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Monday, 18 February 2008
Page: 573

Mr HUNT (6:37 PM) —May I start my contribution to this address-in-reply by congratulating the member for Corio. As I look across the chamber I have to say that, in my short time here, I would regard that as the finest contribution for a maiden speech that I have heard. Without seeking to denigrate other fine efforts, I think that was the finest first speech from his side of the chamber. As an alumni of Melbourne university with him and another colleague, I am not surprised.

In speaking in this address-in-reply debate, I recognise that there has been a transition of government. On 24 November, the people of Australia made their decision and, unfortunately, the Liberal-National coalition lost government. I have two roles to carry forward: firstly as the member for Flinders—and today I want to set out a four-part plan for the coming term of office—and secondly, more broadly, as a member of the alternative government of Australia. In that respect, I wish to make some preliminary remarks. I begin with a simple fact. Late last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics set out the fact that Australian unemployment has fallen to a 35-year low of 4.1 per cent and the participation rate has reached an all-time high of 65 per cent. These two facts spell one simple thing, and that is that more Australians are in work today than at any other time in our history. That means that families have the economic security which comes from work. Families have the ability to make choices, which have not been open to others throughout Australia’s history, about their own futures. More people than ever before are in a position of self-sufficiency. It also means—I think most significantly—that the dignity of work has been extended to more people than ever before. Yes, it is difficult and yes, it is challenging. That is why it is, by its very nature, called ‘work’. It means that the people of Australia, from the north to the south and from the east to the west, are in a position to make choices about their futures. That is, to me, what liberalism is all about—this very notion that we give people choice, we give people the ability to make their own futures, and from that we give them a sense of hope, aspiration and all that is possible in their lives.

How did this come to pass? The narrative from the other side is that this was all an accident, that all that we have today, which is so different from the world of 1990 or 1993, was but simply an accident of geography. This proposition is palpably false. The changes that we have seen in Australia since 1996 have been built on the hard work of five great economic revolutions. Firstly, and most importantly, there was the promotion of budgetary discipline, of turning around a $96 billion deficit, and turning it successively over time into surplus after surplus, which firstly paid off the debt and, secondly, laid the foundations for the Future Fund, for a higher education fund and for a hospitals fund—so investing now for all time for future generations. These activities were opposed at every step by those who now in the government profess support for fiscal rectitude.

The second of these revolutions was in relation to waterfront productivity. The waterfront faced a coronary; it needed a bypass. Perhaps the most bitter battle of the last 12 years was to take the steps needed to clear out the barriers and bottlenecks on our waterfront. We did that, and we did that because it was difficult not because it was easy. That is precisely why we did that. The result has been a dramatic increase in the productivity of our waterfront which in turn has meant that our manufacturers, people working on shop floors, farmers and all of those who seek to export or import have been able to do their work. These changes are real, important and profound, and yet they were opposed—but now they will be kept.

The third of the great revolutions in economic productivity that we have seen in Australia came from the dramatic reform of the tax system—reforms so great that the now Prime Minister referred to it at the time as ‘fundamental injustice day’, as we all know. The reforms were so great that, faced with all Labor state and territory governments and a Labor Commonwealth government, he will still keep those reforms. Nothing would stop him now from making those changes. We now see that the reforms to the taxation system, in moving from heavy income tax to light income tax and moving from a situation where we had a consumption based tax, have changed the way the alignment of incentives stack up in Australia. That in turn was fundamental, not to injustice but to productivity in Australia.

The fourth of the revolutions was in relation to helping those who had been trapped in a welfare cycle out of that cycle and back to work. That was a great and humane task. What we have seen is that those who were on the fringes of employment, who were outside of the employment scope, have been given the dignity of work as well as the security of work. For that we are profoundly proud. We have nothing to apologise for there. We should acknowledge and be proud of bringing back into the system those who missed out. Finally, we saw a revolution in giving encouragement to small business. This encouragement, which allowed employers to employ, was part of a process which ultimately created two million jobs and created the conditions for 4.1 per cent unemployment and 65 per cent participation in employment across the economy. These things together matter for the current generation, the future generation and the dignity of individuals.

Against that, what are we seeing today? Firstly, we are seeing that the white flag is already up on future tax cuts. The understanding that I have is that there will be no more future tax cuts, now that those which we promised have been implemented. Secondly, we see a worrying trend on foreign investment—sending a message to the rest of the world that we are getting ready to put up the shutters. It is a form of dangerous populism. We do not know the final form of that which will pass, but the message to the rest of the world is that this is a different Australia. Thirdly, we also see signs that there will be a roll-back on tariff cuts. So all of the great elements of economic reform—which do not matter of and in themselves but matter solely as a means of giving people employment, income and a real and long-term future—are being wound back. That is a dangerous sign—and that is the difference between the two sides of this House. At the end of the day, what we focused on and what we created is economic security.

Against that base, I now turn from the strongest economy that Australia has had, arguably since the Korean War boom if not before then, to where we are now in the seat of Flinders. I want to set out a four-part plan for the seat of Flinders: firstly, in relation to health; secondly, in relation to police and security; thirdly, in relation to the environment; and, fourthly, in relation to education. It is not limited to those, but they are the four pillars that I will pursue in the electorate of Flinders over the coming years.

The first of these relates to health. I turn to Warley Hospital. The great disappointment of my time in parliament has been the loss of Warley Hospital for Phillip Island. I am saddened because we committed $2½ million as a federal government, and that has been taken away by the new government. The promise for Warley Hospital on Phillip Island was a simple one: they would be given $2½ million to give them a future; so this not-for-profit, community-owned, bush nursing hospital would have a future for another 84 years. Sadly, the new health minister did not listen to the pleas from the people of Phillip Island. She did not even answer the letter which was sent by the board of the hospital.

The new Prime Minister promised on 29 November that the health buck would stop with him. The Victorian Premier said, ‘Warley Hospital is not our responsibility.’ Unfortunately, the new health minister and the new Prime Minister said, contrary to the promise that the health buck would stop with them, ‘It’s not our responsibility either.’ The result is that a hospital which had a bright future, a proud past and an important present has closed. On 31 January, 15 employees lost their jobs. They included nurses, administrators and cleaners—people who had been committed to the future of Warley Hospital. But it affected more than just those individuals; an island lost its hospital and it lost its history.

So my commitment now is to work to get this hospital reopened. I do not know whether we will be able to do it, but I do know that I want that fight—and I will have that fight and we will work and work. Only in the last few days the promise that there would be an emergency service to replace Warley Hospital has been broken. Local papers have reported that families have had to travel not just to one nearby hospital—because that was on a bypass—or to two or three but to four hospitals before finding a place where they could stop. These reports are from the most recent Phillip Island Advertiser. That is a profound health crisis, which the new government has precipitated. This hospital had fought for its history, had lived its history, and had been a proud part of Phillip Island—and now it has gone.

I also see that the state owned Koo Wee Rup Hospital, with a wonderful board and a wonderful executive, is fighting to be allowed to have respite care. At the moment we see a catch 22, in which the state says, ‘We will not allow you to apply.’ Because it is a state hospital, the Koo Wee Rup Hospital is not allowed to apply for federal funding without state support, so it is being strangled and held in by the very people who ought to be encouraging its development.

Similarly, we see that the maternity unit of Rosebud Hospital was closed. Mothers were sent to Frankston—sometimes a 40-minute trip away—to give birth, and then, after six hours, newborn babies were put in vehicles and sent back. The disruption for mothers and babies and families was profound. Here are three hospitals and three poor outcomes: Warley Hospital, Koo Wee Rup Hospital and Rosebud Hospital.

Against that, I am proud that we have a new Medicare office in Hastings, because this makes a difference to people’s lives. Now we need more aged care in Hastings and we need to build on the over-600 places that Flinders received over the last six years. We also need something that I think is revolutionary—that is, assisted care for the disabled so that they can live in an assisted situation. There is a proposal for Hastings which I hope will find the support of the new government and of the state.

I now turn to the issue of police and safety. Only last week police on the Mornington Peninsula held a crisis meeting at the Moorooduc coolstores. What they said was very simple. Brave and courageous members of the police force stood up in defiance of the standing orders from their own state authorities and said, ‘We have a crisis in policing on the Mornington Peninsula.’ The answer is simple: more police for Rosebud, more police for Hastings and a police station for Somerville. We need nothing less and we will not rest until we receive a 24-hour police station for Somerville. We were told it was impossible to get a new high school for Somerville and yet we had that battle and, with the community, we were successful. That same commitment applies: to fight, to win, to receive funding and to build a 24-hour police station for Somerville. I cannot say when it will happen but I do know that that fight will be maintained until we succeed.

Sadly, there is another element of security to mention, an issue which I have raised in the Main Committee of the House—that is, the need to ensure that all seven rail crossings on the Mornington Peninsula which do not have boom gates are given them. I mentioned last week that I spoke with Gwen Bates, the mother of Kay Stanley. Kay was tragically killed recently in a level-crossing accident. There were no boom gates, she did not hear the warning for whatever reason and a pregnant mother-to-be was lost. Her mother, Gwen Bates, has asked that I raise this matter in parliament. I do so both for Gwen and also so that we make it absolutely clear that accidents such as this should not be allowed to happen in the future. It is a genuine tragedy in the true meaning of the word when a life has been cut short.

I want to address further things. We need a bypass for Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup. That is not part of any promise, because it is not my position to give that promise, but it is part of the fight. Bypasses for Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup will give these towns a future, give people a way through and give them a sense that these towns matter, that they cannot be ignored and that they should not be ignored by the state or by the new federal government.

The third area to which I turn is the environment. The first point here is in relation to the channel-deepening project. Whilst I recognise that the broader project is inevitable—and I have said that on many occasions—it is utterly unacceptable that two million tonnes of toxic waste from the mouth of the Yarra should be dredged and dumped into Port Phillip Bay. Dieldron, DDT, arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and up to 270 other chemicals or heavy metals have all been identified as being contained within that toxic sediment. To use Port Phillip Bay as a dump is simply not acceptable. The second point is that Gunnamatta is the site of 150 billion litres of class C, partially treated sewage which is dumped off one of the great surf beaches of Australia every year. This is water which pollutes the coast, which is wasted, which should be recycled and which must be recycled. We have had a proposal on the table. I implore the new state government to reconsider that which they have dropped and to prefer this over desalination, because ultimately they are making a capital decision to guarantee that this dumping will continue for the next decade or the next 30 years, and they are doing so by preferring desalination over recycling for industry and agriculture.

This leads me to the last of the elements in the plan for the seat of Flinders. It is in relation to education and to sport. We hear from the community a call for a new secondary college for the Bass coast. I am willing to work for that end. Whether it is in San Remo or on Phillip Island or in a nearby area, it is something which is necessary. The Bass coast has one of the fastest growing populations in Victoria, in percentage terms, and it needs that support.

On the other hand, I am delighted that we have a new low-fee Christian school in Mount Martha. I am pleased to have been able to play some small role in the creation of the Balcombe Grammar School, which opened only a few short weeks ago. The former government played an important part by giving a significant percentage of the funding. It will be a significant boon to the young families of the Mornington Peninsula and it will be a great addition to the township of Mount Martha. We must now work for a year 11 and 12 facility as part of the Somerville Secondary College, which I mentioned before, and ultimately, on the health front, work to see a Rosebud swimming pool and a Phillip Island pool in place for the aged, the young, the families and the visitors.

All of these things are only possible because we have the healthiest economy in the world. I recognise that government has changed hands but our job as local members, as well as national members, is to set out the conditions for a healthy economy and to fight for those things at the local level which will give people a long-term future. For those reasons I lay out to the House this plan for health, for police, for environment and for education in the seat of Flinders.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Kingston, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.