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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1763

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (17:11): I too take a great deal of pride and pleasure in speaking today in response to the address by the Governor-General. I would like to commence by thanking the people of the Parkes electorate for returning me here for the third term, and by thanking the people who worked so hard—donated time and money—to help me be successful at the election.

I would like to start by thanking my campaign committee. I believe that I have the best campaign manager in Australia in Peter Bartley. He is methodical and he has attention to detail; the way he runs a campaign is something that is admired by many. No stone is left unturned. I believe the success of the campaign largely rests at Peter's feet. I also thank Warwick Knight, the Parkes electoral council chairman, Max Zell, Peter Tremble, Pauline and Trevor McAllister, Claudia Tremble, Sandy Walker and Doug McKay, who were the key people who worked on that campaign, plus the numerous other people who gave up many hours and days of time working in the campaign office. I also thank the campaign secretary, Brie Collie, who is very proficient in that job.

During the election there would have been, I suspect, somewhere around 1,000 people who helped to work towards getting the Nationals and me elected in the seat of Parkes. With 98 individual polling stations, that is no mean feat. I can proudly say that, of the 98 polling stations, I won 96. With the prepoll now running for two weeks, it is an enormous strain to resource those booths. I really would like the Electoral Commission to look at the reasoning behind running a prepoll for two weeks—why we need it. I think 30 per cent of the residents of Parkes are either prepolled or postal voted. So, not only was there no scrutiny, no reasons given; anyone who wants to walk in can prepoll. On election day there are 13 polling booths in Dubbo itself, and many of those had low numbers because people had been voting for the last couple of weeks. I really think a couple of things need to happen: either reduce the time for prepoll or look at some rationalisation of polling booths.

Thanks to the campaign that was run, I am very proud to say that more people voted for me in the Parkes electorate than for any other seat in Australia. I am here today with 72.3 per cent of the two-party vote, and it is something I am very proud of. Some of the journalists in the media up there seem to think that having a safe seat is somehow a bad thing, but that is not a decision made by me; that is a decision made by the people who live in the electorate, the people who voted for me, which was a clear majority. Anyone who says that having a safe seat is a bad thing is casting aspersions on the residents of the Parkes electorate.

Apart from having a good campaign team and volunteers, my re-election had a lot to do with the staff who work for me. They are very professional, caring and competent staff. They know that every issue that comes into my office is the single most important issue for the person who brought it in, and they treat each one with a prompt, professional and caring manner. As many of us in this place know, quite often we deal with issues that are of a very personal nature and sometimes a very emotional nature. The way that the constituents of Parkes are treated by the staff in the Dubbo and Moree office is very much appreciated by them and very much appreciated by me. I would like to mention my staff by name. Evelyn Barber is the office manager and she deals with migration and the like. I am the fourth federal member she has worked for. Brie Colley is my political adviser and my main confidante with matters that go on in this place. Cate Bailey is my diary manager, and she has a fan club all over the third of New South Wales that makes up the Parkes electorate through her dealings with them. Erica Tudor works in Dubbo and is very efficient around the office and she deals with issues regarding telecommunications, the NBN and the like. Julia Steele now works part-time, a couple of days a week, because she got married last year. For a young person she is incredibly perceptive and she is someone whose advice I take. Linda Woodbridge, whose past life as a Salvation Army officer adds another dimension to the services that we can deliver, is very much noticed by those who deal with my office, and her love and commitment to the Aboriginal community in the Parkes electorate is greatly appreciated. Finally, Cathy Heidrich is a newcomer to the team who is now working as a whip's clerk here in Canberra. The connection between my role here as a member of parliament and the electorate is very much appreciated.

There was a need for a change of government, and the people of Parkes were definitely telling me that. On election day they certainly went in to express their disappointment in the previous government. There is a lot of talk here about the rhetoric and three-word slogans and whatever, but these people witnessed the incompetence of the previous government with their own eyes. Many of them witnessed it with their own hip pockets, unfortunately. Through programs that may have had the best intentions but were absolutely hopeless in their implementation, many of my constituents were left with a bitter taste in their mouths and some of them have been left financially bereft. I have people in my electorate who, through the BER program, are still owed money because of the collapse of Reed Constructions and also the collapse of a subcontractor in the Dubbo area. I am talking about people like Chris Catterall, a builder at Moree, who is still owed $642,000 for the BER program and has no sign of getting that back.

No-one can argue about the need for public housing, but because the public housing project in Moree was a federal program and it did not have any scrutiny, the 60 units that were built are now being evacuated. They were exempt from council supervision and they were built on the blacksoil plains at Moree with insufficient foundations put in, so they are sinking into the black soil. The drainage is cracking. An Aboriginal lady has commented that she cannot sleep in her bedroom because it reeks of urine. Now there is the expense of housing those people for the months it is going to take to repair the damage, and indeed I understand the repair bill is going to exceed the original cost of construction. It is just incompetence in management.

With the pink batts program we had house insulation companies that got into severe financial problems because every shyster and snake oil salesman got themselves into the program. Not only did they rip off the mainly elderly people in my electorate by not installing the batts correctly but the legitimate contractors could not compete and got into trouble.

The carbon tax was a focus of the election but it was very real for the people in my electorate. I have heard members from the opposition proudly say that our emissions have dropped because of the carbon tax, but I can tell you why they have dropped. They have dropped because the pensioners in the western towns of New South Wales are not running their air conditioners in the summertime, despite the fact that it gets up to 50 degrees, because they cannot pay the bills. They have dropped because a cement plant at Kandos, that has been there for over 100 years—it was in the Parkes electorate and is now in the electorate of Hunter—closed down the very week that the carbon tax was announced. Now the cement for projects in the Parkes electorate—the wind farms and things like that that are going ahead—comes through Sydney Harbour from an overseas country and is trucked up over the mountains. The people of Parkes could see the lunacy of that, and they clearly had had enough of that form of mismanagement.

The previous government really did not stop to take into account the things that really mattered. For the whole six years, no federal money went into mobile phone coverage. I represent 257,000 square kilometres—over a third of New South Wales—and nearly half the land mass of my electorate has no coverage at all. It is not just the remote areas around Bourke and places like that; in villages like Goolma and areas a few kilometres out of Mudgee—which is a growing and bustling community—there is no phone coverage. When 53 homes were lost at Coonabarabran because of the fires, the alerts could not go out to the fire brigade because many of the people who were as close as five kilometres from Coonabarabran have no mobile phone coverage.

It is not as if there were not provision made. Over $2½ billion was set aside by the Howard government for rural telecommunications infrastructure. I can remember sitting in this place in 2008 while then Prime Minister Rudd removed that money for regional telecommunications under the pretext of the global financial crisis. That was money that was set aside to provide for the people of the bush but was rolled into things like the $900 cash handouts—the handouts that led to the Boggabilla Town and Country Club taking $50,000 out of their poker machines in a week. That money could have put up phone towers but it was squandered. The people of the Parkes electorate saw that.

The people of the Parkes electorate realise that there is a need for water reform. They have lived that water reform for years. But we had the craziness of the government going and purchasing Toorale Station, where the water comes from the Warrego River—an ephemeral stream which only runs when there is flooding in Queensland. When they purchased Toorale Station for, I think, $27 million, they took away 10 per cent of the income of the Bourke Shire. They just removed it for no environmental gain. The great irony of Toorale Station is that the only wetland that is now sustaining wildlife, birds and the like is the infrastructure from the old cotton farms at Toorale. I seriously think that our government needs to look at returning Toorale back into production. There has been no environmental gain from that and it has been devastating to the communities of Bourke. That is why the people of the Parkes electorate turned their back on the former government. It was not because of the campaign and it certainly was not because of the debate in this place. It was because they could see that the issues that affected them daily were attributed to the previous government.

There are great opportunities now with the change of government. People are not looking for a press conference every day. They are not looking for wars to be waged on the price of groceries through GroceryWatch. They are not looking for revolutions in education. They just want stable, sensible government. I have to say that in the last couple of weeks they saw what it means to have a sensible government in Canberra. I talk about the issue of drought and the fact that the Prime Minister came to western New South Wales, to my area, and he listened to the people of the Parkes electorate out at Bourke and the surrounding areas explain the situation to him—without grand speeches, without emotion and without playing policies—in plain language from the bush that he understood and we got a package that is sensible for the economic times that we are in. There were some complaints from the opposition agriculture spokesman that it was not timely. But we have seen what happens when programs have been rushed out in a hurried way, and we were better to be another week or two getting this program in place and having it done properly.

I look forward to implementing programs like the Green Army program. I have been working with Moree council already on a Green Army program in places like Toomelah, Boggabilla and Boobera Lagoon—the resting place of the Rainbow Serpent—where the Aboriginal young people will get their first taste of regular employment. While people may sneer at work for the dole, I can tell you that from my past experience as a local government mayor back in 2004 and 2005 when the previous work for the dole program was there, people appreciate having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. If the adults in the house are out doing meaningful work during the day, maybe they will be asleep at night and the children in that house will be able to get a good night's sleep so they can go to school during the day.

People might talk about the rights of people to be able to work, but I think that is a false statement. The rights that matter to me are the rights of those children. Those children, who are living in dysfunctional homes because there is no direction, there are no jobs in that home and there is alcohol and drug abuse, have a right over all else. The Green Army project, work for the dole and the fact that there is a mutual obligation in that, if you are able-bodied and you are of a working age, you are obliged to go and do something will make a difference. I am looking forward to helping my colleagues implement that.

We have already had the announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister about finishing the bypass at Moree—a missing link in the Newell Highway; the main link between Melbourne and Brisbane that has been languishing for some years. It was left half completed because of the inefficiency and ineptness of the former New South Wales Labor government and it will now be completed. Money has already been contributed to the inland rail—a steel Mississippi, linking Melbourne to Brisbane, right through western New South Wales, through Queensland and through the food bowl of Victoria. You will be able to put a container of grain from Moree on the train and have the choice to take it to any one of three or four ports, taking hundreds of semitrailers off the Newell Highway. The freight that goes from Melbourne to Brisbane will come on a train at high speed—saving energy and saving emissions. I believe that that steel Mississippi through western New South Wales will be the impetus for real growth and industry returning to inland New South Wales. I welcome the appointment of my predecessor, John Anderson, to that project's implementation committee, and I look forward to going to Moree with the Deputy Prime Minister on Friday to attend the forum on the inland rail.

I look forward to working with our colleagues to identify spots where we can roll out the Black Spot Program. I look forward to the implementation of a broadband network suitable to the people in the bush. The program now duplicates high-speed broadband in metropolitan areas, yet some people in the bush do not even have the basic service of a phone. Most of my constituents were never going to get fibre to the home because they do not live in a metropolitan area. We need to get a program suitable to the bush.

It is a great privilege to be the member for Parkes. It is an area that I love. My wife, Robyn, and I live every day for it. We travel in it continually. I never wake up without a great feeling of joy that I am going to work in this job, and it is a great privilege to be here on behalf of the people of Parkes. I thank the people of Parkes for allowing me the privilege to be here. I thank my staff. I particularly thank my wife, Robyn, who is at my side all the time. If I went under a bus, I think the people of Parkes would choose her in a heartbeat! I pay tribute to the Governor-General and wish her well in her retirement.