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Tuesday, 21 May 1996
Page: 951

Mr BARRESI(4.35 p.m.) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins. I congratulate you on your elevation to the office you now hold and I ask that you convey my congratulations to the Speaker.

I would like to say at the outset that it is an honour to be elected as a member of the Howard coalition government. In the first few weeks of my parliamentary life I have seen this government bring to an end that fatalistic acceptance of mediocrity that had come to dominate Australian life. For years we have had to cop the rhetoric that told us that high unemployment was inevitable and that the will of the people was to be determined by vocal and divisive interest groups. These weeks have brought to an end such rhetoric and have returned to us a sense of hope. And I want that hope to last.

If representing an electorate in federal parliament were not in itself a great responsibility, I find myself humbled by the memory of the man whose name appears on the window on my electorate office. As we approach the centenary of Federation I cannot help but think of what it must have been like to be there—to be at the birth of a nation. I think of how Alfred Deakin anticipated so many of Federation's potential difficulties, yet continued to fight for a constitution that will bring us together.

In March 1898, in his now famous speech at the Bendigo ANA conference, Deakin said:

A Federal constitution is the last and final product of political intellect and constructed ingenuity; it represents the highest development of the possibilities of self-government of peoples scattered over a large area. Yet I venture to submit that among all federal constitutions of the world, you will look in vain for one as broad in its popular base, as liberal in its working principles, as generous in its aim, as this measure.

The constitution taught us about Deakin the idealist. But to get all those involved in the debate to accept the constitution taught us about Deakin the politician.

Politics is the pragmatic side of the process—it is the art of perpetual compromise. Yet, as skilful politicians, we can, through compromise, bring about significant change. The idea can withstand the impact of politics; the idealist and the politician can be one and the same. Constitutional reform should be far-sighted and supported by the Australian people every step of the way.

Five years out from our centenary celebrations, the challenges that confront our government today are just as significant as those faced by our founding fathers. We are being asked to examine the role of the monarchy. We are being asked to mould a new state-Commonwealth relationship, and we are being asked to provide stability, order and prosperity in an ever changing and uncertain global village.

I cannot help but think that, were Alfred Deakin able to stroll down the Maroondah Highway and through the streets of the electorate which today bears his name, he would be quite proud of our nation. However, he would also be aware of a community still in need of political action. He would realise that this is not a postcard federal seat. We have no Blue Mountains, Barrier Reef or Opera House. Our monuments are the 111,000 people who live in Deakin's sprawling suburbs, whose existence is not always glamorous and exciting but is often dignified and meaningful.

Some people in my electorate are descendants of the very first Australians, those who lived here 40,000 years ago. Others are related to those who fought for our nation in more recent times, while others have lived in Deakin for less than a generation. Deakin's population is ageing. Those over 55 years of age now represent over 30 per cent of the population. This reality brings with it new demands on our infrastructure. It means that the demand for government assistance will increase rather than diminish. The chronic shortage of nursing home beds, the plight of our home carers and the continuing need for health services for the aged were some of the issues on which my election campaign was fought. These were the issues highlighted by the Gregory report, yet neglected by Labor.

Families with young children are also making their presence felt in Deakin, particularly in the outer-east growth areas. These are families at their most vulnerable stage, for whom the health of Australia's economy is not merely a series of statistics but the difference between employment and falling beneath the poverty line. As the coalition's policy for families states, `A loving, supportive and stable family environment is the best and most enduring system of social support.' Therefore, government policy must be directed at strengthening families.

My electorate lies at the heart of the fastest growing suburban region outside Canberra and the Gold Coast. It is becoming the IT and communications hub of Australia. This is placing incredible strain on the region's infrastructure, particularly on our road links with the wharves, airport, and the major interstate highway. Fifty-eight per cent of all finished goods in the area are moving northward along the Hume Highway. This means, according to some estimates, that average vehicle trip times in eastern Melbourne will increase by one-fifth by the year 2011, placing another unnecessary oncost to those who create the jobs and the wealth for this country.

The proposed Scoresby freeway will provide us with a way of relieving this pressure. It could offer an escape from the deadlock which will be crippling to the economy of the east. I will be encouraging the Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Mr Sharp) to list the Scoresby transport corridor as a `road of national significance', making the project eligible for private sector funding.

Deakin today is a community which is rich in cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, something which our founding fathers may not have envisaged but which is certainly part of those traditions of social justice and acceptance they wrote into our constitution. Deakin has sizeable Greek, Italian and Chinese communities. Languages other than English are spoken in 16 per cent of homes and this percentage is growing.

On a more spiritual level, my electorate has large and active Christian communities. The suburb of Blackburn is considered Australia's Baptist capital, something of which we are particularly proud—and I know our Treasurer (Mr Costello) is. Deakin is also home to several other large Christian denominations, as well as other religious communities from around the world.

The less savoury aspect of the seat of Deakin is not always immediately apparent. It seems to me that the fight against youth homelessness and unemployment has focused most people's attention on Melbourne's west where the problems are more visible at street level. However, those in Deakin who are familiar with the plight of the homeless, the unemployed and those employed but unable to make ends meet will know that 13 years of Labor have not been kind to our community.

Deakin and the outer-eastern region is in need of the government's youth homeless pilot project and the regional community employment councils being established with the support of the local councils and the community groups.

It is a blight on our society that there is only one youth refuge in the region—Wesley 121 with eight beds. We need to tackle youth homelessness in the suburbs and at a family level as a way of preventing the exodus into the inner city.

Having worked with the long-term unemployed under one of the myriad of Labor market programs offered through DEET, I am fully aware of what has and has not been done to help the unemployed find work. I was dismayed to discover that many programs do little more than create a false and cruel expectation in the eyes of recipients that they will find work. On Friday I attended the graduation ceremony of four young people from the local landcare and environment action program. After 26 weeks of hard work, they had acquired skills in environmental management and had made a stand against environmental degradation. But after the ceremony one of the parents took to the stage to urge CES and DEET to offer training with a purpose, to find jobs and to train young Australians to get them. I believe that programs that prepare young people for real jobs need to be encouraged, but these programs are pointless unless jobs are created for people to go to. Despite the rhetoric of Working Nation, the Labor government failed to create real, meaningful, long-term jobs.

Group training companies in my electorate are delivering successful programs based on industry, company and community needs and not on artificial needs created by bureaucrats. These companies must be encouraged. Industry in my electorate ranges from the small to the medium sized. There are companies which produce chocolate, underwear, tiles, fibres—more or less everything. Yet my involvement with the local chambers of commerce in Ringwood and Blackburn has strengthened my resolve to demand urgent industrial relations reform.

For industry to continue to work for the people of Deakin, it is my belief that the industrial relations package, as announced in the Governor-General's speech, must be passed. I say that not out of blind commitment to political ideology but because I know the world of industrial relations and I understand the risks a society runs when groups set out to protect their own vested interests. I am talking about not only unions but also employer associations, companies and practitioners who have put in place an industrial relations club in this country.

I speak from experience about industrial relations. My professional background is somewhat unusual for a member of parliament. I am a registered psychologist. But, please, before my colleagues start to recline in these comfortable chairs and begin to tell me about their problems, allow me to say that I have spent the past 18 years of my professional life in the organisational-industrial setting. I have worked in workplace reform, management-organisational development, productivity improvement, industrial relations and human resources.

I am proud to be able to say that my relationship with blue-collar workers has always been positive, even in the most heavily unionised work environments. I have worked with both unions and individual employees. I have been successful in gaining their trust, despite the widely held perception that Liberals and unionists cannot work together. It goes without saying that industry needs to be backed by government policies which encourage growth and investment. I believe our government policies will provide such incentives.

But in the course of my career I have also come across abysmal management practices, poor leadership, short-sightedness and at times pointless anti-union sentiments. Government policies dealing with small business, vocational training and employment must continue to be looked upon as a guide for many companies, but governments cannot do the work for which the employers are ultimately responsible.

Since its creation in 1937 the electorate of Deakin has seen its boundaries undergo several changes. It has become more urban than semi-rural. I am proud to say that, except for an 18-month `sabbatical' with the Labor Party, Deakin has always been a Liberal conservative seat. In its 58 years of life, the seat has been represented by William Hutchinson, Francis Davis, Alan Jarman, John Saunderson, Julian Beale and Ken Aldred. All of these people have made their contribution to parliament, the electorate and the nation.

Two of these former members deserve a special mention. The first person is the Hon. Julian Beale, who held the seat between 1984 and 1990 and then went on to represent the seat of Bruce between 1990 and 1996. Julian's support throughout the recent election campaign was appreciated, particularly as he had a tough fight of his own. Julian is a reminder that periodically we must contend with forces that are beyond our control: the redrawn electoral boundaries.

The second person I wish to mention is Alan Jarman, who served in this House between 1966 and 1983. Although I never met Mr Jarman, I feel his legacy is part of my political and personal identity, and even today he epitomises the notion of a caring and committed local member. His son, David, is a former vice-president of the Victorian division and has been a personal friend and confidant for many members of the Deakin electorate.

I have heard quite a few of my parliamentary colleagues refer to their family backgrounds. Each has staked their claim that the cultural diversity of the House is beginning to reflect that of the Australian society as a whole. Allow me to add my own background to the list. There have been many Australians of Italian origin in federal parliament, mostly on the Labor side of politics—people with names such as Lazzarini, Luchetti, Klugman and Sciacca. Western Australian Senator John Panizza was the first and—until now—the only Liberal Italian-Australian in federal parliament.

My personal first is that I am the first Italian-born member of parliament for the coalition—a fact which continues to highlight the changing nature of my party. For its own political gains the Labor Party has portrayed the coalition as less accepting of diversity than Labor. With my colleagues, I obviously reject that portrayal.

I was born in a small town on the northern coast of Sicily and I spent four years of my life in a town called Falcone. It is only a few kilometres away from the birthplace of the former member for Bowman. He will be missed by Australia's Italian community, although I am sure not by my worthy colleague who defeated him on 2 March.

It is impossible not to be moved by stories of immigration because nine times out of 10 they are happy stories, variations on the rags-to-riches theme. But many Italian-Australians did not make their fortunes in Australia. Many were happy to work in factories, save just enough for a small house in the suburbs and then retire to be with their families in the autumn of their lives. My family story is not much different. My father came from generations of Sicilian immigrants. My grandfather had travelled to Argentina and New York, before returning home. My father arrived in Fremantle in 1959 and I arrived a year later aged four.

Under the economic conditions in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s my parents were able to stake their claim on the typical migrant dream. They worked, they gave their children what they were never able to have and they retired to the suburbs. It was not luck; it was hard work, and my parents owe Australia as much as Australia owes them.

We grew up in an environment which, it was assumed, would spawn nothing but Labor voters. Mum and dad both worked in a Labor-dominated environment. That is why on the day the 38th Parliament was opened I made a point of introducing my family to the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Treasurer—the epitome of the kinds of politicians Labor people told my family not to associate with. Yet these are the leaders whom increasing numbers of average Australians, the battlers, are turning to.

I thank my parents for being here on that day. Their pride demonstrated their acceptance of my chosen political path. They are proud of me; but equally proud, as I am, of my sister, Isabel, and my two brothers, Laurie and Jack. They could not be here today, but I am sure they are listening.

It would be remiss of me not to thank those prominent Italian-Australians who congratulated me after my election. My thanks go to the Italian Ambassador to Australia, Dr Marcello Spatafora, and the mayor and councillors of the town of Falcone in Sicily, who were genuinely moved by the news of the success of one of their town's sons.

Mr Deputy Speaker, winning this seat has been nothing short of a battle for me. My victory is due to the single-minded focus and hard work of many of my supporters. Please bear with me as I acknowledge some of those who made it all possible. Firstly, I thank my wife, Vivienne, who is in the gallery, who has been a true partner throughout the process and without whose support the transition to my new life would have been impossible. To my two little mates, my children Paul and Carla—the best two kids I could hope for—thanks. To my mother-in-law, Rose, the best baby-sitter you can get during a federal campaign—thank you.

Thanks go to my branch presidents and the campaign team—people such as Ross McClymont, Charles and Bernice Hogarth, Kaele Way, James Kimpton, Sue Lawrie, Pam Read, Bev Bailey, Andrew Munro, Merle Hare, Sue Ryan, Jan and Peter Tredrea, Charles Czerny, Ronah Dennis, Margaret Lee, Terry Macdonald, Jim Madden, Andrew Rawlings, Jock Hancox, Tony Callander, Margaret Kirby and the other 480 supporters who helped during the campaign.

Thanks also to my local Liberal state members of parliament in Victoria, whose help was invaluable. Thanks also to my close friend the Hon. Shane Stone, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who has been a true mentor throughout my political career—from our university days at ANU until today—and who, along with many in this House, is looking for strong federal leadership in issues affecting regional Australia.

Thanks also to Senator Judith Troeth, who gave me the courage many years ago to consider standing for preselection. Thanks to Senator Kay Patterson, a great patron senator, and her staff. Thanks also to the best Liberal Party secretariat in the country—headed by Dr Peter Poggioli and Ted Bailleau. And thanks to my colleagues in the surrounding federal seats of Aston, Menzies, Chisholm, La Trobe and Casey.

A special thanks to ALI, the Association of Liberal Italians, which for the last 20 years has been a strong supporter and communicator of Liberal values in the Italian community. And, finally, thanks to all my friends in Melbourne and Perth.

I have come to parliament, like all new members, to have a say in the future of both Australia and my electorate. But I also want the politician and the idealist to live side by side, to bring about change that means something to us as Australians. I thank the House for the courtesy it has extended to me today.