Address in Reply
16 Feb | '2023
I extend my congratulations to the member for Calwell for her contribution this afternoon and outline that she is doing a magnificent job for her community. I concur with many of the comments that she made and can see the pride that she is doing in her community for her community. I think that her comments were brilliant.
I also extend my community’s best wishes to those in Turkey and Syria with the earthquakes. We extend our best wishes and we will also going into some fundraising efforts, no doubt, when I return to the electorate. I had UNICEF in my office this morning as the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Association for UNICEF. We talked about the excellent efforts they are putting in, how terribly bad the situation is, and the great work that UNICEF is doing with water, food and providing safe spaces for children, particularly those who have been pulled out of the wreckage and who have lost their families. I thank the member for Calwell for that contribution. I concur and agree with many of the points you made.
Every single day it really is an honour to stand here in this place. It’s a great privilege to represent the good people of my electorate of Moncrieff. The last three years have been probably some of the most difficult in living history, and we faced significant challenges that we’ve never really faced before. We had bushfires, floods and COVID-19, and yet Australians didn’t falter. Australians remained strong and we came together as a community to support each other through some of the hardest times our country has ever seen. Australians indeed are strong. We had natural disasters and we had a pandemic that we all would like to forget but that we’ve learned now to live with.
As I look back at my time during the last term in government, I’m proud of the incredible work that the coalition did to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians. If we cast our minds back, it was actually about this time during the term that COVID hit and the government had to pivot to manage the problems that our country faced and the grave crisis that was coming towards us. The creation of JobKeeper and the JobSeeker increase ensured that millions of Australians could continue to pay their bills, keep the doors of their businesses open, keep their employees employed, put food on the table and of course, ultimately, support their families. It was a difficult time for so many across our country. It kept businesses afloat and employers connected to their workers during some of the worst economic times our country has faced. At the height of COVID, I had about 10,500 small businesses on JobKeeper, which was about double what most electorates across the country got. It was about $335 million in JobKeeper alone, give or take, that kept my electorate going. Those business people still say thank you when I walk down Cavill Avenue, when I walk through Surfers Paradise, when I walk through Broadbeach. Owners still come out and say, ‘Thank you for what the Morrison government did during the pandemic.’
We delivered a $600 million business and tourism package in conjunction with the state government. My Gold Coast neighbours, the members for McPherson and Fadden, and I strongly advocated for this in Canberra. It allowed tens of thousands of businesses, including those border communities there on the Tweed, to keep their doors open, their businesses operating, their staff employed and their very important hopes intact.
We delivered a $1.2 billion tourism package to drive economic recovery in pandemic hit industries and regions, including 800,000 half-price tickets to 15 different destinations across the country—including about 200,000 airfares into the Gold Coast. I remember at the time, when the Gold Coast Airport closed, they were midway through a $500 million upgrade to the terminal. That work is now finished, but it was certainly a desperate time, and a very uncertain time, when the airport closed. The coalition government provided certainty through JobKeeper, through the cashflow boost and through these other incentives, including a $94.6 million support package for Australian zoos and aquariums. That fed the dolphins at Sea World—it cost $1,000 a week to feed one dolphin—the tigers at Dreamworld and of course the koalas at Currumbin. I’m proud of the Moncrieff community and the work that we did together to support one another.
In March 2020, I established the Moncrieff Community Cabinet, which brought together community organisations and faith groups to support and navigate the pandemic. The first meeting that we had was on a phone hook-up—there was no video at that point because it was right at the very, very beginning of the pandemic. I wanted to be connected to my community groups and faith groups to make sure that we had a road forward. The community cabinet has continued on the other side of COVID up to today. There are some 22 members now. It’s a platform for organisations to stay connected. They work together and they support one another to achieve fantastic outcomes for our community and beyond—including raising funds and delivering goods down to the Lismore flood victims, and up to Brisbane as well. We weren’t impacted on the Gold Coast by the floods and so we were able to help them.
I just want to talk about some of those community cabinet members. As I said, there are 22 representatives in the Moncrieff Community Cabinet: two chambers of commerce; four state MPs; five faith groups, including the Anglican Reverend Jim Raistrick, who does a fantastic job. We have St John’s Crisis Centre in Surfers Paradise, which was so important as an emergency relief provider during COVID. It does such an amazing job.
We also have Father Romanos from the Greek Orthodox Church. The church also did a drive during the floods and sent some relief down to those in Lismore who were suffering. We have the Sikh community, who have a marvellous temple out in Nerang. Goodness me, they made hundreds and hundreds of meals every day to help those who needed extra help but couldn’t leave their homes during COVID. The Islamic Society, who also do great work, is represented by Hussain Baba on the Moncrieff Community Cabinet. They’ve done great work in feeding the community—particularly those of Islamic faith, but also others more broadly. We also have the Jewish Rabbi Adi Cohen as part of the Moncrieff Community Cabinet, and I note the fantastic work that his church does. We have not-for-profit organisations there too. Volunteering Gold Coast is on the community cabinet. They do amazing work. Karen Phillips, the 2018 Gold Coast Citizen of the Year is also on the Moncrieff Community Cabinet. If you don’t know Karen on the Gold Coast, you’re not worth knowing, because she knows absolutely everybody and she’s a heavy lifter in our community. Andy Rajapakse was the district governor of Rotary International and is also on the community cabinet. Mokh Singh, from the Sikh community, is as well, as is Cornelia Babbage OAM, from Multicultural Families Organisation, who has done great work and worked so hard through COVID. Anna Zubac, from The Migrant Centre, did such important work to look after refugee migrants. There is Yas Matbouly, from Serving Our People, a great charity on the Gold Coast, and Marco Renai, from Men of Business Academy, which helps youth who are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system get through year 11 and year 12 and produces very fine men. ‘Building better men’ is their motto, and it’s a fantastic intervention program that really does get results program that really does get results for young people. As the shadow minister for youth, I have keen, continuing interest in what they do at Men of Business in Southport. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone. Pushpinder Oberoi recently has joined, representing the Indian community, and he recently received a medal from the Prime Minister of India for his work between Australia and India. I have a fantastic GOPIO community on the Gold Coast that he also represents. The Baha’i faith is also represented on the Moncrieff Community Cabinet.
Shortly after establishing the Moncrieff Community Cabinet, I established the City Heart Taskforce and delivered the REIMAGINE Gold Coast job skills and industry forums 2020 and 2021, which set the scene for the future of job skills and industry on the Gold Coast, looking at innovation, looking at workforce—looking at the areas that are now top of mind. The City Heart Taskforce convened as the first and only think tank on the Gold Coast and brought together leaders from key sectors across small business, tourism, events, education, construction, manufacturing arts and sports. Now we’ve added the key pillar of sustainability and environment to the City Heart Taskforce and its 12 members. I paid tribute to one of our members, Matthew Schneider, whom we lost, in this very place last sitting week. Matt will be sorely missed on the City Heart Taskforce in our regular meetings.
We developed a cohesive framework with outcome focused strategies to hasten our recovery from the pandemic, create job opportunities and rebuild, simply, our city heart. Now we focus on stewarding industry and business to parameters and requirements around net zero and Labor’s new IR laws, which will negatively impact business, and they need to be aware of that. I was proud to deliver for our local community during COVID-19 the $596,400 upgrade to the Nerang Community Bowls Club as part of the Building Better Regions Fund. That fund, as we know, has now been scrapped by the Albanese government, but in its time it insured that the club could continue to serve its many local members and the wider constituency and community for the good people of Nerang. I attended the opening just before Christmas, and it’s been truly transformative in the clubhouse. It is a very nice environment indeed to have a beer and talk to those who live in the Nerang community.
I would also like to thank those in my community, who I won’t name, who helped form the committees that worked through all the applications for funding rounds for local sporting champions, volunteer grants, the Stronger Communities grants and the Safer Communities grants. These are very serious rounds of grant funding that help communities to be safer and deliver better facilities for our communities, and I was very pleased to work on committees that I formed; we were able to work out where the funding is to go.
But it wasn’t just the hard work of government or community and industry leaders that got us through the pandemic, it was also the hard work of our front-line workers, who kept our country in a strong position. It was nurses, GPs, aged-care workers, early childhood educators, teachers, ADF personnel, retail workers, truck drivers and so many more. They worked around the clock to ensure that Australians could continue to access essential medicines, groceries and support when they needed it.
I remember the early days of the pandemic, watching as COVID-19 turned countries absolutely on their heads. Those countries still struggle today towards economic recovery. The pandemic caused untold sadness and emotion as countries like Italy faced skyrocketing death tolls, the bodies of loved ones filling the streets. It wasn’t that long ago. I remember when it gripped India, and a shortage of ventilators sent their hospitals into chaos. We all remember those news stories. I pay tribute to former health minister Greg Hunt and the job that he did in that role. As he used to say, there were many countries who looked towards Australia during COVID and wished they’d been in our position. And although thousands of Australians lost their lives during COVID, many thousands were saved due to the hard work, dedication and quick decision-making of the coalition government, our health experts and, of course, the wider community.
As we chart our way out of the pandemic, we find ourselves in a better position than many countries around the world. The coalition’s record of strong fiscal management, which I outlined at the beginning, meant that we were able to provide billions in economic support during the bushfires, the pandemics and the floods. But the pandemic has left a changed world in uncertain times, there’s no doubt. Rising inflation, interest rates, fuel and energy prices—everybody knows that these cost more. Everyday items continue to increase. Breakfast at your local cafe is expensive. The cost of living for Australian families no doubt is going through the roof.
While we know that Labor has never been good with money, it’s never been more crucial that this Labor government does not fall into its usual traps. We need to make sure that it spends Australians’ taxes where Australians need it most. And let’s not forget—the last time Labor was in government, spending got so out of control it had to stop paying for essential things Australians needed, like medicines. But with the cost of living set to increase further and with interest rates continuing to rise, the government needs to ensure that it is doing all it can to reduce those pressures for everyday Australians. What we’ve seen from the government so far has been all talk and not much action. As the opposition, we’ll work tirelessly to hold it to account on all the promises it’s made over the nine years that it was in opposition.
They made promises like cheaper child care for all Australians. Since coming to opposition, I’ve been appointed as the shadow minister for early childhood education, and I’m very proud of the coalition’s record in this space. We undertook the biggest reforms in over 40 years, which saw 1.2 million more children in care. Over 280,000 more children are in early childhood education because of those reforms of which I’m so proud. I pay tribute to the former minister Alan Tudge for the work that he did.
The women’s workforce participation rate was at an historic record high when we left office. We left the place in pretty good shape—women’s workforce participation was 62.3 per cent. When Labor left office last time, it was 58.7 per cent. We’ll see how the participation rate goes after we’ve seen the effects of the $4.7 billion cheaper child care bill, which, I remind the Prime Minister, we did support. We did highlight the flaws in that bill with an amendment, but we did support cheaper child care for families. I think he said earlier today in the chamber that we didn’t support it. Well, we did support it, so I would like to correct the record on that.
During the last election, the government made a number of big promises to make child care cheaper. They committed $4.7 billion to increase subsidies for families earning a combined $530,000. That’s $4.7 billion, and not a single dollar will increase the places in early learning centres across the country. There are no new places across the country. While the opposition supports more access to care for working families, we’ve also raised a number of concerns, including that there are no plans to increase access, no plans to address current workforce shortages and no plans to address thin markets and what we know as ‘child care deserts’. Providers are closing their books, they’re capping their enrolments and they’re asking parents to keep their children at home, because there are simply not enough places. What’s the government going to do to ensure there are more places for children? They’re not doing anything in this space, which begs the question: what is the benefit of offering higher subsidies to more families if those families can’t actually access child care? What is the point of doing that?
I’m not the only one who wants to know the answer. The many families I’ve spoken to in regional, rural and remote Australia want to know the answer, too. My coalition colleagues want to know the answer. Families in Barker, Mallee, Forrest and Grey want to know what the government is doing to increase access to child care. In my own regional urban electorate, I saw 400 on a waiting list at one of the centres that I visited recently. These are just some of the electorates across Australia that have a large number of childcare deserts, where there is no access at all.
I’m going to move forward now and spend some time on my Moncrieff Community Cabinet. I congratulate all of those on the cabinet for the work that they’ve done. I want to put some thank you’s into to this speech. I want to acknowledge the many who supported Moncrieff at the last election. I thank the Moncrieff federal divisional council of the Liberal and National parties for your ongoing support and tireless campaigning as blue soldiers on the ground during pre-poll and on election day. I thank the chairman, Viv Grayson, for four years of service. His wife, Di, is the treasurer. Gail Copely is the vice-chair, whose birthday it is today, actually. Happy birthday, Gail! Sue Lipp is the secretary. In May 2022, when we were all faced with relentless wild weather and rain, my first thought when I woke up that morning was for the volunteers putting up bunting and signs in the very, very heavy rain. It was an awful day, all day, on election day, but they were there, putting up signs. You all did so much work, and I’m grateful for your individual and your collective efforts, and for your unwavering loyalty to the party and of course to the office of the member of Moncrieff.
To my party, indeed, I owe it all. To my whole team: thank you all so much for what you do every day—for your patience, for your loyalty and for your dedication to the good people Moncrieff, and also for supporting the member for Moncrieff here in Canberra every sitting week.
To finish, to the great people of Moncrieff—who have now been elevated from the ‘good people’ to the ‘great people’ of Moncrieff!—thank you once again for choosing me to be your voice in our federal parliament. I truly love my community and it’s a role that I will never, ever take for granted. I remain deeply humbled by you support. Most importantly, I promise to put your needs before all else. That is my pledge to you.