Governor’s Speech: Address-in-reply

I am delighted to rise this evening to make my contribution to the address in reply to the Governor’s speech. I commence by congratulating you, Speaker, on your election as Speaker of this Parliament. Many terrific things have happened today, but one of the really lovely things has been seeing the respect and reflection you showed in your contribution, in which you told your story to this chamber about the journey you took from the country of your birth. It reflects so beautifully on the values not just of this country but also of this state that today you became the Speaker of the Victorian Parliament. You do us all proud: congratulations.

I also pass on my congratulations to the Deputy Speaker, the member for Melton. It is a particular source of pride to me that both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker hail from Melbourne’s great western suburbs. It is a fabulous story for Melbourne’s west, as it is for your families and for the governance of this Parliament. As we all know, the member for Melton is not just an elder of this Parliament but a person who has given us all great support, succour and the odd push every now and again in his contribution. I put on the record my congratulations to him as well.
I also pay tribute to the new Premier of this great state. He has done a wonderful and fabulous thing in achieving what is almost a historical first — I believe it is a historical second — of defeating a first term government and successfully seeing the election of the Australian Labor Party on a platform that I believe will fundamentally change the face of this state.

Having said that, I also acknowledge the former Premier. I for one believe in the value of public service. Whilst in this chamber and in other forums we will occasionally have a reasonably passionate and occasionally rough interchange, but to have been the Premier of the state of Victoria and to have made that contribution to public service is worthy of acknowledgement. I doff my hat to the former Premier of Victoria.

One of the really terrific things I have enjoyed today is the contribution of new members in their inaugural speeches, and I am excited that there are more to come. One of the unifying themes of those inaugural speeches has been the stories that people have told about the values that propelled them to the Victorian Parliament. Whilst there are obviously certain things we disagree about — and some of those were manifest in the contributions people made this evening — there was a great commonality when people talked about their personal reflections and their experiences in the way in which they expressed gratitude for family and friends, and in the observations they had made in both their professional and their community lives and how those observations had informed their politics and their values.

Before the great hurly burly of the politics and debate of the Victorian Parliament truly takes off next year it is worth occasionally pausing to reflect on what we have in common. I have been given pause to reflect this evening by virtue of the fact that some of those who sit on the other side of the house have expressed views on certain issues in their contributions to the debate which broadly reflect my views on those issues. Perhaps I may be naive in my hope that we may one day work on some of those issues in a bipartisan fashion and that the spirit that has been reflected here tonight, particularly in those inaugural speeches, might also be reflected in some of the public policy outcomes we work towards in the Parliament.

I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to those who sought to be re elected to this chamber but were unsuccessful. I make that tribute irrespective of what political party people hail from. We all know how tough an election year can be. It is tough not just on us and staff; it is also incredibly tough on families. It is important that we briefly pay tribute to the efforts and endeavours of those who worked so hard to try to be elected to the Victorian Parliament but were unsuccessful. At this very late hour, as we reflect on the presents that have not been bought, the cooking that has not been done for Christmas and all the challenges that come from parliamentary and political life, we should also pay tribute to the public service contributed by those who have not returned to this place and certainly not forget them, their friendship or their contribution.

I am honoured and delighted to have become the Minister for Health and the Minister for Ambulance Services. It is a particular honour for me because obviously health is one of those issues that has both a direct and a major impact on the lives of so many Victorians. Certainly after the last four years I am under no illusions about the work that needs to be done in order to improve our health system, but I am particularly proud of the government’s policy offering and the work it has done in these early days to that end.
In these early days I have had the opportunity to move around visiting health services and ambulance stations and to meet with paramedics, doctors, nurses, allied health workers, volunteers and patients. It has been a true honour. One particular staff member I met was a woman who had worked for 39 years at Bacchus Marsh and Melton Regional Hospital. The day I visited Bacchus Marsh hospital was the day of her retirement. Our health service is full of incredible people. We have a very important health workforce, and it is one I will continue to nurture. In achieving that end I will not waste a day.

We have really taken steps to end the war on paramedics. On day one the Premier of the state made a referral to the Fair Work Commission in order that Victorian paramedics will get a work value case to ensure that their rates of pay are commensurate with those in other states. We sought the resignation of members of the Ambulance Victoria board. We have appointed an administrator, changing the culture of that organisation and ensuring that the great challenges of our ambulance service are strategically aligned. It is a very important priority for the new government that Ambulance Victoria is managed with passion, purpose and fairness.

We also put into the public domain the hospital data that had been hidden by the previous government. It shows that ambulance response times are much worse than we thought them to be, even under the scrutiny we had applied in opposition. In almost every local government area things have never been so bad. We have our work cut out to turn that around. An important part of doing that will be the establishment of a consultative committee with paramedics, Ambulance Victoria and other health service experts to look at some of the things we can do to improve response times, because every minute and every second saves lives. We take that commitment very seriously. We have also made a commitment to invest $100 million to try to improve ambulance response times, and certainly the work of the ambulance performance and policy committee will help advise us to that end.

We have appointed Doug Travis, the former state president of the Australian Medical Association, to conduct an audit of our hospital system to identify where some of the so called beds the previous government promised might be, to have a look at what our theatre capacity might be and to look at how we might grow the capacity of the Victorian health system. We have also started some work to deliver on our commitment to legislate nurse patient ratios. As is the case in many other jurisdictions, putting these into law is important not just from a public policy perspective but also from a fairness perspective. We want to take nurse patient ratios out of the hurly burly of enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations. This is an incredibly important measure to ensure that patients get the best care and to respect the work of our nurses.

As the Minister for Health and the Minister for Ambulance Services, I hope to be a great champion of nurses and midwives. I am incredibly passionate about their work being recognised. They are a critical part of our health system and health services, and I hope to demonstrate this government’s respect through not just the processes we use but also our public policy responses to their work.

We will also take a very strong stand against hospital violence and aggression. This is a very challenging issue, but I intend to work with each hospital board to ensure that staff and site security is at the highest standard and that violence is reported publicly. It is very firmly my view that greater transparency about violence and aggression in our health services — putting a light on it — will focus the attention of decision makers and of those who allocate resources and will bring about greater community understanding and sentiment in relation to the importance of addressing these issues. Our health service employees, volunteers and other patients ought not be the direct victims of violence and aggression without response. That also exacerbates some other very difficult model of care issues, but the government intends to work very closely with health services boards for the purpose of addressing that.

As I have already indicated in this Parliament, we have referred the issue of medicinal cannabis to the Victorian Law Reform Commission to look at not whether we implement this policy but how we go about implementing it. Having spent time with both the children and families reliant on medicinal cannabis and having observed the difficult choices they have had to make, I note that these families, these children and many other patients deserve to have government trying to work through some of these very challenging issues. I for one am very committed to doing so. We have also launched the ice task force.

I am also very excited about many of the capital commitments the Labor government has made. Particularly close to my heart — and maybe close to your heart as well, Speaker — is the western women’s and children’s hospital, to be built in Sunshine. There is to be the Victorian heart hospital, a major expansion of Casey Hospital, a comprehensive breast cancer centre in Melbourne’s east, a major boost to Moorabbin Hospital, as well as improvements to cardiac services in Ballarat and improvements to critical care services at the Angliss Hospital and many others. I know that many health services right across the state have some really challenging capital issues. We obviously have a very limited pool of resources; it is certainly not a bottomless pool of resources. How we go about allocating those resources in a way that is effective and fair and does not leave communities, particularly vulnerable communities, behind is one of the great challenges that I will confront.

I am very passionate about bench to bedside medicine. It can make an incredibly important contribution, and Victoria holds a very pre eminent position in health and medical research in Australia. We must not let New South Wales and Queensland get ahead of us. Let us appeal to our parochialism! We see in many international jurisdictions an attempt on the part of others to leverage off some of the commercialisation approaches that have been adopted in this country. We must never forget that Victoria has been at the forefront of medical research. It has been at the forefront of discovering things such as the bionic ear and non invasive genetic testing for epilepsy. Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research discovered all of the colony stimulating factors which have helped treat more than 10 million cancer patients and reduced the impacts of chemotherapy.

These are not just heavy scientific matters but things that make a difference in the quality of people’s lives. We need to continue to argue and advocate for greater investment in health and medical research. We must never underestimate the power and importance of innovation. We must not just talk about science and education being a competitive advantage of this state and this country; we must nurture and incubate them. I am very passionate about this issue, on which I hope to make great inroads.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge and thank the people of my electorate of Altona for putting their faith in me once again and for re electing me. I am honoured and privileged by that faith. I intend to reciprocate that honour and faith by delivering to my electorate many of the election commitments that have been made. Those include a new senior school, a new tech school and a new children’s centre, as well as ensuring that we get the Sunshine women’s and children’s hospital built. I have 3000 people at Toyota Altona who will not have employment in the not too distant future, and we need to support workers in obtaining retraining and ensure that there are real jobs. I want the people of Altona to feel assured that this government is on their side and that they and their families will not be abandoned. That matter is very important to me.

In conclusion, I wish to honour and thank my gorgeous family and my lovely children, whom I hope to see in the not too distant future.