I am pleased to rise today to give my address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to make such an address, but of course it is not my inaugural speech, having been elected at a by-election in 2015. I thought that my election to this role in 2015 was a huge honour. I can now tell you, that having the electorate put their faith in me to represent them for a second term is an even greater honour and one I promise I will never take for granted.
Being able to stand in this place today as the member for South-West Coast certainly did not come after a walk in the park. It was a tough campaign, with eight other candidates. But while it was tough and hotly contested, it was a fair campaign, and I want to thank the other candidates for the way they each conducted themselves. I wrote to each of them and said that while there can only be one person elected, democracy was the real winner.
I want to take some time to thank some individuals who worked tirelessly, not just on the campaign just gone but for my entire time in this place, because it is never just about the campaign; it is the several years leading up to the campaign and the election that really make a difference to whether you are elected or not. Firstly, I thank the incredible Joy and Geoff Howley, who went above and beyond, doing anything and everything—there is no way I could be here without their help and ongoing support; the former Premier, Dr Denis Napthine, and his family, for their support and guidance; and Jan Read and Cheryl Bellman, who took on the task of doing booth rosters, and what an onerous task that is. Anyone who has ever done any rosters in their lives knows how challenging that is. In my many years in a nursing role I hated rosters, so Jan and Cheryl did an enormously difficult job and did it very, very well. John Maddock and David Looker spent a lot of time on the Warrnambool pre-poll, as did many others, but they particularly spent a lot of time.
To Jim Hanrahan, my stepfather, and my mother, Pauline: Jim for his endless support and hard work in all sorts of ways in our community of South-West Coast. He is another one who did a lot of time on pre-poll. And while my mother is now maybe too elderly to stand on a footpath and hand out flyers, with her fierce advocacy for her daughter when she visits the old folks homes each week, as she does, and at church on Sundays, I am pretty sure that no-one would have been game in those circles not to have voted for me. I thank Deb Keiller and Leigh Allen for the work they did on the Portland pre-poll, and Leigh for his logistics work, getting signs and things around the electorate. Vincent Bailey is also in Portland with Deb who did a lot of the heavy lifting. I want to thank Maria Cameron and Peter Fisher from the Port Fairy branch—all the branches in fact. My own branch is the Woolsthorpe-Koroit branch. I want to thank all the party members in general.
It is always a risk when you name people. There were 120 people who came together and stood on booths throughout that period. It is an enormous amount of people, and that it is something I have considered in great detail—that is, how much work and how much commitment people have not only to me but to the Liberal values. I am proud to say that they are very solid values, and I think we need to work harder to demonstrate that they are true to today’s world. It is something we will work harder on to make sure our communities understand better.
I would also like to thank my family. Every one of them stood on a booth that day, from MacArthur right around the electorate. My children were in cars driving from one booth to the other to fill gaps. My daughter at the age of 15 came down after school to the pre-poll, with her girlfriends from school—there might have been a bit of bribery with an ice cream or two to help with that from time to time. Also girlfriends from my nursing days like Cate Asling, who came and manned a booth with many people like Matt Ryan and Michelle Joliffe, who stood on booths all day.
I am really proud to be able to say what a wonderful community we have around us in South-West Coast and to talk about what we have achieved as a community during my first three years as the elected representative. Securing funding for the Warrnambool Special Development School is something I am very, very proud of. Many people said that it was playing politics with children with a disability. I found that really abhorrent. These are children who expected me to stand up for them as their representative and to make sure they got a school with the same school standards that other children have. When you are in a wheelchair and you cannot pick your own book in a library because there is no access in a disability school, that is nothing to be proud of. So now I am very proud to have stood strong against those words, where people I think were using politics against me rather than letting me get on and do the job of representing the children that I felt very passionate about, and standing strong on their behalf.
I will continue to do so, because the school has been built and it is going to be a great school. I am very proud that we pushed so hard as a community and made it happen. But it is a school without a school oval and without a playground. Right now we have radio advertising that the school will be provided with soft fall for the playground, but there is no playground. I do not understand how we can be proud of that as a state. The government needs to think about this, and fund the school without a playground. It will put soft fall there for them when they fall off playground equipment that does not exist. There is no school oval. Show me a boy in this room who did not kick a footy on the oval at school, yet this school will not have one unless we as a community fund it. Well, I think that is the government’s responsibility.
There is also the securing of federal funding for the Warrnambool rail line. During the election campaign we promised fast rail. That is something that will make a massive difference to our region, yet I am afraid this government cannot see past Geelong. It has completely forgotten that Warrnambool provides enormous opportunities for the state and punches well above its weight as an economic contributor.
We have worked very hard on behalf of individuals in order to make a difference to their lives. We have campaigned strongly for improvements, like improvements to our roads where funding is coming slowly, but so is the winter, and a lot more needs to be done. The safety of our community is incredibly important, and people want to be able to access the regions. We are seeing communities like Port Fairy listed as the number one Wotif destination for Australia this year. People are seeing that the regions offer great opportunities for visiting, holidaying and just enjoying the weekends, but they are not going to go out to the regions and experience that while the roads are not in much better condition than they are currently.
In my four years in this place I do not plan to stop standing up for South-West Coast. I will be here at the table, week in and week out, advocating for my community and what matters to them, like the desperately needed upgrade of the Warrnambool Base Hospital. In 2014 we committed to funding the second stage of the hospital. In 2015 we recommitted to that, and again in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and yet we have a government right now that has not made a commitment. How can you fund the first stage of a hospital and then not do anything with the second stage? We are talking about the emergency department and the operating theatres. These are the critical centres of hospitals. Many of you have heard me say it over and over, and I will continue to do so: this is the biggest hospital within our region and services a huge community that needs health services to be at a standard that meets the demand. The accident and emergency department is simply too small for current demand, and the staff in that environment are doing an amazing job. The hospital staff in the theatres are also doing an amazing job.
During the election campaign period the government, through its candidate, Kylie Gaston, made big announcements at the hospital that they would change the grade of the hospital so it could make improvements to the nurse to patient ratios. That would then lead to upgrading the hospital as well, they implied. Well, the first piece of legislation that went through this house in the first sitting week this year had no listing of Warrnambool Base Hospital. These nurses were told in 2011 to be patient because their time was coming. They were told prior to the election that they would get nurse to patient ratios for Warrnambool like they would have if they were nursing in Melbourne. I am cardiac trained, and in Melbourne if I look after an acute myocardial infarction patient, I look after four.
If I am in Warrnambool, those exact same patients—I look after five. Now, these nurses said, ‘We’ll be patient’, but they got the promise pre-election, and in the very first piece of legislation they were snubbed—how rude! They were promised, and the government missed that opportunity to do what they promised they would do for them.
It is exactly the same with the hospital upgrade. Here are these nurses in the operating theatre, in the emergency department under enormous pressure. No-one wants to talk about the amount of sick leave that these staff are taking. No-one wants to talk about the stress leave. No-one wants to talk about the hours these theatre staff are spending on their feet, doing 10-hour shifts with literally 10 minutes for their morning tea break, where they are not even getting time for the coffee to cool before they can drink it—I am not kidding. A friend of mine—she might actually have just arrived—works in theatre in Warrnambool; Catie and Andrea have come to see me today. They trained with me at Warrnambool Base Hospital. They work incredibly hard, and I am standing up right now saying these girls rang me prior to the bill being introduced last year and said, ‘Will you help us?’. I said, ‘Of course I will advocate for our hospital’. Labor keeps saying they are going to do something, and yet they have done nothing.
I invited the minister down—it was my first action when I was re-elected. I wrote to the minister back in December, and so far I have simply been ignored—not even got a response to my request. So that is something I think, when we are trying to sell a state to the community to come and visit and live in—we have got the whole of Victoria that we need to make sure that we improve, and this is basic governance. It is all very well to play politics when it is appropriate, but when it is a hospital it is basic governance. So this government needs to make sure it delivers on what is needed—the second stage of the hospital in Warrnambool.
Much more needs to be done. We have seen the way this current Labor government treats our volunteers, and I am getting pretty sick of having volunteers come into my office—volunteers with the marine services, volunteers with all sorts of organisations—who come to me needing vital equipment and cannot do the roles they are doing for our community because the government is standing in the way of them being able to volunteer. It always strikes me as so strange that here we have people giving of their time voluntarily and having to fight for the right to do that. There is something really wrong about that, and the CFA really epitomises the way this government treats our volunteers. We have got the Caramut CFA branch, with 300 years of expertise around the table of that CFA. The other day they wanted to do a planned burn, where you can actually get your skills up to speed, and burn the side of the road so that we have a good firebreak in times like this, when you hit March and April and have had a good spring, like we had last year. Yet on a 21-degree day, with 21-kilometre per hour winds, they were not given the permit to burn.
We have just had the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 bushfires, and we heard the member for Eildon talk about the fuel loads—it is really important that we learn from the past. We had our Ash Wednesday fires 30 years ago, and we have not learned. We have got to support our volunteers. We need the surge capacity. I remember evacuating from the St Patrick’s Day fires and seeing so many headlights going the exact opposite way into the front of the fire that I was leaving, because they were defending my farm and everybody else’s farm. So I have seen that surge capacity and I am not prepared to sit down and watch it disappear.
As I say, we in the regions punch well above our weight. The agricultural community needs a government that really understands how hard we are working as agriculturalists to provide safe and quality food. Agriculture in South-West Coast is the economic backbone of our region, and yet we have got so many attacks on farming. My fellow farmers are coming to me saying, ‘Roma, I don’t know how much more I can take’. We have got the challenges we have of climate and of roads that mean our product does not get to the port in good form, we have the rail freight issues that mean we cannot actually take products to the market, we have got port costs increasing, we have got power costs increasing and we have got activists attacking us, wanting to come onto the farms—which we would welcome them on to, provided they are able to let us know. I have hosted families every year on farm day, welcomed them, but there are biosecurity risks of allowing people to come on. We need this government to get behind farmers, put a program in place to support farmers and show people we work within a legislative framework.
On my last note, I want to say thank you to the people of South-West Coast. I will remain committed and the fierce advocate I have always been for our part of the world, to make Victoria better and south-west Victoria better.