Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

First Speech

5:01 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Before I call Senator Ketter, I remind honourable senators that this is his first speech; therefore, I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would firstly like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today. And to you, Mr President, I offer my belated congratulations on your election on 7 July.

It is such a great honour to have been elected as a senator for Queensland. I am now in the ninth week of my term, and I take this opportunity once again to thank the people of Queensland for the trust they placed in me, and the Australian Labor Party, and to say how humbled I am to be able to serve the people in our nation's parliament and to work with all honourable senators for the good of our country.

John F Kennedy once famously said, 'The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.' With that ambit claim, I wish to start on a matter that is less lofty but nevertheless very personal to me: the pronunciation of my surname. It is 'Ketter', with an E, not 'Katter', with an A. With all due respect to the honourable member for Kennedy, that vowel is very important to me! I mention this in passing because, since my election, I have been appreciative of the earnest attempts by various parliamentary officials to correctly pronounce the surname of this humble backbench senator. This is just a small illustration of the fact that the qualities of courtesy, dignity and respect do pervade the operation of this place, contrary to the perceptions created by the somewhat robust exchanges during the daily one hour of question time.

In delivering this speech, I have the opportunity of setting out what sort of politician I would like to be and what I would like to achieve. I have come to the conclusion that from this time on my work starts and finishes with the fundamental principles of dignity and respect, which are both the means and the ends. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, …

On the principle of dignity, I will have more to say later.

I am deeply conscious that the electoral success I have enjoyed is due to the hard work of so many people. No-one has played a greater role in this than my wife, Eleanor. I gratefully acknowledge the many sacrifices that she has made over our 28 years together and thank her for her steadfast love and support. Due to my frequent absences, she has borne much of the responsibility for the raising of our four beautiful children, Catherine, Victoria, William and Laura. I acknowledge our girls, who are in the gallery tonight, and I am grateful for their love, patience and support. I am very grateful to my parents, Ron and Judy, for the many sacrifices they made which enabled me and my younger brothers, Luke and Paul, and my sister, Genevieve, to have the benefit of a Catholic education. I have tried in my own imperfect way to live by the values that were instilled in us, such as belief in God and the dignity of the human person.

The ongoing support of my parents enabled me to go on to complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Queensland. In the months following graduation I did not have a clear view as to the career path I should take. I will always be indebted to my grandfather, Bill Thornton, for suggesting that I consider working for a trade union. Bill Thornton is an extraordinary man. He is 99 years old and he is here tonight with my uncle, Brother Neville Thornton. Bill initially resisted my invitation to be here. He did not want to be a bother to anyone. I am very grateful to Neville for making it happen and for his presence tonight.

Bill Thornton is a former meatworker and long-time official of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia who found his life's work in fighting against the forces of communism. Bill, and many other good people who lived through the post-World War II era in Australia, put aside other interests and aspirations and joined what it is said the editor of Ben Chifley's speeches described as the battle for the 'soul of Australia', which was fought out mainly in the ALP and in the union movement. I am grateful to Bill for his life's work and for his sterling advice to me.

I offered myself for employment at the Queensland Shop Assistants Union in 1982 and was fortunate enough to be accepted by the then branch secretary, John Hogg, who set me to work initially as a research officer and subsequently in a stint of warehouse organising. In 1992 I became first assistant secretary. I rounded out my education with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in economics, which I undertook part-time at the University of Queensland. It was there that I encountered Dr Richard Stavely, whose lectures transcended the dismal science of economics and entered the thought-provoking realm of political philosophy. When John Hogg was elected as a senator for Queensland in 1996, I was elected by the Queensland members of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, or SDA, as state secretary. I am indebted to John for the trust he placed in me and the guidance he provided.

I am a proud unionist, and it is of great concern to me that unions today attract much unfair criticism. The trade union movement has made a remarkable contribution to the fabric of Australian society. Unionists have upheld the dignity of men and women in the workplace and have carried the spirit of the fair go from the shop floor to the floor of parliament. I note that before me there have been two officials from the shop assistants union in Queensland who have gone on to become senators for Queensland. In fact, in both cases those former union officials went on to serve as presidents of the Senate. I have already mentioned John Hogg, who is well known to most of us. The other was a colourful character by the name of Gordon Brown, who was a senator for 33 years from August 1932 and who served as president between September 1943 and March 1951. I am spurred on by the noteworthy contributions my predecessors have made.

Successful unions rely on the commitment and support of their members and activists. In my time with the SDA our union placed great emphasis on appointing and training members to take on the roles of union delegates and workplace health and safety representatives. I want to take this important opportunity to record my appreciation of the many hundreds of ordinary members of the SDA who agreed to take on these roles within our union. The term 'shop steward' has certain connotations to people of my generation, but to me it is a title given to the selfless people who put up their hands to help out those in their workplaces who, for a variety of reasons, are more vulnerable to mistreatment. And they do this for no financial gain for themselves—often making their own lives more stressful than they would otherwise be.

In this country we pride ourselves on the great Australian spirit of voluntary community service—we quite rightly celebrate the volunteers of the surf lifesaving movement and the rural fire brigades, to name but a few. But in my experience we do not do enough to recognise the contribution of rank and file union members who take on the role of being the face of their union in the workplace on a daily basis and who are committed to ensuring that other great Australian principle, the fair go, is upheld. It seems to me there is something very noble about those people who go out of their way to uphold the dignity of others in the workplace, whether it be by just listening and providing moral support or by negotiating with line management to assist with resolving local workplace issues.

This leads me to draw attention to the importance of the role the trade union movement has played and continues to play not only in our country, but throughout the world—not merely because it is a movement to which I have devoted much of my working life, but because of its significance in the struggle for social justice, freedom and democracy. For support of this proposition we need look no further than the teachings of the Christian church. In 1991 the 6th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia affirmed the role trade unions and professional associations play in protecting those who are weaker in society, the need for people to stand together in solidarity against injustice and the need for Christians to express their discipleship in trade unions and professional associations as one way in which church and work life connect and influence each other. The Catholic church's official Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 2004 states:

The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labour unions, whose existence is connected with the right to form associations or unions to defend the vital interests of workers employed in the various professions. Unions 'grew up from the struggle of the workers—workers in general but especially the industrial workers—to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production.' Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.

On the international stage, the key role played by trade unions in protecting and advancing democracy was most dramatically illustrated in the tremendous social and political upheavals which took place in eastern Europe commencing at the end of the 1980s. Under the leadership of then SDA national president, the late Jim Maher, the union provided financial and moral support to Solidarnosc, the Polish union and social movement, which was operating under martial law and political repression during the 1980s. The SDA sponsored several visits to Australia by Solidarity leaders in that decade. In an interview in 2008, Jim stated that he was particularly proud of the fact the union played a significant role financially and physically. The fall of the communist regime and the rise of Solidarity under Lech Walesa led to Jim receiving the Polish Commander's Cross—at the time, that country's highest civilian award. In 1988 Jim Maher received the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian and international trade unionism. Jim said, 'I don't take great personal credit for that. It was recognition for what the union had done.' It is widely held that the example set by Solidarity inspired the cause of freedom throughout the remainder of the countries of the eastern bloc, which culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. I acknowledge and welcome the Polish Ambassador to Australia, Excellency Pavel Milevski.

During the course of my 32 years with the SDA I worked with many fine individuals, too numerous to name here. However, I do wish to acknowledge the contribution of SDA national secretary Joe de Bruyn, who is here in the gallery. Joe's intellect, integrity and work ethic over more than 30 years have earned him great respect across the political divide. I am indebted to Joe for the wisdom he always sought to impart through his engaging humour. I am also grateful to former SDA national president and former senator Don Farrell and his wife Nimfa for their friendship and support. Don's departure this year was a great loss to the Senate, and I acknowledge Don and Nimfa in the gallery tonight. I also acknowledge the presence of Gerard Dwyer and Peter Malinauskas.

I wish my successor in the role of SDA Queensland branch secretary, Chris Gazenbeek, who is also in the gallery, and his team every success as they continue the vital work of the union. Just as I am proud of the achievements of the industrial wing of the labour movement, I am also proud of the contribution of the political wing in embedding the concept of the fair go in Australian society. What is the fair go if it is not a recognition of the dignity of each individual person. I believe the essential work of government is to support Australian families and to ensure that, as far as possible, families are able to operate effectively. Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

The family is the basic building block in our society, and there is research to suggest that well-functioning families yield not only a productivity benefit to the economy but also social benefits, such as reduced rates of crime and drug dependency.

Labor in government has a proud record of looking after the interests of Australian families. It has achieved this over many years by establishing a fair industrial relations system and a fair social welfare safety net, at the same time pursuing policies that lead to job creation and sensible economic growth. Over the last 100 years, Labor has focused on real support for families. The first form of Commonwealth financial assistance to families, the maternity allowance, was an initiative of the 1912 Fisher government. It was intended as an anti-poverty measure. Bob Hawke's pledge on child poverty in 1987 led to a reduction by 1989 in the number of children living in poverty of between 43 and 47 per cent. Another study found that, between 1995 and 2000, child poverty fell in Australia by more than any other OECD country, with Australia moving from the sixth highest rate of child poverty to 16th.

I am a strong supporter of the Australian industrial relations system, which ensures a fair go for workers. The defeat of the appalling Work Choices legislation and the establishment of the Fair Work Act are proud Labor achievements. I wish to single out our world-class occupational superannuation system as a crowning achievement of Labor's industrial and political wings. I will support improvements which further enhance the capacity of Australian workers to retire with financial security and dignity.

I am proud of the economic record of Labor in office. The Hawke government's reform of the financial system and the floating of the dollar set the scene for 23 years of continuous economic growth. The creation of over 900,000 jobs over five years, the handling of the global financial crisis and the retention of the AAA credit rating are noteworthy Labor achievements.

I believe that Australians deserve a fair share of the natural wealth of our country. While Queensland's tourist, agricultural, construction and resources industries are important, I see further diversification, particularly in the knowledge based economy, as being vital to the prosperity of future generations.

I am deeply conscious of the fact that I stand here before you today because so many of the people of Queensland at the last federal election placed their faith in the Australian Labor Party. I wish to congratulate my Labor colleague Senator Claire Moore on her re-election and pay tribute to former Senator Mark Furner for his significant contribution. Last year, Mark was gracious enough to offer this rookie politician the opportunity to campaign with him in the lead-up to the 2013 election. The centrepiece of our campaign was a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, stopping off at various locations in between, including Hervey Bay, Gladstone, Mackay, Bowen and Townsville. Mark and I worked hard together, and I will never forget the friendship and support of the many party members with whom we engaged in those communities. I look forward to continuing those bonds in the years ahead.

I am also grateful for the support I have received over the years from many other quarters within the party, especially Bill Ludwig, Wayne Swan, who I acknowledged earlier, Con Sciacca, Brian Kilmartin, Ben Swan and Peter Biagini. I particularly acknowledge Craig Emerson, Anthony Chisholm, Shayne Neumann and Jim Chalmers, who are here tonight. I also thank the staff in my office—Kerri, Jasmine, Lucy, Jennilyn and Bart.

Turning to the future, as a father of four, I have recently had reason to become concerned about the political future of the Australia I know and love. Australia is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world and, yet, according to the Lowy Institute Poll 2014, just 60 per cent of Australians believe that 'democracy is preferable to any other kind of government'. Even more concerning, only 42 per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds agree that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, and a third of this age group say that 'in some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable'.

This research suggests that it is not so much that Australians support a more authoritarian system; it is that they are disenchanted with the way Australian politics is currently conducted. I believe that the troubling findings of this research are a wake-up call for all of us who would desire an enduring, vibrant democracy in this country. I do not have the answer to this vexed issue, but I do know that unless we tackle this issue together—through discussion and education and not lectures—for future generations we risk losing the gains which we have made in relation to fairness and equity in our society. I also suspect that the more we stick to the principles of dignity and respect in public life the better off we will be.

Mr President, I started my address by quoting JFK and his challenge to change the world. Like you, I am a politician, and words and speeches are the tools of our trade. I may not have changed the world tonight but, for the sake of my children and their generation, I intend to keep trying, one speech at a time.

5:23 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call Senator Bullock, I remind honourable senators that this is his first speech; therefore, I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.

Photo of Joe BullockJoe Bullock (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr President. Allow me at the outset to apologise for my tardiness in delivering this first speech. Few senators can have delayed their first speech until after they had contested two elections. I can only say in my defence that, although I am to blame for many things, this was not my fault. Late though I am, it would be churlish of me to fail to congratulate the government on their election last year. That said, I need to record my dismay at some of the aspects of the approach of the government as it closes on its first year in office.

While we all want to return the budget to balance, it is simply unjust to impose the greatest burden on those who can least afford it. The government proposes that the burden should fall on the sick, particularly the frail aged, through the $7 co-payment and increasing the cost of drugs under the PBS; on the elderly, by failing to allow pensions to arise proportionate with wages and by increasing the retirement age to 70; on struggling families, by restricting the application of family tax benefit part B and abolishing the schoolkids bonus; on the unemployed, by making people under 30 wait six months before receiving unemployment benefits; on motorists, by increasing the excise on petrol; and on workers saving for retirement, by imposing a 15 percent tax on the super contributions for those earning under $37,000 a year and deferring increases in the superannuation guarantee; and it proposes to make a profit from students by borrowing at one rate and lending to students at a higher rate and to increase the cost of tertiary education by deregulating fees. Against this, higher income earners will pay a higher marginal rate of tax. But while it is proposed that the cost to working people will be permanent the higher tax rate is only to be temporary. I am advised that Treasury analysis shows and the government knew before budget day that low-income families, who can by definition least afford it, would lose $844 a year in disposable income as result of budget measures, while a high-income family after the tax changes would lose only $517 a year. Government senators could benefit from a couple of years organising for the shop assistants' union, to gain some understanding of the financial pressures on the average Australian family.

I have enjoyed 37 years of such experience, but before touching on that I need to acknowledge some of the many whose lives and example will have a bearing on my approach to the task ahead. Firstly, I want to pay my respect to the finest politician I have known, the late Senator Brian Harradine. I first heard Brian speak in 1976 and was immediately inspired. He was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man determined to make a stand for the values he held dear. In that speech Brian focused more on his union work than on his then new role as a senator. There is no doubt that his words bore upon my decision to work with the shop assistants' union, the SDA, when that opportunity arose in the following year. In 1979 I joined Brian on the SDA national council, and for over a quarter of a century it was my privilege to spend a week with him each October in the union's national council meeting. I am proud to regard him as having been a friend. He and I slipped away for lunch in 2006 on the day he was awarded life membership of the SDA. That he was immensely moved by this award demonstrated to me the extent to which serving the interests of shop assistants had remained a priority in his life. Brian Harradine was a great Labor senator.

Secondly, I wish to acknowledge my debt to my parents, Alf and Beulah Bullock. Alf was a toolmaker who lived simply, minded his own affairs, worked with his hands and was dependent on nobody. He strove to make the world a better place by dint of the example of his life. In the 25 years I knew him, never once did I see him fall short of the standards of behaviour which he espoused. In this regard I am constantly embarrassed by my own shortcomings and my failure to be the person I know I should be. As for my mother, Beulah was the epitome of unconditional love.

I also wish to pay tribute to my old school headmaster, Mr James Wilson Hogg MBE, who personified what it was to be a gentleman and made this a condition to which to aspire, and to my old friend Associate Professor of Traditional and Modern Philosophy David Stove. David not only possessed a fine intellect and remarkable wit but was an even more impressively humble human being. He often remarked that he did not know what he would have done for a living if he had not had the opportunity to lecture in philosophy. With far more justification, I am amazed that I have been able to earn a living simply by encouraging people to treat others as they would wish to be treated—especially as this is not even an original idea.

This opportunity to live a life of service was given to me by the best person it has ever been my good fortune to know, Joe de Bruyn. Joe came to Sydney in 1977 to stop the shop assistants' union falling under communist control and to establish the NSW branch of the SDA. Joe recruited me, among many others, to that task. I intended only to stay until the branch was on its feet but ultimately stayed for 37 years. Joe became national secretary in 1978 and will retire from that position later this year. One reason I am here is that I cannot imagine working for the union without him. I have the deepest respect for Joe de Bruyn.

Under Joe's leadership the SDA became and remains Australia's largest trade union. Its membership is predominately young, female and non-full-time. That makes our segment of the workforce most vulnerable to exploitation. Workers in retail have no leverage. As individuals they are price takers. Market power lies with their employers. Without organisation, without someone to argue effectively in their interest, these workers are condemned to the bottom of the labour market. Their inability to negotiate fair wages and conditions on their own behalf makes a nonsense of any system of individual contracts of employment that ludicrously pretends that employer and employee bargain on equal terms. Without representation the employee can only expect to receive what the employer deigns to grant them.

Yet in Australia it is often reported that our shop assistants are the best paid in the world. As a result, retail workers who would otherwise languish on rates that would condemn them to a life of subsistence can take their place as full members of society, albeit of modest means, complete with the dignity which is their birthright as human beings.

The standard of living of retail workers in Australian owes nothing to the operation of the market but to a distortion in the market. That distortion in the market is the SDA. The resultant improvement in living standards is something about which everyone associated with the union—secretary, organisers, delegates and members—can be justifiably proud. Whether it be wages, rosters, REST Superannuation, family friendly provisions, health and safety or any of the myriad protections afforded by our enterprise agreements, the SDA has done an outstanding job for our members. We have achieved this through the merit of our arguments, through honesty and commitment, always with respect for and compliance with the law and without the industrial muscle to be able to rely on industrial action. The SDA is a model of how an effective union should operate.

The union movement exists to advance the interests of working people, the majority of whom, whether unionised or not, whether they recognise it or not, owe their standard of living to the efforts of the trade union movement. Industrial work, however, can only achieve so much. That is why unions formed the Labor Party. The Labor Party is our party and indeed can only remain a labour party for so long as the union movement maintains a significant influence within it.

I have been an active member of the Labor Party since 1978 and I can assure you that the ALP is a wonderful party. The ALP is a party of tolerance. It is a broad church that tolerates and encourages members with a wide range of social and economic views. It tolerates me. It has allowed me to take a place here. It has done so for two reasons. Firstly, I have an unshakable commitment to the role of the trade union movement in advocating the interests of working people and their families, particularly the interests of the low paid. Secondly, I accept the rules. Among these, one critical rule is: always vote consistent with caucus decisions. That means you can anticipate that I will always vote in accordance with the position adopted by the Labor caucus, even when, as I expect will sometimes be the case, I disagree with it. This rule would constitute an unacceptable restriction were it not for another great attribute of the Labor Party—pragmatism. Labor understands that there are issues of principle that people of principle could not accept as being able to be determined by majority vote of caucus. That is why Labor has adopted the conscience vote. Conscience voting covers a range of issues, including for example, matters of life and death—and in these I will always advocate the right to life—and issues related to marriage. Labor had a conscience vote on no fault divorce in 1974. I am sorry I missed that division! Related questions attracted a conscience vote in 1957, 1959 and 1961. Other issues such as gambling and hotel opening hours have been held to be conscience issues in some states, so the concept is a moving feast. I am inclined to argue for the widest application possible of the operation of individual conscience consistent with maintaining the level of solidarity necessary to advance the interest of working people.

So, in most matters at least, my vote is determined by caucus. My opinions, however, are my own and when confronted with the temptation to share them my practice has been to yield to it! Having raised the subject of tolerance and given that Senator Day seems likely to raise issues to which tolerance will be a relevant consideration, I am going to yield to the temptation to share some views. I do not need to be tolerant to support the right of people to express views with which I agree. On the contrary, tolerance is displayed in upholding the right of people to express views with which I disagree. A tolerant society is one prepared to uphold the precious right of free speech, provided such speech does not intimidate or incite the injury of others.

Today, tolerance appears in some quarters to be a misunderstood concept. The politically correct place tolerance on a pedestal among virtues but hold that it requires that all sincerely held views—provided that they are not politically incorrect—be held to be equally valid with respect to the holder of them. This is not tolerance but rather a flawed doctrine of moral equivalence. To be tolerant of your views I do not need to pretend that you are just as right as I am but rather to accept that you have a perfect right to hold a view I believe to be wrong, even if I find your view offensive.

In speculating about matters that may come before the Senate I am probably getting ahead of myself. There has been extensive public comment as to the circumstances that led me to be here with respect to which some response deserves to be given. It is tempting to give a blow by blow account of the events leading to my preselection, if only to set the record straight. The temptation to examine in depth the internal operations of the Labor Party has proven to be irresistible to some within the party and is a source of continuing fascination for the media. After consideration I have concluded that such indulgence does little to advance the interests of those whom Labor is pledged to represent and, as a result, I will restrict my response to matters related to my own circumstances and motivation.

I did not expect to be here. Six years ago next month, like my father before me, I suffered a severe heart attack. Having then recently been re-elected to a further four year term as secretary of the SDA I believed that I had an obligation, if I was able, to serve out that term and use it to prepare a successor to take up the heavy responsibility of caring for the interests of Western Australian shop assistants. As I lay for a week in intensive care, I planned to retire on 6 April 2012, the day I would reach exactly the age at which my father died, and a day that coincidentally was his birthday.

During 2011, however, another concern began to play heavily on my mind. Considering the popularity of the then Labor government and the medium-term trend in Labor's primary vote in Western Australia I began to worry that Labor might only secure one Senate seat at the 2013 election. If that were to happen who would stand up for the interests of Western Australian shop assistants? I prayed about this. I reluctantly concluded that I had to run. After years of hard work for the union, I was looking forward to retirement. My health was uncertain. Nevertheless, I began my campaign. With everyone to whom I spoke I shared my fear that Labor might secure only one senator and I asked for their support to head Labor's ticket. When it came to the crunch, I won the support of 109 out of the 170 delegates who voted in the preselection. This result was unprecedented, overwhelming and, at least in my view, miraculous.

Union delegates make up half of the Labor Party. I wish to record my thanks to my friends in the SDA, Stephen Price, the AWU delegates and former TWU Secretary Jim McGiveron and his delegates. These are all long-term supporters. In particular, I need to thank Dave Kelly and Carolyn Smith from United Voice, who went out on a limb in their circle by placing their faith in me. The other half of the party is comprised of branch delegates. I could not have achieved the majority I did without the support of dozens of individual branch delegates who cast their lot in my favour. I will always be indebted to you for the confidence which you showed in me.

I am naturally disappointed that my worst fears have been realised and that the re-run Senate ballot delivered only one Labor senator from Western Australia. Former Senator Louise Pratt was a tireless and competent advocate of the causes which she espoused. She earned universal respect and the loyal support of a good many party members. When it came to a contest between myself and Louise, I—not unnaturally—backed myself; but I share with the rest of Labor the sadness that Louise was not able to get across the line.

It remains for me now to explain what sort of a senator I hope to be. Firstly, I intend to be a senator for shop assistants. Before the election, I was asked by TheWest Australian's Andrew Probyn whether my first loyalty was to the ALP or the union. In response, I said that I would always look at legislation from the perspective of its impact on shop assistants. If that meant I was union first, so be it. Thirty-seven years of representing shop assistants cannot be lightly set aside and nor should it be. It is this understanding of and concern for the interests of working people which I feel best equips me to take my place here.

Secondly, I intend to be a senator for Western Australia. The Senate is the state's house and I intend to stand up for the interests of my state. Philosophically, this is a position with which I am most comfortable. I believe in the principle of subsidiarity and of having the responsibility for making the decisions as close to those affected by the decisions as possible, while having regard for the need for efficient implementation. In this way, decision makers are most likely to be held to account for the consequences of their decisions, and citizens are most likely to regard themselves as true participants in the democratic process with a real say over the decisions that affect them.

Achieving this will entail a reversal of the trend towards the centralisation of power in Canberra, which—in my observation—has been an almost constant feature of the last 40 years. I was most disappointed at the 2009 ALP National Conference to read in Battlelines that our current Prime Minister advocated assuming control over the Mersey Community Hospital in Devonport. It is this meddling in state affairs, this quest for a moment of political glory, that results in the duplication of responsibility, additional cost to government and additional cost of compliance and red tape. It generally makes it harder for the voter to determine who is responsible for decisions, who to blame and who to trust to make things better. Trusting big brother in Canberra frightens me.

I will not repeat those arguments made by Senator McGrath in his first speech, in which he advocated that all health and industrial services be left to state governments, subject to the provision of adequate funding from Canberra. I not only agree with these arguments, but I put them to him a week before the July sitting. As to the GST, the injustice of the current arrangements with respect to the distribution of this tax—to which Western Australians make such a significant contribution and receive so little benefit—is a disgrace which the government immediately needs to address.

More broadly, I hope to espouse the values of mainstream Australia and to give voice to my beliefs. I believe in the inherent value and dignity of every human life. I believe in a fair go and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. I believe in capitalism and in fostering enterprise, risk and reward as a means of delivering economic growth and prosperity. I believe in a level of regulation to offer protection for the weak against the powerful and to limit the excesses of capitalism and destructive greed. I believe in the right of citizens to act collectively for their mutual benefit and particularly in their right to form unions and negotiate collectively.

I believe that the family based on marriage is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state as the best means of caring for the next generation and providing for welfare. I believe in equality of opportunity made possible by the provision of decent health, education and social support. I believe in the responsibility of government to provide adequate defence for the nation. I believe that all Australians should stand equal before the law and the rule of law as essential to a society of ordered liberty.

I believe in democracy, the constitutional monarchy, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I believe in Jesus Christ and the right of people of religious conviction to express their views in the public square. While these beliefs may not excite some self-proclaimed progressives, I am always dismayed when they are characterised—as they sometimes are—as extreme. I cannot accept this. On the contrary, I believe that Labor's stocks will rise proportionately as they are seen to embrace the views of what I believe to be the majority of our people.

In the course of this speech, I have given an explanation of the factors which have led me to be here and of the sorts of issues which are likely to attract my attention. I have, however, left the best to last. There would be no possibility that I would have shown the resolve required to overcome the obstacles to achieving this position without the support of my wife Helen. For over 20 years, Helen has continued to believe that I am smarter than I really am, more competent than I really am and more capable than I really am. She remains stubbornly blind to all of the evidence to the contrary. I can only assume that this is love and I know that—in spite of all of my flaws, which are obvious to me—I love her back.