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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1119

Mr DANBY (12:46 PM) —I congratulate the member for Wright on his first speech. It is something momentous, which you will remember all your life. For the few hundreds of us who have been members of parliament, who are greatly honoured by the Australian people, it is a great credit to have achieved that status. I congratulate him on becoming the new member for Wright.

I want to thank all of the people who worked on my campaign in Melbourne Ports: my campaign director, Garth Head, deputy campaign director, Dr Jane Shelton, my staff and the many volunteers who contributed their time and effort to the campaign, including Dr Henry and Marcia Pinskier, George Droutsas, who had some very welcome news in the Melbourne newspapers recently, Roger Byrne, John Dyett, Martin Foley, Jenny Huppert, Tony Lupton, Ian Strong, Jackie Burgess, John Lewis, Bunna Walsh and Simon Kosmer, all the local branches in Melbourne Ports and the more than 300 volunteers and 31 booth captains, who worked tirelessly to help me achieve a 57.56 per cent result, which is the highest margin Melbourne Ports has had for the Labor Party since it was redistributed on the current boundaries in 1990.

I come into this House today with some additional good news for the voters of Melbourne Ports in that the Redistribution Committee has just published maps which largely accord with the submissions I made to the committee. It is an honour to represent the people of Melbourne Ports and I want to continue to represent the people I have largely represented since 1998. I am very pleased to see that the electoral commissioners have made a number of changes to the initial maps, affecting the seats of Corangamite, McEwen and Melbourne Ports, all in a way that preserves the boundaries of those seats, more than their initial maps would have. This is one of the strictures by which the Electoral Commission is meant to operate. Therefore, it is particularly gratifying to see them doing that.

I particularly want to thank my delightful wife and barrister about town, Amanda Mendes Da Costa, who stood with me in the freezing cold pre-polling, when she was not in court. All of us experienced the phenomenon of people voting early, and standing at polling booths in Melbourne in the winter is a challenge to members of parliament and candidates.

I want to congratulate new colleagues who sit in this chamber, including Rob Mitchell, the member for McEwen: Geoff Lyons, the member for Bass; Stephen Jones, the new member for Throsby; Laura Smyth for La Trobe; and Deborah O’Neill, the new member for Robertson. I particularly want to single out for congratulations my good friend Ed Husic, who arrived here, as he should have earlier, but for some dastardly and uncalled-for propaganda which shamed the entire Australian political system. It is really good to have him here, widening the full range of Australian backgrounds in this House of Representatives.

This House is all the better for the new members who join us in this place. It is poorer for the loss of tireless workers who have striven for a better way of life for the Australian people. I miss my good friends—Jennie George, the former member for Throsby, Belinda O’Neal, the former member for Robertson and Roger Price, the former member for Chifley and Bob Debus, the former member for Macquarie.

Education is the key to equality. The government’s investment in schools across the nation—from Wollongong to Toowoomba, to Barinia in South Australia, to Subiaco in Western Australia and to Melbourne Ports in Victoria—has seen primary schools and secondary schools receive state-of-the-art classrooms, multipurpose halls, language centres and playing fields. Over the last four years under the then Minister for Education, now Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australian schools have had a golden era of Australian investment in the nation’s education system. If we do not invest in providing our children with the best equipped schools and the best equipped resources, we do not only ourselves but also the nation a disservice.

It is enormously satisfying for me to visit local schools and see this investment come to fruition. The government has invested over $65 million in schools across Melbourne Ports and to see young, bright and enthusiastic students benefiting from the government’s programs gives me great pride. If we do nothing else, we must ensure that the future generations of leaders, entrepreneurs, sports stars, academics, authors and scientists have the best education system. I have been across the system, from the Japanese school in Melbourne Ports to the Catholic Galilee Primary School, and we are soon going to be opening wonderful secondary schools.

I see all of this criticism of the school program from some media sources and the Liberal Party, but in my electorate—particularly in the government sector—I see only positives. At Glen Eira College the building of a language laboratory, where Chinese and French are going to be taken up, has attracted students from right across Melbourne, many of Chinese background. They are going particularly to Glen Eira College to do more Chinese language studies. Nearby, we have a feeder school. In Caulfield Junior College—a government school, which teaches French at primary level—we now have a secondary school that is also teaching French and has resources and facilities provided by this government. If we had not had the BER, these kinds of facilities, especially those in government schools in Melbourne Ports, would not have been possible.

We have the phenomenon in the inner city of having larger numbers of younger people with families moving in and the government program could not have come at a better time. It has built classrooms in schools right across the system—independent, Catholic, Jewish and government—that have been absolutely necessary.

I turn to the issue of emergency housing for the disadvantaged. On 23 April this year I joined the then federal Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, and the Victorian Minister for Housing, Richard Wynne, together with some great people from my friends in the Salvation Army, Territorial Commander Caroline Knaggs, and that great figure of the Salvation Army, General Eva Burrows, to open the Salvation Army’s Crisis Accommodation Centre in Upton Road, St Kilda. The Salvation Army’s Crisis Accommodation Centre is one of a number of projects in my electorate providing emergency housing in which this federal government has invested to the tune of $53 million. Of this funding, $36 million is targeted at housing projects through the Port Phillip Housing Association, the South Port Community Housing Group, and St Kilda Community Housing. I have been to most of these projects and to say that they are achieving their ends is putting it mildly. Of this amount, $5.1 million is for a new building of 17 units in Grey Street, $1.5 million for eight units in Alma Road, $1.1 million for nine new units in Blessington Street, St Kilda, $1.5 million for 14 new units in Jackson Street and $5.5 million for 36 new units in Beaconsfield Parade. The Australian government has made homelessness a national priority. In the previous government, under Minister Plibersek, the building of these new facilities in my electorate was a step forward to making the changes necessary to cut the rate of homelessness by 2020.

One issue that has got some attention during the recent election and which I think should be given more prominence is electoral reform. The High Court’s decision on 6 August to invalidate the draconian Liberal rort introduced by the Howard government in 2006 was welcome. Under the previous conservative government’s legislation, the electoral roll was closed on the day the writs were issued for an election to be held. Previously, for decades people had had seven days to enrol or update their details. The draconian law passed by the Liberals in 2006, when they controlled the Senate, was deliberately designed to disenfranchise as many young people as possible as well as people who shifted their address.

The win by GetUp! in the High Court was an important one, but I note it was not this parliament that led to the change to rectify the disenfranchisement of thousands of young Australians. The Australian Electoral Commission reports, and has made recommendations about ways this should be changed, that 1.4 million Australians are not on the electoral roll. This is in part due to laws passed by the previous government, which over its period of 12 years in office excluded tens of thousands of Australians who shift their address and who usually got a provisional vote at the polling booth but do not get it any more.

This legislation was designed to prevent individuals from voting, in that provisional voters had to produce photo ID at the polling booth in order to have their provisional vote admitted. Voters without such ID would later go to the AEC office with a photo ID and validate the vote. But how many can often find an obscure AEC office, which is often not even sited in their electorate? The previous system was much more sensible. The returning officer at the polling booth double-enveloped a person’s application for a provisional vote. If the person lived in the electorate, the officer compared the signature on the outside of the envelope with a signature at the electoral office. Fully 50 per cent of people who applied for provisional votes under the previous system that applied for decades received them.

In an earlier submission to this House, I regrettably exaggerated the number of people that this affected. I said it was 166,000. Thanks to some advice from the Electoral Commission, I can now report that number was in fact only 130,000—28,000 of whom were Australians who were denied a vote due to the coalition’s 2006 legislation which made it much more difficult to obtain a provisional vote. Only 19 per cent of people who applied for a provisional vote at the 2010 election received one. As I said, in all previous elections, including the elections from 1996 to 2007 at which the Liberal Party was elected, fully 50 per cent of people who applied for a provisional vote with a double envelope and signature on the outside system were admitted. They should have been, of course, included in a compulsory voting system where we should try to get on the roll every person we can who is a legitimate voter.

During the last parliament, the Australian Electoral Commission itself recognised that this process of taking citizens off the roll had disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Australians. Currently, the AEC processes remorselessly remove people from the roll when they change address, but these AEC removals have not been matched by legislation or the technical ability of the AEC to use modern technology to get people back on the rolls.

We are all familiar with this as members of parliament—people who shift addresses that are confirmed by the AEC and have themselves taken off the electoral roll. They then get a snail mail letter from the AEC, which especially shift workers, people working interstate, people who are overseas or young people do not tend to respond to. It is our civic duty to represent those that sent us here. It is also our civic duty to ensure that every Australian has a right to have their say in who represents them in this place. Therefore, I hope that the 43rd Parliament will take up the mantle of ensuring that those who had no voice at the last election will have one at the next election.

I am also confident that this parliament will be able to put in place concrete measures to address climate change. If only some of those opposite were willing to help the government rather than just be wreckers. The last parliament was a story of double-crosses by members of the opposition. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency explained to this House that there is a cost to not putting a carbon price into the Australian economy. It is a cost that we will bear for as long as we are not able to legislate changes in this area. I hope that the non-partisan committee that is investigating a carbon price makes recommendations that lead to Australia’s being able to become internationally competitive in this area, and I mention the fact that the minister pointed out to me that AGL Energy estimates there will be a $2 billion negative effect in the form of higher electricity prices by the year 2020 if we do not legislate in favour of a carbon price.

It seems an age ago now, but the Liberal Party did once have a leader who believed in climate change and the need for action to combat it. During the last parliament, the Labor Party spent many months working with that leader to create a system to begin the process of lowering carbon emissions in Australia. But, as we know, the Liberal leader was toppled by a faction in the coalition that refuses to believe in the existence of climate change. That leader was replaced with the current Leader of the Opposition, who believes that climate change is, as he said so eloquently, ‘absolute crap’. Having negotiated a deal with the government, the opposition then broke their word—which is becoming something of a pattern—and voted against the government’s legislation. It is doubtful that the Liberals’ hardline Senate-driven opposition to the science of climate change will change while they have their current leader, so it is unlikely that the government will be able to work with them to combat climate change.

I turn to some issues of Australian foreign policy. The three pillars maintaining the Australian-US alliance are that we work through the United Nations system, that we build our relations with our Asian neighbours and that we build our relations with our Pacific neighbours. Each of these has been strengthened by the current government. Our relationship with the Obama administration is very strong, and we see eye to eye with that administration on many issues. We have been playing a leading and constructive role at the UN and we have worked to strengthen our regional relations, including those with China, India and Indonesia, the three countries which hold the keys to our regional future.

Today, managing our relations with China has become a fourth pillar of our foreign policy. Recently we have seen suggestions that Australia and the US should resign ourselves to Chinese military and political supremacy in our region and in certain Oceanic areas. I reject that view, and I think most of the Australian people reject that choice’s being forced on them. Australia should welcome a strong, prosperous and stable China and its return to the great power status that it should have as a great and populous country as well as accept its legitimate aspiration to be treated with the respect that its status merits. But we must always defend the values that our country stands for—democratic government, human rights and international law. We should not betray these values in our dealings with China, even while we maintain advantageous economic relations.

One development that is threatening the world at the moment is the determination of the theocratic regime in Iran to develop nuclear weapons and use them against its neighbours. This situation has the potential to be the most dangerous threat the world has faced since the Cuban missile crisis. Iran has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and continues to skirt its obligations. Our autonomous sanctions legislation, introduced this year, imposes sanctions on a total of 21 Iranian individuals and 20 Iranian organisations. The two additional organisations are Bank Mellat, one of four designated banks under UN Security Council resolutions, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, IRISL.

Along with the United States, the European Union, South Korea and Japan, Australia has introduced autonomous sanctions to complement the very tough United Nations sanctions that were introduced this year. The sanctions, a result of a resolution of the Security Council, are working at the moment. It is interesting to see that Sydney based engineering contractor Wolsey Parsons have announced that, since the sanctions were introduced, they will not be accepting any more work in Iran. Australia has imposed sanctions on Iran since 2008.

Iran has failed to comply with UN Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835, which call on it to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and suspend its proliferation activities, and that is frightening. It is currently enriching uranium to 20 per cent. In September, the IAEA said that Iran was pushing ahead with higher level enrichment and continually failing to answer the agency’s questions about the military dimensions of its nuclear work. The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat not only to the Middle East but also to the world, and it should not be taken lightly.

The Iranian government’s influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza cannot be underestimated and makes these sanctions even more integral. I am very pleased that the former defence minister in this government, John Faulkner, blocked three Australian shipments to Iran. The Australian government’s move to block dual use items from being shipped to Iran is an important step in ensuring that Australian companies do not assist Iran or its proliferation activities. I conclude by saying that we must continue to put pressure on Australian financial institutions and organisations not to associate or assist Iran to skirt international sanctions. Those that are assisting Iran to do that should be publicly called out for what they are doing: assisting in the worsening of the international situation. (Time expired)