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Leader of The Nationals WA Mia Davies - Address in Reply 2017

MS M.J. DAVIES (Central Wheatbelt — Leader of the National Party) [5.20 pm]: It seems odd to be rising after the debate that we have had over the last couple of days, and I will choose not to cover again too much of the conversation we have had on the Loan Bill 2017. However, I would like to contribute through the Address-in-Reply process, and begin by offering my congratulations to the Deputy Speaker and the Acting Speakers. I have already offered my congratulations to the Speaker, and I wish them all well as they go about running the business of this house. I also welcome all the new members to the house. Many of them are as yet unfamiliar to me. 

If I have not been present for their inaugural speeches, I am making my way through them in Hansard, because it is important for me to get to know the people I work with in these very close quarters. It is exciting, and I am sure that most have felt humbled as we have stood in this place. As someone who has been a member of both chambers, I can offer the observation that we are all here to make a contribution, despite the fact that we will not always agree. We all come to this place hoping to make our communities better, and to improve things for them. The theatre and the froth and bubble of this chamber at times, particularly during question time, is certainly not representative of the work we do in our electorates, which is enormously rewarding. I am sure all the new members will look forward to doing that. I know a number of them have worked for members of Parliament who are in the process already, and they so will understand that it is rewarding meeting with some of the most vulnerable people in our community, taking up issues on their behalf, and sometimes bringing them to this chamber and debating them. I wish all new members well. I believe we all seek to enhance and improve this great state. I congratulate the Premier and the ministers in cabinet. This is the first opportunity I have had to say that. The government has won resoundingly, and I expect that it will continue to remind us all of that; I would expect members opposite to do that.

I do not think that we would need reminding, given that, when we walk into this chamber, we on this side are surrounded by government members, so we have a daily reminder. I would, however, offer some caution, particularly in the light of the Premier’s comments that the majority that Labor has returned gives it a mandate to do whatever it pleases, and that we should just allow it to happen. I think this is more directed to the Legislative Council, given that the numbers in that chamber are different from what they are in this one. That certainly will not be happening from our perspective, although we respect the fact that the government has won resoundingly. There are many members sitting in this chamber, and although we can find ourselves sitting on the opposite side when the house divides with only four of our members, or with the few sitting on this side, which is a little bit demoralising—I am not going to like that—we will still be aiming to hold the government to account. That is our job, and we will be doing it. The government does not have a mandate to do whatever it likes without scrutiny being applied. The Premier and his ministers must absolutely make good on their commitment to deliver for all Western Australians, not just those that voted for the Labor Party. I recall some of the answers we have received in question time to date, particularly from the Minister for Transport, who was talking today about Metronet. That was clearly a centrepiece of the government’s election platform. Regional members are naturally concerned that the vast majority of what this new government has committed to spending is directed at the metropolitan area. I remind the Minister for Transport and all the other ministers making decisions on a daily basis that projects in regional Western Australia need their attention. In particular, for the Minister for Transport, the member for Moore and I have a rail line and a train of our own, which we fought very hard for—the AvonLink—and I feel that its demise is near, because of the change of government. Although all this money is being spent on Metronet and looking after the suburbs and the good people of the Perth metropolitan area, I implore this new government to make sure that we do not let this service go, because people in my electorate and the electorate of the member for Moore value this service greatly, and we do not think that we deserve it any less than the people in the suburbs and the members who have stood up and spoken highly of the Metronet project. The government is here to govern for all, despite its enormous majority, especially those who have not voted for the government. It will be the task of the Nationals to make sure that the government does not forget, as has happened in the past, that people in regional Western Australia need our support. It is hard to deliver services and to make sure there is investment in regional Western Australia. Regional development is difficult, and I know that members in this house understand that. The government needs to make a concerted effort; there must be a plan. It is more expensive to attract and retain people. We have seen a vast improvement in both those things over the last eight years, but there is always more to do, and it was very hard to turn that ship around in the eight years that we had in government. I think that the mood in regional Western Australia shifted when people saw the Liberal–National government make a commitment to the people of regional Western Australia, that it was there for the long haul, and there was a fund that would allow the government to deliver projects that regional people had long since put in the bottom drawer and forgotten about. That is what people felt like when we came to government 2008—that none of their aspirations would ever be met. They did not even dare to think that they might be able to put a project on the table, take something into one of their regional development commissions, or approach a member of the government, because it simply was not on the agenda of the previous Labor government. People were in utter despair. There were many black holes in regional WA; they had just been left to rot. We accept, as I said, that we have lost, and it is now the government’s task to take up the cause on behalf of every person in Western Australia, but we will be making sure that the government does not forget that regional Western Australia is the engine room of this state and its great economy. The fact that we lost, and that we are sitting on the other side of the house, is a hard transition. That said, members of the parliamentary National Party can and do hold their heads high. Our small but mighty party has been around for 100 years, and I am confident we will be around for another 100 years. We bucked the trend of the wave of change that washed over Western Australia at the last election. There was undoubtedly a tidal wave of support for the Labor Party. When I say that we bucked the trend, I refer to the numbers. In 2013, 71 694 people cast a vote for the National Party in the electorates in which we ran. We typically run in every regional seat. In 2017, 71 313 people cast a vote for the National Party. In the biggest swing to the Labor Party ever seen in this state, the Nationals lost just 381 votes. Of course, there were shifts across those electorates, and we have lost some incredibly important members of Parliament, but looking at the raw numbers of support for the Nationals, our team can hold their heads high. We did our bit, and we are in a very strong position to make sure that we are there holding this government to account.

In the Legislative Council, between 2013 and 2017, we lost just 28 votes. After the biggest swing against the government in history, and the biggest swing towards a Labor Party—congratulations to them—the National Party has held its own, but there were some losses and some shifts where those voters were. Before I move on further, I want to draw attention to the fact that we had a very strong campaign team. The work done by our members of Parliament, our candidates, the organisation and our volunteers and supporters was exceptional, and I want that on the record. We are a small party and a small team. We do not have unions or big business supporting us. We had sections of the big business fighting against us with a campaign the likes of which we have never seen in history of campaigning in Western Australia.

I put on record an enormous thank you on behalf of the National Party to Hon Jacqui Boydell, our campaign director, Hon Martin Aldridge, Nathan Quigley, and our campaign central team for making sure that the National Party is still here to fight another day P/L From a very personal perspective, while I am on my feet, I would like to thank my local campaign team of Rob Tinneti, Theresa Middis, Heather Giles and Amy McAllister. Our Central Wheatbelt campaign team, which was far vaster than that, put in the hard yards to make sure Central Wheatbelt remained in the hands of the National Party, and it did a magnificent job. The last personal thanks I would like to give, because this is the first opportunity I have had while on my feet, is to my ministerial team. As ministers in the chamber this evening would know, our ministerial teams are absolutely invaluable. They become an enormous support and we probably spend more time with them than our own families at times. I put on record my thanks to Doug Cunningham, Nicole O’Keefe, Jill Sounness, Josh Nyman and Amy McAllister. The team in that ministerial office while I had the privilege of being a minister of the Crown in the previous government was exceptional. Some of them had served over numerous governments, and I could not have done it without them. That was part of the broader Nationals team going in to the election.

As I have observed, we now sit on this side of the chamber, but an enormous amount of effort was put in to deliver us here, and it is right to acknowledge the people who work behind the scenes to support us in these roles. I cannot go any further without mentioning that we lost two members who recontested their seats. Hon Dave Grills, the former member for Mining and Pastoral Region, made a magnificent valedictory speech in the Legislative Council. Dave is an authentic individual who is passionate about the communities of the Mining and Pastoral Region. He is one of those grassroots campaigners who loved nothing better than to be out in his community doing the best that he could. I am devastated to lose him, but I know that he will go on to do good things, and we will see him walking the halls of Parliament House advocating on issues he is passionate about. The other is, of course, Brendon Grylls. We have already touched on this in this house. The departure of Brendon Grylls as the member for Pilbara and previous leader of the party only strengthens our resolve to continue the pursuit of the policy and change that will deliver for our constituents—those who live, work and invest in regional Western Australia. Brendon’s passion for regional WA has left an indelible mark on the communities that we seek to represent. His leadership and his approach to public office has meant that the people of regional WA now know what it is like to matter, and I know that is something they will not forget. They will not forget what it is like to have the government’s attention and light shone on them, because he had courage to bring that to the table.

This individual, Brendon, was an exceptional member of Parliament who contributed to the communities that we care about. If the member ever took the time to visit regional communities, he would know that; he will get that feedback. The member was not in the house—I have acknowledged that we lost the election. I am now speaking about a previous Leader of the National Party who served in this Parliament for 16 years. The members should show some respect. I place on record my thanks to Brendon for his service to not only the electorates he represented, which were Merredin, Central Wheatbelt and Pilbara, but for all Western Australian. He had an exceptional talent for tackling intractable issues, for inspiring people to get involved and for challenging the status quo. It was a privilege to serve as his deputy, to serve in cabinet and to be his successor in the electorate he represented in Central Wheatbelt. On behalf of our parliamentary team and the Nationals I thank him for his service and his willingness to risk his own political career for something that we all believe in. We all went to the election with that belief.

Political courage is rare in modern politics. It is easier to be beige. It is easier to avoid conflict. It is easier to fly under the radar. It is easier to be a small target. Cynics may feel that royalties for regions and the policy we took to the election are populist policies; but I tell you what, the people who live in our communities in regional Western Australia certainly do not think that. These policies are more than populism; in particular, royalties for regions fundamentally changed our state for the better. As we have prosecuted in this place, we still fundamentally believe that we need a new revenue stream to stabilise our state’s finances. I think we lost a champion of regional WA. Whether members believe in his politics or not, he was an exceptional contributor to this state. I am sure that those who have served with Brendon since 2001 would agree with that. Obviously, he was unable to provide a valedictory speech, but I am sure that if he had had this opportunity, he would tell all members of Parliament in this chamber that they should be fearless in their pursuit of the things that matter to their constituents. I think he would also thank his family, his staff and the people he had the privilege to represent. I say to Brendon, Susan, Thomas, Oliver and Jack: we wish you all the best. To Susan and the kids: thank you very much for sharing your husband and your dad with the Nationals for 16 years. It has been a privilege to serve with him and I am sure it will not be the last that we see of him. I want to speak briefly about the period between 2008 and 2017 when the government put regional development firmly on the agenda. It was not just a token effort. I do not deny that there had been expenditure in regional WA before we came to government, but it was not coordinated or concerted. The government would turn up to a community to give it a new school. The government would turn up to a community and say, “Here’s a new hospital” or “Here, have an ambulance subcentre”. There was no cohesive structure. We often observed prior to 2008 that although we planned every inch of the Perth metropolitan region, there was little structure to the future and the investment strategy for regional communities; it was lacking. That meant that it was left to the whims of the political cycle and people in positions of power, and it lent itself to the neglect that those communities ultimately experienced. Royalties for regions gave us a dedicated revenue stream for the first time. Prior to that, there had been a regional development fund.

Regional development received $80 million from the Gallop–Carpenter government over four years. It was all pre-allocated and there had not been any discussion at a local level with any of the people who it was delivering to; there was no grassroots involvement in decision-making. That was something that we came to government to change; we came off the back of the very city-centric Labor government that had neglected the regions. I believe that we have given people in the regions a blueprint and a map, and a desire to lift their aspirations for what they can achieve. It is right that people in the regions can aspire to have projects that have only ever been talked about for the Perth metropolitan area. It should not matter that a person lives hundreds of kilometres from the Perth CBD. We are not saying that we need a tertiary hospital in every one of our communities; we do not think that is the case. We do think we should have access to decent health care, and there are creative ways to come to meet this need, but it is hard. We have to work at it and think outside the square. Traditional models of service delivery do not work. We find that with funding mechanisms that come from the federal government as well, in relation to aged care and health care; they do not work. Particularly, in my area—I have to speak from the Central Wheatbelt’s perspective—child care is broken and it is not sustainable. The model used to fund child care does not work. We used royalties for regions to see whether we could come up with a different way to deliver sustainable childcare services, because the mums and dads, and families in regional Western Australia have the same expectations as everyone else. It is very hard in some of the smaller communities to make the model for 80 kids or 90 kids or more work, because it does not. We have to be creative, but we have to have the will to be creative. It is really easy to ignore it, because there are not as many people out there as there are sitting on the doorstep of this place in the Perth metropolitan area. It is the same with aged care. The federal government model of funding is 80 beds or more for an aged-care facility. The biggest town in my electorate has 7 500 people. We are not going to have an 80-bed, high-end dementia care unit, so people have to be creative. Royalties for regions gave us the opportunity to go to the federal government and the state departments and say, “How would you solve this? How would you solve this for our communities? Be creative.” We worked with the public service and people willing to think outside the square to deliver the Southern Inland Health Initiative and childcare services, and to think about how we might buck the trend so that the aged members of our communities, the ones who built the towns, are able to stay in the towns that they built with their family and friends at the time that they need them the most. We did that; royalties for regions allowed us to do that. That is why we are so fearful that the commentary that we have heard from the government to this point is that that is all about to stop. The government is either trying to find savings or it is going to cut it; we have not been able to get a clear answer from the minister. We certainly have not been able to get a clear answer from the Premier or the Treasurer, so we are nervous and our communities are nervous. We know that every royalties for regions project that has not had a signed financial assistance agreement—even some that have—has been called back in to be put on the minister’s office desk to be scoured through.

Mr R.S. Love: Line by line.

Ms M.J. DAVIES: Absolutely. We have also heard comments that if you have not started your project or there is not a stake in the ground then you can pretty much just write it off. These are people who have done the project work, have the business cases and met the threshold of their project going through cabinet. The member for Moore pointed this out; they were approved by the cabinet of the day. These community groups and, in many cases, groups of local governments in our communities, have been working away, particularly on aged care projects, trying to find solutions for their communities. We fear that that is now all to be lost because they will either be substituted for promises that were made by the incoming government—which is its right—or just cut. That is unacceptable to us. Some clarity would be good because everything has ground to a halt. People are nervous and confused. They do not know what the future of the regional development commissions will be. It is a very poor signal to send to people who have worked so hard; they feel let down. We know that not one of these contracts is safe. Another sign that this government has put on the table—I spoke about it briefly the other day—was the announcement made by the Minister for Transport about the $89 million contribution out of a possible $2.3 billion federal state road and rail package. That was claimed as a win for regional WA. That was the quote in the media statement from the Minister for Transport: that funding for two projects that equate for $89 million out of $2.3 billion was a win for regional WA. It is like the crumbs off the edge of the table. Thanks very much! One of them is for planning money; it is not even a project at this point. The signal that is being sent to regional communities is, “We’ll give you a little bit, but don’t expect too much more. You’ve had your fair share already. You don’t get any more.” That is less than four per cent of the total package that the government has crowed about in question time in this Parliament and in public. It is four per cent. I am not sure that anyone in my community would think that that is a win. They would certainly be very nervous to think that that would be considered a win under this new government’s attitude towards spending. That, coupled with the fact that more than half of the election commitments made by the incoming government were about Metronet, sends all sorts of signals to our communities that give them cause to be nervous. The members of the National Party are equally nervous. We are nervous that we do not get answers to questions and that there will not be any further project funding. We are nervous to think that, “We have had our fair share. That is it—no more. See you later.” From the answers that we are getting from ministers, the Premier and the Treasurer, we feel that they are focused on the Perth metropolitan area and that it is like the good old days of pre-2008 when we came to government. The playbook is not too much different. I wonder how in all good conscience the members for Bunbury, Kimberley, Pilbara, Collie–Preston and Albany can sit in the house and support an agenda like this when they will have to go back to their own communities and have this debate there. It will be difficult. We talked about that from the perspective of a broader economic debate. How are all members of the government going to go back to their communities having said, “No increases to taxes. No increases to fees and charges.”? There are regional members who will now have to stand shoulder to shoulder with their comrades and defend enormous expenditure in the metro area and very limited expenditure anywhere else in the state. That will be a challenge. As I said, the expectations of regional Western Australians have been raised over the last eight years; a very high bar has been set. People in our communities know what they deserve. They have seen what it is like to have a government care and they will not tolerate being ignored. I do not want to go on for too long, as it has been well canvassed over the past day in relation to the Loan Bill, that this side of the house believes that there needs to be a new revenue stream and we do not think that the government is exploring all opportunities. However, it did seem during consideration in detail, despite the fact that the Premier and the Treasurer had previously said that they were not interested in talking to either of the companies, that some work is being done. It seemed that they are looking at some of the state agreements and having conversations with some of these companies. The government absolutely should because its members cannot go back to the communities that they represent and realistically say to them that they were going to do what they had said they would not do before the election—that is, ask for another $11 billion—but not ask for every sector of the community to do its fair share of the heavy lifting. It is the ultimate irony. Today there were rallies by the Community and Public Sector Union–Civil Service Association of WA and I have read enough of the speeches of the incoming members to know that there are strong union links right through this house. I am sure that the unions will come calling. There are rolling meetings on that. I cannot remember what they said but there was something to do with a machete. There is a CPSU media statement titled, “You Lost Us At Machete” and a poster that reads, “No Machete; Real Bargaining; Job Security; Premier, Keep your promises.” This is from the CPSU just two weeks into the Parliamentary sitting. It was not brave enough to come to the steps of Parliament House to talk about frozen wages and negotiating, which it had no hesitation in doing when we were in government. It is keeping its distance. It is having a little bit of a go but it is not putting too much pressure on yet but I think that will change.

Mr R.S. Love: Maybe there were too many of them to fit in the courtyard.

Ms M.J. DAVIES: Maybe. The unions are having meetings dotted around the city as far as I can tell. That is an interesting development. I think that the meetings will increase over time as those job losses start to be realised. Again today, the Premier could not confirm what percentage, whether there would be an equal spread of job losses between regional and metropolitan areas or whether we would be harder hit in regional Western Australia. We know that that is normally the case because it is more expensive to employ, attract, and retain people in country communities. The National Party made that commitment but I am not sure that the government is up to that. That will be the challenge. The unions will start to get restless and they will hopefully bring their argument a little bit closer to Parliament House next time. They should not stay down in the Perth CBD but bring it to the steps of Parliament as they did when we were in government and put on a little bit of pressure and stand up for their members. We have canvassed the fact that the Nationals still believe there is an opportunity for this government to pursue additional revenue. We canvassed today in this house that we need to make sure that we understand the context in which spending decisions were made by the previous government and that there were some headwinds, and that the government cannot get itself out of a structural deficit by saving and cutting; it will not work. The government needs a new revenue stream and the GST. That GST is over the horizon; it will not come in any time soon. There is an opportunity for this government to sit down seriously and look at a revenue source that will not impact on mums and dads or pensioners on fixed incomes or small businesses and make sure they are not being asked to do the heavy lifting when it appears there is no appetite to compel the two biggest mining companies, which we assisted and facilitated to grow and deliver enormous profits on a non-renewable resource owned by the people of Western Australia, to do so. We expect this government to do everything in its power to make sure that burden is not left to the most vulnerable in our community. I do not want to go over it again because I feel as though we have done it ad nauseam last few days. I think people are very clear on the National’s position. I thank once again the National Party and the team we have here. I think we can hold our heads high off the back of the election and we will certainly be seeking to hold this government to account over the next four years.