Budget Speech in Reply

All members of Parliament are invited to respond to the Governor’s speech at the beginning of the parliamentary session. That speech is written by the Government and outlines its vision for NSW. Here is my response to that speech.

I commence my contribution by congratulating the Premier and all members who were elected to serve in this Parliament at the recent election. I share the hope expressed by the member for Swansea that members will use this opportunity to improve the lot of our constituents and that when we leave New South Wales will be a better place in which to live. Months have passed since the Governor gave his opening address so earlier today I read his Speech again. At the conclusion of his Speech the Governor summarised the aspirations that politicians should have for this State. He said:

The Government went to its people with a fully funded plan to … future-proof the State. New South Wales has clearly signalled its support for that plan and the Government has made a firm commitment to New South Wales that it will deliver on the commitments so emphatically supported at the election. The Government will deliver improved infrastructure and better services, protection for our environment and communities and restore accountability across government …

They are important words. I note that Mr Scot MacDonald, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter and Central Coast, is over his post-election blues—namely, shortly after the election he said that the Hunter had spoken but it should have been a bit quieter because it would get nothing from this Government. The Government is obviously trying to work on its commitment but we would prefer it to work at a better than glacial pace. The Governor said further:

I encourage you to learn from and support each other … remember you are here to speak for your community and it is their interests that come first. Respect for each other and the people whose voice you represent is what should underpin every debate … and it is that which will lead to good policy and good outcomes for the communities you represent.

I take those laudable aims very seriously in the way in which I represent my community in this place. But it is important also for the Government to listen and meet its election commitments. Earlier today, as I often do in this place, I talked about Maitland Hospital. For a promise to remain undelivered for five years is beyond belief. The original hospital promised to us was to have 630 beds. Then it was going to be a teaching hospital, with 550 beds, and was to act as an additional resource to the existing Maitland Hospital, which had 188 beds. So we were potentially looking at having 820 beds, and a community that is growing by five people per day clearly needs a hospital to grow with it into the future. In early 2014 community discussions were held. The Government offered a blank cheque. It talked about the services, including cancer and lymphedema services, that would be delivered in this amazing new hospital. But by November 2014 the Government had changed its mind. Indeed, we saw a change of direction after the former member for Maitland advised that she would not be standing at the 2015 election. The Government then announced the existing hospital would be closed and that the new hospital would be a second tier rural referral hospital—not a tertiary hospital. The new hospital was to have a helipad, which sounded great until we realised that it was to be used to take the hard cases elsewhere. With 315 beds, the new hospital will be half the size of John Hunter and, after deducting the existing 188 beds at Maitland Hospital, there will be a total of 127 new beds. There was then some talk about 80 beds at Morisset Hospital being rolled into that figure. So after five years we are left with 47 extra beds. What a disgrace. Earlier this year other electoral candidates and I spoke with the Maitland Hospital Medical Council about historical funding issues. During those discussions doctors raised various issues, including lack of investment in the existing hospital for five years. The Labor Government spent $10 million on extending the emergency department and creating new beds but since the last election the Liberal-Nationals Government has spent nothing on our local hospital, despite the fact that every day an additional five people come to live in this area. About 7,000 to 8,000 additional people are now using this hospital but there is no extra capacity. Doctors were not able to provide the necessary services to treat this oversupply of patients and they could not wait for a new hospital to overcome pressures and issues relating to trolley block. In December last year a code red emergency was declared at Maitland Hospital because literally no beds were available. When I met with the doctors they told me that they supported the closure of the existing Maitland Hospital. I was surprised on one level but I realised that, like all workers, they want the newest technology. Some of their discussions about the collocation of services seemed to make sense but they all seemed to think that the hospital would be located on a larger site. However, this Government is not talking about a massive new hospital; it is talking about a small hospital. I tried to give them feedback from the November consultations but they would not believe it; they trusted this Government but it lied to them. I often wonder what the doctor who was present at those consultations and who came to the pre-poll in the week before the election thought about all this. He asked me why we were campaigning to save the existing Maitland Hospital when the Government was going to build an $800 million hospital. I again said that that was not the case, that he should heed what had been said during public consultations and that I would send him the notes. The next day the Government announced that it had made a commitment to spend only $400 million on the new Maitland Hospital. Recently the Minister for Health said that the Government was consulting widely on this issue. However, either her department missed the doctors or the doctors missed the memorandum that informed them they were no longer getting the large, fantastic, you-beaut hospital they thought they would be getting. The Premier has to come clean on this funding model but he still refuses to do so. Even last week in Newcastle he could not spit out the words "public-private partnership" when he was referring to the funding model. He is still keeping everyone in suspense. A couple of months ago when he was in my electorate the same thing happened. When the Government goes ahead with its PPP model, as it did in the northern beaches region, we will have two classes of medical care: there will be the haves and the have-nots. There will be those who have high-quality health care and those who do not. Those who have high-quality care will be private patients. The public patients in my electorate will lose their public hospital and have a privately funded hospital which will be a real loss to them. I am concerned because last week the president of Maitland Medical Council rang and asked me whether I had received a briefing from the Minister for Health; he wanted to know how I knew we were going to have a small hospital. I told him that I had listened to the public consultation. This Government and this health Minister did not tell the president of Maitland Medical Council that council should oppose the closure of the existing hospital because the hospital it would be getting would be only half the size of what it had been promised. When the president of the council spoke to me he was distressed, said that he felt betrayed, that he was angry and that he could not understand why the Government would lie to him. My community needs a new hospital. This will probably be the last major public hospital that is built in my area in my lifetime so I want the Government to come clean on the time frame, the modelling and the funding. More importantly, I want the Government to build this hospital. I am sick of all the talk; we have been talking about it for five years. Another issue that this Government has been talking about relates to the rail services in my area. Last week Minister Constance visited my electorate but he could not find my phone number to inform me that he was going to make an announcement about rail services in that area. He did not tell me, "I know you are interested in rail services, Jenny, so I would like to tell you what is going on." He visited my electorate, started talking about hubs, et cetera, and released a beautiful new video. Members will remember the Maitland rail story but I would like to put it on the record again. The Liberal-Nationals Coalition went to the election in 2011 saying that it would not cut rail services but it back-flipped in 2012 and in 2014 we had the race to destruction. Consultations began and community members overwhelmingly said, "Keep the rail services and keep the transport corridor active", but the Liberal-Nationals Coalition did not want to do that. We all remember the infamous Cabinet minute that was issued later that said it would cost an additional $100 million to go outside the corridor, but the Liberal-Nationals Coalition did not worry about that. Save Our Rail took the Government to court and said, "You need an Act of Parliament to do this." As the Government could not change the law there was a shifty change in ownership and it was hoped that someone else would rip up the rail line. This matter is still under appeal but the Government is proceeding with an unlawful and unwanted ripping-up of our rail line. Minister Constance has been talking about hubs and no staff so that people would know what is happening on the rail lines, which is what happened before the election. When Minister Berejiklian visited my electorate and informed us that she would be introducing a brand new train service in Maitland people were nonplussed and did not understand. Why would the Minister for Transport introduce a train service in an area in which services had just been cut? The Government took train services off the network but then provided a new service—the train from nowhere. Every day people visit my electorate office, ring me, write emails or talk to me on Facebook and tell me how unhappy they are with the rail services provided by this Government. It pains me when I hear this Government talking about infrastructure and all the things that it is building and doing as $340 million from the sale of our port will be used to rip up rail infrastructure, which is ridiculous. The other day I was speaking to a lady who told me that she had broken her foot at Hamilton station after getting off the train and getting onto the bus. People are no longer visiting Newcastle CBD which has impacted on businesses. A university will be opening in the region, there is a theatre, a regional museum and the law courts—all the services that people in Maitland and further up the valley, including the Upper Hunter, would like to access. It is disgraceful that Government members are not standing up for those communities. This Government has tasked Newcastle council with consulting commuters about the provision of rail services. However, we cannot ensure that people in my electorate, in the Upper Hunter and in other electorates will be able to have a say. The crowning idiocy of this whole debacle is the Government's stated aim of removing rail from Newcastle to clear Stewart Avenue. However, in the video we see that the light rail goes over Stewart Avenue, so what was the point—all this anger and angst for nothing. Light rail will still go over the top of Stewart Avenue. If the Government keeps just one of its promises light rail services will be running every 10 minutes, which will be more disruptive than heavy rail was in that space. Over the past four years we have been struggling with increasing unemployment under this Government. Forgacs briefed all members of Parliament but I do not know whether it met with the member for Upper Hunter. I am aware that hundreds of jobs will be lost in a number of electorates in addition to job losses at the Austar mine. On the Government's watch unemployment figures have doubled in my electorate. This Government is rolling over the defunct and underutilised payroll tax incentive scheme. Under pressure from the Opposition the Government introduced incentives for smaller employers but there has been little else.

This week members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union came to this place to advocate for manufacturing contracts for trains which could and should be built in New South Wales. However, because of economies of scale and efficiencies in tender delivery the Government has not applied that to its own procurement policies. When the chairman of Forgacs came to see me he flagged that very shortly a Canadian ship-building company would be coming to New South Wales to renew its fleet over 30 years and that it would be providing jobs in our electorate. This Government has no vision. Government members talk about efficiencies for workers and for companies but what about procurement efficiencies? If we had a strategic, planned, rolling replacement of trains people could work in the train manufacturing industry for 30 years, but this Government has no vision and young workers and their families are now left without jobs. What about the cuts to TAFE? Workers cannot retrain because 68 teachers have gone and more will go as the Government continues its dumb and dumber approach to TAFE. We need quality teaching, not just the ability to acquire qualifications. How will older workers retrain? How will they afford it? They will not. There is no help for them to get a job because their partners are employed. We cannot leave these people, who want to be productive members of our community and to contribute to our economy, without jobs. But we will have to because they will not be able to afford to retrain—

The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser): Order! The member's time has expired.

Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I seek an extension of time.

The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser): Order! I remind the member for Maitland that the normal practice in this House is to ask for an extension of time before her speaking time expires.

Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I am sorry. I was distracted by interjections.

The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser): Order! The member for Maitland should concentrate. Before I put the question, I welcome Mayor Laurie Bishop and General Manager Glenn Wilcox of Armidale Dumaresq Council. I hope the council is a little more orderly than this House. An extension of the member's speaking time is agreed to.

[Extension of time agreed to.] Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Please record that I am happy about that. I thank the House for extending my time. I appreciate it.

The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser): Order! I will have Hansard record that you are happy. Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I also extend a welcome to the members of the Armidale Dumaresq Council. I used to live in Walcha, which is quite close by, so I am very well acquainted with Armidale. Welcome to our Parliament. This week it is appropriate to talk about another matter of concern affecting our community, which is homelessness. In the year that we commemorate the Anzac centenary it is important to talk about heroes. I can think of nothing more heroic than someone who lives on the streets, who lacks access to resources and who continues every day to lead a life of sad experiences. Being a hero in this century is an everyday event; it is not the end of the battle. It is about taking the first step on the path to defeat every day but hoping that you will win. It is like trying to get a law changed when you are in opposition. It is about standing up to right a wrong. The essential quality of being a hero in this century is a deep belief in fairness, social justice and equal rights for all. That is something I am very concerned about. We need to look at how we are delivering services in our community. In 2013 the then Chief of Army, David Morrison, said in an unflinching video that very quickly went viral that there is no place in the Army for those who seek to exploit and demean their colleagues. He added:

If we are a great national institution—if we care about the legacy left to us by those who have served before us, if we care about the legacy we leave to those who, in turn, will protect and secure Australia—then it is up to us to make a difference.

I think that applies to this place as well. Those words are so powerful to me and a perfect summation of the Anzac spirit. In this year of the Anzac commemoration that is something we should honour in our day-to-day lives as politicians. My work as a politician is devoted to social justice and righting the many wrongs that hard-hearted policies have caused in my community. I am thinking of the rise in homelessness due to domestic violence and other triggers. I think of the more than 400 people who are turned away from homelessness services every night, and the more than 2,800 women fleeing abusive partners who are turned away from support services every year. Homelessness Australia has said that $33.8 million is needed from the Federal Government to help close the gap in domestic violence service provision and ensure that women fleeing their homes are not left without crisis accommodation. As a State Government, we should also ensure that we meet those obligations. My son recently visited the Wayside Chapel in Sydney as part of an innovative school excursion. He learnt the hard truths about homelessness—that teenagers who end up on the street are often raped, forced into prostitution, abused, then become drug addicted and eventually die. The heroes of organisations like the Wayside Chapel day after day provide hope, warmth, food, counselling and a hand up to homeless people in our community. These are the heroes of the twenty-first century—people who do not just talk about something needing to be done but get in and do it. Aside from the infrastructure projects that are important for my community, I believe the work these people do is vital. We have argy-bargy in this Chamber about whether people should smile while they are debating, but it is so important that we advocate for people in need. If nothing else, I want to be part of a Parliament that decreases to zero the number of women who die at the hands of a partner. I will be working to do that. That is the most important job of the Parliament and one that I urge the Government to put at its centre.

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