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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 616

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (18:41): It is a privilege to be in this place. It is an oft-used expression, I know, but it is an apt one because it is a privilege to serve those who voted for me, now on two occasions, and those people who voted otherwise. When I walk through the neighbourhoods of my Western Sydney electorate of Chifley I am very aware that I am entrusted to stand up for local residents, to make sure their voices are heard and to do those things that make their lives easier. I certainly take that role and that task very seriously.

This is my second address-in-reply in this place; in the first instance I delivered it in my inaugural speech. Back then I was able to thank the many people who helped me on my path to this place, and I am grateful to be able to do the same today. But I also want to reflect on the issues I pursued on behalf of Chifley residents during the 43rd Parliament and to focus on those issues that will form the bulk of my work during this term of office.

I am proud to serve as a member of the Labor Party because I believe in its values, and I have for many years. When I first took out my ticket, as a 19-year-old, it was on the basis that, no matter who you are, you are able to have an opportunity to play a part either in building a better neighbourhood or building a better nation. Ours is a party built on the back of the motivations and hopes of ordinary working Australians. It is a party of the battler, and it will continue to be. But, as our country has evolved, so our party has evolved. We retain our commitment to be a party that will press for the greater cause—not opposition for opposition's sake, but looking to create something enduring for the betterment of all, not just some.

I like working for the Chifley electorate. I love the way locals call it as it is. They will tell me to my face or walk into my office and tell my team that work with me how they feel, the things that I should be working on, the priorities that I should have, and I am grateful for that candour. And there are things they are telling me loud and clear that they believe need to be worked on both in the immediate sense and in the longer term sense, and I certainly want to reflect on some of those.

For example, one of the things they are telling me loud and clear is that in relation to their health care they deserve better. They think that the proposed $6 co-payment to visit a GP is a step too far. Six dollars to the constituents I represent may not sound like a lot to many other Australians, but it is a big deal to the vast majority of people I represent. Grabbing $6 here and $6 there from those who can least afford it, from people who look at their weekly or fortnightly budgets and realise that they have their backs against the wall, is a painful prospect. I would hate to think that Australians who really need to see a doctor will not, simply because the extra $6 they will need to find stops them from doing so, and so they avoid attending to their health problems now—at greater cost to them and their communities later on. Or, worse still, I would hate for them to turn up at a hospital emergency department and clog up a system already under strain. Six dollars might be a coffee and a bit more to some, but for others it is a whole lot more. Ninety-nine per cent of the GPs in the electorate I represent provide bulk-billing services—the highest rate in the country. There is a reason for that. People in our area need a healthcare system they deserve, not just one they can afford.

Health care is a big issue for people living in our area of Western Sydney. We have major health problems we are forced to deal with: diabetes, asthma, heart conditions and cancer. For me, it is an absolute priority to ensure that locals have affordable, accessible, quality health care. That is why we want to see Medicare protected as part of the front line of primary health care. That is why we are, for example, fighting the New South Wales government over its diabolical closure of our cardiac ward at Mt Druitt hospital—an unbelievable move. That is why we pushed to get an MRI for that same hospital. I was delighted when the federal government, under Prime Minister Rudd, announced funding for a desperately needed MRI at Mount Druitt hospital. This reflected the fact that over 4,000 people had signed a petition for that very MRI, many of them elderly constituents for whom travel and transportation is a major obstacle and difficulty. You can imagine their dismay when, just before Christmas, official word came through of massive health cuts ushered in by the incoming Abbott government and that the new MRI, which was set for delivery to Mount Druitt, was one of the casualties. It is just wrong, and the people in my area deserve to be treated much better.

The public is not stupid. They watch our actions like hawks. They celebrate with us our victories, both big and small, and punish us when we make promises that are not kept or when we have been callous in the decisions we make. The removal of funding for an MRI at Mt Druitt hospital is one of those decisions that everyday people in the electorate I represent will see as callous. They should not be made to think, for even the slightest, remotest moment, that they are undeserving when other areas are able to access this equipment easily.

Prior to the announcement, when I thought government money was being promised to less-deserving projects, I took a very public stand on this MRI. It was a difficult decision but I honoured the commitment I made to be an advocate for the constituents I represent—for the neighbours and the people in the areas I have grown up in. They are people I am proud to represent and I will continue to do so as long as I am given the privilege. Today, after many trips down the Hume Highway, I have wised up to this place, learning what is needed to keep governments to account, and I will certainly fight for this MRI for Mount Druitt. I have written to the health minister seeking the reintroduction of funds promised by the Labor government last year because I do not think people should be forced to travel long distances for a diagnostic service that could be the difference between life and death for many of them.

It might not mean anything to people outside Chifley—even outside Mount Druitt itself—but the beauty of our political system is that we represent people of all ages and persuasions whether they vote for us or not and, to many, an MRI at Mount Druitt is a very important thing. Four thousand people who were prepared to put pen to paper in a petition thought so at the time and they should have their voices heard.

This leads me to another contentious issue: the National Broadband Network. This was a matter that attracted considerable attention in our area for a number of years. I have worked with residents, NBN Co and Telstra on this issue. We held community forums. I have advocated publicly on this matter and addressed parliament numerous times on the plight of residents in some of the worst affected areas, suburbs like Woodcroft and Doonside. As a result of our collective efforts my constituents were successful in getting included on the NBN Co construction program, which would have seen high-speed broadband delivered to their homes and businesses by a Labor government which had the vision to realise that Australia needed to be brought into the 21st century when it comes to communication. Once the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Abbott government arrived, these promises went out the window. This is from the same member for Wentworth who, when in opposition, said it would be a 'travesty of social justice'—his words—if places like Woodcroft did not get access to the NBN. Despite claiming in opposition that they would honour rollout contracts, the good people of Woodcroft learned pretty quickly that under an Abbott government their suburb would disappear completely off the map—all due to a sneaky redefinition of a coalition promise. Regardless of the tricks and the word games, this stands as another broken promise that suburbs and neighbourhoods in our area will lose out because of. I intend to pursue this during the life of this parliament because, again, these residents simply deserve better.

I am proud to say we have almost 70 schools operating in the Chifley electorate—good schools with great principals, teachers and staff, and keen students. Relative to other electorates, Chifley might be made up of more people on lower incomes; but I can certainly inform the House that there are many hardworking families who place an exceptionally high value on good education. They make sacrifices to ensure that their children get a great education and, as a government, Labor wanted to play a part in helping lighten that load. Families in our electorate treasured the small leg-up that was the schoolkids bonus—$400 per primary student and $800 for secondary students. For many, the schoolkids bonus was not a luxury. It helped families with the cost of living and ensured children's education costs could be met. Yet it was also subject to cruel cuts by an incoming Abbott government which figured it could simply save money by snatching it back from those who need it most.

I attended an award ceremony just before Christmas, one of the many I am lucky enough to attend each year. I gave out a sporting prize to a young boy from a local public school, a boy of humble means; his family are salt-of-the-earth members of the community who, like many, do it tough. As I was handing the award to this young man, his mother stood at the back of the room attempting to take a photo with shaking hands while tears were running down her face. These were tears of pride that her boy, despite all the challenges, had achieved something and was being recognised for it. It was a moment that struck someone who works with me and will stay in his memory for a long time. He said to me that this was 'his day and her day' and that, my friends, is a good day—one we need more of. We need more of those better days to ensure that, besides the help we can offer families with education costs, these families can be confident of the quality of schooling their children can get, that areas of need, like many places within Chifley, will get stronger, targeted support.

This is the thinking that sat at the heart of our Better Schools Plan, the work that was built on the back of the Gonski report. This was a plan that would have seen more effort dedicated towards improving teacher quality and principal autonomy and ensuring that a new resourcing standard would better direct resources to schools in need for smarter outcomes. That transition to better education remains under threat by a new government which seems to focus more on saving money than on ensuring a better outcome in education.

The Gonski reforms were agreed to by governments at the state level, regardless of political persuasion. They realised that an overhaul in education was overdue, that systems needed rebalancing at their base. After pretending during the election to suddenly support the Gonski reforms, the Abbott government did a backflip. After coming into office, and after coming under fire, they backflipped again, promising that the funding pie would remain the same, but with a caveat—it would see only four of the six years funded and the last two years unfunded. Those are years where significant support would have flowed.

There are simply no guarantees by this new government on how the money will be distributed. You can be sure, based on their track record, that elements of the coalition will not focus on education funding that reflects need. This is something that families in the Chifley electorate should be seriously concerned about. A good education should never be for an exclusive club of those who can afford it. It should be afforded to every Australian child.

On Saturday, I was delighted to read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, written by Amy McNeilage, that outlined and destroyed the myth that education standards in Western Sydney are deplorable. The article highlights Rooty Hill High School, in the Chifley electorate, and the vision of principal Christine Cawsey when she took over as principal in 1997. She reflected that even her own staff had suggested at one point that students would not be in need of computers because advancement to a university education in a largely working-class area simply did not happen through Rooty Hill High, which is staggering. She certainly was not prepared to accept that, and she fought for better.

This is what I have discovered in schools in our area. They are saying that not only are students capable but they are expecting more out of students. As a result of that higher expectation, we are seeing results improve across a range of schools. Rooty Hill High School and Plumpton High School are two schools whose results, I have noticed, have gone up. I single them out but I have noticed that there has also been improvement in a number of other schools where there has been similar active leadership. I visit local schools often and I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that university study is today very much in the minds of students in Chifley, largely due to the pioneering work and mindset of people such as Christine Cawsey. Congratulations to her and everyone at the school.

I am also proud of the fact that we invested over our last six years in trades training centres, for example, at Doonside Technology High School, Evans High School and Loyola Senior High School. At those schools, the automotive, electrical, hospitality and hairdressing trades, and a whole range of other trades, are being taught. Those students are proud to take up a trade. They will be on the front line of ensuring that we address some of the skill shortages that hold back the Australian economy. The face of Western Sydney has changed for the better. It seizes on opportunity. That is why I am determined to ensure that we get everything that we deserve, and more, in our area.

Promises made in election campaigns should become a reality when the dust has settled and we are back to business. That is certainly something I live by in my role as a local MP. I will give some quick examples. I said that, if elected, I would fight for better broadband. I did. We were due to get it. It was denied by the Abbott government. I said I would push for better healthcare investment. I did. We were due to get it. It was denied by the Abbott government. I said we would push for better funding to help clean up neighbourhoods affected by antisocial behaviour such as graffiti and vandalism. After a long campaign, we got this. Again, it was denied by the Abbott government. During the last term, I actively lobbied government to invest proceeds of crime in cleaning up areas like Rooty Hill and Doonside, teaming up that funding with the funding set aside by Blacktown City Council. To their credit, council—which spends nearly $1 million per annum on graffiti clean-up—thinks laterally on how to tackle this problem. We saw federal funding combine with council funding on offender rehabilitation via local community groups. We teamed up with schools to help get in early to tackle behaviours that might lead to problems down the track. In August, we announced funding for mobile CCTV cameras to help provide better support for police and council.

Additionally, we saw funding directed to some great groups in our area, such as the PCYC and Marist Youth Care, to find ways of engaging with local youth to help build skills and tap into their creative energy, all with a view to reducing instances of antisocial behaviour while investing in the talent of local young people. Marist Youth Care, working with Blacktown police, saw some terrific results through the Comm4unity initiative. But, after being successfully selected for funding, this funding was ripped from them by an incoming Abbott government that refused to honour the contracts. I am absolutely staggered at the brutal stupidity of this move, which will save money in the short term but cost our community in the long term.

The alternative being pursued by the Abbott government is simply throwing money at CCTV cameras while denying a broad, multidisciplinary approach to cracking down on antisocial behaviour. They should not get off the hook for this, especially with the terrible signal it sends that governments can betray commitments if it suits political advantage. I intend to pursue this further.

While politics divide many of us in this place, we speak as one on this critical point: our elections to this House are not efforts of spectacular individuality. We are truly indebted to the many who give of themselves freely and generously. I start by thanking my family: my wife, Bridget; my son, Sam; my parents; and my parents-in-law. In particular, Bridget's and Sam's kindness in overlooking my extended absence, and being incredibly supportive through that time, meant the world. My sister punctuated that absence by helping me out on my campaign. Sabina remains an inspiration and a source of constant candid, frank counsel. While not family, he spent so much time with us he could be an honorary relation—thank you to Nathan Metcher.

To my federal electorate council, led by president Gayle Barbagallo and secretary Tom Kenny, I extend my deepest thanks. I also thank all the ALP branches for their support and generosity. My deepest gratitude also goes to the state member for Mount Druitt, Richard Amery, and to councillors Charlie Lowles and Edmond Atalla. I thank my friends in the CEPU, NUW, FSU and United Voice, who helped out.

I also want to record my heartfelt thanks to some people who devoted their energies and care to the constituents of Chifley via our electorate office: Nicole Seniloli, Rosanna Maccarone and David Field. Thank you. Thanks to Melisa Mahmutovic, Priscilla Armstrong, Kara Hinesley and Matthew Overton. In addition, I thank Louise Crossman, Danielle Bevins-Sundvall and Solly Fahiz—a worthy competitor on the basketball court as well. Particular thanks go to Ausseela Thanaphongsakorn, who has moved on to start a new, exciting episode in her life. She will be remembered by me for playing such an enormously dedicated part over an exceptionally long period of time. I cannot thank her enough for everything that she did.

There were many, many volunteers who gave so willingly—finishing their day jobs and then helping out after hours and on weekends. They talked to constituents in streets and on phones, they attended shopping centres and cold railway stations with me, they put up posters, they came to community group meetings and they stood at prepoll and polling booths. They were phenomenal and sensational and I cannot thank them enough. Like my friend and colleague the member for Throsby, I also want to recognise the local AEC staff and thank them for all their tremendous effort. I have thanked those volunteers personally. There are too many names here to mention but I would like them to know that, in this House and beyond, I will remember them eternally for their generosity.

I end as I started, reflecting upon the privilege that is extended to us to be able to serve in the House of Representatives. Like some others here, it took me a number of goes to get to this place, but I remain not only grateful but focused upon the job of faithfully representing the people who voted for me, and those who may not have voted for me, ensuring that their voices are heard and ensuring that government has a meaningful impact upon them and their lives and, importantly, that they never feel like they are an afterthought from government, from business or from anyone who operates in our community. The people of Chifley deserve the very best, and it is my firm intention that they get that through this term and, if I am lucky enough, terms beyond.