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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 217


Senator COONEY(10.26) —Mr President, I second the motion so eloquently moved by my colleague Senator Aulich. Last Thursday His Excellency the Governor-General spoke to the members of the Thirty-fourth Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Sixty-second session of that body. The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia is defined in chapter I, section 1, Part I of the Constitution as consisting of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Constitution has established the Senate as one of the two Houses which legislate for the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a House of great power, as its history has shown-at times in the most dramatic of ways. It is incumbent upon it to use that power responsibly. I pray that I will discharge my duty as a member of it honourably.

The Senate originally consisted of six members from each State. Those numbers were increased on 22 February 1950 to 10, and again increased last Thursday to 12, pursuant to the provisions of the Representation Act 1983. I am part of that increment and so are 11 others, they being Senators Puplick and Brownhill from New South Wales, Senators Sheil and Black from Queensland, Senators Vanstone and Vigor from South Australia, Senators Aulich and Devlin from Tasmania, Senator Short from Victoria and Senators McKiernan and Knowles from Western Australia. Having met them all, I say with respect, Mr President, that they are all assets to this chamber. I congratulate them on their election. I also congratulate Senator Parer, whose arrival in this chamber was by a route different from that taken by the other senators I have mentioned. My meetings with him leads me to say that he too will be an asset to this place.

I have been elected to this place by the people of Victoria. I express my respectful thanks to them. My resolve is to serve them well. From the Wimmera Plain to the Monaro Fall, from the south Victorian uplands to the Murray lowlands, Victoria is a glorious State. Its people have contributed mightily to the history of this nation. I wish her well on her 150th birthday. May she flourish and grow while the Cross shines in the southern skies.

I was elected to this place because of my endorsement by the Australian Labor Party. That is a party with a mighty history. It has now woven a rich tapestry over many decades. I am honoured to be a member of it in this place.

It is conventional and proper for a maiden speech to contain expressions of gratitude to those who have helped and guided the maker of the speech over the years. I make that expression not only as a matter of convention and propriety but also as a matter of conviction. In this context I mention in pride of place my wife, Lillian, and my children, Sean, Justin, Jerome and Megan and my youngest daughter, Geraldine, now dead. My family has provided the most joyous part of my life and I intend hereafter to keep it as the most important factor in it. The child is father to the man. My parents nurtured my childhood and I acknowledge that. Unfortunately, that acknowledgement is posthumous. I thank my brothers and sister for their support over the years.

I thank the friends and relatives who have helped and guided me over the course of my life. I thank those without whom I would not be here. I owe unpayable debts to such people. I have listed names in a note but I now discard that. Naming names expresses an order of priorities which can lead to offence. I hope that those to whom I owe thanks understand that and accept this general confession of indebtedness to them all.

The week before last new senators went through a familiarisation process. It was highly successful. I recommend that it be made available to all new senators who may hereafter come into this place. I thank you, Mr President, for the part you played in it and, through you, Senators Kilgariff and Robertson for the parts they played. In that context, and again through you, Mr President, I express my gratitude to the Clerk, Mr Cumming Thom, and those who serve in his office. Their help has been mighty. Since I have been in the Senate the staff in this place has displayed such courtesy and willingness to help as to be almost prodigal. I thank them all.

Last Thursday His Excellency told this Parliament:

The Government believes that economic growth is not an end in itself, but a means to greater ends-a means towards the achievement of high social goals of equity and fairness.

Economic management, economic growth and economic endeavour are not amongst the great aspirations of men and women. Rather they are parts of the vehicle to those aspirations. They have merit insofar as they enable the realisation of high purpose. The great aspirations of mankind have been expressed in the past by soaring words and inspiring actions. Three thousand five hundred years ago one of the towering figures in human history led a people into the desert in vindication of their right to freedom. His command 'Let my people go' had finally been heeded. Two thousand years ago the founder of one of the world's greatest religions proclaimed the community of the world's people and the entitlement of all to share in it with dignity and freedom. A great American leader 22 years ago told us of a dream he had where the whole human race could join in singing: 'Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty we are free at last'!

People yearn for peace, freedom, equity and community. All people have a right to those things. On a map of the world there are blots where those rights are denied by the very governments whose duty it is to foster them. Torture, enslavement, murder and degradation are pursued as policies of state. Happily, Australians are free of those gross assaults by government. Unhappily, there are factors in Australia which inhibit people from obtaining that quality of peace, freedom, equity and community to which their humanity makes them inherently entitled. Those factors include poverty, insecurity in the work place, lack of power and devaluation of civil liberties. I make the following comments about those factors and hope to expand on them later in the life of this Parliament.

Poverty is the lot of a horrifying number of Australians, unemployed and employed alike. City and country folk are afflicted by it. I give one example; a man who is a clerk. He is married with a dependant wife and two children. He earns $202.50 a week net which, after fares are paid, amounts to $188.50. If he were on social security benefits he would receive $191.30. The poverty line for a husband and wife and two children is $227.60.

The shop floor, the manager's office, the small and large business houses, the farms are all vulnerable to job insecurity. It is a haunting spectre which the Parliament has struggled now for some years to banish. It is a crucial struggle, and while in this place I hope to join it worthily.

A strong and growing economy can diminish and, hopefully, eliminate poverty and insecurity in the work place. It is for this reason that economic health and economic growth are part of the infrastructure that enables man-I use that term in its generic sense-to realise his great aspirations. A vibrant economy needs competent and committed workers and competent and committed managers. Analysis of the economic problems of Australia tends to concentrate on the deficiencies and costs of workers rather than on those of managers. There is much evidence that Australian manufacturing industry is managed at a journeyman level. If it were as well managed as our rural sector the economic problems may well be markedly reduced.

Power corrupts; lack of power corrodes absolutely. People who are powerless to give at least minimum expression to their needs are at risk of being rendered hopeless, desperate, alienated, physically ill, mentally ill, or a combination of two or more of those things. Until recent times the Aborigines, the founders of the first civilisation in this country, were powerless, with results which there have been belated and at times meagre attempts to reverse. The unemployed, non-English-speaking migrants, particularly women, families in which poverty is endemic, all lack power and all suffer grievously as a consequence. The more they can be effectively equipped with power the more likely it is that their social distress will be abated and the community as a whole benefit.

A sentiment becoming more pervasive in this society is that those who advocate the primacy of civil liberties weaken the fabric of society. In July 1983 Mr Frank Vincent, a leading Melbourne silk, in addressing the National Crime Commission conference in this chamber, said about civil liberties:

We need to appreciate that those liberties must not be conceived of as standing in the way of an ordered and properly run society but represent the values of that society and the value of that society.

The Victorian Bar has been and is a strong one. It has had many outstanding counsel over the years. Amongst the foremost has been Mr Laurie, of Her Majesty's Counsel. He had particular sensitivity to the issue of civil liberties. At the height of the Cold War he appeared as successful counsel in the Australian Communist Party and Others v. the Commonwealth and Others. But for that case and the subsequent referendum, Australia would now be a less democratic and a more repressive society. Courage to undertake an unpopular action, willingness to suffer financially for principle, marked powers of persuasion, and the character of a true man were qualities he showed. They are priceless qualities and most worthy of emulation. Freedom, community and dignity for all would be close to realisation if such qualities permeated more widely.

I am now a back bench parliamentarian. It is a worthy and honourable role. Members of the Tudor and Stuart parliaments would find that role familiar and the presence here of the Ministry and shadow Ministry strange. I am proud to sit on the outside edge of the legislative horseshoe of this chamber. Parliament has been much affected by the drawing from it of the Ministry. There have been advantages and disadvantages in that. One disadvantage has been the weakening of Parliament's status as a bulwark against executive power. There is today, as there has always been, a need to temper executive power, and accordingly, that weakening is a matter of regret.

Mr President, may I through you thank all honourable senators for the courtesy with which they have listened to my maiden speech. I appreciate that hereafter I must expect a more robust response to my words. I hope I can give and, in particular I hope I can take, with grace.