Senate debates

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Prime Minister: Visit to Western Sydney

3:38 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Abetz) and Senator Payne today relating to western Sydney and the Prime Minister.

Even before the PM campaign—which she states is not really a campaign because she is governing—has gotten off the ground, one of her most senior ministers has completely pulled the carpet out from under her. Today's papers show the effect of what Minister Butler said. One only has to look at headline from today's Daily Telegraph, 'The Rooty Hill show, five nights only' to see how the good people of Western Sydney have been made fun of. For them to be mocked in this way is absolutely outrageous. Let us look at the other headlines from today: 'PM's Rooty Hill plan raises a laugh', 'Carry on in Rooty Hill', 'Carrying on governing goes west', 'PM plans to carry on lodging in Rooty Hill' and 'Nightmare for PM'. In fact, as the Herald Sun correctly points out, Ms Gillard is likely to have more luck playing the pokies at the Rooty Hill RSL than she is with pressing the flesh in terms of her broken promises.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the Prime Minister rang Minister Butler yesterday. One could only imagine the conversation. But, of course, her comments would have had to have been tempered because Minister Butler holds some very important votes, which is keeping her there, in place. Perhaps there are announcements being planned in Western Sydney—perhaps involving Minister Butler. It is interesting to note in the Australian Ageing Agenda a couple of days ago the talk about the government making a big announcement on the workforce compact; it is to be a very, very soon. If they are planning on doing it in Western Sydney with Minister Butler, Minister Shorten and the Prime Minister, perhaps they will think twice about the optics of all of that. I do not think that Minister Butler is quite welcome in Western Sydney after his latest escapade.

Even Minister Butler's own colleague Ed Husic, the member for Chifley, publicly repudiated Minister Butler when he said:

I was shocked and outraged, I can't have snooty-nosed free settler types making funny comments about Rooty Hill.

The local member! And then, as the mayor of Liverpool advised the Prime Minister—and it is there in the Australian Financial Review today—'Commute if you mean it.' If the Prime Minister really wants to go out to Western Sydney, perhaps she might like to commute there because she would see what the people of Sydney face daily with the traffic congestion in that city. Perhaps if she went along Parramatta Road she would see all the empty shops that are there because of her carbon tax, because of high electricity prices and because of a whole lot of other things. In the end, the Prime Minister would really know this.

Of course, this is a dysfunctional government—a very dysfunctional government. The last time she went out to the Rooty Hill RSL she made a whole series of promises. She told us about the budget surplus. She told us about cutting company tax. She told us about a whole range of other things. I would really like to see whether she will go back to the Rooty Hill RSL and tell the people of Western Sydney that she lied to them then. How could anybody that she meets out in Western Sydney next week ever believe a word that this woman ever says again.

If she does go out and talk about what her government has done—and so we are hearing the ministers now saying, 'Oh, yes, but she is going to have dialogue with the people of Western Sydney'—she might tell them why Chris Bowen, as the relevant minister, could not stop the boats—a very important point out in Western Sydney, or why Jason Clare could not stop the guns, or why David Bradbury wants to increase super tax. That is the record of the ALP in Western Sydney. (Time expired)

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Just before I call Senator Thistlethwaite, I remind senators to use the correct titles in addressing members of the other house.

3:43 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition is making much of the comments of the member for Port Adelaide, Mark Butler. There is no doubt that it is not acceptable for any member of parliament to make fun of any person's community or of where they live. I think the minister for Port Adelaide made a mistake and, given his time again, he probably would not make the same comments. But we all make mistakes in life.

The Prime Minister is going to Western Sydney to talk directly to families, to businesses and to communities about what this Labor government is doing in that area and what its plans for the future are.

It is an important region of this country. It is the fourth-largest economic zone in Australia. One in two residents of Sydney live in Greater Western Sydney. By Greater Western Sydney, I mean the WSROC, Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Hills districts.

This government understands how important Western Sydney is for the economic and social development of this country. That is reflected in this government's commitment to economic development in Western Sydney. It is reflected in the investment that this government has devoted to infrastructure in Western Sydney, which stands in stark contrast to the investment in infrastructure in that area that was made by the Howard government. Over the 12 years of the Howard government, $350 million was invested in infrastructure in Western Sydney—$350 million in the M7 road. That was the total amount that was invested by the Howard government in infrastructure in Western Sydney. In the five years of this Labor government, we have invested 10 times that amount, $3.2 billion, in Western Sydney. That is our commitment to economic growth in that important region.

The figures stack up: $800 million invested in the development of the Moorebank Intermodal, a very important freight investment that will take traffic and big trucks off Sydney roads; $980 million for the construction of the Southern Sydney Freight Line, which has been completed; $93 million to widen the F5 at Campbelltown, which has also been completed; $300 million to upgrade the Great Western Highway, which is underway; and $8.5 million to begin planning for the installation of an electronic freeway management system along the full length of the M4 motorway. That is what has been invested by this government in Western Sydney.

This government, the federal Labor Party, has delivered an initial instalment of $45 million to advance the WestConnex project. We have put aside $150 million in the budget for the progress of the M2 to F3 project. We have dedicated $2.1 billion—and the money is still sitting there on the table—to the Parramatta to Epping rail link, which will be a big connector for Parramatta and will cement its position as the second CBD of Sydney.

That is our commitment to infrastructure investment in Western Sydney, but we are also committed to delivering better services for this area. That is reflected, importantly, in health and education: at Nepean Hospital, $96 million for a new block; at Blacktown Hospital, $31.7 million for 10 rehabilitation beds and 20 beds in a specialist neuropsychiatry subacute unit; $17.6 million to construct the Blacktown Hospital clinical school; $11.5 million to Blacktown Hospital for additional emergency department beds; $15 million to establish a GP superclinic in Liverpool; $1.7 million to south-western Sydney for New Directions mother and baby services and a Strong Fathers Strong Families Program in Liverpool.

In education we have made a lot of investments. One of the areas that I look after is the Macarthur region. We have invested $125 million in new schools in that region through Building the Education Revolution. That money has gone to fund 35 new classrooms, seven libraries, 23 multipurpose halls and five science and language centres—educational services for Western Sydney. That is thinking about the future. We have also built four new trade training centres in the Macarthur area alone. That is our commitment to Western Sydney. (Time expired)

3:48 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a sad day when the Labor Party get excited because their leader, the Prime Minister, announces she is going to spend a couple of days in Western Sydney. You would think they might get excited if the Prime Minister went out and made some really good policy announcements of things that were going to take Australia forward, but no, the Labor Party get excited because the Prime Minister is going to stay in Western Sydney. It is absolutely extraordinary.

It was raised earlier today, during question time, that perhaps the Prime Minister should commute from the city, from Kirribilli House, out to Rooty Hill. My good colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells followed up and said exactly the same thing, that the Prime Minister should commute from Kirribilli out to Rooty Hill. But apparently it is a little bit too far to go through the traffic for the Prime Minister and she has got to stay out there. It is extraordinary. I drive further than that for bread and milk.

The focus on the Prime Minister's trip to Rooty Hill is nothing short of breathtaking. She is only doing her job. It is what she should be doing. She should be going to Western Sydney. She should be going to talk to people out there. I suspect that they will tell the Prime Minister exactly what they think about what her government is doing. I also suspect that not all of it is going to be positive. That may well turn out to be the biggest understatement we have heard in this place for quite some time, but we shall have to wait and see. People across this country are so fed up with the Labor government and their complete inability to run the country properly, and I suspect the good people of Rooty Hill and Western Sydney are thinking exactly the same thing.

My advice for the Prime Minister is: once she has been to Western Sydney, once she has been to Rooty Hill, keep going. Go over the Great Dividing Range, go over the sandstone curtain, and go to regional Australia. I can tell you, Mr Deputy President, I would be jumping through hoops if there were as much fuss and as much focus from the Prime Minister about going to regional Australia as there is about her going to Rooty Hill. This is a Prime Minister who continues to completely ignore regional Australia.

If the Prime Minister went over the sandstone curtain, she would get to Bathurst and she could talk to some students who would tell her that this Labor government is doing absolutely nothing to give regional students equity of access to education, that she is doing absolutely nothing to change the current unfair rules for independent youth allowance, which mean that our young people who are accessing independent youth allowance, as pretty much the only means of financial assistance when they have absolutely no choice but to leave home, come up against a parental income test cap.

So guess what? If their parents are police officers or schoolteachers, because of what they earn that student is precluded from getting independent youth allowance, and that is absolutely wrong. I suspect the Prime Minister would be told that loud and clear if she went beyond Rooty Hill and further west, further than those 40-odd kilometres west, out into regional Australia. She would get to Orange, where she could talk to medical students, and to CSU about their excellent proposal for a medical school—because it is about time this Labor government started listening to the fact that health in regional Australia needs to be addressed. But this government and this Prime Minister simply are not doing that.

The Prime Minister could then kick up a little bit, still going west, and go to Forbes and talk to dairy farmers. She could explain to them why she said that dairy farmers would not only survive but thrive under the carbon tax. I tell you, Mr Deputy President, there is nothing that will convince those dairy farmers that this Prime Minister has any understanding at all of the dairy industry, because to say that is completely stupid. The imposts going on the dairy industry are enormous.

The Prime Minister could keep going west, to WA. She could tell the beef producers over there that the live export ban that decimated their lives, that was put in by the Prime Minister, was what she called a 'short-term disruption' in her address to the Press Club. The Prime Minister shattered these people's lives with an export ban that was absolutely not necessary, and she calls it a 'short-term disruption'!

If the Prime Minister keeps going west through regional Australia, she will eventually end up in Perth, where the government has stolen $480 million from the regional development fund to put a road around Perth airport. I do not know about you, Mr Deputy President, but that looks pretty much like a city road to me! It is about time the Prime Minister got out into the regions: go to Rooty Hill and keep going west. (Time expired)

3:54 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of answers to questions asked of Senator Conroy today and, in particular, those relating to Western Sydney, because I actually agree with Senator Nash: I cannot believe the fuss and palaver that has gone on over the fact that the Prime Minister is visiting Western Sydney with her cabinet colleagues. They are visiting a very large community, over one million people, who deserve the opportunity to meet with their representatives and who deserve the opportunity to raise with ministers and their local members, the concerns that they have. When you think about the extraordinary challenges the communities of Western Sydney will confront over the next few years, you can understand why those conversations are going to be so important.

A recent report actually forecast that half of Sydney's population will be living in Greater Western Sydney by 2036. An example of the impact that that population expansion in the west will have is that it will require about 87,000 new homes to be built in that time. So there are key challenges, but, if 87,000 homes are being constructed in Western Sydney, there are many, many opportunities as well—opportunities for employment; opportunities for planning infrastructure so that social infrastructure in particular does not get left behind and opportunities for drawing on the very diverse multicultural workforce and industry base that will be out in Western Sydney. These are the opportunities, the challenges and the issues that the Prime Minister and the cabinet are going to be dealing with in the next few years.

Senator Nash also said that the Prime Minister will not necessarily like what she hears. I have to say that is probably true. She probably will not be very pleased to hear about the 15,000 jobs being cut from the New South Wales Public Service and the fact that some of those jobs are in significant areas. In policing, for example, the regional commands in rural New South Wales are being quarantined, which means that the real impacts are going to be on policing in Western Sydney. So the conversations that are going on in Western Sydney about gun control, street violence or domestic violence are going to be severely affected by the New South Wales government cuts.

The Prime Minister is probably not going to be very impressed by the fact that New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell originally committed to building the North West Rail Link to connect the North Shore with the Hills district in Sydney's north-west, then asked the government to redirect the funds earmarked for the Parramatta to Epping railway line to the North West Rail Link, and then came back and changed his mind and requested that those funds be redirected to finishing the upgrade of the Pacific Highway—which is hardly going to benefit the people of Western Sydney, I imagine. I would say that we can all expect that the Parramatta to Epping rail line project, to which we have committed $2.1 billion—and we still hold that commitment—and which would free up commuter traffic in Western Sydney, is forever dead under the O'Farrell government. These are the kinds of things that she is going to hear.

The Prime Minister is probably not going to be very happy to hear how people in Western Sydney are so concerned about the dog-whistling policies that we have heard over the last few days about the way in which we treat people seeking refugee and humanitarian status. She is probably not going to be too happy to hear the Leader of the Opposition's ideas about TPVs and freezing bridging visas, or racial profiling, because in Western Sydney we have a very diverse multicultural community that is fantastic. It is an economic and cultural powerhouse of New South Wales and it is the fastest growing regional economy in Australia. So when 43 per cent of the population of Sydney is living in Western Sydney, the Prime Minister deserves to be there.

3:59 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to add some comments about the answers to questions by Senator Conroy, representing the Prime Minister. It amazes me how, when Prime Minister Gillard announced the election will be on 14 September that she said this will not be a long election campaign, that it will be about governing the country, carrying on with the role of government. If you were to say to anyone that this week in Western Sydney is not campaigning, I think people would laugh at you. I certainly would not say it. I put on Facebook last night, 'This is not a week of campaigning in Western Sydney—yeah, right!' Comments of varying degrees came back saying that this is a political campaign, that this is what next week is about. There is nothing surer. I found it amazing when Senator Conroy said, 'It pays to stay in Western Sydney.' I can just imagine the Prime Minister out in Western Sydney. She could have Senator Cameron as a chauffeur driving her around. I do not know how they would get on together given Senator Cameron's staunch support for former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. This is simply a political stunt and the people of Western Sydney will not be fooled. And today we heard:

The federal government also announced an investigation into raising NSW's Warragamba Dam. The cost of raising the wall is estimated to be $500 million, and federal funding would be contingent on state government backing for the project.

I have no problem with raising the dam wall. I think that is a good idea because we are using six per cent of our water resource in this country, compared to a world average of nine per cent. It was amazing when the coalition discussion paper on building dams went out a couple of weeks ago, when Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson, said that this is 'policy in chaos'. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, said that the coalition's draft dam policy is 'incoherent' and 'completely wild'. They are very much against building dams. Minister Bill Shorten added, 'It is cheaper for governments and taxpayers to spend money on mitigation for floods as opposed to clean-up costs subsequently.' So we have Minister Shorten supporting increasing the height of Warragamba dam, while ministers Tony Burke, Dr Craig Emerson and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young say—and what a crazy quote this is—'The only part of the coalition dam plan that was environmental was the word "mental".'

How are we supposed to survive in this county without water? I have travelled much of this big land and thankfully have lived all of my life in rural Australia. Without water, we have nothing. But we now have the irony of all this with the government saying, 'We're going to increase Warragamba dam wall, increase the storage.' I think that is a great thing because we saw a waste of money in desalination plants around the nation, most of them mothballed, as Andrew Bolt said in his column today, when scaremongering Tim Flannery said, 'The dams will never fill.' Go out of Inverell, where I live, to Copeton Dam. It was great to see it overflowing less than two years ago. We know what happened in Brisbane with the floods. Warragamba is releasing water now because of the very heavy and constant rain we have seen for the last couple of years. That is what happens at the end of a drought—it rains. Rain is what breaks a drought, nothing else. But Tim Flannery is scaremongering and saying that the dams will never fill again. I support the increase in the storage capacity of Warragamba Dam because Sydney is a fast-growing area. Those running businesses out in Western Sydney will not be fooled. They know that the cost of doing business has escalated enormously—whether it be carbon tax, the renewable energy target or whatever. They are becoming uncompetitive with the high Australian dollar. They are facing cheap imports. The people who work in those businesses know that, if they cannot make a profit for the business, their jobs are threatened. This visit to Western Sydney by the Prime Minister is simply a political stunt and I do not believe for one second that the people in Western Sydney will be bluffed or fooled. They know what this government has been like. They know what this government has done. Along with many others, including me, they are looking forward to 14 September 2013, election day.

Question agreed to.