In Parliament

2011 In Parliament

2011 OCT 12 – Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 & Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011


October 12, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:56): I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate in relation to the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and related legislation. In the short amount of time available to me this evening I would like to speak more generally on some of the issues that have been raised by speakers on both sides of the House most recently by my good friend and colleague the member for Cowan, who I think adopted a very common-sense approach to his presentation to the House this evening particularly in his recognition that issues of occupational health and safety matters are of great concern for members on both sides of the chamber. The member for Chifley also approached this debate in a very bipartisan way and made some points that I think reflected very well on the House that really no party and no member in particular owns this issue. It is an area where the former Whitlam government, as I understand from the contributions of members opposite, and also the former Howard government started the process of harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws.

I would like to make the point from the outset that while legislation and regulations are extremely important when it comes to occupational health and safety it must be stressed that workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility. I think there is a broad recognition now in the community and I do give credit where it is due. The union movement is not always a topic of great enjoyment for me and I am not a great supporter of some of their tactics but I think the union movement has played a very important role in raising safety issues.

Mr Marles: Hear, hear!

Mr CHESTER: I take the support I have been given from the honourable member opposite but there is always a question of making sure that we get the balance right. We need to make sure, in any regulations we impose on business and industry, that there is a recognition that there has to be a common-sense balance. I think business owners in the modern era very much recognise their important responsibility for their workers in the workplace.

My electorate of Gippsland is one of those which is probably very much a microcosm of some of the hazards that workers may face in the workplace. The regional industries that exist in Gippsland are probably some of the most potentially hazardous that you will face anywhere in Australia. We have the timber industry, we have the fishing industry, oil and gas, defence operations at East Sale, open-cut coal mines and the power generation sector, heavy vehicle operators, a significant construction sector and, of course, the agriculture sector, which has been one of those areas where it has been very difficult to drive improvements in occupational health and safety.

I think the sad part about this debate tonight is the fact which many members have already raised that 290 Australians are killed in the workplace every year and around 135,000 Australians are injured at work. It is one area where I do not think we can ever relax our guard. It is an area where we need eternal vigilance. It is a huge economic cost, obviously, but also the social impact of workplace injuries and deaths is something that is immeasurable. In making my brief contribution to the House this evening I recognise that the members on both sides have a very strong interest in occupational health and safety and that the harmonisation of these laws is something that there is broad support for across the chamber. Having said that, I will foreshadow that the coalition does intend to move some amendments at a later stage in the debate. We have some significant concerns that bear further consideration by the government.

(Time expired)

2011 OCT 12 – Matters of Public Importance – The impact of the carbon tax on small business


October 12, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:00): I have great pleasure in joining in this discussion on the matter of great public importance—that is, the impact of the carbon tax on small business. I thought I would restate what the matter of public importance was just for the interest of those opposite, because the previous speaker hardly mentioned small business in his address. Really, I am not surprised at all by his reluctance to mention it, because we have the Prime Minister, who the gentleman opposite supports, and just after the Prime Minister’s treacherous disposal of the member for Griffith she fronted the Australian public and said, ‘There will be some days that I delight you and some days that I may disappoint you.’

I actually have a tremendous view of the backbench from where I sit and I do not see a lot of smiling faces. I have to report that I do not see a lot of love for the Prime Minister. In fact, all I see every day is disappointment. There are some days—and this might alarm the frontbench—when the noddies forget how to nod. They sit there very stony faced. They get out of sync. They think, ‘Should I have the concerned look now or should I have the knowing smile or will I use the discerning raise of the eyebrow or should I just give the enthusiastic nod?’

For the Prime Minister, today was clearly a day of absolute delight. Earlier today we had members opposite clapping, cheering and backslapping each other as the carbon tax legislation was passed, but I can assure the House that no-one in small business throughout Australia was joining in the orgy of self-congratulation we saw among those opposite today. The excitement was everywhere. I almost expected the member for Charlton to lead a conga line around the House, with the Independents and the Greens hanging off the end, a bit like dags at the end of a sheep.

Spare a thought for the poor member for Griffith. He was at the very back of the chamber and he did not know what to do. Should he head for the nearest exit or should he come down and join in the festivities? To his credit, the member for Griffith came down, summoned up his courage and puckered up for a prime ministerial kiss.

Mr Billson: It was a nanna kiss.

Mr CHESTER: You say it was a nanna kiss, but I do not want to sound too judgmental. It was not much of a kiss. It looked a bit contrived. It looked like the member for Griffith was acting. I am not sure. It looked like he was playing the dutiful senior minister role or something else was going on in his mind. It was as if he had something else to do. It made me think about some of the great Hollywood romances—the great kissing moments. I researched a website which I think the member for Griffith would be happy to hear about. It is titled The Best and Most Memorable Film Kisses of All Time in Cinematic History. The question would be: how—

Dr Emerson: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was admonished for not mentioning small business. I suggest that, given the subject of the MPI is small business, maybe just in passing the member might—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper): The minister will resume his seat. He was not admonished by the chair. The member for Gippsland is aware, as we all are, that this is a wide-ranging debate, but he will, to some extent, focus on the topic of the matter of public importance.

Mr CHESTER: I do not expect the minister to kiss and tell.

Dr Emerson: I won’t be kissing you!

Mr CHESTER: That is at last a point that the minister and I can agree on. How would we describe the member for Griffith coming down to congratulate his colleagues? He was shaking hands in the spirit of the occasion, but suddenly the Prime Minister was cast before him and he did not know whether to run and hide or give the howdy-salute he tried with presidents around the world. For a would-be comeback Prime Minister in these situations it is hard to know which act will get his run on the evening news. So he puckered up and planted a peck on the prime ministerial cheek—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Gippsland will resume his seat. There are two people seeking to take a point of order, but I will call the Minister for Trade.

Dr Emerson: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I can hardly wait for the member to do the hokey-pokey and the Time Warp dance. Let’s get slightly relevant.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would ask the member for Gippsland to return to the substance of the MPI.

Mr CHESTER: This kiss is memorable. It is memorable because it is the kiss of death to many small businesses throughout Australia.

Dr Emerson: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I just point out that you gave an instruction to the member which he completely ignored.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am aware of that. The member for Gippsland will return to the subject of this matter of public importance debate. It does not seem to be much about kissing.

Mr CHESTER: I will get back to it, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I made is that that kiss is memorable because it is going to be the kiss of death to small businesses throughout regional Australia. We now know that the member for Griffith will be no different to the member for Lalor when he is reinstalled in the Lodge. When he returns as Prime Minister, the member for Griffith will treat small business in exactly the same manner.

It is often said that in politics timing is everything, but it is never the right time for a bad tax. Now is the time when we have volatile world markets and there is great economic uncertainty. This is not the time for a new tax and those opposite know it. They know it because they are getting that feedback from their electorates on a daily basis. They just have not had the courage to come into this place and stand up for their communities. It is certainly not the right time to introduce a tax that our international competitors will not be paying, when the Australian small business sector is doing it hard.

If there is a first rule in Australian politics, surely it should be to do no harm. When it comes to the small-business sector right now, confidence is down and certainly the retail sector in regional communities is down—and I presume it is the same in metropolitan areas, but I tend to spend more time in regional communities—and confidence is taking a battering. And the worst thing a government could be doing right now is introducing a new tax which will diminish community confidence further and force people to keep their hands in their pockets and not spend, particularly when their international competitors will not face the same impost.

That is the crucial point. We are making Australian businesses less competitive compared to their international counterparts. This tax will erode small business confidence. It will encourage businesses which have the option to relocate offshore to do just that, to take jobs offshore, and it will also make it more difficult for small businesses right across our nation.

One area of small business which has often been missed in this debate is the agricultural sector. The government has continued to make claims that the agricultural sector is out of the carbon tax. The feedback from constituents of mine involved in the dairy sector dispute that. The President of the United Dairy Farmers Victoria, Chris Griffin, put out a statement earlier this year highlighting their concerns that the introduction of a carbon price of just $20 would cost the dairy industry over $45 million per annum. This would work out to a $5,000 charge for every Australian dairy farmer per year. Mr Griffin stated:

These additional costs will disproportionately affect the ability of Victorian dairy producers to compete in international markets. Our competitors will not have to deal with the burden of a price on carbon, making it impossible to pass on the added cost of the tax to consumers.

Dairy farmers hit with a $5,000 increase in their cost of production will survive. But what it will mean is they will have to reduce their expenditure in their local communities. The small country towns that rely on a profitable dairy sector will suffer as a direct result of that, and the people who will suffer most are the small businesses, like the local sports shop. Instead of mum and dad going in and buying the brand product from the local sport shop, they will go to a large warehouse or department store and buy the cheaper variety. That is what happens in small country towns when you undermine the profitability of the dairy sector—the small business community suffers as a result.

That highlights the greatest Labor Party myth about this carbon tax—that the so-called 500 biggest polluters are the only ones who will pay the carbon tax. Regional Australians are smarter than that, and small business owners in particular understand that that is a myth. They realise that they are at the absolute pointy end of this debate. They know that this tax will cascade through the Australian economy like a toxic waterfall. This tax will cascade through the economy and add costs to everyday Australian families. It will hurt small businesses, it will make Australian exporters less competitive and it will cost jobs.

If it was so good, why didn’t the Prime Minister go the Australian people before the election and say, ‘I will introduce a carbon tax’? If it was so good, why wasn’t she honest with the Australian people in the first place? This really comes down to a matter of trust. The Australian people simply do not trust a government when it has a Prime Minister who cannot even arrange for the installation of home insulation batts without tragically killing four young men. This is a complex reform of the Australian economy and the Australian people simply do not trust this government to be able to deliver it.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 21 – Gippsland Lakes and Catchments


September 21, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (09:46): I rise to report to the House on the Gippsland Lakes Natural Assets Report Card and also to highlight this federal government’s lack of ongoing funding commitments which need to be directly targeted to improving and maintaining the extraordinary environmental asset that we have in Gippsland, being the Gippsland Lakes.

This is the inaugural report card which uses six key indicators to represent what is a very complex ecosystem and catchment area. These indicators include water quality, algal blooms, wetlands, birds, seagrass and fish; and I quote from Professor Barry Hart, the Independent Chair of the Gippsland Lakes and Catchment Taskforce, who says:

Overall the condition of the Lakes has been rated as Moderate. The condition of Wetlands and Water Quality was highest rating—Good. Birds, Algal Blooms and Seagrass were rated—Moderate. Fish were rated—Poor.

Overall it is a very worthwhile report card. It certainly gives the people of Gippsland an indication of where the environmental status of the Gippsland Lakes is at the moment, and it will provide opportunities for future condition reporting on the Gippsland Lakes, so it is a good initiative.

My community places a very high value on the Gippsland Lakes and its river systems. It is a mecca for boating, swimming and fishing, and it is also culturally very significant for our Aboriginal community. Obviously the area is a key asset of our tourism industry, and the biodiversity and environmental attributes of the Gippsland Lakes is well recognised. I urge the federal government to understand the importance of this extraordinary system and to recognise the national significance of the Gippsland Lakes and start working with the state agencies in partnership on projects to improve and enhance the environment of the Gippsland Lakes.

The federal government’s lack of commitment to the lakes is of great concern to me personally as someone who has advocated on behalf of the Gippsland Lakes system for the best part of a decade.

The federal government did provide $3 million in the lead-up to the 2007 election campaign for some significant environmental projects—and I congratulated the government at that time and the minister responsible—but my concern is that this government views the Gippsland Lakes purely as an election campaign opportunity, not as something which needs to be maintained and preserved over many, many years. There are some major initiatives that are required in the Gippsland Lakes and catchment—some practical environmental projects—and, as we have seen with the recent announcement by the state government, it is going to require a significant amount of money over many, many years.

In the lead-up to last year’s state election campaign, I was able to work with the state candidate Tim Bull to secure $10 million over three years for the Gippsland Lakes and catchment areas—for practical environmental work, for monitoring activities, all focused on improving the environmental health of the Gippsland Lakes system. So I think there is a real opportunity here for the federal government to leverage off that state funding and do some enormously important work right throughout the Gippsland Lakes and its catchment areas.

I am disappointed that in June this year when I asked the minister whether he had any ongoing funding commitments for the Gippsland Lakes he simply said that, yes, that was an election commitment in 2007 but the only funding that is going to be available now is through Caring for our Country and a competitive grants process. I urge the federal government to start working with the state government and to achieve some really great environmental outcomes for the people of Gippsland.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 21 – Rearrangement


September 21, 2011

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (17:32): I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent:

(1) the time and order of business for Tuesday, 11 October 2011 being as follows:
   (a) the House shall meet at 9 a.m.;
   (b) Government business shall have priority from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; and
   (c) during the period from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. any division on a question called for in the House, other than on a motion moved by a Minister during this period, shall stand deferred until the conclusion of the discussion of a matter of public importance; and

(2) any variation to this arrangement to be made only by a motion moved by a Minister.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:05): I join with the Leader of the House and the member for Higgins in making a couple of points on this motion before the House that the sitting hours be extended on 11 October, because I believe this legislation does need to be thoroughly examined. In this place, as members of the House of Representatives, we are in a very privileged position. I am sure all members agree with me. We are particularly privileged at the moment because at least we get to have a vote.

The people of Australia have been denied that democratic opportunity to have a vote in relation to the carbon tax, because this Prime Minister, in a fundamental breach of trust, told the Australian people just days before the last election, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.’ We can have the debate here about whether the Prime Minister is actually leading any government at all or whether it is Bob Brown, the Leader of the Greens.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Gippsland cannot have that debate because he is actually referring to the motion before the chair.

Mr CHESTER: My concern is that the government is not giving the Australian people the chance to have their say in the way that we are having our say through this motion to extend sitting hours. I would encourage members opposite, particularly regional members, whose electorates are at the absolute pointy end of the carbon tax debate to support this. It is their workers in the manufacturing sector and the dairy industry, and the average farm faces a $5,000 increase in its power bill. It is their workers in small business who are at the absolute pointy end of this carbon tax as it cascades through the entire economy.

I invite members opposite, particularly those regional members of parliament, to use this opportunity of extended sitting hours to stand up on behalf of the workers in their electorate. This is an opportunity for those opposite to demonstrate whether they still want to stand up for the workers of Australia or whether they are just going to be the lap-dogs of the Australian Greens. They can use these extended sitting hours to debate the merits of this tax on behalf of the people they were sent here to represent. Don’t take orders from the Greens, don’t take orders from a Prime Minister who is desperately trying to cobble together her leadership for the future: stand up on behalf of your constituents who are going to be at the pointy end of this carbon tax if it is introduced.

Make no mistake: the greatest threat to jobs in our traditional industries in regional Australia is the policies of the Australian Greens and this carbon tax. When you combine those two things you have an absolute recipe for disaster in our traditional industries right throughout regional Australia. In days gone by, there were members opposite in the Australian Labor Party who would use an opportunity like these extended sitting hours to actually stand up for the workers. I believe that the Labor Party of old was better than this. It was always better than this. This is the opportunity that is being presented to the Labor Party by the House with these additional sitting hours to discuss and debate the carbon tax. We can cut your ties with the Greens and you can start to become the party that actually believes in something. I remember that in the lead-up to the last election the Australian Labor Party believed in working families. We do not seem to hear much discussion about working families anymore. I do encourage those opposite to use these extended sitting hours to do something courageous and, as the Prime Minister invited you to, be on the right side of history and oppose this tax.

I also want to take up the contributions by the member for Higgins and the member for Sturt in relation to whether or not this motion should even be before the House and whether there should even be a debate about a carbon tax in this place at this time. This government does not have a mandate for this tax. In fact, as the member for Sturt pointed out, this government has a mandate for exactly the opposite. The overwhelming majority of members in this place—at least 148 and probably 149 members—campaigned in the last election against a carbon tax. Each of us achieved a mandate to oppose a carbon tax in the lead-up to that election. The only member who actually openly campaigned in support of a carbon tax, to the best of my knowledge, is the member for Melbourne. We all have a mandate; we all have a mandate to oppose this carbon tax. So I take the point from the member for Sturt and the member for Higgins in that regard. We really should not even be debating this motion, because this legislation would not even be before the House, if the government were true to its word and true to the mandate it received, however dubious it may be, from the Australian people.

For my final point I would like to take up a comment the Leader of the House made in his contribution to this debate. He said, ‘Those opposite just say no’—

Dr Emerson: That’s true.

Mr CHESTER: And so do the vast majority of Australians. The vast majority of Australians are saying no to your carbon tax, so the Leader of the House is right. You do not have to believe me. The Minister for Trade is interjecting; you do not have to believe me. I have here a sample. These are postcards that I sent out to my electorate to invite people to send Julia Gillard a message. I said, ‘Here’s your chance to tell Julia Gillard what you think about her carbon tax.’ It is easy for us as members, because we can stand up here and make a speech and say what we want to say. The Australian people have been denied that right.

Dr Emerson: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is a procedural motion. It is pretty obvious that the member is now going to go into some substance in representing his electorate, which he is entitled to do, but maybe he should avail himself of the increase in the number of hours that has been provided through this motion, rather than rehearsing a speech—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke): The minister will resume his seat. The member for Gippsland needs to be relevant to the motion before the chair, and he is straying.

Mr CHESTER: In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not surprised that the Minister for Trade would be sensitive about issues such as these, because he would have a pile—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Gippsland should not impugn motives. There is a procedural motion.

Mr CHESTER: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. In conclusion, I simply make this point: those of us on this side of the House will support this extension of the sitting hours because it is an opportunity for members opposite to show some courage, to stand up for their electorates, to stand up for the workers in their electorates and actually start listening to the Australian people—people like the ones who have sent me 900 postcards opposing the carbon tax. Incidentally, there are 30 in favour of the carbon tax; I must be fair. This is an opportunity for those opposite to do what I have done and to canvass the views of their electorates and give them the opportunity to have their say, as I have done. It is an overwhelming mandate that I have received from the people of my community, where they have asked me to say no for a very good reason: their jobs are at stake. I encourage those opposite to use these extended sitting hours to show a bit of fortitude, to stand up for the workers they claim to represent, and to consider the impact that this tax will have on the working families who have been, to be blunt, treated appallingly by a government which has shown them no respect. In fact, the Leader of the House had the absolute temerity to describe people who complained about the carbon tax as being of no consequence. So I urge those opposite to redeem themselves with these extended sitting hours and actually start standing up for the people of Australia who expect them to give them a voice in this place.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 21 – Matters of Public Importance – The failure of the Government to confront Australia’s immediate economic challenges


September 21, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:54): In briefly joining the debate on this matter of public importance, I endorse the comments of the member for Higgins. I particularly endorse her reference to the fact that this Treasurer has presided over four budget deficits. We continue to hear this promise, this plan, this ‘give it my best shot’ to return to surplus in 2012-13. Like the rest of Australia, I simply do not believe this Treasurer will be able to deliver a surplus.

Mr Husic: You should have faith!

Mr CHESTER: The member opposite says I should have faith. People in Australia who are struggling with their costs of living are not interested in comments like ‘You need to have faith.’ They simply have lost faith in this Treasurer. I do not believe he has the capacity to ever deliver a surplus. I am prepared to put my money where my mouth is. I am prepared to bet the Treasurer that he will not deliver a surplus at that time. I am not much of a gambler but I am prepared to take a wager.

If the Treasurer will take me up on my bet I am prepared to donate $1,000 to his favourite charity if he delivers a surplus in 2012-13—only if he is prepared to deliver $1,000 to my favourite charity if he does not get that surplus. I am happy to do that. That is the wager I put to the Treasurer, and I welcome him to take me up on that. The surf-lifesaving clubs in my community would love to receive $1,000, and I reckon it is a pretty safe bet. So I would encourage the Treasurer to take me on. If you cannot deliver a surplus in 2012-13 as promised, how about $1,000 to the surf-lifesaving clubs in my electorate and, if you can do it, I will give $1,000 to your favourite charity?

It is interesting that in these extraordinarily uncertain economic times the greatest idea, the great mark of genius from those opposite, is to hit the Australian economy with a carbon tax. We had the member for Hunter, who used to represent the workers of his electorate, and we had other regional MPs in this place talking about the carbon tax. We had the member for Hunter refer to the unemployment rate. If the member for Hunter and other regional MPs really want to see what will happen to the unemployment rate in Australia they should vote with this government on its carbon tax. Vote to hit the Australian economy with a carbon tax at an extraordinary period in global economic circumstances.

Only the Labor Party could come in here and lecture this side of the parliament about its economic credentials when it is about to vote to hit the Australian economy with a carbon tax. It will have a massive impact on the manufacturing sector, on the agricultural sector and on the power-generating sector. We keep hearing from those opposite that there are only 500 of the so-called big polluters who will pay this carbon tax. When will a single member of the Labor Party start showing some respect for those 500 big Australian companies that create enormous wealth and employment in our community and when will they desist from calling these companies Australia’s 500 biggest polluters?

Every time a member opposite uses that phrase they are vilifying and offending the people who work in those companies. I know that from personal experience. In my electorate of Gippsland we have workers involved with the brown coal-fired power stations and with Australian Paper. I meet with the workers and I talk to them—members of the CFMEU, members of the ETU. They are so angry when they hear the Labor Party calling the companies they work for ‘big polluters’ because, by association, you are vilifying these honest hard-working people who are doing nothing more than going out and doing an honest day’s work.

This party used to claim it represented workers. This party used to claim it was the champion of working families—we do not hear about working families any more. This party is out there vilifying them, saying they work for big polluters. Here is a bit of free advice to members opposite. If you are wondering why you are down to 26 per cent of your primary vote, at least some of it starts with the way you are treating these people with complete contempt. The way you are vilifying them, the way you are describing them as working for big polluters, is at least part of your problem. I challenge you to show them some respect.

I repeat my offer to the Treasurer. He is obviously not that keen on the bet, but I think he should give it some serious consideration. Treasurer, if you can deliver a surplus in 2012-13 my offer is to give $1,000 to your favourite charity. If you cannot deliver that surplus I encourage you to take me up on that wager by giving $1,000 to surf-lifesaving clubs in my electorate.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 21 – Carbon Tax


September 21, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:57): The Prime Minister promised she would wear out her shoe leather consulting with the Australian people about the carbon tax. I thought I would save the Prime Minister a little bit of time. I distributed postcards in my electorate and invited people to give some feedback to the Prime Minister, to send Julia Gillard a message. Those opposite like to talk about people of no consequence. They harangue, they bully and they belittle their opponents, but I invited the people in my community to have their say. This is what they said. Graham from Traralgon said, ‘What happened to Labor being the party of the people for the people? This current city-centric attitude of pandering to the Greens is not governing for the people but the noisy minority.’ Irene from Traralgon said, ‘The carbon tax will be catastrophic for the Latrobe Valley. We simply won’t cope with the ripple effect of the lost jobs. Totally over the Greens.’

Prime Minister, here is another one. This is from Marie, in Traralgon. ‘Julia, you promised no carbon tax and now you’ve changed your mind. This is an absolute betrayal to the people who voted for you.’

Government members interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: Sorry, I missed the interjection. Do you think I made them up? Nine hundred people responded and 32 of them were in favour of your carbon tax.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Gippsland will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CHESTER: I invite those opposite to really make history, to be on the right side of history. Stand up for the workers. Get up and walk across here and help us dump the carbon tax and dump your relationship with the Australian Greens.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 19 – Private MembersÕ Business – Disability Services


September 19, 2011

Debate resumed on motion by Mr Neumann:

That this House:

(1) welcomes the Productivity Commission’s final report into Disability Care and Support, released on 10 August 2011;

(2) notes the assessment of the Productivity Commission that the current system of disability care and support is unsustainable, underfunded, unfair and does not deliver appropriate levels of care and support to Australians with disability;

(3) supports the vision set out by the Productivity Commission for a national disability insurance scheme which delivers individualised care and support for Australians with significant disability over the course of their lives, and provides universal insurance for care and support for Australians in the event of significant disability;

(4) commends the Australian Government’s commitment to fundamental reform of disability services, and the start of work to prepare for a scheme, consistent with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission;

(5) recognises the work of the Australian Government to increase funding and put reform to services to Australians with disabilities on the national agenda, including improving access to early intervention services for children with disabilities, record increases to pensions for people with disabilities and their carers and doubling funding to the States and Territories to deliver disability services; and

(6) welcomes the agreement of the Council of Australian Governments to immediate action to deliver foundation reforms necessary for a national disability insurance scheme.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:40): I welcome the opportunity to speak about issues facing people with disabilities and their carers. I would also like to thank and commend the member for Blair for presenting this motion. I do not thank him for some of the party-political ranting which started his address, but he eventually got past that and started to talk more constructively about the issues facing people with disabilities.

I believe there is a need for bipartisanship as we deal with the very real challenges facing people with disabilities and their carers. I also refer to the Productivity Commission’s final report into disability care and support, which found that the current system of disability care and support is unsustainable, underfunded and unfair and that it does not deliver the appropriate levels of care and support to Australians with a disability. I am certain that is not news to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is not news to me or to anyone else who has spent any time at all meeting with people, getting to understand their issues and trying to deal with the many inconsistencies that exist in the current system.

The current system of support for people with disabilities and their carers is broken. It will be expensive to fix it but we are, I hasten to add, a very wealthy nation. The question should not be: can we afford to do better? The question should be: can we afford to let the current situation continue? We need to deal with the big issues in the disability sector. There are big issues such as the differing levels of assistance provided, depending upon how you acquire a disability; young people with disabilities who are forced to live in aged care homes because of a lack of residential care available for them; the lack of respite care for carers, who are doing the toughest job in the world but who need a helping hand; providing more funding for basic facilities like wheelchairs and modified vehicles, which often require volunteer fundraising activities in each of our electorates; and providing caseworkers to guide parents as they navigate their way through the maze of support services when they first are told that their child has a disability such as autism.

In my very first speech in this place I spoke about the need for increased funding in regional areas for support services for children with a disability, and I will continue to support efforts from both sides of this chamber for a better system. The opportunity presents itself today for me to publicly acknowledge the work of the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, the member for Maribyrnong, and also the shadow minister, Mitch Fifield, for their efforts over the last several years to champion the rights of people with a disability. Arguably the greatest achievement of the member for Maribyrnong in his time in parliament is the way he has been able to provide some hope to people with disabilities and their loved ones. It is a hope that someone in a position of authority is on their side, and I congratulate him for his capacity to champion in this place the needs of people with disabilities.

In that same vein, I would like to congratulate the Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, for being at the forefront of this debate at the state level, for being prepared to advocate for a national disability insurance scheme and for offering Victoria as the ideal location for a trial of a national rollout of such a scheme. I would also like to congratulate the people who work in special schools and other facilities who are directly involved in providing support services for people with disabilities in my electorate. They do an amazing job with great love and tenderness for the people in their care. It can be a very difficult job at times and it is an unforgiving role in many ways, and I know the families certainly appreciate the support they receive from you.

People with disabilities and the people who care for them often feel that they are alone in our community. They often feel that they are outcasts and that they are the problem that no-one else wants to deal with. I would have preferred tonight to have this debate about the national disability insurance scheme in the main chamber. I would have preferred that we debate this all week. Rather than talking about the carbon tax, which I believe is a multibillion dollar cost on the budget for something that may or may not happen in several decades time, in the disability sector right now we are talking about something that is very real on a minute-by-minute basis, an hour-by-hour basis and a day-by-day basis for people in my community. It is happening today. People need help today and it will require a multibillion dollar commitment from this and future governments. The case for the national disability insurance scheme is compelling, and I have spoken about it publicly on many occasions in my electorate. I acknowledge the member for Blair. In his comments tonight he made it sound as though, just by announcing it, the NDIS is already in place. I am sure he did not mean it to sound like that, but people in the disability sector are very concerned. The Labor Party made the in-principle announcement that it is on side and certainly the coalition has made an in-principle announcement that it supports that position. If I have any criticism, it is that I am worried about the time frames. It seems to be a very slow pace for reform and I believe we have to move as fast as we possibly can to achieve a fair and workable system. I take on the member for Blair’s comments that we do need to achieve this sooner rather than later. It is a big reform, but we need to keep in the back of our minds that people need help today.

We need a system that puts people with disability at the very centre of the equation and provides them and their carers with flexible packages to access the services which most meet their needs in their own particular communities. I think we can do a lot more to help keep families together, as they are the ideal units to care for a person with a disability. I fear that too much of our current debate in the disability sector is crisis driven. The families at the centre of this issue are often left to soldier on. If they are not directly in crisis at the time, they are often left to fend for themselves, but there is no question that they do need more help.

It always seems to me that it is very difficult for governments to loosen the reins of control and let local communities develop some local solutions that suit the needs of local people, particularly in regional areas, but we are going to need that flexibility in the new scheme. We must not use planning for the National Disability Insurance Scheme as an excuse to stop the other reforms that are required from occurring in the meantime, as there are many steps that we can take now. On a cautionary note, I am wary of state governments backing out of their current levels of commitment under the guise of preparing for the NDIS.

Time is going to prevent me from talking at any great length about some of the other issues, but I would like to pass on some of the direct comments from local residents that I met with just last Friday in my electorate. I was there with the state member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, who has been another great champion of people with disabilities in my community. I met with a parents and staff members associated with the MyTime program. For members who are not aware of MyTime, it is a very good program. It provides respite for mums, dads and grandparents, or anyone who is caring for a child with a disability. It gives them a couple of hours on a weekly or fortnightly basis to get together. Their child with a disability is looked after by a professional carer while they have got the opportunity to meet and discuss issues of concern to them. Its ongoing funding is uncertain in the sense that groups are forced to fundraise to make sure they can afford to pay for the extra help. I think the funding is committed to about 2013. I call on both sides of the House to remain committed to this program and to ensure it continues into the future.

One person who attended the meeting was Shirley, who is one of the coordinators in Sale. She said to me:

I just look at these wonderful parents and think to myself – what is being done for them. Everything they do is for their children.

The My Time program is one little thing we can do to help them. It gives them a chance to get together and network and learn from each other’s experiences.

Christina, who drove 50 minutes to attend the Sale MyTime gathering, put it this way:

I can talk to my family and friends but they don’t get it like the parents in this room. It is not just to have a chat – it’s to share information too – it’s a great support to me.

I would also like to refer to a letter I have received from Jane and Shannon Nash, who describe themselves as ‘parents and advocates for a child with a disability.’ It is disappointing that they have to describe themselves as advocates, but in many cases parents have to go into bat to make sure they get access to services for their child. A couple of points that Jane and Shannon raised in this letter are that case management should just be a given when a family has a child who is diagnosed with a disability. They write:

‘Our experience was tough. We found we had to self-advocate because professionals we were in contact with did not have the time or the knowledge and expertise to access the system for our child. Our experience has been that the system is inadequately funded and under-resourced. This results in families such as our own being ignored and turned away because they are not considered to be in desperate need.’

The letter I have got here from Jane and Shannon I will pass on to the minister.

The really strong point they make towards the end of their letter relates to the family in a situation where you have a child with a disability. There is not a lot of support for the siblings, who often make many sacrifices because parents quite naturally have to put more time and effort into the child with a disability. They make this point:

‘We are a family of a five. Our son’s siblings are troopers and they love him very much. There is no support for siblings who have a brother or a sister with a disability.’ They go on to say, ‘Parents like us are trailblazing for those that come after us in the hope that conditions are made better for these wonderful but vulnerable children.’

Decisions made in this place are not academic and when it comes to the disability sector they have a real impact on real people. In the little bit of time I have left I will take as an example the government’s decision to withdraw funding for the Take a Break occasional childcare program, which has caused enormous concern in my electorate where in many towns the occasional child care provided by that program was the only child care available to these people. Kristin met with me last week and told me about the support the Take a Break program had provided to her and her son Tyson, who has autism. I will also be passing this letter on to the minister, but I would like to quote from it:

Tyson was recently diagnosed with high-function autism, which has been a huge challenge for me over the years. Michelle Brooks has helped me for two years now with Tyson and the change in him has been amazing. Tyson wouldn’t be making friends if it wasn’t for the centre and its fantastic workers. Tyson is also coming along in leaps and bounds with his speech because of the interaction with all the other children. Michelle goes out of her way for my son and to lose that now when he is doing so well would break both our hearts.

The Take a Break program is one the government should not have ever thought about defunding and I call on the minister to change her mind. I am confident that, more broadly speaking, we are on the right path with the bipartisan plan to introduce a national disability insurance scheme. As always, the devil will be in the detail but we do have this opportunity and we must get it right for the sake of people with disabilities and their carers throughout our nation.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 15 – Clean Energy Bill & Related Bills




September 15, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10:39): Elections are like contracts. When you sign a contract you keep your side of the deal or there will be repercussions—and where I come from, a handshake is as good as a contract, particularly among men and women of good honour. In an election when you make a promise you keep your side of the deal or there will be repercussions. All the Australian people want from this Prime Minister is for her to keep her side of the deal, to honour her solemn contract with the Australian people that there will be no carbon tax under the government she leads. That is not much to ask of any normal Prime Minister or any normal government. But there is nothing normal about this Labor government; there is nothing honourable about this government either. There is nothing normal or honourable about a Labor government which is turning its back on the Australian workers just to make sure the Greens will continue to support that dysfunctional government.

There is also a lot of talk around this place about mandates. Prime Minister Gillard has a very clear mandate. Like almost every other member in this place, Prime Minister Gillard campaigned to not introduce a carbon tax. Does anyone in this place, or out there listening around Australia, really believe that she would be the Prime Minister if she had promised to introduce such a tax just a week out from the election?

Unlike the Prime Minister, I believe in honouring my contracts—and I have a clear mandate from the people of Gippsland to vote against this tax, which even the Prime Minister acknowledged in her own speech will do absolutely nothing for the environment. I invite members to take a very close look at the speech the Prime Minister made in this place earlier this week. There is not a single mention in that speech of a measurable environmental outcome as a result of this carbon tax.

They used to come into this place and wax lyrical about saving Kakadu and saving the Great Barrier Reef. Those were myths, but at least they tried to pretend that their carbon tax would actually do something for the environment. In the Prime Minister’s speech there is not one mention of a single environmental outcome that will be achieved from this carbon tax, and the people of Australia understand that. The people of Australia understand that Australia acting alone, with just 1.5 per cent of man-made global emissions, cannot do a single thing in terms of saving those Australian icons—if they even believe every single word of the doomsayers out there who are predicting such extraordinary environmental outcomes.

My contract, as I outlined in my first speech in this place, is that I will always ask myself: what is in the best interests of the people of Gippsland? What is in the best interests of the people who sent me here to represent them? The people in my community are at the absolute pointy end of this debate. For us, this is about our jobs; it is about our children’s futures in our key industries like power generation, manufacturing, small business and all forms of agriculture. This is not some abstract debate about polar bears. It is about people in my community having a future in the Gippsland-Latrobe Valley region.

Unlike the government, I have given the people in my electorate a chance to have their say because I respect their opinions. Those opposite have been arrogant and dismissive. Anytime there has been a protest in this place, people have been harangued and bullied. We even had the undignified sight of the Leader of the House referring to protesters in this place as being of ‘no consequence’. The arrogance in that statement will hang around this government’s neck like a dead albatross until the next election. How dare a minister in this place describe people as being of no consequence.

The Prime Minister promised to wear out her shoe leather; she said she would go out there and consult on her carbon tax. Well, I have saved her a bit of time. I sent some postcards out to my electorate to give the people of the Latrobe Valley in particular the chance to have their say. I invited them to fill out a postcard and send Julia Gillard a message. I did not say what they had to put in their message; I just invited them to send Julia Gillard a message. It is interesting that I sent this postcard to the strongest Labor-voting parts of my electorate—Traralgon, Churchill and Morwell—and I have received, as you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, almost 900 responses. The pile here on my right is the pile against the carbon tax and the pile on my left is the pile in favour of the carbon tax. For the sake of the Hansard, we can measure the piles. The pile on the right, against the carbon tax, is about 20 centimetres high; and the pile on the left—well, we will be generous and say it is 1½ centimetres high. Thirty-two people were in favour of the carbon tax and about 870 were against the tax.

These are some of the messages from the people the government describes as being of no consequence. This is what these people are saying to me. Natasha from Traralgon said:

It means that my husband may lose his job at Hazelwood power station. We cannot provide to our children the simple things in life, like a good education, due to rising living expenses. Not good enough, Julia.

From Joanne in Tyers:

Small business is the backbone of this country and Julia Gillard will destroy this with a carbon tax, especially in the Latrobe Valley. The Latrobe Valley is a great place to live but without jobs people will go elsewhere. The Greens and Labor are only interested in city people.

From Malcolm in Morwell:

With the global financial crisis possibly getting worse now is not the time to introduce a carbon tax, which will create great unemployment. We must put the welfare of Australians first. This tax will not change the climate.

There are some very intelligent people in my electorate, I must say. Ian in Traralgon said:

Don’t do it. People are struggling to pay their bills now. The cost of everything we do and buy will go up. This will make no difference to our pollution output. It’s just a grab for cash to pay for your mistakes.

From Mal in Morwell:

As a self-funded retiree will you compensate me for the potential loss of value in my home? Come clean and put it to the vote.

Another, from Shaun in Traralgon, said:

Dear Julia, I am a CFMEU member. I feel I was misled at the last election—

Join the club, Shaun. Shaun felt he was misled. He goes on:

I work for Australian Paper and can only see the negatives for our industry and the local community.

From Nola in Churchill:

As a pensioner I don’t want your carbon tax. Even though you say we will be compensated it will not be enough to give pensioners a reasonable lifestyle with all rising costs due to this unwanted or needed tax that was not voted for by the public.

And from Neville in Traralgon:

Julia, if you believe the population needs a carbon tax, call an election and see where you stand. It’s a tax grab and will do nothing for the environment.

I could go on. There are many more. Geoff from Churchill says:

How can you sell coal to countries with no carbon emissions tax and shut down our power industry as we know it? It is a death warrant to Australian manufacturing and a leg-up to China.

Finally, from the Rayners at Hiamdale:

… very worried about the increasing cost to our dairy farm, which most likely would make it unviable. Australians, the ones I know, don’t want a carbon tax. We already pay so many taxes we are concerned about putting off investors. I don’t think it will make any difference to the environment.

If time allowed, I could go on for about two or three hours reading these messages to the chamber, and it would be a lot better than what the Prime Minister has managed so far. This Prime Minister has refused to listen to the people in my community. To give her some credit, the Prime Minister actually visited once. She went to a meeting behind closed doors but did not hold a forum and did not talk to a single person on the street about how they feel about this carbon tax.

I invite members opposite who would like to read some of the messages to come to my office at any time they like. I would like them to come along and I will make the messages available at the front desk.. They can read through the positive pile of messages and they can read through the negative pile, if they like. Quite frankly I do not expect to be knocked over in the rush, because members opposite have stopped listening. There seems to be a form of political deafness which has set in. They hear only what they want to hear and they bully, harangue and belittle any opposing views.

In her speech the Prime Minister tried to take some high moral ground, although how anyone can aspire to high moral ground after such a fundamental breach of trust is simply beyond me. The Prime Minister actually lectured this side of the House and told us that the reason we have a vote is so that every member in this place can be judged on where they stand on the issues of great national debate. I say to those opposite, and to the Prime Minister: there is also a reason why we have elections. We have elections so people can be judged. We have them so that people can be judged on their performance in the past, on whether they have kept their promises and on the policies they put forward in the future. I say to those opposite: judgment day is coming for you and this insidious carbon tax.

The Prime Minister also challenged those on this side of the House to be on the right side of history. I join with the Leader of the Opposition in calling on the Prime Minister to be on the right side of the truth. Prime Minister, you must deal with that fundamental breach of trust before you have any honour in the eyes of the Australian people. Unless you deal with that fundamental breach of trust, they will not believe a single word you tell them. The Australian people have simply stopped listening to a Prime Minister who refuses to apologise for such a fundamental breach of trust.

This carbon tax will go down in history with all those other great ideas that have come forward from this Prime Minister. We have had the home insulation debacle and the citizens assembly. What happened to the citizens assembly? Have I missed it? It must be coming soon. Then the Prime Minister promised no action on the carbon tax until she had built a lasting consensus. Well, I have a consensus; here is my consensus. These postcards show about 870 people against and 32 in favour. I have a consensus in Gippsland. Prime Minister, how is the consensus going? I ask you that very simple question.

What are some of the other great ideas from this Prime Minister? We have had the East Timor solution. Are there any progress reports on the East Timor solution? Hello, anyone on the other side; how is East Timor going? Then we have had the Malaysian people swap deal, which was thrown out by the High Court despite constant reassurances from the Prime Minister and her minister that their legal advice was sound. They were on very good legal grounds, they told us.

The Australian people are embarrassed that they have such an inept and incompetent Prime Minister who simply refuses to listen to their views. Instead of lecturing us, the Prime Minister should come into this place and apologise for the fundamental breach of trust and ask the Australian people for a mandate, before the next election, to introduce this tax. I have no problem with this government deciding to legislate this tax, but I have an enormous problem with this government deciding to do that without first seeking a mandate from the Australian people. That is the great folly of this tax and this government’s approach to the Australian people. Time is very limited, but I would like to make a couple of other comments and briefly refer to this ridiculous proposition that somehow only 500 of these so-called biggest polluters will pay this tax. This tax will cascade through the Australian economy like a toxic waterfall and add costs to every Australian family. It will hurt small businesses, it will make Australian exporters less competitive and it will cost jobs. A classic example is the dairy farmers in my electorate. Dairy farmers are high energy users; they use a lot of power. It is estimated by the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria that it would be in the order of $5,000 extra per year for an average sized dairy farm. Dairy farmers are not going to get any compensation. Their competitors are not going to be hit with this tax. They sell into world export markets and they are going to have to wear that cost. And do you know how they will wear that cost, Mr Deputy Speaker? They will wear that cost by making sacrifices. Dairy farmers’ families will find that the family holiday will not be on this year. That $5,000 will come straight off their household income. Then they will think, ‘Perhaps we won’t go shopping for runners at the local sports store, we might have to go to Kmart; we might be buying cheaper shoes.’ This will have an impact on everyday Australians every day of their lives and this government is lying to the Australian people when it claims that only the 500 so-called biggest polluters will pay the tax. Everyone will pay the tax every day.

The people in my electorate do not want the government’s household assistance package. They do not want transition plans. They want the decency of a job. The people in my community keep asking: ‘Why is it okay for Australia to export coal to China, India, Korea and Japan to burn in their coal-fired power stations?’ Why is it okay for a powerstation worker using Australian coal in those countries to have a job, but it is not okay for a Latrobe Valley powerstation worker to have his job using brown coal, that great natural resource of the Latrobe Valley. The day the government can explain that to me, just maybe I will start to listen to their reassurances in relation to this carbon tax.

I say to those opposite: take up the Prime Minister’s challenge, because here is your opportunity to make history. Those opposite have a very clear choice. They can stand up for the workers that they used to represent—that the Labor Party used to take great pride in representing—by crossing this chamber and voting down this tax. If only one of them had the courage of their convictions—if only one of them had the courage to stand up for the workers—they could walk over to this side and vote down this tax. So, they can stand up for the workers, they can walk across this side of the House and vote down this tax, or they can blindly follow this Prime Minister to her own political grave.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 14 – Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oils in the Antarctic Area) Bill 2011


September 14, 2011

Second Reading

Debate resumed on the motion:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10:01): I rise to speak in relation to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oils in the Antarctic Area) Bill 2011. This bill amends the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 to implement the amendments to annex I of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships—or, as it is known, MARPOL—to implement special requirements for the use and carriage of heavy-grade oils in the Antarctic.

Australia has been a member of the International Maritime Organisation since its establishment in 1948 and, as such, has played an active role in the development of the conventions and treaties over many years. MARPOL has six annexes which deal with different aspects of marine pollution, and all six have been implemented by Labor and coalition governments over time. Relevant to this bill, annex I relates to the prevention of pollution by oil and entered into force internationally on 2 October 1983 and in Australia on 14 January 1988. Its introduction received bipartisan support. In 2004, the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO adopted a revised version of annex I which entered into force in Australia and internationally in 2007. In 2005, a meeting of the Antarctic treaty consultative committee, which Australia attended as a country having an interest in Antarctica, requested that the IMO examine ways to restrict the use of heavy-grade oils in Antarctic waters. As a result of this request, the current amendments to annex I were adopted by the MEPC of the IMO on 26 March 2010, and came into force internationally on 1 August this year. Amendments to other annexes of MARPOL have consistently received bipartisan support, and this is not the first bill implementing MARPOL convention amendments this year. As with legislation earlier this year, the coalition will support this bill.

The rationale behind the annex I amendments is that a potential spill of heavy-grade oils would have a devastating impact on the Antarctic environment which would persist for many years. Heavy-grade oils are more environmentally hazardous than other marine oils because of the lengthy time they take to break down, particularly in the harsh polar environment. A spill, if it occurred, would have a long and damaging impact on wildlife, particularly on seabirds and penguins, and would be very difficult to address because of the remoteness of the Antarctic and the very long travel times from population centres and rescue organisations.

This bill makes a number of amendments. Firstly, the bill inserts section 10A, which prohibits the use or carriage of heavy-grade oil as fuel and the carriage of it in bulk as cargo on Australian ships in the Antarctic area. This section creates two different but very similar offences. Under subsection (1), it provides that the master and the owner of an Australian ship will each be guilty of an ordinary offence with a maximum penalty of 2,000 penalty units if they use or carry heavy-grade oils as fuel or bulk cargo. This equates to a maximum penalty of $220,000. The other offence under subsection (2) provides that the master and the owner of an Australian ship will each be guilty of a strict liability offence with a maximum penalty of 500 penalty units if they use or carry heavy-grade oil as fuel or bulk cargo. Strict liability makes a person legally responsible for damage caused by their actions or omissions regardless of culpability and strict liability means there is no requirement of fault for any of the physical elements of the offence. Shared liability by the master and owner of the ship is consistent with offence provisions in other parts of the PPS act. Additionally, the penalties for the two offences are also consistent with other parts of the PPS act as well as the Navigation Act 1912. Generally, I do not like strict liability offences, as the defendant bears the evidential burden in relation to the offences; however, in this instance, it is hard to conceive of circumstances where a master or a shipowner would not be aware that their vessel was breaching these laws. It is important to note that there is no requirement to clean or flush residues of heavy-grade oil from a tank or pipeline of a ship to comply with the legislation as small amounts of oil would pose a minimum risk to the environment. I am also assured that heavy oil in ship gearboxes or other small-volume applications will be permitted under this legislation.

This flexibility prevents technical breaches of divisions through residue or small quantities of heavy-grade oils being present, which would in reality pose little risk to the environment. Additionally, an offence will not be committed if the Australian vessel is in the Antarctic area to save a life at sea or secure the safety of a ship, which in all circumstances, I think members on both sides would acknowledge, is a very reasonable provision.

The legislation also seeks to insert proposed section 10B, which prohibits the carriage of heavy-grade oil in bulk as cargo and its use or carriage in the Australian Antarctic Territory. As with section 10A, this section creates two different but similar offences: a strict liability offence and an ordinary liability offence. The penalties for breach of the offences are the same as with section 10A. Again, shared liability by the master and owner of the ship is stipulated, the defendant bears the evidential burden and there is no requirement to clean or flush residues of heavy-grade oil from a tank or pipeline to comply with the legislation. Additionally, as with section 10A, rescue voyages are excluded.

There are also some minor technical amendments in the legislation, and the bill removes the old definition of ‘engage in conduct’ and inserts a new definition, which is the same as that set out in the Criminal Code with subsection 4.1(2) of the code defining ‘engage in conduct’ to mean:

(a) Do an act; or

(b) Omit to perform an act.

This bill also inserts a MARPOL Annex I definition of heavy-grade oil into the PPS Act.

The consultation, which I understand has been undertaken, has been extensive and both Shipping Australia and the Australian Shipowners Association have been consulted and support the bill. Additionally, I have been advised that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has contacted southern ocean fishing operators who advised that the proposed changes will not impede current or future Antarctic fishing operations.

In conclusion, the coalition is proud of its record and will always support sensible measures designed to protect our unique marine environment, whether that be the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland Coast or our Antarctic Territory. I am pleased to support the bill.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 13 – Youth Allowance


Tuesday, September 14, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (21:51): I rise tonight to speak on behalf of regional families with children either attending university or planning to undertake university studies in the future. I have spoken many times in the past about the issue of student income support and I can report to the House that, unfortunately, it is still an absolute mess. As students prepare for 2012 and start making plans to move from regional areas to cities, sometimes in very distant locations, there is an enormous amount of uncertainty and confusion for these students as they try to access student income support. That is causing a great deal of frustration, not only for the students but for their parents, their teachers and the careers advisers in secondary schools throughout regional Australia.

I make the simple point that it just should not be this hard to get a fair go for regional students. The problem with student income support and the confusion and mess that exists today were created by the Prime Minister in her former role as the education minister. This Prime Minister has it within her power to fix the mess that she created with the system of student income support.

I recently had the opportunity to survey my electorate and put to my constituents the question of whether they were able to afford to send their children to university. It staggered me that only 22 per cent of Gippsland families said that they could afford to send their child to university. That is a remarkable figure. In this day and age, less than a quarter of the families in my electorate believe that they can afford to send their child to university. The survey also found that 85 per cent of people in Gippsland wanted the federal government to provide additional funding to regional students to cover the cost of relocating to study at university. I have put it to this House many times in the past and I have put it to the Prime Minister directly that, instead of tinkering around the edges with its current review of the system, the government should be totally overhauling the system of student income support to make it fairer for regional students.

I note the presence in the chamber of the member for Riverina, who has also been an absolute champion of this issue in his electorate. Quite recently, the Nationals Federal Council met and voted unanimously in favour of supporting a tertiary access allowance, which would provide support for all regional students who are forced to move away from home to attend university. The issue that has caused greatest concern for our constituents is the eligibility for independent youth allowance. The government has developed a system of lines on a map which has made it more difficult for students in the inner regional areas compared to students in the so-called outer regional areas. This confusion has resulted in a system that discriminates against regional students purely on the basis of where they live.

Under the Nationals’ plan, which was passed unanimously at our federal council, we recognise the simple fact that students from regional areas forced to move away from home face significant additional costs, particularly in accommodation costs, in the order of at least $10,000 per year compared to students who have the option of staying at home and undertaking tertiary studies. The principle of the tertiary access allowance we support is to address this issue of inequity, the social injustice which exists. It is not about a welfare system at all in that regard. It is about levelling the playing field so that regional students have every opportunity to achieve their full potential, have the option to go on to tertiary studies and come back to our regional communities and help fill those skill shortages that currently exist in areas as diverse as engineering, health and law. There are significant skills shortages in regional communities that can be filled best by students who have grown up in regional areas.

This government, if it is fair dinkum about the education revolution, if it is fair dinkum about the issues of social justice and equity, has an obligation to start working with our regional communities and come up with a complete overhaul of the system of student income support rather than tinkering around the edges, which is what the Prime Minister did when she was education minister.

This is a topic which has been brought to the House on many occasions. I have presented petitions and I have provided dozens of letters to the Prime Minister on this issue. Most recently in my local newspaper, Latrobe Valley Express, on Monday, 12 September it came up as a comment again where a Moe resident and university student, Zara Dyke, said:

I just think the whole eligibility criteria needs to completely overhauled and changed …

I tried to get Youth Allowance when before I went to university but because I was from Moe, I was not considered independent and was told only outer regional students were eligible.

It goes on. Monash University Gippsland Pro Vice-Chancellor, Helen Bartlet, said:

Eligibility for student income support should not simply depend upon whether the family home is classed as urban, regional, rural or isolated …

I agree wholeheartedly. This government has it within its power to overhaul the system of student income support. It must deliver a fair go for students in regional communities.

(Time expired)

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