01 June 2021


In making some remarks about this budget I want to concentrate on the complete lack of support that is being given to infrastructure and, in particular, addressing the infrastructure deficit that exists in outer metropolitan areas and specifically, in my case, north-west Sydney. I know, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be acutely aware of this with south-west Sydney's growth certainly comparable to north-west Sydney and, in particular, the importance of investing in health infrastructure in those growth areas.

It was certainly disappointing, but not surprising, to see the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 May: '"Nothing" in the budget for public hospitals under pressure'. I quote from the Australian Medical Association President, Dr Omar Khorshid, who said there was 'nothing' in the budget for public hospitals. He agreed with that statement. He said:

Although, yes, the government is spending 45 per cent of the cost of running public hospitals, and they seem to think that absolves them of any responsibility for how they're run, every state and territory has public hospitals in crisis. So regardless of whose fault that is, the only solution is a national solution.

And nothing could be more true.

Part of my frustration with this budget is that, despite racking up a trillion dollars in debt, spending $100 billion of new money, the Liberals and Nationals have not dedicated a cent to specifically improving health infrastructure in my community. As I said, north-west Sydney is one of the fastest-growing places in New South Wales, if not Australia, yet we have federal and state Liberal governments on an appalling go-slow when it comes to infrastructure spending. You can look at other projects in my area, like the Schofields commuter car park, which is a prime example of neglect and incompetence. It is a project that was supposed to be delivered in 2020 and is now, allegedly, to be delivered this year. It's not the multi-storey car park that was promised but an at-grade car park, and we are still waiting for it.

One of my biggest sources of frustration is the supposed Rouse Hill Hospital. I use inverted commas for 'hospital' here because I'm not sure you could even call it that, given it will not include an emergency department. It has been announced and re-announced so many times that we have lost count. It was announced, with much media fanfare, in the lead-up to the 2015 state election. This is so typical of the Liberals when it comes to essential infrastructure in our local communities: all announcement, no delivery. They're always there for the photos and the media opportunities, but when it comes to actual delivery they are nowhere to be soon. Once the posters and the bunting came down and the election buzz petered out, what were we left with? Just crickets.

In the lead-up to the 2019 state election there was another announcement as the New South Wales Liberals finally decided on the site for the new hospital. You might think: 'Well, clearly they were spending those four years doing all of their due diligence. Surely they've spent their time working with landholders, engaging with the community, making sure they've picked a suitable site?' Alas, no. Jump forward to March this year, two years after the last state election, and the New South Wales Liberals send out another media release: 'We've picked a new site, ladies and gentlemen.' Why did they have to do that? Because they hadn't undertaken the studies necessary to making sure the first site was viable in first place. So what were they doing for those four years? It really makes you think.

But get this: only in the last week was the New South Wales Liberal government forced to clarify that the proposed new site they'd chosen wouldn't clash with a major residential development proposed for the same site! You couldn't make this stuff up, Mr Deputy Speaker. At the same time the New South Wales Liberal government was hosing down suggestions that there was even a clash, the hapless local Liberal member was firing off to constituents a letter saying: 'Don't worry. We'll just acquire the land if we need to. Don't worry about it.' If you're confused, Mr Deputy Speaker, you're not alone; so are the people of north-west Sydney, whom this New South Wales Liberal government treats like absolute mugs. Locals have had enough and I've have enough. The frustration is also levelled at this Morrison government, which, it would seem, doesn't care much for improving health care in our community.

Assuming the New South Wales government can get its act together—and that's a big assumption here—imagine what federal investment could do for a new Rouse Hill Hospital. It could maybe even broaden the project to include—God forbid!—an emergency department. We're talking about an important piece of health infrastructure that, in particular, will ease pressure on Blacktown hospital. We know, Mr Deputy Speaker Freelander, that it has its own specific challenges, which I've raised in here many times, and this government seems happy to ignore them. If you live in Grantham Farm, Riverstone or Schofields, you should not need to travel to Blacktown hospital in an emergency. That's why I've launched—and it is receiving incredible support—my Rouse Hill Hospital petition calling on the federal and state governments to get on with the job of delivering the health infrastructure that we desperately need in north-west Sydney. I have already had scores of locals joining this campaign to send the government a message, which is: 'Get on with it. Build the Rouse Hill Hospital you promised. Build it with the emergency ward that residents deserve.'

Having had time to digest this budget, many Australians are no doubt scratching their heads about what the actual point of this government is. Where is the long-term vision? Where is the willingness to address complex problems with visionary policy proposals to take us to the next stage, beyond the pandemic? Where was the strategy to support local jobs and local workers?

Unlike this stale, eight-year-old government without a plan, Labor does have a strong vision to support working and middle-class families and create an economy that works for everyone. Take, just as one example, Labor's childcare policy. Under this Prime Minister, childcare costs are going through the roof. It's placing serious financial pressure on families in my community. In fact, many parents in Western Sydney aren't able to work additional days without being penalised. We have all met that constituent who says, 'I would like to work four days a week. I would like to work an additional shift, but it's simply not worth my while. I end up losing money because of the cost of child care.' That should not be the case. This is an economic issue. This is a drain on Australia's productivity when you have citizens—and, by and large, they are women—who are forced to exit the workforce or not fully participate in the workforce as a result of childcare costs.

Months later, after this announcement, this government woke up and, after eight years of being in power, decided, 'We'd better have something to say about this.' But, as with all things when it comes to this government, you always need to read the fine print. The fine print is that only eight per cent of families will benefit from the federal Liberal childcare proposal, compared to Labor's, where 92 per cent of families will be better off. It seems that yet again this so-called Liberal family-friendly budget is anything but. It is all smoke and mirrors.

Further to Labor's vision of a fairer and more productive Australia is our Housing Australia Future Fund, a proposal developed by my good friend the member for Blaxland. An Albanese Labor government will create a $10 billion off-budget housing fund to build social and affordable housing and create thousands of jobs now and in the longer term. It is notable that in the first five years the investment return will build around 20,000 social housing properties, with 4,000 allocated for women and children fleeing family violence and older women on low incomes at risk of homelessness. I think those two points are really important.

I have initiatives and community groups in my local area. In some cases they have been formed as part of specific cultural groups, but they cater to all people. In particular, I want to call out the Harman Foundation and House of Sakina, two groups I have been closely associated with. These are people who are often having to battle the impact of family violence in a culturally specific community. In many cases family violence is still seen as something taboo, as something that cannot be called out. In some cases, unfortunately, there are circumstances where someone trying to flee a situation is told, 'You actually can't. You have no rights.' It is really a depressing situation that I have seen in so many cases. The important thing to note here is these people who are running these organisations receive little or no government funding at a state or federal level. They are eligible for some grants here and there, and I want to thank the local councils—in particular, Blacktown City Council—but also many community organisations, including our local clubs. Blacktown Workers Club, for example, was a major sponsor of the Harman Foundation's recent fundraising efforts.

The point is that these organisations are essentially renting on the private market to provide women's refuge services for at-risk, vulnerable women, who in some cases can't even speak English, who don't understand their rights and who are in an environment where they really do feel trapped. These are some of the most vulnerable people you can think of, and the only people they are able to turn to are these organisations that are receiving little to nothing in terms of government funding. That is why I think that targeting this is so important for those community groups to remain viable.

Secondly—and I did not fully appreciate it until I was educated in this—I note the fastest-growing and unfortunately biggest group of homeless in Australia is in fact older women. That's for a variety of factors—women whose marriages may end later in life, who haven't accumulated savings or superannuation, who haven't worked for a while. They find themselves, literally overnight, sleeping on other people's lounges or sleeping in their cars. This is an area that I think has been overlooked for far too long. So I commend this policy for having the foresight to address these key issues.

I think it's also really important that the fund will also go towards the construction of 10,000 affordable housing properties for the heroes of this pandemic, the frontline workers who have kept Australia running over the past 18 months or so. It will directly support over 21,000 full-time jobs across the construction industry—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Freelander ): Order. It being 1.30, the debate is interrupted in accordance with the resolution agreed to on 13 May. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour. The member for Greenway will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.