Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett
Victor P Taffa
Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has addressed State Parliament and has outlined the achievements of the first 17 months in office. In a series of extracts from the complete speech to the House Premier Barnett highlighted key policy commitments that have been delivered or on the way to delivery.
I rise today to provide the House with an outline of the Liberal National Government’s policy and legislative priorities for the forthcoming year. In doing so, I will take the opportunity to highlight some of what this Government has achieved in its first 17 months in office.
As Members are well aware, the first year of government coincided with the global financial crisis. As a result, the Government’s priority has been to protect the State’s finances against the impact of the economic downturn, and make decisions that build confidence, attract investment, create jobs and set up the Western Australian economy for the long term.
While the Government will continue to hold a disciplined fiscal line and drive economic growth this year, it will increasingly focus on social and environmental policy. This has already begun with significant initiatives to improve community safety, transform mental health services, give greater independence to some of our public schools, improve water quality in the Swan and Canning Rivers, and start work on a new children’s hospital.
Mr. Speaker, as Members are well aware, 2009 ended on a devastating note for Toodyay, after fire destroyed 38 homes on December 29. Before I begin outlining the Government’s agenda, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the volunteers and the many people from State Government agencies who performed so admirably in responding to the fire, both immediately and in the aftermath. It was a remarkable effort and we are all thankful that, despite the loss of homes and treasured possessions, no lives were lost.
Mr. Speaker, I made reference earlier to this Government’s commitment to ensure the benefits that flow from the next period of sustained economic growth in Western Australia, are shared by all West Australians.
The success of the Liberal National Government will be measured not only by economic growth but by how well we translate that growth into support and quality services for the wider community. As Leader of the Government, I am determined that, by these measures, we will not fail the people of Western Australia.
We live in a prosperous society. The future for this State looks bright. Most West Australians share in our success. But not all.
The mark of a civilised and compassionate society is the way in which we care for those who are less advantaged and less able to benefit from our success. We all share this social responsibility.
This is a compassionate Government. And this is a Government that recognises that we are not always best placed to deliver the services required by those who need assistance.
The Liberal National Government trusts the community sector – the many hundreds of non-government organisations that work every day providing effective services and excellent care to many thousands of West Australians who need support.
This Government will demonstrate that trust by doing two very important things:
- Reducing the regulatory burden imposed on non-government agencies, which sees too much money and time being spent on administration rather than practical service delivery;
- Progressively shifting the delivery of some services away from government agencies to the community sector.
We will ensure services are delivered by people ‘on the ground’ – volunteers, families, carers, support organisations and non-government agencies – because they are better placed to understand and meet the needs of vulnerable people. This is not about cutting jobs in the public service. This is about getting the best possible service for those most in need.
Some of the practical initiatives already put in place by the Liberal National Government include:
- Supporting seniors in the community through the cost of living rebate, the Country Age Pension Fuel Card, and free public transport;
- Providing more social housing to help people move along the path between homelessness and home ownership;
- Expanding residential care for children;
- More funding for disability services and a change to government policy so government agencies no longer have to go to public tender when there is an opportunity to award work to people with a disability.
This year, the Government will continue to make decisions that improve the lives of people in our community in practical ways, such as:
- Amending the Children and Community Services Act to allow for special guardianships, to provide a safe and stable environment for children in foster care;
- Expanding parenting services to regional areas;
- Opening a respite centre for carers of people with disabilities in Broome and planning for similar facilities in Joondalup and Rockingham.
Mr. Speaker, a priority of this Government since coming to office has been to improve the mental health system in Western Australia.
The Liberal National Government is leading the way in mental health, with the appointment of the State’s first Mental Health Minister and the establishment of Australia’s first Mental Health Commission next month. We are placing mental health where it needs to be – separate from the wider health administration. The Mental Health Commissioner will have responsibility for all mental health services within hospitals and community-based services.
Mental illness can often be exacerbated by illicit drugs, including cannabis. Cannabis is not a harmless or so called ‘social’ drug. Research continues to show that it can lead to a host of health and mental health problems, and can be a gateway to harder drugs.
Last year, the Government introduced the Cannabis Law Reform Bill and will look to have that legislation passed in the first half of this year so that the former Labor Government’s soft on drugs laws can be repealed. This Government’s legislation will reinstate the one-time cautioning system for possession, and provide for new possession limits and tougher penalties. People will no longer be able to grow up to two cannabis plants and not be prosecuted.
However, the Government also recognises the existence of a criminal record has a serious impact on a person’s future job prospects. So, the legislation will allow for a person convicted of minor cannabis possession offences to apply to have a spent conviction after three years.
The changes to cannabis laws are a first step in the Liberal National Government’s fight to reverse eight years of irresponsible drug policy. This year the Government will complete a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act and introduce legislation for harsher penalties for drug dealers who sell or supply illicit drugs to children, make it an offence to expose children to harm from the manufacture of illegal drugs, and ban the sale of drug-use paraphernalia.
Mr. Speaker, I believe the record of the Liberal National Government to date shows it is not afraid to make hard decisions in the interests of all West Australians.
We have a responsibility to all members of our community. While the Government is committed to helping people help themselves, we recognise that not everyone has the same capacity to lead better or more prosperous lives on their own. That is why the Liberal National Government will focus on empowering those who have been neglected, hurt or marginalised to live with dignity, confidence and security. Social justice will be a hallmark of the Liberal National Government.
The Government’s commitment to considered reform will build stronger communities throughout the State. This will be achieved through both policy and legislation.
I look forward to a year of robust and informed debate in the Parliament this year. It is incumbent upon all Members to take seriously the responsibility of framing laws that shape the way we live in Western Australia.
Mr. Speaker, I wish all Members well for the 2010 Parliamentary year.