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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 125

Mrs HULL (5:39 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, and congratulations on your reappointment to the chair. It is very nice to see. I also congratulate the Speaker and the other Deputy Speaker on their appointments. I would like to take the time to welcome all of the new members of the House. It is also great to see old friends on both sides of the House return for the next three years of parliament.

It is absolutely wonderful to be back representing the great people of the Riverina. It is very humbling to be standing here having been given enormous support during the election campaign and the election itself. We had an amazing outcome in the Riverina in that The Nationals won 92 out of the 92 polling booths in the Riverina. I think that is an excellent outcome for The Nationals. I was particularly pleased and humbled by the fact that, for what I believe to be the first time in history, the South Gundagai booth was presented to a conservative National candidate. This is recognition that the Gundagai people feel very much a part of the representation that The Nationals play in the Riverina. It is something that I am very passionate about. I would like to take the time to thank my campaign team, the booth workers, my family and all of the supporters that brought about a great election result in Riverina which has seen The Nationals re-elected to serve and look after the interests of the Riverina people for another three years. So it is with great pride that I stand here.

Riverina is a wonderful electorate that I believe is the best `can do' electorate in the entire parliament. It is a great feeling to represent those people who succeed—sometimes despite government and departmental attitudes from both state and federal areas—and move on to ensure a very prosperous and bright future. We have an extraordinary mix of interests right across the Riverina, from broadacre farming through to intensive horticultural irrigation, the manufacturing industries, defence bases, Charles Sturt University and Riverina TAFE, which spans right across my electorate. They have had enormous support from the government for the past six years that I have been fortunate enough to be the member. We have been able to achieve an extraordinary amount. In fact, during the election, when we were looking at the count of what we have achieved over the six years, we saw in excess of $2.3 billion having been brought into the Riverina with some fantastic programs and grants that have been able to move our electorate forward with some extraordinary successes.

It was a great election. It was fantastic! It was a great election campaign that I really did enjoy. I enjoyed it more than the 2001 election campaign because it was this time that I saw the absolute evidence of things that I had raised in the House, raised with the party and raised with the coalition actually coming to fruition. It was very exciting to see those deliveries. Not only were they deliveries for the Riverina but they were also deliveries right across Australia.

We looked primarily at health and aged care, which is one of the major issues that confronts every electorate and every member in this House. We looked at the announcement that, from 1 January 2005, the rebate for all GP services will be increased from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the Medicare schedule fee. This means that a significant amount of dollars will go into health services in my electorate. We saw the introduction of the Medicare safety net, which has seen almost 78,000 people in my electorate register as part of a family group. More than 6,000 people in the Riverina have already hit the safety net, meaning that they are now able to receive 80 per cent of their out-of-pocket costs of the Medicare services provided out of hospital. So we are starting to see some real benefits delivered to the man on the street in the Riverina. We also saw that individuals who are beneficiaries of the concession card or who receive family tax benefit part A can access safety net benefits once their out-of-pocket hospital expenses exceed $300. So that was exciting.

We looked at greater incentives for general practitioners. In my electorate, the Riverina Division of General Practice is an extremely successful example of an after-hours medical clinic. I am very proud of that process because they put a lot of work into it. They operate from rooms in Calvary Hospital, and the clinic provides valuable and much needed services to people throughout Wagga Wagga and the surrounding area. It is serviced by a majority of local doctors. They work on a roster system that ensures that the clinic is staffed after hours during the week and on weekends and public holidays. That enables our GPs to have a better quality of life with their families without having to provide after-hours services all the time. They now work perhaps one night in three or one weekend in three. I found that this has been a sensational benefit.

Let us look at the announcement about trades and services. During his campaign launch speech, the Prime Minister made a number of remarks about the importance of trades and services. They were remarks I have made in this House time and time again since becoming the member for Riverina. In the Prime Minister's words I saw a significant step in the quest for greater recognition of and support for the valuable trades and services areas and the current skills shortage that is being faced by industry right across Australia but nowhere more so than in the Riverina. The Prime Minister said:

I want an Australian nation in which a high quality technical education is as prized as a university degree.

As I said, I have been advocating this for some time. It was really thrilling to see it recognised by the Prime Minister. In one of my speeches recorded in Hansard I said:

They should not be looked down on by anybody and they should not be considered different and given less time in their educational pursuits than those who look to go to university.

I also said that Labor has `completely disregarded the rights and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of young Australians who want to enter a world other than a university world'. The conversations and debates that were being held consistently in this chamber were only about HECS fees and university placements. I said that I want to see a world that our apprentices and tradesmen can be proud of: `a world where they can become qualified and certified tradesmen or tradeswomen and feel proud that they have done so'.

The Prime Minister has recognised that. He has put forth his proposal for technical colleges. You can bet that, even though my electorate is not named in that list of potential areas for technical colleges, I will be making the strongest, most aggressive and most belligerent representations to ensure that Griffith, in the Riverina, is able to secure one such technical college. Griffith is unique in its make-up. It is unique in its multicultural history. The Italians have done much to develop Griffith and much of the Riverina in the irrigation area. We have award-winning wineries and export-winning wineries. We have a successful rice industry, through SunRice. We have a horticulture industry. We have a citrus industry that is always struggling, but you can bet that I am always going to be there to ensure that its needs are at least heard and recognised. It can count on me for that support. The citrus industry is one that deserves support from all sides—from the coalition, from the opposition and certainly from state governments as well.

I am looking forward to mounting the case for putting a technical college in Griffith to establish trades and apprenticeships and to provide the growth that is required to meet the shortage of skilled tradesmen in a host of areas. It will see Griffith, Leeton and the surrounding towns move forward productively, as they have done right through the history of the Riverina. They have turned it from a dust bowl into a showpiece that I am very proud of. It certainly is an area with a rich tapestry of production. I am looking forward to mounting that case to ensure that my electorate is a beneficiary of the trades and services announcements and to encourage our kids to stay in the Riverina and be proud of getting an apprenticeship or a trade or service position.

I was able to espouse something very dear to my heart during the election campaign. I looked towards the next three years, hoping to represent the Riverina, and said that I wanted to bring forth mental health issues. I wanted to drive the process of delivery of mental health services. I would like the opportunity—and this is the very first opportunity I have had—to put forward proposals for mental health. I would like to see an independent commission formed to take written submissions and evidence from hearings across this nation for the purpose of investigating, one, the impacts on mental health sufferers and their families of the state government's decision to close institutions; two, the accommodation and service needs required to adequately address the growing mental health services shortages; and three, what services and facilities are currently available in rural areas.

Those services include medical accommodation for mental health sufferers, crisis accommodation for families and respite care for sufferers and their families. They also include psychiatric and supporting GP services; the availability of early intervention services in mental health; the availability of adequately trained people to deal with the range of mental health conditions that exist in rural and regional Australia particularly; the impact of poverty, poor health and drug use on mental health patients primarily in rural areas; and the availability of accommodation services and respite care for brain acquired injury sufferers and their families.

I would like to see a commission formed to do exactly that, to report back to the government with a plan on what services, facilities and capital works programs would be required to resolve the shortfalls in providing services particularly for those in rural and regional areas. I would like it to provide an estimate of costs of the funding that would be needed to implement the identified shortfalls. A program should then be developed to implement the outcome of such a commission.

We desperately need more accommodation facilities and services and respite care to assist mental illness sufferers and their families in the Riverina. Mental health is an increasingly important issue and one that is continuing to gain more recognition and understanding in the wider community. I look forward to being able to put forth my thoughts on those areas, to try to drive the development and implementation of new policies to assist those people who are sufferers and carers in the area of mental health.

Another passion of mine is to try to future-proof our disabled children. Again, that is something that I have raised before in this House and certainly in the party room: that we need a proposal that would allow families to set up a trust that enables an asset- and income-building vehicle for those children who qualify for a disability benefit. The trust should not be income or asset tested so that it does not impact on those receiving the carers payment or on the children who are receiving disability benefits. The trust could receive the same favourable tax treatment as a superannuation fund, because the main aim of establishing such a trust would be to secure a retirement future for children with disabilities as they age.

We now see many young people with disabilities who have many needs. Recently, we have seen many premmie babies who have been miraculously saved by experiencing the modern technology in medical research which has been delivered to them. But some of these babies have been unfortunately left with severe and significant disabilities, which will mean that they will need a variety of care and certainly a variety of support structures as they grow older. My wish is to be able to influence some direction in that area in my next three years in the parliament here so that those people in the Riverina and beyond can look towards financial future-proofing of their children so that, when carers and parents become too old to adequately look after their children, they know they have peace of mind—that there is a facility or a caring institution that will be able to take the worry from their minds.

As I have mentioned in this House many times, I have seen elderly people in my electorate who need care themselves who are still at home, looking after dependent, disabled children who are ageing, with nowhere to turn. I think this is an issue of major concern for parents of disabled children. As I said, many of these parents are elderly and frightened about their children's future wellbeing. So I look forward to being very much a part of trying to drive that process. There can be nothing worse for a parent than not to have security for a child who depends entirely on parental support for their very existence.

During the election campaign, we also saw a huge commitment to funding education. This is something that I support. I was very happy. I quoted from a speech in Hansard where I said that I had found myself in the unenviable position of coming into the House and defending to past ministers the rights of a public education system—basically saying that schools A and B should have covered playgrounds and airconditioning facilities. They should have resources available to them. They should be able to have music halls and covered auditoriums. They should be able to have every child reach their potential.

During the Prime Minister's campaign launch, he pledged an investment of an additional $1 billion over existing funding over four years to upgrade classrooms, libraries, basic amenities and the grounds of government and poorly resourced non-government schools—and $700 million of this funding will be spent on high-priority public school infrastructure. I am looking forward to hopefully being able to secure some of that funding, particularly for Griffith High School, which just before the HSC suffered a serious, purposely lit fire that saw all the electives that counted towards HSC marks destroyed. I think that must have been absolutely desperate for those students. If any school does, that school deserves some attention and some assistance in providing much-needed facilities—a music room and particularly an area where the multicultural flavour of the school can achieve its potential. I am looking forward to hopefully being able to access funding in the future to enable this school to provide its students with the potential to articulate their individual music styles from their individual nations. The remaining $300 million will be available to high-priority infrastructure projects in less well-off Catholic and independent schools. I would love some of that as well for Sacred Heart in Cootamundra and a few of my young Catholic schools which are certainly in need of significant upgrades.

There is one thing I was very proud of, that I have advocated for six years, about which there was an election announcement. We did not have the same announcement from the opposition during the election campaign. I am speaking of school students in school term hostels—those students who have no choice for an education other than to leave home and go into a school term hostel. That hostel then delivers those children to the school of their choice. It might be the Catholic school; it might be the local public school, infants school, primary school or high school. These children go into school term hostels from kindergarten through to year 12. As I said, this is the only form of education that these kids are able to access.

Finally, John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister, in his regional policy statement, guaranteed and committed $2,500 per student who attends school term hostels—something that has been neglected by the Labor state governments for the past six years. We have finally rectified it. I appreciate this generous gesture by the federal government—and by John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister, in particular—in remembering that there are only 900-odd students in this group, but they should not be forgotten. They have not been forgotten.