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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
Mr KELVIN THOMSON(12.37 p.m.) —I guess that most of us, as members of parliament, are very avid readers of our local newspapers. One week in July last year there was an article in the Moreland Courier , an article to which I was a substantial contributor. It made reference to Commonwealth spending in labour market programs in the northern suburbs having increased over the past three financial years and the contribution Working Nation programs had made towards reducing unemployment in the electorate of Wills by over one-third since the height of the recession.
It was a very good article indeed. The only problem was that very few people were likely to read it, given the nature and prominence of the article immediately above it which referred to Miss Nude World, Coburg's Chrissie Lane, who had apparently earned that title in an exotic dancing competition in Houston, Texas. Ms Lane was quoted as saying:
. . . I get more nervous if I have to make a speech in front of people. I'd rather take my clothes off.
Honourable members will be reassured to learn that with me it is the other way around.
I join with other members of the House in congratulating the Speaker and those who have been appointed to carry out that important role during the life of this parliament. I look forward to personally working with them during the life of this parliament.
First, I would like to thank the people of the electorate of Wills for the confidence that they have shown in me by electing me. In Wills, Labor increased its primary vote by some seven per cent and its two-candidate preferred vote by around eight per cent, which I think was the best result Labor secured in the nation. It completes a remarkable turnaround in Labor's fortunes since the dark days of the Wills by-election in 1992, when our primary vote dipped to below 30 per cent. It is now back at 50 per cent. Even in these days of increasing electoral volatility, that represents a spectacular recovery.
The people of Wills have had the opportunity to see me in action as a member of the state parliament for the past seven years and before that as a Coburg councillor. Many have told me that they voted for me because they liked my attention to local work and to ordinary constituent problems, no matter how trivial they may seem. That places on me a responsibility to continue that work, and I place on record here my intention to continue doing just that.
I was born in Pascoe Vale in the heart of the Wills electorate in 1955—my birthday was yesterday, as a matter of fact. While I have lived in that electorate during that entire period, I am the first member for Wills to be living in the electorate at the time of representation.
Secondly, I would like to thank my campaign committee and my family for the fantastic support that they have provided to me over many years. My wife, Marsha, has not only been a supportive wife and mother; she is a first-class political campaigner and operator in her own right, and I am very glad she is on my side. My children, Ben and Naomi, aged 12 and 10 respectively, have had to put up with a lot in terms of an absent father over the past few years. I guess knowing what is in store for them does not make it much easier. My parents, Allan and Dorothy, have been a source of immense inspiration and support to me for many years. I am delighted that they can be here in the gallery this afternoon to share what is, for me at any event, a momentous occasion.
And my campaign committee—a real A-team. Not only did they triumph in the Wills election but a fortnight later in the City of Moreland elections they were responsible for Labor securing some eight out of 10 wards. A fortnight later again at the state election the best results for Labor in the metropolitan areas of Melbourne were secured in the Wills based state electorates of Coburg, Pascoe Vale and Essendon.
Thirdly, I want to say something about why we are all here—not in this parliament but in this continent. Although Australia is an old continent it is in fact a very young nation. I think the reasons why we are all here tell us something about what our public policy objectives ought to be. So why are we here on this island? We came here because we, our parents or a previous generation came to escape features of our former societies which were intolerable and came here in search of new opportunity.
People came here in search of work, from countries where opportunities for work had simply dried up. So, first, we owe to ourselves the never ending quest, the never ending objective, of full employment, of work for all who want it. Second, people came here in search of a clean and healthy environment from countries where the air was not fit to breathe, the water was not fit to drink and the beaches were too dirty or just too far away. So we owe to ourselves the protection of our urban and natural environment. One of the many great things about Australia is that we still have a lot of our original environment left and that the quality of life in our cities is high. We are not overpopulated, and we need to safeguard that. Australia can and should be an environmental showcase.
Some of us have come in search of social equality, from countries with stifling class systems, countries in which power, wealth and opportunity were concentrated in the hands of a few. So we owe to ourselves a spirit of generosity and compassion towards those who are less well off and a spirit of cooperation between employer and employee. We do not need the dog-eat-dog mentality of America, or Britain's underclass.
Some of us have come in search of democracy and freedom of expression, fleeing totalitarian regimes, military dictatorships and countries in which rigid conformism was the order of the day. So we owe to ourselves freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to join trade unions, and we also owe to ourselves respect for differing points of view.
Some of us have come in search of racial and religious tolerance, escaping ethnic conflict and brutal tribal repression. So, finally, and perhaps in the present age of atrocities in Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa most importantly, we owe to ourselves the creation of a community based on mutual tolerance, respect and understanding.
Another of the many great things about Australia is that we have had no civil wars. We do not feel the passion or enmity which comes from having fathers murdered or mothers raped in the struggle for political power. It is Australia which represents the last great hope on earth for a society where all peoples live together in mutual dignity and cooperation. This imposes on us obligations—first, towards the Aboriginal and Islander people, who cared for this nation for 40,000 years. With the Mabo decision, we have made progress but we are still well short of fully discharging those obligations.
It also imposes obligations of restraint on those who feel most strongly about events in Bosnia, Croatia, Kraina and other parts of Europe. The best thing which Australia can do for peace and justice in Europe is provide it with an example, a beacon, of a peaceful society made up of people from many different lands united in a distinctive Australian identity—a society in which, as Dr Martin Luther King put it, people are judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Fourthly, I would like to comment on the performance of the Hawke and Keating governments against those important, fundamental yardsticks. People voted for me not only because of the reasons I mentioned earlier but also because, having tried the alternative, they wanted a Labor representative in a Labor government. I share their disappointment that this was not to be. But they had good reason to do that and to want that.
If you look at jobs you will see that we created jobs at a faster rate than the Fraser-Howard years and at a faster rate than other countries. During the past three years we created some 700,000 new jobs, bringing unemployment down to 8.5 per cent and being well on our way to meeting our goal of five per cent by the year 2000. With Working Nation we were tackling that vexed problem of long-term unemployment.
If you look at superannuation you will see that, when we came to office, superannuation was the preserve of a handful, of a wealthy elite. With our superannuation reforms we broadened out superannuation to include all workers, with everyone making a contribution to their retirement, with support from government, with support from employers.
If you look at education—which is absolutely fundamental to our chances in modern society; it is one's chance of getting a decent job or perhaps any job at all—you will see that when Labor came to office only one in three children were completing secondary school. Through our reforms and our support of education this was lifted to better than two in three children completing secondary education.
If you look at health you will see that when we came to office some two million families were without health insurance of any kind. So for them illness, accidents or sickness were not only a source of physical hardship but also a financial catastrophe. With Medicare we introduced a health system that was the envy of other countries, who sent representatives to Australia to study our system and to see how it could be applied in their own communities.
If you look at the environment you will see that when we came to office we set about protecting the Franklin River, the south-west Tasmanian wilderness, the wet tropics, Kakadu and Antarctica. If you look at family allowances you will see that we directed our support to the families in most need. We did not create a society, as in the United Kingdom or in the United States, with beggars on street corners and in doorways. We lifted pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, and we kept them there.
If you look at our treatment of Aboriginal people you will see our response to that in the Mabo legislation and in the introduction of native title legislation. If there is one group of people who have been left behind and who suffered most deeply following European settlement it was the Aboriginal people. Paul Keating's steps towards reconciliation represented one of our proudest achievements and one of this nation's most pressing tasks. So, for these and many other reasons, the people of Wills had good reason to want to have a Labor representative in a Labor government.
Fifthly, I want to indicate to the House something about my priorities in this place in the years ahead. As I indicated earlier, I am a great believer in the importance of local work. I have developed a community plan for Wills which contains within it suggestions for job creation, economic development, a balanced transport system, upgraded infrastructure, quality community services and an environment that is a joy to live in. In the next few years I intend to work on the implementation of that community plan.
In the parliament I also want to work on the development of new and perhaps better indicators of national performance. For many years we have depended on gross national product, but its shortcomings are legion. When a young man in Tasmania buys a semi-automatic weapon and the ammunition to murder, that adds to gross national product. When he burns a guesthouse or a car and these things are replaced or rebuilt, that too adds to gross national product. But do these things build our society? Of course not; they destroy it.
So we need indices which take into account the important features of our lives and our society: whether we are healthier or happier, the fairness of our income distribution, our personal and collective security, our environmental standards, the state of our resources. In the United Kingdom there has been developed an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. It shows Britain improving from 1950 to 1975, but deteriorating thereafter. I suggest to the House that that squares more with the reality.
I want to work on environment protection. I first got interested in politics through my interest in environment protection. I believe that we can and need to do a lot more about energy conservation, energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, putting an end to ocean outfalls through land based sewage disposal systems, tackling algal blooms, protecting old growth forests and so on.
I also want to address the issue of corporate conduct. Australia has unsatisfactorily low standards of corporate conduct. Corporate cowboys like Christopher Skase and others—whom I cannot mention because, I dare say, they will be coming up for trial in due course—have been able to get away with far too much through insolvency planning, bankruptcy laws and so on. There are deficiencies in our system which we need to address.
I also strongly support the inclusion of a social clause in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. If you look at the way the modern world economy is structured you will see that we will need to either lower our standards or raise everybody else's. I do not know what the coalition's position is, but my position is that we need to raise everybody else's. Therefore I strongly support the inclu sion of a social clause in the GATT which will incorporate the relevant ILO conventions.
In the area of consumer affairs, we need to do more to prevent people from being ripped off by shonks and charlatans. I was going to say this anyway but, following the tragedy in Port Arthur this week, it scarcely needs to be said: our society is simply too violent. We need to address the causes of this—inadequate firearm controls and too ready access to guns, violent videos, violence on TV. Whatever these causes may be, we have to have the courage to confront them. I know this is not nice, but it needs to be said. Those people in the gun lobby and elsewhere who continue to oppose the changes which are needed to make this a safer society will end up with blood on their hands, if it is not there already. And if we as legislators fail to tackle these issues and put them in the too-hard basket, we too will end up with blood on our hands. I totally support the national leadership given by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) this week on this issue. Anything which they can do to protect innocent men, women and children from such senseless acts of random violence has my unqualified support.
I conclude on what is, for this side of the House anyway, a lighter note. During the election there was a dispute between the local Liberal Party in Wills and the central Victorian Liberal machine concerning the allocation of preferences in Wills. The local Liberals made the assessment that I would be a better member for Wills than my predecessor; that I was more conscientious; and that, if they could not have their own member for Wills, they would prefer to have somebody who could and would look after the neighbourhood. They recommended that Liberal preferences go to me. They were overruled, however, by the central Victorian Liberal hierarchy, whose assessment was that as a state MP I had taken much too much interest in the financial affairs of the Victorian Liberal hierarchy—their Tricontinental loans, the Premier's own advertising company, KNF, the casino tender process and other matters. They preferred a lesser level of scrutiny and a lower standard of probity than that which I would apply. On this small dispute between the Victorian Liberals and the central Liberal hierarchy, over the decade and more to come I intend to prove that they were both right. I thank the House for its courtesy.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Andrew) —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Griffith, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.