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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 63


Mr TURNBULL (4:07 PM) —I am proud and honoured to address this House today as the member for Wentworth, whose people I thank for the great trust they have reposed in me. Each of us comes to this House to represent our own communities, each unique, each making up Australia—the home all of us are pledged to serve. Wentworth's green hills and golden beaches are strung like jewels between the harbour and the sea. From the tropical gullies of Bronte and Cooper Park to the urban bustle of Bondi Junction and Double Bay, from the sheltered rock pools of Watsons Bay to the thundering surf at Tamarama, Wentworth's geography is as varied and engaging as its people.

It is not a big place. You can paddle a surf ski from one end to the other in an hour, which is not a lot longer than it takes to drive in peak traffic. Wentworth's most endearing aspect is perhaps its least well known. Contrary to popular myth, our community is egalitarian, democratic and far from homogenous. Like many of Wentworth's residents, I grew up living in flats—mostly rented—and, in the style of the times, with small rooms running off a long, dark corridor. I did not feel deprived of anything—apart, perhaps, from a dog. I was rarely inside. The best things in Wentworth—the waves at Bondi, the ducks at Centennial Park or even the brisk nor'easter whipping down the harbour on a summer's day—take no account of your bank balance.

Most mornings my father and I went for a swim at North Bondi Surf Club. The surf club showers were no respecters of rank or privilege. Our companions included judges and garbos, teachers and policemen and businessmen of all types—from shmattas in Surry Hills to high finance in Martin Place. There were surgeons whose hands saved lives and there were gentlemen whose calloused hands were used, in a rather emphatic manner, to collect debts for bookies.

Wentworth was multicultural before the term was invented. Our prayers fly heavenward, not just in English but in the language of the New Testament at St George's Greek church, of the Old Testament at Central Synagogue and our many other shuls and, if you believe the Irish—and who would doubt them?—just once a year in the tongue of the angels themselves at St Patrick's in Bondi.

Wentworth has the largest Jewish community in our city. The community has grown stronger with successive waves of immigration from Europe, from Russia, from Israel and from South Africa. Their generous community spirit, their family pride and tireless enterprise are admired by all of us. Australia is a good friend of Israel, the Middle East's only democracy. We have been resolute in supporting Israel's right to take the necessary steps to defend itself from terror. The death of Arafat has now opened up new opportunities for peace based on the roadmap—two states within secure, internationally recognised boundaries. We must hope and pray that all parties, in the words of King David's 34th Psalm, do not merely `seek' peace but `pursue' it.

Wentworth is a federation seat and its representatives have been as distinguished as the great colonial statesman after whom it is named. The longest serving, Sir Eric Harrison, was Sir Robert Menzies' deputy and a co-founder of the Liberal Party 60 years ago. I salute all my predecessors and thank them for their service, which has set a high bar for my own.

I was an only child, and my parents split when I was nine. My father, Bruce Turnbull, was a single parent for much of my childhood. All divorces are difficult and painful. My parents' was no exception. My mother had moved overseas. My father and I moved into a smaller flat. Yet my father never spoke a critical word in my presence about my mother, nor she about him. He went to the greatest pains to ensure, very successfully, that my mother and I remained on the most loving terms. I was very close to my parents, both of whom died long ago and far too young. I thank them for their great love.

I will work here to defend and promote marriage and families. We must do more to help families stay together. When divorce occurs, we must do all we can to help parents, no matter how bitter their differences, to support each other's vital role in the life of their children. I am proud to be part of a government that has already made great strides to make family law more about families and less about divorce. But we must always remember that those of us with intact families owe as much to providence, or good fortune, as we do to commitment and in this, as in so many other areas of social policy, we are not called to judge or preach, only to help and to heal.

Like most children who live in Wentworth my father chose to send me to an independent school. I boarded at Sydney Grammar from the age of eight as my father, a hotel broker, travelled around New South Wales on business. Sometimes when I was at home on school holidays he would take me with him, often to complete a stocktake before a pub was sold. I was counting beer glasses long before I was old enough to drink out of them. My father found paying the school fees was often a struggle, but he chose to postpone other things like buying a flat of our own so that I could go to the school he chose for me.

This came back to me vividly when the election campaign was in full swing and the Labor Party was declaring that so-called elite schools deserved little or no government funding. I knew exactly which parents that policy would hurt the most: the battlers, the renters, the Bruce Turnbulls of today, who choose to sacrifice personal comforts so they can give their children the education they have chosen for them.

I met the love of my life in 1978. Lucy Hughes was 19 and I was 23. She was smart and happy. She shone with love and optimism, as she does today. I immediately proposed and, two years later, she relented and we were married. Lucy has been my partner in life and in love, in law and in business. In addition to all that, and bringing up our children, she was the first woman to be Deputy Lord Mayor and then Lord Mayor of Sydney. She oversaw the expansion of the city's boundaries into Kings Cross and Glebe, and her disarming charm and keen vision are sorely missed.

Lucy and our daughter, Daisy, who is at Sydney University, are here today. Our son, Alex, also at University, is overseas watching us on the Internet. Lucy's mother, Joanna, is with us today, as is her father, Tom Hughes, and his wife, Chrissie. Tom was a member of this House for nine years and Attorney-General in the Gorton government. I could not have asked for a more loyal friend or a better role model.

Apart from loading bananas in the city markets, my first real job was as a journalist—a political correspondent at state parliament. I suppose it was just downhill from that noble calling into 25 years of law and business. Lucy and I have found that much of our satisfaction in business has come from starting new enterprises: creating new jobs and new markets for Australian technology. Our life's experience has been that there is little reward without risk. We believe Australia's economy and prosperity depend on a culture of initiative and enterprise which supports Australians doing what we do best—having a go—and, when things do not succeed, getting up and having another go.

Big public companies and multinationals are no strangers to the political process. However, the smaller, newer and more entrepreneurial businesses often feel disconnected or crowded out. The cost of regulatory compliance falls especially heavily on small and medium sized businesses. We need to ensure that no regulation and no compliance burden is imposed on business unless it is absolutely necessary and the policy objective cannot be achieved in any other way. I hope that my experience in the small and medium business sector will enable those men and women who are the very engine of our nation's growth to become better understood, as our parliament makes laws that affect them.

I believe passionately that politics is for people. It is not an elite sport played only by members of parliament. All my life I have practised active citizenship. It is why I first joined the Liberal Party in 1973. It is why I ran for parliament. It is why I have written and spoken, often controversially, on some of the big issues that await us in the coming decades. It is why I am a director of Clean Up Australia, our largest grassroots environmental action group. It is why for nearly eight years, as a private citizen, I was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement.

I am for the republic: Australia's head of state should be one of us. The republic debate brought together many Australians from both sides of politics. The constitutional convention, which sat in the Old Parliament House and in which many in this room participated, was a splendid moment of Australian democracy—when a common love of country cracked the frosted lens of partisanship, and every speech on every side was from a patriotic heart.

Within the lifetimes of most of us, and certainly in the lifetimes of our children, the world we know today will be transformed. Improved life expectancy and the sharp decline in fertility are resulting in the old and very old making up a larger percentage of the world's population, a slowdown—if not a decline—in the labour force and, in many countries, a decline in the overall population itself. In the developed world only the United States has a total fertility or birth rate at replacement level of 2.1. Ours is 1.7. In Japan and most of Europe it is 1.3 or lower.

This phenomenon has been described as an `ageing population'. That is a glib and slippery euphemism. Societies such as those in Italy, Spain, Greece, Russia and many others in Europe with birth rates of 1.3 or lower are not ageing, they are dying. A population with a birth rate of 1.3 will, absent immigration, shrink by 75 per cent over 100 years. This would mean that if Italy, for example, has the same population in a century as it does today, less than a quarter of that future population will be the descendants of today's Italians.

Can it be true that at the peak of our technology and prosperity the western world is losing the confidence to reproduce itself? Are we witnessing the beginning of the dying of the West? Certainly we are at a tipping point in our civilisation's story. Unless fertility rates dramatically improve then, in a cycle of loss and dislocation matched only by the Black Death in the 14th century, societies with birth rates substantially below replacement level will either dwindle into an insignificant fraction of their current numbers or be swamped by larger and larger waves of immigration.

Our welfare state was devised in days when fertility was higher, life expectancy was shorter, medical costs were lower and the percentage of the population over 65 was a fraction of what it is today. Within 40 years the over 65s will double as a percentage of Australia's population, from 12 to 25 per cent. In countries such as Japan with lower birth rates it will be closer to 40 per cent. China is not exempt; it may be the first country to get old before it gets rich.

Demography is indeed destiny. America's global leadership is reinforced by its strong population. The Economist has estimated that by 2050 the US population will not only have overtaken that of Europe but that the median age of Europeans will be 53—17 years older than Americans and 10 years older than Australians. These changes to our population and their consequence of very substantially increased demands on government for health and aged care will preoccupy this parliament and its counterparts in other nations for the rest of this century.

Australia is well prepared to deal with these challenges, as we have seen laid out in the Treasurer's groundbreaking Intergenerational Report of 2002. More than the leadership of any other developed country, the Howard government has not only recognised these demographic changes and their implications but moved to meet them. There is, however, no room for complacency. The demographic storm is coming. How hard it blows and how well our children weather it will depend in large measure on the decisions we take today and our maintaining the courageous and determined leadership of the last 8½ years. A strong Australia in a changing world will be one committed to enterprise, self-reliance, economic growth and, above all, high productivity. It will be an Australia that recognises that we have a vital interest in strengthening, promoting and defending marriage and family life.

Sound economic management has reduced government debt to the lowest in the OECD and created the conditions for long-term sustainable economic growth. Other countries combine soaring levels of government debt and unfunded pension and retirement schemes. We, on the other hand, have a strong and growing superannuation and investment savings culture. The continued promotion of savings and self-reliance will be of vital concern for this parliament.

As the Productivity Commission reminded us only last week, our economy is driven by three Ps: population, participation in the work force and productivity. With slow growth or no growth in the labour force, the only factor which can drive our economy this century will be improving productivity. There will be growing claims on governments in the years ahead; only higher productivity can generate the revenues to meet them.

There is no conflict between good public health and education on the one hand and economic reform and productivity on the other. Nothing increases choice or widens the horizons of families more than a strong economy. Indeed, without the tax revenues that only a strong economy can deliver and a government capable of keeping that economy strong, even the warmest words and kindest hearts will bring cold comfort to the aged and the sick.

Our birth rate is higher than that of most comparable countries, but it is in the national interest that it decline no further and ideally increase. The government's family policies have already helped more parents have the families they want. But, just as the causes for this unprecedented decline in fertility are debatable, so are the appropriate policy responses unclear. Over time some will be more effective than others. Pragmatism, experience and commonsense will be better guides than ideology. There is nothing any of us are likely to do which is more important for the future of this nation than raise children. Motherhood and fatherhood have been greatly devalued, and this has occurred to our grave cost. We must affirm that children are a social good and not merely a private optional pleasure. Australia's children are Australia's future. They are our future. We must work to enhance rather than restrict Australians' work and family choices and recognise that it is desirable for women, if they wish, to fulfil two goals: child-bearing and a career. Our society's survival depends on making it possible and easier for them to do both.

More workplace flexibility with all it entails is not an option but a necessity, and not just for parents. The worthwhile objective of longer participation by older Australians in the work force will also require more flexible workplaces. We have the technology. All that is required now is commitment and imagination. We need to continue to expand the government's skills based immigration program in addition to meeting our humanitarian obligations. Our immigration program is essentially a recruiting exercise conducted in the national interest of Australia. It is a competitive world and we want as many of the world's enterprising and energetic to join and strengthen our Australian family.

While we wish all other nations tranquillity and prosperity, the fact is that troubled times in other lands have brought many migrants to Australia. The social problems arising from demographic change in other countries are likely to bring many more highly qualified immigrants to this country.

More, perhaps, than any other people, Australians are particularly mobile and employable around the world. Already one million of us are working and living overseas. High skills and easy familiarity with other cultures make Australians citizens of the world. But immigration is a two-way street. It is a revolving door, in fact. If we are uncompetitive, if our economy falters and if our personal income tax rates remain relatively high or become higher, we run the very real risk that our best talent will leave, and in large numbers. In some recent years New Zealand, for example, has suffered a net loss of nearly one per cent of its native born population.

It is not just populations which are changing. So, apparently, is our weather. We must assume on the basis of current science that our world is getting warmer and our country, at least, drier. I am proud to be part of a government which has led the way in the better management of our water resources. For the first time a federal government has shown it is prepared to take a leadership role to help meet the challenges of urban water supply and cleanliness.

The Wentworth campaign was hard fought, which is no bad thing. The party's organisation was unstinting in its support, as were ministers, senators and members. Nearly a thousand Liberals volunteered to work on our campaign and more than 600 on polling day. Our magnificent Young Liberals, some of them voting for the first time, worked side by side with veterans who had joined the party in Sir Robert Menzies' day. Nearly 400 are here today and I thank them in particular for this very moving show of support. I thank all of our Liberal Party family from the bottom of my heart. I particularly thank our Prime Minister, John Howard. He provided every assistance we requested and much more. In Wentworth, as across the nation, he clearly set out the choice presented to the people. His discipline, leadership and teamwork delivered our victory. Finally, I thank my best advocates, Lucy, Daisy and Alex. Their love gave me the strength to run, their charisma made up for many of my shortcomings and their advocacy was as compelling as it was sincere.