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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 74


Senator CAROL BROWN (5:15 PM) —Thank you, Mr President. I am very proud to be standing here in this chamber today delivering my first speech as a representative of the Tasmanian people. It truly is a great honour to join the long line of female parliamentarians from Australia’s smallest and most beautiful state. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. I would like to begin by thanking the Australian Labor Party for giving me this chance and the Tasmanian parliament for appointing me. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives for the warm welcome afforded to me during my first two weeks.

I am here, of course, to replace my predecessor, Sue Mackay. I would like to pay tribute to Sue and thank her for the contribution she made during her term as senator. As some of you would be aware, Sue and I worked together for many years while she was state secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the ALP and then when she first entered this chamber. Her work, particularly in rebuilding the Tasmanian branch of the ALP, has been well recognised and is borne out in a strong, majority Labor government at the helm of the state. It is a privilege for me to fill her place in the Australian Senate.

I have spent my life being driven by the desire to see all people treated fairly and with equity, tolerance and respect. To me it is about delivering a fair go for all in a nation founded on respect for the rich diversity of our cultures, practices, dreams and ideals shared by the people who inhabit it. These views are as much about who I am as they are about my family and where I come from. I am the eighth child in a family of 13 children. I grew up in Warrane, a working class suburb on Hobart’s eastern shore. My siblings and I were raised in difficult economic circumstances, as were many of the families in the area. It was a life where open and direct people struggled to make ends meet, with a fierce determination to give their children every opportunity for a secure future.

It was this constant struggle and the sacrifices made by these people, who did not complain, that seemed to me to embody the inequality in our society. Equality and opportunity were not being spread throughout the whole community—people who deserved more were missing out. The overwhelming memories of my childhood were of large gatherings of family and friends, usually involving food, celebrations and lively discussions. They were discussions where it did not matter if your case was more persuasive—it was all decided by whoever had the numbers. It was a great lesson for me to learn, and one I suspect most politicians understand all too well!

I am the daughter of Julia and Rex Brown. I am the daughter and sibling of a wonderful, vibrant family rich with diverse opinions and views, full of life experiences, possessed of strong voices and, importantly, grounded by core values. My parents taught me many important things in life, but the most important lesson by far was to respect and care for others. This is a lesson I carry with me. It is a part of my core. It is the way I live and the senator I will be. I believe in showing tolerance, working with others to achieve results and allowing individuals the right to choose and the freedom to be themselves without fear or favour. To me it is about love, respect, acceptance and opportunity. I would not be here today without these lessons from my parents and the love and support of my family.

These values have come from a proud history, on both sides of my family, of union and Labor activism. My great grandmother, Mary Butler—a formidable and strong-willed woman—was a founding member of the local Hobart branch of the ALP in Tasmania. Both of my grandfathers were strong supporters of the trade union movement, as were my father and his siblings. All were committed to protecting workers’ rights to collectively bargain. All were committed to the Australian ideal of a fair go. My late uncle, Leo Brown, was an ALP life member and state president. He was also secretary and president of the Miscellaneous Workers Union in Tasmania. My niece, Allison Ritchie, is a member of the Legislative Council and, when elected, was the youngest woman ever to enter the upper house in the Tasmanian parliament.

In so many respects today, I am following in the footsteps of my family. My late father believed strongly in my work and involvement in the ALP. I am sure he would be proud to see me standing here as a senator representing the state and the party he loved and supported all of his life. My involvement with the Labor movement began at an early age. I joined the party when I was 20 years old. I was a young, naive and passionately committed person stepping out to stand up for those who were least able to fight back. Labor’s enduring policy objectives, in particular, fuelled me. The party stood for a fairer distribution of political and economic power; greater equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity; and equal access and rights to employment, education, health and other community services and activities for all Australians.

My involvement with the ALP reinforced in me the fact that life is about values. It is about what is right, it is about what is fair and it is about what sort of place we want those who are yet to come to inherit. This has been the Labor way from the start. For over a century, Labor has stood as the party for social reform, with the Australian people at its heart and foremost in its mind. It is the party that holds the health, welfare and betterment of all Australians as its tenets. Labor has a proud record in this regard—a record I am particularly keen to see continued in a Beazley federal Labor government.

In stark contrast, particularly in recent times, we have seen the Howard government continue a conservative tradition of ignoring people and their concerns. It has been the latest unremarkable and unimaginative instalment in a long history of conservative governments focusing on capital, numbers and bottom lines at the expense of human lives and livelihoods. And this instalment has an upcoming sequel in the so-called industrial relations reforms, which we will soon be faced with. Let me say at the outset that the myth of these reforms is just that—a myth. ‘Reform’ implies positive structural improvement. But what is proposed here is simply dismantling, destroying and eroding the protections afforded to Australian workers and their families.

The government’s proposals should be named as such, reviled as such and, ultimately, denied as such by the Australian people. Contrary to the rhetoric, it is not about more jobs and higher wages. It is about dismantling a system that works, a system that is balanced and a system that is fair. Our current IR system strikes the delicate balance between the rights of businesses and the rights of the men and women working in them. It says that, while employees have a role in improving business productivity and profitability, they also have the right to expect holidays, sick leave and a fair day’s pay in return.

It is about delivering a fair go. Australians are hardworking. They work hard by any international comparison, they are working harder than ever before and they deserve more than this. They deserve more than a government that implies that workers are lazy; and they deserve more than a government that will remove from them their holidays, sick leave and the right to challenge the boss if they are unfairly sacked. They deserve a government that says, ‘Thanks for the enormous efforts you’ve made in helping the Australian nation grow; we could not have done it without you,’ because that is the truth.

Behind almost all the statistics on the economy that we encounter in this parliament are Australian men and women, working away. Some have husbands and wives and partners and families, some have children, and many have mortgages, car loans and credit card debts—but all of them have aspirations and hopes for themselves and those they love. We would do well to remember that in this chamber as we develop the laws and frameworks that underpin our society. Our goal as senators should be to build up the broad mass of Australian people, not cut them down.

Many people have said to me over the last few weeks that I am entering the federal parliament at an interesting, even historic, time. Against recent political trends, we have seen the government of the day returned with a majority in this chamber. The government now has in its hands unfettered power. The Prime Minister assures us that he will not be abusing his new found position, and that he will continue to listen to the people and stay in touch with the public. But already, on industrial relations, in welfare reform and in the blind push for the full privatisation of Telstra, we have seen signs of a government out of touch with the people it is supposed to represent. Already we are seeing the adage ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ in action.

For this side of the chamber, our mission to fight for the rights of Australians is more important now than ever before. In this fight, we are fortunate to have the support of our Labor colleagues in the states and territories. Unlike the Howard government, in my home state the Tasmanian government is recognising the rights of workers and their families and standing up for fairness and equity. Premier Paul Lennon has committed to keeping the Tasmanian industrial relations system, and is encouraging workers to bring their awards home. His Labor government has also announced it will legislate to protect conditions such as the 38-hour week, annual leave, paid personal leave, parental leave, the right to meal breaks and the right to be protected against unfair dismissal. It is a shining example of the way to treat workers; it is the Labor way.

After engineering one of the great economic recoveries in this country, the Tasmanian government is rightly thanking and protecting the workers who have made it possible. As you would well know, Mr President, it has been a remarkable recovery. We have seen 500 new jobs created in Tasmania in August this year alone, pushing the unemployment rate down to 5.8 per cent and within reach of the national average. Beyond this, we have had 40 consecutive months of jobs growth, and the state Labor government has presided over the creation of more than 25,000 new jobs in the Tasmanian economy since the recovery began.

Private investment in the state has increased dramatically and there have been significant major infrastructure developments in the energy sector, through natural gas, Basslink and wind farm developments. Tourism, too, has been boosted by a Labor government that is willing to invest in the future. That investment can be seen in action every day as the three new Spirits of Tasmania ply Bass Strait and the route to Sydney. The results of this and other state government policies on tourism are quite astounding. Visitor numbers have broken through the 800,000-a-year barrier for the first time, and spending by tourists in Tasmania has reached a record $1.5 billion annually. Beyond this, there is at least $600 million worth of proposed new tourism development projects planned for Tasmania. The future for Tasmania is bright, and the new Tasmania is vibrant, diverse and an exciting place to be.

Mr President, our home state is also socially progressive, with some of the most far-reaching laws in the world governing same-sex and significant relationships and a strong legal reform program. It has also returned Aboriginal land on Cape Barren and Clarke islands to Indigenous Tasmanians, and consultation has begun to develop new Aboriginal heritage legislation. Tasmania has a multitude of experiences and views to offer to the world, and a lifestyle which is envied everywhere. It is known and valued worldwide for its pristine environment, for its rich natural, cultural and historical heritage, and for its clean, green and quality produce.

I am very proud to be representing such a wonderful state and such wonderful people in the Australian Senate. I am also proud of Tasmania’s unique place in this chamber. Indeed, Tasmania helps to illustrate what the Senate is and what its role should be. The Senate is a states house and it is here to act as a check and balance on the excesses of executive government. It is a place where all states have an equal right to be heard in the decisions that affect our nation, regardless of their size. Despite the current make-up of this house, I believe that the principles on which the Senate was founded should not be lost. To this end, I will act as a determined, committed and focused representative of Tasmania and a champion of its causes in the national parliament.

I would like to conclude my first speech with a special thankyou to some very special people. To start with, my partner, Kamall: you have provided me with love, support and undiluted advice. Without you I could not even begin to take on this role; and my young children, Scarlet and Conor, you give me so much pleasure and make me smile every day—something I think will be invaluable in this position. To my family and my in-laws, Joan and Ray Harrison, I owe you a great deal. Thank you sincerely.

To my friends and supporters, thank you. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the Tasmanian ALP State Secretary, David Price, Julie Collins, Lin Thorp MLC, and Mary Massina. My special thanks also go to Anne Urquhart from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, and Kevin Harkins and Nicole Wells from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, for their continued support. To my former boss, Bryan Green, Tasmanian Minister for Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, and my workmates: thank you. You are truly the best bunch of people I have ever had the pleasure of working with—so far. Peter Robinson, John Dowling, Matthew Sullivan, Maree Saward, Guy Nicholson, Anne Campbell, Martin Blake, Denise McIntyre, Rex Bramich and Phoebe Sharman: thank you.

Lastly, may I say that I look forward to the challenges ahead of me in this place. You will see me do it my way, with perseverance, focused determination and according to the principles that govern me and are the core of the party I represent. Thank you.