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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 317

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (13:31): First I want to say a very heartfelt thank you to the people of Wills and to my campaign team, who gave me wonderful support throughout the election campaign and indeed in the months and years leading up to it. It is a great honour to have such a strong level of support, and I am determined to work hard in this parliament to be a vigorous and forceful advocate for and representative of the people of Wills.

During the election campaign, the claim was made that Labor had neglected the Wills electorate. This was without foundation. So that the House can get a better appreciation of the various programs and projects funded by the federal government, I list now some of the local press releases which I put out over the last six months: 'Applications for Volunteer Grants 2013 open', 'Wills unemployment falls again', '$309,000 to enhance local settlement services', 'Funding to help local communities help the environment', 'Supporting people with mental illness and their carers in Wills', 'Local sporting champions program: $4,000 for 8 local athletes', 'Glenroy NGO in line for National Homelessness Awards', 'More than 57,900 local homes and businesses to be connected to Labor's NBN', '$99,000 to fix black spot in Wills', 'Hidden Creek neighbourhood house supported by the Australian government', 'Discover Wills's clean energy transformation', 'Applications open for next round of Digital Enterprise Program', 'St Bernard's Primary School excels in special education', 'Funding to enhance social cohesion in Wills', 'Melbourne's north to provide food industry precinct base', '$465,228 available for Moreland Council community infrastructure', 'NBN switched on for more homes and businesses in Brunswick', 'Merri Community Health Services to benefit from National Crime Prevention Fund', 'Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Co-operative Ltd receives funding boost', '$215,000 clean technology grants for two Wills food manufacturers', '$77,000 clean technology grants for Broadmeadows and Coburg manufacturers', 'Funding for Renew Australia to continue creating opportunities from empty spaces' and '$4,000 in grants and certificates for Wills Sporting Champions'. The claim that Labor in government neglected the Wills electorate does not withstand real scrutiny.

The address-in-reply is no doubt the right time to pay my respects to the Governor-General, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce—I think she has done an outstanding job and I sense that all Australians are proud of her—and, through her, to Her Majesty the Queen. Recently, I read a thorough and detailed book written by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It is called Harmony. My copy was given to me by Dick Smith. Dick is an outstanding Australian who cares deeply for this country. Dick's work on issues like population and Australian ownership is inspirational for me and, I know, many others.

I absolutely commend Prince Charles's book Harmony to everyone who is interested in the future of our planet. The breadth of his knowledge is exceptional, and both the intellectual rigour and creative insight lying behind this book are deeply impressive. There is way too much about environment, population, food and architecture in it for me to do justice to it here. You will have to read it for yourselves. But I will give two examples. Let me cite first page 220, where he discusses academic studies which have found that contact with nature can make people more resilient to illness. One piece of research investigates the recovery rates of patients who had access to a view of trees in a Texas hospital courtyard, compared with those whose windows gave sight of only a concrete wall. All the patients had undergone the same gall bladder surgery, so were considered to be a broadly comparable group. Those patients who enjoyed a view of trees out the window spent fewer days in hospital, used fewer narcotic drugs, had fewer complications and registered fewer complaints with nurses responsible for their care. By contrast, the people who could not see images of nature suffered increased depression, were in need of more pain relief and spent more time in recovery. So being exposed to the patterns produced by nature is directly necessary for our health. Prince Charles says the findings underline how harmony and connection with nature is not some vague or fringe concern but has real benefits for people.

The second example I will draw to attention of the House is on page 232, where he bemoans 'the modern trend towards more and more central planning'. He says:

Communities get what others decide for them—there are no alternatives on offer. …

A top-down approach to planning has been something of a partner of the industrial-scale copybook urban scheme. It is driven by the brutal economics of 'growth' and competitiveness and the pursuit of efficiency targets that care little as to whether a place ends up with 'soul'.

But Prince Charles believes that if people are empowered to work together there are huge benefits. He says:

… the ability of people to self organise can be a very powerful force, but sadly it is an opportunity that is too often untapped. Centralised spatial planning devised by specialist planners trained in a 20th century mechanistic ideology sometimes misses fundamental choices and can lead communities in directions that are not in their best interests. I have enough experience now to know for sure that if people had been put more at the heart of the planning process, some of the disastrous urban environments created in many cities during the twentieth century might easily have been avoided.

I personally think it incredibly important that local residents get to determine what kind of street, neighbourhood and community they live in. And I will provide some free political advice to any of the new MPs in this place who decided parliament is all right and that they would prefer a lengthy parliamentary career to a brief one: back local residents, not property developers. I repeat: support local residents, not property developers.

I was not a candidate for the opposition front bench. I was a shadow minister for 10 years prior to 2007. I have been there and done that. It is my experience that being a shadow minister brings with it obligations not to speak outside your portfolio, and to have everything you do say cleared and approved by the Leader of the Opposition's office. For me, these limitations are simply too great in a world and an Australia that I believe is facing massive challenges.

The world is being damaged, perhaps irreparably, by rapid population growth, climate change, unchecked rainforest and other habitat destruction, poverty, war and terrorism. Australia is not immune from these challenges. Many of our unique and beautiful birds, plants and animals are on the brink of extinction. Our young people cannot afford to buy a home of their own, and their jobs are insecure, while pensioners and retirees battle rapidly rising electricity, gas and water bills and council rates.

I need to be able to speak out about these things, and I intend to. Anyone who thinks my decision to return to the back bench means that I am looking to lead a quiet life and slip out the back door is very mistaken. On the contrary, it is a necessary pre-condition for being active in the debate about the issues that are of greatest importance to the world and to this country.

I, and every other post-war baby boomer, can count myself incredibly lucky to be born when I was, because our children do not have the opportunities my generation had—job and career opportunities, housing opportunities and free education. For all the hype about growth and progress and development building a better world, it is not. It is tougher for our kids than it ever was for us.

This is not just true for Australia. It is true in many other countries as well. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of all the African migrants who drowned off the coast of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Terrible, terrible, terrible. There is a response that says we should tackle this problem by dismantling our borders and allowing people to live wherever they want to live. But anyone who has seen the Gumballs video, by Roy Beck of NumbersUSA—and if you have not, I cannot recommend it too highly—will know that there are two billion people in the world living on $2 per day or less, and that their numbers are increasing by 80 million every year. No nation in the world—not the United States, not Europe, not Australia—can cope with such numbers.

There are two causes of mass migration. One is people fleeing political violence and repression. The other driver is poverty and people wanting a better life. In those countries that are beset by political violence, the most common cause is religious fundamentalism. There is religious violence, oppression of minorities, not enough respect for the rights of women, and not enough separation between religion and politics and between church and state. This needs to be called out. It is a task for all of us, from whatever religious or ethnic background we come, to condemn, to denounce, to shun and to treat as outcasts religious leaders who preach hate and violence. It has to be called for what it is. Until political and religious violence stops, there will be people fleeing it.

Of the other motive for getting on board a boat—the search for a better life—again, we all have a role to play. We should lift our foreign aid budget to 0.7 per cent of GDP. We should not cut our aid by $4.5 billion over the forward estimates as the Liberal government is doing. It is claimed there is a budget emergency and we cannot afford this aid. Why then is the defence budget to be increased? The government target of 2 per cent of GDP spending on defence is quite arbitrary, and absolute nonsense. Spending money on aid builds goodwill with our neighbours and makes us more secure. I have seen it with my own eyes—the people in Indonesian villages like Australians. In stark contrast, spending money on more powerful weapons just makes our neighbours suspicious and sets in place a vicious circle of arms race, fear and mistrust.

So why isn't there more debate about how Australia's rapid population growth is making it harder for our young people than it was for us? After considerable reflection, I have come to the conclusion that population is not unique in this regard. It is one of a number of issues—not the only one—that are considered threatening to the economic interests of the wealthiest and most powerful Australians, and in some cases non-Australians, who exercise great influence on our political debate through their direct and indirect media influence.

There are political issues that contain no germ of threat to corporate wealth—same sex marriage, asylum seekers, the republic and politicians' entitlements. These things occupy endless column-inches and airtime. If they distract and divide us, so much the better. But issues that have the potential to impact on the wealth of the wealthy—executive salaries, trade practices and market concentration, foreign ownership, threats to the environment from industry and agriculture, and, yes, population growth and migration—are constantly overlooked and repressed.

In this we do not get any help from quite a few people who think of themselves as progressives, and who would look you in the eye and swear black and blue that they want to save the environment, they want to protect workers and that they care about the future. But whether it is from fear of being called racist or xenophobic, or a form of moral conceit or vanity, they will not touch the issue of population. That is, of course, their right. But let me make this point to such people, as bluntly as I can: for as long as Australia's rapid population growth, high migration path endures, it will destroy the things you claim to hold dear. It creates a surplus pool of labour, which is used as a battering ram against job security and against workers' pay and conditions. It prevents us attaining full employment, and the quest for jobs, jobs, jobs for our increasing workforce leads us to sacrifice our environmental standards, destroy wildlife habitat and compromise our quality and way of life.

Debate interrupted.