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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1074


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (16:11): Three years ago I delivered my maiden speech in this place. Since that time I have spoken on many occasions because of my very firm view that this chamber is the very heart of representative politics. During the last term of parliament we heard constantly of the so-called 24-hour news cycle, but can I say that, as important as a free and vibrant media is to our democracy, it is this parliament that is and must be the real bastion of debate. Madam Speaker, I was pleased with your comments last week that this chamber is a place for robust and spirited debate where that debate is not hindered and blinkered by those who would hide behind standing orders rather than come to this place ready to openly debate the issues of the day.

What issue could be more important today in this first session of a new parliament than the central issue of the election campaign in which the Labor-Greens alliance was comprehensively defeated—the central issue of the carbon tax and its repeal? Australians understand the concept of a fair go. They also understand that when they have voted to reject a government as clearly as they did some weeks ago that the incoming government will implement its policies. It is as simple as that. How tawdry is this opposition in denial, refusing to accept that the people of Australia have spoken and contemptuous of the public will? This opposition needs to be reminded that on 7 September we had an election, the people spoke, the Labor government lost and their policies were rejected. My advice to the opposition is: if you do not want to be part of the debate on our nation's future, if all you want to do is prevent debate in this House, then get out of the way because this is a government with work to do, promises to keep and an economy to rebuild.

Three years ago I was humbled to receive the trust of almost 100,000 Ryan electors to be their representative in parliament. I am honoured to be here today, re-elected by the men and women of Ryan. The last three years have been both a great privilege and a challenge. From the outset my first term was met with Queensland's worst flooding in over 35 years. The January 2011 floods swept away many homes and lives. It was to the credit of the Ryan community, including the Defence Force, that residents achieved in just three days of clean-up what had taken three months after the 1974 floods.

The value of volunteers was truly displayed during the 2011 and 2013 summers of natural disasters. I have had the honour of acknowledging the work of many of the dedicated volunteers in my electorate through the Ryan Community Service Awards, which recognise the remarkable people in my electorate who devote their lives to their community across the full range of community needs, from mental health support for teenagers to teaching literacy skills to refugee families, local environment groups, and school and supporting organisations. Volunteers are the heart and soul of Australian communities. They are so often the difference between hope and despair. My years of involvement in my community in Red Cross, Zonta and so many other wonderful organisations, such as the Multicultural Development Association, prove this to me time and time again. I salute you all.

Within my electorate I support many hundreds of community organisations, and I want to take a moment to highlight three of them. These are the Glenleighden School, the McIntyre Centre, and the Hear and Say Centre. The Glenleighden School at Fig Tree Pocket encourages achievement over adversity, helping children overcome their impairments at a young age with the integration of multidisciplinary perspectives on intervention, including specialist teaching, speech language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, music therapy and psychology.

One mother who wrote to me described the Glenleighden School as a godsend. Without the school, its therapists and its supporting community she felt her son would have had no career, no future and no friends. Since sending her son to the Glenleighden School she has become a more positive mother, knowing that her son will one day thrive despite his disabilities. These sentiments are shared by many of the parents who have moved closer to and/or taken second jobs to put their children through Glenleighden, to ensure that their children receive the support and early intervention that they need.

The McIntyre Centre at Pinjarra Hills provide quality horse riding programs in a caring environment for young people and children with a disability for the purpose of enjoyment, recreation, sport, education and therapy. Each week 30 horses are provided for riding lessons for more than 170 people with varying disabilities. Operating six days a week, the McIntyre Centre have a dedicated team, including more than 100 hard-working volunteers, and with strong local business support they have had a real impact on helping young people with a disability develop an independent life and social skills.

The Hear and Say Centre is recognised as a global leader in teaching children who are deaf to listen and speak. It has one of the most prominent specialist paediatric hearing and implantable technology programs in the world. Hear and Say's goals are aligned with the coalition's national health goals—they deliver frontline early intervention and hearing services for more than 600 children and families. It is committed to quality health services for all Australians, irrespective of where they live. Indeed, almost 70 per cent of families now access Hear and Say services from outside Brisbane. I have been happy to provide my support to these and many other groups within Ryan, groups that really make a difference to those in need.

Let me talk about defence. I am an Australian who is proud of our defence forces. They stand ready to go to war as and when their nation directs. These young Australians put their lives on the line day after day for us, the people of Australia. During the previous term, I attempted to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face and the opportunities to improve their lot. Madam Speaker, as you and many of our colleagues on both sides of this chamber have done, I participated in exercises—in my case with our troops in Exercise Talisman Sabre off the Queensland coast, with the Black Hawk high altitude training in the north of Papua New Guinea, and in 2012 with our troops in Afghanistan. My respect for these great Australians grows with my every involvement. My father knows the challenges of war and of prisoner of war camps; my son is a serving officer. But it is these interactions and my involvement with Gallipoli Barracks in Ryan and my local RSLs that serve as constant reminders of the contribution our service men and women have made and continue to make on our behalf, of the sacrifices of their families and the never-ending obligation that we all have to be steadfast in our support.

In Ryan, I particularly note the remarkable service of the men and women based at Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera. They are part of our Ryan community and we are proud to have them, just as I am proud to be part of a government that has such a strong commitment to protecting our national interests and supporting our servicemen and women and, significantly, supporting our veterans. And, as we talk about our veterans, I am reminded that in my maiden speech I spoke of the importance of indexing the DFRDB and DFRB so that Australia's defence personnel entitlements better reflect the contributions and sacrifices they have made. I was disappointed to see that the Labor-Greens coalition, when in government, refused the opportunity to adopt a bipartisan policy of fair indexation of DFRDB and DFRB in a similar manner to the age and service pension models. By 2010 there had already been six parliamentary inquiries, all finding in favour of fair indexation. Instead, Labor imposed a carbon tax, driving up the cost of living with no compensation for our veterans. Shamefully, in June 2013 veterans received an increase of a mere 0.1 per cent.

I have had countless conversations, emails and letters from my constituents about fixing the deeply flawed and unfair Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme. Labor's plan created two classes of disabled veterans: those with qualifying service and those without. I have spoken to some of the most disabled veterans in my electorate who do not receive any assistance under this scheme and, as you could imagine, they are frustrated and angry. Nationally as many as 1,500 of our most disabled veterans are ignored under Labor's scheme. This is because they receive the special rate of TPI but do not have appropriate qualifying service as defined by the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. I am proud to be part of a coalition team with a real plan to fix this situation. Under our plan more than 80,000 disabled veterans would be provided with financial relief under a comprehensive Veterans' Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme, where there will no longer be two classes of veterans and all veterans with a disability will have no out-of-pocket pharmaceutical expenses. Our plan reduces the unnecessary red tape surrounding veterans' reimbursements.

Politics has to move on from the focus-group and opinion-poll led decision making that characterised the last government. Some issues cry out for action. One of those is aged-care reform. Aged-care providers in my electorate tell me of their disappointment at the last government's neglect of their sector. After five years of that neglect, our aged-care system needs urgent change to meet the needs and financial circumstances of older Australians. Simply put, we owe those who have gone before us. Their contributions have been immense. They have built today's Australia. It is our duty to give yesterday's heroes—today's pensioners and self-funded retirees—a safe and secure retirement.

The increase in the cost of private health insurance, tax on superannuation, and the increased cost of living under the Labor government just made life more difficult for older Australians. Labor ignored many of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission's Caring for older Australians report of 2011. Aged-care sector workers have conveyed to me that they were fed up with resources continuing to be wasted and taxpayers' funds not being efficiently allocated due to clients having no or very limited input into choosing a provider. The coalition is committed to the most efficient, transparent and competitive superannuation system, and has pledged to the Australian people that there will be no surprise detrimental changes to superannuation under this coalition government.

While frontline service for aged care is important, so is research into the treatment of diseases facing our older population. The University of Queensland in my electorate is home to many world-class research institutes. Most recently I visited the Queensland Brain Institute, the leading neuroscience institute in the southern hemisphere, and their state-of-the-art centre for ageing and dementia research. Dementia, the greatest cause of disability in Australians aged 65 and over, is a broad term used to describe various medical conditions which damage brain cells and lead to a gradual loss of brain function. The Queensland Brain Institute's Clem Jones Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research aims to develop strategies to prevent or delay the onset of ageing dementia, as well as working to develop more sensitive and accurate diagnostic tools.

The previous Labor government failed to provide any further funding for the centre, Australia's only dedicated age and dementia research institute, at a time when, according to Access Economics, increasing funding from $23 million to $49 million per year could save Australia more than $4 trillion in the long term. I am delighted that the coalition has pledged $200 million over five years to dementia research, including $9 million to the CJCADR, demonstrating our commitment to this important work. I thank the Minister for Health, who is in the chamber now, for coming to the University of Queensland and recommitting that pledge for funding.

Papua New Guinea is one of our closest neighbours and I have strongly supported steps to improve maternal health there. Within my own electorate of Ryan local groups like the Moggill QCWA and Zonta prepare the much needed birthing kits for mothers in PNG and East Timor. During the April 2013 parliamentary delegation I met with AusAID and Sir Theophilus Constantinou, founder of the Theophilus Foundation, who is working in partnership with AusAID to improve maternal health at the Port Moresby General Hospital. The mothers in the new hospital wing spoke of the improved conditions for giving birth and the higher level of patient care they had received for both themselves and their new-born children. I am pleased to see that the Queensland government is also committed to supporting health care in PNG and will help in its fight to combat tuberculosis and other diseases by contributing support to the new hospital at Daru in the Western Province of the country.

Our region is where we live, it is where we have the most influence, it is where we can be a positive force for good. I have many good friends in Papua New Guinea, as I know you, Madam Speaker, do as well, and I have visited on many occasions over the last three years. On my visits I find a proud developing nation with one of the highest rates of growth in the world. PNG is a young nation sensitive to its place in the world, strongly committed to the nation state that is Papua New Guinea and to the building of its capacity in education and health, and to the growth of its physical infrastructure.

The new government in PNG is focused on that infrastructure renewal and financial transparency to deliver better economic outcomes for their people. The challenge facing PNG is to translate its notable economic growth into real development. The challenge for Australia is to understand that it is only the Papua New Guineans themselves who can bring about lasting change and we must constantly re-evaluate our aid program to ensure that we are enabling that change and helping to build the institutional capacity needed to build this remarkable nation. PNG is a good friend to Australia. As good friends to Papua New Guinea we must open our ears to local input about their future directions. I know, from my many discussions with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill; Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato; Treasurer Don Polye, the current chairman of the World Bank; and many others in government and elsewhere, that together we have a window of opportunity to generate real and beneficial change. But we must actively encourage local input into our aid priorities. I particularly acknowledge the work of Foreign Minister Pato as he works assiduously to build broader multilateral engagement in our region. Importantly, I want to place on record my appreciation of the work of High Commissioner Charles Lepani as he strongly represents his country here in Canberra.

Our regional relationships are important because we are in many ways defined not only by our own character but also by our community. Australia's community—our neighbourhood—brings together a remarkable mixture of cultures, traditions and friendships. This mix brings challenges, but it also brings an environment that enriches all of our cultures. However, we must always remember that we can only benefit from that environment if we open our hearts and our ears to the sensitivities and aspirations of our neighbours.

I look forward to another three years serving the people of Ryan in government. I am absolutely committed to being their voice in this place. I am honoured to represent them.

Debate adjourned.