That is more than in almost any other electorate in Australia. We have allocated money in the budget to start planning work to duplicate the M5 East tunnel; opened a family relationship centre in Bankstown to help local families; and provided $25 million to local councils, including an additional $222,700 to fix dangerous black spots on our local roads. We have announced the development of an autism-specific childcare centre in south-west Sydney. And we have assisted local support organisations with over $2.2 million in refugee settlement grants, more than in any other electorate in Australia. These decisions have a big impact on the quality of life for the people of Blaxland. So do the local services provided by government. Under the Howard government, the tax office and immigration office were both pulled out of Bankstown, and with them went 750 jobs.
In 2004 we also lost our permanent Australian Hearing centre. It was replaced by a temporary facility that provides limited services, by appointment only, one day a week. Hearing aids are not fixed on site. If your hearing aid breaks, you have to live with it for up to 10 days while it is repaired somewhere else. My predecessor in this place, Michael Hatton, raised this issue on a number of occasions. Unfortunately for the people of Blaxland, the last government was not listening. In this chamber in March 2004 Michael said:
… I look forward to Labor coming back to government and I look forward to having services put back into Bankstown … to directly service the people of Bankstown, who have been so badly dealt with by this government-
the Howard government-
… which has treated them with utter contempt.
This issue was first raised with me at my first street meeting in Yagoona in June last year. Narelle Buckingham raised the plight of her 17-year-old son, James, who was forced to travel out of the area to access essential hearing services that were once available in Bankstown. She told me she was forced to take time off work to travel about 20 kilometres to drop hearing aids off and pick them up again. And if they were not working properly when she took them home for her son, which often happened, she would have to go through the whole routine again.
When I was elected I invited Senator Ludwig, the Minister for Human Services, to a public meeting in Bankstown to talk about this issue. Hilda and Charlie Garwood, 85 and 88 years young, the two people who first raised this issue with Michael Hatton, turned up. They told the minister how this had impacted on their lives. Hilda told the minister:
If Charlie didn’t have his hearing aids because they were being sent to Liverpool for repairs, which took 8-10 days, the TV was so loud, I couldn’t sit in the same room as him.
Services were provided at the back of a medical centre one day a week. The consultation room was tiny. The staff had to bring all the equipment along with them each week and set it up on the bed and around the floor. All they did was testing and make moulds. There were no repair services.
Minister Ludwig listened carefully and promised to see what he could do. True to his word, the minister wrote to me on 28 May advising that Australian Hearing would open a new permanent centre in Bankstown. The new centre will open its doors next week, on Tuesday, 23 September. Can I take this opportunity to thank Minister Ludwig on behalf of the people of Blaxland.
I also want to thank the former Member for Blaxland, Michael Hatton, who worked so hard in the previous parliament for the return of Australian Hearing to Bankstown. This will make a big difference. When I told Narelle Buckingham she told me she can now cancel next month’s appointments in Liverpool and Parramatta and reschedule them in Bankstown. I also spoke to Hilda and Charlie. Hilda said:
This is fantastic news. It will mean a lot for Bankstown. These new facilities will be a great help to us and everybody else in the area. It’s good to see the Rudd government is listening.
This is the end of a long campaign and I am proud to have been a small part of it. It is a great win for our local community and a great example of the difference a Rudd Labor government can make.’