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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5193

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (12:50): Minister, I rise to put on the record some of the considerable community appreciation of this federal government's investments, particularly in infrastructure. I am certainly interested in hearing about this issue more broadly but I just want to put on the record in regard to Robertson, on the Central Coast, the reality faced by the community before this Labor government began its vision for fairness and equity for Australian people.

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Ms O'NEILL: The reality, as I understand it, when we came to government—

Mr Dutton: Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the member for McEwen made an offensive remark and I would ask you to ask him to withdraw it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Owens ): Order! I did not hear the remark, but the member might withdraw it. Did you say the member for McEwen? I did not hear him. The member for McEwen will withdraw.

Mr Mitchell: I withdraw.

Ms O'NEILL: As I understand it when the Labor government came into power with an agenda for equity and fairness, an opportunity to access health—not just in the cities but in the regions—was an imperative. The reality was that, sadly, those who live in regional and rural communities have such limited access to essential public infrastructure to be able to receive cancer treatment. We have data that reveals that the city cousins of our country Aussies are surviving cancer at a much higher rate than those who live in regional and remote communities.

All sorts of excuses can be put to a community with arguments that maybe you can attend treatment away from home. In regard to my local people, we live in a spot between Gosford, Sydney and Newcastle. The argument was continually put that if you could not afford private treatment for radiotherapy there was always the option that you could just get on a train or in a car and go to Newcastle or Sydney. Anybody who has ever lived close and personal in a relationship with somebody who is facing the challenges of cancer treatment would know that you might be able to commence such a journey with great hope and great goodwill and support, but the reality is that as the treatment continues, and as the person becomes sicker and sicker in fighting their disease and managing the challenges of the treatment itself, people simply are unable to continue their treatment. That living reality of millions of Australian families requires a structural response.

In the seat of Robertson, certainly the government has delivered a very powerful response to that community need. I was delighted to be able to open the Central Coast Cancer Centre which received an investment of $29 million from this government and $10 million committed by the state Labor government which, I am pleased to say, was honoured by the incoming Liberal government. In my local community that has transformed the lives of those people who find themselves in a situation where cancer confronts their family.

That cancer centre has been open for about six weeks and already I have spoken to four individuals. One of them—a lovely man who is a teacher with a long-standing commitment to education in our electorate and who is also significantly involved in local surf lifesaving—spoke to me at a sponsor's dinner for the local surf lifesaving group. He told me how surprised he was that, in the few weeks since I had last seen him, his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, a piece of infrastructure that he thought was good—something that he had read in the newspaper as a distant government objective—suddenly became extremely significant to his family. With his wife, they are facing a round of radiotherapy treatment to get her well. That deep understanding of investment in infrastructure, in addition to investment in training and a capacity to respond to Australians' needs in regional and rural parts of Australia, is of great interest to me. The reality is that the Central Coast, while it is at my heart, is part of a country in which there are many other centres which need this sort of infrastructure too. I understand there may be as many as 25 cancer centre projects underway and I would be very interested in hearing from the minister about those.

This infrastructure investment in cancer centres, though, is not the only infrastructure investment being undertaken. In addition to providing those services, we need to provide those services in the right place. From my own experience, I have seen the impact of the new Medicare Local facility and organisation at Erina. It is a critical part of enabling our health professionals to work in a preventative capacity. These buildings are signature to what is, in my view, a radical shift in policy—a policy of providing health services designed to wrap around people where they live. In my view, it is the ultimate expression of Labor's view about fairness for all Australians—fairness in health, fairness in education and fairness in the opportunity to access jobs where we live. That is what the NBN will deliver. So I ask the minister to comment on the government's investment in infrastructure and how that contributes to outcomes for individuals and communities right across this country. (Time expired)