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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5417

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (16:43): I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and related legislation before the House and to the budget. The areas that I will concentrate on are health—one of the big issues, as always, in my area and with some much needed services and funding—and some of the capital expenditure on schools, roads and the regions, and the NDIS.

I will start with health. The Friday before the budget was a great day in the Northern Rivers region because I was able to announce that there would be $60 million in fully budgeted federal funding towards a decent start on the long awaited stage 3 of redevelopment of Lismore Base Hospital. It is a project that the community has lobbied for for a long time. I have been leading that lobbying. Really, some of these things should have happened at state level and they had not—other things had happened but not that. Under the Health and Hospitals Fund, $475 million was prioritised to the region. The Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment went forward as a project and got through on its merit and we were able to get $60 million. It means that the emergency department will be able to get started. There are a few other areas, but the emergency department is very important. I feel good at being able to announce it. It was a pleasure to host the federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek. She was with me at the Lismore Base Hospital. As well as thanking her I also thanked the previous health minister, Nicola Roxon, who recognised my efforts to keep this vital health infrastructure project on track.

I have got many health services in my seat of Page but Lismore Base Hospital is a key referral hospital. From that perspective it can be seen as a national priority. So the redevelopment is a great win for the community, health planners, doctors, nurses, support staff and even our local newspaper, the Northern Star, who worked on that campaign as well. They all worked with me and with the community towards securing this funding breakthrough.

I was also proud that, as a result of my strong lobbying for other things in the community, some additional money was granted, with $2.5 million in federal funding going to St Vincents Private Hospital in Lismore, a hospital that for a long time has sat alongside our public hospitals delivering complementary services. That money will go towards building two new operating theatres for general, neurological and ophthalmic surgery and relocating and refurbishing an existing endoscopy suite. The hospital also put in some money—it was a half-half situation.

There was a trifecta of health announcements, with $4.3 million in federal funding to build a new community health centre in Yamba. That will offer outpatient clinics and facilities, and mental health and dental services. I want to pay special tribute in this place—I have done so publicly—to Yamba based health advocate Jim Agnew OAM. He has for many years led the community campaign for this much needed facility, which will be a base for community nurses working in the Lower Clarence. Since my election in 2007 I have had many meetings with Jim. I strongly lobbied both health ministers—firstly Minister Roxon and then Minister Plibersek—in order to keep the project on the radar for federal support. It had huge support locally. Bless Jim: he had even drawn up his own plans. I used to say, 'Jim, really, we need to leave that to the health experts,' but he drew up his own plans as well. I have to say he has done well. He has learned a lot about health over the years. He previously lobbied for the ambulance station. That was something he had turned his mind to. That went on for years and when we got it he turned his mind to the community health centre, and we worked together tirelessly on that.

Minister Plibersek, our health minister, was in my electorate, so to make the most of the visit I took her to Grafton Base Hospital, where the redevelopment is going on. A lot of it is done but there is still some underway. Twenty-nine million dollars is going into that project, $4 million of which came from the previous state government. After that, the health minister officially opened the $5 million Grafton GP superclinic. Both of those projects were major election commitments of mine, so it was very pleasing and exciting, and it was just wonderful for the local community.

In speaking on health, I also want to talk about the dental announcements that were in the budget. I was so pleased to see the money that was announced, the way it has been divvied up and the number of areas it is covering. First of all, there was $345.9 million for the public dental waiting list. According to the national dental advisory council, that will address the current 400,000 people on waiting lists around the country. Then there was the $10.5 million for oral health promotion, to develop a national oral health promotion plan, and funding of $35.7 million for expansion of the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program. That is a really good program, because that will offer up to 100 places per annum to increase the dental workforce to be able to deliver more dental services through a national scheme. Also, there is the funding available for the rural and remote infrastructure and relocation grants for dentists. That is an important project, because we have seen that work with local GP clinics in our areas. We have seen it all over Australia. There is no reason why that should not operate as well for dental practices. So it is good that that is in there. Then there was funding of $450,000 for non-government organisations to coordinate further pro bono work by dentists. There are a lot of dentists who are providing that wonderful work pro bono, but it does require administration. There is always a cost with administration, just to organise it and make sure it flows properly. So that money there to facilitate that is really helpful. It just means that that project can continue and those dentists who provide that pro bono work will be able to do that without that extra cost.

It is good to see these things happening, particularly in my region. I see them in other regions in Australia, but obviously for me as the member for Page it is great to see them happening in my electorate. They are things that we work for and that I worked for—and worked with the community for, because when I work on these projects I do not do it single-handedly; I do it with the community in a sense of community. It just demonstrates that it is a real need and has that widespread support. That is really important, as everybody knows. As every member in this place knows, when we are lobbying it is really important to show that that support is always there.

I want to talk a little bit now about the investment in the schools through the BER project. In the Page electorate, there has been an investment in schools as capital investment in new libraries, classrooms and halls. Quite a large number of the schools were able to get what I call some of those extras. They were very clever in the way that they were able to design and build those new buildings, being able to incorporate other uses into halls, extra rooms, walkways and all sorts of things. It has been really pleasing as I go around to the opening ceremonies and also the recognition ceremonies to see how creatively some of them were done. Also, I have been involved in quite a lot of them as they were being done and have been giving some assistance.

Last Friday I was at two: one in Nymboida in the Clarence Valley and the other at St Joseph's Primary School, two different schools of different sizes. Nymboida is a small country school and a beautiful school. They even have their own chooks, their own eggs and things like that, so it is a delightful school. I saw what a difference it made by having a new room, a library, an interactive whiteboard and things like that. When I am in the schools I always ask the children what they think. The children tell you very honestly and openly exactly what they think of everything, so it is always good to get their feedback. They rattle off a whole a lot of things: 'It is better to be in,' 'We can put our books down,' 'We've got more books,' 'We've got the interactive whiteboard,' and 'It's just a nice building to be in.' It is better for the teachers.

I was also at St Joseph's Primary School in South Grafton and opened that. Often, when I open them in the Catholic schools, the bishop is there to do a blessing. I just want to read a little bit here. The Diocese of Lismore—that is the diocese that handles the buildings; it is the diocese that covers the area across the North Coast and organised the BER project across the North Coast—also produced a report. It is a great report, and they highlight how everything worked and cover each project in each school. The then Director of Catholic Schools was Dr Anne Wenham. With the report she sent a letter to the Prime Minister. It said:

Dear Ms Gillard

…    …   …

It is my pleasure to enclose a copy of the Diocese of Lismore Building the Education Revolution 2009-2012 Report.

She went on to say that:

… this Report is an important record of the response of parish school communities to the opportunities presented through the Building the Education Revolution program.

This unprecedented funding of schools throughout Australia was a strategic and much appreciated investment in schools as well as a significant support for the local economy through employment opportunities.

That is exactly what is was designed to be. It was stimulus money. It was to get the money out there into the community for the local economy and for employment, and it was an investment in our schools which will last way beyond the GFC. It worked, and I talk about that when I am in the schools. I say that that is what it was designed to do and that is what it did. It is so pleasing to get around the schools and see the result.

In the report there is a covering statement from the Bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett, and I will quote a few things from it. He starts off with:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,—

Then Bishop Geoffrey goes on to say—

From the outset I stipulated that BER funds be applied in a considered and equitable manner;

He talked about the common good for each decision and said:

A management system was then developed that was robust yet flexible with clear policy in key operating areas.

He also said:

The Commonwealth Government can be assured that the BER funds provided to the Diocese of Lismore have been put to good use.

I can attest to that, having seen the investment and also read a lot of the documentation. He went on to say:

… the Building the Education Revolution program has succeeded in providing Australian families with much needed school facilities and stimulating business activity in local areas.

He further said:

To all involved "congratulations on a job well done!"

I say the same to everybody who has been involved in the BER program in all the schools. I know there was a lot of commentary about it, particularly in the Australian newspaper. I was involved behind the scenes, and when I went to the schools I saw that everybody was happy with having that investment in their school.

Sometimes I read about issues with the BER, but they are things that happened with building projects. I have never seen a building project where you did not have to get the builder, the plumber or somebody else back to do something. That happens when you do things at home. You had to differentiate between what was happening when some people were talking about issues in schools. I saw some of that. It was a great project.

I only have 20 seconds left, so I mention the NDIS and the statement that Minister Crean put out for stronger regions and a stronger nation. I am pleased to see some of the funds flowing to the regions and, as the minister says, with some of that mining boom coming to the regions.