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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 154

Mr EMERSON (5:26 PM) —It is a great honour to stand here representing the residents of Rankin—playing a part in achieving their aspirations, offering them a helping hand and building a stronger community. For the opportunity to participate in this noble task I want to thank the residents of Rankin for placing their hope in me, for giving me a go.

I will work with the Beattie government and local councils to help find solutions to the law and order problems in Logan City and in other parts of Rankin. I am quite sure that the lack of jobs and job security is at the heart of those law and order problems. That is why I will be giving such high priority to addressing the issue of jobs and job security. I will work tirelessly on my Jobs Plan for Logan to encourage the further development of small business in Logan and greater education and training opportunities at the Logan Institute of TAFE and at the Logan Campus of Griffith University.

I will defend the rights of older Australians in Rankin to dignity and peace of mind. I will repay, as best I possibly can, the faith shown in me by Australians of ethnic origin, including the residents of Logan City from more than 100 homelands and the Chinese community in the southern suburbs of Brisbane.

I thank the more than 200 ALP branch members and personal supporters who helped so enthusiastically during the election campaign. I extend a special thanks to members of the over-75s club who deserved a spell but who worked so hard for a Labor victory: Bill and Fran Burton, Jim and Mavis King, and Ted Warren. I thank Bob Hawke and Bill Ludwig for their loyal support and wise counsel. And I thank Ross Garnaut for his continued interest in my career and for the illuminating discussions we have had about public policy spanning almost 20 years.

Thanks to the people of Baradine—where I grew up—for giving me the values of a country boy. I am delighted to be joined in this parliament by the new member for Lowe, who hails from nearby Dunedoo—another country boy who was forced to the big smoke in search of opportunity.

Thanks to my brother, Lance, for your love. Lance, I am sure mum and dad would have been proud of us. I thank our children—Ben, Tom and Laura—for the joy they are bringing to us. And I want to express my love for my wife, Cathy, who has nurtured our family, stood resolutely in support of my aspirations at great personal sacrifice and who deserves to achieve her own goals and fulfilment with my total support.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Western society is afflicted with an illness. It is an illness whose symptoms include rising levels of domestic violence, child abuse, youth suicide, drug abuse and, paradoxically, obesity and poverty. While material living standards have risen, anxiety, stress and despair pervade most societies in the Western world. We do not seem to be any happier than we were half a century ago when material living standards were a lot lower. Society is fracturing and parts are breaking off. Whole suburbs and towns are being left behind. Our sense of community is disintegrating as individuals and families struggle under great stress—no longer having the time and energy to build a stronger community.

Mr Deputy Speaker, this sombre assessment of the health of Western society does not mean that we must, as parliamentarians, be pessimistic. But it does mean we have a heavy responsibility to identify the cause of this sickness in our society and to find remedies for it. Over the past half century or so, democratic capitalist societies have been locked into conflict with oppressed totalitarian regimes. Capitalism has pretty well triumphed at the closing of the 20th century, with communism all but dismantled. Capitalism has proven superior in yielding higher material living standards and greater freedoms.

At this stage of human development, self-interest remains the strongest motivator of human endeavour. By encouraging the pursuit of individual self-interest, capitalism has yielded wonderful technological advances that have unquestionably raised material living standards for billions of people. Just as we can marvel at the power of a rampant bull, so we can marvel at the power of unfettered markets. But just like the rampant bull, unfettered markets can unleash enormously destructive forces. And, Mr Deputy Speaker, that is what is happening in Western society, including in Australia.

Astonishing technological advances in transport, communications and information over the past couple of decades mean that low-skilled workers in Australia are competing daily for work with low-skilled workers from other Western nations and the heavily populated developing world. The pace of change in information technology—which shows no signs of abating—may render Australia's semiskilled workers of today the low-skilled workers of tomorrow, tomorrow's unemployed.

Mr Deputy Speaker, unemployment and the fear of unemployment are destroying Australian society. The loss of job opportunities and job security is at the heart of the afflictions in Australian society to which I have referred. The loss of self-esteem and feelings of rejection by society created by unemployment cause normal people to lash out against society and, tragically, even against their own partners, themselves and their children.

Resentment turns into hostility when ordinary Australians, insecure in their jobs, watch the conspicuous consumption of the fabulously wealthy while struggling to earn the income needed to pay for decent education and health care for their families. Australians are desperately searching for solutions to this sickness in our society. They yearn for jobs and job security.

Around one million Australians embraced Pauline Hanson, who enticed them with the illusion of jobs and job security in a fortress Australia protected by high tariff walls, and who disgracefully used Asian and indigenous Australians as scapegoats for unemployment. Australians in search of jobs and job security looked to the Prime Minister for leadership. Instead, they are getting a $30 billion jobdestroying GST—an even heavier burden of taxation on their shoulders so that the Prime Minister can further lighten the load on the top 20 per cent of income earners in Australia.

On the GST, today in the House the Treasurer made a remarkable observation—what he thought was a revelation. He said that the results of the household expenditure survey that he was releasing today showed a price effect that was almost the same as the consumer price index effect. One average and another average reflecting just about the same thing are going to produce the same number. Either he was deluding us, trying to mislead us, or he does not know what he is talking about.

What we want to know is the impact of the GST on different income groups and, most particularly, the impact of the GST on pen sioners and low income earners—the people who cannot fend for themselves. We know, and they know in their hearts and in their minds, that those people are going to be a lot worse off under a GST. The people who turned to the Prime Minister for a solution to job insecurity and unemployment are getting a massive new tax burden. His own employment minister has admitted that the GST `is not the answer for unemployment'.

Mr Deputy Speaker, more than half of Australians placed their faith in the Australian Labor Party to find a remedy to the sickness of unemployment and job insecurity. Unfortunately, they did not all live in exactly the right places, otherwise we would be making our maiden speeches from the other side of the chamber. There are remedies to the affliction of unemployment. We must not give up on the unemployed and we must not give up on people who are seeking job security. We must return some confidence about jobs and job security in Australia.

In its 13 years in government, Labor laid the groundwork for sustained job creating growth and exceeded every job creation target it set for itself. The economic reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s have given Australia a far more productive and resilient economy. But those achievements are being squandered by a government obsessed with the ideology of unfettered markets and totally apathetic to the appalling social consequences of their free market dogma.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the only political party in Australia committed to healing the unemployment sickness is the Australian Labor Party, whose political and industrial wings time and again during the federation's short history have combined to produce the policies and practices to build a stronger, fairer and more cohesive nation.

Labor's plan for encouraging the transition from welfare to work, released during the election campaign—and I must say pilloried by big business, the coalition and Democrats—is the only serious political attempt in Australia to find a remedy to unemployment. The remedy to unemployment lies in the further development of policies to encourage economic growth, the transition from welfare to work and the continual lifting of the skills base of the Australian work force.

Heavy criticism has been levelled during the 1990s at policies that are described as economically rational. If by economic rationalism we mean the ideologically obsessed slash and burn policies of the coalition, then I am against it. If by economic rationalism we mean the sale of Telstra, then I am against it. If by economic rationalism we mean the withdrawal of vital government services and cuts to education and health services, then I am against it. If by economic rationalism we mean the iniquitous nursing home fees and the GST, then I am against it. If by economic rationalism we mean so-called efficiencies in Centrelink from slashing 5,000 jobs so that clients must wait longer and longer for service, then I am against it.

But that does not mean we should embrace economic irrationalism. One Nation and other national socialists have been the champions of economic irrationalism—tariff and financial policies that would impoverish Australian workers and destroy jobs on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

When I speak of economic rationalism I mean rational economic policies that increase a community's prosperity, its wealth. I mean policies that encourage economic growth not for the sake of economic growth but for the jobs and prosperity that are created in a growing economy. I mean policies that increase the national income that is then available for distribution to those in need, to the programs that achieve a fairer society, by providing access to an education for all, not just to the privileged, decent health care for all, not just to those who can afford to pay for it, and aged care and child care and support for families under stress.

If our society is to recover from its sickness, politicians have a leadership role to play through the pursuit of policies that are economically rational, but in the way I have defined it, at the same time as being socially responsible.

The coalition continue to pursue policies that are socially irresponsible. They seek market solutions with heartless human consequences. Their plan for unemployment is to cut the incomes of low paid workers and to burden them with the GST, and their plan for job security is to complete the destruction of the award system and the protections of the Industrial Relations Commission. In 1987 their leader described himself as `the most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had'. Mr Deputy Speaker, it is my melancholy duty to advise you that he still holds that title.

The remedy to the sickness of unemployment and job insecurity lies in harnessing the power of the market in the great Labor tradition of working with the trade union movement and business to produce prosperity and a just society. It lies in harnessing the rampant bull. It means encouraging economic growth in tandem with policies that distribute the benefits of growth fairly. It means nurturing the community and supporting those in need.

It amazes me that Australians can find billions of dollars to build dams and highways but, when ministers seek a few million dollars to protect children from abuse and to help struggling families cope, the cries of `fiscal restraint' echo down the corridors of the treasuries of Australia. Around 70 per cent of prisoners were abused as children. It is vital we break the cycle of abuse through early support programs that help parents who are under great stress to cope better. Sometimes it seems treasuries will listen only if they are able to calculate that funding policies to support struggling families and protect children can lead to budget savings from needing fewer gaols. Personally, I think it is the decent thing to do anyway and we should not be continually obliged to justify socially responsible policies in terms of the budget bottom line.

In the mid-1990s I convened a series of public forums to develop a vision for Australia for the year 2020 and to identify the measures needed to make that vision a reality. Speakers at the 2020 vision forums included Bob Hawke, Hugh MacKay, Ross Garnaut, Malcolm Turnbull, Cheryl Saunders, Wayne Goss, Dale Spender, Peter Garrett, Rick Farley and the present Minister for Health and Aged Care, who was then Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Emerging from the forums was a vision for Australia in the year 2020: it will be prosperous and self-confident in the world, imbued with a deep sense of fairness, understanding and enjoying a multicultural society, where indigenous and non-indigenous cultures are reconciled, respecting its senior citizens as wise elders, with continuing natural splendour and free of oppression and the spectre of war.

I have drawn from that series and my own life experiences and beliefs what I see as the sevenfold path to Australia's future. The sevenfold path involves passing seven tests—each of them of seven letters. Pass them and we secure the future. Fail or ignore them and we will languish, a sick and divided nation unwilling to help the underprivileged and unable to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The seven tests are: dignity, respect, harmony, honesty, economy, decency and ecology. A great society protects the dignity of its people so they know they are valued members of the community. A great society offers its respect to all its citizens, including the elderly, and on a day like this to those who have made great sacrifices for their country in times of war. A great society promotes harmony among people with different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. A great society expects honesty of its leaders in all aspects of political, business and community life. A great society achieves prosperity from a productive, robust economy where individuals are rewarded for work, innovation and risk taking. A great society values decency in the distribution of prosperity so that everyone achieves a reasonable standard of living, regardless of their capacity to contribute to the generation of wealth. A great society is one whose economic growth is ecologically sustainable so that it does not leave a legacy of environmental degradation for future generations.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to play a part in fashioning this great free and just society. I give a commitment to work diligently for all the residents of Rankin so that we may all be part of a great society. That we must resume this task from opposition is but a transitory matter, for at the next election the Australian people will embrace the leadership, policies and commitment to a prosperous and just society provided by Kim Beazley and the Australian Labor Party.