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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1284


Mr HAYES (12:01 PM) —I would like to start my speech in the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 by acknowledging the heartbreaking situation that is now developing in New Zealand, our nearest neighbour. Clearly New Zealand has a very special relationship with this country. The word ANZAC means much to many, whether they be young or old. It is a special relationship, but now we see our friends in New Zealand in a very special time of need. My deepest condolences go to the families who have lost a life. To all the workers who are working so tirelessly over there, including a number of Australians who have been sent over there in the last 24 hours: I wish them well in their endeavours and I hope we recover more people and rescue lives as quickly as possible. This is another significant time that we in this parliament should be reflecting on, just as we did on the floods in Queensland, the bushfires in Victoria and other disasters, because I think the Prime Minister got it right when she said New Zealand is a family to us.

I am happy to participate in this debate. I want to make some comments about being elected as the member for Fowler. As I was just saying to my colleague the member for Parramatta, Fowler is a very new electorate for me. I need to work very hard to ensure that people understand not only that they have access to me but also that I am in tune and responsive to the needs of that particular community. Things which are very striking out there include the strength of community spirit in Fowler, which has been tested many times. There was a threat to local libraries, with a council decision aimed at closing the local libraries. Also, people came together in a very difficult time to raise money for flood victims—and I know you were in the chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I spoke on the condolence motion about the Queensland flood appeal. There is also the spirit I see in the most multicultural electorate in the country—if we can believe the ABS statistics—particularly in various associations for the elderly and others that not only support the preservation of traditions and culture but also have a very clear support for the ongoing education of people in the electorate at large.

It has been a personal objective of mine to provide as much assistance as possible to the community to achieve these goals by providing information, whether it be on funding or grants as they come forward from time to time, using our database for those organisations as opposed to people having to get out there and read the Herald to determine when and where those opportunities lie. I think it is a role for every one of us in this parliament to go out and help those organisations in our communities that do good work in our community, in effect making their work easier by using what facilities we might have. I have always strived to maintain my promise to the electorate, whether that be my former electorate of Werriwa or my current electorate of Fowler, to be as available as possible, particularly for those in most need. I have found it helpful more recently to deliver a permanent outreach program, to complement what we do with mobile offices. I will talk about that a little later.

I have spoken about the threat to such institutions as local libraries. I could not believe this, but it is true—fortunately, we had a debate in private members’ business on this issue only this week: the Liberal and independent councillors on Liverpool City Council took a decision to close local libraries. Local libraries very much go to the cohesion of our community. They are not just repositories of books, they are not just places where you can go to have meetings, where people can gather; but they are places where people can go and use the internet. A lot of people use our library facilities to apply for jobs online. We have a lot of young people, including people like Ian McNamara, who came from Miller, who gained his love of computers at the local library and has gone on to become a computer engineer. It just staggers me that a group of councillors would take a view such that that sort of rationalisation could just go through on a balance sheet, and they could move to close local libraries. It took many months of strong campaigning by local residents—with the support, obviously, of Labor councillors; and I would also pay regard to the state member, Paul Lynch, who supported the local campaign—to have those Liberal councillors revisit their decision on the first council meeting this year. The result, in my humble opinion, was a victory for common sense. It demonstrated what a community can do through cooperation, through commitment and through a genuine belief in common sense itself.

The individual stories that rose out of that battle show the spirit of the community. I commend the members of my community for standing up and fighting this battle, not only for every kid to be able to access books, in an academic and in a social way, but also to have those facilities retained and made available for all members of our community. It is just so essential. We often talk in here about the development of the love of reading, and yet we see that there are bureaucrats out there who think that is something we can trade off. If we are here, and we are committed to advancing our communities into the future, one of the things we should never attack is the library. Interestingly, local libraries were recently aided by the introduction of a new program which is going to help with greater accessibility for the disabled. Again, in Western Sydney we are overly represented—only because of land values—by families with disabilities. I was happy to be able to draw to the attention of not only the Liverpool council but the Fairfield council—and, quite frankly, anyone who wanted to listen—that they could access further Commonwealth moneys to help with the accessibility of their library space for people with disabilities. Again, that goes to what all modern societies should be looking at: a bigger role and greater undertakings with respect to inclusion.

The community of the electorate of Fowler, in recent times, has also confirmed for me a passion for education. Fowler is an outer metropolitan seat. It is the most multicultural seat in the country. We have a very strong enclave of the Vietnamese people. They have only been here for the last 35 years—since the fall of Saigon. I was very happy to attend the Tet festival, the Vietnamese New Year festival. The highlight of that was making presentations to each of the kids who scored in excess of 99 per cent in the HSC. There were about 35 kids all up. I saw a passion for education and the drive to achieve not only in these commendable young individuals but also in their parents. Some of the parents whom I spoke to told me that they work two jobs in order to ensure that their kids have the very best education. That is very positive from a group who would ordinarily be referred to as ‘new Australians’. The amount of emphasis that they put on education is because they know that the key to success in our vibrant land is a good education. They are ensuring that their children participate.

The other thing that is pretty interesting, given the demographics of the area that I represent, is that the majority of schools have very active P&Cs. The parents take a very active role in supporting not only their own children’s education but the school and the teachers. That was something that I was very interested to see on display out in Western Sydney. The principals and the teaching staff at those schools are the fundamental learning resources to establish the children’s futures. I know them to be very professional and very committed.

I would like to mention one, Beth Goodwin. She is the principal of Cabramatta High School. She was also named the Fairfield Citizen of the Year. Beth does not live in that municipality—I happen to know where she lives, which is in Campbelltown. I get to see what this woman does at school and at every other form of social event designed to include young people in our vast and changing community. She is in there in many different ways, such as through sponsoring or encouraging the participation of young people, whether through Rotary events or other events to do with social inclusion. She plays an extraordinary role.

I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of young people who recently graduated from university but who had been taught by her. One of the young fellows—and I cannot remember whether he was Vietnamese or Cambodian—said that Miss Goodwin gave him his thirst for education and learning. This young man is going to go on and make a significant positive impact in the world that we live. Those are good stories. We should be celebrating, when we get the opportunity, the people who make a difference in our communities. Beth is one of those, so I very much welcome her being named Citizen of the Year. That recognises her passion for education. She brings the world to her students. She is to be highly commended. It is something that we should be encouraging. This reward is well deserved for her contribution to education and her commitment to the region.

While on that, I would like to mention another prominent person. I know her very well, and I should not refer to her age. She retired as a teacher many years back, Norma Shelley. She is better known locally as Auntie Norma. She is an Aboriginal elder and former teacher. I see this woman participate in various events, whether they are Aboriginal specific, about inclusion, about education or in the interests of the development of young people in outer metropolitan Sydney. Her hard work in representing and fighting for the rights of the local Aboriginal community is to be commended. Her role in championing the cause of young people has been tremendous. In our community, the pace of life is probably no different than anywhere else. Everyone has other things to do. People need second jobs to pay their mortgages. It is very good to have someone there who has a firm grasp on reality and who, when decisions need to be made, can take the bull by the horns and stand up and make them. I thank Norma for her years. She just demonstrates so much energy and so much commitment. We in the community are very lucky. I understand how lucky I am as a member of parliament to have people like that in my community to help do good work.

The general philosophy I had when I came into this parliament was not to get out there and promise things that you know you cannot deliver or try to be all things to all people. I took the view that I should, in the first instance, identify those people who make a difference in their community and try to work with them to help them do their jobs better. I am very fortunate I have identified two. They make such a tremendous difference themselves, but I know it is only two of many.

My staff will not be happy because, I suspect, that I have departed very much from what they want me to talk about. But I just want to say that, from a local member’s perspective, one of the best things we can do is to go out of our way not only to learn from our communities but to actually understand those people who do make a difference and to spend our time, effort and resources helping them, regardless of politics.