Monday, 29 May 2017
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2017-2018, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018; Second Reading
On the anniversary of the address on the forgotten people from Robert Menzies, I cannot help but look and see:
… the kind of people I myself represent in Parliament—salary earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers, and so on. These are, in the political and economic sense, the middle class. They are for the most part unorganized and unselfconscious. They are envied by those whose social benefits are largely obtained by taxing them. They are not rich enough to have individual power. They are taken for granted by each political party in turn. They are not sufficiently lacking in individualism to be organized for what in these days we call "pressure politics". And yet, as I have said, they are the backbone of the nation.
To that I would add retirees, teachers, nurses, ambos, firies, public servants, and I will come to some others in a moment.
Before I address the issues that I would like to bring to this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018 and related bills today, I say: vale Louise Williams, 18 April 2017. I am a co-chair of the asbestos awareness group in the parliament, and this lady, Lou Williams, addressed us on a number of occasions. She passed away on the morning of 18 April. Lou was a long-surviving mesothelioma patient, being first diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2013 at the age of 48. Since then she went through many rounds of treatment, receiving Keytruda for the past couple of years. She was a strong fighter for those who have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease and for their families, a voice for the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, the Australian national director for the Global Ban Asbestos Network, and she also worked with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization in the United States.
Lou was deeply involved with the agency from day one, participating wherever she could and attending our conferences in Melbourne in 2014 and Brisbane in 2015. Unfortunately, her health did not allow her to travel to Adelaide in 2016, so she sent a video of support. As a little girl, she used asbestos as a crayon whilst her father was building a back room on their house. Then he also built her and her sister a cubby house out of the leftover asbestos. He was a contractor in asbestos. He died at 54 years of age. To do the right thing, she used to back his car out for him and, as she used to tell us, 'The dust rose up in the car all around.' Of course, it was asbestos dust. Here we have an amazing girl. When you actually met her and talked to her—and I have a photograph of her here which is absolutely beautiful—you would swear that there was nothing wrong with her, but there most certainly was. We are going to lose thousands and thousands of people, probably mostly connected to many others in our district, in our close area, and in our broader area. There could be as many as 200,000 people who will suffer from mesothelioma and die. Vale, Lou Williams.
I have a letter from an old mate of mine, Tony Calabro, who is a guitar player. I have had a bit to do with music in my life. He said to me:
Good morning Russell,
With the latest announcement of the closure of the Morwell mill—
which is a timber mill in the middle of the township of Morwell—
this is the last kick in the guts Morwell and the Latrobe Valley needed at this time. I'm sure you realise that.
This is also a good time for all governments, State and Federal, to take up the opportunity of doing something really, really special for our Region. If fate gives you a lemon, make lemonade. If governments don't offer help, assistance and offer real incentives in a fairdinkum way, and ASAP, then I believe the people of the Latrobe Valley will make governments pay a big price at the next election; wait and see. I have been talking with dozens of people recently and I am only telling you what you probably realise. I'm only a guitar teacher—
but a beautiful guitar player—
I've only taught close to 12,000 people which means I have been in direct contact with about 60,000 people or more, students and their families, so what the heck do I know? I believe, it's time for all governments to really think more laterally, dig deep, and do something positive for this amazing region, Latrobe Valley, Gippsland. This area deserves better support than it has been given in the past and it is about time governments of all political persuasions really demonstrates to our people that they really care. Well done is better than well said. Who do we vote for in the next election?
Thanks for listening, I hope you can fight for us,
Tony and Mary Calabro
Tony, there is your letter.
Recently I have thought about what we actually have done. I jotted down eight things, very quickly, that we have done that directly affect people. The government, for the first time, is looking at a review of the petroleum resources rent tax—never done that before. For the first time, we are saying, 'We've got to intervene in regard to affordable gas for households'—never done that before. For the first time, we are looking into affordable gas for manufacturing—and I will come back to that. We put a tariff on imported paper, because we had copy paper being dumped here from all over the world, which was directly affecting the paper mill at Morwell. We have got consideration of new coal-fired power stations, which would have been unheard of even six months ago. The government has explained its opposition to the ban on gas exploration. We actually did something about the 457 visas that were hurting locals. Where we have failed: the Heyfield mill, which 6,000 people extended rely on and the benefits that also go to the paper mill from its leftovers, is under threat and the state government do not know what to do about it.
There is one thing that I have never forgotten as the member for McMillan, and I go back to my first stint. I was introduced to Oliver Raymond and his wife, Carolyn, who were very closely connected to the paper mill. There were 1,200 workers there at the time. They were real people, real families and real jobs—good jobs. They were under threat at that time. They are still under threat today for two reasons. One is the gas prices I mentioned before for manufacturing. We are doing a deal for gas so that we can address that. We are going to give them some support in other areas. But, more importantly, we recognise for the first time that they were unfairly competing on the world market, and the government were prepared to do something about it on behalf of local people and local jobs—real people, real families and real jobs. I have repeated it. We have never done that before. I think about what Oliver and Carolyn taught me about what local representation is all about. I have never ever forgotten my representation on behalf of the CMFEU forestry division that were connected to that mill. I have never forgotten them. They were part of my defeat in 1998 but I have never forgotten them. They are still in my mind today when I make decisions. I still want their jobs, creating the best paper in the world, the most environmentally sensitive paper in the world, coming out of that mill, and that mill is under threat.
I believe governments have a responsibility to the workers—not to the owners, but to the Australian people—that we can actually have copy paper that comes from us. There is a responsibly also in this place for government departments to use it. 'No, no, no, we have signed an agreement with the suppliers where they can source of wherever they like, as long as they get the best price they like.' Well, we are actually the government and we can direct departments to do what we ask. Are we afraid to direct government departments or are we completely in the hands of a contract signed on some old forgotten bit of paper? Gentle on My Mind was the song—some old contract signed on some bit of paper that I am beholden to. Well, I am not beholden to that. I am saying that this is a new time and we are in a new world. We are in a world market where we need to address ourselves to our people. If that means making decisions, I made decisions in my business on behalf of my staff and my family, not necessarily in my best interests, not necessarily things that were pure. Honest, yes, but not necessarily pure—that is, put the owners first. In fact, on many occasions, because of the locality of our business and the importance of my business to their families, we did lots of things that benefited their families before it benefited the business. The purists would say, 'Well, you had it all wrong, Russell.' No, I had it right, because my staff never left until the businesses were wound up. The world changed—Coles and Myer came into my area.
I really wanted to say today that we want some honesty in government from both sides of this House. We just saw an argument a few moments ago from the member for Gellibrand, where he talked about the education exercise in which the government has said they are going to put $18 billion extra into education over 10 years. Everybody said that was great, but then the opposition came along and said 'Yes, but we will borrow.' I said, 'Why not use the word borrow?' because I had the strange experience of an opposition front bencher yelling at the other side, 'You are doing this with all borrowed money—the $18 billion.' Well, an extra $22 billion—where is that going to come from? That is going to be borrowed money, too. Ross Gittins has an article in the paper today in which he says, 'Gee, do you think we are getting full value for the money we are spending on our universities? Do you really think we are getting full value? Do you really think they are getting full value for the money we are spending on our junior primary, primary and secondary schools? We are putting more money in but our outcomes are sliding internationally.' So, isn't there another way in which we are going to have to look at these things before we say 'We are going to pour more money into education, because that is the answer, and that is the only answer.' Yet at the same time we are getting worse outcomes than we were getting before.
All I am asking is that I do not have to go to my local community and say, 'Here are your schools—Pakenham Springs, Pakenham Primary School, Pakenham Consolidated, Pakenham Lakes and Pakenham Secondary College, of which I am a former board member, and all my children went there—and you are going to lose all this money over three years.' In fact, they are getting a major increase in their funds over the next three, four and five years. It is dishonest. It is dishonest politics. It is not fair. It scares people and people are out there taking advantage of an argument between politicians that is completely unreasonable and unfair, and the politicians know it.
If I do not fit the pattern of what you have to be to be a politician in this place, I do not resile from that and I do not apologise. I will tell the truth. I will say what we are doing right and wrong, and I will say it again tomorrow on another issue. I will say it loudly. I will speak loudly on behalf of my people, because I do not like to see the transfer of funds from regions to cities.
I do not care how that money is transferred because I know that, when there is a mill in Morwell that is operating well, the only reason that that mill is not going on is because it is not getting the timber that it needs. The only problem that is happening at Heyfield is, because of a possum, we are not getting the timber we need. Just to explain: every time they find a Leadbeater's possum, they put a circle around it that has a radius of 250 metres. It was meant to stop at 30. They are up to 169 now, and there are a whole lot of areas you just cannot go into and it is continuing.
It was meant to stop at 39. I have called on the CFMEU to help me. Those people need the resources of those forests, which was agreed to in our Regional Forest Agreements and with all the pain that we went through between 1996 and 1998. This government spent millions on those Regional Forest Agreements, and we expect them to be carried through on behalf of our communities. Instead of that, they are being ignored by a state government that does not care. They just want a great big, new national park north of Melbourne which they can announce in the run-up to the next election for green votes in the cities.
I will tell you who I represent: I represent real people with real jobs—people who are prepared to go out and have a go. Whenever you think you are doing it hard, just think of that dairy farmer who, seven days a week, no matter what the weather is outside—and we have had some pretty crap weather—is out there. I remember going out to give an award to a farmer one day. The lady I was giving the award to walked out wearing a hat, funny woollen clothes and funny pants. I asked, 'Who am I giving the award to?' She said, 'Me.' I asked, 'What are you dressed like that for?' She said: 'I gotta milk, Russell. I'm leaving you with this. I've gotta milk.' Today we need to stand up for people who are doing real work and making a great contribution to this country, and I will.