Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:14): We have seen an extraordinary passage of events in the parliament this morning, where the government clearly do not have the confidence of their own convictions. What we have seen this morning is the minister responsible for this piece of legislation come into the House, read the bill and then have the opportunity to have that bill debated in full—the opposition granted the government the opportunity to have that bill debated in full. The government then tried to move a gag motion on a debate on their own bill. They tried to gag debate on their own piece of legislation. What this shows is that they do not have confidence in their legislation. They do not have confidence in their ability to manage this debate. It shows that the government are struggling to convert their seductive three-word slogans into serious policy, legislation and a legislative agenda to bring before the House.
It is actually a reflection of the haphazard decision-making process that has typified this whole matter. We have seen question time after question time being concentrated on the future of Qantas. There has not been a question time this year where the future of Qantas has not been debated. You would think, given all of that, they would be prepared to come into the House and defend the legislation which we argue is not in the national interest. That has not been the case.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:18): Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition advised the House that I have been promoted to the front bench, which is a great honour for anybody who sits on this side of the House and any Labor MP. I was promoted to the health portfolio, and I was very keen to ensure that the first speech I gave after being promoted to the front bench was in this important area. This is essentially a public health measure.
The Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2014 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2014 amend existing acts. Essentially, they increase the rates of excise and customs duty on tobacco through four staged increases of 12½ per cent, commencing on 1 December 2013, and index the rates of excise and customs duty on tobacco to average weekly ordinary time earnings instead of the consumer price index. I support the legislation. I think it is important. It reflects Labor's commitment to improving preventative health across the board and easing the pressure on our public health system.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:14): This year is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Medicare by the Hawke government. It was established on the principle that all Australians, no matter what their background or circumstances, should have equal access to health care. For many it has been lifesaving. When Medicare was introduced Australia did not have a universal healthcare system. As Prime Minister, Bob Hawke warned that without it two million people faced potential financial ruin in the event of a major illness.
With the 30th anniversary of this important national institution, we on this side of the House fervently hope that it enjoys a 35th birthday, because for regions like mine it really makes a difference. In my electorate we have a higher than national average incidence of a lot of chronic diseases—diabetes, for example. The instance of sufferers of diabetes as a national average is around about 5.6 per cent of the population. In the Illawarra region it is around 6 to 6.5 per cent, close to one per cent above the national average. In my view, the government has a responsibility to make sure that patients like these have access to primary care, because if we have learnt anything about dealing with chronic health conditions over the last decade it is about ensuring that people have access to decent primary care, and that includes access to their general practitioner.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:20): It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Lalor in this debate. I am sure she will make as great an impact on public life as the woman she succeeded in that seat. I also acknowledge the member for Hasluck, who is in the chamber today, and the work that he is doing on the important select committee dealing with constitutional recognition. That is a matter that I will have something more to say about throughout the course of my remarks.
It is important that we acknowledge the traditional owners of this land—the Ngambri people and the Ngunnawal people—and I pay my respects to elders past and present. As a representative of the Throsby electorate, I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Dharawal people of the Illawarra and the Gundungurra people of the Southern Highlands.
On 13 February 2008, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to the stolen generations. I suspect everybody in this chamber would be able to recite exactly where they were on that morning when the Prime Minister delivered that historic address. I was with a group of friends in Federation Square in Victoria. It was broadcast on a large television screen. I was not alone; there were several thousand people who turned out in Melbourne's streets that morning to come together and share as one that important acknowledgement from the parliament, from the leader of the parliament and from the leader of the Australian people.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:27): This is the first opportunity since the coalition government were elected for them to present to the House bills concerning money supply: Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-14 and cognate bills. It is very disappointing indeed because, in the bills before the House, we see that the government said one thing before the election and did the complete opposite immediately thereafter. We were promised no surprises and no excuses, but the bill before the House today provides plenty of surprises. The Prime Minister, on the eve of the election, said that there would be:
No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.
Those are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition. Yet we saw the Treasurer on numerous occasions, after he was sworn into government, saying almost the complete opposite:
All options are on the table.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (09:06): I would like to place on record my appreciation for the work that we were able to jointly engage in during this important delegation and associate myself with the comments that you have made from the chair, Madam Speaker. Forums such as this are important in enabling members of this place to engage in parliamentary diplomacy, an important factor in ensuring that we make our contribution to peace and stability within our region and economic cooperation between the countries that we represent. You have outlined in your report, Madam Speaker, the six areas that we as delegates from this country contributed to in the debate. I myself spoke on the issue of climate change and the need for Australia to engage with other countries through multilateral fora to ensure that we do everything we can to address this generational challenge. Whilst in this place we have different views on the best means by which we address this important issue, when in international fora we speak with a single voice, and we were able to do that. It was my experience that the Australian delegation acquitted themselves admirably as vigorous participants in all of the debates and in all of the meetings that went on behind the scenes. I say that without exception for all of the members who participated in the delegation.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:59): It is a great honour to once again represent the people of Throsby, and I thank them for returning me for my second term in this parliament. I undertake to do this with the same vigour that I did in my first term as their member. Can I take the opportunity to congratulate all the new and returning members to the 44th Parliament.
At the opening of this parliament we gathered in the Senate chamber for the Governor-General's address. The Governor-General, I should say, undertakes her functions with an energy and dedication that would shame the most fervent of democrats, but when this ageing ritual is laid bare it rubs more than just a little at the Australian sense of democracy. The journey for members of the House of Representatives to the Senate remains a misguided nod to mother England. Lords down-under it is not but, still, we gather there in obedience in belief that the vice-regal should not address us all in the Commons. I say that it would do no harm to the splendour of the day if we were to gather for this formal occasion in the Great Hall, as has been recommended by many members of both sides of the House on several occasions over the last decade.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:56): Last Thursday the Illawarra community witnessed the fall of an icon. At 11.13 am the 200 metre tall Port Kembla copper stack—a figure which had dominated the industrial skyline of the region for almost 50 years—came crashing down. It was a bittersweet moment for me, as I am sure it was for many others who have lived in and around the Port Kembla region and looked up at the stack for the past half-century—people like 78-year-old Maria Leone, who admitted she was clutching a box of tissues as she watched the stack fall from the window of her family home on nearby O'Donnell Street. Mrs Leone was a former employee of MM, just underneath the stack. She said she had fond memories of watching the construction of the giant chimney—a symbol of the Illawarra's emergence as a national industrial power-player—every morning and every afternoon from her desk.
But nothing lasts forever. The Illawarra region has undergone significant economic change over the past 20 years. We are a diversified region. Steel-making and coalmining still play an important role, but there are now major contributions from industries like IT and communications, education services, tourism, financial and property services, health and hospitality. So while the skyline will never look quite the same over Port Kembla, the demolition of the stack may be just what the area needs to continue to move forward and reinvent itself. I am looking forward to seeing what is in store.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:25): I can agree with the member for Corangamite on one or two things. I agree that the Great Ocean Road is a beautiful stretch of highway. I have travelled it many times myself on pushbike. As I was riding my bike around Australia, I found the Great Ocean Road a little bit wet in part but a fantastic place to tour through. I have also travelled it by bus and car. I have concluded from those experiences that it is almost as nice as Lawrence Hargrave Drive, which runs through the electorate of my colleague the member for Cunningham and terminates somewhere near my electorate of Throsby on the South Coast of New South Wales. It is a beautiful stretch of road. The Great Ocean Road is almost as nice as Lawrence Hargrave Drive, and indeed it has many things in common with Lawrence Hargrave Drive, being a beautiful stretch of road that hugs the cliffs alongside the ocean.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:35): I move:
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) funds were allocated for Regional Development Australia Funding (RDAF) Round 5 in the 2013-14 budget;
(b) RDAF Round 5 provided assistance to local government projects to fund the construction of important pieces of small scale infrastructure to support local communities and regional development;
(c) the Government has:
(i) committed to delivering some, but not all, of the RDAF Round 5 projects; and
(ii) not yet made clear which RDAF Round 5 projects will and will not proceed; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) report to the Parliament on:
(i) what, if any, consultation it had with local governments and Regional Development Australia in choosing the RDAF Round 5 projects it has decided to fund; and
(ii) which, if any, of these projects will be funded under the National Stronger Regions Fund; and
(b) provide certainty to regional communities by committing to fund each RDAF Round 5 project.