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Wednesday, 23 October 2019
Page: 5267

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:39): I thank very much the whips on the Labor team and the speakers whom I've jumped ahead of for allowing me to give my address-in-reply today. This is my last week in parliament before I go on maternity leave, so I do thank them for being generous in allowing me to leap ahead.

I want to start with the election itself and I want to acknowledge all of the great supporters that we have in the Bendigo electorate and the people who put in such an effort. Yes, there are 151 of us here, but we represent a very broad network of people who really believe in our democracy. Regardless of party, regardless of politics, there are the true believers in all of our parties—the party faithful who really help get behind us to support the ideas and values. The Bendigo electorate has some of the most active branches across the region, and I want to pay tribute to and thank all of the Bendigo Labor branches: Bendigo South, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Kyneton and Woodend.

I particularly want to give a shout-out to Pauline Brown, our president in Woodend, and Eric Dearricott and Marg Dearricott, our president and secretary in Kyneton. The Bendigo electorate is a large electorate, and they have consistently helped to run our show in the south, making sure that we have not just our polling booth staffed but our prepoll staffed and making sure that we are doing our doorknocking, our street stalls and our letterboxing.

I also want to acknowledge the great efforts of the Castlemaine branch and, in particular, Debbie Lawn. We have had three prepolls in our electorate this year, the first in Castlemaine, and we had probably the best result we've ever had at a prepolling station in Castlemaine. Every time I turned up, there were at least four of us there, and it wasn't until the last week that we actually had some opposition. So we felt pretty good about our coverage and the conversations that we were having with voters in Castlemaine.

In Bendigo, I want to give a particular shout-out to the many volunteers who helped staff the prepoll and on polling day and also did the phone calling and the doorknocking, as well as the letterboxing. I want to make particular mention of my campaign manager, Kate Sutherland. She is the office manager in our team and took time out to help run the campaign. These are the fantastic people in our office who really pulled it together to make sure that we had our strongest foot forward.

We had volunteers and the coordinators of our volunteers, and what I was really proud of was the fact that the people in Labor in Bendigo do it because they believe in it. They believe in Labor; they believe in our purpose. We have a strong campaign team and we've built a very strong brand in Bendigo Labor. I acknowledge our fabulous state MPs, Maree Edwards, Jacinta Allan and Mary-Anne Thomas, who are part of the campaign team as well. We do have a bit of a lock on the region, and, working closely together as a team, we work hard there to ensure that we're representing the community.

I want to make particular mention of my friend Michael Grimes, who passed away this morning. He has always been such a warrior and an advocate for the people of Maldon and for the Labor cause. Even though he was starting to get quite ill, he was still very active in the campaign. Joanna Casey, who is sick at the moment, has done our mobile booths in the south of the electorate for years. This time she took on a trainee, a mentee, because, as she said at the time, she didn't think she'd be around for the next election. I hope she holds on, but I know she is very unwell. I'd like to give her and her family my best wishes. These are real people in real communities who believe in something and make me very proud to be their elected representative and a Labor representative.

Unfortunately, though, when we turned up at a number of the polling booths on election day, not all the people there were volunteers. The Liberal Party had taken the unprecedented step of paying people to hand out how-to-vote cards. It was the first time we'd seen that in our area. Bendigo is a marginal seat; it's a swing electorate. In 2013, the margin dropped to 51 per cent. We just held on; it was a tough election. When you go from that election in 2013 to the election 2019, where the Liberal Party engaged a labour hire agency and paid people to hand out how-to-vote cards, you start to question whether people in our region support their values. And people don't. The results in Bendigo really reflect that.

They were not the only ones. We had a number of candidates who put their hand up at this election for the Clive Palmer party, the Pauline Hanson party or the Fraser Anning party. We had a number of candidates to the right of us who were all working closely together and, on election day, paying people to hand out how-to-vote cards. It's a step in our democracy that I think we should be worried about—that we pay people to hand out party material. It is less about the values, the ideas and that broader social movement and more about who has money. We saw that play out in a number of areas. Whilst parties are still doing their reviews and there is some work for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to do, I believe that all Australians should be worried that individuals can spend $60 million on an election campaign to have an influence. Money entered this federal election campaign like no other, and it did have an influence.

I also believe we really need to focus on the role of social media and the impact that it is having on our politics, not just in election campaigns but all year round. Some call it fake news, some call it misinformation, but the problem is that, when a lie, or misleading information, is identified on Facebook, all they do is cop a complaint. They are not bound, and have not been bound, to take down that misleading information. If it were in a newspaper, in print, or on TV, there would be avenues for candidates and political parties to pursue that misleading information. Truth in advertising does occur in the mainstream media. There is a process. Sure, it could be strengthened, but there is a process. But the same does not exist for social media engines.

So I hope that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters really looks into the role of social media and the impact that misinformation, fake news, fake campaigning and, quite frankly, lies are having. That's not just the impact they have had on our side of politics but the impact on all sides of politics. We do not want to be a parliament that is elected because of the amount of money an individual or business interest may have. We need to be a parliament that is elected through a genuine debate of ideas, a contest of values, and people who get out there to do the grassroots campaigning and say, 'This is our vision and our plan for Australia.'

I'd like to really thank the people of Bendigo electorate. We ran a tough campaign and we worked hard. We are really proud of the network that we have in Bendigo, not just the Labor network but Labor supporters, our like-minded people. Thank you for returning me again to be your representative here in this parliament, for the third time and on an increased majority. We are at 59 per cent, which is a high-water mark for Labor in Bendigo, similar to the result that we got in 2010.

The reason why I raise that is not to crow but to talk about why it is we had a positive result. It is because we had a plan. Labor had a plan for Bendigo, and we were honest about that plan. We made commitments towards community infrastructure projects that people in the region really wanted to see: funding towards the airport terminal upgrade, to ensure that we could have more flights coming in and out of Bendigo; funding for the rail trail between Daylesford and Hanging Rock, a great tourism infrastructure project for the south; and funding to help Castlemaine District Community Health to find a new home, to build a new home, to ensure that they have a place in the new Castlemaine health and wellbeing precinct.

We committed funding to help our councils build footpaths, to fill the gaps that exist. Some may not realise it, but in areas like Bendigo, where you've got new estates and old estates, sometimes what's missing is the footpath between those new and old estates. The new estate only requires the developers to build the footpaths inside the new estate, so we made a commitment towards helping local councils build those missing links. Even though footpaths are not a federal issue, it's an area where I believe federal government can play a role to help partner with local government to deliver that vital community infrastructure. Just like we have Roads to Recovery and bridges to recovery, we could have paths to recovery, to encourage people to be out and active, riding to school, riding to work, pushing strollers. We need paths where older people can feel safe when they're walking. We need to make sure that we're helping our councils fill in those missing links. In regional communities and regional town centres, there are a lot of those missing links. It's always devastating when someone walks over to talk to you at a listening post, and they've got their high-vis vest on so that they're not hit by a car, because there is no path for them to walk on. That happens a lot in our electorate, because of the nature of the growth that we've had and the expansion of Bendigo and our towns.

I'm hoping that these are the projects that this government will adopt. Unfortunately, this was the first election where the Liberal-National party did not commit any money to Bendigo: no projects; not a dollar. No community infrastructure projects were prioritised, despite the lobbying and campaigning of our local councils, of our Bendigo business group, Be.Bendigo, and of a number of other stakeholders. The Liberal Party committed zero to the electorate. Yet our electorate has a similar make-up and a similar demographic—okay, we don't have the Great Ocean Road—to Corangamite, where they committed billions. So you can accuse them of pork-barrelling to save marginal seats and of deprioritising regional Victoria, where we need our fair share of funding as well. Not one dollar was committed to Bendigo, and now we are engaged in a campaign to, hopefully, see this government adopt the plan for the electorate that we put forward on behalf of the community. The government has a chance to do so in the MYEFO budget coming up. They have a chance to do so by committing to those vital community infrastructure projects that I have outlined.

There are also projects that I haven't yet outlined that should be considered. They include funding for the La Trobe University Rural Road Trauma Research Hub. We have a road trauma research hub at Monash University, but it focuses mainly on metro roads. The idea behind this is to focus on rural roads. We know that, particularly in Victoria, the death toll is higher—fatalities are higher—on our rural roads. La Trobe identified the need to establish a research hub to look into this issue and to look into safety, and I encourage the government and the education minister to pick up that project.

I also encourage them to fund the Macedon Ranges sports hub. To hear that money is going to other electorates— and the government understands the importance of these centralised precincts—is a bit frustrating, because this project has been on the books for a while. It will support not just sports in my electorate of Bendigo but also many clubs and sports in the McEwen electorate. It will actually be based in the McEwen electorate. McEwen and Bendigo share the Macedon Ranges. We know the government, through questions in question time, understands the importance of these hubs. It would be great to see the funding flow to all regions that require it.

I guess that leads me to the groundhog day experience of being back in parliament and back in opposition. So much of what we've seen already since this government was re-elected is same old, same old: old policies, old legislation and old bills that they tried to get through after the 2014 budget just keep coming up. It's like they've run out of ideas already, and we're only in the beginning of the term. The attacks on pensioners continue. Today, we're seeing more legislation that will cut pensioners' incomes, particularly for pensioners who may wish to travel overseas to see family—kicking them off the pension if they're overseas for more than six weeks. It's just unfair. These are people who have worked hard in Australia their whole lives. The government is targeting a demographic of our community who have moved here, established their lives here and worked hard here. These people may, in their twilight years, wish to travel to the country of their birth or to the country of their family, but are having to cut the trip short so that they're not kicked off the pension.

I guess it wouldn't be as concerning if we had decent investment in resources and the reversal of the funding cuts to Centrelink. Since they've been back, we've again seen this government attack people on Newstart, people who are looking for work. One in five people on Newstart are underemployed, meaning they can't get enough hours and so they rely on Newstart to subsidise their income. These aren't drug addicts or dole bludgers or any other name that the government wishes to throw at them; these are people who are working and who simply can't get enough hours in their industry. And that is growing: we have 1.9 million underemployed Australians in this country. It's the highest it has ever been, yet there is no plan from this government to fix that crisis of underemployment.

One in four people on Newstart are over the age of 55. If the government were serious about supporting people on Newstart, they'd meet with them and learn their stories; they'd meet people who had been employed full-time but, because of shutdowns in manufacturing or losing their jobs, haven't been able to find secure employment since. They'd meet people who were working in a profession that they physically could no longer do. I've met nurses, I've met construction workers, I've met cleaners who, after they reach the age of 55 or 60, might incur an injury and they can no longer continue in their occupation. Many have retrained and tried to get work in their new field, but the jobs don't exist. This government has done nothing to address the real issue of age discrimination when it comes to employment.

This government has done nothing to support young people looking for work. They continue to tout their Youth Jobs PaTH program, the exploitative $4-an-hour internship. There's the Work for the Dole program, which evidence and inquiry after inquiry have proven is not a pathway to genuine work. What they have not done is strike a compact with industry about how to rebuild those entry-level jobs. Instead, what we see is more legislation attacking young people, and we've seen that in their proposal to trial drug-testing of Newstart and youth allowance recipients. Instead of engaging with young people to learn about the barriers they face and why they're not in work, this government goes straight for the political attack. It demonstrates that this government is all about rhetoric and impression and not about substance and real reform.

There are some massive challenges in Australia right now and we don't have the government who can take them on. The statistics that came out last week—that is, the fact that one in six children are living in poverty—should be the alarm bell, the wake-up call the government needs to get on with genuine, real and lasting reform. In some of our communities, in regional areas like Bendigo and some of our suburbs, it's 50 per cent of the children. The report went into that level of detail. Yet there is no plan from this government; no commitment, no outrage, no inquiry, no crisis meeting to tackle that issue. We also had the startling statistic that one in four women go without food, go without at least one meal a week so as to feed their children, yet this government hasn't had any genuine conversations about how we're going to tackle food insecurity and other challenges.

I've mentioned the challenges with underemployment; we have problems with long-term unemployment. The economy is not fair and is not delivering for all. It's time we had a government that stopped with the rhetoric and started the reform that's required to ensure that all people in our communities get a decent and fair go. I hope that the next election comes around quickly and that it's going to be a fair contest of ideas and a fair contest on the agendas and platforms, and that it's not skewed by who has the most dollars and who can run the biggest fear campaign on social media.

Sitting suspended from 12:59 to 16 : 00