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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 472

Mrs IRWIN (12:34 PM) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your return to the parliament and on your election as Deputy Speaker. I am sure that we can rely on your fairness and management skills to bring out the best in debates in the Main Committee and the House. I would also like to take this further opportunity to thank the people of Fowler, who have done me the honour of electing me to be their representative in this parliament for the fourth time.

The Fowler electorate that I represent today is very different from the electorate I represented in the last parliament. The redistribution of electorates in New South Wales placed 40 per cent of the former electorate in the neighbouring seats of Blaxland and Hughes—and I congratulate my colleague Jason Clare on his election to the seat of Blaxland. In place of those areas transferred to other electorates, Fowler now includes semirural areas which were formerly part of the electorates of Macarthur and Hume. I was greatly pleased with the election results from booths in those new areas, where swings to Labor of over 10 per cent were seen. Overall the Labor vote in Fowler increased by almost five per cent, and I am most grateful for the support I received as the Labor candidate. I am now looking forward to the challenge of representing the people of Fowler in the 42nd Parliament.

I also welcome the large number of new faces elected to the Labor side of the parliament in the November election. As one of the class of 1998, which saw a large batch of new members, including you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, I can be confident that the class of 2007 will also make its mark on this great parliament. There are too many to name, but here I would especially like to welcome the return of the member for Braddon, whom we dearly missed after the 2004 campaign. Welcome back, Sid.

On a sadder note, we will miss our one casualty of the November election. Kim Wilkie, the former member for Swan, lost by a very small margin. Kim has been a great friend to many on both sides of the parliament as well as a dedicated member whose service as Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and on the Speaker’s panel will be missed by all. As a bench-mate for the last six years I will certainly miss his wicked sense of humour, not to mention his ‘boy’s own adventure’ tales of his times in the Defence Force parliamentary program. I am sure other members will join me in wishing Kim Wilkie well in his life beyond this parliament. I can fully understand how some members opposite must feel, having lost so many close friends and colleagues.

The election of the Rudd Labor government on 24 November was a historic occasion. It is only the third time in my lifetime that the Labor Party has been voted into government at the federal level from opposition. The result was decisive and, while many reasons have been given for the Howard government’s loss, clearly the issue of Work Choices stood out as a major cause. I know that, in my campaign in the Fowler electorate, it was the issue that voters focused on, and the results confirmed just how important that issue was. In neighbouring seats, Labor candidates were able to attract large swings thanks to the vigorous campaigning of trade unions on the Work Choices issue. It would be very foolish of opposition members not to concede that Work Choices was the biggest reason for their loss. But this was not the only issue. In western Sydney and other parts of New South Wales, working families did not believe that they had ‘never been better off’, despite the assurances of John Howard, the former member for Bennelong.

As we consider the impact of further interest rate rises, the greatest challenge for the Rudd government will be to manage an economy which is stretching the available resources in some regions, while others are stagnant. Managing the Australian economy today will require new strategies and tools if we are to successfully see this country through this difficult period. A true Labor government, with the interests of working Australians at heart, must not betray the confidence placed in us by the people of Australia.

In the short time I have left to speak, I would like to thank a young lady, Emma Brindley, for the wonderful work she did in the Macarthur campaign on behalf of the ETU. Thank you.