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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1492


Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (17:09): It is with a huge amount of respect and gratitude that I rise tonight and say that this is my first speech. Many of my colleagues in this place knew me as Nick Xenophon's adviser before I joined them on the other side of that brass rail. I have been asked often why I chose to become a candidate for the Nick Xenophon Team, and I can now tell you it was a phone call.

The call itself was not unusual. I and the other staff at Nick's office had taken hundreds of them. The caller's husband was addicted to online sports betting. She had just discovered they had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and in the coming weeks they would also lose their home. She was desperate and she did not know where else to go for help. I stayed on the phone with her while she cried. I would meet her and her husband in person soon after, and with Nick we worked to do what we could to help them try to rebuild their lives. But, when I hung up the phone that day, I could not stop thinking about that call, about the hundreds of other people in similar circumstances I had spoken to and met and tried to help in my five years in the electorate office, about how many times we at the office had asked each other when the government and the opposition would do something, anything to fix such an easily solved problem—and how it was my turn to step up and do what I could to make a difference not for a party but for the people who put their faith in it. I am not someone driven by politics, but through politics I have the opportunity to drive change.

I would like to point out that I do not come from any kind of political pedigree. In fact, when I was growing up there was an unwritten rule in my home that one should never discuss religion, politics or money in front of company and especially in front of children. But, as with all young minds, when information is not handed to you, you use what resources you can to piece things together. And so it was that my political education began with the ABC comedy series The Late Show. Because of The Late Show I knew in 1993 our Prime Minister was Paul Keating. Because of The Late Show I also knew that politicians described riding around in a car with the flags on the bonnet as the best part of the job. And because of The Late Show I was quite disturbed to find out that, when politicians fought, they said it was like they were being flogged with wet newspaper. Needless to say, I was suspicious of politicians from a very early age!

And so, with my dubious understanding of Australian politics, my family packed up our little cottage in Burra, South Australia, to move halfway around the world. On 31 December 1994, my dad, mum, younger sister and I landed in Muscat, the capital city of the Sultanate of Oman. I had just celebrated my ninth birthday. At that time there was no internet. There was no Google. And so the only thing I thought I knew about the Middle East was that something called the Gulf War had happened there. I imagined we would be moving to a desert where no-one would be able to speak English, that all of our shopping would have to be done in sandy, windswept markets and that we would be living in huts with no air conditioning.

You can imagine my relief, then, when I found that Muscat was a beautiful and modern city. What is more, the local Omanis were so incredibly friendly and welcoming to the expats who were coming to their country in ever-increasing numbers.

I went to an international school where from reception to year 12 there were only 600 students. But these 600 students represented more than 40 nationalities. There was a running joke that, if you took a picture of any four of the students at my school, we looked like an advert for United Colors of Benetton!

From a very early age the benefits of multiculturalism were instilled in me and the other students. We learned that we were richer for our diversity. We learned that multiculturalism gives you pause to reflect on your values and how many of our values are shared by other cultures and religions. Above all, we learned that respect for one another was the key to living peacefully. And all of this was learned while living in a Muslim country where I had many Muslim friends.

That is why the hatred and the wilful ignorance of some Australians towards Islam and multiculturalism cuts me so deep. It does not and it should not matter what god you worship—or if you do not worship a god, for that matter. What matters is your respect for others, your desire to live a peaceful life and your willingness to contribute positively to society. To see one group of people branded as incapable of having those attributes is not just immature and ignorant; it is plain wrong.

I imagine what it would have been like for me and my family if the people in Oman shunned, rejected and vilified us not because of anything we had done but because of where we came from and our beliefs—how it would have felt to be in a minority in a country that we called home and yet we were constantly being asked to defend ourselves because of the actions of a few. I ask each of you in this place to think for a moment what that would be like. Imagine it was you.

When I came back to Australia in 2004, one of the things that struck me was our right to have a free and frank debate about our country's leadership. I had spent 10 years living in a country whose ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, was revered by his people. The sultan overthrew his father in a palace coup in 1970. He embarked on a bold mission to modernise the country, which at the time had a single paved road and gates to the capital city which were literally closed each night. The sultan built roads, schools and hospitals. He opened the country up to international trade and his people loved him for it. However, things could have been very different for Oman and its people if a less-progressive ruler taken over all those years ago, and Oman's people would have been powerless to do anything about it.

Democracy is easy to take for granted in a country like Australia. The concept that we as citizens determine who leads our nation is a given with us. While we do get a choice about who represents us, if our general population were reflected by who gets elected, one would be forgiven for thinking that Australia was made up of mostly middle-aged white men. And, as I say this, perhaps it is fitting to note that today is International Day of the Girl. A survey by Plan International Australia and Our Watch found that 69 per cent of girls they surveyed believed gender inequality was a problem in Australia. Only one in six girls said they were given the same opportunities to succeed as boys.

There are many talented young women who are more than capable of being elected into parliament. The drive, the passion and the talent is there. What is missing is the will to preselect women into winnable seats. Decision-making bodies with gender diversity make better decisions. It is that simple. And I say to any young women considering a career in politics: speak up and do something about it; do not be left silent and wondering 'what if'. If serving the people and bringing about change through parliament is your dream, then you should pursue it fearlessly.

When I realised I could be more than an observer of politics—that I could one day, maybe, be a politician myself—my life changed. It all began when I responded to a job ad for Nick's office, which was six years ago exactly this Saturday just past. I only recently told Nick this, but I can remember clearly the first time I heard of him. It was the winter of 2005. I was sitting in my second-ever law exam. I told myself I was only shaking because it was freezing cold in that hall at Flinders University and not because I was so nervous. One of the questions in the exam mentioned Nick Xenophon, the 'No Pokies MP'. 'Xenophon,' I thought. 'Hmm. Strange name. Good platform.' And so that politician with the strange name stayed in the back of my mind over the course of my degree. The more I learnt about him, the more he did not seem to be the type of politician who enjoyed riding around in cars with flags on their bonnets or flogging other politicians with wet newspapers, for that matter, unless the wet newspaper was involved in some sort of stunt! In any case, it was the 'No Pokies MP' who made me rethink my early political education and put politicians in a positive light for me for the first time. Fortunately for me, I got the job he advertised and I was brought into his team to manage constituent issues. Later, I would help with Senate committee work, before eventually assisting with legislation and policy.

Finally, I took the step to apply to be a candidate for the Nick Xenophon Team. That was more than 18 months ago, and now I am honoured to be a senator for South Australia in a true centrist party. We are a team that is driven not by left or right but by what is right and wrong. We will be fearless watchdogs, especially on issues that major parties shy away from—issues like predatory gambling.

The slow progress of reform is a sad reflection of the lack of political will by major parties to tackle an industry that has caused immense harm to thousands of Australian families. In 2010, the Productivity Commission reported that some 40 per cent of gambling losses on poker machines came from problem gamblers. Across Australia, over $13 billion was lost on poker machines in 2014-15. That is over $5 billion lost by problem gamblers on poker machines which are designed to addict. The documentary Ka-Ching revealed the cunning manipulation that goes into designing these machines, from the lights and the music to the near misses that make players think: 'I was so close. I'll get that jackpot next time.'

The billions of dollars lost on pokies could have been spent in local businesses. And, before the Australian Hotels Association and other defenders of pokies try to argue the job benefits of these machines, let's reflect on research conducted by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies. This research showed that for every million dollars lost on pokies a mere three jobs are created, but a million dollars spent in retail creates six jobs, and a million dollars spent in a small hospitality business can create 18 jobs. Pokies are a job killer, not a job creator. The harm caused by pokies is clear. So too is the solution.

The time is now to implement the Productivity Commission's recommendations of $1-maximum bets and $120-maximum hourly losses. But pokies are only half the battle. Our laws have failed to keep pace with the emergence of online gambling and, in particular, online sports betting. The most recent Australian Gambling Statistics report shows that Australians lost $815 million through legal sports betting between 2014 and 2015. This figure does not include potentially hundreds of millions more lost on illegal online wagering and online casinos.

I have sat down and spoken with individuals who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in online sports betting through legal sites in Australia. These are not wealthy individuals. They are everyday people who were able to lose nearly everything they had just by tapping their phone screen. Back in 2000, Tim Costello warned that with online gambling it is possible for a person to lose their home without even having to leave it. Sadly, this statement is not just as true today as it was 16 years ago but it is happening in ever-increasing numbers.

Why then have successive governments failed to act? If the major parties would take the time to meet with gambling addicts and their families instead of courting donors from the gambling industry, perhaps then there may be a change of heart, because I cannot understand how someone can look a person in the eye when that person has lost a house, a relationship, their children or, even worse, a loved one, all because of a gambling addiction and not be moved into action.

I am an eternal optimist and, together with Nick, Stirling and Rebekha in this parliament and John Darley in the South Australian parliament, we will never give up the fight for sensible and desperately needed gambling reform. Similarly, I will never give up the fight for our veterans and ex-service personnel, particularly those who suffered abuse—in many instances horrific physical and sexual abuse—while they served our nation. We must have a permanent Defence abuse response task force. A permanent task force will mean victims of abuse in Defence can receive acknowledgement of suffering, ongoing counselling, reparation payments and also a mechanism for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It is unacceptable that abuse victims have been separated into two groups by our government: those who could submit claims to the task force and those who could not, all because arbitrary deadlines for submitting claims were imposed. There are many reasons why a victim might not have submitted a claim. Maybe they were not even aware the task force existed because it was so poorly advertised, especially in regional and remote areas. There is no cut-off date for the pain and the suffering that abuse victims continue to bear. I would like to thank Barry Heffernan for his tireless work advocating for abuse victims and acknowledge the forensic and considered professionalism of Dr Gary Rumble, who led the DLA Piper review into Defence abuse.

Another person I would like to pay tribute to today is Sonya Ryan, whose daughter Carly Ryan was murdered by an online predator in 2007, when she was just 15 years old—the first murder of its type in Australia. The predator had groomed Carly, pretending he was an 18-year-old drummer. In reality, he was a 50-year-old paedophile. When police arrested this monster, they found him masquerading as the 18-year-old drummer online again, this time talking to a 14-year-old girl in Perth.

A lot of people are surprised to discover that it is not an offence for an adult to lie about their age online to a child and then attempt to meet that child. If 'Carly's law' were passed it would be an offence, and I will do all I can to make sure it becomes law. This place will be given the opportunity to debate Carly's law next month, and I urge all of you here to support the bill.

Another bill I will introduce into this place would require government boards to have a 40-40 gender split, with the remaining 20 per cent to be of either gender. Any boards who did not reach this target would be required to table a statement of reasons as to why. By doing so, these boards will be able to reflect on any barriers to greater participation by women at a senior level and then take steps to address those barriers. As I said earlier, gender diversity results in better decisions. It is that simple.

As a senator for South Australia, it is my duty to ensure that I make the best decisions possible for SA, which I believe are also in the national interest. We were, and still are, a proud manufacturing state. Millions of us have driven in cars that rolled out of the Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Holden factories in South Australia. Sadly, we are witnessing the end of car making in our country. The associated loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs is a crisis we did not need to have with Australia-wide shock waves. These job losses were not inevitable. Our manufacturing industry is being driven out of existence by reckless policies and an approach to government procurement that, with its focus on so-called value for money, fails to recognise the economic and social multiplier effects that come from local procurement. To borrow a quote from Oscar Wilde, it seems current, narrowly focused procurement policies know the price of everything and the value of nothing. My colleagues and I will fight to ensure that government does not take a sledgehammer to manufacturing and jobs across the country, and in particular in South Australia.

To close, I would like to acknowledge the people who have fought for and supported me. I would not be here today without the support of my incredible husband, Simon. Your love, patience and unwavering belief in me have given me the strength to achieve more than I ever thought possible. I made the best decision of my life when I married you nearly 10 years ago.

To my mum, Sharon: you never gave up on me, even when I was being a very difficult teenager who thought she could live life without you. Thank you for always being here for me and showing what it means to be a brave and resilient woman.

To my dad, Bart, who has travelled from Muscat, Oman, to be here today: it must not have been easy raising two teenage girls on your own in a foreign country with no family to support you. I appreciate everything you have done for me. Thank you for giving me two great gifts: never being scared to try something new and the ability to keep a sense of humour—or at least try to—in even the hardest of situations. Thank you for having the trust in me to allow me to grow into an independent woman even when you probably thought I was trying to grow up too fast.

To my brothers and sisters, Brad, Hayley, Jen, Amani and Malaika: while we may not get to see each other as much or as often as we would like, you are never far from my thoughts. I am proud of each and every one of you and love you with all my heart.

To my dearest friends: you know who you are. Some of these friends are even here today. Your encouraging words and your humour have seen me through the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you.

And to our wonderful teams in the NXT's electorate offices, in particular my own electorate office: thank you. I have been in your shoes and I know the ups and downs that come with being a staffer. Please know that I appreciate everything you do to help not only me but the people of South Australia who we represent.

And thank you to the people of South Australia for putting your trust in the Nick Xenophon Team and electing three senators and one MP to this parliament. Thank you to our tireless volunteers who helped during the campaign, including handing out how-to-vote cards in the cold and the rain. We could not have done this without you.

Thank you to the Nick Xenophon Team. Nick, Stirling, Rebekha and John: we are a team in every sense of the word. I thoroughly enjoy working with you and I hope we will be joined by others after the next election.

And a special thank you to Nick. I promised you I would not cry and I hope I am not letting you down now! You have shown an incredible amount of trust in me, and for that I will be forever grateful. I have heard you use this Ralph Nader quote many times before and I think it is a fitting message on this occasion: 'The function of genuine leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.'

When I think about the reason I stand here today, it is not the many hours of policy work, legislative negotiations or political machinations that come to mind. Instead, I see my high school friends in Oman, sharing their culture and beliefs without fear of judgement or reprisal and accepting my differences as I accepted theirs. I see the people who asked for help for themselves or others in the face of gambling addiction. I see the brave individuals who only wanted to serve their country and were rewarded with humiliation, abuse and pain. And I see the fearless colleagues and advocates who speak for those with no voice and fight for those with no courage left for battle. If we do not consider the impact of our actions on the people we are elected to represent, we risk losing our humanity. As I said earlier, I am not driven by politics. I am not. I am driven by people. And I will not risk losing my humanity by forgetting that.