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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4117

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (19:45): I have been listening to those opposite talking today on these bills. What a carry on. I want to address a couple of areas raised in this carry on, the first being the NBN and the comments by those opposite about how it is not an investment and how it has not been explained—according to them—in the budget. They do not believe that this is an investment in our future. Only last week, Armidale was switched on. The enthusiasm of that community and their local member was matched only by the wet blanket of the member for North Sydney, who said, 'When the button was pressed, I thought there goes $18 billion.' It continues to amaze me how adept those opposite are in having an opinion on something that they know nothing about.

We had the member for Gilmore in here calling for investment in the regions. She is getting an investment in Kiama Downs, which is near her region. And the member for Throsby agrees with me. If you want to know what the biggest investment ever is going to be—one that will drive local jobs and drive transformational reforms in health and education—you need look no further than the NBN.

On the topic of people having opinions on things that they nothing about, it is interesting that one of the centrepieces of budget reply of the member for Warringah was that the coalition would rollback and scrap the NBN and replace it with a cheaper network using a variety of technologies. So we would go back to the policy that those opposite took to the last election—the gift that keeps on giving. I lamented the demise of the member for Casey as the shadow communications spokesperson. But now they want to talk about how we should have a variety of technologies, which is the policy that they took to the last election. What a vandal. He says that the way this country will go forward is by scrapping the largest infrastructure project in Australian history, which not only is underway but is being switched on regional areas and is about to move to second release sites, including Riverstone in my electorate. Yet again, the Leader of the Opposition has shown that he does not understand the NBN or the budget.

It was interesting to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that we do not need the NBN because speeds of up to 100 megabits were already potentially available to almost every major business and hospital and schools by using a high-speed cable already running past one third of Australian households. That is right: one third. Do not worry; if you live on the east coast, you will be fine. But the other 70 per cent—all of regional Australia and outer metropolitan Sydney—will be left behind. This is the fantasy land legacy left by the wasted Howard years: this delusion that Australia was doing just fine in terms of broadband development while we fell further and further behind.

We know that the Leader of the Opposition used his reply not to bring anything of substance to the debate but just to attack the NBN and call for a market oriented solution for the need for faster broadband. The market has failed. The NBN is the only investment in broadband that will exist in many parts of regional Australia—like Armidale—and in outer metropolitan Sydney, like the new estates in the north of my electorate. We do not need to take my word for it. The United Nations official overseeing communications said: 'The way that I see it here, Australia has undertaken the largest infrastructure project ever. Three to five years from now, Australia will be number one in broadband in the world.' That is a quote that you would never have heard until the NBN project was commenced in this country.

I note that the Minister for Finance and Deregulation has belled the cat here. The Leader of the Opposition and his continual arguments about the NBN figures in the budget. The Leader of the Opposition argued that the investment in the NBN could be used to fund roads and other projects. What he fails to understand—as all those opposite fail to understand—is that the government's $27.5 billion contribution is an investment; an investment on which this country will get a return. You do not need to look any further than the fact that the biggest driver of GDP in any country in the world is ICT development. Australia did not even have a policy on ICT when those opposite were in government.

The carry on regarding the NBN in this budget process has been matched only by the mocking of some elderly and other vulnerable people in our community by those members opposite. For these people, TV is their only point of contact with the outside world. I am talking about the digital switchover and the household assistance scheme, which has been successfully rolled out to something like 40,000 households already. Many of these people who have been and will be provided with assistance live alone. They have no-one else to rely on. Those opposite would prefer to leave them in the dark so that when the analog switchover date comes these vulnerable people will turn on their TVs and get nothing. For those opposite, this is just a big joke. I find that absolutely disgraceful, particularly considering that the consumer expert group that advised on the formation and implementation of this policy includes member organisations such as the Country Women's Association, National Disability Services and the Deafness Forum of Australia. It is an absolute disgrace that those opposite should seek to mock these kinds of people in this way. I will also point out that it is no wonder that the vast expanse of the digital society regards the Leader of the Opposition as a joke when it comes to digital policy in this country. I bet he would be hard pressed to name the digital switch-over date of his own region, let alone that of every other region in Australia. I also point out that the $350 figure is an average cost of the assistance package for households. It is not merely a set-top box; it is a set-top box that is accessible for the elderly and for people with special needs. It includes installation, rewiring, antenna adjustment, demonstrations and access to a free hotline for 12 months following installation.

You need look no further than a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald headed 'Set-top boxes a lifeline for elderly'. I quote:

Critics of the federal government ' s plan to provide pensioners with set-top boxes have underestimated the importance and cost of providing continuing technical help to the elderly and people with special needs … Television is the main point of contact with the outside world for many people …

The article was quoting Chris Mikul of Media Access Australia. It looks at the case study of a pensioner who bought a set-top box so that her analog TV could receive a digital signal. She then had to spend $300 on a new antenna, and the technician helped her to set the system up and taught her how to switch between broadcast television, DVDs and videos.

As I have said, this has been rolling out to tens of thousands of Australians already. I do not believe that pensioners and vulnerable people should be left in the dark when it comes to this issue. I also point out that if you want to look at the rationale for this you can go back a few years and find it. Have a look at the Digital Action Plan for Australia, which says:

The Government recognises that some Australians may find it difficult to make the switch to digital—due to either personal circumstances or geographic location. Digital Australia will be prepared to provide information and technical support to communities and individuals who may find the switch a little more challenging.

It is interesting: that is the Digital Action Plan put in place by Senator Helen Coonan in late 2006 when she was the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I find it absolutely ludicrous that those opposite should criticise a scheme that is actually based on a policy that they sought to implement when they were in government.

I happen to care about older Australians and their participation in the digital economy, which is why last week I was very pleased to visit the Seventh-day Adventist aged-care facility in Kings Langley, which benefited from $6,700 under the Broadband for Seniors Kiosks program. This provides free broadband access, computer training and up-to-date technology to help seniors keep in touch with their families and friends. It was a delight to be able to go to this facility and see how this government is investing in ensuring that no-one is left behind when it comes to the digital revolution, not only when we make the switch from analog to digital but also as broadband is rolled out and made accessible.

I mention a couple of other projects in Greenway that have benefited under this budget. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre with the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services. We announced expanded federal government support for emergency relief services under this budget, and that provides vulnerable people with assistance with groceries, clothing, transport and pharmacy vouchers. These emergency relief services are crucial to supporting some parts of my community. There was $400,000 set aside in the budget for emergency relief providers in Greenway. It was greatly appreciated by service providers, including the Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre. To quote Ms Barbara Rowe, the administrator of the centre, 'All the volunteers were so appreciative of the fact that the federal government was able to deliver to them on this point.'

In their words, advocacy for the needs of residents in Riverstone has its unique challenges. It is geographically located on the edge of the Blacktown LGA, it is on the fringes of Penrith and the Hawkesbury and there is a risk that governments incorrectly perceive Riverstone to be well served by neighbouring facilities and services, the result being that Riverstone is too often overlooked. It gives me great pleasure to say that the funding announced for Riverstone's emergency relief services was certainly not an oversight. The Riverstone Neighbourhood Centre does an outstanding job in administering this emergency relief to many people who may be struggling in the northern parts of Greenway. As the workers and volunteers attested when the parliamentary secretary and I visited, the GFC was devastating to so many families who are still attempting to recover. Some people are struggling as a result of this patchwork economy that we find ourselves in, and this government is committed to helping those people in their times of need. One of the most important elements is that this funding comes in a three-year contract for service providers, which gives them the certainty to continue providing their services.

The other aspect of this budget with which I am particularly proud to be involved is its jobs focus and it jobs focus on Western Sydney. We have seen the investments of $100 million in national apprenticeship mentoring as well as a $281 million support package of additional tax-free payments to encourage apprentices in critical trades to complete their qualifications. In Greenway there are over 3,000 apprentices who stand to benefit from this investment. It is of immeasurable benefit to young people in particular. I was delighted last Monday to be joined by the Treasurer at Cumberland Ford in Blacktown to see firsthand the benefits of investing in local apprenticeships. I thank Mr David Stevenson and Mr John McInerney from Cumberland Ford for their commitment to producing apprentices who are work ready and who are skilled up and to ensuring that they can deliver in the workforce. During our time at Cumberland Ford I met with the Ford Apprentice of the Year for 2010, Mr Justin James, who told me that taking up an apprenticeship was the best decision of his life.

I am so pleased that this government realises the need for a highly skilled workforce, and that is why we are investing in training skilled workers in their apprenticeships. As we know, there is a large dropout rate amongst apprentices. This budget will work to support 200,000 trade apprentices over four years in skills shortage occupations to stay in their training and to get a job.

As so many people in my electorate tell me, so many of the social ills that are raised with me as I go around the electorate and speak to people are the result of young people and others not having long-term employment and not having meaningful training that makes them job ready. This investment is exactly what the residents of Greenway have been asking for. One of the key indicators of someone's health, as we know, is whether they have a job—whether they are healthy in terms of not only their physical health but also their mental health and the dignity that work provides to ensure that they can contribute to society. I would like to end by talking about the investments in health that are also being made in Greenway. Last week I joined the Minister for Health and Ageing at the Children's Hospital at Westmead to announce the changes under the federal budget where children under the age of 16 will get MRI scans more quickly and cheaply, and there will be new licences for more than 60 existing MRI machines across Australia. That includes an upright MRI machine for the Western Imaging Group in Blacktown. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for Health and Ageing for responding to the many representations I have made about the need for more licensed MRIs in the seat of Greenway.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 34. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member for Greenway will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.