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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 733

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (12:01): It is indeed an honour to rise and speak today as the member for Macquarie. It is an incredible privilege to be elected once again to serve the people of Macquarie and I do not take my responsibility lightly. The electorate of Macquarie encompasses all of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains, a little over 4,000 square kilometres. Both regions are unique and hold a special place in the history of this nation.

Both of these regions have also faced the tragedy and challenge of natural disaster. I often think that when Dorothea McKellar penned the words, 'I love a sunburnt country,' she was thinking of the electorate that I represent, the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. Both droughts and flooding rains have impacted these areas over the years and recently it has been bushfires that have left our community devastated.

I cannot speak today without acknowledging the courage and the determination shown by our community over the past four months since the bushfires hit on 17 October. The impact of the bushfires has been enormous. More than 200 homes were lost, more than 200 homes were damaged, and businesses and livelihoods were seriously affected—some destroyed and some experiencing significant challenges.

I acknowledge the Australian spirit that is so strong amongst all members of our community. Our people have risen to the task, they have faced the challenges and they are committed to rebuilding for the future. I have stood with people outside their homes which were in ruins and I have visited evacuation centres. I also spent time with business leaders who wanted to dive in and do whatever they could to rebuild. I acknowledge the incredible resilience and the sense of community.

I would like also to acknowledge a few people especially for their efforts during this challenging time. I want to give a special mention to the Rural Fire Service Blue Mountains Superintendent David Jones, Hawkesbury Rural Fire Service Superintendent Karen Hodges, and Winmalee Rural Fire Service Captain Anthony Black. These are just a few examples of the remarkable men and women whom I am honoured to serve our community alongside. My thanks particularly go to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimons who showed incredible strength and character during this time. He is indeed well loved by those he leads.

I also thank everyone involved at the Recovery Centre and serving on the Recovery Committee of which I am honoured to be a part. I have never been more proud to represent such a strong and compassionate community. I know that we have only just begun the road to recovery but I am confident we will get there. Indeed, the first slabs have been laid and there are new homes beginning to be built as I speak.

As we look to the future, I am excited to begin work on delivering the commitments the coalition and I made during the last election. These are commitments I believe that will better the lives of families, individuals and businesses in both the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. It is a wonderful position to now be in government, and I can assure the people of Macquarie that I will be delivering on all the promises made during the recent election period.

The environment is very important to my local community. Indeed, the people of the Blue Mountains City, as it is known by those who live within it, understand that it is nestled within the World Heritage listed area of the Greater Blue Mountains. The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is a significant river system that not only supplies water to Sydney but, indeed, also assists with all local agriculture.

During the election the Minister for the Environment, the honourable Greg Hunt, the member for Lindsay and I announced that the coalition would provide a total of $15 million towards a Cumberland conservation corridor in Greater Western Sydney. The funding is recognition of the importance of protecting the green areas within and around our cities particularly in Greater Western Sydney and the conservation value of the Cumberland Plain Woodlands. This will be a major boost for the conservation of the area and will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish a conservation corridor which will be preserved for future generations. As young families move into this region, they will be able to explore and enjoy our natural bush while also enjoying the lifestyle that the region offers.

Other initiatives which I am looking forward to rolling out in my electorate are the Green Army projects. The Blue Mountains Heritage Trail including the Prince Henry Cliff Walk will be one of the sites in our region to benefit under the coalition's Green Army. These projects will assist to provide young people with employment opportunities and will not only provide opportunities for training and a wage but will take direct action to improve the environment in local parklands and reserves. I just acknowledge all the Bushcare groups that work across the electorate on a weekly basis, many of them cleaning up creeks and waterways behind their homes, clearing land and, indeed, in the bushfire affected areas they are now working on restoration of the bush.

CCTV coverage for hotspots in both the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury is another commitment that will make a tangible difference to small business and residents in my area. I announced, with the Minister for Justice, $360,000 in funding to have CCTV cameras installed at a number of locations in the Blue Mountains which experience safety issues and graffiti: Blaxland, Wentworth Falls, Leura and Hazelbrook. The Hawkesbury region will also receive funding of $150,000 for CCTV cameras in Richmond. This is an area that is well known to police and locals, particularly around the park area and some of the shopping centre precinct, where they have had significant vandalism.

The coalition understands that the best way to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour is, wherever possible, to prevent it occurring in the first place. Our plan for safer streets will boost the efforts of the local community to address crime and antisocial behaviour by helping them to implement crime-fighting measures such as the installation of CCTV and, of course, better lighting.

I also had the privilege of working very closely with Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism, and was able to announce $255,000 in funding, which will give this important regional tourism operator a critical boost after the recent fires that have hurt the industry. We recognise that tourism plays a huge role in the economy of the community of the Blue Mountains, and as the local member I am committed supporting operators like the BMLOT however I can. They provide significant employment for families, for individuals and particularly for our young people.

I also acknowledge the recent work of the Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise. They have contributed significantly towards the recovery after the bushfires. In fact, on Saturday, they held a building expo where at the point when I had visited—mid-afternoon—over 500 people from our community who were either impacted by fire or wanting to do refurbishment to their homes had walked through. BMEE are hoping to establish this as an annual event, with particular information given about fire protection, about protecting lives and about protecting people's homes and livelihoods into the future.

Although Macquarie sits on the doorstep of urban Sydney, there are many parts of the electorate that experience the same challenges as rural and regional Australia. One of these challenges is mobile phone coverage. I was pleased to host the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Mr Paul Fletcher—and I notice him sitting in the chamber today—in my electorate recently. Mr Fletcher and I convened a roundtable with community groups, stakeholders, local councillors, emergency service organisations and mobile service providers to discuss the coalition's $100 million Mobile Coverage Program.

This important initiative will address an area of need that was long neglected by the former government. Two important criteria will be considered in identifying priority spots and, while the $100 million will go some way to tackling the black spots that we have, it will not go all the way at first—places that fall particularly along major transport routes and areas prone to natural disaster. My electorate faces both these challenges, and Mr Fletcher and I were also able to meet with Colo Heights Rural Fire Service volunteers about the issues that emergency services face as a result of lack of mobile coverage. While this was not necessarily promoted significantly in the recent bushfires, the Howes Swamp fire posed significant challenges to the Rural Fire Service of Colo Heights. It is imperative that we address the need for mobile phone coverage in communicating both to those potentially affected and to those volunteers who need to respond quickly. As I mentioned, although we are well aware that the Mobile Coverage Program will not be able to address all areas of need, I do look forward to working with my community to try to identify the key priority areas and to work towards solutions.

I also want to thank most sincerely all the people who have supported me over the years and, of course, leading up to the last election: the people of Macquarie and, throughout the campaign last year, my dedicated team. They all know who they are—if I listed everyone today we would be here for a very long time—but I want to thank each and every one of them.

Leading up to the election in September last year there was a sense in the community of the need for the mess to be cleaned up. People were deeply concerned about the growing debt and recently Labor's legacy to Australians has become very apparent: 200,000 more unemployed, a gross debt projected to rise to $667 billion, $123 billion in cumulative deficits, more than 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat and a crippling carbon tax. Leading up to that election people in my community and businesses in my community were saying to me consistently that they recognised we needed to take hold of the reins of government; we needed to reel in the debt, we needed to make some of the tough decisions that would remove the barriers to businesses and families prospering and we needed to position Australia for a future where we could grow.

I want to thank every one of the loyal and hard-working volunteers and my ministerial colleagues who visited and offered their support during that time and since. Altogether there was a volunteer base of around 500 people, which is an outstanding effort. There is a lot of ground to cover between the top of the Blue Mountains at Mount Victoria and the Hawkesbury. I am very grateful to each and every person who was involved, but they did that because they are committed to the future of our nation.

I especially want to thank the people of Macquarie for giving me this opportunity and placing their trust in me to represent them, to give voice to their concerns and to raise in this national parliament what is important to them. I will ensure that the people of Macquarie have a strong voice. Individuals, families and small business owners have dreams, aspirations and goals for their lives, for their communities, for the people they employ, for the people they work with, for their children and for their grandchildren.

Labor's legacy is as I have mentioned: 200,000 more unemployed, gross debt projected to rise, cumulative deficits and more than 50,000 illegal arrivals. As a coalition government we are getting on with the job of building a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We are abolishing the carbon tax and ending the waste. I would like to repeat something I stated in my speech on election night: I believe now with the coalition government that people will be able to dream again, invest again, have confidence again and see their hopes and dreams become reality.