Thursday, 4 July 2019
I first thank the Governor-General for his remarks in opening the parliament as well as for the comments at his swearing in, where His Excellency said, 'Australia is not a finished product.' Whatever your views in this place, wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you would have to agree there is still so much work to do for our nation.
To represent my community here in the 46th Parliament is an honour, so I start by thanking the people of Perth for the honour of representing, advocating and being your voice in this, the 46th Parliament. Indeed, they have chosen to elect me twice in the space of less than 12 months and that is a special honour which I am particularly grateful for. Equally, I want to thank those who helped in my election campaign and congratulate all members on their election, especially the newest members of this parliament. Equally, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his election and I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition and their respective teams.
Much has been said that this is the aspirational parliament. Like the word 'reform' or the word 'innovation', there is no doubt that, come the end of the 46th Parliament, we will almost be sick of the word 'aspiration'; it will have become overused and will possibly have lost some of its meaning. But what does aspiration mean for us here and now? My aspiration is for our country. I aspire for more Australians to achieve their hopes and dreams. An aspiration is nothing without education. Without learning, you cannot achieve. So in the spirit of that, in the opening of this parliament, I want to share some of my hopes, my aspirations and some of the lessons I've learnt from my electorate as we enter the 46th Parliament.
The land, the community and the history of the land on which the Perth electorate sits goes back to the Dreamtime. Boorloo existed for uncounted centuries, sustaining the oldest continuing culture in human history. Every time I am welcomed to any part of this country we now call Australia, I'm grateful for how First Nations people have chosen to share their experiences with us. Imagine for one moment if First Nations people had not chosen to share their culture, not chosen to bring us in. Recently I was at a City of Perth citizenship ceremony, 5.30 in the evening, the sun was setting. As he welcomed us to his land, an elder, known across Perth as Uncle Ben, a delightful man, reminded us that, in his lifetime, he had gone from being banned in the City of Perth as the sun set to now welcoming us as the sun set on to his land.
We indeed have come have a very long way. It is a journey Perth will continue to make and we will discuss even more as we approach 12 August 2029. That date is the bicentenary of the founding of Perth. It was at the location where the Perth Town Hall now stands that a tree was cut down as a symbolic gesture to found the city. So much has changed. For a start, if you walked into the centre of Perth and started chopping down a native tree, I'm pretty sure you'd be arrested. I'm pretty sure my colleague the member for Fremantle would be there protesting saying, 'You cannot cut down one of these beautiful trees.' But the bicentenary is a chance to celebrate the country we continue to build—that great unfinished project. It will be a date that focuses our minds towards further reconciliation, on making Perth a truly world-class city, on building our sense of what it means to be a West Australian and on Western Australia's contribution to the great Commonwealth of Australia. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate and discuss our future.
My wife, Jess, is a bicentenary baby born in 1988. As many know, as a nation, we really did celebrate that moment. Indeed, some of those celebrations have been noted as we've celebrated the great life of Bob Hawke in recent days. The federal government invested incredibly heavily in those celebrations, which were driven by the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney in 1788. At the time, there was a feeling from other states that the celebrations were too focused on Sydney and New South Wales. It's not the only thing where we might feel that things are too focused on Sydney or New South Wales, but Sydney was the heart of the action. The New South Wales government received more than $18 million from a $63 million pool for national celebrations of state and territory governments. Other projects that happened in New South Wales received funding of more than $200 million.
Over the course of the next two decades, we are going to have a large number of these celebrations—not just in Perth. We're going to have towns and cities across Australia recognising their bicentennial. We have Brisbane and Perth holding their celebrations before 2030 and Melbourne and Adelaide before 2040. In Western Australia, Albany, Fremantle, Augusta and Busselton will all mark 200 years of settlement over the next 12 years. The federal government—indeed, this parliament itself—needs to be involved in all of these celebrations, and the one I'm particularly passionate about is that celebration that will happen in Perth. I hope that, as we come towards that date of 12 August 2029, we have walked further towards true truth-telling and reconciliation. I hope that, by that date, we have a voice to this parliament from our First Peoples and that we continue to celebrate the project that we continue to build together, Australia.
My more modest aspirations when it comes to the Perth electorate are long, and I will not fit them all in this speech, but there are a few that I hope are completed by the time we get to 2029. One of the critical pieces of missing infrastructure is the Perth-Bayswater-Morley-Ellenbrook train line. This project, a flagship of the McGowan government's METRONET program, will deliver jobs in the short, medium and long term. By 2029, this project, I hope, will be up and running—or up and rolling, as you would say—creating an important transport route for locals in the north-east of Perth. But, if we want those jobs to come earlier and that economic activity to start, we need to fast-track the train. The Leader of the Opposition has already outlined his call to bring forward infrastructure investment to create jobs, to continue to support the great Australian economy. This project could and should start this year, and I urge the Deputy Prime Minister to make this so.
Other infrastructure projects I'm passionate about include the redevelopment and revitalisation of the East Perth Power Station, following in the steps of the Sydney and Brisbane Powerhouses. I'd be happy to assist any member of this place who may wish to visit the East Perth Power Station, some 8.5 hectares of prime riverfront land in the inner city. It is a beautiful site, and it has an incredibly exciting future. In May of this year, I was proud to stand alongside Premier Mark McGowan as he announced intentions to bring forward some of the capital works necessary to be able to revitalise that land and, hopefully, hand over to someone with more creative ideas than me the ability to take that East Perth Power Station and give it a new life for the 21st century. Whether it hosts art, culture, business or community activity, it will be a great asset for all people in Western Australia and visitors to our state. It will also generate huge numbers of jobs—local tradies, architects, artists and hospitality workers all working on this great project in our inner city. It'll be a beautiful connection from the old to the new.
As we talk about the inner-city developments needed to continue to make sure Perth is a world-class city, I also note that soon Perth will be the only mainland capital without a light rail or rapid transit system. Light rail is a necessary building block to ensure Perth remains a functional and modern city. I always encounter great enthusiasm for the debate about light rail. Some of that enthusiasm is to debate the absolute non-necessity of light rail, looking at examples in Sydney, where it has, indeed, been a very difficult process to bring that tramline back to life. But I also look at places like the Gold Coast, where there's been a very successful, very quick build of a much-loved new light rail system. I congratulate the City of Perth commissioners and the staff of the City of Perth for including in their recent draft planning strategy the action to identify the city's preferred mass rapid transit routes and to work with the state and federal governments to advance proposals for the funding and delivery of mass rapid transit in Perth. I commend the city. I commend their staff. That is a very exciting thing to read in their planning documents.
One of the smaller challenges we face in the electorate of Perth is the need to ensure that, where we have a city that is struggling—that has a large number of vacancies—which we know all too well in places like Beaufort Street and in the CBD of Perth, we continue to invest in community activation. I commend the work of Activate Perth, which is following in the steps of Renew Newcastle and Renew Adelaide in activating the Perth CBD. I believe that, in the steps of the Stronger Communities Program and the Local Sporting Champions program, there is a space for a government led community activation fund for every electorate in the country. Every member in this place has parts of their community and their electorate that would benefit from investment in community activation. Space activation makes sure that, where a community is not able to fully enjoy all of the assets that they have, the energy and enthusiasm that comes from people who say, 'I want to create a festival. I want to create something. I want to bring life back to my community,' is given that opportunity, because great ideas and great energy sometimes need just a few dollars to bring them to reality.
Across Perth, we have much-loved but ageing sporting facilities. The wave of investment 30, 40 and 50 years ago is starting to become a liability for many struggling sporting clubs in my electorate. Multimillion-dollar repairs are daunting for the small community sports clubs who lease or own these assets. We have the birthplace of the careers of many great Western Australian cricketers at the Western Australian Cricketing Association, or the WACA, in East Perth. We have the homes of two West Australian Football League clubs in my electorate. We have smaller venues like the Mount Lawley Bowling Club and the Bayswater City Soccer Club. They are all in need of serious investment so they can continue to be the community assets that have been loved for so many decades. I'll continue to fight to make sure that they can get the sort of investment they need to continue to service my community.
During the recent election campaign and in my time in this place, I was also proud to advocate for a number of projects that I believe still deserve consideration by the government that has been elected. I note they didn't make many commitments in the electorate of Perth, but at least they ran this time, so that was a step in the right direction. The coalition government should consider the project of the Maylands Waterland, originally invested in by the Whitlam government and opened by the Fraser government. It is a great place for young people of preschool age to learn how to swim and how to be safe around water. It's a fabulous asset on the banks of the Swan River. There is also the Bayswater urban forest. Urban forestation is going to be something that we are going to talk about more and more in this place as people seek to protect the tree canopy in the inner city. It's a great project that is reducing local greenhouse gases and driving visitors to that part of Bayswater that once was beautiful bushland, that became a tip and a dump for many years and that is now returning to its former glory. I've already mentioned the WACA. It's a great project and I commend all who have advocated for it. I know that many on the government benches are passionate about seeing the WACA become the community hub that it can be in coming years. During the campaign, both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party made commitments, following meetings with the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia, for upgrades to the Jewish Community Centre. I welcome the commitment of the government and I look forward to that funding being brought forward so that the upgrades to that important community asset just on the border of my electorate can be completed soon. We should also ensure that we release the funds from the Safer Communities Fund. I welcome the commitment of the government to invest more in that fund, but we need to release those dollars. I look forward to working with my neighbouring colleague, the new member for Stirling, to ensure funding for some of those community assets that I've just mentioned.
If we're serious about aspiration then we need to be serious about education. It's the great transformer. My parents were both teachers, and I'll take this opportunity to congratulate them on their 25-year membership of the Independent Education Union and their recent professional recognition by the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. My mum, Wendy, was awarded the ACEL(WA) Fellowship, and Ron received the Pre-eminent Educational Leader Award. Congratulations, Mum. Congratulations, Dad. In Dad's speech, he noted that the teachers of today sitting in classrooms across the country are preparing children for a world in 2100. That is not a future that is scary or worrisome but a future we ought to be thinking about. The people they are educating today will still be around in 2100.
When you consider that great responsibility of teachers and educators and the role they play, then we have to be serious about doing the work that educators do. There are some 80 childcare centres in the Perth electorate minding, educating and growing the minds of some 4½ thousand young people in Perth. There are 14,566 students who study at TAFE in the electorate of Perth. The wages and job security of those who educate are far too disparate. TAFE lecturers and university tutors lack the job security to focus on their important academic and training work. Early-childhood educators lack the pay equity that they have sought for so long. And we need to make sure there are career pathways and professional development for the teachers of our nation. In that theme of education, the people of Perth are not just my constituents but my educators, and I thank them for the lessons that they teach me every single day.
I want to thank the team that I was lucky to work with in this election. Elections are a team sport. I couldn't have met my aspirations without the support of a team of absolute champions. Thank you for the counsel and advice of the Honourable Amber-Jade Sanderson, Ester Borcich and Naomi McLean. I want to thank my team in the office: Dylan Caporn, Liesa Gibbs, Melinda Perks, Marissa Williams, Marcus Podyma, Lincoln Aspinall and Dylan Perkins. Of course I thank Jess, Leo and my family for their ongoing support. And I want to thank every single one of the volunteers of the great Australian Labor Party. The reality is we didn't feel that great on the evening of 18 May 2019, but I assure you that the Australian Labor Party is not a finished project either.
I now conclude by making some condolence remarks. On Tuesday I walked out of the Governor-General's address to the devastating news from my dad that Charles—otherwise known as Chuck—Bonzas had passed away. Chuck was an activist and a life member of the Australian Labor Party in the great Fremantle branch. He was a founder of the Fremantle Anti-Nuclear Group, otherwise known as FANG, which is where he met my parents. He was one of the most genuine, passionate people you would ever meet, and you were almost guaranteed to have met him over a beer, if not multiple beers. He was a founding member of what was known as 'project iceberg', leading the campaigns against nuclear power and nuclear weapons in Western Australia.
He also served this country in the Vietnam War. He served in the 1st Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers. He helped sweep and clear what was then known as the barrier minefield. He was part of what became known as the tunnel rats, investigating, mapping and ultimately destroying tunnels across Vietnam. Chuck only truly embraced his identity as a Vietnam veteran in the last decade of his life, but I know many of the veterans and friends he gained and reconnected with in recent years would also share in the loss of him and will miss him greatly.
Chuck wasn't the biggest fan of children—he didn't even call them children; he used to refer to them as 'sproglets'—but he made an exception for a few, including me and my brother, Joey. We've known him like an uncle my entire life. He was a sometimes drunk uncle who would from time to time rock up at our house late at night uninvited, including one Christmas dinner. After that we figured it was easier to invite Chuck along to the Christmas dinner, which he did for many years. It was my absolute pleasure to have him at our family Christmas just last year.
Chuck didn't tolerate idiots. He didn't dodge a fight. His arguments within the Labor Party are legendary. I reckon Chuck probably got a few extra years of life just because he was determined to fight the Right at one more conference. One of his passions was the environment, working in the renewable energy space. The other was his rejection of nuclear industry.
I was privileged to have Chuck at my campaign launch last year. He saw it fit to try to help the campaign along by insisting on slipping a few $50 notes into my hand. I explained to him politely that that was not an appropriate thing to do, but Chuck did not believe that the Labor Party's fundraising code of conduct should apply to him!
Indeed, it was one of many rules in the Labor Party that he didn't necessarily think should apply to him!
We're going to miss Chuck greatly. He was a great friend of mine, the member for Fremantle and the former member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke. His loss is a very sad thing for the Labor family in Western Australia. I'm pleased to have been able to honour his life in this place, and I look forward to a beer with some of his friends at Clancy's Fish Pub in coming days.
I will start by saying what a privilege it is to be able to, once again, be in this House as the re-elected member for Fowler. I'd like to take the opportunity of thanking the people of my community, who once again placed their trust in me to be their representative in the federal parliament. As the member for Fowler—and I've held that position now for the last nine years—I can reassure the community I certainly do not, and will not, ever take for granted the great honour that they have given me. It's a privilege to be representing, in my case, one of the most diverse communities in the whole of Australia. It's certainly rich in spirit and acceptance and it's a very, very kind and compassionate community. Fowler is certainly one of the most successful examples of multiculturalism that you will find in Australia.
I take the opportunity to thank all those who helped me during the course of the election campaign. I apologise to them that we couldn't deliver a Labor victory on 18 May, as I think they did need a Labor government to protect and advance their aspirations. But I say to all those branch members who selflessly gave of their time, to our local community organisations and to the various volunteers who all turned up and made tireless efforts, whether it be prepoll or on election day or simply seeing me to give advice, I really appreciate everything that you've been able to do for me in helping me to secure Fowler, once again, as a Labor seat.
As part of my campaign, I certainly had the pleasure of engaging with various organisations and cultural groups throughout the community, including those of very linguistically diverse backgrounds. All members of parliament have the opportunity to go and visit all aspects of our constituents' endeavours. As I indicated, mine is the most multicultural community and I'm frequently invited to the various cultural and religious events throughout the community. I found amazing the many in those groups that volunteered their time to come out and support me in the political processes of our democratic society and support my election. It is their support, for almost a decade, that has helped me to, quite frankly, stay in touch with the real needs of the local community. So, as the re-elected member for Fowler, I pledge to remain accessible to all constituents. I know it's trite to say, but, regardless of whether they voted for me or not, I know my principal job as the federal member for Fowler is to look after the people of my community and the people in need. So I remain committed to ensuring that that has the utmost priority in my community.
I want to just talk a little about priorities. One of the highest priorities I certainly have is trying to secure employment opportunities in our local region. It is absolutely diabolically important, particularly in a community like mine, which, as I've expressed, is very diverse but, regrettably, is certainly not a wealthy community. We need to have the opportunity of employment prospects to sustain not only the community but the local economic environment as well.
This is particularly the case with the development of the Western Sydney Airport, the new Badgerys Creek airport, which is being constructed just outside my electorate and which is expected to maximise employment opportunities and create more than 28,000 jobs by 2031. This is something that I think all of us in Western Sydney are particularly excited about. There is no doubt that this will be of economic benefit to the country—New South Wales in particular—but I've made a point of saying that it cannot be at the expense of our local community. I know a lot of work's going into configuration of flight paths and all that to prevent unnecessary disruption to our local communities, but it's also important that, as this airport's being constructed on the basis of being a piece of economic infrastructure that will be of benefit to the state of New South Wales and to the nation generally, we do not overlook our local community in all that.
What I mean by that is that I think there's got to be some degree of prioritisation given to local employment opportunities flowing from the construction of the Badgerys Creek airport to local residents. It is important when I say that we're not a wealthy community. As a matter of fact, the average household income—not the average income but the average household income—in my community is just a little bit over $60,000. So a piece of infrastructure like this could be very significantly life-changing for families and communities in and around my electorate of Fowler.
Unfortunately, what follows from that is that Western Sydney was also found to be currently the epicentre of rental stress. We've all heard about the issues in Sydney and Melbourne with housing prices, and I know there's some fluctuation of that now, but what is not fluctuating is the issue of rental stress, particularly in my community. As a matter of fact, Fowler is rated No. 1 in the nation for being affected by rental stress. These statistics, such as they are, caused me to reaffirm my commitment to ensuring that the vast number of job opportunities expected to be created in and about the airport are targeting residents of communities such as mine with the aim of ultimately easing pressure not only on families but also on their household expenditures. I also remain committed to ensuring that local businesses are also considered, if not prioritised, in many of the activities in and about the construction of this airport, because that will ensure further underpinning of the local economy of the areas that we have the honour of representing in Western Sydney.
I also remain committed to helping those in my community who continue to experience issues with Centrelink. I know this probably affects every member of this House, but we are experiencing issues with Centrelink, particularly those constituents that are trapped in very complex situations. Unfortunately, this is an issue which arises most frequently—certainly in my electorate office. There is no doubt Centrelink has been a crucial part of supporting those who find themselves in tough circumstances or in places where they need support for themselves and their families. As I said a little earlier, whilst being a very diverse electorate, mine is certainly not a wealthy electorate. We have significant pockets of disadvantage. When individuals and families try to access support from Centrelink, issues often arise, with many of these issues stemming from the lack of communication between individuals, Centrelink offices and, without putting too fine a point on it, the policy settings of the department. In many cases, Centrelink seems to apply its policy guidelines strictly, in a manner which does not give proper consideration for the nuances and complexities involved in the circumstances that individuals find themselves in. This government's ongoing attack on Centrelink—particularly with staffing—has had enormous pressure on Centrelink's ability to meet and address the issues of many of my constituents who find themselves in critical need.
This is particularly evident for those constituents who have to apply for disability support pensions. They are constituents who are clearly able to provide medical advice of their disabilities but, nevertheless, have not necessarily been placed in a too-hard box but are being considered, primarily, as fit and able. One of these is a woman named Mrs Anna Gutteres, who has visited my office on many occasions. She is the mother of a son with a severe disability. What she says to me is that there's just a general lack of understanding within Centrelink with regard to the complexity of her son's case. For a woman who has to bring up her son with the range of difficulties he has, it just seems to me that we need to show her a little bit more compassion and certainly show more sensitivity for cases like this. In fairness, many of these cases would be complex, but, with the amount of cutback that has been occurring within Centrelink, it prevents it having the time and, I suppose, the ability to take a holistic approach in addressing these matters. But this is certainly an issue which is front and centre within my community.
In a similar vein—and I'm sure I'm not alone in this either—my electorate seems to be very much overrepresented by people and families that live with disabilities. I know the minister would have received letters, as would probably most of us here in parliament, over the last period complaining about the ability of the NDIA to satisfy the needs of families living with disabilities. Regrettably, as I say, my electorate is overrepresented by families with disabilities. Partly that's because of the housing prices in my community being less than elsewhere in Sydney. Within a 20-kilometre radius of the Liverpool CBD is 51 per cent of all families in New South Wales that live with autism, which is an extraordinary figure. But, again, it more than relates to the fact that housing in Western Sydney is a little cheaper than elsewhere. The point of all that is that, regrettably, somewhere around 80 per cent of those families living with autism are single-parent families. As people may appreciate, very few relationships successfully survive bringing up children on the autism spectrum.
These are issues that must be addressed. They must certainly not simply be put to the side and treated as just another public servant job or simply something that the government's got to do. We have the honour of being elected to this parliament, and I would have thought that one of the primary aspects of us coming here is to make a difference for the better in our respective communities. When it comes to issues of disability, we need to actually have a greater focus on people in need. I don't know the experience of other members, but it's always been my experience that people that come to me who live in families with disabilities don't want a lecture on politics. They don't want a lecture on who's done what. They don't want to be told if it's a state or federal issue. They simply want help. I think it has to be about the way we run our support for those families that live with disabilities. Our ambition should be to holistically look after these people, not simply treat them as another number and make them go through the rigours of what is occurring, regrettably, at the moment, in the processing of the NDIS.