Time for Minister to take action on steel

Sharon Bird, Federal Member for Cunningham and Stephen Jones today backed Kim Carr and Nick Champion’s calls for Industry Minister, Greg Hunt, to release the “updated” Anti-Dumping Commission’s report on the impact of overseas steel makers in the Australian market prior to Friday’s International Trade Remedies Forum (ITRF) to allow the ITRF to properly do its job. Continue reading

GP tax by stealth puts pressure on hospitals

  Illawarra MPs Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird have warned that more patients will continue to flood into already over-crowded hospitals as a result of the federal Coalition’s attack on primary care. The latest figures from the Bureau of Health Information show that hospital staff are under pressure to manage record numbers of admissions, emergency department presentations and elective surgeries. The quarterly numbers (April – June 2016) reveal: New South Wales EDs experienced a 76,000 increase in presentations compared to the same period last year. The Wollongong hospital elective surgery waiting list is growing.  It has swelled to 2,019 by the end of June 2016, a 16.6 per cent increase on the same period last year. Wollongong hospital is also experiencing worrying delays. 3.5 per cent of semi-urgent surgical procedures and 12.8 per cent of non-urgent surgical procedures are not being performed within clinically recommended timeframes. The delays in Wollongong hospital surgical procedures is particularly concerning when a comparison is made to the same period last year. At that time just .7 per cent of semi-urgent surgery was not seen within clinically recommended timeframes. There has also been a slight increase in non-urgent surgery being undertaken outside of clinically recommended timeframes. Stephen Jones said that the numbers should be a wake-up call for the Turnbull Government. “In this year’s federal Budget the Turnbull Government extended the Medicare rebate freeze, a GP Tax by the backdoor, all the way to 2020. As a result more and more GPs have been forced to hike their fees and stop bulk billing. “In the electorate of Whitlam alone two GP clinics in Bowral - the Walker Street General Practice and the Bowral Street Medical Practice – have both terminated their bulk billing services. “Patients are avoiding trips to see their Doctor because they simply can’t afford it; instead they are ending up in hospital.” Sharon Bird said the mounting pressure on public hospitals was bad news for the entire healthcare system. “The Coalition’s continued assault on primary care is negatively affecting the health of patients, particularly older people with multiple chronic diseases who really need to have their conditions carefully monitored. “It is also leading to higher costs as hospitals treat patients who should have had their health problems seen to by a GP much earlier. “A single night in a hospital bed can cost $3000, so if we want to reign in health costs putting more pressure on hospitals is the last thing we should be doing.”  WEDNESDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2016

Break the stigma during dementia awareness month

Sharon Bird today attended Alzheimer’s Australia’s Illawarra Public Forum – Still Dementia in a Changing World – as part of Dementia Awareness Month which is an annual awareness raising event held in September each year and aims to focus people with dementia, carers, media and the general public on dementia by sharing facts, dispelling myths and highlighting the support that is available through Alzheimer’s Australia.   People living with dementia are twice as likely to experience loneliness compared to the general public – that is one of the key messages being promoted as part of Dementia Awareness Month 2016.   Dementia Awareness Month runs through September to improve awareness and understanding about dementia in the Australian community.   The theme of Dementia Awareness Month 2016 is ‘You are not alone’ and draws on the release of new research indicating that people living with dementia and their carers are among the loneliest in the country.   There are over 350,000 Australians living with dementia and more than 1,800 new cases of dementia in Australia each week – it is not a future issue, it is here and now. Dementia is impacting a growing number of people in the Illawarra, whether it is our loved ones, our neighbours, our friends or ourselves. Sharon Bird said that many people in the Illawarra were affected by dementia.   “Alzheimer’s Australia has had great local campaigners in the Illawarra like Val Fell and Tom Ward who have campaigned to raise awareness for many years,” Sharon Bird said.   “They have been instrumental in organising event such as forums and the Memory Walk to raise awareness about dementia.   “Everyone has a story of a friend or a family member who has been affected by dementia.   Sadly the diagnosis of dementia goes hand-in-hand with stigmas, social isolation and exclusion.   Six in 10 people admit they know very little about dementia and as many as one on four find people with dementia frightening.   Dementia Awareness Month is the perfect time to help break the stigma.   Everyone can take up the challenge to find out more about dementia and help to break down the stigma and misunderstanding associated with the condition.   We need to look past the symptoms of dementia and create communities where people living with dementia, their families and carers feel supported, empowered and included in society.   Labor is a big supporter of Dementia Awareness Month and is calling on the Turnbull Liberal Government to show leadership in creating a dementia-friendly nation.   Visit www.fightdementia.org.auto find out about Dementia Awareness Month.   For information, advice and support call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.  

Funding Helps ItSoWel Continue To Help The Elderly In Our Community

Sharon Bird today visited the Italian Social Welfare (ItSoWel) Social Support Group to announce $18,159 in funding under Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Program (SCP) to upgrade the disability bathrooms at the ItSoWel Community Centre.   ItSoWel’s community centre is over 30 years old the upgrade is needed for many of their clients in the Social Support Group who are elderly and frail.   This matched funding will help ItSoWel continue to provide services to develop, maintain and support social interaction and independent living to frail aged, person with a disability and carers from the Italian-speaking community.   Sharon Bird said that it was important to help organisations such as ItSoWel to continue to provide these services.   “ItSoWel has provided services to the Italian-speaking community for over 30 years.  They continue to innovate and expand their services to ensure that the elderly and disabled in our community are supported,” Sharon Bird said.   “Management and staff at ItSoWel continue to look at ways in which they can provide better care for their Social Support Group clients.   “This funding will help to ensure that they can continue to care properly for their clients.   FRIDAY, 26 AUGUST 2016

Upgrade To Facilities Will Help Future Members Go For Gold

Sharon Bird today joined Bulli Surf Life Saving Club’s President, Keith Caldwell, to announce funding of $19,967 under Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Program (SCP) for the Exercise Room Upgrade and Expansion project at the Club.  At present, there are only one set of amenities for males and females.  The expansion will provide access to separate male and female amenities that are better integrated within the club house and improve access for mobility impaired club patrons and visitors.  The expansion will also include new storage areas, designated meeting rooms and social gatherings.  The Club hopes that this will help to cater for a wide range of community-based and club activities in a welcoming and vibrant environment and encourage greater community participation and cohesion.  Sharon Bird said that the Stronger Communities Program helped community groups to upgrade facilities without having to take on the burden alone.  “Clubs like Bulli SLSC work hard to keep our beaches safe over summer and are continuously fund-raising to meet the cost of maintenance, expansion and upgrading of the Club in addition to the purchase of new equipment.  “I am really pleased to be able to provide some assistance to help with these costs.  Bulli Surf Life Saving Club has been helping to keep residents and visitors safe on our beaches for over 100 years.  The Club currently has over 600 combined senior and junior members who patrol the beach on weekends from October through to April each year.  They also have a proud history in competition.  Over the past eleven years, club members have won 497 Illawarra senior gold medals, 255 New South Wales medals, 144 Australian medals and 32 World Championship Medals.  The Club has also been home to four members who have represented Australia at the Olympic Games: Tim McLaren (whilst a Bulli SLSC member) – competitor/coach in Rowing Brian Morton (whilst a Stanwell Park SLSC member) – competitor in Kayaking Rhett Ayliffe (former member) – coach in Rowing Troy Sachs (former member) - competitor in wheelchair basketball   FRIDAY, 19 AUGUST 2016

Funding For New All-Terrain Vehicle For Corrimal Surf Club

Sharon Bird today announced funding of $11,364 under Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Program (SCP) for Corrimal Surf Life Saving Club for the replacement of their All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV). The Club’s current ATV is eight years old and continuously experience significant mechanical and electrical breakdowns and is at the end of its serviceable life. The ATV is used to transport patrol equipment on and off the beach on weekends and public holidays but the critical use of an ATV is to provide the ability to respond rapidly to rescue situations that occur regularly in hazardous areas including the southern corner of the Beach at Towradgi Point, the middle of the beach opposite the caravan park and the northern end of the beach at East Corrimal. Sharon Bird said that it was important that local surf clubs had the equipment they need to keep residents and tourists safe on the beach each summer. “Members of Corrimal Surf Life Saving Club have worked hard to fundraise half the cost of the ATV and I’m pleased today to help the Club to get the equipment they need to ensure rescues can be carried out as quickly as possible,” Sharon Bird said. Under The Stronger Communities Program, funding of between $5,000 and $20,000 is available and must match the SCP grant in cash or in-kind on at least a dollar for dollar basis. A total of $150,000 per year over two years will be available to support projects in each federal electorate. FRIDAY, 29 JULY 2016

It’s Not Gold-Embossed, But Minister Hunt Invited To Visit The Illawarra

Local Federal MPs, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, have today written to new Industry Minister, Greg Hunt, inviting him to visit the Illawarra to talk about what the Government plans to do to help sustain a viable steel industry.  Reports today in the Illawarra Mercury indicate that the Minister would only visit the Illawarra if invited.  “Minister Hunt, we invite you to visit the Illawarra,” the local MPs said.  “I’m not sure if the Minister is expecting a gold-embossed invitation but the Illawarra has been begging for the Turnbull Government to pay some attention to the steel crisis but so far, our cries have been ignored,” Sharon Bird said.  “We have had job loss after job loss here in the Illawarra, the Turnbull Government has completely abandoned local workers and local industry.  Stephen Jones said that the MPs were happy to supply a map if the new Minister struggled to work out where the Illawarra was.  “Our aim is to work constructively with the new Industry Ministry on delivering our six point plan to secure the future of steel.  “We want to wipe the slate clean and host a range of meetings to tell the Illawarra story and the importance of the Port Kembla steelworks.”  Bill Shorten and Federal Labor took extensive proposals to the election to work with industry, unions and all levels of government to develop a long term plan for the future of the steel industry, including: Ensure that steel used in federally funded projects complies with Australian standards. Ensure that anti-dumping regulators have the necessary powers to do their job effectively. Create a National Steel Supplier Advocate. Seek to maximise the use of locally produced steel in federally funded projects, and put in place regular reporting of usage levels. Halve the spending thresholds for Australian Industry Participation Plans. Double the funding for the Australian Industry Participation Authority. The Federal MPs said they would welcome a visit by the Minister to discuss the proposals that have been put forward but fallen on deaf ears to date.  The Illawarra needs a strong sustainable future for the Australian steel industry – it is important for the national economy and the local economy.  The new Industry Minister must start being pro-active and put forward a plan to help the steel industry in Australia before it’s too late.   THURSDAY, 28 JULY 2016  

VET Experts Agree System Is In Crisis And Government Has Failed To Act

As more and more submissions to the Liberals’ VET FEE-HELP discussion paper are released by the experts of the sector, one underlying message from the last three years is clear - there is a crisis in the sector which has been ignored and mismanaged for far too long under this government.   Reform of the VET sector is still nowhere to be seen, with the sector receiving its fifth minister is just over three years.   The portfolio has been downgraded to an Assistant Minister and the responsibility for the VET FEE-HELP crisis handed back to Education Minister Simon Birmingham – the same Minister who oversaw the $3 billion blowout in VET FEE-HELP debt during 2014 when he was a junior Minister.   Both Labor and education experts told the revolving door of Coalition Ministers that the sector was at crisis point, but still there was no effective action to crack down on the shonks and the sharks.   As the Department spends more time briefing yet another incoming Minister and re-briefing an old one, the exploitation of young, disabled, Indigenous and marginalised Australians continues, and the waste of taxpayers’ dollars continues unabated.                     The Turnbull Liberals took no plan for vocational education to the voters at the last election. All they had was their legacy of a $2.75 billion cut from the skills portfolio, including $1 billion from apprentices and a VET FEE-HELP crisis.   This is why the sector needs a full root and branch review as proposed in Labor’s policy. NCVER’s most recent report supports this approach, emphasising the large and complex nature of the sector.   Labor also proposed a series of strong and sensible immediate measures that would stop the rot.    There has to be a crackdown to protect the reputation of Australian vocational education and training. The experts know this, Labor knows this, the sector knows this – it seems that only the Liberals do not know this.   Last year Labor proposed a Vocational Education and Training Ombudsman to oversee the sector and protect students.  The Government agreed to establish an Ombudsman, but Ministers Birmingham and Ryan were obviously too busy planning Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to the Prime Ministership to put an Ombudsman in place.   Labor has proposed an $8,000 per student cap on loans (with exemptions for legitimate high cost courses) to stop the massive price gouging of students and break the business model of shonky providers.  The Liberals have consistently bagged this proposal and continued to sit on their hands.   With the downgrading of the portfolio to an Assistant Minister role all we are seeing is the waste of more time and more taxpayer’s money, overseen by an even more junior person.   THURSDAY, 21 JULY 2016  

Turnbull Dumps Apprentices, TAFE And Vocational Education

Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement today that the vocational education portfolio has been demoted down to a Parliamentary Secretary position has spelled the end of any sort of government support for apprentices, TAFE and vocational education. This will be the fifth person with responsibility for the vocational education portfolio in the Abbott/Turnbull Government. At a time when the sector is in crisis we have seen a revolving door of Ministers, and now the portfolio has been downgraded to an Assistant Minister. This is further proof that the Prime Minister’s "Jobs and Growth" slogan is all talk, no action. It shows he has no interested in preparing Australians for the jobs of the future.  The Liberals did not have one policy to save TAFE or apprentices during the election. During their last term in office they cut $2.75 billion from the skills portfolio, including $1 billion from apprentices.   This has created a crisis in apprentice numbers, dropping by 136,400 since their election to office in September 2013. We have seen gross mismanagement of VET FEE-HELP with no real solutions – only the Government’s ill considered, rushed changes last year which allow colleges who obtained massive amounts in 2015 to continue to receive them in 2016. The Prime Minister should just come out and admit that he doesn’t care about TAFE, doesn’t care about apprentices and has no interest in ensuring that we train people for Australia’s future workforce. This government prefers their fallback position of relying on 457 visas rather than also working to train Australian citizens to truly encourage jobs and growth into the future.  MONDAY, 18 JULY 2016

Shonky Behaviour Continues Under Liberals’ Gross Mismanagement

Claims reported on ABC’s 730 last night that colleges were continuing to target vulnerable people using aggressive tactics must prompt the Liberals to finally act to stop the rorting. Reports claiming that a “gong” goes off each time a “sale” is made in telemarketing centres, like something out of the Wolf of Wall Street which saw dodgy stockbrokers target vulnerable investors, is of great concern. PETER JENSEN, FORMER CAREERS AUST. EMPLOYEE: We were supposed to sell six to nine diplomas a week and they did range between $16,000 and $22,000. There's leader boards, bells are ringing, gongs are banging. There was a gong all the time, every time somebody got a sale.  ABC 730, 13 July 2016 MICHAEL ATKIN: Careers Australia is one of the most profitable vocational education providers in the country. Last year it billed the taxpayer for $230 million in student fees. In May, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action against the company for breaching consumer law from August, 2013 until April, 2015. ROD SIMS, ACCC CHAIRMAN: We allege that they sold courses to vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, that they misrepresented the fact that if this course was done, that would help them gain employment, and separately, they didn't let people know that you actually - when signing on for these courses incurred a debt that would stay with you for life. ABC 730, 13 July 2016 ROD SIMS: Look, I'm exceptionally concerned to hear those allegations and if the undertaking we have is being breached in either letter or spirit, then we've got the capacity to take stronger action. ABC 730, 13 July 2016 The action by the ACCC that has occurred to date has only occurred because of the pressure from Labor and the media.  Last year the Liberals put through rushed and ill-considered legislation which allows colleges who obtained large amounts of taxpayer funds through VET FEE-HELP in 2015 to continue to obtain the same huge amounts of taxpayer funds to prop up their businesses in 2016. Fundamentally, these measures have not stopped the inappropriate business practices. Ministers Birmingham and Ryan are obviously completely out of their depth and unable to stop unscrupulous behaviour in the sector.  The Liberals’ gross mismanagement of the VET FEE-HELP loans scheme has seen it escalate from $699 million in 2013 to $1.7 billion in 2014 and to over $3 billion for 2015.  Labor has proposed a series of strong, sensible measures to stop the rot.  There has to be a crackdown to protect the reputation of Australian vocational education and training. Last year Labor proposed a Vocational Education and Training Ombudsman to oversee the sector and protect students.  The Government agreed to establish an Ombudsman but Ministers Birmingham and Ryan were obviously too busy planning Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to the Prime Ministership to put an Ombudsman in place. Labor has proposed an $8,000 per student cap on loans (with exemptions for legitimate high cost courses) to stop the massive price gouging of students and break the business model of shonky providers.  The Liberals have consistently bagged this proposal and continued to sit on their hands. Labor also proposed properly regulating the use of brokers. Enough is enough.  The Liberals care more about their own internal chaos than they do about vulnerable students.  They must adopt Labor’s strong, sensible measures to break the business model of shonks and sharks and protect students. Training our future workforce for good jobs must be paramount in the sector – not sales “gongs” and massive profits. It is time the gong tolled on shonky behaviour targeting vulnerable students and exploiting taxpayer funds. THURSDAY, 14 JULY 2016