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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1786


Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for the Environment) (18:50): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a real pleasure to be able to present the address-in-reply in your presence. I want to start from perhaps a slightly different place than one would ordinarily imagine in a speech such as this. I want to begin with four personal goals for the term of government. We each come to this place as representatives of an electorate, and we each come with a focus on what we can do under the Constitution for those whom we represent. I want to begin with a focus on assistance for, firstly, vision-impaired children; secondly, children of parents with a mental illness; thirdly, overcoming Indigenous blindness; and, fourthly, adult literacy. Then I want to present my plan for the electorate of Flinders.

I begin with a real tribute to success. Over the last half decade, I have had the great joy and privilege of working with Alan Lachman and his wife, Maria. Alan and Maria approached me about the fact that their beautiful daughter Francesca, who has profound blindness, did not have access to specialist teaching care. They had returned from living in Europe and were surprised and distressed that there was no equivalent teaching facility in Victoria for vision-impaired children. They believe that each parent should have the choice to mainstream their child or, where necessary, to have specialist teaching. So they set about on what seemed to be an impossible task, and that was to establish an individual school for vision impairment. There are 80 specialist schools in Victoria but not one of these is dedicated to the needs of children with vision impairment or profound blindness. It seems an extraordinary gap in the system—and it is.

It has been one of the great privileges of my time as a parliamentarian to work with Alan and Maria and the team they established in creating The Insight Foundation. Prior to the coalition government's victory in the Victorian election I worked with my state colleague, the Hon. Martin Dixon, and he pledged $2½ million for assistance to The Insight Foundation. They were successful in attaining government and those funds were allocated. Prior to the current election, I worked with the member for La Trobe, Jason Wood, and, in particular, with Senator Mitch Fifield, who is now the relevant minister with a great personal interest in and passion for those with differing degree of disability and challenge. We were able to secure, with the grace of the now Prime Minister, $1½ million for Insight. These two grants together have allowed Insight to become a school. There is now a school for the blind in Victoria—a school for those who are vision impaired. It has been an absolute joy, thrill and labour of love and it has been challenging and painful in many, many ways—but what an outcome! If there is nothing else that is achieved in my time in parliament, that alone will have made it worthwhile to have been here.

I wanted to update the House on where we were at and the goals going forward. I spoke with Alan Lachman just before commencing this address. The school has been operating since early last year. It has been doing it in difficult digs. The families, students and teachers have all put up with substandard accommodation as they have been working on the construction. But we are now less than four weeks away from a new permanent, purpose-built, bespoke facility on the grounds of the Monash's Berwick campus. Monash University, to their eternal credit, has joined with Insight and provided the land. I believe that is being done at a peppercorn rent rate. I hope that is a correct statement to the House, but I understand it is. They have also offered the services of some of their professorial and other staff to work in building the strength and quality of the teaching program. So it is not just the physical space. It is not just the buildings; it is not just the school. It is the capacity to make this Insight centre for education an Australian leader—indeed, a world leader—in education for these absolutely magnificent children.

So where are we at now? We have a specialist primary school offering an expanded core curriculum—braille; orientation and mobility; social interaction; independent living; recreation and leisure; career education; assistive technology; sensory efficiency; self-determination; extracurricular activities; and therapies. There has also been engagement with the Hugh Williamson Foundation. That is to assist mainstream enrolled students of all ages and incorporates four programs: Insight support skills—offering students at mainstream schools extra support and assistance; parent support; early learning, for those aged nought to six; and life transition, which is all about providing assistance for children moving from Insight to mainstream secondary, and from secondary to work. I hope that at some stage we can further expand the facilities available to Insight.

This has been a great dream, driven by two parents—and many, many other parents whom I have encountered along my way—who have created something real, magnificent and important and borne out of a deep sense of love for their daughter Francesca. It has been one of the great honours of my parliamentary career to have in some small way assisted the establishment, development and funding of the Insight school for vision-impaired children.

Going forward, there is a second great task that I wish to pursue over the course of this term which builds on the work from my last term in office, and that is to assist those children of parents with a mental illness. For the first time, last term I acknowledged that I came from a home where my mother had suffered mental illness. She had bipolar and schizophrenia. On the scale of things, it was nowhere near as bad as that faced by many families, but it was significant and for her it was deeply traumatic. I had a happy childhood—I do not want to any way seek to derogate from that—and I was given enormous support, love and care from both my father, who passed in the last year, and my mother. My mother struggled with mental illness for many of her last years. When this was made known I was asked to become a patron of the Satellite Foundation.

The Satellite Foundation is a Victorian based organisation dedicated to assisting the children of mental health sufferers. They are a wonderful group of people. They are really first class. They provide an absolutely critical service in helping the children of mental health sufferers cope with, understand and make their own way forward from very difficult family circumstances—as I say, far more difficult than any circumstance which was faced in my own upbringing. In particular, Satellite deals with stigma, shame and prejudice through peer group activities, which I have been part of, have attended and observed and through which I have engaged with many of the teenagers, in particular, but also younger children of parents with significant mental illness. The support offered by the Satellite Foundation represents a lifeline to these teenagers and children. They can be isolated and confused. Many times the cared-for becomes the carer. The support of the Satellite Foundation means that that these children and teenagers can be given a path so that it is not inevitable that they suffer anxiety, stress or depression and can make their own way forward. The Satellite Foundation has found success with the support of board members who juggle full-time work and parenting responsibilities.

I want to achieve bipartisan support for working with the Satellite Foundation to establish a national program for the children of mental health patients. We could do this across the table in good faith, with nobody seeking to achieve any personal advancement from it and in the recognition that at our best as a parliament we are able to work together. There are many good examples of such bipartisanship. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Health of the terms of reference for the review of mental health services and programs. My goal for the review is to in some small way ensure that there is a line of funding to assist organisations such as the Satellite Foundation to help the children of mental health victims. It would be a worthy outcome. But it is personal; I am not in any way professing that the finding of such funding is a policy outcome guaranteed by the government. But the finding of such funding is incumbent upon me in my role as a member of parliament.

The third personal objective for this term of government I want to achieve is the eradication of blindness among Indigenous youth. There are so many challenges for young Indigenous Australians—whether it be eliminating substance abuse or improving educational attainment and economic conditions—but Indigenous blindness in Australia is to an extent unavoidable. Having worked with Professor Hugh Taylor, who is the Harold Mitchell Chair of Indigenous Eye Health at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, I would like to work towards eradicating avoidable Indigenous blindness by the end of this decade. It may be that we have to extend the achievement of this goal to 2025, but my understanding is that there are 1,400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are needlessly vision-impaired from diabetes—which is a disease we can address—and 3,000 Indigenous people who have lost their vision as a result of avoidable cataract blindness. This last figure is 12 times the national average. Professor Taylor believes that 94 per cent of vision loss among Indigenous Australians is avoidable, so my personal goal is to have the eradication of avoidable Indigenous blindness included among the outcomes in the next assessment of Closing the Gap. I think that, by 2025, as a nation and as a people and—above all else—as a community we can legitimately aim to eradicate avoidable Indigenous blindness. There are many other issues in Indigenous Australia, but we can potentially control this one.

The fourth and final personal objective for this term of government I want to achieve is the improvement of the rate of adult literacy, particularly within the electorate of Flinders in the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port. Functional literacy is a silent problem, and there is a great deal of shame and stigma associated with it. Functional literacy can be a result of family background, of educational background, of issues such as dyslexia or of growing up in a non-English-speaking background either here in Australia or overseas. The most recent Australian adult literacy statistics were released in October last year. They show that 12.6 per cent of adults in Australia attain only level 1 or below in literacy proficiency. That means they have only the most basic grasp of reading and writing. This makes their lives hugely difficult: it affects their work; it affects their social life; it affects their ability to read; and it affects their sense of self. This 12.6 per cent of adults in Australia needs our help, so one thing I would like to develop over is a renewed focus on adult literacy within the parliament. Improving adult literacy is both a state and national goal—in its essence it is an Australian goal. I believe that we should work both across the chamber here and between the Commonwealth and the states for an adult literacy compact building on what is already in place.

The four goals I have spoken about represent the real work I want to do in this parliament—beyond, of course, the work I do in my fortuitous role as a minister of the Crown with responsibility for the environment and, in particular, the great joy of the work I do in representing my electorate.

I will now set out briefly some of my goals for my electorate. I want to make sure that we protect and maintain the long-held green wedges which are part and parcel of the Mornington Peninsula. I worked with the community there on protecting Arthurs Seat and Red Hill from the construction of a tip, and it was very satisfying. I am working with the Mount Martha football and cricket clubs on an upgrade of facilities for them, and the life saving club is about to commence a program of tearing down their old clubhouse and building a new one. Many people have been involved in finding the funds to do so. The same goes for the long-held goal of an aquatic centre for Rosebud, something I believe in. I believe that the overwhelming majority of people on the Southern Peninsula support it and we will just keep going until that is done. We want to keep going on the Point Nepean task of a national centre for coastal climate or equivalent activity, protecting Shoreham and working on the environmental outcomes through the Green Army for Mt Martha, the Southern Peninsula foreshore, for the Red Hill biolink and the Mornington Peninsula war on weeds.

In terms of Western Port, we will just keep going until there is a 24-hour police station at Somerville, which will also serve the people of Baxter and Pearcedale. We want to work with Tyabb and Pearcedale on the same task of protecting against inappropriate development and also to ensure that there are more jobs, investment and technical training for Hastings and Somerville, protecting the unique character of Flinders and Shoreham and ensuring that the fire station project in Crib Point is done. I am delighted that the residential project in Hastings for those with disabilities has been completed.

In terms of Phillip Island and Bass Coast and the nearby areas in Cardinia, the Kooweerup bypass is underway. We want to work to ensure there is adequate flood protection for Koowerup, Bayles and Lang Lang. On Phillip Island we just have to keep going until hospital facilities in terms of a progressive upgrade are in place. We have $2.5 million ready to co-invest with the state and we are having productive discussions with the state.

The new schooling model which the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, announced maybe allows us to work towards a secondary school link to one of the primary schools through the independent schools model on Phillip Island. Similarly we are going to work for additional police facilities in Grantville and reticulated gas for Phillip Island and the Bass Coast. These are tough challenges but they are achievable. I do not want to overpromise, I want to set the goal and the task and the target.

Against that background, it is always a privilege to stand at the dispatch box in this parliament, not just because we can speak but because we can represent our community. I end by returning to the beginning: one of the great privileges of my time has been to work with people such as Alan and Maria Lachman, to see the way in which two inspired parents can unite a community, can create a legacy and establish a school born of the deepest feelings of love and support for their magnificent daughter, Francesca, and to establish something such as the Insight school for the vision impaired. I thank the House for the opportunity. I thank the electors of Flinders for the opportunity and I look to people such as Alan and Maria when I say they represent the very best of Australia.