I rise to return this book, American Colossus: Big Bill Tilden and the Creation of Modern Tennis, to the member for Bennelong. He lent me the book, and I now return it to him. The member for Bennelong has given me great gifts, not just the book. He gave me 'Indian Summer' by the Gatlin Brothers, with Roy Orbison taking it home. He's told me about songs, about places. He's told me stories.
But for me, his great contribution has been that, as an international person, to a degree he's been above this parliament. His thoughts have been higher than our thoughts. His work on committees and the uplifting inquiry into infrastructure — I believe he's a prophet and a seer. One day, John — one day, Member for Bennelong — the things that you put in those reports, on that infrastructure and the way we do it, will come to pass in this country, and you'll be lauded as somebody who was way ahead of his time.
As an international tennis player, coming into this place as you did, you had a different view of the world. You may not have been like other politicians here. You were different. You wanted to see national cooperation for the betterment, and the greater benefit, of the Australian people. That was your goal. That was your focus and always has been. To me, it's a great regret that you are leaving this parliament. You know I encourage you to stay on — probably once a week — but your time has come. I wish you the very best, and I give you this song: 'Gentle on My Mind'.
John, you'll be gentle on my mind forever.
Thank you for this opportunity to address the parliament on the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Exempting Disability Payments from Income Testing and Other Measures) Bill 2021. Every now and again there is a moment in the parliament that should not be missed, where history is made, where a change comes, and we as parliamentarians need to note it. With the retirement of the member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, our last connection to Old Parliament House will be severed.
Warren Snowdon was the Minister for Veterans' Affairs from 2010 to September 2013. He achieved two things
I would like to acknowledge, amongst many other achievements. He moved the veterans' affairs equivalent of Five
Eyes from officer level up to ministerial level, so the issues were acknowledged as far more important than the
parliaments of the day were recognising. Subsequently, the second ministerial meeting was held here in Canberra,
and that was Warren's work. From 2010 to 2012, Warren focused on the eminent persons group to start planning
the Gallipoli event of 2015. He knew that they had to look ahead and they had to be three years out to make this
event the very important event that it was. To his credit, the member for Lingiari understood the value of
relationships. To underpin such important work he twice visited Turkey and France. His foresight in dealing with
the mayor of the province of Villers-Bretonneux was seen when he happened to have a signed Wallabies jumper at
hand to give as a gift to the mayor.
Closer to home, according to Warren's return speech, Warren wondered if having a child at the height of his 2013
campaign would grab the granny vote and some of the women's vote. I have heard since, though, that the women of
his area rallied and put out the cry 'Support Elizabeth; vote Warren go back to Canberra'! He did return, and his list
of parliamentary achievements is two A4 pages of tiny writing, so I won't even try to go through all the work that
he's done in the parliament, but I would like to highlight some things.
In August 2013 he launched the online suicide prevention and mental health resource Operation Life online. In
June 2013 he improved military compensation arrangements in response to the 2011 review of military
compensation changes to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, including increased permanent
impairment compensation and DVA white cards for former ADF members with long-term health conditions
accepted under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. He increased the compensation for dependant
children of deceased ADF members. In May of 2013, the DVA Veteran Mental Health Strategy was launched, with
proposed extended arrangements allowing access to mental health supports—here we go again—and supports prior
to compensation claims post discharge and GP assessments. It also extended the veterans and veterans families
counselling service to those with certain peacetime service.
In May 2012, funding was announced for the Anzac centenary commemorative program to run from 2014 all the
way through to 2018. In May and June of 2012, the government provided assistance to Bomber Command veterans
travelling to London for the dedication of the new Bomber Command Memorial on 28 June 2012. In February of
2012, the first national observance of the bombing of Darwin was held on the 70th anniversary. In December 2011,
Australian personnel involved in maintenance, transport or decontamination of aircraft used in the British nuclear
testing program became eligible for cancer testing and treatment. In September 2011, the prisoner of war recognition
supplement was introduced. It was paid to veterans who were prisoners of war and to civilian detainees. It was paid
at the rate of $500 per fortnight and indexed in line with the CPI. It was not income for income tax purposes or for
the purposes of social security or veterans entitlements income checks. In May of 2011, the Coordinated Veterans'
Care Program was introduced to provide ongoing planned and coordinated primary and community care for gold
card holders who have chronic conditions and complex care needs and are at risk of unplanned hospitalisations.
Sharon Bird just gave her valedictory speech, and I've heard the member for Lingiari speak to the parliament. In
March 2011, he released a military compensation review, a review of the Military Compensation and Rehabilitation
Act 2004; and, in 2010, members of the Australian Protective Service who patrolled the Maralinga site up to June
1998 became eligible for cancer testing and treatment. He has the serious dedication around mental health and
condition of the community that veterans' affairs ministers become a part of—part of their family. For all his hard
work, Warren is to be congratulated. The parliament is better for it. Having said that, I will refer to his first speech
in just a moment.
The era that Warren first joined the parliament in—the Old Parliament House—was totally different to the
expanses of this Parliament House. Everybody was connected together in a very small group of people—it's only
what I've been told—and so the interaction between members, staff, ministers and backbenchers was fierce and
unrelenting for the whole of the time they were there. COVID has had us so disconnected in this House with the
social distancing and all the measures that we have had to deal with, whereas the old House was a very small unit,
and the interaction of parliamentarians then was quite different to what it is today.
We have someone coming from that era still here in 2021 and having suffered a loss. I identify with the member
for Lingiari, because I have been a 'oncer' in this place twice, and I know how hard it is to come back. I know how
hard it is to stay here in a marginal seat, like the member for Lingiari. There are many people—I'm sure the member
for Lingiari won't talk about them—who would be very happy if he weren't in this place or if he had been booted
out long ago. You've got to fight for your position, you've got to fight to stay here, it's hard to come in, it's difficult
when you are in here and it's very easy to be thrown out. So you've got to be a dedicated parliamentarian and have
a commitment to the people that you serve, the people of this nation, the party you represent, the caucus you are a
part of and this House of Representatives—this place where the decisions for the nation are taken. It's a privilege
for all of us to be a part of that decision-making process for the nation in good times and bad.
The member for Lingiari said in his first speech:
This nation cannot pretend to wear the mantle of maturity until the indigenous rights of Aboriginal Australians are given formal recognition and the demands by Aboriginal and Islander people for compensation for lands stolen and for social and cultural disruption are addressed. In my view, this should involve appropriate amendments to the Constitution. I say to the member for Lingiari: we stand here today, you and I, in unison on that need to change the Constitution and recognise the importance of the Indigenous people in this nation.
Further, he said:
Until we give back to the black man just a bit of the land that was his, without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him—until we do that, we will remain what we have always been so far, a people without integrity; not a nation by a community of thieves.
Pretty strong words for a first speech in this place! But those words were written and spoken by someone who had
a clear sense of responsibility of representation.
I wish the member for Lingiari and all who travel with him, his family and friends, the very best in his retirement.
May you go well and may the sunsets of the Northern Territory be a part of your days
Tonight, as the Victorian government looks set to pass its controversial pandemic bill, I feel compelled to acknowledge the Australians who, unlike me, have been forced to choose between getting vaccinated or losing their job. It makes no sense to me that Commonwealth officials who work in windowless offices are not mandated to be vaccinated, while vaccinations for farmers, producers and their workers in my electorate have been mandated. That's not right, it's not fair and it's not logical. For the record, I want to acknowledge that I know I'm privileged not to be faced with having to make such a decision.
Over the past nine months, I've spoken with hundreds of people in distress, many who are suffering on a scale that I find difficult to comprehend. I'm sure that my fellow members and senators are also hearing gut-wrenching stories. I want to honour some of those people and bear witness to their suffering. I have purposely changed the names of the people that I'm about to explain to you because I don't want them to suffer significantly for the stance they've taken.
Firstly, there's Nina, a single mum in her late 30s with two children, who felt coerced to get jabbed to keep her job as an aged-care nurse. Nina came away feeling violated after her first jab. The fact that she felt coerced into getting it left her reliving trauma associated with having been raped when she was 20. She said she feels disgusted in herself that she gave in to the coercion. Then there's Deani, a schoolteacher, and her 13-year-old daughter, who endured four weeks stranded in New South Wales, living in a stranger's caravan, whilst trying to get back into Queensland to rejoin her husband and son. David and Leah are primary school teachers and parents to three boys who are on unpaid leave while they wait to see if the mandates change.
Carolyn is a doctor who has decided to retire early so she can speak freely and advocate for patients, family and friends. Ahmad is a chef who now provides companionship and cleaning services instead of doing the work that he loves. Bonnie, having recovered from COVID eight months ago, is fearful of being vaccinated and will lose her job as a hairdresser unless she can obtain an exemption. Tonya was told by her GP of more than 30 years that she couldn't see her face-to-face unless she was vaccinated. Katherine and Rick, parents of two teenage girls, have decided to sell their business to set up a sustainable life on the land with friends so their daughters don't have to get vaccinated, at least until their daughters can make up their own minds and make their own decisions.
Then there's Sarah, who lives with her partner and five children aged six to eighteen. Sarah and David have been registered nurses for the past 30 years and have lost jobs which they love simply because, in their professional medical opinion, they were not prepared to be jabbed with an experimental vaccine. Sarah was terminated from a nursing position after 24 years. Her partner was terminated from his position after 18 years of service. Sarah and David are now living off their limited savings and will soon join the Centrelink queue, which they have never done before, to pay their mortgage and bills and to feed their children because they're unable to find employment. More than anything, Sarah wanted to tell me about the impact this mandatory vaccination is having on her and her children. She is angry and scared and at a complete loss to understand the unnecessary and unfair adverse impacts on her children. Her son has just completed year 12 and works as a lifeguard at two local pools but can no longer do so. He also wants to go to university next year to study either nursing or paramedicine but now can't unless he gets double jabbed. He also can't pursue his love of participation in musicals or attend Venture Scouting activities. Sarah's 16-year-old daughter has all but completed her surf lifesaving certificate but can't volunteer now either. Her 10-year-old is the only child who can access the pool. However, this would be unsupervised as nobody else in the family can go. She ended with a plea for me to help save the children.
I note that Dr Nick Coatsworth, a highly regarded medical person, is completely at odds with the rest of the medical profession by saying he's strongly against the need for children to be vaccinated. I have to say so am I.
Deputy Speaker Claydon, this Sunday is World Soil Day — and I knew you'd be interested in that! Soil degradation is widespread in Australia, and this poses untenable risks to food security, the environment, and our health and wellbeing.
Over the past 200 years, we have done terrible damage to our soils. But the good news is that innovative farmers, graziers and market gardeners across Australia have turned their creativity and knowledge to regenerating Australia's degraded soils. Organisations like the independent, non-profit Soils for Life have been sharing their stories of restoration and regeneration for more than a decade, and now soil has rightly found prominence as a matter of national significance, through the National Soil Strategy and Office of the National Soils Advocate in PM&C.
I recently hosted a discussion with Soils for Life with leading producers, farmers and soil specialists. As we deliver on this strategy to repair degraded soils, success will rely on researchers, policymakers and producers partnering to support stewards of this land to make our soils healthy and naturally productive again.
Their advice to me was clear. They need stable, long-term, ongoing support for locally led soil health initiatives run through local hubs. I look forward to continuing to work with Soils for Life and producers in my electorate and encourage other members to do the same.
There are some times during a long stay in this parliament, like I have had, when I need to bring to your attention, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, and to the House's attention and to the attention of the people of Australia what's going on in my state of Victoria. These things need to be recorded on Hansard so that the world knows exactly what's going on in Victoria, my home state.
Recently, a friend of mine brought to my attention that a fellow friend of his had heard about a vigil being held in a Bayside suburb. It was opposing what the Victorian state government is doing. He thought: 'I'd like to go and sit with that vigil. It's a quiet vigil.' He went and sat on the lawn quietly. There were some police nearby, but they were just watching. Some journalists came along and he spoke to them. As he spoke to them, the police walked towards him and then issued him with an infringement notice. He took his infringement notice and went home, and last week he received the fine. The fine was more than $5,000. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have entered the streets each weekend and yet there were no fines for them.
How is it that what we would have seen as absurd and unconscionable even a year ago in this nation is now here? How can we have a nation so corruptly divided as this, where thousands can march—thousands can march—and yet this one person who spoke to two journalists receives a fine for more than $5,000? This was at a time when he had decided he didn't want to take these vaccines. He's not an anti-vaxxer, but he didn't want to take these vaccines, so he has lost his job and he has a $5,000 fine. That family was already struggling. This is my 'great south land'. There are things that we don't do. I think this is wrong. I think it is unconscionable. I think it is criminal. And I think it is immoral.
Today the Prime Minister introduced the Religious Discrimination Bill. In doing so, he talked about all the good reasons why we as a nation must say no to discrimination in all its forms. He noted that this bill will add to existing Commonwealth legislation that criminalises discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender, disability and human rights. It's rather ironic, then, that, while this bill is being debated today, unvaccinated people in Victoria are on the receiving end of some of our country's harshest discrimination restrictions.
Let me paint a picture of this repugnant discrimination. Yesterday my friend, who I'll call Kate—not her real name—rang to let me know that, from today, she can no longer go to her local agricultural hardware store to purchase feed for her livestock. While pet stores are considered essential, stores that sell livestock feed are not. But it turns out that the store also sells petrol. As petrol is deemed an essential retail item, my friend was confused about why she couldn't simply pick up some feed at the same time as paying for the petrol. Having lived in this tight-knit community for than 10 years, she knows the staff well. In fact, they were a lifeline during the recent electricity blackouts after the storms, when they helped source a generator for her. She even promotes the business to clients because of their friendly and competent approach.
When Kate entered the store, she saw all the new signs reminding people of the need to check in with their vaccination status. A bit bemused about what these signs might mean for her as an unvaccinated person, Kate half-jokingly asked the manager, 'Can't I come shopping here anymore if I'm not double vaxed?' To her utter shock, he replied, 'No, you can't, effective tomorrow morning.' Kate then asked, 'So, if I come in tomorrow and fill my car up with diesel, can I come in and pay for it?' He said, 'Oh, that's different. You could buy petrol; that's essential. I can't ask you about your medical status when you buy petrol.' This is exactly the same checkout at which Kate pays for the other items. A bit perplexed, Kate checked a bit further. 'So you're saying that livestock feed is not essential?' The manager said, 'Kate, the advice has come from the top. I'm just following orders. You have to disclose your medical status.' Kate, who is of German heritage, took a deep breath and replied, 'Sorry, but I come from a country where they once "just followed orders". Don't worry,' she said. 'I won't make your life a misery, but I won't return until this madness stops.'
How can these restrictions be based on so-called science or health advice? You only need to look at the different approaches across Australia to know they can't possibly be—or at least that, clearly, there's a broad range of health advice that can be chosen by governments to suit their own political needs. For instance, how is it that New South Wales is reducing restrictions for unvaccinated people at the same time that Victoria is doubling up on them? We are a fractured nation of people who are hurting, and I don't understand why more of us in this House aren't standing up to call out this divisive and repugnant discrimination.
I know this woman to be strong and resilient, and she says she's okay, but the point is that she shouldn't have to be okay. What about the hundreds of thousands of people that are not okay—the ones that for many and varied reasons have made the choice that they would prefer to lose their job, risk their home and their ability to care for and feed their family, rather than be coerced into accepting a new vaccine about which they are unsure? The government has spent a lot of money on so-called educating people about what they're on about. But it comes down to looking like coercive control, to me, when the Victorian government is isolating you from your personal support systems, preventing you from meeting up and spending time with other family members and friends, monitoring your activity through the day by exactly what I did before I came in here, denying your freedom and autonomy, malicious name-calling, belittling you, putting you down, limiting your access to money or jobs and controlling aspects of your health and body.
My friend is one of the most strongest, most resilient people I have ever met in my life, but it breaks my heart to know that she is enduring this. If you're unvaccinated in Victoria, you will be persecuted; you will be ostracised. Why do you think there are 50,000 people marching in the streets in Victoria? There is a bright side—there's always a bright side: the connections they're making with like-minded people are connections that will last the rest of their lives.
A young man about to complete his four year apprenticeship was unable to sit his final exam unless double vaccinated. No exemptions.
The mum of a daughter who’d had an horrific reaction to a vaccine was told by the neurologist “your daughter must never have another vaccination”.
The severe allergic reaction had caused the girl’s body to convulse so badly that it broke her bones.
Recently that same neurologist refused to provide a COVID vaccination exemption for the daughter.
The mother simply wants to save her child. But this is but one of the many conversation I’ve had. And they all end pleading to me for to help.
What happened to first do no harm? Welcome to Australia.
You want to talk rights of the majority over the individual for the greater good – go right ahead. I'll continue to represent my people.
Some time ago, I had an intractable situation. I’d exhausted every avenue on my constituent’s behalf. So I grabbed the file and wrote across the front :
When all else fails - there is always hope.
And I sent it by hand to the Minister.
In that instance, right and justice took precedence over populism, policy, prejudice, politics and fear.
Vaccine mandates without reasonable exemptions are not only unconscionable – they are criminal.
I note the contribution from the member for Lingiari and absolutely respect his position on all of these issues and his experience in this area—his knowledge and experience over a long period of time, as he referred to John Howard and his commitment at the head of his government to first moot recognising the Indigenous Australians in our Constitution back in 2007. There is a commitment of both Labor and coalition governments to closing the gap, and over 13 years we've been trying. It's been more trying than we have been able to stand here before you and say, 'Look what we've done.' In fact, I can go back to Kevin Rudd and his disappointment in our performance.
We respect, as I have respected, the member for Lingiari for his knowledge in this area and his memory of what leaders of our nation have said. I'm sure that, every time they said it, it was heartfelt and deliberate on behalf of their government representing our nation. When you hear the words that John Howard said and Kevin Rudd said and leaders of opposition said in support of what those leaders said, there has been no less desire to respect the Indigenous peoples of Australia, but our respect has not carried through to delivery.
If there's no respect—if we cannot respect the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country to be at least recognised in the Australian Constitution, as John Howard outlined and as the member for Lingiari described a few minutes ago—how can we progress? If there is no respect between us and the Indigenous communities we represent, and if there is no respect from them to us because we've never given them a reason to respect us, we can't progress; we can't go forward.
I have openly, along with a number of my colleagues, supported the Uluru statement, in full—no stepping back, but accepting it in full. But this then demands the respect of the Australian people of this parliament to deliver on their behalf. Quite often, my constituents will say to me: 'We elected you to make decisions on our behalf. We don't want to have to stand back here in the electorate and make decisions.' When I go to them and I say: 'What do you think about this issue or that issue?' they say: 'You're actually elected to make the hard decisions.'
But sometimes, I don't roll with the mob, whatever the mob are doing, because, when you've got the experience of the member for Lingiari, and perhaps my experience in this place as well, you do have regard for the passage of time, and the healing time that it takes to deal with a lot of issues. You've got to come to a position of absolute respect for the Indigenous communities the length and breadth of the nation, and to look at the nation as a nation—as I did in the parliament today, talking about Christians who are oppressed across the world—and say, 'Well, what are we doing here, in our own land, if we've got this schism between our communities?' That respect goes back 60,000 years. You've got to look at our nation as a nation 60,000 years old, not 250 years old, and to recognise and respect them as an absolutely integral part of our thinking. When we come to that space and we come to that place of respect, we may have an opportunity to move forward.
Mr Speaker, you will agree with me that today in Victoria we have many people in distress, including in your own electorate. I have spoken to my colleague the member for Calwell. She has a number of issues around her electorate that are most difficult to deal with at this time. Every one of us, whatever side of this House we're on, are facing great difficulties. Even my own family are struggling to find out what they can and what they can't do, what my daughter is able to do with her daughter and what my wife is able to do. I wouldn't be a stranger in that place and none of us are strangers in this place.
There are people who are under great stress today and we identify, as Victorians, with every one of them. Our heart goes out to them, our care goes out to them and every effort is being put in on their behalf to make sure the most vulnerable are cared for. In this, we are all Australians and we are all Victorians. It's important for this nation to know what is happening. Maria is here now. Maria, thank you for the work you're doing on behalf of your constituents and we're doing as much we can on behalf of ours. That's Victoria together. We will stay together and we'll do this together, and Victorians will rise to the occasion and do the best they can in the conditions they are surrounded with.
Before I get fully into this bill, the Private Health Insurance Amendment (Income Thresholds) Bill 2021, I want to make a few comments about Australia's health system. I know that every member of this House will accept that Australia has one of the best health systems in the world bar none. We can go back as far as the pandemic of 1917, and the national response to that grew into other responses for improved health care, especially across the regions.
I've told this story many times, but probably not to this House. In regional areas I represent, as many Liberals and Nationals do, the number of incidences of women dying in childbirth pre-Second World War and just after was in the high double-digit percentages in regional areas. In the cities, it was in single digit numbers, and low single digit numbers. The response from local government councillors and state members at the time—I dare say, inspired by their federal members—was to say, 'We need particular care for the women in our regions,' and they introduced a system of bush nursing hospitals. On the introduction of those bush nursing hospitals, driven by local government and state government and community, who then raised money for their hospitals, those figures came all the way down to the national figure of women who died in childbirth. How did this come to my attention? I was speaking to a farmer in my electorate, one of nature's absolute gentlemen who has now passed away. He was talking about his first mum and second mum and third mum. I was a bit taken aback because of the conservative nature of the area and the family, and divorce certainly wasn't it. He'd lost two of his mums in childbirth—two, in that one family—so it made me go back and inquire as to the nature of this. It's been part of the system where Australians have always responded when their backs were to the wall or they had a need.
I believe in this case with COVID, while there'll be argy-bargy between both sides about who's done what and when they did it and how they did it and who should be blamed and who should not be blamed we are still running one of the best health systems in the world. We're a very wealthy nation per capita, and we're able to respond on behalf of our many, many communities. Australia is a nation of communities. We love to see ourselves as this one broad community, but we're a nation of small communities, and those communities will always band together in times of trouble, in times of fragility, in times when they're faced with a worldwide pandemic like we are today.
This very day in Victoria we are living through it again. There will be encumbrances, disruptions and fatigue for many people across Victoria and for those that have suffered over this last 18 months across the nation. We identify with you. We're not standing in your shoes. We haven't experienced exactly what you have. Our disruption is minimal. As a parliamentarian, my disruption is minimal compared to yours—the restaurants who bought all the food last week and have had to throw it out, all the people that made preparations and plans, and had hopes for the next few weeks, who have had to change their plans completely and all the people running around now, trying to make sure that they've done the right thing by the health system with their vaccinations. To those that are struggling in deciding whether to take the vaccination or not, or which one, I certainly identify with you too.
If I can just stay on the health issue, there will be people today in Victoria who, after a directive that if they are not vaccinated they can't work in certain areas, will be resigning their positions, and I feel for them too. Each one is making personal but sincere decisions about their future and their families' future and how it is to be handled.
When we say we have the best health system in the world it's because of the strategic nature of the changes that I think Stephen Duckett made whereby if you do not have the means to pay for private health insurance you will still be covered in this nation. If you're in trouble, you can ring for help. You can ring triple 0 in Victoria and you will get help. You will be hospitalised and you will be cared for because of the national system that we have. But the wealthier you become in this country, the greater the amount you pay for your health care. That's the Australian way. We have always done it that way. Does having private health care give you priority for elective surgery? Probably. But if you need that care in any emergency situation you will be looked after. You will be catered for. You will be cared for.
In so many countries in the world people cannot afford to get sick. Every parliament that I have been in since the Howard parliament has been the greatest friend of the Australian healthcare system. We as a nation should be thankful every day for this system that looks after our elderly, that looks after our most vulnerable, that looks after those that are in trauma, however that trauma comes, and that swings into action immediately we have any sort of threat to our society, be it bushfire, flood or pandemic, and is able to ramp up its service delivery to a nation in need. So, of course, we pay tribute to all of those who have contributed through the pandemic. We honour them and we thank them for what they've done and what we're calling on them to do again in Victoria.
There have only been three cases of community transmission today, which is a blessing.
Let's hope there are none tomorrow and then none the next day, and state governments around the country will be able to relieve their restrictions on how people can move around the nation, because, until we have that freedom to move and begin to move, we cannot sustain the economic wellbeing of this nation. If some are completely constricted in their ability to move, everybody suffers. We need the opportunity to be able to not just move goods but move people, because people are the greatest wealth that this country has.
The national healthcare system has stood the test of time, from its introduction in 1970 until now, with all the changes that have been made. Is it expensive for government to run? Yes, it is. Is it contributed to by the broader community through private health insurance? Yes, it is. Is it supported by others who, under government direction, have to pay part of their wage in taxation that goes directly towards our healthcare system and, therefore, supports those who cannot support themselves? Yes, it is. I don't quite have the words for how important it is that a family knows that, if their child gets ill, the public health system will run in behind that family and care for that child, and it'll be the best care in the world, from the world's best specialists in every area of our health system. And, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, you know better than I do how important that is on the ground not just for the patient but for the parents, for the grandparents and for the broader family and for communities, who have great expectations.
If you live in a regional area, you're not going to have the broad benefits of living in a city in this nation; we accept that. But we do then overlay that with the Flying Doctor Service, we do then overlay that with very strong and large regional hospitals and then we put extra money into making sure we get the services out to the people.
This legislation makes private health insurance simpler to understand and more affordable for Australians. The government reforms have delivered the lowest average premium changes in 20 years, just 2.74 per cent in 2021. And wouldn't it be great if we could hold that even lower over the next two years so that families that do have private health insurance can have confidence in their own ability to gain access to hospital when needed? It would only be better for this nation if more people who had the funds were able to reduce the pressure on the public healthcare system by taking out private insurance, because that makes such a difference to the pressure on our hospitals. Even if you have private health insurance, you still may be treated in a public hospital because that particular public hospital may be where the best specialists are for the problem that afflicts you or your family.
So we still ask people to make a contribution, and what the Australian government is doing through this legislation is trying to make it easier and more affordable for Australians to have that confidence of being able to buy and support themselves through private health insurance. On the other hand, we're asking the private health insurers to make a contribution to the nation, as well, by streamlining the services they have and finding ways to reduce costs. We're keeping the pressure on the private health insurers to make sure they're delivering the best service that they can, from the premiums that they are given, for real value for the Australian people.
And, whether it be in hip replacements or knee replacements or the equipment needed for that, there has to be genuine oversight and pressure put on so that those particular items do not burst out in costs which then comes back on to health insurers but then comes back onto those people investing in health insurance.
So the best healthcare system in the world, the best public healthcare system in the world, and the most generous governments of the day that support private health care. I remember having this conversation with Prime Minister Howard back before the 1996 election campaign. The changes he brought in then are still resonating with the Australian people today and supporting the Australian people today. This is another very good reason why the best place to be in the world at the moment is this great south land.
Back in 2007 or around then—the member for Hunter will remember this very well—we ran a very strong campaign to stop New Zealand apples coming into Australia. We did our very best, but we lost. The World Trade Organization made an appellate decision—no pun intended—so in 2017 we started importing New Zealand apples. I would have thought that, out of that experience, everything that comes into the country that is a consumable good and has any biosecurity around it would be a no-brainer: all would have country-of-origin labelling. But cut flowers do not. Did you know that? Cut flowers come in here with reasonable—the member for New England's been through this whole biosecurity issue. Is it reasonable what they do? With the country-of-origin label at least you can say the consumer will say, 'Fair enough.'
I also didn't know that most of the flowers you buy in the supermarket are imported. I imagined they came from my rose grower down the road. Perhaps some of them do. But most don't. Nearly all of the flowers sold in supermarkets in Australia are imported flowers—fresh flowers—dipped in Roundup to make sure they can't grow here. Do my consumers actually know that their flowers have been dipped in Roundup for 15 minutes before they arrive in the store? That's what they pick up in the shop.
There are a couple of things I've been told—I've been told, so I don't know this for sure. Florists working with imported products report headaches, dermatitis and other issues, and the current trend for decorating cakes with flowers makes contamination a particular concern. To try to prevent the spread of insect pests, flowers are fumigated in their country of origin according to practices of the individual country. What are they using to fumigate them? There are no Australian controls there. So the flower industry requests that the country-of-origin labelling be made mandatory for all flowers and foliage imported into Australia, and I agree. I think the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter, will find out the whole of his party agrees that, when they go out to buy cut flowers or consumable flowers exactly like that, they'll want to know what they're buying. They'll want to know the dangers of it. They'll want to know how people who have health issues may be affected by what's on those consumable flowers and what they have been sprayed with. Is that not unreasonable as a former deputy agriculture minister?
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people, the traditional owners of the land known as the electorate of Monash. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
National Reconciliation Week gives us all an opportunity to play our part as we continue to try as a country to grapple with the mistakes of the past. Australia is shamed by the victimisation of our Indigenous peoples through the ongoing effects of colonisation. From the stolen generations to our system of democracy, numerous policies, interventions and commissions have failed to remedy entrenched disadvantage and social dislocation caused by the brutality of colonisation. We must face this squarely. We must acknowledge our past and ongoing role in the sufferings of First Nations peoples. Our communal responsibility is to build strong connections with our Indigenous communities, based on open communication and understanding. Imagine if the need for change were acknowledged and acted upon at a personal, community, state and national level. We could move mountains.
Our Indigenous peoples extended the hand of reconciliation when they gave us the generous Uluru Statement from the Heart. As a nation, we should show grace and embrace it. We need to humble ourselves and accept into our hearts and minds the wisdom of people who have lived on this land for more than 60,000 years. Reconciliation is defined as the restoration of friendly relations, and that is exactly what we as a nation and as individuals should be aiming for. As I have said before, including the voice of the First Nations people in national policy should be non-negotiable for the government. It is essential for national healing. What are we afraid of? Reconciliation is more than a word. It means nothing without action. This is just as I see it.