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Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Page: 843

Mr SYMON (9:59 AM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I congratulate you on your election to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. I am sure both sides of the chamber would agree that you have brought an immediate professionalism and style to the job.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we stand, the Ngunnawal people. As a new member of parliament, can I say that it was very moving and special to witness the formal apology delivered to the stolen generations as the first item of business in the 42nd Parliament. I would like to add my voice to the apology to the stolen generations and say sorry for the harm that has been done to our nation’s Indigenous people over so many years.

I would like to thank the electors of Deakin for voting for a change and listening to our positive campaign message throughout the election period. I was fortunate to be able to meet and talk to so many different local community and sporting groups during the eight months of campaigning, to present our policies and listen to their views. Like so many of the people I met during that time, I have lived in the area my entire life because I like its environment and because it is a great place to raise a family, just as my parents did.

My parents came to Australia as immigrants from England in 1957, just two of the 41,439 settler arrivals from the UK and Ireland in that year. For the first few years of life in a new country they lived near the city in Melbourne and eventually settled in the then semirural suburb of Bayswater in 1962. My father, Denis, worked as a paymaster on the other side of Melbourne for many years, without a car, and my mother, Sally, stayed at home to look after me and my sister, Fiona. I sincerely thank them both for their dedication to their respective jobs and hope that I will always share their ethics of hard work and honesty.

To my lovely wife, Cheryl, and my two wonderful daughters, Jessica and Angie, I thank you the most for having the understanding of and patience with me as I went out campaigning night after night and spent the weekends at work for good measure. Your support, more than any other, spurred me on to do my best.

I would also like to thank all of the unions who contributed in so many ways to helping out on the Deakin campaign. Without the resources and members on the ground, the result at the last election may have left me unemployed. My union, the Electrical Trades Union, encouraged and supported me throughout the campaign. I would especially like to thank the southern states branch secretary, Dean Mighell, and the assistant secretary, Howard Worthing, along with all the organisers, shop stewards and office staff, for their help, advice and on-the-ground support. Tim Stephenson, Andy Di Mieri, Joe Yousef, Trevor Darwell, Danny Timmers and Wes Hayes deserve a special mention for their efforts. I would also like to thank the ETU National Secretary, Peter Tighe, and ETU Assistant National Secretary, John Ingram, for their support in the campaign.

The plumbers union also helped out in so many ways. I would like especially to thank the secretary, Earl Setches, for sharing his extensive local political knowledge and the assistant secretary, Tony Murphy, for organising his members to help out on an almost daily basis. Kevin Bracken, the state secretary of the MUA, provided generous support and arranged for retired MUA members to help out during the working week when our campaign office was always light on for help. Joan Doyle, the state secretary of the CEPU P&T division, helped organise professional letterboxers for me in the form of posties, who volunteered their weekends off to deliver letters for my campaign. Thank you also to the UFU secretary, Peter Marshall, and all of the fireys who helped out on the campaign.

I would also like to especially thank Bill Oliver and Tommy Watson, assistant secretaries; Ralph Edwards, president; and organisers Gareth Stephenson and Bobby Mates of the CFMEU Construction and General Division in Victoria for all of their support in so many different ways throughout the campaign. I thank Dave Noonan, CFMEU National Secretary, for his union’s staunch support. I would also like to thank Steve Dargavel, Victorian Secretary of the AMWU, for his union’s excellent support of the ALP campaign in Deakin.

May I also thank the ASU, AWU, CPSU, HSU, NUW, RTBU, SDA, TCFUA and any other unions which I may have forgotten to mention. The Victorian Trades Hall Council and its secretary, Brian Boyd, deserve a special mention for encouraging unions to help out in Deakin and organise local campaign events. I would also like to thank the ACTU and its leadership of Sharan Burrow and Greg Combet, who is now, of course, the new member for Charlton.

I particularly thank all the ACTU constituent unions and their members for all the years of hard work that was put into the Your Rights at Work campaign in the community and amongst the combined union membership. I would especially like to thank Linda Cargill and all of the many hundreds of local Your Rights at Work campaigners who spent more than two years rallying opposition to the Howard government’s extreme workplace laws on the ground in the seat of Deakin. Your community campaigning and grassroots message delivery certainly made a huge difference in the final outcome.

The Deakin campaign was blessed to have the help of people from all walks of life and with diverse skills and talents but all with an absolute passion for change. I cannot possibly thank all of the many hundreds of volunteers who helped out on the campaign, but I shall name a few who worked way beyond any asking and helped hold the campaign office together for nearly six months. Ray Jackson, Erryn Glover, Michael Howe, Greg Napper, Daniel Simpson, Lesley Keppert, Glenice and Michael Freeman, Terry Smart, Ralph Curnow, Ian Holmes, Stan Smith, Scott Dare and Antony Kenney: thank you all for your terrific contributions.

I could not have won the seat of Deakin without the fantastic dedication shown to the task by my campaign director, Pauline Richards. The sheer level of organisation to keep the campaign running smoothly probably needed three people to do the work, but Pauline kept going right through to the declaration of the poll and beyond. I particularly note her ability to organise last-minute but extremely successful campaign events. It is a very stressful part of campaigning, but every single one of them was fantastic. Also, a big thankyou to Nathan Murphy for organising all of the backroom parts of the campaign, especially the bulk mail-outs; Graeme Watson for organising signage and transport; and Andrew Cameron for his work on the campaign database.

I would like to thank the Blackburn South, Mitcham and Ringwood ALP branches and all of those members from the Blackburn branch who helped out on the campaign. The task of winning an election without local support would be nigh on impossible, and there is no substitute for local knowledge. My thanks also go to the ALP Clayton South branch for their wonderful support during the campaign.

I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Victorian ALP—in particular, the secretary, Stephen Newnham; assistant secretary Kosmos Samaras; and the campaigns officer, Daniel Gerrard. Thank you also to federal MPs Alan Griffin and Anna Burke, and Senator Gavin Marshall, along with Victorian state MPs Kirsty Marshall, Tony Robinson, Shaun Leane, Brian Tee and Craig Langdon. The advice and support that all of you provided was invaluable and freely shared. I would also like to acknowledge the support and valuable advice of former Victorian MLA Peter Lockwood and former Victorian MLC Pat Power. Thank you also to Young Labor. Grant Poulter and Liam O’Brien organised hordes of very keen and active volunteers to give up their weekends and assist the campaign with doorknocking and street stalls on many occasions. I would especially like to acknowledge the only previous Labor member for Deakin, John Saunderson, who held Deakin for an 18-month period in the first term of the Hawke Government. Like me, John Saunderson also had a union background, his union ultimately becoming a part of the CEPU, just like mine.

For much of its history, Deakin has been a rural seat, originally covering an area that included Wallan, Seymour, Mansfield and Warburton. Over the last 71 years, the boundaries of the seat of Deakin have shifted so far that the original area is now almost foreign to the current electorate. What was once a completely rural seat is now a completely urban electorate, and the needs and aspirations of the community have changed accordingly. Due to the ever-changing boundaries, I was also born in Deakin. Back in 1965, Deakin covered Box Hill, but that suburb is now, of course, in the electorate of Chisholm.

In my time as a resident of Deakin, the seat has always been marginal but in every election from 1984 until now has always just managed to avoid having a Labor member installed. I have lived in the area covered by the modern-day boundaries of Deakin for over 23 years and in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne for all of my life. I have seen market gardens and orchards give way to residential and commercial development that has seen Deakin become a favourite area for working families to settle. In that time, I have seen the suburbs in the eastern end of the electorate grow in both population and demand for services. Infrastructure has not kept pace with this demand over the years, and much more needs to be done by all levels of government in the provision of roads and public transport. Major road projects such as the Springvale Road grade separation have been ignored over the last 11 years whilst the Howard government engaged in finger-pointing without fixing the problem. Labor has provided a practical solution, with a funding commitment to work with the state government and get traffic in the suburb of Nunawading moving again.

Deakin has a large proportion of two-car households, as for many people there is no realistic alternative for travel for work, shopping or leisure. With suburbs up to 30 kilometres out from the city, many households face petrol bills of $100 per week or more, and the price of petrol is a constant topic within the electorate. I certainly welcome the appointment by the Rudd government of a petrol commissioner and believe that this will help hold down the price of petrol for the many people for whom a car is the only practical means of transport.

Whilst still at high school in Bayswater, I had to make the decision that all students face: what sort of career did I want? I must say that, in 1981, I certainly did not even think about a career in politics. I was instead thinking about what sort of job would not be taken over by a computer sometime in the future. After much thought, I chose to become an electrical mechanic, and I was fortunate enough to obtain a position as an apprentice at CW Norris and Co., a large electrical contractor in west Melbourne. I had a very varied apprenticeship, working in all types of industries, including construction, petrochemical, maintenance and many other areas. This variation of work continued after my apprenticeship was complete and included working on ships and offshore oil rigs and in computer centres and retail developments across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

When the company was hit by the downturn in the industry in 1983, I, along with the other 40 or so apprentices, was placed on a week on, week off, job-sharing arrangement so that none of us were sacked. As a second-year apprentice, this meant that my weekly wage of $140 at the time was literally cut in half. This lasted for six months and times were tough. There were no other jobs for electrical apprentices around, and so I had to wait it out until the industry picked up again. This was but an early introduction to the tenuous nature of employment in the construction industry. Many workers in this industry to this day are on hourly or daily hire, with the rest being on weekly hire or subcontractors. It is an expected hazard to be laid off whenever a project is getting close to completion. Unemployment is an occupational hazard of the industry, and I have spent periods of up to six months looking for work, due to downturns. Whilst the pay is good when you are employed, your savings do not last long when the bills keep coming in.

Worse than this is the all too frequent experience of builders or their subcontractors declaring insolvency or being declared insolvent without notice. Far too many times workers are left severely out of pocket when secured creditors’ claims are placed ahead of workers’ entitlements. Annual leave, superannuation, long service, redundancy, lieu of notice and even unused sick leave can all be gone in the blink of an eye. The Howard government’s scheme, GEERS, has only provided limited relief for affected workers, and, after all the spin and waiting months for payments, workers were always left out of pocket.

I see a role for government in providing security of entitlements, and I would encourage consideration of a national scheme that banks workers’ entitlements to protect them from corporate collapse. Many innovative solutions have been implemented by all parties in the construction industry to protect workers’ entitlements over the last 25 years. The introduction of portable long-service leave, superannuation and severance schemes have done much to protect workers’ entitlements in the construction industry, and I would encourage both unions and employers to consider similar schemes for all other industries.

Without award and EBA provisions to limit casualisation, I am quite sure that most workers in the construction industry would only be hired as casuals. Australia now has the second-highest rate of casual employment in the OECD, with a rate of 27.3 per cent back in 2002. I suspect that has grown significantly since the introduction of Work Choices and the further stripping away of workers’ rights and conditions. The ABS’s Year Book Australia 2006 notes that there were two million casual employees in Australia in 2004 and, of these, 55 per cent had been with their employer for 12 months or more. As we all know, casual workers have no annual leave, sick leave or job security, and many suffer greatly in between periods of employment.

Very early on in my working career, I saw the benefits of belonging to a union. In the construction industry that I worked in, those in unions worked on large jobs with good wages and conditions, such as site allowances and rostered days off, whilst those outside this area were often stuck on paid rates awards and no more. I have been a member of the Electrical Trades Union for 24 years now. It would have been a bit longer but for the attitude from the tradespeople I worked with as a young apprentice. When I asked about joining in 1982, the response was one of indifference or negativity. I found it somewhat strange that the people I had asked said that I should not join, yet they were in fact members themselves. I eventually managed to join, some 18 months after starting my electrical apprenticeship, and have remained a member ever since. I am very happy to say that those attitudes have changed and, for many years now, apprentices have been welcomed into unions with open arms.

I have been employed as an organiser, projects and political officer with the union for several years at different times and have always been amazed at the sheer amount of hard work that everyone would put in week after week, year after year. For most of this time, however, I was employed on site, for many years as a shop steward looking after the interests of members on the job. During this period I developed an interest in occupational health and safety, having seen the terrible results of building site accidents and poor work practices over many years.

After many long years of part-time study I finally received my diploma of occupational health and safety. I would specifically like to acknowledge the guidance and support of the CFMEU Victorian branch training unit, Allan Mulveena from the ETU and Incolink.

I also worked for a couple of years as a compliance officer for the Protect severance fund in Victoria. My role was to ensure that employers paid entitlements in a timely manner on behalf of their workers into the fund. This job required a huge amount of time and effort but came with its own rewards in ensuring that workers received their legal entitlements from employers that could then be accessed on termination.

I joined the ALP in 1997 as a reaction to the Howard government’s attacks on the wages and conditions of Australian workers. Not too long after this the MUA-Patrick dispute was brought on by the Liberal government and I, along with many thousands of others, joined in the community protest in Melbourne. Firstly at Webb Dock and then also at Swanson East dock I saw firsthand the difference between Peter Reith’s depiction of wharfies and the real thing—workers through and through, sacked without notice and left to wonder how to pay the mortgage, pay the bills and support their families. And as we now know, the MUA-Patrick dispute was just the beginning of the Howard government’s long war on workers, reaching its dreadful pinnacle with Work Choices.

I believe that the effect of Work Choices was the number one election issue in Deakin. At street stalls so many people would want to talk about how they or their friends or children had been ripped off by John Howard’s laws that sometimes I would have to go over my allotted time. I met many people in my campaign travels who had lost overtime rates, public holidays or shift allowances through being forced onto take it or leave it AWAs.

The concern of Deakin residents over the effects of climate change, and the disbelief that the Howard government would not acknowledge reality, was also a frequent topic of discussion. It was an example of just how stale and out of touch the Howard government had become. Cost of living issues regarding mortgage and rental stress, the price of groceries and petrol, the cost of education as well as access to good affordable child care were also of concern to many residents, as was the concern over the lack of infrastructure investment. With a large percentage of residents over the age of 65 there was much concern voiced over aged care and pensions, and access to health care and hospitals. Labor’s policies to provide more funding for hospitals and dental health along with an increased number of aged-care beds were especially well received. And, of course, Kevin Rudd’s vision for an ‘education revolution’, underpinned by a comprehensive plan for a world-class national broadband network, was equally well received by the many working mums and dads of Deakin, who care above all else about the future of their children’s education. For these reasons the people of Deakin were a true barometer of the issues that were important to the nation during the election and still very much are today.

Of course, there are many more vital issues that confront us as a nation than those I have mentioned so far. The skills shortage and training gaps that affect our nation’s capacity now will not be solely fixed in the long term by the continued importation of skilled labour under 457 visas. There is merit in importing labour as a temporary measure, but training more Australian workers and encouraging permanent migration in areas of skills shortage will have long-term benefits for our nation. What we as a nation should be doing is encouraging retraining and up-skilling programs not only for the unemployed but also for those already in unskilled or semiskilled jobs. Encouragement and support of adult apprenticeships by state and federal governments would help reduce this shortage over time.

In conclusion, I look forward to being an active part of a Rudd Labor government with fresh ideas for Australia’s future. I look forward to ridding Australian workplaces of Work Choices and allowing workers and their unions the right to collectively bargain and organise together without the threat of unfair dismissal. I look forward to supporting ways of increasing the types and use of renewable energy to help combat climate change and to investigate and implement cheaper renewable alternatives. I look forward to meeting the challenge of reducing carbon emissions by setting realistic targets that will show the rest of the world that Australia is pulling its weight. I look forward to ensuring that children at government schools receive the best education possible through improved investment in learning. I look forward to supporting and increasing the number of trade apprenticeships. I look forward to working cooperatively with the Victorian state government and the two local government authorities in my electorate, Whitehorse and Maroondah city councils. I look forward to supporting a republic so that Australia may one day have an Australian head of state. And I will keep listening to the electorate and acting on issues that will improve the lives of people in Deakin and Australia as a whole. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the member for Moreton, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.