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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 89

Mr SNOWDON (5:52 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Beazley, may I say what a privilege it is to see you in this august position.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. K.C. Beazley)—You may say that anytime you like.

Mr SNOWDON —Congratulations on your elevation. I am sure you will continue to use your experience and that you will do this job with a great deal of professionalism and aplomb.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Thank you very much.

Mr SNOWDON —I am looking forward to the wise decisions which you will make.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is right, and I will sack you at the drop of the hat if you give me any trouble at all.

Mr SNOWDON —Prior to the debate being interrupted, I was privileged to be in the chamber at the end of the contribution from new member for Wentworth. I received a standing ovation as I stood up—or at least I thought I did. But then it dawned for me that it really was for the member for Wentworth and what he had to say and that the 400 invited guests who had come down from Sydney to hear his speech were not, in fact, applauding me—which was a great disappointment to me—but him. I am not disillusioned, however, because I know they are still around and there is time for conversion.

I did point out to them, and I hope they go back to the electorate of Wentworth knowing, that there is a very valid expectation on my behalf and that of others on this side of the chamber that the member for Wentworth will occupy that seat he sits on on that side of the chamber for only a short time, three years, and then, unless the government determines it wants to have an election before then, we will see the member for Wentworth experience the vagaries—if I might describe it in that way—of the opposition benches. I am sure he will have a long and successful political career, but I hope that the electors of Wentworth will not be too disappointed when he is not in government after the next election.

I want to raise some issues about the election result and in particular the result in my own electorate. I described my electorate in my previous short contribution. I compared it to the member for Wentworth's electorate. I do not know the area of the Wentworth electorate, perhaps the clerks could tell me, but I suspect it is less than 100 square kilometres; perhaps it is a lot less than that. My own electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you well know, is diverse, disparate, dispersed and 1.34 million square kilometres. It comprises Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, with which you are familiar, and all of the area of the Northern Territory except Darwin and Palmerston. A major element of the electorate of Lingiari is that in excess of 40 per cent of its constituents are Indigenous Australians. It is a unique electorate in that respect, if for no other reason; but its geography and demography make it unique in any event.

I want to thank the people of Lingiari for endorsing me again as their representative in this chamber. I would point out that I am one of the few people on this side of the chamber who achieved a reasonably significant swing. I am now sitting on almost 58 per cent—57.7 per cent—which is, for me, a reasonable luxury compared with the margin I have been used to. From my own perspective, it was a significant result. In the seven elections I have now contested, this is the first time I have won the vote in Alice Springs. It is significant that, of the 24 static booths in the electorate, I achieved swings in 18. Across the 270 mobile polling places our average vote was 79 per cent, almost 80 per cent, and that itself was a swing to us. In any event, it showed the confidence not only of the people in the bush and remote communities but also of people in the towns who voted for us and gave us their support. I am very grateful and, indeed, thankful for it.

I want to thank all of those people who contributed to the campaign—the campaign workers, the volunteers, my family and all the others, too many to name, who make an election possible in terms of a candidate's success or otherwise. It is absolutely true in my case that without the work of dedicated volunteers, many of whom took in this last election more than a week off work to do the mobile polling, I would not win. It is just physically impossible to get around and do all the things you need to do with the turnout to a poll. It is a taxing exercise in the electorate and I would never be successful were it not for the commitment of those people, and I want to place on the record my thanks to them.

But I also want to point out that the people of Lingiari had a very good reason not to vote for the government. Part of that was our positive plan and vision for Northern Australia. It is clear that they wanted major improvements in infrastructure. They wanted and still want the government to keep Telstra in majority public ownership and to force Telstra to focus on the telecommunications needs of remote towns and communities.

Again I will juxtapose my electorate with the member for Wentworth's. The telecommunications difficulties that confront people who live in remote Australia are probably incomprehensible to most of the electors of Wentworth. I think this is a problem the Liberal Party has. It is clear that The Nationals understand the implications of this proposed sale of Telstra and are concerned about it. It is a fact that individuals from cockies corner who are members of that party have been brave enough to stand up and say on a number of occasions to the party, `We don't want you to pursue the full sale of Telstra.' I will be pushing that issue strongly. Whilst the government can argue all it likes about what it believes its mandate might be, I know the directions I have from the people of Lingiari—and they are to oppose vehemently the further sale of Telstra.

Of course, there are other significant issues, such as the shocking state of the Territory's roads. I have raised that in this chamber on many occasions, and I will not go through the details of it now. I will just note that the previous speaker in this place, the member for Parkes, was talking about the statements made about government pork-barrelling. Let me be very clear that the funding for roads through the last parliament was skewed monumentally towards government electorates. My own electorate, which arguably has the worst roads in Australia, was very underresourced in comparison to those other electorates—and I name particularly the member for Gwydir's electorate, because under the Roads to Recovery program an electorate one-tenth the size of the seat of Lingiari received over twice the funding for roads. There are in the seat of Lingiari 9,000 kilometres of roads on unincorporated land—dirt roads that link small, remote, isolated communities, and at many times during the year, particularly in the wet season, many of these communities cannot use the roads. This compounds the cost of living in these places and places an additional burden on the communities. This is not something the government has thought through, and I maintain the view that this has been an exercise in pork-barrelling. The funding has been skewed. The government has used the formula, but the funding has been skewed monumentally towards government electorates—principally National Party electorates.

Then there is the neglect of public health and bulk-billing. Mr Deputy Speaker Beazley, you live in a very fine city. I imagine that you could drive from your home and within five or six kilometres come to a bulk-billing doctor. In my electorate of 1.4 million square kilometres, there is only one private bulk-billing medical practice in the top end of the Territory. We pay the highest fees for consultations of anywhere in Australia. The average consultation fee is $52. The minister for health and the government come in here saying what they are doing for the bush. I can tell you what they are not doing: they are not delivering accessible health services—and parents are choosing not to take their children or themselves to the doctor because they simply cannot afford it, because they do not have access to bulk-billing private medical practices. That is another reason why the community was not going to vote for the government and was pleased to support me.

Then there is the question of schools, both public and private, being resourced at a level which will give kids in the Northern Territory the same learning opportunities as those enjoyed by other Australian children. I will address that issue in another debate in this place which is coming up in the next day or so, because the absolute disadvantage suffered by Indigenous Territorians in terms of public education is largely a direct result of the neglect of governments. I want to make a point about the member for Goldstein's contribution earlier today. I know we are not allowed to interject during members' first speeches, but his very simplistic analysis of the concerns of Indigenous Australia and the need for public policy in Indigenous Australia needs some detailed comment. If I do not have time today, at some later point I will address that in great detail. What it demonstrated was the sort of ignorance that is perpetrated by the conservatives in this country about the state of Indigenous affairs. His comment was—and it is worth while reading this bit:

The chilling fact is that the very fabric of a proud and fascinating culture, many thousands of years in the making, has been brought to its knees in less than 30 years by well-intentioned but seriously misguided policy.

I do not know where this bloke comes from, but he is clearly ignorant of Australian history and has no understanding of the history of Australian public policy, of the concerns and aspirations of Indigenous Australians or of what they have been saying to successive governments over the last 30 years. If he had any knowledge whatsoever, he would say that the reason these people are in such dire poverty is not only because of poor public policy but also because of the failure to accept the legitimate demands made by Indigenous Australians on the Australian community to have their citizenship rights recognised. One of the real problems is that those citizenship rights are not properly recognised. In many parts of Australia, and certainly in my own electorate, where there is a $850 million shortage of housing in the bush, where people live 20 or 30 people to a home, and where there are no high schools or employment opportunities, people like the member for Goldstein choose to blame the victims. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure you understand that that is a foolish way to go.

I lastly want to address very quickly the question of the redistribution. We had a redistribution before the last election, and it was said that the seat of Lingiari and the seat of Solomon would need to be combined into one seat. As a result of an inquiry by the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters in this place, it was agreed to make a recommendation that they should look at the way in which the quota was applied to ensure that the Northern Territory would maintain two seats for the last election. I have had the Parliamentary Library look at the result of the election and what the determination might be for any future redistribution based on the projected population figures for June 2005. Sadly, we have something which deeply concerns me and will come as no surprise because, on the population figures that are being estimated, we will again be facing the prospect of one seat for the whole of the Northern Territory. That will be a tragedy. I note that the member for Solomon is not in the chamber, but let me make it very clear to him that, on the basis of the last election, if you combined the votes of the seats of Solomon and Lingiari I would still be the member for the Northern Territory and the member for Solomon would not be gracing us with his presence.

Mr SNOWDON —That is right. If we go back to one seat, I anticipate he will not be here. So I imagine the government members, and not least the member for Solomon, will be considering ways in which they can secure the two seats. The only way I think they can do it is to guarantee by legislation that the Northern Territory has a minimum of two seats. That is the only way. In my view, they cannot validly argue, using the criteria which are established under the electoral act, that we can fiddle with the statistics in a way which could give us two seats, even though we have grave concerns about the accuracy of that data.

I want to place on the record my deep concern that the possibility of us going back to one seat is really on the agenda. That is something that should challenge the minds of the people of the Northern Territory and indeed the Northern Territory government—which I am sure it will. I can imagine the member for Solomon ferreting away to make sure that he can maintain the two seats. I want the two seats, but I am not afraid of going back to one seat because, if we go back to one seat, there will be one member here, and it will not be him.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SNOWDON —I am pleased to see that I have the support of my colleagues. I am glad they are here. Normally they would not front. I stood up to give this speech and I was applauded. I have come in here and I have a crowd. The gallery is almost full. I have come in here and they are back to support me again. That is a great privilege. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Prospect, I remind honourable members that this is his first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.