Thursday, 28 October 2010
Debate resumed from 27 October, on the proposed address-in-reply to the speech of Her Excellency the Governor-General—
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, express our loyalty to the Sovereign, and thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to the Parliament—
on motion by Ms O’Neill:
That the Address be agreed to.
Mr Speaker, I rise to speak to this chamber for the first time as the member for Bennelong. I congratulate my new colleagues from both sides of the House on the quality and substance of their maiden speeches. Your stories have been diverse, compelling and educational. Your stories have been moving, motivating and yours, Ken, inspiring.
It is an honour to be in this position, and I am truly grateful to the people of Bennelong for the trust and faith that they have placed in me. However, that honour is immediately replaced with a deep sense of responsibility to do my best, with integrity, honesty and fairness. I acknowledge my predecessors in Bennelong: Sir John Cramer, our former Prime Minister John Howard and Maxine McKew.
The electorate of Bennelong, located in the north-western suburbs of metropolitan Sydney, was named after a senior man of the Eora people—one of the first Indigenous Australians to effect influence and understanding with the English settlers. Befriending Governor Phillip, they travelled to England together in 1792 on what would now be called a cultural exchange. Bennelong died in 1813 at Kissing Point in modern-day Putney, and a landmark remains to this day on the spot where he is buried. A rowing race and our first brewery were also established on the site at around this time.
In 1868 a local grandmother by the name of Maria Ann Smith, also known as ‘Granny Smith’, grew the first batch of green apples that bear her name and are now grown the world over. Two weeks ago an estimated 85,000 people were attracted to the 25th anniversary of the Granny Smith Festival in Eastwood to celebrate the history and culture of our Bennelong community.
Bennelong has transformed from market gardens to billion-dollar shopping malls like Top Ryde City and the third largest business district in the region, Macquarie Park. It was also the birthplace of Betty Cuthbert, one of our greatest ever Olympians. Sport has had a significant role in our country’s history, in defining our character, and in my own personal development. I am honoured by Ken Rosewall’s presence here today. Ken is the most enduring champion tennis has seen. Ken played in his first Wimbledon final in 1954—and I can see he is embarrassed already—and his last 20 years later. I won’t say what the result was!
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; and treat those two imposters just the same.
This is the hallmark of champion people. Ken Rosewall and John Howard grew up in close proximity and are of a similar vintage. John Howard demonstrated every characteristic of a champion; he was both modest in victory and gracious in defeat. John and Ken both treated those two impostors just the same.
My motivation to enter politics was largely inspired by a meeting with John Howard and another with Brendan Nelson. Both expressed the view that our party would benefit greatly by attracting people with real-life experience who could contribute to the development of policy. John made the point that the only way a party should seek government was through the strength of their policies, and the only legitimate way a government should hold office was to implement those policies.
I grew up as the youngest member of a great family filled with love, laughter, support and encouragement, whatever the latest endeavour. Not long ago my mother quizzed me on hearing a report that I was entering politics. She was incredulous, but quickly repaired to assure me that she thought that I would make an excellent Prime Minister—and you think she was optimistic! My dad went bush before finishing school. Mum had been a school teacher. Dad was passionate, the dreamer, the joke teller, the man with a raucous laugh and a very naughty sense of humour. Mum was proper, restrained, reasoned, practical: moderation her motto. They were a great team. We were a classic Menzies-era family: Dad a small businessman, our ultimate prize to own our family home.
I have three sisters, Pam, and Annette and Sue, who are both here; three great brothers-in-law, Lach, Alan and Marcus, and three wonderful children, Emily, Georgia and Charlie. Annette threw me my first tennis balls to hit. I was using Pam’s racket. I swung and missed time and again but Annette was patient. The racket was abused—I am sorry, Pam! I became angrier and angrier at my inability to make contact with the ball despite my enormous confidence. I persisted, leading to a series of death matches with my sister Sue. Losing to her was worse than death. It was very hard to be a good sport. Sue went to boarding school, and against my next opponent—Hughey from across the road—the death matches continued. It was years before I won a set. When I finally did I ran around the court cheering and screaming with delight, punching the air. I was not modest in victory.
At my first major event I met a girl called Evonne Goolagong. We were both 10. Sitting next to her was comforting as we seemed to share an equal amount of apprehension and pre-match nerves. My first coach, Sid Drake, had a saying that you don’t learn much when you win, but you should learn when you lose. Many losses followed. I learned to try hard. I learned to keep trying regardless of the score. I learned to observe and analyse, to stay calm in a crisis and to control my temper. Sometimes the pursuit of my tennis dreams meant that I had to miss school. I loved tennis!
My education was very different to that of many of my colleagues. Year 11 was replaced with the world as my classroom, and Harry Hopman, the legendary Davis Cup captain, my teacher. Harry was more mentor than coach. He often talked of his friendship with our party’s founder, Sir Robert Menzies, whose daughter, Heather, is here today. We travelled to Europe in 1968, which was plagued with industrial unrest. The Italians had elevated strike action to an art form, which provided them with more time to be Italian, and they did it with such style. The French Open was nearly cancelled because of the strikes. The event proceeded, with an added benefit: as no-one was working, the crowds were great, and so was the tennis. Rosewall beat Laver in the final. Later that year we were due to play in Czechoslovakia, but that event was cancelled: Russia had invaded! We then went to Russia. Our guide kept to the Communist Party line for much of the time, but by the end of our time there her private thoughts were being confided. We played in Poland and were taken to Auschwitz by Harry’s friend from before the war. He cried and we cried. These were not the experiences enjoyed by a regular 16-year-old boy from Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
I learnt of discrimination travelling to South Africa with Arthur Ashe. He had been granted a visa declaring him an ‘honorary white’. In Arthur’s home town I practised on the adjoining court at the Richmond Country Club; he was the first African-American allowed to play there. In one of life’s great ironies, Arthur’s father had worked as a janitor at that same club. I played my first professional tennis match in China. I played in Iran when the Shah was the ruler and I toured India on many occasions. It is these experiences that have provided me with the opportunity for a real life education and has served as preparation for my role as a representative of one of Australia’s most diverse and multicultural electorates. Bennelong boasts nearly every language and culture, attained through a strong history of migration dating back to the English settlers. People have come from every part of the world to make Australia their home. In many ways, Bennelong is modern Australia.
Bennelong perfectly reflects the diversity and harmony we are so proud of in this country. Why do people leave all that is familiar to go half way around the world to start over again? They bring their dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. They bring their courage to ‘have a go’, with the odds stacked against them, playing so far from home. Our new Australians bring energy, effort, innovation and, most of all, their hopes. Every soul who comes to our country enriches us and continues the constant redefining of what it is to be Australian. In the case of Bennelong, with vibrant Chinese, Indian and Korean communities, all they want is opportunity, the opportunity to have a ‘fair go’. Our country was founded on those who came here seeking opportunities. Opportunity is the first essential ingredient to achieve success.
Through tennis I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be coached, mentored and, most of all, subjected to the scrutiny of competition. The system was clear and encouraged competitive performance and the scoring gave no advantage to reputation. It was a performance oriented occupation. Harry Hopman’s core philosophy was to relieve his players of any expectation of winning, leaving them free to go for their shots, to expand their envelope, to do their best and to fulfil their potential. Playing safe may achieve a short-term goal against inferior opposition, but the ultimate goal would be lost. As Alan Jones says, ‘To win without risk is victory without glory.’
To realise our country’s full potential, every Australian must have the opportunity to compete and earn just reward for their effort and success. For the past 15 years I have been involved with the development of multiactivity sports centres. The formula is the sporting equivalent of the modern shopping mall. These facilities have been successful throughout Europe and North America and provide communities with the opportunity to exercise, participate in sports and socialise. This is the best medicine for physical and mental health. These centres are in reality preventative medicine health clinics, but more fun.
In Australia we have gone from the highest levels of participation in active sports to now being amongst the most obese and unhealthy people with increasing health costs spent on illness resulting from poor lifestyle choices. In Britain, land zoned for sport and recreational development may be leased from 99 to 125 years. In contrast, I needed an act of parliament in South Australia to scrounge a 50-year lease to redevelop the historic Memorial Drive Club. The entire process took seven years. The Ryde Aquatic Centre and Next Generation club in my electorate of Bennelong only exist because of the once-in-a-lifetime event of the Olympic Games coming to Sydney. A decade later, that centre attracts over one million visitors each year. In the time it took to develop three clubs in Australia, our founding company in Britain went from having 20 clubs to over 90 clubs, employing thousands of staff and having over half a million members. This business sold for over £900 million. If our laws mirrored those in Britain, it would have given us the opportunity for this kind of investment in our nation’s economic and physical health.
During six months of campaigning, including doorknocking over 9,000 homes, one of the most common complaints was that neither the state nor federal governments showed any clear vision for the future. No business operates without serious consideration of its plans for the future. What is our master plan? Where will we be in 50 years time?
One of the big issues confronting my electorate is population density. Community organisations like RAID, MARS and CAPO have sprouted up from the grassroots to challenge the overcrowding and overdevelopment, with little consideration for infrastructure planning. In their maiden speeches, so many of my colleagues have talked about these coinciding dynamics on a collision course in their own electorates. There has been talk in the past of decentralisation and a conversion from the lucky country to the clever country, but little has been achieved. It is now time for us to make our own luck and not squander our inheritance. We must look beyond three-year cycles and embrace long-term vision.
The growth of our two largest cities has been disproportionate to the rest of the country, and infrastructure development has not kept pace. It is outrageous when you consider that the air corridor between Sydney and Melbourne is the fourth busiest in the world, and yet the highway linking these two cities is still not four lanes all the way, and the railway line reduces to a single one-way track for parts of this journey! I witnessed similar growth pressures whilst based in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s. During this time the great northern cities of the United States were encountering problems of overdevelopment and the infrastructure was not keeping up. The cost of living was skyrocketing and the cost of doing business was rising in line. The deterioration of the quality of life in overcrowded and underserviced cities brought with it the prevalence of crime. Does this sound familiar? Atlanta seized on this opportunity of selling the competitive advantage of relocating companies south, where housing prices and business costs were a fraction of those in the north. Infrastructure was vital. Highways and railroads were built to anticipate demand. Hartsfield-Jackson airport was upgraded to the point that it is now the busiest airport in the world. There is a saying in Atlanta: ‘If you die in the south, you got to go through Hartsfield to get to heaven.’ And that is true.
This phenomenal growth in Atlanta triggered the boom in the sun-belt from Florida to California. Where is our Atlanta, to trigger a broader, more sustainable, efficient and competitive plan for growth in Australia? The current path of relentless expansion of two or three cities, and little more than a welfare mentality of handouts to regional areas, is simply not sustainable. By partnering with business and planning long-term infrastructure programs, government can help develop a far better outcome for our citizens. Through this comes sustainable economic development for those regions, allowing them to lift themselves up and stand on their own strong, proud feet. Sydney and Melbourne will remain our two greatest cities. This greatness should not be judged by population and size but by liveability and efficiency. If we continue to focus our growth largely on these two cities, we are limiting how much we as a nation can grow. If, through infrastructure, we can encourage the development of tens of cities, our potential for growth is enhanced commensurately. Strategic long-term planning is essential for optimal growth.
With less than a week to go in the recent federal election campaign, the biggest single election pledge—$2.1 billion—was made by this government to build a railway line from Epping to Parramatta: a piece of infrastructure that would greatly help an overcrowded and underserviced part of my electorate. This pledge was given despite the New South Wales state government spending millions of dollars on analysis of transport and infrastructure needs and not even listing this railway build in their 10-year plan! Such rash planning decisions, made in the heat of a campaign, should never corrupt our nation’s long-term infrastructure development. We have become victims of a need to play infrastructure catch-up. We must follow the lead of visionary Australians like John Bradfield and build beyond our present needs and effectively plan for our future. Can we capture, harness, use or modify what we have seen in the phenomenal growth of the sun-belt corridor of the United States? Progress on these issues will help ease pressure on the limited amenities, roads and classrooms in Bennelong and around the country. This is a national issue that impacts on each one of us.
Let us debate in this chamber a contest of ideas, a contest of visions. As with any endeavour in life, true and honest competition unfettered by political bias will produce, in this case, the best plan and the best result for our nation’s future. We need the courage to attack this challenge. It has been ignored for too long. To shirk this responsibility, to say it is too tough, would be an affront to those who fought to make Australia what it is today—our forefathers, who had a plan, an optimistic vision, and who made the most of their opportunity to have a go.
My ability to be addressing these issues here today is due to a tremendous effort from a large team and unflinching support from the Liberal Party, captained by our leader, Tony Abbott. Tony, your strong message—to stop the waste, stop the boats and repay the debt—really cut through. You led from the front; you led by example. As a result, our party is intact, our policies are intact and our integrity is intact. We are united. Thank you for your inspiring leadership. To Julie Bishop, Mark Neeham, Richard Shields, Chris Stone, Michael Photios, Wendy Black—I’m sorry I called so often—Barry O’Farrell and all the members of the Liberal Party: thank you. To my patron senator, Connie Fierravanti-Wells: doorknocking was never more fun. To my neighbouring Liberal colleagues Philip Ruddock—my new Harry Hopman—Joe Hockey, Paul Fletcher and Marise Payne, and state colleagues Victor Dominello, Greg Smith, Anthony Roberts and Stuart Ayres: your advice, encouragement and many hours of hands-on assistance will always be highly valued, but most of all I value your friendship. To our local representatives, Mayor Artin Etmekdjian, Councillors Bill Pickering, Roy Maggio, Sarkis Yedelian, Sue Hoopmann and Ivan Petch: I appreciate your support and look forward to working closely with all of you over the coming years to put control over local decisions back in council hands.
Alan Jones, Ita Buttrose and Lachlan Murdoch all encouraged me from day one of this new career. I thank you for your friendship and for your support—in particular, Alan’s role as MC of our Legends Dinner with Ken Rosewall, Mark Waugh, Benny Elias, John Konrads, Don Spencer and Bettina Arndt. To watch Alan interview Bettina on the issues raised in her latest book on sexuality and relationships was most entertaining—and educational for Alan! The generous support of Carolyn Currie on that night was phenomenal, and David Hayman’s great support and generosity were also present.
The core team that prepared me for political life and guided me, too, in my fight for preselection were Josh Bihary, Bill Gough, Craig Brown and Rob Moffatt. I thank you for your hard work, your dedication, your honest advice—at times too honest. We are due for another dinner. Our campaign team was led by our general, Rod Bosman, a military man, and his trusty lieutenant, Nat Smith. Nat, thank you for coming today. Mitch Geddes accompanied me on every single one of those 9,000 doorknocks. Thank you to Peter Poulos, Caroline Beinke, Matt Dawson and Michael Kitmirides, who mail dropped 35,000 homes. Stephen Woodnutt spent from dawn till too late, for him—and me—as my PA; thank you, Stephen. Thank you Sue Honeybrook, Jerome Smith, Richard Henricus, Miriam Geddes, Peter Graham, Peter Bardos and Artin. To every booth captain, stall worker, scrutineer, pamphlet distributor, dinner jacket wearer, balloon blower and to every one of the hundreds of volunteers: I have had many chances to express my appreciation since election day, but I say here, in this place, thank you so very much.
We had a campaign slogan during this time of battle. I would call out: ‘What time is it?’ and whoever I was near had to respond: ‘The best time of your life!’ My office staff have this chant now. They are known as Team Alexander. Jaci, Josh, Peter, Belinda, Suzanne and Jennifer: I am just one member of your team and we have much work to do.
Gillian, you have been by my side throughout this odyssey, quietly supportive, the voice of reason, always ready to listen, even when I call late at night. Thank you for your understanding. Thanks also to your daughters, Sophie and Georgia, for their support and to your mother, Elizabeth, who is here today.
In the lottery of life I have been very fortunate with regard to family. My children, Emily, Georgia and Charlie, are all perfect. When they are not perfect, I threaten them with DNA testing with the possibility of expulsion. Christopher, I think you understand this—where is the love? Naturally, we play tennis together. Sometimes we hit a lot and talk a little. Generally we talk a lot and do not hit very much at all. Today Emily drove a manual car from Sydney, which I taught her to drive. It was a bonding experience. Emily is fearful that I will tell jokes—dad jokes, which are the worst jokes in the world. Georgia is safe from such embarrassment, as she is on gap year in England. I talked to her this morning; she is now in Ireland. I taught her also to drive a manual car. When I express an opinion, as I have today, Georgia always refers to me as ‘theory man’. Charlie and I watch Two and a Half Men together, and I apologise for that. We laugh at the same time, and I apologise for that too. I am teaching Charlie to drive a manual at the moment. That is a work in progress.
What do I want for my children? What I want for every Australian: opportunity—the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever they are, and not be restrained by their age, their sex or their colour. Opportunity is to be able to have a go. Opportunity without discrimination is to be given a fair go. We here have much work to do.
Mr Speaker, I thank you for your indulgence and I thank the House.
I would like to congratulate the member for Bennelong on an excellent first speech. I would like to begin by thanking voters in the electorate of Boothby for the privilege of representing them for a sixth term in parliament. As we know, the last election was the closest election since 1940 and the electorate of Boothby was one of the three closest seats. So it was an electorate in which everyone’s vote really did count.
I would like to thank my hardworking electorate office staff. I would also like to thank the hundreds of volunteers for the Liberal Party. I would like to thank especially the Boothby federal electorate committee: Fran Southern, who was an effective, hardworking president, and Janet Hillgrove, who coordinated many things during the campaign and has been over a very long time a tremendous volunteer for the Liberal Party. I would also like to thank the state and federal secretariats and the state director, Bev Barber, and her team for their timely and welcome assistance during the campaign.
The electorate of Boothby is a tremendous electorate to represent. We have many outstanding institutions. The Waite Research Institute, one of the top agricultural research institutes anywhere in the world, represents what Michael Porter has described as a real ‘cluster’. We have the University of Adelaide agricultural science course, the CSIRO and the Wine Research Institute and we also have some new facilities: the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and now a plant accelerator. It has been with tremendous pride as the local member that I have seen this outstanding organisation continue to grow. We have people from all over the world coming to work at the Waite institute.
We also have many great institutions, including Flinders University, Flinders Medical Centre and Daw Park Repatriation Hospital. I cannot let the opportunity go past, but many people may have heard the previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, talking about local hospital networks. If he said it once, he said it a thousand times: ‘We’re going to have hospitals funded nationally, run locally.’ To give a little bit of background: in South Australia we had a generational health review. We moved to three local health services: the Southern Adelaide Health Service, which was Flinders Repat and Noarlunga; a northern health service; and a north-west health service. Some years after that, the state government decided to move to two health services. Only a week after the state government signed the COAG agreement for these local hospital networks the state government made a decision to have every metropolitan hospital in the same health service. Rather than having local autonomy and local hospital boards—as the coalition would prefer—we now have every hospital in the same health service. So it shows a real disconnect between the way the federal government sees a way around national health and hospital networks, specifically their local hospital networks, and how the state government sees a way of getting around it. The idea was to have activity based funding and to reward the more efficient places. Instead, 95 per cent of the effort which occurs in the metropolitan hospitals will all be in the same health service.
A second issue which I would like to raise is adult education and adult re-entry. About 20 years ago South Australia developed adult secondary colleges. There are five in South Australia, including Hamilton Secondary College in my electorate. These colleges have continued under successive state governments, Liberal and Labor. It is fair to say that these colleges have been life transforming. They are for people who did not have a good experience at school and who left school early. They get a second chance to go back and do their year 12. It is good to have a second chance.
The member for Wakefield agrees. That is why he, like me, would be absolutely shocked at the state government’s decision to phase out adult re-entry and adult education for students over the age of 21. In fact, the state Minister for Education was likening it to a WEA course—that people were doing this as a form of interest, without actually having a career path in mind. This decision would have been absolutely devastating for Hamilton Secondary College. They have built up the expertise and, while they do have a high school for years 8 to 12, they had more than 1,600 students—
Absolutely; it is in Mitchell Park. These were people who had not had a good experience at school—it would have taken a lot to get them back through the doors of a school—yet the state government were actually going to leave these people on the scrap heap. I am pleased that the state government have backflipped on this very short-sighted decision.
Turning to the election, the Labor Party made only two specific commitments in the local electorate of Boothby: funding for lights at the Bowker Street Oval for the Southern Districts Junior Soccer Association, also used by Little Athletics, and also $100,000 for CCTV cameras for Blackwood. I will be pursuing the government to ensure that those election commitments are delivered. Essentially, Labor’s commitments for Boothby were virtually non-existent. Having a Labor government means that Boothby residents will miss out on an extra $5 million to complete the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer and an extra $5 million to reduce traffic congestion and increase road safety in Blackwood. They will also miss out on the opportunity of having green army teams working on the local environment. I was particularly keen to see them working on wild olive eradication in the Mitcham Hills and Brownhill Creek area. It poses a fire hazard, but it is also destroying the local environment. I was particularly keen to see them working on sand dune rejuvenation and care between Seacliff and Brighton. We have sand dunes on the beaches at Seacliff and Brighton. We also have very important remnant sand dunes at Somerton Park, at the Minda site. Also, green army teams were working on preparing the wetlands at Oaklands Park, another important development.
Locally, the electorate will miss out on the opportunity of having a user-friendly mental health service, or headspace site, at Marion. They will miss out on an upgrade to the clubs of the Brighton Sports Complex and on the installation of solar power for Unley High School. These are all important priorities for me and for the community which I represent. Moving forward as the member for Boothby, there are a number of things I would like to see. I remain strongly committed to South Road becoming a non-stop expressway, from Darlington to Wingfield. It is an important priority for the southern suburbs. We want to see 22 kilometres of non-stop expressway. I am frustrated and disappointed that the state government, which committed to fixing the intersection at Sturt Road—
I am even-handed with bouquets and brickbats! In March 2006 the state government were going to fix the Sturt Road and South Road intersection. In November 2007 federal Labor were going to fix this. There is a feasibility study, which will report in the middle of next year, but the money for this project is pretty well allocated to the superway on the northern part of South Road, so there is no money, at least until 2014, to fix this intersection, which was first promised by Labor in 2006.
We need to see action from the state government on the Oaklands railway crossing. This is a major bottleneck for the local community. There are a couple of projects, which I am pleased will be going ahead very shortly. Work has begun on the Flinders Cancer Centre, and work is well advanced on the state aquatic centre. Both of these facilities will be fantastic for the local community.
A major issue during the election campaign for all South Australian’s is the future of the Murray-Darling and the basin plan. It is very important that we do have a workable national plan. Residents in my electorate would like to see much more work going on in improvements to infrastructure. It is incredible that, of $5.8 billion, which was left by the previous government infrastructure improvements, has not happened. That is something that I will be keenly engaged on in this term of parliament.
I would like to touch on the issue of the private health insurance rebate. This is an important issue for my electorate. More than 70 per cent of households hold private health insurance coverage. That is almost 96,000 people who are covered by private health. The Labor policy—which was a broken promise from 2007—is to means test the private health insurance rebate. Before the 2007 election, the Labor Party were going to keep the rebate. They broke this promise. And of the three budgets Labor have delivered so far, they have already wound back their support for private health insurance—first by increasing the thresholds for the Medicare levy surcharge and then by means testing the private health insurance rebate, beginning at incomes of $75,000. What we will see is a return to the old system we had under the previous Labor government, whereby rates of cover for private health insurance fell dramatically. This is an important issue in my electorate, not just for all the people who hold private health insurance but for important private hospitals, like Flinders Private Hospital, Blackwood Community Hospital; and, out of my electorate, but used by people in my electorate, the Ashford Hospital. It is important that we do maintain strong levels of private health insurance. This is another issue that the government needs to reconsider.
I am very pleased to be involved in health policy on behalf of the opposition, and to have direct responsibility in the area of primary healthcare and in preventative health as well. These are both issues that are close to my heart and I look forward to working closely with opposition members in this area. We have seen some great improvements in primary healthcare over the last 10 years. Some of the most significant, I think, have been the computerisation of general practice, which was started under Michael Wooldridge; and also the greater role for practice nurses. While general practice has always had a strong focus on prevention, I think with those two developments—the practice nurses and computerisation—we are now seeing a much greater effort in preventative health in terms of that infrastructure.
That leads me to another point I would like to make, which goes to the area of GP super clinics. This is a classic Labor slogan: it sounds good but what does it really mean? By way of background, more than 20 years ago, as a medical student, I worked in a medical centre which offered pharmacy, which offered radiology, which offered allied health and which offered physio, as well as many doctors. This would have been a GP super clinic, but it was provided by the private sector. All around Australia there are GP super clinics, but they are provided not with taxpayers’ money but through the private sector, through companies or through individuals actually raising money themselves. What we see is Labor’s promise from 2007, where they promised 36 GP super clinics, and three years later there only four of them are operational. This has been a massive waste of taxpayers’ money. Despite falling short on their pledge to deliver 36 clinics, the Gillard Labor government have extended this pledge to 60 GP super clinics. The coalition strongly supports general practice as the cornerstone of primary healthcare; however we do not believe that GP super clinics are the answer. That is why, at the recent election, the coalition committed to invest significantly in longer GP consultations, after-hours care, practice nurse services, MRI referrals, infrastructure grants and rural bonded scholarships to help improve access to GP services. We actually think the better way to go is to build on what is already there—enhance the capacity of existing infrastructure and existing practices; enable them to have more rooms to allocate to provide for registrars, allied health professionals or to provide for an extra doctor. Rather than building these white elephants to come along and try and reinvent the wheel, we actually think it would have been more value for taxpayers’ money to build on existing infrastructure with private family practices, which are already in the community.
That is why any scan of news reports will show that there has not been one positive story about the GP superclinics over the last couple of years. Many patients, doctors and other allied health professionals share our view, believing that GP superclinics are not the answer. Our concern is that they put existing practices in jeopardy. They create an unfair environment whereby existing practices that have already put up their own capital are receiving competition from taxpayer funded and subsidised businesses. The existing clinics have invested time and money in their local communities, providing an invaluable service, only to be undercut by the government. The government needs to guarantee that no existing general practice services will be closed as a result of its GP Super Clinics Program.
The GP Super Clinics Program is really just emblematic of the Labor government’s approach. ‘GP superclinic’ sounds good, but what does it actually mean? It means a program which has failed. There are only four operational superclinics of 36 which were promised at the election before last. It is just another case of something that sounds good and looks good but is another Labor lemon.
I would like to conclude by once again thanking the voters in the electorate of Boothby for the opportunity to serve them in parliament. It is a great honour, and I look forward to doing that over the next three years.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to give voice to my reasons for being here and to record particularly my thanks for the considerable efforts of all of those people who have assisted along the way and who have had such confidence in me that I have been capable of being elected.
I have flown into Tullamarine quite a lot recently and, each time that I do, I remember the first Melbourne landing that I made with my family in 1983. Nineteen eighty-three was part of a different era, at least for those of us on this side of the chamber. I was almost seven and I really did not know very much about Australia. I certainly did not know what it was going to be like here. It had not occurred to me that I would grow up anywhere other than Dunmurry, in Belfast. I just remember leaving my grandparents at the kerbside and watching them wave us goodbye. I remember the haze of smoke in the non-smoking section of our flight as it wound its way through every conceivable airport destination in the Northern Hemisphere and much of the southern.
My first contact with the Australian Labor Party was somewhat indirect but quite fateful. Our plane was stranded on the tarmac at Jakarta for several hours because Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, had flown into town and was being given a 21-gun salute. Almost three decades on and he is still very much a show stopper, and deservedly so.
Reflecting now on what my parents undertook almost 30 years ago to come to a country while having nothing, knowing barely anyone and leaving behind family and everything familiar, I am struck by their bravery and their resilience. They handled the upheaval of migration quietly and without fuss, as they have done with most things in life.
Belfast is a now a city with promise. It is a pleasure to visit, and its people, with their black sense of humour and their immense pride, deserve the peace and the prosperity that they have worked incredibly hard for. In the early 1980s, it was rather a different place.
Dad taught at a local Catholic primary school in Twinbrook, a Catholic area of Belfast. I went to school each day with him. Kids at our school would sometimes fall asleep in class because they had been out rioting late into the night. I remember being in the back of the car on the way to school one day when Dad stopped at a roadblock, a usual occurrence. A child casually holding a gun stepped up to the window and said, ‘I’m not coming to school today, sir.’ Teachers at our school wondered where kids were vanishing to en masse when the bell rang at the end of each school day. They discovered that most of the school was going to throw stones at the ‘pop-ups’—the armoured vehicles which drove through the neighbourhood with soldiers who would step out of the roofs.
My parents and others like them made a concerted effort to try to get kids away from the city on school camps during the most dangerous parts of the year so that they did not get caught up in the very worst of the troubles. Living in a mixed area of Belfast, my parents tried to live as normally as possible in a city divided. As they continued to see their children being hassled and bullied because of sectarianism, they realised that they had to leave.
I speak of this because the situation in Belfast always, always reminds me of how fragile our democracy can be. It reminds me that, while we have institutions and procedures, checks and balances, these are of little value when there is a breakdown of basic trust in a society and amongst citizens. We have countless examples around the globe of communities which are painstakingly trying to rebuild trust and, with that trust, a future for themselves. We think of these as far-off troubled societies. We do not think that, with just a little less trust, a little more animosity and a failure to share the spoils of our society fairly, these same troubles could affect virtually any democracy, including our own.
No-one can overestimate the damage caused by setting up a division or a wedge in a society, setting citizen against citizen and preying upon the most base emotions in ourselves. It is not something to be experimented or toyed with. We can have differences of opinion. We can, in this place and in the community generally, have robust debate, but we must have honour in our dealings with sensitive issues of public policy. Matters which affect our longstanding human rights obligations and the dignity of our society, in particular, should not be treated casually.
Tampa, back in 2001, and the plight of the SIEV X were classic examples of the kind of division that the Howard government, with the notable exception of a few of its backbenchers, was content to see thrive. As it did for many others, this reinforced my belief that we all have an obligation to stand up for basic human rights. As it did for many others, this drove me to volunteer my services in the judicial review of certain applications for asylum. Work like this is not about being a bleeding heart. It is about consistency. The rule of law applies to us all, and we must apply it fairly. We cannot apply it selectively, we cannot use it politically, and it must be fair and beyond reproach. This must be our approach to all international obligations to which we have committed ourselves. I believe that we can and must be sensible and pragmatic in our handling of these issues. But we must do so without victimising people who are already victims.
Human rights protections and the way that we treat the most vulnerable in our community reflect the basic strength of our democracy. I have long considered that the way that we treat the most marginalised and disenfranchised of people reflects this. The status of women; the respect which we afford to Indigenous peoples; the efforts to which we go to ensure rights protections for gay and lesbian people; providing opportunities for the disabled, the homeless, children and the aged—these are the things that reflect the progress, and the health, of our society. Let us speak rationally about those matters as legislators; let us not set out to cause division for political ends. It is curious that conservative parties, which have had a tradition of asserting the rights of the individual against the might of the state, have now abandoned this. Individual rights do not seem to matter to these people. The next election does.
I joined the Australian Labor Party as a 16-year-old. I had heard Paul Keating’s speech at Redfern, I heard him talking about a republic and—as with so many of us on this side—I loved his words, his zeal for the big things and his withering disdain for the small. And what followed him for 12 years was so terribly small.
During the Hawke-Keating years, Labor had implemented significant reforms to the economy. It had taken our legacy of the eight-hour day, social security, maternity leave, workers’ compensation and Medicare and moved us another step on. As just one example of this, the superannuation system remains a demonstration of just how effective the Labor Party and the union movement can be in achieving sustained national reform. The pool of assets generated and acquired by superannuation funds plays an increasingly important role in the Australian economy. This year, assets under management of Australian super funds are equal to 94 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product. By 2020, it is estimated that those assets will amount to $2.6 trillion. Our superannuation industry increasingly generates investment, provides capital, creates employment and will, I hope, in future have a more expansive role to play in the development and ownership of more of our national infrastructure. It supports working Australians right now and, with the increased superannuation guarantee levy, it will in future give all retirees participating in superannuation the quality of life that those opposite would never have made a national priority.
It is extraordinary that, more than 20 years after Labor mooted a superannuation system in this country, the fundamental benefits of that system are still being questioned by our conservative counterparts. Though they have come to accept a basic need for superannuation, they still resist any increase to the superannuation guarantee levy to better provide for the retirement of working Australians. Once again, those who regularly laud themselves as the saviours of the economy and the voice of commerce have demonstrated a desperate lack of vision.
For the last nine years, I have worked as a corporate lawyer. I have had the fortune to work as an external lawyer and, in some instances, an in-house lawyer in businesses which have supported jobs and industry throughout Victoria and Australia. I have worked for manufacturers, distributors and exporters. I have worked with government agencies, hospitals and superannuation funds, with longstanding family businesses that have contributed to the prosperity of the country through generations and new enterprises making the best of emerging markets and new technologies. In recent years, I have been especially fortunate to have worked at Holding Redlich. The firm has been extraordinarily supportive of my endeavours to represent La Trobe in this place and I am particularly grateful to Michael Linehan, who is in the gallery today, Lou Farinotti, Chris Lovell and Peter Redlich, and all those who I suspect will be watching in Studio 350. In coming to work for the firm, I realised that my views were not dissimilar to its original objectives: to be able to run a strong practice in corporate and property law while supporting legal work for the benefit of the community. I am very glad to have worked for them.
Having walked much of the electorate and spoken to many thousands of its residents, I know that La Trobe does not lend itself to easy definition. It takes in some of the fastest-growing suburbs in Australia. Pakenham, Officer and Berwick, Beaconsfield and Narre Warren are now attracting new families and new industries. Planning for the development of those parts of the electorate will be crucial and it is Labor that has its focus on sustainability, new infrastructure, hospital and school funding, innovation and job creation for our newest regions. It is Labor that has renewed the relationship of the federal government with local government, and I consider that partnership to be a very effective one. It is in the dialogue with our community about sustainability that we are again set in stark relief against the opposition’s situation. It has no sustainability ministry and little, if any, policy in this area. Its focus on growth has been largely and almost exclusively in fear-mongering about migration. Labor is addressing the practicalities and the logistics of making growth benefit communities such as those in La Trobe and ensuring that our quality of life is sustained.
The electorate is named for Charles La Trobe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Victoria. Charles and I may have had little in common, he with his propensity for mountaineering and me with my white-knuckle fear of heights, but I suspect we would have shared the view that the Dandenong Ranges is amongst Victoria’s and Australia’s most valuable environmental assets. It takes in much of the spectacular beauty and forest-scapes which were so well captured on canvas by Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts. Charles La Trobe had the foresight to preserve significant tracts of land throughout Melbourne for use as parks and gardens and had a vision for our future environment. It is important to me that we protect the biodiversity of the Dandenong Ranges. It is important to me that we ensure that it is retained for future generations. At a local level, this means having the foresight to support initiatives to better protect native flora and fauna. At a national level, this means having the absolute foresight to support whole-of-economy reforms, to set a carbon price and deliver on our global environmental commitments.
To live in and around the Dandenongs is to be instantly involved in community organisations and activities—CFA, Landcare, the local Neighbourhood House, church groups, environmental groups, and the list goes on. One of the things which I hope to do during my time in this place is to encourage more young adults to become involved in our community through local leadership initiatives. I have started to encourage this in our electorate. Volunteering, community connectedness and participation in important civic activities have perhaps declined as we have become more time-poor and focus our energies elsewhere. It is extremely pleasing that the electorate of La Trobe is already home to an impressive group of young community activists and aid campaigners, active members of World Vision, Oxfam and other organisations. During the campaign, I was approached by a number of them asking if I might mention our Millennium Development Goal commitments in this speech. I am very pleased to be able to do so. I would particularly like to address those goals which focus on the welfare of women in developing countries.
I have never been much of a believer in role models, but the characteristics which I most admire are resilience, tenacity and compassion. There are millions of women in the developing world who demonstrate those qualities and the very best of humanity in the very worst of conditions that humanity and nature can inflict—women in the floods of Pakistan, in the upheaval of Afghanistan and in the unspeakable atrocities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; women who are still regarded as the lowest of the low, who care for and educate their children and keep their communities together; and women who are still not afforded control over their fertility, health or basic finances. Just as we share in the benefits of a global community, so we must also share in our humanitarian and human rights obligations to that community and, most particularly, we must do our best for women in developing countries.
The generosity of Australians has been made apparent time and again during global crises. The current government have shown its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, in particular the improvement of maternal and child health throughout our region and around the globe. This government’s recent commitment of $1.6 billion to improving the health of women and children over the next five years will have an extraordinarily profound and lasting impact on infant mortality rates and women’s health in the developing world. Since 2005, we have doubled our overseas aid program. Labor have committed to increase our aid budget for developing nations to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015. We have done so even against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. I support the target of contributing 0.7 per cent of GNI in overseas aid and progressively increasing our aid commitment until we are able to reach that goal together with other nations around the globe. I am extremely pleased that young people in my electorate have made this their priority: to campaign against poverty and for a fairer world. People, no matter where they are from, deserve a basic quality of life. That is what Labor are about and that is what I am about.
The opportunity to represent my community in this place is a tremendous honour. I am grateful to all La Trobe electors for giving me a very fair hearing during the election campaign and for the support of so many local residents and community leaders. The opportunities which the Australian parliament presents to each individual member and senator are considerable and it seems to me that much of the skill of a successful parliamentarian must be in whittling down to those things which he or she wishes to achieve in what is a relatively short period of time.
My priorities are civic involvement, jobs for my community, ensuring that Labor’s significant commitments in education and health continue to be delivered, and making decency the benchmark in our treatment of those who are disadvantaged by virtue of their finances, health or cultural background.
The La Trobe campaign was owned very much by local branch members and supporters, Young Labor members and students, colleagues, friends and family. I am delighted that many of them are in the gallery this afternoon. Through the sunburn, the windburn and the very soggy shoes of the La Trobe campaign in 2010, there were three people who were indispensable: Gavin Ryan, Chris Davis and James Raynes scraped, cajoled and, in many instances, duct-taped it all together, and I am forever grateful to them. We always knew that at the end of it all there would either be a victory or a sitcom script in the making.
I am indebted to Phil Staindl, who is also in the gallery this afternoon, for his extraordinary generosity and his guidance. I regret very much that he is not a member of this place. Mat Hilikari, Sarah Wickham, Garry Muratore and his family, Barbara Crisp and Geoff Champion were the backbone of the campaign. Everything that they took on they did and they did it with good humour. I am incredible grateful to Jacqueline Cameron, Marita Foley and Toby Yu for their incredible generosity and friendship. My many thanks to Senator Gavin Marshall, Mark Dreyfus, Brian Tee and James Merlino for their considerable support and belief in me, and to Senator Jacinta Collins and Alan Griffin. I am also very grateful to the CEPU Communications Branch and particularly Matt; and the tenacious campaigners of the TCFUA, the CFMEU, the AEU and the VIEU and EMILY’s List.
There are many. many more whom I have thanked in person and will continue to thank, whose efforts contributed to what was very much a community based campaign and victory. My family has been in equal measures supportive and protective. I would like to acknowledge the perpetual support of my parents, Eddie and Mary, my brother and sister, Francis and Deborah, and Deborah’s family. I thank my partner Matt, who came to all the dawn train-station visits and the debates, and who extracted mirth from the campaign at every opportunity. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the support across the miles of two delightful, principled and extremely strong women, my great-aunts Patricia and Mildred Jordan. They are in their 80s and have just discovered the internet. I feel sure that they will be watching this.
Since joining Labor in my teens, I have known it to be a party capable of leading with both intellectual rigour and compassion; pragmatic and responsible in its handling of the economy; a constant focus on jobs; a very solid sense of our place in the world and our capacity as a nation to lead. But at the party’s core, there is a fierce desire to make life considerably better for working people and people on the margins.
Labor are a party which was built on a belief that life should be made better for ordinary working Australians. We are a party which has sought to unite Australia through reforms which make life better for all of us. Universal health care, abolition of discrimination, prioritising education and rights at work are all reforms which have united and strengthened our community. We will not bow to the pettiness and division that will weaken and undermine the civil society that we have fought so hard to create. We have rightly set ourselves an ambitious reform agenda and we will build on the very significant gains that Labor have already made for working people.
May I use this interlude of congratulatory chaos to inform the House that we have in the gallery this afternoon the Hon. Roger Price, who was of course, until the last election, a member in this place for over a quarter of a century, a parliamentary secretary and a feared chief whip, both in opposition and government. On behalf of the House, I welcome him warmly.
Order! Before I call the member for Chifley, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate you not only on your election but also on your great love of the great game of basketball. While we are no longer able to caucus together, we can still test who has the better shot—somewhere else, where standing orders and new paradigms do not dictate the outcome.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. I am often asked how it feels to have arrived in this place. It took me a while to get here; you would think I could answer the question quickly. All I can say is that I am humbled by the weight of moment, especially considering I follow in the footsteps of a tremendous servant and advocate for the residents of Chifley, the Hon. Roger Price. He dedicated his heart and soul to Chifley, something remarked upon with respect and regard by so many residents during the campaign. It is without doubt he is well regarded in Chifley, but he is remembered warmly here. On a personal level, I am so grateful that you gave a 21-year-old who knew everything a job and the chance to prove he had way more to learn. To Roger, his wife, Robyn, and all his children: I know I am not the only one to thank him for his friendship, advice and support.
When I reflect on the electorate of Chifley and the man it was named after, it seems to me a perfect unison, for the path worn by a great Australian in Ben Chifley is a path embarked upon by so many in the electorate named after him, where the application of education joined with a commitment to improvement of the self and others has allowed residents in neighbourhoods from Mt Druitt through Blacktown and up to Marsden Park the chance to see beyond the present to a richer future.
I admire so much within the people I have the privilege to represent: the value they place on reward after hard work; their decency; their faith and love of family; and their support for their neighbours, their community and those ‘having a go’ to make something better. For so many of us in the Labor movement, Ben Chifley’s words spoke to us across generations when he said:
The urgency that rests behind the Labor movement, pushing it on to do things, to create new conditions, to reorganise the economy of the country, always means that the people who work within the Labor movement, people who lead, can never have an easy job.
And with advice to constantly guide and inform, he reminds us:
The most that we can do is to help the masses of the people and give to them some sense of security and some degree of human happiness.
While recognising the importance of Labor’s role in generating material wealth, he saw the Labor movement as being driven by a deeper motivation, shared by many of us today, to deliver security and peace of mind and to ensure, in part, that Australians will never be haunted by an inability to provide. Sons and daughters of the blue-collar workers of this country have witnessed that ambition spur on their own parents and then spark within them an ethic of effort, service and sacrifice.
I am indebted and proud to be a product of our public education system, having benefited from my learning at Blacktown South Public School and Mitchell High School. On this day, I place on record my deepest thanks for the regard and care teachers dedicate to their students, day-in day-out, like the teachers who helped me—people such as Ferdo Mathews and Rhona Morath. I, like many others in my area, cannot thank enough those responsible for pushing for the establishment of a university in Western Sydney. I am happy to be one of its first graduates to make a contribution in this place, but for me graduation from UWS is distinction enough. To those before us in the Labor movement who have been responsible for providing my generation with educational opportunity perceived beyond reach: I stand here as an appreciative beneficiary.
We continue to carry this ambition to this day and beyond—inheriting a desire to ensure an even greater breadth of educational opportunity—expressed in our push to lift spending in schools, and establish trade training centres. Schools in the Chifley electorate have witnessed a surge of new investment like never before. It is a source of enormous satisfaction that during the greatest economic challenge of the last 75 years, an arm of the Commonwealth response mobilised government investment in a way that has left an enduring benefit to students for years to come. And, just as two decades ago when Labor moved to open avenues of education in the tertiary sector, Labor today is building the platform for the delivery of new skills to our society and economy through the rollout of trade training centres. Doonside Technology High, Evans High, Loyola Senior High and Tyndale Christian School are all advanced in their preparations for new trade training centres. Other schools are also lining up to do the same and I look forward to eagerly supporting them.
Retention rates in our area are stubbornly lower than the national average. Our trade training centres hold great potential in the campaign to lift the numbers of students staying on to years 11 and 12. Lessons from times past speak to me about the value of this initiative. While we have had 20 years of continuous economic growth in this country, there have been those that have been buffeted by movements in industry. The drive for productivity and change can be a great platform from which growth and value spring but it can be a tough teacher to those who fail to possess the skills and qualifications to weather these changes. We would be condemned if we failed to learn from the pain of past economic restructuring. The trade training centres demonstrate, in part, we have an ear to history and a heart for the future of our young.
Besides lifting local retention rates, I am also focused on other issues in the area of education and early childhood development, be they the need for early childhood speech pathology or building on the work being carried out to boost student performance and attendance rates at schools, along the successful lines of what is being achieved at Plumpton High School under Principal Eric Jamieson, or taking on the issue of childhood obesity, which doctors I have consulted with locally tell me disturbs them the most or working to help lift the quality of life for people with a disability and their carers.
These issues demand my focus because they stand as challenges to our young and Chifley is a young electorate, with a third of its residents aged 19 or under—the second most ‘youthful’ electorate in our nation. We must seize every opportunity to help them fulfil their promise and potential. Besides its youth, Chifley is marked by its potential growth, swept up within the wave of residential development that continues to transform Western Sydney. As we grow, we need to ensure that the infrastructure is there to improve the experience of our new residents and their existing neighbours.
Our party has moved to invest in infrastructure and resources, to involve itself in urban development and to lift healthcare spending—all vital to our country, especially so in Chifley. Our investment in the development of a high-speed, modern National Broadband Network threads us to a future of prosperity and development in line with, or better than, what is being experienced in other corners of the globe.
Some of the issues I have referred to are not issues confined to one electorate; they span suburbs in Western Sydney. On these matters, I look forward to joining with my good friend, the member for Greenway. Both of us committed to giving something back to the areas we have been raised in and are still tied so closely to. We have travelled some way from the days of setting up our local Young Labor Association in her dad’s backyard 20 years ago.
While we are brought here as individual representatives, we bear a collective responsibility to national life and fortune. Pressing issues affecting the country bind us in national mission. Looming before us is the challenge of environmental repair, the task of addressing the impact of climate change. Regardless of the accumulated contributions of generations before, we are now called upon to correct the damage done.
We will either take decisions on this matter now or avoid them. In so doing, we will either liberate generations of Australians from a poorer future or consign them to it. On this issue, I am conscious of those who are to follow us. I would hope they would judge us in the way we proudly remember Australian generations of times gone past who said that, ‘We bore sacrifice to ensure that our children’s children could live their lives as richly if not better than us.’
Growing up I saw how Labor governments of the eighties and nineties appealed to a sense of national purpose to build a better country. We are drawn now to what I would describe as a generational purpose. We cannot be distracted by the notion of waiting for others before committing to action ourselves—seduced to embrace a form of ‘climate change isolationism’, to make us shirk our obligations—as if hoping our consciences will be secure in blaming others for our own unwillingness to take up our environmental obligations.
I recall the economic reforms in years gone by, such as the massive trade liberalisation we undertook 20 years ago. We never waited for trade doors to be opened elsewhere before doing what was right for this country. We made the right call, we set up the Cairns Group, we pushed for APEC and we prosecuted the cause elsewhere. Australia and the world are now better for this. The same must follow on addressing climate change and preparing our economy for a future less reliant on current carbon levels.
I was born in a generation where capitalism and communism struggled across different planes for supremacy and we lived under a shadow of potential elimination. That contest has been closed but I argue that the question of how we organise ourselves to improve society continues to evolve. We are now driven by a new quest to establish a balance between the hunger for individual freedom and the need for us to act collectively. My overarching desire is to ensure our collective actions can help individuals and their communities reap their full potential.
My fundamental world view rests at its core on the notion of balance. I do not just tolerate alternate views; I remain open to them, I learn and grow from them and I value differences in our society and in our debates about the future of our society. We should celebrate our different skills and ideas, while realising that at some point we must combine our energies and effort for the sake of community and country. Having said that I do not believe in delegating burden or responsibility to others. Industry can and should advocate economic and tax reform but they cannot expect someone else to pay for it.
Small business should be freed from red tape and benefit from strong trade practices laws, understanding that there will be those that strive to improve the security of employment for their employees. Employees should be protected by fair workplace laws while understanding that strong balance sheets and stronger profits are one of the best job security measures going around. Politicians cannot expect that perpetual electoral victory through short-term, tactical wins at the expense of hard but necessary reform will honour the country we love and work for.
Fear is not what should be used to win or run government. It is what we beat back with the courage within government; courage to prove we can be better than who we are. Ultimately, we are all in this journey together. We will make sacrifices together and we will be enriched together.
Following these previous points, I seek to make one other. I mentioned earlier that we rightly celebrate 20 years of economic growth. On so many levels, we live a vastly better life than our parents and their parents. But while wealth has expanded phenomenally, we are not only failing to share this better within society, but it seems we expect greater sacrifice from those who should not be called upon to bear so much.
We work some of the longest hours in the world, much of it as unpaid overtime. Full-time employment is being challenged by casualisation as the predominant form of work. Outsourcing wears down conditions and security. And the share of economic growth and wealth that is snared by profits is at its highest level in 50 years while the wages share stands at its lowest. Wealth has certainly blossomed, but it is not hard for me to sympathise with the view that we are witnessing a distorted transfer of wealth from pay packets to balance sheets.
The laws of this land have a big part to play in bringing back some balance. If we all have a stake in the success of our country we should ensure we savour a fair share of that success. In this place, this issue remains a critical concern to me because, with respect, we are not—as some would describe—a ‘market democracy.’ We are a democracy which operates a market economy. We have civic responsibilities and economic priorities. It is worth remembering that in some parts of the world, the hand of the market works one way while another hand suppresses the liberties of those that live and work within it. Again, a concentration on balance should guide the decisions we make in this House.
At this point I would like to turn to the experiences of a man who, 50 years ago, decided his fortune and future lay beyond the confines of a country village in Europe. He travelled from one hemisphere to the other. He made hard choices and sacrifices. He did it without formal education. He succeeded without the safety net of a healthy bank balance. He brought his wife over and they started a family without one around them. They raised their children in Western Sydney.
He travelled the country for his work as a welder, working on iconic projects inaugurated by the Chifley government such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. His wife taught herself English and made sure their children learned their multiplication tables before dinner, regardless of their resistance or howls of hunger.
Their story may sound similar to many, but was very special to my brother Alan, my sister Sabina and me. On behalf of my siblings, we remain perpetually grateful that our nation’s public service was so efficient in processing my father’s application for immigration because we do not know how we could have ever brought ourselves to support the Springboks.
Between both of my parents—Hasib and Hasiba—I was taught the biggest of life’s lessons but I always carry within me my mother’s words:
As important as it is to have food on the table, we also have to feed the soul.
My parents are here today along with our friends and my ‘extended Bosnian family’—welcome. To my family spread across Europe, my love and thoughts. And welcome to the honourable Ambassador of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Damir Arnaut, who joins us in the chamber today. Mum and Dad, I dedicate this speech to you, your dreams, your journey, your toil:
Od mog srca, tvome srcu: nemogu da ti se dosta zahvalim.
From my heart to yours, I cannot thank you enough.
As I make this contribution in response to the considered words of our current Governor-General, I am mindful of the words of one of her predecessors and one of our nation’s most noble citizens, Sir William Deane, who said:
I am convinced that it is our multi-culturalism which has made possible our national unity notwithstanding that we Australians directly or indirectly come from all regions, races, cultures and religions of the world.
A truism is buried within those words because no migrant undertakes the dislocation and sacrifice to reach these shores and set up a new life upon them with any aim other than to provide a better life for their family, and repay in part their debt to our great nation by being loyal, proud, hardworking citizens, such as the ones I see every day in an electorate as diverse as Chifley.
This is exactly the experience that brings greater meaning to the words of Sir William. Migrant families bring with them a tenacious determination to join in unity with the ambitions and hopes and purpose of a new nation—a multicultural nation. To me, multiculturalism represents a vast reservoir of energy this nation can tap into. When we harness all the goodwill and talent across all the corners of this land, from the first owners to the recently arrived, we build one of the greatest countries on the planet.
I continue to draw inspiration from a nation whose success vaults off the backs of many, regardless of their background. We continue a mission that sprang from the birth of our nation, spelt out by one of our founding fathers, Sir Henry Parkes, when he called out to our country by saying:
We should grow at once—in a day, as it were—from a group of disunited communities into one solid, powerful, rich and widely respected power.
The words of 1890 are heard clearly in 2010.
As much as I and the sons and daughters of migrants across our land are thankful for the opportunities extended to us by our new home, I am mindful that this was only possible because of the sacrifices made by our land’s traditional owners. As we acknowledge their ownership, we are obliged by dint of national kinship to repay this debt by ensuring that they too have every opportunity to prosper, grow and pass on their culture and traditions to a generation that will be stronger than the last.
My arrival here finally brings together the children of Abraham, Christians, Jews and Muslims, working together with other people of faith, with other people of values, for the national good, united under this one roof. I recognise the words of Dame Enid Lyons in 1943, when she said:
I am aware that as I acquit myself in the work I have undertaken for the next three years, so I shall either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those who wish to follow me in public service …
I would hope to acquit myself in the way that any other member would seek to in this place where my faith, and its emphasis on bettering ourselves within an acknowledgement of responsibility to community, will be my companion in my efforts to represent all the residents of the diverse electorate I am honoured to represent, regardless of their background, respectful of their faith and values, without reference to their vote for my party or not, and supporting those efforts designed to build a greater community for our area.
Arriving in this place did not occur by chance, but with the support and effort of many. A range of friends extended to me the benefit of their support and the value of their advice. The strength of my gratitude for their help and support is as strong today as it was in 2004. My thanks go to ALP New South Wales General Secretary Sam Dastyari, President Bernie Riordan and Senator Mark Arbib. I would not be delivering this speech today without the support of the member for Griffith. My thanks also go to the member for Blaxland, the member for Perth and the member for Grayndler, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, and to the late John Ducker, who opened the door of the party to me. I want to pay tribute to the member for Lilley for his steadfast, ready counsel in harder times.
I warmly thank my friends in the union movement: Derrick Belan and the NUW, the AWU, the FSU, the CPSU, the ANF, the LHMU, the TWU and the ASU. I pay special gratitude to the members and officials of the union I had the honour to be national president of, the CEPU. In particular, I single out the support from my good friend, Jim Metcher. I welcome all my CEPU friends and members in the gallery, including Cameron Thiele.
My gratitude also goes to the ALP branches and members, with special thanks to Chifley Federal Electorate Council Secretary Tom Kenny, President Gayle Barbagello and campaign dynamo Rebel Hanlon and wife Rachael. I also thank state MPs Richard Amery and Allan Shearan, Blacktown Councillor Charlie Lowles and his wife, Alma, and council colleagues.
My thanks go to those who devoted so much to our campaign: Barbara Williams, Rosanna Maccarone, David Field, Sejla Perviz, Nicole and Manassa Seniloli, my sister Sabina, and Behyad Jafari. A special mention goes to some people who are driving down from Lismore right now and listening to this, Nathan Metcher and Vanessa Pereya. My thanks go to all of them for the grind, the effort and the laughs.
For over 20 years, with fire, steel and heart and the one many of us know as the Little General, Merleen Millson, has been in the background—enjoy today, my friend. And my thanks go to some friends along the way: Elvis, Harry, Adam, Bec and big Johnny, along with the one whose life breathes courage and has inspired me, Jason.
There is one for whom my greatest thanks seems an inadequate gesture. The Labor Party is truly fortunate to have as one of its servants a man of great integrity, intelligence and strength, and I have been fortunate to be counted as a friend. My abiding gratitude goes to the member for McMahon, his wife Rebecca and children, Gracie and Max. It is my hope and wish that another friend and a person of enormous potential will join with us in this place to make a contribution to national life in the way he ought: Brent Thomas, hurry up and get here already.
As many of us know, we travel through our days with simply the will and character within ourselves to find a way through life, but ultimately the experience is made so much richer by sharing it and yourself with others. My eternal love and gratitude goes to my wife and true companion, Bridget.
To Phil Tilley, Christine Tilley and Ian Cooper, thank you for bringing me within your embrace. I recognise your lifelong passion for education and introducing so many young Australians to the world of learning and opening their hearts to the joy of music.
In drawing my contribution to a close, I make these final remarks. Life has taught me about the power contained within the black letter of the law, recognising implicitly that these laws may enhance or constrict individual or collective freedoms. Our decisions can and do impact on the lives of others and the way they live their lives. My preference will always be for government to bring in laws that aid individuals in pursuing their endeavours, exercising the greatest breadth of their freedoms, found upon a pre-eminent aim of enhancing the quality of life for communities across the country. The exercise of individual will best occurs within a framework of considered decision making along with accountability and responsibility for individual actions, particularly where there is a potential for impacting on the well being of self and others.
I thank my party for selecting me as its candidate and I thank our electorate for choosing my party. From this day, may I remain approachable, continuing to listen and continuing to act, and above all, may wisdom and humility guide me both in this place and beyond.
Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.