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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 FITZGIBBON(1.15 p.m.) —It is not surprising that those who achieve the honour of serving in this place rank their first speech as a tremendously proud moment in their lives. This is a particularly proud day for me as I immediately follow my father as the member for Hunter in this place.
I am confident that those present who served with Eric Fitzgibbon would describe him as a good bloke who made a substantial contribution to the legislative processes of the national parliament. I know that they would also nominate him as one of the real characters of this place; someone who could always be relied upon to ensure that members did not take themselves too seriously.
My father's real achievements were in his electorate, where he enjoyed a great relationship with its people and was always available to assist those in need. The result of my father's hard work and dedication to his electorate was reflected in the ballot box. Between 1984 and 1993, my father increased his margin from 2.3 per cent to 13.9 per cent, giving me the buffer I needed to survive the huge swing against the former Labor government in March of this year. For me this may be his greatest achievement. For this I give him thanks. For all that my father has done for me, I give thanks.
I also thank my mother, Anne, who played a significant role in the building of that goodwill in the electorate and also in my election to the parliament. No candidate for public office can meet with success without the total support of his or her family, and certainly I have been lucky to enjoy the total support of my wife Dianne, and my three children: Caitlin, who is six; Jack, aged five; and Grace, who is almost four.
Indeed, I have enjoyed the strong support of my whole family, including my grandparents Jack and Madeline Halpin who, at the ages of 87 and 85 respectively, are an inspiration to me. They live on the north coast, and I hope that they are having some success in their endeavours to tune into this broadcast.
My thanks would be far from complete without mentioning the army of branch members, Labor Party supporters and personal friends who made up my campaign team. Many of those people worked full time for five weeks solid. There could be no better campaign team in the nation. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my branch members for their support during the preselection process.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election to your position. I have already congratulated the member for Casey (Mr Halverson) on his election to the high office of Speaker. I ask that you extend my congratulations to other members of the Speaker's Panel.
There has been a lot said in recent days, and indeed before then, about the standard of debate and behaviour in this place. I agree that there is room for improvement, and I wish the Speaker's Panel well. Certainly, it should be of some assistance to you that 35 per cent of members in this place are new. A lot of talk has emanated from the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and his ministers about making this chamber more relevant. If there is a sustainable criticism of the former Labor government, it is that the role of this chamber has diminished. I will applaud any government initiative which restores this chamber's authority.
Having read a number of first speeches, I note that it is traditional for a new member to make some reference to the history and geography of his electorate, its main industries and areas of employment and, of course, its main attributes. I do not want to spend too much time on this, because I think we should all spend a little less time talking about our individual electorates and more time talking about the regions of which they form a part.
However, for the benefit of new members of the House, I offer the information that the electorate of Hunter covers more than 20,000 square kilometres and stretches from the Minmi, Hexham, Beresfield, Woodbury, Tarro and Thornton areas in the south to Quirindi in the north and to Merriwa in the west. It encompasses the local government areas of Cessnock, Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone, Murrurundi, Quirindi and parts of Maitland and Newcastle. The Hunter electorate's economic base is very diverse and is a mix of rural, industrial and mining pursuits. Its major sectors of employment include coalmining, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, agriculture and the provision of community services. The seat, of course, is named after the second governor of New South Wales, John Hunter, and boasts among its members the nation's first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton. Of course, my friend the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) is included in the list of former members, and he represented the area with distinction between 1980 and 1984.
The Hunter electorate boasts many attributes, not least being its friendly people, who possess a great sense of community spirit. It has within its boundaries vineyards which produce some of the world's finest wines, and no doubt some honourable members have sampled those. In Scone we have the horse capital of the nation. The electorate is one of the state's major tourist destinations. Hunter coalmines produce the lion's share of the export coal which earns for New South Wales $2.8 billion in export earnings each year. The Bayswater and Liddell power stations, both situated in my electorate, supply much of the state's energy needs.
Unfortunately, although the Hunter is the engine room of the nation, the Hunter region is not without its problems. Unemployment in the Hunter remains unacceptably high, despite the achievements of the former government's Working Nation program. The decline in the area's manufacturing base and the reduction in employment in the rural sector have ensured that inroads into the problem have been, at best, minimal. One of the major employers in the Hunter, the coalmining industry, is now under threat, owing to foreshadowed and rumoured policies of this new government.
Spurred on by recent coal price increases and the surging Asian demand for thermal coal, Hunter Valley coal producers are cranking up for an investment boom which could see billions of dollars pumped into new and existing mines in my electorate. But there are just three areas of proposed government policy which put at risk the new jobs that would be created by such a boom.
The first is the industrial relations legislation proposed by the member for Flinders (Mr Reith), the model for which has caused havoc in mines operated by CRA. A feature of coalmining in recent years has been productivity gains flowing from the willingness of the trade union movement to accept change. The big stick has not been necessary. Coal companies planning to invest in the Hunter have based their planning decisions on the wonderful harmony that existed in the industry under the previous Labor government. The industrial conflict which will inevitably flow from the new government's ideologically driven IR policy agenda will send investors running.
The second proposed policy which will have disastrous results for the coalmining industry is the abolition of export controls, effectively removing the Commonwealth's only ability to influence the price we gain for our export coal and to engage overseas buyers—who, as we all know, collude in order to drive our prices down. The third area of concern is the speculation that the government will abolish the current diesel fuel rebate scheme as it applies to a number of industries, including the coalmining industry. I noted the fairly weak response from the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) on this issue yesterday at question time.
The diesel fuel rebate scheme is not a subsidy: it is a legitimate recognition that mining and agricultural industries operate in remote areas off-road. The abolition of the rebate, along with the threatened removal of the five per cent tariff concession on business inputs, would represent a new tax on the mining industry of some $850 million per annum—hardly the sort of assistance we need in the Hunter to ensure that we gain the maximum benefit from the opportunities before us.
I want to express my concern about a number of other issues which impact or threaten to impact upon employment growth in my electorate. The first issue is one that I have already made some reference to—industrial relations. A significant reduction in the Hunter's rate of unemployment will require a sustainable rate of national economic growth of at least four per cent. Such growth rates were sustainable in recent years thanks to the accord between the previous government and the trade union movement. The new government's rejection of the accord effectively abolishes wages policy as a tool of macro-economic management and that, along with the government's approach to fiscal policy, leaves in doubt our ability to sustain the growth rates necessary to get on top of our unemployment problem.
Competent management of the Australian economy is the most basic prerequisite for jobs growth in Australia. However, in rural and regional Australia we need much more. We need strong, effective and properly funded regional development policies. The record of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party in this area leaves me greatly concerned.
In the 1940s, wartime Labor Prime Minister John Curtin convened a number of conferences in Canberra with a view to formulating policies for regional postwar reconstruction. Curtin supported the concept of regional planning and saw an important role for the Commonwealth. But in the 1950s and 1960s the Menzies government largely withdrew from the field, reflecting its desire to allow the states to make their own running on regional development. The Liberal Party was and remains a state rights party.
It took the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 to once again kick-start the Commonwealth's involvement in this crucial area of policy. While I believe discriminatory artificial assistance, such as payroll tax concessions and the establishment of economic zones, is no longer appropriate in this new internationalised economy, Gough Whitlam's initiatives were visionary and reflected the Labor Party's commitment to regional Australia.
The true essence of regional development cannot be imposed from above or from outside the region. Federal, state and local government can work together to assist people in their regions, but the impetus to prosper—the direction, priorities and vision—must be set by the people who are part of change. The previous Labor government's regional development program under the stewardship of the former member for Batman, the Hon. Brian Howe, established a new direction for regional development. I would like to place on record my congratulations to Brian Howe for his work and also extend my congratulations to the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Crean), who, as Minister for Employment, Education and Training, also played a crucial role in the development and implementation of the program.
Regional policy in the 1990s and beyond must be about improving the competitiveness of our regions and establishing quality partnerships and networks. Regional policy must be about ensuring that the strengths of our regions are fully exploited, and that our regions do the things they do best as well as or better than their competitors, whether they be just around the corner or halfway across the globe.
In 1994 the Hunter Regional Development Organisation was formed. Through extensive consultation HURDO, as it is known, has developed a vision for my region. In my own electorate this vision is being fostered by HURDO and is manifesting itself through projects such as the Hunter Valley Equine Research Centre, a world-class facility being developed in Scone incorporating a TAFE college, research centre, museum, race track—which is great—and horse stables. This project places the Hunter at the forefront of international equine research and training. Also, six local government areas in my electorate are working together on a plant sharing operation, which is a great innovation and an example of how regional development can work successfully.
I would also like to extend my congratulations and thanks to the member for Shortland (Mr Peter Morris) who was the chairman of HURDO and who has always displayed a strong commitment to regional development.
The former Labor government has created a climate for regional growth, and real and innovative change. It has not been a top-down process but one of nurturing and facilitation. I implore the Prime Minister and his government to continue this process as it is one that will provide real and long-term benefit for our nation and for my region and electorate.
In addition, I ask the government to recognise that rural and regional Australia cannot survive without the necessary levels of publicly funded infrastructure. Many rural communities in Australia, and in my electorate, have begun to experience what is known as `dynamic decline'. Dynamic decline stems from reduced economic activity, population loss and the withdrawal of government infrastructure. The impetus for this decline in economic activity can be: drought, depressed commodity prices, tariff reform, the withdrawal or failure of a large company operating in the local area, the closure or the downsizing of a government employer in the area, or, of course, all of the above.
For example, at the moment in my own town of Cessnock, the community is locked in battle with the New South Wales government. Aided and abetted by the former and present Commonwealth governments, the New South Wales government is transferring by stealth nursing home beds from Allandale Nursing Home to other facilities, many of which are outside my electorate. The implications for employment in Cessnock are horrendous.
As a result of this dynamic decline, family incomes also decline. Consequently, household expenditure is reduced, businesses close, people lose their jobs and school leavers are forced to migrate to seek work or further education. Financially constrained governments declare that the town no longer has the critical mass to support particular services such as post offices, hospitals and libraries, and they close them down. The profit driven banks turn their backs on their customers, many of whom have been loyal to them for years, because the profit margins for them are no longer high enough. Those who have a choice to leave the area do so. But the aged and the unemployed remain. Also trapped are those unable to sell their devalued homes or properties. Eventually, the mortgagees move in because repayments cannot be met.
When these people go to fill up their cars with petrol, they pay 10c more per litre than do their city counterparts. If the current Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into rural petrol prices fails to address adequately the issue of petrol pricing in rural Australia, it will be the 47th inquiry to do so.
Later today, we will see the introduction of legislation designed to bastardise Telstra, legislation which, if accepted by the Senate, will certainly lead to higher telephone charges for the people of my electorate. A strong commitment by all levels of government to regional Australia is crucial to the survival of rural and regional Australia. What will not assist rural and regional Australia and what will, indeed, compound the problems is the Howard government's slashing of public sector jobs. What will not assist rural Australia is the $80 million worth of cuts to the budget of the Department of Primary Industries and Energy that the Treasurer (Mr Costello) foreshadowed during the recent federal election campaign. The programs which the Treasurer earmarked for attention were those designed to provide community and farm family support.
The government may wish to explain, despite all of its protestations during the election campaign about giving small business a kick-start, why it plans to cut the business advice to rural business scheme which has been responsible for the creation of 872 new jobs and 474 new businesses in the past year.
The National Party might like to explain why they are not protesting against this and cuts to the rural adjustment scheme, the rural communities access program, and services such as Countrylink. National Party members should be standing up to their senior coalition partners and defending the constituency they purport to represent.
My time has expired. I will quickly close by thanking all those who supported my election to this place. I will never give them cause to regret their support.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) — Before I call the honourable member for McPherson, I remind all members of this House of the provisions of standing order 57 which states:
No Member may pass between the Chair and any Member who is speaking.
I request that all honourable members observe that standing order when moving in and out of this chamber.