Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your election. Today, I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, as well as those of the electorate I have come to represent, namely the Darkinjung and the Guringai people.
I would like to recognise the contribution of my predecessor, Mrs Karen McNamara, the former member for Dobell, and thank Mrs McNamara for her good wishes. And, on behalf of the people of Dobell, I would like to share our special appreciation for the first and longest-serving member for Dobell, a minister in the Keating government and my friend, Michael Lee, who was, and is, a strong advocate for our region. Thank you for being here, Michael. I also acknowledge my friend and Central Coast colleague Senator Deb O'Neill, who has joined us on the floor. To Ben Morton, the member for Tangney, even though we may be seated on opposite sides of the House, I have to say that it feels really good knowing there is another kid from Wyong here with me today.
I have always been part of a tribe—the second of eight McBride kids—five boys and three girls. It was the day-to-day negotiations of who was going to clean up the kitchen that taught me the value of acceptance, tolerance, perseverance and the very literal meaning of not blowing up the place!
Growing up my family moved around a lot, changing schools seven times. I was lucky enough to live in the inner west, Western Sydney and Nauru—which, looking back through the eyes of a six-year-old, was a tropical island paradise—before finally settling on the Central Coast. When I first came to the coast, it was the late 1980s. Big hair was in, acid-wash jeans were 'must have' items, the Parramatta Eels were winning premierships and John Farnham's You're the Voice was the No. 1 hit.
I can still remember how alive I felt going for morning surfs at Soldiers Beach before school with my dad and my brothers. With the sun slowly rising from the east, cool sand under our feet and crashing waves around us, we would jump on our boards and plunge headfirst into the vast, salty water of the Pacific Ocean. Later, those surfing trips we went on when we first moved to the coast would become analogous to how we lived our lives as adults—bold, confident and free.
Like so many young people on the coast in the 1990s, I had to leave the area to study. At the time we did not have a local university I could attend to gain the skills and training I so badly wanted and needed to become a pharmacist. My friends and I did not have local jobs to support us through our years of training, or even the option to come back and work for local industries. So, once I graduated, I moved again. Throughout my twenties I lived and worked in Forbes, North Sydney, Newtown, Berkeley Vale, Belmont and Oxford in the UK. I would have kept moving except that one day I got a call from my friend Toni about a job going on the coast. I packed my bag to come home.
As a pharmacist—the only pharmacist in this parliament—I have had the privilege of working in health for 20 years, in mental health for 15 years and at my local community hospital in Wyong for the last decade. During this time I have had a front row seat to the changes that have been happening on the coast. I have witnessed the area's booming population growth first hand and the life and energy it funnels into our community. I have also witnessed the strain these changes can place on our infrastructure and local services—the struggle of families living in suburbs and towns and villages without the ability to support their most basic needs. However, this does not define who we are. In Wyong Hospital pharmacy, despite constant pressure on the department we worked together and commissioned the cancer care pharmacy, so chemotherapy is now manufactured on site and patients like my friend Laurie can have treatment locally and discuss their concerns with expert oncology pharmacists. As a former councillor with Wyong Shire, despite the budget being stretched, working with Labor council members Lisa Matthews and Doug Vincent we had the bonds for not-for-profits waived so community groups like 2261 Out of the Box could host family feasts without somebody having to put hundreds of dollars on their credit card, and there is being a volunteer director of the Wyong community Bendigo Bank, which filled a gaping hole left by the big four in our town and this year, again, stepped up in helping to 'Kick Start the Heart', the only regional netball club in the inaugural Netball New South Wales Premier League.
While modest, these achievements are examples of the type of work many thousands of people on the coast are doing each and every day to better our community. We have a population to rival nearby regions; we have the ability and the will to change our area for the better; and, as a group, we have decided that now it is our time to thrive. In much the same way that I am no longer the person I was all those years ago, Dobell is not the same as it was in the eighties or the nineties. To many people the electorate is nothing more than a name on a list and a set of lines on a map, but to me, my family and our friends it is our home town. It is the bustling beachfront cafes at Wamberal, the cycling tracks around the Tuggerah Lakes, the beautiful Red Gum walking trail in the Wyrrabalong National Park, the charm of the rural townships of Dooralong and Cedar Brush, where my great-great-grandfather was a pioneer, and the region's natural beauty that first drew us to the coast. It is the reason we never want to leave.
The population that once sat just under 200,000 has grown to 330,000 and is soon to be a booming 400,000—the ninth-largest urban centre in Australia. Our region now boasts 21,000 local businesses, a university, major teaching hospitals and a growing number of new homes. Our proximity to major cities, population and growth have turned a former holiday destination into a serious regional player and a community with a powerful voice. Yet, sitting along the overwhelming natural beauty of the region and the energy and vitality of its people is a jarring social reality—the harsh truth of disadvantage. Unemployment and a lack of local jobs are real and persistent problems.
The coast's greatest strength is its people. Dobell is an area with one of the highest populations of young people in the country, which means we have a great potential for developing tomorrow's leaders. However, the latest job figures for the Central Coast reveal that over 16 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, compared with the national rate, which sits at 12.7 per cent. That is 16 per cent too many. In an area where local jobs are limited, it is of real concern that only one in two students have the chance to finish high school. For the many working people who call the coast home, one in four travel outside the area for work. This daily commute can take anywhere between two and four hours. Locals will tell you it has not really improved all that much since I was young, and it is two to four hours that people could be spending with their friends and loved ones and not travelling for work.
However, it is one thing to know the issues and another to do something about them, which is one of the reasons our region would be best served by a Labor government. Only Labor believes in reducing inequality and promoting greater social and economic equity by providing individuals and families with the tools they desperately need to make a positive change in their community. With Labor, we can help raise high school completion rates through the provision of a quality education supported by full Gonski funding. Our young people are motivated and talented and deserve the same start as all kids in life. With Labor, our business community can flourish, with the support of better infrastructure and policies that attract industry and generate local jobs. Our business sector is smart, dynamic and community minded. It does not need this government throwing obstacles in its path, like the NBN, the roll-out of which in my region has been nothing short of disastrous. Labor created Medicare, and only Labor will protect Medicare. As a pharmacist, too often I saw patients and those who loved them forced to make decisions that no-one should have to make about skipping medications or pathology tests because they simply could not afford to pay. Our young people, families and the elderly can and must be able to continue to access the best in health care rather than simply what they can afford, through universal health care in the form of Medicare and the PBS.
The last 10 years of my working life have been dedicated to Wyong Hospital, a public hospital in a low-socioeconomic area that provides quality care to thousands of locals. Today, Wyong Hospital, which was built by our community for our community and belongs to our community, is slated for privatisation by the NSW Liberal government. So that you can understand how important this hospital is to our community and the reason we feel it should stay in public hands, I want to share with you a little about how it came to be.
In the 1950s, with a growing population and no local hospital, a group of dedicated locals banded together, fundraised endlessly and worked tirelessly to find a community solution to a very real community problem. In fact, it was 1956 when the first Wyong Hospital committee meeting was held, and 1980 before the first patient was admitted to the newly constructed 100-bed hospital.
Keith O'Connell who was a Labor member for Peats at the time was so impressed with the dedication of locals with support of this hospital he said:
It amply demonstrates that when we work for the community, we should not be daunted by delays, frustrations or obstacles placed in our path, as tenacity and determination will overcome such problems.
In this area of patient centred care, why are conservative governments in such a rush to retreat from public hospitals? More than balance sheets, KPIs and so-called health outcomes, public hospitals in regional areas care for our community. They offer us hope when we are sick; they provide expert care to newborns and empower new mums; they give us a safe place to stay when we need refuge; and they are the rooms where we mourn when we say our last goodbyes.
To the residents who held gymkhanas, springtime fetes, doorknock appeals and carols by candlelight festivals, to the Wyong Bowling Club, RSL Club, Toukley-Noraville Progress Association, the Toukley Chamber of Commerce; to the Wyong Hospital Committee, Wyong Hospital Trust, Wyong Hospital Auxiliary and the Tuggerah Lakes Auxiliary; to the everyday members of our community who fought for almost 30 years for our hospital to be built and are now fighting to keep it in public hands, I am here to tell you all that I believe that Wyong Hospital must stay our public hospital. I support you when you say we want to and must keep it in public hands.
Whilst on the topic of health, I thought I would take this opportunity to speak about an area that I have worked in for 15 years and that is very close to my heart, mental health. As you may know, October is Mental Health Month, this week is Mental Health Week and yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Each month, week and day that we mark as a community to recognise mental health is important, to focus on how far we have come and how far we have to go. As a pharmacist, mental health worker and carer, I will use this platform so that in the future those living with mental illness and those who love and care for them will live better. Despite the barriers broken down, the programs launched, the modest boosts in funding, stigma persists and lives are being lost.
According to the National Mental Health Commission, 'Each year one in five Australians will experience mental illness'. They go on to say:
Over a lifetime, nearly half of the Australian population will experience mental illness … Less than half will access treatment.
The NMHC has noted that in the last decade the number of Australians taking their own lives has increased to more than 2,800 a year, which is more than twice the number of people killed on our roads. This needs to change, across our neighbourhoods, towns, cities, regions and across the country, so that lives, like that of my friend Graeme, are not lost.
As a young pharmacist I took a locum post on the other side of the world and found myself working in mental health but what made me stay was working with highly motivated and dedicated social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, nurses and psychiatrists who, working together, each and every day could change lives. My firsthand experience working in health for almost 20 years is of hardworking and capable staff, who do a great job in very difficult circumstances.
In Australia today, where you are born, where you grow up, where you live, where you work and where you age matter. The social determinants of health are now well understood; however, there is a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. I would like to share with you a quote from Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association:
Why treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?
When he made this observation, Professor Sir Michael Marmot was a medical student at an outpatient psychiatric clinic at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. It was the 1960s, and the psychiatrist at the clinic had instructed a patient to 'stop taking blue pills and try these red pills', made an appointment for a month's time and sent the patient, still a picture of misery, home. Dr Marmot goes on to say that the idea that this patient was suffering from red-pill deficiency was not compelling. You cannot separate a patient and their condition from life's circumstances.
Fortunately, our health care and mental health services have improved considerably since the 1960s.
However, I was part of too many case conferences where the only option for discharge accommodation was to hand a patient a telephone book and ask them to try to find somewhere to live. This must change. In Australia in 2016 we should not, from any hospital or any health service, discharge anyone to a car, a couch, a cave or 'No fixed abode'.
Joining me in the fight for better health care, improved infrastructure for local families and businesses, and the opportunity to create a thriving local community were 300 dedicated individuals who door-knocked 50,000 homes and worked tirelessly on the campaign to win back Dobell for Labor. To those who were there from the beginning for the 28-day 2013 campaign, Jay Suvaal and Stacey Reay: thank you.
Thank you to the Labor leadership team, Bill and Tanya; to Albo, for the best backyard barbie; and to Tony, Chris, Jenny, Jason, Mark, Sharon, Ed and Katy, for your support of the Dobell campaign and commitment to the Central Coast. To NSW Labor, Kaila Murnain and Pat Garcia, for backing talented women—and men—in winnable seats, thank you.
To the 2016 campaign team of David Dobson, Jack Power, Peter Duggan, Andrew Scott, Peyton Roberts-Garnsey and Jake Allen, and all the Young Labor volunteers, Andrew, Jack, Edward, Josh, Vanessa, Siobhan, Dominic, Sean, Claudia, Daniel, Shane, Caitlin, Jacob, Zac and our little Labor rising star MacKenna: we would not have been the No. 1 Labor team for door-knocks across Australia without your tireless efforts.
To my Central Coast Labor colleagues David Harris, David Mehan, Yasmin Catley and Kathy Smith, and Senator Deborah O'Neill and Pat Conroy: I am looking forward to working closely with you for our region. I also acknowledge Anne Charlton, Labor's formidable candidate in Robertson, who fought a tough campaign for the coast. To Jill Hall, the former member for Shortland and tireless campaigner for our community: thank you for your enthusiastic support. To all the branch members, Central Coast Community Union Alliance and supporters across the Central Coast—I know many of you are watching with Jill right now at The Entrance Leagues Club today: thank you.
My nanna was a proud shoppie and would have been overwhelmed by the support of the union movement. To Gerard Hayes and my union, the HSU: I will stand up for healthcare workers across Australia and in Dobell, so they can care for us. Thank you to Steve Butler and the ETU NSW Branch; to Glen Williams and the MUA Newcastle; to Tony Sheldon and the TWU; to Tara Moriarty and United Voice; to the ACTU and Unions NSW; and to Sally and Mark's not-so-secret army, Salim and Aarin, and the entire Build a Better Future Campaign teams for Dobell and Robertson.
To Denis Leahy, Pharmacy Guild of Australia New South Wales Branch Vice President, my friend and mentor: your work, over many decades, with those affected by alcohol and other drugs is inspiring and is saving lives. To friends and colleagues at Wyong Hospital and across Central Coast Local Health District; to Sue Evans, Director of Nursing and Midwifery; and to David Gilbert, Deputy Director of Pharmacy: it was very difficult to leave. But now it is my turn to stand up for you and our hospital in this place.
To Josh Brown, for setting up the office and guiding me through these first few months: congratulations on your election to Upper Hunter Shire Council. Your community will be well served by you.
A big shout out to the team in the Dobell EO: Richard, Heather, Jake, Peyton and Lisa. We make a great team, and I thank you all for your hard work.
Thank you to my friends in the public gallery today. To Amanda Galbraith, Pharmacy Guild of Australia ACT Branch President: I was very lucky to meet you on the first day of pharmacy school. To Jo Sharpe: your clinical expertise and friendship have taught me a lot. To Di Selby, the Central Coast Heart, and all my friends over thirty years of netball on the coast: launching the Heart has been a boost to women's sport and our region, and I wish you the very best for the future. To friends who have helped me so much and could not be here today, Renee and Megan: your friendship keeps me grounded, and I will be back on court next season. To Roland: thank you for your calls from London. Your political insight is invaluable. I am looking forward to you moving back home next year. To Maria: thank you for believing in me when I doubt myself.
To my parents—my mother, Barbara, who is here today, and my father, Grant: your love for my siblings and me knows no bounds, and we are forever grateful. Many years ago, my dad told my brother Leo: 'You can do anything in life, but you can't do everything. We chose to have all you children over everything else.' To the children who came before 'everything else' and their families, for your support, always—to Will, Karin, Gabe, Gus, Isabel and Vincent; to Nick, and my god-daughter Frances, who are here today; to Urs, Patrick and Oscar; to Eddi, Ling, Finn and Iona; to Leo, Kel, Flo and Johnny; to Aimee and Serge and Iggi and Dejana: thank you.
Finally, to the Central Coast: I am humbled by your trust in me. I will not let you down.