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Monday, 29 June 1998
Page: 5566

Mr FORREST (5:02 PM) —I am pleased to rise immediately following the contribution of the member for Curtin (Mr Rocher) because I am the chairman of the standing committee that prepared that report and four others, including one tabled this very day, which I would like to speak to later. I would like that put formally on the record and advise other members that I have been involved in that since I became a member in March 1993. At the moment there are people running around my electorate saying that I am not a very effective member. I find that a most grievous accusation.

It is a pity that the Hansard process does not allow diagrams to be recorded, but I hold in my hand—as the first of my success stories—a diagram of the analog mobile phone network prior to my entry into parliament in 1993. It shows a small circle around the district of Sunraysia, another small circle around the district of Swan Hill, another one around St Arnaud and a little bit along the Western Highway. After a private member's bill in this parliament from the opposition in 1994, I am pleased that today I hold in my hand the digital mobile phone network for the Wimmera-Mallee area. There are 21 mobile telephone digital transponders in locations in places as geographically diverse as Mildura, Red Cliffs, Robinvale, Ouyen, Sea Lake, Swan Hill, Birchip, Wycheproof, Charlton, St Arnaud, Donald, Warracknabeal, Dimboola, Nhill, Lawloit, Lillimur, Mount Arapalies, Horsham, Glencoe, Dadswells Bridge and Mount Zero. I am immensely proud of my record and I find it offensive that people are running around my electorate today saying that I am an ineffective member of parliament.

In addition to that, when I entered the parliament in 1993 I discovered the lament able situation that a district the size of Sunraysia had only two broadcast television channels covering a 50-kilometre radius. You could get a commercial channel and an ABC channel. There was a community operated SBS, but only one commercial TV channel. In March 1993 I committed myself to deliver to that community access to additional television service. It was not an easy task way back then and from opposition to take on the Australian Broadcasting Authority to advance the roll-out of consideration, even indeed to take on the network that had the solus control of the existing commercial television channel. I am proud today to say that I delivered. And I am offended that people would run around saying that I am not an effective member. It is true that the community would like to have seen a complete roll-out of the full broadscale services in other parts of the country, but there are some constraints.

Now we have FM radio broadcasting coming out our ears. It amazes me that people want access to so many channels, but we now have three commercial FM channels, Triple J on the ABC and two community radio stations, in Horsham and Sunraysia. Madam Deputy Speaker Kelly, as a local member yourself, you know how much work in the background it takes to put the arguments to the authorities that control the regulation of radio broadcasting. I am proud of it.

As regards telecommunications since then, funding under the regional telecommunications infrastructure fund has been allocated to determine the ongoing requirements and the needs of the strong communities around the Wimmera and the northern Mallee. I am proud of my record.

Environment: $7 million of funding has been allocated already under the Natural Heritage Trust to the Wimmera-Mallee. There is infrastructure like the northern Mallee pipeline, which is a scheme that only the member for Mallee understands. It is a large channel system supplying stock and domestic water all the way from the Grampian Mountains. For 50 years we have been arguing to have this open channel system piped because 90 per cent of the water that leaves the Grampian Mountains does not get to its end destination: some of evaporates but the great bulk of it disappears into the groundwater, creating massive salinity problems. I am proud of my record—even from opposition—and I acknowledge the commitment of the previous government to the first three stages. Subsequent to that there is now a commitment to the fourth stage, with three to go, and I am confident that I can continue to win the arguments to fund that very necessary environment and water use program.

Green Corps: there are already five programs across the Wimmera-Mallee involving young people. It is lifting their expectations of the career path they could have in the environment. One of the projects is preserving the interests of the mallee fowl. I know the member for Franklin (Mr Quick), who was born and raised in the Rainbow district, understands the importance of that little bird as an icon to the arid regions of the Mallee.

Aged care: there have been massive injections into aged care in capital funding. I am proud to see the construction of the Oasis aged care centre at Irymple, and I understand it will be opened very soon. There is the Nyah Bush Nursing Hospital Hostel, the Edenhope Nursing Home and Hostel, the Nhill Aged Care Hostel and many others. It is true that aged care is a massive and significant issue to the isolated communities of the Wimmera-Mallee and that there is a lot more to be done, but I am proud of what has been achieved to date.

Health: there are 10 electronic Medicare lodgment facilities in the isolated communities of the Wimmera-Mallee. As well as all of this local work in arguing this policy implementation through with the bureaucracy and winning those arguments, I am proud of my commitment to this parliament and the duties I have undertaken, particularly as chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs: five reports, and another opportunity that members get to advocate strongly for their electorates.

One of those reports on telemedicine, which the member for Curtin has made reference to, provides a wonderful opportunity to deliver real time health care facilities to isolated regions of Australia. Like the member for Curtin, I am awaiting the government's response to that report and some of the others that the committee has tabled.

Further in respect of health, being the federal member requires you to work closely with your state colleagues. The federal electorate of Mallee overlaps the electorates of nine other state members whom I work very closely with. I am proud to say that, working together, we have been able to construct a new hospital at Horsham—and a world class hospital at that. A new hospital is currently being developed at Wycheproof; it is currently out to tender. There is a new hospital on the planning board at Mildura; it is the same situation at Robinvale; there is an upgrade of the Swan Hill Base Hospital; and there is the other work with the health services, including the Mallee Track and the west Wimmera health service—so there are so many things I am proud of.

Road funding: the Commonwealth, since the 1996 budget, has spent $34 million on roads in the Wimmera-Mallee and another million dollars on black spot programs, so I am particularly offended to read in the newspaper comments by somebody who has no idea of the amount of work that I have done that I am not a very effective member.

I allude obviously to a pretending candidate from Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party. I will not have that criticism. I will have a debate with respect to policy—let us have an honest debate—but no-one can accuse the federal member for Mallee of being lazy or lacking integrity. I will not have it.

I am particularly worked up about this. I have watched very carefully what has happened in Queensland and other places, and I am offended that Australians would propose that we move away from our egalitarian society in which we embrace everybody. Everybody is treated as an equal. I am offended by that very principle and I am not prepared to compromise my principles on that aspect. Under no circumstances will I recommend to the people of Wimmera-Mallee that they put a preference in respect of that outfit any higher than last.

I would ask not just the people of Wimmera-Mallee but the people of Australia to look beyond the wide-eyed innocence of the member for Oxley (Ms Hanson). Probably in her heart of hearts she wants to do exactly what I do—represent her people—but I do not think she is astute enough to realise how she is being manipulated by unscrupulous elements—more particularly, extreme elements—and I defend my intention to recommend to my electorate that she be placed last. (Time expired)