Working for the people of Dobell

13 September 2017

Federation Chamber

Thursday 13 October 2016

During the recent election campaign, my team and I knocked on tens of thousands of doors and we held countless telephone conversations with residents in the electorate of Dobell. Often during these conversations, people told me they expect members of parliament to work togetherif the best interest of our community can be found, we should agree on it.

This is my first contribution to parliamentary debate. To meet the expectations the community expects of me, I would like to place on the record that I am prepared to work with the government to deliver for Dobell. During the recent election campaign, candidates and political parties had a platform to outline their priorities for the Central Coast. As a Labor candidate, I was pleased to have the opportunity to describe how a Shorten Labor government would deliver benefits for Dobell if elected. Likewise, the Liberal candidate and former member for Dobell made a number of commitments before and during the campaign.

Whilst Labor's priorities differ and, in some instances, markedly from those of the government, the people of Dobell expect this government will deliver on those commitments made by representatives of the Liberal and National coalition before and during the election campaign. These commitments include: $3 million to support environmental management of the Tuggerah Lakes estuary; $12.3 million to complete local road upgrades; close to $4 million to support the redevelopment of local sporting facilities; and $100,000 for desperately needed equipment for the emergency department at Wyong Hospital. It is only reasonable and fair that my constituents in Dobell should have the government keep its promises and deliver on its commitments for our community.

Labor have a proud record of driving renewable energy growth. We created ARENA and we created the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The goal of ARENA was to make renewable energy more affordable and increase the supply of renewable energy sources. ARENA funding supports early research development and precommercialisation of emerging renewable technologies. Alongside completed projects, there are currently hundreds in the pipeline. For example, an ARENA grant of more than $2.8 million supported the design and construction of a catalytic hydrothermal reactor facility at the Licella plant located in Somersby on the Central Coast. This is a unique process where inedible plant material is converted into a biocrude oil, which can then be refined to produce biofuels and renewable biochemicals. To have a leading technology developed on the Central Coast is something our region can and should be very proud of. To have it happen as a result of our vision and support for ARENA is something that Labor can be rightly proud of.

As part of the omnibus bill, Labor negotiated a package that would allow ARENA to continue this vital work. Importantly, this will bring some much-needed certainty to a sector that has suffered years of attacks under this coalition government. This is an example of the way in which Labor will work with the government, and I am pleased with this constructive approach.

There is much more work to be done and it is no more obvious than in the area of public health. Under this government we have already seen a failed GP co-payment proposal that would have put an end to bulk-billing in this country; an attempt to freeze the Medicare Benefits Schedule for six years, putting bulk-billing in many practices in my community and across Australia at risk; and the ploughing ahead with changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which would increase the price of medicines for general patients by $5 and for concessional patients by 80c.

As a pharmacist who has worked in health and public health for almost 20 years, I have seen too many patients and those who love them have to make tough decisions that nobody should have to make about not filling prescriptions, not getting the vital medication that they need and when they need it. This should not and must not happen in Australia today. The cuts from pathology and diagnostic imaging will mean that patients will pay more for vital preventative and diagnostic tests, such as MRIs, X-rays and CT scans. We know that when cuts are made at this point in the health sector it means that there are delays and that people miss the chance of early intervention, early diagnosis and early treatment, which means costs to their health and costs to our health systems. It is not in the interest of the patient, it is not in the interest of those that care for them, and it is definitely not in the interest of our national budget to act in this way.

In my region, the state Liberal government is also pursuing a dangerous agenda to reduce public hospital services. They recently announced their intention to enter a public-private partnership for the Wyong Hospital upgrade. In question time on 15 September, Minister Skinner made an announcement that nobody in our community was prepared for, that nobody in our community had been consulted about and that nobody in our community supports: to ask for expressions of interest for a public-private partnership for our community hospital. As someone who has worked at this hospital for almost a decade, I am deeply concerned about what this means for patients, for the dedicated staff who care for them and for our community. There had been no mention of private sector involvement in this hospital, despite two election campaigns in which these plans could and should have been taken to the community.

We are talking about the largest employer on the Central Coast. Close to 18,000 people are employed in health care locally. Health workers are dedicated and hardworking, and many are on very modest incomes. They work to save and improve the lives of people in our community each and every day. They do not deserve this uncertainty. When Wyong Hospital opened in 1980, it was a result of a long community campaign. For around 30 years, local people banded together, fundraising and working tirelessly to establish Wyong Hospital. In 1956 the first public committee meeting was held for the formation of Wyong Hospital. It was not until 1 September 1980 that the newly constructed 100-bed hospital that had been desperately needed for decades by our community was opened.

I will joining my community this Sunday 16 October to support them in keeping our community's public hospital in public hands. I commend my Labor state colleaguesDavid Harris, David Mehan, Kathy Smith and Yasmin Catleyand Senator Deborah O'Neill for their unwavering support for our community hospital, for public health and for our community. This is our hospital. This hospital belongs to our community and its future should and must be in public hands.

This week I delivered my first speech in this place. In doing so, as with my colleague Milton Dick, I pledged to use this platform so that those living with mental illness and those who love and care for them will live better. I have worked as a pharmacist and mental health worker for close to 20 years. I know that it is impossible to separate mental illness and mental ill health from the circumstances in which we are born, in which we live, in which we work and in which we age. It is a fact that there is also an overrepresentation of people with mental illness and mental ill health in our justice system. There are better ways to approach mental health and sufferers of ill mental health. Early intervention and genuine support may prevent vulnerable people from ending up before the courts.

Too many times this government has displayed an attitude to policy development that ignores the importance of these social determinantshousing, education, health, public transport. Their repeated attempts to undermine Medicare would affect all patients, especially those needing mental health services. Their insistence that young jobseekers should wait for social security payments for any length of time will lead to severe financial hardship and affect the health and wellbeing of those who can least afford it.

Recently I received a phone call from a young woman who was desperate. She experiences lifelong enduring mental health issues and has been able, with good support, to be able to secure a job and a modest income that helps to support her and her wellbeing. She has recently found out that, due to changes, she may be ineligible for Newstart or other payments. This woman is in a desperate situation. Her mental health and her wellbeing are now vulnerable, having been triggered by a harsh measure of this government. Nobody experiencing mental illness or ill mental health should have their mental wellbeing threatened by the actions of a government that should, and must, act in their interests.

Their dogged pursuit of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage provides a platform for harmful sentiments to flourish. As a mental health worker I have seen first-hand, and I know, that what we say and how we say it matters. We need a new perspective, and it needs to start here. Right now there is an alarming lack of resources available to public hospitals and community support teams working in mental health. I first started working in mental health 20 years ago and, 20 years ago in the UK, there was a well-designed, well-resourced and well-functioning community mental health sector. I worked very closely with community mental health nurses at community health centres, and what we were doing then20 years agois being reversed in Australia today. We need to make sure that the modest gains we have madethe small increase in funding, the slight change in stigmaare kept; that there are not any changes that put those gains at risk.

Patients are increasingly cared for in the community, but if the support services are not in place to cope then patients, their carers and the community will continue to suffer. There were many mental health nurses who worked on my recent election campaignDi, Helen, Nat. These are people whom I have worked with for over 10 years at our local hospital. They worked on my campaign because, as nurses, they could not stand by, could not be idle, while this reckless government was making changes that would threaten the health and wellbeing of patients whom they care for. There is nothing cost-effective or compassionate about making it harder for people to see their doctor. There is nothing cost-effective or compassionate about making it harder for people to see their psychiatrist. There is nothing cost-effective or compassionate about making it harder for people to see their mental health worker. There is nothing responsible about withholding basic income support to young people who find themselves out of work.

Recent job figures show that 16 per cent of young people on the Central Coast today are unemployed, and recent high school retention rates indicate that one in two young people on the Central Coast does not have the chance to finish high school. This is shameful in our community on the Central Coast, where job opportunities are so limited and where one in four of the people who are working is travelling outside of the Central Coast each day to work. We need to make sure that there is basic support for young people who are motivated, who are talented, who want to work, who want to contributebut because of structural barriers are limited from being able to participate and have active and full lives. I, with my colleagues in this place, will make sure that we will always stand up for young people.

Young peoplewherever they live, whatever their postcodeshould have the same opportunity. The fact that a young person on the Central Coast today has only a 50 per cent chance of finishing high school is shameful. Our state Liberal-National government is gutting the TAFE sector so that young people, like my brother Eddie, who would choose a pathway to a trade or a trade certificate or an apprenticeship are not just limited but are stopped from doing so. My brother Eddie was one of those practical, smart, capable people in our community like so many thousands of other young people. He wanted to be a plumber. Twenty years ago on the Central Coast he could do his training locally, he could be supported locally, and he could stay within our community and be part of our community. Recently, to upgrade his qualifications, he has had to travel to Sydney. This is a man who has his own business and who has a family with two young children but for the last six months has been travelling two nights a week to Sydney to get basic accreditation that he should be to get locally.

We should use our role in this place to help people, not harm them, as we seek to remove the discrimination wherever and however it exists. It is one thing to ask people to put their trust in you and elect you as their representative in this place but meeting their expectations is another. It gives me great pride as a new MP to speak today on my first official parliamentary business. There is a reason why people want this parliament to function and why they want they both sides to work together: they want us always to put people first.