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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 168

Mr ADAMS (6:54 PM) —I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, on your election to that great office. You are a very experienced man. You have had a lot of experience in the New South Wales parliament and no doubt you will bring a lot of grace to that chair. I wish you very well in it. Also, I congratulate Mr Speaker on his return to the Speakership of the House. I congratulate the member for Moncrieff on his maiden speech and look forward to commenting more on his philosophy in the future.

I would like to point out to the House that Mike Rann will form a government in South Australia and that he has won the support of Independent member Peter Lewis. The Parliamentary Library has confirmed that this is the first time in the history of our Federation that Labor has held government in all states and territories at one time. So we have a pretty interesting set of circumstances for our democratic processes to deal with.

I want to contribute to this debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech. When I listened to it yesterday I was struck by it. I was very disappointed in that speech. Looking for the country's future, I thought it was tied closely to a backward thinking agenda. A very backward thinking agenda was presented. Terrorism has been here for thousands of years; it is only of late that it has become a more multinational affair where disaffected people find it easier to wreak havoc on innocent people. The leaders can use refugee camps to draw on for their cannon fodder, but those same leaders are not to be found anywhere near them. Our problem is to ensure that we are dealing with the two issues, one being terrorism and the other being Australia's responsibility towards world refugees.

It has been very obvious since 1996 that Australia has been isolating itself in the Pacific, and now it is isolating itself by half a world. Yet our nation is made up, I understand, of 97 different nationalities, many of whom come from the countries that Mr Bush and Mr Howard now seem to want to target. I am a little nervous about the likely outcomes from the directions this government is heading in. We have to engage and we have to ensure that whatever actions we take now do not have an effect in 10 years time. Communications and respect must be part of the agenda.

The Governor-General talked of shared prosperity. Some of those people who have will be getting some more, maybe. But those people who have not or who have very little do not appear to be in the picture. The speech talked of families and choices, yet the Liberals are determined to cut funding to public schools and universities while topping up the private sector, which has access to other forms of funding. Shared prosperity? I doubt it! The Liberal way will not let that happen.

Choice and access to health care were raised. Please tell me where the choice and access are in country Australia. It is becoming harder to find medical care in the country. Doctors are leaving through stress and lack of opportunities. Country hospitals are being run down. Nursing homes are still increasing their phantom beds, without producing any real outcomes. The care that is there is becoming more rushed and stressed. Our nurses are simply packing up and moving overseas because of the lack of incentives and job satisfaction to stay. Without pumping considerable amounts of money into the health care system, Australians will end up like our American counterparts: the rich get serviced and the poor are left waiting—queuing and hanging about until they die, recover or eventually get some treatment for which they will probably have to hock their house.

Centrelink was another point. This underresourced and overstretched agency attempt to deliver some assistance to their clients, but as often as not their information is wrong— people are cut off for minor and technical infringements and this leads to homelessness and despair. We want to try to do something about suicide in our country. Let us start where it really matters—in the home, in the street and in the emergency accommodation around the place.

Workplace reform, in the government's view, means attacks on the trade union movement of Australia so that ordinary workers have to bear the brunt of an employer's misdeeds without support. Good employers have nothing to fear from unions and union participation in the workplace. In fact, there are many benefits in unions and employers working together to keep employees happy, healthy and satisfied within their workplaces. I am proud to have been a unionist since I was 15 years old.

I would like to take the opportunity to point out a case in my own electorate where union action has worked very well—where its involvement has improved the lot of a whole community. Here I would like to congratulate the Australian Workers Union and its members for achieving a reduction in working hours and the dumping of the 56-hour shifts at Queenstown, a mining town in my electorate. Robert Flanagan and his AWU members have been working hard to try and bring some sense to the working hour dilemma that faced Queenstown and the other mining towns on the west coast of Tasmania. The union went out into the community and heard what the problems were. It then took those concerns to the state government, which instigated an inquiry. The management of Mount Lyell has agreed to end the 12-hour shifts, and I now hope that that will run through to the other mines in the area. It is a great result. I do not believe management will regret the moves and I am sure that it will bring a greater commitment to the employer and to productivity.

I have seen the effects of those long shifts on miners. At the end of the shift some workers could barely keep their eyes open. They were so exhausted that they could not spend time with their families, and they were a danger in the workplace. It is clear that, while the longer hours paid good money, it was risking health and safety and the whole community structure of the town. This had to be dealt with, and the result proved the value of unions. They were taking a much greater role in representing not only the workers in a particular industry but also the community in which they live. Being a union member means that you can help to care for your community and the problems it faces as well as improving workplace conditions and wages. I believe that this result spells a new era for unionism and that all unions will benefit from the example set here. Well done to Robert and his team.

To allow a union to work properly, it is best to have compulsory unionism and compulsory membership, just as we have compulsory voting in this country. It allows everyone in a union to have a say in the collective future of their workplace—to help solve problems, to seek better pay and conditions and to stop any vindictiveness on the part of an employer who may pick off unionists one by one.

It is the dodgy companies who will benefit from the government's so-called workplace reform—those who do not want to pay superannuation or proper workers compensation, or who even forget to take out tax instalments and then say that they have gone into a contract without informing the tax office or the contractor. There are also those who pay below award rates—who try and employ young people for lower rates without informing them of what they should be getting, what the going rate is, or what their rights might be. Those employers should have their backsides kicked every so often by an attentive union. Fair and proper legislation is needed to allow employees to have the same rights as their bosses. They can only achieve these rights through collective action and bargaining.

Union members in the past have given up pay and jobs to fight for better working conditions for us today. People forget that the conditions we enjoy have been painfully gained through constant struggle and negotiation. So I would say that the government's so-called reforms in the workplace are based on misinformation. We will be going backwards—back to Dickens's days, when no-one had work rights, no-one could bring a pay issue before an employer without risking their employment and no-one could seek a redundancy package or workers compensation claim with any confidence of success.

We need a national scheme to allow a safety net for when companies fail. There should be none of this stuff about one company paying out and another not. There should be a national indemnity scheme to allow workers' entitlements to be paid into a group fund so that if a company fails then the entitlements are enshrined in an agency that cannot be breached or used fraudulently. It has been promised by this government, and I see from the Governor-General's speech yesterday that they are now going to consult on it. It was a promise; it is now going to be consulted on.

As for the government being innovative in technology and education, unless we can give some breaks to industry to encourage them along this path—along with funding the CSIRO to allow it an independent role in overseeing change—Australia will not keep up with its competitors. We need skills, yet we are preventing the creation of more places in Australian universities. Many of our clever young people cannot afford to attend university. They are forced to find work and then cannot get the time to study or they are ineligible for assistance as an independent until they are over 25, which puts an enormous burden on parents who are barely making ends meet. There is no real help in that system.

Our public schools are being downgraded. `If you want a good education, pay for it!' That is this government's philosophy. It does not matter that many of our brightest graduates are products of public schools and have benefited from their time in the Australian education system, which was one of the best in the world. Now we are looking at welfare education. What a shocking thought. Back to the workhouse for the local beadle—picking up the young boys to put into virtual slavery instead of school. Girls were farmed out to clean houses and generally go into service almost as soon as they could be taken. The equivalent now is the dole. Kids who cannot afford to continue in education have very little hope of finding meaningful work. An article in the Hobart Mercury on Tuesday this week said that, to continue their education, a number of children were picking subjects on the basis of cost rather than interest. Many parents could not afford leavers' dinners, sports and excursions for their children; in fact, children were being kept from school because parents were not able to afford school related expenses and did not want their children to be ridiculed because of it.

There is a tragic truth that the state schools are being short-changed because the federal government's funding priorities are against government schools. So I was not impressed with the proposed government program that the Governor-General listed for us. The Labor leader, in his efforts to bring reform to the parliament, had a much more refreshing approach to where we should be going, with an independent Speaker and his deputy and a more caring parliament that listens rather than shouts. It sounds to me as if we are missing opportunities to improve parliamentary debate and procedures.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the electors of Lyons for returning me to the parliament. I am honoured to once again serve in this place with my fellow colleagues and people on the other side whom I have got to know over the years. It is a great honour. Fewer than 1,000 men and women have been elected to this chamber since Federation, so it makes those of us who win the confidence of our electors a very privileged lot. I thank my friends and colleagues who supported my return.

I thank the electors of Lyons for renewing my contract for another term. It is my job now to represent Lyons to the best of my ability. Once again we have a federal Liberal government and a Labor state government, and now we have state Labor governments in every state and territory of Australia. This can sometimes present problems when we have to make decisions and deal with two authorities. I certainly hope that that does not apply in Tasmania and that we can tackle some of the debates that we need to have head-on.

However, the role of government is to perform their duties to electors, whatever political persuasion they may be. We all vote and pay taxes and expect efficient and courteous service from government and their employees. If people are not satisfied with a government's actions, they take their views to their local representative. If nothing happens, or if they feel there is scant attention paid to their needs, it is at the ballot box that they will express their displeasure.

Mr ADAMS —Luckily, I must have been doing my job for many years now, as the member for Franklin said, to have been returned to the electorate of Lyons. I give my commitment to continue in the same vein. I was disappointed that I was not able to assist in the shadow cabinet this time, but it does give me an opportunity to represent the state more completely. I will be ensuring that the interests of Tasmanians are put forcefully in the parliament and that issues are taken up promptly. It will also allow me to develop policies and ideas for the future. Change is all around us, and we must continue to review and consider our position on many issues. When you live on the periphery of the periphery, as we do in Tasmania, it stretches us to face the changes that globalisation is forcing upon us. In this new year, with a new government, I hope that we will have a fruitful year—one in which we can point out that change is not frightening and that we can improve parliament and make sure that all Australians can have a very positive future.