Aug 15, 2017

A word about our Young Veterans Speech – 15 Aug 2017

I rise in this debate to raise my concerns about a lack of ongoing investment by the Turnbull government into the outer suburbs of Australia’s major cities—in particular, the rapidly growing south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne in my electorate of Holt. In the Casey region of my electorate, we are home to one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia. In fact, we’ve been nominated as having one of the fastest-growing suburbs, which is Cranbourne East. There is enormous population growth occurring in these outer suburbs. One of the key issues that we have identified is that social infrastructure—I use the term ‘social infrastructure’ in terms of essential services and services for the wellbeing of people—like the NBN and the building of new roads is not keeping up with this population growth.

The City of Casey has a population of 311,000 people, as we speak, as I understand it, and, in the next 20 to 30 years, will have a population that’s the same size as Canberra. This is a rapidly-growing area. It’s continued to grow and it does have major issues with connectivity in terms of roads and in terms of the internet.

We have just distributed a survey to our residents and one of the issues was the NBN in my area. One of the key things from the feedback was people asking: ‘When are we going to get access to this particular service?’ Each week my office gets many queries about the lack of, for example, ADSL broadband services to homes in Cranbourne, Clyde, Narre Warren South and Lynbrook. People only have access to the wireless internet and so not only are they not getting NBN but they are getting a substandard service they have to pay a lot for to access the internet. Given it’s the 21st century and the number of businesses in my constituency, particularly in areas like Hallam—where we have world-leading companies working on LED lighting, for example, that sell to the rest of the world—they need access to the internet speeds that NBN would bring them.

In Holt, according to the latest figures provided by NBN Co, we have just over 12,000 homes and businesses connected to the NBN. Whilst the rollout will increase later this year, it’s still the case that the Turnbull government can’t ensure that over 55,000 homes and businesses will be connected by 2019. As a classic example of this, I’ve recently been working with residents in the Belmond on Clyde estate who didn’t have access to a phone or the internet or mobile phone services, in some cases for five months. The estate is right next to the fastest-growing area in Australia. It’s somewhere in the order of 43 or 44 kilometres away from the Melbourne city centre. We’re not talking about outer rural areas; we are talking about outer suburban areas. I am pleased the residents in the Belmond on Clyde estate now have access to the NBN. We had to campaign heavily. It’s a tribute to the residents there that they campaigned, appeared in an article in The Age and brought forward the installation date of the NBN. However, notwithstanding that, they still don’t have access to a reliable mobile phone service. A new mobile phone tower still needs to be built to keep up with the population growth, but it hasn’t been installed as yet. When you go into that estate, you’re struggling with mobile phone services. Given we’re right in the centre of one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia and the fastest-growing suburb is Cranbourne East, it is very concerning they can’t get access to what I call essential services. They are essential services.

In the end it is not an unreasonable ask that the NBN rollout needs to be sped up, particularly in the suburbs my constituency covers, in order to provide a fast and reliable broadband service that residents and students and businesses need. Because it’s going to be the crucible of a lot of social and economic growth in Melbourne over the next 20 to 30 years, the fact that it doesn’t have these essential services—even things like access to mobile phone services—is not acceptable.

Another grievance for many families in Holt, particularly from our survey, is the issue of ongoing congestion on roads in the Casey region. Residents spend way too much time in traffic on the Monash Freeway, South Gippsland Highway, Clyde Road and Thompsons Road, to name a few. Driving on these roads and speaking to people who drive on these roads, I remain absolutely committed to campaigning for extra funding to ease the congestion. The trouble is that all these housing estates are being constructed and there are a lot of great young people and families shifting into this area to create a home and a future for themselves and their kids—they have access to a local school—but, when they hop on the road to get out of the estate to transit to their employment or elsewhere, the roads are insufficient to cope with the growth. One major road to be completed in my constituency is Thompsons Road in Cranbourne. During the 2016 federal election, I was absolutely delighted that Labor committed to investing $85 million in funding Thompsons Road, which would have duplicated high-volume sections of Thompsons Road to six lanes and upgraded the intersections to the Frankston-Dandenong Road and the Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road.

At present, it is only the Victorian Labor government that is showing any commitment to easing the traffic congestion on Thompsons Road. The Andrews Labor government has started stage 1 construction of Thompsons Road through investing $175 million on removing a level crossing and building a six-lane carriage over the Cranbourne railway line. According to the Victorian government, stage 2 upgrade works will widen Thompsons Road from Frankston-Dandenong Road to Marriott Boulevard, and from Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road to Berwick Cranbourne Road. A key part of the Thompsons Road project is, in fact, an overpass that should be built over the Western Port Highway. There is no funding for that. That’s where part of that $85 million was going to go. That hasn’t been invested. Again, I call upon the federal Turnbull government to actually provide that funding to ensure that that essential piece of the puzzle for Thompsons Road is completed.

Another area that I am closely associated with, particularly through my work with young veterans, is the way in which we continue to treat our veterans after their years of service in this country. As pointed out in Ruth Lambert’s article The war within last year, more than 40 military personnel and veterans were found to have taken their life last year—roughly the same figure as the number of Australians killed in Afghanistan during 13 years of war. It’s very clear in talking to and working with the veteran community in my area that a number are battling very serious mental health issues. I believe that it’s vital that we do all we can to listen to their concerns and provide more support in times of need.

I wish to commend the National Mental Health Commission for releasing in March 2017 a review of suicide and self-harm by veterans and members of the Australian Defence Force. The National Mental Health Commission report heard from more than 3,200 people. It found that when our service personnel are serving they are 50 per cent less likely to commit suicide, according to the information provided, than those of the same age who weren’t in the Australian Defence Force but that, after they come out of the ADF, their risk of suicide dramatically increases. The report recommended the government improve support for young veterans who have left the service in the past five years and could be it risk of suicide and self-harm. I certainly commend the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs’ plan to invest $350 million as a result of this report. In a bipartisan way, having worked with Minister Tehan when he was chair of the intelligence and security committee, I know that he is fully committed to ensuring that the government will do the best that it can do in assisting with veterans’ mental health needs.

In the time remaining, I would like to talk about the young veterans, particularly in my area—without naming them—who do a lot of work to look after their fellow service men and women, particularly those who been in theatres of conflict. It’s amazing when you are dealing with someone sitting in your office, who could be someone out of a movie, I guess you could say, in terms of his looks, his physique, his manner and his wellbeing, and know that that same person is at very high risk of suicide, even sitting in your office, and that that person can’t drive a car and can’t leave his home because of the severity of his PTSD symptoms. I commend the work that the young veterans are doing in my area to assist with these troubling cases. There will be many more that we will have to deal with. They went overseas to provide a way of life and freedom for us, and we owe it to them to do our utmost to look after them when they come back to this country.


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