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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29462

Mr ORGAN (12:40 PM) —I take this opportunity to raise a number of issues concerning my electorate of Cunningham, for amidst talk of budgets and elections life goes on back home in Wollongong much as it always has. I took the opportunity during the April parliamentary break to visit a number of organisations and individuals in my electorate, all dealing on a daily basis with the community and looking to the federal government for assistance. I visited, for example, community child-care facilities run by Illawarra child-care services, and came away from those visits with a feeling of great appreciation for their work and of the significant role played by women. I also came away somewhat appalled by the low wages paid—around $12.50 an hour—especially in light of the difficult work conditions and the huge responsibilities of caring for young children and babies. I am also concerned about the future of such facilities as a result of the failure by governments to fund the upgrade of basic infrastructure. In my opinion, increasing privatisation of the sector will put under threat the quality services currently being delivered by community child care, where profits go back into the centres to provide additional staff and to trim the huge waiting lists. I visited child-care facilities at Bulli, Bellambi, Figtree and Wollongong, and I would like to thank the staff for their hospitality and openness and congratulate them on the work done.

I also took the opportunity to visit a number of public schools in my electorate, in order to experience first hand some of the issues facing the sector. My impression was one of teachers working extremely hard, providing a high quality, values based educational experience with diminishing resources and decaying infrastructure. Indeed, a door collapsed at one primary school during my visit—luckily, no-one was injured. More financial support from the state and federal governments is urgently needed, with a priority on the public education sector.

I was shocked to find out that headmasters are given a budget each year out of which they are meant to account for unforeseen costs such as sick pay and long service leave for teaching staff. This can result in budget shortfalls, teaching resources being withdrawn or diverted and pressure being placed on teachers to limit their use of such entitlements. I was also rather concerned by the lack of site planning evident within many of the schools. School grounds looked like construction sites, with demountables located haphazardly around the place taking up precious space which is needed for things such as playgrounds for the children. Often demountables are in place for decades and little consideration is given by government to the construction of much-needed buildings. More money is needed for staff, for teaching resources, for buildings and for associated infrastructure. Schools should not have to rely on the hard work, goodwill and limited resources of parents to pay for these necessities. But that is the way things seem to be going. My visits to the schools, preschools and child-care centres reinforced my long-held view that government must put more money into education, for education is an investment in the future and a quality education is a right, not a privilege.

On another subject, I recently visited the Illawarra Retirement Trust aged care facility at Towradgi. Once again, the staff and management there are doing a wonderful job. However, they are faced with increasing costs associated with managing our ageing population, with increasing amounts of paperwork and with the failure of government to provide assistance with building and infrastructure maintenance and development.

I have covered preschools, primary schools and aged care, and I now turn to health care and our local crisis, which I alluded to in the House on Monday. Issues include concerns about the downgrading of the emergency department at Bulli Hospital and the uncertain future of that facility; concerns about the Illawarra rescue helicopter service; concerns about the imminent installation of an MRI machine at Wollongong Hospital but no Medicare licence or funding for its operation; concerns about a lack of beds at Wollongong Hospital, which recently saw eight ambulances queued up outside the emergency department unable to off-load patients because there was simply nowhere to put them, a situation exacerbated by the fact that ambulances have been directed not to take patients to Bulli Hospital; and concerns about staff morale in the Illawarra Area Health Service, budget blow-outs and problems with management. Amidst all this, staff continue to do a wonderful job on a daily basis under difficult circumstances.

Other local issues continue to be of concern. Like most members of this place, the divide between my parliamentary work here in Canberra and local issues and commitments can often grow large. In closing, I would like to make mention of the wonderful work done by Robyn Alderton and her team at the Bellambi community centre. Their preschool breakfast program, for example, serves some 30 to 50 local children every day and is funded by the local community. It is provided to children who would otherwise go to school without breakfast or a packed lunch. The fact that such a program is needed in a regional electorate such as Cunningham is indicative of the real social problems and the poverty crisis facing Australia at the moment. Robyn and her team do a magnificent job and are an inspiration. They deserve our support.

Main Committee adjourned at 12.46 p.m.