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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1604

Mr FITZGIBBON(8.13) —The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron)--

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr FITZGIBBON —I exaggerated his title in exactly the same way that he exaggerated some of the truthful statements which he might well have made in this House. It has been an interesting afternoon. Some of the revelations which have been made here this evening are downright unbelievable. One would have thought that honourable members opposite were about to judge the academy awards. We had the marvellous sense of humour displayed by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who is, as somebody appropriately said, the mouth from the south. We had the hamming by the honourable member for Maranoa who, because of his gutter ignorance, was turfed out of this illustrious chamber last week. We welcome him back. We hope that his manners have improved. We have had play acting, distortions of the truth and histrionics. I suggest honourable members opposite look up the meaning of that word. We have had downright lying. In all fairness, I must ask: How short are the memories of the honourable members opposite? Have they forgotten the incompetence, the ineptitude, of their own handling of this economy?

I am delighted that the Appropriation Bills provide me with the opportunity to comment on matters which concern the nation in general and my electorate in particular. I am pleased that an extra $362.5m is being sought by the Department of Defence. This Government is conscious of the defence needs of this nation. I take time here to state that there is no truth whatsoever in the nonsense rumour circulated by the members of the National Party of Australia in my electorate that the Singleton Army Base is to be phased out over four years. I assure the people in my electorate that there will be a strong Army presence in Singleton while ever I am alive and beyond. The Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) will be making a statement on the Singleton Army Base in the near future.

Mr Ian Cameron —You might not live long.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Honourable members opposite should not make me read out what I have in my pocket. The Singleton Army Base is a welcome neighbour in the Hunter Valley. It is essential to the economy of both Singleton and the Hunter Valley. This Government will not be so stupid as to throw aside the very large capital which the Department of Defence has invested in the Singleton township. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on what it has done for my electorate in its budgetary considerations. Recently I attended the opening of two senior citizens centres in my electorate. Those who use the centres are most appreciative of what this Government is doing to improve their enjoyment of their senior years. On Saturday, a 60-bed nursing home was opened in East Maitland. The nursing home was built with the assistance of a Federal grant of nearly $1m. This Government is not just mouthing empty promises to the senior citizens of the Hunter electorate; it is providing essential services. I thank the Department of Community Services and the Minister for Community Services, Senator Don Grimes, for the attention being given to my electorate. Maitland had a desperate need for a nursing home and the Hawke Government had delivered the goods.

The Hunter electorate appreciates equally the so visible assistance being provided by the Minister for Transport, the Hon. Peter Morris. The Federal Government's new Australian land transport program, which was announced recently, will greatly benefit country roads in the Hunter electorate. The national highway program will provide unprecedented opportunities for the people who live in or visit the Hunter Valley. The improved road system will provide a major boost for the Hunter Valley's important tourist industry. The potential of our wine and tourist industries is virtually untapped. There is limitless potential. People are aware of this. There is not one detractor of the wonderful and innovative promotion being achieved by the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, the Hon. John Brown. However, while agreeing that our roads are in need of improvement, the achievements of the Labor Minister for Transport are superb compared with the ineptitude and the neglect that characterised the coalition's handling of roads when it was in government. I make this point: In 1981-82, when we had a coalition Federal government, the amount spent on Federal local road grants was $161.6m The amount to be spent in 1985-86 is $257.7m, an increase of 59.5 per cent. In the last year of the Fraser Government $685m was spent on total Federal road grants. This year $1,245m will be spent, an increase of 81.8 per cent. In the last year of the Fraser Government-I am sorry to embarrass the chaps opposite; I bet they wish to hide under their seats-$302.7m was spent on national road grants. This year $560m will be spent, an increase of 85.1 per cent. Another instance is the arterial roads grant. Under Fraser $220.7m was spent; this year $526.9m will be spent, an increase of 94.4 per cent. How embarrassed the chaps on the Opposition benches must be to hear their incompetence and ineptitude compared with the brilliant successes being achieved by a Labor government.

I spoke in this House last week, and I will continue to speak in this House, of the disgraceful lack of sewerage in my electorate. That significant urban areas are without sewerage in this last quarter of the twentieth century is, as I have said before, a national scandal. The last genuine attempt to address the national sewerage backlog was the Sewerage Agreement Act in 1973 under the Whitlam Government's national sewerage program. In its last year of government a total of $118m was given to provide an essential facility to those people who live not in isolated farm houses but in urban areas and are denied this essential facility. I will not repeat my quip about Fraser denying people the opportunity to pull the chain, but let me say that Fraser just showed the concern he had for people who live in unsewered townships. We should bury our heads in shame. Due to the work of this Labor Government, there will be one chance-in October, at a national forum on infrastructure. We hope that that will do something to overcome the serious sewerage backlog.

Mr Hodgman —I am with the honourable member on this one. We should flush the Prime Minister out.

Mr FITZGIBBON —I am glad that the Charlie Chaplin from the south, that master of histrionics, is in my corner. If we do not do something we may all end up in the unmentionable, and we will deserve to.

I turn now to another national tragedy, a problem which is particularly acute in the Hunter Valley. I refer, of course, to unemployment. This Government has done marvellously in its efforts to create employment. It has performed brilliantly compared with the hopeless ineptitude of the Fraser Government. The Hawke Government's initiatives deserve to be lauded but it is essential that we keep up those efforts to get out of the abyss of despair into which we were plunged through the muganomics of the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) while he was Treasurer. The Government is keeping up its efforts. Thankfully, in the Hunter electorate today the Federal Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and the New South Wales Minister for Employment, the Hon. Bob Debus, announced the project involving the building of parks and community centres at Landcom estates. These Landcom estates in the Hunter region will be provided with much needed community facilities. These worthwhile developments will also create employment. There will be a total expenditure of $2.1m and 110 jobs will be created. We are seeing more money from this Government than we would have seen in a decade from the conservatives on the other side of this House.

I make mention of a further problem, one which is expanding and which requires vast expenditure if it is to be checked. However we look at the subject, there is no rational explanation of why Australia should have a housing problem. Yet in Australia 138,000 people are on the waiting list for Housing Commission homes. The cost of meeting that great need, at a cost of, say $50,000 per house, amounts to a staggering $6.9 billion. The Government has done well with such measures as the first home owners scheme but the housing problem remains a mammoth one which needs to be addressed urgently. The Federal and State governments must make a more genuine attempt to meet the housing needs of the people they represent. Years of government inaction have caused this situation. In this respect I am not talking about a Labor government, I am talking about a conservative government which has occupied the treasury bench for the greater part of this century since Federation. If the responsibility for the things that are missing to make our lives what they should be lies anywhere, honourable members opposite know where it lies. They should hang their heads in shame. Years of government inaction have left Australians with a housing problem second only to unemployment in magnitude and social cost.

It is a tragedy that drug abuse, crime and moral decay have caused our society to degenerate to a level which sees the virtual collapse of the family as a cohesive social unit. Instead we see the ascendancy of a general aimlessness and a loss of purpose which makes supported accommodation a growth industry. Recently there has been action in this House in an attempt to remedy that unfortunate state of affairs. Unfortunately, we live in a less than perfect society, a society where there is a booming need for crisis accommodation. Twenty years ago most members of this House had never heard of a refuge or a rape or crisis centre. What a tragedy it is that we now hear those words daily. It is pleasing that this Government is moving positively to address the need for supported accommodation. A program involving co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States is needed sorely because the problem of homelessness is nationwide. All States and the Northern Territory are in dire need of crisis and youth accommodation.

The Australian newspaper of 8 March this year cited a figure of more than 25,000 homeless youth in Australia with crisis centres and youth refuges unable to meet the growing demand-this in International Youth Year. There are young people today who, because of family breakdown, unemployment or other factors, are leading lives which can only be described as nightmarish. Their lives are frightening and the problems of youth homelessness are frightening. So enormous and complex are these problems that I have a great fear that although this Government is increasing funding by 100 per cent this year it will not be enough. It will serve only to attack the symptoms rather than the causes of homelessness.

We must recognise that homelessness is an expanding problem. Vast sums will be needed to check that expansion. In the electorate of Hunter we have stories which match those coming from other centres throughout the nation. It is necessary for the community to realise that the young homeless are not bums and dole bludgers. Certainly there are drug victims who need help but needing help also are those young people who are victims of emotional and sexual abuse and parental rejection. The media, the churches, the welfare workers and even members on the other side of this House recognise the need for crisis accommodation. Adequate food and shelter are fundamental to human rights and we must make every endeavour to ensure the provision of these basics for survival in life.

We do not want our young people, our women or any male to be forced to sleep in the streets. Every community must have crisis accommodation. It is not good enough when there is one centre for several communities, or none at all. We do not want to read stories such as those which appeared in the Sunday Mail or the Hobart Mercury this year about homeless youths sleeping in Life Line bins. Another such story appeared in the West Australian the following day. It told of homeless and distressed young boys and girls engaging in prostitution. Too often we read reports about needed crisis accommodation centres closing because of the shortage of funds. Never again must we read such reports.

I know that every member of this House is able to relate a gruesome, awesome and tragic story about a man, woman or child who has had an unmet need for supported accommodation assistance. In the Hunter electorate and in every other electorate people are doing magnificent work to alleviate the problem and the terror of homelessness, but willingness and strong arms are not enough without financial assistance. Governments must make sure that they do not fail those who are out in the field trying to create a better life for those whose need for help is desperate.