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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11736

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (18:08): Anyone who has been following my speeches in this place over the last few months will have probably heard that I have been speaking about some of the same topics over and over again. I do not do that by choice. I do not do it so I can hear the sound of my own voice. Some of these issues need to be visited and revisited, time and time again, because whenever the debate has run its course or the issue has reached a natural conclusion, those opposite in this chamber throw some absurd curve-ball just for the sake of muddying the waters. The two examples of this I want to talk about today are Labor's approach to ChAFTA and their response to the construction of Palmerston Regional Hospital.

In regard to ChAFTA, the unions paid for a very expensive advertising campaign to tell the people of Australia, particularly those in my electorate, that vast hordes of immigrants would come to take their jobs. They went door to door in Darwin and Palmerston preaching about a secret deal. Brochures were dropped in letterboxes throughout the Top End warning that people with no trade qualifications would be allowed to come to Australia and work as electricians and diesel fitters. There were small groups of people under union banners standing at intersections near the popular Nightcliff markets in Darwin, waving signs warning that our children's jobs would be taken away. Lies, lies and more lies.

Since then, through normal public discourse, debate in this place and analysis by journalists, it has emerged that we already have agreements with other countries that are nearly identical to ChAFTA. People have been quick to point out that some of these agreements went through under a Labor government and that Australia has never been swamped by workers from Chile, Japan or South Korea. People who were worried about the secret agreement could have punched the term 'China free trade agreement' into Google and seen the entire text of the official documents appear before them in both Word and PDF formats on the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Now we are seeing a face-saving exercise by the Labor Party. They stood up and beat their chests about the evils of free trade. They paid for TV ads. They rounded up people to go door to door dropping flyers and, as I said, spreading rumours and lies. Yet they still lost the debate. No-one believed them—and rightly so. Labor are now engaged in this grand face-saving gesture, putting forward suggested amendments so that they can say they have done something. The trouble is that, as with most things Labor get involved with, they are more concerned about the appearance of action rather than the consequences—for example, take the latest suggestion to raise the minimum wage that can be paid to an employee on a 457 visa. Labor are calling it a 'safeguard' amendment.

Analysis by Sid Maher at The Australian shows that proposals put forward by Labor would, based on current figures, cut around 27 per cent of all 457 positions available. He goes on to show that many industries in the Northern Territory which are dependent on 457 visa workers will be pushed out of the scheme by these Labor amendments. By that I mean that a worker in retail, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, or arts and recreation who is being paid the average wage would not qualify for a 457 visa under Labor's thought-bubble idea. The story is similar in Queensland and Tasmania, where several industries would be cut out of the system because of their average wage.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry were quoted in the article as saying that raising the temporary skilled migration income threshold to $57,000 would have a 'profound impact on rural and regional areas' across the country. I wonder if the Labor Party is choosing to cut off these industries from a supply of skilled workers? Perhaps this is part of a plan to do the bidding of their union allies—the figures that they have chosen have been deliberate and targeted—or perhaps, in keeping with the fine Labor tradition of policy on the run, they were desperate to be seen to be doing something and did not think through the consequences. We often have to clean up the mess of unintended consequences from the legislation they have put through.

I would like to turn to the Palmerston hospital. It is really important that I set the record straight on another Labor Party whipping boy in the Northern Territory—the Palmerston Regional Hospital. For 11 years the Labor Party held government in the Northern Territory. For six of those years the Labor Party also held government federally. During that time a lot was said about building a hospital in Palmerston. Labor unveiled signs and showed off some blueprints for a small 60-bed hospital—and they did turn a couple of sods. What they did not do was build the hospital. The only tangible progress from 11 years in government in the Territory and, as I said, six years federally was a rented piece of temporary fencing around a three-hectare site in Yarrawonga. Labor, as I said, promised a 60-bed hospital, not much more than the superclinic that is operating in Palmerston. It was what I consider a box-ticking exercise, and even that failed.

So, in the two years since the coalition took office in the Northern Territory, and indeed federally, we have started from scratch. We have begun to pour the concrete that will form the base of a 116-bed level 3 hospital on a 45-hectare site. Last Friday, I stood with my Northern Territory colleague the Hon. John Elferink, who is the Minister for Health; my good friend Lia Finocchiaro MLA, who, like me, is a fierce advocate for everything Palmerston; and also the member for Blain, Nathan Barrett MLA. We watched four truckloads of cement tipped into the base of what will be a stairwell in the main entrance of the Palmerston hospital. So the Palmerston hospital is literally now set in stone, and that is a fact. There has been a lot of work that has already been occurring over the past 12 months. Major infrastructure works including roads, water and sewerage have all been upgraded in the area, and now the hospital itself is under construction.

What do you think the reaction of the Northern Territory Labor Party has been? Well, I have to say, I was a little bit surprised that they would make these comments on what is probably the most significant piece of infrastructure for the people of Darwin and Palmerston and indeed the rural area. The Northern Territory's Labor member for Nightcliff, Natasha Fyles, said that the concrete pour was a stunt. Then we have one of Senator Peris's staffers, the candidate for Solomon, posting a picture on Facebook of several tonnes of concrete being poured into the foundation of the hospital and urging the government 'just to build it'. Well, I am not sure what this person thought several tonnes of concrete being poured into a hole was for if it is not being used for construction. But, anyway, wonders will never cease! The Labor Party are watching a building rise from the ground in front of their eyes and denying that it exists. Instead, they want to tell lies and do their typical scaremongering. They are saying that we are not building the hospital. Well, I have to reiterate: the Palmerston Hospital is being built. It is set in stone. The first of many pours has occurred.

So Labor no longer cares about good ideas and solid policy, and it no longer even cares about the truth. It cares about propping up union scare campaigns and pandering to its factions. Labor was wrong about the China free trade agreement, and it was wrong about the Palmerston Hospital. When all is said and done, the public are awake up to its lies and scaremongering, and the people of Darwin and Palmerston are absolutely sick of the lies and the scaremongering about these two very important issues. They know that they can trust a coalition government to work with the Giles government to deliver the Palmerston hospital for the greater Darwin area. It is a very, very important piece of infrastructure that is well and truly underway.