House debates

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Governor-General's Speech


1:08 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I give the call to the member for Kingsford Smith.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Speaker. I congratulate you on your election as the Speaker. I am certain that you will do a wonderful job in keeping order in the House. Congratulations.

It is an honour to be re-elected as the member for Kingsford Smith. It is a community that I love representing and in which I have lived my entire life: going to school there, going to university there and being heavily involved in the surf lifesaving movement in the local community for well over 35 years. I often tell people who come to my electorate and marvel at the beautiful beaches, the coastline, the magnificent Botany Bay and the parks and gardens that it is not the natural beauty that makes our elected such a wonderful place to live; it's the people: the Bidjigal people, the local La Perouse Aboriginal community who have inherited those lands and those beautiful waterways for tens of thousands of years. They were the First Australians who stood on the shores of Botany Bay and watched the tall ships come in, the first to be dispossessed of their lands, the first to feel the sting of the musket ball and the first to be taken from their communities.

I want to pay tribute to the wonderful La Perouse Aboriginal community for the guidance and the wonderful education that they have given me in understanding the importance of those waterways and that country to their culture and their heritage. I want everyone in the local community to know that I and the Albanese Labor government are wholeheartedly committed to delivering on all of the principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and ensuring that a voice to parliament is constitutionally enshrined in Australia.

I want to pay tribute to the wonderful multicultural communities that we have in Kingsford Smith; the great community groups, particularly all those that volunteer their time to help others within our community; the faith groups; and, of course, the businesses that employ locals. Over the course of the recent election campaign and the years leading up to it, I got a deep appreciation of the importance that our community places on stronger action on climate change. We are a seaside community. We live around the coastline, and many in our community are passionate about ecological sustainment and particularly water conservation. We acutely understand the effects that climate change—global warming, warming water and sea level rise—is having not only on our local community but on the broader Australian community as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit Windsor, which once again had been deluged in the flooding that recurred recently—the fourth flood in two years. I was there to thank the wonderful Australian Defence Force for the work that they were doing in assisting those communities in cleaning up. It's not the first time in recent memory that the ADF has been called out to assist local communities. We, of course, remember the floods in the north of New South Wales and southern Queensland earlier in the year, where the ADF were deployed to assist those communities to recover. On behalf of the government, I want to once again thank the Australian Defence Force for the wonderful work that they've been doing in assisting with disaster resilience and recovery throughout Australia.

I also pay tribute to, and was fortunate to speak to, many of the volunteer organisations: the SES, the Rural Fire Service, Surf Life Saving Australia and many other community groups—people who, when the floodwaters come, give up their time and risk their lives to help others. I was fortunate to speak to many of those volunteers whilst I was in Windsor. I also spoke to a local homeowner, Andrew Brown, and members of his family. Andrew told me that this was the fourth time in two years that his home and his business had been flooded and faced the deluge. Anyone on the opposite side who continues to think that climate change is not real and that it is not having an impact on Australian families, businesses and local communities is living in a dream world. The notion from many on that side, particularly in the National Party, that climate change is something that will happen in the future is now completely dispelled. We all know that climate change is a real and immediate threat that is having a dramatic effect on the lives of many Australians. We all pay for it, and will continue to pay for it in the future, through our insurance policies, because these risks are only going to grow and make insurance more unaffordable in the future.

That is why Australians want action on climate change. They understand that climate change is occurring. They understand the ramifications for themselves, their families and their local communities, and they want stronger action. That is why they voted on 21 May for a new government that takes climate change seriously and will deliver the policies that are necessary to ensure that Australia is taking climate action swiftly and in a manner that ensures that we're consistent with other nations throughout the world.

They voted for a stronger medium-term target, and that is what this government is seeking to deliver. Only yesterday, the minister introduced legislation to ensure that we implement a 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 in Australia and that we have a stronger medium-term target that is consistent with Australia playing its part in what the rest of the international community is doing.

Electric vehicles are far too expensive in Australia, and there aren't enough models on the market, and that is why the uptake has been so slow in our nation. The previous government weaponised electric vehicles. Can you believe that, when you go back to three years ago, you see that that was the government that had a prime minister—Scott Morrison, the member for Cook—who said that electric vehicles would destroy the weekend and that it would be the end of tradies and they wouldn't be able to do their jobs anymore? You cannot get more out of touch than that enunciation about the effect of electric vehicles, and Australians are sick and tired of it. They see what's happening throughout the rest of the world. They know that vehicle manufacturers are no longer producing internal combustion engines. The future is electric vehicles, and Australians should, and need to, have access to affordable electric vehicles for families and for businesses in the future. That is why this government is getting on with making electric vehicles more affordable for Australians, and the Treasurer yesterday introduced legislation that will remove some of those taxes to bring down the cost of electric vehicles. But, most importantly, it sends a signal to electric vehicle manufacturers throughout the world that the Australian government is serious about encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles in our economy and about Australia doing its bit to reduce emissions.

An important part of our commitment to changing the debate about climate change and emissions reductions in Australia is investing in solar and in batteries. These are going to be an important part of the renewable energy future in our nation. We've seen what the previous government did in trying to ensure that they continued to prop up dirty coal-fired power and introduce polluting fuels into the remit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The new government takes renewable energy very seriously and will encourage investment in renewable energy into the future and lay the foundation for Australia finally to realise its potential and be a renewable energy superpower into the future.

I am very proud to represent the community that has the University of New South Wales within it. The University of New South Wales is world renowned for its photovoltaic and solar research facilities. Almost every single solar panel that is produced throughout the world has technology that comes from the University of New South Wales. Professor Martin Green is internationally renowned as the father of PV and solar technology throughout the world. That is something that I am deeply proud of and that all Australians should be deeply proud of, but it's a shame that, on several occasions over the period of the last government, the University of New South Wales have had to fight to continue to secure their Australian Renewable Energy Agency funding to maintain that important research and work that they have been doing. I was very proud to go to the University of New South Wales—accompanying the new climate change and energy minister from the Albanese Labor government, in one of his first acts—and to tell those solar researchers that their funding from ARENA is guaranteed under this government and they will continue to be able to innovate and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of solar panels throughout the world, something that all Australians should be very proud of.

Australians—members of our community—voted to restore integrity to politics in Australia as well. They are sick and tired of the rorts and the waste that were undertaken by the former government. We all remember the car park rorts and the sports rorts, where spreadsheets were changed in the Prime Minister's office and in ministers' offices to ensure the favourable political outcomes and manipulation of public funds that were condemned by the Auditor-General and others in independent inquiries. Those programs were manipulated for political purposes to try and get members on that side re-elected to the House of Representatives. The Australian people saw through it and they voted at the last election to restore integrity in politics and in the operation of this parliament. That is why they voted for a federal ICAC. This government is committed to delivering a federal ICAC that has teeth, that has the probative powers necessary to ensure that politicians and public servants alike face scrutiny for the decisions that they make and face consequences if they try to manipulate public funds with their decisions. It's important that we get on with that. It is something that this government is committed to delivering as quickly as possible.

When it comes to families and the cost of living, many Australians are facing a difficult period. The Treasurer has just outlined those difficult economic circumstances that the Albanese Labor government has inherited from the former Morrison government. The government have a plan to ensure that we deliver cost-of-living relief for families throughout the country.

We know that access to child care is a major impediment to families ensuring that they have the earning capacity that they deserve. We know it's a major impediment to parents returning to work as quickly as possible. We know it's a handbrake on productivity growth in Australia. If we can encourage more women into the workforce and provide support for them to be able to do that after they've had children, not only do those families and those individuals benefit but our economy benefits as well. The new Labor government has a plan to ensure that we have cheaper and more accessible child care for families throughout the country.

One of the most disgraceful indictments of the former government was their approach to aged care. We saw those indictments laid bare in the royal commission—the shocking circumstances under which elderly Australians were being treated in some facilities throughout the country. The new government of course will listen and implement the recommendations of the royal commission through our policies to restore nurses to nursing homes, to increase the quality of the food that's given to patients and the nutritional value of it, and to make sure that our aged-care facilities are there to do what they should be doing—that is, provide care for residents, our elderly Australians who built this country into the wonderful place that it is today. That is what this government is getting on with doing and delivering.

I'm very fortunate to have been appointed as the Assistant Minister for Veterans' Affairs, as the Assistant Minister for Defence and as the Assistant Minister for the Republic. Constitutional reform is something that this Albanese Labor government is interested in bringing back onto the agenda in Australia. We haven't updated our Constitution since 1977. Of course, Australia is a very different country to the one that was reflected in 1977. We now understand and recognise the important heritage, culture and connection that First Australians have with this land. It's something that we should be proud of. The oldest continuing culture in the world is right here in Australia, yet if you picked up a copy of the Constitution you'd never know that. It reads as if Australia began in 1788. Not only is it an injustice to First Australians; it's a poor reflection on the pride that we have in our history and our culture. It's something that finally we are recognising. It is something that we need to get on with fixing.

The priority of this Albanese Labor government in terms of constitutional reform will of course be a voice to parliament. We are getting on with implementing that as quickly as possible, working with the Australian people. But at the same time we are interested in trying to bring the issue of a republic back into the dialogue here within Australia. It's not our priority—as I mentioned, the voice to parliament is.

The Queen recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of her reign over the Commonwealth. I and the Prime Minister congratulated the Queen on that historic achievement. She has been a wonderful leader for the people of Great Britain and of the Commonwealth. But, as the Queen comes to the twilight of her reign, Australians are naturally now beginning to think, 'What comes next for us?' We are a mature, independent nation. We make our own decisions about how we govern ourselves, principally in this place and in the Senate. We have our own unique identity and culture. It is time, we believe, for Australians to start to think about what comes next for us and whether or not we can have one of our own as our head of state, and we believe that we can.

It is not disrespectful and it is not ungracious to the Queen or the royal family to start thinking about that. In fact, if you look at the Commonwealth of Nations, of the 54 nations that are members of the Commonwealth 34 of them are republics. Australia is very much in the minority. Barbados became a republic last year, and they did it with the agreement and cooperation of the royal family. In fact, members of the royal family travelled to Barbados for the ceremony establishing the new republic.

We in Australia can finally recognise our maturity, our independence and our unique culture and identity by having one of our own as our head of state. We're not going to rush into this. We are going to do this carefully and methodically to bring this back onto the agenda in consultation with the Australian people, and that is the most important aspect of this movement for an Australian head of state. I want this to be a movement and a force that unites Australians around pride in our own and having one of our own as our head of state and reflecting that in our Constitution.

I know that there are many in the Liberal and National parties, in the crossbench and in the Greens who support that. I want to say to you that I look forward to welcoming you and working with you to ensure that we work together on this. This won't be an issue that divides members of this parliament. It won't be an issue that divides Australians. It will be a force that unites Australians around the pride and the notion of having one of our own as our head of state. I look forward to working with all members of parliament and members of the Australian public on that.

In conclusion, I thank the wonderful volunteers in my campaign in Kingsford Smith that gave of their time to ensure that the Labor voice was heard within our community and provided me with the support to ensure that I could run a decent campaign and be re-elected as the member Kingsford Smith. I sincerely thank you for the work that you do in promoting Labor values and ideals within our community.

It is a wonderful honour to have been re-elected as the member Kingsford Smith. I look forward to working with our community to deliver the commitments made by the Albanese Labor government in the lead-up to that election and ensuring that Australia once again starts to move forward.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may resume at a later hour.