In Parliament

2009 In Parliament

2009 NOV 25 – National Drowning Report

NATIONAL DROWNING REPORT

November 25, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (9.36 am) — With summer rapidly approaching, I take this opportunity to raise awareness of water safety issues. I note the presence in the chamber of the member for Werriwa—an MP who I understand has undertaken his own bronze medallion course, along with six other MPs in the place. I commend the member for doing so. I have undertaken a bronze medallion course with the surf lifesaving club in my hometown of Lakes Entrance.

The drowning and injuries report—the National drowning report—released by the Royal Life Saving Society indicated that 302 people drowned in the year 2008-09. That is an increase of 41 people on the previous year. The report points very strongly to issues concerning children around water and the fact that we need to pay particular attention to children under five in the home environment as well as in the wider environment. The report recommends that parents take action that would seem like common sense. However, I am afraid that, given the number of young children who have drowned in the previous year, not enough of us are paying attention to these guidelines.

The report states that active supervision and complete vigilance are required at all times with children around water and that a child’s access to water should be restricted in the home situation. It also recommends that parents take the time to increase a child’s familiarisation with water wherever possible and that swimming lessons begin at a young age. I believe there are opportunities for our education sector to ensure that every young child, even before they go to school, has the opportunity to attend swimming lessons subsidised by state and federal governments.

In a broader sense, the issue of drowning is a major concern in a community like Gippsland. We have a vast number of opportunities for people to get themselves into trouble in the water. A lot of people visit the Gippsland region over the holiday season and are unfamiliar with the surf conditions along 90 Mile Beach. I urge people who are visiting our region to understand the need to swim between the flags on the patrolled beaches in Gippsland.

There are patrolled beaches at Woodside, Seaspray, Golden Beach, Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota. The surf lifesaving volunteers do an extraordinary job on behalf of our community. I particularly want to give reference to the younger volunteers. We often hear criticisms of young people in this place but when you see the young volunteers involved in the surf lifesaving movement it gives you great heart in the future of our nation.

These people are prepared to undertake training from the age of nine. They get involved in the Nippers program and go through to the youth program and then on to become senior lifesavers. They do an extraordinary job for our community in helping to keep our beaches safe throughout the summer. They are learning leadership skills and also investing in their own personal health and fitness. It is a great program.

The other area that I would like to mention relates to young males and how they are vastly overrepresented in the drowning statistics. The figures indicate that of the 15- to 34-year-olds who have drowned in the previous year, 87 per cent of those were males. One of the common factors in the drowning deaths of young males is, unfortunately, alcohol. When it comes to swimming at beaches and in rivers and dams, we need to encourage our young men to stay out of the water when they have had a few beers.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 25 – Report By The Standing Committee on Education and Training – Adolescent Overload

REPORT BY THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – ADOLESCENT OVERLOAD

November 25, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10.59 am)
— It is with great pleasure that I join the debate in relation to this report of the Standing Committee on Education and Training on adolescent overload. I have had the opportunity to read through the report over the past 48 hours and I commend it. Although I am not a member of the committee I am particularly interested in education issues as they affect regional areas. I commend the member for Swan, who has already spoken on the report, and the member for Cunningham for her very thoughtful and common-sense presentation of the issues. I understand the member for Braddon will make a contribution as well.

The foreword by the member for Cunningham is quite illustrative. Any members who are interested in the issue should have a look at the foreword and the recommendations in particular. I just want to quote from the foreword, where the member for Cunningham refers to the fact that:

There are considerable positive benefits for students who combine school and work. Those who find the right balance are not only rewarded with a range of social and economic benefits, but their chances of a successful transition into further education, training or work are significantly enhanced.

That particular paragraph really picks up the theme of the member’s contribution here today that overwhelmingly there are many positive aspects for students who have part-time and casual work but it is tough to find that balance.

It is almost impossible, I believe, for any government at state or federal level to make hard and fast rules in that regard, such as rules or regulations which would require students to work a maximum number of hours per week. It simply will not work. The students themselves would not cop that type of system. They do need that flexibility and some students, as I said, will cope better than others.

But there is one area that I am not sure the report covered in any detail. It relates to the issue of seasonal work undertaken by students. In my community, which has a very significant tourism industry, I believe we have an emerging problem with students between years, in that six- or eight-week break that they might get in their senior levels of schooling, where they pour a lot of hours into casual work in our community. It goes beyond casual work. Some of these students are doing 40- and 60-hour weeks at a time when having a break may be in their best interests.

Finding that balance is a really tough issue that I think the report addresses. I think it is a very significant social and economic issue and public policy has not necessarily kept up with the changes, as the member for Cunningham correctly identified. We have in Gippsland in particular, and in a lot of regional communities, a real challenge to keep our students at school. Finding a way to balance that opportunity for them to get some part-time work and get some independence but then maintain their studies is a critical issue for us in regional areas. The Gippsland region has one of the worst education retention rates in Victoria. Compared to a state and metropolitan rate in excess of 80 per cent in 2006, just 65 per cent of Gippsland students finished year 12.

These figures naturally translate into a lower participation rate for Gippsland students in university and higher education. I have spoken in the House on that topic many times in the past and I am sure I will again in the future, particularly as we refer to issues surrounding student income support as we go forward.

The report acknowledges the changing nature of the casual and part-time employment workforce in Australia. As the member for Cunningham referred to, some of us are a little bit older. I can refer to my very distant youth riding to work in Sale. I was actually a Woolworths checkout boy and a bag packer at the end of the line there, and the big promotion I got was to go to the fruit and veggie section for the second half of my term as a casual employee.

The member was right that employment in those days for students was based around Thursday nights, Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and that was the full extent of it. They were the only hours that were available anyway and I thought that was probably a reasonable balance. It was about 12 hours a week. As a student attending years 10, 11 and 12 you could maintain that workload and there were enormous benefits, I believe, for students in having that type of part-time work.

Now, with the longer operating hours that members have referred to, the longer shifts and the huge increase in the prevalence of fast food outlets, there are far more hours available to students. There is increasing demand, particularly in regional areas, where we have an older population, for some of these businesses to seek a younger market—and, let us be honest, the students are paid a lower rate than more mature workers and there are some economic benefits for the businesses themselves. I think they need to handle that issue with a great deal of responsibility going forward and I will refer to that a little bit later on. There is one other area. Of course, in rural and regional areas it is sometimes difficult for students to access part-time work as well, which I am sure some of the students have raised in their contributions to the inquiry.

Having said that, there are over 260,000 young Australians who are combining school and work at any given time. It is my personal view that part-time employment is incredibly important for young people. In fact, I have four young children. When they get to that age I will be encouraging them to get out there and get a part-time job because I think it develops some very healthy habits for young people. They develop a work ethic and learn new skills. I think one of the great things that a part-time job does is that it helps young people to develop their self-esteem and build pride in themselves and what they are able to achieve independently of their parents.

We have a whole generation of parents who, I hasten to say, have become the ‘helicopter’ generation, where we are hovering around our kids all the time and trying to protect them from every great unseen threat. I think the helicopter parents could fly off every now and then and let the kids get on with their part-time work, where they can develop a lot of great skills. I think they surprise us sometimes with what they are capable of doing.

There is a lot for us as parents to learn from watching our young people when they get into the situation where they have some independence. They are quite extraordinary in terms of what they can contribute in that work environment. But, again, I hasten to add that it is important that we find a balance for the students. Part-time work does give them independence and the opportunity to make a financial contribution, to ease the pressure on their families.

The member for Swan referred to that as an area of some concern. I agree that there is some concern there if it is seen as a financial necessity and families from low-socioeconomic backgrounds need the students to work to contribute to the household income. But, where it is a student who is actually just making a contribution, the students feel a great deal of pride in the fact that they are able to make that contribution and they do not have to go to mum and dad and ask for $10 or $20; they can reach into their own savings. It teaches them a great many skills that will hold them in good stead later in life. Financial literacy is an issue of significant concern in our community. People are finding that they are getting into trouble with credit cards and that type of thing. If our students have the opportunity to earn money at a younger age and learn to budget, save and use their money responsibly on the things that they choose to use it on, the financial literacy that develops is another important aspect of having a part-time job.

Another area that members have spoken about is the opportunity for this generation of students to get into an environment where they are part of a team, where they are working together, and they get to socialise with other workmates—often from other schools, not necessarily their immediate peer group. It gives them the opportunity to communicate and work as a team, rather than sending text messages all the time—which I think is an occupational hazard for many of our young people.

As I referred to earlier, I do understand this real need to make sure there is balance in this issue. The Adolescent overload? report clearly identifies the contribution from some of the parents and the students. In chapter 2 there is a quote from one of the submissions:

Anecdotally, parents tell us that it is of major concern to them that their children are working late at night some nights and long hours within those late nights… it is often stated that the young people in question must choose between these long hours and late nights or give up their jobs—there is reported to be little room for compromise.

We need to understand the competing interests here. The students are primarily at school for an education they are not to be seen as a product of the economy where they are just a working unit of cheap labour, if you like.

The balance does need to be found and a lot of understanding needs to be shown by our teachers as well as the parents and the small business sector. The importance of getting the balance right is a message that is continually highlighted through the report.

Members have also spoken about the protection for young workers who are most vulnerable at that time in their lives to exploitation. It is very difficult for a 15- or 16-year-old girl to stand up to the boss and say, ‘No, that’s not a safe procedure,’ or ‘That’s not the way I understand the work should be done’. I take up the member for Cunningham’s comments, that we do have a heightened level of responsibility to care for young people in the workplace and to make sure that their first experience is a positive one. We have both reflected on our time in supermarkets.

I found it overwhelmingly positive to have the opportunity to work with a bunch of young people. There were some more senior managers keeping us all in line, but we had a lot of fun in that work environment and the money was very beneficial to me and my family at the time. Mum and dad had pretty basic incomes and there were five kids, so it really helped take the burden off them. I think it was a very important stepping stone in my career in developing some responsibility.

Taking steps within this part-time and casual work environment to make sure that students are acquiring skills that will help them later in life is a very important aim, and the report does touch on that. It certainly adds to the student’s employability and sets them on the pathway to success. I have had the opportunity in the past to hire people and I often looked at what they did when they were 15- and 16-years old—did they have a part time job? It gave you a sense that they had a capacity to be self-motivated and could take responsibility. When you are interviewing people for work, even later in life, you do tend to check on what they did as 16-, 17- or 18-year-olds to make sure that they have the capacity to balance their lives and they actually know that there is a time for work, a time for study and a time for play. We have not really looked at this much in terms of public policy development, and I think this report is a good stepping stone. I encourage other members to have a look through it and refer to the recommendations.

I want to go specifically to a few of the recommendations. The first is recommendation 2, which looks at developing and implementing a national generic skills passport. These activities should encompass paid and unpaid work, including community and volunteer activities and work for a family business, along with sporting and recreational activities and other life experiences. I think employability skills and opportunities for some form of accreditation is one area that has a great deal of merit. I imagine it would be fairly difficult to come up with a national scheme in that regard, but it is giving young people recognition for the skills they are learning. A lot of opportunities in the workplace would involve doing a first aid course, for example. I know that a lot of young people in my electorate are involved in things like the surf lifesaving movement. They are developing skills as they go through, and adding to their future employability is a really positive initiative and I support that recommendation.

I referred earlier to recommendation 3, which says:

That the Australian Government, in consultation with stakeholders, develop a Code of Practice for employers, supervisors, and workplace mentors to outline their responsibilities in assisting students to document their acquired employability skills.

That touches on some of the issues of making sure that we really do have a heightened sense of responsibility when we have young people in our care in a workplace. Recommendation 12 refers to support for students at risk and recommends:

That the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, through the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, encourage evaluation and reporting on outcomes from local programs targeting disadvantaged students with a view to highlighting positive aspects of programs which could potentially be replicated.

This is a very important recommendation in the report. I do not see that all these responsibilities should fall on the government. I refer to my own community, where local community action encouraging and providing opportunities for young people has been very successful. Just last week in Traralgon the St Paul’s school parents group organised a local shopping trip. Instead of mothers paying $40 or $50 to go on a bus to Melbourne to go to the warehouses to buy their Christmas presents, they organised a local shopping trip. There were 150 mothers split into 12 groups of 12, with a few extras on the end. They went around to local shops that were part of the promotion and were giving them a discount to shop locally. This is a message that I promote regularly in my community.

I call it, ‘Putting locals first.’ Admittedly, it is parochial in the sense that I am encouraging local communities to support their own economy rather than always travelling off to the major metropolitan centres. How it works in this sense is that we have a school group, which I think spent about $45,000 on the night—it is the first time in my life that I have ever said to a woman, ‘Go out and spend your money.’ It is very easy to encourage the wives of other people to get their credit cards out, Mr Deputy Speaker. They went out and supported the local shops, and that necessarily leads to local jobs.

One of our great challenges in our regional communities is providing opportunities for young people. We have referred to the increased number of hours available through some of the chain stores and fast food outlets, but supporting small businesses is very important for us. I have made it my job, if you like, to ensure that we promote a message of putting locals first in the lead-up to Christmas for the job opportunities that creates for young people in our community. I think it is a great credit to the parents group of St Paul’s in Traralgon that they took the initiative themselves and undertook a fundraiser at the same time to support their school.

In the time that I do have left I would like to commend the report and the members of the standing committee for the work they have done on this very important issue. I encourage the ministers responsible to have a close look at the recommendations, in particular at the opportunities to support young people as they find the right balance between their academic careers and their working careers and set them on a pathway to succeed in life.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 24 – Disability Services

DISABILITY SERVICES

November 24, 2009


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.18 pm)
— I rise to express my support for the government’s announcement of the Productivity Commission inquiry into disability services and particularly the consideration of the merits of the publicly funded social insurance system to help cover the cost of the care and support of people with a disability.

The level of support for carers and people with a disability was one of the key issues I raised in my first speech. Like many others, I have continued to highlight my concerns in the community in recent months. In addition to improving the level of financial support, we do need to provide better access to health services, particularly in regional areas and particularly for children with disabilities. For example, we know that early intervention will allow children with autism and other special needs to achieve better outcomes, but the lack of availability of allied health services is frustrating the efforts of parents to support their children at this most vulnerable time in their lives.

As children with disabilities get older, many adult carers are faced with uncertainty and a terrible angst about the future of their loved ones. We need to develop a better national system which overcomes the current confusion across state borders and provides certainty for families that their children with disabilities will be cared for throughout their lives. At the moment we leave the older carers in an insidious position where they are not only concerned about their own health but at the same time desperately worried about who will look after their children when they are gone.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Mr Shorten, is someone I have had conversations with and written to on behalf of my community, and I am confident he is working to overcome these issues. He made a speech earlier this year in Western Australia where he highlighted the fact that one in 12 children have a disability—that is 317,900 children with an impairment that could lead to a developmental delay. Another number that the parliamentary secretary referred to is half a million Australians who are primary carers of a person with a disability. These people are saving our nation a king’s ransom but they are paid as absolute paupers in terms of the financial support that we are able to offer them. The current system for looking after people with disabilities is disjointed and is not working. We must consider all the options for improving long-term care and support.

There is no question that it will cost more money, and how we fund the system in the future is a key issue for governments at the state and federal level. The concept of a national disability insurance scheme has been raised in the past, and I support it in principle. It would allow the government to fund a better safety net for people whose lives are affected by disabilities either at birth or acquired through injury or illness at a later stage.

I refer again to some of the comments from the parliamentary secretary in the media today. In the Age he is quoted as saying:

At the moment, if you have a terrible car accident or a workplace injury, there is reasonable coverage under state compensation schemes, but if you are born with a disability or fall off a roof, you are in a very residual system.

We need a sustainable system which isn’t crisis-driven and which can be funded according to the needs of the disabled, not according to the cause of their disability.

In the time that is left I would like to refer to the fact that we simply do not have a consistent definition across state borders of what constitutes a disability, which is adding to the confusion and to the angst of carers in our community.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 23 – Private Members’ Business – White Ribbon Day

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – WHITE RIBBON DAY

November 23, 2009

Debate resumed, on motion by Mrs Mirabella:

That the House:

(1) recognises that Wednesday 25 November 2009 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the symbol of which has become the White Ribbon;

(2) applauds the work done by the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia to raise awareness amongst all Australians of the fact that many women and their children live with violence, or the threat of violence every day of their lives;

(3) notes that approximately 350,000 women will experience some form of physical violence and 125,000 women will experience sexual violence each year;

(4) encourages all Australians to speak out against all forms of violence and when necessary take action against violence that may be occurring within their community;

(5) notes that violence against women costs the Australian people $13.6 billion annually;

(6) notes that the Rudd Government has squandered $16.2 billion on the Deputy Prime Minister’s Building the Education Revolution program while committing less than one third of a per cent of that amount ($55.2 million) to address this insidious problem; and

(7) condemns the Government for failing to commit any new money in response to the Time for Action Report while rebadging initiatives which were funded under the previous Coalition Government’s Women’s Safety Agenda.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (7.11 pm) — I rise to speak in support of the motion. I commend the member for Hindmarsh on his presentation and the spirit of bipartisanship which he extended across the chamber in relation to the issue of violence against women—in particular the comments he made in relation to zero tolerance. It is never acceptable to have any violence at all in our community directed at women. I commend the member for Indi for bringing this issue to the attention of the House tonight. As our electorates share a boundary in the high country of Victoria, I am sure the member will agree that many of our constituents share similar views on a whole range of rural and regional issues. With respect to the rights and safety of women, it is highly recognised in both our communities.

This Wednesday, people from across the world will unite in an effort to highlight the need to stamp out violence against women in a celebration known as White Ribbon Day. The recent history of White Ribbon Day dates back to a group of Canadian men in 1991 who, I understand, saw it as their responsibility to encourage a change in their community attitudes after the murder of 14 women in Montreal. They wore white ribbons to signify their view that violence against women was completely unacceptable, which they hoped would help to gather support from the broader community, especially men. That tradition has continued to expand throughout the world—so much so that we will see hundreds of thousands of participants across Australia on Wednesday. They will be participating in White Ribbon Day and raising funds from the sale of white ribbons which will go towards the implementation of a range of strategies to reduce the incidence of violence against women in our local communities.

Before I continue into the other aspects of the motion currently before the House, I would like to take the time to shed more light on what the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia identifies as the key reasons for participating in White Ribbon Day:

* Wearing a White Ribbon is not a badge of purity or a badge of perfection. It does not mean that the wearer has perfect relationships.

* It means that this man believes that violence towards women is unacceptable.

* It is a visible sign that the wearer does not support or condone the use of violence against women.

I am sure everyone in the House will agree that this is a noble and worthwhile cause to support.

However, despite the strong support for White Ribbon Day amongst leaders in our community and throughout the world, we see violence directed at women continuing in our society today. The motion by the member for Indi referred to the fact that approximately 350,000 women will experience some form of physical violence and 125,000 women will experience sexual violence each year. Women often experience violence at the hands of men they know, and the abuse is often repeated. Breaking that cycle is incredibly difficult for many of the women involved.

I believe it is to our collective national shame that there are still this many cases of violence against women occurring every year. I have spoken on this issue in the past, and I commend other members for continuing to raise the issue in this place, as I believe it will take community leadership from members of parliament and the battle will not be won on any one day. It will require a level of support for events such as White Ribbon Day to be continued and for goodwill to be pursued throughout the year. White Ribbon Day is an opportunity for us to focus our attention and to redouble our efforts for the ongoing commitment that will be required in the longer term. There needs to be a change in culture around the way violence against women is viewed in our society. It is never okay and there can never be any justification for physical violence, sexual abuse or bullying, harassment or intimidation of women.

I have commended action in the past to establish the national council for the prevention of violence against women, and we must continue to implement initiatives and programs that help prevent further violence against women and provide refuge and support for women who have experienced violence. Lives are broken and families are torn apart when this violence occurs in the domestic situation, and we need to be continually vigilant to help women get their lives back on track.

The motion before the House today also notes that violence against women costs the Australian people $13.6 billion annually, and the national council’s plan for Australia to reduce violence against women and their children from 2009 to 2021 states that if there is no reduction in current rates it will cost the economy an estimated $15.6 billion in about 10 years time. It does give a sense of the size of the problem we are faced with here today. The effects of violence against women are extensive and further support is needed if we are to improve the current situation.

I take up the member for Hindmarsh’s comments regarding the need for a bipartisan approach. It is not a question of deciding which government gives more or anything else like that tonight. There is certainly no doubt that we need to be continually vigilant to make sure we are providing the support services for women who have been affected by violence. These preventative measures and campaigns that we have been talking about tonight for White Ribbon Day are certainly a significant part of that.

I commend the exceptional job that the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia does in raising awareness of the many women and children who live with violence or the threat of violence in their homes every day of their lives.

We need to take action to prevent that violence against women. I urge everyone to show their support for White Ribbon Day on Wednesday. I take up earlier comments as well that it cannot be just one day a year where we focus our attention on this particular issue. We do need to act as role models in our communities for other men and young boys and to live by the creed of respect for all women. I encourage others to take the oath this week as well.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 19 – Street Violence

STREET VIOLENCE

November 19, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (9.36 am) — I take the opportunity to commend the member for Throsby on her service to our nation in a variety of public roles over many years. I rise today to raise my concerns over the continued violence on the streets of Melbourne and in many regional centres, which has sickened us all. I believe it is time for a national strategy and for more resources to combat the problem. The headline in today’s Herald Sun newspaper about taking back our streets should be a call to action to all Victorians who have had a gutful of the violence on our streets. We are sick of the images of drunken thugs bashing innocent victims or one-punch cowards killing and maiming other young people on our streets. We are not immune from the violence in regional areas, including Gippsland, as we have seen several alcohol and drug fuelled incidents in Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Sale and the Latrobe Valley.

There are plenty of theories about what needs to be done. There is no escaping the fact that changes need to be made and the issue of community based violence should be made a national priority by the Prime Minister and all national leaders. Increased numbers of police on the beat and more security at known trouble spots are just part of the solution. We are also going to need to change laws regarding liquor licences, impose harsher penalties on gang offenders, act decisively to take licences off poor business operators and work hard to change the culture which appears to have desensitised people to violence.

The Victorian state government has failed miserably to keep our streets safe and serious assaults have increased over the past decade. Our police need more numbers on the ground on active patrols. But this is not just a policing problem. It will require a concerted effort from all sections of the community. As we know, many of us enjoy a drink but we need to break the culture of excessive consumption of alcohol. It will take leadership at every level of the community, and I believe change is needed in our homes, at our sporting clubs and at community functions and in the behaviour of our sporting role models who many young people look up to. We have to get the message ingrained in our community that you can have a good time and you can a have few drinks but you do not have to end the day vomiting in the gutter and picking fights with the police.

I believe we need to overhaul our liquor licensing laws. Also, banning our hotels and nightclubs from selling alcohol after 2 am and forcing them to close by 3 am would be a very good start. I refer to some comments by the Police Commissioner of Victoria, Simon Overland, in today’s Herald Sun.

He said:

“Past 1am, there’s little good that happens in the city. Past 6am, it’s just all bad,” …

Court imposed penalties for gang violence should also reflect the community’s abhorrence of these attacks. In the short term I am concerned that the federal government has not gone far enough in providing funding for local communities, under the National Community Crime Prevention Program, which would help local communities find solutions to local problems. I believe the federal government is failing in this regard. In the community of the Latrobe Valley we have the Traralgon CBD Safety Committee, which has been working hard to clean up the streets and has sought funding for closed-circuit television, but its application has been rejected. The government should be supporting such local solutions, which, in this case, have the complete support of local police.

I quote from the Latrobe Valley Express, from an interview with Traralgon Police Senior Sergeant Ann-Marie Stevens, who said:

“It assists us to identify offenders at a later time and if people know these things are in existence, it prevents crime,” … … … …

“We will be able to identify people we previously haven’t been able to identify and that makes people feel safer.”

In our homes and our schools we need to be teaching our young people that respect for other people is a core principle of a civilised community and that they must take responsibility for their own actions. We must take action to make our streets safe again.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 18 – Matters Of Public Importance – Improving Educational Pathways For Country Australians

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – IMPROVING EDUCATIONAL PATHWAYS FOR COUNTRY AUSTRALIANS

November 18, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.43 pm)
— I rise to speak in support of the motion moved as a matter of public importance by the member for New England and I commend him for raising this issue. I also commend other members for their contributions to the debate so far. I think the maturity of the debate reflects very positively on the House. I note that also present in the chamber is one of the great champions of regional students in the member for Cowper, as well as the member for Braddon—I read his speech on the youth allowance issue very closely and I congratulate him on his contribution in that regard. I think what this debate today points out is that there are champions on both sides of the House when it comes to education, and I congratulate the Independents as well in that regard.

That is why I have been disappointed that in the last couple of months the debate over student income support in relation to youth allowance has descended somewhat into some fairly vitriolic attacks, which were typified a bit today by the minister for education’s approach. I think the chamber is above that in the sense that I believe there is a great deal of support on both sides of the House for measures to improve the opportunities of education for students, particularly those from rural and regional areas. I do not deny for a second that the previous government could have done more, but it is also ridiculous to suggest that any government would do nothing in relation to education.

This is a shared responsibility between students, parents, teachers and the state and federal governments. So I think the motion put before the House today has provided an opportunity for some cooler heads to prevail, and I congratulate the member in that regard. Quite clearly, in representing our regional electorates we are very much aware that parents, students and teachers are very keen for us to come here and advocate on behalf of our communities to get the best possible opportunity for our students and to do everything we can to make sure they get a fair go. We can point to a number of issues—the member for Lyne referred to a few in his electorate and certainly there are some in the Gippsland electorate. For example, the year 12 education retention rates are appalling. I am not going to stand here and blame state governments or previous governments or whatever else.

It is a simple fact of life that we need to do better, and it should not be this hard to get a fair go for country students. So I accept that part of the problem is the economic barrier. But as has also been touched on by other speakers, the aspirational barrier is a real concern for us in rural and regional areas. Like many other members, I speak to students in schools right across the electorate of Gippsland and I tell them that in terms of the economic barriers and student income support I will come to parliament and do my best for them in that regard. In terms of the aspirational barrier, they have got to be the ones who look within themselves and decide how they are going to achieve their absolute best in terms of their future achievements in life. I tell them that whether it be as bobcat driver, just be the best bobcat driver in Gippsland; whether it is going to be as a builder, then go along and do the apprenticeship and there is nothing wrong with that decision either; but if they want to aspire to go to university then it is up to us to try to help them with those economic barriers.

From a social justice perspective, it is a question of equity—and I think that we appreciate that on both sides of the House—and for those who are a bit more hard-nosed, the economic-minded ones perhaps in the House, there is also a question of productivity for us. Helping children from rural and regional areas achieve their full potential gives us the skills we need for future generations. There is no question that the skill base shortage that we face in rural and regional Australia is best addressed by bringing up our own children and giving them the opportunity to achieve their full potential and achieve their training in trades or whatever it might be, or in university qualifications.

I throw into the debate in the limited time I have available the point that I am not sure how much longer Australia can continue to import skilled professionals from overseas. I think the social licence, for example, in taking medical professionals from the less privileged countries than ours is just about worn out. Those doctors are actually needed in their home countries and I am not sure that Australia can continue to do that without doing everything in its power to train our own doctors and to provide our young people in rural areas with every opportunity to fill the huge gap in rural and regional health provision. I make those opening comments— and I am getting very close to making my closing comments—and I am sure that it is a topic that will come before the House in the very near future.

In the limited time that is available to me I refer to the student income support and the lecture we have been receiving in terms of what is a fair go for country students looking forward. There has been much made now of the amendments which were passed in the Senate, and I acknowledge that members of the Liberal and National parties, and the Greens, and I think Family First, supported those amendments.

That would suggest to me that the minister must realise that there is actually a bit of a problem with the retrospective nature of the changes that she is proposing. That is why there is such frustration within parliament and in the broader community. I urge the minister to sit down with those who have their concerns and in a mature way see if we can work through this. Right now we have students finishing their VCE or HSC exams and they need certainty.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 18 – Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009

SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENT (NATIONAL GREEN JOBS CORPS SUPPLEMENT) BILL 2009

November 18, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10.01 am)
— In joining the debate on Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009, I would like to state my overall support for the program that has been announced by the government. I suppose there is no surprise in that regard considering the opposition implemented a very similar—almost identical—system when it was in government as a work experience and training system. Apart from that, there are a few key points I would like to make as part of my contribution to this debate. Firstly, I want to state quite clearly that this is not a green jobs program, as the government has attempted to spin it in the wider community; it is a work experience and a training initiative. Secondly, I make the point that more needs to be done to address the rising tide of youth unemployment in my electorate and throughout regional Australia. Finally, I make the point that this government has to stop the rhetoric about green jobs and start investing in the people who are doing the practical environmental work in our region right now—those being the Landcare facilitators and coordinators who face an uncertain future under this government’s quite euphemistically named Caring for our Country policy.

I will begin with the details of the bill before the House. The bill amends the Social Security Act 1991 to allow a training supplement of $41.60 per fortnight to be paid to participants in the program who receive Newstart allowance, youth allowance or parenting payments. From January next year the program will allow for up to 10,000 young people to develop skills in environmental projects through 26 weeks of accredited training and work experience. These words have been taken from the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment’s second reading speech, so there is no question that it is a work experience and training program.

It is simply not a jobs initiative as the government has tried to portray it in the community. Having said that, I am a strong supporter of work experience within my community, particularly for the longer term unemployed. It is important to give young people the opportunity to develop their skills. Just as important though is to create a work ethic for those people who have not necessarily had that opportunity. The discipline of getting up and going to work on a daily basis, the pride that it gives them for contributing something important to our community through initiatives like a green corps program is something that the government is quite right in pursuing. As I said, it was an initiative of the previous government which, from my experience, was very successful in the broader Gippsland community. It does give purpose to young people’s lives while they are looking for more permanent work and, as I said earlier, it also makes them feel part of the community, that they are making a contribution, and that is one of the most important aspects of these programs. But in terms of actual employment outcomes, I fear that the Green Jobs Corps, as it is portrayed, is more spin than real job outcomes at the end of it. It remains to be seen whether we will ever see this turn into real jobs. As I will indicate later, given the government’s cuts to Landcare funding, I have doubts about the government’s commitment to practical environmental work in a paid capacity.

The sort of work experience that young people receive is going to be critical to the success of the program. It depends entirely on the quality of the projects that are put forward by the community, and also the approach taken by the department and the minister in what they approve. I hope there is going to be a rigorous commitment to real environment initiatives and not some mickey mouse projects that do not actually achieve environmental outcomes.

I am referring to the parliamentary secretary’s second reading speech, where he indicates that the type of work experience and training projects will be along the lines of:

* Bush regeneration
* Erosion control
* Developing community information and education projects
* Beach and dune rehabilitation
* Habitat protection

He goes on to say:

These projects will make environmental improvements now and help develop green skills that will increasingly be needed in the labour market of the future. Participants in the National Green Jobs Corps will undertake work experience and skill development, including 130 hours of accredited training leading to a nationally recognised qualification.

So it is positive to see that young people will emerge from this program with a nationally recognised qualification. That is a definite step forward for the program participants. In addition to doing something positive for their communities, the participants will become more employable at its conclusion if the program meets the guidelines as pointed out by the parliamentary secretary.

As I said at the outset, the rising tide of youth unemployment is a major concern in Gippsland and throughout regional Australia. The shadow minister, the member for Boothby, highlighted this concern during his contribution to the debate on the bill before us and he correctly pointed out:

Youth unemployment is not receiving anywhere near the amount of attention it deserves.… … …

The rate of unemployment for teenagers who are not in fulltime education has risen to 18½ per cent in 2009, up from 12.2 per cent in 2008.

I fear that the rate in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley is much higher. Also we have a concern in my community that the youth unemployment rate is hidden to a large extent because so many of our young people who cannot find work in our communities are forced to move away to seek opportunities in larger cities. So the youth unemployment rate in regional areas is hidden to a large extent.

The shadow minister made some very good points in his address when he pointed out that around 295,000 young Australians who are not in full-time education are not in the labour force or are unemployed. I will just quote from his speech:

What we do know is that those people who do not make a good transition from school, who spend periods outside the labour force, not in full-time education and unemployed, will have a very intermittent work history throughout life. So youth unemployment is an area that needs a lot more attention from the Rudd government. All of those young Australians who voted for Kevin07 two years ago would never have dreamed how much their opportunities would dry up under this government. We see that the Rudd Labor government has no strategy to create actual jobs for young Australians.

That is a real concern in my community. While I welcome the Green Jobs Corps initiative as a positive step, the government does need to go a lot further in terms of its strategy for youth unemployment. This is very much a green work experience program and it is not a jobs program, as I indicated previously. That is not to say that it does not have the potential to do a great deal of good work in the community. I urge the government to stop trying to spin everything that it puts out there and actually just let the results speak for themselves. If the program works, the community will embrace it and it will look for an extension of it in the years ahead.

I spoke quite recently in the House about my concerns relating to youth unemployment in Gippsland in the broader sense and the lack of support services which exist for young people. I am seeking clarification from the minister in relation to allegations of cuts to Centrelink funding for specialised youth workers who assist the long-term unemployed in regional areas like Gippsland. Youth unemployment is very much a specialist area, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, in your own community. You need to build trust with young people. There is a lot of one-to one support to help them through whatever issues they may have in their lives beyond just the need to secure work. They can be quite high-maintenance clients for the Centrelink staff in terms of getting them to turn up to programs or getting them to apply for jobs and getting them back engaged in the community. A lot of them have dropped out of school for a whole variety of reasons. There are often some underlying social issues involved.

I urge the government to ensure that funding is provided to support this specialised assistance, which is required for young unemployed people, particularly in regional areas. If we lose these young people at a young age, we actually lose them for life. We have a real problem in parts of my electorate where we have generations of welfare dependency—where the young people have not had the opportunity to see a positive role model getting up and going to work every day. It becomes very difficult to break that cycle. There is potential with a program like the Green Jobs Corps to start breaking that cycle and getting young people engaged and developing those work ethics I referred to earlier.

I do have some concerns about the quite restrictive nature of the eligibility criteria of the Green Jobs Corps program and the fact that there will not necessarily be jobs available at the end of this work experience unless the government changes in its policy direction in relation to practical environmental work, which I will refer to again later on. The criteria of 18- to 24-year-olds— and I think there are 10,000 places in the initial announcement— I do not believe will go far enough in the longer term. I would encourage the government to consider that. With the likelihood of the community embracing this initiative, there is going to be a need to extend it and probably extend the eligibility criteria as well.

One area I am particularly concerned about is the possibility of the government considering special exemptions to broaden the criteria for newly arrived immigrants. We have a situation in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley at the moment where we have had quite a strong influx in recent times of Sudanese refugees. It is a situation where a lot of them have been processed, have moved to Australia, have had their first move to a suburban area and have not enjoyed the experience, have heard that there is housing available, particularly in the Latrobe Valley, and have made that move only to find there is not much work available for them there.

The availability of affordable housing has been the carrot, if you like, but when they have arrived they have found that there is not a great deal of employment opportunity. I fear that we have a situation brewing in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley which may be a significant social and economic concern to our wider community. These people are ready, willing and able to work, but we need to help them take that first step and get some practical experience of working in the Australian environment.

I think one real opportunity for them may be a program along the lines of a Green Jobs Corps initiative, where there is some supported training, to allow them first of all to get out into the community and meet people, which is always difficult when you have just relocated to a whole new community. There are real opportunities here to build some positive spirit within the community directed towards the refugee population in the sense that, if they are seen to be out in the community doing some positive and practical environmental work in this case, it will be well received by the broader Gippsland and Latrobe Valley communities, keeping in mind that there are large sections of my community recovering from the bushfires of early this year. The bushfire rehabilitation task is enormous and, to the government’s credit, there has been some additional funding allocated for some projects in that regard.

But there needs to be recognition that the Sudanese community in this case is going to need some specialised assistance to integrate into the Latrobe Valley community. This is one area where the government could look at the eligibility criteria of the Green Jobs Corps, look at the age criteria as well and perhaps look at whether there is an opportunity to expand the criteria and to provide that level of intensive assistance which I think the Sudanese community in particular are going to need in the months and years ahead as they become established and go on to become highly valued and much respected members of our broader community.

As we all appreciate, the key to settling into regional communities is the decency of a job and being able to pay your own bills and afford your own home. That is one area where I think we are letting down these new settlers to our region. We have not been able to provide them with the work that they so desperately want.

We have many opportunities in my region for the Green Jobs Corps. The government has some real opportunities to work closely with the state government, which has made an absolute mess of its funding of public land management, to leverage off any available projects with the state government in partnership to undertake addressing some important environmental issues. This could be done with a commercial focus, too, in some of our state and national parks, where the tourism infrastructure is so poor. There have been many years of neglect of the public land in the Gippsland region.

While I have spoken about the Sudanese community and their capacity to be involved in Gippsland and particularly in the Latrobe Valley area, further east in the East Gippsland area there are real opportunities to focus a green jobs program like this on our Indigenous community, where the unemployment rate is way beyond the state and national average. The classic example closer to home for me in Lakes Entrance is the
Lake Tyers Forest Park on the outskirts of the Lakes Entrance township. The condition of the park facilities there is appalling.

There has been a lack of funding by the state government over many years. There is an opportunity here though for the state government, the Green Jobs Corps and our Indigenous community in the Lake Tyers area to work in partnership, to link together in this program to build some positive spirit within our community and to have long-term unemployed people gainfully engaged in the community and carrying out some work which has some benefits for the broader community.

There is a natural link to the land in our Indigenous community. They have a great affinity with some of the projects they have undertaken in the past in my region, and there is an opportunity to use that natural affinity to the advantage of the community and to the benefit of Indigenous people.

As I said earlier, it is so important that what comes out of this Green Jobs Corps program leads to real work at the completion of the training stage. Apart from the eligibility criteria, I am concerned that the government is really in the process of downgrading in general its support for practical environmental work through its Caring for our Country program. There is a very strong link between these two initiatives when you consider that the Green Jobs Corps is directed towards areas such as bush regeneration, erosion control, developing community information and education projects, and habitat protection. When you read the list of projects that the Green Jobs Corps is going to be focused on it sounds a lot like Landcare. This government is in the process of gutting Landcare by its refusal to provide guaranteed funding for the network of Landcare facilitators and coordinators who support the more than 100,000 volunteers across the nation. The Green Jobs Corps initiative is about 10,000 work experience program participants. These are volunteers who are unemployed and need a helping hand, and I fully support that. But the government is at the same time refusing to talk about its lack of support for the 100,000 volunteers involved in more than 4,000 community groups across the nation through the Landcare movement.

There is a growing awareness in our community that the government talks a lot about its green credentials but when it comes to rolling up the sleeves and getting the job done—digging the holes, planting the trees, fencing off river banks, controlling feral animals, undertaking the erosion protection work, that hard, physical, practical environmental work—the government goes missing in action. I would like to quote from a letter in the Snowy River Mail from 4 November. It is from Dawn Parker, the Far East Victoria Landcare secretary. Dawn makes some very strong points about where she sees the government’s commitment in relation to environmental projects.

She says:

Both the potential for practical environment works and the health and vitality of rural communities are being damaged by the cuts to the number of Landcare facilitators across Victoria.

The role of group facilitators was to be in close contact with local communities to encourage and enable their engagement in natural resource management activities.

She goes on to say:

Recognising the role of volunteers in achieving significant environmental services, successive federal governments invested directly in supplementing volunteer input by funding some paid staff and leveraged even greater attainments.

Every government dollar invested in support personnel returns at least three more dollars from local input and co-contributions.

The Caring for our Country business plan endorsed be Messrs Burke and Garrett is undermining the core functioning capacity of Landcare.

Over 50 per cent of Victorian facilitator positions have been lost and more are to go.

Whether by design or through incompetence the vital network of support staff has been effectively dismantled and many Landcare volunteers will reduce their input as their access to information and resources diminish.

Was this what Tony Burke and Peter Garrett intended?

If these outcomes are accidental, how soon will they be undone?

Her letter goes on to say:

Genuine consultation with local communities is needed without bureaucratic intervention.

Repair is needed now.

I recommend that the ministers responsible get a copy of that edition of the Snowy River Mail to get an understanding of what Dawn is referring to, because she speaks on behalf of many people throughout the regional communities who are terribly concerned about this government’s lack of commitment to Landcare.

Whenever members on this side of the House criticise a government program we are accused of scaremongering or of simply not understanding what is proposed. I can assure you though that Gippsland’s small army of Landcare volunteers and professional workers understand what is happening to them. I will refer to another quote, from the East Gippsland Landcare Network, and I am happy to provide a copy of it to the ministers so they can read it in its entirety.

It says:

Landcare support staff across the country are losing their jobs due to the Australian Government’s ‘Caring for our Country’ grants not funding community facilitation and support.

This is because the Caring for our Country grants which Landcare support staff have traditionally relied on did not allocate any funding to the ‘community skills, knowledge and engagement’ section of their business plan even though it is stated as a ‘Priority of Investment’ in the business plan.

Landcare Networks and groups that were not lucky enough to be included in the CMA ‘regional core’ funding had to submit applications in the national ‘competitive’ section of the fund scheme. Out of approx 1300 applications to the government across Australia only 57 were funded (4.3%) leaving many Landcare groups with no funding for on ground run projects let alone to support groups.

It goes on, but time prevents me from going into the full details of the East Gippsland Landcare Network’s submission, but the link to the Green Jobs Corps bill before us is obvious. There will simply be no jobs in practical environmental work for these young people in the future unless the government changes its policies.

It is a cruel hoax to get these young people involved and interested in practical environmental work through Green Jobs Corps while at the same time cutting funding for professional staff involved in Landcare. Landcare volunteers do a mountain of work in my electorate, but the paid support staff are very much the glue which holds it all together. They provide the project management advice and assistance, they provide technical advice to landholders, they generate newsletters to keep everyone informed, they apply for grants and make sure the money is spent according to the guidelines, and they also promote environmental sustainability.

They are probably the same people whom the government is going to rely on to be the training coordinators for the Green Jobs Corps program in the first place but right now they are in the process of trying to fight for their own jobs, the facilitation and coordination roles they play with Landcare.

The Landcare volunteers and professional staff who have contacted me have expressed their fears that Landcare groups will not be able to function the same way in the future without guaranteed funding for professional facilitators and coordinators. It is a concern that I share, and I will table a petition in the near future on behalf of my community. Last week more than 200 people rallied in Orbost to raise their concerns and they initiated a petition. The petition, which is in the process of being signed throughout the Gippsland electorate at the moment, calls on the House of Representatives to immediately reinstate the funding of local Landcare facilitators and coordinators in order to allow Landcare groups to function effectively and to address the Caring for our Country priority of community skills, knowledge and engagement.

If the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry thinks that he can ignore these concerns I think he is in for one hell of a shock. As I said, there are more than 100,000 volunteers around Australia and more than 4,000 community groups, and the anger is growing throughout the community. The minister knows about these concerns. I wrote to him about the issue months ago and I have raised it before in the media and in the House.

He is defending the government’s decision on the ground that he has the right to set national environmental priorities regardless of community concerns. The minister needs to appreciate that there are people on the ground coming up with local solutions to local problems. They are engaged in the process of practical environmental work and they should have the opportunity to make sure that those projects are undertaken.

So I urge the government to make sure it does not make the same mistake with the Green Jobs Corps—

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 16 – Private Members’ Business – National Bike Path Program

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – NATIONAL BIKE PATH PROGRAM

November 16, 2009

Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Ripoll:

That the House:

(1) notes that:
   (a) building community infrastructure or improving community amenity has the potential to generate local jobs and increase skills and social capital;
   (b) investment in cycling is regarded as a cost effective way to increase mobility and physical activity levels, make recreation accessible and boost regional tourism; and
   (c) small shifts in transport modes to other forms, such as cycling, may provide substantial dividends and important benefits for the transport and freight sector and reduce congestion, increase efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions; and

(2) supports:
   (a) the Government’s National Bike Path Program and other programs which encourage people to take up cycling;
   (b) awareness programs, initiatives, organisations and individuals that promote cycling as a way of getting fitter, having some fun, reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions; and
   (c) policies, projects and initiatives that deliver increased options for cycling infrastructure.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (7.06 pm) — It is a pleasure to join the debate on the National Bike Path Program and I acknowledge the very common sense and practical contribution made by the member for Oxley. The motion notes that:

… building community infrastructure or improving community amenity has the potential to generate local jobs and increase skills and social capital—

and that—

… investment in cycling is regarded as a cost effective way to increase mobility and physical activity… and boost regional tourism.

The motion goes on to note that it supports:

… awareness programs, initiatives, organisations and individuals that promote cycling as a way of getting fitter, having … fun.

I am comfortable with the broad range and the general thrust of the motion because it highlights some regional development opportunities that I believe we have not fully explored as a nation, particularly to improve the health of our communities and to provide economic and tourism opportunities in regional areas. All the reports that we see on almost a daily basis point to a nation which is getting fatter and a nation where the health impacts of longterm disease related to inactivity are a major concern for us and costing our nation a fortune, yet we have piles of strategies saying we should be investing more in infrastructure to support healthier lifestyles. I think the most important aspect of the motion today is that we actually need to see action coming out of state, federal and local governments.

I have spoken previously about the East Gippsland Rail Trail and emphasised my support for the plan to rebuild the Latrobe River timber trestle rail bridge, which is a real opportunity for the federal government to create five jobs in the immediate construction phase and to support ongoing employment in the tourism industry and the smaller regional centres associated with the rail trail. The motion before us highlights the very important point that we need to provide opportunities for people to exercise safely. It comes back to the saying ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If the facilities are there for people to exercise safely, I am confident they will use them.

That brings me to the Latrobe City Bicycle Plan and the situation in the Latrobe Valley. I note the presence of the member for McMillan, who obviously has a very good understanding of the Latrobe Valley region and probably has a better appreciation than most of what could be done in the Latrobe Valley with improved cycle links. There is a need to develop better access—to link the Latrobe Valley communities, which are only 10 to 15 kilometres apart and ideally situated to capitalise on commuter traffic. We would get small vehicles off the road, reduce fuel costs and provide what would be a low-cost sporting opportunity for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, of whom there are many in the Latrobe Valley region. Towns such as Moe, Morwell, Traralgon and Churchill and the smaller regional centres would benefit enormously from improved cycle networks and infrastructure and a cycle friendly environment.

The Latrobe City Council has made moves in that regard and I note that there was funding announced only a couple of weeks ago by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government of $140,000 for the Latrobe City Council’s Bicycle Plan to construct some shared pathways in the region. Unfortunately, $140,000 is not anywhere near what is required in the long term. Without wishing to sound churlish, there needs to be a multimillion dollar investment in new cycling facilities to promote healthier lifestyles in the region, to improve safety and to improve the liveability of the region by connecting these large and smaller communities.

It is hard to think of a regional centre anywhere in Australia more ideally suited to a major investment in cycling infrastructure. So I commend the member for Oxley for putting the motion before the House tonight. One area that concerns me greatly, and the member for Oxley did touch on it, is the need to provide a safe cycling environment. We have a situation where bikes and cyclists are very exposed, with only limited protection, interacting too closely with vehicles on roads which were often not constructed to accommodate bicycles on the shoulders. If we get ourselves into a situation where we are providing improved infrastructure, where there is a dedicated cycle path and children can ride to school safely, you will find that parents are more comfortable with allowing their children to ride to school. So there are issues which need to be accommodated at a local planning level and also more significant funding costs which will require some federal and state support.

I refer briefly to the Latrobe City 2007-10 bicycle plan. I congratulate Latrobe City for having the vision to work towards encouraging greater participation in all recreational pursuits, particularly cycling, and to promote active living and participation in community life. It has got a plan for making sure that the road networks and the bicycle path networks are integrated with the footpaths and the public transport options, which will provide real opportunities for the people of Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley to exercise in a much safer manner. If we are going to wait for the state government, I am afraid we will be waiting for a very long time. The Brumby state government in Victoria has failed miserably in this regard. It recently released its $115 million Victorian Cycling Strategy, which could have been renamed the ‘Melbourne cycling strategy’.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 16 – Landcare

LANDCARE

November 16, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (6.55 pm)
— I rise to highlight my concerns with the federal government’s failure to commit to ongoing funding for Landcare facilitators in the Gippsland region. It is an issue that I have raised previously and directly with the minister responsible, and I will continue to raise it at every opportunity.

It is my understanding that the community of East Gippsland undertook a rally on the weekend, where a large number of residents came to express their concerns with the government’s failure to commit to practical environmental works as seen through the Landcare Network. Over the past 20 years we have enjoyed a great tradition in our nation of bipartisan support for Landcare, and it concerns me deeply that the current minister fails to understand how important it is to support these people at grassroots level who are doing the practical work that is required—work on reducing the impact of feral animals; work on improving the vegetation of the region. I encourage the government to keep funding Landcare.

(Time expired)

2009 NOV 16 – Gippsland Ethnics Community Council Cultural Centre And Museum

GIPPSLAND ETHNICS COMMUNITY COUNCIL CULTURAL CENTRE AND MUSEUM

November 16, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (6.52 pm)
— I rise to express my support for the construction of a new cultural centre and museum, as proposed by the Gippsland Ethnics Community Council. In 2007 the GECC opened the Gippsland Immigration Wall of Recognition, a monument which details hundreds of names of those who have migrated to Gippsland from overseas. The project was largely funded through state and federal contributions and through donations from local businesses and residents alike. The monument stands beside a lake in Morwell, in the middle of the Latrobe Valley. There is also a small deck over the lake which symbolises a port, depicting the manner in which many migrants landed in Australia.

The monument has now become a tourist attraction of the Latrobe Valley, and the community wants to extend it. The GECC now wants to add to this by building a migration museum across the other side of the lake and creating an educational walkway between the two attractions. A local volunteer committee has been set up to promote the venture widely and has been successful in securing funds from local sources again. The committee is also seeking funding from the federal government under its Jobs Fund, and I fully endorse the project. Gippsland is very proud of its rich history of multiculturalism, and this development will recognise the role played by people of many different cultural backgrounds in the overall development of the region. The project would build on the good work of the existing immigration wall, and I urge the government to review the committee’s submission favourably.

(Time expired)

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