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Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Page: 287


Dr KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support) (6:35 PM) —May I convey to you, Mr Speaker, my congratulations on your elevation. Hopefully it will be a fulfilling, if not necessarily peaceful, tenure.

I stand here today as the newly elected member for Eden-Monaro as a consequence of a mood for change and a demand for action. The community of Eden-Monaro is special in the way that it will not sit still when it sees failures of leadership on the things that concern it. The evidence for this can be seen in the formation and growth of the Clean Energy for Eternity, or CEFE, movement. This is a broad based community phenomenon that has raised awareness and galvanised citizens, councils and community organisations into action on climate change. It has been a privilege to work with this group, and I believe it is something we can build on to help deliver the secure future we all seek for our children.

I see the same community spirit in many other aspects of life, such as the Home in Queanbeyan project, where our citizens regarded the homelessness situation as unacceptable and have generated the support required to do something about it. I have also seen this time and again at the individual level in those who devote their time to the Rural Fire Service, SES, scouts, disabled care, auxiliary support for our hospitals, sporting organisations and many other critical community endeavours. Our community organisations also look beyond our borders to help those less fortunate, such as the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor-Leste and the Tumbarumba group supporting Ugandan children through the Watoto program. It is inspirational to be a part of this, and to dedicate my energies to supporting and harnessing this spirit and drive so that our community can reach its full potential.

Through our outreach effort during the campaign I have heard the message from our community loud and clear. They demanded action on the decline in health services in rural and regional Australia. They want something done to improve the options for our young, to ensure them the availability of full-time employment and to spare them the depredations of the extreme Work Choices laws. They insist that the neglect of our key infrastructure be addressed. Our farmers need help to tackle the existential challenges posed by climate change and weeds. I am proud of the measures we committed to in order to address these concerns.

We will deliver on the specific commitments we made to the electorate, and I will fight hard for our fair share of this government’s national plans with regard to health, education, water management, broadband services, child care and renewable energy. I aim in particular to work with our community to make Eden-Monaro a centre for leading-edge technology and creative thinking when it comes to the renewable energy industry. This will aid our struggle to address climate change but it will also benefit our regional economy and provide our youth with career options that will keep them with us. In this regard I embrace the objectives of the CEFE movement and challenge all our councils, households and industry to pursue the CEFE target of a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions and the transition to 50 per cent power generation from renewable energy by the year 2020. I am setting this fifty-fifty by 2020 goal as an aspirational objective for Eden-Monaro.

It was a difficult decision for me to leave the Army and take this step into politics. I dearly love the Army and had the prospect of a number of years of rewarding service, further promotion and a secure future ahead of me. This was outweighed, however, by a burning desire to end the previous government, driven by my personal experiences and my concern for the future that I would bequeath my son.

Two factors sealed my decision. The first is my faith in the Prime Minister to manage this country and its security with intelligence, common sense and compassion. The second factor was the appeal of coming home to my roots in Eden-Monaro. My family were instrumental in building this region and continue to play a part in generating its prosperity, community spirit and values. It began back in the 1850s with my great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Gowing, who pioneered much of the early industry, such as founding the Tathra Wharf, and was a well-known philanthropist. This was built upon by my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Joseph Kelly, who founded the Bega Cheese Co-op and was its first chairman. His original land is still dairy-farmed today by the family. These pioneers of industry understood the fundamental values of cooperation, fairness and family. These values are alive today as the Bega Cheese factory benefits from a collective agreement and is an integral part of the community.

My great-grandfather, Benjamin George Kelly, was a schoolteacher who taught all over the region and ran for the seat in 1940—for Lang Labor at the time. One of his sons, Father John Kelly, was parish priest in Bombala and Braidwood and became the monsignor who supervised the Catholic education system in the region. He unfortunately passed away in August last year before seeing me complete what his father attempted in 1940. His brother, my grandfather, Benjamin Joseph Kelly, also born in Bega, had been, along with other members of the family, in the volunteer Light Horse and went off to the Second World War as part of the 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. He fought in the Middle East before being captured by the Japanese in Java and spending the rest of the war working on the Burma-Thai Railway. These examples inspire me to believe in service and an overriding responsibility to community before self. I hope now to build on their legacy.

My own life experiences have also played a major part in shaping my views. My immediate family suffered through the devastating pressures of debt and poverty. This followed my father’s falling into bankruptcy when his business partner absconded with their joint funds. I recall vividly the experience of living in my aunt’s garage in a row of five beds, my first taste of barracks life! I also remember surviving through this time on the charity of the St Vincent de Paul Society and how important these groups are to those who fall through the cracks. This experience taught me what a devastating effect debt, homelessness and poverty can have on families and the physical and mental health of individuals.

As a young man fresh from university, I was privileged to work for three years on behalf of the victims of asbestos in the firm of Turner Freeman in Sydney, where I met my good friend and colleague our Attorney-General Robert McClelland. In those days it was all to do with discovering and proving the culpability of the miners and producers of asbestos. It was at once rewarding to be part of the effort to disclose this shocking story of negligence and deliberate cover-up over many decades but at the same time distressing to watch the suffering and sit by the death beds of wonderful men and women and their families. In this respect it is important to note that Bernie Banton was only one of many hundreds who suffered appalling and agonising deaths. I think of people like Peter Calkin, who spent every last waking moment of his life ensuring the security of his family when others might have been tempted to focus on themselves. From this searing and unforgettable experience I learned the importance of ensuring the protection of working people by law. I also learned the importance of the right of working people to organise, as the asbestos victims would never have achieved justice without the support of their colleagues.

This was followed by 20 very special years in the Australian Army. The memories and experiences of those years cannot be captured in this short speech, but I treasure every moment and every friendship cemented over that time. The Australian Defence Force is a special institution which not only serves our security but is the guardian of many of our fundamental values, forged through a tradition that all Australians respect. During my time in the Army I served in conflict zones in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific, which enabled me to draw lessons that are applicable to all environments and types of operation. My experience ranged from fundamental infantry tasks of toting rifle and radio on patrol to helping to direct operations at the highest level. It also involved labouring to establish the rule of law and postconflict reconstruction. I am now excited about bringing this experience to bear in helping to formulate our security policy.

I am highly conscious, though, that as we sit here today in these air-conditioned and comfortable surrounds there are hundreds of my ADF brothers and sisters who are doing it tough in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Whether it is a matter of humping around in body armour in 50-degree heat or at 20 degrees below zero, struggling to avoid a cocktail of diseases or wondering whether you are spending your last moments in one piece, our ADF personnel will always be in my thoughts.

I know that for every member deployed there are many others preparing to go, returning, or supporting our personnel in establishments all over this country. I will bend every sinew to promote their welfare and safety, and to support their families. Defence families are always under intense stress. Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful experiences of life, and we compound a constant requirement in this regard with the worries they face for their loved ones in high-risk training and overseas deployments. I aim to advocate for ways to ease that strain.

I am also highly conscious of the fact that I am the only war veteran represented in parliament since the retirement of Graham Edwards. I feel a particular responsibility to be a voice for our veteran and ex-service community in this government. I serve fair warning to my colleagues that I will be an extremely persistent and annoying advocate on behalf of that community. Many veterans are looking to us now after bitter disappointments, and we must consolidate ourselves as the party they should naturally look to by not letting them down.

The Federation seat of Eden-Monaro is thought to be special because it is described as the bellwether that determines which party will form government. I believe that it is special for many other reasons. It is special because of its people and because of the land itself and the seas that frame its eastern flank. I urge all Australians to come to Eden-Monaro to find out for themselves why it is so special. Come to its glorious mountains and experience their magical rhythms in winter and summer. Experience the breathtaking scenery of the Alpine Way, the Snowy Mountains Highway and the Princes Highway. Enjoy the voluptuous country around the south-west slopes and the awe-inspiring Yarrangobilly Caves. Come to the historic towns of the Monaro plains and the Bega Valley. Marvel at the sweeping coastal views and beaches of the south-east coast. It is worth enjoying this experience before seeking to travel overseas.

We nevertheless face serious challenges in rural and regional Australia, and I am pleased now to be in a position to help deal with them and to advocate for the communities whose problems are so little understood in the major cities. We must devote a more concerted national effort towards weed control. Our agricultural sector loses in the order of $4 billion a year as a result of the weed threat, not to mention the environmental damage such as the menace of blackberry in the Kosciuszko National Park.

Health in our regions is in crisis, and I expect to now see a major and focused effort across all levels of government to address this. The shortage of doctors in some of these towns has reached an unacceptable level. I pay tribute to those country doctors such as Dr Colin Pate of Bombala, recently recognised in the Australia Day honours list, who are battling on under the pressure. We must bring them help. I call on the doctors of this country to come to the rescue of these towns as an act of national service. I ask our graduating doctors and those looking for a change to commit to a country town for a five-year period in your careers. You will find that the experience will enrich your life. You will be seduced by the charm of these towns and communities and you will have the satisfaction of having rendered your country as vital a service as those who serve us in uniform. The gratitude and reverence these towns will show you will humble and inspire you.

I want to assure the hardworking men and women of the land in Eden-Monaro that this government is as much for you as anyone else. You have often been disappointed in your representation and have sometimes turned to alternative voices, only to often be again let down. I say to you that I am your man; I am in your corner. I want to ensure our towns are living and vibrant economic, cultural and historical centres, not museums.

I believe the future of this country will largely be shaped by our response to the challenges posed by two liquids: water and oil. We cannot grow and will find it difficult to sustain our current lifestyle if we do not come up with a major national effort on our water resource management. We must give thought to whether we are selecting the appropriate land usage in tune with our various regions. We should reach out more vigorously to countries like Israel to collaborate on the development of water management and agricultural technology.

With regard to oil, I view the threat posed by the future dependency of this country on overseas and dwindling supplies as a critical strategic vulnerability. I believe we must follow the lead of the Swedes in taking a proactive approach towards eliminating this substance from our economy. The future oil shocks that we are facing will have the greatest impact on communities like Eden-Monaro and, for their sake, I intend to keep this issue in the forefront of our thinking. One of the primary purposes of government is to anticipate future threats and take appropriate risk management measures, so we cannot turn from this challenge.

One of the major motivations in the journey to this place has been my Iraq experiences, which, as many know, included the Abu Ghraib and AWB sagas. While I have seen appalling suffering and destruction and experienced the loss of friends in Somalia, Bosnia and Timor Leste, in Iraq this was greatly intensified and made more painful by the frustrations of the operation.

I left Iraq carrying with me the ghosts of some special people—people like Lieutenant Colonel Chad Buehring. Chad was a bloke everyone liked. He loved kids and was a wonderful family man. On one particularly dark day—among many in Iraq—Chad was with me and many of our colleagues when our building came under sustained direct fire and was struck with 27 rockets. Chad, like the true soldier he was, rushed to the window with his M16 to try to return fire. Chad took the force of a rocket strike against his window and had half his head and his left hand blown away. He did not die immediately but there was nothing that could be done for him. We took around 20 casualties in that attack, and I was to lose countless other friends amongst UN workers, Iraqi colleagues and my coalition brothers and sisters in my year in that tortured land. I entered into this political venture as part of a compact with them to hold the previous government to account and to right the wrongs of Iraq, and I feel those colleagues with me as I stand here today. We now have our work cut out to make their sacrifices and the efforts of our troops in Iraq worth while and to give them meaning. I am looking forward to this government contributing ideas to the solution to that conflict and bringing more effective direct assistance to the Iraqi people.

Given all I have seen in my 20 years in the Army, I am delighted now to see a new direction is possible in our security policy: a wiser, more sophisticated approach that acknowledges that security is achieved by working on a number of levels. One of the greatest challenges we face is from Islamic extremism. I believe that this stems from the watershed struggle for Islam that is currently playing out, similar in nature to the Christian experience of the Reformation, which had far bloodier consequences. It is vital that we reach out to the moderate voices of Islam, to do all we can to assist and encourage them in this struggle. The greatest contribution we can make to our own security is to ensure we have social cohesion here at home. Our greatest ally in the fight against Islamic extremism is our own Islamic community. We must reach out and embrace them as fellow Australians and work hard at interfaith dialogue.

Further to this, we need to pursue a more intelligent approach to multilateral security, both in our constructive engagement with the United Nations and in our regional outreach. Over the last 11 years I have watched in my work with the UN and our neighbours how much our standing has suffered and how our effectiveness at advancing our security interests has been impeded by neglect in these respects.

I also want to take advantage of this opportunity today to pay tribute to the men and women who worked so tirelessly on the Your Rights at Work campaign. The Work Choices experience showed us why it is still vital that the fundamental human right of working people to organise be protected. It has also shown us, however, that the Australian union movement must take this reprieve as an opportunity to re-examine itself and explore ways to reach out to working Australians with a positive message and experience regarding the benefits of union membership. The union movement desperately needs the same fresh thinking and creative leadership that the country responded to in the Rudd Labor team. I stand ready to do all I can to help promote that process in this new role.

So much also needs to be done for those in our community who are struggling to deal with the care of the disabled, the challenges the disabled themselves face and the mentally ill. I was proud that we committed to supporting the work of the Home in Queanbeyan project. This project points the way to the ideal of the community and government working in partnership. It is not good enough that we expect government to provide all the answers to these great challenges. We all bear a responsibility to do what we can to help our fellow Australians in their need. I want to prioritise my support to community based projects in this respect, and I call on all in our community to come together to join this partnership and to emulate the Home in Queanbeyan model.

On this historic day I would like to say to our Indigenous community in Eden-Monaro: ‘I hope to help you to help yourselves.’ There are projects and ideas that we need to pursue to empower the people of these communities, and I will be reaching out to them to explore how we can advance these.

There are countless people that I ought to thank, for their support to me personally and for the campaign, but it would not be possible to name them all here. I have been steadily seeking them out to thank them individually, and I want them all to know that I am fully conscious that I only stand here thanks to their effort. There are two people I do wish to single out, though: my wife, Shelly, and my son, Ben. They have experienced all the stress and heartache of a Defence family. They know the wrench as a little piece of your heart breaks away at every separation on deployments, and the personal stress that has come with my commitment to call things as I see them and to make a personal stand when I feel something is unacceptable. I have not always been to them what I should have, and I want to fully acknowledge here that I would not have achieved anything without them.

Finally, can I say to the people of Eden-Monaro that we are now a team and I am looking forward to working with them. I am conscious of the record of previous members for the region, and I have a great deal to live up to. Jim Snow, who represented the electorate from 1983 to 1996, has shown me what being a good local member is all about. Juggling my Defence responsibilities with my electorate work will be difficult, but I know the people of this region have always understood the need to support the national interests with respect to security and I will be grateful for their indulgence in this respect.

I am proud to be here and to be in a position to continue my service to the country as part of this wonderfully talented Rudd Labor team. I now anticipate a future for this country of prosperity enhanced by compassion and justice, where we can move beyond the small-minded and the mean-spirited and, as Lincoln said, give flight to the better angels of our nature. Thank you.