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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 MARTIN FERGUSON(4.45 p.m.) —I speak this afternoon as the representative of a traditional Labor electorate—the federal seat of Batman. Steeped as I am in the history and traditions of the great Australian Labor movement, I understand what an honour, privilege and duty it is to represent this constituency. I stand here as the 10th member for the federal seat of Batman since it was proclaimed in 1906. In those 90 years my constituents have only twice returned a non-Labor MP to stand in this House. My predecessor was Brian Howe.
The people of Batman have remained loyal to Labor because they understand the essential values of our party to stand up for the have-nots, to redress the balance and to build a more egalitarian society. They back Labor because they know it is the only political force which not only keeps up the struggle for a fair share of the cake but also will deliver those fair shares.
While my constituents maintain their faith in Labor, it is obvious, looking around this chamber, that a large number of our fellow Australians unfortunately do not have the same commitment. This means that a considerable rethinking and redefining of the Labor role is needed by all sections of the Labor movement. As a new member of the Labor caucus, I want to become an active part of that redefining, that rethinking of our policy—rethinking what it means to be Labor in the 21st century.
But before I come to that, I would like to talk about my first commitment in my first term as a Labor member of parliament. That commitment will be to the people of Batman, an inner metropolitan Melbourne electorate which has for many years relied on a manufacturing industry base that is now disappearing. The suburbs in the electorate include Alphington, Bundoora, Coburg North, Croxton, Fairfield, Northcote, Preston, Regent, Reservoir, Thornbury and Westgarth.
The people of the electorate are working people whose priorities for their families are better job opportunities, better housing opportunities, better educational opportunities, better health opportunities and support for the aged. A comparatively high number of people in my constituency are unemployed due to industry restructuring. Those in jobs tend to be in unskilled, low-skilled or traditional blue-collar trades. Nearly half of my constituents speak a language other than English at home and one in 10 are not fluent in English.
At the launch of my campaign in Batman I promised my constituents that I would commit myself to one major objective in my first term: to create new jobs, more jobs and better jobs for our community. Not only do I want to keep companies such as Kodak, Diana Ferrari, CSIRO, Howe Leather and Flair suits viable in my electorate, I want to help these and other companies in the Batman electorate expand to create extra jobs for my constituents.
I also appreciate the importance of small business for my electorate, with almost 70 per cent of all jobs created under Labor being in the small business sector. Importantly, I believe that the local community, business, unions and higher education institutions—such as RMIT and La Trobe University—can together attract new employers and develop new job opportunities for Melbourne's north in high tech, education, health care and tourism. It is also very important that we now have in place the newly democratically elected Darebin City Council. The councillors, the local state MPs and I are already cooperating with other organisations and individuals in what is the most important role that we all have as representatives of our constituency—creating jobs.
As President of the ACTU I enjoyed and was proud of the fact that I could work cooperatively with a variety of major corporations—such as Toyota, Sheraton, Heinz and Amcor—to deliver jobs for Australians. I would like to replicate at the local level what I was able to do at the national level.
As the member for Batman I am aware that this electorate has the largest Victorian urban constituency of indigenous Australians. I will work with my Aboriginal constituents to deliver to them the recognition that theirs was the original culture of this great land mass and as such deserves a special respect and recognition. Moreover, I will work with my Aboriginal constituents to deliver to them what I believe all my constituents want—equal rights to jobs, education, housing and health. That is what reconciliation is really all about.
The first duty I undertook as the member for Batman was to visit the graduates of a groundbreaking Aboriginal job training program in my electorate. The ceremony for the Aboriginal job training program was held at the Northcote Town Hall in my constituency where 17 Aborigines graduated through a program run by a private indigenous company—Yuruga Enterprises. Fifteen of the 17 graduates are now in permanent jobs.
It is my view, and it is a Labor view, that governments have a responsibility to intervene in the marketplace to give opportunities to all Australians to fully participate—and to participate equally—in our society. Working Nation was a marvellous example of a government program intervening to ensure that the benefits of economic growth in this country of ours are shared by all sections of the Australian community.
The people who now sit on the government benches have, despite their election rhetoric, in just a few short weeks shown that they have no real commitment to the have-nots. In fact the new Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Senator Vanstone) is ditching the very practical initiatives of Working Nation, and often for base ideological reasons. Just look at the way she abolished Nettforce, a primary example of a successful initiative which matched the needs of business to training programs.
The people who now sit on the government benches, in their election rhetoric, told the voters how they were a changed party, how they were now modern, soft and cuddly. They even boasted that their policies were now very similar to Labor's policies.
Have they really changed? In the last eight weeks we have seen radio and TV news broadcasts and newspaper headlines which take us back 15 or 20 years. They are stories straight out of the early 1980s and the late 1970s. Go and compare the headlines. The news headlines talk about withdrawing rights to unemployment benefits. The `dole bludger' tag is back as part of the rhetoric of government MPs. If you have any doubt about that, just go to the headlines of the Melbourne Age of September 1979. It says: `How Howard's axe fell on jobless.'
The morning news greets us with yet another public service bashing story—job cuts from the public sector, the slashing of government expenditure or the ripping away of more money from social welfare or job creation. Yes, you should hang your heads in shame. It is done without any real consideration of the impact on families and on regional Australia. It is all about scapegoats for their own excesses.
Those election promises can be paid for only through their budget cutting processes. They are not really worried about reducing debt. They are worried about how they are going to pay for their own excesses. The truth is that, now that the coalition thinks they are ensconced on the government benches, they have stopped the pretences which helped them win the election and they have started to revert to type.
Government ministers have taken out of their back pocket their real policies—Fightback. Yes, Fightback—that ugly set of policies which were rejected by the people back in 1993. It is a tragedy that at the end of the 20th century, when we should be going forward, we have a government which has put us into reverse and is trying to take us back to the late 1970s, the early 1980s or even the 1950s. It just cannot be done.
Australia has changed dramatically since those days. It is not the same inward looking country that we had in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when the conservatives last sat on the government benches. Just look at some of the basic indicators of those changes, and I am exceptionally proud of these indicators. Under the Fraser Liberal-National Party governments, the number of working days lost per 1,000 employees due to industrial disputes was 591 days. Under the Hawke-Keating ALP governments, this had dropped to 194 days. In the early 1980s, our retention rates to year 12 were abysmal—just over 35 per cent of the students stayed through to year 12. Today that figure is well over 70 per cent staying to year 12, and we should be trying to improve on that figure. But, unfortunately, the current government is not prepared to set targets.
If Australia is to take part in the Asia-Pacific economic revolution and the technological revolution, we must continue to expand on the educational opportunities available to our citizens. The most dramatic change in our work force which the new government must take into account is the increased rate of participation of women in the work force. On this note, can I say that the change in the sitting hours for this House hardly makes it a user-friendly workplace for people with families. Over the same period we have improved the social wage in this country to give our citizens not just services but quality services in the areas of education, health, social security, housing and community services.
When the tories were last in government, only 13 per cent of GDP was spent on the social wage. Today we are past the 16 per cent mark, with specifically targeted and means tested benefits. We have improved the rate at which the age pension is paid as a proportion of average weekly earnings from 22 per cent to over 25 per cent. Most importantly, we have dramatically improved the family payments for children, which are now also regularly indexed, as is the case with the pension, for increases in prices. Children's payments, as a proportion of the pension, with respect to those under 12, have gone from 11.8 per cent under the tories to 16.6 per cent. For children between 13 and 15 years, they have increased from 11.8 per cent to 21.6 per cent.
I do not believe the coalition can successfully turn all these advances back to replicate the late 1970s and early 1980s. The more they try, the quicker our side will be returned to the government benches, because these advances are based on the essentially egalitarian political culture we have developed in Australia. Yes, there are hiccups on the way. Nothing is perfect. But at the end of the 20th century, as we move into the next century, Australia can boast a political culture based on a sense of fair-mindedness, decency and equality.
Despite Labor's losses at the March election, I believe we still have basically a democratic-socialist political culture in this country. It is firmly based in the long struggles of the labour movement and will never successfully be completely rolled back by the conservatives. The more they try to roll it back, the more it will be at their own political cost.
None of this means, I dare say, that we on this side of the chamber can just sit and wait to be returned to the government benches. The message from the Australian voters was clear: `If you want us to continue to vote Labor, you had better rethink some of your key policy planks.' In an election in which the conservative wolves paraded as sheep, pretending their policies were similar to Labor's, we as a political force did not do enough to differentiate ourselves.
I am proud of the last 13 years of Labor government, but I do not think that Labor did enough in the last election to show Australians that we understood. We had the policies in place to provide the stability and security voters demanded, to meet the challenges and the widespread concerns about the pace of change in this great country.
When my friends and I started out in the work force in the early 1970s, there was a widespread expectation that, if I wanted, I could get a job and expect to stay with that employer, expect to stay in that same type of job, for the rest of my life, slowly progressing through the ranks. When my children, Ben and Clare, start in the work force early in the next century, they will have completely different expectations. They will probably stay with one employer for one or two years, maybe five years. They could be working from home and they will probably have several completely different careers, going back to educational institutions for retraining several times throughout their working lives.
It is these massive changes which are causing insecurity in our society. And it is not just in Australia. It is a phenomenon across the West—that while the economies have started to boom, while there is real economic growth, it is not translating into jobs, not translating into opportunities for all sections of the community.
I am not going to pretend to give the prescription for this insecurity in my first speech to parliament. I do not think anybody within the leadership groups of the labour movement should attempt any quick prescriptions. It is too early. We need to involve and consult with our grassroots supporters in the party and the wider community. But I do believe we have to face up to the insecurity about the pace of change which played an important role in our defeat at the March election.
This should be the central issue of discussion and debate within the party over the next weeks and several months. How do we rebuild that sense of security? What is the role of government? Government, I believe, has an important role in providing the glue that sticks a society together. But the question is how governments should effectively intervene. How do they create that sense of security in an era in which real economic power has shifted from the nation state to the multinational corporation?
If you feel secure about your job and the future of your workplace, it changes your outlook on the world. If you feel secure, you can start to feel secure about your relationships, your family, your neighbourhood and your community. If your job is secure, you feel less anxious about the future of your children's education. If your job is secure, you feel less anxious about your ability to find good housing. If your job is secure, you feel less anxious about your ability to get good health care. If your job is secure, you feel less anxious about how you will provide for your retirement.
In this debate about the creation of secure jobs, we need to find a way which is neither the European prescription nor the American prescription. The Europeans have delivered good full-time jobs for a few—but at the same time they seem to have accepted high levels of unemployment for many. The American model has substituted full-time, high-wage, high skills, high benefit jobs with new part-time, low-wage, low skills, poor conditions jobs.
We should not think we have new and viable policies to attract back the voters of Australia until we have gone out and visited the people in the cities and the regions. Only after a long and involved process of consultation will we start to come up with new and creative solutions to which we can get the broad commitment of the Australian people.
I have spent the largest part of my working life in the union movement, most of it working for that great organisation the Miscellaneous Workers Union, and more recently as President of the ACTU. It has been a great honour. To my mentor, who got me started at the union, Ray Gietzelt, the former General Secretary of the MWU, I say thank you for the opportunities you gave me.
My father, Jack, was an activist in the old BWIU. My brother Laurie, whom I am delighted to sit with now in this House, was an officer of the miscos. My younger brother, Andrew, today is a leader in the CFMEU, the 1990s evolution of my dad's union. My sisters, Deborah and Jennifer, have also been teachers union delegates.
I will always have a deep and abiding loyalty to the principles of unionism. They are sound, moral and just principles. But I will now concentrate my energies on working for my electorate and work to extend the party's roots in the local community. Already the local party has some good people in it to help in this growth—people like those on my campaign committee, who played significant roles in my first election campaign for Batman. I thank them all.
Nearly 50 years ago, Labor suffered a major electoral defeat federally. After that defeat we were out of government for far too long. I do not expect, under Kim Beazley's leadership, that will happen this time.
In respect of my family, as some members of this House know, my father, Jack, and mother, Mary, gave my two brothers, two sisters and me wonderful opportunities in life—love, encouragement and education. For that I am eternally grateful. The sacrifices they made for their five children were second to none.
To my wife, Tricia, and my children, Ben and Clare, who I am pleased are in attendance today, can I say that life with me has never been easy due to the demands of the work I perform, long hours and lengthy periods away from home. Unfortunately, I cannot promise that as the member for Batman that family life will change. I just want to thank Tricia, Ben and Clare for all their encouragement and support.
If I walk away from parliament in the future with the same respect that my father achieved when he retired as Deputy Premier of New South Wales, having been a bricklayer who left school at the age of 13, I will be proud of my achievements as the member for Batman.
Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Sullivan) —Before I call the honourable member for Isaacs, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.