Member for Murray, Helen Dalton has delivered her maiden speech in the NSW Parliament, after having been sworn in on Tuesday as the new Member for Murray.
Mrs Dalton took aim at governments, both past and present, for their neglect of regional communities and for the treatment of the Murray electorate.
Mrs Dalton made it clear that she will be focusing on lifting the health outcomes for those in her electorate and highlighted the city country divide.
“A new third world country is emerging within our wealthy, privileged borders. Twenty years ago, people in the Murray electorate lived longer than those in Sydney. Today we die, on average, five years earlier. We live to 80 on average, while Sydneysiders live until 85, according to NSW Health data. And there’s no doubt our health is suffering. Water is our lifeblood in the bush. If we have it we thrive, if we don’t, we die.”
Mrs Dalton quoted journalist Julian Cribb, stating “If Australia’s security agencies got wind of a terrorist plot to destroy infrastructure and jobs, waste billions of dollars and undermine our health, our governments would mobilise our defence forces to prevent it. The trouble is the perpetrators in this scenario are Australian governments themselves: federal and state, from both sides of politics. Our governments and their bureaucracies are dismantling one of Australia’s most productive industries, irrigation.”
Mrs Dalton said, “Irrigators, who have fed Australians for a century, are being sent broke. Water prices are soaring, food industries are shrinking, local food companies are being sold offshore or shut down, regional towns are dying and many farmers are quitting agriculture for good. It’s these forgotten Australians who have put me in parliament today. “
Mrs Dalton thanked the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party for providing her with the opportunity to make a difference. Dalton said, “They backed me, a former school teacher, country girl and farmer with no experience in politics.”
Mrs Dalton talked of her love for her family, the region and her family history. She mentioned how her ancestors opened up a blacksmith shop and how they are credited with repairing and modifying the plough blades that were used for Ned Kelly’s armour and looking after the outlaw bushrangers horses
Mrs Dalton said, “Ned Kelly’s gang called in on many occasions to have their horses shod.”
The unique landscape of Murray was also mentioned, Dalton said, “I have it on good authority that Conargo is one of the flattest places on earth, so flat that you can see the back of your own head!”
Dalton’s first speech had a major focus on irrigated agriculture. The Murray electorate is worth $7 to $10 Billion at the farm gate and maybe 5 times that from the flow on effect. Along the food chain, it helps keep half a million Australians in work.
Mrs Dalton highlighted the health concerns linked with dirty water and strong links between Blue Green Algae blooms and motor neurone disease clusters.
Mrs Dalton said, “There are clusters in towns and regions in the seat of Murray with rates in Griffith seven times the national average. Yet the government is refusing to fund a study that will prove the cause of these shocking rates.”
Mrs Dalton also highlighted the ability of government to deliver when they wanted to. She said, “While country communities have waited decades for new hospitals, the NSW Government built a 270km, $500 million pipeline from Wentworth to Broken Hill that nobody wanted in just two years. The business case – kept secret. An environmental impact statement – not needed.”
Education was also a focus in Mrs Dalton’s maiden speech where issues were raised regarding educational outcomes and the failed merger of the Griffith High Schools.
She said, “There is a very good reason why I am here. All is not well in the bush. The March election was history in the making with the Murray electorate, the agricultural heartland of NSW, rusting off from traditional voting patterns.
As agriculture declines, jobs disappear and our young people move to the big cities. Governments then use declining populations as an excuse to further strip away our services – health, education, water and infrastructure. Rural regional communities have too often borne the brunt of poor government policy and we have always gone along, sometimes reluctantly, with inappropriate policy. Not anymore. I intend to put Murray on the map.”