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Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Page: 2648

Ms VAMVAKINOU (6:57 PM) —It is a great privilege to speak today on the address-in-reply on the occasion of the formation of the 43rd Parliament. As always when we speak on these occasions, I want to begin by thanking the people of Calwell for their generous support and endorsement of me as their federal member. This is the fourth time that the people of Calwell have endorsed me as their member. I think most members would agree that it is a humbling experience to have been given this very precious opportunity, which comes with privileges but also with responsibility. It is a responsibility that stretches to the representation of the people—in my case the people of Calwell. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously. As the achievements have been great and the challenges many, I want to place on record my full commitment to carrying out the task of representing my constituents, their needs and interests, with the same fervour and passion that I had when I was first elected to this House in 2001.

I want to especially acknowledge all those who worked on my campaign. In particular, I want to thank all my local branch members and party members, community groups, all those who volunteered throughout the election campaign and on election day and of course my staff. Being involved in a campaign is a very difficult and cumbersome business—I think we all know that—and we owe our successes to the people who volunteer their time to help us. So thank you to all those involved in the federal campaign for Calwell.

I also want to take this opportunity to welcome the new elected members to the House. This is a parliament of many firsts. We have our first female Governor-General, our first female Prime Minister, our first Indigenous member to the House of Representatives—the member for Hasluck, I would like to congratulate him on his appointment—and our first member of Muslim background, the member for Chifley. I want to single out the member for Chifley in particular, because my seat of Calwell has the largest Muslim constituency in Victoria and the second largest in Australia. So his election to this parliament is of particular significance to the people of my electorate.

I think these many firsts are a reflection of our country as a land of opportunity. I do believe it makes this parliament more reflective of the diversity of the Australian community and I think we are in a very good position in the 43rd Parliament.

I also congratulate my parliamentary colleagues who have been re-elected in what is a new and very challenging work environment. I put on record my feeling of sadness that many of the members of the 42nd Parliament were not re-elected and my sadness for those who have left us willingly, who have retired. When we come up here we come up in classes. I came up in a class of 2001 and it was difficult for me to part with the former member for Throsby, whose presence in this place I enjoyed immensely. But this is the nature of our job. We come and go and we hope that at the very end we have made some small mark and some difference to this parliament and to our communities.

In the seat of Calwell, Labor achieved a swing towards it in the two-party preferred vote in the election of 2010. This comes on the back of a very large swing to Labor in the 2007 election, which was almost double the national average. It is a reflection of the fact that—and I note this not because I wish to pat myself on the back—for working Australia and for areas such as my electorate of Calwell the Labor Party still resonates as the party that is most responsive to the interests of that electorate. In that sense I am very pleased to be representing a wonderful constituency.

I also take the opportunity to congratulate the Speaker, the Hon. Harry Jenkins, my neighbour in the north of Melbourne but also a friend and colleague. I am very pleased that Speaker Jenkins is presiding over the House of Representatives in the 43rd Parliament. It is a very challenging time for him as well—and for others who are on the Speaker’s panel, yourself included, Mr Deputy Speaker. Harry has executed his role as Speaker magnificently. He has brought his own personal touch of good humour and admonishment. I am sure we all enjoy his speakership and I could not think of any other member who would be better placed to preside over this parliament than Harry Jenkins.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I will convey your sentiments to Mr Speaker.

Ms VAMVAKINOU —Thank you very much. There are many important issues that are going to be debated in this parliament. We have all certainly hit the ground running. For my part I intend to provide an input in these debates and welcome the opportunity to have issues that are important to the Australian people placed high on this parliament’s agenda. Of great importance during this parliamentary term will be proposals put forward to amend the Constitution to recognise our first Australians. It is about recognising the struggle and the enormous sacrifices that so many members of Australia’s Indigenous community have made and continue to make in their efforts towards seeking recognition and justice. It is about honouring the Indigenous people of this land. They are the oldest continuing culture in history. It is about ensuring we continue to move forward in our nation’s long journey towards reconciliation and ensuring that Australia’s founding charter embodies the spirit in which the path of reconciliation is being shaped.

Targets associated with the Closing the Gap report, investment in housing, health, early childhood, economic participation and remote service delivery will help ensure that Indigenous communities across Australia benefit from the government’s agenda. This agenda will see the advancement of the plight of Indigenous Australians strengthened by the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. I welcome these initiatives, which are an important feature of the government’s agenda. I have a very large local Indigenous community—in the north and outer metro of Melbourne—and I know that they welcome the government’s agenda.

I also welcome the government’s continued investment in our health system. I always talk about the health needs of my electorate. The structural reforms that will serve to improve access to health and hospital services will be an important landmark in the improvement of the overall health and wellbeing of ordinary Australians. I strongly believe that the upgrade of primary care facilities into GP superclinics, as well as the construction of new dedicated GP superclinics, will deliver real improvement in front-line health services. The rollout will see the creation of a GP after-hours hotline for families not only in my constituency of Calwell but across Australia. Families will be able to receive support on weekends or very late at night. We know that for families with sick children the evenings are always difficult and the services they require are not always easily available. This kind of investment will ensure that Australians are able to link directly to those qualified to provide the best support but will also help ease the pressure on our emergency departments in hospitals across Australia.

Calwell is home to 162,000 people, with the overall population forecast to grow by 54 per cent from 2006 to 2030. Importantly, the aged population is forecast to grow by 179 per cent from 2006 to 2030. The Hume local government area has a growing community with a high number of young families. By 2013, Hume city is expected to reach a population of 177,299. That is an increase of 10,000 people from 2006, and the population will exceed 240,450 by 2030. With the way time flies nowadays, 2030 is not very far away. It is a phenomenal increase in population. The two groups that are increasing most in population are young families and the elderly, so you can imagine the pressure that that will bring to bear on a whole series of services, particularly health.

That is why the people of my electorate are very much looking forward to the GP superclinic announced for Calwell by the Gillard Labor government. The government has invested $7 million in our community through the national health and hospital reforms. I can assure the community that this will go towards the building of a GP superclinic, which will take pressure off existing health services. It will offer after-hours GP services and provide training for future health professionals. A GP superclinic will address some of the major areas of need and we very much welcome that investment. It is a credit to the government’s strong management of the economy that our community has secured a GP superclinic. Through the Gillard Labor government and the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Australian people can be certain that health will continue to remain a priority for this government in the years to come.

The government’s agenda is comprehensive. The agenda not only takes Australia into the future but is designed to support policies across ministries and departments to cater for a whole-of-government approach. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the government’s continued rollout of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure enterprise, the National Broadband Network. The NBN, in lifting productivity across the nation through high-speed, affordable broadband, will not only expand and create new economic opportunities but improve the delivery of health and education programs that have been announced to date and will be announced in future. Where access to medical specialists is not as readily available, internet based consultations will prove vital to greater accessibility of services. This is particularly important for Australians living in regional and outer suburban areas, who, by the middle of next year, will be able to have access to a new Medicare rebate for these consultations. This will introduce all the benefits of technology to meet the needs of Australians and grapple with some of the problems that the delivery of health services encounters.

There is also the issue of social inclusion and, in particular, addressing the very important issue of homelessness. It is hard to talk about homelessness without talking about a denial of the opportunities afforded to most Australians—opportunities which exist on the premise that a person is living in the comfort and security of a stable home. On any given night up to 105,000 of our fellow Australians are homeless, totally separated from the connection to all that was once theirs and from it losing all opportunities that would otherwise be available to them. With a lack of a point of stability, it is difficult for homeless people not only to obtain and keep a job but also to participate in many other of life’s various aspects.

If we are going to change the landscape of opportunity for the homeless across Australia, we as a government need to create supported and sustainable living arrangements and social housing programs to accommodate our most vulnerable citizens. We need to ensure that, as Australia moves forward into a progressive future, it does so in the company of all its citizens. From key initiatives aimed at halving by the decade’s end the rate of homelessness and offering accommodation to all people who do it tough or sleep out, specialist housing services will be made available and new initiatives, programs and services to tackle issues of social inclusion and housing affordability will be created.

In the Australian context it is home which serves as a basis for all other opportunities afforded to us. Housing targets will only be effective if they are complemented with other support programs. It is primarily an issue of social inclusion. That is why I welcome the federal government’s social inclusion agenda and the creation of new initiatives, programs and services to tackle issues of social inclusion surrounding the efforts aimed at tackling homelessness. Such a multifaceted approach will help Australia tackle this complex social problem.

This is about building a more inclusive society and, despite our strong economic growth and the positive signs reflected through social and economic indicators, there are still entrenched disadvantages affecting the lives of many Australians and, indeed, many of my constituents. The government’s social inclusion agenda aims to increase the level of social and economic participation so that no Australian is left behind and so that, as our economy grows, every Australian is able to tap into the increased wealth and opportunities that come with it.

It is also about continuing to invest in our schools, continuing to invest in communities across Australia and continuing to support social inclusion measures. Of course, education is the great enabler. In recent days I have had much pleasure in being present at the recognition ceremonies for many of the schools in my electorate as their Building the Education Revolution programs have been officially opened. I attended four such openings in the last two weeks, and each and every student, teacher and parent I have encountered is absolutely rapt with the new facility in their school community. They are very grateful and they want me to convey to the government their deep gratitude and their many thanks for the resources that were made available to their school community.

I do want to name some of those schools, because it is very important to recognise the good work that they do. I want to make reference to St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College, which received $4.6 million. They built a magnificent new languages and science centre and a new library. They are absolutely delighted and so am I. Being a former language teacher, I have a particular interest in language centres and I am very pleased that the kids at St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College are going to enjoy learning in a wonderful environment. St Anne’s Primary School in Sunbury received $3.2 million under the National School Pride Program and Primary Schools for the 21st Century, as part of the BER; Sunbury Heights Primary School received $3.2 million—again, under the National School Pride Program; Campbellfield Heights Primary school received $2.1 million; Greenvale Primary School received $3.2 million; and there was $3.2 million for a multipurpose centre at Roxburgh Homestead Primary School.

This is a significant amount of money and these are significant structures. They are not school halls. They have been characterised as school halls and a waste of taxpayers’ money. I want to say to the House that these are not school halls; these are highly sophisticated, high-tech facilities that equip children for learning in the 21st century. They are situated in an electorate that is known for its socioeconomic difficulties. I said that education is a great enabler. It is the means by which we transform the lives of children, and our young Australians need to be given every opportunity possible. It is our responsibility to give them every opportunity possible to develop to the best of their abilities. Children require a complexity of opportunities. Home and school are two of the most significant institutions in the lives of children. We know that when the home environment is out of kilter with the school environment or there are difficulties in the home environment, this impedes the progress of young.

As a former teacher, and having taught in portables, I have a great affection for portables but I also know that teaching in the 21st century must accommodate technology. I do not know what I would be like with the great whiteboards that I saw in my schools last week; I do not think I would be able to use them. But the kids take to them like ducks to water and it is incredible what they can do. Sometimes you have just got to stop and forget the cliches about halls and taxpayers’ money being wasted and acknowledge that a lot of taxpayers in my electorate and across this country believe and recognise that the money spent in the Building the Education Revolution is not only money well spent but money that should have been spent a long time ago.

I want to thank the government for taking my local schools into the 21st century. I make no apologies for the fact that my electorate has received a lot of money, and I know that it will be to the benefit of everyone in the electorate but in particular the young people in my electorate. I do not want to forget Bethal Primary School. Their building is so sophisticated that they do not quite know how to use it yet. Bethal is a school that has been disadvantaged and in many ways has been the subject of a lot of vandalism. The pride that they feel is enough to make one weep. (Time expired)