. It is incredibly unfair. The reality is that people are now paying higher costs to see a GP. We've seen a record increase in those patient costs as a direct result of this government's cuts and neglect when it comes to health. We all know here that the Liberals and Nationals tried and failed to impose a GP tax; then they introduced the Medicare freeze—a GP tax by stealth; and the Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, extended the freeze, leading to those increases in out-of-pocket costs that people face today. The sad reality is that today, in 2020, there are many people in my community for whom the cost of health care is simply prohibitive. They don't access the tests and treatments they need because they cannot afford to. This is having detrimental effects right across my electorate.
One of the issues that I have raised before and I continue to raise here is the recent changes under the Modified Monash Model, which have seen this government change the classification of Murwillumbah from a regional area to a metropolitan one. Murwillumbah is a regional town of 9,000 people and it's now classified the same as Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane! This is truly absurd. It's a regional country town. My local community are rightly concerned and angry about this very unfair classification. The direct result of the government's actions will have severe implications for Murwillumbah, including the reduction of incentives for medical professionals, including rural bulk-billing incentives, the Workforce Incentive Program and the Bonded Medical Program. It means that medical practices in Murwillumbah will only be available to general pathway registrars and no longer to rural pathway registrars. That means that young doctors who choose the rural pathway can no longer train in medical practices in Murwillumbah. Those incentives have been completely removed.
Make no mistake: this harsh decision means that there'll be less bulk-billing and fewer doctors in Murwillumbah. And it's important to note that there's a very high proportion of elderly people in the town and surrounding areas right throughout my electorate. They have more complex health care needs and require more intensive levels of ongoing care. There's also a huge lack of public transport in Murwillumbah and surrounds on the North Coast generally, so in other areas these locals just can't get to GPs. I have raised this many times, about this government's harsh cuts to our health care services. This change in the classification will make it extremely difficult to attract new GPs to Murwillumbah, as those incentive payments aren't there. I would like to note that Murwillumbah is renowned as an excellent centre for training young doctors and has an outstanding reputation, so I want to see some changes to the Modified Monash Model so the country town of Murwillumbah can access these important incentives. It is not a metropolitan area. It is not Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. It is a country town.
In conclusion, this is a government whose harsh cuts continue to hurt regional Australia. It's a government with no plan. That's because this Prime Minister is a salesman, not a leader.
Today I will speak on the priorities for my electorate of Indi in the 2020-21 budget. These projects and infrastructure needs were identified in consultation with the nine local government areas in Indi, Alpine, Benalla, Indigo, Mansfield, Murrindindi, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta and Wodonga, and finalised in a roundtable discussion I held with them in late January. These hardworking local councils are the part of government most people see. Despite this, their work is often underappreciated. I am thankful to them for my strong relationships with them, and I look forward to continuing our productive partnerships during my term.
Ahead of the last election, the government announced $14.5 million of funding to Albury Wodonga Health, which included $12 million for a mental health rehabilitation unit. The need for mental health specialist services has only grown more urgent in the aftermath of the bushfire emergency. We know that recovery from disaster can bring with it significant emotional and mental health challenges, some transient and some enduring. Albury Wodonga Health provide mental health services across both inpatient and outpatient settings, encompassing all the regions affected by our recent bushfire. Their services include specialist assessment, treatment and ongoing care, including child and adolescent mental health services, adult mental health services, older persons' mental health services and integrated primary mental health services. The mental health rehab unit is a key plank in the Albury Wodonga Health masterplan, enabling a modern, evidence based mental health recovery philosophy most especially for the missing middle of people with serious and ongoing needs for support in-between emergency department, hospital and GP care. Bringing forward the mental health unit funding to the 2022-23 budget will avoid a three-year delay when there is no time to waste.
The health services of our small rural communities of Corryong and the Alpine Valleys are funded through the Multi-Purpose Services Program. This provides funding for integrated health and aged care in bushfire affected communities in Indi. Both health services are in our two most severely bushfire affected councils. The MPS Program needs to be expanded and strengthened by providing Commonwealth government capital and service funding to reflect the diversity of care. Most especially, the government must ensure that the current Commonwealth aged-care funding contribution matches the complexity of contemporary aged care in regional settings.
The north-east tourism industry has been heavily impacted by the fires. Investment in five key projects can help get the sector back on its feet: one, the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing, which would attract both domestic and international visitors and be a hero product for the alpine region; two, cycle tourism priority projects that offer the greatest growth opportunities for the region; three, the Growing Mount Hotham project to increase the amenity and pedestrian safety of the Mount Hotham precinct; four, bringing the Ned Kelly story to life through an architecturally designed tower complex in the centre of Glenrowan overlooking the historical sites from Ned's life and recognising the as yet unrealised potential of Australia's most well-known story; and, five, $1.8 million of funding to establish a cafe complex in the Mount Buffalo Chalet to unlock the tourism potential of the national park and a truly unique tourism icon.
While much has been done to improve telecommunications access in north-east Victoria, when disaster strikes communities are often let down by mobile phone black spots. An additional $20 million allocation to the Mobile Black Spot Program will ensure those communities most at risk of communications outages during bushfires can remain safe and connected.
The recent fires highlighted pressing infrastructure needs in my electorate—infrastructure so that we can be better prepared for the next bushfires and can build our resilience in recovery. We need $15 million for a renewable energy microgrid in Corryong to allow this community to be self-sustainable in emergency situations and to significantly increase the reliability of telecommunications and power infrastructure of this town that was so profoundly affected in the fires. The technology and expertise are ready to go to safeguard Corryong in the future. We need $2.8 million for an upgrade to the Kiewa Valley community relief centre and $3.2 million to upgrade the Mount Beauty Airport runway to allow emergency services access to the Kiewa Valley for decades to come. The Kiewa Valley is surrounded by magnificent national parks and rugged alpine terrain and it is highly susceptible to bushfire. We need a new incident control centre at Ovens to coordinate emergency responses to protect the major population centres of Myrtleford and Bright. This summer has highlighted the vulnerability of this region and the key role this centre plays in bushfire response coordination. This former horticultural research centre is no longer fit for purpose. An automated weather station at Corryong to assist bushfire response and suppression, air transport of critically ill patients, search and rescue activities, stock and crop management, and domestic aircraft is long overdue. Two hundred thousand dollars is all that is needed, and it will make a major difference. We need $2.1 million to urgently connect the Tawonga Caravan Park to reticulated sewerage to prevent an important tourism destination and business in the Kiewa Valley being lost.
Regional councils face unique challenges. Since 1996 council costs have increased more than 400 per cent, yet over the same period of time the value of the financial assistance grants from the federal government has fallen from one per cent of Commonwealth tax revenue to just 0.55 per cent in 2019. It's getting harder for rural councils to make up the difference on their own. Their rate base is small and the demand on their services is challenged by geography, changing economic circumstances in traditional rural industries and more frequent catastrophic weather events. The Commonwealth government can do more. Restoring the value of financial assistance grants to one per cent is a start.
Round 4 of the Building Better Regions Fund was available only to drought affected councils. While the need in drought affected communities is unquestionable, this meant that many of the Indi councils were ineligible to receive a crucial source of funding for infrastructure and community investment. The need remains in all councils for investment to drive economic growth and build stronger regional communities. Indi LGAs have requested that the next round of the Building Better Regions Fund be brought forward and made available to all councils; and, in light of the recent bushfires and their devastating effect on infrastructure, economies and community spirit, it's proposed that another BBRF round, exclusively for fire impacted councils, be introduced.
Aged care is of particular importance to my electorate. People in regional areas use residential care less than those in cities and face higher costs in travelling to services. I encourage the government to approve more home-care packages to reduce the waiting list, particularly for those people with the highest level of need.
In my submission to the Tune NDIS review last year, I made eight recommendations, based on the feedback from hundreds of people who've contacted my office. In line with my submission, I call on the government to implement all of the recommendations of the Tune review and ensure our NDIS participants are treated with the utmost dignity. The NDIS will expand significantly over the coming years, with estimates of an additional 90,000 new workers in the disability sector. Many of these will be needed in regional areas, and the government should invest in creating a skilled NDIS workforce to meet this need. There is no better place to do that than in regional Australia.
The Napthine review has provided an a blueprint for improving educational outcomes for rural students and has the backing of regional universities in my electorate, such as La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University. I have written to the Minister for Education, asking him to fund the Napthine review recommendations in the upcoming budget, and I hope so sincerely that this comes to fruition. And, if the Treasurer is listening right now, I urge him to make his place in history by truly improving the outcomes for regional students in education and fully funding the Napthine review recommendations.
The first round of the Local Schools Community Fund identified a huge demand for funding for small capital projects in my accurate. The $200,000 funding in this round did not come close to meeting the $1.1 million worth of applications. A second round could help address the need for vital services and infrastructure—things as basic as air conditioning, computer or ICT facilities—and counselling for youth mental health support. The Mansfield community has waited many years for an upgrade to its single kindergarten. The current infrastructure is over 35 years old and is no longer fit for purpose. An investment of $2 million from the Commonwealth would complement the Victorian government's funding, leading to a better learning environment for Mansfield kids. We know that a good start to education has the strongest impact on long-term educational outcomes.
The Wangaratta Aerodrome supports emergency services, charter services, recreational aviation, pilot training, heritage conservation, and tourism for Wangaratta and the region beyond. The $14 million revitalisation of this aerodrome is well overdue and is needed to meet commercial, recreational and emergency services for the next 20 years. This new development, when combined with the current employment onsite, would lead to an aviation cluster, with a total of 40 direct jobs and a further six indirect jobs by 2024.
The McKoy Street intersection in Wodonga is one of the hottest topics in my electorate. Slowing down to 80 kilometres per hour on a major freeway as vehicles run the gauntlet of a difficult intersection is dangerous, as well as inconvenient. Everyone can agree on that. I urge the government to ensure this funding is delivered on time and in full so that we can remedy this situation that affects many, many people on a daily basis.
Passenger rail services between Albury and Melbourne cause headaches for residents and businesses. With the recent tragic derailment at Wallan, my constituents are asking me: is it safe? And is the upgrade the government promised enough to raise the quality of the rail service? The government has committed $235 million to this upgrade, with completion scheduled for 2021, and construction on the line has now begun. I call upon the government to ensure that this project delivers the upgrade to the standard and within the time lines promised; and, importantly, to commit to recurrent maintenance funding to ensure the line remains at class 2 passenger standard and we can finally have confidence in this train line.
In Indi, local councils maintain tens of thousands of kilometres of sealed and unsealed roads, annually renewing sections of the road network to improve access, connections and safety. Continuing long-term funding for local infrastructure, under programs such as the Bridges Renewal Program, the Roads to Recovery Program and the Black Spot Program, will allow councils to proactively identify renewal and upgrade needs of the community.
The recent drought has hurt the agriculture industry. Funding research into sustainable and regenerative agriculture ecoservices remuneration for farmers undertaking vital biodiversity work and carbon sequestration is a smart investment. This can help farmers to grow their business and adapt to a changing climate.
There is significant potential for regional producers to capitalise on growth in the agricultural and tourism sectors in my electorate of Indi. To help local growers and producers take their business to the next level, the government could support intensive business development programs for them. This added knowledge would support them to expand into the domestic and international markets, creating long-term job security and driving job creation.
Our community is crying out for catalysing investment in community renewables, to allow the bright sparks in our small towns and connected communities to reach their potential. A $200 million fund for the development of community renewable energy hubs could provide early-stage grants to support technical and social feasibility studies and capital construction. By supporting local power generation, this fund could promote energy security and cut the cost of electricity. Upgrading electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure will increase the possibilities for renewable energy generation in my electorate and investment in distributed energy resources technology.
Finally, a $2 million Commonwealth government co-investment for a new gas city-gate at Logic industrial estate in Wodonga, also funded by the Wodonga council, would open up possibilities for the Logic industrial estate site including a new manufacturing facility, extending the gas supply to the nearby township of Barnawartha and creating up to 34 jobs injecting $2.5 million into the local economy.
Regional Australia faces significant challenges with ageing infrastructure, changing economic drivers and a changing climate, but it is alive with opportunity. I look forward to the government realising this opportunity in its forthcoming budget.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020, and I want to talk about grants. There's been a lot of talk about grants today. I want to talk about the ones where my community groups, schools and environment groups have worked really hard to put together something that they hope is going to be assessed on merit. That's exactly what we have done with the grants programs that the government has asked members of parliament's offices to administer, with all the paperwork that that involves. We have put a high level of probity around it because we care and want to make sure that these grants are fair. This is important funding for these community groups, and they want to know that it's a level playing field.
The sports rorts affair has left a really bad taste in people's mouths about the quality of the assessment process by the government—not by the department, which clearly prioritised the grants that it thought would rate really high in terms of the criteria it had, but then that was just completely overturned and it came down to colour-coded decisions. So I want to talk about the panel that I put together to make sure that the Stronger Communities grants, the Local Schools Community Fund grants and the Communities Environment Program grants are properly assessed, and to talk about some of the people who have been successful in achieving those grants. I also want to point out an issue around grants, and that is that we get way more applications than any of these funds will allow to be distributed. For Stronger Communities grants, it isn't surprising for us to get more than a million dollars worth of applications for $150,000 worth of funding to be spread throughout my community. There is a huge need in the community for support for groups that are run by volunteers, for sporting facilities and for community facilities, to be able to keep on upgrading and meet the needs that are growing in the community. When governments step away from providing services, volunteers and the community step in, and they need support to do that. If a government, like this one, is going to continue to cut budgets for government-funded services, we really need to see a massive increase in the funds that we get to support our very hardworking volunteers and community groups—and I want to talk about some of those.
In the Hawkesbury, a huge number of organisations applied for grants under round 5 of Stronger Communities. We looked at each very seriously to see how it strengthened our community. I'll talk about some who were successful in their grant application. The Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association is a real cornerstone in our community. Our Hawkesbury Show takes place this year from 1 to 3 May—and I encourage everybody in this chamber to come and visit the Hawkesbury Show. It's the largest show in New South Wales outside the Royal Easter Show. It's much easier to navigate, much more fun and much but still an incredible show to visit. There is always the need for upgrading facilities at the showground, and the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association does a huge amount on very little. So it's great to be able to provide them with an additional $10,000 to enable them to upgrade the amenities that they have there.
I was also very pleased to be able to support a not-for-profit aged-care facility in Windsor, Fitzgerald Aged Care. This is a really important organisation. One of the processes we have in place is that, when there is a personal connection to a place, we declare that and the panel makes decisions around it. I was on the board of this organisation many years ago, and so I have got to know it very well. The panel that I put together decided that we would be able to approve $10,000 for them to upgrade their gym equipment. There's nothing more important for older people than to keep physical and keep active, and the mini gym will do just that.
We also looked at providing funding for the Australian Foundation for Disability in South Windsor. Theirs was for interactive and sensory equipment. Again, it's the sort of thing that makes a difference to the quality of life for the community members who are there and brings more community members in to use the facilities.
I'm very pleased that the St Albans Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade have a very deserving electronic sign for fire danger. I'll talk more about them at a later date.
Let's turn to Wilberforce soccer. They have been trying to play soccer in the dark. That's what happens at Woodland Oval. The Hawkesbury Sports Council applied for lighting. This was something that I had hoped we would see happen. I made a commitment prior to the election, and on its merits it was considered by the panel as being a really worthy cause. I'm very pleased that that was able to happen. They'll receive $20,000 through the Hawkesbury Sports Council, which basically prioritises the projects. That will go to that wonderful Wilberforce soccer community.
Just before Christmas, I was able to celebrate Windsor Girl Guides' Stronger Communities grant with them at their Christmas party. They need a new roof. These are the sorts of things that make a difference when it rains or when it hails. Now the Windsor Girl Guides are going to be able to have that new roof. The 1st Glossodia Scout Group, equally, will have a hot water system thanks to the Stronger Communities grant. The Richmond Girl Guides will be able to continue the work they're doing on their really lovely blue meeting space. It must be almost heritage listed. It has a lots of Hawkesbury flavour to it. They'll be able to continue improving it and have somewhere to store the materials that they use.
They were some of the Hawkesbury Stronger Community round 5 grants. There was also a timing and starter kit for the Hawkesbury Amateur Swimming Club at Hobartville, a group that I admire—the families and volunteers of people who swim. It's always an early start. There are always lots of laps. Everything we can do to help them will make a difference.
The last sporting one is the Lowland Wanderers Soccer Club at Richmond. I've left them until last because I'm very pleased to see that we were able to give $5,000 to this organisation for a kitchen upgrade and to improve some of their seating. I'm looking forward to getting in that kitchen. I hope it's the new kitchen I get to help out in! The volunteers at that club do an amazing job, and it's really great that these facilities can have an upgrade.
I now turn to the Blue Mountains. I have two quite distinct parts to my electorate. The panel takes the view that there should be a very even split between them. In the Blue Mountains, again, we saw fantastic applications. I'm very pleased that a number of children's services are able to do more and deliver more to their community. The Blackheath Kookaburra Kindergarten is going to have bathroom renovations—the basic stuff that makes a real difference to not just those children but the adults caring for those children. We'll also see improvements in Katoomba at Gateway Family Service for the playroom that they use there and the equipment that's in there. Again, it's recognising how important learning through play is for the youngest members of our society. Euroka Children's Centre at Blaxland will now have the opportunity to experience an edible community garden in their facility thanks to this grant. These are all wonderful projects to be able to support.
Katoomba Rotary—people know that I have a long history with Rotary, but not with this Rotary Club in particular. I continue to see really good proposals coming forward from Rotary Clubs. Like many members here, I'm an honorary Rotarian of one of my many Rotary Clubs. I'm not sure that you can be a member of Rotary and a member of parliament, because the obligation to be involved with your Rotary Club is paramount and it's very difficult, so I've accepted honorary membership and support them fully in the things they do around youth exchange, leadership development, group study exchange—all the incredible things they do, like fundraising for wonderful medical causes, including seeing an end to polio. They are great fundraisers themselves. It's great to be able to support Katoomba Rotary with a new catering trailer, which will allow them to travel around in the community and do what they do so well.
Another group that makes a huge difference to the quality of life for people—and this is for people going through dreadful illness—is the Cancer Wellness Support at Leura. This organisation's request was very modest: they wanted air-conditioning. You don't normally associate the upper mountains with hot days, but the way things are changing they are finding more and more often the days are hot, so it is just a delight to be able to provide an appropriate environment for the cancer patients who they support, and for the volunteers and the team who work with them, with air-conditioning through this grant program.
The Central Villages Anglican Church focuses on many different community things, one of which is about youth. They needed a slightly better audiovisual and sound system to be able to do what they do—bring people together. So they received a small grant to assist them to do that.
Radio Blue Mountains in Katoomba is one of the really important community institutions we have run by volunteers. They will also receive funding to upgrade equipment. I started out in community radio. I know how important it is to provide training to people as they learn how to communicate and move through a journalism career or sometimes just represent their community. So, congratulations to Radio Blue Mountains.
I think I've probably missed a couple here—no, just one. Of course, there's always soccer. The Blaxland Football Club has received $10,000 to improve its field with goalposts and fencing. We are a bit of a soccer community in the Blue Mountains. We like to call it football. And while my children were never a member of this club, the Redbacks, we competed with them fiercely.
They are some of the Stronger Communities Program grants that we were pleased to do. People who applied for those grants know there were decisions made on merit. They know that we agonised about which groups would receive funding, because, quite frankly, so many of them were so deserving. I'd really encourage the government to put more funding into these grants programs that support our community. They make a huge difference.
I want to turn to the issue of the National Broadband Network, which of course is soaking up large amounts of funding provided by the government but not necessarily delivering to my community the way people would expect. Over the weekend I received a deluge of emails from people who were about to be connected to the NBN. Sadly, the day they were due to be connected, they were told: 'Oops, that date is not possible. That date is moving.'
Let me tell you what Rowan from Hazelbrook wrote. Rowan said: 'Hi, I'm writing to you as another of those who, on the day I should have been able to connect to the NBN in Hazelbrook, was told I would be able to connect in on 28 August.' That's the 28th of August! That's a really long time away from the date they were given. Remember, this community has been promised and promised connection dates, and they keep being pushed out by 12 months, six months, 18 months, so the community is understandably frustrated at the poor delivery that has occurred. Rowan knows that I have already received a number of these messages, and he says to me: 'I'd like to add my voice to those who are struggling with the poor communication from NBN and another who is disappointed to be moved to such a distant date.'
He is not on his own. Paul from Winmalee said to me: 'I've been waiting on pre-order for quite some time only to be told I'd have to wait until'—when?—'28 August 2020, with no explanation why or any assurance it won't be pushed back again.' This is the contempt with which hundreds and hundreds of people across the lower up to the mid Blue Mountains are being treated. Dates are just being pushed back with no warning and no explanation. It isn't good enough to blame bushfires, because all the cabling's been put in. Something is wrong in the system. The government cannot keep pushing back on NBN Co and saying it is their fault. They have to demand that these things get connected. My community is crying out to be able to run their businesses, university students to do their assignments. We all deserve better internet in the Blue Mountains.
I rise to speak on matters in relation to my electorate and concerns of my community. Integrity matters. Trust in government matters. However, given that we are speaking on appropriation bills and today the Reserve Bank cut interest rates again, it would be remiss of me not to make remarks in relation to the government's economic management. It is not good. We are now in the third term of this government. We are yet to see a plan to deal with underemployment. We are yet to see a plan to deal with flatlined wages; a plan to deal with the lack of infrastructure spending; a plan to deal with the reduction and downturn in retail sales and hospitality; importantly, a plan to deal with the overall poor growth of the national economy.
We have been saying it for some time, but our economy is floundering. You have to ask why. Well, it's obvious why we don't see any action from this government. What is becoming clearer every day is that this government has a political strategy to get themselves through an election, but it has no plan to boost wages or growth in the economy.
At yesterday's estimates a bit more sunshine was shone on the government's whole rorts affair. Sadly for members of my community, all clearly part of a rotten election strategy. But it is a rorts track record that is worth reminding the chamber of. First, we had the scathing Auditor-General's report. Then we had a minister forgetting to declare some pretty obvious conflicts of interest. Then we had the light-touch investigation by the former staff member of the Prime Minister's office, where it's become apparent that he didn't have all the spreadsheets, emails and materials that were needed for such an investigation. Then we had the 'it's not a rort' defence because our MPs 'live and breathe in our communities'.
But the rorts stories keep on coming. We heard last week the secretary of the health department, Glenys Beauchamp, tell the Senate inquiry examining the administration of the government's sports grant program that—wait for it—she had destroyed her personal notebooks, which include notes taken during a hastily convened sports grants conference, called after the then Sport Australia chief learned of the colour coded spreadsheets. And how about the government's idea of 'regional' being a swimming pool on Sydney's North Shore, right next to the Harbour Bridge, which they upgraded using funds originally earmarked for genuinely regional communities? And here's another: we've seen the reporting of the pouring of over 83 per cent of the $3 billion allocated from the Urban Congestion Fund into Liberal seats and seats targeted by the government. And this morning we even had the Attorney-General admitting his proposed integrity commission is so feeble it would not even be able to investigate the government's sports rorts scandal.
This week's estimates has provided even more evidence of how broken this government is. Let's start with the government's widely publicised national bushfire recovery fund. On 6 January, the Prime Minister said:
The Federal Government will establish a new agency with an initial $2 billion for a national bushfire recovery fund …
Yesterday we learned that it is a myth and does not exist. In estimates, officials told senators that the $2 billion fund has never actually been created.
A further revelation coming out of only one day of estimates is, as reported by TheCanberra Times, that nine sport infrastructure projects were added to a spreadsheet of approved sports grants in the hours after the 2019 election had been called. What does this mean for our public service caretaker provisions? Frustratingly, it adds yet another layer to the disgrace that is the administration of this program. Seriously, where are those great conservatives on the other side of the chamber—those that broadcast to the world that they protect our great institutions? Where are they? They are nowhere. They are simply missing, either too scared or too embarrassed to speak up. And what does it mean for the Prime Minister's claim that his office had nothing to do with the allocation of the sports program grants?
We have learnt a lot this week, but it's worth getting some of the time line on the record. Last week the Prime Minister told the parliament he did not approve the projects and they were signed off by Senator McKenzie back on 4 April. Well, on 11 April parliament was dissolved at 8.30 am and caretaker conventions commenced from that point. At 8.46 am on 11 April, Senator McKenzie sent the approval brief to Sport Australia with the spreadsheet with approved projects. One project had been removed and one project had been added, with the change at the request of the Prime Minister's office. At 12.35 on 11 April—it's still not 4 April—after caretaker had commenced, Senator McKenzie's office sent another spreadsheet to the PMO with a different allocation of funds. One project had been removed and nine new projects were added. At 12.43 on 11 April, Senator McKenzie sent the revised final approved brief to Sport Australia with the same spreadsheet which was attached to the 12.35 pm email to the PMO. The audit office says the spreadsheets attached to the 4 April brief kept changing up until the final spreadsheet was provided at 12.43 pm on 11 April. This evidence shows that the Prime Minister and his office were directly involved in decisions on the eve of the election and following the commencement of the caretaker period. In summary, we have former minister McKenzie saying, 'This is what I'm intending to do,' Then the Prime Minister's office sent back, 'These are the changes we want you to make.' This evidence also adds further weight to the argument that the Gaetjens report was produced with only purpose, to get the government and Prime Minister Morrison off a political hook.
I am very much in tune with these April dates because 4 April is an important date in our household. It is my wife's birthday. I can tell you that if I gave my wife a birthday card on 11 April, dated 4 April, any of my protestations about my dating the card the fourth would not wash. Yet that is part of the confidence trick that this Prime Minister is trying to play on the nation. After his multiple denials of misleading parliament over his office's involvement, people in Bean who watch parliament will be joining our calls for the Prime Minister to come into this chamber and make an apology for misleading this parliament.
We didn't even get through a day of estimates before hearing last night of another rorted program, this time in the Environment portfolio. It appears that the Environment Restoration Fund has also been through a colour coded spreadsheet. From the evidence provided, more than two-thirds of the projects in this fund have gone to government held and government targeted seats. With one eye on the election and none on the environment the government even announced successful projects up to seven months before the guidelines were developed.
So many hardworking people in my local community will be so disappointed by this government, and so many Public Servants across Australia will wonder just what type of government they work for. It has no plan for the economy, a lack of integrity and simply no shame about doing whatever for its political gain, even if it means undermining the cornerstones of our democracy.
A matter of concern to me as the member for Bean and to members of the Norfolk Island community is the low levels of food and broader supplies on the island at the moment. My office has received email correspondence and calls of concern in relation to the low levels of supplies on the shelves of their only supermarket and the inability to supply building products. I understand that there has been some aircraft freight, which has helped to some extent, but I have requested further urgent updates from the minister. Both issues relate to the same matter—that is, a lack of a medium-term to long-term solution for freight shipping to the island. There are other real challenges in other areas on the island. The NSW government has written to the Commonwealth, outlining that it is not planning on providing health and education services beyond June 2021. Further, Norfolk is still largely operating on the 2G network.
There have been many benefits to the community on Norfolk Island from Commonwealth governance, from access to social welfare through to improved childcare services. I acknowledge Minister Marino is working hard to try and find solutions to the policy challenges in the short and medium terms. But I call on her government to start the real work in the lead up to the budget, to do the heavy lifting to find solutions to the island's policy challenges. There remain real and critical infrastructure issues, and we need to work together to collectively address these. I can assure the residents of Norfolk Island that I will keep representing this proud community on these issues.
It is ridiculous that some in this House need to be reminded of this, but climate change is real. Climate change is negatively impacting our nation's economy and our environment, and we must take collective action to address its impacts. It's for that reason I'm proud to be part of a Labor team that has made a clear commitment for Australia to achieve a target of zero net emissions by 2050. Setting a clear target on emissions for our economy is important to giving policy certainty and clear direction to our community, and it's hardly a radical policy. It's one supported by the Business Council of Australia, Qantas, Telstra, BP, Rio Tinto, the Commonwealth Bank and Santos—all renowned as being radical organisations! Further, it is a goal of multiple local governments and all state and territory governments. This substantial list includes the ACT Labor government, who have a target of achieving net zero emissions by 2045. It is a target that works for our local economy and a target that bring investment and jobs into our local area. I note that over 70 nations are already committed to the same target, including Britain.
As the Ai Group noted in a recent piece in The Age: 'Australia’s national interest lies in everyone driving that positive spiral by going beyond minimalist compliance.' Labor is the only party of government that has committed today do just that and to take real action on climate change. On this side of the chamber, we know that action is needed, not only to protect the prosperity of future generations of Australians and to meet our international obligations under the Paris climate change accord but also to deliver prosperity today by modernising our economy and adapting to inevitable climate impacts. Labor's core principles that underpin our approach to climate change policy remain unshakable. That is why we have a clear target to make Australia carbon neutral by 2050, consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Accord. This a goal that the CSIRO says will deliver higher wages and incomes and lower power costs. I am determined to work with my community to ensure that Australia reaches its potential to become an energy superpower.
The task for the next Labor government will be to address the challenges of the future. Our policies will be underpinned by commitments to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as well as to protect future generations from dangerous climate change that would see even worse emergencies than the ones we have seen over this last summer. The potential is enormous. According to the Clean Energy Council, there are 29 large-scale renewable energy projects across regional New South Wales alone either under construction or due to start soon—billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Ross Garnaut has written about the potential for a clean energy jobs boom in regional areas. This will be through the return of energy-intensive Australian manufacturing powered by cheap, plentiful renewables. As the leader of the party said recently in Singleton, Labor's priority has always been to shape change in the interests of people. We have done it before and we will do it again—not least with climate change.
In contrast, the government parties have paid nothing more than lip-service to real climate action, with carbon emissions in 2020 being projected to be the same as they were in 2013. The Prime Minister has refused to rule out providing a taxpayer funded indemnity to new coal-fired power stations, which will raise power prices and carbon pollution and which the Australian Industry Group says could cost taxpayers $17 billion. To quote the Ai Group again:
If we don’t lift our weight, it takes the moral and political pressure off emitters of all sizes and makes a global solution much harder.
We must lead locally and lead globally through sensible science based long-term goals. After all, our families, our friends and our communities are the reasons that we need to get this right.
In talking about appropriations, I would like to talk tonight about the investment that the nation needs to make in certain aspects of our national security. Whether many Australians recognise it or not, our democracy is under threat, and it is a serious threat. It's not just the threat of armed invasion, which is a distant one at this point in time, or the ongoing threat of terrorism; it is a more insidious, incremental and corrosive process, and one that I think we must urgently address with capability and mandates for our agencies.
I think most people would accept that the quality of democracy can be determined by the educational standards of our people, the diversity and efficacy of the sources of information we have, and the facility with which high standards of debate and discussion take place. Whilst serving here, we get a unique perspective on that. Certainly being the member for a region that's so diverse and large, and also being a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, observing the evolution of the means, control and content in the communication of information, have given me a particular perspective on this issue. The one thing I would say initially is that our education system plays an important role in this. It's never been more important, and I think there are areas that need to be addressed fairly urgently.
One thing that I've noticed is an increasing lack of knowledge about the nature of our democratic system, how it works and the different levels of government. I think we do need a civics component in our school curriculum to address this level of ignorance. Along the way, though, our kids need to be armed with the ability to be discerning in the sources of information they rely on and to learn the importance of critical analysis and thinking. That would also help our economic strength, I believe, as the driver of innovation is disputation and contestability. One of my favourite quotes is from Albert Einstein, who once said: 'Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, simulating progress and giving birth to evolution.' The wellspring of imagination is questioning what you were told and testing the basis of it. That's a critical skill our kids need in order to navigate a world that's now brimming with disinformation and to win and create the jobs of the future. Knowledge is transforming so quickly and the ability to access it has been so revolutionised that an early learning priority has to be on these cognitive aspects as well as the fundamentals. Armed with those skills and forewarned to question and test, our people can take on the information threats that I am referring to.
The first issue that limits our ability to contest these areas in these spaces is the structure of our mainstream media at the present time. Studies have shown that we have the fourth-highest concentration of media in the world, with two of the countries in front of us being China and Egypt, whose media is dominated by government ownership, so that's not a very desirable space to be in. No doubt many had hoped that news would be democratised by the rise of social media, and there was some reason for this hope. But what we have seen is that social media has become a vehicle for information warfare by state intelligence agencies, like the Russian GRU, or self-selecting cycles of networked misinformation. This has now reached industrial scale, fuelled by sophisticated and highly produced 'deep fake' materials. Anyone who wants to understand the extent of this, I recommend reading the US Senate intelligence committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. The three volumes of that report deal with their involvement and penetration of the integrity of the IT system and social media, and also the government reaction to the information that became available.
In the US election case study, what we've seen emerge is the unholy alliance between Russia and front organisations like Cambridge Analytica. Information is out there about their links to Russian finance, through Alfa Bank; the fact that they were drawing on assistance—to design and employ algorithms and materials—from those Russian sources; and, through Facebook, using personal data that's been compromised. In fact, Cambridge Analytica had about 5,000 data points on every US voter during the election and was able to then target that with algorithms to develop psychographic pictures of those 'persuadables' that they needed to influence to create an electoral outcome.
As well as that Russian finance and Russian intelligence involvement, we've seen Russian private companies, such as the Special Technology Center and the Internet Research Agency based in St Petersburg, allied to the bot factory that is based in St Petersburg—and also using Eastern European organised-crime fronts to prosecute this information warfare campaign. Even in our own 2019 election, it appears that there may have been some sources of this type of information coming from organised crime elements in Eastern Europe. In the US, one example was the Vets for Trump Facebook site, which in fact had been taken over by organised crime elements in Macedonia.
Conservative politics in the UK, the US and Australia have been plugging into this through Cambridge Analytica, and obviously there's an advantage to be gained from that, but I would caution all political parties to be very careful about how they embrace these materials. Some of it, of course, is based on aggressively pursuing a line of operation—as in the case of the GRU, which seeks to disrupt and discredit liberal democracy in general—and using social media to help network and fuel extreme-right-wing groups, but also manipulating confrontations with other social groups. In the US, this included the Black Lives Matter group.
During the 2019 Australian election, we saw an adapted version of these techniques using the Facebook vehicle to purvey sophisticated material misrepresenting Labor policy, claiming that Labor intended to introduce a death tax and would tax pensioners, as well as a lot of character assassination material on Bill Shorten. That technique had actually been pioneered by the GRU in operations in Estonia, Georgia and the Ukraine, and against Hillary Clinton in the US—but also against other Republican candidates who were opponents of Donald Trump. So those pioneered techniques have been deployed in many cases, and it's a cheap and easy thing for the Russian GRU to experiment with. And, as I say, they are quite determined in their line of operation to undermine liberal democracy. If people want to get a better appreciation for that, I recommend they have a look at a couple of documentaries which have been aired recently—one that's available on Netflix, called The Great Hack; and a very extensive documentary called Active Measures, which explains the whole history of how Russian intelligence operations have evolved in this space.
A key difference in Australia was that, instead of the money trail leading to Russian oligarchs or organised crime, there was the unholy influence of the $80 million that was injected by Clive Palmer, which we've learnt more about since that time. We also need more explanations as to precisely why Clive Palmer's spending pattern changed during the campaign and his relationship to, perhaps, these social media activities. That certainly does need more explanation and looking into.
Of course, the Russians are assiduously trying to influence the current US election process; that has been highlighted. But their techniques have been carefully studied by other nations, such as Iran, who are similarly inclined to interfere in Western elections. The temptation is there for both sides of politics to turn a blind eye to such interference and tactics if they advantage them, but we have to resist that temptation lest we become witting, deliberately, or unwitting tools of foreign intelligence services. We've devoted a great deal of attention through our Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—I've seen a lot of this—to legislation designed to defeat malign foreign influence, but we are letting our guard down on these techniques.
During the current disaster season, we witnessed more examples of this, with the use of bots to promote the lie that the fires were all started by arsonists and that the scale of the fires was the result of failures to do hazard reduction because greenies stop these from happening. Eden-Monaro was the epicentre of these fires, and it all began for us with the North Black Range ignition on 26 November, caused by dry lightning strike—as were almost all the subsequent ignitions in our region. There were a lot of characteristics of that bot campaign that suggested that perhaps Russians were at work in that one as well, but certainly these bot techniques are something we have to come to grips with, whoever is the source of them.
Australians used to take pride in our bulldust and bulldust artist radar and our ability to identify and dismiss ratbags. This has become more difficult with the compromise of our sources of information and the highly produced deepfake material we can see on our Facebook streams. I'm talking here about actual digital manipulation, enhancement and creation of video and other photographic materials. We need to develop new skills to test what we hear and see without falling into the trap of becoming overly apathetic and sceptical. Having fact-checking and publishing capability within the ABC with their partnership with RMIT is one of the good ways that we can achieve this, as it is providing a place where people can go and depend on what they see and hear there. Regularly checking out Media Watch is also pretty invaluable. Beyond that, I urge people to take everything they see in their social media feeds and even what they see in the mainstream media these days with a massive bucket of salt. Try to cross-reference things that have sparked a reaction for you.
In my view, we also need to engage in urgent legal measures to enhance personal data protection laws. We saw in relation to the US election in 2016 the Cambridge Analytica team sitting in an office space with Facebook and supplying all of that personal data without the permission or knowledge of those people who own that data or who are the source of it. In a building in San Antonio they ran Operation Alamo to great effect, but it was deeply misleading and misinforming information that was produced and distributed through those means. So there is a great responsibility also on those social media companies to be more active and to be more vigilant in working with our democracies to defeat those serious threats to the quality and the nature of our democracies. So I think we have to look at more rigorous requirements on social media companies, with very robust penalties.
I think serious electoral reform is also required to prevent the financial manipulation of our democracy by figures like Clive Palmer or any other source, foreign or domestic, that would deploy resources that just completely distort our processes. But I also come back to appropriations and think that our agencies need to be mandated and empowered to track and defeat more effectively the sources and techniques that we have seen that the GRU pioneered but which, as I said, other nations are looking at very closely. We need to enlist the support of the technology companies in that effort as well. And there are some significant tools that have been developed there within the Five Eyes context that will help us to interrogate big data. The big challenge of modern times is big data and how we need the skills of those who write algorithms and interrogate algorithms to be available to our nations to defeat these threats and take seriously the potential impact of them. Noting, of course, what the Russians were able to do in relation to compromising US election IT, we do need a lot of infrastructure security as well not just for industrial espionage but to make sure that we continue our vital work on cybersecurity posture, notwithstanding that we're less exposed than the US system.
The first volume after that report I mentioned that was produced by the US Senate intelligence committee focused on what was done with their IT systems. In fact, the Russians had managed to penetrate all 50 states of the United States with the ability to alter individual voter data without, at the time, any federal or state authority being aware of it. This can show you the scale of the problem that we can face.
So we need to know what is going on out there, and our agencies are struggling to keep up with some of the demands of the sorts of industrial espionage and the activities that are stealing personal data right across the world. We have just seen revelations in the US of how sources from China accessed over a billion data points relating to credit and health issues, which we know can potentially be used in all sorts of circumstances: in creating intelligence operations, in creating pressure on individuals and creating influence in our societies. So that is absolutely critical.
I also assert that, within the Five Eyes context, we have to work together. There's a lot of opportunity now to work together to crack the nut on quantum computing in particular. That is really the Holy Grail in dealing with the big data challenge. I was privileged to visit the quantum computing labs at the University of New South Wales and Michelle Simmons's wonderful team there. We have to also make sure that her work is secure. We know that, for example, in China they are building a complete university devoted only to quantum computing research and they're bringing back all of their talent to focus on that effort because they understand how critical this will be to our future. We do need to invest in these things and take them seriously, because the truth is worth fighting for if we are to preserve our democracy.
Disappointingly, they don't want to hear it. They don't want to listen to the truth. They're all leaving, including the member for Canning, who doesn't have a jacket. It's disappointing. The member for Hughes is sticking around—excellent. The member for Mackellar, too embarrassed from his appearance on the ABC yesterday, has decided to stick around. I'm very glad they're all sticking around.
Here is the truth—now they're walking away; the member for Mackellar is walking away—in the last hour the Prime Minister admitted that he did invite Mr Houston for lunch at the White House. No-one cares who the Prime Minister has lunch with. I certainly couldn't think of anything I care about less. What they do care about though is that we have a prime minister who cannot be straight with the Australian people. We have a prime minister who is so afraid of telling the truth that he makes up stories, talks about the Canberra bubble and parrots all sorts of nonsense instead of saying something simple like: 'Yes, I did invite Mr Houston for lunch.' That's all he needed to say. That was all the Prime Minister needed to say. Yet he was incapable of that. They all know that the Prime Minister has a problem with telling the truth, but I will say this from my limited experience in politics: it's not the cuts—it's the bleeding. It's not the lies—it's the cover-up. And they can continue. They can say it's a flesh wound. They can continue being loose with the truth over there, but it catches up with you eventually, as the Prime Minister found out today. Who knows why he decided that today was the day that he was going to make an announcement about how Mr Houston was invited to lunch? Maybe there were other reasons why the Prime Minister decided that.
But today, on these appropriation bills, I think it is important to restate the fact that we have all worked hard to get into this place. Every single member in this place no doubt has worked hard and has had their own unique journey. Government is special. To be given the gift of government is something that I know no-one on this side of the House takes lightly. We are desperate to try and get to that side of the House, because government is a great gift. And government is about doing great things. But you only have to look at the lack of legislative agenda from this government to know that they are not here to do great things. They are not here to outline a vision for this country. They are not here to outline the policy and visionary agenda that Australians so desperately need. They are not here to help with the issues that Australians are desperately calling out for. They are here just to get through the day, to write media releases, to use taxpayer funds for their own benefit. Instead of dealing with the bushfire crisis, they are here to put Liberal Party ads up on Facebook to get the donation button to the Liberal Party going. That's what they are here to do.
I thought that in this appropriation bills debate we would go through some of the things that they should be doing in using this incredible gift of government. First of all, they don't have a plan to tackle climate change. They don't have a plan to reduce our emissions. They are becoming more and more of an outlier. The Australian economy is missing out on all of the international changes that are happening throughout Asia, throughout Europe, throughout the Americas. We are missing out on the economic opportunities of climate change because Scott Morrison and the flat-earthers in his party room are ideologically opposed to doing something about climate change. I'm glad the member for Hughes is in the chamber, because I will get to him shortly.
No government in this country is refusing to commit to net zero emissions—except for one. All the states and territories have committed to net zero emissions by 2050, including countries around the world—those radical countries like the United Kingdom, France, Germany and New Zealand—all of those radical countries who have signed up to international agreements to get the planet to net zero emissions by 2050. But that also means that that's where all the economic investment is. That's where all the money is going. The money is not going into new coal fired power generation, except for in Liberal and National parties. The only people trying to slow down the Australian economy, to slow down the economic opportunity, are the slow-movers on that side of the House.
It's no wonder they don't have a plan to tackle climate change. Let's go through some of the ethereal thinkers on that side of the House. The member for New England: the man who is ambitious, who is still chipping away at the leadership of the National Party. He spent his summer with his selfie camera in his field, talking to clouds, thinking that climate change is going to miraculously be fixed by the clouds themselves. He showed how difficult things are for him. The member for Hughes is in the chamber. He wants to put messages in schools saying that climate change is a hoax. That's what the member for Hughes wants. He wants to say to our schoolkids—who are feeling anxious, who just want a little bit of hope and who just want a little bit of a message from our leaders to say, 'We recognise there's a problem and we are going to be a part of the solution'—that climate change is a hoax. I know that there are members on that side, including those in the chamber today, who take this problem seriously, who want to be part of the solution and who are, quite frankly, embarrassed by the sorts of views being espoused by the member for Hughes.
The member for Dawson says, 'Climate change is like a science fiction, and accused the UN of inventing a conspiracy to inflate it. Well, that's going to help people and help lower our emissions. Senator McMahon said, 'Climate action would be akin to going back and living in huts without electricity.' Senator Molan doesn't believe members should be considering evidence or science when making up their mind about climate change. I mean, of all the things to ignore when forming opinions, I would say evidence would be on very bottom of that list. Evidence is the absolute thing we need to be looking at when tackling this issue. Science is what we should be looking at when tackling this issue. But apparently Senator Molan, who is absolutely pivotal in drawing up the climate plans of those opposite, says, 'Nope; we shouldn't be looking at evidence when talking about climate change.'
It's been a fruitful Senate estimates over the last few days over in the other place. Senator Rennick, during estimates, accused the Bureau of Meteorology of faking weather data. This would be funny if it was an independent kooky senator, but this is a member of the government. This is a member of the Liberal-National coalition. And if it was just one, I'd say, 'It's just one; every family has the uncle that you try to avoid at the family reunions—so be it. I understand; I've been to those family reunions too.' But there is an organised army group over there who are adamant that this country should not tackle climate change.
We as a nation should be at the forefront. We have had a summer of devastating bushfires. We should be leading the international calls and action. We should be the ones who are at the forefront of tackling climate change, and because of the dinosaurs over there we are missing out on all of the economic opportunities. They scoffed when we came out with the idea of 50 per cent new electric vehicles by 2030. If we had actually implemented that policy, it would have meant that around 15 per cent of cars by 2030 would have been electric—and 85 per cent of the cars would still have had combustible engines. We would have potentially had a manufacturing industry. We would have had more research and developers. We would have had auto-electrical engineers. Our country would have had the economic stimulus of having a new industry and a new market. But they on that side of the House were just looking at ways to combat Labor.
They don't have a plan to tackle housing. Housing affordability in this country is one of the most serious issues confronting Australians. There is a spectrum of people across it, whether it be people who need social housing—the government's not building anywhere near enough social housing; or whether it is affordable housing—we need to be building around 20,000 affordable homes per year. The government is absolutely nowhere. I acknowledge that there is some housing funds happening at the moment through the NHFIC. It's just over a thousand homes a year. That's better than nothing but it is absolutely nowhere near where we should be.
Then there are the other people who are my age—young people—who want to try to get into the housing market, and this government is doing the absolute bare minimum to try to help them. I recognise that the first home buyers scheme is better than nothing. We supported that measure. Thirty years ago, six out of 10 young Australians my age were able to get into the housing market. Now that number is less than four—and it is plummeting. It is becoming harder and harder for young people to get into the housing market. What are the government doing about it? Nothing. People are finding it harder to accumulate assets and finding it harder to achieve financial security—and what are the government doing about it? Nothing.
That bring us to the economy. The economy was stagnating before the bushfire crisis, before coronavirus. Wages growth was stagnating. Underemployment was a massive issue, as was insecure work. Productivity was down, as was retail. You only have to walk down any of the wonderful high streets in my electorate and, I'm sure, in many others to see that retailers are struggling in this country. Before today the RBA had lowered interest rates to record low levels, and now they've been lowered even further again.
Instead of acting on this—instead of acting on the economic stimulus that the Labor Party has been constructively been calling for for months—the government has done nothing. The government is watching the economy grind to a halt and now, when they are facing even further challenges, what else are they doing? Nothing. There's no further investment. They haven't brought forward tax cuts. They haven't brought forward infrastructure investment. Their $2 billion bushfire program that the Prime Minister announced apparently is only a notional fund. It's an idea. It may happen. It hasn't yet. And yet the Prime Minister is happy to wave around a media release saying that they're the ones helping bushfire victims. They're not. They are not helping bushfire victims. Less than $200 million has been rolled out across the entire country. Communities are hurting. People are struggling to get ahead. Businesses are struggling. And yet they haven't even set up their fund that the Prime Minister announced. It's only in the 'notional' stages? This is a government that doesn't like governing.
There are two other things before I wrap up—and I could go on. We haven't even got to the sports rorts stuff, on which the Prime Minister is completely void of any accountability. The two areas that are also being hurt right now include the ABC. We saw the AAP today announce they were going to be shutting their doors, which is obviously devastating not just for the workers and the journalists there but also for our democracy. They are a fine institution.
But the ABC has been squeezed consecutively year in, year out by this government. The ABC is vital not just to our democracy but for work over the summer, reaching out to affected communities to make sure that people are safe and that messages are getting to them. And what's the government's response? We're going to cut funding to the ABC again. We're going to freeze the indexation. And now we're hearing that the government is pressuring the ABC to sell off their assets, including in my electorate, in Southbank, to move to another new home. Not content on cutting funding, they now want to make the ABC sell off their headquarters.
To make it worse, there is the temerity of those opposite. It was revealed in estimates today that, because they were so angry with the ABC holding them to account over their dodgy sports rorts, the government sent a letter to the managing director of the ABC, complaining about the coverage that they got on the sports rorts. They should hang their heads in shame, they should stop cutting the ABC and they should start acting like a government.
As I said earlier today, and I just want to make the point again, traffic and traffic congestion are a significant problem in my electorate. I want to call on the government to actually put some serious money on the table for the Cavendish Road level crossing outside the Coorparoo train station. As you know, Deputy Speaker McVeigh, we have a situation where there have been so many different funds that have been rorted by this government, and one is the Urban Congestion Fund. Eighty-three per cent of the money in that fund went to Liberal held or Liberal targeted seats—none to my seat. But the people of Coorparoo deserve to have their congestion busted, just as much as anyone does.
As I said to the member for Bonner before, and I see him again in the chamber, just because you drive from Bonner to Griffith, when you cross the electorate boundary that doesn't mean that the traffic congestion magically disappears. So I call on the federal government to match Labor's election commitment that we put on the table— $107 million to get rid of that level crossing. Of course, Patrick Condren, the Labor candidate for Lord Mayor of Brisbane and Matthew Campbell, our excellent Labor candidate for Coorparoo Ward, have put on the table $410 million across Brisbane, but including for that level crossing removal at Cavendish Road. So all we need is for the Liberals to get onboard and to start caring about Coorparoo and come up with the funding. I call on both the federal government and the Liberal city council administration to actually put some money forward for that traffic congestion in Coorparoo. It doesn't just affect my electorate, of course. It affects people coming in from Bowman and Bonner, people who use Old Cleveland Road in the morning and evening peaks.
There are so many issues of importance to my electorate, but you can't go past the damage that has been wrought by this government on the Australian economy and the real-world impacts that is having in my electorate. If you go to Oxford Street, if you go to Stones Corner, you see empty shops. You see situations where small businesses have been driven out of the area because the fact is the economy is really flagging under this government. This government, in its seventh year, has never had a plan for the Australian economy. We have seen situations where, of course, wages growth has been absolutely smashed under this government, where private debt has increased and where public debt had increased. We had the situation just today when the Reserve Bank of Australia cut interest rates to a historic low. It's a historic low for interest rates and it's a historic low for the Liberal Party's economic credibility.
I think Australians know what that means. It means we're in a situation where the Reserve Bank is desperately trying to stimulate the economy, where the government is doing nothing about getting economic growth happening, where the Reserve Bank is down to half a per cent with the cash rate, and, let's face it, we're getting to the point where monetary policy is going to run out of puff. We're heading towards the zero lower bound. This is serious, and this government needs to take some serious action to do something about it. Don't just stand around pointing the finger at everyone else you can think of—whether it's state government or whether it's business. The government needs to show national leadership, because businesses, include the businesses in my electorate, need it.
Consumption is not going to lift while wages are falling through the floor. Consumption is not going to improve while households are unable to actually make ends meet. Of course, people aren't going to buy the extra coffee, the extra newspaper, the extra dress for the Friday night party.
They're not going to go and buy the extra restaurant meal while wages growth is so pathetic in this country. All of the small businesses in my electorate are struggling hard. The business organisations are working so hard to try to revitalise shopping strips, to try to encourage people to come out and to try to make sure that they do well, but they need the national government to lead and stop leaving all the heavy lifting to the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Another issue of great importance to my constituents is access to health care, and that includes access to private health care. As you know, Acting Deputy Speaker, premiums have been going up and up and up and this government seems incapable of tackling the difficulties that people have with affording private health care, because they just don't have a plan.
It's the same for education. So many of the people who live in my electorate are deeply concerned about what's happening with education in this country. They're concerned about schools not having the money that they need. We have got so many great schools in Griffith, an amazing diversity of schools—big, small, independent, Catholic, state—like, of course, most electorates. They're all worried because they want to see a better education for the kids of the future, and, I might say, this extends to post-secondary as well. Being an electorate that hosts some university students—Griffith University has campuses in my electorate, and the TRI has research through the universities—people in my area are very concerned about what's happening to university funding. They're also extremely worried about what's happening with vocational education in this country. There's been a great reduction in the amount of apprenticeships. There's been billions of dollars of funding cut from vocational education under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. In fact, very few of the schools in my electorate were able to get in before the government cut the Trade Training Centres. There are very few of those around. It's a crisis in education, and people in my electorate are deeply concerned about it.
This all comes down to the cost of living. The cost of living remains a crucial issue for people on the south side of Brisbane. They want to see a government that will actually tackle the fact that prices keep going up at the same time as services seem to get worse and worse.
The other issue that's of key concern to people in my electorate is overdevelopment and bad development. We've a council election on at the moment. I know our wonderful Labor candidates are out there talking about what really matters to the way we live. We've got a really special way of life on the south side. It's a wonderful place to live. We need to keep it that way, and that's going the require infrastructure to keep up. It's going to require green space to keep up. It's going to require making sure that access to education and health care continues to improve for our communities.
It also means making sure that when the Commonwealth can have an influence on development issues that we make sure it's a good influence. We've had the sale of the Bulimba Barracks. The sale has very recently settled, with formal information going out only this week. Our community fought tooth and nail to make sure that when the Barracks were sold there was a master plan on the site. My colleagues the Hon. Di Farmer MP, a minister in the Palaszczuk Labor government and the local member; Councillor Kara Cook, who is the local councillor; and her predecessor, Councillor Shayne Sutton, have all stood very strongly and very firmly for making sure that that redevelopment, once it occurs following the settlement, is done in a way that meets community expectations and meets community needs. As I say, we have a special way of life, and we are determined to keep it that way.
There's also an issue, a problem actually, in the Greenslopes area. The Commonwealth owns a property at Greenslopes. It's an old Red Cross hall. It is a great property, but it's falling apart. There's been security fencing and shade cloth around it for years. What's most concerning is that the building is decrepit and there are big signs everywhere saying, 'Danger Asbestos'. I don't want my community to have to be worried about what happens if there's a storm or if there's a tree that falls on the building. This property needs to be fixed. The local members—Joe Kelly, the state member, and of course, Matthew Campbell, the council candidate—and I have been calling for this to be fixed for almost three years now. We have been calling on the Commonwealth, which still owns the property, to actually do something about remediating it, because it is getting to a point where people are concerned. They're concerned about the danger from the asbestos, the lack of amenity, the eyesore that's sitting there and the waste of what could otherwise be a very useful community asset. So we are calling on the government to remediate the property and make sure it is available for community use once again.
We're also greatly concerned about the issues that are happening around youth arts funding in my electorate. We've got Backbone Youth Arts, one of the last youth arts organisations in Queensland, and the Commonwealth has just cut the funding to Backbone Youth Arts. It's an absolute disgrace. This is an organisation where 80 per cent of the young people who go through it end up in employment. It needs to be saved.