A Better Future for the Coast

A Better Future for the Coast Main Image

17 February 2022

I'm pleased to follow my colleague the member for Jagajaga and echo her sentiments. No person should be lying awake at night worried about their elderly family member in aged care. No parent or caregiver should be distressed about opportunities for their child living with a disability. In a country like Australia, everyone deserves a fair go. Everybody should be treated with respect and dignity. The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a light on the existing disparities that we have in Australia. They've only been amplified by this crisis. There are stark inequalities that we have within communities and between communities. My colleague here represents large parts of the Northern Territory, but we don't have to go as far as rural or remote Australia to see the problems that so many people have faced.

In my community, on the Central Coast of New South Wales, which is an hour and a half north of Sydney and an hour south of Newcastle, local business owners and families are just fed up with being neglected and left behind by this government. This started well before the failures of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the failures of quarantine, the bungled vaccine rollout and the desperate scramble for rapid antigen tests because the government just didn't shore up enough supply. After eight years of this government, the north end of the Central Coast, which I represent, always seems to miss out when it comes to jobs, road funding, skills and training scholarships, quality health care close to home, aged care—the list goes on and on and on. People in my community are hardworking people. They're capable. They've pulled together during this pandemic. But there are times when strong communities like mine need support, when they need a proper government that acts in their interests, where they're not left to a postcode lottery or a spreadsheet deciding who gets things and who doesn't.

How can we have a budget which has $1 trillion of debt and yet people are dying alone and afraid in aged care, young people are having their NDIS plans slashed and people who are looking for a secure place to live can't afford the rent? How can we have $1 trillion of debt and so many vulnerable people at risk and left exposed by the decisions of this government? Communities like mine deserve better. Communities across Australia deserve better. They deserve a government that governs for everyone. They deserve a government underpinned by respect, empathy and dignity. They shouldn't be left like this. The most vulnerable people in our community—frail elderly, young people with disability, people looking for work, women fleeing family violence—shouldn't be at risk and exposed because of the decisions or inaction of this government.

In a country like Australia, everyone, wherever they are born, live, grow up and age, should have a fair go to be able to live with dignity and respect. They should have a fair shot at education and training. They should have a secure job. They should have the opportunity to have their own home and to be able to support their own family. What do we need to see? We need to see access to quality education and training close to home. We need to see secure work, better conditions and steady careers. We need to see health care that you can afford when you need it and aged care at the end of your life. And yet what we're seeing is the exact opposite.

For example, in my community, when it comes to road funding, or any infrastructure funding, we constantly miss out. According to the NRMA, the Central Coast has one of the worst infrastructure backlogs in New South Wales, yet, at the same time, there are no local projects on Infrastructure Australia's priority list. The last major infrastructure project on the Central Coast was kicked off by the member for Grayndler when he was infrastructure minister—the last major infrastructure upgrade on the coast. In the 2021 budget the Morrison government announced more than $3 billion in priority road projects across the coast, but not a single cent was spent in Wyong, Tuggerah or Warnervale. In the 2019-20 budget, close to $70 million was allocated to the so-called Central Coast Roads Package, but a breakdown of the funding shows most of the money went to the neighbouring seat of Robertson, just south of my electorate. In fact, more than 90 per cent of the funding went to roads in Robertson. If you look at it per head, $419 per person was spent on roads in Robertson, but $39 per person was spent on roads in Dobell.

The north end of the Central Coast is the growth region. The north end of the Central Coast is where we have young families, and people ageing in place. The north end of the Central Coast has the biggest backlog of most regions in New South Wales, and yet what have we seen from this government? We've just been overlooked and left behind. Locals are crying out for investment to fix the Pacific Highway through Wyong and Bryant Drive at Tuggerah—two major bottlenecks in my community which are in desperate need of an upgrade. Transport projects like these would ease congestion, improve safety and create more local jobs, and they'd open up employment zones across the Central Coast. But this government is sitting on its hands and failing to invest in my community, and it's local people that are bearing the brunt of this government's failure.

Earlier I mentioned jobs and education. There are many people on the Central Coast, including young people, school leavers, looking for local jobs or, if they've got a job, looking for more secure work or more hours or a certain roster. At the same time, local businesses tell me they are looking to hire. But what everyone has said to me is that there aren't the affordable training opportunities close to home for people to gain the skills they need. I was talking to a young person I was on surf patrol with. I asked him what he was doing, and he said: 'Through COVID, I dropped out of school in year 11. It just got too tough. I've taken up a job with a local landscaper.' I said, 'Do you have an apprenticeship?' He said, 'I'd really need to travel to Ryde to get the training I need, so right now that's just not something that I can do.' Why should a young person have to travel an hour and a half to do a TAFE course to pick up the skills he needs to be able to get a steady job, to have a good career, to be able to support himself and contribute to our community and the local economy?

The government protest, but they have cut $3 billion from TAFE over the past eight years. My late father was a builder and an engineer and a TAFE teacher, and he was really proud of the quality of technical training that TAFE provided. He taught both at Ultimo TAFE and closer to Newcastle. But what we've seen under this government, and in New South Wales under the Liberal government, is that skills and training have been eroded across Australia. It's especially seen in regional and remote communities, with the costs involved for someone to travel to training or to move to Sydney to get those skills. They can't afford it on an apprentice's wage or in a traineeship. It just rules them out. It just means that they don't have the same shot, that they don't get a fair go—and from the get-go.

They government spruiked JobKeeper and JobSeeker and their success, though they were pushed to do it and lots of people were excluded. At the height of the pandemic, when work was scarce in my community, we were inundated with people who didn't meet the eligibility criteria, because it was so narrow or who, even though they were eligible, couldn't access the support when they needed it. I heard from a local hairdresser who was meant to open her business in June, in the peak of the pandemic on the Central Coast. She told me that she then had to use different credit cards and personal loans to be able to cover her costs, and she ended up driving for Menulog. She's got two children at home and she had a business that was set up and ready to go, and that's what she had to do during COVID to get by—and she did it. She is a hardworking, capable person, and now her business is open and doing well. But that was her experience, and that was avoidable. The distress because of the financial insecurity was avoidable, as it was for so many people like her, businesswomen across Australia. So, instead of making it easier for people to access the training or support they need to upskill, to get into the job market or to progress their career, the government are only making it harder for people. It's just not good enough.

We have to fix this. We need to fix this. Communities like mine, or anyone living outside of a big city, whether they're in the outer suburbs, the regions or remote Australia, need better than this. The government needs to make it easier for people to find work, for communities to get the funding they need and for locals to access quality health care.

Before I was elected, I worked at Wyong hospital in my community on the Central Coast of New South Wales. I just want to say this at this time. The government have praised health workers, and they've commended them, but do you know what healthcare workers are telling me? They're saying that the time for cupcakes and applause is over. What they need is proper pay and conditions. What they need is proper support to be able to do their jobs.

I heard from a father recently who spoke to me about his daughter who had to leave nursing. She was someone who loved her job. She was dedicated to supporting people and caring for them and working with our local community. She's receiving counselling and mental health support at the moment—and I understand she's doing better. But, because of the conditions that she had to work under, because of a role she had to step up to because others weren't able to do it, she's ended up in a mental health crisis.

This is avoidable. How can our government, our health minister and our aged-care minister say how much they value aged-care workers, disability support workers and healthcare workers and at the same time underpay them or have them working in conditions that are not safe for the people that they're trying to care for, the people that they're working with? It's a risk, and it has to change. It just cannot go on for people in my community or other communities like it. We need a government that genuinely cares about people. As someone said to me recently—they were reflecting on the government and their decision-making—'They just don't have any empathy. They just don't seem to care.' If you don't care and you don't know that these people are struggling, how are you going to be able to do anything about it?

What people in my community want is what anyone wants. They want to be able to have a place to live, a roof over their head. They want their children to be able to have a good education close to home. They want to be able to see a future for communities like mine, where communities are thriving. In my community our people are its strength. But there are times when even strong communities need support, and this is one of those times. We're going into the third year of a pandemic. People are exhausted. They're burnt out. They're vulnerable. Some of them are alone and afraid. And what has this government done? They've neglected them. They've abandoned them. When people most need a government, the government says, 'We need to get government out of the way.' What people need is a good government that acts in their interests and provides the proper support that they need.

Under a future Labor government Australia will be a country where everyone has a fair go, where, wherever you live or were born or grow up, you'll have a chance. Under a future Labor government we'll be a country that makes things again.

I met with a machinist recently, and he took me into his workshop and showed me the things that they used to make, including a weighing scale that they made for shopping centres. He said to me, 'I've been working as a machinist for 40 years. We had quality training. We had the most capable and skilled technical people.' He's in this workshop by himself. We've got workshops like that and people like him across Australia. We used to be a country that made things. We were a country that trained technical and skilled people. We should have that opportunity again.

After almost a decade of manufacturing being sent offshore and Australian workers being neglected under this government, Labor has a plan to bring things back to our shores. We once had a proud tradition of a manufacturing industry, creating thousands of local jobs. In a community like mine, we had a history of food and beverage manufacturing. We've got companies like Sanitarium, Master Foods and Kellogg's. What they need is a government that invests in them so that we can see an expansion and growth in jobs, especially outside of big cities. A Labor government will establish a Future Made in Australia Office, because we want to prioritise Australian businesses.

As I mentioned, there are so many talented, capable, motivated people living in communities like mine across Australia that haven't been given a shot. They haven't been given a fair go, and that's what they need. They need a government that will back them in.

A Labor government will also provide 465,000 free TAFE places, to encourage people to study in areas where there are skills shortages—people like the young man on surf patrol I was talking to you about, Madam Deputy Speaker. He deserves the opportunity to have a quality TAFE course that he can afford close to home to get the skills that he needs. He shouldn't be forced to get on a train to Sydney—and he couldn't afford to move to Sydney. People like him deserve a fair go.

What Australians need is a plan for the future, and one that brings all Australians together so that, wherever you're born, live, grow up or age, you have a fair shot and you know you can rely on a government that acts in your best interests. We need a change of government!