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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3466


Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (21:00): I well remember several elections ago when my Labor opponent was lambasting me about Gilmore's dubious honour of having the highest unemployment rate in the country. Since then we have since improved considerably, but I might say that record was achieved at the same time that the state Labor government was hitting us with tough new environmental rules. The Shoalhaven, particularly, was swamped with new national parks and reserves as well as many other environmental constraints. Especially restrictive was the legislation severely limiting development within one kilometre of coastal strips, including around any waterways that flowed into the coast.

The new environmental regime effectively discouraged many direct and some indirect investment opportunities for our future. While some of Bob Carr's more pragmatic Labor successors have since back-pedalled on that philosophy, his damaging legacy remains. New South Wales would not have lost a federal seat to Queensland if it were not for the fact that so much of the population decided to desert New South Wales during the Carr term of government simply to escape a state in obvious economic decline. So there is an element of irony around Gilmore's boundaries being expanded to take in the southern areas of what once was the safest Labor seat in the country, Throsby.

In Gilmore we did not have the luxury of a buffer of extensive industry infrastructure nor the diversity of interest to shift costs in response to any economic downturn. Whilst it may have come as a relief for New South Wales residents to finally see the end of Labor in 2011, they still have to live with Labor incompetence in Canberra. I am indebted to my colleague Malcolm Turnbull who coined the zinger phrase 'Morris Iemma comes to Canberra' to describe Labor's election to federal government. How prophetic a statement was that? Peter Hartcher, of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote on 23 May 2008:

This instantly conjures the full horror of the NSW Labor Government in all its rotten, dysfunctional incompetence. And it reminds everyone that that nice man, Kevin Rudd, is actually a part of the same crew that produced the nightmare in NSW.

Have we moved on since then? I doubt it very much. Last year, BlueScope Steel announced massive job cuts in Port Kembla. Just last week, another 56 jobs went from nearby OneSteel. If that is not enough, local manufacturers now face a new crisis, with the Gillard government trying to force through new shipping reforms that could see local jobs slashed because of an increase in shipping costs and delays in gaining access to vessels. The Illawarra Mercury had this to say last week: 'The Illawarra is suffering through its worst manufacturing crisis in recent memory. Fifty-six further jobs are to go, our region is suffering and we are in crisis. There is no other word for it, and anybody says it is not is not living in the real world.'

The article goes on: 'There are many closures happening every day, every second day. There are reductions of staff happening everywhere.' On reading this, I thought, 'Great. The member for Throsby is finally concerned about job losses in his electorate and my adjoining electorate of Gilmore.' But, no, it was the AWU branch secretary, Wayne Phillips, saying the words. It is not often that I agree with a union rep. However, to his credit, as a solution to this ongoing problem, the member for Throsby, a member of the government, said that he had set up a group within the Labor Party to agitate for more action around this particular issue. He talks the talk, but is he going to walk the walk? Job losses do not seem to be a high priority for the government members from the Illawarra, and the member for Throsby has even put time aside so he can pursue his own distractions.

Labor provokes and encourages class warfare, especially through their workplace legislation. They play the politics of envy and resentment. Industrial disputes are on the way up and business is expressing concerns at the way the Fair Work Act is not working. Business is reluctant to hire, retail is in the doldrums, manufacturing is in decline and investment confidence is zero. There is a palpable lack of confidence in the government, as there was in the New South Wales Labor government in its dying days. They just cannot seem to get anything right, so, when the distractions no longer work for Labor, where will they turn? Perhaps they can toy with the idea of censorship, strangling free expression and free comment. The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy toyed with the idea of censorship for the internet, but what was the real agenda? Perhaps censorship is the real purpose of the Finkelstein inquiry. As the Australian commented:

The Finkelstein report is worrying because its recommendations could stifle the media.

People are worried about where this government has put us and worried about where it is taking us. The polls are showing it, depressed retail spending reflects it and the media is replete with reports warning Labor not to rely on the mining profits for its salvation. The silken reassurance of ministers that 'She'll be right' ring hollow. One cannot help but feel that with Bob Carr now in federal politics it is deja vu for New South Wales residents. Gilmore does not have the economic resilience to weather an economic downturn that events across the globe are indicating is a real possibility. Neither is the government in a position to splash money around like it did in 2008 and beyond.

I have serious doubts that the mining industry will be our economic saviour, because worrying reports are emerging that potential investors may start looking in other places because it is too expensive to do business in Australia. Our local manufacturers are just hanging on against the high Australian dollar and soon-to-come burden of the carbon tax. It has been reported that China's steel output will be halved over the next three years, which signals an overall slow in demand in their economy. It is not a good forecast for our economy, so closely linked as it is to that of China. Already the price the government have put on carbon is almost double world standards, yet the government remain bloody-minded towards accepting world parity. Hanging onto a price that is over double that of the global market makes us uncompetitive. We need opportunity, not more taxes and certainly not more regulation.

The government also said they were going to look after regional Australia. Last year, we tried to impress on the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government the importance of fast-tracking the extension of Main Road 92 and the upgrade of the Princes Highway. Both are vital infrastructure projects whose importance grows with the speed of the population, which in the Shoalhaven has been at a rate of about 2,000 persons each year over the last five years. So what did Gilmore get in regional funding from the government? Zero. After looking at the distribution of the first round of regional funding, $140.5 million had gone to Labor electorates and Labor-supporting Independent electorates; $58.1 million went to coalition electorates or Western Australian National electorates. Over 73 per cent of the funding had been directed to shore up Labor. Yet the Shoalhaven's growth rate is way ahead of the growth of necessary local infrastructure, which is simply not keeping pace. There is a single crossing at the Shoalhaven River for road vehicles, as we do not have a railway line south of Bomaderry to the Victorian border. Another will soon be needed to cope with the growing traffic volumes.

As proof of the government's sincerity in this year's budget, I would like to see some serious funding commitments to help the people of Gilmore—budget commitments like funding for local transport infrastructure, including the Princes Highway, and funding for mental health. We want to see the marina project at Shell Cove get a $10 million kick-start and funding for a national disability trust. We need more skills and trade schools for those not going on to tertiary education, as was promised. And where is our GP superclinic that was promised two Christmases ago? We want to see the funding support for a scoping study into the development of Huskisson and Ulladulla boat harbours and, of course, money to help finish the Dunn and Lewis Bali memorial facility. These are all vital projects for the job creation program in a region that has a 10 per cent unemployment level.

Somebody recently said that, as a government, Labor seems to make a good opposition. It was the respected Dick Warburton who said: 'Labor’s obsession with redistributing national income, rather than protecting jobs and growing wealth, is coming back to bite us all in the form of job insecurity and unsustainable pressure on many previously strong industries.'

Gilmore just wants a real chance at opportunity, not the obstruction and frustration of failed policies of successive Labor governments. We need infrastructure projects that deliver real growth opportunities—projects which do not fail or go bankrupt, taking many of our local subcontractors with them; projects which will pay the mortgage and grocery bills for all the residents of Gilmore and reduce the threat of relying on welfare benefits.