Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 September 1987
Page: 172

Go To First Hit

Senator McLEAN(5.36) —Mr President, please accept my sincere congratulations on your re-election to your distinguished office and please extend my congratulations to your deputies also. I congratulate my fellow senators on their excellent maiden» speeches.

To rise in this place is an honour afforded relatively few Australians and, like all who have done so before me, I savour the special feeling of pride and apprehension-pride in having been chosen, yet apprehension as to whether one is able to fulfil the great expectations placed upon us by our fellow Australians. This shared honour, Mr President, is our great bond; a bond not only among ourselves but to our people. Australians of all States, all persuasions and all circumstances must always be able to trust that our common and sincerely held intention is to serve them first. This common bond is their assurance that good will come from our efforts. Despite the imperfection of the process which occurs here, of which I am now a part, great good has come from it in the past. We salute all who have gone before us in this great service.

I take particular pride in rising in this chamber as an Australian Democrat. I might add, sir, that having contested seven elections for upper house chambers, State and Federal, I am somewhat relieved at finally having arrived. It has been a demanding and challenging thing to create a true citizens' party for Australians; one without vested interests and with the ideology of participation; one based on the principles of honesty, tolerance and compassion and one emphasising involvement of its grass roots membership.

I was a foundation member of the Australian Democrats and have held most State offices of my Party during its first 10 years. I know its strengths and weaknesses and I know the calibre and intent of those who founded it, who built it, who represent it and who belong to it. To them I say, `Well done and thank you'. I pay special tribute to my colleagues and predecessors, especially former Senator Colin Mason who rendered 10 years distinguished service to the people of New South Wales.

As my colleague Senator Powell did when she addressed this chamber for the first time, I must confess to being a typical Democrat. I think I know what is conveyed by such a label and I take pride in it. Of course, Mr Acting Deputy President, we Democrats claim no monopoly on honesty, tolerance and compassion, but we are different in that our Party does confer upon us the special privilege, indeed an obligation, of independence of thought and action to a degree enjoyed by few others in this place. We have also, rather presumptuously, undertaken to strive to maintain honesty not only among ourselves but also in the general political forum. Since we take both these challenges seriously our behaviour may be judged by some as odd. We therefore seek the forbearance of our colleagues in these matters.

In gathering my thoughts for this speech I read the «maiden» speeches of all my Democrat colleagues and quite a few others. It seems a common practice to reveal something of one's philosophical self, of one's motivations and aspirations, and I will do this briefly. We are all, of course, the product of our past but the psychologists tell us that along the way a relatively few and especially profound experiences shape us. These have been referred to as focal experiences. I confess to being a determinist in this respect and I believe that four or five extended experiences have left their mark upon me in my progression towards this new and exciting focal experience. I will cite them briefly because they will explain how I will behave here, what I will fight for and why I will fight for it.

I am the son of a coal miner and my mother was the daughter of a tin miner, and this explains a lot about me. I was raised among honest, hardworking people who knew nothing of real wealth or position. Although I was not raised in poverty, I saw enough of it to understand it. Such origins can sometimes give rise to a cynical, resentful acceptance or to a quiet determination. In my case it was fortunately the latter. Believing that a good education was the best thing they could offer me, my parents made great sacrifices to send me to an expensive and fine private school. This, the second of my focal experiences, was a very powerful one indeed. It gave me the opportunity of mixing with people of vastly different origin and circumstances, but most of all it left me utterly convinced of the profound importance of the educational experience. It also guided me to education as my profession and to an extended tertiary education.

It was at this time, as an undergraduate in the mid 1950s, that I was conscripted to national service in the Army. I did not find this a negative experience at all. I rather identified with attempts to inculcate in me and others qualities of leadership, endurance and physical and moral courage. I took a commission in the Citizen Military Forces and then in the Australian Regular Army (ARA) specialising in adult education and training. So, for almost 20 years I had an Army connection, and significantly these were the Vietnam years. Although I was fortunate not to see active service, I did have the good fortune of serving in the United Kingdom with the British Army on the Rhine. I therefore retain a real interest in, and have some understanding of, matters relating to defence in general and service life and veterans' affairs in particular.

In 1974, after 10 years ARA service, my family and I had lived in several countries and my children had attended a dozen or so schools and so the vagaries of service life induced my resignation-the same reasons which continue to cause the alarming resignation rate which we see today amongst service people. To this point in my life I had been essentially apolitical. I believed that the only vote worth having was a swinging one. Then followed an experience which changed me entirely.

Under the excellent Whitlam program called the Australian assistance plan I took up a fascinating role as a social planner with the Central Coast Social Development Council based in Gosford, New South Wales. I was a social catalyst in the community. It was my role to help, at the local level, in defining community objectives and priorities, marshalling resources, formulating plans and initiating and co-ordinating social action at the grass roots. It was a profound experience which taught me a great deal. I became convinced that at least some communities, indeed most, have great capacity to solve their problems if governments provide them with some resources and information and as little obstruction as possible. Furthermore, communities often work with great efficiency, responsibility, economy and accountability.

In short, I grew to believe in people power-power to the people-in the devolution of power out of bureaucracies and down to communities. I became hooked on participation; I became sceptical of elitism and disillusioned with some representation. I was a first hand witness to cronyism, obstruction and the downright lack of imagination of some in elected office and some in public service. In embryo and unconsciously I became an Australian Democrat. It only needed something to galvanise my new political being. Little did Don Chipp know when he resigned from the Liberal Party out of his frustration and disillusionment that so many others bearing their own discontent would seize the opportunity of forging a new political force that would so quickly achieve the balance of power in the national Parliament. That is history now and I am proud to have been a part of it.

My most recent focal experience, of course, has been to play a part in the founding and building of this instrument of people power, that is, the Australian Democrats. Mr Acting Deputy President, as you realise, as do all senators, to be politically involved is, in itself, very demanding. To successfully build a new political party is an extraordinary achievement.

I am sure that His Excellency in his opening address was covertly saying that we in this place must be more than law makers: We must adopt a much more innovative and imaginative role as primary change agents in society. The last three or four decades have seen an explosion in knowledge about society. We have observed, quantified, analysed and documented every conceivable aspect of our lives, yet we have hesitated to take control over our collective selves. We have not faced our responsibilities as change agents. The great challenge is for us to do so in a manner that is in line with an emerging democracy and which preserves civil liberty.

It is my view, sir, as a former social planner and social actionist, that governments must in future be much bolder and further sighted. There must be increasing emphasis upon initiatives which result in substantial and relatively rapid social change. Let me give an example of what I mean. It seems that many of our more serious social problems result from the negative aspects of urbanisation and are therefore correctable. I am thinking of drug abuse, rising crime rates, social alienation and aggression in all of its dimensions. Processes of deurbanisation and reurbanisation can be set powerfully in motion simply by a system of taxation zones which induces people to move from cities to rural and semi-rural locales. The very processes of relocation are socially and economically stimulating and new energy technologies offer a potential industrial base for such relocations. Energy can, of course, now be efficiently grown from sugar, wheat, sugarbeat and cassava. Therefore, the energy-employment-deurbanisation triangle offers great potential for innovation and bold government action. This type of massive social change can be readily effected within our free enterprise framework at quite low levels of economic cost and with huge social benefit. The trigger is, as I suggested, tax zoning.

Perhaps I can give another example of what I mean by bold social and attitudinal change that Federal Government could readily effect. This time I refer to another area of personal experience, namely, defence. Clearly, in a nuclear age and an essentially peace-seeking country, there is sense and great benefit in shifting emphasis in our defence thinking, organisation and materiel from the offensive to the defensive and from the predominantly military to the predominantly civil defence model. I am certainly not advocating neglect of our defences but rather a shift in emphasis. After all, in this country we still substantially fund our civil defence, our coastal patrols, our voluntary rescuers, our bushfire fighters and other critical organisations by selling cakes and lamingtons on street corners. Yet we resentfully spend annually billions of dollars on the maintenance of clearly inadequate and demoralised defence forces. This is fair neither to ourselves nor to those who have chosen to enlist in these inadequate and grossly neglected services. I hasten to add that, having been there myself, I have great admiration for them and sympathy for their circumstances. We can do much better. A substantially integrated structure, simultaneously providing for civil and military defence needs, is both desirable and possible. I can already hear the outcries of the traditionalists but I did not say that I was proposing bold and far-sighted models. I suspect that the community at large, especially young Australians, would regard such changes and opportunities most favourably. Voluntary service and training in the diverse areas of civil-military defence and community service would once again be attractive as we become decades and generations removed from the bitterness of the Vietnam experience.

As an educator, I must call on governments to face boldly the implications of our having created a near literate and numerate society. Through the expenditure of billions of dollars, by making education largely free and compulsory, and over several generations we have almost achieved universal literacy. Furthermore, we claim to be encouraging Australians to be critical thinkers, yet we sit back and let ourselves be force-fed vast quantities of junk and we move inexorably towards a national cultural malnutrition. An examination of any video outlet, any magazine or news stand or a night's viewing of television will attest to this junk diet and an analysis of crime and violence statistics starkly illustrates its effects.

Historically, in Western society, the church, the school and the family have been the repositories and transmitters of accepted value-sets. All three are under siege from materialism and are less and less effective in these roles. The vacuum has been filled by entrepreneurs who have successfully contrived and marketed value-sets and sub-cultures for profit. The youth sub-culture is a striking example. As legislators we must be prepared to make judgments about the merits of such value-sets and sub-cultures and to take steps to arrest and reverse processes which we see as social decay.

As people become more educated and have access to more and more information they will inevitably demand greater participation in the decision-making process. If democracy does not move in that direction it will not survive at all. I have a strong conviction, therefore, that electoral reforms which provide for heightened participation must be given high priority.

In the 10 years since my predecessor, Colin Mason, proposed citizens' initiative to this chamber the climate has moved significantly towards it. Certainly, the Australian Democrats will propose it again in the very near future. Clearly, the current debate in the community concerning the Australia Card proposal and the refusal, so far, to grant a referendum on the question will dramatically heighten interest in mechanisms for citizens' initiative. It is ironical that any Australian can go to a special place, called a TAB, in even the smallest town, take a piece of paper off the wall and express an opinion. We offer our opinions about the most irrelevant of questions such as, `What will win the third race at Randwick on Saturday?' and that sampling of opinion will be processed in the most sophisticated computer in the land. Indeed, the results of that opinion sampling may be seen on every television screen in the country that evening in the form of the TAB odds. Yet we cannot have a say about whether we should have a national identity card, a new national flag or nuclear ships in our harbours. Such ludicrous contradictions will not be tolerated by the community much longer. We, as Australian Democrats, intend to ensure that.

Governments of today and tomorrow must be bold, imaginative, innovative and far-sighted. Australians will increasingly demand that they be so. I look forward eagerly to serving the Australian people and my Party in the pursuit of structures, processes and legislation which promote justice, democracy, freedom and the quality of life of Australians now and in the future. I truly believe that the Australian people wish the Democrat presence in this place to be a lasting one. I congratulate my Leader, Senator Janine Haines, on an excellent election campaign which clearly enhanced the public profile and image of our Party. I am deeply honoured to serve my country in this way. I thank my wonderful wife and family for their support and sacrifices and the members of my Party and the voters of New South Wales for their confidence.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order! Before I call Senator «Bishop» I remind the Senate that this is a «maiden» speech and ask all honourable senators to extend the customary courtesies to Senator «Bishop .