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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Dr HEWSON, Mr HAWKE)
(Mr MELHAM, Mr HAWKE)
PROPOSED NATIONAL RAIL FREIGHT CORPORATION
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr ROBERT BROWN)
(Mr HOWARD, Mr HAWKE)
(Ms CRAWFORD, Mr STAPLES)
(Mr TIM FISCHER, Mr HAWKE)
BONE MARROW REGISTER
(Mr FERGUSON, Mr HOWE)
(Mr CAMPBELL, Mrs KELLY)
(Mr REID, Mr HAWKE)
SHARK BAY: WORLD HERITAGE LISTING
(Mr CAMPBELL, Mrs KELLY)
(Mr TRUSS, Mr HAWKE)
COAL INDUSTRY: EXPORTS TO JAPAN
(Mr MARTIN, Mr KERIN)
- DEPARTMENT OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
- DEPARTMENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY
- REPORTS OF THE AUDITOR-GENERAL
- PRESENTATION OF PAPERS
- AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL COMMISSION
- TASMANIAN WORLD HERITAGE AREA MINISTERIAL COUNCIL
- ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
- TELECOMMUNICATIONS REFORM
- JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON MIGRATION REGULATIONS
- MEMBERSHIP OF COMMITTEES
- END OF WAR LIST BILL 1989
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1990-91
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1990-91
Tuesday, 11 September 1990
Mr MELHAM(5.25) —It is with pride that I rise to address the House today as the fourth elected representative of the electorate of Banks. Since it was created in 1949, the seat of Banks has always returned a Labor member to this House. I am deeply honoured to take my seat in this House as a member of the Australian Labor Party. History has shown that the Labor Party is the only party committed to social justice and equality. The people of Banks believe, as I do, that a Labor government is the only government which governs in the interests of all Australians. They share the same hopes and aspirations as most Australians and look to their elected representatives to fight for an equal and fairer society which offers security for all.
I am the first Labor representative from Banks to make his maiden speech from the Government benches. I chose not to make my maiden speech in reply to the Governor-General's Speech because I will not, nor should any Australian, forget the treacherous events of 11 November 1975. It will always be remembered as a black day in our history when democracy was cast aside and the sovereignty of this chamber usurped.
My main concern is people, not profits. Governments have an essential role in creating a just and equitable society. I believe in government regulation and intervention, for without it the inequalities inherent in our society will continue to flourish. Governments are elected to govern, not to sit back and be spectators. The disciples of free market economics believe that there is no place for government intervention in the market-place. These economic rationalists show no concern for people and are driven solely by profit and greed. Their unshakeable faith in market forces is testimony to a corrupt ideology.
The 1980s has been a decade of excess and wasted opportunities. We have seen the unprecedented accumulation and concentration of wealth, all in the name of free enterprise. The irresponsibility and damage caused by corporate cowboys is just now becoming apparent. The high flying entrepreneurs of the 1980s, who prospered at society's expense and proceeded to flaunt their new-found wealth, have either disappeared or are in their death throes. Society does not mourn their passing but is burdened with their funeral expenses. Australia cannot afford to be taken on a roller-coaster ride with mavericks who are concerned solely with their own interests. Yet these corporate cowboys have the audacity to claim that they are working in the national interest, that their interests and the national interest are somehow one and the same. Their empty rhetoric has been exposed for what it is.
I am encouraged that from 1 January 1991 Australia will for the first time have a single corporate regulatory authority, the Australian Securities Commission, and that this Budget provides for additional resources of $210m over the next four years to be devoted to regulation of companies and securities. For too long big business has been allowed to run wild. No longer will corporate excesses be tolerated. Australians have underestimated the cost of corporate crime to our nation. An individual who steals $20 is dealt with more severely by the legal system than is a company which has deliberately defrauded its shareholders and the Government of millions of dollars. It is obscene that some of our largest companies are paying as little as 5c in the dollar in tax, yet the people who own and manage those companies have the gall continually to call on government to cut back spending on social welfare, since they believe the recipients of these benefits to be an unnecessary burden on society.
It is obvious who is rorting the system. The bottom of the harbour tax avoidance schemes, which were encouraged under the Fraser Government, have come back in more elaborate forms: tax havens in the Cook Islands, $2 holding companies, low interest loans to directors-the list goes on. Creative accounting is a polite term for cooking the books. This Government is firm in its resolve to stamp out tax avoidance by the corporate sector. It is time those who can afford to pay paid their fair share. Our opponents across the chamber, who live in an economic fantasy land, have done nothing but continually undermine the efforts of the Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to ensure that wage and salary justice is achieved.
In difficult economic circumstances, wage and salary earners have shown considerable restraint. They have done so in the national interest. The Opposition's record on industrial relations is pathetic. Its approach to industrial relations belongs in the Dark Ages. Confrontation rather than consultation is its strategy. It has no respect for the working men and women of Australia and has opposed every initiative designed to benefit those in the workplace. Through the dark years of the Fraser Government our opponents argued that workers' wages should not be indexed to offset the increased cost of living. Time after time at national wage case hearings the Fraser Government submitted that workers should not receive any increases. As inflation continued to soar, real wages kept diminishing.
The conservative forces have nothing to offer Australia but false hopes and a bad smell. One need look only at the Greiner Government's track record, which in the space of 30 months has managed to break in excess of 160 promises. It is a government without compassion and totally lacking in integrity. Conservative policies are based on division and attacking the poor and disadvantaged sections of the community. The proposal to introduce a consumption tax will further disadvantage those who are most in need of assistance. A consumption tax will do nothing to help achieve social justice and equity. It is a recipe for disaster.
When history passes judgment on this Labor Government it will note as one of its greatest achievements the creation of 1.7 million jobs since March 1983. In stark contrast is the abysmal record of our conservative opponents who, between December 1975 and March 1983, watched idly as unemployment rose from 209,000 to 625,000. There can be no more graphic illustration of what it is that separates us from our opponents. The Fraser Government was content to put more than 400,000 people out of work, whilst the Hawke Government created 1.7 million new jobs and reduced unemployment. It is not in our nation's interest to have its most valuable resource lying idle. In his policy speech of 1949 Ben Chifley said:
It is the duty and responsibility of the community and particularly those more fortunately placed, to see that our less fortunate citizens are protected from those shafts of fate which leave them helpless and without hope. That is the objective for which we are striving. It is the beacon, the light on the hill to which our eyes are always turned and to which our efforts are always directed.
Gough Whitlam stated in his policy speech in 1969:
The Labor Party has an enduring commitment to create opportunities for all citizens. The opportunity for a complete education, opportunity for dignity in retirement, opportunity for proper medical treatment, opportunity to share the nation's wealth and resources, opportunity for decent housing, the opportunity for civilised conditions in our cities and our towns, opportunity to preserve and promote the natural beauty of the land.
These ideals remain just as valid today. They are the foundation stone of Labor's social justice strategy. Economic circumstances may have changed, but the ideals espoused by great men, such as Chifley and Whitlam, must not be abandoned. The road to reform is not an easy one, but these ideals are worth fighting for. I joined the Australian Labor Party in 1974 because I was attracted by the vision articulated by Gough Whitlam. The Whitlam Government, sadly, was a brief one. Many of the reforms so bitterly opposed at the time by our opponents are still with us and have become an integral part of Australian life. It was a government which raised hopes and expectations and lifted the horizons of the people. Programs have been modified to cater for changed economic circumstances, but the emphasis has not been lost. All major initiatives designed to promote social equality have been undertaken by the Labor Party. The need for and importance of a national health scheme was first recognised by Labor. The creation of Medicare is but one example of Labor's ongoing commitment to achieving social justice.
The Fraser Government did all it could to dismantle Medibank and deprive Australians of affordable health cover. There can be no equality in a society that does not provide quality and affordable health services to its people. So, too, should all people be given access to higher education. Education should not be the domain of the rich, but should be available for all. The Whitlam Government recognised the importance of education, and this Government has continued Labor's commitment to higher education by ensuring that an extra 70,000 positions will have been created between 1988 and 1993. Increased retention rates in high schools are further testimony to Labor's commitment to education. In 1982 only 36 per cent of young people stayed on through high school. This has increased to more than 60 per cent in 1990 and the Government is seeking to increase this to 65 per cent by 1992. We are all diminished when any one of us is denied proper education.
It is in the nation's interest that the elderly are properly catered for in retirement. Labor's retirement incomes policy is directed at ensuring dignity in retirement. From women's issues to the environment, Labor has always been committed to making Australia a fairer and more compassionate society.
On this special occasion I would like to acknowledge those who have supported me over the years. Both my parents were born in Barhalyoun, Lebanon. I am proud of my Lebanese heritage and look forward to the day when peace returns to Lebanon. My family has lived in the electorate at Panania for more than 60 years. My father, Samuel, migrated to Australia from Lebanon with his family in 1926. He was 12 years old. He was a bootmaker and then a market gardener who instilled in me the value of a good education and the importance of treating all people with respect. At the time of my father's death, my mother, Maria, who is with me today, was left to raise 10 children-all of whom were still at school or university. Words cannot express the enormous debt of gratitude I owe her. She serves as an inspiration to all who know her.
My family has been an integral part of my success. I wish to place on record my appreciation to my brothers, Jacob, Raymond, Joseph, Anyce, Louis, Christopher and Simon, and my sisters, Myrna and Fay. I also wish to acknowledge the support and guidance of my late uncle Tony and his wife, Fay, and that of my late grandmother, Annie.
My elevation to Parliament has been a long struggle. This would have been my third term had obstacles not been placed before me by the party machine in New South Wales. I would never have made it to this House had it not been for the solid and unwavering support I received over many years from the rank and file of the Australian Labor Party in the Banks electorate. I am honoured that so many of my friends and the local party membership have made the effort to be here today to share this occasion with me. Their presence in the gallery stands as testimony to the enthusiasm and interest which are generated when the local Labor Party membership is permitted to participate in the decision-making process. To those present and the many others unable to be here, I say,`I thank you all for your time, energy and effort'. The result in Banks on 24 March was not my victory, but our victory.
My most loyal supporter throughout my long struggle was Judy Bail, who never lost faith in me or what I believed in. Her determination and capacity for hard work could never be underestimated. Assisting Judy all the way were Lucy Burrell and Maurice Campbell. The time and effort invested by these three people over a number of years could not be calculated. It is due largely to their perseverance that I stand here today.
My campaign director, Phillip Boulten, and I went through university together and have remained close friends ever since. He is a person whom I greatly admire and he has never deviated from his beliefs. He has always acted with honesty and integrity and has served as an inspiration to me.
I also wish to acknowledge the continuing support provided by my fellow directors of the Revesby Workers Club. Bill Bullard, as President, has always been there to offer assistance, while John Gibbons, Keith Heaslip, Vic Pavlick, Ron Polley and Norma Smith have all been generous in their support. As Secretary/Manager, Brien Higgs has been a good friend. To the management, staff and members of the Revesby Workers Club, I offer my sincere thanks. I am proud to be Vice-President of such a great club which has a history and tradition of providing service to the community. It serves as a model to other clubs throughout Australia.
My campaign was assisted by a number of people, but special thanks must be given to Chris Osborne and Graham Rooke who took time off work to assist me.
As I have already stated, mine has not been an easy struggle. My quest for endorsement has been protracted and, at times, bitter. I have prevailed because of the loyal support of my rank and file. Special thanks must go to Michael Finnane and Ray McCormack for their guidance and support over the years. I cannot ignore the support offered to me by Senator John Faulkner and Martin Ferguson. I value their friendship and consider myself fortunate to have two such friends. I am pleased about the election of Martin Ferguson as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and am confident that, under his guidance, the ACTU will continue to play a positive role in ensuring that we live in a fairer, more equitable society.
For more than a decade before entering parliament, I worked, firstly, as a public solicitor with the Legal Aid Commission and then as a barrister and public defender in New South Wales. To Peter Hidden, QC, and the public defenders; to Ron Newham and his staff at the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales, I say,`It was an honour working with you'. I have yet to encounter a more dedicated and professional group of people. Keep fighting, justice demands it.
My role in the legal system was that of an advocate for those people who did not have the resources to defend themselves. In this House I will continue to be an advocate for justice and a better world for those who cannot fight for themselves. Whether my stay in this chamber is short or long, I am not prepared to act merely as a seat warmer. I intend to be an active and accessible member and will continue to fight on behalf of the people who sent me here.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Dubois) —Order! The galleries will come to order. Before I call the honourable member for Corinella, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's maiden speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.