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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1502


Ms HALL (Shortland) (09:17): Firstly, I want to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill passed through the House yesterday. Whilst I did not manage to speak in that debate, I would like to pledge my support for it and also my support for a referendum to have constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. Listening to the previous contribution in this debate, it really crystallised for me what it is all about. One side of this House opposes everything. It does not support the NDIS. It does not support the education legislation, Gonski—they are very dodgy on that. It does not support the NBN. It does not support the schoolkids bonus. It does not support the tax cuts to low-income earners. It does not support extra money for pensioners. It will not come clean on its position in relation to industrial relations.

On this side, we have a government that for the first time introduced legislation to make a real difference in the lives of people with disability; education reform—the first review of education in the last 40 years; delivery for aged care and pensioners; and workplace relations reform. This week we have seen legislation introduced that will increase flexibility in the workplace.

The government got rid of the Howard government Work Choices legislation that absolutely targeted workers that live in Shortland electorate and other electorates throughout Australia. It is an opposition that has no vision, whilst we have a government that has introduced groundbreaking legislation that will create a lasting reform within Australian society.

The NDIS: as a person who spent most of their working life working in disability, helping people live in the community or finding employment, I know the challenges that are faced by people with disability. I know that each and every day it is a challenge for them. I know that at the extreme end, where people have a very severe disability, it is a challenge for their parents and carers each and every day of their lives. I know that this legislation is welcomed by families and people with a disability. I urge those on the other side of this House to get behind this and work to deliver this to the Australian people.

Education: I looked on the computer this morning and I see $240 million extra for disadvantaged schools and quality teaching. I know from regularly visiting my schools and the most disadvantaged schools, how they have valued the extra money that has gone into them, particularly those low-SES schools, looking at literacy and numeracy. Big changes have taken place. One of the schools in Shortland electorate has got the lowest SES in the whole of New South Wales. It is only a small Catholic school. There has been outstanding improvements because of the investment that has been put into that school and other schools that are disadvantaged within the Shortland electorate. I talk about the Shortland electorate but it is reflected nationwide, and those investments have made real differences in the lives of students. When they leave school and, as they progress through life, they will have many more choices than they previously had.

In my electorate, there has been massive investment in infrastructure in the schools. I have spoken about this a couple of times this week where there has been considerable money invested in schools through the BER program, through the computers in schools, through the national school partnership fund. There has also been nearly a $6 million investment in Floraville Public School with a capital works program. Every school has noticed a difference since this government came to power.

Members of the opposition talk about the BER in a very disparaging way. I can only say that within Shortland electorate it has been very welcome. More than one principal has said to me: 'This is once-in-a-generation investment in education.' You might ask why is infrastructure so important? Anyone who has looked at this issue will tell you that: if you have an environment that is conducive to learning, then students are going to thrive. So that is education.

We look at pensioners: they have had an increase of $172 per fortnight for a single; and a $182 for a pensioner couple per fortnight. Both single and couples' pensions have increased by over $4,000 since this government came to power.

The opposition, when they were in power, ignored the voice of pensioners. Pensioners said that they were doing it hard, they said that they could not manage, and the opposition chose to ignore them when they were in government. We listened and we said, 'Yes, pensioners are doing it hard, particularly single pensioners', so we delivered to them. Look at aged-care reform. We are poised to undertake the biggest change to the aged-care system that has been in place for a very long time—reform that will mean frail aged people will be able to access aged care within their home, reform that will mean that frail aged people will be able to have confidence in the aged care that they receive if they need to move into an aged-care facility, and the financial arrangements will be much better than they currently are. These are big reforms and reforms that are welcomed in the communities that I represent in this parliament.

Look at the Schoolkids Bonus. I have had so many emails from parents saying what a difference it made to them—how they are able to buy the shoes for their kids to go back to school, get the uniforms, get the books, get the rulers, the pencils all the things that schoolkids needs when they start a year—and how valuable it is to them. The fact that it is in two payments is something that they welcome. What is the opposition going to do? If they are elected they are going take away the Schoolkids Bonus. It is really not good enough. It is about delivering to families so that kids can go to school and have the equipment and the things that they need to succeed.

This government has delivered tax cuts to low-income earners. What is the opposition going to do? It is going to rip away those tax cuts. I am really worried about the impact that a coalition government would have on the communities that I represent in this parliament. I really think that you only have to look at their Paid Parental Leave scheme that is going to be delivering to mothers that are on incomes over $100,000 to see where this opposition is focused on. Look at their relationship with the mining companies and their commitment to support mining companies but at the same time making a commitment that they are going to take away the household assistance that has been delivered to pensioners. It is a very sad state of affairs when you have got one side of politics that is only interested in supporting those people that can afford to look after themselves as opposed to supporting the whole of the country—very disappointing.

I would like to turn quickly to health. Health has been an area where this government has invested over $20 billion extra and given money to the states to address the waiting times in hospital and issues in accident and emergency. I know that was money that was needed. I know from when I was on the Health and Ageing Committee and we delivered and tabled The blame game report. That report identified the need for extra money to go into primary healthcare. We have done that. There is the Medicare Locals and local hospital networks—all big reforms—as well as training more doctors and nurses. One of the areas where there has also been a massive improvement is in the area of bulk-billing. In my electorate it was under 60 per cent and now it is at somewhere up around the 80 per cent mark. That is really important when you represent an older electorate in parliament like I do.

There has also been investment in private practice through the Health Infrastructure Program and there has been a number of practices in the Shortland electorate that benefit from that. I will just mention two.

One practice at Jewells, the Jewells Medical Centre, received $500,000, which was the maximum grant. That centre has been transformed into a mini superclinic. It provides services across the board to the patients there and also caters for training of GPs. The other practice I would like to mention is the Windale Medical Centre. It received a smaller grant, but it is in a very disadvantaged area and it has upgraded the surgery so it can provide more services to that community, which is really welcomed.

Industrial relations is an area I would like to touch on very quickly. It is an area where there is a big difference between the government and the opposition. Yesterday the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations announced that there would be more flexibility so that new and expecting mums who wanted to work would receive better support. He also talked about increased entitlements for taking unpaid leave and allowing parents to choose when they would take that unpaid leave; protection for women at work by ensuring they can transfer to a safe job, where it is available; and ensuring that women who need to take unpaid special maternity leave prior to giving birth are not penalised. There are other flexibilities that have been introduced into the workforce that will not only benefit women but also older workers, encouraging them to remain in the workforce and, for that matter, recognising that families also from time to time need some flexibility.

That, along with removing Work Choices, is the government's record when it comes to industrial relations. The opposition's record is Work Choices and the refusal to say what they would do, whether or not they will reintroduce Work Choices. This week we had the Leader of the Opposition introducing legislation into this parliament that was not about providing better benefits and protections for workers but, rather, was about attacking unions. That side of the parliament is about attacking and saying no, whereas we on this side of the parliament are about delivering to people. We are about recognising that Australian communities look to government not only for ideas but for policies that will deliver, whilst those on the other side are all about saying no and failing to deliver to the Australian people.