Wednesday, 4 May 2016
In my maiden speech in this parliament, I stated clearly that I do not believe, and our party does not support, the development of professional politicians. I believe that a parliament should be a forum where citizens serve and bring the benefit of their life experiences, whatever they are, to the important issues of the day for the benefit of the nation.
Now, at the end of the 44th Parliament, it is time to reflect on what our party has contributed to the national debate and what our achievements are. Unfortunately, politics relies attacks on individuals and not on sound policy discussion. Rather than endlessly attacking individuals in parliament, debate in this chamber should focus on the agenda for the nation. Personal integrity is an important quality that needs to be at the very heart of public service. Any person seeking public office must realise that it is not about him but about service for the greater good. In this place all members must repress their own personal interests for the benefit of the nation and the citizens of Australia who elect them and put Australia's interest before their own.
True to my maiden speech, having concluded my service in the 44th Parliament of this House of Representatives, I will not seek further election to this House at the next election. I will use this opportunity to address a number of important issues and set out our party's achievements in the 44th Parliament. Palmer United will contest Senate elections in every Australian state. Palmer United's voting record has been clear in the 44th Parliament and that is why the electorate needs to judge at the coming election. I have been continually personally attacked over last three years by centrally controlled media, which is, by its very support for the two-party system, a danger for democracy in this country. All of the so-called scandals and media questions have amounted, in hindsight, to nothing. And the same is true about the current lies and criticisms, which I will deal with later in this speech.
The status quo of this country is threatened by any third-party political force in politics and will mobilise itself in many ways on both sides politics—the union movement, the banks and the Public Service—to seek to destroy diversity and public debate in our political system. This is the real reason for unprecedented political attacks against me personally and the stand that we took as a party against the 2014 budget. I and our Senate voting positions have rarely been subject to proper recognition, including the contributions that the Palmer United Party has made to Australia. The three main attacks against me personally related to my private business—not my service in this chamber—which are 100-per-cent owned by me, have no mum and dad investors, and no bank debt. In my electorate of Fairfax, they attack me over Coolum Resort, which is still operating and employing people and was to be closed permanently in 2011. Campbell Newman and the LNP state government refused to allow it to be redeveloped, which would have created over 10,000 jobs on the Sunshine Coast. As a result of 10 years hard work, I secured over $12 billion investment from China, which has resulted in the employment of tens of thousands of Australians in the construction of China's largest investment outside of China. This investment is 15 per cent of China's total investment in Australia over the last 10 years. It should not be forgotten that such an investment has made a real contribution to our economy.
More recently, I have personally been criticised with respect to Queensland Nickel. In 2009, when the price of nickel was $7.50 a pound and BHP had decided to close the refinery, every Australian should have asked themselves: would they have invested their life savings to save over 2,500 jobs in Townsville? I know the member for Herbert would not have. Over the last seven years, would they have invested $4 billion to keep 2,500 families employed? Then, over the last two years, when the nickel price had dropped to around $3.50 a pound, would any citizen have been happy to continue to lose $6 million a month for the families of Townsville? Would anyone have given over $2.5 million of their personal savings so that everyone could be paid at Christmas and keep the refinery open? These are the decisions I made in the affirmative. Why? Because I have a strong and real commitment to North Queensland. The Liberal Party inspired report by the administrator friend of the member for Herbert is untrue. I personally and my companies have never received one dollar of Queensland Nickel's own funds, nor has any person employed ever been dismissed and nor were any workers' entitlements refused by me or anyone that I employ.
The allegations against me have been made for an improper purpose. On 1 March 2016, the administrator stated that, unless he received $10 million that week, he was going to close the refinery and sack all the workforce. He made the same demand to the Queensland government. On 3 March 2016, the joint venture partners, Qni Resources Pty Ltd and Qni Metals, 100 per cent privately owned companies of mine, resolved to appoint a new company that was not in administration as the manager of the joint venture. I personally put up some of my private assets and secured a $23 million line of credit, instead of the $10 million that the administrator was seeking, and I planned to make that available to the new manager to keep the refinery open and the workforce employed. Under the Queensland joint venture agreement, the old manager of Queensland Nickel, on appointment of the new manager, was required to transfer the joint venture bank account, together with other assets and general approvals that Queensland Nickel had, to give the new manager the ability to run the refinery.
The millions of dollars in joint venture bank accounts and debtors, when added the $23 million that I had personally arranged through my personal efforts, would have allowed the business to continue to employ 550 people. John Park decided that he would not transfer the bank account to the joint venture, as he was legally required to do. Park treated the joint venture fund, which was not Queensland Nickel's money, as his own personal piggy bank. The allegations made by Mr Park are completely false. The allegations made against me by political parties, which I have endured over the last three years or since I have been elected to the House of Representatives, are also false.
In the resources industry in Queensland, 22,000 jobs have been lost; in South Australia, 14,000 jobs are threatened. The government has done nothing and proposes to do nothing. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has injected 30 billion yuan into the metals processing industry in China, and the Canadian government gives free electricity to its metal processing industry. How can Australian industries compete with such things? Why does the government want to destroy this country and its infrastructure? Because they are incompetent.
The Treasurer becomes more and more like a public servant. Last night's budget talks about jobs growth, but it has no substance and no policy. The average Australian family pays $20,000 per year, over $1 million in their working lives, but they cannot access the savings that they pay into superannuation to buy a home, to care for their children or to deal with some disaster, yet the Liberal fund managers make margins on their funds each year and the union delegates benefit from managing their funds in superannuation. Palmer United will fight hard to get the balance of power in the Senate to protect the savings of Australian families and make them available to them during their lifetime rather than when they are dead.
Even before I had taken my seat in parliament, then Prime Minister Abbott, in one of his first decisions in cabinet, adopted the Palmer United policy that we took to the 2013 election to ban political lobbyists from holding office in the Liberal Party. Then, on behalf of the Palmer United Party, I introduced a bill to stop the GrainCorp takeover. Following the pressure generated by this takeover, the then Treasurer, Joe Hockey, made the correct decision to stop the GrainCorp takeover. On 25 June 2014, I hosted the former Vice President of the United States, Mr Al Gore, in the Great Hall of parliament, where I announced that Palmer United senators would vote to save the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Authority. If Palmer United had not saved them then, the Prime Minister could not have changed the government policy to support them in 2016. I also announced, against the wishes of the Abbott government, that Palmer United senators would vote in the Senate to abolish the carbon tax to ensure that the savings in the reduction of the carbon tax would be passed on to consumers of electricity and gas. Palmer United votes in the Senate were essential for those decisions. The Parliamentary Library has estimated that the savings to consumers by Palmer United staying firm and ensuring savings were passed on were $1.6 billion. Palmer United effectively reduced electricity prices across Australia by 10 per cent. Palmer United provided the key votes to abolish the mining tax, to free up investment in Australian projects.
Palmer United led the charge against the 2014 budget and highlighted to all Australians that Australia's debt was amongst the lowest in the OECD. In 2014 we campaigned for pens instead of pencils to be used in future federal elections to mark ballot papers. Palmer United worked hard to stop the GP co-payment, which would have made visits to the doctor unaffordable for our disadvantaged and elderly population, and our votes in the Senate were crucial. I remember giving a speech in the House about education. Palmer United stopped changes to universities, much to the disappointment of the then education minister. The 2014 budget had over $10 billion in cuts to social security, requiring unemployed people under the age of 30 to wait six months for the dole. Decisive action by our party ensured that these measures would not be passed and therefore not implemented by the government. Palmer United saved the low income super contribution for over two million Australians, keeping $1 billion in their pockets. It is pleasing to see that the Treasurer has adopted this policy and continued it in the budget last night—only changing the name to claim credit.
The Prime Minister believes in innovation, but innovation does not put food on the table. We voted in the Senate to keep the schoolkids bonus, saving Australians a further $1 billion a year to support their children when they go to school. It is a disgrace that neither Labor nor Liberal party is going to the election with a policy to maintain this bonus for our families. We kept the low income support contribution, of which $1.8 million is paid to Australians each year. It was our votes that did that in the Senate.
We need in this country more love and forgiveness and more compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. A Palmer United deal with the government freed over 436 children and families from detention. We freed 1,500 people in total from Christmas Island. Following an arrangement with the then immigration minister, Palmer United supported legislation in the Senate that resulted in 30,000 detention cases finally being resolved. It was the Palmer United initiative which resulted in the introduction of the SHEV, the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. Palmer United made 15 changes and amendments in the Senate on Direct Action legislation and passed it. We have watched and seen how Direct Action has succeeded in reducing Australia's emissions. As part of the deal, the Climate Change Authority was to conduct and is still conducting a study into the introduction of an ETS in Australia. Palmer United kept hope alive for the introduction of an ETS in Australia. The CCA plans to report to the parliament after the next election.
Palmer United supported changes to pensions for all veterans and ex-service men and women over 55. Palmer United initiated by agreement with the government, the opposition and others for three parliamentary inquiries: one into trade investment and growth, one into the Australia Fund and one into the Queensland government. Palmer United acted through me to introduce a bill in respect of the foreign death penalty. We have protected maritime workers' jobs, and our votes in the Senate were crucial in keeping Qantas Australian-owned. In the Senate, we stopped changes to the income tax threshold and the extension of the pension age to 70. We saved jobs in the Australian offshore gas industry—you can look at the voting record on that in the Senate. Palmer United successfully voted against slashing university research grants.
Earlier this year I delivered a speech on gender equality, and the following month I asked the Prime Minister two questions pointing out that there needed to be a minimum of 40 per cent minority gender on all Commonwealth bodies. On 8 March 2016, the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, announced that the government would commit to increasing the target to 50 per cent representation across all Australian government boards, with a minimum of 40 per cent on each board, implementing Palmer United's policy.
You do not always need the numbers. Good ideas will be recognised by those around you, if they are adopted. With others, it is real recognition. Time remains one of the most important things we have. It does not matter how much money you have. We are all prisoners in time. That is why our nation needs to respect all those who serve in this place and give up part of their lives for our country. This is your time, whoever you are and wherever you are. This is your opportunity now and tomorrow. Do not be dragged down by the past. Do not be held back by the judgement of other people. The Bible tells us that we should not sit in judgement of others. Do not judge others as we have our own race to run, and I believe life is full of opportunities.
I would like to thank my daughters, Mary, Lucy and Emily, and my son, Michael, who are an inspiration in my life. I feel that with the love and support of my wife, Anna, I could contribute further to our great country.
Public service is not just about parliamentary or government service; there are thousands of Australians serving our country all over Australia. I hope I can go on serving our country in the future. Courage remains one of the important things that I most admire in life. We need to have courage to let go and to move on. I believe I have that courage today, in leaving the House of Representatives, satisfied with what Palmer United has done, and knowing that it would be a different Australia if we had not stopped the 2014 budget and the Newman government in Queensland. We need to praise the incorruptibility of our public officials, the integrity of our marriages and the worth of our people. It is ideas that matter—governments may come and go, but ideas go on forever. It is ideas that will shape this nation; it is ideas through time, when we are gone and forgotten, in history, in commerce and in politics, that capture the consciousness of the nation and will endure. It is ideas that endure when all else is gone. We need to unite this nation we serve and we love, to discover our future, to share our trials and tribulations, to overcome adversity and to pull together for the common good under the Southern Cross. As a wise man once said: 'On earth, God's work must truly be our own.'
Thank you. It has been almost 20 years to the day since I stood in this place to make my maiden speech. When I reread that first speech, I can see much has been achieved, but the key challenges remain. I do leave unfinished business, but I guess there will never be a time when it is possible to say the job is done. What I can say, however, is that, over all the years, on every day I have striven to make a difference and to create more opportunities and more choices for the people I love—the people of Murray. I now pass the baton to Duncan McGauchie, who, like me, was born in the west of the electorate, on the sweeping plains. I hope he will grace this chamber in the next parliament.
My first official duty as the member for Murray was to deliver on a promise to open the new Corop toilets. Corop is a great little town of about 100 people, and they offered to vote for me if I officially opened their new public conveniences. So it was a deal. I am not sure if that constitutes bribery and corruption, but we all had a great day. Some people say it was all downhill from there, but it was a great day.
The key challenge remaining in Murray is the securing of the water supply for northern Victoria—the Goulburn, Murray and Loddon valleys. In 1996, I talked about the rivers of milk and cream and the cornucopia of fruits, grains and vegetables that followed from the establishment of the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District—the biggest irrigation system in Australia, bigger than Tasmania. In 1996, water was also the key issue, and I said in my first speech:
We agree with the COAG principles for the future management of water resources, but cross-basin strategies need dedicated resources and public and private sector coordination.
Sadly, those responsible for implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the last government lost sight of the triple-bottom-line imperative of balancing community, economy and environmental outcomes. Now agribusiness across the southern basin struggles to access enough water to sustain its farms—as my friend and neighbour across the Murray, the member for Farrer, knows only too well.
Communities are reeling through population loss. Families and individuals are in great distress, with some taking their lives. Some of my hardest moments to bear have been trying to comfort those wives and children bereaved. What is also tragic is the fact that we are jeopardising Australian's capacity to take advantage of the superb new food trade opportunities that our brilliant trade minister has created with China, Korea and Japan.
Irrigators must have access to affordable and sufficient water to survive. It is their hard work, innovation and investment on farm which supplies the more than 23 food factories that underpin our regional economy. Our employment, our transport sector, our social services and our very population sizes in hundreds of small communities are a consequence of that hard work on farm and at those 23 food factories. They also, of course, contribute to Australia's export performance and our transition to the dining boom.
The threat to water security was triggered by an astonishing state government decision, in the middle of the millennium drought, to pipe the irrigators' water to Melbourne to ease their restrictions. At the time, irrigators and dozens of country towns were also on tight restrictions, but a handful of locals proposed the North-South Pipeline—without consultation and without the community knowing—offering the irrigators' water in return for more state government spending on its own irrigation infrastructure. Mr Ross McPherson, a local newspaper proprietor and an instigator of this debacle, must now bitterly regret its legacy. I fronted a massive community effort driving to shut down this pipeline. We succeeded in 2009, but, by then, the idea of raiding a highly secure Goulburn-Murray system's water had well and truly taken hold. It seemed easy prey. We were in the middle of the worst drought on record and farmers were being forced to sell their water to placate the banks.
I thank all of those individuals for their tireless efforts—arrests and legal action did not deter them—as we fought to shut down that pipeline. Jan Beer deserves a medal. She and so many others now dedicate their efforts to challenging the constraints strategy, designed to create man-made floods every 2½ years in the Murray, Goulburn and Murrumbidgee systems. This strategy would damage the environment and the economy. It is another battle we have to win and another Murray-Darling Basin Plan effort that has to be fixed.
Every day for the last three years, I have worked with our irrigators to save the system and, hence, the local economy. The shutdown program, referred to euphemistically as its 'modernisation', was described, just a few months ago, in the official mid-term review, as based on 'false assumptions' and having no social or economic impact assessments built into the officially secret business plan. I thank this government for now taking a close interest in this disaster, given it is the Commonwealth's $1 billion, committed by the Gillard government, that is paying for stage 2 of this project. I know our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is deeply interested in getting this right, and I thank him for that. I want to acknowledge some of the water warriors of the region—Alison Coulson, Wade Northausen, Rob and Marilyn Danielli, and the most expert and dedicated Chris Harrison, and there are so many more.
I won the seat of Murray in uncommon circumstances. It was the Nationals' safest, most iconic seat. In 1996 in Murray there were no Liberal branches and virtually no members—there were about five. There were no campaign committees and no campaign funds raised and more than 100 booths to staff over 20,000 square kilometres. And I had nine weeks to do it! The Liberal Party gave me $7,000 for how-to-vote cards and warned me not to ask for more, because this was a three-cornered contest and we had to win the Labor seats to take government. I totally agreed with this. Despite Labor preferencing the Nationals, the people of Murray put their trust in me as the first woman and the first Liberal to hold the seat. I committed to take up our challenges and to always put the survival of my constituents first. I could not have known in 1996 how often I would need to stand alone with my communities to fight for our future. But every day it has been an honour, a privilege and a joy to represent Murray.
Within weeks of the 1996 election, we were faced with the tragedy of the Port Arthur massacre and my hunting, shooting, farming men of Murray wondered what on earth they had done! They had just elected a Liberal and a woman, so how could she possibly be interested in defending their rights as law-abiding gun owners? I went home and I took off the wall a photo of my then 12-year-old son Kirk, rifle in hand, kneeling behind two wild pigs, a fox and a little line of shot rabbits. I put this photo near the front door of my office, and it was smooth sailing after that. We were all on common ground.
Then we had to deal with what still looks like one of the first acts of phytoterrorism in Australia. I had been battling to keep New Zealand fresh apples out of Australia because of the risk of the terrible bacterial disease apple-pear fire blight. The Goulburn and Murray valleys grow most of the country's apples and pears. In 1997, a New Zealand scientist flew into Australia for a one-day visit, took himself to Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, plucked a bent twig of a cotoneaster hanging over a path, pocketed it and flew back to New Zealand. He did not contact the Victorian agricultural department or anyone else, that we know of. At a New Zealand press conference, he then declared to the world that we, Australia, had this disease and he had the proof in his pocket. Immediately, all of Victoria's apple and pear orchards were shut down, strict quarantine was imposed, hundreds of thousands of trees were inspected, a season's income was lost, millions of dollars were spent—all with not a sign of fire blight, of course! So we cranked up the battle to keep fresh apples from our shores. We rallied and we burnt boxes. Our communities were at the barricades and we begged Coles and Woolworths to behave in the country's interest. The great news is that we still do not have this disease in Australia and you are very hard pressed to find an apple from a fire blighted country for sale in Australia.
There are other triumphs from that time. People said that the federal Goulburn Valley Highway would never be duplicated. It snaked through one of the safest coalition states in the country. But there were deaths from accidents nearly every year as our great B-doubles and huge transports tail-to-tailed each other through the fog. I still have John Howard's March 1998 press announcement of the Goulburn Valley Highway duplication, and now we have the safest finest freeway between any region and the ports in the country. Only a bypass around Shepparton is left to go.
When I became a member, we had some of the worst bulk-billing rates in the country, our doctors were ageing, it was hard to find replacements and 70 per cent were recruited from overseas. Then John Howard's health minister, Michael Wooldridge, delivered a brilliant new strategy. He would establish rural clinical schools, at least one in every state, partnering with a medical facility. The expectation for Victoria was that this would go to Ballarat, Bendigo or Geelong. I argued that if you overlooked Shepparton you were ignoring a region where a trip to Melbourne was not easy, where we had per capita the most refugees, Indigenous peoples, communities without doctors or bulk-billing, accident prone farm and manufacturing sectors, and an ageing veterans community. So the right decision was made. The University of Melbourne Rural Clinical School dental training and medical clinic in Shepparton has changed the face of medicine and allied health in the electorate. We now have some of the highest bulk-billing rates in Australia, and I am sure the Minister for Health, who is at the table, is interested in that. Students from the Parkville campus compete to spend training time in the Goulburn and Murray valleys, and its graduates are now returning as dentists, GPs and specialists in our towns and hospitals. This has been a real triumph. Obtaining federal funding for a new local La Trobe university campus has also made a great difference to local access to tertiary studies, especially for our mature aged women and our ethnic minorities who cannot go to Melbourne alone to study.
We have received millions in federal funding for new trade training facilities and schools in Numurkah, Nathalia, Yarrawonga and Echuca, as well as one in Shepparton to start soon. We have gone from a place where people queued for a long time for aged care beds to an electorate that is now well served. We have had federal funding to rebuild or upgrade hospitals, bush nursing centres or aged care facilities in Shepparton, Mooroopna, Murchison, Euroa, Numurkah, Boort, Tongala, Tatura, Yarrawonga, Cobram, Nathalia, Pyramid Hill, Echuca, Violet Town, Dingee and Rochester. Federal funds built one of the country's best Indigenous aged care facilities in Shepparton, which is managed and run by our Rumbalara community.
In other proud achievements, I am pleased to say our mobile phone black spots are almost gone, and most of our old wooden bridges and gravel roads have been upgraded or have been replaced. The Roads to Recovery and road black spot funding—again continued in last night's budget—have been a lifesaver for my five local councils. Those direct payments from the Commonwealth to local councils have been a godsend.
Virtually every war memorial in every one of my communities has been refurbished or newly built to honour the sacrifice of the volunteers and national servicemen who left from Murray to fight for our country. We have seven Victoria Cross recipients from Murray. We will shortly have fitting memorials for each of these VCs in their home towns. In one small town, Euroa, they have three Victoria Cross awardees. I want to pay my respects to our veterans and their families, who in older age are often experiencing serious health problems. Our volunteer legatees who care for veteran families do a marvellous job. I am proud to be the patron of the Goulburn Valley Vietnam Veterans Association, the Darwin Defenders and the Goulburn Valley National Servicemen's Association.
I was angered at the media response when our Howard government did what was right in 2003, using the best information at hand at the time, when we joined the coalition of the willing to help end the Saddam Hussein regime. No decision to commit Australian troops to war is ever easy or universally popular, but a journalist thundered that this had been a decision, as per usual, made by politicians with no skin in the game. None of our sons or daughters would be marching off to war, he said. Well, my son, an officer in the Australian infantry, was one to serve in Iraq. This place has many ex-service men and women serving as senators and members, and it has many with more than one Defence Force son or daughter. The cynicism and limited inquiry of Australia's media is often a great disappointment.
It is also disappointing that the media invariably fails to report on the bipartisanship which is a feature of our committee work and official international and other friendship groups in this place. So much is achieved here through those bipartisan cooperations between like-minded members and senators. But the public is usually only familiar with the cut and thrust of question time. That is all they are fed. They think that all we do all day is throw rocks at one another. This is not engendering a healthy regard or respect for our nation's parliament—one of the best managed in one of the most stable democracies on earth. The deep-rooted cynicism of the public about their parliament and the motivations of their elected representatives, I think, is deeply concerning. Ultimately, it could even put our democracy at risk.
On the other hand, I am hugely grateful for some print, television, radio and online journalists who have done their very best to bring the issues of rural Australia and the southern Murray-Darling Basin to the notice of the nation. Mike O'Loughlin, or 'Locco', of 3SR, those at Star FM and One FM, Warwick Long and Jan Deane of ABC Goulburn Murray, Rob Harris of News Limited, Natalie Kotsios of The Weekly Times, the Riverine Herald, Kyabram Free Press, Numurkah Leader, The Euroa Gazette, The Loddon Times, Cobram and Yarrawonga papers, and, of course, the team at Shepparton's Win TV—I thank them all. All have been crucial in getting the message across. I thank them for their professional efforts and their friendships.
It was the national and local media support which helped galvanise the public's action in response to the threatened closure of SPC, Shepparton Preserving Co. This entailed the potential loss of 800 jobs from the factory floor and thousands of local jobs directly linked to the last fruit preserver and manufacturer in Australia. I will never forget the sound and sight of lines of bulldozers pushing over the orchards, row after row of prime full-bearing trees—you could just make them out through the dust. Without SPC, their manufacturing varieties had no markets. Hundreds of hectares were cleared. The future seemed hopeless. I knew that saving the jobs and this icon industry had to come before every other consideration. The public joined our fight and said 'no'. They did not want to see SPC fail. They wanted to buy wholesome Australian food, and they would even pay a little more. In March 2014, when the balloon went up, the public doubled their SPC buys in a couple of weeks. It was a huge and sustained response. With the help of the Denis Napthine state government, the decision to put an innovation grant on the table, matched with more from the owner, Coca-Cola Amatil, SPC was able to buy new equipment and to introduce new products. We are now celebrating not only the survival of SPC but their transition into the manufacturing of great, new, high-value lines. We are now ready to meet the greater opportunities presented by our three new free trade agreements and a domestic market ever more hungry for authentic Australian-grown, healthy, clean, green food. So we have won.
The calibre of the leadership of SPC and its workers' commitment in 2014 must also be properly acknowledged in their achieving the changes to the Anti-Dumping Commission's culture. They had not always worked in our national interest. SPC's case against all of the Italian canned tomatoes being dumped by exporters was originally rejected. The ADC had refused to consider the EU subsidies poured into the Italian industry, which also depended on exploited refugee labour living and working in slave-like conditions. SPC requested and paid for a review. The new ADC reconsidered the case. Now, appropriate anti-dumping duties have been imposed on all of those Italian exporters. These changes have also delivered a better deal for Australian manufacturers across the board—for example, our steelmakers. I am proud that SPC, particularly then CEO Peter Kelly, doggedly persisted in challenging the wrong decisions. I am proud to have been a part of these efforts.
I want to acknowledge the richness of the cultural diversity of the Murray electorate. We have welcomed wave upon wave of migrants, including many refugees, since the 1920s. I am so pleased to have facilitated the arrival of the first Congolese, having convinced Philip Ruddock, then Minister for Immigration, that we should settle some of our new arrivals in the regions and rural Australia rather than keep loading them into the suburbs. For months we planned and organised housing, jobs, schools and medical services for 10 families of Congolese, each with about 10 children. These families have thrived and have had other refugees from Africa join them.
I want to tell you about one family headed by a single father. It is an incredible story of endurance, survival and family loyalty amongst the very young. It is about the story of the Maulidi family. In 2000, when their Congolese village was attacked by rebels, the Maulidi family, in the confusion, was separated, with the mother and one of the twins, Neema, heading in one direction and the father and the other five children, including twin Fitina, escaping in the other. The father and the children eventually arrived in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Six years later, they were accepted as refugees to be settled in Shepparton. Sadly, the mother had been killed in the raid. This was not known to the remaining family when they arrived in Shepparton. Fortunately, the 14-year-old uncle of the children, the father's younger brother, Macinda, had fled from the village attack with his three-year-old niece—one of the twins. For five years he kept the little Neema alive, travelling through five countries on foot, avoiding the wars, scavenging for food and finding shelter and clothing as they searched for the family. Macinda then heard that they were in Kenya, so he made his way there with the little girl, but in Nairobi he heard that the Maulidi family had just left for Australia.
Soon after their arrival in Shepparton, the dad asked the principal of his children's new school—Julie Cobbledick of St Brendan's—to see if she could help him find his lost wife and little girl, Neema. Via the excellent work of the Red Cross and DFAT Macinda and Neema were soon located in a refugee camp in Kenya. Sadly, of course, their mother had been killed years before. So Neema, by then a tiny eight-year-old, was soon reunited with her family and her twin sister, Fitina, in Shepparton. Macinda, the young uncle, was then also accepted as a refugee and was reunited with his older brother—the family household head—and his nephews and nieces in Shepparton. This year, Fitina was one of the winners of the ABC's Heywire competition. She aspires to study medicine. Her twin sister, Neema, has almost caught up in size with her sister and is planning her future, and older brother Mongo is studying international affairs at ANU. He has been chosen to represent Australia in different leadership roles. He is doing very well. Like the rest of the family, he is an exceptional musician. Macinda, the heroic young man, is studying.
I find this to be an amazing story of human courage, endurance and ultimate survival. And it is just one of the happy refugee stories from Shepparton. We embrace our diversity, including of course our first Australians. I want to acknowledge the charity and hard work of our Sikh community and our various Muslim communities, some of whom, like our Turks and Albanians, have been settled in the Goulburn Valley for over 80 years.
I also want to pay tribute to Adnan al-Ghazal, a dear friend and Iraqi refugee, who had been tortured by the Saddam Hussein regime, so he was in very poor health. He was almost continually in pain, but he took upon himself the role of easing the new Arabic-speaking families into our community. In particular, he was the liaison between the Iraqi refugees and the schools, hospitals, police and other services. He was always available for translations. He helped so many of my Arabic speakers bring their constituent issues to my office. Tragically, Adnan died while on his way to Mecca. He was only in his 40s. We will miss him greatly, and I acknowledge his great contribution and kindness.
It has not always been easy trying to defend the rights of rural women, in particular, in relation to their sexual and reproductive health. For example, rural women have never had equitable access to a surgical termination when they have had to make the difficult decision to end the pregnancy. But then the health minister of the day proposed that Australian women's access to a pregnancy termination pill be subjected to ministerial veto. This would have meant that rural women's option of accessing RU486 at a lower cost and in their own supportive community was likely to be blocked. I persuaded John Howard to allow a conscience vote in this chamber, and with the support of the Senate, and some magnificent women there, we won the day. I want to thank the great Dr Mal Washer, then the member for Moore, for his tireless work on this issue.
I also want to acknowledge the courage and outstanding leadership of the NGO Marie Stopes International, which took up the task of the distribution of this drug and ensured GPs were registered for its use. They have persisted in this work and evolved even better access over the last 11 years. Its CEO, Maria Deveson Crabbe, has been an outstanding champion of women's reproductive health rights, and I wish her well in her new career directions.
I have had responsibility for numerous portfolios over the years, starting from 1998 when I was so pleased to become the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I thank Prime Minister John Howard for this early opportunity. Following from there I became the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration; the Minister for Workforce Participation; the shadow minister for the environment, heritage, the arts and Indigenous affairs; then the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship; and finally the shadow minister for early childhood education and child care and the shadow minister for the status of women. Each of these portfolios taught me so much. For example, one of my first responsibilities was for the Antarctic Division. I hope that more Australians one day will realise how Australia has led the saving of this last great wilderness. Lord Casey was the architect of the Antarctic Treaty, still a marvel, that has helped guide the treaties governing celestial bodies. We have so much to be proud of for such a young nation.
I want especially to thank the public servants, the backbone of any effective government, for their diligence and commitment to the nation's good in the various departments. In particular, I want to thank my chief of staff when I was the workforce participation minister, Karen Massier, who, I have no doubt, one day will be one of our great new members in this chamber.
I have also had the privilege of chairing a number of standing committees which have brought down some significant reports. These include national inquiries into Indigenous incarceration, Indigenous education, high-risk drinking, and language retention. Our foreign affairs and aid inquiries have included the role of the private sector and nutritional issues in the Indo-Pacific.
When I was a member of the Social and Legal Standing Committee we undertook the first national inquiry into fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
And Graham Perrett was the fantastic chair. Our recommendation for a national FASD prevention strategy was adopted, and at last there seems to be some greater recognition of this disability, its cause and its prevention. We could eradicate this greatest cause of non-genetic newborn brain damage, which is the result of the baby being exposed to alcohol in the womb. FASD, or FAS, is 100 per cent preventable if the pregnant woman simply does not drink for the duration of her pregnancy. Too many Australian women are still not aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol when pregnant. The alcohol culture, lobbying and industry in Australia are very powerful. I am proud to be the patron of the Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association and I commend the work of these volunteers. I thank this government for continuing to roll out the national FASD strategy.
My work as the chair of the Australian group of the Asia-Pacific parliamentary population development forum has helped me build close relationships with like-minded MPs across our region. I am vice-chair of the umbrella Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, chaired by Japan's Dr Keizo Takemi. It was a privilege to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week to report on our work, which will feed into their G7 deliberations. This forum is tackling the horrors of child marriage, FGM, the trafficking of women and girls, grinding poverty, poor health and education access, and women's need for empowerment, all of which are such pressing issues in our region. Changes are so important for the peace and prosperity of our region, but, as well, it is a right of every person, man or woman, to have a safe and decent life.
It has also been a pleasure to chair the Mongolian, East Timorese, Moroccan, Congolese and UN parliamentary friendship groups. I must say that the three months working with the Australian mission to the UN in New York, at the end of 2014 was an exceptional experience, and I thank this parliament for the opportunity. I was so proud to see Australia in the chair of the Security Council. I think Julie Bishop is one of our greatest foreign affairs ministers. I have been pleased to co-chair our drug reform and harm minimisation group, which championed the new medicinal cannabis legislation. Senator Richard Di Natale did so much to achieve that outcome. Our Dying with Dignity bipartisan group still has some way to go.
I talked about my commitment to Indigenous Australia in my maiden speech. One of my first books was a documentary history of Australia's race relations. During my time in this place I have seen the development of the parliamentary protocols which daily acknowledge the traditional owners, the flying of Indigenous flags and the 'welcome to country' ceremonies. These are significant symbols to be observed by the Australian public, in viewing the parliament as a model. They reflect the rightful place of our First Australians, the original owners of our country. But, of course, beyond the symbolism, we need the outcomes, and we all acknowledge the unacceptable gap between the life experience of Indigenous Australians and that of the rest of our society. I was proud to represent the government on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation for five years until 2000. I celebrated that great march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with my children, and the march in Melbourne that brought black and white Australians together, many for the first time. It has also been a joy to see our first House of Representatives Indigenous Australian MP, Ken Wyatt. May he be joined by many others in the future, especially if they are women. It is a disappointment that this parliament will see a reduction in numbers of women in the 45th Parliament. That is of great concern for our Liberal-National coalition and it is a concern for all of us in the parliament because we want to be seen to be representative of all of the Australian nation.
Every member of this chamber knows that, without highly professional and dedicated electoral office staff, their goals cannot be realised. I have had the great good fortune to have been supported by some of the best electoral staff you could find. Most of them are here with me today. They have all been committed to the cause of Murray and all have gone beyond the call of duty to help assist our constituents, often in great distress, and to give me 100 per cent support. Great staff have served before, but currently they are: Rhonda Whitehead, the first face to greet people as they come through the door in my office—she has been a wonder and has been with me more than 10 years; Steve Cooper, my case manager, has been with me for, I think, seven years; Callum Whitehead, my great media manager who recently left me—he has been luckily inherited by another member; and, of course, my part-timers, Vicki Neale and Lynette Philips. They have all been magnificent. It has been a real Team Murray effort. I also want to refer to Simon Frost and Andrew Cox, previous staffers who are now state Liberal division CEOs in Victoria and WA and doing great Liberal work. Two of my staff have run for parliament.
I want to pay a special tribute and pass on my deep gratitude to Mary Coad, my chief of staff for the last 10 years. Mary has been my right-hand person, deeply committed to the electorate and all of my other issues. She is always highly efficient, selfless, loyal and able to organise the seemingly impossible at very short notice. Mary has been such an integral part of my life for the last 10 years that I really do not know what I will do without her. She will remain a true friend, of course, and a fellow champion of Murray. I thank her most sincerely.
I thank the marvellous team who helped me raise the funds and campaign in that impossible election of 1996 and who are still my core team today—although I do confess there have been a few additions. I call them my 'Liberal family'. Only five or six were members of the Liberal Party before 1996, but now they make up my branches or are members of my fundraising 250 club.
There are too many names to mention and it is always a terrible danger when you start mentioning names that someone will be left out, but I do need to put on the record my enormous thanks to Bill Parsons and his wife, Gwen. Bill has been my federal electorate chair since my election in1996. He is the driver of my 250 club. He has been at the centre of the Liberal business of Murray for all of these 20 years. Also with me for all or most of those 20 years have been the wonderful Del and Gerald Brown, John Taig, the Van Zeists, Barry and Lorraine Smith, the Sterlings, the Lovell-Brown family, the Salis, Peter Twomey, Santo Varapodia and his late wife, Theresa, Keppel Turnour and his late wife, Helen, Kevin and June Reid, Marty Richardson, Rob Watson, Ruary and Nanette MacKenzie, Don Oberon, Ron and Rhonda Crossman, Mackenzie Craig, all the wonderful Inglewood-Wedderburn people of the Loddon branch, especially their pioneer, Maureen Turnbull, all the wonderful people of my Loddon-Murray branch, President Alan and Betty Mann, Alice and Cliff Harrison, Campbell and Janice Chalmers, Vince and Cheryl Bartels, John and Margaret Nelsons, Kelvin Jeffery, Ron Bear and so many more. The late Bill Hunter is also a Liberal icon in Murray. We miss him greatly.
One of the secrets of my success in staffing over 100 booths without any branches and managing the campaign in 1996 was the fact that I am related to half of the electorate—the western half, the great Tragowel Plains-Boort-Pyramid Hill area. It was easy when I was able to hand the job of coordination over to my brother Grant and my beloved cousin Rhonda Hosking. Rhonda then became my electorate officer in a second unofficial office I opened in Kerang, which I had for 10 years until the boundaries were changed. She used her own home as my office and contact point—a most generous arrangement. Rhonda was a brilliant electorate officer. She knew everybody; she cared about everybody, and she has also managed the Loddon-Murray branch with Alan Mann, a second cousin, ever since. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rhonda Hosking and deeply appreciate all that she has done for the area that we both love and call home.
I also want to acknowledge the unceasing support of my beloved father, Harvey Bawden, who remains vitally interested in all things in Murray where he farmed for 50 years. My mother, who passed away some 18 months ago, has also always been my inspiration. My sisters and brothers have always been loving and free with their advice, and my own children, Georgia and Nadia, who are here today, my son Kirk and my 11 grandchildren are a constant reminder to me about why the work we do is so important and why all of us strive so hard to make the country a better place. I thank them—my children—for their unconditional love and support.
It is hard to believe that it is 20 years since I first stood in this place. I did not anticipate that we were about to face the worst droughts and floods on record and various other challenges that have kept on coming. But, perhaps, that is the nature of life in rural and regional Australia. We are largely price takers and dependent on the vagaries of weather and global markets. I strongly believe that we will soon see the viability of the irrigation system and the irrigators protected. As I have said, our irrigation system is our lifeblood. It underpins our economy and it is a vital part of the solution to our 27 per cent youth unemployment.
My Murray electorate is magnificent. Its people are heroic, innovative and resourceful. We are proudly one of the most multicultural populations in regional Australia. We celebrate our diversity and the history of our pioneers. We have strong and vigorous Indigenous communities. I am proud that some of my grandchildren are growing up as a part of Murray. They are lucky children.
I leave this parliament proud of the gains made, regretful about the problems that are yet to be resolved. But every day it has been a privilege and an honour and a joy to serve the people of Murray. I thank the House.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have greatly appreciated the dignity and balance that you and the Speaker have brought to your roles. I would like to begin my parting speech by paying respect to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples as the traditional custodians of the land in the Canberra area. As was said by the former Young Australian of the Year, former Afghan refugee Akram Azimi, we make this acknowledgement not out of a sense of protocol but out of recognition that the Dreaming has not ended and we are all a part of it.
I came into this place to represent the Fremantle electorate and to engage in what I termed the war against indifference. Before I expand on that I would observe that there have been many wars fought in this place: the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on people smugglers, the war on each other. Only the last one seems to have had any success, and that has been to the ultimate detriment of all of us and of public trust in our political system.
The war on terror has too often become a tool used by governments around the world to suppress dissent, to shrink civil society, to curtail independent media, to increase surveillance of civilian populations and to erode the rule of law and hard-won civil liberties. We are seeing this in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia and Ethiopia—to name just a few countries—but we are also seeing it much closer to home. Terror is invoked by our allies to justify deviation from the international rule of law, such as extrajudicial assassinations, with the killing of civilians and drone strikes excused as accidental collateral damage.
Terror is used by Australia to justify laws providing 10-year jail terms for journalists who disclose secret intelligence operations. It is used to justify sending Australian forces to war in distant countries—wars in which the casualties are predominantly civilians—without any debate in the national parliament or the United Nations. It is used to justify cracking down on certain communities, when, in fact, such actions may increase the risk of terrorism while undermining the very principles that are being defended, which is clearly a lose-lose situation.
National security is increasingly invoked by the government to surveil and monitor the Australian community, while at the same time denying the community access to information about the government's actions—for example, the claim by an increasingly militarised Immigration and Border Protection agency that on-water matters may not be publicised, or the lack of transparency in defence procurement.
The mandatory data retention scheme, the gutting of Labor's FOI framework, the crackdown on whistleblowers and journalists, the blocking of changes to political donation disclosure thresholds—all of these matters at the federal level—together with the increasing suppression of dissent through draconian antiprotest laws in Tasmania, WA and New South Wales are troubling developments that seem to be taking Australia backwards not forwards as an open, democratic and progressive nation.
Our insistence on compliance with the international rule of law should be consistent and even-handed, whether we are talking about China's island-building activities in the South China Sea, Israel's settlement building, the US's bombing of Medecins Sans Frontieres hospitals, or our own treatment of Timor-Leste in relation to maritime boundaries.
The worldwide war on drugs has been an unmitigated disaster, serving only to destroy young lives and those of their families, foster and sustain organised crime and massively increase the cost to communities in terms of lives and productivity lost, increased hospital admissions and courts and jails packed with people consigned to a cycle of disadvantage and punishment. It is heartening that countries like Portugal and Uruguay are showing a more constructive way forward.
The recent parliamentary drug summit that looked at how Australia might move beyond the failed crime and punishment approach to a health and treatment centred approach is an encouraging development and aligns with a global shift in thinking. I thank my co-convenors of the Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy and Law Reform, Senator Dr Richard Di Natale, Dr Sharman Stone and the wonderful former chair, Dr Mal Washer, as well as the many experts, academics, public health organisation, users, family and community organisations for their dedication to addressing decades of global policy folly.
The war on people smugglers, accompanied by a faux concern for drownings at sea, has facilitated the profound deterioration in Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, our compliance with international human rights obligations and our own image of ourselves as a nation of tolerance, egalitarianism and the fair go. The present offshore detention system is a festering wound that is killing people and eroding our national character and reputation. It needs to be healed. The government falsely accuses asylum seekers of arriving illegally when, as observed by the United Nations and the Australian Human Rights Commission among others, it is Australian that is violating its legal obligations.
If we look at the many poor countries hosting millions of refugees in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and the millions of souls trying to reach Europe, the hysteria generated in the past decade and a half by politicians in Australia over a few thousand refugees arriving by boat should be understood as just that. It is time for debate and policy on this issue to be based on reason, facts, perspective and our obligations under international law rather than politics. Many parliamentarians from different parties have been deeply engaged on this issue—Anna Burke, Andrew Giles, Sharon Claydon, Russell Broadbent, Cathy McGowan, Adam Bandt, Sarah Hanson-Young, Lisa Singh, Claire Moore, Sue Lines, Doug Cameron and Anne Urquhart to name just some. I apologise to those I have missed out. I hope those efforts will soon lead to better outcomes.
There is an alternative that involves establishing a genuine regional framework, working constructively with other countries in the region to improve conditions in source and transit countries and negotiating resettlement arrangements with other countries—including, of course, a much greater commitment on Australia's part to taking more refugees. Every year, Australia accepts some 200,000 new migrants. If a portion of this number, say one-quarter, was allocated to humanitarian places, there would still be the same number of people coming to Australia overall. As we know, many refugees are highly skilled, keen to contribute and have shown great courage and resourcefulness in getting here. Such people can only enhance our country.
We also need to treat decently those thousands of asylum seekers left in limbo in Australia on bridging visas without work rights. Refugees facing indefinite detention due to negative ASIO security assessments should be given access to review by the AAT and alternatives to indefinite detention. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said, human rights are not reserved for citizens only or for people with visas; they are the inalienable rights of every individual regardless of his or her location and migration status.
As I have noted in this place before, the High Court decision in February this year upholding the offshore processing arrangements as constitutional was the result of a lack of human rights protections in the Australian Constitution—which, as noted in New Matilda last week, was framed before the postwar human rights area. This is why many people have been calling for a bill of rights or a human rights act, Australia being the only western democracy without one. Of course, regardless of the domestic legal position, under international law Australia cannot contract out its legal responsibilities and remains responsible for the plight of people it sends to Manus Island and Nauru.
Looking at the sorry record of the wars on drugs, terror and people smugglers, I have tended to be against wars on things as they seem to be misused by governments to impose a host of controls and restrictions on populations and to violate fundamental human rights without providing evidence of their effectiveness and fitness for purpose. But, as I said in my introduction, there is one war that I pledged to fight when I first started here, the war against indifference: indifference to extreme poverty and the plight of victims of human rights abuses here in Australia and elsewhere; indifference to the growing extinction of species and the heating of the planet; indifference to nuclear proliferation; indifference to corruption and poor governance; indifference to animal cruelty; indifference to the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the vulnerable in our society; and indifference to the need to safeguard and increase the public goods we all share, including high quality public health and education, infrastructure, fair and safe working conditions, affordable housing, strong independent public institutions and respect for the rule of law, public transport, public broadcasting, support for the arts, science and ancient cultural heritage and the environment.
In terms of improving the condition of humankind, in my view a shift is needed from the current economic orthodoxy which is fixed on the idea that economic growth can and should continue indefinitely. In Prosperity Without Growth: Economics For A Finite Planet UK economist Tim Jackson argues for a vision in which it is possible for human beings to flourish, achieve greater social cohesion, find higher levels of wellbeing and yet still reduce their material impact on the environment. The parliament and the government play a critical role in regulating our market economy and protecting equity, justice and the environment—things that markets do not provide or often ignore or work against. However, governments at state and federal level let their communities down when they contract out significant public services to the private sector. Not only does this result in a focus on profit rather than on delivering effective public services and safeguarding public goods; it exacerbates the trend towards greater and greater secrecy when commercial-in-confidence reasons are given for denying transparency and accountability about how taxpayers' money is being spent and who is to blame when things go wrong in, say, privately operated immigration detention centres, vocational training centres, prisoner transport services or public hospitals. Meanwhile, governments render public services and institutions increasingly less efficient with the euphemistically named efficiency dividends imposed with every budget.
In 2011, in the St Thomas More Forum Lecture, Chief Justice Robert French spoke of the concept of public office as a public trust. That is a notion I agree with. My work for a number of years as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Integrity, following on from my work at the UN on ethics and accountability, has convinced me that Australia needs a national integrity commission. Like my friends Stephen Jones, who formerly worked in the community and public sectors, and Senator Nick Xenophon, who is just naturally suspicious, I do not believe that the Commonwealth sector is uniquely invulnerable to corruption. Indeed, to borrow a phrase used by Premier Anna Bligh when she opened the 2009 national anti-corruption conference in Brisbane, there are a number of undisturbed rocks lying around at the Commonwealth level and no-one is picking them up to look underneath. A standing national integrity commission, appropriately resourced and empowered, would avoid allegations of political bias and the time, and massive expense to taxpayers, involved in setting up ad hoc royal commissions. It is imperative also to legislate strong protection for whistleblowers in the private sector. Almost all of the scandals revealed over tax havens, misconduct by banks, foreign bribery, exploitation of foreign workers, animal cruelty et cetera have come to public attention through the courageous actions of whistleblowers and journalists, who often pay a very high price for their bravery.
The role of an informed and engaged parliamentarian, quite apart from one's position vis-a-vis the executive as a frontbencher or backbencher, is undervalued in the Australian political system. All parliamentarians occupy a position of responsibility and privilege held by relatively few in the history of Federation, affording the occupant a rare platform from which to represent their electorates and the national and global interest.
I am grateful to the Accountability Round Table—a nonpartisan group of academics, lawyers, retired judges and public servants dedicated to improving standards of accountability, transparency and democratic practice in all governments and parliaments in Australia—for the parliamentary integrity awards named in honour of John Button and Alan Missen that were bestowed on Mark Dreyfus, Judy Moylan and I in 2013.
I am grateful to have had the experience of being a parliamentarian in government and in opposition. I am proud of the former Labor government's achievements across many areas: the apology to the stolen generations; staving off the global financial crisis in Australia; the carbon price and support for renewable energy development; the significant increase in Australian aid; paid parental leave; the NDIS; NBN; Gonski; massive investments in public transport, schools and local government infrastructure; removing discrimination against same-sex couples from over 80 Commonwealth laws; an ambassador for disability-inclusive development; and FOI reform and whistleblower protection for the public sector. Sincere thankyous to Professor AJ Brown, Howard Whitton, Tim Smith QC and the Accountability Round Table for their invaluable assistance on whistleblower protection.
I am also glad to have received Labor government support in my electorate for local companies undertaking significant innovation, such as Carnegie wave power and Richgro waste to energy. As an aside, I note that my constituent the Rottnest wind turbine survived former Prime Ministerial disparagement and has gone on to become famous with its own Twitter account. The Labor government also obtained World Heritage listing for Fremantle Prison, the return of Cantonment Hill to the people of Fremantle from the Department of Defence, the revitalised Hilton Community Centre, the maritime trade training centre at South Fremantle Senior High School, the Cockburn integrated community health centre, Coogee Beach Surf Life Saving club, the Jandakot Fire and Emergency Services headquarters, new facilities at Bibra Lake and of course marine sanctuaries—the largest network of marine sanctuaries in the world, which was begun under the Howard government and was delivered by the Labor government. It is essential that the three-year hold put on the network of sanctuaries by the present government now be lifted. My constituent Tim Winton assisted the brilliant Save Our Marine Life campaign—and there they are in the gallery—when he came to the parliament to deliver a speech for the ages. He observed:
Commonwealth waters are public assets. The family silver. Silver that moves, breathes, swims. If you've ever swum in a school of trevally or barracuda or anchovies, you'll know what I mean; it's like being Scrooge McDuck rolling around in the vault.
I am also grateful to former prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for the opportunity to have served in the executive as parliamentary secretary for mental health, homelessness and social housing and as the first dedicated minister in 25 years for Australia's world-leading international development agency, AusAID. The present government's abolition of AusAID as a separate agency resulted in a large number of dedicated, experienced staff having to seek work elsewhere. The staff who remain in DFAT and the broader aid and NGO community must cope with changing mandates and rapidly diminishing resources, following the $11.3 billion cuts to Australian aid—taking us down to a pitiful 0.22 per cent of GNI—which we know will wreak devastating impacts upon the world's poorest people. That puts us in the bottom half of OECD donors and it is the least generous level of aid in our history. It is a national shame that aid has such a low priority. It is also short-sighted because, in addition to being the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, our provision of aid is also in the larger national interest, contributing to global and regional peace and security and fostering economic development and self-sufficiency, which in turn expands our own export and economic opportunities.
Of course, some of the world's most disadvantaged people are here in Australia. One hundred and fifteen years ago, Labor member for Coolgardie Hugh Mahon moved a motion in the first year of the federal parliament calling for a royal commission into 'the conditions for Aborigines in northern Western Australia and into the administration of justice in the lower courts of Western Australia as it affected Aboriginal people'. He presciently argued that 'in this particular matter the reputation of the whole people of Australia is at stake.' He was right, but his motion went nowhere. Mahon himself became the only member ever expelled from the House of Representatives in 1920, for disloyalty and sedition, after he denounced British policy in Ireland at a public meeting. I hope the motion moved by my colleague Graham Perrett seeking a posthumous parliamentary pardon for Mahon is successful.
Unfortunately, more than a century after Mahon's motion, conditions for Australia's Indigenous peoples remain dire, with a young Aboriginal man more likely to go to jail than to university. Just a few weeks ago a 10-year-old girl in WA's Pilbara region committed suicide, following her older sister's suicide and that of many other young people. Deaths in custody like those of Mr Pat, Mr Ward, Mr Langdon, Ms Mandijarra and Ms Dhu keep occurring while governments remain missing in action on justice reinvestment; on the abolition of imprisonment for unpaid fines; on setting justice targets for Closing the Gap; on ratifying OPCAT, which would enable national oversight of all places of detention, including police lock-ups; and on implementing the recommendations of the now 25-year-old 1991 royal commission.
The overwhelming message from Aboriginal people is that they need to be an integral part of the discussion and decision-making around issues that affect them. A greater representation of Indigenous people in parliament, including present colleagues Ken Wyatt and Labor senators Nova Peris and Pat Dodson, will surely make a difference, as will a fuller accounting and reparation for the manifest injustices done to the First Australians, the adoption of a date other than 26 January to celebrate our national day, long-overdue constitutional recognition and the preservation of Indigenous cultural heritage, including languages and the magnificent rock art throughout Australia.
As noted in the former Labor government's national cultural policy, Australia is home to the oldest living culture on earth and we have been welcoming of the greatest diversity of cultures on earth. This is what has made us unique and it is why we have to preserve our culture, nurture it, invest in it and build upon it. Culture and art reflect our values of inclusion, respect and freedom of expression, and they promote healing. There is no better example of this than the organisation DADAA in Fremantle, working with disability and the arts. There are also incredible economic dividends to be gained from the arts because a creative society is necessarily a more innovative and productive society. There are more than half a million people working in the creative industries in Australia, around six per cent of the workforce, and the sector's growth is almost double that of the rest of the workforce. As the Prime Minister so often says, it is creativity and innovation that will power our nation's future, so we need to tap into the passion and imagination that young people innately have and nurture it in our homes, in our schools, in our businesses and in our community.
Last year's Western Australian of the year, neuroscientist Professor Lyn Beazley, observed that one of the keys to redefining our nation's prosperity will be an increased focus on science and the arts. The cuts to both science and the arts in the last two years have been devastating and must be reversed, and funding increased. This is critical to Australia's future wellbeing. It is no accident, in my view, that, while there are many artists, writers and musicians living in Fremantle, there are also many scientists and inventors.
It has been a joy to represent the wonderful, engaged, spirited, outward-looking, creative and caring community of Fremantle. I have enjoyed working with local councils, schools and church and community groups on issues such as raising funds and awareness for homelessness through the annual Gimme Shelter concert, and being involved in community support for more humane treatment of refugees, increased Australian aid and action on climate change, renewable energy and marine sanctuaries, as well as community opposition to live animal exports, supertrawlers and the proposal of the WA state and federal coalition governments to fund and build the disastrous and poorly thought out Perth Freight Link, which would entail the building of a truck freeway through sensitive rare wetlands, ancient Indigenous cultural heritage and local communities.
The phrase 'think globally, act locally' is well worn but contains great wisdom. I have been fortunate in my professional life to work as a community legal centre lawyer in regional Australia, as a UN lawyer and as a member of parliament. I have found that looking at any issue from a local, national and international point of view can raise wider perspectives and a range of potential solutions or actions. Ultimately all issues are local issues, whether you are talking about human rights, the environment, health or development. Rights and standards articulated in the international arena are concerned with the essential dignity of the individual and the community. These standards can only be implemented at the local level, whether it be planting a tree to combat global warming, vaccinating a child to reduce child mortality under the sustainable development goals, or protecting the migratory birds at Bibra Lake, in my electorate, under the conventions on migratory birds.
Most of our efforts as MPs, and the efforts of those who come to see us in this place or in our electorate offices, are directed not so much at trying to change minds but rather at getting people to care sufficiently about an issue to attend an event, to speak or write about it, to contribute funds or to vote for it. In a place and time when everyone is busy, overcoming indifference is no easy task. It is often the personal connection, the real-life story of individuals and families, that helps to overcome political inertia on an issue.
A recent example is the moving story of Daniel Haslam's struggle with cancer and the campaign that he and his mother, Lucy, fought to ensure that medicinal cannabis could be legally available to Australians suffering chronic pain, nausea or seizures. Or there is the story of the incredible Peter Short, who, while suffering terminal cancer, led the campaign to raise community and political awareness of the need for dying-with-dignity laws.
The terrible execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia has reignited determination in the Australian government, parliament and community to see an end to the death penalty worldwide. I pay tribute to Philip Ruddock and Chris Hayes for their longstanding leadership in the parliament on this issue and to Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek for their international advocacy.
The plight of Peter Greste and his colleagues in Egypt turned a much-needed spotlight on the issue of decreasing media freedom around the world. Again, parliamentarians like Jane Prentice, Graham Perrett, Teresa Gambaro and others, working with Amnesty International, helped to raise the profile of this issue.
What these particular campaigns have shown is that parliamentarians from all parties, listening to the community and acting with the best interests of the nation at heart, putting politics aside, can achieve amazing thing together. This has been my experience working on parliamentary committees including the treaties, foreign affairs, human rights, and law enforcement integrity committees, and in parliamentary friendship groups for the United Nations, UNICEF, ABC, TPP, drug policy and law reform, nuclear disarmament, and refugees, as well as Parliamentarians for Global Action, which is an international organisation of individual MPs from parliaments around the world that conducts campaigns on abolition of the death penalty, universal ratification of the International Criminal Court Rome Statute and the Arms Trade Treaty, among other things.
I want to thank the many colleagues and friends from all parties, as well as Independents, with whom I have worked on so many issues across this parliament—too many to name without risking leaving someone important out. I have been the beneficiary of great acts of kindness in this place, some of them from unexpected sources, and I will not spoil anyone's promotion prospects by mentioning names! Everyone is here with the best of intentions and a diversity of backgrounds, experience and knowledge to contribute. As I said in my first speech, while I acknowledge that there is an aspect of our democracy that is necessarily and even usefully adversarial, I also believe there is greater scope for cooperative, consensus politics.
Many of us have been inspired by the people we have met and the stories we have heard about suffering and about hope. Lyn White, of Animals Australia, uses forensic investigations and powerful advocacy to raise public consciousness of the plight of the millions of animals raised, transported and slaughtered for human consumption. Her efforts are reinforced by many other dedicated animal welfare professionals, scientists, journalists, vets, lawyers and community members too numerous to name, as well as some valued parliamentary colleagues, including—among many—Kelvin Thomson, Tony Zappia, Andrew Wilkie and Jason Wood. I thank them for their support and their voice for the animals. I agree with the former President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, David Weisbrot, who said animal welfare would be the next great social justice movement. Establishing properly resourced independent offices of animal welfare at federal and state levels should be a priority to ensure that animal welfare laws and policies are strengthened, harmonised and enforced.
As members of parliament, we frequently receive delegations of scientists, doctors and young people regarding the existential challenge of climate change. I will never forget the young people from the Pacific islands who came to the parliament to discuss the devastating impact that global warming is having on their islands, with increased cyclonic, drought and storm surge events and sea level rise eroding precious land and polluting crops and fresh water with salt. There is nowhere for them to go. Australia has a duty as a high-per-capita emitter to reduce its carbon emissions as a matter of urgency and to assist poorer nations to cope with the impacts of climate change.
Dr Hla Myint has been a frequent visitor to parliament to raise awareness of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, often described as the most persecuted people in the world. It is to be hoped the new presidency will promote human rights for all in Myanmar. The Baha'i community in Fremantle, Canberra and elsewhere have consistently spoken about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran, an issue I recently raised with the Iranian foreign minister and ambassador, who gave me a good hearing. It is only through dialogue that understanding and breakthroughs can occur.
As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, it has been wonderful to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama—and with members of the Tibetan community in Australia and in exile—to learn about the situation of Tibetans and their peaceful quest for genuine autonomy and respect for their language, religion and culture within China. Given the growing power of China, it is particularly important that parliamentarians continue to raise human rights issues faced by Tibetans and other groups within China, including Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners and the many courageous Chinese advocates for democracy and rights.
I thank the Palestinian ambassador, His Excellency Izzat Abdulhadi, and the Moroccan ambassador, His Excellency Mohamed Mael-Ainin representing the Council of Arab Ambassadors for the recent special presentation of thanks to Maria Vamvakinou, Laurie Ferguson, Alan Griffin, Jill Hall, Craig Laundy, Sussan Ley, Lee Rhiannon and I for our work as members of the parliamentary friendship group for Palestine. As someone who lived in Gaza for 2½ years out of the eight years I worked with the UN, it has been heartening to see increasing recognition, in this place, of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people as a result of the decades-long occupation, the continued illegal settlement-building, the Gaza blockade and the discrimination within and outside of Israel.
This situation harms everyone, including Israel, which will find it increasingly difficult to combat claims that it is becoming an apartheid state within the meaning of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. I look forward to Australia joining the two-thirds of the world's nations that already recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel and that support an end to the occupation. Only a solution that respects international law and the human rights of all is sustainable.
I am perturbed by the recent report that the last visit by an Australian government minister to Australia's great friend and close neighbour Timor-Leste was when I visited in August 2013 as international development minister. I hope that Labor's policy to enter negotiations with Timor-Leste—and submit to international arbitration if talks fail—will become bipartisan policy. I also look forward to the long-suffering people of West Papua finally seeing justice and respect for their human rights, including self-determination.
The United Nations remains as important as ever, despite its flaws, and I am proud of Australia's longstanding commitment to the organisation and to multilateralism, since it was first championed by Labor Prime Minister and former federal member for Fremantle John Curtin, and foreign minister Doc Evatt. As a former UN staff member, I was appreciative of the encouragement of the former member for Fraser Professor John Langmore to establish the Australia-UN Parliamentary Group, together with former Liberal Senator Russell Trood, in 2008. The group is an important—and, I hope, lasting—development in the parliament, which complements the longstanding parliamentary association for UNICEF, which I have also had the privilege of co-chairing.
The United Nations' annual peacekeeping budget, at US$7.8 billion, is equivalent to half of one per cent of annual global military spending. In 2011, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade inquiry into the 2009-10 DFAT annual report canvassed the enormous disparity, in budgetary terms, between defence and diplomacy: roughly, $27 billion versus $1 billion, at the time.
In the committee's view and in my view, there is no reason we should not invest in preventative defence in the same way as we do in preventative health and—in addition to the regular diplomacy work—promote the active work in conflict resolution or peacemaking that might be done to anticipate and preve