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Table Of Contents
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- Start of Business
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Transfer of Commonwealth Programs
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr ANDREW, Mr HOWARD)
Gross National Savings
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr COSTELLO)
Sale of Telstra
(Mr ZAMMIT, Mr HOWARD)
(Ms MACKLIN, Mrs MOYLAN)
Election Promises: Costings
(Mr TONY SMITH, Mr COSTELLO)
Election Promises: Costings
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr COSTELLO)
(Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY, Dr KEMP)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr NAIRN, Mr JULL)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr HOWARD)
International Labour Organisation
(Mr VAILE, Mr REITH)
(Mr CREAN, Mr MOORE)
Australian National Railways Commission
(Mr DONDAS, Mr SHARP)
(Mr STEPHEN SMITH, Mr MOORE)
Childhood Immunisation Rate
(Mr McDOUGALL, Dr WOOLDRIDGE)
Tourism: Export Market Development Grants Scheme
(Mr MARTIN, Mr PROSSER)
(Mr HARDGRAVE, Mr DOWNER)
- Transfer of Commonwealth Programs
(Mr MELHAM, Mr SPEAKER)
(Mr O'KEEFE, Mr SPEAKER)
(Mr CREAN, Mr SPEAKER)
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- TELSTRA (DILUTION OF PUBLIC OWNERSHIP) BILL 1996
- MINISTERS OF STATE AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
Thursday, 2 May 1996
Ms MACKLIN(10.03 a.m.) —Mr Deputy Speaker, congratulations to you on your election. The people of Jagajaga have placed a great trust in me and I am determined to honour that trust. They have set me an enormous challenge and I am determined to meet that challenge. They have given me a glimpse of their hopes and aspirations and I am determined to see those hopes and aspirations fulfilled.
That is not to say that the people of Jagajaga want me to take charge of their affairs. On the contrary, they certainly expect me to work hard for them, but they also expect me to work hard with them. Like people everywhere, they want more control over their own lives, not less. They want governments to spend more time empowering individuals and communities to take control of their own destiny. That will only happen if we do two things. First, we need to develop a much more active notion of citizenship. Second, we need to address the underlying issues that affect the level and quality of each person's participation in community life.
When I talk about citizenship, I am not talking in narrow legal terms. Being a citizen means much more than having a vote or holding a passport. It means being able to share in the life of the community. It means enjoying a certain level of security. It means belonging. If we accept this broader definition of citizenship, we will be well on our way to building a stronger democracy and a fairer, more secure and more cohesive society.
Generally speaking, Australians enjoy a strong sense of community and a high degree of social solidarity. While we often tend to take these things for granted, those of us on this side at least recognise that the values of community and solidarity are something to be nurtured and cherished. Unfortunately, there are many opposite who do not share this view. They subscribe to Margaret Thatcher's notorious opinion that there is no such thing as society, no such thing as community—that the world is made up of isolated individuals or, at best, isolated families. Hence their faith in economic rationalism, which purportedly maximises the autonomy and liberty of the individual.
But does it? The economic rationalist policies are now being blamed for the disintegration of Britain's social fabric. As support systems have been removed and opportunities have been closed off, people have become less secure, less able to provide for themselves and less certain of their future. They have been increasingly denied the freedom to make meaningful choices about their own lives.
The renewed interest in active citizenship is a direct response to economic rationalism. It reflects people's commonsense recognition that, whatever the Liberal Party dries might say, we are united by a shared social existence and a shared civic ethic. It reflects the community's belief that legitimate social needs should be met by appropriate social services. It also reflects an understanding that some of the most pressing and momentous problems facing us today—most importantly, the degradation of our environment—can only be dealt with collectively.
By embracing active citizenship, we commit ourselves to three things: first, that all members of the community are of equal intrinsic worth and that all should enjoy the same opportunities to recognise their full potential; second, that all members of the community have the right to organise to pursue their collective interests and to participate in the direction of public policy; and, third, that people have a right to those things without which active citizenship is impossible, especially work, education and health services. These are the underlying issues affecting the level and quality of each person's participation in community life. Let us look at these in greater detail.
The right to work is fundamental in a civilised society. Unemployment marginalises and excludes people from full participation in the community. It follows that employment and income security are essential for active citizenship.
While Labor was successful in creating jobs, there is still much to be done. Labor's Working Nation offered an integrated solution to unemployment. It combined support for the long-term unemployed; considerable increases in funding for training and retraining; practical support, not rhetoric, for employers; and development initiatives designed to improve the economic regeneration of depressed regions. This is precisely the mix we need if we are to break the back of unemployment, and it would be totally irresponsible to change direction now.
The government has already committed itself to a fiscal policy deliberately designed to stifle economic activity and reduce employment opportunities. To also dismantle Working Nation would be to rob the unemployed of all hope.
It is particularly important that we maintain the momentum of urban and regional development. Some parts of Australia, it is true, have felt the effects of economic restructuring much more than others. The decline of particular industries has created local concentrations of hardship and unemployment in places like the northern suburbs of Melbourne and particularly in parts of Jagajaga. The 1956 olympic village and the surrounding industrial estate are very representative of this problem.
It is not good enough to tell people in these areas that market conditions have changed. It is not good enough to tell them that it would be economically rational to pack their bags and move on. For a start, there are too many people involved—hundreds of thousands, in fact. Like most people, they are attached to their homes and to their neighbourhoods. More importantly, these neighbourhoods are generally rich in assets and advantages that, with a little planning and investment, can be translated into economic opportunities. They should be renewed, not abandoned. We should be encouraging a pattern of growth which is both socially and economically sustainable.
Many cities in the world have neglected this. As a result they now have elite neighbourhoods, physically separated—sometimes literally walled off—from the poorer parts of town. Some parts of the cities prosper while others decay. This is hardly my idea of efficiency, and it should not surprise anyone to learn that cities in which these extremes exist function poorly; many are failing entirely. The message is that growth is more likely to occur in places which are cohesive and equitable, places which are pleasant and attractive—not just for the elite, but for everyone.
It has to be said that we are still some way from this ideal in Australia. However, it is our good fortune that it is not beyond our reach. Labor's better cities program has shown us that we can rejuvenate disadvantaged areas by getting the community, the private sector and all spheres of government involved. Now we learn that the government intends to strike another blow at the unemployed by abolishing this far-sighted program, despite the support it has attracted from state governments of all persuasions.
Having a job is essential, but it has to be one that has decent working conditions. Australia has pioneered the notion that wage levels should be set according to people's needs and not just according to what the market can bear. Nearly a century later, working people are once again fighting for a living wage. Often, the only hope for the most vulnerable and lowest paid members of the work force lies in the award system and the Industrial Relations Commission. That is why it is so essential that these institutions should not be gutted or abolished. This is particularly important for women.
True, Australia does have a very proud record on women's rights, especially in the industrial arena. Women's earnings relative to men's are higher here than in the USA, Britain and Japan, and only slightly lower than in the Scandinavian countries which are the world leaders. The Australian industrial relations system has delivered women many other benefits as well, including maternity and family leave. It has delivered them from the worst kinds of discrimination and disadvantage. That is why women have argued so strongly for the retention of the award safety net. I will be a very fierce defender of women's rights and the need for women to collectively organise to improve their wages and conditions.
It is very hard to be an active citizen if you are unemployed or disenfranchised, and it is equally hard if you do not have access to a full range of educational opportunities. In fact, educational disadvantage, unemployment and political alienation often go hand in hand. We have seen enormous improvements in education over the last 10 years, with the proportion of students finishing year 12 growing to 80 per cent and a huge growth in university enrolments and technical training.
However, many people now fear that underfunding will lead to a reduction in the quality of our public schools. This is an issue of major concern not just to individual schools and school communities but to the nation as a whole. Let us be clear about this: education is not just a state matter; education is a matter of the greatest national importance. If we are serious about giving people equality of opportunity, it is imperative that we develop and maintain a quality public school system based on consistent national standards.
It is equally imperative that we give more attention to the education and training needs of adults. People need the chance to acquire new knowledge and new skills throughout their lives. We can give them that chance by turning our schools into learning centres for the whole community.
Active citizenship requires a certain degree of security, including security from the anxiety associated with illness. That is why Medicare is so important. That is why it must be protected and extended.
Those of us from Victoria have seen what the coalition's attitude to the public provision of health care really is. The idea that caring for the ill, the infirm and the disabled is a community responsibility is totally foreign to the Kennett government. Their only interest is in health costs—or more particularly public health costs; they do not seem nearly so concerned about the burden that the private health system imposes on the community.
If the federal government cares as much about Medicare as it says it does—and as the overwhelming majority of Australians and the people in Jagajaga do—it must tighten, not weaken, the Commonwealth-state Medicare agreements to ensure that the Kennett government, and others similarly inclined, cannot white-ant the public hospital system. It is particularly important that federal funds allocated for public hospitals are actually spent on public hospitals. Giving more responsibility for hospitals to the states will only weaken Medicare by undermining its basic premise, and let us not forget that this is the basic premise of Medicare: that every Australian should be able to get into a public hospital bed whenever they need it and that it should be free.
The same goes for aged care and child care. Giving up their share of responsibility for the care of the elderly and children—as the coalition seems intent on doing—and handing back responsibility to the states is a recipe for lower standards and fewer services. It will leave families to carry the job alone. It is the antithesis of responsible government to give up caring for the most vulnerable in our community.
Employment growth, integrated urban and regional development, quality education, universal health care—these are just some of the preconditions for active citizenship. Governments have an important role to play in ensuring that these preconditions are met. They have an important role to play in creating a stronger democracy and a fairer society. My role will be to focus attention on these vital issues at every opportunity. It will be to ensure, as far as I can, that the path of active citizenship is open to every Australian.
And let us remember that half of us are women. For true democracy, half of this place should be made up of women. We have a very long way to go. The Australian Labor Party will deliver its part. This great party and the many party workers who contributed to my election want to see more women in parliament. My thanks to all of them—not least to Steve Herbert, my campaign director, who is a tireless worker for Labor.
Even more profound—as all of us have said and will say—is my obligation to my parents, my partner Ross, and to my children, who will suffer the greatest burden of all. These are the people to whom I already owe the most and to whom I will certainly owe much more before my time here is over.
Then there is my predecessor, the first member for Jagajaga, Peter Staples, who has the great respect of our community and who worked long and hard over the last 13 years to get a better deal for older people throughout Australia. He has given me the best apprenticeship, which I know will stand me in great stead.
Brian Howe, as many on this side will know, has been a wonderful source of inspiration to me, as he has been to so many people. He never lost sight of why he was in this place—never. His humanity and his ability to achieve outcomes that were just as well as practical should be an example to us all. He gave me the opportunity over the last five years to head two national policy reviews—on Australia's health system and on Australia's urban and regional development. It is a great challenge now to be able to bring those ideas into this place.
I owe it to all those people and to the Australian Labor Party to fight as hard as I can for the values we share—values based on a fundamental belief that there is such a thing as society and that our shared life in society imposes certain responsibilities on us. We can neglect those responsibilities and suffer the consequences; or we can fulfil them and make our communities more cohesive, our economy more efficient, and our nation stronger.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Before I call the honourable member for Dickson, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.