2010 In Parliament
STEP TO THE FUTURE PROGRAM PETITION
November 25, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11.39 am) — I join other members in extending my condolences to the New Zealand mineworkers, their families and friends. This enormous tragedy has touched people right throughout New Zealand and Australia.
I would like to present a petition which has been signed by 452 of my constituents and has been found in order by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions. This petition deals with concerns over the government’s failure to fund the Step to the Future program, therefore threatening the future operation of this important event for years 10, 11 and 12 students in Gippsland.
I would like to begin my comments by congratulating the principal petitioner, Renae Hyde, from Traralgon. Renae has taken a personal interest in this issue and has been the driving force behind bringing her school community’s concerns to the attention of the parliament. Renae wrote to me after attending a Step to the Future program in July this year with about 50 other Traralgon Secondary College students. She said they all got a significant benefit out of the program. In the Renae’s letter to me, she said:
I find it difficult to express in words the value myself and my fellow students got from listening to the excellent speakers provided by the program this year. I hope to one day have the same positive effect on young people within our community.
For those who are not familiar with the program, perhaps a bit of background from the Step to the Future Foundation website is in order. The program is ‘a youth initiative which is aimed at inspiring young people to build confidence in themselves so they can take the initiative to reach their goals in life’. The program started in 2002, and it ‘aims to provide young Australians with positive role models, motivation and the opportunity to share the life experiences of a diverse group of individuals, representing business, politics, entertainment, sport and the general community’. It works by the schools across the country designating a year group to attend this day, which is put on the school calendar as an important school event, and a student organising committee brings it all together.
It does sound like a very rewarding program, and certainly the 452 people who have signed this petition believe it is worthy of ongoing government support. This government does talk a lot about education revolutions and investing in the future of our children, but this is a real opportunity for us to step up to the plate. It is all about helping young people to achieve their full potential in the future. As I understand it, the foundation was previously in a position to fund 30 forums a year and now, due to a lack of ongoing funding, it is down to four forums.
In addition to presenting this petition to the House, I have written to the Minister for Sport, Senator Arbib, to seek support for the Step to the Future program. I acknowledge that he may not be the right minister, but there is a bit of confusion about who actually has had responsibility for this program in the past. I am also forwarding my speech today to the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. The confusion comes about because the funding for this program has come from different sources in the past. The former Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson—who was a man, I believe, who was always keen to invest in the future of young Australians—originally provided funding, and I believe there was also some funding at one stage from the Department of Defence. I believe that last year the former Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, managed to provide some funding for a one-year extension of this program, but since then the government has not been in a position to fund the future of the Step to the Future program. So I apologise for any confusion over which minister should be held responsible for this program, but I do urge the government to consider this petition very seriously. It is about making a difference in young lives and it is about community building. It is a long-term investment in the future of our communities.
In the time that I have left I would like to briefly reflect on the role of the petitions committee in the presence of the new chair of the committee, the member for Reid. As a member of the committee myself, I believe that the petitions process is an important one because it allows people like Renae Hyde, the principal petitioner in this case, to have direct access to the parliament, to have her views heard as the principal petitioner and also to have her views supported by the more than 450 people who share her concerns. It is a good process that has been developed in recent years. I think it is a better process than was in place in the past. Under the current process, the petition is not simply banished to a back room to gather dust; it is referred to the minister for a formal response. Once that response is received, the principal petitioner will receive a copy of the minister’s letter and can then consider their next course of action. I believe we have added more rigour to the petitions process with the petitions committee in the House.
On occasions, petitions have resulted in some positive outcomes and a change of direction in a decision in favour of the petitioners. I refer for one example to the Traralgon Post Office and the great concern that was raised about that issue during the Gippsland by-election, where thousands of people signed a petition which eventually forced Australia Post to reconsider its position on the issue. I do encourage those members who may be new to the place, who have not been involved in the petitions process, to get involved and to urge their constituents to take the opportunity that presents itself through the petitions process in the House.
In closing, like other members I reflect on the Christmas season which is almost upon us— it is hard to believe—and extend my best wishes to all members, to their families and to their staff for the work they do on behalf of their constituents. To the staff here at Parliament House: I thank you for your support and the work you do for us in this place. Sometimes you even make us look half decent! I urge you all to have a peaceful Christmas season and look forward to seeing you all back here next year. Have a very safe and merry Christmas.
The petition read as follows—
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives
The Petition of the residents of Gippsland
Draws to the attention of the House the failure of the Federal Government to continue to fund the “Steps to the Future” program therefore threatening the future operation of this important event for Gippsland year 10, 11 and 12 students.
We therefore ask the House to call upon the Federal Government to reinstate funding to the “Steps to the Future” program to ensure this event continues into the future.
from 452 citizens
FAMILY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CHILD CARE BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2010
November 23, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (5.39 pm) — I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. In doing so, I want to highlight my community’s concerns with the increased cost of living and this government’s failure to deliver on the promises that it made in relation to child care. I note that the previous speaker was seeking credit for achievements made by the Rudd and Gillard governments. That is all very well, but you also have to own up to some of your faults and some of your mistakes. I will dwell on those in a few moments time, particularly in relation to the pre-election promise made in 2007 to deliver 260 childcare centres in schools when only 38 have been built.
The budget measures contained in this bill will result in an additional cost to an estimated 20,700 Australian families. But over the next few years it is also anticipated that the number of families affected will increase as a result of the cost of child care rising further through the national quality agenda, which will inevitably increase the overheads for childcare centres. Some industry groups are predicting cost increases of up to $22 per day as a result of the National Quality Framework. There is no doubt that these costs will be passed on to parents. The coalition is opposed to the removal of indexation for the childcare rebate and the reduction in the cap for the current rebate.
Despite the claims to the contrary, the government has a poor record when it comes to child care. The minister tried to gloss over things in her second reading speech but the Australian public will not be fooled. This is a government that has been very long on spin and promises and very short on delivery when it comes to child care. I refer to the example of the promise to build 260 childcare centres on school grounds. Tomorrow the government reaches its three-year anniversary. You would think that over three years the government would be well on its way to building these childcare facilities. After three years, you would think that perhaps the government might even be halfway through. Not a chance.
I would like to refer to a media report that was in the Australian in April this year. At that time, the government announced that it had decided to ditch this policy. It was the Rudd government at the time—this was before the knifing of Kevin. The report read, ‘The Rudd government has quietly dumped its election pledge to end the double drop off by parents by building 260 childcare centres on school grounds.’ At the time, the childcare minister, Kate Ellis, said that it would cause disruption for parents and unsettle the childcare industry after the collapse of the childcare giant ABC Learning. She also announced that the government would finish building the 38 childcare centres that had been started. Talk about getting elected under false pretences. That was a cornerstone of the Rudd government’s election in 2007. Those 260 centres were promised. You have to wonder whether the 38 that had been started have been finished yet.
I raise this broken promise because it goes to the core issue of trust in this government. You cannot trust a government that will not deliver on its promises— and particularly one that does not deliver on promises made to families and promises that were such an important part of the then opposition’s platform at the 2007 election. The people in my community of Yarram in my electorate would not need any reminder of this fact. I have told the House in the past about the plans by the Yarram community to build a childcare service. The fact is that the service is lacking at the moment and is desperately needed so that professionals can be attracted to the community.
When the announcement was made by Minister Ellis in April this year that the government was abandoning its plans, she acknowledged that there were circumstances in which families faced challenges finding child care that met their particular requirements. She said that she would continue to keep a watching brief on the childcare market and childcare vacancies and take action if required. A week later in another press statement she said that all Australian families deserved high quality, affordable and accessible childcare services, no matter where they lived. She said that a separate funding program would help them achieve that.
We have a minister who said that all Australians deserve access to high quality child care and we have a town—Yarram in my electorate—that needs childcare services. But nothing has happened except another example of a broken promise. The broken promise that I am specifically referring to this time dates back to the 2007 federal election and the Labor candidate at the time, a lady by the name of Jane Rowe. The context of this is that the coalition candidate at the election, my predecessor, Peter McGauran, provided a guarantee of $1 million to build a childcare centre in Yarram if the coalition won the election. The bold headline of the Yarram Standard News of 31 October 2007 read, ‘Labor backs childcare centre’. Not to be outdone by the Liberal Party, Ms Rowe had announced that the Labor Party would provide in the vicinity of $1.5 million for a childcare complex. So one-upmanship was obviously heavily in play. To me and the people of Yarram that was a fair indication that, no matter what happened in the election of 2007, childcare services would be accommodated in the town. If it was a coalition government, Peter McGauran had his heart set on delivering a $1 million facility; if it was a Labor government, the Labor candidate had promised $1.5 million.
The story from the Yarram Standard News says, in part:
Ms Rowe has pledged a child care centre would be incorporated into a broader community centre, rather than built as a stand alone complex.
“If we can get together and build a multi-function centre, rather than putting in a child care centre and having two facilities to maintain, we would provide one centre that will cater for the lot,” she said.
“There is no doubt there is a need for child care all over the place but I don’t think that a one-off centre would suit Yarram. I think there needs to be a more comprehensive service that goes beyond child care,” she said.
That must have been the problem in the first term of the Rudd government—the community was after a childcare centre and Ms Rowe, as your candidate, was after much more than a childcare centre. That clearly was a problem.
That problem does not exist any more, because the Yarram community has now agreed that they would like a children’s services hub. Obviously, they would like the government to honour its promise—the $1.5 million promised by Ms Rowe on 31 October, 2007— and to deliver on it. As I referred to earlier, however, 260 childcare centres were promised in the previous term of this government but only 38, it is claimed, have been built.
I recently met with representatives from the local community along with the council and state MP Peter Ryan. There is a genuine community commitment to this project. The proposal, as it now stands, is for a
Yarram community centre, which is right along the lines of the children’s hub promised by the Labor Party in 2007. So, quite frankly, there is nothing stopping the government; there is nothing stopping the minister from doing more than keep a watching brief and actually coming down to the Yarram community. I extend an open invitation to the minister to come to the Yarram community and meet with this community group and work with us on delivering the promise that was made to this community several years ago.
The Yarram community centre, if it is built, will enable people from within Yarram district to access a range of children’s services that have not been previously made available in that community. It would be fair for those opposite to ask us what we, under my predecessor Peter McGauran, did in our term in government and that is a fair criticism. I think it is fair to say, ‘You had 12 years in that position; what did you do for the Yarram community?’ I think that is only reasonable in these circumstances. But, given that there had been a clear commitment from both sides, the people of the Yarram district had every reason to believe that, whichever party formed government in 2007, some action would be taken. Three years later, we are still waiting for action. I implore the minister to do more than just keep a watching brief and to come to Yarram and work with my community to ensure that the Yarram district community does receive the type of service that it deserves and the type of service that the minister herself has constantly referred to:
All Australian families deserve high-quality, affordable and accessible child care services …
Currently, there are no childcare services in Yarram and I urge the minister to work with this community in the weeks and months ahead.
The issues surrounding the government’s budget measures and this childcare bill before us extend beyond just one community in my electorate. I have also met with residents in Omeo who have very similar concerns about their inability to secure funding for childcare services. I also listened very closely to the contribution to the House of the member for Murray, because she has had similar experiences with some of the more rural and remote parts of her electorate. It is very difficult, under the current rules, regulations and funding models, to secure services for some of the smaller communities in regional Australia.
Omeo was one of those communities adversely affected by the local government amalgamations in December 1994—a decision made by the then Kennett government in Victoria. It is fair to say that some of the smaller communities suffered more significantly, I would say, than the big regional centres. As someone who was working close to local government at that time—I was involved with the East Gippsland Shire—I think it is a fair criticism to make that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to local government amalgamations caused some degree of disharmony and some degree of financial stress in many small regional communities.
Omeo was once a seat of local government. It lost that status under the amalgamations and lost a lot of professional staff from the community, something the community has never really recovered from. Following the withdrawal of the local government staff came the withdrawal of state government staff from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, VicRoads and other organisations. I raise this in the context that there are many issues facing a small community like Omeo. One of the biggest concerns the residents have raised with me about getting the town back on its feet is the issue of childcare. Despite the fact that the minister says:
All Australian families deserve a high-quality, affordable and accessible child care services no matter where they live—
and I stress ‘no matter where they live’, because it is a very interesting point—the funding models that are currently available do not work for all communities. We need to work with these local communities to develop individual and innovative solutions to the local problems they are faced with. As I said, I have met with community representatives in the Omeo area and I gave them an undertaking to raise their concerns in the House.
Omeo, for those who have not been there, is a small town in the High Country of Victoria. It is in a beautiful setting and it has a great history and heritage, with links to the goldfields. It is set in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and there is easy access to the snowfields. It is a town which is determined to improve its fortunes in the future, whether through regional tourism or through being a service centre for other industries in the immediate vicinity. It is a great place to raise a family, but it is also a place where services are very hard to deliver. Even though houses are more affordable in the Omeo community, families often need two incomes or 1½ incomes and they need access to childcare.
In a moment, I will refer to some stories from my constituents about their experiences with trying to access childcare in Omeo. Professional people have left the town and school enrolments have suffered, so the town is continuing to dwindle. It needs an injection of government resources to ensure that people, particularly people with professional skills, can remain in the town and raise their children and be heavily involved in helping this town back to get on its feet. I make my comments tonight not with any anger or bitterness but to reflect the community’s disappointment with the direction the town is taking.
Several people have written to me to express their concerns about the lack of services in the Omeo district and I will quote a couple of them. One communication was from a local business owner who has trouble getting staff because her staff cannot access childcare services and have trouble making their shifts. She points out that:
We are one of many businesses that are affected by the school holidays and the common sudden cancellation of childcare, sometimes only minutes before our staff are going to drop their children off. The population numbers are such that we do not have a very big pool to source good, suitable staff from and we want to retain the staff we have.
It is about time the rural areas were looked after as well, if not better than the city areas. We came up to Omeo from Kilsyth and are appalled by the discrimination towards small towns in the way of suitable services to keep the small towns prosperous.
Another one is from a lady who is a paramedic, who has actually now been forced to leave Omeo because she cannot access childcare services. I will quote from her experiences:
I currently travel from Omeo to Traralgon in order to maintain employment with Ambulance Victoria. I pack up the children on a fortnightly basis and we all travel down to stay with my Mother-in-law for four days. I go to work and Nana looks after my girls. It is exhausting for us all as my Mother-in-law is an aged pensioner who has barely recovered from a battle with breast cancer.
After completing my shifts, we all pack up and travel back to Omeo …
As you can see, this is obviously not an ideal arrangement and definitely one that cannot be sustained. With community support and with an extension of child care hours and days in Omeo, my family would be able to remain in this beautiful part of rural Victoria. We love living here. We love the close community spirit and lifestyle opportunities that Omeo’s region has to offer. It is with great regret and heavy heart that we have chosen to leave and move back to the Valley where we can easily receive the child care support my family needs … I know the child care issue has been an ongoing problem for many years, and with many families before my time fighting the same battle. I wonder how long this cycle will continue until something is done to keep young families like us in this region.
As I said, it is not through anger or bitterness, it is just disappointment, that we have got young families who are prepared to move to a town like Omeo and then cannot stay once they have children.
The promises were made in 2007, specifically in relation to Yarram but more generally across Australia, to build 260 childcare centres and the program has been pulled. At the same time there are communities that are still waiting and still urging the government to work with them, to show some flexibility and abandon this one-size-fits-all approach which prevents them securing funding at the moment. Children’s services funding models often restrict the capacity to provide childcare and education services in some of our more remote communities. The Omeo and district community has been challenged by government policy and funding models for service provision for a number of years and I am not pretending that this is a new problem or that it is just this government which has failed to deliver for this community.
If we are serious about promoting opportunities to live and work in regional communities, we have to get serious about service delivery and that includes child care. There are many aspects of this bill before the House that are completely irrelevant to people in my electorate because they cannot access childcare services and access any rebate in the first place. We need to improve the delivery of services to children in regional areas to give them every opportunity to achieve their full potential in later years. One of those areas is child care. I urge the minister to consider the impact of future decisions on service delivery outside our capital cities.
GIPPSLAND LAKES / LANDCARE
November 15, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (9.39 pm) — I join the grievance debate this evening to raise several issues of concern to the people of Gippsland in relation to both the federal election and the current state election that we are faced with in Victoria. The first issue I wish to raise relates to the future management of Gippsland Lakes and the catchment of the lakes system.
Under the current arrangements, the Victorian state government has primary responsibility for the Gippsland Lakes. The Gippsland Lakes Taskforce was, I believe, established in 2002. At that time, the Victorian state government allocated in the order of $3.2 million per year to assist in practical environmental projects to enhance the environment of the Gippsland Lakes and to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the system. The CSIRO had undertaken an audit of the Gippsland Lakes and its catchment areas and had found that the system was in dire need of funding support to reduce the amount of nutrients that leave the agricultural land but also which run off our streets and towns and enter the waterways and then go down through the lake system. The target was set to reduce the amount of nutrients by 40 per cent by 2020. To its credit, the state government allocated $3.2 million per year over a four-year period to target that type of work.
It is fair to say that the landholders, particularly in the Macalister Irrigation District, and our farmers in the dairy sector made an enormous effort with that seed funding provided by the state government and then used their own capital to invest in whole-of-farm plans to find ways to reduce the amount of fertiliser, for example, that was leaving their properties and entering our waterways. Over that period of four years, a lot of great work was done by our landholders leveraging off the amount of money that they had been provided by the federal government.
From 2006 to 2009 the state government reduced that amount of funding to $6 million, or $2 million per year, and then in 2009 the recurrent funding was ceased altogether. This was from a state Labor government that claims to care about the future of the Gippsland Lakes and its catchment areas. There is no recurrent funding in the current Brumby Labor state government budget for the Gippsland Lakes Taskforce. It is a disgrace, and the people of Gippsland know when they are being short-changed.
The federal government has in the past also made commitments to the Gippsland Lakes. Under the previous coalition government, there was money allocated through the Natural Heritage Trust and under the previous Rudd government there was $3 million allocated over a period of three years. That funding has been exhausted as well. So we are faced with the situation where the Gippsland Lakes and its catchment areas have no recurrent funding on offer from either the federal Labor government or the state Labor government. These are wetlands, lakes and rivers which are recognised internationally. The wetlands of the Gippsland Lakes system are recognised in the Ramsar convention and, under that, there are obligations for the federal government and, of course, our state colleagues in terms of protecting and maintaining the environment.
As I referred to earlier, we are in the middle of a state election campaign in Victoria. To me, the future health and the management of the Gippsland Lakes system are critical issues facing the people of Gippsland. The state Labor government has made no policy commitments whatsoever in relation to the Gippsland Lakes. I am very mindful of the fact that we are going to go to the election in about 10 days time, and the people of Gippsland will have no idea what this Brumby Labor government is prepared to do in terms of practical environmental works to protect and enhance the Gippsland Lakes system.
To their credit, the state Liberal and National candidates have met with local community groups, environmental organisations and the agencies involved in delivering services in Gippsland, and I believe they will be making a positive announcement in the days ahead. I cannot pre-empt that announcement but I am well aware of the fact that they have been meeting with different agencies and community groups with a view to making an announcement to provide some recurrent funding for the Gippsland Lakes system. So I am very hopeful that that will happen in the days ahead. It will give the people in the state seat of Gippsland East, the people in the state seat of Gippsland South and the people in the state seat of Morwell a clear choice between the Liberal and National candidates and a Labor Party which talks a lot about the environment but delivers precious little in terms of direct action on the ground. This is the same Labor Party that comes in here and lectures us day after day about the great moral challenge of climate change and indulges in propaganda advertising campaigns on climate change but in the same budget cuts the funding for Landcare by $11 million over the forward estimates.
I refer to Landcare quite deliberately, because it is another area that I grieve for in this House. We have in Australia 100,000 volunteers from different Landcare organisations. I think there are about 4,000 different Landcare organisations across Australia. Last year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Landcare. There probably is not another environmental organisation in Australia that has contributed more in terms of direct and practical environmental action than Landcare. If you happen to get a chance to look at the brochures or the newsletters sent out by members opposite, you will see plenty of photos of them with their local Landcare groups, planting trees and joining in that sort of activity. But when it comes to actually providing the funding to support Landcare into the future the government goes missing in action again.
Eleven million dollars was cut from the budget this year for Landcare—$11 million which could have been used to hire the facilitators, who then leverage their good work and work with the volunteers to deliver that practical action on the ground. I condemn the Labor government for its failure to invest in the future of Landcare and deliver those valuable projects in regional communities. It is the people who live in those rural communities—the landholders, the farmers—who are prepared to give up their time and do that direct action in terms of planting trees, erosion control, eliminating pest weeds and doing their best to reduce the impact of feral animals on our national landscape.
On a more positive note, in the time I have left to me I would like to refer to a recent community action day that I organised in my community with the support of the Nationals candidate for Gippsland East, a gentleman by the name of Tim Bull. Tim and I organised a clean-up day on the Gippsland Lakes because we wanted to prove to the government that the people of Gippsland are so interested in the future health of this system that they are prepared to give up their time to clean up after other people who neglect their responsibilities and leave rubbish lying around. We had about 50 people join us in this clean-up activity. While you would say that having 50 people who are prepared to turn up and help clean up rubbish was a success, the fact that we were able to find so much rubbish in such a short time along the foreshore at Lakes Entrance and at Metung and Paynesville was quite disheartening.
Of greatest concern to me was the state of our riverbanks—we went to the Tambo River and the Mitchell River. A local volunteer and I walked along a 200- or 300-metre section of riverbank and we filled six 30 kilo bags with beer bottles, nappies, newspapers, plastic cans and assorted debris that had been left behind by, I assume, recreational anglers. I believe that the vast majority of recreational anglers using our waterways and our river systems do so in a responsible manner, but when you can find that much rubbish lying around in one small section of riverbank I am greatly worried about what we would find if we went along all the popular riverbanks throughout Australia and started picking up the rubbish that has been left behind. My concern is that our riverbanks in many parts of our community are being treated like tips. If the results from that small section of riverbank are repeated in other parts of our community it would be fair to say that we have an enormous task ahead of us.
We have a problem in Victoria in that the responsible agencies have taken away a lot of the rubbish bins from most of the riverbanks. It is a deliberate public policy, the view being that, if you take the rubbish in, you should take it out yourself. That might work well for the responsible people in our community, but there are some irresponsible elements who will just throw the rubbish up on the bank—and it seems to me that, once you get a little bit of rubbish there, you will accumulate more. It is nothing to go along to a tree and find 20 or 30 empty stubbies sitting there or a pile of plastic bags in the one place. It seems to me that, once people see a bit of rubbish, they are prepared to keep adding to it.
I have raised these issues tonight in the context of urging both state and federal governments to invest more in practical environmental action. We have groups like Landcare and the volunteers who were prepared to join me on a community action day. These are people in our community who are prepared to do the responsible thing but there will always be an element in our community who will treat the environment with contempt. The government needs to work with the people who have the interests of our waterways at heart. So I urge both the Victorian and federal governments to start backing up their rhetoric with direct action by supporting Landcare and other organisations which protect and maintain the environment of the Gippsland region.
October 28, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12.30 pm) — I rise to raise my concerns with the excessive consumption of alcohol and the harm that is being caused in our homes and on our streets. According to the Department of Health and Ageing’s National Drug Strategy, the total social cost of alcohol abuse in 2004-05 was $15.3 billion, which takes into account everything from workforce impacts, premature death, road accidents and health care to crime. It is a staggering figure.
There is no simple solution to this problem, and certainly not the government’s flawed tax on ready-to-drink products which, I warned at the time it was debated, would lead to substituting other illicit substances for alcohol. I note the recent media coverage of studies which reveal that that appears to be the case.
The House would be interested in the result of an upcoming two-year study which will investigate the link between alcohol prices and the consumption of illicit drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana. The study will be conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and I certainly look forward to the results. I do not seek to pre-empt the results, but the anecdotes I have received from parents and young people themselves are alarming.
By forcing the price of ready-to-drink products upwards, the government has done nothing to keep young people safer or to reduce binge drinking. Spirit bottles have been discounted by the major chains. Young people are often mixing their own drinks, with no knowledge of the right measure. Others are simply substituting ecstasy, which has been made more price competitive, for alcohol. The government’s policy and legislation were more spin than substance, and have not worked.
As I said, there are no simple answers to the problems of excessive consumption of alcohol, but there are some good initiatives which should be investigated and supported further. One such initiative is an invention known as the Big Bottle, which is an automatic measured-pour wine dispenser. This is an Australian invention and provides for a standard drink to be automatically poured once the wine glass has been placed on the dispenser tray. I have seen the invention in action, and I was impressed by its potential to solve the problem of overpouring in relation to wine products. Overpouring is a problem on several fronts. From a purely economic basis, clubs, pubs and bar owners do themselves out of money when staff members unknowingly serve more alcohol in a glass than customers have paid for. But, more importantly, it allows drinkers to know exactly how much they have had to drink. Each glass of wine is a standard drink—not more, not less. Right now, people are being misled, and are perhaps misleading themselves, about the number of drinks they have had. They may make the mistake of thinking they are under the legal limit to drive, or the excessive consumption of alcohol could be having negative health consequences.
This is an issue for governments at both state and federal levels. We have extensive liquor licensing laws and we have tight restrictions on responsible service of alcohol in this nation, but we have not tackled the issue of overpouring or, as it is sometimes described, ‘overdosing on alcohol’.
As I said, I have seen the autopour or Big Bottle system in operation, and recognise its potential for wider distribution. It has been patented by an Australian company and provides an opportunity for the Australian wine industry to ensure that it is our products that are sold to the world in these bottles. The owners of the patent can specify which products are used in the dispensers, and the Big Bottles are specifically required to fit the system, and all Australian wines can be used under licensing arrangements. You cannot just supply any wine into the system. It is a genuine export opportunity for our wine industry.
I understand that some of the larger hotel groups in Australia are showing an interest in this product, with close to 300 hotels currently fitting the system. It would be good to see the system also trialled here in Parliament House. There has certainly been some international interest, as governments grapple with the wide range of challenges presented by the excessive consumption of alcohol. I will be writing to the Prime Minister in relation to this issue, and inviting the government to work with the company to develop strategies which can assist in reducing the harmful effects of excessive consumption of alcohol. It is not a silver bullet, but I have no doubt that the Big Bottle autopour system can provide benefits to our community.
In closing, I would like to reiterate my concerns over community safety more generally and the need for a national approach to cleaning up our streets. Right now, we have a lot of young people about to finish their year 12 exams, and their attention no doubt will turn to celebration and schoolies week throughout the nation. I would be the last person to stand in this place and tell young people they should not be allowed to let off a bit of steam and celebrate with their mates, but I do call on them to act responsibly and to look after their friends. I also call on the entertainment venues to act responsibly and extend a duty of care to all of their patrons.
Issues surrounding violence, street crime and antisocial behaviour are not restricted to schoolies week; in fact, I believe that school leavers are often better behaved than the older people who gatecrash the celebrations. But you cannot open the newspapers in any of our major cities today without another report of a cowardly attack or a gang bashing on our streets. In Victoria, the situation has become out of control over the past decade, and I am very critical of the Bracks and Brumby governments for their failure to address the issue of street violence in a timely and efficient manner. We talk about a lot of issues in this place, and quite frankly many of them are less important than this. It is time that governments at all levels got serious about reclaiming our streets and protecting the lawabiding citizens from the minority of idiots and thugs who cannot go out at night without causing trouble.
MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS – AFGHANISTAN
October 27, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.42 pm) — I would like to begin by commending the member for Maribyrnong on his contribution as one of the most thoughtful and, I believe, heartfelt contributions we have heard in this debate. I would also like to begin my contribution, like so many others in this place, by recognising the 1,550 Australian men and women currently serving in Afghanistan. There is no greater service than to put on the uniform of your country and be prepared to put yourself in harm’s way. We must respect them for the service they provide for our community.
I grew up in Sale and my electorate now includes the community of Sale, which is home to the East Sale RAAF base. I have met a lot of people over the years who have served or are continuing to serve in uniform. I believe they are the true patriots of our nation. Their willingness to put themselves at personal risk for a greater cause is something that I have always admired. It is dangerous and difficult work and I would like to commend the men and women in our forces for their bravery and for the compassion that the Australian service personnel are renowned for in the field. I wish them all a safe return at the completion of their mission. To their families, friends and loved ones: my thoughts are with you at this extraordinarily difficult time in your lives.
I think it is fair to say that the thoughts of all members of the House are with the families as they await the safe return of their loved ones. Naturally, my thoughts and prayers are also with the family and friends of the 21 men who have lost their lives in this conflict. It is a terrible price to pay, and our nation is forever indebted to the men for that service. The honour roll in the War Memorial just down the road from here in Parliament House tells the tale of the thousands of young lives that have been lost in conflict in the relatively short history of our nation. That human capital that has been lost from our nation gives one pause to think exactly what those people could have achieved had they have been able to return to our nation and reach old age. What great achievements and discoveries might their lives have led to? The loss of human capital is one of the things I often reflect on when we have such young and brave people put in harm’s way. So we honour their memory and we must never forget their service.
It is also critical, whatever happens in this debate over the days, weeks and months ahead, that there be no condemnation of or any sense of alienation for the men and women who are currently serving in Afghanistan. Our nation made that mistake once in the past, as we have just heard from the member for Maribyrnong, in relation to the conflict in Vietnam. We made that mistake once in the past; it must never be repeated. The men and women on the front line have my enduring respect and they must be supported when they return. I take up the contribution from the member for Maribyrnong where he rightly raised concerns about the support for the troops on their return. Like him, I want to be able to look the soldiers in the eye and know that we supported them while they were in Afghanistan and also for them to know that we will support them as they readjust to peacetime, and also support their families. The promises that are made in this place and the fine words that have been spoken must result in deeds in our community.
I believe that the conflict in Afghanistan, although it has divided public opinion, has great support in our wider community and there is an acknowledgment of the tremendous service of our personnel. I want to reflect briefly on a lady in my own community who contacted my office in the wake of the deaths of two soldiers, Sappers Darren Smith and Jacob Moreland, in June this year. Jean Hey has two children serving in the Army herself. She wanted, as a mark of respect, to show their families that people cared beyond their immediate circle of family and friends. She initiated in our local community a campaign called ‘Leave a light on.’ The idea was to leave a porch light on until the soldiers were repatriated home. We hope that we do not have to do that again, but the Prime Minister has obviously made it very clear to us in her address to the nation that we are there for the long haul and we can expect more casualties. I believe that is something symbolic we can all do for our soldiers if we do have more casualties—leave a light on until the soldiers are repatriated back to our homeland. I congratulate Jean Hey in South Gippsland for that initiative.
This is an emotionally charged debate, and I agree that it is long overdue. We as members of parliament do owe it to the Australian people to explain our position on this particular issue and also to explain our role in Afghanistan and to publicly state our views. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that there will be regular updates. I think she said there would be an annual update. I would suggest that a more frequent update may be appropriate. Perhaps every three to six months would keep the Australian public better informed.
I believe that over the past decade we have failed to make the case in a public sense, and I am not surprised that opinion polls reflect a waning of support in the wider community, particularly in the aftermath of any casualties. As much as it is an emotional debate, it is also a very complex debate and there are no simple answers. The decision for us to engage in armed conflict must always be taken with the utmost seriousness and after consideration of all the alternatives. I believe that was the case on this occasion. On balance, I am convinced that its involvement in Afghanistan was an appropriate step by the Australian government. It is an issue that I have thought very deeply about. I have no hesitation in telling the House that from time to time I have had some grave doubts and some serious reservations about our role in Afghanistan. With each death—like most MPs, I would think—I have asked myself, ‘Why? Why are we there and what are we achieving?’ I think that is only fair in the circumstances.
Like many others in this place, I have been moved to tears when our party leaders have spoken about lives lost in Afghanistan and the House has stood to attention as a mark of respect. It is for that reason that I must express my extreme dismay at one section of the contribution made in this debate by the member for Denison. I believe that the member made a very valuable contribution. He expressed a view which is contrary to many others and he expressed it with passion and all the energy he could muster. He was right to ask questions. He was right to raise his concerns and he was right to come to his own conclusions and forcefully argue that case. But his reference to other MPs sacrificing their souls for their party’s political self-interest was an appalling slight. It was the wrong thing to do and I am offended, and the House should be offended. We can argue our positions with all the determination we like, but we must demonstrate respect for each other. The member for Denison has been in this place for about five minutes and his lecturing and hectoring of others is unwarranted, unfounded and beneath contempt. He should apologise to all members at the first available opportunity.
The first member he should apologise to is the member for Eden-Monaro. In his contribution to the debate, Dr Kelly gave some insights from a man whose courage has actually been tested under fire. Dr Kelly told of watching men die in conflict, of losing friends and of washing their blood from his uniform. I say to the member for Denison: do not come in here and lecture other MPs about sacrificing their souls. Show us the respect that we have shown you.
Dr Kelly also referred to the contribution that previous generations of Australians have made on battlefields throughout the world, and I would like to quote from his speech:
Those generations did not succumb, they did not shirk; they kept faith with those who were asked and who volunteered to assume the greatest risks, and they did their bit to support the national effort. We venerate their fortitude and salute their service. But are we worthy of them? Are we made of the same stuff? Are we prepared to carry the torch they have passed to us with the same courage? This generation is facing tests that are forcing us to ask these questions. One of these tests is the threat of Islamist extremism.
I agree with Dr Kelly that this is a test of our resilience and our fortitude in the face of extremism. It has been said many times that the world changed on September 11. Of that there is no doubt. It has also been said many times that the atrocities committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban are many and the treatment of women in particular is appalling and oppressive. I note the presence of the Minister for the Status of Women in the House. Having made the decision to participate as part of an international community effort which has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council, we have an obligation to the Afghan people to finish the job that has been started. I do not believe that now is the time to cut and run. That is exactly what the Taliban would be hoping for.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs also made a valuable contribution to the debate when he referred to the risk of terrorism attacks. I want to quote from that speech. He said:
The truth is that our continued operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban to deny the return of al-Qaeda and its allies to Afghanistan, combined with coordinated counterterrorism operations around the world, have helped in preventing a repetition of a series of large-scale September 11 type attacks. Of course there have been many near misses—in fact, many more than the general public is ever likely to know about. The problem is that the success of an effective counterterrorism strategy is much harder to recognise than its failure.
I raise those points because we just simply cannot assume that the risk of terrorism has passed and that there are so many people working around the world to remain vigilant to protect innocent people. Preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist training is another important consideration in this debate.
It is for all these reasons, and because of the fact that it is in Australia’s best interests to maintain and enhance its alliance with America, that I support our current involvement in Afghanistan. A strong alliance with the US is fundamental to Australia’s national security. While that should never be used or be seen as a blanket excuse to follow the US into battle, it is an important consideration in the context of the debate.
I would caution that just because I am convinced in this case about Australia’s continued involvement, that does not mean I am necessarily comfortable with our role. I suspect that like many Australians I would rather see our service men and women back on our shores as soon as possible, as soon as their mission objectives will allow. In a perfect world there would be no reason to take up arms in this manner, but in a perfect world Australians would not have been murdered in terrorist attacks. I can only imagine the worry and the uncertainty in the many thousands of homes throughout Australia who have loved ones currently serving in Afghanistan. I believe it is important for us to have this debate and it is important for our armed forces and their families to know that their mission has the overwhelming support of members in this place. As I said, I respect the members with differing views, but I think the overwhelming majority of members in this place have stated on the record their support for our current involvement in Afghanistan. I believe it is important for the armed forces, for the personnel on the ground, but also for their families and friends in the wider community.
I think it is also important that the government continues to keep informing the Australian public as the mission develops. As I mentioned previously, it is the one area where I believe we have let our community down. We have not been able to make the case in a way which is clear and concise so that people understand the mission, what our objectives are and what can be achieved by our work on the ground. This is not just about fighting. It is also about the work that is going on in the community to try and assist the Afghan people to govern in their own right in the future.
Having said all of that, it is hard to know what winning looks like in this conflict. We have to be realistic and acknowledge that Afghanistan is not going to achieve a model society at any stage in the near future, perhaps not in my lifetime, perhaps not in my children’s lifetime. It is widely accepted that the military can only do so much and that the war can only be won by the Afghan people themselves. We are effectively, I believe, buying more time for them to get their own house in order. It is inevitable that there will need to be a negotiated outcome, but it is far better for the moderates to be negotiating from a position of strength. I fear that leaving now will not give Afghanistan the best chance to achieve a peaceful, respectful, tolerant and modern society.
To our service men and women I can only say: the majority of members in this place clearly believe you are doing a difficult and dangerous job to the absolute best of your ability, and we are committed to supporting you in that role. You are there to help innocent people. You are there to protect us from those who would do us harm. Your government is indebted to you and I believe that we as individual members of parliament are also indebted to you. Our nation’s heart aches for your return.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – SURF LIFE SAVING AUSTRALIA
October 25, 2010
Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Lyons:
That this House:
(1) acknowledges and congratulates the over 153 000 volunteer members and staff of Surf Life Saving Australia;
(2) notes that:
(a) Surf Life Saving Australia faces many challenges in looking after the nation’s largest and most popular playground, our beaches, with over 100 million beach visitations each year; and
(b) in its 103 years of service, Surf Life Saving Australia is defying trends by increasing volunteer numbers, which is a great reflection of an organisation strongly connected to unique Aussie lifestyle, culture and adaptability;
(3) supports Surf Life Saving Australia’s efforts in advocating for nationally consistent standards for coastal safety services, systems and signage;
(4) acknowledges Surf Life Saving Australia’s international aid and development programs in 25 countries, mainly in the Asia Pacific region, playing its part in showcasing the nation’s global goodwill; and
(5) supports the establishment of bi-partisan ‘Friends of Surf Life Saving’ amongst Members of Parliament and Senators, providing the opportunity for Surf Life Saving Australia to keep the country’s leaders informed about the humanitarian, social and economic value of Surf Life Saving Australia to the Australian community.
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (1.08 pm) — Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I join with the member for Bass in recognising your new role as a deputy speaker and wish you well in that role. I am pleased to join the debate today on the motion put forward by the member for Bass on surf-lifesaving. In doing so, I acknowledge that the member for Bass is a life member of both Surf Life Saving Tasmania and Surf Life Saving Australia. His modesty prevented him from telling us that. I understand you do not get that in a box of Nutrigrain. I believe the member has served his community and served the surf-lifesaving movement with great distinction over a period of many years. I commend the member for his dedication to what I believe is one of the most worthy causes in the Australian community. In doing so I also congratulate him on his win at the recent election; he had a very strong result.
My personal involvement in the surf-lifesaving movement is far more modest. I have been involved for the past five years in my children’s nippers program. This year all four of my children are enrolled in the nippers program at the Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club and I will continue my role as a bronze medallion holder and water safety officer. It goes without saying that without the volunteer parents to support our young nippers on the beach the program would collapse, but at Lakes Entrance we have more than 100 nippers taking to the beach every weekend and the parents do a magnificent job. Some of us have had to rediscover the ability to swim as water safety officers in order to support the nippers and sometimes you wonder whether the kids will save us or we will save them. Having said that, we do take safety very seriously and there have not been any problems in recent years.
The importance of the surf-lifesaving movement flows beyond the safety issues on our beaches raised by the member for Bass to the critical role of surf-lifesaving in the local economy of many regional communities. Without patrolled beaches, the tourism industry would collapse in many parts of regional Victoria. Parents demand that when they come for a beachside holiday their children are safe. The provision of a patrolled beach is of critical importance to towns like mine, Lakes Entrance, and also to other beaches which are patrolled in East Gippsland at Seaspray and Woodside.
It would be remiss of me today in the nature of this motion not to reflect on some efforts of some of the young people in my own community who quite recently were recognised with Pride of Australia nominations for outstanding bravery in their efforts to try and save two men who got into great difficulty on Ninety Mile Beach last summer. In doing so I would like to recognise some teenage boys who are members of our club, in Oden Shepherd, Connor Dostine, Lucas Webb and also an older gentleman of about my vintage who goes by the name of ‘Surf Shack Phil’. He runs a surf supply business but his real name is Phil McEntee. Phil and the three boys attempted the rescue of two people in quite atrocious conditions last summer on Ninety Mile Beach. Tragically they were not able to resuscitate one of the gentlemen, whom they were able to retrieve. The other fellow could not be located in the surf in the conditions of the day and he also died. But their bravery in the circumstances and the training they put into practice on that day was extraordinary. I commend all three of the young men and also Phil for their efforts on that day.
The member for Bass did touch on what is an important issue in the context of international visitors to our shores and the role the surf-lifesaving clubs play in helping to minimise the drowning risk as much as possible. It is also a significant issue for us with our migrant population. We have more and more people coming to our beaches during the summer season who do not necessarily have the background in understanding conditions and the capacity of beaches to change at a moment’s notice. We need within our surf-lifesaving clubs to broaden our message to people of different cultures who may not necessarily have English as a first language and who may not necessarily recognise some of the symbols we have taken for granted as kids growing up on the beach. For example, the surf-lifesaving movement’s important key message of swimming between the flags may not necessarily be understood by people from different cultural backgrounds. The Gold Coast deals with the issue well by using different languages on their signs. But in some of our regional communities we assume everyone understands what the flags are all about. It is a challenge for us to educate people in that regard and to make sure they understand the need not to enter the water alone, how to understand the surf conditions and the fact that the conditions may change quite dramatically.
I mentioned the role of young people in my own surf club at Lakes Entrance and it always amused me that the local police would say that the young people from the surf-lifesaving club have never caused any trouble. I do not know if that is because we work them so hard on the beach all day and they are that tired by the end of the day that they cannot get out and cause much mischief, but I would like to think it is more positive. They are learning a culture of community service and learning that they can have an important role in our community. As the member for Bass indicated, as a 17-or 18-year-old he was taking on senior roles in his own club with leadership responsibilities as secretary and as club captain. We have that today in Lakes Entrance where we have young people stepping up to the plate and taking on very senior roles within the organisation.
The young people are not only participating in community service but also participating in a healthy lifestyle and they are learning skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, whether it is learning how to use the surf craft and inflatable rescue boats or whether it is first aid or simple surf safety techniques. They are not only learning skills for life but also learning the importance of being a part of a team and of being a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They are able to look outside their own particular interests and work as part of a team to achieve great things in the community. One of the great things about the surf-lifesaving movement is what it does for young people in boosting their confidence and giving them the self-esteem they so desperately need to then take on other challenges outside the beach environment. I have no hesitation in saying that many of the Australian leaders of tomorrow are on our beaches now enrolled in nippers programs. It is that important to us.
My home club has been around for 50 years. I note that in the member’s motion he reflects upon the fact that the surf-lifesaving movement is defying the trend of getting more members involved. It is a similar experience in Gippsland where the Lakes Entrance club, the Woodside club, and the Seaspray club are all growing their memberships and getting a new breed of younger people involved. And it is not just in the nippers program; they are keeping youth involved in the 13- to 17- and 18-year-old mark, and it is often really difficult to keep those young people involved in the community. I think the surf club environment is a very healthy one and because it challenges kids it is managing to keep them involved for a lot longer. I think it is one of the great things about the surf life saving movement.
The Lakes Entrance club in particular has had a lot to celebrate in recent years. In 2009 it was recognised as the Australian Surf-Lifesaving Club of the Year. It also hosted the Victorian junior titles in 2008 and both the senior and junior titles in 2010, and we are looking forward next summer to hosting both the senior and junior titles again on our beach in March. One day we aspire to perhaps host the Australian titles, and maybe with a bit of home beach advantage we may be able to pick up a few medals. It is always very difficult to win those medals at the Australian level.
The government, to its credit—and in particular I refer to the state government—this week is opening new facilities at the Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club. A grant in the order of $400,000 was given to help provide the second stage of the development of the clubhouse. Unfortunately, I will be here in parliament on that occasion, but I am sure that there will be time to celebrate with the members over the summer months.
I will not name the individuals who have been involved in that program because there is always a risk with surf-lifesaving clubs where there are so many people doing so much behind the scenes. But I will give genuine credit to the committee that has worked very hard to achieve that redevelopment and also the members who will be putting on their caps this summer and supporting not only their own children in the nippers program but also the touring public and the local residents who have come to expect safe beaches at Lakes Entrance and Seaspray and Woodside.
I think it is worth noting, in the time that I have left, that to the best of my knowledge there has never been a drowning on a beach in Victoria when a person has been swimming between the flags. I am almost positive that is a fact, and it is a very proud record that the surf-lifesaving movement has. The safest place to be on any beach is where our volunteers are patrolling. It is not just my club at Lakes Entrance; the Seaspray club and the Woodside club are also gearing up for a busy season. Even though we are only about an hour apart, there is a great spirit of competition, and the kids all compete quite fiercely. But at the end of the day there is a barbecue and the social environment and I think it is a really positive environment for young people to be in.
The plan that the member has put forward here for the establishment of a bipartisan Friends of Surf Lifesaving association amongst members of parliament and senators is, I think, a great idea. I am not sure where the idea came from but, if it was the member for Bass’s idea, I think it is a great idea and I congratulate you for that. I look forward to being a part of that association in the months and years ahead. Our surf-lifesaving volunteers right across our nation do such an extraordinary job. It is a task that is often dangerous—and you referred to the death of the young fellow at the Australian titles this year. While it is a task that can be dangerous, the members are always up to the challenge. When given the training and support by governments in terms of new facilities, new infrastructure and new equipment when required, I think it is such an important task they fulfil. As governments, by supporting our surf-lifesaving clubs, we are also sending a very positive message to our young people again that their role in those clubs is valued—and that is something I will never argue against in this place; that is for sure. Any funding that can be made available to Surf Life Saving Australia and its member clubs, I think, will be unanimously supported on both sides of the House. So I congratulate the member on bringing the motion to the House.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – PENSIONS AND BENEFITS
October 25, 2010
Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Adams:
That this House:
(1) notes that pensions must keep pace with the cost of living;
(2) recognises the significance and importance of the Labor Government’s $14 billion reform of the pension system after over 11 years of Coalition inaction;
(3) understands that when there is a Commonwealth pension rise, some of it is likely to be absorbed into pensioners’ rising living costs, often as a result of States and Territories lifting housing rents and power costs;
(4) notes the danger that pensioners are at risk of becoming impoverished if State and Territory governments do not allow the benefits of pension increases to flow through to pensioners; and
(5) demands that all State and Territory Governments commit to permanently quarantining last September’s pension rise, in the calculation of pensioners’ public housing rent levels and other State and Territory government controlled costs.
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12.10 pm) — I am pleased to join the debate on pensions and to speak on the motion by the member for Lyons. I will begin by acknowledging Mr Adams’s long-running interest in the issue of pension reform and his passion for making sure that older Australians, particularly older Tasmanians, are well supported in their retirement. I would also like to congratulate him on his re-election. He is one of the great characters of the parliament and a 5.4 per cent swing towards him gives credit to the work he has been doing. At the risk of driving your primary vote down, though, member for Lyons, let me say that I always appreciate your contributions; they are very thoughtful. I have a lot of respect for the issues you raise, because they are issues that are very consistent with my community in regional Victoria.
Mr Adams — They’re not that far apart.
Mr CHESTER — There is only a small swim between us. While I do not necessarily agree with every part of the motion before the House, we do have some common ground when it comes to our shared passion for ensuring that the men and women who have worked very hard to build the nation we have today have the opportunity to retire with dignity and to receive the support they need when required from our government. The cost of living increases that the member rightly referred to and the impact that is having on our pensioners is something that is very apparent in the electorate of Gippsland. In fact, it was one of the critical issues in the Gippsland by-election in 2008. In that by-election the topic of the need to increase the rate, particularly for the single age pension, was heavily debated, and I guaranteed older Gippslanders during that campaign that, if I were elected, I would come to Canberra and fight for a better deal on their behalf. I am very pleased that the Rudd government did take some steps to increase the pension. It followed some strong lobbying by members, I believe, on both sides. In particular, the member for Bradfield, who was the Leader of the Opposition at the time, pushed very strongly for an increase in the age pension. I think there is a level of understanding—
Ms Hall — Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom) — Is the member for Gippsland willing to give way?
Mr CHESTER — Yes.
Ms Hall — Could the member please detail, in his contribution, the issues that he has brought to Canberra in relation to pensions and how they have been taken up by his party?
Mr CHESTER — I thank the member. I will take on board the new paradigm referred to in my presentation today. As I said, it was one of the biggest issues in the Gippsland by-election. I made representations to the minister at that time and spoke with the member for Bradfield, who was the opposition leader at the time, and he strongly advocated on behalf of the opposition and in fact proposed a private member’s bill to increase the rate of the single pension, which was, I believe, voted down by the government, and I think that was a mistake. But I do acknowledge that, since that time has passed, the former Rudd government, in one of its better decisions, decided to increase the rate of pension, so I do take the member’s question in the spirit in which it was intended.
One of the key issues for pensioners to understand this situation is that many older Australians have not had the benefit of compulsory superannuation, so their retirement incomes are very limited. They do not have access to large amounts of retirement income, and there is going to be an increased need for government support for those people who have not necessarily had the capacity to plan for their own retirement for a whole range of reasons. I acknowledge the importance of the package referred to by the member for Lyons and stress again that it is something I argued for in my by-election campaign and since that time.
In all this, we must not forget the self-funded retirees, who have been hit very badly by the global economic circumstances and are now facing a situation where their retirement income has been restricted as well. They are often left out of this debate when it comes to discussions of housing affordability. It would be a mistake to think that, just because they happen to own their own homes and have a modest amount of retirement income, they are doing it comfortably in these very difficult times.
Also, reflecting on the cost-of-living pressures which the previous member spoke about, there are some policy positions being adopted by the current government which I believe will add further pressure to retirement incomes— in particular, the government’s proposed new carbon tax and the impact that is going to have on electricity prices. I believe that pensioners in particular will feel the pain the most. I am already hearing anecdotes in my electorate of older members of my community who are staying in bed longer in the mornings because they cannot afford to heat their own homes. If those stories are true, it is a real worry for us as a society when we have older people becoming more isolated in their communities, particularly in regional communities, because of cost-of living pressures. Increases in water bills and other obviously essential services which have been a direct product of poor state government decisions are also having a severe impact on our pensioners and their cost-of-living pressures, not to mention the food prices which the previous speaker referred to.
I do, however, take exception to the member for Lyons’s assertion that there were 11 years of coalition inaction in relation to pensioners. I think the words he used were that the previous government failed to do anything. That simply lacks credibility on several fronts. Most notably, it lacks credibility on the electoral maths. Why did older Australians embrace Prime Minister John Howard and continue to re-elect the government he led if he treated pensioners as poorly as the member claims?
Government members interjecting —
Mr CHESTER — I notice the interjections from other members. The simple fact of the matter is that no government goes out of its way to do nothing in relation to any issue. It is a juvenile debate, and I think that when we as members wander off into this hyperbole and ignore the facts of the matter we do a great disservice to the Australian people. I do not think that even the failed Rudd government did nothing at all. It tried to do a few things, and unfortunately it was incompetent in its delivery. But the simple fact of the matter is that the previous Howard coalition government increased the real income of pensioners by 20 per cent during the term of that government— that is two per cent per year over the life of the Howard government. In addition to the increase in real income, the coalition delivered one-off bonuses paid to most pensioner categories, as well as a utilities allowance paid to pensioners for the first time. I believe that it was the good economic management of the Howard government that made the increase to real income and the provision of one-off benefits possible. Because of the growth of wages, which was far in advance of the cost of living, in September 1997 the Howard government legislated to index pensions using the male total average weekly earnings if that index was higher than the consumer price index, and this enabled pensioners to keep ahead of cost-of-living increases. I could go on, but I just want to make it clear to the House for the record that the previous Howard government, with the support of the Nationals in coalition, did some excellent work in relation to pensioners. But I accept that there is always more to be done. It is one of those areas of public policy where there is always going to be more work to be done.
As I said, during the Gippsland by-election the former member for Bradfield, in his role as opposition leader, was a strong advocate on behalf of older Australians and certainly made the case very strongly to the people of Gippsland that there was a need for more reform.
Mr Adams — He did that to get you elected.
Mr CHESTER — I missed that interjection from the member for Lyons. If he would like to make it more clearly, I might be able to take it up with him.
Mr Adams — He did that to get you elected.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms K Livermore) — Order! The member will be heard in silence.
Mr CHESTER — The interjection was not worth repeating after all, so I will just ignore it. But I would like to refer specifically to the final part of the motion, which the member spoke quite eloquently about. It demands that all state and territory governments commit to permanently quarantining last September’s pension rise in the calculation of pensioners’ public housing rent levels and other state and territory government controlled costs. That is one area where the member for Lyons and I will be in furious agreement. Pensioners are telling me in calls, emails and correspondence to my office that they simply are not that much better off once the state government gets their hands on the money. That is a critical issue for us in this place: how do we protect future pension increases, arising from what I believe are good policy decisions, from the grubby hands of state treasurers?
It is a shameful situation when one level of government is giving with one hand and the other level of government is taking with the other. The member quite rightly referred to the situation of public housing rents, and it has been a very significant issue in my electorate, where I have been contacted by pensioners. These people are not mugs; they know when they are being ripped off. They know that, on the one hand, they have a federal government making some big announcements and getting credit—and deservedly so for increasing the rate of the pension but, on the other hand, they are getting an increase in their public housing rents by their state governments. So I call on colleagues within the state administrations to have a real look into their own hearts when it comes to this issue. It is a very important issue. They are not fooling anyone. The state administrations have fleeced pensioners of at least some of the benefits that are included in the increased pension rates, and they have eroded the benefit of those increased pensions. As I said, I myself have had several letters on the issue, as the member for Lyons has, and I am happy to work with the member for Lyons and all other members of goodwill to achieve a better deal for pensioners in the future. We really need to keep the state treasurers away from any future increases.
More generally, this entire issue of retirement income reform is, I believe, one that the parliament is going to have to spend a lot more time considering in the months and years ahead. We are going to need to be more innovative in making policy reforms that do not penalise pensioners when they happen to get a bit of part-time work. They are not going to be turned into millionaires on the basis of the pension and some part-time work they get on the side. We are going to have to find ways to give them more dignity in their retirement and more control of their own financial futures. I think that is a critical issue of reform for this parliament and beyond. As I said previously, it is important that, when we talk about this issue of older Australians, we do not forget the self-funded retirees. It would be a mistake to think that they are not feeling the pain of the global economic situation at the moment. So I thank the member for raising this issue, and I believe it is a good debate to have.
GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S SPEECH – ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
October 21, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (1.07 pm) — I would like to begin by congratulating all of the 150 members who were elected to this place in what was a historic election. It was a great honour and a privilege for me personally to be elected here the first time, and then to be returned as well is something that I personally would never take for granted. I am sure the other members of this place would agree with me on that point. It was a historic election on many fronts—most obviously the closeness of the result but also the fact that we have had our youngest ever member of parliament, our first Muslim MP, our first Aboriginal MP and also the first Greens MP elected to the House of Representatives. So I congratulate them all in particular for those historic milestones but also all other new members. We have just heard the inaugural speeches of two of the new members, and I particularly want to mention the member for Riverina. The new member for Riverina physically has some very small shoes to fill but metaphorically he has the boots of a giant to fill in the absence of the former member, Kay Hull. Kay may have been small in stature but she is fondly remembered by all in this place, particularly in the National Party, for the enormous impression she made as a member of parliament and simply by being a good local member. I do not think there is any greater praise we could give to a member at the end of their career than to say that she was a good local member and she served this place with distinction.
To those of us who were re-elected, I congratulate them. I congratulate you all on winning the support and the trust of your communities. To have your contract renewed for the next three years I think is a credit to all who have put in so much time and effort, both in the campaign phase and also in the years leading up to the election. It is a very different parliament from the one we have just finished and I welcome the package of reforms that have been negotiated, which I believe will provide more opportunities for private members’ business and allow local members to raise more local issues. I recall that in my own maiden speech I commented on the need for greater respect to be demonstrated in this place and I believe the Australian people are demanding that from us. They are watching us and they are demanding it from us in this new parliament. I believe that neither side is the font of all knowledge and it is incumbent on both sides to listen to the debates and to consider the ideas and the merits of poli ies that are put forward and not simply oppose for opposition’s sake. I believe at the same time that the government has a responsibility to listen to the ideas put forward by the opposition, to take them on board and to amend policy to reflect the feedback they receive from the other side.
We can have robust debate, but when it descends into name-calling and heckling I do not think we do ourselves any great credit in this place. So from my perspective I will certainly be doing everything I can to hold this government to account, but I will work with ministers where appropriate to achieve good outcomes for my electorate—not just for the good of Gippsland but for all regional Australians. I will be, as I said, urging the ministers to listen more to opposition MPs. I do not believe that in the first term the government actually lacked ideas; they simply lacked the ability to deliver the projects on the ground. Their record of delivery has been appalling and there are many occasions where they have been quite incompetent when it comes to issues such as the Home Insulation Program and certain aspects of the Building the Education Revolution program. In both those programs there were opportunities for the government to listen to the advice provided by others—sometimes from this side of the House, sometimes from departments—but those opportunities to listen were ignored.
Like other MPs, I come to this place with an enormous amount of support from a team of volunteers that helped us to get elected in the first place, and it would be remiss of me not to use this occasion to thank so many people for their support during the election. It was a great result for us in Gippsland. Against a swing that was heading towards the government in Victoria, we were able to record a swing of more than five per cent to the National Party. That is the first time since 1996 that the seat of Gippsland has been won on primaries. So I was delighted with the result but fully cognisant of the fact that the result was a team effort. Nothing could have been achieved without the strength of a team behind me. The National’s performance at a federal level, with Warren Truss as our leader, is one that we can be very proud of. To win additional seats and to see all my colleagues in the Nationals returned, plus some new faces in our party room, gives me great hope for the future of our party. It is something that media commentators may want to take a closer look at. Although they are still writing stories about the death of the Nationals, the facts do not fit their story. We have had three additional members of the House of Representatives elected and also an additional senator elected in Victoria. I thank my colleagues in the Nationals for the support they have shown me over the past 2½ years. It really is, in comparison to the other parties, I believe, more of a family style party in the sense that we do get along very well, we work closely with each other and we are quite a small unit. We enjoy each other’s company enormously, and I think that is the strength of our party looking to the future.
I would also like to thank our federal director, Brad Henderson, for his support and encouragement over the years and certainly during the election campaign. Brad and his team do a terrific job. He has only a small team but they do a terrific job in supporting the MPs, particularly in the lead-up to the election. At a local level, nothing is possible for a member of parliament without the support of good staff. I think we are all able to do our jobs because we have staff who are willing to share the load with us. I am very fortunate in my seat of Gippsland to have excellent staff and I would like to thank them all individually: Ruth Lucas, Nicole Conway, Kirsten Collins, Jenny Graham, Jenny Hammett, Jo Crawford, Heather Buntine, Di Lilburne and Chris Daffey. I assure the House that I do not actually have nine staff working full time for me—just a mixture of part-time and maternity leave positions which makes it sound like more than usual. But my staff have been an enormous support to me over the past 2½ years and they continue to offer their professional skills, their dedication and their loyalty to help us in the role that we fulfil and to help me personally in the role I play in the Gippsland electorate.
The role of volunteers in election campaigns is critical to us all and I had great support right throughout the electorate. But in particular I would like to thank four individuals. At the risk of offending all the others who did a great deal of work, I would like to congratulate and thank Barry Buntine, Fred Crook and Ann and Laurie Hiscock, because they took on the majority of the burden of the pre-poll. For those who live in Victoria, the pre-poll in winter is an arduous occasion. I must say, if there is any electoral reform that I feel very passionately about today it would be a ban on winter elections.
Ms King — I’ll back it!
Mr CHESTER — The member for Ballarat and other members endorse that. My volunteers certainly risked hypothermia to hand out how-to-vote cards at the height of the winter chill in Victoria. I would also like to congratulate my opponents in the seat of Gippsland. It was a campaign conducted in good spirit. It was fiercely contested but it was fair, it was honest and it was a good contest. So I congratulate my opponents in that regard.
My campaign gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time getting out to a lot of the smaller towns in the electorate of Gippsland. You get to drive around a lot when you represent a seat of about 30,000-plus square kilometres. We conducted what we called a ‘Talk to me tour’, in which we encouraged people to come out and meet with us at shopping centres and community markets. I am a big believer in listening to local knowledge— listening to people with practical experiences on the ground and listening to the ideas of country people, who have a lot of commonsense to offer members of parliament. A lot of issues were discussed during that time and it gave me a good sense of where the people of Gippsland would like me to go over the next three years.
I believe that the key to the future of the Gippsland and Latrobe Valley communities is to make sure that our young people have access to a quality education and also to support economic growth opportunities by promoting local businesses as much as possible. I believe that if more of the young people growing up in our region have the chance to learn new skills and secure employment in our region, without being forced to move away, we will have a more vibrant and prosperous region in the future. For those young people who do need to move away to further education, whether to take up a trade or to go to university, we must fix the system of student income support to help them and their families with the high cost of accommodation and other expenses.
The election in Gippsland was very much decided on local issues. The biggest issue was the threat posed by the Labor Party and the Greens to jobs in our traditional industries, such as power generation, paper manufacturing, mining, timber harvesting, tourism and fishing. I reject the proposition that is regularly put in the media that the Greens are the only party that cares about the environment. I believe every person in this place and every political party cares about the environment. Some of the more extreme policies of the Greens—now in partnership with the Labor Party—are a direct threat to jobs.
Gippslanders have sent a strong message to Canberra that they are tired of city based MPs telling them how to live their lives. As a person who has been a member of Landcare for several years and a strong advocate for the future of Gippsland Lakes, I want to see more funding allocated for practical environmental work and projects to build better facilities on public land and our waterways for everyone to enjoy the magnificent environment of Gippsland. The so-called environmental policies which would ban fishing or lock people out of parks are a recipe for disaster. We must fight against the extreme views of people who do not even live in our community.
It is an interesting electoral fact that the further you move away from regional Australia the more likely you are to vote Greens. Around Melbourne the Greens might have a primary vote of 30 per cent, but by the time you get to Gippsland the Greens’ primary vote drops to six per cent. The people who actually live, work and engage with the environment on a daily basis do not vote Greens, because they realise that the Greens’ extreme policies are a threat to jobs in our traditional industries. The electoral map will show that to you anywhere you go in Australia. In the city and urban areas you will find people voting for the Greens. Out in the country, where people have commonsense and work with the environment daily, they reject the Greens’ policies.
A huge challenge before us, which is not directly related to my electorate, is the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The prospect of a government legislated drought is something I am very concerned about. As a Gippslander, I talk to my colleagues in the Murray- Darling Basin. I am adamant that I will not be part of any policy that seeks to shut down country towns. In our deliberations in this place on the plan, when it is finally released, the people must come first. Economic, social and environmental needs are not mutually exclusive. We can find a balance.
I was heartened yesterday when the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities spoke in this place in what I regard as probably the best MPI since I was elected. The minister spoke about balance. I appeal to him to as soon as possible rule out some of the more extreme aspects of the guide. The heartache and anxiety that have been caused throughout the Murray-Darling Basin by the more extreme claims in the guide are adding to the suffering of people. I believe it is within the minister’s capacity to take steps to relieve some of the stress by ruling out some of the more extreme aspects of the guide as it stands. I congratulate also the member for Parkes for his presentation yesterday on the MPI. I believe it was very well balanced and displayed a huge amount of commonsense, which is what I have come to expect from my good friend and colleague the member for Parkes.
As the local member, I believe it is my role to come into this place and fight for a fair share on behalf of the people of Gippsland. That is the contract I have signed with the people of Gippsland for the next three years. I believe that it starts with jobs, which I have just talked about—fighting for local jobs in our traditional industries like farming, fishing, timber production and the Latrobe Valley power industry.
Throughout the campaign, many claims were made, particularly in the metropolitan media, about the coalfired power-generating sector. I say ‘particularly in the metropolitan media’ because none of the ministers concerned had the courage to come to Gippsland to make the claims. The vilification of the coal-fired power-generating sector and of the power generators’ workers must stop. I have appealed to the Prime Minister and her ministers to stop vilifying these people, who have done only what has been asked of them by their nation. All they have done is provide the cheap and reliable baseload energy supply that Victoria and Australia has demanded for job growth and the economic prosperity of our nation. I am frankly disgusted by some of the claims which are made, almost on a daily basis, in the metropolitan media about the brown coal power sector. There is a myth that surrounds the Hazelwood power station in particular that somehow we can shut down Hazelwood power station, which generates 25 per cent of Victoria’s power supply, and there will be no cost. That is fanciful thinking that will result in massive job losses. Quite simply, in any case, there is no baseload supply of energy available in Victoria to replace Hazelwood. So I do appeal to other members to think a little bit more before they open their mouths and make claims about the brown coal power sector.
I also refer briefly to the other great myth which is spread around our community in relation to coal more generally. I understand that in 2008-09 Australia exported 270 million tonnes of coal to India, Korea, Japan and China. As far as I am aware, those four nations have not accumulated a massive pile of coal just to look at. They have burnt that coal in their power stations to provide their economic prosperity and wealth. It is absolute folly for us to say that we are going to shut down coal-fired power generators in this country but be quite happy to export coal to other places. I will not be part of anything that shuts down the Latrobe Valley power sector, risks jobs in our traditional industries, seeks to vilify the hardworking families of the Latrobe Valley and causes them unnecessary grief and strain, all for the political outcome of achieving Green preferences in the city for the Labor Party.
I believe that another key area that the people of Gippsland would like me to focus on over the next three years is making sure that we have access to good health services. I give credit to the Minister for Health and Ageing in relation to a couple of announcements which were made in the months leading up to the election. I supported them at the time and support them again today. One announcement was the provision of more than $20 million for the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre and another was the decision to provide $1.5 million for Rotary Centenary House.
I have spoken in the chamber before about Rotary Centenary House. Without doubt one of the greatest achievements by my community over the last five years is to have built a facility which provides accommodation for people while they are receiving cancer treatment. It is a sad fact that the demand on the facility has got to the stage where an additional nine units are required. The government has come on board with $1.5 million and the community is going to raise in the vicinity of $1 million. I support the community’s efforts and I congratulate the government for its willingness to support that particular project.
The real challenge for us in Gippsland, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott—and I assume it would be a challenge faced by your own community of Maranoa—is in attracting and retaining skilled health professionals in regional areas. It is our health workforce which provides us with our greatest difficulty. We need to be doing more on a long-term basis to train more country kids in the first place. That is why I am so passionate about student income support, the independent youth allowance and the other forms of youth allowance. We need to make sure that young people in regional communities have the chance to achieve their full potential. Achieving full potential for many of them may mean going to university several hours away from home, and we need to make sure that we do as much as we possibly can to reduce that economic barrier. I think that one of the key issues to make sure that we have access to skilled health professionals in regional areas is by training young people who have had experience of country life and who are more likely to return to regional Australia in the future. I also believe that we could do a lot more. The Rural Doctors Association of Australia is, I think, on the right track. We can do a lot more in terms of targeted funding for recruitment to help improve access to GPs, specialists and allied health professionals in our regional communities.
On the other side of the health debate on the concept of prevention and keeping people healthy, I congratulate the government for some of its initiatives in investing in sporting and recreation facilities. I encourage it to go further in the future in partnership with local and state governments. The more facilities we can provide for young people to get engaged in their communities, to be active and be part of community recreational clubs, the more likely they are to live long and fulfilling lives and healthy lives in regional areas.
I focus quite considerably in my electorate on helping young people to achieve their full potential. If there is one thing after I leave this place that I would like to be remembered for, it is that I have always worked hard to help young Gippslanders achieve their best. I spend a lot of time in the schools in my community and one of the things I talk about is aspiration. I see the school students here in the gallery today and I wish them well in their studies. It is so important for us in regional communities to encourage our young people to achieve their absolute best. If they are the only person in their family to ever reach year 12, that is fantastic, then they should aim to be the only person in their family to go onto university. I am not saying that university is the only way to measure your life by, but it is so important that if young people have the ability then we should help and nurture them in that ambition. Our role in this place is to reduce some of the economic barriers which are stopping so many of those young people from going on to achieve their absolute best.
A message I give to the young people when I meet with them is to get involved and to be someone who is prepared to take action in the community, to be someone who joins community or sporting groups and to actually participate in everything that our communities have to offer. Decisions are made, as we all know, by the people who turn up. So I am encouraging young people in my community to make sure that they are the ones who turn up and to take action by getting involved in community life.
My other great passion is the environment of Gippsland, in particular the Gippsland Lakes. I have spoken before in this place on the need for additional funding for research, for monitoring and for practical environmental work which is so critical for the future of our environment. I am at a loss to understand why the state government has cut funding for the Gippsland Lakes task force. Also the federal government has made no recurrent budget commitments beyond the $3 million, which is about to run out.
I am also at a loss to understand why the current government has cut $11 million from the forward estimates for the Landcare movement. If we can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising propaganda campaigns about climate change or advertising propaganda campaigns about the mining tax, we can afford to find a few million dollars to help 100,000 Landcare volunteers in Australia who are doing the practical and hard work required to sustain the environment through regional Australia.
As I said at the outset it is a great honour and privilege to come to this place. I congratulate again all members who have been given that honour and I wish them well over the next three years in their deliberations.
October 20, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (9.55 am) — Last week I attended a forum in Bairnsdale hosted by the Victorian Farmers Federation. It was a very constructive debate attended by about 70 people. Two of the key issues were the ongoing dry conditions and the impact of wild dogs on farming productivity and the natural environment. While there has been some recent and very welcome rainfall in the Gippsland area, the annual rainfall figures for the region still indicate very dry conditions in many parts of Gippsland and the exceptional circumstances provisions may need to be extended beyond 30 April next year. Neither this week’s rain nor the recent floods primarily caused by the snow melting have done enough to alleviate the very dry conditions farmers are recording in vast areas of my region.
One of the senior VFF representatives, Chris Nixon from Orbost, believes that the Gippsland and Eden Monaro areas are maybe the only two remaining areas in Australia that are still in drought. I raise this point because I have had the opportunity to speak briefly to the federal agriculture minister this week about this issue to simply highlight that it should not be assumed that all parts of Australia, and in this case, all parts of Gippsland, are showing signs of recovery from the drought. The EC provisions of income support and interest rate subsidies may need to be retained beyond 30 April next year.
On the issue of wild dogs—and I note the presence of the member for Indi, who also has a major problem with wild dogs in her electorate—many farmers are simply disgusted with the Brumby Labor government’s failure to recognise the extent of the problem and the impact it is having on regional families, both in Gippsland and in the upper Murray area.
I have raised this issue in the past and I will continue to do so until I am convinced that both the state and federal Labor governments understand the impact that these dogs have. Wild dogs not only affect the costs of farming but also produce social and environmental costs through the emotional stress placed on the mental health and well being of farming families and through their impact on native fauna.
The state candidate for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, is working with my colleagues at the state level to develop very practical solutions while Labor and the Independents simply talk about the problem. The coalition has already announced a bounty on wild dogs and foxes in the lead-up to the state election, and if it wins that election it is also committed to using aerial baiting as part of a suite of measures to complement the existing activities. I certainly do not blame the doggers on the ground—they are doing the best they can—but there has been a lack of urgency for the past decade from the Labor government in dealing with these problems.
A Victorian Liberal and Nationals coalition government will use aerial baiting to control wild dogs and protect livestock and native fauna. In addition to its introducing an aerial baiting program, the coalition will reinvigorate the wild dog management committees to increase their effectiveness and participation in decision making on wild dogs. It will also lobby the Gillard government to create a national threat abatement plan for wild dogs. These are more good reasons for Victorians to get rid of the arrogant Brumby government. It is an arrogant government which is Melbourne-focused and it is completely out of touch with the needs of regional families.
GIPPSLAND LAKES / SALLY CHATFIELD
October 19, 2010
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10.09 pm) — Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity, being the first time I have appeared before you since the election, to congratulate you on your re-election as a local member and also your election to high office here. I look forward to seeing you continue to serve this place with such great distinction.
I have risen before in this place to talk about the future of the Gippsland Lakes and express my concerns about the way the lakes are being managed and the concerns I have for this magnificent waterway. I think it is important, as a local member at the start of a new term, to re-emphasise my commitment to making sure that both state and federal governments understand the importance of the Gippsland Lakes to the social, cultural and economic future of my region. I have been disappointed at the lack of ongoing funding and the lack of commitment from the state Brumby government beyond the previous budget round. I also have to express my concerns that the federal government has not made any allocation beyond the last round of $3 million, which has now been exhausted.
Like many others, I am frustrated with the delays. I am encouraging my community to demonstrate its support for the Gippsland Lakes by supporting a community action day and engaging in some practical environmental work in the townships of Lakes Entrance, Paynesville, Eagle Point, Raymond Island and Metung. It is a chance for everyone who loves these magnificent Gippsland Lakes to get together and demonstrate their support for the lake system and the catchment by picking up rubbish and helping, by practical action, to highlight our concerns for the future for the waterway.
I was approached by a local resident by the name of Tim Bull. The Bull family name is very famous around the Gippsland Lakes. Tim’s is a fourth generation family on the Gippsland Lakes. His family name is synonymous with Bulls Cruisers, a charter business but also a design of boat that is very popular with the boating fraternity. Tim also just happens to be the Nationals candidate for the state seat of Gippsland East. It was Tim’s idea to encourage the community to get involved in the community action day to demonstrate our support for protecting and enhancing the catchment and the lakes. I am working very closely with Tim on organising this day, and I think it will be well supported by the broader community.
A lot of rubbish has blown up on the foreshore of towns around the lake system, whether it has been washed off streets through the stormwater system or come off boats and collected via the tidal action, with the prevailing winds blowing it into certain areas of the foreshore. We really want to clean it up ahead of the summer season, particularly for the tourists who come to our region and make such a major contribution to our community.
As I said, we are targeting quite a few areas on November 7 this year. We are really encouraging Gippslanders to get involved in this program and demonstrate to governments that we are ready for action and call on them to support us in the activities we are undertaking.
In the time I have left to me I would like to reflect on a more positive story. This may alarm you, but I am now the second most famous person in the township of Lakes Entrance. For a while there I was the most famous, but Sally Chatfield, a young apprentice hairdresser from Lakes Entrance, has rocketed to fame over the past two months on Channel 7’s program XFactor. It is no surprise to the people of Lakes Entrance that Sally has been recognised in this way. Sally has been appearing since she was seven years old at our carols by candlelight and at our New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, so there is a sense of paternal pride or maternal pride—whether a father or a mother in Lakes Entrance, we all feel some pride in this young lady and her achievements. Her own mum and dad are bursting with pride, as you would expect, to see her achieve such great things on a national scale.
Naturally, the people of Lakes Entrance are getting behind Sally, and I am encouraging them to do so. I think she has got to the final six now. My children keep me informed on a nightly basis how the program is
going. Sally has an extraordinary voice, and she is also an extraordinary young lady in her own right. She is a lady who has been recognised in the past in our own township as the ‘young citizen of the year’ at the Australia Day ceremony, because she has always been willing to donate her time to contribute her great vocal skills to some of those community events I referred to. Her father, Kenny, is a mate of mine. I have played a bit of golf with him—although the way I play golf we do not spend that much time together; we seem to be on opposite fairways most of the time. Kenny and Sally are great Lakes Entrance people. I believe Sally is a real inspiration to other young people in regional communities. She has demonstrated that no matter where you have come from—whatever your background is and whatever battles you might have had in life—it is possible to go on and pursue your dreams. Sally has aimed high and is continuing to chase her dream. I wish her every success in the remainder of the competition.
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