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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1336

Mr MITCHELL (McEwenSecond Deputy Speaker) (15:20): It is a pleasure to speak in the address-in-reply debate. Back in November 2013, the Governor-General gave her speech for the new government in this parliament. It has now been five long months since that election. Since then, we have seen from the coalition what can only be described as one of the most catastrophic starts to a new government in political history. We have a government that has spent three years opposing everything but standing for nothing. Australian voters are now experiencing a bit of buyer's regret as this government has shown it is not the government Australian people voted for. The honeymoon period that new governments should expect is long since over.

I start by talking about the electorate of McEwen, which I have been re-elected to represent. It is an honour to be standing here, having been given the trust of the many communities who make up the seat of McEwen, and to be the first Labor member to retain McEwen in 25 years since the late, great Peter Cleeland. There are quite a few people who I need to personally thank with regard to my election campaign. Firstly, to my ever-supportive family, Lisa, Rachael, Mum and Dad, Glenda, Sharyn, Meagan, Jessica, Elly, David, Geoff, Belinda, Brooke and Jaya—and I note that, at 16 years old, it was Brooke's first election campaign and she did a fantastic job: your constant support and understanding throughout this period was amazing. I could not have done this without you. To my staff during the election, Josh, Jeni, Gareth, Chris and Hailey: your hard work around the clock, your camaraderie, your intelligence and your humour were invaluable. I also pay tribute to the Labor branch members of McEwen: the ever-reliable Carmel and her wonderful family, who answered Mum's call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and Santo, Tom, Jon, Gurri, Casey, Stephen, Rex, Pam, Spiro, Stephen, Phil and of course Big Andy, who always made sure the table was empty when he finished.

I would like to especially thank the 300-plus volunteers who helped out during the election campaign and on election day. They took time out of their own lives to help us, to help the cause, and I am truly grateful. I will continue to work tirelessly for the communities of McEwen, ensuring that the trust and the faith they have again placed in me will be entirely justified. The people of McEwen re-elected me as their voice, and I will ensure that that voice is heard.

On 7 September 2013 a shadow was cast over this great country of ours. The Abbott government came into power and, with that, all the futures, hopes and dreams, not to mention the livelihoods of millions of Australians, came into doubt. That fear has become a reality for many families. The coalition government causes great concern for many Australians, particularly those in the seat of McEwen. They are concerned for their jobs, the environment and, more recently, our standing on the international stage. It would be easy to dismiss those concerns if they were not so consistent and happening right across the nation.

We have seen a government come into power on the strength of a few negative three-word slogans but, in reality, they are very far from doing what they promised—which I will talk more about later on. Even in the first few months since coming to power, the Abbott government have delivered nothing but a long line of broken promises and policy backflips. Unfortunately for the people of Australia, we now have a Prime Minister who is opposed to the fair go for all and helping those in our community who are most in need.

For the people of McEwen, their needs are inherent, varied and significant. McEwen is a disparate electorate. Since its creation in 1984, McEwen has straddled the two major political parties. It has always been a very marginal seat due to the wide-ranging demographics. In fact, McEwen has always been one of the most marginal seats in Australia. While it is a predominantly rural electorate in size, containing areas like Kilmore and Seymour, it also contains some of the fastest-growing municipalities in Victoria such as Craigieburn, Sunbury and Mernda. We have a community of over 104,000 people who, under Labor, have seen considerable investment in health care, education, jobs, communications, infrastructure and community facilities. One important point to mention here is that investment of this scale was never delivered during 14 years of continuous Liberal representation.

In the 3½ years that I have been the member for McEwen, Labor has provided almost $30 million in funding for hospitals, health clinics and local health practices. A major example of this is the $9.2million Wallan superclinic, which opened its doors in December 2013. This clinic was one the new government wanted scrapped. With a lack of all-round health services available to those in and around Wallan, the Wallan superclinic now provides a range of health services, such as improved access to general practice consultations, nursing, dietetics, podiatry, speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, paediatric, mental health and counselling services. We also invested $4.95 million towards the Macedon Ranges Community Health Facility in Gisborne, under the HHF regional priority round. This was actually opposed by the new government but, now that it is being rolled out, they are suddenly all too keen to claim the glory by getting their picture taken during sod-turning ceremonies. The question is: will they acknowledge that, without a Labor government, the community would not have seen this facility delivered?

We implemented the Building the Education Revolution initiative across all schools in all parts of the electorate. This program delivered crucial and much-wanted science and learning centres, language and learning centres, classrooms, libraries and sporting facilities, along with a hydrotherapy pool for children and those in the wider community with special needs. These investments in jobs, investments in education and investments in our communities have delivered facilities and opportunities for regional communities that no other government before us had ever delivered.

I recall having parents, teachers and members of the wider community tell me of the excitement in watching new facilities being built at their schools for the first time in 30 years. Parents and families had come and spent their weekends participating in working bees to further enhance existing buildings, lifting them towards the standards that the BER buildings had delivered. I was particularly pleased to deliver the $11 million trade training centre across the McEwen electorate. This TTC is a prime example of how public, Catholic and independent schools can collaborate, with their focus being the aspirations of their students and delivering opportunities for country kids—opportunities that they could never receive under Liberal and National governments.

Labor spent hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade roads and infrastructure across McEwen—a prime example being the $525 million spent on the M80 Ring Road upgrade. There is also the $400 million Post Entry Quarantine facility to go ahead in McEwen, which will give us a new and more advanced quarantine facility for this nation—not to mention the hundreds of new jobs that will be delivered.

I look forward to delivering more and more enhanced services in this term of office, but this will also involve the ongoing task of holding this government accountable for the promises they made to the people of McEwen during the 2013 election campaign. This will be no mean feat since, as mentioned, the government have already demonstrated their ability to break promises and undertake extraordinary tactics to turn their backs on the people of Australia. During the election last year, the Liberal Party made dozens of promises to the people of McEwen. Out of the 14 local funding promises for infrastructure, transport and community projects, not one of these promises has been delivered. The community is rightly concerned these promises will not be kept, as they join a long list of Liberal promises never delivered. I have made numerous attempts to contact several members of the Abbott government in order to expedite their funding commitments. To date, I have been inundated with the sound of silence. When not being ignored by the Abbott government, I have received a blatant refusal to follow through on their election promises to the people of McEwen.

Mr Abbott and the Liberals are pulling the plug on the National Broadband Network fibre rollout in my electorate, affecting many communities, like Lancefield, Romsey, Sunbury, Craigieburn, Whittlesea, Eden Park, Wollert, Wallan and Kilmore. The result of this decision is enormous. We will become the electorate of the haves and have-nots, and we have already seen people moving away from the electorate purely because they cannot get broadband access. Children in these areas will not have access to educational resources. Businesses will not have the same connectivity to customers and wholesalers alike. And, without government funding to expand mobile phone coverage in the same areas, communication to and from these communities will be even less. The Abbott government has a responsibility to these communities to ensure they have access to an NBN. I will not rest until every town in McEwen is connected, as it should be, by a national broadband network—not the hotchpotch set-up being touted by this government.

As mentioned earlier, McEwen is one of the fastest-growing electorates in Victoria, and being a rural based electorate means it has constant issues with mobile phone connectivity. It contains three of Australia's major transport routes: the Hume Highway, the Northern Highway and the Calder Highway. As we witnessed with the fires that ravaged our electorate three weeks ago, in an area that is very prone to bushfires and that survived the worst fires in this nation's history, mobile phone reception can mean the difference between life and death. The residents of McEwen rightly want improved mobile phone coverage addressed as a matter of priority.

During the election campaign the Abbott government announced a $100 million investment to expand the mobile coverage footprint and increase competition in regional Australia. The coalition also promised an extra $80 million to expand the mobile network along major transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to natural disasters. But, even though we have more than met the criteria to receive funding to help address this problem, repeated requests that I and communities have made to government have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, to date, we have not received the courtesy of a reply or a response from the government on whether they will even consider these requests. I know that they hear me loud and clear but, in typical form, they are ignoring the real needs of real Australians.

In Seymour, in the north-east of McEwen, is the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk, which was developed in honour of the 62,100 personnel who were part of the Australia's Vietnam War effort. Local community members, RSLs and organisations rallied together and created funding for the walk. After years of dedicated hard work by the community, the commemorative walk was unveiled to much emotion and much honour. This walk has enjoyed bipartisan support at the state level, was supported by the Mitchell Shire at the local level and was supported by Labor at the federal level. Unfortunately, in recent months, local serial vandals have desecrated the commemorative walk. These crimes could easily be prevented by enhanced security at the site. Security would have been provided under round 5 of RDAF if the Abbott government had not ripped the funding away. To be clear, it is only the Abbott government that continues not to support this iconic project. For less than the price of one of Mr Abbott's 'women of calibre' $75,000 paid parental leave bonuses, we could have a safe and secure Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk—an iconic destination for our much-loved Vietnam vets, their families and tourists alike. That is a kick in the teeth for the local community and the brave returned soldiers.

The government's complete disregard for working Australians can be no more evident than in the loss of thousands of jobs in manufacturing. Since the Abbott government was elected on that sad day in September 2013, over 10,000 direct jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. Due to the government's complete ignorance of what manufacturing means to Australia, Ford, Holden and Toyota have decided to shut down their manufacturing arms in Australia. The ramifications of these closures cannot be measured in just numbers. Yes, we have the number of almost 45,000 direct jobs lost. Yes, we have the number of 150,000 indirect jobs lost. Yes, we have the shocking fact that under the Abbott government there is one job lost every three minutes. That is 150,000 people who have been, in the words of the Prime Minister, 'liberated' under this government.

What is the real cost to our community? Around 10,000 people in McEwen work in manufacturing. What about those local businesses who provided supplies to the companies now shutting up shop? What about the families whose standard of living relies on salaries earned in these jobs? What about the emotional and psychological effects on those workers and their families? The costs of these cannot be measured, but hardworking Australians will bear the brunt, with thanks to the Abbott government's policies. To add insult to injury, Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey have the gall to try and blame the workers for the demise of manufacturing.

It is in the Liberal Party's DNA to ensure that they hurt the lowest paid workers in this country. Their sly move to remove penalty rates, overtime, shift work allowance and public holiday pay is simply their way of reintroducing around-the-clock work and lengthening the working day—well, while we're at it, Mr Abbott, why don't we just remove weekends all together? They are creating a huge rising unemployment problem, which will force a race to the bottom on wages and conditions. This simply is the government bringing back Work Choices by stealth.

I firmly believe that Australian workers deserve penalty rates for working extended or unsocial hours. The seat of McEwen represents over 37,000 people who work in industries affected by unsociable hours, such as retail, health care, social work and hospitality, and of course the 10,000-plus who work in manufacturing. While I am mentioning it, a big shout out to the Victorian paramedics in the Code Red campaign for fighting the chaotic and dysfunctional Napthine government to try and get a fair day's pay for the work that they do. The idea that you should have to trade family and home time for nothing is not the Labor way. Whether it is about being able to go to a suburban footy game, see a play, do the kids' sporting circuit or, as many of us know, reduce the backlog of backyard chores when you get home, penalty rates are best protected through a modern award system.

Unlike those opposite, Labor will always stick up for workers' rights and will not trade them away like economic commodities. And we do not believe that 'any boss is better than no boss', as the Prime Minister once said. As the member for McEwen, as a member of the Labor party and as a member of the local community, I will ensure that everyone gets a fair go. In 1996 I attended Labor's campaign launch, and these words of Paul Keating rang true:

We will not adopt the fantastic hypocrisy of modern conservatism which preaches the values of families and communities, while conducting a direct assault on them through reduced wages and conditions and job security.

Those words were true then; those words are true now. This also includes access to Medicare without having to pay a tax simply for being sick. Universal health care is a right, not a privilege. For the thousands of families who are struggling to make ends meet, the additional costs of having a sick child or children could be crippling. It sickens me that the Prime Minister is more than happy to sneakily introduce this sick tax, leaving families having to choose between putting food on the table or taking their sick child to the doctor. My message, our message, to you, Mr Abbott, is: keep your hands off Medicare.

It is Labor governments that built this nation. Medicare, superannuation and, of course, the National Disability Insurance Scheme are some of our proudest achievements. It is Labor governments that built the infrastructure and social capacity that make this country great. It is those opposite who want to tear it down or sell it off. The big question for Australians is what will be left of our great nation once the conservative, morally bankrupt, Tea Party politicians on the other side have torn down and sold off the nation's silverware. Where will that leave us? In conclusion, I would like to reiterate how honoured I am to be re-elected. The Abbott government had best be prepared for a fight if they want to continue to keep turning their backs on the people of McEwen.