Wednesday, 24 July 2019
It's important I begin this speech by acknowledging Australia's first peoples. I pay my respects to the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge that the seat of Jagajaga is on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.
It is an honour to have been elected as the member for Jagajaga. In Melbourne's north-eastern suburbs, Jagajaga is well known as a generous and well-connected community where people's lives are occupied with family, work and involvement in our wonderful schools, playgroups, RSLs and sporting clubs. In Jagajaga we enjoy our open spaces. The iconic Main Yarra Trail winds its way through parklands, wetlands and playing fields where thousands of people walk, ride, play and compete in the sports they love every week of the year. We also hold dear the legacy of the 1956 Olympic Games athletes village in West Heidelberg, which is now home to our Somali community and the many community organisations that work with them and others in the area.
I grew up in Jagajaga. My dad was a local lawyer and my mum a local school teacher. Both instilled in me a strong sense of community and a curiosity for what else was out there in places across our country. I was always an avid reader as a child and I learned to interpret the world through stories, so it was perhaps inevitable that I started my working life as a journalist. In this role and in my subsequent work as an adviser and as a public servant, I have been privileged to hear the stories of people from across Australia and to reflect on the power that those of us in this place have to help shape those stories for better or for worse.
The stories that have helped shape me and driven me to be standing here today are from people who are most dependent on what we do in this place for their livelihoods, their wellbeing and their security. On election night this year, I received an email from a woman in my electorate. I'd met her and her young daughter in a queue at a prepoll station a few days earlier. She emailed me to explain that she was a single mother who had left an abusive relationship and was working hard to try to pay rent so she could continue to live near the excellent public school she sent her daughter to. She asked that I not forget her when I was elected to this place. And I won't, because, as a member of the Labor Party, I will strive to build a community where the stories of people like this woman and her daughter are heard, validated and acted upon. In doing so, we will build a stronger and more resilient community for all of us, including those who otherwise feel like they live on the margins of our society. I believe that progressive politics succeeds when we deliver these people security in their lives and hope for the future.
I also believe that the work we do in parliament often seems to be at its most effective when we, the people's elected representatives, move ourselves away from being the centre of the story—when we listen, open ourselves up to conversations and give voice to the people whose stories have not been heard. I saw the power of this firsthand when the Gillard Labor government built the National Disability Insurance Scheme. For many years, people with disability, their families and carers had been trying to tell their stories over and over again, but, to put it bluntly, governments weren't listening. It took a Labor government that was ready to listen and to act to build the scheme.
At the time, I worked for the former member for Jagajaga, who was the Minister for Disability Reform. I remember the courage and determination of people with disability and their families during this time, but what I remember most was their immense joy and relief when the NDIS was finally established. We haven't yet realised the potential of the NDIS, and making it work must involve an unswerving commitment on our part to listen to and act upon the stories and experiences of those people who rely on it.
On a personal note, the NDIS changed my life. I met my partner, Daniel, when we were both working at the National Disability Insurance Agency in Geelong, spending many hours together commuting on the train from Melbourne. We are perhaps lucky—and I hope the member for Corangamite forgives me for saying this—that there was not a faster rail link between the two cities then, as Daniel is sure that it was the time we spent together on the train that convinced me he was the one, not that I'm for one minute saying that we shouldn't work towards faster travel times between our major centres!
Back in 2002, my first job outside of Jagajaga was in Bourke, in far western New South Wales, where I worked as a journalist at the local Indigenous community radio station, 2cuzFM. It was an eye-opening experience for a young and naive white girl, as Aboriginal people generously told me their stories while also making fun of my strange choice in footwear. And Birkenstock sandals are still my preferred summer choice! These were the first of many stories I have heard and listened to from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Later in my career, when working for the former member for Jagajaga in her capacity as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, I travelled to many remote communities, listening to the needs and aspirations of our First Australians. It is a privilege to have had this experience and to realise there is so much power in the story of our First Australians, the custodians of the oldest living culture in the world. Unfortunately, it's not a story that many of us grow up hearing. It's not in our lessons and we haven't all had the opportunity to listen and learn directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But the potential is there for us all to appreciate and understand what is the greater, complete national story. Of course, for this to happen we have to be honest about our shared history. We have to walk with and listen to Indigenous Australians, and then we have to act. The parliament has shown it has the capacity to do this, as it did when Kevin Rudd delivered the national apology.
More recently, the parliament asked Aboriginal people what they wanted for their future, but, sadly, when they answered, the response was muted. The opportunity is still there. We must act on the Uluru Statement from the Heart to establish a voice for truth-telling and for treaty, and we must welcome the voices and stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to guide decision-making in this place.
It is impossible for me to give this speech without acknowledging the seriousness of the climate emergency and how its impacts are most acutely felt by those people with the smallest buffers in their lives. I remember working in Vanuatu with Oxfam Australia and speaking with a young man there about climate change. He told me how the warming climate was already affecting the amount of food he and his family could grow to keep them all healthy. In fact, his story was powerful enough to shift the views of an older Australian man who happened to be standing near me at the time. I do believe there is a climate story powerful enough to drive the action that allows humanity to survive and to flourish—a story that will allow my daughter and the generations that follow the opportunity to lead safe and healthy lives and enjoy the natural beauty of this wonderful country; a story that sees us doing our part to support that man I met in the Pacific and people like him, with funding for mitigation and adaptation, and an aid budget that is growing rather than shrinking.
I am confident that Labor's commitment to real action on climate change, with a focus on creating more jobs, more economic opportunities and a better future for us all, will resonate with Australians. And I take hope from the passion and conviction of the young people in Jagajaga and in communities across the country who have spoken out and spoken loudly about the need for climate action.
I have also heard the conviction of the people and groups in Jagajaga who have spoken out about our need for a humane approach to asylum seekers. I believe this can be achieved while maintaining our sovereignty and our borders. I also want to highlight two issues that have become close to my heart through my working life: the importance of a free and fair press and the value of the ABC. The eight years I worked at the national broadcaster were spent with thoughtful, intelligent colleagues who took seriously their responsibility to tell stories that reflected voices from across our country, to make decision-making understandable and transparent and to hold power to account. This work relies on the ABC being properly funded and being free of political influence. It is absolutely crucial that journalists—all journalists—are able to go about their work without fear of possible retribution or intimidation, sanctioned or otherwise. Our identity as a nation and the freedoms we all depend upon depend on it.
And my daughter is not quite making the whole speech, but it's a nice segue because I stand here today as a working mum with a 17-month-old daughter! I'm not the first working mother to be in this chamber and I'm so pleased that I'm not the only one here now. As more and more of us come together in this place, I think we show that it is possible to be both a mother and a parliamentarian. But it's not easy, and this is far from the only workplace where women are still trying to figure out what it looks like to be the mother they want to be and pursue the career they want to have. When my daughter, Harriet, was born, I took nine months maternity leave—some paid, some unpaid. My partner then took three months unpaid leave to care for her. He now works three days a week while I work full time. I realised that our arrangement was unusual, but I didn't realise just how different it was until Daniel starting quoting statistics from Annabel Crabb's The Wife Drought to me to prove how much of a unicorn he really is! Only three per cent of Australian families have a part-time working dad and a full-time working mum—three per cent. We can and we must do better than that, because, while this has a host of poor outcomes for women—lost income, missed promotions and a more uncertain retirement—it is also robbing Australian men of the opportunity to reduce their paid work to care for their children and to experience the highs and the lows that come with that. Things have to change.
Labor started making it easier for parents to juggle work and family when we introduced paid parental leave. It has made a huge difference in the lives of many Australians, but there is more work to be done. I am convinced that we need a culture shift in our workplaces so that they are no longer built on the premise that there's a wife at home who is the primary carer. We need to address the bias—conscious or not—that after a baby is born it is women who will work part time before the children start school, who will carry the mental load and who in some cases will leave the work force forever. We need to tell a new story about the important role that men can play as carers at home so that men who want to take that opportunity feel that they can do so without being viewed as a unicorn.
We also need a childcare system that doesn't rely on parents in our cities essentially winning a kind of lottery if they somehow manage to score a place in a centre within half an hour of where they live—one where the value of early education for our children and the value of our early educators are clearly recognised and paid for. I passionately believe that Labor has the track record and the will to make this happen—to build a society where men and women feel fulfilled in our workplaces and in our homes and where our children benefit from this.
Now to the thankyous. Firstly and mostly, thank you to Daniel for your constant love and unwavering support. I wouldn't be standing here without you. And to my daughter, Harriet, who teaches me about a different form of love every day.
To my parents, Daniel's parents, my brothers, their partners and my nephews and to my wider family of aunts, uncles and cousins: thank you for all the ways you support me.
To my mentor and friend Jenny Macklin—I have mentioned the previous member for Jagajaga a number of times already and I think the enormous impact she has had on me is clear—thank you for all you have done for our community, for our country and for being a wonderful guide to me.
Honourable members: Hear, hear!
Jagajaga has actually only been held by two members prior to my election. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the inaugural member for Jagajaga, Peter Staples, as well as the member for what was then Diamond Valley in the Whitlam government, David McKenzie. Our community still benefits from your work.
It takes a very large team to win an election, and I want to thank each and every volunteer who stood at prepolls and at train stations early in the morning, made phone calls and doorknocked to get a new Labor member elected. Thank you to my local branch members and campaign team and especially to Antony Kenney, who from the very first days when I couldn't work out how I would get my non-sleeping baby and me out of the house, let alone hold a functioning conversation, got the campaign on track and helped get me elected. He did this all the while being an extremely decent human being.
To the organising team, Mitch, Takara, Jude and Emily: thank you. To the state and national Labor campaign teams and my Labor neighbours Andrew Giles, Ged Kearney and Rob Mitchell as well as my state colleagues Vicki Ward, Anthony Carbines, Colin Brooks and Danielle Green: thank you. And thank you to the caucus and our leadership team, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, and our leaders during the campaign, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, for your warm welcome and support. I am so looking forward to working with all of you.
Finally, to the people of Jagajaga, thank you for the opportunity to represent you. I assure you that I am here to make sure your stories are heard and that together we create a fairer and kinder country.
I want to begin in this place by paying respect to the Ngunawal and Ngambri people and their elders, past present and emerging. The beautiful land covered by the electorate of Canberra and on which our parliament meets is their country. It is a mountainous region with a harsh climate. Living here required great knowledge and skilful custodianship of the land, which the local Indigenous people exercised for tens of thousands of years. When resources were seasonally abundant, such as the bogong moth and yam daisy, there were gatherings of more than a thousand people at a time and important ceremonies were held.
I acknowledge that this land was never ceded and that this institution, our parliament, has often failed to represent the First Nations people of Australia and has inflicted much hurt. Just down the road from here stands the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Its establishment in 1972 marked a key moment in the Indigenous rights movement, and it remains today a marker of the ongoing fight.
I am proud that this 46th Parliament has made an early commitment to work together towards a voice to parliament and to progress the response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Our response to these issues will define how history sees this parliament, and I look forward to participating in this.
It is the greatest honour to represent the people of Canberra in the parliament alongside this Labor caucus. I'm proud to follow in the footsteps of the great Labor women who have represented the seat before me—Ros Kelly, Annette Ellis and the former member Gai Brodtmann, whom I particularly want to honour today. Gai was an exemplary member of parliament. She gave her heart and soul to serving her community over the last nine years. Gai was a fierce advocate for the Australian Public Service and for women. Everywhere we went on the campaign trail, everyone knew Gai and said they were sad to see her leave the parliament. Then they reminded me what big shoes I have to fill.
I also want to thank the member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, who represented a large proportion of what is now in the electorate of Canberra. Andrew's friendship and support over many years has meant so much to me, and again, I'm aware I have a lot to live up to in representing his former constituents.
Canberra is often dismissed as a 'bubble'—as somehow not being a real city. A boring and sterile place out of touch with the rest of the nation. But those of us who live here know that is not true. The Canberra we know and love is a caring, progressive, multicultural and connected community. Canberrans are passionate about issues of social justice and protecting the environment at the local, national and global levels. So am I, and I am proud to represent my altruistic and forward-looking community.
We are proud of our city, our nation's capital, that combines immense natural beauty with a unique planned environment designed to complement it. Canberra is home to our national institutions that tell Australia's stories, honour our history and showcase art and culture from around Australia and the world. These institutions bring people to our capital, and it is important we take pride in them as a nation and ensure they are properly resourced.
With five universities and the CSIRO in the electorate, the pursuit of knowledge and breakthrough is a key part of the daily life of Canberra. Canberra's passionate business community work hard to make our city the vibrant place that it is.
We are a city with high average incomes and low unemployment, which means it can be a particularly difficult place to be poor. Standing up for a strong social safety net is as important for the people of Canberra as it is around the country.
Community organisations work very hard to support Canberrans in need and to make our community inclusive, with creativity and resourcefulness on tight budgets. I saw this first hand as the President of the Belconnen Community Service and as a volunteer at the Early Morning Centre in Civic, serving breakfast to people coming in from the freezing Canberra cold.
Canberra is an environmentally aware community, and we relish our connection to nature. One of my favourite parts of the campaign was engaging with the volunteer groups who work hard to care for our local catchments and bushland. Action on climate change was the issue most raised with me during my campaign. Like most Canberrans, I understand that if we don't take action to protect our environment, all our other aims are redundant. There is no point talking about social justice if we destroy the world we live in; there is no point talking about the economy if it is not sustainable. Protecting the future of our planet matters to me, and to the Labor Party. Our nation must move forward on this issue with urgency.
Canberra is home to the Australian Public Service, which also doesn't always get the respect it deserves. In this town it is our major employer. Most of my father's career was in the Public Service, and I learnt from a young age from his example of hard work and professionalism, including the importance of providing frank and fearless advice to either side of politics. This is vital to our democracy. I saw this same dedication in the people I worked with at Treasury. There is a great pride in serving our nation's government and, through it, its people, and this is part of the character of our city.
To me, Canberra is home. It is the community where I grew up and have chosen to make my adult life. It's where I attended my local public schools—Urambi Primary, Kambah High and Lake Tuggeranong College—and where I was born and gave birth to our son in the Canberra Hospital. It's where I've played sport and volunteered with local community groups, where I've worked and where I met my husband, Ben.
Both sets of my grandparents made Canberra their home in the late 1960s, having moved around Australia extensively before that. For my mother's parents, Joan and Gordon Handsaker, this was because Gordon was a school principal. For my father's parents, Joan and the Reverend Jim Payne, this was because Jim was a church minister.
In a proud Canberra tradition, my parents met as first-year students at the ANU. They were brought together by receiving the same comment on their first essay as 'naive and verbose'—undeserved, and certainly not something I've inherited!
The lived example of community service of my grandparents and then my parents—my mother, Patricia, a teacher and then academic in political science and my father, Stephen, a journalist who then made his career in policy in the Public Service—has been an inspiration to me. They taught me from an early age to be aware of the challenges that others may be facing and the importance of contributing to the community we live in, and that your right to vote is precious, as there are people around the world dying for that privilege many of us here in Australia take for granted. My parents also made sure that I knew that as a girl I could do anything that boys could.
I wanted to study economics as it seemed to me the study of how the world organises itself—how we distribute income and what levers can be used to affect this. I was privileged to study political economy at Sydney university—a degree that was established by protesting academics and students who wanted the right to study the full breadth of economic thought, recognising that the economy operates in a social and political context and that the dominant neoclassical theory is just that: a dominant theory.
Among the protesting students was our leader, Anthony Albanese, and I thank him for what he helped to establish. This was a very formative time for me in shaping my values and solidifying the issues that I have committed to pursuing. These remain key to why I am here today.
I first became politically active on the issue of Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in the Refugee Action Collective at uni. At the time, we were protesting because the detention centres were run by private companies and because people, particularly children, were suffering major mental and physical health impacts while in detention. I never would have imagined that almost 20 years later our nation's treatment of asylum seekers would have actually deteriorated.
We have an international obligation to people exercising their legal right to seek asylum. We have an obligation as human beings to treat people better than this. This issue is deeply important to me, as it is to the people I represent—the people of Canberra who turn up every year in their thousands for the Palm Sunday march in Garema Place and the members of ACT Labor who are tirelessly active on this issue.
For my honours thesis I did a study of policy responses to unemployment in Newcastle following the closure of the BHP steelworks. I interviewed steelworkers, some of whom were fourth generation working at the plant. The loss to them, to their families and to the community was deep—a loss of identity and of planned futures. But Newcastle's experience shows what can be achieved when employers, unions and governments pull together, how a community can be resilient and the difference policy can make.
In Sydney I became very involved in my church at Newtown Mission, volunteering in the drop-in centre. At Newtown Mission, the Newtown community came together for friendship, support and hope. People experiencing homelessness, poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, loneliness and isolation, and many who had lost the care of their children came together to share a meal and a conversation. I made many friendships there and was inspired by being part of a community united against poverty and exclusion. People there supported one another in radical ways, committing themselves with a profound dedication to others and to equality. Those experiences cemented my drive to do what I could to fight against poverty and inequality.
In my work I've pursued finding policy answers to these problems—as a researcher at NATSEM, a public servant and a policy adviser as part of the Labor team. My belief in the power of good policy and the difference it makes in people's lives is what brings me to this place. NATSEM, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, was established at the University of Canberra in 1993 by Professor Ann Harding and has contributed independent analysis that has informed some of our nation's most important policy debates since then—showing how a change to tax or social security policy can have vast impacts on families, households and regions. I was privileged to work with Ann and the other dedicated and brilliant researchers there, including my now husband, Ben Phillips. It showed me the power of numbers to shed light on the impacts of policy and the vital importance of this analysis being independent and publicly available.
I believe two things have been fundamentally important to alleviating poverty and inequality in Australia, and keeping our economy strong—the right to fair wages and a social security system that is there for us all when we are unable to work. Both of these have characterised the unique Australian system since soon after Federation. In 1904 an industrial arbitration court was established and in 1907 the formative Harvester judgement ruled that workers be paid a 'fair and reasonable' wage for a man to support a wife and children. The decision introduced employee needs into the wage equation. Although limited to a male breadwinner nuclear family model at the time, this was a profound concept. The living wage is something that unions continue the fight for to this day. We have unions to thank for the eight-hour day, weekends, sick leave and safe workplaces, to name a few. I'm proud to have been a union member my whole working life before I was an ALP member.
In 1908 the age pension was introduced, establishing as a statutory right access to income support for Australians who are unable to work. The universal means tested pension was in contrast to the insurance model being adopted by many other countries at the time. It was based on the income people were able to put away over their lives.
So from the early beginnings of the Australian nation the idea of fair wages and a safety net for those unable to work were enshrined, and they work hand in hand. In 2006 I joined the Labor Party to fight against the Howard government's simultaneous destruction of both these foundations of the Australian social contract. WorkChoices, introduced that year, sought to destroy workers' rights to organise and bargain for fair pay and job security. At the same time the government made the decision to force single parents off the parenting payment and onto the lower Newstart allowance on their child's eighth birthday. NATSEM research showed just how deeply this change would push single parents and their children into poverty.
Both these fundamentals of the Australian social fabric continue to be undermined in today's Australia. The Australian Building and Construction Commission treats unionists like criminals, workers have lost their penalty rates, and real wages are stagnating. Our social security system has long failed to provide adequate support to the unemployed, to a point that, for many, dire poverty is impeding their ability to find work. The Newstart allowance is too low. The government should review it and increase it as an urgent priority.
Today around 739,000 Australian children live in poverty and almost one-third of single-parent families live in poverty. We need to do better for single parents, predominantly mothers, and their children. Single parents do one of the most demanding and important jobs there is—one I have deepened respect for since becoming a mother myself. We should invest in our nation's children and give them the best start in life. Social security is one of the most powerful tools governments have to address and prevent poverty.
In May, we lost one of our most loved Australians, and greatest of Labor reformers, Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Something that was not mentioned much in the celebration of Hawke's achievements was the commitment he made in 1987 that by 1990 no Australian child would live in poverty. While the quote is often ridiculed, what is less talked about is the success of the changes he introduced. Hawke announced a package of measures—including a family supplement linked to wage growth, uniform rent assistance for social security recipients with children, and a new child disability allowance—and, for the first time, used the tax system to collect child support payments from non-custodial parents. These measures immediately cut the number of children living in poverty by a third. By 1994, poverty rates for children of jobless couples had reduced by up to 80 per cent and by 50 per cent for jobless single parents.
In 2009, the Gillard Labor government—and my former boss, Jenny Macklin—lifted one million older Australians out of poverty when they implemented the largest increase to the pension in its history. The social security system is a powerful tool to address poverty. It is about shoes on feet and meals on tables. It is tightly means tested to those who need it most, more so than in any other OECD country. It is a system that we should be proud of. To be proud of our social security system is not to say that it is a preferable option to working; it obviously isn't. It's obvious that a job is the most reliable path to prosperity and inclusion in our society. It's about recognising that each of us, at some point in our lives, may be unable to work—due to health, caring or parenting responsibilities, or an increasingly unstable job market—and that, as a society, we will support each other. Part of the battle is against the disinformation and demonisation of social security and those receiving it. Dispelling these myths is a battle I commit myself to, alongside standing up for a strong social safety net to support us all.
In this place we have great power to make changes if we have the will to. I joined the Labor Party 12 years ago because I wanted to do whatever I could to fight for a fairer, brighter future for all Australians. That is the great mission of our party and what I will work for every day that I am in this place. There is a song by Jewel that, to me, expresses so well what it means to be an activist in the fight for social justice, whether it is in grassroots politics, taking the practical action of solidarity in our communities or in this place speaking up for those we represent:
My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
… … …
Because where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing.
In closing, I would like to take the opportunity to thank those without whom I would not be standing here. I have had the great privilege to work with three giants of our party: Lindsay Tanner, who showed faith in me at an early stage, which meant so much to my journey here; Bill Shorten, who lead a progressive platform and whose love of, and incredibly hard work for, the Australian people is an inspiration to me; and Jenny Macklin, who I'm thrilled is here today. Jenny has been, and I know will continue to be, a tireless and formidable advocate for social justice. She is a warrior for equality, who has always approached the fight with the facts and the evidence. What she has achieved has driven some of our greatest social reforms. Working with her has been a profound inspiration to me.
I also want to thank Bob McMullan, who was one of the first people I met in our party. Without his encouragement and support, I would not be here today. I have always appreciated his guidance. Thank you, ACT Labor. We are an active and democratic branch, of which I am a product and a champion. I know you'll keep me accountable. To you and Labor volunteers all around the country, thank you for the work you do to share the Labor message and fight the Labor fight. Your generosity of time and energy is not something I will ever take for granted. To Jacob White, thank for being on my team and for the hard work and vision you bring to it. To my campaign team, who worked tirelessly, cleverly and always with a smile, I couldn't have done it without you.
To my family and my dearest friends, many of whom are here today: your love, support and inspiration mean the world to me. To Doug and Lainie Phillips: I love being part of your family, and keep up the good fight in Ryan. To my husband, Ben: I love you with all my heart and could not be here without your support, encouragement and counsel. I am inspired by your curious mind and your commitment to getting the truth out there. To my little Paul: you are the greatest joy of my life, and I am thankful for you everyday. Nothing will ever be more important to me than you and your dad. Thank you to my parents, Trish and Steve. Everything I've ever done has been made possible because of your love, support and belief in me and the example that you have both set for me in all that you do.
What I want to thank my mother for most today, and every day, is the example she has set for me in her profound love for others—not just her family and friends but all people. When someone is in need, she will go over and above in every way that she can, because that is what love is, and she will always challenge me to walk further in the shoes of others. It is in this spirit that I undertake this role of service. I feel very deeply the responsibility that I have to work my hardest and to always have an open heart to the people of Canberra and those all around Australia who rely on us in this place to pursue a more inclusive and just Australia.
Thanks, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I begin by congratulating our Speaker on his re-election. His position is one of honour and he does it justice. Indeed, to everyone in this place, congratulations. We're all here today because of the faith our constituents have placed in us, and I wish everyone right across the chamber all the very best for the 46th Parliament.
I acknowledge the appointment of His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC as our 27th Governor-General of Australia, and I congratulate him. Furthermore, I note the exemplary work of his predecessor, General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC. It was during my 20 years service within the Australian Regular Army that I had the privilege of serving under both these distinguished senior officers. I know I'm just one of the many who have benefited from the guidance and the leadership of both generals and that they delivered this to a nation through our Defence Force. In fact, I served under General Cosgrove during Operation INTERFET in East Timor, where my electronic warfare squadron was deployed to the border between Indonesia and East Timor. I have many enduring memories of his leadership, but one stands out. I recall one day General Cosgrove addressing a meeting of senior officers and staff, which ended up with him banging his hand on the table. He said, in desperation, 'I'm sick of you people telling me why I can't do things. I need you to start telling me how I can.' I received that message loud and clear, and I think that's a message that will stand me in good stead as I represent the electorate of Braddon in this role.
I reflect on my service in the Army and I feel many emotions. Above all, I am privileged to have drawn inspiration from many fine leaders. I have had the enormous privilege of serving alongside literally thousands of Australia's most remarkable young men and women. As a sergeant major of my unit, I was responsible for the welfare of the diggers. That was my job. I knew those soldiers like I knew my own family. I knew their partners, I knew their kids and I knew their dreams. I was the keeper of the standards, the enforcer of the military discipline system, the guardian of the customs and traditions of the military. But for me, and most importantly, I was there to represent the soldiers, to stand in front of them, to stick up for them and to protect them, and I can pride myself on doing just that. I've always stuck up for my diggers. The sergeant major of any unit is also responsible for the conduct of our military funerals and for ensuring that our soldiers who pay the supreme sacrifice are given a funeral steeped in the customs and traditions of the ancient ceremony that befits our soldiers' service and their life. And I've seen too many of them. I've seen too many funerals, many as a result of suicide, and what makes this all the more difficult for me is the fact that, rightly or wrongly, you tend to feel responsible. After all, I was the one who was meant to look after them. I still today agonise over the notion that maybe I should have seen it coming. I should have picked up on the signs. I should have stopped this. These are memories and thoughts that I live with every day and that I live with every night.
I applaud our government's commitment to the mental health of our veterans and indeed all Australians, and I pledge today, in the presence of my fellow veterans also elected to this place, that I will continue to stick up for the diggers and our veterans. I want to make sure that they are reconnected to a family, to a new job, to a new way of life. I want all business owners and all employers right across the nation to know that employing a veteran is good for your business.
Service means a lot to me. Today I continue to serve, as I represent the good people of Braddon in this place. This is a daunting place, particularly for a beef farmer and small business operator from a small town called Lapoinya, in Tasmania. But what gives me strength and reassurance—what strengthens my resolve today—is the realisation that I don't stand here alone. Standing alongside me today is an electorate of more than a hundred thousand of the best people you'd ever see.
Braddon is an electorate like no other. We are unashamedly honest, we are boisterous in our celebrations, we bind tightly when we feel threatened, we are scathing when we are wronged, and we can spot a phoney before they even speak a word—although down home we've got a different word for that! But, above all, the people of Braddon are caring, and they're generous beyond measure. I've always said that the further you get away from the big capital cities the stronger the sense of community, and none is stronger than mine, my community of Braddon. This community protected me during the devastating loss of my wife to cancer. My little boy and I were nurtured by that community as they gathered around us. I couldn't have done it without them.
And they are a wonderful family of farmers. Braddon's farming families are amongst the best in the world at what they do. These are the farmers that got up at four o'clock this morning to milk the cows, who worked through the night to get the crops in the head of the rain. Despite all that Mother Nature throws at them, they still roll their sleeves up and simply get on with it. My patch is home to Australia's largest dairy, milking around 18,200 cows who, together with Tasmania's other dairies, produce almost 11 per cent of our nation's total milk production. Of course, it's not just in the dairy industry that we punch well above our weight. There is our internationally sought-after seafood, like our salmon, our crayfish, our abalone; and, as I speak, families right across the nation are tucking into our veggies—our spuds, carrots, onions, broccoli, peas, beans, cauliflower. And if they aren't then they should be!
Our farmers are the best, but they're not boastful and they aren't whingers. These are the quiet achievers. They contribute equally to their local communities and our nation's economy, and they do so without fuss or fanfare. They are the nation's true environmentalists. They care for their land, they care for their animals and they are continually investing in adopting world's best practice. They deal with every challenge before them. But what they shouldn't have to deal with is extremist protesters who invade their farms and endanger their workers and their families and their livelihoods, and I welcome our government's strong stance with the introduction of the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill, which will make it an offence to encourage others to trespass, damage property or commit theft on agricultural land. I look forward to support from both sides as we pass this important legislation through this place.
In my electorate is the town of Burnie. Burnie is home to our Makers' Workshop. It's an interactive cultural hub celebrating Braddon's makers, innovators and artists. It's where you'll find Australia's largest hand paper mill. Right across our region, our makers are busy. They're manufacturing mining equipment at Elphinstone, undertaking defence industry contracts at Direct Edge and Penguin Composites. The Heritage is producing specialty cheeses; and award-winning whisky is made at Hellyers Road Distillery, gin at Southern Wild Distillery, and vodka at Cape Grim on our far north-west coast. We like a drink in Tassie!
Braddon is home to around 9½ thousand small businesses that are driving our local economy forward. As a small business owner myself, I understand the enormous sense of pride associated with waking every morning and being in total control of your own destiny. I also understand the challenges and the risks that this stoic section of our community bears each and every single day. I understand what it's like to borrow too much money to take on that extra employee even though it means going without yourself in order to do so. Look, I get the burden of compliance and the levels of bureaucracy placed upon our small businesses. I'm all about small business: sole traders, partnerships, family trusts—some call them the mum-and-dad businesses. But when mum or dad is taken away from that business to deal with red or green tape, that means half that business has stopped being productive. It's not good enough. We need to give business the room to grow, to expand, to flourish, to employ more people and to create more jobs. This is the right way and this is the Liberal-National way.
Tasmania's potential as Australia's renewable energy powerhouse is now recognised right across the nation. We have what the rest of the nation really needs—low-cost, reliable, clean energy—and the state is ticking all the boxes towards being 100 per cent self-sufficient in renewable or clean energy by the year 2022. We have plans to deliver that energy to the rest of Australia through our second Bass Strait interconnector, Project Marinus. This will allow Tasmania to expand the amount of renewable energy provided to our national grid and enhance greater investment in other renewable technologies, such as our $250 million Granville Harbour wind development, which is currently under construction on our west coast. Once complete, Granville will deliver one-third of our state's increase in wind power. I thank the Prime Minister and the energy minister, Angus Taylor, for their commitment of $56 million to fast-track Project Marinus, as well as their commitment to work with the Tasmanian government to underwrite the first phase of Tasmania's Battery of the Nationproject.
Braddon is indeed blessed with many natural wonders, among which is our unique freshwater lakes system. Our first hydro power station was built more than a century ago, and hydroindustrialisation has attracted industry, development and jobs across our region ever since. Today, leveraging off the vision of our forefathers, the federal government is providing $2½ million to support Hydro Tasmania in identifying a suitable Battery of the Nation project site. This represents the single biggest economic opportunity for our state and, importantly for those living on the north and north-west coasts, the three short-listed sites are in our backyard. By the end of next year we should know the final site, and the hope is to progress to being shovel ready by the year 2021. This represents a multimillion-dollar injection into our region, as well as thousands of jobs. The opportunities for Braddon are fantastic, and I look forward to doing my part to drive that project forward on behalf of the people of Braddon, ensuring that the benefits are maximised within the communities right across the length and the breadth of our region.
Braddon is truly blessed, but I know that not everyone in my region is sharing in the good fortunes of our state. My region has its challenges. We're a rural electorate. We're made up of hundreds of small communities scattered across eight local government regions. We are an ageing population—and I know that! Sadly, there are not enough opportunities in our region for those currently looking for jobs, and our education and health outcomes are not yet what they need to be. There is work to be done, and to this end there are people in my electorate that work hard and tirelessly every day, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to every dedicated frontline service provider in my region—our educators, our health personnel, our first responders and our retail staff. They care so much and they do it day in, day out.
Although there's no simple quick fix to the issue, I firmly believe that having access to the right type of education is important. It's important when you need it most. And I know, because I left school at 15 to become a farmer. It wasn't until many years later that I went back and finished my education. My dream for the people of Braddon—in fact, all Australians—is that, regardless of whether you live in a city or the bush, if you have an aspiration, if you have a dream, then all that's placed in front of you is opportunities. This is true regardless of whether you are 10, 20, 50 or 90. My commitment is to be a loud, strong voice and representative for our region and to ensure that our government fulfils its role in this regard.
When it comes to election campaigns, there are always more people to thank than there is time. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge those who have gone before me. I acknowledge my predecessor, Justine Keay, and the contribution she made to this position. To my Liberal colleagues who served as members of Braddon in recent times—and they all got behind me: Brett Whiteley; Mark Baker; Chris Miles, who was a member of the opposition shadow ministry in the late eighties and early nineties and parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Howard in the late 1990s; and the Hon. Ray Groom AO, a minister in the Fraser government and, subsequently, Premier of Tasmania. Each represented Braddon with distinction. I've got big boots to fill but I'm going to work hard in doing just that.
I acknowledge the support I receive also from my military family, especially Jim Molan AO, DSC, Doc Watson and Phillip De Bomford. I thank you for being here today. To our Prime Minister: I have no doubt that I'm here because of your leadership and the genuine interest that both you and Mrs Morrison showed to the wonderful people of Braddon. It was obvious to me from the start that you both cared. I could tell that straightaway. But, more importantly, the people of Braddon could tell that also. You and Mrs Morrison were a perfect fit. They got you and you got them, and so it went. Your interest in Braddon hasn't stopped now that the election has been run and won. It was just a couple of weeks ago that you were back visiting our Psychology CAFFE in Latrobe, listening to the psychologists, watching the parents and their beautiful kids as they sought treatment. Our government has committed to making the mental health of Australians a priority, and you have demonstrated to my electorate that you were good to your word. Down our way, that's important.
I recognise and thank our national director, Andrew Hirst. He was the general of the campaign. I was in awe of his capacities. He's a damn good human, and he's another bloke that just gets it. Thanks to the Tasmanian Senate Team: to Richard Colbeck and his staff for taking me under their wing; to Jonno Duniam, Wendy Askew and Claire Chandler for their camaraderie and support throughout the campaign; and, finally, a special thanks to Senator Eric Abetz. It was you, Eric, who first convinced me to enter politics. Your faith in me and your ongoing support, I will never forget. So thank you. To the member for Bass, and my good mate, Bridget: I look forward to your company during the journey that's ahead of us both, and to working together to do great things for our regions and Tasmania.
To my state Liberal colleagues, ably led by Premier Will Hodgman: once again, thank you for your wonderful support; and a special mention to the office of Minister Guy Barnett, Tasmania's Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Veterans' Affairs. He's got a bit on, this bloke, but he's helped me out, no end, over the last few months. To our state president, Geoff Page, state director, Sam McQuestin, and his team at CHQ: thank you. To former state president Ian Chalk and his lovely wife, Jenny: thanks for being here today. I greatly valued your wise council, and I respect you more than I have words.
To Leon Perry, Felix Ellis, Rod Bramich, Tony 'Toenails' Hine, Julie Thompson, Pat Darbyshire, Gary, Geoff and Nelson and all the rest of the cast and crew who turned up in the rain, hail and shine—they put themselves out; they worked tirelessly—we did it together, and I can't thank you enough.
To Megan's mum, Betty: you won't be getting any more mother-in-law jokes out of me. You were awesome during the campaign, and I thank you so much. To my own mother, Beth: thanks, Mum. You've always been there for us. Your advice is always grounded, carefully thought out and given with love, and I'm pleased that you are here today. To my sister Lynette, who unfortunately can't be here: I am so proud of you and the tireless contribution that you make to the mental health sector over a lifetime in Tasmania. Thank you to my brothers, David and Phillip.
To my fiancee, Megan: thank you. You've been my saviour. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you. I was in a very dark place when we first met, and it takes a very special person to work through that. You are a remarkable person. Back then I didn't realise that you were also the best campaign manager that Australia has! No-one did more on the campaign than you. With no campaign experience, you were unmatched in your drive, your determination, your professionalism. You understand the electorate. Even more dramatic, you understand me! You are a natural. As everyone knows in this place, election campaigns take their toll on your personal life. All our plans were put on hold, but it's now time that we reinstate our plans, Megan. I love you and I can't wait to continue our future together.
To Hamish, my son: Mate, I love you more than I have words. You and I have been through a lot together. You were just eight when we lost mum, my beautiful Amanda-Jane. I held you then and I stood with you at her funeral, and we've stood together ever since. Mates do that—and we'll always be mates. I'm so very proud of the fine young man that you've become, and I know Mum's up there today looking down on us both. I know she's proud. Hamish, you can be whatever you choose. You're already a leader in your own right. You're bright, you're enthusiastic, you're talented, but, most of all, you're kind, you're compassionate and you care. You understand what it's like to be knocked down but, mate, you understand what it's like to get back up again, and sometimes you need mates to do that, because that's the Australian way. I love you, Hamish.
Finally, there's my little princess Isla. When you were born, you represented a new chapter in our lives. You have the sweetest soul, and I want you to know that, even though Dad seems busy most of the time, you're always in my heart and I'll always make time for you.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will conclude where I began, and those words of advice from—correction: Mr Speaker!
I pumped your tyres up before you arrived! Mr Speaker, I will conclude where I began, and those words of advice from General Cosgrove. As I spend time visiting the hundreds of local communities right across my electorate, listening to the constituents, I want them to know me not as a member who represents a bureaucracy, not as a person who tells them what they can't do, not as a member who puts up roadblocks or makes excuses. I want them to know me as their member who is telling them and showing them that they can achieve great things for themselves and they can achieve great things for their families, their communities and, indeed, the entire electorate of Braddon. May it please the House.
Like many who call Australia home, my story starts on the other side of the world. My father was born to an Indian family in the West Indies, the youngest of nine children. His family, of modest background and means, worked hard and saved in order to send him to university in London. He arrived just after the war had ended, becoming the first in his family to receive a formal education. It was in London that he met my mother, an Australian girl from Sydney. Like many of her generation, she had sailed to London in the early 1960s looking for an adventure. They fell in love, married and started a family together. My elder twin sisters, Melanie and Belinda, were born in Trinidad and Tobago. I was born in Canada. Before going any further, I do wish to reassure you, Mr Speaker, and everyone else here that I am absolutely no longer a Canadian citizen!
I am honoured to be here representing the electorate of Wentworth, one of the most diverse electorates of any in the country. It's a place of breathtaking beauty and home to many Australian icons, from the lapping waves of Watsons Bay to the roaring surf of Bondi Beach and from the test match crowds at the SCG to the glitz and colour of Oxford Street. Wentworth's wealth is more cultural than material, woven from the waves of migrants—Jews, Greeks, South Africans and Russians—who have found sanctuary and a home there. There is a tolerance that finds further expression in a large and vibrant gay community. I am not native to Wentworth. Indeed, I am not native to Australia. But in the best traditions of many before me, my family and I have made it our home. I wish to thank the people of Wentworth deeply for the trust they have placed in me.
My family arrived in Australia in the 1970s and settled in Sydney. A happy childhood was altered abruptly when my mother, Diana, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mum fought bravely, but she succumbed to cancer when I was 12. These were not easy times for my dad, my sisters and me or for my mum's family, many of whom are here this evening, each of whom lovingly helped with the job of raising me once my mum had departed. I was the beneficiary of a great public education at my local high school. My former principal is here this evening, as are some of my oldest and dearest school friends.
I did well enough at school to be offered a place at the University of Cambridge, which I took up with relish. After three years there, I was driven by a sense of service and duty to give back to the country that had given me and my family such opportunities. That brought me back to Australia and into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. My first assignment was with the Australian Defence Force in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where we had a peacekeeping force. I was stationed in Bougainville and in Port Moresby for over three years, spending my days in negotiations with militants and separatists and my nights often in a stretcher bed under a mosquito net. Working as part of team Australia, we helped achieve a durable peace to the most bloody conflict that the Pacific had seen since the Second World War. Australia has unique responsibilities towards this part of the world, and I am pleased to see the focus on our near neighbourhood increasing under this government.
After my time in Papua New Guinea, I worked for Alexander Downer during the Howard government, one of the longest lasting and most productive partnerships of Australian foreign policy. Yes, I'm one of the Alexander Downer alumni, but I think I'm the laggard; the others are all on the front bench! I went on to serve at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC in the post 9/11 era before helping lead the international division in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet during Julia Gillard's time as Prime Minister—a leader whom I still regard fondly.
It was from here and by a Labor government that I was appointed Australia's Ambassador to Israel. My four years in that role left me with a high degree of admiration and respect for the state of Israel, the Jewish people and all they have achieved under tremendously trying circumstances. It also gave me a deep affection for the Australian Jewish community, which has made an outsized contribution to all spheres of Australian life and to the nation we are today.
It is one of Australia's great institutional strengths that we have an independent federal Public Service which at its best is creative, a rich source of ideas, blunt in its advice but unswervingly loyal to the government of the day. I learnt from many of Australia's most experienced and formidable public servants during my career, amongst them Dennis Richardson, Nick Warner and Duncan Lewis. I hope the Public Service continues to nurture and support leaders like this, with big intellects and forceful personalities, because we are better as a nation for it.
There are many other stories like mine throughout Australia. Many of these are more impressive and dramatic than my own. But my story, and all the other stories out there like it, would, I am quite certain, only be possible in Australia—in my own case, to go from being an immigrant to Australia of Indian background to an ambassador for Australia and now a member of our federal parliament within one generation. Together these stories are what makes our country so great: that everyone is given an opportunity to get ahead; that individuals are judged on their merit and the content of their character; that the possibilities are endless for people who are determined and work hard; that no-one is imprisoned or has their fate preordained by the modest circumstances of their birth or the postcode of their childhood; that, no matter the language you speak at home or the religion in which you are raised, you can achieve great things and be welcomed wholeheartedly as an Australian; and that your gender and your sexual orientation play no part in defining the possibilities of your life. Let us never lose sight of the fact that this is what makes Australia so great a country. We must always strive to do better, but truly we are a land of opportunity.
Twenty years spent representing Australia overseas taught me two important lessons: first, that Australia is the best country in the world without question—how good is Australia, I ask you!—and, second, that nations are fragile and we can never afford to take Australia's success for granted. I marvel daily at the sheer audacity that is Australia. We are a small group of people laying claim to a vast and resource-rich continent, with much of our population having arrived only quite recently and from the four corners of the globe. In the historical blink of an eye we have transformed ourselves into a nation which is united, harmonious, prosperous and secure. We are one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. In our Indigenous Australians we have one of its oldest continuing civilisations. We have one of the world's largest middle classes, which, as Aristotle first noted, is an essential component for the political stability of democracies. Social and income mobility in Australia are high. Yes, we have our imperfections—amongst them, ensuring Australia's original inhabitants are participating fully in the life of the nation—but we are one of this planet's most successful and envied countries.
Our sheer and uninterrupted success as a nation tends to foster a belief that somehow this is all preordained. You only need to arrive in Australia with the fresh eyes and grateful heart of an immigrant to comprehend that this is not so. Indeed, it is complacency that poses one of the greatest risks to us as a nation. The world beyond Australia is changing rapidly. Not only is global economic and strategic weight shifting but the system which governs the interaction of states—the world order, if you like—is coming under strain.
In Australia, three pillars have underpinned our security and guaranteed our freedom since our emergence as a modern nation. First, our splendid isolation has given us a large measure of security. As an island nation at one end of the globe, not sitting astride major trading routes, our borders are highly defensible. Whilst the tyranny of distance has been an obstacle to overcome for our economic development, in strategic terms it's been a blessing.
Second, we've enjoyed strategic alliances with the major naval powers of the day, first Great Britain and today the United States. These allies have safeguarded the seas and our major trading routes, allowing us to trade freely and underwriting much of our prosperity.
Third, we've been the beneficiary of a world order which has guaranteed the rights of all nations, not just the powerful. This global order was created under the leadership of the United States and its allies at the end of the Second World War. It remains one of the most enlightened and benign exercises in global leadership by a great power. It feels so much like the furniture that we often forget that the alternative is where, in the words of Thucydides, 'The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must' is the form of order which has governed the interaction between states for much of human history.
Each of these three pillars is now under some strain or challenge. Australia's remoteness is no longer the security buffer it once was. The dependence of our modern economy and modern society on digital and communications platforms means that foreign actors have many more tools at their disposal to disrupt or attack Australia from afar. The changing nature of statecraft too, with blurred divisions between war and peace, and the growing use of active measures and grey-zone operations, makes an open and free society like Australia especially vulnerable. An adversary no longer needs to be able to physically reach Australia in order to coerce, threaten or influence us.
As geopolitical power is redistributed, the relative power of the United States—the margin it enjoys over others—is declining, even if it will remain the dominant global actor for the foreseeable future. In East Asia in particular, we see challenges to US supremacy. Of equal concern is the risk of a diminished US appetite for global leadership. It's a United States that is less willing to underwrite the foundations of the current global system and more inclined to cherrypick it, focusing more narrowly on its own national interests. This is a legitimate choice for the American people and their government to make. It nonetheless changes the outlook for Australia considerably.
Finally, the post World War II order is coming under strain. We see this in the South China Sea, where long-standing rights and norms such as freedom of navigation and the features that give rise to territorial waters are being bluntly ignored. We see this in trade, where the idea of rules based trade and an independent umpire to settle trade disputes—the World Trade Organization—is being sidelined. More generally, we see an approach where the relative power of nations dictates the outcome of disputes between them—a Hobbesian order where might is right. Such an order will never serve the interests of a country like ours well.
What does all this mean for Australia? Our strategic holiday is over. Our neighbourhood is getting tougher. The certainties on which we've depended for decades are no longer so certain. We will need to rely more on ourselves and less on others in safeguarding our freedoms and our independence. This has implications for the share of resources we devote to defence and national security, which will surely need to increase over time; the posture of our defence and diplomatic services, both of which must become more capable and more active in safeguarding our interests; and our ability to rely on global supply chains to meet key needs.
In our external affairs, we will need to mature into more of an actor and less of an observer. It also has implications for the choices we face as a nation. At times, we may need to pay an economic or political price—a trade opportunity forgone, a market missed, a bumpy period in diplomatic relations—in order to retain our freedom of action as an independent and sovereign nation, or to stand up for values we support, or to uphold key principles in the current global order. We need to be prepared for tough decisions and trade-offs that may lie ahead.
In Australia, we are now in our 28th year of continuous economic expansion. Two generations of Australians currently in the workforce, my own included, have not known a recession. This is a remarkable achievement. But for Australia to remain a high-living-standard, high-wage economy with a generous social safety net—what we have all come to expect—then our productivity needs to be high, and we need to be operating at the upper end of the value chain. The rapid advance of technology is changing the nature of wealth creation in advanced economies such as our own. In 1967, the largest US companies by market capitalisation—and the main drivers of US prosperity—were General Motors, Standard Oil, Kodak, AT&T and IBM. Fifty years later, the top ranks of the Dow Jones index are dominated by technology companies: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon. These companies are about data rather than goods, services rather than products, and spaces rather than places. A quick glance at the ASX20 suggests we're yet to make this transition. We have a lot of good companies which employ technology in their operations; we don't yet have a lot of good technology companies.
In Australia, we have a highly skilled workforce, we have great research institutions and universities, and we have deep and sophisticated capital markets. We have not yet got the policy settings right, however, to help combine all these elements together, so that we commercialise and scale more Australian ideas in Australia, so that we create an environment which is more supportive of start-ups and disruptive, technology orientated companies. If my time as ambassador to Israel has taught me one thing, it is how valuable a thriving technology sector can be for the dynamism and health of the rest of the economy. This isn't about job losses; it's about capturing the jobs of the future, in areas such as quantum computing, cyber, artificial intelligence, space, clean energy, defence technology and automation. The nature of value creation is changing, and the Australian economy needs to keep up.
Of equal importance is making the best use of the assets we have, including our workforce. The reality of modern family life is that both partners usually work. Once children come along, the cost and availability of child care, the interaction between the tax and transfer systems, and the norms of workplaces usually force one parent to make a choice. My wife, Rachel, and I have ourselves faced such a choice. One parent, usually the mother, either cuts back their hours, takes a job for which they are overqualified but which offers flexibility, or opts out of the workforce altogether. This is not just a tough reality for those who would like to continue working and pursuing their career; it is also a lost economic opportunity for the country. The rate of female participation in the Australian workforce is 10 percentage points lower than it is for men. Halving this gap between male and female workforce participation would be one of the most impactful and meaningful economic reforms we could pursue.
During my time as Australia's ambassador to Israel, I dealt with only one Israeli Prime Minister, but I served four different Australian prime ministers. This level of political instability has not served Australia well. It has eroded public trust in the political class. It has made crafting effective and responsible policies on long-term challenges like climate change more difficult. I hope we have now, through internal party reform, put this behind us. If we are serious about preserving the stability of our political system, however, and encouraging better governance, then four-year parliamentary terms should be our goal. With three-year terms, a federal election is always just around the corner. The steady drip of opinion polls and a relentless media cycle accelerates this. Good policies often do not have the time to yield visible results, and political survival takes precedence. All state parliaments now have four-year terms, as do most benchmark international parliaments. Constitutional change would be required to effect this and I don't underestimate the difficulty in doing this, but, as part of a broader set of constitutional reforms, I believe it is worth considering.
Wentworth has produced some esteemed parliamentarians, and I do wish to pay tribute to one predecessor in particular: Malcolm Turnbull, who served the community of Wentworth and his nation with passion and distinction and who was kind enough to give me a call earlier today, wishing me well.
I stand here, however, not only as a representative of Wentworth but also as a member of the Liberal Party. Though no political party enjoys a monopoly on wisdom or virtue, I believe that, in our party's support for the rights and aspirations and dignity of individuals; in our view that we should seek to govern for all Australians, and that the country succeeds when we all do well; and, in the priority we place on economic management and national security as the foremost duties of any government, we remain the party most relevant to the demands and needs and aspirations of modern Australia.
No partnership could be more important to me than that I have shared with my wife, Rachel, for almost 15 years. Together we have seen much of the world, brought into being three wonderful daughters—Diana, Estella and Daphne—and shared many an adventure along the way. Hi, girls! We have enough tales of drama, tragedy, comedy and sheer excitement to already fill a book. But my love for her, and indeed our marriage, feels as fresh as that of newlyweds. In addition to being an accomplished practitioner of international law and a wonderful mother, Rachel's claims to Wentworth are, in fact, better than mine. It was one of her ancestors, Owen Cavanaugh, who dragged Captain Phillip's launch ashore at Camp Cove as dark approached on 26 January 1788. She frequently drags us all out to Ebenezer, the family burial place, to pay homage to this lineage.
The result in Wentworth was hard fought, with two elections held within the space of seven months. I cannot thank enough the many volunteers who turned up, and those who turned out to support me as a candidate throughout this long campaign—from the Prime Minister to the Treasurer and other senior ministers, federal and state MPs and senators, local party members and the party organisation. We had literally hundreds of volunteers—many politically active for the first time in their life; some from interstate, some even from overseas—involved in this campaign. They gave unstinting support, without qualification. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart. I said to friends and supporters at my campaign launch—well, my second campaign launch!—many of whom are here this evening: 'Let's get it done, Wentworth.' Well, we did get it done, and I promise to work tirelessly to repay the trust the voters of Wentworth have placed in me.
I must also make a special thanks to the Australian Indian community, who adopted me as one of their own, despite my poor command of Hindi and below-average cricket ability, and who have made such an enriching contribution to our national fabric and national life.
I am conscious that many of my colleagues here leave this place and go on to become ambassadors. I seem to be undertaking the journey in reverse. Perhaps they know something I don't. Perhaps I know something they don't. Regardless, I hope my transition to parliamentary life is as seamless as theirs to diplomatic life. Thank you.