Next week marks three years since I was elected to this place as the member for Parkes. It has been the most rewarding, challenging and interesting period of my life. The seat of Parkes that I contested at the last election is somewhat different to the seat of Parkes that I contested in 2007. In 2007 the seat of Parkes contained 107,000 square kilometres. At the moment it is 256,000 square kilometres, which is 34 per cent of the landmass of New South Wales. It does present some challenges to represent an area that goes from the Riverina in the south to the Queensland border-to represent communities from Dubbo, which is a thriving city, to Mudgee, another large regional town with a growth spurt, to Narrabri, which is experiencing growth from mining, to agricultural communities like Moree, Coonamble, Walgett, Warialda, Bingara, and down into the south to places like Nyngan, Cobar, Lake Cargelligo and Condobolin. It was a great privilege that I got to know the people in these communities over the last three years and indeed, some of them over the last few months.
I would briefly like to reflect on what was achieved as a new member in opposition over the last three years. I would also like to acknowledge assistance I have had from government ministers over that period of time. The first crisis I confronted as a new member a few weeks into the term was the start of the collapse of ABC Learning. Although she is no longer a member of this place, I would like to acknowledge the help that Maxine McKew gave me in that period of time, and other ministers who have helped me out with issues. Such is the nature of this place that what is seen on the outside is only the conflict. I guess the conflict is an important part of what we do here but it is also important that we acknowledge that we can work in a collaborative arrangement and that we do get assistance across parties.
Without a doubt, I believe the greatest achievement that I was able to help achieve as a member of the opposition was the defeat of the emissions trading scheme. The previous speaker tonight spoke about the issue of climate change and the issues that the world is confronting with regard to climate change, but the issue of the emissions trading scheme was not whether you believed in climate change; it was whether you believed that what was being proposed under the emissions trading scheme was going to alter the environment. I believe that a lot of this was driven by a section of the community that has great concerns for the environment but somewhat affluent lifestyles. While it may be okay to trade in the station wagon and buy a Prius and tick the green square on your power bill and pay a bit more, and maybe pay a few offsets when you take your family to holidays in an aeroplane, if you are a pensioner in western New South Wales and the cost of electricity goes up then you have no other choice but to turn off the switch. If you are a cement worker in the town of Kandos and the cement plant closes because cement has become 30 per cent cheaper when imported from Asia, you are not suffering a minor inconvenience because of the emissions trading scheme; you are suffering the loss of your job. Indeed, for a town like Kandos, it is suffering the loss of the main reason for its existence. As an aside, unfortunately I lost the towns of Kandos, Rylstone and Gunnedah in the redistribution. I trust that the member for Hunter will keep their issues in mind when the issues of carbon trading and carbon tax come up in this parliament, because it is something that is very much at the forefront. It is not an abstract argument to the people of Kandos; it is very real. So I believe that we were able to build the case.
It is interesting to note that, at the end of 2008 and early 2009, only members of the Nationals publicly stated their opposition. Obviously, as time went on, there was a shift not only within the parliament but within Australian society. Members of the coalition were able to point out that there are other methods of abating carbon rather than imposing a tax. I spoke to a lot of people. I spoke to representatives of the Business Council of Australia and other people. They were trying to convince me of the need for a price on carbon, but ultimately they failed on the question that I always ask: will Australia putting a price on carbon altar the temperature of the globe? Ultimately, the answer was no or maybe marginally. Professor Garnaut indicated in his report that the economic effect on regional Australia would be a downturn of 20 per cent, while metropolitan areas would have a downturn of eight per cent. How could I, as a member representing a regional part of Australia, support something that was going to disadvantage my community at the expense of others?
The other issue was the BER. The previous speaker spoke about that. No doubt, schools were in need of an upgrade, but the BER was a wasted opportunity. No greater was the waste of the BER more evident than in my electorate. The tuckshop at Tottenham achieved national notoriety. Spending $610,000 on a tuckshop that could not fit a fridge and a pie warmer was a scandal-a double-brick edifice. They have spent in excess of, I think, $100,000 in trying to alter it so that they can use it as a tuckshop, when there was a perfectly good tuckshop adjacent to it. It was worse when the same design was put up at Toomelah. Toomelah is an Aboriginal community of 400 people on the Queensland border in the northern part of my electorate. They have complete unemployment. For some reason, they got the same for $650,000. The people at Toomelah could have done a lot of things with $650,000. A double-brick tuckshop was not high on their priorities.
The issue that we have coming up in this parliament that will affect my area is the continuation of the emissions trading scheme. We are not troglodytes in my electorate; we are embracing alternative energy. Indeed, there is a 200-tower wind farm proposed in Coolah, in the middle of my electorate. There are obviously issues with transmission lines that we are working through. BP Solar have a proposal for one of the largest solar power stations in the world-certainly the largest in the Southern Hemisphere-to go in at Moree. They are working through the final stages of that. There is a gas-fired power station being constructed at Wellington in my electorate. So the people of my electorate are doing their bit in looking at alternative energy. Indeed, farmers in my electorate are also doing their bit in looking after the environment by using advanced methods of farming to sequester carbon.
The big issue that we are going to confront is the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. What I would like to put on record is that those communities have already, through water-sharing plans, handed back large parts of the water that they were using. I represent probably a larger section of the Murray-Darling Basin than anyone else here. I have all the rivers in New South Wales, from the Macintyre in the north to the Lachlan in the south. In the Darling-Barwon section, in the Menindee to Mungindi section, they have already reduced their take of water by 67 per cent. The plan is looking at taking another 30 per cent. These people have made the adjustments in good faith. There was a recognition that adjustments needed to be made, and groundwater and river users have made those adjustments. There is a level of anger there because this is coming at them again. Those people are not unreasonable; they have made the adjustment. They have gone through 10 years of drought. I heard people with no firsthand knowledge speaking here about muddy waterholes, dying rivergums and things like that. We have just had 10 years of drought.
If you go and look at the rivers in my electorate now you will see that they are magnificent. I was at Bourke last week. There is eight metres of water in the Darling River at Bourke. The wetlands in the Gwydir are full. The Macquarie Marshes are full. A farmer at Bourke last Friday summed it up succinctly when he said, ‘What people need to realise is that the environment is much more resilient than it’s given credit for.’ And indeed the environment seems to be much more resilient than the economies of regional New South Wales. I think we need to take that into account when we are looking at the restructure.
This is being driven by people outside the area, and it is a great arrogance. If we are going to take the principles of the restructure of the Murray-Darling Basin into account, why don’t we look at the Tank Stream? Why don’t we restore the Tank Stream to the condition it was in when Captain Phillip came in 1788? Why don’t we restore the Yarra to the condition it was in when John Batman discovered Melbourne? If we have to relocate 40 per cent of the populations of Sydney and Melbourne, is that unreasonable? That is what is being asked of the people of the Murray-Darling Basin. I think we should keep this in context. The Murray-Darling communities not only have a right to survive; they also have an obligation to feed the population of Australia and another 50 million people around the world.
The other issue that is coming up is health. Indeed, a close watch on the restructure of health has been going on. In Dubbo there is a proposal-and hopefully there will be a submission for the next round of funding-for stage 2 of Dubbo Base Hospital. Dubbo Base Hospital services not only the City of Dubbo, with 41,000 or 42,000 people, but an area of nearly 200,000 people in western New South Wales, and it needs to be treated with the respect that a regional hospital deserves.
There is already great work going on. Lourdes Hospital is being rebuilt at the moment. Charles Sturt University, thanks to a grant from the previous coalition government, has now opened its school of dentistry. There is a private hospital there. The University of Sydney has a medical training facility there. Dubbo has the ability to be a health hub for New South Wales.
The other thing I want to mention is roads. Everything we buy in a supermarket starts on a local road. At the moment we have one of the largest grain crops in recent memory, admittedly suffering from wet weather at the moment. There are huge concerns as to whether we can actually pull this crop off. The frustration of my farmers is palpable. I worry about the mental health of some of these people who, after so many years of drought, are seeing a magnificent crop rotting in the field because of excessive rain. There was over 60 millimetres of rain in the wheat belt in my area yesterday. And they are trying to deliver this grain on roads that were built in the days of Cobb & Co.
I am supporting the Australian Rural Road Group, which has recently been formed from those councils around Australia with agricultural production in excess of $100 million to recognise the local road issue. We now have multimillion dollar businesses that cannot meet contractual requirements to deliver livestock or grain or even take in contracted fertiliser and such. In the year 2010, the fact that people are living on a dirt road and cannot get their children to school, cannot get to their job in town and cannot get to a hospital after 10 millimetres of rain is a disgrace.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives-
Sitting suspended from 8.08 pm to 8.23 pm
Before the suspension I was speaking about what I believed would be issues in this term of parliament. I think one of the issues that is relevant to my electorate that we are going to have to confront is the issue of mining and gas exploration and the coexistence of that and agricultural production. That is particularly difficult. There is a lot of emotion and misinformation on all sides, and it is going to take a lot to sort through. Obviously Australia’s strength has been based on the fact that we can produce clean food and we have reasonably cheap energy. To have those two strengths in conflict is a difficult situation and something that we need to be working through. We need to be careful that we do not damage a long-term asset like agricultural land for a short-term gain, which is mineral extraction.
Another issue is, I believe, the issue of this parliament. I believe that the parliament should represent the 150 electorates of the members of the House of Representatives and of the senators. Unfortunately, due to the way the numbers are, some members seem to be having somewhat more influence than others. A word of warning to the government: they will rue the day that they give too much credence to the Greens. The Greens‘ policies are damaging to our economy and they are certainly damaging to the people of my electorate and they fly in the face of what is good for our traditional constituents not only in my electorate but also in Labor seats. The low-income and fixed income earners and the small business owners are the ones who bear the brunt of Greens’ policies. The Greens are driven by an affluent group of people with very little skin in the game. There are no Greens who are going to lose their jobs or their position because of a restructure of the Murray-Darling and there are no Greens working at the cement plant at Kandos. I think as a parliament we need to exercise great caution.
You do not get to be a member of parliament, particularly in an area the size of mine, without a great group of people helping you. I would like to acknowledge my electoral council, particularly the chairman, Warwick Knight, the treasurer, Max Lell, and secretary Sarah Johnstone. I would also like to particularly acknowledge Peter Bartley. Peter Bartley is a campaign director extraordinaire who has no peer, I do not believe, in organisation. To organise 115 booths across 256,000 square kilometres is no mean task. The other people I would like to acknowledge are my staff. I run two offices-one in Dubbo and one in Moree. I have five full-time staff and two casual staff. They are the real people who do the work for the people of the Parkes electorate. A lot of the support that I managed to gain-indeed, with a much improved margin-was due to the good work of my staff in an unbiased and professional manner. I would like to thank them for the hard work that they do, working in two offices. Trying to run them as one office is not without its difficulties, and I would like to acknowledge the good work that they do.
The other people I would like to acknowledge are my family, particularly my wife Robyn who is a political campaigner extraordinaire. She will not rest if there is a door to knock on. Indeed, her reputation across the Parkes electorate somewhat supersedes mine. I believe if I went under a bus Robyn would get the job as the member for Parkes with no problem at all. She has given up her career. She is a full-time volunteer for the people of the Parkes electorate. She works for no pay and she travels with me wherever we are, whether we are in Canberra or in the electorate. She makes sure that the issues that I say I am going to follow up get followed up. I could not do the job without her support.
In conclusion, it is a great privilege to be a member of parliament. It is a great privilege to be the member for Parkes. I would not swap my electorate for any other. I look forward to representing my constituents and not only dealing with the issues but also driving an agenda that is going to recognise the great contribution that the people of Parkes have made and can continue to make to the welfare of this country.