Labor's commitment to the Illawarra

I am very pleased to have the opportunity in the chamber today, under the broad discussion of the appropriation bills, to canvass some of the issues in my local area that have occurred during the election campaign and since then.

Sadly, over that period of time we have seen the Liberal Party's absolute disdain for the Illawarra, again demonstrated in the 2016 election campaign. Again, our area was completely ignored by the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party. In fact, in each and every electorate campaign it has been the same story. I can report to the House that in 2004 they did not make one commitment to the Illawarra; in 2007, not a single commitment; in 2010, not a single commitment; in 2013, not a single commitment; and this year it was a case of history repeating itself in the 2016 election campaign in my seat—not one commitment for my area. As the member says, they are not in the least bit interested in the Illawarra. It is like groundhog day for us: during each election campaign we wait for the Liberal Party to make some sort of commitment and we wait in vain.


It was not just the people of the Illawarra who were left out in the cold, although I have to acknowledge that it was during the long and dismal winter election campaign that the Liberal Party cut billions of dollars from our local schools. They make it harder for people on low and fixed incomes to survive, they make it harder for parents looking for child care and they make it harder for people to get the skills they need to find a job. I would point out to the chamber that the Liberals did not have one policy in support of TAFE or apprentices during the election campaign. They did nothing on child care except to make sure it was more expensive, and they did nothing on higher education except to try and implement an American-style user-pays higher education system, which clearly would result in $100,000 degrees. They did nothing to grow the local economy and generate jobs, despite that being the theme, supposedly, of their campaign. I have to say, clearly the only jobs they were interested in were their own, or those of some of their big business mates who were targeted for the $50 billion tax cut. They did nothing to help. In fact, their actions would have hindered and very badly affected people who were sick. Their policies would have gutted our health system as we know it and forced Australians to pay more for their health care.


I point out that just this week in the parliament government MPs voted against a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as a universal health insurance scheme for all Australians. They voted against a guarantee to protect bulk-billing, so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to, not only when they can afford to. They voted against reversing the harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. They voted against reversing the cuts to pathology that will mean Australians with cancer will have to pay more for their blood tests. They voted against reversing the cuts to breast screening, MRIs, X-rays and other diagnostic imaging, which will mean Australians will pay more for these vital scans—indeed a shame. They voted against abandoning plans to make all Australians, even pensioners, pay more for vital medicines. They voted against developing a long-term agreement to properly fund our public hospitals, so Australians do not languish in emergency departments or on long waiting lists for important surgery. This is a critical issue in my area, where the Baird Liberal have now listed Shellharbour Hospital, a great public hospital, for privatisation. So we see this agenda playing out across conservative governments.


At least 27 times during the election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull said that he would never outsource Medicare. But the truth was revealed this week when he would not bring himself to guarantee that it would be kept in public hands. Labor, as always, remain committed to supporting the services that people need, particularly in our area and investing in our Illawarra region. By contrast, I would like to indicate to the House the commitments that Labor made to our area during the last election.


The member for Whitlam and I put forward a number of commitments for the Illawarra. Firstly, just before the election commenced, we had a visit by the Leader of the Opposition to announce our steel industry plan. This is critically important for our region obviously, with the Port Kembla steelworks so significant as an employment driver and, just as importantly, its flow-on effects through the steel fabrication and manufacturing sectors. We produced a significant plan that will give real viability to the long-term prosperity of the steel industry.


We also made a $50 million commitment to commence the building of the Maldon Dombarton rail link. This is a vital freight infrastructure link between the port at Port Kembla and the western and south-western Sydney region. This work has stalled since this government was elected. In 2013, Labor committed $50 million to commence the process to find a public-private partnership to get this very important piece of infrastructure built. The Abbott government abolished that $50 million commitment. We are very concerned to see that there is a renewed focus on that piece of infrastructure. We made a $50 million commitment in the election campaign and I will continue to pursue commitments from this government to progress that project.


We also made a $50 million commitment to improve the safety of the Appin Road. The day after that commitment was made, the Prime Minister gave a commitment for the same amount. The problem was his commitment only covered the road up to the point where it bordered my electorate. Our commitment was for the entire length of the Appin Road, including the part in the seat of Cunningham. But that was not repeated by the minister, as my colleague the member for Macarthur indicated, as he borders the other end. That is a very important piece of road infrastructure and we will continue to press to get that delivered.

A very important commitment from the member for Whitlam and I was an improvement in the funding for our Illawarra legal service, a $300,000 commitment. These front-line legal services provide support and assistance to some of the most vulnerable in our community and they have been under a great deal of pressure. They do a fantastic job and they struggle to cover all that they are required to cover as it is, and to face this sort of significant funding cut is very detrimental. So I was pleased we were able to get that commitment.


We also gave a commitment of $200,000 towards the extension of the Bulli Surf Life Saving Club, a great local community organisation doing important work. We gave a commitment to three very significant disability employment service providers in our area, Greenacres, Flagstaff and the Disability Trust, to ensure the ongoing viability of Australia's disability enterprises. That was very important to many of our locals who rely on those organisations, and do great work and are very proud of their employment at those places.


An ongoing issue in our area has been the access to a permanent full-time judge for the Federal Circuit Court, particularly in cases of family breakdown and resolving those issues. These are extremely stressful times for people, and we have had a real problem with extensive backlogs and with people being referred interstate to get their cases heard. We gave a commitment to a permanent full-time judge and we will continue to press the government to address that issue.


Part of the Gonski commitments of years five and six would have meant another 59 million in funding for schools in our area. I want to make it clear that this was not an unusual or new thing; we have in fact invested in our region significantly whenever we have been in government. There was a $135-million investment in the University of Wollongong over our period in government and in significant research and teaching facilities such as the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials Processing, the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, and the SMART Infrastructure Facility and, the most recent one, the Early Start facility. We have put over $100 million into our local schools and TAFE.


We have put $140 million towards supporting the BlueScope Steel Structural Adjustment Programme, and nearly $29 million to progress the Maldon-Dumbarton rail link, plus the $50 million I referred to earlier. We have put $42 million in upgrades to the Mt Ousley Road and $4 million for a Mt Ousley truckstop to make the journey safer for truck drivers, and for the road users who share the roads with them—and I have to say, building has just now finally commenced—as well as $4.6 million on improvements to the Picton Road. We put nearly $3 million into the Blue Mile project to make a beautiful part of our area so much more usable for locals and more accessible, in particular for people with mobility issues, but also to make it into a great tourist attraction, and nearly $5 million into the refurbishment of the Wollongong mall.


We had the early rollout of the National Broadband Network. I spend so much of my time now dealing with complaints about the second-rate system that people are getting with fibre-to-the-node. They are very, very unhappy with what they are getting with that technology. We put $12 million into an Illawarra Cancer Care Centre at Wollongong Hospital and $5 million towards a clinical teaching and training facility at the hospital. There was nearly $16 million in black spot and infrastructure commitments on local roads, $6.6 million for community infrastructure such as parks, footpaths and cycleways, and some great local tourism projects—$863,000 for the North Beach Bathers' Pavilion, a great historic facility; $100,000 for the Sumatran tiger exhibition at our wonderful Symbio Wildlife Park; half a million dollars to refurbish The Snakepit, our famous basketball centre; and $4 million for Southern Youth and Family Services and Youth Off The Streets for homeless and at-risk young people. The commitments we made at the last election follow on from a strong record of Labor delivering for my region.


It is also important to acknowledge that at the state level, it has been New South Wales Labor governments who have also committed to the region. We have had investment in the Northern Distributor, the building of the wonderful Sea Cliff Bridge, a free commuter car park in Wollongong, the free Gong Shuttle which gives locals better access to public transport, $140 million in upgrades to the Port Kembla Steelworks, the establishment of the world-leading Innovation Campus at the University of Wollongong, and a state-of-the-art police station for the Lake Illawarra Command. We have given commitments to accessibility lifts at the Unanderra Station, to upgrading the local hospital and TAFE, to building the Western Grandstand and the Northern Grandstand at WIN Stadium, and to the $170-million expansion of Port Kembla Harbour. In particular, we have committed to saving Bulli Hospital and to $100 million in investment in the Wollongong Hospital. These have been important commitments for state Labor and, I have to say, in those areas great work continues by our local colleagues Ryan Park and Anna Watson along with some important and significant commitments by our candidate in the Wollongong by-election, Paul Scully, who is an extraordinarily good candidate. I hope people will get behind him in the by-election in November, because he will do an outstanding job for locals.


Across the region the story is consistent. It is very frustrating. Our region is an important regional driver of jobs and economic growth. We have wonderful opportunities for diversification. We have the challenges that many regions have in terms of the existing employment sectors and supporting them in their capacity to continue to employ. In particular, obviously steel and manufacturing are very important parts of that story, but we have expanding and developing opportunities in education and tourism. Only this week I met down here with Nieves Murray and the Illawarra Retirement Trust group, who were down here doing some visits to ministers and shadow ministers. The aged-care sector is another one where there are real opportunities for jobs and some leading national organisations like IRT have grown out of the Illawarra. So the things that you need a region to do in its own best interests we are doing.


I want to finish by acknowledging the great work of Destination Wollongong in getting the first visit by the Radiance of the Seas, a major tourism boat, into Port Kembla at the end of this month. There was a great community campaign rallying around making that visit a real success so that it continues to develop jobs and opportunities in our region. We are doing what we need to do as a region. Labor governments at state and federal levels have supported that. Liberal governments have been very disappointing.