Resumed from 21 June.
[speeches and comments of various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 3.15 pm ]: I also rise to speak to the Loan Bill 2017. As was stated in the government’s second reading speech, this will be the largest loan act authorisation on record. I also note, as has been said by many other members, that $11 billion is a lot of money. Of course, we do not know yet what the $11 billion will be spent on. As such, I want to give some ideas to the government of the sorts of things that I think it might want to consider as expenditure as part of this $11 billion. I note that the government will be commencing its commission of inquiry into the previous government’s expenditure, and I do not wish to pre-empt what might come out of that inquiry, but I will make some broad comments a bout some of the previous government’s expenditure.
Elizabeth Quay is perhaps not what a Green government would have spent money on as a priority, but I recognise that it is here now, so I am hoping that, as it has been built, people will utilise it, and I hope it ends up becoming a significant place in the Perth central business district, as was envisaged. I also want to make a brief comment about the new Perth Stadium. I do not feel the need to revisit the discussion on whether Burswood was the right location, but now that it is almost finished I am looking forward to its opening, and to seeing how it works. It looks like a pretty impressive building from the outside, and my personal view is that the architecture of the Perth Stadium is stunning. I am hoping that the expenditure will be worth it. I note that the past eight years has been a time of enormous change in the Perth CBD. It is a bit pointless now going over whether it was money well spent at the time. It has been spent, and my hope is that we will at least get to enjoy that large-scale investment into the future. Some of this has not been just state government money. It has included projects such as the sinking of the railway line, which I think is a really great idea. It has nevertheless cost a lot of money for both state and federal governments, and I hope we are going to be able to take full advantage of this expenditure in the future. As someone born and bred in Perth, I note that the nature of the Perth CBD landscape has changed dramatically, I think for the better. There needs to be a recognition that this money has been spent, and I do not feel the need to spend the next four years rehashing whether it was a good use of money at the time.
I also welcome scrutiny of royalties for regions, not because I disagree with the general principles behind the establishment of the royalties for regions program, but I suppose I am concerned that perhaps some of the expenditure that went through that program was not the best use of the available funds. I would welcome close scrutiny of how that money will be utilised, but I recognise that a good proportion of that royalties for regions money was being spent on, in many cases, a chronic backlog of infrastructure requirements that were really needed in the regions. Again, I cannot dismiss an entire program holus-bolus without recognising that some good has come out of it.
My concern now that we are in a very tight fiscal environment is that we make sure that we do not lose sight of the need to fund necessary services, particularly services that assist the most vulnerable in our community, and that we continue to invest in those services to help break the cycle of disadvantage, because, ultimately, if they do not receive the appropriate level of intervention and support, that will lead to greater expense for the taxpayer in the longer term. That is particularly so from a generational perspective. I suggest that some of the money we now need to invest in our human services will benefit us greatly within a decade. However, I recognise that that is going to be a bit of a hard sell, and it is particularly a hard sell within a short-term political time frame. I note that what I will be advocating for in this place will mean that early investment and intervention prevention services in a range of areas, which I will go into, will not to necessarily result in the sorts of positive outcomes in a four-year time frame and will not necessarily look like it is value for money. We can always get short-term gains — we see in a range of services that there is always some level of improvement — but turning around systemic cycles of disadvantage takes longer.
Before I go into the detail, I point out Mr Acting President, there seems to be an error on the clock. I draw your attention to standing order 21 that provides that I should have unlimited time to speak. I look forward to seeing the clock turned off.
Hon Alanna Clohesy interjected.
Hon ALISON XAMON : Hon Diane Evers is the lead speaker and I am the leader. I look forward to the clock being turned off. Thank you for that.
I make the point that I will be scrutinising the budget very carefully to see how this $11 billion is ultimately going to be spent. The government is going to need to make sure that this money counts.
The sorts o f things that we generally need to invest money in is anything that will contribute to training and job creation, but also in areas of early intervention and prevention. I want to start by talking about the need to adequately fund the “ Western Australian Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015 – 2025”, which is something I have spoken about in this place before. The purpose of this plan, which came to fruition under the previous government and has received bipartisan support, recognises that if we do not start looking at serious investment in early intervention and prevention services in mental health, particularly supporting community-managed mental health services to provide assistance to people, we are going to be paying for that cost in the long run, particularly through very expensive acute and subacute services. We already know that this is where far too much of the mental health budget is being spent. It is wrong that someone who is seriously unwell must finally get support for a long-term mental health issue by turning up to an emergency department. It is very rare for people to become mentally unwell overnight; it tends to happen gradually. If we are to encourage earlier access to services, that means we should effectively be enabling people to stay in employment, in housing and to continue to be contributing members of the community.
One thing the 10-year services plan has identified in particular is the sort of investment that will be required to meet needs going to 2025. However, we have already seen a deviation from an underinvestment in the minimum requirement that was identified in the plan to keep us on track. I am concerned that within a constrained fiscal environment, and although the Greens will be supporting the Loan Bill for an additional $11 billion, that the temptation will exist to continue to simply throw money at the acute end, where I recognise there is a desperate need right now. We cannot turn people away, although people are being turned away, but we should not be turning people away from acute and subacute services who need them. However, at the same time we have to look at continuing on the path of investing in community-managed mental health services. Community-managed mental health services are very well equipped t o provide the sort of flexibility, innovation and very strong-on-the-ground services that assist people with a range of mental health issues. They can be targeted and specialised, whether it is an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, schizoid-affective disorder, depression or anxiety, whether it is dealing with young people or the LGBTI community, whether it is dealing with transcultural needs, or whether it is an older person. A range of areas can be covered through this sector, but it needs investment. Instead, in the previous budget we saw a winding back of these essential services even in the face of a 10-year services plan that had already identified the desperate need for additional investment.
I also point to a particular provision within the 10-year services plan that is often overlooked and that I hope receives the sort of investment that it is going to require — that is, the provision in the 10-year services plan that addresses the need to improve our navigation of services. The trouble with navigation is that we need to be able to invest in supporting the frameworks of people coming together to best ensure that people are better able to navigate services. I mentioned in my Address-in-Reply contribution that one of the mechanisms that has been created an d that needs to be invested in and supported is the Mental Health Network, jointly established by both the Department of Health and the Mental Health Commission. The Mental Health Network has brought together multidisciplinary clinicians, lived experience, primary health and community-managed mental health services to bring together a shared wisdom to figure out how to best navigate through mental health services. It is really important that we get this right. Far too often, I suspect that members, particularly members who have been here for some time, have encountered constituents who have come to their offices saying they need help with their daughter, husband, a friend’s family or someone they know who has a mental health issue and the constituents want to know where to go. The reality is that a lot of time, even with the resources of an electorate office, it is difficult to give advice on where people are best placed to go. If people are aware of a specialised and appropriate service and know how to navigate through the service, they will be able to access the level of support they require. This is a key area that we need to look at. We need to ensure we do not leave it to the side. The Mental Health Commission has this very firmly on its radar. With very limited resources, it is trying to look at how best to address this issue of navigation. The one thing that will not help is continuing to pull resources out of government bodies like the Mental Health Commission and entities that have been created that largely rely on volunteer activity like the Mental Health Network. This money is well spent because it helps people to better access the services they need. It also helps services better understand how they need to work with each other so that people who nee d mental health support for whatever issue they are encountering can navigate the various levels of support that should be made available to them.
I also want to suggest that a good investment of money is the proposal to establish the mental health recovery college. A number of people are very well placed to develop a framework around this policy, including consumers, carers, service providers, peak bodies and clinicians, who have been coming together to develop a particular model. This is a really great way to help people with mental health issues develop a range of supports and life skills to better aid their recovery from mental illness. This is an example of money well spent. It would be great if the government could look at this.
I also note that one of the initiatives that the previous government invested in, and that I certainly think needs to continue to receive support, is the independent placement services. Members probably have no idea what that is, so I will tell them. IPS is a program that is primarily a responsibility of the federal government but, in its wisdom, the state government also chose to invest in it in the past. It usually supports people with quite severe mental illness to make their way back into the workforce. It has a number of benefits. Firstly, it is really great for people who have got themselves in a cycle of needing disability support payments to find a pathway out of entrenched poverty. It is an amazing program that assists people to get back to work at a manageable level with the necessary support to enable them to successfully hold on to that employment. It has a secondary benefit as well. We cannot understate the importance and value of what we term “occupation” — in this case, I am talking specifically about paid employment — to people’s recovery. It really makes a difference. If we speak to somebody who has an ongoing mental health issue, we find that gaining assistance to get back into the workforce has immeasurable benefit from not only a financial perspective, but also from a mental health perspective. As people get more and more well, they are able to return to full-time work or maybe they will be employed permanently in the part-time workforce. In any event, it is a good investment of funds and we should be supporting people to do this.
I also wanted to talk about suicide prevention. The previous government made a pretty hefty investment in suicide prevention, and I need to acknowledge that. I hope that that continues. It really needs to continue. Some of the things that came out of the previous suicide prevention strategies were not entirely successful. Some of the community action plans worked — they were brilliant — but some of the community action plans were probably not a great use of money. Before I was appointed to the Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention, a decision was made after reviewing that program to recommend a different approach to access funding. It has been recognised that suicide prevention funding needs a very heavy investment for a range of people. Obviously, the issue of Aboriginal suicide in this state in particular is a travesty. Regional members in particular who represent the Mining and Pastoral Region and also parts of the Agricultural Region would be aware of the desperate need to address the is sue of Aboriginal suicide. That is all too clear. It is a really difficult issue to tackle. It is not a matter of just throwing money at the issue and setting up a program so we can suddenly address generational impacts of colonialism, racism, disadvantage and poverty. That has to be recognised. A lot is really wrong, including the fact that the federal government throws money at this area but does not even bother coordinating anything with the state government. If it has tonnes of money, it should give it to us.
Another part of the problem is that we need to ensure that local communities that are really well placed to run local programs get the support that they need. It is a fact that no one program can cover Aboriginal suicide. When we start getting into the Kimberley and Pilbara, the reality is that strategies differ from community to community, and that takes investment and work. I urge this government not to give up on investment in this area. To do so would be an absolute tragedy. The generational effects of what is happening with Aboriginal suicide are with us for a very long time, so that needs to be looked at. Likewise, we have recognised that there are whole areas of risk, particularly the acknowledged need for a lot of our farmers, who are a stoic bunch, but during times of natural disaster, drought and economic hardship they can be quite at risk. This is exacerbated by a sense of stoicism by some of these men who are not used to asking for help, and also isolation, which can be a massive issue along with, dare I say it, ready access to means. We have some really great programs out there but they are always looking for more money and more support to carry out those outreach services. The wonderful thing about this is that it is not just about suicide prevention; it is also about teaching men how to look after their mental health more generally. In my opinion, that is money well spent. I would certainly like to see this $11 billion contributing towards that.
As I mentioned before — members will hear me talk about this quite often for the next four years — the Australian-first pilot program assists children who have been bereaved by suicide. By children, I mean those under the age of 18, particularly when they lose a parent or sibling to suicide. We know that these children are significantly at risk of taking their own lives and developing serious mental health issues. Early intervention has been demonstrated to have an amazing effect. We will not see the positive outcomes for these children for 10 or 15 years. We need to recognise that investment now saves lives later. It also saves money because it means that we are less likely to have children who will be in the mental health system as a whole. It would be very easy to pull the funding from that area, but the government should not do that because it is a really important program that is absolutely essential. I can assure members that if money is pulled from this program, I am not going to shut up about it. Let us see whether we can invest in these areas. I spoke last night about the need to make sure that we keep open programs like Living Proud, which is the former gay and lesbian counselling service, so that we can continue to provide specialised services around suicide prevention, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex people. To keep the service open we are talking about $80 000 a year, which is funding that will be discontinued. We are not talking about huge amounts of money. I really hope that out of this $11 billion, this government will find a way to invest $80 000 in Western Australia ’s only dedicated, award-winning service of 43 years that is helping to save the lives of LGBTIQ people. There are so many other areas within the suicide prevention strategy that need investment. We have a youth strategy, for example. The issue of youth suicide is devastating and it destroys the lives of parents. I am sure that I am not the only person in this place who knows people who have lost a child to suicide. For the sake of investment in specialised programs that can provide outreach services, teach resilience and support youth, let us not scrimp and save on this area, please.
I am going to be encouraging this government to make sure that we keep providing money to services in the suicide prevention sector. This government needs to not only avoid winding back services, but also invest in them properly. A caveat to that is this: I recognise that there are a lot of well-meaning organisations and people who put their hand out and want to run suicide prevention services, but it is a serious business. I am the first person to say that we need to be diligent with how this money is spent. We need to make sure that when we invest in these sorts of services, they are right for the community and they have some sort of clinical oversight and evidence base to demonstrate that they work. This was part of my criticism of the first round of funding for the community action plan. Some of the CAPs had all those things and, as I said, they were brilliant and a number of them went on to make an application in the second stage of suicide prevention funding and were successful in getting it. However, I also know that some of the CAPs, although terribly well meaning, were just pap and not a particularly good use of money. Sometimes a service can do more harm than good in the suicide prevention space if its people do not know what they are doing. We need to recognise the need for diligence around this issue. I know that members here either have got or will get in the future correspondence from well-meaning constituents stating, “I had a friend who committed suicide, so I have decided to set up this organisation that is going to help people to deal with suicide.” It is very well meaning and it happens all the time; it is a general response to suicide — I absolutely understand that. However, not every service should necessarily receive government money. We need to ensure that we never do more harm than good by putting money towards suicide prevention services that are not really suicide prevention services. These are the sorts of things that this government could start with in terms of the $11 billion.
Of course, part of the 10-year plan also dealt with the issue of alcohol and other drug services. We know that there is a desperate need for more services in this area. We know that the community down south, for example, has been asking for additional beds and services for the last 30 years. We need to free up the money and stick with the plan to make sure that we start providing services for people who want to deal with their addictions to alcohol and other drugs. One of the saddest things in the world to see is when people hit rock bottom due to their alcohol or drug use and get to the point of saying, “I need to do something about this. I want to do something about this.” Too often it happens because the Department for Child Protection and Family Support has got involved and they have lost their children and just realised that their life has fallen apart. One of the worse things to happen in this state is that these same people who have hit rock bottom and are ready to turn their lives around are then told, “We’re really sorry. It’s going to be six months until you can get a rehabilitation bed to be able to deal with your addiction.” The sad thing is that sometimes we lose these people for good. Sometimes they either do not survive through suicide or simply end up dying from their addiction. The other thing is that from a cost perspective, it is just poor management. It mean s that people are in limbo for six months, children spend six months too long within the child protection services, which is expensive, and the human cost is enormous. This is the one area that I would really like to see us to invest some of this $11 billion into so that the minute someone has the realisation and makes the decision that they need to deal with their addiction, they can get the support to deal with it. The one thing that I want is for people to not be addicted to alcohol and other drugs, particularly drugs like ice, which devastates families and just is one of the ugliest drugs that I have ever seen in my life in terms of its impact on people, families and communities that are left to deal with the legacy of ice.
I urge members to look at the 10-year services plan that maps it all out. It actually states what services we need, the time frame in which we need them and how we need to make sure that we invest in them — it is all there. Sometimes people have said to me, “We shouldn’t take notice of it because it’s a Liberal document”, to which my response is, “Grow up”. It is a document that was created under a Liberal government but with enormous community input and, importantly, input from people with expertise from within the mental health and alcohol and other drugs sector. I see it as a sector document. It has had enormous input from clinicians, experts and people who know what we need in this state. We need to make sure that we keep up with the identified investments. That is what we should do with a good portion of the government’s $11 billion. My strong advice to the government is: stick with the plan.
I also want to talk about our very expensive, overcrowded, bulging-at-the-seams prisons. As I have said before in this place, the one thing that I want from our prisons is that once people are in there, they have the capacity to turn their lives around so that they do not reoffend and go back in. As someone who has had a lot to do with prisons, I can tell members now that we have a serious underinvestment in training services within our prisons in particular. Many of the people who go into our prisons have not even managed to complete year 10. They have very limited skills and have not had the opportunity to be trained. They have come from backgrounds of disadvantage and have simply not had a lot of the opportunities that people in this place have had. There should be the opportunity to skill people up and to make sure they get training — in some cases making sure that they are literate — so that when they leave prison, they are better able to hold down employment, live successfully in the community and not reoffend. As I said in this place a week ago, part of dealing with that cycle of reoffending is making sure that we have proper health, mental health, dental, and alcohol and other drug services in our prisons. To anyone who thinks that those services are already there in abundance, I am really sorry, but that is not the case. We find that not putting money into those services means that we are continuing cycles of disadvantage, with people not being able to get well, to leave prison, to be whole and to become contributing members of the community. If they are women, they are also less likely to be able to get their children back, so once again there is the issue of child protection. We need to turn the prison system into an opportunity to get people out so they do not go back in, because that return is costing us a fortune. We need to look at investment in those services now. Concern has been raised with me about the decision to merge corrective services with the Department of the Attorney General and turn it into the Department of Justice. I know that doing so will mean that there is less transparency over what is happening with the corrective services budget, and we may not get an idea of how money is being spent in our prisons. That is something I will certainly keep a close eye on. I consider that investing money to deal with the crisis in our prisons out of the $11 billion that this government is being handed would be money well spent.
I also want to talk about child protection. We have record numbers of children in the child protection system at the moment. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and I think we need to do all we can to support children in the child protection system to live the best life they can. Almost without exception, those children have witnessed some degree of trauma and they are at higher risk of going on to have mental health issues or are already experiencing them. There are obviously issues with attachment and a whole raft of challenges that children should frankly never have to face. We know that we need to give more support to foster carers. The foster care system is already very much overstretched. Foster carers and also grandcarers have been saying for some time that they often just need support with little things. We need to recognise that investment now in children who have been caught up in the child protection system will save us money in the future. That is true even if someone does not care about kids, and if someone does not care about kids, they probably should not be here. Investing in the child protection system is money well spent. As part of avoiding children going to the child protection system in the first place, we need to ensure that those programs are appropriately resourced. The department needs to be enabled to better support families who are at risk of losing their children. Often these parents have not had the advantage of being raised in stable family environments themselves and need to have additional support to be able to best support their own children, whom they love. They love their children as much as anyone else does, but they need to get the support to develop the skills and environment to better raise their children. That is money well spent. The government should feel free to put money into that; that would be tops.
The other area of child protection that needs investment, and something spoken about by the Western Australian Council of Social Service, is additional support for children who turn 18 years of age and are leaving foster care. This is a really vulnerable time for children. It is the time services effectively stop because they turn 18, but 18 is pretty young, and it can be particularly young if someone is suddenly cast into the world needing to make their own way without the normal family environments that would be behind them. I have to say that most 18-year-olds get to keep living with their parents — that is a truth — but for children leaving foster care that supports dry up. It is an area we need to look at investing in in order to best enable these children, who have not had opportunities to have the same opportunities as other 18-year-olds, to best transition their way into adulthood. That is investment. We are talking about new money, and that is a hard ask in a constrained fiscal environment in which people want to cut money back, but I think this is a really important investment. If the government decided to put money into that area, I would be the first to applaud it. I suggest that part of the $11 billion would probably be well spent going towards vulnerable people in the child protection system.
We have already talked about disability and what is happening with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I have said previously that the decision to stay with the state or federal system should receive the greatest input from people with disabilities. I understand that the minister has been consulting with and listening to service providers and people with disability in their families about their preferred model. I will only make some broad statements about the NDIS and say that if we move towards a federal model or end up staying with the state model, the one thing I hope is that in a constrained fiscal environment the packages remain the same as the federal model as a minimum. There cannot be any cuts in that area. Obviously, there will be quite a lot of scrutiny on what happens with the NDIS as we move forward, because we need to know how it will be run, funded and what not. I will be looking at this area very carefully. The NDIS should be an absolute no-go zone for cutbacks. This is a hard-fought reform, and it was fought for because people with disability really needed it. It was about time that we started assisting people to live the best lives that they can.
For people with disability it is not just about the NDIS. Something that keeps getting raised with me is that people do not want to have other issues taken off the table. They want public transport to be as accessible as possible — as a start, that bus stops and other things in new developments are accessible by wheelchair. A number of people I know in wheelchairs have expressed concerns to me about getting to bus stops only to find that they are surrounded by mulch. They have explained the difficulty of wheeling a wheelchair over mulch to get to the bus stop. Even our train system — which by the way is excellent, although it needs to be bigger — has a lot of railway stations that can best be described as deadly for people with disability. I am particularly thinking of the train station at Karrakatta Cemetery, ironically, which I have been told has an almost lethal grade slope for people with wheelchairs. We need to look at investing the $11 billion into those sorts of upgrades. For people with disability, there are many issues over and above the National Disability Insurance Scheme, all of which require money, but they are all investments that ensure that people with disability are best able to contribute to and live within our community.
Mr Acting President, I note that the clock is counting down, but I do not know whether that is merely an error.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Laurie Graham) : My understanding is that it is not an error. The ruling is that you had one speaker speak for an unlimited time yesterday. That is all you are entitled to. You were entitled to only 45 minutes.
Hon ALISON XAMON : I note that —
The ACTING PRESIDENT : You can seek leave to continue.
Hon ALISON XAMON : I am actually entitled to unlimited time.
The ACTING PRESIDENT : You can seek leave to continue for an additional 15 minutes.
Hon ALISON XAMON : I seek leave to have my time extended.
[Leave granted for the member’s time to be extended. ]
Hon ALISON XAMON : Thank you, Mr Acting President. I will now conclude my remarks and deal with the issue of time at a later date.
I also want to comment on investment in public education services. In this place, we all know that public education services are an area of ongoing need and that we need to ensure that we are doing what we can to produce the best education system we can. There has already been discussion in this house about the issues of buildings, upgrades to schools and the infrastructure we require. They will be ongoing issues. I will comment on some of the programs in schools. Coming from the mental health and suicide prevention sector, I am really aware of an ongoing desire to make sure that we invest in a whole range of services over and above the necessary curriculum within our schools that will best enable students to navigate, both personally and socially, through what can be a pretty complex world. I am reflecting on the number of requests that I have had for particular programs to be run. I am aware that we have pretty crammed curricula as it is, so this can be difficult to address. Very successful anti-racism programs have been run within our schools, for example, as well as programs for a greater understanding of Aboriginal Australians. Ongoing requests are made to be able to run a number of multicultural programs in our schools. Our school psychologists are doing the best they can to deal with a whole range of issues and they are requesting more assistance to be able to run a variety of mental health awareness programs within schools. Those programs take money. Also, every time there is the tragic loss of a child to suicide within a school, there are always requests for follow-up investments in a range of suicide prevention initiatives as well as postvention services in schools.
I want to say how important it is to be able to run programs like the Safe Schools program and how essential it is to encourage schools to take up programs that ensure that schools are the safest they can be. That is why it is called Safe Schools, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex young people. LGBTI teenagers particularly can often be very vulnerable within school environments and we should invest every bit of money we can — it will be money well spent — to assist these teenagers in being safe in their own schools. I do not understand why anyone would want them to be unsafe. That seems to me to be particularly important. Likewise, there are ongoing requests for programs to assist students with learning about disability. I also note how important it is to give students with disability the ability to be within school environments. I recognise that that is not what all parents want. Some parents whose children have a disability want other schooling options and that needs to be recognised. However, for many parents and the children themselves, being within a mainstream school environment is absolutely beneficial for not just them but also the children around them. We need to make sure that our schools are wheelchair accessible, for example, and that they welcome students with autism and other cognitive impairments. We are a big community and our schools are able to be accepting places. We need to make sure that we are doing what we can so our public school system is as accepting and supportive as it can be. It will probably be money well spent from $11 billion.
Hon Peter Collier : Put all of it into education; that’d be good!
Hon ALISON XAMON : I thank the member for his interjection. I believe I have just suggested that a significant amount go into mental health, alcohol and other drug and suicide prevention services, but I appreciate the interjection. I concur that money invested in education is money well spent indeed! If a significant portion of this $11 billion was going bolster our education system, I, for one, would welcome that wise investment of this very large amount of additional dollars!
Increasing funding in our TAFE system would also be a terrific investment. In my previous incarnation here, I stood in this place and spoke about the need to make sure that we invest properly in our TAFE system and ensure that we are making it as accessible as possible for people to be able to attend. For a number of people who attend TAFE, the issue of up-front costs and potential debt going into these arrangements can be prohibitive in their decision to pursue further training and qualifications. I think it is wrong for the government to put up barriers that enable that to occur. In the post-mining boom, in vestment in training services is essential to enable people to move out of poverty, disadvantage and unemployment. I said to people in this place that when I was a very young woman — I did not come from a particularly happy background — my first qualification was from TAFE. I got a certificate IV, which enabled me to get my first proper job. I leapfrogged from there and I am really glad I had that opportunity. I went on to get two more degrees and postgraduate qualifications. I can assure members that I have paid them all back in spades in my taxes ever since.
I think it is really important to make sure that we are doing what we can to enable people access to TAFE. The fees have become a significant barrier for a lot of people. A number of people who have received previous TAFE qualifications need to go back to get different qualifications to make sure that they are able to continue to gain employment. I strongly think that we need to invest in our training services so we can encourage as many people as possible to get into employment.
In the remaining time I have — I could talk about all sorts of things! — I will talk about improving safety at work. It is another area in which I think we need to look at heavy investment and where it would be well worth spending par t of the $11 billion.
In particular, I am critical of what is happening under WorkSafe. WorkSafe has lost a lot of full-time equivalents. It has also lost a level of expertise. The role of WorkSafe has been wound back considerably. It is no longer providing the level of proactive investigation of worksites that we need to have and that WorkSafe should be providing.
It has been reported to me that one of the areas of greatest need in workplace safety is new Australians. A disproportionately high number of workplace accidents and deaths involve new Australians. Many new Australians have not had the advantage of being exposed to appropriate safety regimes and the opportunity to receive the training they require. A government regulator such as WorkSafe should play a role in requiring companies to address this need. A family will be severely disadvantaged if the bread maker of the family is injured or dies at work — I should say the breadwinner, but it might be the bread maker! We need to invest in this area, and that money would be well spent. What is happening with workplace safety in this state is not good. People are dying on construction sites, and they are dying brutally. It is horrific. This is a great area in which the government might want to look at spending a portion of this $11 billion. That would be absolutely fantastic.
Another area in which this $11 billion could be spent is the community sector as a whole. That includes not only mental health, alcohol and other drug services, which is an excellent sect or, but also financial counsellors, the social services sector, the disability sector, and a range of other people on the ground. Those people are doing a fantastic job in organisations that are highly reliant on government to provide core funding to enable them to deliver the range of social services that we need to ensure that we are the best community that we can be. I encourage the government to not forget about the need to invest in this sector.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the essential services that are delivered by our public sector. We talk often about our teachers, nurses and police, and we should, because they are some of our hardest working public servants. However, we need to acknowledge all our public servants, because they often do not get the kudos they deserve. That includes the people in child protection and the people in environmental regulation. It also includes the people who run our hospitals. They might not be in the emergency department, but they make sure that the hospital is ticking over and doing its job. We need to acknowledge the important role of our public servants. Cutbacks to the public service have a dramatic impact on the community, because they impact on the delivery of frontline services. It impacts on the community when public servants are made redundant or lose their job, or are not given pay increases that enable them to keep up with increases in the consumer price index. I encourage the government to be mindful of that. This bill is potentially releasing a lot of money — $11 billion!
Hon Donna Faragher : Do you want to repeat that?
Hon ALISON XAMON : Yes — $11 billion! My concern is that this money will not be directed to where it is most needed. I have told members where I believe this money needs to go, and, importantly, where it will be effective in the long term. I recognise that investment in the areas I am talking about will often not have a demonstrated return within the four-year electoral cycle. I can tell members that the evidence demonstrates that if we invest in these areas, in the decades to come, and certainly within a generation, we will have turned around communities and people’s lives. I look forward to the release of the budget and to scrutinising the budget in detail to see exactly what the priorities of this government are. I urge this government to take a long - term view when it comes to people’s lives.
Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.
[Continued on page 1519 .]
Sitting suspended from 4.15 to 4.30 pm