Thursday, 30 March 2017
Governor General's Speech
I want to use this opportunity in our nation's parliament to not only give an understanding of what it is like to live in the electorate that I am proud to represent, Chifley, but to also extend my heartfelt thanks to the electorate for the faith that they have put in me to allow me the opportunity to serve. Being able to represent any area of this fantastic nation of ours is a great honour and I cherish every single day that I am here, in spite of the highs and lows. We try to recognise that we have been accorded a very rare opportunity to stand in this place, to work for the people we represent and to also, potentially, make a mark on the nation in our own individual ways and, in spite of what people see on the TV, to find ways to work with people that we would not normally work with. Differences of view, strength of feeling and a particular focus on your own passions and interests may collide with competing passions and interests of others. In this day and age, I do feel that our political and media systems tend to value division and put more focus on disharmony because, let's face it, it makes for interesting news. I am one person who would certainly hope that when people reflect on my time here they do not reflect too unkindly, and I hope that they reflect on the fact that I have tried to find ways in which to work with others of whatever political view, because I think it is incumbent on us to find a way to do that. In doing so you want to be able to put your best foot forward with the electorate that has given you that terrific chance to represent them. In the broader experience of life in Western Sydney, I certainly recognise the people across Mount Druitt, Blacktown, Marsden Park, Blackett, Doonside, Emerton, Rooty Hill, Whalan, Shalvey—there are a stack of different suburbs—and Quakers Hill. There are so many great suburbs. For those that I have omitted, please do not read too much into that. All the people that live in those suburbs are hardworking and industrious and do their best to get ahead. The same is true for people in other suburbs across Western Sydney, so it is a pleasure to represent those who put in so much. They do so in their workplaces. They do tremendous work volunteering, in organising so many wonderful events and in being part of community groups and clubs that all add to the fabric of the neighbourhoods that make up the Chifley electorate. But it does frustrate me—it does, I suspect, fire up a sense of indignation—that sometimes people in our area tend to get overlooked and stereotyped. I think that it is important that governments should, and I certainly think that governments always can, do more to help out and combine with the efforts of people on the ground in our area.
I find that Sydney is a city of two halves: the east and the west—and often it is the east making decisions about how the west lives. People say that that is some sort of unnecessary division in Sydney. Clearly the people that are uncomfortable with that observation are the ones who are uncomfortable with the reality that it is the case that decisions are made on the other side of town. The other side of town does not necessarily have to contend with clogged roads that are always tolled; schools that are becoming run down; feeling the ignominy of being put on some of the worst backlogs for school maintenance that are around; overburdened hospitals; overcapacity on train services and facilities around those train stations that basically make them less attractive to use and therefore push people onto already clogged roads.
I will use a local example of how Western Sydney gets the raw end of the deal and how that impacts on people's lives. Once the M7 motorway was opened disused land in the north of the electorate that I represent, in Marsden Park, suddenly became fertile for development, and the Sydney Business Park was established. I have spoken in this place many times about some of the great work happening there. It was exciting to have large, new businesses move into Chifley—big players coming in to our electorate. But what often happens is that businesses move in, but the job opportunities go to people outside that area. So, the managers of the business park and the developers, to their very great credit, agreed to get as many locals as possible into new jobs, with a focus on people currently out of work. They worked with a number of local not-for-profit organisations to identify local talent, train them up and make sure they were job ready to take those jobs.
The program was very successful. The majority of more than 300 jobs, for instance, at the massive new IKEA store in that park took on local applicants—about 75 per cent, I am led to believe. The not-for-profits specifically targeted the unemployed and engaged with organisations working with students struggling at school. But, when it came to continuing this process, they hit a hurdle. They put a modest proposal together to this federal government to help fund the nonprofits to keep training young people in our area and give them support to be job ready. They were denied funding. So we have a government that says it wants to reassess the way it is providing welfare in this country and make sure that it actually invests now to avoid people being stuck on welfare later, but when a proposal lands on their lap to do just that, they reject the proposal. Denying funding to Marist Youth Care was, I think, a massive tragedy. But this also highlights the fact that this government is all talk and no action when it comes to getting people off welfare to work.
Mr Wood interjecting—
It is hard to be nice, Member for La Trobe, when you do try to do the things on the ground in your local area and you do not get support from the government who you believe, based on their own outward rhetoric, would support this type of activity but do not. So it is hard to just sit here. I refuse to remain quiet—I do not apologise for that—and I will raise these types of things in my address-in-reply.
The other thing is penalty rates. Of the people who do have work in our area, I have 10,224 people who are likely to be affected by the decision to move ahead with cutting penalty rates. In an era where there is underemployment and people feel like they are not working enough and where they feel like, for instance, their wages are not growing fast enough—it is not a feeling; it is the fact that they are—those people who live between Mount Druitt and Blacktown now have to contend with the prospect of losing 77 bucks a week as a pay cut. In some cases, people argue that this will be good for jobs, but, as someone pointed out to me, in the hospitality sector the job growth there is in double digits. So it is not like the current arrangements have prevented people from being employed in that sector. A significant number of people will now be stressing about how to balance their budget. I know that in my electorate and across Western Sydney 77 bucks is a big deal. It is fuel in the car or, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, it could be the case of whether or not you are able to buy a new pair of shoes for your primary-school child. It is a big deal.
Talking of schools, I think one of the ways people in Western Sydney are being let down right now is a failure to invest in their future, with a government at the federal level that are not committing to the full needs-based schools funding program they signed up to before the 2013 election. They said that they were on a unity ticket, and, as soon as they got in, that ticket was torn apart. Chifley is going to miss out on $37 million in local schools funding. It is one of the biggest keys for people in my area to get ahead. People from very modest backgrounds are being denied the chance to go on and do great things because we are not investing in them enough in schools. Needs-based funding makes a difference in my area, and I hear this when I visit schools, for example, on presentation days. I remember when I went to Crawford Public School last year they talked about how the addition of a maths teacher had made a huge difference to the outcome and the performance of young people in that school. It makes a difference. Directing extra resources based on socioeconomic disadvantage is a real key to giving kids what they need, and it gives teachers and school staff the extra support they need to help improve results. So I think that is a big deal, and it is certainly something that I intend to continue to raise during the course of this parliament.
Another thing about schools is that, if the federal government denies school funding in one area, it cascades to through to another. In this case, state governments that feel they are not getting the funding support then look at targets to cut funding from. One of them is maintenance in local schools. There is a backlog in maintenance in schools across Mount Druitt and Blacktown that is worth millions of dollars. Some Chifley college campuses have had a backlog of over a million dollars each. Rooty Hill High School needed over $700,000 to catch up on their repairs. We are talking about basic work, like fixing torn carpet, replacing broken windows, fixing toilets, replacing guttering and repairing footpaths. Children who go to run-down schools are made to feel like their school is second rate. That should not happen. I will continue to raise that matter as well.
Infrastructure is a big deal for Western Sydney. It is one of the massive things that is a bugbear for people across our region. After having paid our fair share of tolls on one of the critical motorways, the M4, we are now looking at a state Liberal government putting tolls back on the M4. It is a horrible decision. People in Western Sydney know how grindingly, frustratingly slow the M4 is. A minor respite was the fact that they no longer had to pay tolls for the fact that they were sitting in congestion. Now they will not be left with just a slow motor way; they will be charged again, thanks to the premiers from the east of Sydney. Again, east v west. The biggest joke being played on Western Sydney residents is that one of the people supposedly standing up for them in state parliament is now out their way. Stuart Ayres, recently named Minister for Western Sydney, is 'minister for the tolls' more like it. People out our way are already paying by having to spend invaluable time away from family through delays, and now they have got to pay a toll for it.
Talking of motorways, there is the M9. This is a massive road that should be built but is not being built; it is not being funded. I hear all sorts of talk about creating jobs for Western Sydney and how investment in the south-west will make a difference. There is no investment being made in this toll road or in this motorway, the M9. It will make a huge difference between the M7 and the M9 in opening up lands for economic and employment growth development—and it is not being done. It is time the state and federal governments bit the bullet, secured the land and started drafting plans. We have seen how the M7 is on locked-in land for new businesses. Businesses are looking for better access. They are looking for opportunity, and the M9 is a project that will help them invest. I intend to keep raising this matter, again, through this term of parliament. This road needs to be built because the jobs and the economic activity flowing from it will be huge.
Talking of infrastructure, I think much of the talk about future of rail in Western Sydney has focused on what sorts of connections should be made to that horrible idea of building an airport in Western Sydney or whether the CBD of Parramatta is right for fast rail. But most Western Sydney residents would see an improvement in another project: fix the western line—do it. Either duplicate it or put more regular, faster trains on it.
It is 2017 and people should not have to spend almost as long on the western line to get to the city for work as commuters did back in the days of the red rattlers. This is especially true on the stretch from Blacktown to Richmond. That line runs through the heart of the north-west growth sector and is going to get busier and busier. And, by the way, we need parking stations that do not see lines and lines of street-based parking, because people cannot get a park close to a railway station and be encouraged onto public transport. This has to be fixed too.
New estates are isolated without public transport in our area. The problem with poor infrastructure, as people across Chifley and Western Sydney know all too well, is new estates springing up across the region are underserved. In Marsden Park I have seen tens of thousands of new homes either being built or in the pipeline to be built. How many new highways are being built to get to and from these suburbs? Very few. Making one-lane roads two-lane roads is not necessarily going to cut it. They are already full and the estates are not even done yet. We are not even talking about the schools going in. The rail services need to be sped up. Hospital services and healthcare services are required to support that population.
One of the great levellers, besides education—which I mentioned earlier—is technology. People in Western Sydney were looking forward to better internet speeds with the announcement of the National Broadband Network. It is not just about numbers; fast and reliable internet does do a lot to reduce the tyranny of distance and it would allow more people in my electorate to work from home or stagger their work times and ease the impact on roads. It is not insignificant. It would also help many small businesses do more without feeling the pressure to relocate to places that are better served.
Unfortunately, Malcolm Turnbull has stuffed up the NBN rollout. It is overdue, over budget and underserving. It is not going to be fast or reliable. We have heard that some suburbs in the electorate of Chifley are going to be connected by 2019—if they are lucky—and some of them will be using substandard technology, such as what is delivered through cable broadband. It is not good enough. The Prime Minister is not Santa Clause; he is the anti-Clause. He certainly made this big deal about faster broadband and has failed to deliver. He has stolen the gift that people were expecting right from underneath their noses.
The same person, Malcolm Turnbull, along with his Assistant Minister for Cities, launched the Western Sydney deal. Whereabouts? In Redfern—over 35 kilometres from Western Sydney. What a great plan! It was 50 kilometres from Mount Druitt. What a mockery that a plan that has very little detail to it gets launched outside the region and has very little impact on the region it is supposed to help! The only thing that they can point to in that plan is the development of an airport that I think will become a white elephant in time. Frankly, you are not going to have the majors moving out there, you are not going to have the support of it, and governments of respective sides of politics are going to be pumping money into that facility for years to come—instead of putting money into, for example, better health care.
Mt Druitt Hospital needs to be significantly upgraded to meet the growth of the region. Then there is Nepean Hospital, one of the most stressed hospitals in the state, right in our backyard in Western Sydney—again a victim of failed funding by the federal and state Liberal government. Mt Druitt Hospital lost a cardiac ward under the Baird government through a so-called relocation—we did not lose it; it was relocated. It was a cut in an area where a lot of people suffer from heart disease. It is just wrong to put that type of impact on people. The administrative trick of putting Mt Druitt Hospital under a banner with Blacktown Hospital has not hidden the fact that services and capability have been reduced. It is wrong. There are fewer beds and there is less ability to treat people coming through the front door.
It drives me nuts to see that health, roads, schools and broadband are all underfunded, yet money can be found for an airport—$8 billion worth, not being directed into our region. This airport will suck up money from federal budgets for years to come. Watch every single federal budget from hereon in. When they talk about the spend in Western Sydney, it is all going to south-western Sydney. That $8 billion could build five to 10 hospitals; it could hire 70,000 graduate teachers; it could go towards speeding up the Western Rail Line. It could go towards connecting infrastructure into those new estates that are being build right on our doorstep. It is just not happening. I just think it is wrong. As I said in an earlier speech: the things we need, we do not get and the things we do not ask for are lumped on us. I think that is frankly a crime and should not be tolerated. That is why Western Sydney MPs are speaking up more and more on this.
As I said at the start of my address, I was very grateful for the opportunity to be elected. As we all know as members of parliament—there will be some MPs who think it is by the power of the individual personality—the reality is we have a lot of people who support us to get there, be it family, friends and, importantly, the people who work with us, who either volunteer or are in our office. I just wanted to thank, in the last campaign, people like Nicole Seniloliand Rosanna Maccarone. I also wanted to thank Mel Mahmutovic, Kara Hinesley and Brad Bunting. There were a lot of people who helped out of my office in particular: my FEC, Gayle Barbagallo, and also Geeth Geeganage, who is a CFEC secretary and who also helped out in the campaign as campaign director. I thank all the people who staffed the booths and the members of the local Labor Party branches who put in so much.
It was a tremendous result off the back of a huge performance by opposition leader Bill Shorten and the entire Labor team. It has reflected the work of some my colleagues here, such as the member for Corio, who has been a longstanding member of this place. I also welcome the member for Bass as well. I am seeing many of the class of 2016 come in, who in a short space of time are clearly making a mark for themselves and making a massive contribution to the national parliament. We all feel very strongly about the special opportunity to be able to serve in this place. I know Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou speaks up very strongly for multicultural communities across our nation. The Labor team is full of ideas and full of energy, wishing to put all of that forward in this term of parliament to be in a position to take government at the next election and to make a meaningful difference to communities across this great nation. I thank the parliament for the opportunity to provide these words today.
I thank the member for Chifley for those kind words. Addresses in reply in the life of an MP are a moment to take stock and, in a sense, give thanks to people who have helped us get here. The member for Chifley is somebody who I have known for a long time; indeed, prior to coming into this place, both of us worked in the union movement. We are about representing people and that is what we have devoted our lives to. I am very proud of the time that I spent in the union movement, and I know the member for Chifley is as well. It was there that I first met him. The member for Chifley is making a fantastic contribution in this place. Not only is it in terms of this policy areas around innovation and technology, where he certainly is making a contribution, but he makes this a more fun and better place to be when we come here to sit. I thank him for that.
If I can focus on my side of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, you have been somebody who has been here since the moment I arrived. I very much thank you for your fellowship. The member for Bass is someone who has arrived in the last election, so in a sense we have got the spread here of people who have been here for the journey and what the future holds. It certainly makes me feel good about sitting on the Labor side of the parliament.
I also want to echo the comment that the member for Chifley made: we are really the beneficiaries of so many other people's work. I would not get elected my own. The thing that mostly gets me elected is the Labor brand; I will be a lifelong member of the Labor Party and ever thankful for that. There are so many who have worked in my office, who have volunteered around the election campaign, and I want to take the opportunity of thanking them in this speech today.
I will start with my office. In no particular order, I acknowledge: Saverina Chirumbolo, Catherine Bergin, Lidija Ivanonski, Zachery Power, Haley Bamford, Geraldine Eren, Simon Furey, Michael Tate, Bec SmithandSophie Andrew, all of whom worked with me during the last term of this parliament. I am nothing without them. They do so much of the day-to-day work which enables me to stand here on an occasion like this—to articulate the policy of the Labor Party, to come up with good ideas about how we can contribute in the various portfolios that I have worked in and, of course, to represent the people of Corio and the people of Geelong in this parliament, which is such an honour to do. I am enormously grateful to all those people who have worked in my office over that period of time. They make it fun to go to work. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for all they have given, and at the same time give an enduring apology for me on my worst occasions—which I hope are not too frequent.
In Geelong we are part of what is very much a Labor team, and that goes beyond just the federal sphere. There are a number of state MPs who I work with on a day-to-day basis. We see ourselves as a team representing Labor in the region. In that vein, I would like to acknowledge the Hon. John Eren who is currently the Victorian Minister for Sport but is also the member for Lara; the Hon. Lisa Neville, who is currently the Victorian Minister for Police and the member for Bellarine; the Hon. Gail Tierney, also a member of the state cabinet; and Christine Couzens, the member for Geelong. We are well-represented within the Victorian Andrews government; indeed, there are three MPs from Geelong sitting in that cabinet. It is an unprecedented level of representation at the highest level of the state government, and that is because of the quality of those people. They do an incredible job representing their constituencies within the state sphere, and I am thankful for the support they give me.
It is great to be part of that Geelong Labor team, representing the people of Geelong at every level. All of us share the experience of doing street stalls and meeting constituents. Constituents should not be expected to know, necessarily, whether the problem that they are raising with you is a state problem or a federal problem. They may have an issue with their dealings with government or with society, and they come to speak about that to you as their representative. But, in order to respond to it, often it means calling a state colleague and getting them to follow through on an issue—if it is a state issue that is being raised with you—and equally, a state member will call me, if one of their constituents has raised an issue which is a federal issue. It requires cooperation and teamwork, and we certainly display that.
During the last election, we had more than 370 volunteers. They helped by working on street stalls, doorknocking, phone banks, putting up yard signs, and handing out leaflets on pre-polling and election days. It was a Herculean effort across the entire electorate. I would like to name all 370, but I think I would be stretching your courtesy, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, if I did that. However, I do want to mention a number of people who particularly helped during that period of time: Stephen Hogg, Lena De Rosso, Vlad Selakovic, Gail Cook, Wayne Mader, Leonie Sheedy, Tegan Whitten, James Koval, Jett Fogarty, Rachel Penny, Ellen and Alex Csar, Lex Chalmers, Tony Kelly, Wendy Jones, Owen Sharkey, Rodney O'Brien, Cameron Granger, Chris Kelly and the entire Port Arlington branch of the ALP—who did a sterling job out on the Northern Bellarine. I thank also Chris Van Ingen, Roger Lowrey and Jill Peterson—long-time friends, Craig Meddings, Joe Pavlovic—who is an icon of the Croatian community in Geelong, and a really big supporter; I appreciate his support, Kelly Toyne, Desiree Balaburova, Ali Heydari and the team of volunteers he brings to bear—I was with Ali a couple of weekends ago celebrating Nowruz; Ali is a member of the Iranian community in Geelong and a very significant contributor at whole levels of Geelong society. I also want to mention Darren and Natasha Lamont, who are old friends, and Glenn and Russel Menzies—Russel used to work for me, a long time ago, and Glenn and Russel and their families are such supporters. Thanks also go to Sam Lynch and all those from Young Labor who came down the road from Melbourne, Julie Field, Wendy Jones, Fred Bree and Robyn Davis, Rosemary Nicholls, Tristan Groegar, Yunxiang Zhu, Sharon and John Mitchell, Sue Thompson, Steve Bellis, Hendrika Markevitch, Geoff Fary, Zoli Lucso, and Mick Kremer. I could mention so many more, but I wanted to get those names on the record because each one of those people devoted significant amounts of time during the election campaign. Again, as the member for Chifley said, we are but the consequence of the efforts that they put in, and I know very clearly that the incredible privilege I get to enjoy as being a member of this place is in large measure because of the work that they put in completely freely and in their own time.
I particularly want to mention William Reeves, who came down from Melbourne and handed out for me on the day. I have known William since I was 11, I think. He is a school friend of mine. He does not live in Geelong but has always made it a point on election day to come down and assist me, and there is something wonderful about having friends over that journey. Both of us are witnesses to each other's lives. I have many other friends of that duration, but I particularly wanted to mention William, who made the time to come down on election day. I am very grateful to him.
Geelong is blessed with a significant and active civic leadership. G21, an organisation which represents five councils in the greater Geelong region, is in fact in Canberra in the last sitting week, so many members on both sides of the House got to meet them, and that is a frequent occurrence, as it is to meet those from the Committee for Geelong who come to Canberra and advocate on behalf of our community. They obviously do the same in Spring Street in Melbourne. The level of organisation and commitment that we enjoy in Geelong from those groups is really important, and they are, of course, bipartisan and work with all sides of politics, as they should. I am indebted to them for the sorts of ideas that they put forward. In terms of having an understanding of one's community and knowing what it is that we in this and my colleagues in Spring Street should be advocating for, the work that those organisations put in is hugely influential. I think it is important in the context of the last election to acknowledge them, not as partisan supporters of mine in any sense but as people who influence the scene and do so in a really positive way for our community. I acknowledge Bill Mithen and Elaine Carbines from G21. I mentioned Dan Simmonds and Rebecca Casson from the Committee for Geelong and Kylie Warne and Bernadette Uzelac from the Geelong Chamber of Commerce.
I would also like to acknowledge Geelong Trades Hall, who play a very significant role within our community as well. There are many from Geelong Trades Hall who I mentioned in that long previous list who have been assisting me. They also play a very significant role in the ideas and the advocacy that they mount on behalf of our community.
There are four people I particularly want to mention who, if I can put it this way, are a source of personal advice for me about Geelong. I know that these people give advice to all sides of politics, and they do so with the intention of trying to put the representatives of Geelong in a better position to do their work: Frank Costa, Andrew Balaam, Brian Cook and Peter Dorling. Each of those people is so important to me in giving me guidance, advice and mentoring, and I am very indebted to them. They are great people, and they are great people on the national stage. We are really lucky in Geelong to have them living in our town, and I cannot give enough thanks for all that they do for me but, much more significantly, for the region. It is an appropriate time to acknowledge them as well.
I want to mention Richard Lange. Richard was the candidate from the Liberal Party for the seat of Corio. Richard ran a very impressive campaign. He worked hard. He did it with an enormous amount of honour. Representing one of the major parties in a federal election is a huge thing to do. It is essentially a volunteer act; he was not paid for a moment of his time. He participated in the discussion with me about the future of Geelong, and we are better for the fact that he did that. I do not know if it is the right thing to say I enjoyed working with Richard, because I do not think that is the way one puts it when we were competing with each other for a seat, but the truth is I did really enjoy getting to know Richard. He is a really good person, and I thank him for the time that he put in in this election campaign. I really do wish him the best for the future. From where stood, I thought he did a great job in the role that he performed.
The seat of Corio is intimately connected by geography with the seat of Corangamite. We are the two seats which represent Geelong and inevitably I do a lot of work with the member for Corangamite. I very much congratulate her on also being re-elected at the last election. In the context of that election, I worked very closely with Labor's candidate for Corangamite, Libby Coker. I want to acknowledge Libby as well for the work that she put in. She did a sterling job and got a swing to Labor in that seat. It is a really hard and thankless task. I know that she knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands of phone calls and spent the better part of 18 months working on this. It did not go unnoticed. It was not the result that Libby hoped for, but it is a really significant contribution to fly the Labor flag in the seat of Corangamite, and we certainly have hopes at the next election. It is important to acknowledge the work that Libby put in at the last election.
I want to thank my family and my extended family, a number of whom came down and helped on election day: my sister, Liz Marles and her husband, Ken Quail; my other sister, Vic Marles, and her partner, Geoff Westcott; and my third sister, Jenny Green, and her partner, Sue Doust. I am so lucky to have three elder sisters. I often say that I feel like I have been raised by a tribe of women, with three elder sisters and my mother, who was the first Equal Opportunity Commissioner in Victoria. I want to acknowledge her, Fay Marles, and my father, Don Marles. We are a very close family. There are some challenges that we are all facing together at the moment, but it is a joy for me on election day to see all of my family participating in this. I also want to acknowledge my wife's family, Vince and Judy Schutze, my wife's brother, Jason Schutze and his partner, Wayne Norman, and my wife's sister, Mel Schutze and her husband, Albert Landman. They are a great source of friendship to me and support in what I do. My children, Sam, Bella, Harvey and Georgia all played a role during the election campaign, including Georgia who was six at the time, so we are working on her early. Most of all, I want to acknowledge Rachel in this context who is an ongoing support. Her support was incredible during the election campaign. I am not here but for her. I want her to know that, but also know that whatever I do here and whatever significance is attached to that in my own life, it does not bear comparison with the importance that Rachel has in my life and the future that I really look forward to sharing with her, as we have shared our past.
There were a number of significant regional issues which came up during the election campaign. I was pleased that we were able to make announcements within the Geelong region. There was a $16 million regional innovation fund which would have seen 20 new regional innovation hubs around Australia and part of that would have been in Geelong. Indeed, the member for Chifley came to Geelong to participate in that announcement. We announced a $5 million pledge to AnamCara, which is a community hospice, together with a lot of private money that has been raised. It would have made a significant contribution in putting in place a hospice. That understates the significance of it. It is a new form of end-of-life care which really is state-of-the-art in how that should occur. We made announcements in relation to Avalon Airport to ensure that the airport was deemed as a regional airport and, in the process, that classification would delink it from Melbourne and, as result, would not be constrained by air service agreements with international airlines that apply to Melbourne. This is important because we need to see Avalon become an international airport, and we are all working very hard on that endeavour.
We announced $59 million for a Manufacturing Transition Boost jobs package. That would have applied across Australia, but a significant component of it would have applied in Geelong. That is important as well because we are a community that is going through a transition with a number of difficult decisions that have been taken around manufacturing, most notably the decision by Alcoa to stop the Point Henry smelter, and the decision by Ford back in 2012 to stop manufacturing cars in Australia; they indeed stopped manufacturing cars in October 2016.
I was really proud that just about the first announcement that was made across the country during the election campaign was a $2 million contribution to the GROW project being run by G21, which I mentioned earlier. GROW is a project that is focused on dealing with disadvantage in the areas of Geelong, and the region, that are doing it toughest; places like Norlane, Corio, Newcomb and Whittington where we are seeing a divide grow, which worries me greatly. People often ask me how Geelong is doing in the face of decisions by Alcoa and Ford. At one level across the region we are doing okay, but it is in suburbs like Norlane and Corio, where a lot of those who worked at Ford and Alcoa live, where you do see an added layer of disadvantage occurring. The GROW project is about targeting in on that, and I was very proud that we made a funding commitment to that. It is sad that that did not eventuate by virtue of the election result, but I really hope that we can do something if ever we come back to power, and that we can focus not only on suburbs like Norlane and Corio in Geelong, but indeed on suburbs like that around Australia.
That then speaks to the national effort, and I want to thank Bill Shorten for the incredible role that he played. Throughout the last term of the parliament, we were policy-brave in the kinds of things we were talking about. We did not shy away from things like negative gearing and tackling issues like that. We also articulated our core values around making sure that there is a strong social safety net—I notice the member for Ballarat is here, and she did a sterling job in relation to the Medicare campaign—and focusing on jobs and making sure that we as a country are not going to leave anyone behind. Bill was fantastic in the way that he did that, and that was certainly a message that resonated in Geelong.
In this address-in-reply, I want to do a couple of things. I want to acknowledge the terrific efforts of the campaign committee in Ballarat for their work in retaining the seat of Ballarat for federal Labor, and I also acknowledge the many volunteers throughout the community who have worked on my campaign for a long period of time.
I also want to focus on some of the contemporary issues that are happening right at the moment. We are obviously some months on from the election now—it is the uniqueness of this place that it takes quite some time for us to actually get to the debate here—but I want to reflect on some of the current issues. On Saturday I held one of my regular mobile offices. I have been doing these on a Saturday morning for the past 16 years. This time I started in Sebastopol. It is an area of higher disadvantage than, for example, Central Ballarat, and it is largely characterised by people who have worked or are working in trades, labouring, retail and health services. Sebastopol also hosts a number of retirees, mainly on the age pension but also, reflective of its long working-class history, on part pensions.
Generally at mobile offices, I get two or three people mostly just wanting to pop by and say hello, but on this weekend there was a queue of 20 people. The sorts of issues being raised ranged from people waiting long periods of time to get an outpatients appointment to get on the waiting list for general surgery at our hospital, to an older couple with diabetes who wanted me to ring their GP to see if they could get waived the $70 fee that they now have to pay for every visit that they had not been paying before. I had someone who found that their blood pressure medication had doubled in price and was worried that they could no longer afford it. Another local reported that a cancer skin cream that they had used had also substantially increased in price. A young woman with three children with disabilities said that, as a result of now having to pay a disputed Centrelink debt, for the first time she was having to use emergency relief to pay for food, and also had to use that to pay for her kids' uniforms.
The reason I am raising this as part of my contribution this morning is that I think that my small snapshot of a mobile office on a Saturday morning is reflective of a broader and deeper problem that has emerged since the Turnbull government came into office. That is the problem of growing inequality and deep poverty, particularly amongst groups who were previously managing to get by—if only just. That inequality is particularly evident when it comes to health care. Without a doubt, this government has been systematically unravelling the universality of Medicare.
What do you think happens when you try to introduce a fee for people to go to see a GP? What do you think happens when your next attack is to freeze the patient rebate to doctors and basically force a situation where doctors have to either introduce fees or up the fees that they are charging? What do you think happens when you increase the amount patients have to pay to fill a prescription? What do you think happens when you cut incentives for pathology companies and diagnostic imaging companies to bulk-bill their patients? What do you think happens when you basically say to the states: 'We're not going to pay the agreed share of growth in activity that is occurring in our public hospitals. We are going to pay you a lesser share'? What do you think happens when you cut money to improve emergency department and elective surgery waiting times and to boost subacute care? What do you think happens when you cut funding for aged care? It hurts patients. That is the legacy of this government every single day. And it not only hurts patients, it also hurts some of the most vulnerable patients in our community. That is what happens when you make those decisions.
The latest health minister, in his attempts to establish some credibility, likes to point to savings that Labor made as some evidence to justify the harshness of his own government's decisions. But, frankly, he completely misses the point. Labor was able to find savings in the health portfolio to reinvest in important social safety nets, like increasing public hospital funding and funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and we did that without hurting patients. The means-testing of the private health insurance rebate, which is something this government went to the 2013 election saying that they would reverse—well, we are yet to see that—was reinvested in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Savings in pathology were accompanied by a bulk-billing incentive—something that the government wants to cut—that was designed to keep bulk-billing rates high for pathology, and that is what it did.
It is around nine months since Australians cast their votes and they sent the Prime Minister, and I quote, 'a very clear message'. It has been nine months since an election which taught this government a very clear lesson but, with so many cuts to health still on the table, it is hard to see what they have learnt. Some four days out from the election, the member for Wentworth feigned contrition and said, 'We have to do more to reaffirm the faith of the Australian people and our commitment to health and Medicare.' He promised to work hard to regain trust and to reassure Australians that the commitment to Medicare was a bipartisan one. It never has been, so that would be something new. As always with this Prime Minister, you have to look at what he does, not what he says.
How many health cuts has the Prime Minister actually reversed in the nine months since he allegedly learnt his lesson? None; not a single one. Indeed, every single health cut this government took to the election remains on the table. They are as committed as ever to gutting Medicare and making Australians pay more and more for their health care. The GP tax by stealth is reducing bulk-billing and driving even more patients into already overcrowded emergency departments—nothing has changed; making Australians pay more for vital tests and scans, including pap smears—nothing has changed.; hiking the costs of prescriptions, making even vulnerable patients pay more—nothing has changed; ripping $421 million from the pockets of patients through cuts to the Medicare safety net—nothing has changed. This is not a government that has learnt its lesson. This is a government that simply does not get the impact that its continued cuts are having on our healthcare system and on patients.
For many general practices, the freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule has been the final straw. We are already seeing clinics abandoning bulk-billing altogether and being forced to charge patients $10 or $20, even for children and concession card holders. This confirms, as the AMA president on budget night said, 'The poorest, the sickest and the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit.'
We will shortly reach the one-month mark until the government's next budget is due to be handed down in early May. It is a clear test for this latest health minister and the government: will they finally admit that they got it wrong and that their health policies are hurting Australians and drop them all, including the six-year freeze on the Medicare rebates? Keep in mind that so far they have failed the test at every turn; at every opportunity they have had to reverse the freeze, they have done nothing—in fact, they extended it. In 2014 they introduced the freeze, and in 2016 the Prime Minister himself extended it out to 2020.
This latest health minister is keen to pretend that there is nothing to see here and that he is going to fix all of this. We know that he sat at the cabinet table and signed off on every single one of these decisions that have such a negative impact on our health system. For years, GPs, specialists and health experts have been sending a very clear message to this government: the freeze is hurting, and it should have been dropped a long time ago. This is what the AMA president said during the election campaign:
We know there are some GPs that are already changing their billing practices, and that commences today, on 1 July. The reality is that there are a lot of GPs who've decided that they could probably take the hit for a couple of years, but they are saying enough is enough.
But did the government listen? No, of course it did not. It had an opportunity during the election campaign to admit that it got it wrong and to reverse the freeze.
The fact is that, under the government's freeze, years of damage have already been done. For years the Turnbull government has made health care less affordable for every Australian and has made out-of-pocket costs even higher. Australians are seeing the impact of the government's cuts every time they need health care, whether it is during a visit to their GP or at the hospital. This government simply has not made health a priority, and patients are having to pay.
We do not want to let the Prime Minister forget this pre-election promise: that no Australian would pay more to visit the doctor as a result of his Medicare freeze. That is what the Prime Minister said. The government's own statistics show, in black and white, what a complete and utter lie that was. And let us remember in the days after the election when the Prime Minister feigned contrition, cried crocodile tears and said that he had heard the message and learnt his lesson. Again: how many health cuts has he actually dropped? None.
Beyond the freeze, the health approach has been characterised by cut after cut, which has made health care less accessible and less affordable. They still, as I said, have on the table the cuts to abolish bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology and diagnostic imaging. And let us be clear again as to who is the target of that decision: it is the sickest Australians—the Australians with chronic conditions, the Australians who need blood tests, ultrasounds, mammograms and PET scans to diagnose and treat potentially life-threatening conditions. That decision is all about making patients who are being treated for cancer and other serious health conditions pay hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars up-front for their scans.
They also have legislation, as I said, to cut the Medicare safety net. The evidence against that decision remains. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners warned of significant concerns that the proposed changes would leave all patients with greater out-of-pocket costs. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists told the inquiry into the safety net cuts that the college was very concerned about the impact the proposed new Medicare safety net would have on vulnerable people with mental illness who require long-term intensive psychotherapy. Radiation oncology providers warned that the changes would, on average, more than double patient out-of-pocket costs for radiotherapy. The Department of Health admitted that, based on the current arrangements, certainly for assisted reproductive technology:
… our analysis says that the second and further cycles may leave a patient around $850 out of pocket …
Of course we also know that the government has some further cuts in radiation oncology on the way.
The government also has a measure on the table to increase the PBS copayment by up to $5—the biggest price increase for prescription medicines in a decade. Pensioners and concession card holders will pay more than $7 for each script—an increase of 80c. Everyone else will pay an extra $5 for prescription medicine. The more expensive medicines become, the less likely it is that people will fill these scripts. Around 1.8 million Australians already say they avoid filling prescriptions because of cost, and of course this will only get worse.
Then there are public hospitals. Labor had to bring the government kicking and screaming to accept that they were wrong to abandon Labor's long-term funding formula, which rewarded hospitals for doing more operations and seeing more patients, provided they did this at an efficient price. But the government did not do this properly. They did not put in the money, and in fact short-changed the states and territories substantially. That is why Labor promised in the election to fully restore the National Health Reform Agreement for the next four years, at the originally agreed funding formula of 50 per cent of growth in costs based on the national efficient price. We also said we wanted to provide additional support to public hospitals, to the states and territories, to specifically reduce waiting times in emergency departments and for elective surgery. That boost in funding would have seen an extra $2 billion over the next four years, on top of what the Liberals have promised, to drive efficiency by funding the states and territories on the basis of their actual services performed. This would mean reduced hospital waiting times, more beds, and more doctors and nurses. We encourage the government to do what it promised to do: to match Labor's policy and deliver on the original agreement.
As I said, nine months after the election, the government have done nothing to show that they have listened to the millions of people who voted against every single one of their cuts. We are now close to this Prime Minister's second budget, and we can only hope that it is better than his first. But, at the end of the day, no matter what the government do in the budget, the damage to our Medicare system has, unfortunately, already been done. On Saturday I saw people waiting just to get into an outpatients appointment—let alone get on the waiting list for surgery at public hospitals—people having to pay more as they go to see a doctor, people who were previously bulk-billed, people worried about whether they can afford the price of their medicines, and people worried about whether they can feed and clothe their children. All of that damage is happening now, and we are seeing it every single day in our communities. This government have done that damage, and they have a legacy that will go on for years and years to come.
Rather than develop a decent health policy or a new agenda in health, let alone reverse their billions of dollars of cuts to health care, the government like to spend quite a bit of time focussing on Labor's campaigning tactics, which somehow or other they think were not what the standards of campaigning should be. I am going to use a swear word, which will be bad, but bugger me—that is the worst I can do. I mean, seriously! This is really what this government says. But, frankly, what this government have done when it comes to our health care is absolutely appalling. They attempted to privatise our Medicare payments system, which we stood up and stopped them from doing. They had every intention of sending it out to the private market. The private market were telling us very strongly that they had had indications from the government to put their tenders in, that they were very keen to outsource that payments system and that they were ready and gearing themselves up to wait for the government to release the tender process. Labor stood against that and stopped that happening, making sure that the Medicare payments system stays in public hands and that we have a government that will invest in that payments system and bring it into the 21st century.
But they have also forced patients to rely more and more on their own private means to pay for their healthcare costs. There are many people in this country who firmly believe that they cannot afford health care. When we think back on when Medicare was developed, we remember the words of Bob Hawke, who said there were two million Australians who, in the event of becoming unwell, would face bankruptcy because they could not afford health care. I am very worried that, under this government, this is the pathway that we are now starting to head down again, as they try to shift costs away from the Commonwealth to states and as they try to shift costs away from the Commonwealth to individuals. We have to stand up for Medicare and against this government.
As I said at the start, I want to say thank you to the many people who assisted me throughout the campaign. Nationally, having the role as the shadow minister for health, I particularly want to thank one my previous staff, Alex White, who now works in the leader's office; Andrew Garrett; Stephen Spencer, who now works in Penny's office; and Jo Cleary, who works for me and worked with our national secretariat on the health media. They are an amazing group of people who love health policy and are deeply committed to equality and getting good policy outcomes. I thank them every day for the amazing work and effort that they put in.
In my own home town, the staff in my electorate office, who for many it was their first time through a federal campaign, worked incredibly hard. The volume of work that they were able to get through: the doorknocking, the mobile offices, the staffing of street stalls everywhere—they worked very, very hard. The volunteers in my campaign, again too numerous to mention, are people who each and every single election campaign step up, do the work and stand out at polling booths.
I have to give a particular shout out to Andrew Boatman and Emma Harding, who set up the pre-poll booths. People know Ballarat is a bit cold. In winter it was really cold. It snowed. We were on pre-poll in snow for days, basically. We were freezing. Ballarat is cold, but you normally do not stand out in that weather for hours and hours. So, the setting up of those pre-poll booths by Emma and Andrew every single morning, making sure that our bunting was out, doing all of that work and then staffing those booths was a fantastic effort.
To the Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council, to Brett and his terrific team there, again I am enormously grateful for your support and your constant guidance not only as we head into election campaigns but also every single day. We know election campaigns are not just won on election day. It is the work that you do year in, year out that really does make a massive difference in terms of whether you deserve people's votes. I have always said in my own electorate that you have to deserve the votes of people, and that means you have to work hard.
I want to particularly thank the people of Ballarat for again putting their faith in me. Ballarat is an incredibly beautiful and complex place to live in. It is my home. It is where we live, work, our children go to school, and we love the diversity of it every single day. I am very grateful to be able to continue to represent them in this place and to every single day honour their commitment in electing me to make sure that we get the resources that we need to develop and grow our great city.
It is always a great pleasure to deliver an address-in-reply. If you are doing it, it means that you have been re-elected to your job, because that is what it is. It is a job that I very much enjoy. I do want to thank the member for Ballarat. She and I share the privilege of having come into this place at the same time. It is fabulous that she is now at the forefront of defending Medicare, and I certainly stand with her in that effort. I know how important Medicare—and bulk-billing, in particular—and affordability of health care are to the people that I represent in this parliament.
I am very privileged to have been re-elected as the member for Calwell. It was my sixth election, and I feel a great debt to the people that I represent in this parliament. I have gotten to know them very well over the years. For new members: Dr Anne Aly, the member for Cowan—and the member for North Sydney—you will come to realise that eventually you build a very strong relationship with the people that you represent. It is a relationship that is based on friendship, in many ways, and trust. They place a lot of trust in us as their elected representatives to be here to advocate on their behalf and certainly to be vigilant on their behalf when policies are being implemented, or seeking to be implemented, that would be detrimental to their daily lives.
I have indeed formed very strong relationships with my community, and I want to talk about that community today. I also want to spend quite a bit of time—and I do not normally do this—to thank the very many people who, in the time that I have been in parliament, have come with me and have helped and assisted me, and who I have the great pleasure of working with.
I have often said that my electorate is probably one of the most culturally diverse electorates in Australia. It is also an electorate that is quite happy to re-elect Labor members of parliament. After being their Labor federal member of parliament and talking about my relationships with them, I have come to understand why it is that they have placed their faith in the Australian Labor Party. I am very privileged to be the Labor member for Calwell. As other colleagues have said before me, I do not get elected as Maria Vamvakinou the individual, I get elected as the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Calwell. I acknowledge that and appreciate it.
Mr Zimmerman interjecting—
They have come to like me. I think they have realised that I share a very strong identification. Thank you for prompting me, member for North Sydney. I share a very strong identification with the people that I represent, and I think that is why we have such a bond and an empathy.
Calwell is predominantly migrant community. It is a community that has the same experiences that my own family have had. I arrived here as a four-year-old child in 1963—that gives my age away, but it does not matter when you get to this stage. I came here under the Arthur Calwell migration program. It was an expansive, massive migration program that was deliberately designed to set the foundations for modern Australia. It was a nation-building exercise.
My family and I were—as I am sure Dr Aly's family was—a part of that. I can reflect back on it now, 60-odd years later, after Arthur Calwell, Australia's first migration minister, literally went out and sourced migrants from war-torn Europe, as I have said in this place before, from the UK and even from the United States. He sourced them because, as he said—and I think it is very important for us to know our history—we could not hold this continent with 7½ million people. Today, this continent sits at 23 million people. Those politicians of that time, and the Labor government at that time, had envisaged a bigger Australia. They set the foundations for it. There are many people in my electorate who came here under those programs in subsequent decades, in particularly the Turkish community. After the official abolition of the White Australia policy, we saw the great migration of people from Turkey. They settled in Calwell. They came to Australia, got off the plane at what was known as Tullamarine Airport—today it is the Melbourne Airport—and were driven some 10 minutes down the road to the Maygar Barracks, which at that time were similar to Bonegilla, but in inner Melbourne, and were used as hostels hosting newly arrived migrants from Turkey. Then they just left the hostels and moved up the street. They have built a wonderful community. As a result of the Turkish community being in the federal seat of Calwell, when I describe the seat I can say that it has the largest constituency of Australians of the Muslim faith in Victoria. When I first came here I believe we had the largest in the country, but some seat in Western Sydney, that I will not make reference to, holds that record now. In any case, it is a wonderful and vibrant community.
We have people from 100 different ethnic groups. We have the established communities: a very large Italian community, a very large Greek community, a very large Serbian-Croatian community. We have emerging communities from the subcontinent. We have quite a number of people coming and settling in our region from Nepal. But my biggest emerging community of all is the Chaldean Christians from Iraq. They have been settling in the area over the last 25 years since the two Iraq wars. Recently they celebrated 25 years since they began coming to Australia as refugees. They are a growing community and they face lots of similar issues that migrants and refugees face when coming to Australia, especially those who have been quite forcibly and unexpectedly dislocated from their homes. They will face the same sorts of problems in many ways that perhaps a lot of the migrants and refugees who came to Australia in the sixties did, which is why we have this empathy. I can identify so strongly with them and that makes my job all the more rewarding.
In the time that I have been a member, I have forged a very strong relationship with the Iraqi Chaldean community and the Assyrian Eastern Orthodox Christian community—I have both in my seat. I have watched them grow, especially in the last decade, and build the foundations and the infrastructure that any community needs that moves into a particular area. Some people like to call that kind of congregation a 'ghetto'. It is not a ghetto, and I reject that term outright. They are communities that live in an area where they share a common identity and a common language, and in most places it is their places of faith that are established first. In the case of the Chaldean community, we have about four Iraqi Christian churches in my electorate. It is the natural progress of a community. To refer to it as a ghetto is an expression of utter ignorance. I know it is used in contempt and it is often used against my Muslim community in Broadmeadows, and I have had to stand up and defend them. The communities do their own infrastructure building and they support each other in a way that assists the government's overall settlement program. So I see it as a settlement issue not an issue of banding together to exclude everybody else. And this is how it is with the Iraqi Christian community.
I want to thank Father Maher Gurges from St George's Chaldean Church. I work with Father Maher often. He is one of our local priests, a Chaldean Catholic priest who is charged with the pastoral care of the young members of the community. He does a fantastic job and I like working with him and being able to help him and them in the settlement process. I also thank Father Kamal Bidawid from the Church of Our Lady Guardian of Plants, the Chaldean Catholic church in Campbellfield. We had a very special visitor in November last year. The Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Lady Cosgrove attended the advent mass service, which marks the beginning of Christmas. They came down to my electorate and attended that service and the community was very, very honoured to have had them. From my perspective, the presence of the Governor-General in particular is a very positive sign—a sign of acceptance, embrace and recognition of a new community. It goes a long way to assisting the settlement process and that sense of belonging and being part of the Australian community. I want to thank his excellency in particular for coming to Calwell to Our Lady Guardian of Plants.
The community recently celebrated its 25 years of migration to Australia. They are doing a wonderful job and I continue to work with them. I look forward to the submission that they are going to be making, or I understand have tabled, to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and our inquiry into the settlement services. I am very pleased my community is able to participate in the process. I also want to acknowledge Father Korkis Tuma from Saint Abdisho's Assyrian Church of the East and Father Youkahana Matti from St Mary's Church, the Ancient Church of the East, and Mr Elias Saliba and Father Aphram from Mor Yacoub Syriac Orthodox Church in Mickleham. I visited that church on a number of occasions. I have actually conducted an immigration clinic there after service on a Sunday because such is the number of people in that community who are waiting for outcomes for family members under the additional 12,000 places for refugees from Syria. It is just an indication of how much is going on in my electorate. In addition to having virtually every Christian from Iraq living in Calwell, I also expect some 2½ thousand or three thousand from the 12,000 intake from Syria. So we have a lot going on in the federal seat of Calwell, but I think we are a well-placed community to help and receive those newly arrived.
Often the stories you hear are actually quite heartbreaking. I want to pay tribute to my local schools, in particular, who will receive children who have just come out of a war zone. I have wonderful teachers and wonderful principals who go out of their way to ensure that those children and their families are assisted in a way that makes them feel welcome. Often a lot of those families are just left to find their way home in the streets of Broadmeadows and elsewhere, and they have trouble doing basic things that we just take for granted, which can frighten people even more. So thank you in particular to Good Shepherd Catholic School in my electorate.
I also want to talk a little about the Oromo community, which is also settling in my electorate, and especially the women from that electorate, who I love to sit and have coffee with and share their cooking advice. It is part of the wonderful things that we do and are exposed to as members of parliament. I feel, at this point, that I had better start thanking a whole series of people that I often forget to thank, because, as other members have said, you do not do this on your own. You certainly do not get through an election campaign on your own and you certainly do not work in the community on your own. And, like all other members of parliament, I certainly do not.
I want to begin by thanking my core staff: Paul Caruso, Emma Ioannou, Marianthi Kypuros, Stephen Fodrocy, Carole Fabian and Aniela Kociuba. They do a tremendous amount of work. They put up with a lot, but they also have a wonderful manner with our community. It is really important, when you are not there, that your staff have the same sense of empathy and the desire to help people that you do, because that reflects on you as well. Our staff really are at the door when we are away, and the community feels that it is being heard, even though you are not there. So thank you to all my staff.
I have picked up a lot of members of the community along the way who have become my friends, and I want to try and thank as many of them as possible. I may try your patience, but I think it is really important to let people know that they are important to us, and that we mention them when we are up here. I want to start by thanking Michael Shergill; Hamza Wariyo, who runs the Oromo community; Irfan Hassan and Samet Istar, who are wonderful friends, wonderful Labor Party members and wonderful community members; Phillip Di Biase; Belal El Baba; Ryan Moore and Justin Barbour; Draga Atanasovski; and Madonna Awad, from the Coptic community.
I want to thank Walid Hanna, from the local Iraqi community, who also runs our annual soccer tournament—the Iraqi Unity Cup. He does a tremendous job in terms of social cohesion. I also want to thank Ali Awan, from our local Pakistani community, who is also responsible for organising the Multicultural Eid Festival—I look forward to attending that again in June this year; Joseph Todaro; Karen Sherry; Louie Josef, from the Chaldean community—Louie is a wonderful supporter of the work that we do and a conduit into the Chaldean community, and I want to thank him for making my job much easier; Thomas Keplar; and Thekla Scarcella. Thekla is one of those wonderful migrant women who has managed—apart from working in factories—to write lots of stories, again indicating that those migrants who came here did have skills other than the ones that were put to use in a factory. So thank you, Thekla, for being who you are.
Thank you to John Patsikatheodorou, Anthony Calfapietra and Upul Chandana, and to Joseph and Sheena Haweil. I want to congratulate Joseph Haweil, in particular, who was recently elected to the Hume City Council. Our council has changed, with lots of young people replacing the old guard, and Joseph is going to do a great job as a local councillor. Thank you to Peter Perna, a stalwart of the Italian community and one of the founding fathers of the Italian club in Sunshine; to Terri McNaughton; and to Chandra Bamunusinghe, who is from the Sri Lankan community—and I look forward to attending their annual oil lamp ceremony in a couple of weeks time, which usually takes place on a very cold morning in April.
I want to thank David Carroll; Cheryl Woods; Peter Ryan; Ted Haydon; Jana Taylor and Geoff Porter, both councillors at Hume City Council; Ray Gorman, an old postie and someone who fought very hard for the rights of post office workers; Ramazan Altintas, who is very well known in the community as the founder of the Turkish RSL Club; John Walsh, the founder of the Bridge of Hope Foundation; Kathleen Wallace; and Saqib Awan and Uzma Rubab, who are members of the newly emerging international Pakistani students community and who are teaching me a whole new world about the thinking and psychology of newer migrants to this country, who come here as international students and choose to stay as residents.
My thanks to Peter Massey and Daniel Grayson. Thank you, Daniel, for being so passionate and caring about refugees. Daniel visits some of the people who have been in our local Melbourne immigration transit centre for a long time. I would also like to thank Richard Donaldson and Sarah Angus; Jess Awad; Sam Caruso; Fatima Hoblos; Yousef Alreemawi; Troy Atanasovski; Burhan Eren; Paskal El Ali, Don Townsend; Janet Curtain—my Janet Curtain, who is an advocate for people with disability. I want to thank her for her brightness, positivity and optimism. I thank Meni Malkos, also a great crusader for animal rights and Amnesty International; George Johnson; and Chris and Despina Havelas, in particular Despina, who established Autism Angels and works hard for children with autism.
I really need to thank my family—my husband, Michalis, and my children, Stavros and Stella—who have been with me on this journey. I know we do not often talk about it, but balancing family life and this job is very, very difficult. My children were six and eight when I came here. They are now adults. I know that we all reflect on how that impacts on our families, but I have a wonderful community that understands that. I can talk to them about it and feel supported, not only by the community but by my family as well. I want to thank them very much.
The member for Calwell has reminded me that family and kids are so important to all of us. The longer you are here, the more you realise that. This is the seventh time that I have risen in this chamber to give a speech in the address-in-reply debate. I am blessed by the continuing support of the good burghers of Melbourne Ports, who have once again entrusted me to be their representative in Canberra.
Election campaigns in winter can be a trial, particularly in Melbourne. The 2016 election was long and difficult. I want to thank all of the people who worked tirelessly on my campaign in Melbourne Ports, led by my valiant wife, Amanda Mendes de Costa; our campaign director, George Droutsas; our office manager, Natalie Gonzalez; staff and numerous volunteers, including Tonya Stevens and Belinda Neal, who specially came down; our stalwart treasurer, Dr Henry Pinskier; state minister Martin Foley; Sylvia Freedman; Ronnie Aseraf; Simon Cosma; Prasad Gunaratna; Simone Kotlyar; John Dyett; Zach Littman; Dean Sherr; Andrew Landeryou; Josh Spiegel; and Ari Suss.To my two kids, Laura Danby and Byron Danby, who stood with me on election day: I am so grateful that you in particular were there at pre-polling and on election day.
I wish to outline two competing visions, which I think is appropriate in this address-in-reply debate. One is of an inclusive Australia, which the Labor Party fights for. It is a vision of Australia where people are free to marry whomever they wish, where workers receive decent pay for the work they do, where home ownership remains a realistic dream for the many, and where minorities have the tools to fight prejudice. This stands in stark contrast to the current government, which is led in name by the member for Wentworth. Its vision of Australia is a return to the 'good old days' pre Malcolm Fraser, where privilege remained concentrated in the hands of the few.
Labor's vision, which I was elected to further, is not universally shared by all of the people in this parliament, particularly in the Senate. I respect the diverse range of views expressed by other parliamentarians, as I do those on Sky News. However, those opposing views should not come at the cost of freedom, livelihood and the happiness of others. We are here to vote on marriage equality, 18C or the Chinese extradition treaty; we should not outsource our views to plebiscites. The purpose of representative democracy is to be here and work as hard for the interests that we represent as we can and, in normal political debates, the answers to these questions will come out if people do that faithfully and with respect for each other.
When it comes to protecting Australians, times have turned for the worse. Since the fall of Saddam, we have seen the failed foreign policies of the Obama administration, in my view, leading to the rise of Daesh. To quote Cato the Elder's famous 'Carthago delenda est' dictum, Daesh must be destroyed. Four hundred great Australian servicemen, the second highest number of people from any country in the world, are in Iraq—together with our people are the Air Force—doing just that.
The problem of Daesh should not be seen through the prism of Middle East affairs. I wanted to look at that issue, because I believe the outpouring of refugees all over the world, including 12,000 were coming here to Australia, is the result of us acquiescing to Putin backing the dictatorship of Assad. Now we have Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia all playing proxy wars in Syria. The men, women and children of Aleppo were subjected to the worst kinds of misery over the last six months of last year. There were no street demonstrations in the street by the Green political party or the socialist alternative. I think it is appalling that such a crime could be committed against 300 people and there be so little protest around the world.
I am very proud to say that my website was the first place in the world where the maps of the concentration camps that exist in North Korea were published. We cannot say that we do not know. We also pay great tribute to Justice Kirby, who led the international campaign to expose North Korea's appalling human rights record. Now their geostrategic is threat not just to the United States' west coast, Japan and South Korea but even to Australia, where their missiles could now hit as far as Darwin. The poor North Koreans, like the people of Tibet, suffer at the hands of an oppressive government. Beijing offers an Orwellian style guarantee of religion, language and customs in a fake constitution to the seven million poor souls of Tibet, who peacefully resist them.
I am proud to sometimes be called the member for lost causes and to stand up for the Muslims of Darfur, who are oppressed by the government; the Baha'is of Iran and many other minorities who need a voice in this parliament, because Australia is such a respected country around the world. To my dismay, the Foreign Minister clings to our faux friendship with Iran. I disagree with nearly everything that President Trump says and stand for, but on this issue he and the American Congress are right: the agreement with Iran remains one of the worst international pacts ever concluded. It provides far too many concessions for those currently in power in Persia. When it launches ballistic missiles, which says it is going to wipe out a member of the international community, our Foreign Minister will not say anything. It is very, very un-Australian and uncharacteristic of Australia's attitude of speaking out on these kinds of things, as other members of the international community do.
We have also seen from this government what can only be characterised as paralysis on the aggression being shown in the South China Sea. We have an international law of the sea, a judgement that is absolutely clear on where international legality stands. The existence of militarised islands in the South China Sea jeopardises 65 per cent of Australian maritime trade and 50 per cent of international trade. I had a very cheeky chairman of the National People's Congress once stand up very recently before the foreign affairs committee and assure me that, despite the fact that China had unilaterally announced that the South China Sea was one of their core interests, Australian ships, Indian ships, Korean ships and Japanese ships could peacefully transit through the South China Sea despite these militarised islands. I said, 'What about navies?' He said, 'Oh, yes, navies too.' I said, 'What about submarines?' He said: 'Oh, yes, submarines too. All they have to do is surface and fly their flags as they transit through the South China Sea.' Well, that is hardly the purpose of the protection that submarines offer and it is an indication of the arrogance that we are facing with this difficult issue.
It being 12 o'clock, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day at a later hour. The member will be given permission to continue his contribution then.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Proceedings suspended from 12:00 to 12:14