Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No.4) 2012-2013 - Second Reading

13 February 2013

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:29): I am taking the opportunity of this debate on Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No.4) 2012-2013 before the parliament today to give an update on developments in my own area. Like the previous speaker, the member for Dunkley, most members like to talk about important projects and issues in their electorates. After the budget, I always take the opportunity to report on the initiatives offered to my local area. I can report to the chamber that, since the election of the Labor government in 2007, those budgets have delivered far more and far more effectively, and have been far more welcomed than the budgets of the previous 11 years of the Howard government. In our region, there are some significant challenges and I believe our government have the correct programs and the correct vision for our region and for the nation. I would like to outline some of the programs that were rolled out in the second half of last year in my region.

The first thing I can report is that in June, together with my colleague the member for Throsby, I was very pleased to welcome the Minister for Regional Australia, Minister for Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, to the Illawarra to make an important announcement about funding under the Regional Development Australia Fund. Given that BlueScope Steel announced a restructuring in 2011, it was particularly important to have new programs available to help the region diversify and create social capital. Minister Crean came to the Illawarra on 6 June and announced two lots of funding. One was $5 million for the refurbishment of the Crown Street Mall in Wollongong, a project that is worth a total of $15 million. It is an important project, as the mall stands at the commercial centre of our region. A couple of weeks ago, I joined Mayor Gordon Bradbery to celebrate the turning-on of the free wi-fi in the mall, a popular modern attraction for commercial and retail sectors. The other funding was a contribution of $2.6 million towards to Warilla Southern Community Hub and Youth Foyer, worth a total of $5.15 million. It is another important social capital project. The member for Throsby and I are particularly pleased that this project is being delivered by an award-winning and well-regarded local organisation—Southern Youth and Family Services.

The two projects will create over 200 jobs. The hub will include some accommodation but will also provide education, employment and social services for homeless young people. The hub project builds on the first round of this particular grant program, Father Chris Riley's Youth Off The Streets project, which was awarded $2.26 million towards a $4.83 million project to transform a former juvenile detention centre, Keelong, into a new accommodation and school for young people with high needs. Next month Minister Crean will be back in the Illawarra to open that facility.

In August, Southern Youth and Family Services received almost $40,000 to deliver the Connect-Ed youth project in our region, which gets young people to design, build and paint signage for community facilities. In the process they gain skills in carpentry, signage and painting. It is a small example of the great projects that that service runs, funded by our government's commitment to building social capital in the regions.

In June, the region was also very pleased to receive $1.451 million for settlement services. Our region has a fantastic record of welcoming newly settled people, particularly refugees, into our region and the Illawarra Multicultural Services have an exemplary record of providing those sorts of supports and services—again, another indication of very important social capital-building through the government's commitment to these sorts of services.

In August, the University of Wollongong Graduate School of Medicine was successful in getting a grant of just over $800,000 in a number of stages to develop a telehealth skills training and implementation project. This is about working with the young trainee doctors who are at the graduate school of medicine to develop new ways of training them to use e-health services on the back of the National Broadband Network rollout. It is a good opportunity for our region to provide, as it always does, the leadership in innovation and new technologies. I will have a bit more to say about the NBN towards the end of my contribution.

Like many of us on this side of the House, I spent a lot of the second half of last year visiting great local schools and opening fantastic new Building the Education Revolution projects. They were, without doubt, universally welcomed by the community of every single school I went to. The sort of infrastructure that many of them could only have dreamed of waiting years and years to achieve was put in place under that stimulus program.

As part of that, I was really pleased in August—there was some remaining funding from the program in our area—that it was decided, between the state and federal government, to target special schools with that funding. We were really pleased to welcome $3.15 million in funding for the Para Meadows School in our area, enabling them to deliver some significant physical improvements to the school in their hall, a covered outdoor learning area and some new classrooms. I had the opportunity to join with the principal at the school to talk about that announcement and it was a great pleasure to go to the graduation of their students, who are always thrilled to have the opportunity to be at that school, to be supported by that school and to participate in the graduation ceremony. It is a great event at the end of the year.

The other really important significant announcement was the second round of the Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund money. This was the fund that was set up post the BlueScope Steel announcement. The fund was set up on the basis of $20 million from the federal government, $5 million from BlueScope and $5 million from the state government. Its intention was to co-invest with interested companies in business opportunities, new job-creating opportunities, extensions of businesses and the establishment of new businesses, with the aim of creating jobs to diversify the economy in the region.

In November, the member for Throsby and I were very pleased to announce that the second round had funded 25 innovative businesses to a total of $17.2 million in grants. In effect, the outcome of that will be to create 512 jobs and to inject 48.8 million worth of investment into the region. That is, of course, a combination of the government funding with the matched funding. Many of these businesses were matching $2 or $3 for each dollar invested by the government. The co-investment grants, very pleasingly, covered a range of industries in our region, including new businesses and extensions of existing businesses in manufacturing, information services, health care, tourism, professional services and—excitingly for my own interests—in education and training.

So it was a very pleasing indication of the confidence and enthusiasm of businesses for our region and their willingness to invest, in partnership with the government, in new job creation opportunities. Those sustainable jobs for the future are terribly important to regions in transition like ours and are a great reflection of the promptness with which the Gillard government responded to that announcement and the tight work that we have done with our community. I want to pay great respect and thanks to the task force in our region, which was set up to address how to best invest and utilise this funding. We had leadership from across the region working together with government to make sure that we made the maximum benefit from this opportunity and this program. The member for Throsby and I made the announcement at Port Kembla's National Biodiesel Ltd site. It is a new investment opportunity in our region. It got a $2.86 million grant from the fund and it will be investing more than $14.3 million in the infrastructure project that will create 52 jobs. A similar grant was offered to CSC Australia Pty Ltd at Mount St Thomas. They are establishing a centre of excellence within their current technology park campus. This centre will include leading-edge services and security operations and will create 98 new jobs. These are examples of a government that understands the regions and when they need assistance. This government works in real partnership with the regions to deliver these outcomes, and our region is evidence of that.

I was very pleased to welcome, with my colleague the member for Throsby, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson, to the region in the second half of last year. He was there to announce with us a $2.3 million emerging renewables program grant for BlueScope Steel. This was a great message about the future of this business in our region, a business with a long history and close ties with our region, and its capacity to move into new fields and to take up the opportunities that renewables and an economy based around a price on carbon can create for new products and services. It was a great opportunity to have a look at the research work being done in the research and development part of BlueScope around rooftop photovoltaic products. We were thrilled to have that great BlueScope program, which is obviously something that would disappear under those opposite, get funding.

I also acknowledge some programs that sometimes seem smaller but make a real difference to people at the local level. In November, we were very successful in getting nearly $140,000 worth of volunteer grants into the region for 37 organisations which got grants of between $1,000 and $5,000 to support them in their work. These organisations would have to do an awful lot of pie drives and cake stalls to make the sort of money that we give. It is small money by government grants sizes but it makes an enormous difference to communities. A range of local groups benefited, such as the Heathcote headquarters of the Rural Fire Brigade, the Bundeena Community Centre, the Bulli High School P&C, Project Contemporary Art Space Inc., the Older Women's Network and the West Illawarra Hockey Club. These grants covered a range of social activities and community activities that are well supported in the electorate.

I was also very pleased to take up and challenge the point that the former member for Dunkley made to talk about a $748,000 investment in small business in my region. The Illawarra ITEC is a great local organisation that provides small business advisory services. It has been very well received by businesses in the area. ITECs will provide over 392,000 separate advisory services for more than 207,000 small businesses around the country under this program. Our local one is very important to all the businesses across the region and it will be very welcome that it has received grant funding.

As you can see, there is so much that our government has delivered to the regions of Australia with our programs and priorities having real meaning for the regions, so I am going to struggle to cover all of the projects in my region in the time I have. I also want to identify the University of Wollongong in a great announcement under the education investment fund's most recent round. The university received $31 million for the Early Start-Changing Children's Future project. This will be a research and teaching facility that will target and have spokes into the regions of New South Wales to deliver high-quality education opportunities, training and research for early childhood education. It is a great initiative and I would like to acknowledge that there is a $7 million philanthropic gift to the university to be part of that project. It is a really good story all round, building on the significant money, over $100 million, that we have invested in the University of Wollongong to be a major driver in our region.

Finally, as the NBN is rolled out across my region, I anticipate that it will be a profound support for all those programs and make a great contribution to our region. (Time expired)