Monday, 18 February 2008
Debate resumed from 14 February, on motion by Mr Hale:
That the address be agreed to.
The drought has affected my electorate in a savage and awful way. No longer is it just about your farm, your production, even your bank balance; the drought has crept into your soul and become a state of mind. For dryland farmers the current rains hold the promise that things are looking better for this season. But in most cases there have only been one to three good years, in the past seven—depending on where you live. Farmers must now find $1,000 minimum an acre to put in a crop. For a typical 1,500-acre farm, that is $150,000. The sharp trend upwards in the price of fertiliser and other inputs means this is unlikely to get any less.
The current state of irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin is not good, but it is not without prospects or promise. There is tremendous anxiety in the communities, not just among the farmers but in the towns as well. Water restrictions in towns may seem a small thing beside zero irrigation allocations but, for older folk who take great pride in their gardens and indeed their parks and public areas, it hurts. They know they are sharing the pain with everyone in the basin, but they need to know that water is being managed wisely and well.
I was in Wentworth last weekend, where the Darling meets the Murray. The brown, muddy water flowing down the Darling merged with the less muddy waters of the Murray, and it was an uplifting sight. It is about four years since the Darling flowed into the Murray and eight or nine since we have had a flood like this one. It gives people hope.
For the western Murray irrigators, the last 12 months have been incredibly hard. There has been so little water. Remember, these farmers have high-security water and it is not supposed to fail. But they have managed to survive. Prices for wine grapes are lower than the cost of production and the table grape season has been disastrous. Citrus has been reasonable, but citrus farmers are desperate to gain access to overseas markets.
I have had good feedback about the previous government’s $20,000 grants for irrigators, which are being used for infrastructure improvements, water savings or to pay fixed water charges. On this point I note that Victoria has provided relief for its water users but New South Wales has not. I ask the present government not to pull the plug on this program, nor on exceptional circumstances drought relief payments of both interest and household payments.
The issue of water trading is a great worry to irrigator communities along the Murray. The small districts of Moira, Pomona, Mourquong, Gol Gol Creek and Corurgan in my electorate, as well as those represented by Murrumbidgee Private Irrigators—also in my electorate—are being treated like big business under the proposed water trading rules. The ACCC is producing an issues paper in connection with the upcoming federal water bill which develops these trading rules. Great care must be taken with this.
I ask the Minister for Climate Change and Water, and the National Water Commission, to remember that these small, private trusts were set up, in many cases, around a particular creek on the river system. They have long histories. They involve a small number of farmers who cooperate with each other in order to use a relatively small resource for the benefit of their families and small communities. They do not employ CEOs or research officers or have a budget for travel or lobbying. They operate from the kitchen table of one of the farms in that narrow window of time between finishing work in the daylight hours and knocking off later in the evening.
We cannot afford a situation where water is traded out of these entities and districts and away. We cannot allow them to fall over. In fact, we cannot allow our larger organisations to disintegrate because of water trading. The government appears to like the line ‘purchase water from willing sellers’. Yes, plenty of water will appear on the market, particularly if governments enter it with their big chequebooks. But these are not willing sellers; they are stressed sellers. They are in the market selling water because financially they have no other choice.
Murray Irrigation, centred in Deniliquin, have 2,500 family farmers. They have been unable to run an irrigation program at all. They managed to get stock and domestic allocation in September last year and this has meant a great deal, especially for dairy farmers. Their allocation has been zero for two years, and they are staring down the barrel of a third shocking year. The feeling is overwhelmingly one of being flattened. People have actually lost confidence that the season is going to break at all. They know that it is the dams in the Snowy storages that must fill before they receive a decent allocation, and that is going to take some time. The recent rains are welcome, and we do hope they signify a new beginning.
For all our farmers and farming communities, I ask the incoming government not to make the mistake of believing that rain brings relief to the bank balance. It doesn’t. There is a cash drought in farming, and it persists for a season or two after the drought-breaking rains arrive. It rains, you spend more, you stress more, and you wait and hope for a positive return. Can I say to the present government: rural Australians feel very remote from you at the moment. It is not your policies they are afraid of; it is your lack of understanding. I am worried about how this new government will respond to two issues that they have nominated as critical: recovering water for the environment, and responding to climate change. Please work with the communities in the Murray-Darling Basin. Seek their advice. Let them show you their river, the part it plays in their lives. Listen to the ideas they have about sustaining their communities. And act in a considered and caring way.
Last week the parliament apologised to the stolen generations. I would like to say something about this because I believe that closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage is a crucial issue for this parliament. The apology is part of this. There was a stolen generation. Aboriginal children were taken from their mothers and fathers, as documented in the Bringing them home report. It happened as a result of a policy supported by successive governments. Children at risk should always be removed. I believe that in many cases today there are children from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families at risk who are not removed soon enough. I would never apologise for removing a child, temporarily or permanently, who was being neglected or abused. But the question of removal should never be framed in terms of the colour of a child’s skin, race or ethnicity. For the stolen generations, the issue was less to do with the question of alleged abuse and neglect and more to do with colour. Children were forcibly removed because they were black and because they were poor—not because they were unwanted, unloved or in physical harm.
We understand much more now about the psychological development of babies and children. We know that it is not enough for a child to have his or her face washed, to be dressed in clean clothes, to be sent to school and to be fed three meals a day—important though all of these things are. How we love and allow ourselves to be loved, which in turn relates to how we function as human beings, is directly related to psychological patterns developed years before, when we were exposed as helpless infants to the love, care and soothing that stood between us and pain, distress and confusion. The lessons we learn in very early childhood are the lessons we carry with us all our lives. Not having proper parenting very early on, not knowing your family and not knowing who you are are obstacles many find impossible to overcome. The pain of rejection and loss do not go away.
Knowing all of this, some say that it is nevertheless not our fault and we should not apologise. If previous parliaments are no longer around to say sorry, then it is up to us as the present parliament to apologise. This was brought home to me most strongly when I spoke to a Vietnam veteran recently. He described how he had arrived home from his tour of duty in Vietnam. He touched down in Darwin to refuel before flying on to Sydney, with the expectation of, if not being welcomed with open arms, at least having his service acknowledged by the Australian government and the public. Hours passed and the plane stayed put on the tarmac in Darwin. The commanding officer went out to make a call. He returned and said: ‘They don’t know what to do with us. We’re an embarrassment to the government.’ In the end this group of soldiers was flown to Sydney after the curfew, after the airport had closed at 2 am. They were let go on the tarmac outside the airport. The taxis had gone. No-one was there to meet them. They were simply left to make their own way. Hearing this, I was horrified. I wanted very much to apologise, to say sorry. I had nothing to do with this decision. But I was here now, as a representative, hearing the story, and that government was not.
I support the fact that we said sorry and that the parliament did so with good grace. It is now incumbent upon all governments and parliaments—federal, state and territory—to acknowledge that Aboriginal policy in this country has consistently failed Aboriginal people. We should unite in our determination to do better, to give Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians every opportunity to gain a real place in the real economy. May I wish all new members of the House all the very best for their careers as parliamentarians. Finally, may I say that this place is a place where there is a lot of talk. I promise that, as much as I possibly can, I will walk the talk on behalf of the people of Farrer.
Mr Speaker, we all come to this place by varied paths. Mine was through the practise of law. I want to speak today about the electorate of Isaacs, which I am proud to represent. I want to speak about the people who have helped me get here, and who I want to thank and acknowledge, and I want to offer some reflections on the work ahead and the contributions I hope I will be able to make.
What we see and do on the way to membership of a legislature must affect how we act as legislators, what we understand to be the role of the elected representative, and what we hope to achieve in our time in parliament. More than that, our experiences on the way here must surely have some effect on what we hope to help others to achieve. Representatives achieve when those they represent thrive. But do representatives in democracies also achieve when sometimes they undertake the difficult task of persuading those they represent that the common good requires the local interest to give way to a larger interest? I think so. Representation, persuasion, unsettling compromise and comforting settlements: all these notions are very familiar to a barrister. They seem to me to be writ large in this place and its work. Today, that is how it seems. Like many in this House, I imagine I will find out soon enough.
First things first in a first speech. I stand here alone, but I got here with much help. I would not be here without the immense support of my family, my friends, and members and supporters of the Australian Labor Party, and I thank all of them. I thank my mother, Phyllis—who is here in the chamber today—and my father, George, for giving me the values that led me here. Most of all, I thank my wife and partner in life, Deborah Chemke, and my wonderful children, Joe, Tom and Laura, for their love and support. I thank all those in the Labor Party and the union movement who supported me in seeking preselection, and I thank the many hundreds of party members and supporters who worked and worked and worked on our campaign throughout the last year. I cannot name all of the many people who have helped me become a member of this House, but let me put some of their names into Hansard, by way of grateful thanks.
I would like to thank Robert Ray, Bob Hawke, Rob Hulls, Michael Danby, Greg Combet, Koula Alexiadis, Roland Lindell, Fiona Richardson and Paul Haseloff for their guidance and support. I thank Roger Connell, Gladys Timson, Melanie Blewett, Russell Cole, Tony Falkingham, Steve Perryman, Graeme Malcolm, Loi Truong, Steve Michelson, Nick Gregory, Kathy Borgas, Tim Lisle-Williams and Youhorn Chea for their hard work and commitment. I thank my campaign manager, Alexandria Hicks, and the members of the Victorian parliament who hold seats overlapping Isaacs: Tim Holding, Jude Perera, Adem Somyurek, Evan Thornley, and particularly Jenny Lindell and Janice Munt.
I have the honour to represent the people of Isaacs—all of the 142,000 people who live in our electorate. Isaacs is in south-east Melbourne, taking in the beachside suburbs along Port Phillip Bay from Mentone and Cheltenham in the north to Carrum in the south. The electorate runs east to Noble Park and Dandenong South, and south to Carrum Downs. These are residential suburbs, but Isaacs also includes two of Australia’s most important centres of manufacturing industry, in Braeside and Dandenong South. These are centres of advanced industry with thousands of manufacturing enterprises making use of world-class technology and the skills of thousands of employees.
It is worth reflecting on the physical changes which have taken place in Isaacs in the last 160 years. These changes show the same pattern of development as in other large cities of Australia. Isaacs is the land of the Bunurong people. They moved with the seasons across the land, which provided all of their needs—particularly the Carrum Carrum swamp and the Mordialloc Creek, which were rich sources of food. Early settlement for pastoral and agricultural farming from the 1840s onwards brought large-scale clearing of native vegetation and draining of swamps. This was followed by small townships, at first connected by rough roads. By the late 19th century, railway lines ran along the bay and to Dandenong.
Through the 20th century, subdivisions spread to create the suburbs which cover most of the electorate. We can recognise from the distinct architecture of each area the years from which the suburb dates. There are still some small areas of remnant native vegetation, notably in the Edithvale-Seaford wetlands, and some green wedge areas in the centre of the electorate. But, in the short time since the first non-Indigenous people came to live in the area, much of it has physically changed beyond recognition.
The subdivisions provided housing for waves of immigrants. Many people came from the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s to settle along the bay and in Noble Park. Other immigrants followed, from all over the world. I have seen the joy, the hope and the pride on the faces of new citizens at citizenship ceremonies. The City of Greater Dandenong, which is one of three municipalities in Isaacs, has people from more than 150 countries within its boundaries. More than half the population were born overseas. The communities of Noble Park, Keysborough, Springvale and Dandenong South are richly diverse, from the long-established groups to the recently arrived. New people are still arriving.
The suburbs that comprise Isaacs are a vivid example of Australia’s great success: the absorption of waves of immigrants into our multi-culture. I think this success is made greater by its ordinariness and its repetition. To say this is not to blind ourselves to the difficulties that can occur during the absorption process. A true representative of Isaacs must be alert to those difficulties and strive to ameliorate them. To my mind, the first and best resource for this work is tolerance.
Tolerance lies at the heart of our Australian multiculturalism. It is a vital democratic value. Tolerance of others—tolerance of different cultural and religious values and tolerance of different political positions—produces inclusiveness and not division. It enables harmonious communities and peaceful political debate. By and large, migrants to our country leave behind them old hatreds and prejudices. When they arrive, they acquire Australia’s understated style of tolerance of difference.
My own family story is a story of immigration, an ingredient in the story of most people in Isaacs and across our country. My grandmothers were both born in 1904, in places and times when neither would have comprehended the events that would connect their children in marriage, and see one of their grandchildren one day serve as a member of the Australian federal parliament.
My mother’s mother was born in Neerim South, in Gippsland, south-east of Melbourne, one of eight children of a sawmill worker who was the grandson of immigrants from England in 1842. My father’s mother was born in Wuppertal, Germany. Her father was in the clothing trade, prospering sufficiently to educate his daughter to fluency in English and French.
She married and, with the Nazis in power, she and my grandfather sent my father, then aged 11, and his older brother Richard to Australia. They arrived at Station Pier in Melbourne in July 1939. They were cared for in a home for Jewish children and they did not know if they would see their parents again. Their parents, my grandmother and grandfather, managed to escape from Germany, arriving in Australia as stateless persons in December 1939. They had failed to convince their parents to leave. Three of my German great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust.
Australia provided a refuge to my father and his family, as it has to millions of others. My wife too is an immigrant, having come here from Chile with her family in 1972. There are many Australian stories like mine.
The electorate of Isaacs has been ably represented since 1980 by, in this order, David Charles, Rod Atkinson, Greg Wilton and Ann Corcoran. I hope to continue the tradition of public service that they established. For that work, I can draw from the example of my mother’s father who served Victoria faithfully in its Public Service for 51 years.
It is a source of pride to me to represent the electorate named for Isaac Isaacs, a truly great Australian and the first Australian born Governor-General. Isaacs was Chief Justice of the High Court from April 1930 to January 1931 and, for almost 25 years before that, a justice of the High Court. His biographer, Zelman Cowen—who himself became Governor-General—described him as ‘a master lawyer and one of the greatest judges of our federal history’. He was a member of the first federal parliament and federal Attorney-General, having earlier been a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, Attorney-General and Acting Premier of Victoria. He played a large role in the 1897-1898 Federal Convention that drafted our Constitution.
As a parliamentarian and as a judge, Isaacs spoke of the importance of this national parliament, referring to the parliament as ‘the sole interpreter of the national will’. Throughout his career, Isaacs advocated the need for national power, notably in his historic judgement in the 1920 Engineers’ case. And he had a keen sense of looking to the future, which he applied in his work on the nation’s constitutional court. In one decision he spoke of the ‘need to interpret the Constitution as a living instrument capable of fulfilling its high purpose of accompanying and aiding the national growth and progress of the people for whom it has been made’.
From this still unfamiliar seat in this just-beginning phase of life as a parliamentarian, three strands of my experiences on the way here seem likely to be influences on what I do here, both for my own sense of achievement and to facilitate the achievements of others. Those experiences relate to working for and with Indigenous Australians, loving the environment of this fragile and beautiful continent, and puzzling over the planning of our urban environments. Mostly, I became acquainted with these issues and their complexities through the eyes of a barrister, case by case by case. But I have also come to see these aspects of Australian life with a growing sense of the critical importance, to each of them, of the quality of the laws we make, the policy we shape and the administration we provide. I am here to contribute what I can to that.
I have worked in land-use planning for many years. Despite the scale of our continent, most Australians live in urban places. These are man-made environments which are shaped by need, by fashion, by commercial objectives and, most significantly, by governments. They decide on the location and scale of infrastructure and set controls on use, subdivision and built form. We need to work hard on the form of our cities to ensure that housing is kept affordable and that our cities remain pleasant places to live and are sustainable in the long term.
I have worked with and for Aboriginal people, particularly in the Northern Territory. As a young law graduate, I worked for the then newly formed Northern Land Council in the top end of the Northern Territory. I worked more recently as part of the legal team for the stolen generation case decided in the Federal Court in 2000. It was a particular personal satisfaction to be present as a member of this House on its first business day to hear the motion of apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples. It was a precise intersection of my professional life as a barrister and my new life as a parliamentarian. This was because one of the members of the stolen generation who I represented as counsel, Lorna Cubillo, was present on the floor of the House to hear the apology the Prime Minister offered last week. I look forward to speaking on the motion of apology.
Aboriginal people have taught me a great deal about the importance of family and, not least, about looking at the land. I wish every Australian could have the experiences I had as a young man of going bush with people who can read the land like a book as they pass through it.
The first time I went to Arnhem Land I was with a man from Oenpelli. He had a name for every place, a story for every place, and he could name every plant and animal. We camped in his country, on the bank of the East Alligator River, and he told me stories of his country. I remember the first rays of the sun warming the early chill of a dry season morning. I remember the glint of a kingfisher swooping over the water. I remember the dense bush all around, overlooked by tall grey-green eucalypts, the same shade as this chamber’s green, the green of a truly Australian parliament. It is in this truly Australian parliament that I hope one day to vote for a bill for an Australian republic.
We all now care about the environment. Environmental issues will be a major part of our political life. I think we can learn here too from Aboriginal people because Aboriginal people are the land and the land is them. Comprehending this asks non-Indigenous Australians to make an imaginative and empathetic leap. Once made, it enriches one’s own life and love of this land. We need to care for the land, to think of the land as our ‘country’, in the Aboriginal sense of the word, as a place to be cherished and nurtured. We need to live in the land in a way that will leave it improved on our passing and not depleted. It can only sustain us short term if we sustain it long term, for our children and our children’s children.
First speeches are full of hopes. I hope that on the day on which I last sit in this place I will be able to re-read this first speech and recognise its themes in what I will, by then, have done here.
Now that this parliament has made the symbolic gesture of apologising to the stolen generation, we need to ensure that we do not simply fall back on failed policies and leave so many of our Indigenous community destitute and without hope. I am very concerned with what appears to be this government’s first policy move on this front—more houses. More houses in the wrong areas, particularly in remote communities, will achieve nothing. You will simply end up with abandoned or destroyed homes. The problem with the view of simply handing out necessities is that, for the person receiving these handouts, there is no feeling of ownership or pride or security. We need to find ways in which to move the inhabitants of these degrading, depressing communities to places where they have opportunities and where they are able to contribute to their own wellbeing and security. Ownership of a house, where you have put in effort and made sacrifices to own your own home, brings with it a sense of pride and achievement—a sense of worth and pride that is so often lacking in these remote communities. We have to make sure that we do not simply move these people to the big smoke and into a situation where they continue to subsist on welfare with no hope for the future. We need to ensure that this movement is to places where there are genuine opportunities, training and acceptance.
A reintroduction of unfair dismissal laws across the board would mean less opportunity for the Aboriginal people who have resettled. I urge the government to cogitate on this and other unintended consequences that would result from abandoning individual workplace agreements and a reintroduction of unfair dismissal. In an era when we have nearly full employment and very strong economic conditions, it would be a travesty if we did not seize the moment to make the very significant, fundamental changes required to turn the tragic history of Aboriginal misfortune on its head.
The Labor government has all the state and territory governments of the same political flavour. There are no excuses for not making the fundamental, extremely challenging policy decisions that are required. I have to say that I am concerned with the government’s stated position of endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although this would once again have a symbolic feelgood aspect to it, it would create very significant problems. If you think that I exaggerate, consider that this document states that ‘Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation’ and that states must give ‘due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws’ et cetera. This is political correctness gone mad. What we will end up with is the same situation that we had in South Africa of independent tribal homelands. Does anyone in their right mind think that this would be a good thing? We rightly condemned South Africa for this behaviour, but in this Orwellian dialogue the same policy direction suddenly becomes a good thing. The only way to move forward is to move forward as one nation, one people made up of many parts. Anything else is madness. The nation expects the government to deliver on improving the conditions and opportunities, and I will be one who watches this very closely.
Defence is an organisation that needs comprehensive reform. There are problems almost everywhere you look. Military justice is almost a contradiction in terms. Defence procurement needs to be comprehensively overhauled. Witness the numerous programs that are in severe trouble. In fact, a common refrain from Defence, when problems are highlighted, is to effectively say, ‘Yes, there was a problem six or 12 months ago or, indeed, two years ago, but that is no longer an issue; we have fixed it.’ Of course, in six or 12 months time you will hear the same argument about the problems of today. This is simply not good enough and, where you have the litany of major Defence acquisitions that have gone wrong, this can no longer be accepted.
Capability requirements and definitions are haphazardly and badly thought out. The fact that there has been no official analysis conducted into the best air combat capability for our future—and remember that this capability will cost about $1,500 for every man, woman and child in Australia—is a dreadful indictment, particularly when you have two analyses, one outside Defence and one unofficially carried out within Defence, both indicating that the current solution is not the optimal one. This issue has now become so politicised that any analyses or reviews must be carried out by organisations completely independent of Defence. A RAND Corporation analysis of this capability, for example, may be what is called for. An internal review would no doubt simply support the status quo, for the simple reason that it would protect those high-ranking officers associated with the various decisions.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation, in my view, needs to have its funding independent of Defence for obvious reasons. It will then be able to conduct research that is done without fear or favour and, perhaps more importantly, be seen to be frank and fearless. I believe that the Australian National Audit Office needs to have more resources given to it so that, for major acquisitions, the project can be analysed and reviewed throughout its life, meaning through-life support upgrades and everything else, by people that are integrated with, but independent of, Defence.
The problems within Defence are so great that we need, in my personal view, an Aussie rules version of the Goldwater-Nichols Act that so comprehensively changed the face of the US military in the late 1980s. This was a recognition that the United States defence organisation, at the highest echelons, was broken. We need that recognition here. There is no doubt that Defence will vigorously resist any attempt at reform, just as did the US defence organisation. So this will require a strong will and, in my view, a bipartisan recognition that this is what is required.
The Labor governments in Australia rhetorically state that they are actively introducing policies to reduce greenhouse emissions. Their actions, however, tell another story. In October 2006, the Stern review was released to the acclamation of all of those on the other side who wanted to increase pressure on governments to legislate significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. The federal Labor Party quoted the Stern review constantly in attempting to pressure the then Howard government into ratifying Kyoto and setting short-, medium- and long-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions. No-one on the Labor side of politics questioned the Stern review, nor did they question the climate change science in peer-reviewed journals that ran counter to the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Labor’s references to Stern, and the statements regarding the IPCC, were in glowing terms. On the Liberal side of politics there was significant questioning of both the Stern review and the science supporting anthropogenic climate change. This was highlighted in a parliamentary dissenting report that I co-authored last year. The report questioned both the premise of anthropogenic climate change and the Stern review. Some of the peer-reviewed science disagreeing with the IPCC position was quoted. The result of course was wide-ranging criticism in the media.
James Hansen, the main global warming scaremonger, and his group have had to revise their data on the US climate record that 2005 was the hottest year on record there. In fact, it was 1934. Four of the hottest 10 years in the US, from 1880 to the present, occurred in the 1930s, while only three of the hottest 10 years occurred in the last 10 years. Additionally, three of the four climate data centres indicate that 2007 is only between the fifth and the eighth hottest on record—Hansen’s group says second—and significantly below what IPCC models indicate should be the case. The fact that there is such a discrepancy in simply measuring the temperature should give cause for concern.
I have no doubt that all the anthropogenic global warming believers have heard about the melting Arctic sea ice, although interestingly we now hear Denmark’s Meteorological Institute state that the ice between Canada and south-west Greenland right now has reached its greatest extent in 15 years. To quote them:
Satellite pictures show that the ice expansion is extended further south this year. In fact, it is a bit past the Nuuk area. We have to go back 15 years to find ice expansion so far south. On the eastern coast it hasn’t been colder than normal, but there has been a great amount of snow.
It also noted that the Arctic sea ice extent has now completely recovered. But, interestingly, how many have heard that the extent of Antarctic sea ice is the greatest measured since measurements began in 1979? It is very convenient for state governments, who have been utterly delinquent in building the required water infrastructure to support population growth, to blame climate change for water shortages. In fact, long-term Bureau of Meteorology data clearly shows that we have had no reduction in rainfall in Australia. There are obviously localised variations. The fact that the last dam in Sydney was built around 40 years ago shows how irresponsible state governments have been on the issue.
It has now been revealed that the Productivity Commission has cast significant doubts on the Stern review’s economic statements. The commission’s report examines the economic modelling done by Stern and indicates that Stern has exaggerated the cost of anthropogenic climate change action. Other sources, some of which are mentioned by the Productivity Commission, have similarly criticised Stern’s economic assessments and the scientific basis for his economic models.
The Labor government now appear to be committing to a reduction target of 20 per cent, or one-fifth, by 2020. It will be interesting to see how they believe they will be able to reach this target. According to ABARE, energy consumption will grow by 20 per cent compared with 2005-06 levels. About one-third of carbon dioxide emissions come from electricity generation and the other two-thirds from other sources. There is little that can be done about these other emissions, so essentially it all comes down to reduction of emissions from stationary power generation. This means that one-third of our current electricity generation will have to be replaced by completely non-emission-technology electricity generation and an even greater percentage if it is simply replacement of one high-emitting method of power generation with a lower emitting method—in addition to all new power stations being greenhouse emissions free.
Excluding nuclear energy will make the task far more difficult, given that according to ABARE only 8.1 per cent of electricity will be generated by near zero emission technology by 2020. What makes the task impossible is that Labor rhetoric sounds good to the ears of those who desperately want large cuts in greenhouse emissions. But, despite the rhetoric, Labor governments are commissioning new-build coal-fired power stations in New South Wales and Western Australia. This clearly demonstrates the ethical bankruptcy of their arguments.
The Liberal opposition has taken a pragmatic view of policy to deal with this issue. The major point is that maximum benefit can be obtained by supporting international efforts to reduce deforestation. The other issue in the policy is that the implications of any target set need to be comprehensively analysed and assessed before committing to any greenhouse reduction targets. In my view, policy to militate against the potential effects of anthropogenic global warming should be based on the simple premise that, in the case of the theory being incorrect, the policy measure adopted should have benefits other than greenhouse gas reductions. Reducing worldwide deforestation clearly fits this premise. Labor’s politically expedient measures do not.
We have asked many of our older constituents, the self-funded retirees, to save for their retirements so that they are not a burden on the taxpayer. It may be an unintended consequence, but the self-funded retirees are now being hit with a double whammy. They now find that, due to the lack of provision of many entitlements given to pensioners, they are now actually worse off than pensioners. This policy needs to be redressed as a matter of urgency.
On education, there is now a rare opportunity to gain significant improvements in the education system, given this government’s vaunted position of being able to deal with the states in a cooperative manner. We currently have a crisis in education, where the age of teachers is increasing and fewer and fewer young people see teaching as a viable career option. Take my state of WA as a case in point: a teacher qualifies without any guarantee of employment. In the state system, a teacher cannot gain a permanent position until they have done eight consecutive years of teaching. Where does that leave these young teachers in terms of starting a family, buying a house and settling down? Teachers are professionals and we are not treating them as such. Is it any wonder that young people are choosing not to pursue teaching as a career? Worse than this is the fact that these young teachers can be told early in December the previous year where they will be teaching and then a week before commencing they are told they will be teaching somewhere entirely different.
Additionally, not only is teaching badly paid when consideration of qualifications is taken into account but also, in the case of annual contracts, young teachers only get paid from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year. In other words, they have no Christmas break income. The federal and state governments need to come together to ensure that teachers at public schools are better paid, have continuity and certainty of employment and are treated as professionals. The Labor Party, when in opposition, criticised the Howard government over private schools. Quite frankly, if I were a new teacher I would choose the private system for a whole variety of reasons, including those mentioned. In addition to greater security and recognition as professionals, they also have more wherewithal at their disposal to discipline children.
Cancer is a blight on society and there is a fantastic treatment that has recently received TGA approval. This treatment is known as proton beam therapy and it can be used for prostate cancer, lung cancer, paediatrics and head and neck cancers. This is used as a substitute for radiotherapy. The advantage that this treatment offers is that it very specifically targets the tumour in three dimensions, and the surrounding tissue damage, which can be significant with radiotherapy, is minimised. The next step is to obtain Medicare approval, but there is a fair financial burden associated with this. As such, I am calling on the government to provide some assistance. I also appeal to any people in private industry who are willing to provide funding, as a facility will cost over $100 million to build.
For an advanced nation like Australia to not have such facilities when they are already in use in Europe, Japan and the US is shameful. At present our children need to go overseas to obtain treatment. This is provided under Medicare. Adults who access this technology overseas need to pay tens of thousands of dollars. This situation must be corrected. I urge anyone that can help to contact my office and I can put them in contact with Sue Bleasel, the Director of Proton Therapy Australia.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I begin by adding my congratulations to those of others on your elevation to office. Can I say what a pleasure it is to be in this place today giving my first speech. I am proud and honoured that the people of the wonderful electorate of Franklin have put their faith in me by giving me the privilege of representing them. Since 1903, the people of Franklin have elected only 12 members to represent them in this place. The members elected have been from both sides of politics. With an average term of almost 9½ years, it shows that the people in Franklin will reward hardworking members. I look forward to their judgement on my performance in three years time. Some of the former members include the late Ray Sherry—the father of current Labor senator and minister Nick Sherry—Bruce Goodluck, who was the member for almost 18 years and who became infamous for wearing that chicken suit; and the retiring member at the last election, Harry Quick. Harry is well known both in Tasmania and nationally for his outspoken views. He is well liked by the people in Franklin and he has worked hard to represent them over many years.
As it has been some time since a new member for Franklin has been elected, I seek the House’s indulgence to talk a little about the electorate. Franklin is a large outer metropolitan electorate in southern Tasmania. It comprises: most of the city of Clarence, colloquially known as Hobart’s ‘eastern shore’, bordering the beautiful Derwent River; the Kingborough and Huon municipalities to the south of Hobart, taking in the fast-growing areas of Kingston and Blackmans Bay, together with the Channel, Huon Valley and Bruny Island; part of the Brighton municipality, to the north of Hobart, with Bridgewater and Gagebrook suburbs.
Franklin also has some amazing wilderness and areas of natural beauty. It boasts Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour within the Southwest National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, the Hartz Mountains National Park and Recherche Bay, together with Macquarie Island. The electorate has some extremely diverse demographics. Statistically, it contains Tasmania’s poorest suburb but also the wealthiest. The majority of its population is urban based but it has some very remote communities. Its main industries include fruits—apples, which of course Tasmania has been famous for, pears, cherries and berries—aquaculture, with salmon farms and processing plants, forestry and timber milling, boat building and increasing tourism.
The people of Franklin are proud and strong. They have faced disasters in their recent history that have brought them together as a community. This February saw the 41st year since the 1967 Black Tuesday bushfires which devastated the Kingborough and Huon regions. Many small towns lost many buildings—like Snug, which lost 80 of its 120 buildings. Many families, including that of my own father, lost everything they owned. And I cannot forget that 62 Tasmanians died in those fires. It was a terrible time. Yet the efforts of the firefighters and the many untrained volunteers protected numerous properties and saved many lives. The experience has led to many improvements in emergency preparation and response.
Many residents of the city of Clarence will recall the fatal collapse of the Tasman Bridge on 5 January 1975. Its impact was immediately felt, with Hobart suddenly cut in two. With most hospitals, schools, businesses and government offices located on the western shore, residents on Hobart’s eastern shore were significantly compromised. Within an hour of the bridge collapse, a ferry service was up and running. It ran throughout the night. By the next day, three private ferries and a government vessel were already in operation. A temporary bridge—Bailey bridge, as it was known—was constructed before the end of that year and the Tasman Bridge was repaired and reopened by 1977. These people showed their resilience, their courage and their determination in those difficult times. These ordinary people were dealing with extraordinary circumstances and they achieved remarkable things. When facing adversity these people prevailed as a community that worked together.
During the election campaign last year, I spoke with many people on doorsteps and in shopping centres. The resounding message I heard was that people no longer trusted the Howard government; that they thought Kevin Rudd and the Labor team had something to offer. People were perplexed that the economic growth and the so-called ‘good times’ had not really made their lives all that much better. If it was all going so great then why were health and education still underfunded? Why couldn’t their aunt, uncle, sister or cousin get the operation that they needed to get better? I am proud that this Labor government has already begun work to cut surgery waiting lists.
Another issue concerning the people in Franklin was the Work Choices legislation. During my visits around the electorate I met people directly affected by Work Choices. There was a man who had been working for a company for 15 years. He was told to sign an AWA or not have a job. He signed the AWA and was then retrenched a couple of months later, with no long service leave or redundancy payment. He was angry and hurt.
Many of those not directly affected by Work Choices held a real fear, not for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. They were worried that it would be more difficult to get a fair go, particularly if you were young and entering the workforce for the first time. The working families in Franklin were concerned about increasing rents and mortgages. Housing affordability is in decline, with Hobart being Australia’s third least affordable city, after Sydney and Perth. The people of Franklin seemed ready for a change of government, and I am so very pleased that they actually did vote for a change of government on polling day.
One of my first tasks, as a member of this government, is to help deliver all of Labor’s commitments to the electorate. During the election campaign, the Labor Party made many significant commitments to Franklin, including $15 million to fund the Kingston bypass on the Channel Highway, in conjunction with the state government; $12 million for the Huon Valley water scheme; $10.5 million for a water recycling and irrigation project on the eastern shore; a GP superclinic in Bellerive; $166,000 for a tourism environmental audit in the Huon Valley; $141,000 for the redevelopment of the Dennes Point Community Centre on Bruny Island; and several minor recreational and sporting facilities grants.
The Kingston bypass has been on the drawing board for many years, and there was a commitment by the state Labor government at the 2006 election to fund half the project. This infrastructure is vital to the local communities south of Hobart. It is a very fast growing area and it has recorded 35 per cent of Tasmania’s population growth in recent years. For the many people living south of Kingston and for the master planning currently underway in Kingston town, it is of the utmost importance that this project be completed as quickly as possible.
The two water infrastructure projects are significant and strategic. Both provide positive economic and environmental outcomes for their communities. In the Huon Valley, the water scheme will provide residents, who live only 40 minutes from Hobart, with tap water they can actually drink. Many of them are currently on ‘boil water’ alerts. There is also a critical time frame on the implementation of this project, as new aquaculture investments depend heavily on water and cannot proceed without this infrastructure. The project will also assist environmental flows in many small rivulets that are currently being run dry.
The other substantial water project is on Hobart’s eastern shore. It will increase the capacity of the Clarence recycled water scheme, which utilises treated effluent to assist in irrigation within the region. The water that will be reused is currently being released into the Derwent River estuary.
The electors of Franklin are pleased, for the first time in many elections, to have been provided with funding for vital, strategic and economically sustainable projects that will provide opportunities for community development. The reason I make special note of this is that many people in southern Tasmania have told me that they have felt for many years that the majority of infrastructure funding was being directed to the marginal seats of Northern Tasmania. I am looking forward to being able to make some announcements in the Franklin electorate very soon.
Another infrastructure project which will vastly improve services in Franklin is broadband. In the announcement by the Prime Minister and Telstra recently, I was pleased to see that an exchange in my electorate will be receiving an upgrade to ADSL2+. I have already received many calls from people currently not able to access broadband at all, let alone at a reasonable speed. They are all looking forward to Labor’s fast broadband.
These are just a few things which will make a difference in Franklin—things that are or will be different because Australia has a new government, a Labor government. It is a real privilege to be here as a new member of this first federal Labor government in 11 years.
My belief in the values that underpin the Labor Party and my desire to change the way in which the world works stem from my early experiences. My father died in tragic circumstances when I was five months old, leaving my mother a widow at just 19. We moved in with Mum’s parents. My mother, Anne Peters, was from a large family. She is one of 11 children. My nan and pop, Hazel and Fred Peters, lived in their nine-square, three-bedroom weatherboard housing commission home near the railway and the soccer and footy fields.
Pop was a railway worker and vice-president of the local footy club. He was well known and respected in his local community. He certainly fought hard to provide for his family and did all he could for them all his life. Even though he had very little, he sponsored two World Vision children from mum’s earliest memory until he died. He taught me a lot and was, to me, the main male role model in my childhood. I learned from him that life is not always fair; that luck of birth means we are not all equal. He taught me to be generous and compassionate and to see things from other people’s points of view. He was a very forgiving man who always saw the best in people, no matter their faults. He taught me tolerance—to be lenient when assessing others and their actions.
It was not long before my mother remarried, and I was adopted by her husband, Andrew Collins. We moved into the broadacre public housing estate of Bridgewater. While we were relatively poor, both parents worked, commuting into Hobart for their jobs, trying to save money to buy their own home. We were an ordinary working family, like many others in the area. Families like ours were determined to give their children every opportunity for a happy and secure future. They worked hard and forfeited many things to pursue this aim. I recall vividly some neighbours and friends who struggled to put food on the table, to clothe and educate their children and to pay for health costs. These decent people worked hard and sacrificed so much, and the inequality of it all remains with me today. When I was about 10, my parents purchased a home closer to town. But this was not to last. Within 12 months, difficult circumstances hit us again and the house was sold out from under us. So we moved back in with nan and pop.
My nan and pop, my mum and my adoptive father taught me the value of hard work. Hard work is a way to get ahead, although on its own it is not always enough. Without an education and without the skills to establish relationships, life is still tough. These four people formed my values of love and respect. They provided me with the freedom to make my own decisions, while setting clear boundaries to ensure my protection and security. Within these boundaries, I knew that I could do whatever I wanted and that they would love me, no matter what.
While living with my nan and pop, I attended the nearest high school, Cosgrove High School. It was during these years I got my first job, at 14 years of age, working on Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the local supermarket. In this job I joined a union for the first time. I have been a member of a union ever since. After completing year 10 at the age of 15 I enrolled in year 11 at the nearest college. At the orientation day it became obvious that I could not afford to stay at school. It was just going to cost too much. So after much prevarication I did what I had to do and reluctantly I gave up my education and went and got a full-time job. Looking back at my experiences I came to realise that access to education and information was just as big a barrier to equality as being poor was. As a member of this place I will work to ensure that all people have access to a quality education—that the barriers are removed and that quality education remains a right and not a privilege. These barriers are more than just economic. Access to different experiences is also vital, as is providing support services enabling families and children to have choices—real choices—about their own future.
The election of 1987 marked the end of an era in Tasmania. It saw the historic return of a Labor member from Tasmania to this place after a 12-year period of none. I remember it well because it was just after this election that I saw an advertisement from the local ALP seeking a trainee. I applied for the position and was surprised and excited to learn that I had been successful. It was in this job that I met my great friend Carol Brown. Carol and I got along well from the outset. We both came from good working-class stock, we both had empathy for people doing it tough and we quickly learnt that we had similar goals and values. And so began my involvement in the great Australian Labor Party. It has been, and I hope will continue to be, a great avenue by which to pursue the goal of equality. During my whole working life I have pursued this goal. Until recently it was from behind the scenes. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some very talented people, including two former senators, John Coates and Sue Mackay, and two former Premiers of Tasmania, Michael Field and the late Jim Bacon. All of these people have different talents and values. I have learnt a lot from them. I hope I have taken on board the best of their experiences and advice. It was also during this time that I had my three children and returned to part-time study to further my education.
While I have spent more than 20 years working in both the private sector and the public sector, it was when I was approached by the Tasmanian Labor Party to run as a candidate in the 2006 state election that I decided public life and representing people might be a better way by which I could further pursue the goal of equality. I had worked on every state and federal campaign since 1987 and I thought I had seen it all. But it was a very different experience as a candidate and it was during the 2006 state election that my faith in human beings was confirmed. The many conversations I had reinforced my strong belief that most people are inherently good, that they do care about others and that they will make decisions to support and assist others.
I am making history as I stand here today—as the first woman ever to be elected to represent the people of Franklin in federal parliament. And I am proud to be here today as part of a government that has a female Deputy Prime Minister. I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on her well-deserved position—as we know, women have traditionally been underrepresented in senior roles in both government and business. The recent election saw 42 new members elected to this place, 11 of whom are women—10 of us from this side of the House. More women are being preselected and elected but there is still some way to go. As an illustration of this, when out doorknocking during the campaign, I had many well-intentioned people ask me how I could possibly do the job as their elected representative while being a mother of three young children. I expect that if I was a man and a father of three then I would not have been asked the question at all. My response was always that I have been a working parent for 14 years and that it would be sad indeed to think that just because I was a parent who also happened to be a woman I could not be a member of federal parliament. I truly believe that parliament should be representative of the people, and it cannot be that without women, including mothers.
I would not be here today without the help and support of so many people. Whilst it is not possible to name them all, I do want to try and acknowledge a few. I want to thank my nan, who turns 93 next week; my mum, who did her best to provide for me in very difficult circumstances; and my brothers, Stewart and Wal, and my sister-in-law, Robyn, who have all helped and supported me. I also want to thank Carol Brown, my dear friend—as I mentioned before—for over 20 years now. I have learnt much from her in our long friendship. I want to thank David Price, the former state secretary of the Tasmanian ALP branch, for his advice and support and for listening to me; Lin Thorp, my campaign manager, who I thank for never losing patience with my ever-worsening case of candidate-itis; my friend Mary Massina for always being there if I needed a friend and also for her great sense of style; my wonderful and successful campaign team, Tom, Maggie, Stu, Julie D, Kacee, Mary Mc, Sharon, and Catryna Bilyk; and the unions and union members who assisted on my campaign. I thank them all most sincerely for their hard work. Their monumental effort of getting a campaign off the ground at breakneck speed was remarkable. I thank the army of door knockers and the volunteers. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the former candidate for Franklin, Kevin Harkins. Kevin made a very tough and brave decision to stand down as the Labor candidate. As a result, my candidature was quite sudden and unexpected. It was a very big decision in a short space of time that my family and I had to make. It was not taken lightly and I want to thank my husband, Ian, and my children, Georgie, Lochie and Andy, for supporting me throughout. My family have made many sacrifices due to my continuing role in public life. I expect they will make many more and I thank them sincerely for their belief in me and their understanding.
In closing, I want to assure the people of Franklin that I, as part of the Rudd Labor government, will not let them down. I will work hard to put their position to government. I will be accessible. I will listen to their concerns, their gripes, their needs and their advice. Men and women of Australia have placed a great trust in us all and we must work together to make life better for them. I want people to think back to 2007 as the year that things changed for the better. I want my children and the next generation to be proud of the role we have played in making this great country greater.
Almost a week has passed since I took my seat in this House, and the learning curve has been steep. So far, the highlight has been the first speeches of my fellow members of the class of 2007. I feel very humble to be part of such a diverse and talented group of people. I am honoured to have been elected as one of Australia’s decision makers but regret that most Australian people are not encouraged to understand our Westminster system of parliament. I believe that the presidential style of today’s politics does this country no favours. There is often greater importance placed on fluffy symbolism and 30-second news grabs than on the hard work of the 150 men and women who sit in this House.
We are all a product of our upbringing, environment and experiences but, regardless of where we sit in this House, we have all come here with the best of intentions. Apart from the six enjoyable years I spent at the Farrer Agricultural High School in Tamworth, I have lived in the Warialda and Gravesend districts all my life. My family have been involved in farming for generations and, for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a farmer. Indeed, I was 10 years old when I did my first full day of tractor driving. I was raised to appreciate the value of hard work and the benefits of helping each other not just within our family but within our community.
At this point, I would like to acknowledge my family. My father, Jack, has always been a dominant figure. His fierce determination has seen him succeed in life despite receiving only a few years of formal education. A man of great presence and strength, he is now 86 and battling the demons of old age and ill health. My mother, Nancy, was the most influential person in my early years. She believed that there was goodness in all people and a positive side to every situation. She passed away seven years ago, after an 18-month battle with cancer. It is my one regret that my parents are not here today. To my sisters, Viv and Joy, and my brothers, John and Bob, and their families, thank you for your support and friendship. I am so pleased that some of you, as well as some members of my extended family, could be here today to share in this occasion.
There have been two defining events in my life, and the New South Wales government has been responsible for both of them. The first was when they ignored the request of Robyn Redford, a very pretty young teacher from Western Sydney, to be sent to the South Coast of New South Wales and assigned her instead to the small primary school near my family’s farm at Gravesend. Robyn and I married 26½ years ago. Her intelligence, support, loyalty and tremendous capacity for hard work have been my inspiration. The high standard that she set for herself as a wife, mother, teacher and political campaigner is the main reason I am here today.
We have been blessed with three happy, healthy children. Claire is an English and History teacher, currently working at Newcastle High School. She has a kind and giving nature, is intensely loyal and has a great enthusiasm for life and a passion for teaching. Sally is in the final year of a degree in medicine at Newcastle University. She has shown a single-minded determination and sacrificed much to achieve her goal. Being both caring and practical, Sally will be a fine doctor and hopefully will become part of the solution to the shortage of doctors in rural Australia. Our son, Matthew, having just completed his Higher School Certificate, is working at an outdoor adventure camp in England for a year before commencing study at university. Robyn and I were very proud to attend Government House in Sydney twice in one week last November. On the first occasion, Matthew was awarded a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. On the second occasion, he was awarded an Order of Australia commendation and medal for community service. We know that he has much to give to society in the future.
The second defining moment that changed the course of my life was when the New South Wales government decided to structurally reform local government in 2003. The reform process led to the creation of the Gwydir Shire Council. This council covers nearly 10,000 square kilometres, has a population of 6,000 and includes three former local government areas. Despite having no former experience in local government, I found myself the inaugural Mayor of Gwydir Shire in September 2004. Up until this point in my life, I had believed my future lay in agriculture. My involvement with the Gwydir Shire Council took me in a new direction.
Contrary to the dire predictions of many, Gwydir Shire Council has been an amazing success. In its first year it was awarded the AR Bluett Memorial Award for excellence in local government. In the following year it received the New South Wales Training Initiative Award as a partner in the Gwydir Learning Region. In four years the value of real estate has risen from a very low base to being identified as one of the top performing regions for investment in New South Wales. I would like to recognise my friends from the Gwydir Shire, who are in the gallery today, and thank them for showing me what good government is all about.
In regional areas, local government is under increasing pressure. It has become the primary vehicle for the delivery of services. Councils across regional Australia have risen to the challenge to meet the needs of their communities and are not only providing the traditional services of roads, rates and rubbish but now involved in health, child care, social work, education and aged care. They are doing a magnificent job but are grossly underfunded. I firmly support a more equitable method for funding regional local government.
Although I had been involved with the Nationals for a number of years, my desire to seek election as a political representative intensified in 2006, when the Australian Electoral Commission proposed a redistribution which, if it had gone ahead, would have seen 47 per cent of New South Wales lumped into one electorate. That proposal was ultimately defeated as a result of the protests of people of all political persuasions for whom good representation was vitally important. The new electorate of Parkes was formed. It covers an area of 107,000 square kilometres and stretches from the central west of New South Wales to the Queensland border, moving from the bustling regional city of Dubbo, in the south, to the picturesque village of Toomelah, in the north, and from the unique Lightning Ridge, in the west, to places like Bylong and my home town of Warialda, in the east.
The seat is named after the father of Federation, Sir Henry Parkes, and largely replaces the abolished Federation seat of Gwydir. While it is very much like Gwydir, it also now contains Dubbo, which is both new to the rest of the electorate and also its largest centre. Following my preselection early in 2007, many people in Dubbo worked tirelessly to boost my profile, quite a challenge given that I lived at the opposite end of the electorate. I would like to express my gratitude to the Hon. John Cobb, the previous member for Parkes and now the member for Calare, for his insight and support. I would also not have been successful without the help of Pauline McAllister and Peter Bartley, among so many others.
In the north of the electorate, Peter Taylor from Moree and Hugh Coulton and many of my friends from Warialda must be recognised for their enthusiastic support and their leadership of others. I cannot thank Parkes Electorate Council Chairman Ruth Strang enough for her help, deep commitment and never-wavering dedication and loyalty. It would be impossible for me to acknowledge here the many campaign workers I was fortunate to have on side, but I cannot let this occasion pass without placing on record my appreciation to Angela, Sarah, Kellie, Felicity and Kerry. To my Nationals colleagues, particularly honourable members Mark Vaile, Kay Hull and Peter McGauran and senators Fiona Nash and Nigel Scullion, as well as the former Treasurer, the Hon. Peter Costello: thank you for the time, assistance and advice you gave me in my electorate during the campaign. It was invaluable.
I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, the former member for Gwydir, the Hon. John Anderson. John represented the people of Gwydir in this place for over 19 years, rising to be Leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister. John was a key player in the team that was arguably the most successful government that this country has ever seen. His contribution to his electorate, his country and this chamber is well known and is without parallel. John was inspirational to me, both during his many years as my local member and then recently as my campaign director. I would like to wish John well in his future endeavours. I am sure this country has not heard the last of the former member for Gwydir.
I am here today because I have a deep and unshakable belief in the future of inland Australia. In my electorate of Parkes there are strong and vibrant communities, both large and small. They are fiercely independent and are very proud of their heritage. Despite the effects of years of drought they are optimistic about their future.
Lack of infrastructure is a major impediment to our development. There are two projects that are essential to ensure continued progress in my electorate. They are the construction of an expressway over the Blue Mountains and the Melbourne-to-Brisbane rail line. It is a disgrace that in the 21st century the main connection between Sydney and western New South Wales was built nearly 200 years ago by convicts. A new expressway would not only be an advantage to the people west of the mountains but act as a relief valve for Western Sydney.
The Roads to Recovery program, instigated by my predecessor, the Hon. John Anderson, has been a real boon to regional roads in Australia. However, despite this unprecedented amount of investment, parts of my electorate remain severely hamstrung by a rural road network that has not improved since the days of horse and buggy. I firmly believe that the productivity of an area should be a major consideration when allocating road funding. I intend to drive this concept forward at every opportunity.
The development of rail in general and the construction of the Melbourne-to-Brisbane line in particular must happen. Road transport alone will not be able to cope with the predicted doubling of the freight task by 2020. One double-stacked container train would take 276 trucks off the road, save 100,000 litres of fuel and prevent thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere on a journey from Brisbane to Melbourne.
The proposed rail line would dissect the Parkes electorate and would place it at the transport crossroads of Australia. I was alarmed to hear last week that the government is intending to delay this worthwhile project. While it may well end up being funded and managed by private enterprise, it will not happen without the will of the government. I will use my position in this House to work tirelessly to advance this project.
The way society reacts to the issue of climate change will impact greatly on regional Australia. As our country grapples with the extent and effects of climate change, we must remember that agriculture is the cure, not the disease. Farmers have been adapting to the variables of the Australian climate for many years. The adoption of advanced farming techniques, such as zero-till methods of crop production, best-practice management in the irrigation industry and advanced pasture management techniques in the livestock industry, have allowed our farmers to maximise production while caring for the environment. This evolvement of agricultural practices has greatly increased the level of carbon sequestered in the farming process. Australian farmers are now producing more food and fibre with fewer inputs of fuel and water than ever before.
Ill-considered environmental policy can have a devastating effect on a region. The decision several years ago to lock up 350,000 hectares of forest in the South Brigalow bioregion has turned a vibrant living forest sustaining a population of flora and fauna into a wasteland. The cessation of the logging which had been operating sustainably in the forest for over 100 years decimated several towns in the area. To add insult to injury, the mismanagement of the forest allowed thousands of hectares to be destroyed by fire. So now we have no forest and no community, not to mention the thousands of tonnes of carbon that were spewed into the atmosphere during the fires. Government policy needs to be based on scientific assessment, not emotional or political doctrine.
As I campaigned throughout my electorate last year, the issue of health was—and remains—the major concern. In regional and rural areas the problems in health care are multiplied. I intend to lobby constantly for increased access to adequate health services for all residents, and I firmly believe that this cause will be advanced if we remain positive in the way that we portray and demonstrate the enormous benefits of living in rural Australia.
In order to fulfil its great potential, the electorate of Parkes will need to grow its population. We are desperately short of suitably trained workers, from doctors and nurses to skilled tradespeople. Country people can be notoriously bad at promoting the positives of their region. While it is the role of a local member to be aware of the issues that are of concern to the electorate and to work to overcome them, I also believe that it is the role of elected representatives of all levels of government to be champions for their constituents. The greatest gift a government can give its people is confidence: confidence that they have a future, confidence that the government will support them in their best endeavours and confidence that the government will look after them when times are tough. Fear is a weapon that is used too freely in this place.
The greatest tool of empowerment and builder of confidence is education. My experience as Chairman of the Gwydir Learning Region opened my eyes to how a community changes when it values education. The provision of educational opportunities that are relevant for individual communities must be a priority. Education is the common denominator in most of the issues that confront my electorate. Whether it is the shortage of health professionals, the lack of skilled tradespeople, the antisocial behaviour of our teenagers or poor nutrition in young children, education can provide a solution. Education should be the basis for restoring dignity within our Aboriginal communities and should be tailored to the needs of individuals. With the cooperation of all providers of education and local communities, real progress can be made to provide opportunities for those who need it most.
It is in the interest of this nation to focus on stimulating growth in regional Australia. The reasons people once had for congregating in cities are largely irrelevant in the 21st century. The improvement in telecommunications in recent years has removed one of the last barriers to doing business in the bush. The availability of land, the affordability of housing and the security of living in a caring community are all compelling reasons to relocate. The supply of abundant natural resources such as coal and natural gas, the emerging importance of alternative fuel supplies like ethanol and solar power and the bullish outlook for agricultural commodities will attract industry to our area and will underpin our region’s economy for years to come.
I come to this place as a proud member of the Nationals. My introduction to parliamentary life has been made much easier by the support and guidance given to me since the election by my leader, the Hon. Warren Truss, and my other Nationals colleagues. The Nationals have a strong history in the Australian parliament and I am determined to play my part in carrying that tradition into the future. I have arrived at this point in my life as a result of my personal beliefs, the influence of my family, my farming business background, my community involvement and my experience in local government. Even though the electorate of Parkes is considered a rural seat, more than 80 per cent of the people are not directly involved in agriculture. The majority of my constituents live in the many towns and villages spread across the electorate. These people have ignored the doomsayers who have predicted the demise of rural Australia and are fighting back. They, like me, believe our best years are ahead.
I would like to thank the people of the Parkes electorate for the confidence they have shown in me. I bring the hopes and dreams of these wonderful people into this House for inspiration and motivation as I commence my work in the Australian parliament.
On 27 December 1941, Prime Minister John Curtin issued a clarion call to the nation. In our darkest hour and with the looming threat of invasion, he called on a generation to steel its resolve and make ready the defence of Australia. Curtin’s call reached a young man from Australia Street, Camperdown, Sydney—a young man who had just turned 18. Eight days later he joined the Australian Army. Not old enough to vote in 1941 but old enough to know his country needed him, old enough to be part of the first army to defeat the Japanese at Milne Bay, old enough to be torn open by mortar fire. His name was Jack Clare and he was my grandfather. On the other side of the world, my other grandfather was a prisoner of war. Athol Neate was captured in the doomed defence of Crete and spent the next 2½ years in Stalag 18A in Wolfsberg, Austria.
I tell their stories because their names deserve a place on the national public record. They were men of courage and fortitude, like their generation and like their Prime Minister. And, while the challenges that face us today are very different, meeting them will require the same determination and national resolve. They require us to harness the skills of the Australian people and their readiness to serve. The noblest thing that we can do is serve our country. Australia knew that in 1941, and Australians know it today. Whether we are teaching the young or caring for the old, fighting the fires of the Australian bush or fighting for the rights of others, our service matters. This place, this parliament, is also about service. Many outside here do not believe that, but they want to, and so do I.
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope ...
It is a message that is just as relevant today as it was then. People of courage and belief can make a difference. It is this faith that will drive my public service. And it explains what happened to Australia on 24 November last year, when a ripple of hope washed away the politics of division and fear.
Thank you to my new colleagues who carried this message to the Australian people, thank you to those who carried the torch through the darkness of over a decade in opposition and thank you to my friends in this place—the members for Prospect, Watson, Fowler, Banks and Reid—for your wise counsel and advice. To these I add the state members for Toongabbie, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Auburn and East Hills; former Premiers of New South Wales Bob Carr and Neville Wran; Senator-elect Mark Arbib; and New South Wales ALP General Secretary Karl Bitar. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my campaign director, Tony Stewart, the state member for Bankstown; to my campaign team—amongst them, Brian and Elizabeth Langton, John McLaughlin, Jim Bakopanos and Myra Pengilly; to my amazing staff, Ingrid, Chris and Sally; and to my partner, Davina, the sunshine of my life.
An even greater debt is owed to my local branch members. They are the backbone of the Labor Party, and I thank every single one of them. They do not seek glory or recognition. They know that when you change the government you change the country, and they are the change-makers. It is because of them, and people like them across the country, that I stand on this side of the House today. Last week we saw how much we have already changed when a Prime Minister had the courage and the decency to say one simple but important word, to apologise to the stolen generations and to send forth a tiny ripple of hope. Today this country is a little better, and we all stand a little taller because he did. His actions give proof to the words of Robert Kennedy.
Most importantly, I thank the people of Blaxland for the support and trust that they have placed in me. Their faith in the Australian Labor Party has never wavered, and I am determined to be worthy of this precious trust. It is a great responsibility to be elected to the Australian parliament and an even greater privilege to serve the people I grew up with—my friends and neighbours, my old school mates and team mates. Blaxland is where mum and dad built a home and raised a family. They still live in the same house today. It is where mum works at my old high school, helping generations of Blaxland kids grow up, and it is where dad works with many others in the manufacturing industry. Sitting in the gallery, they are the proudest parents in Australia, and I am a most grateful son. To mum and dad, I bring to this place the values you have taught me: the importance of doing what is right, helping others and getting involved in the local community. On the sporting field and in the classroom, they always encouraged me to do my best, and they taught me the harder you work, the luckier you get. Also in the gallery is my high school history teacher, Peter Valenti. Peter brought the stories of John Curtin and Robert Kennedy to life, and he awoke in me the possibility of public service to improve the lives of others. He is now a school principal and is still inspiring young people in Blaxland.
I was the first in my family to go to university. The Australia that existed before Gough Whitlam did not give my parents the same opportunity. I studied law to help people. I quickly realised the best way to do this was not by arguing the law but by changing it. Bob Carr gave me that opportunity, and that is what we did. We changed the criminal law working with police and victims of crime. It was an honour to work for a man with such passion for public service. Each morning he would say to us, ‘What can we do to help someone today?’ He was a leader in the Labor tradition—a tradition and a party that believes in reward for effort, help for the needy and opportunity for all. It is a party whose commitment to a strong economy is matched by its commitment to a fair society.
Australians care about fairness. We argue about it in our pubs and clubs, around the barbecue and here in this chamber. It is in the title of our national anthem. It is the great barometer by which we judge things. It is part of our history. In November 1907, Justice Henry Bournes Higgins handed down the Harvester decision. This infused the concept of fairness into our industrial relations system. That was November 1907. In November 2007—100 years later almost to the day—the Australian people reaffirmed their commitment to fairness and threw out a government that had whittled it away. I am fortunate for many reasons but, above all, I am fortunate to be part of a Labor government, a government that will put fairness back into the lexicon of this parliament, a government that will put fairness back into the workplaces of this nation and a government that will put fairness back into the pay packets of working people—people like those who live in Blaxland.
Blaxland was created in 1949, in the early years of the postwar boom, when men like my grandfather staked their claim in the new housing estates of Western Sydney. Since that time there have been only three members for Blaxland—Eli Harrison, Paul Keating and Michael Hatton. I pay tribute to their contributions and place on record my sincere appreciation to Michael for his support and advice. All served the people of Blaxland with distinction. Paul Keating’s service went well beyond the boundaries of just one seat. He rendered the Australian economy competitive and prepared it for the 21st century. It took courage to float the dollar and vision to introduce reforms like compulsory superannuation. He also had a bold vision of Australia and our place in the world—strong and independent, engaged with Asia and reconciled with Indigenous Australia. It is a vision whose time has come.
Blaxland is an important part of the great Australian story. The traditional custodians of the land are the Dharug, Dharawal and Eora people. Rock paintings dating back 3,000 years can still be found along the Georges River. Matthew Flinders was the first European to explore and chart its waterways. Almost 100 years later Sir Henry Parkes settled on its banks. They are two men whose public service helped shape a nation. One gave Australia its name and the other inspired its Federation.
In the years between Flinders and Parkes, bushrangers plied their trade along Dog Trap Road and convicts built the historic Lansdowne Bridge. When the railway came to town 100 years ago, it brought with it a land boom. Paddocks were subdivided and suburbs were born. After the Second World War, when Australia opened its arms to the people of the world, many settled here. Blaxland is now one of the most culturally diverse places in Australia. Working people from 130 different countries, speaking more than 60 different languages, call it home. It is a place of churches, mosques and temples, where different languages grace our shops and where our homes welcome everyone, no matter where they were born, how they worship or what language they speak. This is where the new Australia is being forged—a courageous, cosmopolitan, cohesive Australia, where being Australian is not about where you come from but about where you are going.
It is a place famous for its sporting heroes, people like Steve Waugh, Jon Konrads, Lenny Pascoe and Jeff Thomson, and a place brimming with unsung heroes, people like Jihad Dib, the Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School—a place that was threatened with closure four years ago because violence and disruption were so bad parents stopped sending their kids there. The school was failing. But, under his leadership, a lot of hard work has turned that around. This year’s year 7 is the biggest in 13 years. Enrolments have sprung up by 35 per cent in the last two years. And literacy improvements are 3½ times the state average.
Another local hero is Mark Newey. Mark is a real estate agent. Last year he helped eight families fend off a bank that wanted to throw them out on the street when the owner of the block of units defaulted on his mortgage. Mark fought for these people and convinced the bank to let them stay in their homes.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Mark Newey on their side. Last year 300 families in Blaxland lost their homes, more than anywhere else in Australia, more than ever before. This is the real and unravelling legacy of the Howard government. Blaxland is the mortgage stress capital of Australia. I was speaking to a real estate agent in Cabramatta last week who told me that he has four repossessed houses on his books. That’s just one agent. Just one month. The sheriff at Bankstown Court told me there are about 30 repossessions about to occur in the next two weeks. Young families who sell up before the sheriff arrives find the value of their home has plummeted. The median house price in Blaxland has fallen by 16 per cent in the last three years. Many now have negative equity in their homes. It means they owe the bank more than the house is worth, making the threat of repossession all the more frightening.
The last housing boom was great for some but it has made life tougher for others. The rate of homeownership is dropping. So is the proportion of first home buyers. I want to make sure the great Australian dream still means something to future generations—where a mortgage is an investment, not a trap.
It is a challenge for any family to build or buy a house. It is just as big a challenge for governments to turn rows of houses into a working city, to build infrastructure. Seventy per cent of Australians live in our major cities. They are the engine rooms of our economy. Improving the performance of our economy means improving the performance of our cities—making them work.
I have seen firsthand how important good infrastructure really is to our economy. For the last four years I worked for Transurban, the Australian company behind the successful Westlink M7 project. I saw the M7, and its 144 bridges, rise from the ground and the positive impact it has had on local families and businesses. The M7 is not just a road; it is a magnet for economic development. Even before the M7 opened, some of Australia’s biggest companies were flocking to relocate along its corridor. In the last three years it has helped to create 10,000 new jobs and generated almost $3 billion in economic development. It is a good example of what good infrastructure can do: fix the bottlenecks in our cities and the bottlenecks in our economy, improve people’s lives and make business more efficient, which helps us tackle inflation. The Business Council of Australia estimates we have a $90 billion infrastructure deficit. To tackle this task, like many others, we must bring a willingness to work together: working in partnership with state and local governments, with the private sector and with the community to renew our nation-building zeal, to build the infrastructure we need not just for today but for tomorrow.
On 20 January 1830 my great-great-great-great-grandfather arrived in Sydney Cove—in leg-irons. Thomas Clare was transported to Australia from Dublin. His heinous crime: stealing books. We have come a long way since then. He was sent to the other side of the world as punishment for wanting to read; now it is a national priority. It is certainly the top priority at my old primary school, Cabramatta Public. The principal, John Rice, tells me 80 per cent of kids starting kindergarten speak little or no English. Few can spell their name. But give it three years and their literacy and numeracy skills are at or above the state average.
What a powerful message this sends. Our education system is the most powerful cause for good in this country. Run well, it can ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their potential. It is the great equaliser in an unequal world. If we are serious about equal opportunity for men and women, for rich and poor, for Indigenous and multicultural Australia, then let it begin with the youngest Australians. Let us be the government that again invests in public education. Let us be the government that ensures postcodes do not determine opportunity. Let us be the government that recognises the importance of teachers to learning outcomes. And let us be the government that unleashes the potential of the next generation.
We start by giving every child access to high-quality preschool. The impact across Australia will be profound; the impact in Blaxland will be greater still. In the last few months, I have visited all 52 schools in Blaxland. What I found is a microcosm of our community and a window to its future. The number of children who currently go to preschool in Blaxland is well below the national average. Retention rates are also lower.
We need to fix this, not just for their sake but for ours. Our future prosperity rests on their shoulders. If every child in Blaxland has access to preschool, they will have the same chance as other children and they will perform better at school. If they stay longer at school, they will earn more and add billions to our economy. And, if they get a degree or a trade certificate, they will give this country the skills we need to compete in a shrinking and more competitive world. It is for all these reasons that we need an education revolution, and places like Blaxland need it most of all.
Mr Speaker, I promise to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity, to be worthy of this place and those who sent me to it, to serve with a fraction of the courage of my grandfathers and with all of their commitment. John Curtin inspired their generation and my grandfathers inspire me: not to defend a nation but to defend the humble hope of a family home; to protect the basic rights of working people and their dignity at work; to turn a new page in the great Labor tradition of nation building; to invest again in our youngest Australians; and to build a better Australia for the grandchildren of tomorrow.
As the poet Alexander Smith said:
A man does not plant a tree for himself; he plants it for posterity.
Our great responsibility is to govern not just for this generation but for the ones that follow. The pace of change and the challenges ahead demand it. Here in this place is where we can meet these challenges. This is where we can turn the Australia of our imagination into something real. Australia needs more people ready to serve and more voices to create ripples of hope. That is why I am here. That is why I am a member of the Australian Labor Party. And that is what I will do on behalf of the people of Blaxland.
Initially, I would like to congratulate the honourable member for Blaxland on what I thought was a very well put together speech. Clearly he had thought through the matters he wanted to raise in his maiden speech to the Australian parliament, and I do wish him well, as I do all other new members—although one could understand if I do not wish those on the other side any sense of political longevity. I do counsel the honourable member for Blaxland, however, that when serving his political masters he ought not to forget the people in Sussex Street—who, I understand, are possibly more of a potential threat to him than would be the electors of Blaxland.
There are few debates in this parliament where one can talk about anything one wants to. I want to use this chance to say how strongly I support a single conservative party in Queensland. Hopefully after that has been achieved there will be a flow-on effect so that we see a single conservative party nationally. Sir Robert Menzies in the 1940s faced a crisis of conservative politics and he managed to bring together 18 disparate non-Labor and conservative forces to form the Liberal Party of Australia. At the present time, the conservative parties throughout Australia are in some disarray. We do not hold government at any state or territory level and we certainly, post 24 November, do not hold the keys to national government. I suppose the one bright spot on our national horizon is the lord mayoralty of Brisbane, where I am hopeful that Campbell Newman as lord mayor will be able to obtain a majority in his own right at the council elections next month.
Lawrence Springborg, the leader of the Queensland opposition, has, in quite a visionary way, been consulting with the people of Queensland with a view to achieving a new conservative party, to grow out of the Liberal Party and the National Party. Alternatively, one could merge the two—and I am not wedded to any particular alternative but I strongly consider that if any rationale ever existed for there to be a separate Liberal Party and a separate National Party then that rationale evaporated a very long time ago. Honourable members would be aware that I have been privileged to serve in the Australian parliament as both a member of the National Party and a member of the Liberal Party, at different times. The people who were in both of those party rooms were very similar people, but, more importantly, the branch members of the Liberal Party and the National Party were very similar. Indeed, the voting public who support Liberal and National Party members are not specifically National or specifically Liberal; they are broadly conservative voters who want to achieve positive outcomes for the future of our state and nation.
That is why I have written to the Queensland state president of the Liberal Party, Warwick Parer, a distinguished former senator of this parliament, and our state director, Geoff Greene, to urge support for the proposal being put forward by Lawrence Springborg. I greatly regret a recent decision of the Queensland state council of the Liberal Party to defer any consideration of a single conservative party until after the Brisbane City Council and the Gold Coast City Council elections. I hope that the postponement of these discussions is not designed to gain time so that a new party could be put to death at a time when it would be less politically dangerous to do so. I do not think anyone would accept a decision to say no at this stage because, were that to happen, our Brisbane City Council team and our Gold Coast City Council team would be pilloried at the council elections to be held next month.
Had the state council gone ahead with an indication of support for a single conservative party, I consider that this, at the council elections, would have given a very strong momentum towards support for conservative teams running in council elections. But, having said that, all is not lost. I can understand that there was an argument put forward that, were we to be talking about a new party prior to the council elections, that could well divert our attention from the need to win those elections. I accepted the decision of the state council, but I strongly urge that, on the day after the council elections are out of the way, we as a Liberal Party go out and consult our members and seek to attain the support we need to form one conservative party.
I said earlier that the non-Labor forces in Australia are currently in a state of disarray. As we stand, we are somewhere between three and 12 years away from national government. We are probably six years away from state government in Queensland because Anna Bligh leads what is arguably the worst government in Australia of any political party. What we need to do is to indicate to the Australian people and to the voters of Queensland that we have listened. They have sent us powerful messages at successive state elections. They say to us, ‘Get your act together and then come back and seek our support.’
I believe the Howard government was an outstanding government. History will record the achievements of that government. We inherited an economic basket case, yet we reduced unemployment, we had lower interest rates than have historically been the case, and we made Australia respected throughout the world. When history judges the record of that government, history will be very kind because it was a very good government. Having said that, on 24 November, a new Prime Minister from Queensland was elected and the Labor Party, as we have seen in the successive votes today and earlier, clearly holds a very strong majority currently in the Australian parliament. What we need to do is to try to indicate to the Australian people that we have learnt the lesson and that we are prepared to listen to the message being sent to us. I believe that it is very, very important to move forward to form this single conservative party. Were this to happen, I believe the electors would look at us in a much more favourable light.
In recent times, the coalition has worked very well together at the state and the federal levels. However, there is this feeling in the community’s psyche that over the years we have had the luxury expended by Liberals and Nationals of taking pot shots at each other. There have been visions of disunity. We have seen headlines in the various papers on occasions indicating that the parties are not working to one purpose. That is why I think we cannot now afford two non-Labor parties—particularly two non-Labor parties which largely have the same policies and which largely represent the same people. The Liberal Party has many more rural members of the Australian parliament than does the National Party. I do not say that in a sense of triumphalism over the National Party. All I am saying is that the rationale for two separate parties has long evaporated.
I want to commend the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Nationals in this place because both of them have indicated that they are not opposed to Queensland moving forward to form one conservative party if that is what the collective wish of the membership of the Liberal Party and the National Party in Queensland happens to be. There are some who say: ‘Let’s not have a merger at state level. Let’s wait until there is some form of national consensus.’ Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you would agree with me in your capacity as the member for Maranoa and as a former president of the National Party that often such a sentiment could in effect be code for putting it off until such time as it will never actually happen.
History records that the only way that the Australian Country Party became the National Party of Australia was when one state—that is, Queensland—grasped the nettle. It unilaterally changed its name and then created the momentum which, over a period of years, saw the Australian Country Party become the National Country Party at the national level and then become the National Party of Australia throughout the nation. Already in the Australian parliament we have Senator Nigel Scullion, who represents the Country Liberal Party, which is a merger of the parties in the Territory. I suppose it is a bit strange in a sense that he is also the deputy leader of the National Party, but that is an issue for another discussion.
If the Liberal Party and the National Party were prepared to be visionary and prepared to emulate what Sir Robert Menzies did in the 1940s and if we were able to achieve a single conservative party in Queensland then one would find that very quickly the other states would fall into line. We would have one conservative party, which, in effect, would indicate that we were ready to inherit the keys of government. The state leadership of the Liberal Party and the National Party in the Queensland parliament have both indicated support for this proposal. As I talk to Liberal Party members in my electorate and elsewhere throughout Queensland, I find that there is a very strong view in favour of ruling off the past and moving forward. In the electorate of Fisher, I was very fortunate because we had a joint campaign committee. The Liberal Party and the National Party campaigned together as equal partners, and we achieved a result which, given the tsunami that engulfed our side of politics, was very pleasing.
The electorate has sent us a very strong and unambiguous message: fix up the mess and make some positive changes. If that happens, of course, we will receive support. We just cannot go on as we are. We need to try something new. If we do go on as we are, I suspect we will be where we are for a very long period of time. You cannot have a good government in Australia unless you have an effective opposition. I just see a single conservative party as being essential. It really ought to happen. It must happen. If it does not happen, then we are consigned to the wilderness of opposition for possibly a generation.
I would also like to say how pleased I am that next month the three councils on the Sunshine Coast—the Noosa Council, the Maroochy Shire Council and the Caloundra City Council—will merge to form the new Sunshine Coast Regional Council. It would have been better if we were called the Sunshine Coast City Council because, let’s face it, while the member for McPherson at the table would certainly not agree with me—
The Sunshine Coast Regional Council will be able to emulate the successes of the Gold Coast council. What Gold Coast council members have been able to do is to work together as a body. We all know that the Gold Coast is an entity. When we were in government, Gold Coast representatives, led by the mayor, would come to Canberra and knock on the doors of ministers. Ministers knew that, when dealing with the Gold Coast City Council, they were dealing with a body which represented the whole of the Gold Coast. Ministers like to know who they are dealing with.
The Sunshine Coast, however, has Noosa, Maroochy and Caloundra. While we have had the Sunshine Coast Regional Organisation of Councils and they have sought to work together, at times despite the best of intentions Noosa, Maroochy and Caloundra have worked in different directions. Happily, after the council elections next month we will have a Sunshine Coast council which will be able to speak for all of us on the Sunshine Coast. I think that the process followed by the state government, with its lack of consultation with the community, is something for which the state government ought to be condemned, but the outcome is positive because we will have a new council which will speak up for the Sunshine Coast, which is undoubtedly the best part of the country in which to live and to bring up a family. The opportunities on the Sunshine Coast are absolutely limitless.
This brings me to one of my favourite hobbyhorses. After the Prime Minister was elected, he said he was going to govern for all Australians. In fact, I think the new honourable member for Blaxland said in his speech that we do not want to see government decisions made by postcode. The Sunshine Coast will have its population double over the next 10 to 15 years. I am pleased that Infrastructure Australia will be set up, as we have so many infrastructure requirements. We need to upgrade the Bruce Highway all the way from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast. The previous government funded the upgrade as far as Caboolture to six lanes, and now we need to extend that upgrade all the way to the Sunshine Coast. As a community, we have so many infrastructure requirements. I have been in touch with the Prime Minister’s office to stress that some of those needs must be met. I will certainly be knocking on the Prime Minister’s door to guarantee we get as much infrastructure as we possibly can.
In the run-up to the election, the Labor Party ran very strong campaigns on the Sunshine Coast. With a Queenslander, Kevin Rudd, being the Leader of the Labor Party, I suppose all conservative candidates in Queensland had only one opponent, and that was Kevin Rudd; the quality of the specific Labor candidate did not matter. But Labor candidates did promise a lot of spending on the Sunshine Coast. I will certainly be doing what I can to hold the government to those promises, to make sure that, even though the previous government was not successful on the Sunshine Coast, the promises made to Sunshine Coast people are completely delivered.
In the time available to me, I would also like to say how sorry I am that the state government has decided to proceed with the Traveston dam. I am all about there being adequate water supplies for the future, but the Traveston dam will be poorly located, it is not a good dam site, and over a thousand families will be affected. I read in the Sunshine Coast Daily today that apparently some considerable amount of Australian government money is being spent building a new bridge in an area which will be inundated by the Traveston dam. One just has to ask whether that is a sensible use of Australian taxpayers’ money.
On 24 November we had an election. We also know that the government won and we, the opposition, lost. We focus a lot on the outcome, as indeed we should, but, while we might not like the outcome, as Australians we always ought to respect the process. We are singularly fortunate as Australians because we are able, come elections, to put a government in or put a government out. The sort of right that we have is not a right shared by people right around the world. One only has to turn one’s television set on at night to know that people elsewhere do not have the freedom, the stability, the way of life and the tolerance that we have as Australians. While we might be upset over the fact that we did not win the election, as Australians we ought to focus positively on the process because it means that as a country we are able to select the government we want. If there is a feeling that the government ought to move on—as was clearly the case on 24 November last year—so be it. What will happen is that the government opposite will run out of steam and, in the fullness of time—hopefully sooner rather than later, particularly if we form one non-Labor party—we will see a change of government and a return to good and sound government.
In summing up, I again congratulate all honourable members, particularly new members, on both sides of the House on their election. We are a very great privilege to serve in the Australian parliament. Just over a thousand people have served in the Australian parliament since Federation. We are a wonderful country. I know that we will not agree on everything. I respect your motivations for standing and being elected, and I would like to wish you well in your political careers.
I start by acknowledging the Ngunawal people, the traditional owners of this land, and also by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in the electorate of Corio, the Wathaurong people. In acknowledging these people as the traditional owners of their land, I would also like to acknowledge the strength of their identity. Indeed, it is the strength of identity of all of Indigenous Australia which has allowed these people and this ancient culture to survive numerous threats, not the least of which has been European settlement.
We are lucky that Aboriginal Australians are our first Australians. The power of their identity serves to illustrate how important identity is for all peoples. It is the source of all collective action. It is the source of all public policy. Politics at its grandest is all about identity: searching for it, clarifying it, giving expression to it.
In this, my first speech to this parliament, I would like to talk about the identity of three places which mean everything to me. I grew up and have spent most of my life in the city of Geelong. Since 1849, when Geelong was first incorporated by the New South Wales parliament, it has had many identities. In the 18th century it was a gateway to the goldfields. Later it became the centre of Australia’s wool industry, as our major wool port. In the second half of the 20th century, Geelong has been Victoria’s industrial city in the same way that Newcastle and Wollongong have been in New South Wales.
As the member for Corio, my electorate covers the bulk of Geelong. As we sit here in 2008, Geelong’s identity is on the move once more. Sixteen per cent of the working population of Geelong now works in Melbourne, and that figure is on the rise. Within the next 20 years, if we are not already so, we will be connected to Werribee, Melbourne, Frankston and Sorrento as part of a greater Port Phillip Bay metropolis. And the question is: how will we maintain our identity within that metropolis? Our challenge is to ensure that Geelong does not merely become an outer suburb of Melbourne. Geelong’s identity must lie in becoming an alternative economic centre in the greater Port Phillip Bay metropolis, in the same way that San Jose is, relative to the San Francisco Bay area.
In part, that is about Geelong promoting itself as a lifestyle city. With our north-fronting bay, our raised peninsula, our wineries, our historic buildings and our proximity to the Surf Coast, there is no better place to live around Port Phillip Bay. But mainly it is about fully exploiting Geelong’s existing infrastructure. With our own airport, seaport, Highway No. 1 and the national rail gauge all located near each other in the north of Geelong and Geelong itself located on the corner of Australia, there is every reason for Geelong to be not only a regional but a national transport and logistics hub. With a world-class university and TAFE college producing a highly skilled population and with cutting-edge technology coupled with our existing industrial base, there is no reason why Geelong cannot be a global centre of manufacturing excellence. But the critical ingredient in all of this is confidence—knowing that we in Geelong can do things as well as anybody else in the world. That is actually why Geelong’s AFL premiership last year was so important to the town. Just imagine if I had not mentioned that!
For new nations we talk about people engaging in an act of self-determination, which implies that they have something to determine, that there is a confident identity which unites them as a people and which they in turn present to the world. Any nation which does not have that confident identity struggles, and that struggle is being had by our nearest neighbour to the north, Papua New Guinea. People who have seen themselves as highlanders or from Manus, as Trobriand Islanders or Papuans, have been asked to forge a nation combining all of these people and many more. While Australia was a caring and benevolent colonial power, the truth is that we did very little to prepare these people for what has turned out to be a tremendously difficult task. And so in 2008 Papua New Guinea is bleeding. All its social indicators are poor, such that life expectancy in PNG is the shortest of any nation outside of Africa. Port Moresby is now one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and there is an unknown rate of HIV infection which is drawing comparisons with sub-Saharan Africa. As always, it is PNG’s poor who are the worst victims.
And yet, with its abundant resources, PNG could be a wonderful success. Ultimately, of course, it is for PNG to determine its own future but, as PNG tackles its issues, it is very important that Australia is there as a strong partner not only out of affection for a close neighbour but also in our own national interest. Since 1975 I think all levels of Australian society, not just government but corporate Australia and the community sector as well, have failed to maintain the bonds which used to exist with Papua New Guinea prior to independence. It has been my privilege over the last few years to have visited PNG on numerous occasions, mainly on behalf of the ACTU but also as a member of Labor’s International Party Development Committee. It has become a passion of mine to encourage across all Australia a much greater degree of engagement with PNG. This engagement is needed by Papua New Guinea, and Australia must be the very best friend that we can be.
In contemplating national identity, inevitably my thoughts turn to Australia’s own identity. When we allow our finer spirits to soar, Australia has a national ideal which is the very envy of the world. It is described by words like ‘egalitarianism’, ‘fairness’ and the spirit of ‘a fair go’. And all of this is grounded in the idea of mateship. Charles Bean, the famous Australian First World War correspondent, said in relation to the Australian troops both at Gallipoli and on the Western Front:
... the chief article [of their creed] was that a man should at all times and at any cost stand by his mate. That was and is the one law which the good Australian must never break.
Mateship is at the heart of our great military image, which is not Nelson standing on the deck of the Victory peering out at the French fleet as he was about to impose upon them a terrible defeat. Nor is it a group of American marines raising the flag on the heights of Iwo Jima in an emphatic symbol of victory. No, our great military image is of a medic leading a donkey, on the back of which is an injured digger—one Australian helping another, a mate helping a mate.
That spirit of mateship is very much alive in Australia today. We saw it in the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games, which absolutely celebrated the famous aspects of Australian life—the culture of Indigenous Australians, the Great Barrier Reef—but which also celebrated ordinary Australians in that wonderful scene with the men and women wearing their stubbies and workboots, using angle grinders and sending sparks into the night sky. What other nation, what other culture, would put on display to the rest of the world the most ordinary of its people to show that they are extraordinary too?
Mateship has played a role throughout our history. In the early pioneer days, out in the bush, husband and wife became the best of mates in a way which broke down the barriers of traditional gender segregation. As we sit here in 2008, that is really now the norm in Australia, where the vast bulk of couples regard their husband or wife as their best mate. That is particularly Australian. It is very important that when we consider the concept of mateship we do so in its grandest context as being all about men and women being mates.
At our best, mateship has played a role in our immigration policy, as we have welcomed people to Australia from all four corners of the globe as mates. Mateship has been at the heart of the reconciliation process, because Aborigines are mates too. Mateship is an Australian ideal, but it does not seek to define the ideal Australian. Mateship is about all Australians—men and women, black and white, rich and poor—mucking in together and then celebrating that fact. It is fantastic. It is uniquely Australian and with it we have been and will continue to be simply great.
But there has been a darkness to the Australian character as well, which we cannot ignore. We have seen it most notably in our history in the White Australia policy, which was national policy and bipartisan policy embraced by every prime minister from Barton through to Menzies. It was actually the Curtin government, when negotiating the arrival of American troops into Australia to use our continent as the base for the offensive campaign against Japan, that raised concerns about African-American troops coming here because this was, after all, a white continent. The Americans, rightly, objected to that. But, ultimately, a compromise was reached where those African-American soldiers were based in the north of Queensland, far away from offending the eyes of the population centres in south-eastern Australia. That is a terrible story, but it happened, and we have to acknowledge it. This darkness has been apparent in the policies which gave rise to the stolen generation and in a policy of intentionally brutalising new people on their arrival to Australia so as to discourage others from doing the same. We have seen it at work in the Pacific solution.
How we reconcile these two aspects of the Australian character is difficult. How do you reconcile a sense of togetherness with a sense of exclusion? How do you reconcile bigotry with mateship? The answer is: you have a national discussion in the context of nationhood. Yet here we have another curious fact about our country. As David Day, the eminent Australian historian, has put it, Australia is the reluctant nation. On 1 January 1901, the vast bulk of the Australian people did not see it as our independence day. Rather, it was the coming together of six British colonies to form a new British entity in the South Seas. From that day, right through until the rejection of the republic referendum in 1999, our path to independence has been drawn out and ambiguous. With the notable exception of Paul Keating in the early nineties, that road to independence has lacked any kind of national discussion such as that which occurred between the likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams at the outset of the American republic. I actually think that it is the absence of that national discussion which has left, at times, our national character somewhat unreconciled.
And yet we have a need for a strong national identity now more than ever, because borders are far more transparent than they were in 1901 and we no longer sit under the umbrella of an empire. Who we are and what we stand for is there for all the world to see. Whether or not we can confidently assert an Australian brand into a globalised economy has everything to do with whether or not Australia will succeed in the global economy. But to do that we need to understand our own brand first.
I think the wonderful side of the Australian character, mateship, is well known. But it ought to be enshrined, in my view, in our national documents. So, personally speaking, I agree with John Howard that mateship ought to form part of the preamble to the Australian Constitution. But the darkness in the Australian character is less understood. There are some who say that there is a deep-seated streak of racism in Australia. I disagree with that because I actually think that Australians have been incredibly generous to people from all over the world.
Yet I do believe that non-Indigenous Australia, from the very beginning of European settlement, has been beset by a sense of insecurity. At different times we have felt insecure about the distance from the motherland, England. We have felt fearful of our Indigenous population. We have been worried about the size of our continent and how small a population we have to occupy it. And we have been anxious about the Asian region in which we live and what designs may be had on our own land. In more recent times there has been a certain economic insecurity. How will we continue to make things? How will we continue to have a manufacturing sector in Australia when our nearest neighbours are able to make things for a fraction of the price? I think it is when we have indulged this sense of insecurity as a nation that public policy in Australia has manifested in doctrines like the White Australia policy, the stolen generation or the Pacific solution. So to me there is no more important issue in a national discussion. There is no more important issue for the future direction of Australia than to face up to these insecurities.
In the 21st century Australia needs a new birth of confidence, because the issues which caused us anxiety in the 20th century frankly are no longer relevant in the 21st century. I do believe that the vision put forward by Kevin Rudd and Labor at the last election captures this new Australian confidence. It is right that we reject an unfair set of industrial laws which, at their worst, allow one Australian to exploit another. There is no mateship in that. It is also right that we base our economy on a highly skilled, well-educated population bringing to bear the best technology so that we can make the best products and deliver the best services in the world. That is not only the smart play for Australia; it is the fair play. With high-skilled jobs come high-paying jobs, and that gives us the financial base for the egalitarian society and the Australian spirit of a fair go.
Whether or not you believe that the policies put forward by Labor at the last election represent the best recipe for fostering mateship as our national ideal, what also matters is that we have a discussion about what our national ideals are. This is an exciting time. The nation’s response to the stolen generation apology last Wednesday absolutely demonstrates that in 2008 Australia is ready to shed the insecurities of the past and to seize the future with a renewed confidence and hope. Mateship is a very powerful ideal with which to do that. It comes from the country as a whole. It is an ideal which has the capacity to endure, but it is an ideal which will only endure—indeed, it will only be a national ideal—if it has bipartisan support.
Now is also a wonderful time to have that discussion, because at the last election 25 per cent of this parliament turned over—one of the largest renewals since Federation. There truly is a new generation in this parliament. I believe that we have a job ahead of us to better understand who we are as a people. We have a job ahead of us to restate the very idea of Australia. And we have a job ahead of us to forge a strong and unshakable national identity which eschews insecurity and fear, which is grounded in confidence and which celebrates mateship and the spirit of a fair go as that which makes us fundamentally Australian.
It is a wonderful privilege for me to be standing here as a part of the fantastic Labor team led by Kevin Rudd. I would like to start my thankyous by thanking Kevin and all the Labor movement for simply giving me the opportunity to be a part of this. I would also like to thank the electors of Corio for putting me here. I stand here as their representative but I also stand here as the representative of many friends and family, without whom I would never have been given the privilege of serving in this parliament. But before acknowledging them, I would like to acknowledge the former member for Corio, Gavan O’Connor, who served in this place for 14 years. He was a tireless advocate for the people of Geelong. He contributed to national public policy, particularly in the area of agriculture. On behalf of all those in Corio, I would like to thank him.
To this point in time, my career has largely been spent in the trade union movement—first at the Transport Workers Union, where I worked under John Allan and Steve Hutchins and alongside Glenn Sterle, Tony Sheldon and Andrew Watson; and then at the ACTU, where I worked under Sharan Burrow and Joe de Bruyn. I owe a great deal to each of these people, as I do to the union movement, which will always hold a very special place in my heart.
There are a number of Victorian parliamentarians, who are friends of mine in this place, whom I would also like to acknowledge because they have given me support and guidance for a long period of time: Kelvin Thomson, Nicola Roxon, Michael Danby, Stephen Conroy, Robert Ray and Anthony Byrne. And it is a particular joy for me that I have been elected into this parliament at the same election as David Feeney and Bill Shorten, both of whom have been dear friends of mine for more than 20 years. I would like to acknowledge a group of school friends who have shared my life from childhood: Darren and Jo Fox, Peter Little and Gitte Horn, William Reeves, Ninian Lewis and Clare Lawrence.
In Geelong we have been pursuing a struggle to reinvent the Labor Party after a period in the 1990s when our fortunes were very dim. This has been a most difficult and trying task. I have to thank state MPs John Eren, Lisa Neville, Michael Crutchfield, Jaala Pulford, David Saunderson, Cameron Granger, Lou Brazier, Alex DiNatale, Peter McMullen, Kathleen Pender, Geraldine Eren, Clare McClelland, Ann Clark, Roger Lowrey, Jill Petersen, Gavin Penn, Glen Menzies, Mark Donohue, Jade Butler, John Maroulis and Darren Lamont. You know what each of you means to me and, while it may be me who is standing here, it is your collective spirit which inhabits this chamber.
Saverina Chirumbolo, who has suffered the unusual ordeal of working with me for eight years, needs a special thanks. My productivity is largely dependent upon her, and I thank my lucky stars that she has agreed to join me on this next part of the journey.
I have been very fortunate to grow up in a loving family, many of whom are here tonight: my parents, Fay and Don Marles; my parents-in-law, Vince and Judy Schutze; my brothers and sisters Jenny Green, Liz Marles, Ken Quail, Vic Marles, Geoff Westcott, Jason Schutze, Brendan Stafford, Melissa Schutze and Albert Landman; my uncles and aunts, Robert and Ive Buntine and Richard and Jan Inglis; and some friends who are very much family, Susan and Carlo Bernardini, Leonie Sheedy and Ron Joseph.
Finally, my most heartfelt thanks go to my own family: my children, Sam, Isabella and Harvey—each of whom pays a price for my being here—and my wonderful wife, Rachel Schutze. It is she who makes the wheels of my life turn. It is she who reminds me that in the midst of political adversity it is familial love that really matters. It is she who makes all things possible, and my guiding motivation in this place will always be to make her proud.
May I start my contribution to this address-in-reply by congratulating the member for Corio. As I look across the chamber I have to say that, in my short time here, I would regard that as the finest contribution for a maiden speech that I have heard. Without seeking to denigrate other fine efforts, I think that was the finest first speech from his side of the chamber. As an alumni of Melbourne university with him and another colleague, I am not surprised.
In speaking in this address-in-reply debate, I recognise that there has been a transition of government. On 24 November, the people of Australia made their decision and, unfortunately, the Liberal-National coalition lost government. I have two roles to carry forward: firstly as the member for Flinders—and today I want to set out a four-part plan for the coming term of office—and secondly, more broadly, as a member of the alternative government of Australia. In that respect, I wish to make some preliminary remarks. I begin with a simple fact. Late last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics set out the fact that Australian unemployment has fallen to a 35-year low of 4.1 per cent and the participation rate has reached an all-time high of 65 per cent. These two facts spell one simple thing, and that is that more Australians are in work today than at any other time in our history. That means that families have the economic security which comes from work. Families have the ability to make choices, which have not been open to others throughout Australia’s history, about their own futures. More people than ever before are in a position of self-sufficiency. It also means—I think most significantly—that the dignity of work has been extended to more people than ever before. Yes, it is difficult and yes, it is challenging. That is why it is, by its very nature, called ‘work’. It means that the people of Australia, from the north to the south and from the east to the west, are in a position to make choices about their futures. That is, to me, what liberalism is all about—this very notion that we give people choice, we give people the ability to make their own futures, and from that we give them a sense of hope, aspiration and all that is possible in their lives.
How did this come to pass? The narrative from the other side is that this was all an accident, that all that we have today, which is so different from the world of 1990 or 1993, was but simply an accident of geography. This proposition is palpably false. The changes that we have seen in Australia since 1996 have been built on the hard work of five great economic revolutions. Firstly, and most importantly, there was the promotion of budgetary discipline, of turning around a $96 billion deficit, and turning it successively over time into surplus after surplus, which firstly paid off the debt and, secondly, laid the foundations for the Future Fund, for a higher education fund and for a hospitals fund—so investing now for all time for future generations. These activities were opposed at every step by those who now in the government profess support for fiscal rectitude.
The second of these revolutions was in relation to waterfront productivity. The waterfront faced a coronary; it needed a bypass. Perhaps the most bitter battle of the last 12 years was to take the steps needed to clear out the barriers and bottlenecks on our waterfront. We did that, and we did that because it was difficult not because it was easy. That is precisely why we did that. The result has been a dramatic increase in the productivity of our waterfront which in turn has meant that our manufacturers, people working on shop floors, farmers and all of those who seek to export or import have been able to do their work. These changes are real, important and profound, and yet they were opposed—but now they will be kept.
The third of the great revolutions in economic productivity that we have seen in Australia came from the dramatic reform of the tax system—reforms so great that the now Prime Minister referred to it at the time as ‘fundamental injustice day’, as we all know. The reforms were so great that, faced with all Labor state and territory governments and a Labor Commonwealth government, he will still keep those reforms. Nothing would stop him now from making those changes. We now see that the reforms to the taxation system, in moving from heavy income tax to light income tax and moving from a situation where we had a consumption based tax, have changed the way the alignment of incentives stack up in Australia. That in turn was fundamental, not to injustice but to productivity in Australia.
The fourth of the revolutions was in relation to helping those who had been trapped in a welfare cycle out of that cycle and back to work. That was a great and humane task. What we have seen is that those who were on the fringes of employment, who were outside of the employment scope, have been given the dignity of work as well as the security of work. For that we are profoundly proud. We have nothing to apologise for there. We should acknowledge and be proud of bringing back into the system those who missed out. Finally, we saw a revolution in giving encouragement to small business. This encouragement, which allowed employers to employ, was part of a process which ultimately created two million jobs and created the conditions for 4.1 per cent unemployment and 65 per cent participation in employment across the economy. These things together matter for the current generation, the future generation and the dignity of individuals.
Against that, what are we seeing today? Firstly, we are seeing that the white flag is already up on future tax cuts. The understanding that I have is that there will be no more future tax cuts, now that those which we promised have been implemented. Secondly, we see a worrying trend on foreign investment—sending a message to the rest of the world that we are getting ready to put up the shutters. It is a form of dangerous populism. We do not know the final form of that which will pass, but the message to the rest of the world is that this is a different Australia. Thirdly, we also see signs that there will be a roll-back on tariff cuts. So all of the great elements of economic reform—which do not matter of and in themselves but matter solely as a means of giving people employment, income and a real and long-term future—are being wound back. That is a dangerous sign—and that is the difference between the two sides of this House. At the end of the day, what we focused on and what we created is economic security.
Against that base, I now turn from the strongest economy that Australia has had, arguably since the Korean War boom if not before then, to where we are now in the seat of Flinders. I want to set out a four-part plan for the seat of Flinders: firstly, in relation to health; secondly, in relation to police and security; thirdly, in relation to the environment; and, fourthly, in relation to education. It is not limited to those, but they are the four pillars that I will pursue in the electorate of Flinders over the coming years.
The first of these relates to health. I turn to Warley Hospital. The great disappointment of my time in parliament has been the loss of Warley Hospital for Phillip Island. I am saddened because we committed $2½ million as a federal government, and that has been taken away by the new government. The promise for Warley Hospital on Phillip Island was a simple one: they would be given $2½ million to give them a future; so this not-for-profit, community-owned, bush nursing hospital would have a future for another 84 years. Sadly, the new health minister did not listen to the pleas from the people of Phillip Island. She did not even answer the letter which was sent by the board of the hospital.
The new Prime Minister promised on 29 November that the health buck would stop with him. The Victorian Premier said, ‘Warley Hospital is not our responsibility.’ Unfortunately, the new health minister and the new Prime Minister said, contrary to the promise that the health buck would stop with them, ‘It’s not our responsibility either.’ The result is that a hospital which had a bright future, a proud past and an important present has closed. On 31 January, 15 employees lost their jobs. They included nurses, administrators and cleaners—people who had been committed to the future of Warley Hospital. But it affected more than just those individuals; an island lost its hospital and it lost its history.
So my commitment now is to work to get this hospital reopened. I do not know whether we will be able to do it, but I do know that I want that fight—and I will have that fight and we will work and work. Only in the last few days the promise that there would be an emergency service to replace Warley Hospital has been broken. Local papers have reported that families have had to travel not just to one nearby hospital—because that was on a bypass—or to two or three but to four hospitals before finding a place where they could stop. These reports are from the most recent Phillip Island Advertiser. That is a profound health crisis, which the new government has precipitated. This hospital had fought for its history, had lived its history, and had been a proud part of Phillip Island—and now it has gone.
I also see that the state owned Koo Wee Rup Hospital, with a wonderful board and a wonderful executive, is fighting to be allowed to have respite care. At the moment we see a catch 22, in which the state says, ‘We will not allow you to apply.’ Because it is a state hospital, the Koo Wee Rup Hospital is not allowed to apply for federal funding without state support, so it is being strangled and held in by the very people who ought to be encouraging its development.
Similarly, we see that the maternity unit of Rosebud Hospital was closed. Mothers were sent to Frankston—sometimes a 40-minute trip away—to give birth, and then, after six hours, newborn babies were put in vehicles and sent back. The disruption for mothers and babies and families was profound. Here are three hospitals and three poor outcomes: Warley Hospital, Koo Wee Rup Hospital and Rosebud Hospital.
Against that, I am proud that we have a new Medicare office in Hastings, because this makes a difference to people’s lives. Now we need more aged care in Hastings and we need to build on the over-600 places that Flinders received over the last six years. We also need something that I think is revolutionary—that is, assisted care for the disabled so that they can live in an assisted situation. There is a proposal for Hastings which I hope will find the support of the new government and of the state.
I now turn to the issue of police and safety. Only last week police on the Mornington Peninsula held a crisis meeting at the Moorooduc coolstores. What they said was very simple. Brave and courageous members of the police force stood up in defiance of the standing orders from their own state authorities and said, ‘We have a crisis in policing on the Mornington Peninsula.’ The answer is simple: more police for Rosebud, more police for Hastings and a police station for Somerville. We need nothing less and we will not rest until we receive a 24-hour police station for Somerville. We were told it was impossible to get a new high school for Somerville and yet we had that battle and, with the community, we were successful. That same commitment applies: to fight, to win, to receive funding and to build a 24-hour police station for Somerville. I cannot say when it will happen but I do know that that fight will be maintained until we succeed.
Sadly, there is another element of security to mention, an issue which I have raised in the Main Committee of the House—that is, the need to ensure that all seven rail crossings on the Mornington Peninsula which do not have boom gates are given them. I mentioned last week that I spoke with Gwen Bates, the mother of Kay Stanley. Kay was tragically killed recently in a level-crossing accident. There were no boom gates, she did not hear the warning for whatever reason and a pregnant mother-to-be was lost. Her mother, Gwen Bates, has asked that I raise this matter in parliament. I do so both for Gwen and also so that we make it absolutely clear that accidents such as this should not be allowed to happen in the future. It is a genuine tragedy in the true meaning of the word when a life has been cut short.
I want to address further things. We need a bypass for Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup. That is not part of any promise, because it is not my position to give that promise, but it is part of the fight. Bypasses for Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup will give these towns a future, give people a way through and give them a sense that these towns matter, that they cannot be ignored and that they should not be ignored by the state or by the new federal government.
The third area to which I turn is the environment. The first point here is in relation to the channel-deepening project. Whilst I recognise that the broader project is inevitable—and I have said that on many occasions—it is utterly unacceptable that two million tonnes of toxic waste from the mouth of the Yarra should be dredged and dumped into Port Phillip Bay. Dieldron, DDT, arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and up to 270 other chemicals or heavy metals have all been identified as being contained within that toxic sediment. To use Port Phillip Bay as a dump is simply not acceptable. The second point is that Gunnamatta is the site of 150 billion litres of class C, partially treated sewage which is dumped off one of the great surf beaches of Australia every year. This is water which pollutes the coast, which is wasted, which should be recycled and which must be recycled. We have had a proposal on the table. I implore the new state government to reconsider that which they have dropped and to prefer this over desalination, because ultimately they are making a capital decision to guarantee that this dumping will continue for the next decade or the next 30 years, and they are doing so by preferring desalination over recycling for industry and agriculture.
This leads me to the last of the elements in the plan for the seat of Flinders. It is in relation to education and to sport. We hear from the community a call for a new secondary college for the Bass coast. I am willing to work for that end. Whether it is in San Remo or on Phillip Island or in a nearby area, it is something which is necessary. The Bass coast has one of the fastest growing populations in Victoria, in percentage terms, and it needs that support.
On the other hand, I am delighted that we have a new low-fee Christian school in Mount Martha. I am pleased to have been able to play some small role in the creation of the Balcombe Grammar School, which opened only a few short weeks ago. The former government played an important part by giving a significant percentage of the funding. It will be a significant boon to the young families of the Mornington Peninsula and it will be a great addition to the township of Mount Martha. We must now work for a year 11 and 12 facility as part of the Somerville Secondary College, which I mentioned before, and ultimately, on the health front, work to see a Rosebud swimming pool and a Phillip Island pool in place for the aged, the young, the families and the visitors.
All of these things are only possible because we have the healthiest economy in the world. I recognise that government has changed hands but our job as local members, as well as national members, is to set out the conditions for a healthy economy and to fight for those things at the local level which will give people a long-term future. For those reasons I lay out to the House this plan for health, for police, for environment and for education in the seat of Flinders.
Firstly, may I offer my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, on your election to that office, and I look forward to your guidance in matters parliamentary. I would also like to congratulate the Prime Minister on attaining the high office to which he has been called. I offer him my truly heartfelt congratulations, since it is under his inspiring leadership that I too have been elected to sit in his government. The office of Prime Minister, though, is one whose duty lies beyond party politics and electioneering. It is an office that requires important decisions in the interests of our country and its citizens. It is an office that also requires vision—vision with regard to not only our nation’s immediate needs but also the needs of its future. I can think of no man better suited to the task of governing for our nation than the honourable member for Griffith. I acknowledge the contribution made to the federal parliament by previous members for Kingston, Mr Kym Richardson, Mr David Cox and the Hon. Gordon Bilney. I especially thank the latter two for the thoughtful advice they have provided to me as I embark on my parliamentary career.
I am honoured and humbled to stand in this symbolic place as the representative of the people of Kingston. To serve in this House is an honour afforded to few, and we owe to ourselves and our constituents the duty to give the best we can in that service. Kingston is an outer metropolitan electorate in Adelaide that very much represents what is so great about our country. The electorate is bound by stunning coastline to the west and the picturesque Adelaide Hills to the east. We have some of the earliest settlements in South Australia, in Willunga, Old Noarlunga and Old Reynella. We have some of the newest housing developments. We have semirural areas and magnificent vineyards, and we have densely populated urban suburbs that many working families call home. It is also the traditional home of the Kaurna people. Together these aspects of the south create a unique community which, although diverse, has a strong sense of identity.
I was born at Flinders Medical Centre, which continues to be a leading hospital in the state and the most significant medical facility serving the people of my electorate. I studied at the Flinders University of South Australia, where I was also a student leader. These facilities were the herald of promise in Adelaide in the sixties, just as so much of my electorate is the locality of promise in a new century. My parents chose to settle in the inner south of Adelaide before I was born. I want to pay my greatest tribute to my parents, Leslie and Judith, who are both here today. They have been a constant support throughout my life and I certainly would not have made it to this place today without their love, help and guidance. I thank also my siblings, Shannon and Julian. The three of us have shared a strong bond growing up and, although we have all chosen different paths, we continue to share a close and supportive friendship in our adult life. My family have a long and proud tradition of service to our country. Both of my grandfathers served in the Second World War, as did my grandmother. My brother serves today in the Royal Australian Air Force. I hope to emulate their commitment and dedication to our nation, not in uniform but in service of a different kind in the Australian parliament.
I put myself forward for federal parliament because I am passionate about social justice, about opportunity and about a fair go. The fair go is synonymous with the Australian way of life. It is sometimes used as an empty slogan, but for me it is much more than that. It embodies what I believe to be a truly Australian ethos, an ingrained belief that all citizens should be treated fairly, equally and compassionately and that they should be given the opportunity to be their best. This is demonstrated no more clearly than in the work laws that govern our offices, our shops and our factories. The last federal election was absolutely critical in determining that Australians will not tolerate a tearing down of their right to a fair go in the workplace. Australians endorsed the substance of the fair go, not the empty slogan. It is perhaps a cliche to say every election is the most important since the war, since no federal election is unimportant, but I do sincerely believe that the most recent election was a tremendous turning point, a great pivot in our national history. Had the Australian people accepted the previous government’s Work Choices, it would have signalled a sad repudiation of our nation’s egalitarianism and our commitment to a fair go. Industrial relations has been important to me for many years. I felt the hard edge of the 1996 workplace relations legislation when I was offered an AWA while employed by a large American retailer. I refused to sign and was no longer offered work despite my five years of loyal service. I was 19 years old at the time. Hence, industrial reform and the enforcement of AWAs is not merely an abstract concept for me. I know firsthand the pressure, the threats and the consequences a large and thoughtless employer can impose on a young and vulnerable worker. I see it as a fundamental duty for me as a parliamentarian to ensure other workers are not placed in that situation and do not suffer that affront to their rights at work. That is why I am proud to be a part of this government, a government going forward with fairness in the workplace.
At that time I was very grateful for the assistance given by the union I had joined to protect my rights. That union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, helped me stand up for myself and demonstrated to me the virtue of sticking together to help each other. I have gone on to have a long association with this union as both an activist and an official. I make no apologies for having been a union official. I am extremely proud of the fact that I have helped thousands of people get a better deal at work and protect their interests in the workplace. Only those who have no genuine conception of real workplaces can think being a unionist is anything less than a fine and admirable preparation for parliamentary service. I am especially grateful that I had the opportunity to represent workers in the southern suburbs of South Australia, the area that I now have the honour to represent here. I take this opportunity to extend my thanks to those in the South Australian branch of the SDA who I had the pleasure to work with over many years, particularly the South Australian secretary, Don Farrell. I would not be standing here today without his support, encouragement, advice and belief in me. I would also like to thank current and former assistant secretaries Peter Malinauskas and the Hon. Bernard Finnigan, who over the years have also provided me with sage advice and words of wisdom.
To me a socially just society is like woven cloth, one in which many threads come together to make a cohesive whole, a unified fabric. I would like to briefly expand upon what I see as some of the key threads that need to be woven together to advance our nation into the 21st century. I am a defender of the role of government in improving the quality of life and opportunity available to all people. Governments cannot solve all problems, nor can governments make all decisions, but governments should, dare I say must, ensure the framework and foundations are there so that our citizens can.
I believe in the social contract, the notion that each individual is part of a society. Citizens pay their taxes and in return are entitled to expect from their government liberty, protection from harm, security and, where necessary, aid to their welfare. This is no more important than in the area of health care. As a qualified clinical psychologist I have had the good fortune to be intimately involved in providing front-line care to the mentally ill and emotionally troubled. We must continue to pay great attention to the needs of those requiring mental health care. Unlike many physical ailments, mental illness is not always visible, but it is no less serious. We must continue to improve our standard of care that promotes psychological wellbeing and mental health in our community.
When it comes to mental health and health care in general, I also believe we must invest in prevention as well as treatment. This is the only way we can advance a healthier, happier and more productive society. I consider it of the utmost importance that Australia enjoys a system of public health care that is the envy of the world. There are many challenges facing our system, such as rapidly changing technology and an ageing population; however, we must meet those challenges and maintain our hospitals and health system at their best. We must protect and defend the principle of universal health care, as it is unacceptable that a person’s financial position should determine whether they might live or die.
Maintaining and building infrastructure remains a priority for my electorate and is a key thread to improving quality of life for the people of Kingston. Just as much work was done in the sixties and seventies to lay the foundations for large-scale settlement in the south, so we must make a renewed effort in this new century. Providing greater rail services and better roads, building high-speed broadband and maintaining a supply of high-quality clean water are all essential infrastructure required not only in my electorate but also across the nation. I am confident the Rudd government, in conjunction with our colleagues at state and local level, can work to lay these much needed foundations for our future.
Intrinsically linked with infrastructure in the south is economic development. The need to focus on economic development in the south of Adelaide has only been emphasised by the announcement that the Mitsubishi plant is set to close at the end of next month. Losing one’s job represents much more than just missing out on a pay packet. For many of these workers their identity has been tied up with the quality cars that they made and the line in which they worked. I want to pay tribute to these workers who provided loyal service but were victims of circumstances beyond their control. Despite this sad circumstance we need to look to the future, the future for these workers and the future of the region. I would like to thank the Prime Minister, the minister for industry and the Premier of South Australia for making a commitment to invest in the south of Adelaide, an investment that I believe should be focused in the area of high-tech, innovative and sustainable industry.
The provision of quality education for all children is another vital thread in the woven cloth of social justice. I want to ensure that all young Australians can reach their potential so they in turn can one day also contribute to our nation’s growth and prosperity. I am particularly committed to working on early childhood education and I am proud that our government has seen fit to identify this area as a priority. My work as a psychologist has highlighted to me the critical need to provide our kids with the best possible start in life, ensuring that they have access to a high standard of education to allow them the best opportunities in those early formative years and to set them up for the future.
I have spoken of my family and former union colleagues. Of course, there are many others I need to thank—people who have played various roles in getting me to this moment. I would firstly like to thank my friend Brer Adams. It was through his enthusiasm that I became active in the political process and embraced politics as an avenue for change. I would like to thank my campaign team, who worked tirelessly over the election period. I especially thank my campaign manager, Chris Picton, whose commitment, drive and attention to detail ensured that we achieved the result we did in Kingston. Thanks go to my deputy campaign manager, Sonia Romeo, whose dedication and organisation ensured that the campaign ran smoothly on the ground. I express thanks also to Senator Dana Wortley for all her help.
To Alex Dighton, Xanthe Kleinig, Tom Koutsantonis, the member for Wakefield, the honourable Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport, Senator Annette Hurley, Shane McNeil, Nimfa Farrell, and Chloe Fox: I am extremely grateful for all the moral support and well-considered advice you provided me through the campaign. Thanks also to my staff—Emily, Mary, Suzanne, Emmanuel and Aaron—for their hard work in servicing the constituents in the seat of Kingston.
I would like to express my gratitude to all Labor Party members and supporters in Kingston, who worked so hard on my campaign. I truly could not have won without their tireless help. I also acknowledge the Kingston Your Rights at Work group, who campaigned vigorously to ensure that the industrial relations debate remained in the forefront of voters’ minds during the election.
In closing, I wish to bring to mind the man after whom my electorate is named. Charles Cameron Kingston was a colourful character and a colossal figure in the story of Federation. Kingston was a pioneer who worked long and hard to see Australia become a nation. I often think about the aspirations of those men and women at the beginning of Federation. They had a vision for a strong, united country. They believed in the capacity of the Australian people for democracy, freedom and enterprise. How proud they would be to see us now, a strong and prosperous nation. It is a nation that contributes beyond its size, population or wealth in international affairs, a nation that enjoys tremendous unity and common purpose, and a nation that soon I hope will select its own head of state.
Our challenge, 100 years later, is to ensure that in another century our descendants can look back on the decisions we make now and feel that we too played our part in our nation’s journey, that we built on those early foundations, that we saw both the potential of the present and the challenges for the future and that we lived up to the promise. Just as those who lived in the early settlements in my electorate a century ago sought a better life, so do thousands now seek that better life in newer areas. Their aspiration for a better quality of life and a fair go for their children and their grandchildren is one that is shared by all generations. So it will be my task, with all the energy and ability I can muster, to do what I can to make that aspiration a reality, to play that part, to continue weaving that cloth of justice and to commit to those vital threads of fairness, of opportunity, of education and of care for the benefit of those I have the privilege to represent and to the advancement of our great nation.
Mr Speaker, it is good of you to come into the House to hear the humble member for Sturt make his contribution to the address-in-reply debate tonight. I look forward to feedback on my speech, perhaps at a later occasion when we might be chatting about the parliament over a cup of tea.
There is no doubt that the opening remarks that I would like to make in the address-in-reply debate are to thank the electorate of Sturt for re-electing me for the sixth time to the House of Representatives. In the Howard government, I had the privilege to serve as a minister and as a parliamentary secretary over four years. But it is a truism of politics that service at the electorate level is the most important privilege that is afforded a member of parliament.
If you are not a member of parliament, you cannot have those other opportunities to serve in higher office. Every three years or less, I face the opponents that Labor puts up against me, and every other time and again this time I am grateful that the electors of Sturt have chosen to re-elect me. Perhaps on this occasion it was not quite by the comfortable margin that I have enjoyed in the past. I won by 1,711 votes. Some of the members of this House who are busily congratulating their colleague were active in campaigning against me, which is a great shame. I thought there was a bit of camaraderie in this place but, unfortunately, at election time the Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport and others could not wait to get their talons into my electorate to try to remove me from it. But we fought the good fight and, fortunately for the electors of Sturt and for me, we were re-elected. I am very grateful for their support.
Often when you are a minister or a parliamentary secretary, you get given opportunities to do large things. When I was the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, I was responsible for the mental health package, which was one of the more important tasks that I did as a member of the executive of the last government. It was worth about $1.9 billion. I think it is fair to say it has made and will continue to make a great difference to people in Australia who are suffering from a mental illness, not least because we opened up the Medicare safety net to psychologists—I note the member for Kingston, who has just spoken, talked about her role in psychology—and I think that has made a huge difference to those people in Australia who are suffering from a mental illness.
At a more micro level, every task that each person in my electorate asks me to do for them as their local member is critically important. Each one needs to be given the absolute attention that one can bring to it as a member of parliament. Over the last 15 years that I have served in this House, I hope that I have helped many of the constituents in my electorate, and I look forward to continuing to help them over the next three years.
During the election I did lay down a seven-point plan for improving the electorate of Sturt in particular. I wish to touch on that tonight in the address-in-reply debate. For many years one of the hoary chestnuts of politics in South Australia has been the Britannia roundabout. This is not just any kind of roundabout; this is a historic roundabout just outside my electorate but in fact servicing my electorate and which used to be in my electorate. It has been a difficult area for traffic in South Australia and Sturt for a very long time. It is rated the most significant traffic red spot in South Australia by the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia, with in excess of 100 car collisions annually. For a very long time I have been campaigning and calling on the state government in South Australia to take the necessary action to improve the Britannia roundabout. This roundabout is not on the national highway and as a consequence misses out on the funds that the Commonwealth could bring to try and assist in fixing the Britannia roundabout. I have asked on many occasions the state government, circulated petitions, held public meetings and supported the Britannia roundabout action group. I have asked the state government to take the necessary steps to make it a safe place for the commuters, for the drivers of South Australia and Adelaide from my electorate into the city.
The member for Brisbane I think is quite rudely placed on the back bench by the new Prime Minister. Certainly if I had had that position he would have been on the front bench of any government that I led—not that he would get this opportunity, I would think. I would not be holding your breath, if I were you, Arch. I think that is highly unlikely. But I think the Prime Minister made a significant error of judgement in not putting the member for Brisbane on the front bench, and I welcome his support for my campaign to do something about the Britannia roundabout.
There are a number of options, but the two that are the most conducive to assisting with the problems of the Britannia roundabout are, first, installing traffic lights around the roundabout at a cost of about $9 million, which the state government could do relatively easily. It would not be the optimal solution, in my view. It would be a short-term solution but it would be at least some step in the right direction. The longer term solution, the better step, would be to start a feasibility study to build an underpass under the Britannia roundabout so that the traffic would be diverted substantially in the direction of Fullarton Road and Dequetteville Terrace. By doing so it would ameliorate substantially the likelihood of danger and damage to the residents of my electorate. That is one of the areas that I intend to continue to campaign on in this term.
Another one is to try to bring funds to the state schools and other schools in my electorate. The Howard government had an excellent record in the Investing in Our Schools Program of providing substantial funding to schools in my and many other electorates right across the country. In fact, only in the last few years the former government committed $2.7 million to Linden Park Primary School for its redevelopment; $132,000 to the Paradise Primary School for the upgrade of its music, drama and information technology facilities; funds for the upgrade of sports amenities at Athelstone Primary School, which cost $150,000; close to $47,000 to the Norwood Morialta High School under the Community Water Grants; and $65,000 for the installation of air-conditioning at Wandana Primary School. The East Marden Primary School received close to $50,000 to create an environmentally friendly play space, and $75,000 was provided to the Charles Campbell Secondary School for an all-weather shelter and an upgrade of the student support area. These are a few examples. Finally, the Gilles Plains Primary School received $75,000 for resurfacing of the playground. So over quite a period of time the Howard government injected millions and millions of dollars into local schools in my electorate, making a difference to the services and the amenities provided to the students of those schools. I would like to see that continue.
There is tremendous work that could be achieved at the Hillcrest Primary School. That school needs new ovals and new play areas, new buildings and air-conditioning to provide support to one of the more depressed areas of the Adelaide metropolitan area, which is in my electorate. Hillcrest, Gilles Plains Primary School—these schools need continuous support from government. The state government has a direct responsibility, and the new Commonwealth government should not have abandoned the Investing in Our Schools Program, because it did provide a tremendous resource for those kinds of tasks that principals and their school councils thought would be of great value to the local schools. I would like to see that reinstituted or, if it is not reinstituted, another program which would support primary schools and secondary schools across my electorate, particularly Gilles Plains and Hillcrest. I know the Burnside Primary School, where my own children have been to school, is also in need of an upgrade. I hope it will get support from the new Commonwealth government in providing the kinds of services and amenities that the close to 700 students need at the Burnside Primary School.
One of the other areas that I have raised as one of my plans for Sturt in the next three years is keeping open the Glenside Hospital. The state government have a plan to essentially close the Glenside Hospital, which is the mental health hospital in Adelaide, and turn it into a smaller and in my view downgraded mental facility. They will introduce residential accommodation for the mentally ill, which I think is very important, but they are going to sell off huge parts of the Glenside Hospital campus for housing redevelopment. It is important public land which was willed to the people of South Australia in 1836 by our ancestors to be handed down to future generations. The state government’s plan is for a smaller mental health facility, for the South Australian Film Corporation to be moved to the old hospital, for the selling off of large parts of the public land at the campus, and for retail and commercial tenancies to be built on the site of the campus, which is quite unnecessary given the amount of retail and commercial accommodation that is already available in the Glenside precinct. This will not provide the kinds of services that those people who have a mental illness in South Australia need.
The local community in Glenside are quite rightly up in arms, and they are also up in arms because the state government has treated them with such complete contempt. I have been to three public meetings in my electorate—others have been held; I think there have been four or five—and at none of those has the state minister responsible for this, Gail Gago, been prepared to front up to the local residents of Glenside and explain her position. She has sent public servants. The public servants have come along and manfully—and I guess womanfully—defended the state government’s position. But the reality is, as anybody in this place knows, that public servants are not responsible for policies of governments. Public servants are required to introduce the policies set for them by government. But it is the government which is answerable to the people for those policies. And for the state minister for mental health services to be so cowardly as to be not prepared to front the public meetings, in my electorate, of local residents who are deeply concerned about the changes to Glenside Hospital I think is nothing short of an abject disgrace. Probably the member for Wakefield is a close friend and supporter of Gail Gago, the minister at the local level. They might not be in the same faction of course—they are a bit split down there in South Australia. But, on the basis that they are all in the Labor Party family, he no doubt supports Gail Gago’s inattention to the constituents who are dead keen to meet with her and ask her questions in a public forum about what exactly she intends to do with the Glenside Hospital campus and to ask her to reconsider. That is an area on which I will continue to fight for my constituents over the next three years.
Another area is the periodic flooding of First Creek. There are four major creeks that run through my electorate from the foothills through to the sea, or to the Torrens. First Creek had a major flood in November 2005. It was not quite the same as the Queensland floods that we have been experiencing in the last few weeks, but it was a very substantial flood that washed out hundreds of homes of people who lived along First Creek in the catchment area and destroyed the roads and made them unusable. The state government has been very slow in repairing the roads adequately for the benefit of the residents who live along First Creek.
We need to have a long-term strategy for the diversion of water or the stopping of the periodic 50-year and 100-year floods that occur on First Creek. The former government initiated a program on this. We put money into the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board. We allocated them money to start a program or conduct a feasibility study about what to do with the periodic flooding of First to Fifth creeks. The Norwood, Payneham and St Peters Council, an excellent council in my district, have been taking steps within their own area to mitigate the worst excesses of the flooding of First Creek, but it is a bigger responsibility than one council’s.
We started the project, and I call on the federal government and the South Australian members who are present here to continue it. The South Australian members present here have not quite got the same pull in the federal government as had South Australian members in the previous government. We had a number of ministers and cabinet ministers from South Australia. I think there is one cabinet minister in the Rudd Labor government from South Australia. At one stage there were four from South Australia under the previous government. Whatever small pull the present members have on the government, I call on them to use it. I hope that the member for Adelaide, into whose electorate First Creek flows, will take a great interest in the need to stop the periodic flooding of First Creek.
I notice the member for Makin looking quizzical. He has not given his maiden speech yet, I think, so he is not entitled to be rude to me from the government benches, though I will be kind to him. I notice him looking quizzical. But I can assure him that the residents in his area, to whom Fifth Creek would be of importance, are very keen to make sure that these kinds of projects are given maximum attention by the Labor government.
There are a couple of other areas I would like to touch on. One is the Campbelltown City Soccer Club. I was very fortunate to be able to gain a $1 million grant for the Campbelltown City Soccer Club based at Newton in my electorate. That grant is to provide facilities for the 400 families who are regular users of that sports and social club. The club had been allowed to languish for several decades using very substandard facilities. After a great deal of lobbying, the former Minister for the Arts and Sport, George Brandis, very helpfully managed to secure a grant for me of $1 million for that sports and social club.
The club members are very worried because Labor’s razor gang is planning cuts right across the government. It would be an absolute travesty of justice if that grant—which had already been announced and was relied upon by that club, its families and the people who live in that part of Newton in my electorate—were cut. Those people would miss out on their grant and on the change to their facilities, a change that would give state-of-the-art facilities for the children who use that sports club. It would be a travesty if they were to miss out on that because of the razor gang of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, which is cutting into national security and defence and outrageously targeting projects like the Campbelltown sports and social club redevelopment. And so I am calling on the government to assure me, and through me my constituents in Newton, that the Campbelltown sports and social club grant is safe from the prying hands of the minister for finance and the Treasurer as they seek to try and pretend that somehow they have not been given the best economy in 107 years in the handover between the two governments.
Black spot funding is always an important issue in all electorates across the country. There are, surprisingly, even in metropolitan Adelaide, a number of black spots in my electorate which I think still need to be attended to. On Gorge Road, Athelstone, for example, where there is a valley which crosses to King George Avenue, there is a black spot which pedestrians find very dangerous to cross. It has railings and guard rails and so on, but still it is not adequate, and what they really need is a raised pedestrian crossing—oh, the Speaker is back. It is good to have you back, Mr Speaker. They were moving through the chair pretty quickly in my speech—being knocked over like flies. We need a raised pedestrian crossing in order to protect those pedestrians crossing Gorge Road at Athelstone.
There are two other black spots that I would like to make mention of. One is OG Road at Klemzig. There was a very terrible accident involving a school student who was killed at that crossing late last year—a St Ignatius student. St Ignatius is my old school, my alma mater, and the Leader of the Opposition’s old school. OG Road at Klemzig needs attention under the Black Spot Program. There is a similar situation on Gorge Road at Athelstone near St Ignatius College. A lot of complaints and petitions have been raised by me and by local residents about the need to improve the black spot situation at Gorge Road, both at King George Avenue and at St Ignatius College—between the cemetery that exists there and the school.
There are a number of outstanding aspects of black spot funding on which Sturt could well do with support from the Commonwealth government. There are improvements, I am pleased to say, that are occurring at the North East Road and Sudholz Road intersection and the North East Road and Blacks Road junction through the Australian government’s Black Spot Program. We managed to secure funding from the last government to ensure that those issues in the northern part of my electorate are being properly dealt with.
Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of broadband, which has received a lot of airplay under Kevin Rudd. It is one of his many first priorities. He has a lot of first priorities. Education is his first priority. Economic management is his No. 1 priority. Defence and security were his first priority in November 2007. Inflationary pressures were his No. 1 priority in December 2007. Climate change was in November. Cooperative federalism was also his No. 1 priority. He has six No. 1 priorities; he is quite the Houdini. I would ask him to come through with his promises to do with broadband. The federal government put huge resources into the broadband guarantee. I hope that is not under threat. Families and all Australians who live in the foothills in my electorate—in Campbelltown, in Newton, in Tea Tree Gully and through Hope Valley and Oakden—deserve proper access to broadband supported by the private sector. Whatever the government can do to fulfil its promises on broadband will be welcomed by the residents of my electorate, and it will build on the good work that we did in government with respect to the broadband guarantee. (Time expired)
It is with great honour that I rise to speak for the first time in this House. In doing so, I wish to acknowledge the trust that the people of Lindsay have invested in me. Bounded at the east by Ropes Creek and South Creek, the Lindsay electorate extends across the Cumberland plain and the majestic Nepean River to the foothills of the Blue Mountains. At its northern boundary is Castlereagh, one of the historic Macquarie towns, and at its southern boundary is Mulgoa, named after the local Dharug tribe that once inhabited those parts. Wholly situated within the city of Penrith, the Lindsay electorate is part of a community that I have proudly served as a councillor and a former mayor for almost nine years. In this time, I have come to the clear and unmistakable conclusion that the greatest asset of this community is its people—hard working, generous, passionate and enterprising.
Apart from being the place where my wife and I are raising our four young children, this is the place where my ancestors first settled in this country. Around 170 years ago, my great-grandfather’s grandfather, Walter Bradbury, settled in the Penrith area. He had travelled to the new colony on convict escort duty as a member of the 80th Regiment of Foot, Staffordshire Volunteers. In 1843, Walter came to local prominence when, as a constable posted at Penrith, he was granted a substantial reward from the Governor for apprehending a group of deserters armed with muskets from the 99th Regiment at Parramatta. Acting on a secret tip-off, he apprehended a group of rogue elements who had been threatening the peace and order of the local community by engaging in despicable and clandestine acts. These events bear a striking resemblance to the events that took place in Lindsay in the final days of the 2007 election campaign.
A century after Walter Bradbury’s arrival, my mother and her parents, Anthony and Paola Tedesco, came to these shores from war-torn Malta in search of new opportunities. They were a part of that other great wave of migration that enriched our nation in the years after the Second World War. My family’s story encapsulates only two of the many different threads of that rich tapestry that is the story of the great region that has been my home since birth. As the place that one in 10 Australians call home, Western Sydney is now the third largest regional economy in Australia. It also represents one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan regions in this nation.
But, before becoming all of these things, Western Sydney was home to the first Australians. I pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who I recognise as the traditional owners or custodians of the lands and waters of this country. As the first member for Lindsay to do so, I add my voice to the apology issued by this parliament and say sorry to our Aboriginal people for past mistreatment, including the stolen generations. Before European settlement, the local Aboriginal tribes called the area that now constitutes Penrith city Muru Marak, which means ‘mountain pathway’. Indeed, it is Penrith’s proximity to the Blue Mountains that provides a central reference point to its history, which is shared by both its Indigenous and its non-Indigenous inhabitants.
After setting out from his South Creek farm in 1813, Gregory Blaxland, along with William Lawson and WC Wentworth, became the first European to cross the Blue Mountains. Where other Europeans had failed, Blaxland’s strategy of following the high ridges proved successful. Apart from marking out Penrith as a place from which great journeys might be launched, the Blue Mountains crossing opened up more land for the young colony, which had been fast running out of grazing land for its cattle. The real historical significance of the Blue Mountains crossing is that it became the expedition that allowed the young colony to overcome the geographical barrier that had stopped it from further expansion and growth.
I passionately believe that, in the same way that the first crossing of the Blue Mountains helped the infant colony scale the heights of one of the natural barriers that had prevented it from reaching its potential, it is the role of government to help all individuals overcome the barriers that prevent them from reaching their potential and fulfilling their destiny. In short, the objective of government action should always be, as former Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher once said, to ensure that every Australian is given ‘the fullest opportunity to rise in life’. This is why I believe in the power of government. It is a simple but enduring belief: that governments have the power to change people’s lives and that governments are capable of creating and extending opportunities to all. This is the one conviction that has guided me in my life and the one belief that has led me to this place.
I believe in the relative efficiency of the market but I also believe that our nation and all of our people will only realise their full potential with the carefully targeted intervention of government. Where hope and optimism are shackled by disadvantage and despair, government must intervene. Where ability and promise are restrained by dysfunction and disincentive, government must intervene. Where opportunity and competition are frustrated by market power and privilege, government must intervene. To realise our nation’s potential, we must liberate the talents and abilities of all of our people. Australia will only realise its potential when every person in this country is given the opportunity to bridge the gap between what they are and what they are capable of becoming.
We must rebuild the architecture of the state to align it more closely with the vision we hold for our nation’s future. We must overcome inertia and indifference with investment and incentive. We must entrench reward for economic and social contribution and we must use the instruments of public policy to discourage anything less. Most importantly, we must reach for a future where every person in this country is valued. Every person has a contribution to make and it is the responsibility of government to make sure they can. This is the moral imperative that dictates that government must do all that it can to empower people to realise their potential.
Whilst it is the responsibility of government to provide opportunities, the social compact demands that individuals make the most of these opportunities. Government must invest in the social infrastructure needed to empower individuals and communities to take advantage of the opportunities that are created. A strong and effective state must be accompanied by a strong society underpinned by resilient communities. Governments can strengthen communities but they cannot do the job on their own. Ultimately, communities are defined by the interrelationships between the people that comprise them. Family, however described, is at the very heart of this notion of community.
We must promote policies that support and sustain the relationships between people, their families and their communities, because a strong and cohesive society is the only foundation upon which the architecture of the state can be securely built. We must embrace the benefits of investing in our social infrastructure. We must act upon the evidence of the long-term benefits of prevention and early intervention. We must equip our parents and grandparents, our families and our communities with the tools required to build resilience and social cohesion.
We must accept the importance of early childhood education. We know from the work of the Nobel laureate Professor James Heckman that the events of a person’s first 60 months of their life will be more important in their emotional and intellectual development than anything that happens in their next 60 years. Government has a greater role to play in these formative years. Every child must be nurtured and provided with the access to early learning that success in life requires. Where families and communities are denying children these opportunities, government must take some responsibility. Family visits, parental support and education, access to early learning, breakfast clubs, literacy programs and mentoring programs are all essential.
Apart from the moral imperative, there are also powerful economic reasons why government should provide opportunities to all. If we are to compete in a global economy with nations that are 50 times our population, we simply cannot afford to give up on a single person. This is why it is in our national economic interest to provide opportunities to help every person unlock their full potential. If we are to realise our economic potential as a nation, we must create opportunities for lifelong learning and training. We must lift participation in the workforce and the voluntary sector. We must restore incentive to our tax system. We must take greater responsibility for our health and wellbeing. We must invest in the arteries of the modern economy with new and upgraded infrastructure.
In part, this is what Labor’s education revolution is about. It is about providing opportunities to overcome the barriers that prevent us from reaching our economic potential as a nation. It is about recognising the realities of globalisation. With globalisation we are facing a world where our nation’s prospects are inextricably linked to our ability to mobilise the skills and talents of our people. It is about recognising that we cannot compete with the armies of unskilled labour emerging in India and China, nor can we fight the march of automation and technological change. But the opportunities that globalisation presents are already beginning to become available to those who have benefited from the opportunities provided by government over the last 30 years. To the highly skilled, the global economy offers almost unlimited opportunities. Young Australians with highly developed skills are in great demand right across the globe. For many, the global economy has elevated their prospects of social mobility to a new stratosphere. With these people, the challenge is to ensure that their skills, their enterprise and their creativity are not lost to another country.
That is why Australia must not lose sight of its comparative advantages. We have a reputation for being home to some of the greatest cities in the world, and our lifestyle is second to none. But under the pressures of ad hoc growth and repeated failures to deliver the infrastructure that our cities require, the livability of our cities is under threat. Gridlock on our roads and freeways and inadequate and limited choice of public transport are all combining to have a corrosive impact on social and family life. These transport and infrastructure challenges that threaten the livability of our cities and suburbs must not be seen as peripheral to the great economic challenge of globalisation, because they are at its very heart.
These and other barriers that prevent our nation from reaching its potential require new policy approaches and new leadership. In the same way as the young colony’s expansion required the leadership of the Blue Mountains explorers, our nation needs to embark upon a new expedition, driven by new leadership—leadership that nurtures, cultivates and harvests the talents and abilities of our people, leadership that looks into the eyes of each Australian and sees success as their destiny rather than failure as their fate. It is leadership that expunges the shadow cast by the politics of fear and illuminates our nation with a message of hope.
This is the leadership that Australians have always looked to the Australian Labor Party to provide. As the great custodian of the progressive political tradition in this nation, the Labor Party has always dedicated its energies to the pursuit of social justice, fairness and the creation and extension of opportunities for and to all. As Labor we believe that all Australians, regardless of their circumstances, should have the opportunity to liberate their talents and realise their potential. With hard work, discipline and determination, no Australian should be denied reward in a society that allows them to fully exploit their talents and rise in life. These values constitute our moral and political compass and guide us in the pursuit of our work. We are committed to delivering a strong economy and a fair society in the social democratic tradition, with hard heads and kind hearts.
It is because of these values that we support an education revolution, fairness and decency in our workplaces, universal access to health care and accessible and affordable child care. These are the values that will guide us as we confront the challenges that lie ahead for the nation. These challenges include responding to the nation’s skills crisis, restoring fairness to our workplaces, addressing the balance between work and family, building better cities whilst fighting the housing affordability crisis, and improving transport and other physical infrastructure.
We must close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We must rebuild our hospitals and health system. We must confront the pressures of an ageing population and fight the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse. We must secure sustainable solutions to our energy needs and confront the challenges of climate change and water. We must redesign our Federation and improve our confidence in the institutions of governance. We must restore our leadership role in the international community and defend our nation from the threat of terrorism.
These are some of the great challenges to which I dedicate myself on behalf of the people of Lindsay. As I begin my work in this parliament, confronting these challenges as a legislator, I am inspired by the words of Robert F Kennedy, who said:
An honourable profession calls forth the chance for responsibility and the opportunity for achievement; against these measures politics is a truly exciting adventure.
Labor’s victory in Lindsay was the product of the hard work of many people who have contributed to my last three campaigns. I thank all of the party members, the branches, the union members and members of the local community, some of whom are in the gallery this evening. I thank them for having been involved in this victory.
In particular, I wish to thank Senator Steve Hutchins, who has been by my side throughout the last three campaigns. I also wish to thank Mark Arbib, Karl Bitar, Diane Beamer, Chris Bowen, my councillor colleagues, especially Pat Sheehy, Greg Davies and John Thain, Ron Mulock and Faye Lo Po, Prue Guillaume, Justin Koek, Julia Hine, Linda Bourke, Todd Carney, David Latham, Camden Gilchrist, the Allison and McKeown families, Russell Boserio, Steve and Sheryl Vine, Sandra Lyle, Gai and Michael Maskell, Paul and Elaine Talbert, Keven Cross, the Genovese family, Rien and Margaret Koek, Bill Buckley, Brian and Dorothy O’Farrell, Lois and Colin Fisher, Russell Baker, Matt Hazell, Mark Greenhill, Ann Keating, Angela Humphries, New South Wales Young Labor and my many supporters from the local Filipine, Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan communities.
I wish to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the men and women of the Australian trade union movement for their role in ensuring the election of the Rudd Labor government. In particular, I wish to thank Michael Williamson, Gerard Hayes, Mike O’Donnell and the entire team at the HSU, Tony Sheldon and the TWU, Andrew Ferguson and the CFMEU, Geoff Derrick and the FSU, the ETU and Matt Thistlethwaite, Mary Yaager and the Lindsay Your Rights at Work team. Let there be no mistake: our victory represents a clear mandate from the working families of Lindsay to repeal the Howard government’s extreme and unfair Work Choices laws.
I wish to thank my old mates Scott Connolly, Matthew Martyn-Jones, John Degen and Ben Heraghty, my good friend Robert Ishak and his team at William Roberts and my former colleagues at my old law firm, Blake Dawson, especially those in the tax group.
Most importantly, I thank my family, who are in the gallery tonight—some of them behind sound-proof glass. Family has been the greatest inspiration in my life. To my beautiful wife, Kylie, and my four beautiful children, Anna, Helena, Rose and Nicholas: I thank you for giving me this opportunity and I hope that I can honour your selflessness through the quality of the contribution I make to public life.
To my parents, John and Carmen: I hope I make you as proud of me as I am of you. In my successes, I see your sacrifices. To my siblings and their spouses, Natalie and my good friend Troy, two of my greatest supporters, with whom I have learnt so much in politics, Catherine, Trish and Charlie, and Stephen: thank you for your support and for giving me some great political advice around the dinner table. To Michael and Beverley Addison: thank you for your tremendous support. To Babs, Ben and Flo, Michael, Byron, Marcus and Hayley, and Wendell: thank you for your support. I also thank my extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, many of whom worked hard for me on many election days. All of you have made this day possible. I also acknowledge the assistance provided to me by Lorraine Stacker from Penrith Library.
I acknowledge the two previous members for Lindsay—in particular, my good friend Ross Free, who was also first elected to serve in this parliament on his third attempt. I also acknowledge Tony Luchetti and the great Joseph Benedict Chifley, who both served my local community before the seat of Lindsay was created. Like Ben Chifley, I had the great privilege of being educated by the Patrician Brothers, whom I also acknowledge and thank today.
After two earlier unsuccessful attempts to reach this place, I know only too well that I am here to serve the people of Lindsay and will only remain here for as long as I continue to enjoy their trust and confidence. As I stand in this parliament today, I am reminded of the words of Gregory Blaxland, who, upon crossing the Blue Mountains, remarked:
This expedition, which has proved so completely successful, resulted from two previous attempts.
Like Blaxland, I know that, after having just overcome the seemingly insurmountable, now the real work begins.
Order! Before I call the honourable member for Robertson, I remind the House that, whilst not her first speech in the Australian parliament, this is the honourable member’s first speech in this House. I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.
I acknowledge your elevation, Mr Speaker, and congratulate you, as is the tradition. I can assure you I will respect your ruling and comply in all things, as you would expect. I rise to speak for the first time as the federal member for Robertson. It has been a long and difficult journey. But it is the fulfilment of a calling I have had all my adult life. Firstly, I must thank the people of Robertson. They have elected me to represent them here in federal parliament and I feel honoured. I am dedicated to living up to the faith that they have shown in me. I feel privileged to be a part of the largest Labor government in Australia’s history, led by an energetic Prime Minister of fresh ideas and with great compassion for those who are disadvantaged in our community. His leadership is a large part of why I chose to seek election at this time and to help end the aridness of the Howard years.
Most of all I am proud of the Australian people, who at this election rejected the exploitation of workers and embraced a fairer relationship between employees and employers, who rejected the politics of division and embraced unity, who rejected self-seeking opportunism and embraced a caring society, who turned their backs on mean-heartedness and embraced generosity of spirit, who rejected the short-term exploitation of our environment and chose to protect our natural beauty and to make plans to deal with the challenges of climate change. This breadth of spirit was vividly illustrated last Wednesday with our national apology to the stolen generation, and I look forward to its continuation. I am ambitious for an enlightened social democracy built on the goodwill of the Australian people and formed on the foundations of a strong and vibrant economy.
The seat of Robertson was one of the only three federal seats named after premiers. It was named after Sir John Robertson, the small landholder’s friend. He had a prodigious career in both length and achievement. Like me, he served in both the upper and lower houses but, unlike me, he served in the New South Wales parliament and was a staunch opponent of Federation. Robertson in 1901 was a large rural seat covering a large chunk of rural New South Wales, stretching from Dubbo to just west of Newcastle. Over time, as the population of the area increased, the seat moved east to outer metropolitan Newcastle and then south to become the Central Coast seat in New South Wales that it is today. Robertson is located on the coast between Sydney and Newcastle but has a character all of its own. In the south it is bordered by the Hawkesbury River, in the east by the Pacific Ocean, in the north by Terrigal. It stretches westward to include the hinterlands of Mangrove Mountain and Peats Ridge. The Central Coast is a region of beaches and waterways, with villages and towns scattered between them. In the last two decades that I have lived there, it has become more urbanised but it still retains its unique quality. I know it is a tradition to say that your seat is of unique beauty, but in this case it truly is.
I am the 12th person to hold the seat of Robertson, but it would be accurate to say that the first member to represent Robertson as a Central Coast seat was Barry Cohen. He held the seat for 21 years, from 1969, and was certainly a local champion. His relentless pursuit of local interest is certainly something that I would like to replicate, as I would like to replicate his longevity. I also wish to acknowledge the contribution of Frank Walker, who held the seat from 1990 to 1996 and also had a long and productive career in the New South Wales parliament. I pay tribute to Jim Lloyd, my opponent in the last election, who represented his constituents with genuine concern and ran a strong and vigorous campaign. I wish him and his wife, Kerry, well in retirement and hope they have the opportunity to enjoy the Hawkesbury River that I know they love so well.
I wish to particularly thank the large number of volunteers, both within the Labor Party and outside, who helped me with the enormous task of changing the minds of some 5,000 people. Many thought it could not be achieved, and I would have to say that there were moments when I wondered. I would like to thank my campaign director, Donna Judd, who kept the whole show on the road and sacrificed an enormous amount of time. And of course I have to thank her forever tolerant husband, Graeme, who shared a lot of the burden in terms of time. It is impossible, as many have said, to name all the volunteers and those who helped, but there are some that I must. I would have to say, in naming them, that there are many names that I will spare you, as it would take almost my entire time to do that. I thank Harish Velji, Tom Hollywood, Cathy and Roland Soder, Helen Myers, Paul Collimore and Paul Sullivan, Paul Lister, John Gifford, Chris Calbert, Nick Jacomas, Dave Humphries, Bill Stewart, Jack Woodward, Emma Furness, Kerry Stratford, Mary and Anthony Gooley, Paul Wilson, Andrew Clark, Alison Nolan, Bill Cong, the Sidiropoulos family and Jane Stafford. They really are just a few of the many people who helped.
I acknowledge with enthusiasm the assistance of the Your Rights at Work team, led by Mary Yaager and John Robertson from Unions New South Wales. I also have pleasure in thanking the many unions that assisted my campaign: the Transport Workers Union, particularly Bruce Penton and Tony Sheldon; the Australian Workers Union; the NUW; the ETU, particularly Jim Macfadyen, who is also Gosford City Council Mayor; the USU; the Health Services Union—a member of which has joined us in my northern neighbouring seat of Dobell; the SDA; the FSU; the RBTU; the AMWU; the Nurses Federation; and the CFMEU all helped and all contributed to the ultimate result. I would like to thank the New South Wales branch of the ALP, of which I have been a member for 27 years. My particular thanks go to Sam Dastyari. I would also like to thank many of my colleagues for their assistance, in particular Senators Steve Hutchins, Michael Forshaw and Ursula Stephens, who gave me advice and assistance and, of course, have been my very long-term friends. Many of the other members of this House have also been colleagues and friends for a great many years. I would also like to thank New South Wales minister Tony Kelly and his wife Anne. I immensely enjoyed working with Tony, and already I am missing the rest of the Kelly gang—who worked there also—a great deal.
It is traditional for new members to reflect on their background and to put forth their personal philosophy and the issues on which they will focus in their future years in parliament. I apologise in advance if I am somewhat indulgent, as the opportunity to make such a personal presentation, uninterrupted, does not occur very often. My maternal grandfather, Oliver Hoskin, was born just before the turn of the century. He left, as a 19-year-old telephone mechanic, to fight in Gallipoli, Palestine and Fromelles with many of his generation. He returned home and survived long enough to marry, live through the Great Depression and produce four children before expiring from the effects of mustard gas suffered during the Great War. My grandmother, Georgina Smith, had an iron will and a tendency to be frugal. She supported her children as a nurse and ensured that all her children were well educated—three at university and my mother at teachers college. This high regard for education, and the value of sacrificing to achieve it, is certainly a core principle of my own.
I imagine that my paternal grandfather, Fred Neal, met his wife, my grandmother Grace, an upstairs maid—it is very difficult to imagine that such a short time ago upstairs maids were quite common—while making deliveries as a grocer’s assistant in the Darling Downs of Queensland. He remained a grocer’s assistant all his life. He was a simple and kind man who believed that caring for your family and carrying out your obligations to your community were the only things that really mattered. They lived all their lives in Australia Street, Allora, a town of some 300 people. In fact, by an interesting coincidence, it is the same street where the grandparents of the member for Solomon lived. I do not know what it indicates, but I think it indicates something. My grandmother still lives in Allora at the age of 93.
My grandfather believed that all men should learn to cook, as he said this skill saved his life when, being one of the few men who could, he performed this vital role during the Second World War. My parents, both teachers, met and married in Dalby, Queensland. My father completed a commerce degree while teaching and raising three young children with my mother. During the early 1960s, a policy of recruiting from regional Australia was introduced in the federal Public Service, and the Australian diplomatic service was opened up to those outside Sydney and Melbourne. This led to my father’s selection to join the Department of Overseas Trade.
We moved to Canberra and then commenced a period of travel to a range of places in Europe and Asia. I once calculated that I moved house 13 times before entering high school. Some people on the other side have indicated that this was a matter of some stress for them, but I would have to say that nothing could be further from the truth for me. Every move was an adventure which I learned a great deal from. I learned about the advantages of Australia’s climate, stable democracy, rule of law and a government administration generally free of corruption—despite what the media might say. I learned about the depth of poverty and the impact of lack of access to education and health services on many people in other parts of the world. Most of all, it taught me that change and new ideas are a positive thing and they should be welcomed.
I would like to thank my parents for their care and the opportunities they gave me. My father taught me, by example, that hard work is an essential element of all success and that the ‘in’ crowd is not always right. My mother taught me to stand up and be counted. I would also like to thank my twin brother, Chris, and my sister, Catherine, for keeping me down to earth and laughing with me. Sometimes you need that bit of help. I acknowledge my Botticelli cupids, Alexander and Julian, who are in the gallery today. I am sorry for embarrassing them. They have grown up to be extraordinary young men, and I am extremely proud of them. I also thank in particular my husband, to whom I said on the last occasion and I still hold this to be true: as far as I am concerned, he is always on the side of the angels.
My life has certainly been a kaleidoscope. I consider myself blessed to have had such wide-ranging experiences that allow me to balance and reflect on both the harmonies of our Australian community and the sometimes conflicting views and ideals. I was born in 1963, which makes me, I understand, both a baby boomer and generation X. I have been both employer and employee. I have worked as a union officer for the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, where I learned about the need for collective bargaining and the unfairness visited on workers by some unscrupulous employers. I have had the opportunity to meet both Laurie Short and Harry Hurrell, both legends of the labour movement. I have also had a career as a lawyer—which, as has been suggested, is a much-maligned profession.
Contrary to the views of many of those on the opposition side, they are not the only ones to sample the highs and lows of small business. I have established two businesses and have mortgaged my home, worked very long hours and received little reward for the first few months of operation. The life is demanding—but of course there are rewards—but that should never be an excuse to exploit your employees. I have lived most of my life in an urban environment but I attended high school in Orange in the central west of New South Wales. There I learned many skills that I am sure will be useful for my political life. I learned to ride a horse, drove cattle, drench sheep, pick apples, milk cows—both by hand and machine—and, from my grandmother, how to kill a chicken using only my hands.
The accumulated knowledge of these experiences has led me to believe that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men—or, in this case, women—to do nothing. I hope it will be said at the end of my time here in parliament that I did not stand back and let an injustice occur. At the core of everything we do here should be the objectives of social justice, social cohesion and equality of opportunity. Reform is why we are here. During my initial time here I will pursue a number of priorities. My first, of course, is the repeal of the Work Choices legislation and the abolition of AWAs and the unfairness that flowed from them. This has already commenced, with the introduction of the bill to put this into effect. I have to say that I am thrilled and I am sure my constituents back in Robertson feel the same way. Another of my priorities is infrastructure. I believe that Australia is at a crisis point with a lack of infrastructure, which is strangling our economic growth and limiting the potential of our population. This is due to a failure to invest in the last decade due to a short-term view and myopic outlook that the market will provide.
This crisis is nowhere more evident than on the Central Coast, where a fast-growing population has outstripped our infrastructure and threatened our environment. I have ambitions for the Central Coast and I believe these are shared by the people who reside there. To bring these to fruition we need to invest in our infrastructure, both built and social. I am pleased to see the Infrastructure Australia bill is being given priority. This will help promote this much-needed investment in infrastructure. I am particularly concerned to see that our broadband infrastructure is brought up to a level comparable with the rest of the developed world and that the regions, like Robertson, have the same access to digital information as the capital cities have.
I am also enthusiastic about being part of the Rudd Labor government’s education revolution and to see the way we educate our young people brought into the 21st century. I am concerned about two aspects in particular. If our children, before they enter school and in the first three years of school, do not develop the basic skills upon which to build the rest of their education, they can carry this deficit for the rest of their lives, being denied the quality of life they deserve and denying the community the quality of contribution they could provide. Labor is committed to providing 15 hours of preschool education to all children before they start school. This will go a long way towards dealing with this problem. I would also like to ensure, when children’s skills are underdeveloped in the first few years of their education, that the underlying causes are identified and remedial action is taken. It is not enough to say that we will look to see whether they have those skills; we have to invest the funds to actually remedy the situation.
I am also particularly concerned with the skills development of those aged between 15 and 25 years. Many in this age group fall between the gaps in their transition from school to work. Those who do not complete school or some other tertiary training are twice as likely as the rest of the population to become unemployed in later life. This is a waste of talent that the nation cannot afford. Any civilized society certainly has a duty to train and educate their young people in the transition from dependence to independence. Surely it is also our ability as a community to provide education and training for our young that is a real test of a civilized society. It is certainly an imperative in terms of our economic policies of maintaining growth and containing inflation. A competitive economy requires a skilled workforce. It is my objective to create a guarantee that every young person may continue in formal education, training or employment when leaving school. We cannot continue to waste our young talent. Finally, I am particularly concerned about the environmental impact on our coastlines, the pressure of development and the need to manage and protect these fragile ecosystems so that we do not lose the beauty that we so much enjoy.
These are my first priorities but there are a number of matters that also fill me with passion. I believe that housing is the fundamental core of a decent life. The failure to ensure access for many people to a home and the increasing number of homeless are a blight on our humanity. I believe that we should assist families to raise and educate their children, particularly at the time that they are born. I believe that Australia should not compete in the world by engaging in a race to the bottom by lowering wages but that we should compete by creating a smarter and more skilled workforce. I believe that our elderly should enjoy a secure and stimulating retirement and should have access to a nursing home when they require it. I believe we have a responsibility to engage in the reduction of poverty worldwide, and I embrace our commitment to increasing foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GDP. I believe that because it is what is required of a humane society and also because I am convinced that deprivation leads to war, suffering and death. I believe Australia should focus more on our island neighbours in the Pacific region and provide greater assistance in developing democratic governments and the rule of law in that region. I believe that Australia can do better. That is why I am here.
I congratulate the member for Robertson on her fine first speech in this House and I wish her a long, productive and rewarding time here. There are a number of members who are chicken killers and I will pass their names on to her on another occasion!
I want to express my gratitude to the people of the Wills electorate for giving me the honour of representing them in the 42nd Parliament. I had a tough year last year after my resignation as shadow Attorney-General and I want to thank my family, friends and supporters for the way they rallied around me and helped me both personally and in mounting a first-class campaign for my re-election. I will mention just two. First is my brother, Lex, who is referred to by my staff as Superman. He is in charge of the corflute signs, and all I can say is that I am glad he is on my side. Second is Noel Crawley, a tireless and cheerful campaign worker who was recently injured in a car accident. We all wish Noel a full recovery.
I thank the people of Wills who came out to support me so strongly that the electorate of Wills moved from being a 67 per cent two-party preferred Labor seat to now being a 72.5 per cent two-party preferred Labor seat. In other words, not only did everyone who voted for me in 2004 stick with me, but one in six people of those who had voted Liberal in 2004 came across to vote for me on this occasion. It means a lot to me that they returned me with a much increased majority. Wills is now the fourth strongest Labor seat in the country. This is an emphatic vote of confidence and I have no intention of wasting it. I intend to do everything I can to lift and build the community in which I live and to make Wills a better place for all of us who live there.
I also intend to pursue a vigorous agenda for change in this nation. There is great hope and optimism in the air. There is excitement and enthusiasm. This is a wonderful time to be in the parliament. There are both big opportunities and big challenges. People have high expectations of us as a new Labor government, and so they should. People should always have high expectations of their representatives.
One of the things I most want to see in Australia is an active, well-informed, engaged citizenry making demands of their governments. In this regard, I want to single out for praise and commend to the parliament the work of GetUp!, who have sent us a people’s agenda for the new parliament. I have long regretted the decline of public meetings, the declining membership of political parties, the declining membership of progress associations and the general decline in vehicles for civic engagement. It seems to me that the rise of TVs, DVDs and the internet has turned most of us into passive consumers, sitting in front of a screen and waiting to be entertained rather than getting out there and making things happen. Our political culture has suffered. It has become top down rather than bottom up, leadership obsessed, driven by large campaign donations, lobbyists and focus groups, with a conspicuous lack of dialogue and a lack of serious, genuine discussion and discourse about the direction Australia and the world need to take.
Into this quite serious hole in our democratic jacket has stepped GetUp! It is a national, independent political movement of almost 250,000 Australians. It uses the latest online and offline technologies to break down the barriers between the governed and the governing, and its vision is of a progressive Australia, one with social justice, economic fairness and the environment at its core. In December, thousands of Australians met simultaneously in 327 ‘Vision GetTogethers’—strangers who share simply a postcode and a concern for their country, meeting in almost every electorate in the nation to decide their priorities for the recently elected parliament. In January, the results of their work were compiled and voted on by a staggering 32,500 Australians from every state and territory, Australians of all ages and political persuasions. Three issues stood out as the most important priorities for this parliament. The first is ‘becoming environmentally sustainable’ and combating climate change. Given my background as someone who became interested in politics as a result of my interest in environmental issues, I think that this is not surprising; it is very significant that this has stood out as the most important priority. The second is ‘making high-quality primary, secondary and tertiary public education accessible to all Australians’, and the third is ‘respecting the rights and improving the living standards of Indigenous Australians’. I will say a little more about these in turn.
The first issue is about becoming environmentally sustainable and combating climate change. The Australians who participate in GetUp! want meaningful action to combat climate change and sustainably manage our water, forests and marine habitats. GetUp! are overwhelmingly and urgently concerned about climate change over any other issue facing the nation. They want strong and binding emissions reduction targets by 2020, federal funding for research into renewable and alternative energy, and a robust carbon tax or trading scheme that does not favour large polluters. They are happy to pay more for energy needs to meet this end, although they point to the need for measures to ensure this is equitable. They want Australia to be a world leader in this sphere—leadership that will create the culture change necessary domestically and set the example internationally to avert a climate disaster. They strongly call on the government not just to legislate and fund but to proactively lead the way in creating a culture of sustainability. They finish with a quote:
We have seven years to cap our CO2 emissions. It is an emergency. All hands on deck.
That is exactly right. Global warming is a planetary emergency. It requires all hands on deck and that no stone be left unturned.