Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (21:23): Tonight I want to raise and represent the grave concerns of constituents about the scale and breadth and impact of cuts to local government services and also other services provided by both the Liberal-controlled Blacktown City Council and the New South Wales Liberal government. For all of my life, and for years before that, the part of Western Sydney that I am proud to represent has been more than capably cared for by a Labor-controlled local government alongside dedicated Labor state and federal members of parliament. As a young adult, what attracted me to become a member of the Labor Party was a record of service that I could see, delivering for the breadth of our community and taking care to do what could be done to help those sections of our community that had many low-income families and the disadvantaged.
For the benefit of members who have not ventured into the Chifley electorate, I would not mind providing a brief overview of the challenges faced by many families who live there so that they can better appreciate the devastating impact that cuts have, particularly cuts on essential services in an area like ours.
The electorate of Chifley sits wholly within the most populous local government area in New South Wales, Blacktown. Chifley has the second youngest median age in the country. We have the highest proportion of single-parent households in Australia. More than a third of residents live in rented accommodation and a disproportionate number of those live in public housing. Large numbers of people in Chifley rely solely on public transport to get around. We have stubbornly high rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Despite the challenge, I am especially proud of the way communities and neighbourhoods band together to improve the quality of life in our area. I am proud, in particular, of the achievements and the energy of our younger generation, who have been strengthened by that challenge. But we should see government helping make life easier. It should provide a platform for advancement and progress. Instead, we see the opposite, with state and local governments, who are supposed to pride themselves on being closer to communities, actually making it harder by running down services and infrastructure.
I want to provide some examples, starting with transport. Just before the 2011 New South Wales election, the state Labor government announced plans to install lifts at two railway stations in our area. They had actually done a very good program of completely rebuilding Blacktown station and providing lifts at Mount Druitt and Marayong stations, refurbishing Seven Hills station in the neighbouring electorate of Greenway, and providing a significant commuter car park to make it easier for people to use public transport.
We had promised, in that last state election, to build lifts at the stations of Doonside and Rooty Hill. These suburbs and the surrounding areas have large proportions of older residents, defying the electorate trend. Both of the stations have island configurations and the only access to them is via stairs, long gangways or long, elevated platforms that go to the overhead footbridge, where you are presented with stairs, yet again, to access the platforms below.
The very first thing that the O’Farrell Liberal government did after coming into office was to scrap the draft plans for the lifts, remove the funding and, in my belief, redirect resources to the North West Rail network. Not a week goes by in which this matter is not raised with me. The failure of Premier O’Farrell to deliver on essential accessibility to public transport infrastructure only serves to make public transport less attractive and more difficult to access.
The other issue that has been raised with me is the matter of car parking alongside these stations. On the weekend, on Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a very well attended Edgeworth residents’ association group, who raised with me the fact that it is hard to park at Doonside, in a close proximity to the railway station—and, by virtue of that, not add to congestion on Sydney’s roads. Those residents have been asking—and rightly so—for an investment in that associated infrastructure to make public transport more accessible. I will be raising this with my colleague, the state member for Blacktown, John Robertson.
In a further blow to our community, the state Liberal government announced earlier this year that it intends to close the Mount Druitt Hospital cardiac ward so that services could be rationalised with the larger Blacktown Hospital. However, they do not like the term ‘close’; they prefer the term ‘relocate’. For people who cannot access Mount Druitt Hospital’s cardiac ward, that is cold comfort. The decision has mightily angered the community, which knows all too well how many lives have been saved by this critical health service.
I mentioned earlier that we have stubbornly high rates of heart disease. Closing a cardiac ward makes no sense. It has prompted the largest grassroots movement I have seen locally, with over 10,000 people signing petitions in the space of a few short months to keep the cardiac ward open in Mount Druitt. I was pleased to support the work of my state colleague, the member for Mount Druitt the Hon. Richard Amery, who is petitioning the Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in order to bring on a debate about this issue on the floor of the lower house and ensure residents’ voices will be heard. Mr Amery told me about a couple who turn up to his office every week with more and more pages of the signed petition. They are motivated by the simple fact that the cardiac ward saved the husband’s life. This person has now been going out into the community getting people to sign the petition.
Liberal service cuts are not restricted to the state government. Last year’s council elections delivered a council chamber with an equal number of Labor and Liberal councillors, but with the support of a lone Independent the Liberal Party now controls the Blacktown City Council. It has been a source of pride locally and it inspired the disadvantaged in the area. Blacktown City boasts community service and recreational facilities as good as anywhere in the country. Successive Labor governments have had the vision to plan for population growth in our area and invest in the social fabric of our community, and levels of government have been able to work together. For instance, I was delighted, after lobbying, that the federal Labor government was able to match funding of $4 million with Blacktown council to deliver a refurbishment of Blacktown Library and the creation of the Mt Druitt Community Hub, which has become an asset to our area. It provides for the community’s library, a senior citizens centre, community service offices and meeting spaces.
The new Liberal controlled council appears to be on a pathway to undo a lot of this good work. In just its first year the council voted to wind back or discontinue a number of services. Just recently, with little notice or consultation, they shut down the Mt Druitt Swimming Pool, a sporting and recreational facility used by thousands of people, primarily school students or clubs like the Rooty Hill RSL Youth Swimming Club. Their justification for the decision was that the pool was not operating profitably. Since when have community services provided at taxpayer expense had to turn in a profit? In another stunning move, the council scrapped the pension rebate on council rates. For the life of me, I cannot understand how they could do this in such a cavalier and callous manner. This is on top of the state government increasing rents to 4,000 public housing residents who are pensioners by pocketing the increases to pensions that the federal Labor government delivered to them. It is simply a powerful reminder of the best Liberal tradition, which is to cut services and take funds away from the vulnerable in our community, figuring that they do not have a voice to defend themselves. Liberal councillors have looked to privatise council owned child-care centres, again because they are not turning a profit. They are affordable services provided to families who pay for them through their rates.
More contentiously, the council threatened the homes of people living in the suburb of Blacktown with a draft local environment plan giving them the power to acquire properties to develop high-rise dwellings or turn them into recreation space at the same time as the council was looking to sell other parks. When residents asked councillors to shelve the LEP and redraft it, Liberal councillors voted as a block to oppose the proposal, but then some broke ranks later to help stop the sale of a dog pound. Animal welfare is certainly a serious matter, but how do you stand up for the protection of a pound while not standing up for a roof over a resident’s head? It is just staggering that these decisions are being made.
There is no doubt that governments have to make difficult decisions, but what is painful for the local community is the lack of consultation on these decisions, and there was no warning prior to any of the elections that this would be done. Certainly, the same could be said for the state Liberal government. People have witnessed what has happened there. While many people voted Liberal for the first time in their lives in our area, I am certain that they are now having second thoughts about this decision. I would certainly ask that the Leader of the Opposition defies this trend, is upfront and transparent with the Australian public and tells them what he has in store for them should he become Prime Minister. What would he do to residents in our area?