In Parliament

2011 In Parliament

2011 SEPT 12 – Private Members’ Business – Community Organisations


September 12, 2011

Debate resumed on the motion by Mr Melham:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the contributions of:
   (a) Pole Depot;
   (b) Riverwood Community Centre;
   (c) the Chinese Australian Services Society;
   (d) Padstow Community Centre;
   (e) Mortdale Community Services; and
   (f) Community Services Alliance;
to the overall welfare of the people in the Hurstville, Kogarah, Bankstown and Canterbury local government association areas;

(2) notes the contributions of all community-based organisations to the welfare and support of the neighbourhoods they service through:
   (a) family, youth and children’s services;
   (b) health, ageing and disability services;
   (c) migrant settlement and support;
   (d) carer respite and support;
   (e) education and training; and
   (f) sport and recreation;

(3) recognises the support of the Government to those community groups through:
   (a) the Community Investment Program;
   (b) community grants;
   (c) volunteer grants; and
   (d) the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program;

(4) acknowledges the advocacy of the management and boards of those organisations to ensure that local needs are being met; and

(5) affirms the Government’s ongoing commitment to assisting those organisations.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:52): In joining the debate on this motion I will particularly focus on the work of two community organisations in my electorate which have been doing some outstanding work for many, many years, those being Rotary and Landcare. It is probably a bit unfair to single out two organisations, because there are volunteers across my community who make an extremely valuable contribution in organisations like surf lifesaving clubs, Lions clubs, school parents clubs, hospital auxiliaries and sporting clubs and as committee members.

I preface my comments by pointing out that I am a little bit concerned that in our community at the moment, with so many people having such busy lives, there is a noticeable greying of the volunteer workforce. The burden unfortunately is falling on too few, and our volunteers are ageing. It is not a criticism of younger people in particular, because there are many who are doing an outstanding job in my community, but we do need to encourage more younger people to get involved in community life through volunteering. In regional communities like Gippsland we recognise that we all have to pull our own weight and it is up to all of us to do our own little bit. I encourage people to find an organisation that suits their interests, to join up and get involved and to help make a difference in their community. They will certainly benefit from the experience, and so will our wider community.

As I said, I want to refer specifically to Landcare. This week we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Maffra and Districts Landcare Network and we launched a booklet which commemorates some of the great achievements of Landcare in my community. While it was an opportunity to celebrate and give the members of Landcare, along with the professional staff, a chance to reflect for just a moment on some of their outstanding achievements, I believe that there are some significant concerns facing the future of Landcare in the government’s failure to commit to the $11 million it originally had in its forward estimates to pay for Landcare facilitators throughout Australia. It is a concern to me because we have Landcare volunteers who I describe as the practical environmentalists of our nation. These are the people who are prepared to get their hands dirty.

They do the tree planting. They do the erosion control work. They do the weed removal programs. They are helping to boost biodiversity in our community. I think it is up to governments at both state and federal levels to deliver on the funding for the Landcare facilitators, who do a very good job of leveraging additional volunteer effort in my community. On a more positive note, I would also like to comment briefly on the success of the Rotary movement in the Gippsland region. I attended a fundraising function on Saturday night for the Gippsland Rotary Centenary House. I have spoken about Centenary House in the past in this place, but it is worth recapping just for a moment on what an outstanding job Centenary House does. This organisation was established to provide accommodation for people as they attended the Latrobe Regional Hospital, normally for cancer treatment. The Rotary club volunteers from across Gippsland have done an outstanding job in terms of fundraising and were instrumental in establishing, with support from the previous coalition government and the former state Labor government in Victoria, the first stage of this project that provides accommodation. It has had very strong bipartisan support from day one.

The people of Gippsland have benefited for several years now from that work of the state and federal governments, philanthropic organisations, local businesses and Rotary members. I am pleased to report that that spirit of bipartisanship has continued with the current federal government. The Minister for Health and Ageing announced earlier this year $1.5 million for the next stage of Centenary House. While it is depressing that we need to build an additional nine units at Centenary House because demand is so high for cancer treatment at the Latrobe Regional Hospital, on the positive side it has also brought out the best of the Rotarians right across Gippsland. So in addition to the government’s $1.5 million, which the community is very thankful for, Rotary members from clubs right across the Gippsland district have been fundraising again over the past 12 months. On Saturday night the fundraising function was very well attended. I would like to congratulate the organisers, Kay and Tony Radford, Carmen Cook and the rest of the fundraising team, along with the Chairman of Centenary House, Mr Ken Peake, his team and the house manager, Carol Crewe, who does such a great job in accommodating Gippslanders at a time of great need in their lives.

These are just a couple of examples of some great Australians, some great Gippslanders, who are setting an extraordinary example for our community. I think it further highlights the importance of volunteering to help others. I encourage Gippslanders who are interested in getting involved in community groups to join up and help make a difference in our community. I thank the House for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the volunteers throughout the Gippsland region.

(Time expired)

2011 SEPT 12 – Private MembersÕ Business – Heavy Vehicle Regulation


September 12, 2011

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (11:18): I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the importance of the road transport industry to Australia’s economy;

(2) notes that intergovernmental agreement on heavy vehicle regulatory reform was reached at the Council of Australian Governments meeting on 19 August 2011;

(3) acknowledges the significance of this agreement to Australia’s road transport sector; and

(4) commends the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport for his work in bringing about this agreement.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:28): In rising to speak on the motion by the member for Makin, I commend the member for his ongoing advocacy, particularly in relation to road safety matters and transport issues more generally. Members on this side of the House also recognise the importance of the road transport industry to the Australian economy. Australia’s trucking industry in particular is an incredibly important part of our economy, providing a vital statistical link between the community, Australian businesses and of course our agricultural sector. Australia’s freight task is estimated to triple by 2050, from 503 billion tonne-kilometres to 1540 billion tonne-kilometres, with local demand for total freight movements increasing by as much as 60 per cent by 2020. As a member from a regional area, I am sure that you, Deputy Speaker Scott, like many other members in regional communities, well understand the importance of our road transport industry and challenges it faces. One particular challenge is the confusing regulatory regime which exists. The coalition acknowledges the significant benefits that can be achieved by harmonising the many conflicting and contradictory regulations in the heavy vehicle industry. It has been estimated—and I take up the member for Makin’s comments—that harmonising regulations in this area has a potential total gain of $12.4 billion. The gains to be made, particularly in terms of productivity, are quite significant. It is fair to say that, over the years, state governments have failed to respond to the industry’s needs and improve their efficiencies by implementing nationally consistent transport regulations.

At the last election the federal coalition committed to pursuing regulatory harmonisation to build a truly national and seamless road freight sector. We understand the great importance of this task to the productivity of the Australian economy. Determining the appropriate parameters of such a detailed and overarching scheme, which is intended to have a broad scope, is extremely difficult and it is a necessity to ensure, through a very extensive consultation, that the right scheme is implemented and that any unintended consequences are avoided and handled quickly if they do arise. I understand, for example, that the Australian Trucking Association has identified 245 issues in the draft regulations that it would like to see resolved prior to their complete introduction.

I urge the government to continue to work with such key industry bodies. This government does not have a great record of listening to the people on the ground. I urge the government in this circumstance to actually listen to the people on the ground who are dealing with these issues on a daily basis. However, we support the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and efforts to deliver productivity improvements and the potential to cut red tape, remove inconsistencies which currently exist—obviously to save money for the operators involved—and reduce the confusion that currently exists throughout the heavy vehicle industry.

In the time that I have available to me I would also like to make some more general comments about heavy vehicles and the issue of road safety, which the member for Makin also touched on. This year the federal government released its 10-year National Road Safety Strategy. As with all such strategies the true test will be in its implementation. The strategy sets a target to reduce the annual number of deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads by at least 30 per cent. I think both sides of the chamber would acknowledge that, while that is an ambitious target, it does recognise that there are many severe road crashes which are preventable in our community. I am sure there are members on both sides of the House who are committed to the task of reducing the incidence of road trauma in our community.

Australia has a long and quite proud history of continually improving its road safety record—from historic legislation making it compulsory to wear seatbelts through to programs which have targeted drink-driving, speeding and other aspects of driver behaviour. Road crashes still cause 1,400 deaths and 32,500 serious injuries each year across Australia. The social and economic impacts are obviously devastating, and there would not be anyone in the Australian community who has not been touched by the consequences of road trauma.

I welcome the government’s development, in conjunction with various organisations, of a National Road Safety Strategy for the next 10 years and acknowledge the importance that the heavy vehicle sector will play in achieving the desired outcomes I just referred to. I think one of the key issues—which is not often understood—about working to reduce road trauma is the importance of investing in infrastructure to improve the safety of the road environment itself. It has been said in the past that providing for a safer road environment has the potential to save more lives than improved driver behaviour and enforcement measures put together. It is an important point to remember when we talk about issues of road safety. Investing in safer vehicles has had some very significant impacts, particularly in reducing the severity of accidents. The road enforcement measures right across Australia are a given. We have various road blitzes by state jurisdictions, and there are community information and advertising campaigns initiated by governments across Australia which have been very successful in targeting improved driver behaviour. They all have an important role to play.

There will be no simple solution to driving down the road trauma in our nation. We need to acknowledge that humans will always make mistakes and we need to provide a transport system that is more accommodating of these mistakes. I think that is one of the most critical points in reducing road trauma—particularly in our regional communities, where the incidents on country roads tend to involve higher speeds and where the potential for severe injuries and deaths is heightened. There are infrastructure improvements which can have a major affect on reducing crashes. I believe it is up to governments of all levels to continue to invest in improving the road conditions, to work closely with industry and to consult with local communities to identify potential accident black spots. The investment will pay a long-term dividend not only in the economic sense but also in the social sense with reduced trauma in our communities.

There are a wide range of road treatments and road designs which need to specifically consider the needs of all road users, particularly the heavy vehicle industry that we are taking about today. Things like wider shoulder treatments, the tactile road edges and even the design aspects of curves, which accommodate the larger vehicles on our roads, are all very important issues which require substantial and ongoing investment right across our nation. In addition to those various road treatments, another key safety matter which sometimes escapes much public attention but is particularly relevant to our heavy vehicle operators is the need for investment in our roadside rest areas. Under the transport policy which the Nationals advocated at the last election we made a commitment in conjunction with our coalition partners to fund 500 new roadside stops for truck drivers. We understand that the nation’s truck drivers are facing mandated rest breaks as a result of the heavy vehicle driver fatigue reforms and that there is a need for adequate roadside rest points. It is becoming increasingly important for the safety of drivers.

I am disappointed that Labor’s current $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety Strategy and productivity package is simply not going to go far enough to bring Australia’s national highways close to meeting the National Transport Council guidelines. Labor’s funding for truck rest stops is simply not going to be enough to achieve this goal. In fact, the funding for the current 2011-12 financial year has already been fully exhausted. The government has a long way to go in this regard. It is all very well to talk about the heavy vehicle industry and its support, but when it comes to delivering these services and facilities on the ground the government still has some challenges it needs to meet. The coalition, to its credit, has promised to build an additional 500 roadside stops over the next 10 years at an approximate cost of $300 million to bring the 22,500 kilometres of Australia’s national highways into broad compliance with the National Transport Commission guidelines. This is an issue which the Australian Trucking Association recognised in its submission to the National Road Safety Strategy earlier this year. I quote from the ATA’s contribution in relation to rest areas. It says:

Appropriate rest areas, with shade, amenities and minimal noise allow drivers to comply with fatigue regulations. The Austroads’ Audit of Rest Areas against National Guidelines, shows the quantity and quality of rest areas are below national standards. This is a symptom of planning and funding problems.

A further problem is the removal of existing rest areas. Rest areas that are temporarily removed due to capital works should be immediately replaced. New road planning that expects significant heavy vehicle traffic should include rest area facilities.

It is an important bit of feedback from the industry and something the government should take on board.

In conclusion, I briefly mention that I had a recent meeting in Lakes Entrance, in my electorate, with representatives from the South East Australian Transport Strategy. I commend the SEATS members for their ongoing advocacy work on behalf of their respective communities. They are taking very much a holistic view of the transport needs of their region. One of the key focuses of their work is the need to upgrade the Princes Highway in south-east Australia. This, as a policy position, is very close to my heart; it is also close to the hearts of many thousands of Gippslanders who have signed petitions, written letters and supported my efforts in this place. It is an issue that I have raised with the current Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and will continue to raise in the interests of road safety for all road users.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 25 – Presentation of Petition: Occasional Childcare Services Program


August 25, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (09:54): I rise to present a petition which was found to be in order by the House of Representatives Petitions Committee. There are more than 1,000 signatures on this petition, which deals with community concerns with the federal government’s decision to withdraw funding from the Occasional Childcare Services Program, more commonly known throughout Victoria as Take a Break.

The Take a Break program is critically important to mums and dads and their children in my electorate. Under this government’s decision to take $12.6 million away from the Take a Break program, we are left with many towns such as Swifts Creek, Paynesville, Gormandale, Cann River, Heyfield, towns which are quite small, that face the prospect of having no occasional childcare service whatsoever after December this year. I have spoken before on this issue and raised my concerns, but if the government is not prepared to listen to me perhaps they will listen to these 1,000 Gippslanders who are basically saying they want a fair go. It should not be so hard for reasonable communities to get a fair go out of this government. I hope someone is actually listening.

The concerns have been raised by the Victorian Neighbourhood House Association’s Angela Savage, who is the executive officer. Ms Savage has written to me and other members explaining the potential risks if this funding is not restored by the Gillard government. The risk is that at least 142 childcare workers stand to lose their jobs and over 220 community organisations which received government funding in the past would not be able to offer occasional childcare services in the future.

I acknowledge from the outset that this program has been funded previously with a mix of state and federal government funding. The federal government used to provide 70 per cent of the funding and the state government 30 per cent of the funding. In Victoria we are seeing Victorian state MPs taking the opportunity to harangue their Victorian coalition government and demand that they provide the services in the future. The Victorian government has been prepared to stump up their 30 per cent of funding. What they are demanding though is that the federal government restore the 70 per cent that they used to provide.

It stuns me, quite frankly, to have a government which is prepared to spend more than $12 million on climate change advertising propaganda but cannot find $12 million to help the children in regional communities receive some occasional childcare and to also provide support for their parents who often require a bit of respite or also require the opportunity to undertake some part-time work. It is a staggering decision from the government. It just shows how out of touch some of the Labor members in this place are. They are prepared to spend $12 million on propaganda but not $12 million on occasional childcare services. I think it is hypocritical of state Labor MPs to be haranguing the state government in Victoria and then also coming to the Commonwealth minister and demanding that she reinstate that funding.

In presenting this petition I just hope that finally someone in government is actually listening to the people of Australia. It should not be this hard for the people of regional communities like those in Gippsland to get a fair go from this government.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House the withdrawal of funding for occasional childcare services by the Gillard Government in the 2010/11 Federal Budget.

Of particular concern to the undersigned are the potential impacts on remote communities where ‘Take a Break’ childcare services available through Neighbourhood Houses and community centres may cease as a result of this decision.

In many rural and regional communities childcare services operated through Neighbourhood Houses are the only childcare option available and play a vital role in supporting volunteering, workforce and social participation.

We therefore ask the House to support a reinstatement of occasional childcare funding by the Federal Government to enable rural and regional communities to access quality childcare services.

from 1121 citizens

Petition received.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 25 – Convoy Of No Confidence


August 25, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:59): I take off from where the previous speaker finished. I was appalled by the arrogance and the contempt shown by the Leader of the House, who described this week’s rally as a ‘convoy of no consequence’. Then we had the Leader of the Greens, the partner in this government, who went further. He depicted the protesters as ‘moaners and a general smorgasbord of whingers’. That is a bit rich coming from a professional protestor like the Leader of the Greens. I will say this to those opposite: lose the arrogant attitude. Show some respect and be very careful. The moaners and the whingers—those people of no consequence you talk about—will have their day. Start showing them some respect.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 24 – Same Sex Marriage


August 24, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:19): In joining this debate the first point I would like to make is that really, as members of this place, we do not need to be told by the Greens or the member for Melbourne in particular when we should consult with our electorates on issues and what issues we actually need to raise with local people. I think that is something as members of this place we do on an ongoing basis. I personally often distribute surveys in my electorate. I attend many functions. I have street corner meetings, like a lot of other MPs, and am available to people to raise any issues of concern whatsoever. For their own sake to avoid being seen as hypocritical on this issue perhaps the Greens will submit a motion calling on all members to consult their communities on the carbon tax and then provide that feedback to the parliament.

Whilst this motion is not about whether MPs are for or against same-sex marriage, I want to state my position from the outset. I support the recognition of legal rights within same-sex relationships but I do not support changes to the Marriage Act. Although there is no legislation currently before the parliament, if such a bill were presented, I believe that all political parties should grant their members a conscience vote. It would be my intention to vote against such legislation.

Having said that, I hasten to emphasise a few other points. I believe it is also extremely important that we continue to work as a community to eliminate discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality, just as it is important to eliminate discrimination against other minority groups in our communities. I think it is also critical that we support homosexual people, particularly younger people, as they often grapple with their sexuality in regional areas and are heavily overrepresented in incidences of self-harm, mental health issues and, most tragically, in taking their own lives.

Finally, I would like to make the point that today’s debate is not the end of the issue and I do not believe it should be. There are many people in my community who will be bitterly disappointed with the views that I have expressed and there are others who will see this as a cause for celebration.

It is a divisive issue in our community and I believe we need to respect each other’s views as we discuss the merits of same-sex marriage and other issues facing homosexual people in our communities. I think it is particularly unhelpful for people on either side of this debate to descend into name-calling and abuse. We need to have a very moderate and a very respectful discussion in our broader community. I believe it should be possible to be opposed to same-sex marriage and not be typecast as being bigoted or homophobic, as some in my community have tried to portray my position. I do reject that assertion and argue that nothing could be further from the truth. I have several gay friends and gay relatives and I respect them as I respect people who support the traditional definition of marriage. Even amongst the gay people that I know there is a divided view on whether same-sex marriage is actually that big an issue for them. If I can recall conversations where we put that forward as an issue of debate amongst ourselves, their feeling was that there are other, far more important, issues facing homosexual couples in the community than this issue of same-sex marriage. But as I said, there are divided opinions in the community.

In terms of undertaking my own consultations in Gippsland, any person who has contacted me and asked for a meeting to discuss this issue has been given that opportunity. I have listened to their concerns and accepted many of the valid points that they have sought to raise with me. I have met with parents and I have met with friends of gay people and listened to their views as well.

I also note the formation of an online forum, a friends’ group for supporters of same-sex marriage in Gippsland, which has several hundred followers and has been a constructive debate, I believe, in my community. Like other members, I have received petitions both for and against same-sex marriage. My own recent survey distributed in newspapers throughout the electorate of Gippsland attracted 700 responses.

I will stress at the outset that being a newspaper based survey it should not be construed as some sort of scientific opinion poll, but I did receive strong feedback from the community and 64 per cent of respondents were opposed to same-sex marriage. I do not use that to justify my position in any sense, but merely to indicate as a matter of interest in the electorate of Gippsland that 64 per cent of respondents to a survey preferred to keep the current system in place. That varies very significantly to other opinion pools I have seen in other electorates around Australia.

I stress again that I have also received many emails and petitions on this issue. The majority of people who have contacted me from actually within my electorate have been opposed to same-sex marriage. As I have done so to date, I intend to continue to participate in this public debate because I think it is an important one and I will participate in a very moderate and respectful manner. I am hopeful that the issue will not become unnecessarily divisive in the wider community.

My position on this issue is not meant to be disrespectful to people who hold strong views to the contrary. Having consulted with my community I believe that the majority of Gippslanders support a more traditional view of marriage. I thank the House for the opportunity to provide that feedback.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 24 – Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 & Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill) 2011


August 24, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:25): I rise to speak on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill) 2011. In doing so, I would like to commend the member for Maranoa for his contribution, which we have just heard, because I think he raised some very important points along similar lines that I intend to take with my contribution to the House this afternoon.

There has been a lot of discussion in this debate that I think has been very positive in nature, in the sense that members on both sides have committed themselves to the desire to reduce the incidence of cigarette smoking in our community. The negative health impacts that tobacco products can have are well understood, and there have been some excellent contributions by members who are keen to ensure that the rate of smoking amongst young people and amongst our Indigenous community is targeted more heavily in the future. But I fear that a lot of this debate in terms of the legislation being put forward by the government and, in particular, the minister’s approach to prosecuting her case in the public domain have been more about political stunts and lecturing the opposition than about actually achieving an outcome which is desirable for the Australian community.

I believe that there is genuine goodwill from members on both sides regarding reducing the smoking rates in our nation. I look back on the coalition’s record, in particular, in its efforts on tobacco control. The coalition does have a proven track record of reducing the rates of smoking in Australia, and that record dates back more than 40 years. The Minister for Health and Ageing has often criticised the current Leader of the Opposition and former health minister, Tony Abbott, but it was Mr Abbott, in his role as health minister, who introduced the graphic health warnings on tobacco products in 2006. In fact, the coalition presided over the biggest decline in smoking rates whilst in government. Under the coalition government, the prevalence of smoking among Australians over the age of 14 declined from 21.8 per cent in 1998 to 16.6 per cent in 2007.

I make those points from the outset to underline my view that there is a commitment on both sides of this chamber to reducing the incidence of tobacco use in the community. Having said that, I do not think there is a silver bullet now. I think the easy gains, if you like, have been gained. We have been very successful in driving down the smoking rates in Australia over the past three or four decades, and I sincerely believe that it is going to be hard to drive them down much further. I am not convinced that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill will achieve very much at all. I fear that this is more about political posturing than about achieving an outcome in reducing the rates of tobacco use in the community. I fear it will not work, but hopefully history will prove me wrong and the figures will be reduced in the years ahead.

I am also concerned that, in going down this path, the government has exposed Australian taxpayers to potentially expensive legal action. This issue has been raised by other members in terms of the intellectual property of the big tobacco companies and the value they place on their brands. We have exposed ourselves to legal action, and I am not given much comfort from the reassurances from this government, given this government’s long history of mishaps, to say the least. This is a government that could not put insulation batts in people’s ceilings without burning down homes, tragically costing the lives of young Australians. This is a government that could not get value for money when it came to building school halls. So I am not filled with great confidence when I am reassured by those opposite that they have got legal advice that everything will be okay in relation to this issue.

Some of the other concerns that I want to raise, which were also touched on by the member for Maranoa and others on this side of the House, relate to very legitimate issues that have been raised by the small business sector. Small business people have taken the time to contact me, as I am sure they have many other members of parliament, and some of the issues they have raised deserve more consideration by the government, particularly in relation to the lack of consultation, some productivity issues and even some safety issues that they have presented to me. When I say safety issues, a couple of things have been pointed out to me. When you are running a small business and you have to turn your back on the customer to go to obtain a packet of cigarettes from behind a screen door, you are exposing yourself and your staff members to an added safety risk, either of assault or robbery. That is a legitimate concern that has been put forward by the small business sector. I go back to the point that the tobacco products are already behind a screen. The whole concept of plain packaging is to avoid that marketing opportunity. But, in states like Victoria, the tobacco products are already behind a screen. So I am not sure exactly what the government thinks it will achieve by putting the tobacco products in a plain package behind a screen. I raise that point because I think the small business sector has a great deal of concern about the identification of the tobacco products. When they open that screen they will see a wall of green or beige or olive or whatever the colour is that the government finally decides on for these tobacco products, and it will be difficult for the staff to identify the particular brand of cigarettes that they are going to obtain. This is a very practical problem and I am disappointed that the government has not engaged with the small business sector and tried to come up with a solution.

I add that as a practical problem because we heard yesterday in the House the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the member for Kingsford Smith, Mr Garrett, talk about issues of literacy. The minister said in his speech that we know that around 40 per cent of working Australians, that is, some 4.5 million working Australians, do not have adequate literacy skills for employment. I am pleased the minister is here today. I am not trying to have a go at him at all but there is a real practical concern here with people with poor literacy skills. Minister, I think you made a good point, but these people with poor literacy skills will be opening these screen doors and they will have trouble reading the brands. They will have trouble reading the names on these cigarette products. The government really should engage a bit more with the small business sector to at least allow them, when they open the screen door, to have some level of branding so that people with poor literacy have some hope of identifying the product that has been ordered. These are very practical implications of this bill which the government has not thought through.

One member on this side suggested that perhaps there would be an opportunity to put a small brand as an illustration on the base of the packet of cigarettes to enable easy identification for staff members. In which case, if it is on the base of a cigarette packet it is hard to believe it will provide any great marketing opportunity for the companies when that packet is always going to be upside down in someone’s shirt pocket. It will hardly be an opportunity for them to promote their brand. That is a very practical implication of this bill which the government has not thought through. I think lack of consultation with the small business sector has been part of the problem.

The concern has been raised with me as to whether this creates more opportunities for organised crime in terms of the capacity to easily counterfeit the tobacco products. I have no information to back up that suggestion either way other than to say that the allegation is out there in the community that it would be easier to develop a counterfeit cigarette when there is no branding allowed on it. You run the risk of more tobacco products coming into the country and the government will miss out on its excise, which clearly this government is addicted to more than most cigarette smokers are addicted to nicotine. I raise these points in good faith because I do not think the government has thought through many of the aspects of the plain packaging legislation.

I wonder whether the government in its rush to present this bill to the House really thought about the simple fact that there are no reports or research material which actually backs up the position it is taking. I remember one of the ministers tabling, in one day, 11 reports, I think it was. I thought, ‘Here we go; this is going to be the substance behind this whole debate.’ So I got all those 11 reports and I read through them. There was some interesting material amongst them but it was inconclusive at best, and there are many unanswered questions about whether this legislation will actually work. I would have thought that a health minister and a government that are serious about tackling a problem like this would have evidence based material to put before the House to justify the position they are taking. It is hard to know with this government where the nanny state starts and where the government begins. And that is a concern expressed right across the community in relation to this government.

Another concern that I would like to raise in the time I have left is this: what is next? What is next from this government in relation to this plain packaging approach? We already have members opposite murmuring about products which are high in fat. Are we going to end up with plain packaging for all fast food outlets? We have a lot of pressure developing in the community at the moment in relation to alcohol products. Is that going to be the next target of the nanny state? I am concerned that we have a product which is legal, and the brand value and the property rights of the companies involved are being eroded by a government without any compensation. My concern is not so much for the big tobacco companies because, quite frankly, I think they can look after themselves. I have no great love whatsoever for the product or the industry. But I am concerned about what is next. Are we going to head down the path of eroding the rights of legal companies? What will this government take on next? Will it be the fast food industry or the alcohol industry?

For the sake of the debate, I also wonder whether this is the best use of the government’s resources in terms of tackling this issue of tobacco consumption. There is no discussion of issues which I think have the potential to reduce the take-up of smoking even more—issues related to product placement in films. I wonder why the government has not been prepared to look down that path. Would the government even consider making it a condition of the receipt of Screen Australia funding in the future that there be no tobacco placement whatsoever—prohibit the product placement of tobacco products in films which receive Australian funding? That would be an equally contentious move; I acknowledge that. But I wonder why the government has not been prepared to look at measures which I think will de-glamorise smoking and take on the big tobacco companies in a way that I believe would be more effective.

In conclusion, I note that this is an unproven measure. There is great concern within the small business sector about whether it will be easy for them to implement. The practicalities of it in the workplace will make it difficult for small business owners in particular and their staff. It will be difficult for people who have trouble with literacy, and I do not think the government has considered that. I have the overarching concern that I am not convinced that this government actually has its legal advice in place. I fear it is exposing the Australian taxpayers to a costly legal action for very little gain.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 22 – Private MembersÕ Business – Early Childhood Learning


August 22, 2011

Debate resumed on the motion:

That this House:

(1) affirms its strong support for all forms of early childhood learning and recognises the importance of pre-school on the development of children and as a foundation for their future education;

(2) notes that the Gillard Government has mandated that ‘four-year-old kindergartens’ provide at least 15 hours per week of instruction by a university-trained teacher by 2013 under its ‘Universal Access’ policy;

(3) notes that the Gillard Government has not considered the consequences of its ‘Universal Access’ policy on Victorian kindergartens where ‘three-year-old kindergarten’ is more commonly offered than by other jurisdictions;

(4) notes that the consequence of ‘Universal Access’ on Victoria’s kindergartens is that many will no longer be able to offer ‘three-year-old kindergarten’ programs because facilities are often shared between three and ‘four-year-old kindergarten’ programs;

(5) acknowledges that this policy will effectively remove the choice for many Victorian parents of sending their three-year-old children to kindergarten;

(6) notes that some rural kindergartens could face the risk of closure because there is a shortage of qualified teachers in rural areas, and due to the increase in mandated hours, many rural kindergartens will no longer be able to share teachers;

(7) notes that warnings of this imminent crisis for Victoria’s kindergartens have been given directly to the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth by the Municipal Association of Victoria, parent groups, kindergarten operators and parliamentarians; and

(8) calls on the Government to:
  (a) provide flexibility for kindergarten operators to deliver kindergarten services according to the needs of their own communities and in line with local infrastructure and staffing capacity; or
  (b) at the very least, provide flexibility on the start date for the implementation of ‘Universal Access’.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (20:17): This is a very important motion and I do commend the member for Aston and also the member for Wannon for putting forward what I believe is a very common-sense proposal. I do acknowledge from the outset that these are very reasonable members of parliament. They have come here in good faith trying to solve a problem in their community and what concerns me is those opposite automatically go straight to the barricades. This is so typical of this government: they go straight to the barricades and take a partisan position. This is a very reasonable motion which seeks to provide flexibility and some common-sense solutions to what is an impending disaster for this government.

This government was warned in the early days in relation to home insulation, it was warned in the early days in relation to the Building the Education Revolution scheme, it was warned in the early days of the green loan assessment scheme—and we all know what happened to each and every one of those programs. They were monumental disasters on the ground. Now we have two very reasonable members of parliament—one from a metropolitan area and one from a regional area—coming into this place and sounding the warning bells. I hope the minister is listening more closely than those opposite right now. This is an issue which has the potential to be disastrous on the ground in many communities, particularly when we are talking about young people and their futures in our communities right across regional areas—which I am more interested in, I must admit—and also the metropolitan areas that the member for Aston referred to. There are major problems brewing across Victoria in relation to this universal access issue and the effort to try to provide 15 hours by 2013. I said at the outset that that is the bad news. There is a crisis brewing. It has the potential to be an enormous mess, but the good news is there is still time to try to fix this.

Those opposite can block their ears and go straight to the barricades like we heard today. The leader of business on the government side in the chamber referred to the protesters out the front today as being the ‘convoy of no consequence’. They can go down that path where they just put their fingers in their ears and ignore the concerns of everyday Australians or they can actually listen to the concerns being put forward by Australians. The benefits of early childhood education programs are well understood I believe by members on both sides of the House. I do not think there is any question about that at all. I think everyone understands the importance of early childhood education programs. I do believe the 15-hours-per-week issue is well intended. I do believe that the government was heading down the path of trying to provide good early childhood education right across Australia. I give the government credit for its good intentions. But, like so many of the Rudd government’s and the Gillard government’s good intentions, the delivery is a cause for concern.

Mr Champion interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: It is interesting that the member for Wakefield intervenes. The member for Wakefield often interjects. He interjects when I make 90 second statements in the House, but he never actually shows the spine to stand up for his community. He never actually stands up on issues like the carbon tax or on this issue, where there is genuine concern in communities across Australia. He never stands up and says to the government, ‘We have got a problem, Minister.’ Those opposite can interject as much as they like when I am making a speech, but do they stand up to their own ministers and say, ‘Minister, we have a problem’? You have not got the guts to do that in the House on issues like the carbon tax or on the issue of early childhood education.

The member for Aston made some very important points and I hope the minister has a good look at the Hansard. He talked about flexibility being critical and I think that is an aspect that our national government needs to understand more. The one-size-fits-all model driven by this government has been a disaster on many occasions across several programs. There are several programs—I referred to a couple earlier—where a national agenda fell flat on the ground right across Australia because we went for a one-size-fits-all model. I fear that this program is heading down the same path. On those points I congratulate the member for Aston for his contribution and for the motion he brought to the House. I also congratulate the member for Wannon for his contribution. He raised very reasonable concerns on behalf of this community.

I noticed that the member for La Trobe referred to another aspect of early childhood education—the Take a Break occasional care program. Let us get this right: to save a miserable $12.6 million over four years this Labor government has withdrawn support for an occasional care program across regional areas which provides a vital service in each of our electorates, but it can still find $12 million for a carbon tax TV advertising campaign. So it cannot fund occasional child care in regional communities but it can fund propaganda campaigns on the carbon tax. If those opposite want to have a reasonable debate on issues of great significance to the Australian people, start treating members on this side with respect when they raise reasonable and legitimate issues.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 22 – Carbon Tax


August 22, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:58): The Prime Minister promised to wear out her shoe leather explaining the carbon tax that she said she would never introduce. But it is a big country, and I understand that it is pretty hard to get around it all, and as I am a generous man I thought I would save her some time. I invited the people of the Latrobe Valley to send the Prime Minister a message. I invited Latrobe Valley residents to tell Julia Gillard what they thought about the carbon tax.

Government members interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: Those opposite who are interjecting now might be interested to hear what the Australian people are saying—what the hardworking mums and dads of the Latrobe Valley are saying—as they are in here talking about the big polluters. Let us hear what the mums and dads of the Latrobe Valley are saying about their carbon tax. From Ken in Traralgon: ‘You pinched the last election with your lie. Prove how popular you are: call an election.’ Then we have Brian from Willung: ‘An absolute disaster for Latrobe Valley for families and workers alike.’ And, finally, here is Natasha from Traralgon: ‘It means that my husband may lose his job at the 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.’

Government members interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: It is interesting that the others opposite are starting to interject. Why does one of you not have the spine to stand up for workers anymore? Why won’t one of you stand up and have the spine for the workers? People in my community do not want your household assistance package and they do not want your jobs transition plan; they want the decency of keeping their jobs. You would have to be an absolute mug to support the introduction of a new tax which will make Australian companies less competitive during a time of great global economic uncertainty.

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 16 – Australian Workers


August 16, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:58): I rise in sorrow to appeal to those opposite to stop vilifying Australian companies as ‘big polluters’, to stop vilifying honest Australian men and women who go about their jobs in companies like Qantas and Virgin Australia and the power stations in my electorate and also the food manufacturers. Stop vilifying these honest Australian mums and dads as working for ‘big polluters’. Have the courage to come into this place today in question time and put a ban on ‘big polluters’—put a ban on using that term. You come in here every day and you make these accusations. You vilify honest working Australian mums and dads and then you pretend to stand up for the workers of Australia. Whatever happened to that great Australian Labor Party tradition of standing up for the workers of Australia, standing up for their jobs? Whatever happened to the great Australian Labor Party tradition of standing up for the workers? You have stopped doing it because now you are talking about those scary big polluters. Have the guts to come into this place today and not talk about big polluters—just for one day. Recognise that these are big businesses who create the prosperity and the wealth of our nation and stop vilifying these companies and stop vilifying these people. One last appeal I would like to make is for the unions of this country to finally stand up for the workers’ jobs. Why don’t the unions of this country actually give their workers a vote? Why don’t the unions of this country actually go on the shop floor and give their workers a vote on this carbon tax? They know their jobs are at stake and this government—

(Time expired)

2011 AUG 18 – Questions Without Notice – Carbon Tax


August 18, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (14:12):  My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to this letter from the Chief Executive of Loy Yang Power which was sent to all employees and states: ‘Under the carbon price scheme, Loy Yang Power will be required to purchase $450 million in carbon permits each year.’ And further: ‘The scheme is threatening our future viability as not all of these costs will be recovered via increased electricity prices and the government’s proposed generator assistance package.’ Is the Prime Minister aware that Loy Yang Power is now offering redundancy packages to its workers? Prime Minister, how many workers in the Latrobe Valley will lose their livelihoods because of the carbon tax that she promised would never be introduced?

Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:13):  In relation to the member’s question, our perspective about the future of the Latrobe Valley—and I have been there to explain it to people myself; I had a long meeting with a large number of workers at the Hazelwood power station, for example—

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms GILLARD:  Our perspective about the future of the Latrobe Valley is that it has a very strong future and we will be working with the local community to achieve that. What I said when I was in the Latrobe Valley meeting with workers at the Hazelwood power station, local community members, representatives of the local council and the like was that our carbon pricing package includes a closure-for-tender process. We as a government will be calling a tender where those generators that are the dirtiest generators in the country—that is, they generate the most carbon pollution—can come forward with a proposal which we will assess on value-for-money criteria.

One of those reforms is putting a price on carbon, cutting carbon pollution and making sure we have the clean energy jobs of the future. If anybody is in doubt about the existence of those clean energy jobs then I suggest that they go to the Clean Energy Future display that is on in Parliament House today. There they will meet business people who have brought to Parliament House their clean energy innovations which are making money for them today and which will be the kind of clean energy technology that will make a long-term difference to our economy, creating the jobs of the future and bringing the innovation of the future.

On the question of modelling projections for Victoria, let us be very clear about this: Treasury modelling projects the economy of Victoria will grow by 30 per cent to 2020 alone and by 162 per cent by 2050. The modelling shows that Victoria maintains strong growth under a carbon price with agriculture, construction and services growing by 120, 170 and 246 per cent respectively to 2050. Strong growth, more jobs—that is Victoria’s future.

Mr Abbott:  I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. How many Latrobe Valley workers will lose their jobs? That is the question the Prime Minister was asked and that is the question—

The SPEAKER:  The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. There were other portions of the question—

The member for Gippsland interjecting—

The SPEAKER (14:15):   Order! The member for Gippsland has asked the question.

The member for Warringah interjecting—

The SPEAKER (14:15):   Order! The Leader of the Opposition!

A government member:  You are not making a point of order; you are just debating.

The SPEAKER (14:15):  The parliamentary secretary is warned. The ministers that complain—especially one who has had leadership status—actually know that from time to time leaders are given a bit of rope. I have indicated that that bit of rope has not much left in it today. The Leader of the House is standing patiently. He now has the call.

Mr Albanese:  I rise on a point of order, which is that the standing orders provide for one supplementary question only each day. What we see is a supplementary question in the guise of a point of order from the Leader of the Opposition, and he is consistent in doing it each and every day.

The SPEAKER (14:16):  It was a point of order where a portion—whatever the number of words were—of the original question were used to support a point of order about direct relevance. My response to that had been that there were many other portions to the question. The Prime Minister is responding.

Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:16):  What I was explaining to the member and to the House—it was exactly the same thing I explained to the workers in the Latrobe Valley when I spoke to them personally—was that we would go through this contract for closure process, it would take a number of years, and obviously we would work with any regions affected with structural adjustment because we want every region in the country to have a bright future.

Opposition member interjecting—

Ms GILLARD:  The member who is now interjecting may want to direct his attention to our Clean Energy Future package, our carbon pricing package, and he will see there allocated $200 million for structural adjustment purposes.

The point of going through this, and my visit to the Latrobe Valley, is to verify that no matter where I am—whether I am in this parliament, in front of workers from a power station or talking to people who are very passionate about climate change and reducing carbon pollution—I say the same thing. And I think that that is appropriate. What I do not think is appropriate—and it bears directly on the member’s question about jobs—is for the opposition to say different things to different audiences. So we have the shadow minister for finance, who says that the policy of the opposition is the closure of the Hazlewood power station. And then the Leader of the Opposition, when he was out there trying to be a friend of the workers—when he was in that guise, which is completely contrary to his ‘friend of business’ guise, completely contrary to his ‘friend of farmers’ guise, completely contrary to his ‘friend of those passionate about climate change’ guise—then said:

There will be no act of policy from the next Coalition government or from any Coalition government that I’m associated with that artificially foreshortens the life of these power stations.

The only way that these statements make sense is if the shadow minister is envisaging a situation where the Leader of Opposition is not associated with a future coalition government. I will allow them to explain that!

(Time expired)

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