Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010
Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. I also wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we call northern Tasmania. I respect elders both past and present, together with their continuing culture and traditions. On 20 February 2008 when I gave my inaugural speech I advised the House that it was indeed both an honour and a privilege for me to wear traditional shell necklaces hand made by Dulcie and Lola Greeno. I am extremely proud to again wear a traditional shell necklace hand made by Dulcie Greeno and to bring Tasmanian Aboriginal culture into this chamber. I am inspired by women like Dulcie Greeno, who continue to be a fountain of virtue and optimism for our society. Dulcie is a woman who understands that a nation that is fully reconciled to its past is one that can go forward with confidence to embrace its future.
The Australian parliament under Prime Minister Rudd’s leadership, together with Minister Macklin, made the formal apology in parliament on 13 February 2008, which will be remembered as a proud day in this nation’s history when, as a nation, we declared that we are ‘sorry’. The word ‘sorry’ holds special meaning in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. In many Aboriginal communities, sorry is an adapted English word used to describe the rituals surrounding death. Sorry in these contexts is also often used to express empathy or sympathy rather than responsibility. Simply saying that you are sorry is a powerful symbol. It is powerful not because it represents some expiation of guilt or any form of legal requirement but simply because it restores respect.
On 24 November 2007 it became evident that the people of Bass were indeed an excellent barometer for the mood of the country. On that day the people of Bass, like the people of the nation, determined to forge a new future for our country and our local communities. In doing so, the people of Bass demonstrated their decency, their belief in the ‘fair go’ not just for themselves but for all Australians. I was elected to this place at a monumental time within Australian politics. The ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign was the most successful union and community campaign in Australian election history. It began when the former Howard government announced sweeping changes to workplace laws that would strip away basic rights at work, including penalty rates, overtime and unfair dismissal protection. As thousands of Australians, including many young workers, began feeling the impact of Work Choices, the campaign grew rapidly into a broad based movement for a fair go. Australians were adamant that they wanted to uphold the Australian way of life and its values that working people hold so dear—a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. ‘Your Rights at Work’ was instrumental in the downfall of the Liberal and National Howard government. ‘Your Rights at Work’ was instrumental in getting me elected to this place. I have no doubt that in decades to come, and when my children’s children look back at Australian political history, historians will refer to the 2007 election as the ‘Rights at Work’ election, an election and a platform that I am so honoured and proud to have been a part of.
I acknowledge the brilliant work of the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. I put on the record my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the union members, to all the working families and to all the workers within my electorate that I had the privilege of meeting and who stood up for the rights of future generations on that November day in 2007. You have a place in my heart forever and you have again instilled in me the principles to fight for what you believe and to never, ever give up.
Those principles are what gave me the determination to fight for the entitlements of the employees in Launceston who were made redundant when Ansett Australia collapsed back in 2001. Let us not forget 400 employees in Launceston, let alone the 16,000 employees across the country. I was part of a collective team who worked solidly for many, many months with the hope of securing what was rightfully due and owing to those employees. On 14 September 2001, the day of the Ansett collapse, employees were entitled to all wages, accrued annual leave, long service leave and redundancy entitlements that had not been paid under the Special Employee Entitlements Scheme for Ansett employees, otherwise known as SEESA. As of 31 March 2010, the scheme has made payments totalling $383.7 million to all of the 13,072 eligible former Ansett employees. This really is fantastic news, as it means that former Ansett employees have now received 100 per cent of the SEESA payments that they were entitled to. Those principles have been with me in this role as the federal member for Bass. Being the 13th member to hold this seat, I feel extremely privileged and incredibly humbled to have been given this opportunity to serve the people of Bass and to represent them and participate in decision making at the highest level of democracy within our country.
When I was elected to this role I wanted to achieve real outcomes for people in areas that mattered. Two of those outcomes hold special significance. The first one involved a local woman, Jo Ryan, and concerned her son, Ben, who has a condition known as fragile X syndrome. Jo came to me as one determined mum, asking for help for funding a weekend respite program so that she could get some much-needed rest and, equally importantly, Ben could attend the weekend program, have a certain degree of independence and socialise with his peers. I will always remember Jo’s words to me that she had worked so hard and put so much time in with Ben that she was not about to let it go to waste. I could see the look of sheer desperation, but I could also see the look of anger in her eyes. For a long while Jo had really been beating her head up against a brick wall without any success at all. After discussions with the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten, funding was received for a weekend respite program, which has made such a positive difference not only to the lives of Jo and Ben but to the lives of many other carers and clients who use the service. Funding for the Youth Break program is due to finish in mid-2011 and I would encourage whoever forms the next government to commit to extending the funding for this vital and necessary program.
I am extremely proud of the work that was completed by the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, in particular the inquiry Who cares … ?: Report on the inquiry into better support for carers. I would like to acknowledge the leadership of my colleague and chair of the committee, Annette Ellis, together with the deputy chair, Judi Moylan. During this inquiry it was incredibly important to hear from the various organisations about their views and strategies in which government could play a role, but it was the evidence from the carers themselves that was just so heartfelt. The committee heard evidence from 1,300 carers across the country, who shared their personal and often distressing experiences with the committee. Often committee members were reduced to tears, having heard about and been faced with the reality of what life for a carer in our society actually means—their real life stories of becoming socially isolated from their peers, disconnected from mainstream employment and themselves suffering greater adverse health outcomes than the general population. Becoming a carer is not a choice. Some people feel that they are thrust into the role without warning. For others, becoming a carer is a more gradual process, though ultimately, equally devastating.
The committee heard loud and clear from carers that they wanted choices—choices for themselves, choices for the people they care for and choices for their families. That is why the announcement made on 23 November last year by Prime Minister Rudd at the National Disability Awards was just so important. The Productivity Commission inquiry into the national disability care and support scheme will seek to clarify what support carers and people with disabilities are entitled to receive. I am proud to be part of a government that takes the role of carers and also people living with a disability seriously. To that end, I would like to acknowledge the work of Minister Macklin, together with the incredible work that the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten, has done by highlighting the dilemma of people with disabilities and their carers.
The other story began with a telephone call that I received from Angela Sheehan, Ward Clerk at the renal unit of the Launceston General Hospital. I could feel the desperation in Angela’s voice as she explained to me that the renal unit, in its then current form, was at full capacity. They needed some assistance and they needed it now. I met with Rose Mace, the Nursing Unit Manager at the LGH, who for many years had been fighting for a new renal satellite unit. Space was so rare at the renal unit that nurses would see patients in Rose’s office, and chronic and well patients were dialysing side by side in an environment that was just totally unsuitable. At times, patients had to cut back on one of their treatments because space was so limited. I worked with Rose and her dedicated team and also with the most amazing people, the patients at the renal unit. Jill Dewis, Robert Wilkinson and Wilma George whom I have the utmost respect for, taught me a great deal when it comes to life on dialysis.
This process took time and I would like to thank the minister for health, Nicola Roxon, together with the Prime Minister, not only for the $15 million but for their genuine interest when it comes to the patients who rely on that technology. I am pleased to say that on 28 January this year I jointly opened stage 1 of the integrated care centre, which is the renal satellite unit. For people like Jill Dewis, Robert Wilkinson and Wilma George who, as I have already said, taught me so much, this renal unit gives them the dignity to access what is a routine procedure in their life outside the hospital environment. As I said earlier, these are two stories that I share with you today; however, there have certainly been many, many more.
I believe the Rudd Labor government has a proud record when it comes to delivering real outcomes for the people of Bass. In health—where in the first instance it was the Whitlam-Barnard Labor government who initially invested in our local hospital, the Launceston General—we see yet again a Labor government investing to the tune of $40 million to create an acute medical and surgical services unit. Again I thank Minister Roxon for her patience—no pun intended of course—for always taking my calls and for seeing me on those early Thursday mornings in her office where we had many constructive conversations.
In education, as I have experienced while attending the opening of the Launceston Church Grammar School junior school library and resource centre and inspecting the construction of the Ravenswood Primary School community hall, the school communities in the Bass electorate have been overwhelmed and so appreciative of the funding that they have received under Building the Education Revolution, which has enabled them to begin their capital works program much earlier than they would ever have expected. The government is connecting the people of Bass to the rest of the world by investing in a National Broadband Network. We will see the community of Scottsdale become one of the first three towns in the country to be connected as early as next month under the Rudd Labor government’s National Broadband Network initiative.
I am proud that, for the first time in Australian history, women on low incomes will have access to paid parental leave, giving them greater financial security when planning to begin a family. I would like to acknowledge the commitment and hard work of Sharan Burrow, President of the ACTU, together with Jennie George who have worked with many others to achieve this incredible result.
I am also proud to be part of a government that has delivered the most significant reforms in the 100-year history of the pension system. Because of this government, these historic reforms delivered for more than 17,000 pensioners in Bass increases of up to $100 per fortnight for singles and up to $74 per fortnight for couples combined.
As I reflect on my time here I am further convinced of the importance of the work that is done in this place. It is important because the people of Bass are important, the people in Tasmania, Australia and indeed our global village are important. International trade, global financial markets and high-speed technologies have connected individuals and communities beyond the borders of their countries. There is a growing awareness with the realisation that individuals, communities, corporations and countries have obligations to one another that are global in reach. In a world with much, it must continuously shock and disturb us that so many have so little. The fact is that we need to engineer opportunities for those who are economically underprivileged.
The Millennium Development Goals paint a vision of a better world—a world where poverty is halved by the year 2015. I am proud to be part of a government that prioritises the poor and the Millennium Development Goals. This year’s federal budget saw an increase of $530 million in overseas aid and I look forward with anticipation to when our aid budget reaches 0.7 per cent, which will effectively result in 220,000 lives being saved every year.
The young people of Bass have been particularly inspiring concerning the MDGs. A young student from Launceston College, Laura Sykes, has recently lobbied the Launceston City Council to become a fair-trade-certified council and succeeded. Young people understand the global injustices, question our belief in equality and justice and are active in raising a voice for those that have no voice. In doing so, the people of Bass demonstrate their decency and their belief in the fair go, not just for themselves as Australians but indeed for themselves as global citizens.
Together with my colleagues it has always been my intention to make a difference. I chose the Labor movement because of what it represents—a movement that has always sought to act with a moral seriousness, a commitment to social justice and an ideology that is on par with my principles and beliefs. It has been my intention from day one to bring to the team all my energy, patience, skill and compassion, and I believe I have done this. I am extremely pleased that the Labor Party in Bass has a strong and dedicated candidate in Geoff Lyons. Geoff brings to this role a commitment to his community that is second to none, holding 34 voluntary positions on committees. Geoff has my total support and will be an effective and dedicated federal member for Bass who represents the interests of his constituents.
Of course, there are people I dearly wish to thank. To the people of Bass, a hard-working and resilient community, I thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in federal parliament. To my parliamentary colleagues who have given me much support and encouragement, I say thank you. I have forged some great friendships and value them greatly. I also value the great working relationships I have had with political staffers. Thank you to my ALP colleagues in my home state of Tasmania, together with party members who work so incredibly hard from election to election. With Senator Helen Polley, duty Senator for Bass, and with her staff, my office has enjoyed a great working relationship. To Karl Bitar I want to put on the record my sincere thanks for his advice and support. To those on the opposite side of the chamber, clearly our political views differ. However, I believe we have the same determination, which is to make a difference to the lives of others.
To the most wonderful staff here at Parliament House—the attendants, security and, may I say, the Comcar drivers who keep us all incredibly sane and safe, and to my dear friend Patti Wilkins for giving me a truly wonderful home to return to after a busy day here in parliament—just amazing—I say thank you. To Anne Marie Wilcock, thank you for your friendship and allowing me, at times, to vent my frustrations and feelings. To my staff—and some are here this afternoon—to Gemma, Ben, Lauren, Gordon, Steph, Michelle and Terri, an amazing team for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, a group of people who have shown me such loyalty and trust, I thank you all for always working so incredibly hard in helping the constituents who walked through our door. In particular, I would like to thank you, Gemma, as you have been with me right from the beginning of this journey.
To the most gorgeous Emma Brindley, who is also here today—who would have thought when I gave my inaugural speech in this House that you would be sitting in the chamber listening. We were indeed strangers at that point. However, as events unfolded, you moved from Sydney to Launceston to lead the team in the Bass office. You became someone in whom I could confide and whom I could trust and whose loyalty I so appreciate. You were able to make people see things a whole lot clearer than I ever could, and that certainly was not from a lack of trying on my part. For that, Emma, I thank you. You are now back in Sydney with your fiance, Tim, and whilst you are clearly now not working for me, what I do have is a lifelong friend in you.
To my offshore advisers, Margaret and Terri Brindley, and of course the lovely Nanny Flo, thank you for your kindness, friendship, wise counsel and, may I say, humour. To my dear friends Sophie, Matt and Ava, Steph, Ben, Oliver, Xavier and Indigo, Genevieve, Steve and Felix, Maxine, George, Pippa and Hugh, Fiona, Peter, Shanelle and Samara, Jake, Michael, Joy, Darlene, Graham, Alyssa, Holly and Sophie, thank you all for your friendship and for always being there for the girls and for me.
This position has made me realise the importance of family. To my sisters: at times you yourselves were, I am sure, under scrutiny because of my position. I thank you for your patience.
My mother passed away only recently. I have learnt in recent times that I certainly have my mother’s passion for music together with, at times, her feistiness and resilience. As my sister said at her funeral, she was most proud of a photo that had pride of place in her home—a picture of her, me and the Prime Minister. She was a nan whom both of my girls adored.
To my dearest Alex: you have always had this amazing ability to put light and colour into my life. We have always been able to make one another smile; however, it took us a little while to realise this. I have the utmost respect for the work that you choose, which is to improve the lives of people living with a disability. You most certainly make an incredible difference. I thank you for all of your support, for being there and for showing me an incredible part of our island, Arthur River.
Of course then there are my two beautiful and clever daughters: Sommer and Izabella. You have both travelled this political journey with me—from the campaign trail wearing orange T-shirts and handing out balloons to sitting through your first question time, when you were both very disappointed that you were not able to wear your Kevin 07 T-shirts. It was to my amusement when Sommer told me after question time that she thought everyone was acting like monkeys. Well, I could hardly argue with that. I am looking forward to spending more time with you both and enjoying the simple things in life that we enjoy together.
I would like to take this opportunity also to thank the many people across this country, together with my parliamentary colleagues, for the support I received last year. It was absolutely overwhelming. I must say a special thank you to Roger Price, who not only gave me a great deal of support but gave support to my staff. I would like to thank and acknowledge Corri McKenzie and Fiona Sugden from the Prime Minister’s office, together with Andrew Harris.
The most difficult thing that I have gone through being a member of parliament is having my private life become a public affair. I certainly understand that there is a need to look at court processes; however, I do believe that there needs to be a reporting environment that draws the balance between reporting information that is relevant and having the journalistic integrity so as not to add to the burden.
I have always been a person who has been able to advocate for myself. Now, after going through that period of time in my life, I most certainly understand and relate to women who have been on a similar journey. It is so incredibly important that women are able to access legal services and to have the support they need and that processes are explained to them clearly and precisely.
I am pleased that, in the 2010-11 budget, $154 million has been allocated over four years to enhance access to justice to legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Indigenous legal services. This will provide support for women who require legal assistance to deal with domestic violence. I am also aware that the government is in the final stages of the development of a national plan to reduce violence against women, and I await that report with anticipation. To that end, I would like to acknowledge the work of Minister Plibersek in her role as the Minister for the Status of Women. I would like to personally thank her for her support.
Again I say that I have been extremely humbled to represent the Bass community. I have learnt much from my time here in this House, knowledge that I will take away with me on my next journey. I leave this role knowing that I have achieved a great deal for my community in a short period of time and of that I am extremely proud. I have no doubt in my mind that Bass will always be best served under a Labor government. I will continue to advocate for the party and its principles that brought me to this place.