Grievance Debate - South-West Sydney

02 December 2020

Today is the 48th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam government on 2 December 1972. Whitlam, as the member for Werriwa, said at that election, 'I do not for one moment believe that we should set limits on what we can achieve together for our country, our people or our future.'

Sadly, that sentiment is not something I see when I look at the support for the people of South-West Sydney now in the electorate that I have the honour to represent. Many of the legacies from that time and that government are under threat. The passing of the legislation in this place yesterday to merge the federal and family courts is just the latest example. Since the housing developments of the 1960s, people have been moving into our region for the promise of a better life and cheaper housing. But unlike the 1960s, when parks, public schools and public transport facilities were built to meet population demand, today that dream remains constantly unfulfilled. Patient residents wait for roads to be built, schools to be provided and transport links to be planned. It now takes longer on a train from Liverpool to the Sydney CBD than it did in 1980, when most of the rolling stock were red rattlers. These carriages had uncomfortable seats and they were freezing in winter and boiling in summer—but at least they were built in Australia and they were fit for purpose. Recent purchases of rolling stock from overseas by the Liberal state government had to be completely remodelled because they didn't fit in tunnels. Then we had ferries that don't allow you to sit on the top deck for fear of losing your head under bridges. It beggars belief that governments actually accepted these mistakes, or were so slipshod that contracts did not make the proper stipulations. But this is, of course, the same political party that at a federal level gave us a defence minister who said that he wouldn't trust Australians to build a canoe. Unlike the Liberals, I believe our trains, ferries and other infrastructure should be manufactured here in Australia.

On Monday the New South Wales Legislative Council tabled their report titled Current and future provision of health services in the South-West Sydney Growth Region. Following an extensive inquiry, the report found that health services in South-West Sydney are underfunded and underresourced. The South-West Sydney area health district covers the local government areas of Liverpool, Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield, Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly, and it is serviced by Liverpool, Fairfield and Campbelltown hospitals. Just over one million people live and work in the area covered by the health district. It is a diverse community with a higher than average birth rate due to the large number of young families in the area. There is an unmet need in maternity, mental health and other services. Fifty-one per cent of people in the area speak a language other than English at home. The committee found that current funding does not provide an equitable or transparent model to ensure that the people who live in our region get their fair share of services they require. The provision of those services is often hampered because of the significant number of people who require translation support.

The committee's report also highlighted that services are further impacted because of economic disadvantage. The rates of private health insurance in our region are much lower. Less than 38 per cent of households have private health insurance. The state average is 51.5 per cent. This puts further strain on public services.

In the next ten years there will be significant growth around the new Western Sydney airport. A new city, the Aerotropolis, will be built to service and benefit from the airport. But the committee's report highlights the need for land for the Aerotropolis to be secured now to provide health services for the burgeoning population growth expected. Cities require housing, commercial, retail and industrial properties, but they require hospitals and other health services. The recommendations deal with the chronic understaffing of nurses, doctors and other specialists. There's a lack of after-hours service for operating theatres, radiology and ultrasound services and GP clinics. All of this puts an increasingly unbearable burden on overworked emergency departments and their staff.

My frustration is that nothing has really changed for some time. It was the Wran and Whitlam governments of the 1970s who recognised that health services should be where people lived. They built Westmead Hospital. The first of the upgrades to Liverpool Hospital was due to another Labor government.

But health is not the only area that sees underfunding and lack of planning. Edmondson Park has no public school. Many public schools in my area are 140 per cent over capacity. Five-year-olds are being sent on a more than six kilometre trip to school every day. That, of course, makes a mockery of the 'get your children to walk to school' campaign. Edmondson Park will wait at least another three years before a school is built. That's simply not good enough for the thousands of families who were promised in glossy brochures they would have everything they needed. It took several years of community action and pressure to finally see the building of a community parking station at Edmondson Park railway station. And whilst that is better late than never, Macquarie Fields Station still doesn't have a lift despite the campaign that has gone on for many years. Young families or mobility-impaired commuters who can't negotiate the 82 steps are simply unable to get the train there. I recently met with residents and the state member for Macquarie Fields, Anoulack Chanthivong, at the station. While there, we saw a young family having to carry their baby in a pram up and down those stairs when they got off the train. This is neither optimal nor safe but, if you're older, it's impossible to negotiate.

South-west Sydney and the residents of Werriwa were dealt another blow in August when the New South Wales government decided to put a new toll on an old road, the M5 East. In addition to countless emails and phone calls, I've received over 3,000 responses to my petition to stop the toll. This is causing genuine hardship to residents and businesses in Werriwa. Charles from Hinchinbrook is one of those people who has been hit by the greedy and unfair toll. He works for Qantas at Sydney Airport and has used the M5 East for his daily commute for several years. He hasn't had to pay a single cent to use the motorway until now. In an average working week, he's now slugged an additional $140. Charles tells me that travelling times have not improved, so it's a $6,000-a-year toll for nothing in return, and that toll is going to increase four per cent every year. It's unfair and another burden to struggling families in south-west Sydney. The message from residents and businesses is clear: the new toll on an old road is daylight robbery.

And then we come to the NBN. Australia's digital infrastructure has been critical to ensuring our economy and society continue to function as efficiently as the pandemic will allow. However, this government does not take away from the continuing failures by the coalition government over seven years. I, like many, have conducted consultations, meetings, webinars and personal calls to family and friends that wouldn't have been possible without the NBN. In 2013, the coalition government promised to spend no more than $30 billion on a now admitted inferior national broadband network. This year, the government acknowledged its own policy failure and made changes to the rollout. The new plan will retrofit the NBN, reflecting Labor's original plan, which I add, would now, had it have continued, been completed in over 99 per cent of Australian households and at a lower cost. The true tragedy of the failure is not only the cost to taxpayers but the cost of frustration and stress for my constituents and those across Australia. There are still residents in Werriwa who cannot link to the NBN and who are using expensive mobile data so they can work from home or complete school assignments.

Australians have already had to wait seven years for an inferior NBN they pay too much for and now they're being asked to be patient for another four years for something they should have already had. These are just a few failures that affect the people of Werriwa. There are, of course, many more—I note that the Leppinton Triangle, ICare and sports rorts. But regardless the level of government they emanate from, they all point to the same thing: ideology that sees the price of everything and the value of nothing, a culture that fetes mates and donors over those more deserving, a form of public administration that prefers spin and public relations instead of actually governing, and the people of Werriwa and the south-west are worse off because of it. We need governments who work for the people and who provide support and build infrastructure, education and health care.