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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 53

Senator LUNDY (12:16 PM) —I rise in the chamber today to speak to the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's opening address to the 41st Parliament. I thank the people of Canberra and the ACT who elected me to my fourth consecutive term as their senator. It is with great honour and pride that I continue to serve the people of Canberra as their only Labor senator, and I will ensure that their interests continue to be my priority.

While disappointed that Labor did not achieve the desired result nationally, Labor was overwhelmingly returned in the ACT, achieving increased majorities in both the federal electorates of Fraser and Canberra, returning Mr Bob McMullan and Ms Annette Ellis respectively. I know they will continue to provide outstanding representation to the people of Canberra. Serving in my roles both as senator for the ACT and as shadow minister in the federal parliamentary Labor Party is always a humbling experience. The federal campaign this year provided a unique opportunity to combine these roles and to take Labor's vision and message to the Australian people.

I would like to reflect on my previous portfolios of sport and recreation, the arts and information technology as they have given me the opportunity to work at the grassroots, engaging with many community networks, organisations, associations and professionals in these fields right across the country. Policy development in the Labor Party is always an all-encompassing process, from consultations within these stakeholder groups throughout many stages of policy development right through to engaging and consulting within the Labor Party rank and file. Over many years this process has culminated in the release of policies that Labor and I are certainly very proud of, and this has been the highlight of my work as a shadow minister in these areas.

I certainly relish the challenge presented by my new role as shadow minister for manufacturing and consumer affairs. Both portfolios offer up new issues, debates and exciting opportunities. I note that the Howard government does not have a spokesperson or representation within their ministry for either of these portfolio areas. That in itself sends a strong message about some of the serious points of differentiation between the priorities of the Labor Party and those of the Howard government.

Before I move on to discuss my new roles, I would like to wrap up what I see as the major issues that I dealt with as shadow minister for sport and recreation and the arts. I suspect I will not have time to talk about information technology but I hope to speak on that area in matters of public interest later today. I take this opportunity to offer some comment on these portfolios up to this point. I should also add that my former shadow portfolios are now in excellent hands with shadow minister Alan Griffin having responsibility for sport and recreation; Senator Kim Carr, the arts; and Senator Stephen Conroy, information technology. I look forward to them holding the Howard government to account.

Let me turn to sport and recreation, and I am glad that Senator Kemp is in the chamber because he might be interested in some of my reflections. Labor's policy in sport and recreation was the culmination of an opposition campaign to put recreation and grassroots participation back on the sports agenda. Labor clearly set the agenda in this area of the portfolio and time after time the Howard government was left playing catch up, particularly when addressing the issues of childhood obesity, health and community wellbeing and how they relate to physical activity.

Labor campaigned strongly on the basis that the sports agenda should be much broader than that which it had come to under the Howard government with a quite limited focus on organised sport. While that is important, it is certainly not the whole story in the portfolio. Over the years, under the Howard government policies, we saw the Australian Sports Commission shift its funding focus almost entirely to a limited number of organised and elite sports. In its Beyond 2000 paper, the Howard government admitted that the Australian Sports Commission's participation programs were underfunded. Since coming to office it has dropped recreation from the sports agenda, axed the Active Australia program and cut sport and recreation development grants funding—a really critical area of support for regional sports organisations around Australia. During the campaign, I visited community sporting grounds and organisations who had felt the full weight of the Howard government's cutbacks at the local level. With scarce resources and funds, these groups rely on volunteers and sheer determination to keep community sport going in their local areas. They do it with substandard facilities and experience less and less support from their struggling national sporting organisations.

This highlights an imbalance that exists within sport in this country. Sport and recreation bodies that are run by volunteers are continually missing out. It is very important that we acknowledge and celebrate our performance at the elite level, but we should not put the cart before the horse—we need to invest in participation opportunities, as our elite athletes are not just born that way. They have to be given opportunities at an early age and be supported through their sporting careers as their talent develops. Everyone is entitled to that opportunity whether or not they are identified as having a particular talent at a young age or they have parents who are able, within their household weekly budgets, to support those endeavours. The challenge is making sure we get that balance right. I believe that, over the last eight years, that imbalance has been exacerbated quite chronically. Even with recent activities and acknowledgment by the Howard government that they had got that mix wrong, we are still a long way in a policy sense from getting the balance right.

It is important to embrace all forms of physical activity that contribute to our national health and wellbeing, such as through better physical and mental health and increased social interaction. I have often described sport and recreation as social glue in our community. It is such and everybody involved knows that that is the case. I think that broader emphasis is a worthy focus.

Labor took the lead in these areas. Back in October 2003 we released our policy called Tackling Obesity and Promoting Community Wellbeing: Labor's Plan for a Healthier and More Active Australia. It constituted the first concerted federal effort to improve the general health and wellbeing of all Australians. Labor's planned investment of $25 million over four years was to establish a new fund to promote community wellbeing and reduce childhood obesity. The government's response was cool, to say the least, despite the urgent need and growing public pressure for a community coordinated strategy to reverse the trend in rising obesity rates.

Low physical activity levels and poor diet are the two primary factors that are consistently identified as major contributors to high overweight and obesity rates among Australian children, yet we had to wait more than six months for the government to even begin looking at providing lip-service and indeed some policy to address the rising incidence of obesity in our community. I have to say that this is notwithstanding what I perceive to be a great deal of frustration from within the Liberals' own backbench on this issue.

In the meantime Labor went one step further, announcing that if elected we would implement a ban on junk food advertising during children's television programs where they were targeting children under the age of 14. This was designed to assist parents with the dietary choices for their children. Television advertising that influences very young children in this way can also have a detrimental long-term impact. It can entrench eating habits that flow through to the teenage years. Labor know that children do not have the same capacity that adults have to make educated healthy lifestyle and dietary choices and believe that those in leadership positions, where it is possible to make a difference, should take an active role in ensuring that children are given the best opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life. Once again Labor took action where the Howard government had for eight years neglected to do so.

Another issue within this portfolio particularly characterised this year was drugs in sport. In the lead-up to the election Australian sport was embroiled in a range of doping scandals that was perpetuated by the failure of the Howard government to stand by their claimed tough on drugs in sport stance. Again it was Labor that early on committed to the establishment of an independent sports doping ombudsman position and we will continue to argue the merits of it. The sports doping ombudsman should be an independent person to whom athletes, players, coaches, officials, members of the public and sports organisations can refer complaints pertinent to doping allegations and be assured that those complaints or allegations will be investigated fairly and independently without fear of legal or other repercussions.

The sports doping ombudsman should be empowered to receive and investigate allegations of doping practices within, and impacting on, sport in Australia. Despite the coalition waxing lyrical about its stance on drugs in sport as early as 9 March 2003 when sports minister Kemp—and I acknowledge his presence in the chamber—said that the government was moving quickly to put a proposal to establish a recognised tribunal with the power to investigate substance abuse in every sport, election day came and went this year and we are yet to hear of any decisive plan—or indeed any plan at all—for the establishment of an independent investigative and prosecutorial body. I look forward to Senator Kemp, given his noisy interjections during my speech today, doing something about this issue very quickly.

It is always unpleasant to find any athlete guilty of a doping offence and it is difficult to deal with such cases, but dealing with these issues quickly and openly must always be the primary consideration. Getting tough on drugs in sport means that we are required to face difficulties associated with dealing with such issues head on rather than turning a blind eye. The Howard government is now in a position, having been re-elected, to take action.

I now turn to the arts portfolio. Over the last eight years we have seen Mr Howard's grand plan for the arts—a blueprint for the expression of his own whitewashed betrayal of Australian heritage and culture. In 2004, culminating in the federal election campaign, the Howard government was forced to show its hand and its bluff was revealed. The coalition failed to deliver a glimmer of hope or vision for Australia's cultural future, choosing instead to disregard the contribution made by Australian artists to our cultural and social fabric. The government released its arts policy just four days out from the election, and the only new initiative was the announcement that the National Portrait Gallery would receive $56.5 million to build its own premises on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The only other national institution to receive any attention was the National Museum of Australia, which received funding to modify the museum's exhibitions so as to fulfil the Howard government's political whitewashing agenda: to implement the recommendations of the highly criticised and highly partisan Carroll review.

This signals the clear intention of the Howard government to continue along its path of disgraceful political interference in our national cultural institutions and, piece by piece, to dismantle their pride, independence, credibility and integrity. The casualties in Mr Howard's war on culture are many and indicated by this clear loss of political independence of the ABC and the National Museum. There is also the Screensound Australia issue and, more recently the Australia Council following the Prime Minister's part in the unprecedented allocation of millions of dollars to Melba Records. A combination of conservative appointments to their boards and councils, static funding followed by the funding cuts of $8 million to all of the national institutions, including the National Library and the National Gallery, are obvious attempts to change the way our brilliant and sometimes dark history is portrayed. The ill-fitting merger of Screensound Australia with the Australian Film Commission saw many of the promised safeguards broken that related to preserving its independence and there is a very real concern that the integrity of that world-class archive would be undermined. So it is a culmination of these attacks, which we have conscientiously documented and exposed over the last few years, which stem from what I believe is a secret cultural review. This secret agenda will have a long-lasting, negative impact on our Australian national cultural institutions.

I will move on to a choice the Howard government made in its election campaign to sit on its hands and do nothing to address the systemic problems which have engulfed the grassroots of the arts sector. The government largely ignored many of the key issues which, ironically, were raised in a number of excellent reports commissioned by the Howard government, which investigated, analysed and represented numerous recommendations through reports such as Don't give up your day job and the Myer review. Don't give up your day job indicated that one-third of practising Australian artists live in poverty, and 50 per cent of artists earn less than $7,300 per year from their art. You would think that would be reason enough to come up with some solutions or at least to implement past commitments or recommendations. To implement all of the recommendations of the Myer review was an outstanding promise but, in the lead-up to the election, we did not see an announcement of a resale royalty scheme for visual artists.

The government recently released a discussion paper on resale royalties, but it seems that it has still made no commitment to implementing them. I, for one, will not be holding my breath over the implementation of such a scheme. The challenge for Senator Kemp and the Howard government is to get a move-on on an issue that Labor made a commitment to over a year ago. Had we been elected, we would have brought in a resale royalty scheme of five per cent, payable on all acts of resale of artistic work that take place in Australia through an art market intermediary. This would provide direct financial benefit to visual artists and particularly to Indigenous artists, which I know Senator Kemp and others would acknowledge is a critical area of importance. In 2004, the upshot is that the arts do not matter that much to this government. Labor's policies on the arts were a genuine attempt to raise the profile of the arts and to place the key issues in the sector at the forefront of the debate. The Howard government has not bothered to make such an attempt. I do not know what to expect, but I cannot see too much changing.

Perhaps one of the characterisations of this neglect of arts and culture was the context of the free trade agreement debate around local content quotas. It seems the Prime Minister was content with the position that our local content provisions could be ratcheted down. In effect, he tried to neutralise the debate about the protection of local content quotas. He certainly did not see the issue of ratcheting down as a problem and was happy to sign off on the free trade agreement. From Labor's point of view, that is just not good enough. Labor put culture back on the table in an effort to ensure that Mr Howard did not leave Australia vulnerable to the ratcheting down of our local content quotas. The upshot was that Labor insisted on an amendment, which the Howard government accepted very rapidly.

There is also the underfunding of the ABC and the plight of the film and television industry, Labor's policies would have injected much needed money into the ABC over a four-year period. The situation in the film and television industry is absolutely critical, and Labor would have put the money in first-up in this current financial year. Let me conclude on this note: the film and television industry is in dire straits because of the neglect of the Howard government. The industry needs rapid investment. The Howard government will not be coming up with that investment, and it remains one of the high profile areas to pursue in the arts portfolio. (Time expired)