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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6397


Senator LAMBIE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader and Deputy Whip of the Palmer United Party in the Senate) (17:26): Thank you, Mr President. I am sure you are very relieved to know that I have finally reached the time for my first speech, after much practice. We will see if that makes perfect.

Mr President, I stand in Australia's Senate chamber and speak to you and fellow senators because I want a better and more prosperous future—a fair go for all Tasmanians and Australians, not just the privileged and rich.

I acknowledge and pay my respects to Australia's Aboriginal traditional owners. I share their blood, culture and history through my mother's, Sue Lambie's, family. We trace our history over six generations to celebrated Aboriginal chieftain of the Tasmania east coast, Mannalargenna.

I also acknowledge the members and former members of Australia's military who have created the ANZAC legend—those inspirational, courageous, heroic Australians who, when asked by members of this house, have fought, shed blood and died so that we can meet here today in this magnificent chamber, safely praise or criticise what is said here and not worry about the bloodthirsty mob or an assassin's knock on the door at midnight. We enjoy our nation's great wealth, beautiful country and democratic freedoms, rights and privileges, which are the envy of the world, because of the great debt we owe to those in the military like our very own Tasmanians Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, Corporal Richard Atkinson and Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird, who gave their lives courageously facing the enemy and whose deaths were an act of love for their state, their nation, their comrades and their family.

Mr President, I am here only by the grace of God and the good will of Tasmanians and I humble myself to both and pledge to do my best to serve our Lord, his son Jesus Christ and the people of Australia's greatest state, my beloved Tasmania. I am also here because of the unwavering, unconditional love, kindness, loyalty and support given to me by my family: my mum, Sue; dad, Tom Lambie; brother, Bobby; sons Dylan and Brenton and, of course, my mini-nephew, Jet. I want to thank them with all my heart.

I also thank and acknowledge Clive Palmer. Clive truly listened when I contacted him with my concerns about the injustices, great harm and suicides that our veterans and their families have been forced to suffer and are still forced to suffer today. After I said that I wanted to stand in this chamber, become a voice for Tasmania and win a fairer share of the national wealth for my state, Clive placed his faith in me, embraced my ideas and welcomed me wholeheartedly to his team. I am extremely proud to be part of the Palmer United Party team.

Like most Australians, Dio Wang, Glen Lazarus, Clive Palmer and I have had to work hard and sacrifice because we were not born into power, wealth and privilege. So we will always take the side of the elderly, sick, needy and disabled, of the battlers, small-business owners and workers, because we know what it feels like to be knocked down and then have to struggle and fight for every cent and victory.

Mr President, as you would know, our Tasmania is a place of exquisite beauty. It is the place I was born. Our air is the sweetest and freshest you will ever breathe. Our island is ancient. Tasmania is made up of stunning mountains, majestic forests, crystal-clear streams and rivers, lush green fields, and farms exploding with rich chocolate volcanic soil and its tasty treasures. Country towns, villages, heritage buildings and modern cities are all circled by a gorgeous coastline of cliffs, shores, beaches and bays that make you want to cry from their sheer physical beauty and grandeur. Imagine what the first Tasmanians, the Aboriginals, thought when they witnessed the flooding of Bass Strait and the gradual creation of that magnificent coastline. It is hard to believe that only 8,000 years ago you could walk from Tasmania to the mainland of Australia. Now there are more than 340 kilometres of ocean between our island and Victoria.

I was born in north-west Tasmania and went to high school at Devonport High, and not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would become a politician. I have had my fair share of good luck mixed with plenty of hard knocks and I have survived. I believe that everyone is entitled to a second chance and sometimes a third and fourth chance, but more importantly everybody is entitled to a fair go.

In the Australian Army I learned to understand the true cost of freedom. My military service taught me that our democratic rights, privileges, freedoms and great Aussie lifestyle have been gifted to us by many brave generations who had to work, fight and sacrifice. They did without, died and put our welfare before theirs. I want to look after our veterans, protect past generations' great legacies and make Tasmania a better place for my grandchildren and their children.

In this place as a senator I will do my best to vote in and protect Tasmania's and Australia's best interests. In order to help determine what is in my state's and nation's best interests, I will ask this simple question: how will this legislation or proposal affect our food security, water security, energy security, national security and job security? If we make decisions in this place which ensure and boost Australia's food, water, energy, national and job securities then our grandchildren and their children will be guaranteed a future of abundance, prosperity, safety and freedom. However, if we make decisions that undermine and weaken those five fundamental securities, then future generations may have good reason to curse us. It is important that we value our farmers and fishers; improve our water storage and drought-proof our prime agricultural land; run our cars and trucks on fuels made in Australia, independent of other countries; dramatically increase the size and capability of our Defence Force; and fight for every Australian job and business.

If a community, state or nation is to grow and prosper, there are only four broad ways they can do it: make it, mine it, grow it, show it. Those businesses which directly manufacture a product—anything from writing a book, bottling apple cider, distilling whiskey, publishing a newspaper to manufacturing mining equipment—those who create something from nothing, make it. Those who extract metal, minerals and oils mine it. Those who work with Mother Nature and harvest her treasures—fishing, farming, forestry et cetera—grow it. Those who build business and attract tourists and help them enjoy our sights, tastes and delights show it. Businesses that directly make it, mine it, grow it and show it are our primary wealth creators. They bring in new money to our economy. The rest of the businesses and services in our community, including government, recycle the new money that the primary wealth creators bring into our communities. If the primary wealth creators fail then we all fail. There will not be any money to employ the heroes who come to our rescue and care for us every day—the nurses, teachers, police, doctors, dentists, firefighters and cleaners et cetera. That is why it is important that government develop policies, in particular, which care for and value our primary wealth-creating businesses. We have failed to properly do that and that is why so many Tasmanian and, indeed, Australian businesses are shutting their doors and laying off workers.

The Greens, most Labor members and even some Liberals have tried to convince Australians that they can stop world climate change by paying more for their clean electricity and power. This lie has caused massive damage to our economy, businesses, manufacturing and primary industries. Right now our electricity and energy costs are some of the most expensive in the Western world. Australian businesses pay up to three times more for their electricity and power than their competitors in America, Canada, the UK and Europe. Is it any wonder that tens of thousands of Tasmanian and Australian workers have lost their jobs, while manufacturing businesses close down and our workers' jobs are exported overseas?

Dr Thomas Barlow is an Australian research strategist specialising in science and technological innovation. He authored a critically acclaimed book called Between the Eagle and the Dragon: Who is winning the innovation race? Dr Barlow reminds us that: 'At the moment the US is having an energy revolution. They have cheap energy. The cost of natural gas in the US is about a third of what it was in 2008. And as a consequence we see manufacturing flow back to the US.' Dr Barlow also reminds us that the formula for national wealth and prosperity was proven by Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Cheap power and relatively high wages in the 18th and 19th centuries caused a perfect financial and social mix which gave entrepreneurs the incentive to develop new technology and machinery to replace manual labour. This enterprise generated massive national wealth and technological advancement and allowed Great Britain to stay great for hundreds of years.

Australia can use the same formula for national wealth and prosperity in the 21st century. In a deregulated world and free-trade economic environment, if we are to create national wealth, generate more high-tech jobs and protect Australian workers' wages then the only solution is for our governments to deliver the cheapest electricity and power in the world to our pensioners, families, industry and entrepreneurs. We must do this.

Mr President, I am sad to report that Tasmania now faces an extraordinary economic and social crisis. I think I have been quite clear about this over past weeks. Every indicator shows that my home is the worst performing Australian state in unemployment, education, health, law and order, and aged care—and the list just keeps going on and on. However, that is not to say that there is not reason for optimism. But in order to save lives, jobs, businesses and careers, we need to acknowledge the seriousness of the trouble that we are in. We also need to acknowledge the reason why we have arrived in this unacceptable situation.

One of the greatest causes of our extra levels of economic and social disadvantage and record unemployment in Tasmania is the Bass Strait Transport cost crisis. I have spoken about this crisis a number of times already in this place; however, it is vital that all senators, and the Australian public, clearly understand this matter. We need the support of all Australians to help solve Tasmania's Bass Strait Transport cost crisis, which has strangled Tasmania's economic life. Our businesses, workers, families and school leavers have suffered the curse of record unemployment and loss of hope, mostly because of the unfair and exorbitant costs of transporting products, goods and people from one Australian state to another Australian state. Before I briefly outline the details of this injustice, I want to make one very important point. Every Tasmanian senator knows what I am about to say.

Every Tasmanian senator clearly understands the unbearable level of social and economic misery that the extra cost of shipping goods, vehicles, machinery, food, fuel and people 420 kilometres over the ocean has caused Tasmanians—rather than driving 420 kilometres on a national highway. But what I cannot understand is why every Tasmanian senator, especially those who have been in power or are in power now, has chosen to do nothing. In fact, even worse than doing nothing, every Tasmanian senator has turned a blind eye to this outrageous, stinking, filthy injustice. Why is it up to me and the Palmer United Party to find a solution that should have been found 20 years ago? If Tasmanian political leaders had shown foresight and courage over the last two decades, and reformed and boosted the budget of the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme by $200 million per annum, then I would not be here today in this place speaking these uncomfortable truths. The solution is clear: if the powers that control the treasury bench do not want an army of Jacqui Lambies in this place, speaking uncomfortable truths and challenging them in the future—then fix the Bass Strait Transport cost crisis.

If Tasmania is to be treated fairly as a state of Australia, the cost of transporting both domestic and international-bound goods in containers—machinery, food, fuel—between Hobart and Melbourne should be no more than the cost of transporting a container on a semitrailer between Melbourne and Wagga Wagga on the Hume Highway. If we are to be treated fairly as a state, the cost of people taking their cars, motorhomes, campervans, caravans, motorbikes, greyhounds or racehorses—or unicorns—from Devonport to Melbourne, or vice versa, should be no more than the cost of driving the 327 kilometres of national highway from Melbourne to Albury. The distance between the Victorian state border and the Tasmanian state border must be treated by policymakers, premiers and prime ministers as a national highway. They are not treating it like a national highway. The cost of surface travel for the distance between Tasmania and the Australian mainland is a national disgrace—not a national highway. It is time to fix this issue.

Mr President, perhaps one of the reasons why God performed a miracle and put me in this place is because I intend to be part of the greatest reforms of Australia's Department of Veterans' Affairs and our Defence Force. The Department of Veterans' Affairs, despite the best efforts of individual public servants, over time has become dysfunctional and, worse than that, is dangerous. The systemic failure to care for our veterans, both young and old, is not confined to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The seeds for this failure and appalling treatment of many former members of our Australian Defence Force can be found in the complete failure of leadership at the highest levels of the Australian defence forces. A culture of cover-up, lies and official misconduct can be found in both the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Australian Defence Force. The only remedy to address the gross injustices is for a Royal Commission to be held into the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the senior military leadership, and their toxic culture of cover-up, which has been present for more than two decades.

There are many reasons why a Royal Commission must be established into the way veterans, former Australian Defence Force members and serving Australian Defence Force members have been treated: an obscenely high suicide rate in our young veterans; the cover-up of appallingly high levels of abuse and sexual assaults in our military; the negligent under-resourcing and staffing of our military; the official prescription of antipsychotic drugs for our combat troops serving in war zones; and the criminal waste of resources and mismanagement of Defence procurement. But perhaps one of the most compelling reasons why a royal commission should be established into the management of Defence is sitting in the public gallery today.

I would like to acknowledge a former lieutenant of the Australian Army, and Tasmanian lad, Marcus Saltmarsh. Marcus served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. I want to thank him for his service. Because this government and Prime Minister, despite written requests from me, refuse to apologise for the appalling abuse Marcus has suffered, I would like to apologise as a senator from Tasmania—his home state—for the incredible abuse and/or incompetence he has been forced to endure from certain leaders of our military.

During active service in East Timor on 9 August 2000, then Trooper Saltmarsh's Steyr rifle independently and without user manipulation discharged accidentally and killed his best mate, Corporal Stuart Jones. Following that tragic event, Mr Saltmarsh, then a non-commissioned rank, on the recommendation of a military board of inquiry was forced to face a military court martial, which prosecuted him for military offences similar to those of a civilian manslaughter offence. Five hundred days after the death of his mate Corporal Stuart Jones, Mr Saltmarsh was exonerated by a military court martial with a finding of 'no case to answer'.

This official finding, however, was never made public, unlike the adverse recommendations of the initial military board of inquiry, which were shared—along with Mr Saltmarsh's identity—with the Australian media and broader world community. Marcus claims that strong evidence existed at the time of Corporal Jones's death showing systemic mechanical faults and oversights present in a very large number of Army Steyr rifles and an Army-wide weapons technical inspection oversight, both of which could have contributed in specific conditions to an independent weapon discharge.

In relation to Mr Saltmarsh's claim of faulty weapons, I brought to the Prime Minister's attention via correspondence the fact that media reports at the time of Corporal Jones's death indicated that 77 accidental discharges of the Army-issue Steyr rifle had occurred during the East Timor peacekeeping mission. The minister has subsequently admitted that of 77 accidental Steyr discharges, 10 unassisted Steyr discharges had occurred. Disturbingly, Mr Saltmarsh reports that the initial board of inquiry's adverse and supposedly accidental leak to the media effectively paraded him in front of the public, which caused significant damage to his personal reputation and psychological wellbeing.

Conveniently for the generals in charge of the Army at the time and government ministers, that media leak by unknown members of the ADF or Public Service also had the effect of turning Lieutenant Saltmarsh into a public scapegoat, which distracted media and public attention away from reports of those systemic mechanical faults in the Army's rifles. Despite official promises to Mr Saltmarsh, those responsible for the leak have never been identified.

Following a break of three years from the regular Army and also following Mr Saltmarsh's deployment to Baghdad in 2005, he was selected for officer training. He undertook that training successfully and graduated from Royal Military College in 2010. Mr Saltmarsh then served as an officer in Afghanistan in 2011. Following the death of his close friend Corporal Stuart Jones and even as an officer, he says that abuse and harassment from all ranks dogged his whole military career. Mr Saltmarsh says this abuse could have been avoided if he had been able to be properly and publicly exonerated. The Australian military at the highest levels—including the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, Geoffrey Earley, and General Morrison—have never, despite repeated written requests, publicly exonerated or apologised to Mr Saltmarsh.

It is alleged by Mr Saltmarsh that the Australian military—through the Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force, Major General Ian Westwood—did, however, find time to send to Mr Saltmarsh, despite his request that they not be sent, 28 autopsy photos of his best mate, Corporal Stuart Jones, undergoing an autopsy on a mortuary slab. That was six years after legal proceedings against Mr Saltmarsh had ended. I have photocopies of these autopsy photos and I am appalled and disgusted. I demand an independent judicial inquiry immediately into this matter. The key question for this inquiry is this: was it sheer incompetence that caused these photos to be sent to Mr Marcus Saltmarsh or was it a deliberate, abusive act?

Marcus discharged recently and now, like many veterans, he has a long, drawn-out, bureaucratic and uphill battle against the Department of Veterans' Affairs to receive the entitlements he has earned. I can assure you, he is not alone in the fight when it comes to fighting for our entitlements from Veterans' Affairs. My staff and I will be there to assist, just as we will attempt to assist every veteran who seeks my help.

In closing, I apologise to all those people and workers whose matters I have not mentioned in this speech. I am very aware that extra funds, resources and/or reform of the Tasmanian health, education, roads, local councils and aged care systems are desperately needed. I will use my time to try to improve the welfare of those organisations. I would like to thank my solicitor, Greg Isolani, for the help, wise advise and invaluable support he has given me over the last 14 years. I would like to thank John Dejohn, Dr John Fisher and Dr Michael Jackson for their kind care and for helping me to finally, after 14 years, get back on my feet. Last but not least, I would like to thank my right-hand man and partner in crime, Rob Messenger.

During my time in this place, I will look for every opportunity to advance Tasmania's interests. God bless Australia. God bless my Tasmania and our beautiful Southern Cross.