Addressing Equity in the Regions

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The Central Coast was a great beneficiary of six years of Labor Government, and no election loss can take away from us the investment, the growth, or the legacy of that time.

11 years of Liberal Government left scars on our regional communities and our regional economies – not by what was done, but by what ignored.

Only a Labor Government can give the Central Coast and regions across Australia their fair share.

Not only did we repair much of the damage of disinterest that marked the Howard Government, we moved the Coast forward at a pace.

We invested in health, in education, and the National Broadband Network.

We put money into training our young people, and supporting the vulnerable and homeless in our community.

It is only Labor that sees the regions as worthy of investment in education, health, and infrastructure.

We didn’t do these things because they were an easy path to take; we did them because each decision to invest in the regions and the people who live there was a decision that took us along a very clear pathway towards greater equity and better lives for regional Australia.

We did this because we are Labor, and we govern for all, not for some.

Under the Building the Education Revolution, every primary school on the Coast was renewed. For some, like Pretty Beach Public School, this was the first new building since the 1960’s, and replaced its library built in the 1920’s.

Despite the hysterical claims of the cynics and the fear mongers, the BER stimulus spend wasn’t a vanity exercise. We did it as an expression of our belief in the power and value of keeping Australians working, creating positive learning environments for our kids, and providing our teachers with workplaces that befit the work they do for our children, and through them, the future of our nation.

The Gonski Review revealed all too clearly, there are deep and growing clusters of students in our schools who are failing, many of which are in our regions, and too many students in Australia are not getting the type of schooling experience they need to become full participants in our democracy.

These clusters identified by Gonski also represent those populations and groups in society that are marginalised in other aspects of Australian life – those with disabilities, people in regional Australia, people who speak English as a second language, low socio-economic families, and indigenous Australians.

We all know in our hearts the power of a great teacher to affect great learning. It’s why we continue to invest our hopes and our dollars in education because, despite the challenges we face right now in this country, we know that education is an investment worth making.

Politics is about people, and reveals who and what we value. We cannot expect to grow as a community, if we do not see and address inequity. We cannot expect to achieve equity without giving access to opportunity for all and providing the necessary levels of funding and training that respond to the reality that inequality is too often concentrated in regional communities.

This doesn’t end with education, but extends to all aspects of life.

Labor’s commitment to preventative health care through the Medicare Locals network is another great example of recognising and addressing inequity in its unique forms in different regions.

We cannot expect to grow as a community, if we do not see and address inequity.

The 61 Medicare Locals around Australia ensured that decisions about health services could be made by local communities to meet local needs, so regardless of where someone lives, they can access primary health care services.

Because Labor cares about inequity, we were appalled to find that Australians living in regional areas are more likely to die from cancer. When looking at comparison mortality rates between metropolitan areas and the regions, there were 8,878 excess cancer deaths in remote and regional areas.

It is unacceptable that an Australian, living an otherwise identical life to a city cousin, is more likely to die simply because he or she lives in the country. Labor in the last Parliament saw this injustice and acted to build 26 Regional Cancer Centres.

The building of the much needed Central Coast Regional Cancer Clinic means that hundreds of local families have had the benefit of the care and healing possible because of that investment in access to health care right in the community, near family, friends and workmates. Only because of Labor.

We did that because we believe that every Australian, not just some Australians should be able to access the care they need in their community – close to home, and close to family.

We built the GP Superclinic at West Gosford as well as the rehabilitation unit at Woy Woy for the same reasons. These things stand as physical reminders of how we expressed our beliefs by making sure that the people who live in regional Australia are not overlooked.

These were all investments that reduced the tyranny of distance which so often compromises the lives and life opportunities in our regional areas.

It takes both vision and practical investment to address issues in regional areas – so long neglected by the Coalition.

Now we see the Liberal Government returning to their commission of cuts. The National Broadband Network is the perfect example.

Although the Central Coast and other regional centres are crying out for the NBN, the Liberals are committed to seeing it gone, because it is a “luxury Australia cannot afford.”

Truth be told – Australia can’t afford not to have it.

Already our expressways and trains are at capacity, and with the Central Coast growing – poised to grow by another 100,000 people by 2030 – we need an alternative to commuting. The NBN and telecommuting offered hope to thousands of families and hundreds of local businesses.

Our outer regions are growing as more people move to the country to escape the city – but it is only Labor that wants to make it easier to earn a living and raise a family in our regions.

It is only Labor that sees the regions as worthy of investment in education, health, and infrastructure. Regional communities need Labor. It is our job to articulate our case in those communities because there are certainly allies there who share our view.

Deborah O’Neill is the former Member for Robertson and a current Senator in New South Wales.