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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 69

Mr EDWARDS (11:02 AM) —I was talking about Blue Burridge and I was saying that under the old imperial awards system officers recommended for this level of gallantry received a Military Cross. Diggers for the same level of gallantry received a Military Medal. However, under our new system of awards there is now no distinction: officers and diggers alike receive the same award, the Medal of Gallantry. This is confirmed by the then Secretary of State for Defence in the United Kingdom, Mr Rifkind, who in 1993, when explaining the new system to the House of Commons, said:

That the Military Cross and the Military Medal are for the same degree of gallantry is without question. It is only the constituents which are different.

The difference in constituency was abolished then in England but, because of the entrenched position adopted by Minister Bishop, it is obvious that the class distinction remains in Australia.

In my view, it is the courage of these diggers which should be the determining factor of these awards, not the petulant, childish attitude of a minister of the Crown. Blue Burridge and his mates are entitled to justice, and I see three courses of action to achieve it. First, I am prepared, with the support of my party, to introduce a private member's bill. Second, I am, despite being a determined supporter of the republic, prepared to write to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and ask her to intervene on behalf of these blokes. Thirdly and lastly, the option is for the minister now responsible, following Minister Bishop's demotion, to initiate his own review and ensure that justice is finally delivered. On behalf of all fair-minded Australians, I would urge him toward that course of action and say that I am prepared to give him time to address that issue before taking action myself.

I was interested to hear the government indicate in the Governor-General's speech, on page 11:

The government will continue to strengthen the security of veterans and war widows by heightening recognition of their service and improving health and financial assistance. The commemoration program will be boosted to ensure that veterans' courage and sacrifice are honoured and that our proud history is celebrated.

Well, we have heard today of the courage of veterans that has not been honoured. That leads me to wonder just how much of what the government had to say yesterday is simply rhetoric and mere attention to words with no intention of actually doing what it says it will do and acting with the honour that this Prime Minister talks so much about. I quote from page 5 of His Excellency's speech, where this claim is made:

The government went to the Australian people with a plan for a new tax system. . . . The government will move quickly to put its bold new plan in place.

This is the new tax that the Prime Minister says we have to have. It is a new tax he claims he has a mandate for. I am here as one of four new members from Western Australia to tell the Prime Minister that he has no mandate for this tax. Indeed, the results of the election clearly indicate that if this bold new plan had been put by way of referendum it would have been soundly beaten. Let us be honest about it: what the government has in this place is the numbers. It does not have a mandate, and we should not confuse those two things.

There are a number of local issues in Cowan that I will be giving priority to, and I can say with some confidence that I have a grasp of what those priorities are, having personally doorknocked just over one-third of the electorate. That doorknocking gave me a close feel for the hopes, the aspirations, the fears, the concerns and, above all, the insecurities of this diverse electorate, which represents to me, as I have heard others say, a snapshot of Australia. I use the word `insecurity' because it is my view that many Australians feel insecure. It is an insecurity brought about by uncertainty in the workplace, economic rationalisation and privatisation by a government which seems intent upon destroying the institutions that have given this nation its sense of balance and fairness for many decades. I refer to our industrial relations systems, our unions, our health systems, our hospitals, our aged care systems, our schools, our child-care systems, our social security and our veterans' affairs systems, and perhaps above all the institution of the family in Australia. All of these are under direct attack from this government.

I retired early last year after some 15 years in state parliament. All I wanted to do was get away from politics, to go and do a bit of fishing, to relax, to enjoy life and to do the sorts of things I had dreamed for so long of doing. But what I saw in retirement scared me, frankly. I saw for the first time the incredible division and fragmentation that was occurring under this government and I saw the concern and the fear that it was causing within the community. And I am not the sort of bloke who can sit on the fence in the face of those sorts of issues.

I saw how that fear was impacting on my many friends in the Vietnamese community, the Chinese community, the Burmese community, the Malaysian community and in the general framework of Australia. That is a division that seemed to me to be going unchallenged by this government. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to join ranks with my other colleagues in the Australian Labor Party, both in Western Australia and in Australia, to fight the sorts of issues that were starting to tear apart what I consider to be a fairly just and reasonable society. The vacuum created by the Prime Minister and the government led to much of the concern and the fragmentation and division that grew in Australia.

I understand that I have one more minute. I want to take that to quickly reflect on a couple of other issues. One of them in Cowan is the Telstra buffer zone issue. It is an issue that I do not have time to go into here, but I will take that time at a later stage in this chamber.

The second is simply this, and then I will conclude: I want to pay tribute to Kim Beazley and the job that he did in leading the Australian Labor Party to this election. In Western Australia, we recognised the great characteristics of Kim Beazley. It will take the rest of Australia a bit longer to do so, but they will. I have absolutely no doubt that Kim Beazley will go on to be one of the great prime ministers in Australian history. I look forward to that time.

Opposition members —Hear, hear!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —Before I call the honourable member for Charlton, I would like to acknowledge the presence of a former distinguished member for Charlton, the Hon. Bob Brown, in the Speaker's gallery today. I bid him a warm welcome on this very special occasion for him and his family. Secondly, I remind the House that this is the first speech of the honourable member for Charlton. I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.