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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5863


Senator GEORGIOU (Western Australia) (17:01): President and senators, I stand here today blessed, because it truly is an honour to speak in this chamber, in this moment of history. To serve my nation in the federal parliament and represent the views and attitudes of the great people of Western Australia is indeed a privilege, and one that I am looking forward to serving to the utmost.

I'd like to begin by thanking Senator Hanson, leader of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, who, through her courage, persistence and strength of character, has brought about a significant and better change in Australian politics. Senator Hanson's popular appeal to mainstream Australians is the reason why there are now four senators in this chamber, representing three states, flying the flag for One Nation. I am very proud to have joined this chamber with my party leader and fellow party senators: Brian Burston and Malcolm Roberts.

I would also like to acknowledge and pay tribute to my parents who raised me and sheltered me, with good old fashion values. Despite the rumours, I was not born in Athens, Greece, but in Perth, Western Australia on 13 January 1974 to Greek migrants, Dimitrios and Margarita Georgiou. It is well known that Greece is the birthplace of democracy and has laid the foundation for modern civilisation. As a loyal and patriotic Western Australian, I shall always be proud of my Greek heritage.

Like many new Australians of the day, my father flew here in the early seventies, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters in Athens, to try to build a better life in this new land of opportunity. Shortly after arriving in Western Australia, my father started working in WA's North-West, namely Dampier and Port Hedland. His knowledge of the English language was limited but he quickly took steps to improve his English by purchasing a record player and a set of how-to-learn-English records. Living more than 12,000 kilometres from his family, that bit of audio kept him company night after night. My father would not see my mother and my sisters for another two years while working under a scorching North-West sun, as an electrician on the iron ore mines. However, by then he had saved enough money to bring out his family and start living the 'great Australian dream'. That dream, of course, was buying your own home.

For my parents, Australia was the land of opportunity, one where they could raise a family, especially after experiencing life under a military junta for several years in Greece. When my mother and sisters moved to Australia to join my father, I was born soon after, and my younger brother, Michael, 23 months later. That hard work ethic employed by my parents was instilled in me from a young age, which I copied as best I could. As a result, after starting out as an apprentice electrician, I was able to build a successful small business called Georgiou Electrical Services—I thought I'd put that in as a free plug—which employed apprentices and tradesmen along the way, doing my bit for the state and its economy. I accomplished this by working seven days a week, many times working 12 hours a day to build a successful business, and at the same time developed a strong relationship with my clients. I am happy to say that, 17 years on, these clients still remain loyal to the business. I've worked hard and I've been able to reap the rewards as well. For me, that's what being Australian means: working hard, having a fair go and paving the way for other people to have a fair go.

As a proud West Australian, it will be my mission to wave WA's flag at every possible opportunity to make sure my constituents are never forgotten by the federal government. My mission in politics will include a strong push for a better GST deal for Western Australia; making sure multinational companies pay their due taxes; keeping the banks honest and pushing for a royal commission or an independent tribunal to help compensate victims who've been dealt with harshly by the banks; a push for more apprenticeships and traineeships; helping to keep down the cost of living for all Australian families; cutting red tape for small business; stamping out political corruption in all its forms; tackling antisocial behaviour; and relieving welfare dependency. As you may have noted, my theme is about jobs and security. I want to ensure all Australians first and foremost are given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams just like this great country of ours has given me.

For the past 10 years, WA has been getting ripped off to the point it now only gets 34 cents in the dollar as part of its GST distribution. In simple terms, Western Australia only gets $878 per capita from the GST distribution. The average is $2,543. Now, we all agree that is not fair. Today I'm calling on the federal government to abolish horizontal fiscal equalisation, which is the formula used to calculate the GST. It's out of date and irrelevant. The GST pool should provide each state with not less than 70 per cent of its proportionate share of GST.

When it comes to oil giants paying their fair share of tax, the Commonwealth is letting us down. Some oil giants working off Australia's north-west coast are avoiding paying the government billions of dollars, because of another outdated, irrelevant law.

In my 160 days in Australian politics—which isn't much—I have been inundated by scores of farmers and small businesses who have been telling me very similar stories. They've been squeezed out of their livelihood and are finding it hard to make a living. The Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers, chaired by my colleague Malcolm Roberts, has been told many stories of growers across the land who've lost their livelihoods due to heavy-handed approaches from the banks. Last week I attended one of those hearings in Sydney and I was shocked at what I heard. Today I want to tell these banks the days of being the bully are over. The days of calling the shots and ruining the lives of ordinary, hardworking Australians are numbered.

Australia needs a strong banking sector, but being strong also means being trustworthy. Banks were supposed to partner with their customers to increase business productivity, and in return the customers pay money to their banking partner. But what we have now is banks taking money from the customers by unethical means, leaving the customers destitute. The banks are making money at the expense of the productive sectors of the economy. This is simply immoral.

What does Australia do about executive-level corporate misconduct? Do we close our eyes, pretend it doesn't exist and leave these executives in these positions to continue to harm Australians, or do we hold them accountable? It is not the banking royal commission that will harm Australia's reputation. It is the failure not to call a banking royal commission that will harm Australia's reputation. We can't afford to continue cover-ups of misconduct by the bankers. It is only once these executives face the law that confidence will return back to the financial sector.

My business has been operating for the past 17 years. I have experienced at first hand the problems which face all small businesses. One reason I am proud of my business is that we have always understood the importance of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships uniquely provide opportunities for young people to get a start in life; to combine academic work and practical, on-the-job training; to become professionally qualified; to start their own business, if they wish; and to contribute to the prosperity of our state and nation. The great success of mining in Western Australia has been facilitated in a major way by experts in a wide range of trades who began their careers as apprentices. I encourage senators to accept that, whatever the task, it is always preferable to engage the services of a highly trained Australian, rather than come up with a formula for bringing guest workers into this country because we may lack trained people.

Yes, it is true: I assisted in the permanent residence of a Sri Lankan national some months ago. But what people failed to understand was that he had been working in Kalgoorlie-Boulder for six years and already had his eldest daughter studying at a university in Perth. It was a special case and it reflected the need where certain overseas skills were badly needed in the absence of local experience.

I invite senators to use their influence with state governments to encourage the adoption of One Nation's progressive policy for encouraging apprenticeships. That policy is very simple: a 75 per cent wage subsidy in the first year, a 50 per cent wage subsidy in the second year and a 25 per cent wage subsidy in the third year.

I remind the Senate that Australia cannot function properly unless we train good people who are qualified and competent to perform the vital tasks which keep the nation functioning. How often have you heard anyone ask, 'Where can I find a good archaeologist at eight o'clock on a Saturday night?' Not often, I would have thought. We have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to tradies. If your air conditioner, fridge and gas heater work, thank a tradie. Most importantly, if your toilet flushes, thank a tradie. If your hair is stylish, thank a tradie. And, if all the electrical works in your house work properly, thank a sparkie.

A very welcome trend is that increasing numbers of young women are entering trades which have historically been male dominated. This can only be a good thing. In case there are Australians who have not thanked tradies enough for their contribution, I want to express my sincere thanks to all the tradies of Australia, to all the employers who took them on as apprentices and to all the TAFE teachers, who every day share their knowledge.

Recently, I called for an end to foreign political donations. I believe this move will help stop political corruption from overseas, but we should also be vigilant and stamp it out on the domestic front. What I've seen in my short time in parliament is that, clearly, some forms of corruption are frowned upon, while on other occasions we turn a blind eye. This must stop. No matter the ideology of the political party, it should be parliament's mantra to expose all forms of corruption across a wide range of industry sectors. The government wants to clamp down on corruption within the building industry. That's fine, but what about white collar crime?

In recent weeks I've heard the outgoing WA police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan speak about the violence, sexual abuse and antisocial behaviour in WA's north-west. Commissioner O'Callaghan has called for an extension to the cashless debit card system in the town of Port Hedland, which I support, as well as the implementation of the scheme to the Goldfields. The card operates like an ATM card, quarantining 80 per cent of welfare funding for food and staples while the other 20 per cent of the welfare funding can be accessed as a cash component. I recently met representatives from people in Wyndham and Ceduna who praised the cashless card and described how it has made positive impacts on families, tourism and the general vibe in each of these towns.

Contrast that with information I received from the town of Leonora this week, where I am told less than 60 per cent of the 100 children enrolled in the school attend each day. The community there has introduced breakfast clubs and a range of other measures to ensure children receive the right daily nutrition to be attentive in readiness for school each morning. Leonora is 830 kilometres east of Perth and has called on the federal government to roll out the cashless debit card. Community representatives have told me that scrutinising welfare payments under the cashless debit card approach could be beneficial towards helping to lift school attendance and curb antisocial behaviour in the town.

I visited WA's Goldfields region recently. Community leaders there are desperate to have this scheme in their towns. The local police officer in Leonora this week is taking matters into his own hands by doing the school pick-up in the school bus, because no-one else in the town has a licence to drive the vehicle. These communities do whatever they can with what they have, but they need help and they need it fast. We have a world first in the form of the cashless debit card, and we should roll it out to better manage welfare dependency and protect our children from violence and abuse.

Before I conclude, I will turn my attention to an issue which is causing several problems across the country. Just like anyone, I enjoy a drink and having a punt on Melbourne Cup Day or the occasional bet at the casino, but, for hundreds of thousands of Australian gamblers, what starts out as a punt becomes an addiction and turns into a life of ruin. Did you know that Australians spend over $22 billion a year on gambling and that the average gambler loses $21,000 per year? The social costs and social harm are even greater. Research from the Department of Social Services shows that children with parents who are problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves and that the social and economic cost is estimated to be between $4.7 billion and $8.4 billion a year.

Today I am calling for the establishment of a national body to act as a one-stop shop with the aim of preventing, treating and intervening to stop gambling harm. Such a national body could be funded with the implementation of a national wagering tax, which the South Australian government has already introduced off its own back this year. However, a national approach to help prevent and to intervene in problem gambling and to treat problem gamblers could go a long way in minimising the social cost. The imposition of a national wagering tax has been supported by some sectors of the industry, and money generated could be funnelled back into a national framework to counsel and mentor problem gamblers across the continent. Let me stress: I am not antigambling, but I would like to see all this money being thrown around put to good use under the one banner.

Before I sign off, I would like to acknowledge all the victims of domestic violence, in particular the Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, who've reached out to me on social media in recent days regarding domestic violence and men's suicide. Domestic violence has no place in our society, and I am happy to help spread the message where I can. My door is always open to help wipe this out from our society.

I shall conclude by making further reference to democracy. The Athenians invented the wonderful system of sortition to choose public officials by lot. Sortition ensured that there would never be a political class, and each citizen was encouraged to be well informed in preparation for the possibility of holding office. The senators from One Nation are not members of a political class. The Senate is a house of review, and I will work with my fellow One Nation senators to bring about constructive change that will improve the lives of ordinary Australians. We need honest, open, accountable government and policies that will make this great country of ours even better. Thank you for listening to my first speech.