Ballarat MP and Labor candidate for the federal election, Catherine King, speaks with reporter Jordan Oliver about the campaign.
What’s your favourite thing about Ballarat?
The people, absolutely and utterly. Wherever I go, now as minister for regional Australia I do travel to other regional areas and I meet people from Ballarat everywhere across Australia – travelling, visiting families.
And the lovely thing about Ballarat people is they always come to say hello and they’ve always got a story to tell and they always want to share some of their great experiences about Ballarat. Absolutely – the people.
Why did you decide to get into politics?
When I first got involved in the Australian Labor Party it was back in my 20s, I was working as a social worker here in the community and I was really concerned about some of the things that was happening and it was a Labor government at that point in time.
I was really concerned about the opportunities for young people, particularly to access employment and to change some of the circumstances they were in.
And I thought, well, if you sit back and you can criticise and say these things are terrible or you can actually get involved. So I joined the Australian Labor Party to actually try and make a difference within the party about public policy particularly as it related to young people then.
What would you do to create more jobs in Ballarat?
The most important thing to do is make sure the economy is as diversified as possible. We’ve had a very strong and long tradition of manufacturing and that’s going to continue to be important particularly in those small to medium enterprises in Ballarat.
What we need to be able to do is continue to assist them, to innovate, to grow their markets and that’s why the National Broadband Network is going to be so important, but equally we need to look at how we diversify.
The services sector has become incredibly important in Ballarat, whether it be health or education or for business services – that again we’re seeing jobs growth in those areas as well. So making sure we’ve got a really strong diversified economy is the best way we can grow jobs in our region.
How will you improve Ballarat’s schools and universities?
Well the Better Schools plan is absolutely critical – this has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually make sure we have a strong partnership between federal and state governments to invest in our schools.
The Better Schools plan will basically see on average just over one million dollars going in to every single school in Ballarat.
And it’s not just about the money – it’s about what schools can do with that. We know schools already are struggling for professional development money for teachers, we know they’re struggling to make sure they can get extra teachers into classrooms where kids may need more assistance and have got specialist needs.
We also know some of the kids who are exceeding their standards in the curriculum, that they also need extra help to be able to make sure that they don’t become disengaged with education. So the Better Schools plan is really critical.
In the higher ed end, we’ve basically done a couple of things. The first thing we’ve done is uncapped university places and that’s meant more young people have the opportunity to go to university then ever before. And that’s really important for regional kids in particular, because they tend to be the first in the families to have ever gone to university, so uncapping university places was pretty critical.
Indexation changes to universities has also meant improvements to university loading as more money has been going into the university sector as well.
The other area I haven’t mentioned but I’m really proud of that Labor’s invested in is the early years. So we’re now seeing improvements in childcare, but we’re also having seen a huge amount of kids now engaged in kindergarten education that weren’t previously, because we’ve guaranteed 15 hours for all four-year-olds for kinder, we’re now seeing that kinder is very much seen as the norm as part of the education pathway for all kids. They’re the sorts of things we’ve done with education.
What’s the biggest priority for Ballarat in terms of infrastructure?
In terms of infrastructure, there’s lots of priorities to be honest. I think the biggest one for me, in the terms that I’ve been (in office) has been the Western Highway and our linkage to Melbourne and jobs within that sphere as well. Anthony’s cutting, Deer Park bypass all delivered and it’s terrific to see that. And the duplication of the Western Highway all the way to Stawell – some $404 million has been invested by federal Labor to actually get that duplication.
The other project that’s been critical is the Regional Rail Project. It’s over $3 billion committed to actually making sure that commuters from our regional cities to Melbourne actually have an improved service. It’s a massive investment in infrastructure for our region.
The other one of course is the National Broadband Network. It is a game changer for regional Australia. We are ahead of the game across Victoria. Basically we’re one of the first regional cities to actually get the NBN.
That will be a significant issue in terms of jobs growth but also the way in which people access services across our community.
What policies do you have that would benefit the environment?
Well obviously for a start, Labor does believe that climate change is real and absolutely believes that if we don’t do something about it, it will have disastrous consequences not just for the environment but also for our economy.
That is why ... our policy was to introduce an emissions trading scheme, preceded by a fixed price on carbon.
That means, that what we’re actually starting to see is that heavy polluters are actually starting to change the way they do business. They’re starting to reduce their emissions, they’re also starting to invest in those technologies that will mean they have less to pay in electricity bills and they’re producing goods and services in a way that’s less emissions intensive.
So for Labor, what we’re already starting to see, is a reduction in emissions, what we’re also starting to see is a real change in the energy mix and the way in which this country is actually engaging in a debate around climate change and the way in which our whole economy is driven.
How can Ballarat continue to serve the region’s health and aged care needs?
Both are critical areas, not only for jobs growth but also the services that we provide for people. I’m really proud of the investments that federal Labor has made in this region in health.
If you look across from some of the smaller GP practices, whether it’s the Ballan GP super clinic, whether it’s been the The Elms medical clinic in Bacchus Marsh, the Creswick medical clinic right the way through to the Springs medical clinic in Daylesford, we’ve put significant money in to improving that infrastructure.
For the first time ever in Ballan, they have access to a dental chair that they didn’t have before. They now have access to a psychologist to assist with mental health issues in that community that they didn’t have before.
Then if you look in Ballarat itself, there’s the $42 million Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre – they’re investments that Labor has made, 20 of them across the country, to improve the outcomes that people have who get cancer.
What we know is if people get cancer, the further you are away from the city, the more likely that you’re not going to survive that cancer – the survival rates are less than of metropolitan counterparts. So, the Integrated Cancer Centre is critical to improving the cancer survival rates for people that get cancer in our region.
Also the dental clinic that’s going out at Sebastopol, that’s a really important issue and investment in dental health and a new primary health care clinic that’s heading out at the Lucas estate, as well as the district nursing service ... So all of those things, it’s not just about the money, it’s actually when you invest those things you improve the services, improve what people can access, and it means you get more professionals moving into our region because they actually want to be part of these new centres that are here in Ballarat.
What will you do to make childcare more affordable and accessible?
Well federal Labor has in fact increased the number of childcare places and also the most important thing I think we also did was increase the childcare benefit to 50 per cent – childcare tax rebate to 50 per cent. Really important to make sure people can afford and access childcare in our region. The other thing we did is we built a new childcare centre at SMB – a fantastic new facility if anyone hasn’t gone to have a look at that. That facility’s really state-of-the-art, really investing in helping parents not just who are studying but also meant that students who are learning at SMB can really learn to be the best possible childcare workers they can be at SMB with that centre.
What initiatives will you seek to improve the trip to Melbourne by road and rail?
Well obviously I’m pretty proud of Anthony’s cutting – now we drive over that and forget how terrible that actual cutting was. So that was $160 million invested by federal Labor into our region. The Regional Rail project is obviously critical as well – you know I know. I
have a husband who commutes on that train every single day and whilst it’s been a bit inconvenient to have the stop start of the regional rail project at times, it’s really important that we actually get that train from our country areas into Melbourne as quickly as possible. So a dedicated train line and a dedicated platform is going to be pretty critical to improving that.
What would you like Ballarat to look like in 2030?
In 2013, I guess I’d like to see us far more sufficient in terms of jobs. I think what we’re seeing at the moment and what we used to see is that Ballarat’s population growth was largely driven by people moving from the Western districts in this area to retire and particularly to access health services and smaller housing opportunities.
What we’re now seeing is a lot of new families with very little connection to Ballarat, not having family members here, coming to Ballarat because they want to access good housing, they want to access good education and they want to access good health services.
I’d really like to see lots of opportunities to employ those people here in Ballarat as well – so increasing our small businesses, increasing our services sector as well and they’re the sorts of things I want to see Ballarat grow and develop.
I want to see our economy a much more diverse economy, I still want to see us making things. I want to make sure that our manufacturing remains strong but particularly those small to medium enterprises in manufacturing that we’re exporting to the world and the National Broadband Network really allows that to happen.
It’s interesting too, I think Ballarat is changing in the way we’re seeing more multicultural faces in Ballarat as well, and I think a more inclusive society for all of those for people who are coming here, is also something I want to see Ballarat grow and continue to develop in.