It has been wonderful hearing the new members from right across the parliament share their stories and their hopes for this parliament. I too would like to do that. It's been a long time since Labor sat on this side of the chamber. It's the first time I've had the privilege to do so, and I'm very honoured to be here.
The issue that we have faced, which I've spoken about many times from the other side, has really been about the failure of those who sat on these benches on this side of the House to pay heed to the needs of my electorate, the electorate of Macquarie, the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, which has so many natural attributes but has also suffered so much since I have been in this place. The overwhelming emotions that people shared with me when the election result was known were of hope—hope that things could now be different, that they could be better—and a sense of relief that now the grown-ups were back in charge. We absolutely intend to meet the expectations that our communities have of us with the privilege of being on this side of the House.
In the last 2½ years, my community has faced four natural disasters plus many other weather events that don't rate as natural disasters. That has created a community that feels really under the pump. You add COVID to that and you have individuals feeling anxious and stressed. You have children who feel fearful when it rains, or have flashbacks of the 2019-20 bushfires when they smell smoke. You have a local economy that feels like a pressure cooker. There is not as much money flowing through the local economy, and people are telling me they're really feeling pressure that they have never felt before. I think we have a job, now that we are in government, to do everything we can to alleviate that pressure, to allow people to live their lives without the feeling of a threat hanging over them. That's certainly what many of the commitments I made during the campaign, and have made over many years, will allow us to do.
The very first of those commitments is, of course, related to legislation that we already introduced this week, and that is action on climate change. Many of our issues are related to that. We are at the forefront of experiencing the effects of climate change. It's not something esoteric to us. It's not something off in the future. It's something that happened a few weeks ago, a couple of months before that and a year before that. We are feeling that. I've just come from a briefing with the insurance industry, who advised me that my community has the highest premiums in the state. We are already paying the price for a lack of action to tackle climate change, thanks to those who for the last decade were in the position that we're in now. That's just shameful.
Our action on climate change is going to be one of the things that fundamentally gives hope to my community, hope that we can mitigate some of the effects that we are feeling. On top of that, I'm very proud to be able to provide tangible supports. One of the things we rely on right across Australia when there are natural disasters is volunteers. The volunteer workforce—who are in the Rural Fire Service, who are in the SES and who, in fact, are people who volunteer for Anglicare or the Red Cross—are the ones who keep stepping up and stepping up, time and time again. One of my commitments relates directly to the Rural Fire Service and the SES. I've made sure that they are going to see funds coming to them that allow them to make decisions for their own rural fire brigade, their Rural Fire Service headquarters or their SES headquarters that make their life easier and make it easier for them to serve the community in the way they choose to do it. Every rural fire brigade in my electorate will receive $50,000, and that will allow them to make decisions about what their volunteers need. Already they're starting to think about what might be useful, and it ranges from mental health support through to a washing machine. Quite frankly, they are at the point of realising they do not want to take contaminated, smoke-filled clothes back to their family homes to ask family members to wash, or to throw in their domestic washing machine. So these are really practical things that make it easier for them to be volunteers. That is how we can start to alleviate some of the stress on the ground, and I hope that what it will do is make up for years of not being able to fundraise. When you're in the disaster and when you're recovering from the disaster, it
is very hard to go to your community and ask them to give more, given that so many of them are suffering themselves.
I really want to shout out to the RFS and SES, who, of course, only in the last few weeks, have yet again stepped up. They're not alone. I spoke yesterday in this place about some of the many volunteers who get involved when there is a disaster, in the operation of it and in the recovery. We have a commitment to make sure those recoveries are easier. It's never going to be easy, but we need to give people a way forward. I have high expectations that, over the next little while, people will say, 'Right, I can see a difference between how a Labor government responds to a disaster versus how the previous government did.'
I'm going to give you one example of my personal experience of a disaster, back in 2013, when my house burnt down in the Blue Mountains bushfires. The very next day—the day after the fire, when about 200 homes had burnt down—a Liberal cabinet made a decision to cut emergency support. They cut it so that, if you had been unable to return to your house for a number of days, you were no longer eligible for support. If your house was still standing and didn't catch on fire, you weren't considered to have been disaster impacted. They also cut out the ability to access a small amount of support—we're talking $1,000—if your house was without power.
Originally, under the Gillard government, we had said to people, 'If you've been without power in your home for a number of days, you've got spoilage, you've got waste; your life has had an upheaval,' and no doubt many people will have had to have found alternative accommodation. But, no, the Liberal government decided that was not part of it. That amount, that $1,000, is not a big amount. If you've lost your house, it certainly doesn't cover all the costs that you're going to face. But it makes a difference then and there. It's the first little step to relieving the pressure that you're under, financially.
I really want to commend the minister in the House, the Minister for Government Services, for reaching out to me to say, 'We want to make sure those payments get through to people quickly and effectively.' I will continue to do that and identify the ones where we're seeing glitches in the system.
But I know that, as a government, we're going to do this better. We are already doing this better. The comparison for me is that, during the last flood, my office was inundated with distressed people who'd been unable to access that small amount of money. This time we have seen a much greater speed with which it's flowed through, and I really welcome that.
When we think about the pressures and climate change, there's real hope in many of the commitments that we've made and will be delivering over the next three years. One of those is very practical for my community, and that's community batteries. I've committed to having one in East Blaxland and one in Hobartville. That will be part of the pilot we roll out, saying to people, 'We know that not everyone can afford to put a battery that their solar feeds into in their home.' Not everyone has those thousands of dollars sitting around to invest in this, but the community battery will allow us to do that on a community scale. That is going to make a difference for many people. Both Blaxland East and Hobartville have a high take-up, with about a thousand homes with solar on the roof, but neither of them have very many—if any—registered batteries. Again, people have looked at practical things, and I'm so proud of the policy set we've put forward. It says to people: this can actually be a win-win. There is not a loser here. This is about working for everybody.
The Blue Mountains is World Heritage listed. That makes it a pretty special place and one that deserves protection, but, equally, the Hawkesbury has an extraordinary river. That river has been damaged by natural disasters but also has a whole lot of other erosion issues. There hasn't been very much money in the last decade invested in that river. I think that's a tragedy. It is not only our source of water; it can also be a huge source of threat to us. But the river is the thing that makes the Hawkesbury what it is. It allows us to have the agriculture we have. It also allows us to have an ecosystem—a beautiful river ecosystem. One of my commitments is to ensure that the Hawkesbury Environment Network receives a million dollars to be able to invest back into our local Hawkesbury environment. The Hawkesbury Environment Network brings together a whole lot of community groups, and they will have time to think about the most effective ways that we can do that—no doubt collaborating with other organisations, whether it is our council or others involved in the catchment.
And that is, again, another really practical thing that we can do for our environment. It is a precious area, and I am not under any illusions that we don't have challenges. Every single person in the Blue Mountains knows that the flight paths for the Western Sydney airport are going to be an enormous challenge for our community. My commitment is to work that through as transparently as we're able to. I can guarantee engagement with the community so that views are properly heard—unlike the processes we saw when the environmental impact statement for the Western Sydney airport was first done and the community's views were really just brushed aside. Everyone on this side knows that there are going to be lots of challenges that face us, and we face them knowing that we have a community with a huge amount of expertise and a huge commitment to the areas in which people live, and we will work with them on those issues.
When you think natural disaster you might not instantly think mobile phone, but, quite frankly, that is life-and-death in a natural disaster. One of the challenges we have faced in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury is that there has been very sporadic coverage. There are black spots all over the place. On my way to work from my home in Winmalee in the Blue Mountains to my office in Windsor in the Hawkesbury—it's about a 40 minute drive—I go through two black spots. Both of them are in highly bushfire prone areas. So I am very pleased that there is already the funding now to fix some of those black spots. One of those is Hawkesbury Heights. Oakville is also smattered with black spots. I am very pleased to see that we have Oakville in the PUMP. Bullaburra is another one, but there are many others that need to follow. My commitment is that we will get fixes to the issues that face Bowen Mountain with their mobile coverage. Again, that is another highly fire vulnerable community, and they also at risk of landslides with those extraordinary rains that we have seen. Blaxlands Ridge is another area that has been neglected. I can't think of a single thing
that those who were in government prior to us did that would have helped with the service for Blaxlands Ridge, but we will not be forgetting small communities—vital communities—like that. Maraylya is another one, along with Mount Tomah and Yellow Rock.
Let me tell you the Mount Tomah story. When the previous government sat on this side of the parliament, they promised to fix Mount Tomah, a black spot on Bells Line of Road—one of the major routes that people use to travel from Sydney to the west. They promised a mobile tower. In fact, it was there and it was committed, and then all of a sudden it disappeared. I couldn't work out what had happened to it. What had happened was that the job got a little bit too hard. The government decided that there was somewhere easier for it to go, and they sent it out west to a safe Nationals seat. The vulnerable communities of Mount Wilson, Mount Irvine, Berambing, Mount Tomah and Bilpin lost a vital, potentially lifesaving tower. We will restore that tower. We will make sure that that black spot is fixed.
Yellow Rock thought itself lucky when it got given a mobile tower by those opposite. Sadly, that tower does not provide mobile coverage for the bulk of the Yellow Rock community. So, yet again, one of the things we will be doing is cleaning up the mess and fixing the things that were half done—the things that did not meet community expectations. If what they'd done had met community expectations, I wouldn't be standing here, I can tell you. They failed to meet community expectations. They were all announcement, all glitz, but on the ground they didn't deliver. We will not make that mistake. I'm sure we'll make mistakes, but it won't be that one. We will work to deliver every single commitment that we have already spoken about.
Looking at the natural disasters that we've had, I see that finding refuge has been a really tough one for families because we don't have any purpose-built places. We have a challenging community, with one road that goes from the top of the mountains to the bottom and with real traffic and crossing problems when the rivers flood. One thing that will improve the access to help for people across the river on the North Richmond side of the Hawkesbury will be upgrades to the
North Richmond Community Centre. My concern about the Hawkesbury is that it's a very large area; it's 3,000 square kilometres. So I'm not going to promise that it's going to be the solution for everybody, but what we'll be doing is upgrading the centre so that people can go there and take refuge. It will be much better appointed for that, with showers, toilets and better space. I'm looking forward to working with the council and the community to make sure that that facility meets expectations. We talk a lot in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury about disasters. That's because we face them a lot. But I'm so pleased to see that our government is going to be making daily life better for many people.
One of my areas of passion is mental health, and I can't count the number of times I've spoken about it in this chamber. I'm very pleased to see that we have already, in only nine weeks of being in government, announced additional funding for the Katoomba headspace. I look forward to talking more about the detail of that. But the big change will be having a headspace for the Hawkesbury. This is a big commitment but could save lives and change the lives of kids in the Hawkesbury and their families. It's only possible because of the enormous support the community has given to that. It's sad that it's taken this long to achieve it. We could have had it six years ago. We could have had it after the 2019 bushfires. We could have had it after the 2021 floods. Sadly, we've had to wait for another two natural disasters before we're deemed worthy of it by those opposite. It's taken a long time and a lot of advocacy. But that's one of the things that we want to do: make life better for people, to address the concerns that they have.
Another way we're going to do that is through the veterans hub. I'm very much looking forward to working with all the stakeholders to see where we put a veterans hub that is for veterans and takes into account the needs of defence families, who will ultimately be users of that service. These are things that won't be used by everybody, but they'll be used by people who really, really need them.
Something that will have a wider use is support for the Merana Aboriginal community association. I've committed $150,000 to upgrade their building so that we can facilitate in-reach to them so that medical practitioners can come and services can be provided within that facility. Again, for some people, it won't mean anything to them, but, for those who use it, it could potentially be life changing. Merana is an organisation that does a lot with little. I'm very, very proud to be able to support them. There are a range of other commitments that I've made to my electorate: things like upgrading dog parks—small commitments but, gee, that can also change the way you use your local parks—improvements for parks across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, and a shared pedestrian footpath and cycleway from Hawkesbury Heights to Winmalee. I remember how good it was when I was able to get out and push my kids in a stroller when they were young and have one in a trike riding alongside. These are the sorts of things that make life better—that give you a sense of hope that you can get through a day, sometimes—and they're the sorts of things that this government will do.
We're going to do the big things like tackling climate change. We're going to do the small things that actually make people's lives bigger. I'm so very proud to be part of that government.