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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4490


Mr GEE (Calare) (16:51): I rise to support these appropriation bills. This budget delivers for Australia, and it certainly delivers for the electorate of Calare as well. It will make life better for Australians and people in central western New South Wales. Making life better for the people we represent is the reason we are here. It's the reason we're in politics. It's the reason that this parliament exists.

For the people in my region, one of the highlights of this budget was certainly the delivery of a new medical school in the Central West to be delivered by Charles Sturt University. It's part of the Murray-Darling medical schools network, which is a five-medical-school network. At its heart is this new medical school, which will be a partnership between Charles Sturt University and the University of Western Sydney. Folks out in my neck of the woods have been campaigning for this new medical school for a decade. For 10 years we've been trying to get this over the line. For two years I've been making speech after speech in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, trying to raise the profile of this issue and stress its importance.

Why is it important? It's important because there is a chronic shortage of doctors in country Australia. It's raining doctors in Vaucluse and Wahroonga and Toorak, but there's a chronic shortage in country Australia. Country people know this. They are the ones that have to put up with not being able to see a GP or a specialist for weeks or months. They are living in the communities that can't get new doctors to their towns when the existing ones leave or retire. They're living this issue, and they've been living it for years. They've known about this issue for a long time, and they're crying out for a solution that can change this and make life better.

The cold, hard truth is that country people die younger than city people. That's the way it is. Their health outcomes are worse on just about every single measure. That's what's been driving this campaign for this new medical school. It's been the community which has come together over a sustained period of time to lobby, to fight, to plan. And finally this budget has delivered it. The new medical school will open its doors in 2021. The capital spend will be in the tens of millions of dollars. It will train doctors in the bush for practice in the bush. The curriculum will be designed to train country doctors. It will be a country curriculum. Of course, we believe that, by putting more country students through the training pipeline and filling postgraduate training places with country students, more of them will be likely to stay in the country, work in the country and raise their families in the country, if that's what they choose to do.

We know that it works because James Cook University in Far North Queensland has been a pioneer in this field. Charles Sturt University plans to quarantine 80 per cent of its places for students from rural and regional Australia. It's going to be a partnership with the University of Western Sydney, which already has a presence in Bathurst. I commend the University of Western Sydney for the constructive way that it has worked through this issue with Charles Sturt University.

The resistance has in some cases been very fierce. All sorts of medical organisations, student organisations and doctors groups have been dead against this proposal, but it has prevailed because it has been the will of the community. People power has driven this. I say to those folks who may not be that keen on the new Murray-Darling medical schools network: 'Let's put down our swords and beat them into ploughshares. Let's work together now because we have an opportunity in central western New South Wales to make our area a world leader in rural medicine.' This is an extraordinary opportunity that we have. This new medical school and new medical school network will change the practice of medicine in country New South Wales and country Australia. That's how important I believe this initiative is. That's how worthwhile I actually think it is.

We now have about seven years before the first students graduate. If there are any issues in terms of postgraduate training places or hospital placements, we have seven years to sort that out. Indeed, the work on the new Charles Sturt University medical school is now commencing, with the formation of a steering committee. I think we now need to come together in good faith and in goodwill and let our region achieve its full potential now in terms of medical training, medical research and the provision of medical services. We can do it. This is a profound and transformational change. It's a change the community has sought for a long time. We've done it—it's mission accomplished.

I take this opportunity to again thank all the individuals, community members, community groups, doctors, local councils and local council groups like Centroc. So many have contributed to the campaign and been so supportive that I can't name them all in this chamber today. They have all been very active. Schoolteachers and school principals have been writing in their school newsletters about the need for this medical school. That's how community driven this campaign has been. I'm not sure that the folks who make medical policy in this country really appreciate how deep this campaign ran through our communities. They probably did towards the end.

It's been a long and hard road and it's been a long and hard fight, but I think it's been worth it. Sometimes in politics you get the opportunity to be involved in something that will make true and lasting change for people in our communities, and this is one of those moments. I hear people talking down the budget and saying that there's nothing in it for country Australia. There's a lot in it for country Australia. This is a profound change and a profound and transformational initiative, of which country people can be very proud.

The effects of this will start in 2021 when the school opens its doors, but the effects of this will be felt for generations. This will reverberate through the generations. The graduates from this medical school will train to become specialists. I believe that they will, hopefully, become the people involved in making medical policy in this country. They may even become MPs. But we are starting something now which will have a profound effect through the generations, and I think that's something that we can all be very proud of.

In terms of other initiatives in the budget, one of them is the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative, a $3.5 billion fund designed to get key road projects going, including those that link regions. I welcome this initiative, because I've been fighting for such a fund for a long time. When I first became federal member for Calare, one of the first things I did was to invite then roads minister, Darren Chester, to our neck of the woods. We drove across the Bells Line of Road and over the crossing at Dixons Long Point, between Orange and Mudgee. I said, 'We need some money for these, Minister.' He said, 'We haven't got a bucket of money we can do this with.' I said to him, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could create a bucket of money?'

And so former Minister Darren Chester, and those who followed him, worked hard to create it, and it has been delivered in this budget. For example, the crossing at Dixons Long Point, between Orange and Mudgee, is currently dirt for most of the way. There is no crossing: you've got to drive through the river to get across it. I did it a couple of weeks ago on my way to help launch the new mobile phone tower at Hargraves. The river was down, so it was pretty easy to get across. But there has been many a four-wheel-driver who has come adrift—they've come off the side of the crossing and floated downstream. We can see the photos on the internet.

People have been trying to get this crossing built for a hundred years—100 years! Sir Charles Cutler, former Deputy Premier of New South Wales, former member for Orange and war hero, was an early proponent of this road and crossing. Russell Turner, who was my predecessor in the state seat of Orange, was another fierce advocate for this. But we haven't been able to do it. What I'm hoping to do now is to bring all levels of government together. We've just got the consultants' reports back. I'll be meeting with Cabonne Council next week, and in June I hope to bring local governments and the state government, and we'll be there as well, together at the table to discuss how we can progress these key projects. I'd also like to see continued upgrades of the Bells Line of Road. I'd love to see a new fast road across the Blue Mountains. But until that is secured, I think that what we need to do is keep upgrading. So I believe that the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative was also a very significant item that this budget delivered, and I was very pleased to see it.

The $20,000 instant asset write-off was another big win for country Australia, including small businesses in my area. It's expensive to run a small business, as we know, and anything that we can do to make life a little easier, and also to kick along economic growth, we should be doing. The extension of the instant asset write-off is a great way to do it. It allows our small businesses and our farmers, who are small-business people as well, to write off instantly the cost of assets up to $20,000 in the financial year in which that cost is incurred, rather than having to write it off over a series of years.

It has been welcomed very warmly. For example, by small businesses like Angus Barrett Saddlery in Orange. It is run by a young couple, Angus and Sarah, who built that business from scratch. They are going to be able to take advantage of the write-off. They buy a lot of equipment and machinery for their workshop. It's the small businesspeople like that who are really going to find this extension useful. And I should point out that Angus is often referred to as the next RM Williams. In fact, I'm wearing an Angus Barrett belt as I deliver this speech in this chamber today.

So it's the small businesses like Angus Barrett Saddlery in Orange that are going to find the instant asset write-off very useful. When the member for Gilmore visits my area, we will go out to the factory and meet Angus and Sarah, and they will warmly welcome her.

There has also been good news on the youth allowance, and this is a very important one for country students. The means test threshold has been increased by $10,000 to $160,000—it is a big one for country students—and that is increased by $10,000 for each additional child. We've also made it easier for students to work out whether they need to take a gap year to work out whether or not they qualify as being independent. I think that is really important, as well. The assessment of parental income will now be undertaken in the year prior to any gap year, so they will know whether their parental income is above or below the cut-off figure before they decide whether to take a gap year. I think that is a big improvement. And, of course, we've reduced the time that students need to have a gap year—that time frame has been reduced. That is another important initiative in this budget for country students, and I applaud the relevant ministers.

Not only does this budget deliver for Australia but it certainly delivers for country people and those folks in the Calare electorate. It is a responsible budget. It helps to reduce our debt and bring the national debt under control. As I have said, it has some profound initiatives that will benefit country Australia for generations to come and I commend it to the House.