Monday, 18 October 2010
Debate resumed on the proposed address-in-reply to the speech of Her Excellency the Governor-General—
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, express our loyalty to the Sovereign, and thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to the Parliament—
on motion by Ms O’Neill:
That the Address be agreed to.
Continuing with the statements of Richard Tol, he says, ‘Very stringent targets may be very costly, however, or even infeasible.’ Professor Tol goes on to say, ‘The science of the uncertainty around the effects of climate change is a political decision.’ However, he says, ‘one should keep in mind that there is a history of exaggeration in the study of climate change impacts’. He goes on to list them:
Early research pointed to massive sea level rises, millions dying from infectious diseases and widespread starvation. Later, more careful research has dispelled these fears.
The ‘price on carbon’ crew have been banging away for some time now, without much challenge, but, as per the need, the economics of climate change is coming to the fore. Again IPCC author Richard Tol found that trying to keep global temperature increases less than 2 degrees Centigrade, as the G8 industrialised nations have promised, would require carbon emissions reductions of about 80 per cent by mid-century, according to IPCC modelling. Based on conventional estimates, this would avoid climate damages of about $US1.1 trillion over the century. But it would cut economic growth by about $US40 trillion a year. In other words, we would effectively be spending $US40 trillion every year from now until the end of the century to do just over $US1 trillion worth of total good. This is in fact widely optimistic. The calculation assumes that over 100 years politicians everywhere will consistently enact the most efficient, effective laws possible to reduce carbon emissions. Dump that far-fetched assumption and the cost could jump by a factor of 10 or even 100.
The carbon price stance is now outdated. Either the Labor government will not back down on a price on carbon simply to appease the Greens, or they simply have not read the evolving literature. May I suggest that investing in advanced technology is a far smarter alternative. Devoting just 0.2 per cent of global GDP, about $US100 billion, a year to advanced energy R&D would produce the kind of factor multiplication that could fuel a carbon-free future. The old Labor adage of acting now to avoid climate change seems a moot point, as it was Ms Gillard who said ‘delay is denial’, then implemented this climate change commission. If we are going to wait and see what is the best way to tackle climate change, maybe actually moving forward to intelligent discussion and viable solutions may be the best way. Also the inclusion of those who do not believe a price on carbon is the best way forward for the climate change commission may actually engender far better outcomes. As it stands, Labor and the Greens are putting together a. climate change Kumbaya which can only have one outcome, a price on carbon. How about we do not just act for acting’s sake. Let us look at the literature on climate change economics and keep emotion out of it.
On the government’s NBN network, forgive me for quoting so heavily but Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s richest man and head of Mexican telcos Telmex, Telcel and America Movil, gave the NBN the big thumbs-down. He said the NBN ‘seems expensive’ at $43 billion dollars, and he was obviously being diplomatic. He went on to say that it is not necessary to invest so much money, because technology is changing all the time, and paying $7,000 a home to connect about six million homes was too expensive. But wait, there is more—he criticised the reliance of the project on fibre, emphasising the need for wireless services. He said:
You need to have a multi-platform of everything: mobile, landline, fibre, cable and copper. You need to have all these. You need to have a very good fibre network and rings and you need to have a loop of fibre to sustain when you have a problem in one place that the communications don’t get interrupted. But with copper and cable you can give 20 or 30 MhZ. I think fibre is not enough. You need to have a good network of wireless.
So the best option is clear: a forward looking wireless network which doesn’t cost the world, or a technological dinosaur, which the NBN will likely be when finally built, that costs the average Australian far too much money. I am all for advancing technology, I am all for new technology. The casemix of technologies must be part fibre, part wireless, part satellite and part whatever new technologies emerge.
I implore the government to respect the public purse. The Labor Party has this strange theory that they saved us from the global financial crisis, and this gives them the right to do what they like with the public purse. They like to take a global view—hence the ‘global financial crisis’—but if you look at all the countries that engaged in stimulus payments, they are pretty much all struggling economically under crushing public debt. Let us also not ignore that these same countries stimulated at much higher rates of GDP than Australia. If you look at the economic health of nations around the world who made stimulus payments, would you really say that stimulus was such a success? I do not think so. So, given the size of Australia’s stimulus packages relative to global packages and the size of the debt that stimulus has created worldwide, is the Labor government really comfortable in claiming victory for their Keynesian dream world when the world experience of stimulus packages has been so much different? I think we should look at a combination of factors that kept Australia out of recession and not one factor that may or may not have made a difference and is now certainly adding to the inflationary pressures in our economy.
I also wish to acknowledge my new parliamentary colleague Ken Wyatt. No matter what your age, gender or heritage, it is an honour and privilege of the highest order to be elected as a member of parliament in Australia. However, as Ken is the first Indigenous Australian elected to the House of Representatives, I could not be more proud of him and the party he and I are part of. I wish him all the best and I know he will be a great leader in his electorate to his Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi people and to all Australians.
Native title and Indigenous issues will also be an important focus for me in this next term and I will be discussing these issues at far greater length in the near future. Other particular focus areas for me in this term will be science, energy, defence, education, economics and communications, subjects about which I will be speaking and writing in detail in this term of parliament.
It is hard to imagine a greater honour than to represent your friends and neighbours in our national parliament. Each of us brings to this place the hopes and dreams of the people who chose us. I am keenly aware of both the incredible opportunity the people of Fraser have bestowed on me and the very great responsibility to them which that opportunity entails.
Let me begin by telling you about my electorate of Fraser and the city of Canberra, in which it lies. Fraser rests on the right bank of the Molonglo River, stretching north from the office blocks of Civic to the young suburbs of Bonner and Forde in the ACT’s northernmost tip. Because the leaders at the time decided that a capital city must have its own port, the electorate of Fraser also includes the Jervis Bay territory, which is home to a diverse community and a school where kangaroos graze on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
In the electorate of Fraser some locations carry the names given to them by the traditional Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, who used what is now modern-day Canberra to hold their corroborees and feast on bogong moths. Other suburbs are named after Australia’s great political leaders. For the people of Canberra, a nation’s proud history is embodied in our local geography.
Thanks to far-sighted decisions by generations of planners, Canberra’s hills are largely undeveloped. This means that many residents have the pleasure of looking up from a suburban street to see a hill covered in gum trees. From the Pinnacles to Mount Majura and from the Aranda bushlands to Black Mountain our city’s natural environment offers ample opportunities to exercise the body and to soothe the soul. Economists like me are trained to believe in markets as the best route to environmental protection, and I do. But I also know that smart policy will only succeed if there is a will for action, if we believe in our hearts that we cannot enjoy the good life without a healthy planet.
As vital as our natural environment is, so are the social ties that bind us together. In an era when Australians are becoming disconnected from one another, Canberra has some of the highest rates of civic engagement in the nation. Canberrans are more generous with our time and money, are more likely to play sport with our mates and are more inclined to participate in cultural activities. Part of the reason for this is that we spend less time in the car than most other Australians. But I suspect it also has something to do with the design of Canberra’s suburbs.
During my time in this parliament I will strive to strengthen community life, not only in Canberra but across Australia. In doing so I hope to follow in the footsteps of my grandparents, who were people of modest means who believed that a life of serving others was a life well lived. My paternal grandfather, Keith Leigh, was a Methodist minister who died of hypothermia while running up Mount Wellington in Hobart. It was October and the mountain was covered in snow, as it is today. Keith was 59 years old and was doing the run to raise money for overseas aid.
My mother’s parents were a boilermaker and a teacher who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in the house it should be used by someone who needed the space. As a child I remember eating at their home with Indigenous families and new migrants from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. That early experience informs my lifelong passion for Australia’s multiculturalism. With a quarter of our population born overseas, Australia has a long tradition of welcoming new migrants into our midst. Earlier this year I attended a prize-giving ceremony for an art competition run as part of Refugee Week. First prize went to a Karen-Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. Because she did not have a proper loom the woman had taken the mattress off her bed and fashioned a loom from her pine bed base. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the courage and spirit of Australia’s migrants.
Near my home in Hackett, the local cafe is run by the three sons of James Savoulidis, a Greek entrepreneur who in 1966 opened the first pizzeria in Canberra and taught Gough Whitlam to dance the zorba a few years later. Elsewhere in the Fraser electorate you can enjoy Ethiopian in Dickson, Indian in Gungahlin, Chinese in Campbell, Vietnamese in O’Connor or Turkish in Jamison. Canberrans who are called to worship can choose among their local church, temple, synagogue or mosque. And yet I have never heard a murmur from my religious friends about the fact that the local ABC radio station broadcasts on the frequency 666.
My views on diversity and difference were also shaped by spending several years of my childhood in Malaysia and Indonesia. Sitting in my primary school in Banda Aceh I learned what it feels like to be the only person in the room with white skin. As I moved through seven different primary schools I got a sense of how it feels to be an outsider and the importance of making our institutions as inclusive as possible. Clearly the experience did not scar me too much, because at 38 I have spent more than half my life in formal education. Sitting in Judith Anderson’s high school English class, I learned to treasure the insights into the human condition that come from the great storytellers—the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, George Orwell and Les Murray, Leo Tolstoy and Tim Winton. Studying law, I learned that open government, judicial independence and equal justice are principles worth fighting for. Picking my way through the snowdrifts to attend Harvard seminars with Christopher Jencks, I came to appreciate the importance of rigorously testing your ideas and the power of tools such as randomised policy trials, a topic about which members can be assured I will speak more during my time in this place.
In the decades ahead, education will be the mainspring of Australia’s economic success. Great child care, schools, technical colleges and universities are the most effective way to raise productivity and living standards. Improving education is also smart social policy. First-rate schooling is the best antipoverty vaccine we have yet developed. Great teachers can light a spark of vitality in children—a self-belief and a passion for hard work that will burn bright for the rest of their lives.
As an economist, much of my research has been devoted to the vast challenges of reducing poverty and disadvantage. I believe that rising inequality strains the social fabric. Too much inequality cleaves us one from another: occupying different suburbs, using different services and losing a sense of shared purpose. Anyone who believes in egalitarianism as the animating spirit for the Australian settlement should recoil at this vision of our future.
My research has also taught me that good intentions are not enough. As a professor turned politician, one of my role models is the late, great US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan was innately sceptical about every social policy solution presented to him. Indeed, his starting point was to expect that any given social policy would have no measurable effect. But these high standards did not make him any less of an idealist, and Moynihan never lost his optimism and passion. What we need in Australian policy today is not more ideologues convinced that their prescriptions are the answer but modest reformers willing to try new solutions and discover whether they actually deliver results.
This spirit of optimistic experimentation has deep roots in our nation. Manning Clark once said that Australia was an experiment for the multiple faiths of the Holy Spirit, the Enlightenment and a new Britannia. So you get the sense that in these early days the Australian project was one of expansiveness, enlargement and possibility, where people were prepared to take risks and try new ideas in an effort to show that in Australia we did things differently and better than anywhere else around the world. This Australian project is not finished. It is not something that stopped with the end of the First World War or with the death of Ben Chifley. All of us, as today’s Australians, are the custodians of this project, a project that stretches back over generations and centuries and binds all Australians—past, present and future—together in this greater cause.
It is like the red sand that Gough Whitlam poured into the hands of the great Gurindji elder, Vincent Lingiari, who declared: ‘We are all mates now.’ We have a responsibility to make sure that the Australian project, for the time that it rests in our hands, is advanced and continued. To me, the Australian project is about encouraging economic growth while ensuring that its benefits are shared across the community. It is about making sure that all Australians have great public services regardless of ethnicity, income or postcode. And it is about recognising that governments have a role in expanding opportunities, because no child gets to choose the circumstances of their birth.
Internationally, the Australian project will always be one of principled engagement. Australia’s influence overseas will always rely on the power of our values. A respect for universal human rights and a passion for raising living standards should guide the work of our military and our diplomats, our aid workers and our trade negotiators. In the shadows of World War II, Australia helped create the United Nations, guided by a belief that all countries had to be involved if we were to create a more peaceful and prosperous world. That ideal must continue to inform how we engage with the rest of the world.
Another important part of the Australian project has been democratic innovation. What we call a secret ballot is elsewhere termed the Australian ballot. We introduced female suffrage a generation before many other nations did. We made voting compulsory, recognising that with rights come responsibilities. Yet, for all this innovation, Australians have increasingly become disenchanted with their elected representatives. The problem has many sources: the rowdiness of question time, too much focus by the commentariat on tactics rather than ideas, and a tendency to oversimplify problems and oversell solutions.
I hope to help rebuild a sense of trust between citizens and politicians. It starts with respect and a recognition that we can disagree without being disagreeable. Working as an associate to Justice Michael Kirby taught me that intellect and compassion together are a powerful force for change. Admit that most choices are tough, listen to others, be flexible and remember that the fire in your belly does not prevent you from wearing a smile on your face.
Australian politics is not a war between good parties and evil parties. At its best, it is a contest of ideas between decent people who are committed to representing their local communities. I am happy to count among my friends people on both sides of this House. I am sure some of those friends will be happy to know that I do not plan to name them today. That said, choosing between the parties has never been an issue for me. I was born in the year when Gough Whitlam won office. When my mother’s pregnancy reached the nine-month mark she pinned an ‘It’s time’ badge onto the part of her shirt that covered her belly.
It is a true honour to serve as a Labor representative today alongside so many capable and talented individuals. Thank you to those who have given me advice already. There is much more I have to learn from each of you. In the Labor pantheon the parliamentarians I most admire are those who have recognised that new challenges demand fresh responses. Among these I count John Curtin and Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Button, Lindsay Tanner and Gareth Evans. For each of these men their ideals and values were their guiding light yet their proposals were as flexible and innovative as the situation demanded. I also had the privilege to work briefly as trade adviser to the late Senator Peter Cook. Peter was an instinctive internationalist as keen to chat with a visiting Chinese delegation as to swap stories with the Argentinean ambassador. He believed in ideas, enthusiastically working to persuade colleagues that anyone who cared about poverty should believe in free trade. Peter passed away in 2005—far too early. I wish he were with us today.
I also count among my role models two former members for Fraser. As a 16-year-old, I came to Canberra to volunteer for John Langmore and was struck by the depth of his principles and the breadth of his knowledge. Never did I imagine that one day I would succeed him. My immediate predecessor is Bob McMullan. Over two decades in federal parliament the people of the ACT supported Bob for being a superb parliamentarian and because they were proud to have on their home turf a true statesman who embodied every day the best of what politics can be. I acknowledge Bob and all those elected by the people of Fraser before him. Their service has set a high bar.
As elected representatives one of our most important jobs is to speak out on behalf of those who struggle to have their voices heard. The Labor Party has a proud tradition of defending individual liberties. Past Labor governments outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender or race. This Labor government has removed from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples and strengthened disability discrimination laws. And all Labor governments strive to protect the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. Our party also stands firmly committed to democratic reform, including the simple-yet-powerful notion that every Australian child should be able to aspire to be our head of state.
The Labor Party today stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are the party that believes in egalitarianism—that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine. But what is sometimes overlooked is that we are also the party that believes in liberalism—that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. The modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.
Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community. As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:
… a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.
A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in this parliament today he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party—and, given the numbers in today’s parliament, I am sure my colleagues would welcome his vote!
For my own part, I would not be here without the support of the Australian Labor Party—Australia’s oldest and greatest political party —and the broader trade union movement. Ours is a party that believes in the power of collective action. When the goal is just and we are one, our movement and our party are unstoppable. On a more personal level, I would also not be here without the bevy of volunteers who doorknocked, staffed street stalls and handed out on polling day. Let me thank all of those who worked with me on this campaign and gave up vast amounts of their time for a cause greater than any of us. Thank you also to my staff, who make me proud to walk into the office each day. I am deeply touched that so many friends, staff and supporters are here in the galleries to share this special day with me.
Let me also acknowledge and express my love for my parents Barbara and Michael, who instilled in my brother Timothy and me the simple values that guide us today: Be curious. Help others. Laugh often. I hope that I can be as good a parent to my two sons, Sebastian and Theodore, as you have been to me. To my extraordinary wife, Gweneth, who left her home state of Pennsylvania for the unknowns of Australia: no matter how chaotic our lives become, you will always be the fixed point that puts everything else into perspective. In the words of John Donne, writing four hundred years ago to the love of his life:
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
Finally, to the people who sent me here, the voters of Fraser: with the exception only of the neighbouring federal seat of Canberra, more votes were cast in Fraser than in any other electorate in Australia, and I am keenly aware both of the deep and diverse needs of our seat and of the great trust and confidence Fraser’s voters have placed in me. To them I express my enormous gratitude for the honour they have given me of representing them in our nation’s Parliament. And to them I make this pledge to do my utmost always: to represent their interests to the very best of my abilities, to remember always that their support for me is not my entitlement but their precious gift, and to ensure that, in their name, I make Fraser’s contribution to securing a better, fairer, more prosperous and more just future for our great nation.
Mr Speaker, I am absolutely humbled, honoured and grateful to be standing before you as the newly elected member for Solomon. I thank the electorate of Solomon for the opportunity to represent them in this place.
This 43rd Parliament celebrates a number of firsts, including the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, my friend Ken Wyatt, and the youngest member of parliament, Wyatt Roy. It seems strange to me that in 2010 the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives has just been elected, given that, living in Solomon and the Northern Territory, the influence of the first Australians and, in particular, the Larakia people is substantial. Being exposed to, understanding and accepting the cultural beliefs and needs means that we are much more accepting of the different multicultural make-up of the seat of Solomon and, indeed, the Northern Territory.
Mr Speaker, I stand before you as the first female member for Solomon and the first female member of the House of Representatives from the Northern Territory. In years to come, historians will marvel at the number of historical milestones achieved in this very interesting 43rd Parliament.
My electorate of Solomon is, in my mind, a true tropical paradise—and that is why we get colds when we come to Canberra. The electorate is named after Vaiben Louis Solomon, who has been described as one of the Northern Territory’s founding fathers of Federation. Solomon covers an area of approximately 337 square kilometres and includes the cities of Palmerston and Darwin. I said Palmerston first because I used to be the Deputy Mayor of Palmerston. I believe it is one of the most multicultural communities in Australia and a place that embraced multiculturalism well before it became an accepted feature of everyday Australia.
The key industries in my electorate include tourism, mining, horticulture and fishing. Coupled with this, we have a historical link with Defence that not only has helped shape our history in Solomon but also drives our economy on a daily basis. The men and women of the defence forces and their families who live and work on the various bases are important in the social fabric of Solomon. With a population of around 90,000 people, in some instances Darwin city and its surrounds still have that country town feel. This is one of the most endearing qualities of the electorate. It means we place a high value on human existence, our environment and the sense of community spirit. People can walk down the street of Solomon and share a smile with a complete stranger. I have been doing that here in Canberra, but I do not get the same reaction. All too often I hear the story of the person who came for two years and stayed for 20. My own parents are an example of this. They went to the Territory for six months in 1968 and 42 years later they are still there.
While there are so many positive attributes to the electorate, there are a number of key concerns that inhibit its potential. One such concern is housing, not only the cost of housing to rent or purchase but also the lack of houses available. In fact, we are experiencing the worst housing crisis in the Territory’s history. Currently, the median rental price in Solomon is $550 per week. Many families are finding it difficult to make ends meet. In fact, during the election campaign I became aware of people who in many cases had full-time jobs but had to resort to sleeping in their cars because they could not afford or find a home in Solomon.
I see a convergence of issues that have conspired to impact. However, the single underlying issue falls at the feet of the very people in the Northern Territory who are responsible for land release—that is, the Henderson Labor government. The Henderson Labor government has failed Territorians by being too slow in releasing land for development, and when it does it wants to cash in at the expense of the buyers. Put simply, when the Northern Territory government demands a premium over and above the value of the land and the developers’ profit, the unnecessarily inflated cost for house and land packages is driven beyond the reach of the average first home buyer. I need only look to my son Aaron and his fiancee Amy to see how great the challenge is for young Territorians to be a first time owner. I have no doubt the type of assistance and intervention my husband Paul and I provided is typical of the depths that families are going to in order to help their children move forward in their lives.
Homeownership should not be a pipedream. Australia is prosperous. It is prosperous enough for everyone to have the aspiration to own the dwelling they occupy, but we are seeing an imbalance between supply and demand and, despite the spin otherwise, I do not believe a median home price in Solomon of $555,000 is reasonable. The cost of housing, housing affordability and the general living costs associated with being in the Territory have a flow-on effect beyond homeownership. It impacts the ability of business to attract and retain staff and everyday Territorians to go about their day-to-day lives. Housing is a fundamental that intersects across a range of areas and it is an underlying problem in the Northern Territory and indeed the seat of Solomon.
This is why throughout my campaign I fought so strongly to save 395 houses owned by defence that were scheduled to be demolished because they were no longer needed. It does not make sense to me that in the middle of a housing crisis brought on by the inactions of our Henderson Labor government, consideration could even be given to demolishing these houses, especially given that in some cases these houses are only 10 years old or at least were renovated 10 years ago. Now fortunately, after much lobbying, those on the other side did listen and these houses are no longer scheduled to be demolished. However, nearly 150 of them remain vacant in the middle of our worst ever housing crisis. One important factor overlooked is that these houses are part of the community and while they sit there vacant it impacts on the local businesses and the local school. Ludmilla Primary School is a landmark on Bagot Road and will be affected by any non-use of these houses as 25 per cent of the school population is from defence families. I will, as the member for Solomon, maintain the pressure so that these houses can be kept and utilised for all Territorians. I am sorry, Member for Lingiari, but I am going to continue to push this. I do not accept that we should simply shrug our shoulders and view that this is all too hard.
Opposition members interjecting—
He is a fellow Territorian! I call on the Gillard Labor government and the Henderson Territory government to start to exercise the most basic of common sense and make these houses available to Territorians now. I ask this place to support me in delivering more affordable housing in the seat of Solomon not only for the current crop of Territorians but for future generations. Over the coming months you will discover my deep desire to keep the issue at the forefront. The Rudd-Gillard government promised 1,200 affordable homes way back in 2007 and reannounced the same promise in 2010. To date there have been none delivered. Nothing is more affordable than talk.
The Darwin Harbour is a pivotal aspect of the seat of Solomon. It is a hub for industry, it is a hub for trade and it is a hub for recreation. Darwin Harbour is 2½ times the size of Sydney Harbour and it is an important cog in the environmental wheel. During the course of the federal election I promised to pursue $2 million for an engineering and implementation study to avoid further pollution of our harbour. We cannot allow it to be a dumping ground for pollution, including raw sewage, and we should do everything we can within our power to see that this harbour is protected. Darwin’s importance as a transport hub for sea, air, rail and road will grow due to the increased exploration of gas and petroleum in the nearby Timor Sea and also with Australia’s continued expansion in trade with Asia and the rest of the world. In his maiden speech in February 1976, then Northern Territory senator Bernie Kilgariff had this to say about industry in the Northern Territory:
We must make it attractive to overseas companies to come to Australia with their know how and equipment—companies which will put the necessary finance into such projects for the good of Australia, with Australian participation and control.
The vision remains the same some 30-plus years later but we cannot cut corners to deliver the workability and we should not cut our environmental responsibility in order to deliver that workability. There has to be a balance and there has to be a plan. There is a long-term need for a state-of-the-art sewage treatment and recycling facility in my electorate. Our proposed engineering and implementation study will assist in developing that map forward.
The wellbeing of Territorians can be linked to the environment within which the people of Solomon live, and during this term I will continue to make representation about the delivery of health services to my constituents. As one of the fastest growing capital cities in Australia we face major challenges in providing the necessary infrastructure, health and community services to attract and retain people and to continue to grow our local and national economy. The health of the people of Solomon is at the forefront of my concern. The new paradigm has delivered increased health funding for regional centres in return for parliamentary support. Now I live in a region, and so it is my intention as the member for Solomon to ensure that the Northern Territory, as a region, gets its fair share of the funding.
During the course of the election campaign the coalition promised a positron emission tomography scanner, or a PET scanner, in my electorate. I foreshadow that I will be pursuing funding for this very important scanner. Why is it in 2010 that the people of a city the size of Darwin should have to fly interstate to use such services? This is the type of healthcare need that has been neglected, sadly, by Labor. I share the level of frustration of some of the Independents and some of my other colleagues who have to fight for these services when other constituencies take them for granted.
Let me also indicate to this place that I am committed to the improvement of mental health services in not only the Northern Territory but Australia. I agree with Patrick McGorry that the coalition’s $1.5 billion mental health policy is outstanding. In the spirit of this parliament I want to see members embrace this policy for the good of all Australians. I announce today my own personal efforts in support of mental health services with a $3,000 annual scholarship from my electoral allowance to go to a student studying mental health in my electorate of Solomon. Let me foreshadow that during my time in this place I will be making the case for a major medical facility to service the growth of my electorate, the neighbouring rural suburbs, including the future city of Weddell, and the neighbouring electorate of Lingiari.
The Charles Darwin University is not only my alma mater, the institution in which I completed my undergraduate qualification, but also a key organisation within my electorate and a critical part of the future prosperity of the Northern Territory. The university is experiencing strong growth in both vocational education and training and higher education programs, with a vision to increase student numbers by almost 50 per cent over the next five years from its current level of 22,000 students. I look forward to the opening of the new health and medical teaching and research facilities at the university in the coming months. I believe that the university is in very safe hands under the strong leadership of Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover.
While on education, I will turn to Indigenous education. In 2008 the Australian Labor Party introduced a policy change that resulted in the loss of a significant amount of funding to Indigenous students. In the case of Kormilda College in my electorate it represented $600,000 worth of funding in 2010 that was specifically aimed at supporting Indigenous students to access and achieve success in secondary education. The loss of funding has resulted in the loss of four Indigenous support workers at Kormilda College but, worse still, has reduced the capacity of schools like Kormilda, who are fighting the real battles in Indigenous education, to support students who want to learn. In the closing stages of the recent election campaign the Gillard government released a press statement promising to resolve the issue by funding remote students at the remote rate regardless of where they attended school, but only if the Gillard government was returned to power. Even if it is with a minority, the Gillard government has been returned. I am advised that so far the minister has not responded to the representations from Kormilda College. So I join Kormilda College in asking the minister: when will this matter be corrected? Where is this money?
In the scheme of political campaigning, the Gillard government was active in Solomon, sandbagging a marginal seat. Two commitments in particular stand out. The first was to the Jingili BMX Club, who were promised $1 million to put a roof over the track at Marrara. I ask the government: when will you deliver the roof for the Jingili BMX Club? The second commitment was made by the Prime Minister herself, promising the Marrara Hockey Centre new turf. Hockey is one of the Territory’s greatest sporting success stories, and that is always good in an election campaign. We currently have two players in the Australian men’s team, Des Abbott and Joel Carroll, who won gold at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi, with a third, goalkeeper Leon Haywood, in the Australian development squad. I ask the Gillard government: when will you be delivering the new turf for the Marrara Hockey Centre?
Let me now move to the characteristics and values that drive and shape me. In my life I have been fortunate to meet a number of people who have defeated the odds with their can-do attitude and who have let nothing hold them back—and nor should it. I share now that I have been influenced specifically by two special people who have overcome the odds to achieve what I deem greatness. The first is Tahnee Afuhaamango. Probably not many of you would have heard about her. She is a world champion swimmer. I understand she is the first person in the world with Down syndrome to be included in an institute of sport program. She is currently in Taiwan defending her world title at the Down syndrome world championships. She inspires me with her tenacity and drive and I wish her all the very best of luck because she is a true champion and I am proud of her.
The second is Raymond Roach. I met Ray in 1992 through Riding for the Disabled. He was not supposed to live past the age of five. Last Friday he turned 35. He also recently won Darwin’s version of Dancing with the Stars. We call it ‘Dancing with the celebrities’, and it is a major fundraiser for Total Recreation, who support people with disabilities. When Raymond won ‘Dancing with the celebrities’ you would have thought he had won the lottery. He has been participating in this fundraising event for a number of years and every year he improves, he works harder and he learns more steps. His absolute determination and tenacity was rewarded by winning with his celebrity partner, Lisa Pellegrino.
In many respects Tahnee and Raymond represent my simple belief in a hand up, not a handout, and certainly my belief in working hard, in being tenacious, determined and courageous and in never giving up. I believe in being the best you can be and giving everyone a fair and equal chance at achieving their best. I certainly believe in the Northern Territory, my home of 41 years. I know I do not look that old! I believe in its potential and the opportunity to make it even better.
I believe there is nothing better than your family to bring you back down to earth. I am fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive family who have always been there for me no matter what the endeavour or the challenge. Some of my family are up there in the gallery, including my magnificent mother, Sandra. She will never, ever admit that I am her favourite daughter. It does not matter how many times I tell her; she will not admit it, particularly now that my sister is sitting up there as well! My mother has taught me that anything is possible. There is my gorgeous husband, Paul—the love of my life—who has always been there and is my rock. There is my youngest sister Nicole, who will probably wave her hand and always makes me smile. There is my favourite cousin, Ronnie, who has come from Deniliquin, and his darling wife, Glenys. Unfortunately the rest of my fabulous family—namely my dad, Ian; my son, Aaron; my brother, Andrew; my sister Sonja; my sister-in-law, Sandy; and my brother-in-law, Mark—could not be here. However, technology is such that I am sure they are watching over the net. Hi, guys!
During my nine-month campaign I was supported by such a wonderful, committed group of people. I am sorry that I will not be able to name them all, but they know that I am very grateful to them. But I would like to give special thanks to a few people. I thank my campaign director, Alison Penfold, who is also up there in the gallery and who campaigned with me for the nine months. She—like my leader, Tony Abbott—did not sleep much during the campaign. Alison is a true political tragic and a driven individual. I thank her for her support and her wisdom. To Senator Scullion over there: thank you to you and your team and thank you for being here. Daniel Gannon, who looked after my media, is another driven person who made it look easy, and I thank him. To the countless volunteers who drove campaign cars or joined me doorknocking, at the markets or at booths or handed out pamphlets and how-to-vote cards: I thank you. To the Country Liberals: I thank you for giving me your faith and support.
I must also thank the Leader of the Opposition in the Northern Territory, Terry Mills, and the members of his parliamentary team: Mr Dave Tollner, who was the first member for Solomon, Mr Peter Chandler and my local member, Ross Bohlin, John Elferink, Peter Styles and Willem Westra van Holthe. I thank the many federal shadow ministers who provided ongoing support during the campaign and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, who taught me about being focused and disciplined. I give a very special thankyou to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, for holding this cane toad during the election campaign. Who knew that the inventor of the glare could be made to blink! To the member for Mackellar, Mrs Bishop, who is helping around the hallways of Parliament House: I am honoured that you have agreed to be my mentor. To the former senator for the Northern Territory, Grant Tambling: you have contributed to the development of the Territory in a way I will strive to emulate.
Let me finish with some last commitments: I will never, ever take the voters or the seat of Solomon for granted. I promise to always keep a sense of humour, to work hard in the electorate, to listen to and act on behalf of the electorate, to look beyond this election cycle to deliver long-term benefits to the Territory, to stand up for the Territory’s interests in Canberra and to continue the fight for statehood so that Territorians will enjoy the same legislative rights as people in other jurisdictions. Thank you for indulging me, Mr Speaker.
I congratulate the member for Solomon on her maiden speech. I also congratulate the Labor Party and the Prime Minister on being returned to government, even though it must be said that that has been done by cobbling together a rainbow alliance which will be tested daily by the challenges of government and the diametrically opposed views of various parties.
In the electorate of Grey I would like to thank my constituents for their vote of confidence. A positive 6.7 per cent swing at a time when we saw an overall move to the Labor Party in South Australia was a very good result. While I take some of the credit for that result, I also recognise that the electorate was expressing a very strong desire to change the government. They were sick of the mismanagement, the waste, the backflips and the thought bubble politics which saw policy lurches in every direction. There was also a great distrust in the electorate of the obviously external mechanisms which saw the removal of a first-term Prime Minister in Kevin Rudd. The sight of Paul Howes, a union representative, on national television gloating over the fact that he had removed the Prime Minister was not something Australians expect or want to see. But the electoral system has worked and has delivered us a government with a workable majority, and the government should get on with the job of governing and delivering on their electoral commitments. We in the coalition will get on with the job of holding them to account, of holding them responsible for the commitments that they have made to the Australian people.
Already we have seen a major about-face on the Prime Minister’s solemn commitment to no new carbon tax and we have seen the reversal of a commitment to have a 150-person assembly to examine climate change—quite rightly, it must be said, because what a stupid idea that was in the first place. But it was a commitment from the Prime Minister made to win an election, and what are people to think if policies are to last only the length of the election campaign? We have seen the abandonment of a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in full. The Prime Minister committed to implement the recommendations and now instead, at the first sign of pressure, has followed the well-worn path of the Rudd government and announced a committee to review the situation—another committee.
I am, of course, disappointed that the coalition was not able to form government and that the commitments I made to my electorate will not be able to be delivered. These include, in particular, the re-establishment of the Australian technical college in the Upper Spencer Gulf; the issuing of an operating licence for an MRI machine for the region; the Green Army environmental projects in Whyalla, Port Pirie and Peterborough; major stormwater projects in Port Lincoln, Orroroo and Port Vincent; and closed circuit TV systems for Coober Pedy, Ceduna and Whyalla. All of these projects would have been delivered by a coalition government. They will not be delivered by this Labor government.
The glaringly obvious fact of the election is that the government places little priority on regional Australia. If it is to make a greater commitment, it will only be as a cost of doing business with the Independents, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a true value in those deals. I seriously doubt any long-term change in the attitudes of the government.
There is a great danger that this, the 43rd Parliament of Australia, will see a lurch to the left as the government tries to meet its commitments to the Greens. The larger political agenda of the Greens will cause concern to much of mainstream Australia, many of whom it must be said may have even voted for the Greens in the past. Next July will present a completely new environment to the Greens as they take a far more powerful position in the Australian parliament, because with power comes responsibility. No longer will they be able to espouse preposterous ideas from the safety of powerlessness, with no chance of ever being in a position to deliver. Uncosted utopian snapshots will have to stack up to new policy examination from the press, the public and the parliament.
The Greens are now faced with the option of remaining a protest movement or becoming a serious political party. It is of interest to note that their achievement of nine senators at this election is matched by the high watermark of the Australian Democrats in 1998—a time when the Democrats attempted to become a mature and responsible political party, an approach which was ultimately rejected by the electorate. What a position for the Greens. Do they accept the challenge to become responsible and accept the economic ramifications of many of their far left-wing policies and risk the wrath of their long-term supporters, or do they remain true to their radical manifest and run the risk of offending mainstream Australia, who have chosen to give them a chance? Many have said that this parliament will be very interesting. I think that is an understatement.
I listened to the Governor-General’s address on the occasion of the opening of the 43rd Parliament with great interest, even though I must say that, as I gazed across the chamber, not every member of the government seemed similarly interested. Anyway, I listened in vain for an admission that the previous government had lost its way, as the Prime Minister believes the former leader had, and that the Gillard government would mend its ways and operate an improved system for Australia. I had hoped the government would face up to the waste on school halls, green loans and home insulation. Instead, it seems the government has learnt nothing from the experience and intends to blow another $2 billion of taxpayers’ money on the widely ridiculed ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme. This threatens to become another ‘school halls’, where every bucket of bolts in the country automatically becomes a $2,000 cheque, every person who needs a cheap car will pay at least $2,000, and in the end all it will do is bring forward inevitable purchases. It threatens to become a $2 billion waste.
The tragedy is the missed opportunities across the nation—the infrastructure that could have been built with the money the government has wasted: $22 billion in $900 cheques, almost $17 billion in school halls, green loans and $3 billion on a home insulation scheme which has set the industry back 20 years. Remember the previous Prime Minister standing out the front of Parliament House and telling the insulation industry that he got it. Try telling the industry now that the government understands; there are warehouses full of materials and a totally destroyed market, and a population with little or no confidence in the industry.
So what could we have done with the money? Where can the taxpayer get a bang for their buck? I have said in this place before that South Australia will increasingly rely on the electorate of Grey to be the economic driver of the state. But there are a wide range of projects which need the attention of either state or federal government in tandem with private industry.
New mining taxes notwithstanding, South Australia desperately needs a new deep sea port somewhere in Spencer Gulf. No fewer than four new iron miners are trying to establish export paths. Some are planning to export out of Port Adelaide in containers, another is planning to establish a barge system and yet another is planning to export through the town of Port Lincoln, amid strong local opposition, while trying to establish a new port. But, all the while, every dollar invested in suboptimal alternatives lessens the chance of an industry-wide approach to the establishment of a new port. Unfortunately, the state government has just allowed things to meander. No doubt, prime responsibility rests with the miners, but sometimes projects need careful assistance from governments.
In South Australia we continue to pay the price for having a tired and uninterested state government which is going through the motions of removing its leadership in an effort to shore up support. The case was made for federal assistance with port development at Oakajee, in Western Australia. A new port in South Australia is of similar importance to the region. Further west, the port of Thevenard desperately needs upgrading—so much so that, in the longer term, without an upgrade, farming west of Streaky Bay is likely to become unviable. There are real opportunities here. Already, the port supplies the bulk of Australia’s gypsum for the manufacture of plasterboard—around two million tonnes per year. It also shifts hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain and salt, with the prospect of developing new bulk commodities with major mineral sands mining developments in the west of the state. At the current time, shipments are being achieved on small vessels, which are rapidly drying up around the world and come at a high cost. For the grain industry, which is export focused, the loss of shipping would mean the western end of the grain growing region would be sending its grain more than 500 kilometres by road. Simply put, these are costs the industry cannot absorb.
Without some government attention I fear the future is not bright. Surely it is better to make sure good, viable industries survive rather than trying to resettle the collateral damage in our cities. Our roads are creaking under the strain. From our highways to our outback network, this year the roads are awash; but they are also struggling from years of state government neglect. I have just returned from a trip up the Birdsville Track. The deserts are blooming. Lake Eyre once again has a substantial amount of water, and parts of the tourism industry are having a strong year. But others, unfortunately, are languishing, simply because the road is cut. This is not just because the Cooper is in flood; it is because the South Australian outback road network has been run into the ground. Sure, the punt at the creek is an inadequate link but, with the road being cut by pooled water every time it rains, the traffic is not even reaching there.
Upon coming to power in 2002, the state government halved its commitment to the outback road system by abolishing two of the four road gangs. The years since then have provided rivers of gold from the GST and skyrocketing land tax revenues, but state government expenditure has risen even faster than receipts and we have little to show for it—so much so that the recent budget was a story of slash and burn as the government belatedly attempted to bring things back into order. It seems this was far too late, as state debt now stands at over $7 billion, not far short of the $9 billion disaster that was the calamity of the State Bank—and this debt has been accumulated at a time of comparative prosperity.
So it is not just about the Birdsville Track; the thousands of kilometres of outback roads from Wirrulla to Marla to Broken Hill are in poor repair and require significant investment. In the south, bitumen arterials like the Maitland to Minlaton road, the Bute to Kulpara road, the Barrier Highway, the Clare to Spalding road and the Wudinna to Port Lincoln road are all in need of serious attention.
The growth prospects of the entire electorate are inextricably linked to water, and new supply solutions must be provided. The recent report by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority should ensure there are no new users connected to the river. BHP’s proposed expansion at Roxby Downs promises to be the biggest ever single economic contributor to the state, and I will do all I can to see it delivered. However, that is not to say we should give BHP carte blanche to do anything it wishes—and I am opposed to the siting of a desalination plant in the upper Spencer Gulf. The environmental impact statement proposes a 100 gigalitre per year plant just north of Whyalla. Already, there is discussion that BHP may expand the operation even more than first envisaged. This would require even more water.
We cannot afford to take that risk with the sensitive marine environment at the top of the gulf, which is the breeding ground for much of the state’s fisheries. A 100 gigalitre plant would see around 200 gigalitres per annum of saline water returned to the gulf, and a bigger plant would obviously return more. The Spencer Gulf prawn fishery breeding grounds are in the area approximate to the proposed outfalls. This industry returns more than $40 million each year to the state. Similarly, the breeding grounds for the snapper and whiting, two of the state’s most sought after and valuable fisheries, are in the area. We cannot afford to take this chance, only to find in 20 or 30 years time that the fisheries are ruined. We must insist on the safe solution. While all costs are important to the viability of the proposed expansion, it is difficult to believe that the extra 80 kilometres of pipeline needed to move the desalination plant to an ocean outfall on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula would be an insurmountable problem.
On the broader front, I am concerned that the government does not recognise the inherent dangers of our economic position. Australia’s economy is fundamentally underwritten by exports. Dollar parity with the US is a creeping disaster for our exporters. Aquaculture, agriculture and mineral exports all have their real value eroded by this position. It is worth reflecting on what the current surge in the Australian dollar actually means to exporters. If we take a look at a wheat farm for instance, the world wheat price is currently at a very high level. A US price in excess of 700c a bushel is double what we would have considered to be a good price as recently as five years ago. However, five years ago, farmers were receiving prices in the low A$200 a tonne range. Now, following a more than doubling of world wheat prices, farmers will probably receive around $275 a tonne—a lift of about $50 a tonne, or 20 per cent. World wheat prices have doubled but we will only receive an extra 20 per cent. All the rest has been lost with our appreciating dollar. With due consideration to Western Australia, which is struggling with a drought, eastern Australia is contemplating a very good season. But farming is made of highs and lows, and it is our ability to accumulate savings in the good times that allows us to stay in business in the tough times.
The current state of the dollar is almost certainly costing good farmers $60 to $100 a tonne. It is also almost certainly ensuring that, when the drought returns, as inevitably it does in Australia, farmers will not be in the position they should be to withstand that drought. I have focused just on the wheat industry, but the lesson is the same across the board. Wool, meat, pulses and coarse grains are all losing millions of dollars. And not just agriculture but seafood, manufacturing and mineral exports are all missing out on high profits which are their insurance policies for the future.
There are a number of reasons for the high dollar, as there always are, and certainly the high price of mineral commodities is one of them. However, despite the government’s claim, there is no doubt that high government borrowings are restricting the availability of money for business and homeowners. You simply cannot suck $80-plus billion out of the economy in government borrowings and claim it does not affect interest rates and the availability of money. The cost of government borrowings is far more than just the interest paid. The distortions of the economy caused by the high-borrowing policy flow through to all business and consumers.
The government simply must rein in its borrowings. There is no doubt that relatively high interest rates attract investment in Australian dollars. In fact interest rates in Australia are so high comparatively that investors are borrowing money in markets like Japan and the US where they have effective rates of zero and reinvesting in Australia, only adding to the pressure on the dollar and interest rates.
I have received many recent approaches from local businesses telling me that banks simply are not lending. A motel operator in one of my regional centres was recently telling me that his bank refused a $100,000 loan to refurbish some of his rooms. He told me he had a working overdraft of $85,000, which represented his total liability. I estimate his business to be worth somewhere between $3 million and $4 million. This is not a normal business circumstance; it is a handbrake on investment. For someone to have a $3 million or $4 million investment and not be able to borrow $100,000 is an absolute threat to business generally. Others have approached me with stories of an inability to buy existing and established businesses because finance which previously would have been forthcoming is simply not available.
A relatively high Australian dollar against the US gives all of our competitors a relative advantage, and all this at a time when the government intends to increase that advantage by imposing massive new taxes on our economy through the mining resource rental tax and a carbon tax. Most industry analysts expect the price of electricity in Australia to rise in the order of 40 per cent over the next five years.
Life is about opportunity, and there is no doubt in my mind that the government has a great opportunity here to do enormous damage to our economy. Higher spending, higher taxes and higher interest rates will all erode our ability to pay our way in the world. There still time for the government to take control of its budget, address the wastage and mismanagement and reduce the pressure on Australian business and families.
In closing, I would like to thank the voters in Grey for once again giving me the opportunity to represent them here in parliament. I would like to thank those hundreds of supporters who made it possible for me to present a cohesive campaign to the electorate. We live in one of the most dramatic and exciting parts of Australia. We have unique opportunities in tourism, mining, aquaculture and downstream processing, and I believe in our future, but we also need government to work with us and not amplify the difficulties we face.
Today gives me a formal opportunity to thank the many people who trusted me again to represent them and our region in the federal parliament—indeed, with a considerably increased margin. For the record, my electorate of Braddon has changed since the 2007 election and now includes the west coast of Tasmania, whilst losing the Port Sorell-Hawley area to my good friend Dick Adams, in Lyons. To the many thousands of voters who voted for me as an individual and/or as the Labor representative, I say thank you for the honour of representing you in the 43rd Parliament and, as things have transpired, also representing you in the new Labor government led by Julia Gillard, who is no stranger to Braddon, to be sure.
With the election done and dusted, we are left with a challenging and interesting period of national government ahead. Clearly, the national electorate, like my own, has spoken, and it is our individual responsibility as members of Parliament to make what we have work. For the doubters, the most recent of two or three opinion polls—indeed, I have just been looking at one today—if they are to be believed, indicate a similar result if an election were to be held tomorrow.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the posturing by those opposite when they were courting the Independents for support that they would honour the verdict of the nation, their actions since make a mockery of this. Once it became clear that the majority of the Independents appeared to favour a continuation of the Labor government or were publicly sceptical of the coalition’s credentials to govern, those opposite reverted to type—that is, opposition for opposition’s sake, negative rather than constructive, all form and little substance, self-righteous unction and resorting to personal and political bullying.
Of course, the coalition was not alone in taking umbrage at a political result that it did not agree with. Serial conservative commentators, particularly those residing in the News Ltd stable, continued their crusade against Labor and the possibility of the Independents supporting a minority Labor government. From skewing published electorate polling in the seats of New England and Lyne to favour support for a coalition government to overplaying the ‘he’s nothing but a media tart’ card, such commentators sought to pressure these politicians and their constituents alike to reconsider any thoughts of siding with Labor. Still, these MPs are experienced enough to go their own way, and I suppose that is why the pro-coalition campaign, within and without, was so concentrated and at times dirty.
To help spice up the menu, News Ltd pumped out its daily horror stories about alleged failings in BER projects, attacked the integrity of the National Broadband Network, challenged the credibility of the pro-climate-change argument and hammered away at the so-called inequity of the minerals resources tax. All of these enterprises were not only owned by Labor but were regarded as significant determinants affecting the potential support of Independents such as Tony Windsor and Robert Oakeshott. Of course, we were all served up a number of unnamed ‘senior Labor sources’ who alleged caucus disunity, poor morale, et cetera et cetera. I would love to meet some of these unnamed senior Labor sources because I have never found one. However, who am I but a member of the caucus being allegedly reported on?
In the meantime, we had the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, the member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, and others—indeed, others sitting at the table now—publicly pretending to seek a new style of politics, preaching of a ‘more collegial polity’. However, as events unfolded, and as the early proceedings in this place have clearly demonstrated, this was nothing but empty rhetoric—cant to try and persuade the Independents to side with the coalition. The cant of this position was further demonstrated when, apart from some silly, but I suppose predictable, inflammatory comments from Senator Barnaby Joyce and negative mutterings from the Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, the Nationals themselves were completely sidelined in negotiations with the Independents. I wonder why?
I remember on 10 August—and the member for Goldstein, who is at the table, will clearly remember this—when Treasury calculated that the coalition costings were out by some $800 million earlier in the campaign, and the coalition’s immediate refusal to submit further costings to Treasury under the Charter of Budget Honesty provisions, how little media scrutiny of any substance was placed on the coalition over this, outside the Fairfax stable. It seems that, when it comes to financial accountability for our friends amongst the conservative commentariat, there is only one side to scrutinise and pursue.
Of course, it had to take until after the election to expose the massive black hole surrounding the coalition’s rubbery election commitments, especially in health, education, infrastructure and its paid maternity leave scheme. In all, Treasury analysis identified a hole of up to $11 billion in the coalition’s election promise costings. I repeat, for the members of this House and for Hansard: an $11 billion black hole!
As the Independents continued to seek briefings from government and coalition representatives and agencies, and once the coalition’s $11 billion black hole in costings became public knowledge, Tony Abbott’s political demeanour changed to type, as his sense of new-found political bonhomie began to fracture. I thought this was beautifully presented in the recent ABC Four Corners expose The Deal, which went to air on 4 October. I would like to quote some extracts:
Sarah Ferguson: While Tony Abbott was already trying to convince the Independents he was ready for a new style of politics—
with a quote from Tony Abbott at a press conference:
I think we can have a kinder, gentler polity. I think we can be a more collegial polity than we’ve been. I think that the spirit of parliament has been needlessly confrontational.
Sarah Ferguson again:
Tony Windsor isn’t persuaded by Abbott’s conversion.
She speaks to Tony Windsor in his office, and she asks:
Is that the Tony Abbott that you know?
Tony Windsor, the member for New England, says:
No. No I don’t, and I think Tony Abbott’s body language, ah, suggests that they’re the words that he’s got to say, rather than the words he actually believes.
What an excellent epitaph to the whole sordid business of those opposite who pretended that they wanted to make the parliamentary situation and the election result work.
Nothing I have seen in this 43rd parliament to date contradicts the member for New England’s assessment of the Leader of the Opposition or the opposition’s tactics. For example, the refusal of the opposition to allow its MPs to sit on the Speakers Panel, to help make this parliament work better. I ask you: is there anything more mean and puerile than that? And the threatening of non-cooperation regarding the pairing of members is proof of how the coalition really regards the new polity which exists—or, more accurately, needs to exist for minority government to work.
Whilst the national result was very close, it seems the southern states of the nation remained solidly Labor, none more so than Tasmania. May I congratulate my colleague at the table, the member for Franklin, on her excellent result. I was greatly humbled by the result in Braddon, including the West Coast, and the significant swing to federal Labor. Whilst some commentators, particularly local ones, predicted a tighter struggle in Braddon, I was heartened by the response our team received out and about during the campaign. Indeed, with the focus of this parliament and government on regional communities and their needs, the opportunity exists for further investments in community and physical infrastructure and improved health, social and educational services, programs and funding in our region.
Our region, now happily including the West Coast, its people and resources, is a significant wealth generator in Tasmania. Like the remainder of regional Australia, we too seek a fair go and an equitable distribution of funding and services when compared to our metropolitan cousins. The emphasis of the new government on rolling out funding and services to regional areas like my own, including the National Broadband Network, will mean that we will become progressively more attractive as centres of business generation and places to live and raise a family. Indeed, better liveability and the huge potential derived from the rollout of the NBN increases our prospects of becoming a major attractor for people to move to our region from more populous centres to set up business, to raise a family, to retire and/or to change lifestyles.
Over the past three years our region has benefited from nearly $450 million of investment and a number of Labor government initiatives, including the major economic stimulus measures adopted to tackle the global financial crisis; the educational and job-sustaining benefits of the Building the Education Revolution funding for each of our 63 local schools, almost totalling $100 million; insulation for many hundreds of North-West Coast households; the increase in the First Home Buyers Grant; the long-awaited pension increase; the dozens of community infrastructure projects spread across all our municipalities; the removal of Work Choices; significant funding for improved health facilities and services, including the Mersey Community Hospital and two GP superclinics; and the commencement and rollout of the National Broadband Network. These and other positive initiatives I believe accounted for the comparatively strong vote for Labor particularly in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia in the recent election.
Labor policies such as a national Paid Parental Leave Scheme, rolling out of the NBN, the health and hospitals reform package, construction of trades training centres, implementation of national curriculum reform, and establishing a minerals resource rent tax are to be rolled out in this next term and I look forward to more being done for mental health, establishing a universal dental care system, and better funding of aged care.
More locally, I look forward to delivering Labor’s commitment to building the Devonport Regional Aquatic Centre, to setting up CCTV in Devonport, working with Simplot to establish a state-of-the-art cogeneration system at Ulverstone, and developing a regional cancer centre at the North-West Regional Hospital. I am also looking forward to the rollout of the North-West Tasmania Innovation and Investment Fund, which promises some exciting developments and new jobs for our region—unfortunately a region which has experienced serious unemployment issues with the cessation of our north-west paper mills, closing of parts of McCain’s processing factory at Circular Head and more recently the impending closure of Tascott Templeton’s carpet factory.
The coming parliamentary term will be very different from any I can recall since 1998 and indeed will be historic in many ways. I will do everything I can to make it work for the good of our nation, my state and most especially my region. The optimist in me says it can and will work with goodwill, providing that goodwill is actually there. But why wouldn’t it be, because unlike most occasions, this parliament will rely on every individual member responding to the new circumstances, and why would you let such a precious individual opportunity pass by to be lost again in the collective mass of the party room and a dominant executive?
I would like to thank my hardworking, talented, loyal and wonderfully supportive office team of Luke, Kay, Luned, Karla, Tresa and Kim for the huge amount of work they have done on behalf of the many constituents who have sought our assistance over the past three years. I know this has in no small way contributed to our strong result. Our campaign team was large, enthusiastic and hardworking and I want to publicly thank everyone who helped out. I have individually thanked everyone on an earlier occasion but would like to especially acknowledge Luke Sayer and the office team, our doorknocking team, the sign construction and setting-up crew, postal vote campaign members, envelopers, polling booth volunteers, and the many well-wishers who gave of their time and support. A special thankyou also to my friend and colleague Senator Nick Sherry and to the state ALP secretary, John Dowling, and Mike O’Connor of the CFMEU. Finally, may I thank my lovely family, Bronwyn, William and Julian, for all their loving support and their encouragement—in good times and those more difficult—to keep doing what I love: representing my region of North-West and West Tasmania in the national parliament.
Debate (on motion by Ms King) adjourned.