Ms Bird (Cunningham) (12:47): Can I indicate at the outset that I support the amendment moved by Labor and also that I don't oppose the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020 that is before us today, just as Labor doesn't oppose it. As has been outlined by many speakers, the bill's intention is to amend the governance structures of ASQA, the Australian Skills and Quality Authority, and also to enhance its information sharing with the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research. These are both commendable intentions in and of themselves. The bill seeks to do this with two key amendments. The first one revises ASQA's governance structures, replacing the chief commissioner, chief executive officer and two commissioners with a single independent statutory office holder—a CEO. Secondly, the bill establishes the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Advisory Council, which I'll just refer to as the advisory council, which is intended to provide ASQA with access to expert advice regarding the functions of the regulator. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (10:36): One of the great challenges that we've all faced during the pandemic has been providing mental health and wellbeing services for people in our communities. Many of us are conscious of the direct health issues that people were challenged with—and I have spoken before on thanking our doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals for the work they did. Obviously, during such a time, for people who suffer from, for example, anxiety and depression, these issues would have been exacerbated by the circumstances that we were in and the social isolation. People who would normally be out and about and accessing their support networks—I'm thinking of the frail, the elderly and people with a disability—weren't able to do so, and the pressure that puts on people can significantly affect their mental health and wellbeing. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (10:35): I want to start my contribution today by echoing the words of the Speaker at the start of parliament and acknowledge the First Peoples of this nation. I extend that to the people of the Dharawal nation in my region. On our TVs and across social media, the words 'I can't breathe' and the video footage of an African American man held down on the street by a police officer, calling out for his mother and saying he can't breathe, have reverberated around the world. In our country, it brought back memories of David Dungay Junior, from the Kempsey area, who was three weeks away from release from Long Bay prison and was subject to restraint that caused him to cry out, 12 times, 'I can't breathe.' Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (18:22): I want to take the opportunity at the beginning of my contribution to this debate to acknowledge that it is important that we have bills before this House with the best interests of small business in mind. My area, like I'm sure those of every member in this place, is profoundly reliant on our small business operators for the employment base in my community. Recognising that, in the current context, as other speakers have said, small businesses have been at the forefront of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to acknowledge that that is certainly the case for small businesses in my area. Many small businesses have had to close because, due to the nature of their business, they were not able to continue. Some have had to massively adjust the way they participate in the local economy in order to comply with the health requirements. It was a huge stress and pressure on many businesses across a whole lot of sectors—and many of them are family businesses. In our area, there have been some amazing initiatives to support our local small businesses, as well as some amazing actions by our local small businesses to support others in the community who are struggling. I want to take a few minutes to give a bit of an acknowledgement about that in the context of this debate about small businesses. Firstly, I want to give a shout out to Toria Hope Kota, a community member who had the great idea of creating a Facebook page which she called Illawarra Menus. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (17:03): I'm pleased to be able to respond to the statement provided to the House by the Minister for Health and the shadow health minister when we last met during what has been an extraordinary challenge for all of us through this pandemic situation. I'll just update the House with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District numbers released this morning. There have been a total of 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region. Currently, thank heavens, none are hospitalised. One hundred and fifteen have recovered, and the total number of people tested is 25,152. I commend all of our health services, from the health minister and the shadow health minister, who made statements, right through to all of the authorities and the service providers that have been involved in that outcome. There is no doubt that a number of months ago we were all very concerned that we would see very different numbers to those, not only in my own region but across the country, as we saw the impacts that this pandemic was having in other countries evolving internationally. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (13:48): Parliament needs to resume a more regular meeting pattern. All members need to be able to bring to the attention of this parliament, as we face an unprecedented national challenge from the pandemic, the concerns and feedback of our local electorates and constituents. Even this week's sitting provides extremely limited opportunities for this to be done. In my electorate, I wish to record feedback, in a constructive way, on issues with people who miss out on the JobKeeper scheme and on the need to understand the pressures on casual and other irregular workers, such as those in the entertainment industry. There are also serious issues in the childcare sector and for our universities. I will try to raise these in the limited opportunities we are provided. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (10:07): While the parliament was sitting last week I received devastating news about a wonderful local lady and Wollongong City Council Labor councillor who passed away suddenly. Vicky King was a very well-regarded local and it was just devastating to hear the news that she had passed away last Tuesday. My thoughts and I'm sure the thoughts of the community I represent are with her family: her husband, Charlie; their children, Peter, Sylvia, David, Clare, Hanna and Matika; and their seven grandchildren. As a grandparent, Vicky and I would often share grandparent-boasting stories. Vicky served and advocated for our community for 19 years as a councillor. She joined council in 1987 and remained a councillor until 2004. She was re-elected to council in September 2017. She was a passionate advocate for our community, and in particular the residents of the ward she represented in the southern suburbs. The Illawarra Mercury has told great stories about Vicky taking her children to council with her. She was a trailblazer not only for women but also for mums in public life, and that was a groundbreaking action. She has always been a proud mum with funny stories about her children and grandchildren, who she loved very dearly. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (18:19):   I thank the member for Macquarie for putting this issue on the debate list today. It's not new for me, in speaking in this parliament, to talk about the experiences of constituents in my area waiting for home-care packages. It is a persistent issue and a persistent problem in electorates right across this country. It is indeed an issue that was raised in the interim report of the royal commission, to which the government responded by releasing, I will acknowledge, an additional 10,000 home-care packages. The problem is: that's less than 10 per cent of those who are actually on the waiting list, and, when you consider the way our community is ageing, there are as many people coming onto the waiting list as the bandaid of a small percentage of new packages addresses. So the problem we've got now is that the waiting list is just not being tackled. The repercussions of that are not just numbers and figures. They are people who are making really difficult decisions in their homes and their families. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (19:40): There has been much commentary today around the government's promised surplus. In fact, one would increasingly have to call it the surplus that dare not speak its name anymore. After handing down six budgets, all deficits, the government have now resorted to desperate measures to try and continue the fairytale that they are good economic managers. One of the measures that this government has resorted to in desperation—in order to try to hide that economic mismanagement—is to withhold funding from some of the most vulnerable people in our community: people with disabilities. Continue reading


Ms Bird (Cunningham) (15:56): I congratulate you on your accession to your position, Mr Deputy Speaker. We come to the end of the first sitting fortnight for 2020. I think we would all acknowledge that we came back here very conscious that the nation needed a great deal of us. But I have to say that people could only look at what's happened in this last fortnight in this parliament with a great deal of disappointment. Continue reading