House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Grievance Debate

Turkiye and Syria: Earthquake, McEwen Electorate

7:13 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I go into my speech tonight I want to acknowledge the tragedy that is currently unfolding overseas in Turkiye and Syria. An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude has hit heavily populated regions of Turkiye and Syria, killing more than 3,700 people, with more casualties expected to be reported in the coming days. The stories coming out are harrowing; they're heartbreaking. Our thoughts go out to the Turkish and Syrian communities both here and overseas as families anxiously await news from loved ones. The government has already committed $10 million in humanitarian assistance to the rescue and recovery effort, and our consulate is available at all hours to any Australian in the region that needs emergency assistance. So we extend our deepest sympathies to those in the communities affected, and rest assured Australia is there ready to help its friend in Turkiye.

I also rise to talk about some of the changes that have happened in our electorate since the Albanese government came into government last year and some of the exciting things that have come to pass in our community during the summer break. The electorate of McEwen can be proud of all the changes and new projects that have been completed in this time, as many people in the community have campaigned and worked with our office to get these projects in place. Alongside the election and re-election of some excellent state MPs, we will continue to deliver on our promises to our community and work for the people of McEwen. These actions that have been taken not only improve the livelihoods of our community but work to tackle the scourge of the rising cost of living handed to us when we took government in May. Labor delivers for our community and we'll continue to do that.

When it comes to infrastructure, we're finally seeing movement on the long-awaited and long-promised Hume Highway Watson Street diamond interchange. Now that we have strong Labor governments at both federal and state level, we can finally ensure that the roads in our electorate become better, safer and more efficient. The former Liberal government, in August 2020, announced to the people of McEwen that $50 million would be given to the project, after years of outcry from the locals about how our roads weren't safe. It was a promise that the Hume Freeway between Watson Street in Wallan and the M80 ring road would be upgraded under the now disgraced carpark rorts fund or Urban Congestion Fund. We watched, we waited, and then we waited and we waited some more, realising that we had been sold a pup for political pointscoring, again, from the coalition. I tried working with the then government and, to his credit, the member for Riverina was very upfront with us in trying to get it done. But all we got from Minister Tudge at the time was lip-service about it being done, and the government just ignored the advocacy of the people in our communities. We then found out that, with another promise that was committed to by the coalition, the money had been taken out of that to then prop up the dodgy funding announcement that they'd made on the Watson Street interchange. But what we did get was the election of the Albanese Labor government, which committed that $50 million in our first budget. And then the re-elected Andrews Labor government committed $130 million to the project. So, finally, we are making headway.

The project will improve the traffic flow in and around Wallan, making our commute better, but also giving us another option to move should there be any disruption on the northern highway. I'm proud to be part of a government that respects and responds to our community's needs and is making sure that our voices are heard. We are getting the infrastructure that our growing community electorate needs. It's only Labor who will invest in and deliver on local communities' infrastructure. It's only Labor that makes our roads safer. And it's only Labor that delivers for our seat of McEwen.

When it comes to education, the second positive change that has happened within the past couple of months is the investment that Labor has put into the future of this country—our kids. It is investment in education that is going to deliver for the long-term. We delivered on our promise for cheaper child care. We took this promise to the election as a cost-of-living measure. When I talked to our local community during our campaign, it was roundly welcomed and there was excitement about what this promise would bring. We went ahead and, in our first six months, delivered on this promise. That was something the other side didn't really know how to do when they were in government, but we went ahead and we made child care cheaper. This directly helps over 6,500 local families, getting kids the education that is crucial for their development and readiness for primary school.

The policy also gives parents the ability to re-enter the workforce and still receive the benefits of the program that allows their kids to get an early education. We know that the key to a child's development is in early education, so we're easing the burden on families to allow economic participation by both parties. The policy means that 96 per cent of our families with children will be better off, with parts of this policy specifically targeting the Closing the Gap requirements. It's a holistic approach of improving access to early learning and education for all Australians. This is just one of the many measures that we are taking to tackle the rising cost of living.

I also want to briefly give a quick shout out to David Williams and the team who have just started the new Donnybrook Primary School. It had its first day last Wednesday, with 120 new students. We went down there and presented Australian flags to them. This is part of state Labor's plan to build 100 new schools by 2026, to support growing communities like ours in McEwen.

Further, I want to acknowledge and give my best wishes to Carol and the team at Darraweit Guim Primary School. They have started this new year after being totally devastated by the floods we had last year. They have worked tirelessly, day in and day out, to get the school back up and running after the floods. I also thank Wallan Primary School who took in the kids and teachers to give them the space to continue learning, which helped them while the Department of Education and council services ran around to rebuild the school. It's going to be an exciting year for them, and let's hope the kids have a smooth 2023 academic year.

We should also give a shout-out to all the teachers and school staff who have worked incredibly hard over the summer to make sure everything is ready to provide the best education to local students A massive thank you goes out to them and the community for making the start of the year possible. I know the resilience that this community and these workers have shown will have a lasting positive impact on students who attend these wonderful schools, including Diamond Creek Primary School. I had the pleasure of going to this school with my granddaughter for her first day. It's fair to say she was a bit nervous, but she was excited when she got there. I kept telling her, 'Be positive because this is going to be exciting.' Then I felt the same hesitation on Sunday night when I realised I had to hop on a plane and get back to Canberra!

A third positive aspect I want to talk about is health. Health is the key to our electorate, and it's something that we have been fighting for for years. There's been continuous progress within the health policy to make medications cheaper and GPs more available to the local community, and that's all part of the plan to make health services more accessible and more affordable. We know Labor's policy to reduce the price of PBS listed medications from 1 January has come into effect. That means that every time you fill a script you can save up to $12.50. This all adds up, and it's in response to the reports of people skipping taking life-saving medication by not filling their scripts. It was unacceptable, so we took this policy to the election and delivered on our promise within six months. We worked hard to make sure our first budget delivered financial relief in the health field.

We're also working hard to fix the chronic shortage of GPs in local communities, which is not unique to us but is happening across the nation. We did this by returning the DPA status to Wallan, which gave our doctors the opportunity to get more GPs to come to these fast-growing communities. It was absolutely astounding that the previous government thought it was okay to take a regional community like Wallan and surrounding areas and remove their DPA status. That meant that, in areas where we have massive growth in population, we had fewer doctors. It was the wrong thing to do, and our health professionals were screaming about needing care because, during those coalition years, we lost so many health professionals in our area. This put our system under stress.

A prime example is a doctor living in Wallan who couldn't work in Wallan because, to get the DPA assistance, she had to work in an area which was literally 20 minutes away. We had a doctor living and raising her family in the community and she couldn't work there because of what I'd describe as an administrative blunder by the former government. This is not the end of the matter; this is just a part of the solution to increase access to doctors in our areas. We moved quickly to rectify this situation because we knew that people couldn't get access to doctors, that doctors weren't taking new patients and that people were missing out. By updating the DPA classification, we're able to attract more doctors from overseas to fill the gaps that we currently have in delivering health care in the community.

Our government, the Labor government, actively solves problems in our communities and fights to make sure we get our fair share of what's needed. This year we're not going to waste another day. We're going to continue on and keep delivering the things that our communities, like those in McEwen, need and rightly deserve.