I'm thrilled to rise today as the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and, more importantly, as the member for Eden-Monaro.
I've been given a portfolio that I am incredibly passionate about, growing up in regional Victoria and then moving to regional New South Wales, where I am also raising my own kids in a beautiful part of the world, the Bega Valley, a stunning spot for anyone who wants to come and visit.
I know how important it is that regional communities aren't left behind.
I want to see our regional areas continue to thrive so that our kids have the same opportunities as their counterparts who live in the cities.
As a former mayor of the Bega Valley Shire, I am also all too aware of the challenges facing our local government sector, and I look forward to working closely with my local government counterparts on the issues impacting them, financial sustainability chief among them.
Over the last eight months I have dived headfirst into my role as Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and I have learnt a lot so far; however, there is always more to know and there are always more communities to understand. I have been fortunate enough to travel to a number of rural and regional areas across Australia already, and I am looking forward to exploring more of our vast regions and meeting those people who make our regions so amazing.
I have been to Norfolk Island on a couple of different occasions, and I will soon be travelling to Jervis Bay, the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories. As part of my ministerial role, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with over 170 local councils to hear what is important to them and to give them an opportunity to raise their concerns.
I intend to continue doing this, and I am looking forward to as many meetings with councils as possible during my time as minister.
The Albanese government went to the election with an ambitious legislative agenda, and, since that election, the Albanese government has delivered. It has delivered cheaper medicine, which took effect on 1 January, and many people across Eden-Monaro—particularly those on medication, but also a number of our local pharmacists—have highlighted what a major reform this is.
Cheaper child care will benefit 1.2 million families from 1 July, and there are many of those in Eden-Monaro. There are 180,000 fee-free TAFE places to help ease the skills shortages and help more Australians train for better jobs—a job that those opposite vacated in their time. Work has now begun on important renewable energy projects that will create jobs, boost communities and make sure Australia has a secure, reliable energy supply.
Australians will soon have the opportunity to vote for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament for First Australians, a gracious invitation that has been extended. We have the opportunity to honour the oldest continuing culture in a meaningful way.
Whilst my ministerial portfolio will keep me busy, serving Eden-Monaro remains my highest priority.
We have had an incredibly tough couple of years, and our communities deserve a strong local voice in Canberra. I will continue to be just that. I will always advocate for the needs of Eden-Monaro to ensure that we get the best for our region. With an electorate that spans 42,000 square kilometres, I know that there is a lot to deliver for our communities.
While I know there is more to do, I was pleased that the Albanese Labor government has committed to delivering much more than the last government did for our region.
We have committed to delivering better health services across the electorate, with $1.1 million going to the respite care centre in Queanbeyan, a much-needed facility championed by the recently passed Yvonne Cuscheri after her experience of having a child with a terminal illness who unfortunately passed away in an aged-care facility, without a dedicated respite facility for people of his own age.
There's also $5 million for the veterans' wellbeing centre in Queanbeyan. We know that there is a huge cohort of current and former Defence personnel in our region, and we need to make sure they have access to the services they need, which is why this announcement was so fantastic and much needed.
There's $4.7 million for the return of maternity services to Yass District Hospital. With one of the biggest country regions booming, it is high past time that we have those services delivered back to that local hospital.
There's $2 million for the Googong sports and social club, upgrades to Freebody Oval and George Brown Memorial Oval, and fire trail maintenance in the Snowy Valleys.
There's $750,000 for an all abilities playground in Murrumbateman.
These are all things that are needed to make our communities liveable. There are infrastructure and furniture improvements for preschools and schools across Eden-Monaro.
There's $10,000 for the Cooma Lambie Street Preschool, the Cooma North Preschool and the Captain's Flat Community Preschool.
There's $20,000 for Eden Public School's landscaping, $80,000 for the Yass High School basketball court, $20,000 for the Brungle Public School playground and $20,000 for Khancoban Public School for desks and chairs. These are all much-needed upgrades going to some of the 120-odd schools across Eden Monaro.
Improving phone connectivity and getting rid of blackspots is a huge priority for us, especially after the number of natural disasters our communities have endured, which is why we have committed a million dollars each for the Snowy Mountains, Monaro and Kings Highways, and $3.5 million for patchy areas along the Princes Highway between Ulladulla and Eden.
We know the royal commission into the Black Summer bushfires showed that people were expecting to get information while travelling on these main thoroughfares as they were leaving emergency areas. More needs to be done, and our government will deliver it.
Carwoola, Mystery Bay, Dalmeny and Talbingo will receive $500,000 each to deal with mobile blackspots. These communities have been campaigning for these much-needed upgrades for years now.
We're also delivering critical safety upgrades for roads across Eden-Monaro. There's $17.4 million for the Brindabella Road and $65 million for the creation of Dunns Creek Road.
In addition to this funding, the key upgrades and improvements that are very much needed, and after listening to local feedback, the government has increased the funding for Brindabella Road by $20 million, bringing our investment to $37.4 million, which will provide much-needed safety upgrades and will improve tourism opportunities in the Tumut region.
I'm incredibly proud to be the member for Eden-Monaro. It is a privilege that I will never take for granted. Every single time I stand up in this parliament, I always have the Eden-Monaro community in front of mind.
That being said, I will use the rest of my time to shine a light on some of the incredible things that have been happening across my electorate.
Snowboarding has really taken off in Eden-Monaro, which is home to the Snowy Mountains, as it should be. A huge congratulations to Jindabyne's Josie Baff, who got her first ever snowboard World Cup podium finish in snowboard cross—and it was gold!—and to Dalmeny local Valentino Guseli for a huge effort to win the crystal globe at the 2022-23 FIS Snowboard World Cup in Australia. Incredible work, Josie and Valentino. Thank you for everything you're doing for Eden-Monaro and for making Australia proud.
At this year's Australia Day ceremony in Queanbeyan, it was fantastic to recognise the brilliant season of the Queanbeyan Whites Rugby Union club, the Queanbeyan Tigers AFL Club and the Monaro Panthers Football Club, which were all recognised for their premiership-winning seasons in 2022. And if the Queanbeyan Blues had managed to score a few more, four of the Queanbeyan football codes would have taken the premiership cup. It's Queanbeyan's sports excellence at its finest, and I'm confident to say that there will be even more stellar results in the 2023 season.
I also want to give a shout-out to our very own futsal superstar, Christian Marchetti, from Jerrabomberra. Christian has been selected in the Australian futsal team and will compete in the national futsal championships in Barcelona later this year. All the best to Christian. I'm sure all your hard work and training will pay off, and I look forward to catching up with you on your return.
Whilst I'm talking about futsal champions—they abound in our region—I want to say congratulations to Elodie Morrison, Evelyn Knight, Beatrice Morrison and Addison Brummel for representing the ACT and surrounds at the Australian Futsal Championships a few weeks ago.
One of my favourite things to do is to hit the road and visit the wonderful communities that make up Eden-Monaro. Recently, I've held mobile offices in Talbingo, Wyndham, Cooma, Narooma, Yass, Adelong, Bungendore, Cobargo and Queanbeyan. During these catch-ups, I've had the opportunity to hear from communities about the important issues that matter to them, from improving communications connectivity in our regional and remote areas to hearing firsthand experiences of flood-ravaged communities.
I'm looking forward to catching up with the Rosewood and Batlow communities in coming weeks, and if you're in the Queanbeyan area, my annual office open day is happening on 13 March. I'd love to see you.
Eden-Monaro is home to so many fantastic festivals and events, and we celebrate what the arts do for our community, which is bring people together and give people a reason to travel to our beautiful part of the world.
Last year I had the privilege of attending the melanoma awareness day festival—something that's very close to my heart—and I want to give a shout-out to all those involved. That day was put together after we lost a beautiful community member, Tracey Beasley. Our local community will continue to hold the melanoma awareness day festival, and I look forward to attending again later this year.
We also had the inaugural Wanderer Festival at Pambula Beach and the Thaw Festival in Merimbula the following weekend.
It was great to see the Numeralla Folk Festival back a few weekends ago after the disruptions of the past few years.
These events not only are a fantastic opportunity for our communities to come together and a fantastic opportunity for visitors to come but they do really show what our communities have to offer, and I am incredibly proud that all of these festivals are mainly run by volunteers. We've seen music performances, artisan workshops, comedy and the Oktoberfest, and I want to thank the organisers of all of these events for their ambitious contributions to our region.
I look forward to seeing these and other local events reach new heights in 2023 as our landmark National Cultural Policy starts delivering benefits for Eden-Monaro.
Attending citizenship ceremonies remains one of the highlights of my role as a local member, as it did when I was a local mayor. I'm not surprised Eden-Monaro continues to attract new citizens who have chosen to make our beautiful part of Australia their home. I've been really honoured to attend citizenship ceremonies in Queanbeyan, Cooma and Bega, and I thank the local councils for putting on such memorable ceremonies to welcome our new citizens. Since July last year we've had the pleasure of welcoming over 250 people from around the world. My part of the world certainly is a vibrant, multicultural electorate, and I look forward to the positive impact our newest citizens will have on our communities.
Interest in and understanding of civics and citizenship are values that are fostered from a young age in our schools, which is why I'm always proud to engage with students from across Eden-Monaro. In the last few months alone we've had the privilege of welcoming 15 schools to Parliament House from across the electorate. Whether it's a large school, like Bega High School, or a smaller regional school, like St Joseph's in Adelong, the experience of walking these halls, the halls of our nation's democracy, is something that most students won't forget.
Now, more than ever, a respectful dialogue that positions First Nations people as central to our future is paramount, and that's why it was a real honour to meet Lumen Christi Catholic College with the Hon. Linda Burney MP for the unveiling of an amazing piece of First Nations art, done by the school students. Thank you to those students
for including us in that experience.
I've been fortunate enough to get out to visit the students of Eden-Monaro in their own schools.
A highlight for me, and I hope for the students too, was being involved in Stephanie Alexander's kitchen garden initiative with the Cobargo Primary School. Welcoming Stephanie Alexander to a small community after what had been a pretty terrible experience during the 2019-2020 bushfires was amazing. Seeing how well those kids took to that program, seeing her interaction with the kids in the kitchen and then eating that food was amazing, and I want to thank her for the work that she does with schools across this country. That program is amazing, and I'd ask schools to have a look at whether they could incorporate the kitchen garden initiative into their own schools if they have a chance.
I was even able to revisit my days working as a lawyer, when the year 11 legal studies students of Bega High kindly invited me into their classroom for a chat about what being a lawyer is all about and what a fulfilling career it can be. I'm looking forward to getting out to even more schools in 2023 and I'm excited to bring Parliament House to your classroom.
Last year we saw the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which coincided with her Platinum Jubilee. In my speech commemorating Queen Elizabeth in this place I recounted the many times that she had visited the seat of Eden-Monaro and the many memories of the Queen and her long service to our country held by constituents.
To celebrate her platinum jubilee, the federal government initiated the Planting Trees for the Queen's Jubilee Program. It saw community groups and organisations honour the Queen and her legacy of service and achievements by commemorative tree plantings. Projects took place across Australia, and in my own electorate of Eden-Monaro tree planting projects took place in Queanbeyan, Bookham, Cooma, Bredbo and Bega.
I've had the honour of attending the official planting of trees at many of these events. Planting trees to mark the Queen's 70 years of service will leave a lasting reminder of the Queen's service for future generations to enjoy. I extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our community service organisations and volunteers.
I was so proud to learn of Amar Singh's Australia Day Local Hero Award for 2023. Amar is the founder of Turbans 4 Australia. In response to the Black Summer bushfires, during the COVID-19 lockdowns and at any time of need, Turbans 4 Australia have made meals, put together food hampers and delivered truckloads of water, groceries, toiletries, toys and tools to those in need. I'm so proud of the work they have done in Eden-Monaro, and I want to say thank you for taking the time to take our communities into your heart and helping them. It's an award well deserved, Amar.
I'd also like to pay tribute to the many individuals and organisations who work tirelessly to improve our community. A small honour roll might include Orange Sky, who provides washing services in Queanbeyan every Wednesday and Sunday; sleepbus, in Queanbeyan, who this week will celebrate providing 1,000 safe sleeps to our community; Yass Valley SPIN, who, through volunteering at event after event, raised money for local people suffering illness; Monty's Place, in Narooma, who give free meals to the community; Vinnies, Anglicare and Salvos in Queanbeyan—the list could seriously go on and on.
These organisations and volunteers do so much across our community. In Eden-Monaro, more than a quarter of our population volunteer in some capacity, whether that's for a service club, for a sporting organisation, for the local P&C. I want to say a big thank you to you. Our small communities, our country communities, don't run unless we have amazing volunteers like yourself doing fantastic work. I want you to know that thank you is never enough, but here in this place I want to say thank you for the work that volunteers do across Eden-Monaro.
Just last week we had the Terry Campese Foundation providing cash vouchers to families to help with backto-school supplies for local kids. It's an amazing foundation set up to provide youth mentoring services from a lifelong local who wanted to contribute back to youth in his community after his first grade rugby league career was finalised. People like Terry Campese provide not only a role model but a voice for many young people across our region. I wish him all the best in the upcoming New South Wales state election. You've been a champion on the football field, and I know that you'll be a champion for the people of Monaro.
The generosity of community spirit in Eden-Monaro is alive and well, and it never ceases to amaze me how people go out of their way to support those around them. I'm incredibly proud to represent the people of EdenMonaro, and I hope that I am given the honour to continue representing them for many years to come.