We have heard a great deal within these walls over recent days about the Turnbull government's failure to innovate and legislate.
My colleagues and I have railed about policy voids that have led to astronomical power bills. We've spoken out with concern regarding the government's proposed bandaid measures that involve reviving old power stations and dusting off the Snowy Hydro scheme.
Labor has lobbied on behalf of constituents in rural and regional areas who have been hit hard by this inaction. In many instances, we've countered by attempting to impress on this government just how worthy regional Australia is of our investment.
Yes, it's our food bowl. Yes, it's the gateway to our wealth and to our natural resources. But it is also the home of great people, the birthplace of great minds, and the mother of much industry and innovation.
I have stood in this very room and told you about the world-class technology that is coming out of the Williamtown Aerospace Hub, in my electorate of Paterson.
I have sung the praises of StarLAB, another Paterson business, which uses state-of-the-art 3D printing, hardware, software and online resources to offer complete STEM solutions for students in years 9 and 10—robotics, coding and computer programming; the works.
But innovation isn't just about technology; it's not just about economics or economies.
In its purest sense, innovation is about the application of better solutions and meeting new or existing needs.
So this evening I'm here to tell you about innovation in my electorate of Paterson in its most human form.
We are fortunate in Paterson to be blessed with a number of wonderful, committed people who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of those with disabilities.
Late last month, the shadow assistant minister for schools, the member for Scullin, who is here with us in the chamber this evening, visited us in Paterson to speak with principals, teachers and learning support staff about the joys and the challenges encountered while working with people with disabilities.
We visited Catholic, public, primary, secondary, independent and special purpose schools.
Not surprisingly, the greatest problem encountered by staff on the ground was the funding shortfall. At one school we visited, 11 per cent of students have special needs. Of those, only one-quarter were nationally funded for special needs.
Not far away, we visited the terrific Hunter River Community School, a school for specific purposes, which proves that children and families, who really have some incredible skills and attributes, have a dedicated education facility.
It's the only one between Newcastle and Tamworth. And while I can proudly say that that school was built with BER funding, thanks to the Labor government, I must also tell you that it's at capacity, with its principal saying that it could actually double its places—that is the need in our area at the moment.
This school is considered a centre of expertise for the way it differentiates the curriculum to cater for younger people with special needs and, in turn, it provides expertise to other schools around it that lack that expertise.
A mainstream school that is innovating in the special needs space is Maitland High School.
It has a fantastic cafe, which I visited last Friday. Andrew, you're going to have to come back and visit the cafe—it's terrific!
It's been running for about 15 years, but it's a pretty wisely and tightly held secret within my community, and I'm hoping we can get it out there.
Maitland High School is doing a terrific job. These students open the cafe; they cook the food; they take orders; and the public goes there and has lunch. It is absolutely terrific to see. I just want to encourage people to get along to Maitland High School in terms 2 and 3, when it's open. It serves, as I said, the community and teachers.
The other one that I want to tell you about quickly is Shear Abilities.
It's a hairdressing salon that caters for people with severe disabilities. It has a lifting chair and it has incredible facilities. People who have disabilities can go there and have the experience of having a haircut and being looked after. Congratulations to Desiree, who has opened that.
I applaud the many educators, support staff, businesses and workers within the disability sector who work to improve the outcomes for people with special needs.
Paterson is so fortunate to have you, and I'm honoured to be your representative.