May 2, 2016

Investing in our Outer Suburbs & Youth Mental Health Services Speech – 2 May 2016

This is one of the last remaining opportunities I will have to speak in this particular parliament in this chamber. In particular, I would like to talk about priorities for the Australian economy and my constituency in budget week 2016. The people living in my electorate of Holt in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne—in the great suburbs of Endeavour Hills, Doveton, Hallam, Hampton Park, Narre Warren, Lynbrook, Lyndhurst, Cranbourne and others—are looking for the budget to focus on the outer suburbs. They are looking for a greater sense of security and to benefit from new opportunities that a government should provide in a budget. They are looking for a budget that invests in creating jobs; that invests in health and education, particularly in the outer suburbs; and that invests in new social infrastructure.

In partnership with the City of Casey and others in the region, I lobbied the Australian government to provide $10 million for a $125 million project to build a brand new arts precinct and 800 seat regional theatre called Bunjil Place. Construction has begun, the cranes are in the air and, during the construction phase, 1,200 people will be employed to build this phenomenal new facility. Bunjil Place will not only comprise an 800-seat regional theatre but also include a regional art gallery and 300-seat function centre as well as a community library, meeting rooms and an activated community plaza. The great spirit of creativity, art and design will be on show for all to see. It is wonderful that this project is being built in the Westfield Fountain Gate precinct.

Budget 2016 will probably have additional funding to ease congestion—I think there has already been an announcement on that—on the Monash Freeway, but it is vital that we see additional funding for other road projects in the outer suburbs. As an example, the Andrews Victorian government’s additional funding of the Thompsons Road project in Cranbourne is extremely welcome. Whilst I think that project funding was something in the order of $150 million, it still needs an overpass over the Western Port Freeway. That is something we will ask and have been asking this government to take care of or to look at in the budget. I look forward to reading about that announcement in the budget. I would be very disappointed if it were not in the Turnbull government’s budget.

Budget 2016 also needs to address an area that is quite essential to the development and the continuation of the development of outer-suburban areas like Holt—that is, the faster rollout of the NBN to people living in the outer suburbs. The Prime Minister talks about the new, agile economy. The new, agile economy needs new, agile technology to plug into the information superhighway, but what we get at present are so many people and a lot of businesses contacting my office each and every day of the week complaining about broadband difficulties. It is essential, in the 21st century, that every home and business has access to high-quality broadband services.

There has been some criticism about the previous government and its rollout, but the previous Labor government would have rolled out, under the original NBN plans, fibre to the home to many places which have been simply discarded in this government’s rollout. In Holt, nearly 10,000 homes in Cranbourne are connected to the NBN, but let us hope by 2020 that every home and business in Holt will be connected. We are certainly concerned, and we have raised these concerns on a bipartisan level, that this has not been rolled out to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, because it is quite essential. We look at some of the world-leading hi-tech companies basing themselves in the outer suburbs, and they still cannot access adequate speeds.

This is one of the things that we had looked at and addressed. The original plan had this sort of work spoking out from Cranbourne and Dandenong, which are epicentres of Telstra with the existing cable network. That work has, basically, stopped. There are some new estates. We have a situation where Westfield Fountain Gate has built another shopping centre because the growth is so great. We are going to have a catchment area of over 400,000 people. In the old days with the old Telstra, you would make sure that every house was connected to a telephone line. We cannot even guarantee that every house is going to be connected to a functioning broadband system they need, to deliver the services they have paid their taxes for. I think it is reprehensible. It treats people in the outer suburbs like they are second-class citizens. We have heard a lot about that, in recent debates, and it is just not satisfactory.

In a similar vein, last week I was joined by Senator Katy Gallagher, shadow minister for mental health; Simon Curtis, the Labor candidate for La Trobe; and Jennifer Yang, our outstanding Labor Senate candidate for Victoria, to visit headspace in Narre Warren as part of the funding discussion about mental health, which should be a budget priority. The headspace staff at Narre Warren provided an update on their service and the headspace YEPP program, and emphasized how important this service was for Casey’s youth. Let me explain how important it is. In 2011-2012, we had what is known as a suicide cluster in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I do not want to go into the number of young people that took their own lives, and the concern and distress. Youth suicide is tragic in any set of circumstances; there is no other way to describe it. This was a substantially large number of people, there and in Albury.

It provoked national attention. Four Corners did a program on my area, which was called ‘There is no 3G in Heaven.’ It was an outstanding program. As a consequence of the lobbying efforts of young people, we had two headspaces created there—a headspace created and funded in Dandenong and a headspace in Narre Warren. The rollout of those headspaces and what we call the youth Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre, which sort of rolls over the top of headspace, has given young people in the region profoundly affected by a whole set of factors—family dislocation; drug and alcohol dependency issues—a place where they can feel safe to go.

What has really upset me, as someone who spearheaded the creation of those facilities, is that clearly, after the briefing that we have had from the great staff of headspace at Narre Warren and at the other Headspace YEPP service, those programs are not guaranteed. Even headspace will not be guaranteed. Since 2014, three lead agencies—we are about to find out who the next lead agency will be—have managed that headspace, and as a consequence of that they are losing trusted staff. If this Turnbull government is going to do anything, it has to guarantee, it must guarantee, providing services to our most vulnerable people—and our future is our young people.

It is also beyond my comprehension that the Turnbull government is cutting funding to the Youth Early Psychosis Program, the YEP program that I referred to at headspace Narre Warren. In 2016-17 there will be a 25 per cent budget cut to the YEP program, and in 2017-18 there will be a 70 per cent reduction to this program by the Turnbull government. How can we be talking about the future of the agile and innovative economy? This service is a world leading service. Headspace and this Youth Early Psychosis Program have been exported, almost, to places like Canada, to places like Europe. They are looking at our program, looking at the success rate and looking at how needed it is. This is the cradle where we invented this program, through the great work of Professor Pat McGorry, 2010 Australian of the Year, and others. There are over 100 headspaces around the country, a number of which have the Youth Early Psychosis Program rolled over them. How could you as a government, or as a parent, in all conscience blithely announce that funding of these programs is going to be cut and offer no guarantee for their future.

I have talked about infrastructure, I have talked about lots of things, but as a parent and someone who is concerned about what has happened in the area I believe that this Turnbull government has got to guarantee the future of headspaces, has got to guarantee the future of the Youth Early Psychosis Program, because, frankly, why would you be a government when you cannot even protect your people in the region?

 

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