Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Lalor Electorate: Community Services
My grievance is that for nine years while I represented the people of Lalor in this place—the people's house, in the federal parliament—in aged care, in early education and child care, and in Indigenous affairs we had a government that wasn't serving my community. All that, of course, has changed with the election of a Labor government. You just have to look in my calendar for the last month to see the care and attention that the local people I represent are now getting from this government.
We can start with a visit from Minister Anne Aly on 26 September to Little Oak Early Learning in Werribee. The Minister for Early Childhood Education came to talk about Labor's cheaper childcare plans and how our new plan saw, on average, parents paying 14 per cent less per hour for centre based early learning and education. It was an absolute pleasure to visit with the minister and to meet the families who were there, the workers who were there and the owner of this facility, a hands-on small business owner, who told me that since those changes her occupancy rates are now over 90 per cent. She actually told me that there are mums of the children they're educating who are now doing an extra day or an extra two days of work; hence the rise in occupancy. It was fabulous, and I want to thank Minister Aly for taking the time to come and visit and for her interest in the plan that benefits 8,000 local families. In aged care, we saw terrible things. We all know the story. We know about the royal commission. We know about the findings. We know about the interim report titled 'Negligence'. Again, this space has changed with the election of the Albanese Labor government.
On 29 September Minister Anika Wells came with me and visited Manor Court aged care centre. The Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Sport joined residents for a pre-grand-final lunch, as it happened, and we also met with the volunteers on that committee. This is a community based organisation established in my community decades ago. Families have absolute faith that when their elderly loved ones go into Manor Court they get the absolute best of care. Of course, Lalor was ground zero during COVID for the neglect by the former government in aged care, and it was a pleasure to talk to staff about the wage rise that they had received. It was a pleasure to share lunch—cooked by the in-house chef, who came out to make sure that we'd all enjoyed the lunch—with, as I said, the committee members, the board, who run that facility and with four beautiful ladies.
On 27 September, I had the pleasure of welcoming Minister Linda Burney to Wunggurrwil Dhurrung Centre. Having the Minister for Indigenous Affairs come to speak about the referendum was a highlight of the campaign and an absolute pleasure for my local community. People from all backgrounds attended the evening, but it was wonderful to be in a centre that Wyndham City Council have built and developed specifically for local mob, and local mob were in attendance in numbers. Although the room was filled with disappointment on Saturday night, I was still receiving thankyous from volunteers and supporters because they'd had the chance to hear from a remarkable Australian. I want to thank Uncle Rob, as well, for the wonderful acknowledgement of country and the smoking ceremony.
For four years in this place, I stood up time and time again to ask the then federal government to support my growers in the Werribee irrigation district. We are responsible for 70 per cent of Australia's lettuces. They're grown right in Werribee South. I was really thrilled to represent Minister Plibersek at a fantastic announcement on 19 September in Werribee South. I joined the state minister there and was able to officially announce the final stages of the Werribee Irrigation District upgrade, which will save 30 per cent of the water going down those old channels. It's a win for the growers, a win for the environment and a win for our local economy.
I also had the pleasure, after years of neglect from the former government, to visit Utopia health centre in Tarneit in recent days. This is one of the 41 local GP clinics in the electorate of Lalor who received, between them, over $1.2 million in Strengthening Medicare GP Grants. It was wonderful to meet again with Dr Lester Mascarenhas, who was also able to tell me the positive impact the Labor government's decisions had made—not just the grant but also other decisions, like the decision to reverse the Liberals' local Medicare cuts. This has seen this facility able to access three more doctors again to provide vital services to our new and growing communities.
In the last two weeks, I also had the privilege to join with the Speaker of the House and other members and senators on a delegation to Nepal and India. Representing one of the largest Indian diasporas in the country, I was honoured to visit the country that I hear so much about on a week-to-week basis. I just wanted to note that here—not, obviously, as a grievance.
While I was away, I was disappointed but not surprised to hear the revelations of the Nixon review into Australia's migration system. I took the time out while on this delegation to read it, because I know firsthand, having represented this community over a long time, some of the exploitation that has gone on around people who are supposedly on student visas, who get to Australia to find there are no courses and they are going to be exploited in a workplace. I've dealt with individuals who have been harmed in this system across this 10 years.
This report, the Nixon review, found 'abuses of sexual exploitation, human trafficking and other organised crime' in Australia's immigration system. The review identified significant gaps and weaknesses in Australia's visa system, a system the now Leader of the Opposition personally oversaw for six years. As the now Minister for Home Affairs said, he liked to say he was the tough cop on the beat in the immigration system and now what we find is that—to quote from what Ms Nixon said:
It is clear that gaps and weaknesses in Australia's visa system are allowing this to happen.
I am thrilled that the Minister for Home Affairs and the minister for immigration have been busy cleaning up this mess and have made clear recommendations that the government has accepted. They will continue to do the work.
The Albanese Labor government inherited a broken immigration system where abuse of Australia's visa system was allowed to run rampant. If ministers of the former government had visited my electorate they would have known that firsthand. The Leader of the Opposition presented himself as the tough guy who secured our borders and kept Australia safe, and now we find that that was a sham. The findings of the review show the reality that, under his watch, criminals were abusing Australia's visa system and the government turned a blind eye. The Albanese government will not turn a blind eye.
While in India in conversations with people in Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi about our international education system I would have loved to have been able to stand there and say that I could guarantee that every young person who had left India in the past decade to come to Australia for an education was guaranteed to have got a rolled gold quality education. The Nixon review affirms what I knew on the ground, and that was that all those families couldn't be given that guarantee. We lived that experience in my part of the world.
These problems are systematic and they'll take time to fix, but I trust that both our ministers will get busy and do just that. With increased resourcing of $50 million, the Albanese Labor government will establish a new division within the Department of Home Affairs to reprioritise immigration compliance and protect the integrity of the visa and migration system. This is not just important as a good friend to India. It's not just important to ensure that we are safe. This is about our education system. This is a multibillion-dollar international education system and we need to know on the ground that when someone comes to Australia they are going to get a rolled gold education, the one they paid for.