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Thursday, 1 August 2019
Page: 1932


Mr GORMAN (Perth) (12:30): Australia's democracy and our parliamentary system have been used as a model across the world. Many of Australia's democratic values are enshrined in the United Nations charter. Sadly, recent events have made it harder to promote and protect the value and effectiveness of Australia's democratic system. I note that earlier this week, outgoing senator Mitch Fifield said that he rejected the thesis that the system is broken and he encouraged us all to embrace democracy as it is. I disagree. There is so much more we can do to promote, protect and improve our democratic system.

There is no denying that sometimes Australians look at what happens in this place and they struggle to understand the decisions we make and the way we go about our business. We can do so much better. One suggestion that some put is that we should expand the number of seats of the parliament. Australia's parliament expanded the number of seats in 1949, again in 1984. Based on this trajectory, we're due for an expansion again in the next decade. Paul Kelly said, in celebrating 30 years of this new Parliament House, that members previously, when they came into this building, represented some 69,000 constituents and now, on average, represent 104,000 constituents.

I don't believe that investing in more parliamentarians is the answer. Democracy is an expensive business but we can spend that money on doing things that engage more people in the activity of the parliament. One practical measure, I believe, we should to is increase the parliamentary education and civics rebate. Too many of the people who come to this parliament are from within a three- or four-hour drive. Fewer than five per cent of the students who visit the parliament are from South Australia and only four per cent are from my home state of Western Australia and I think the numbers would be even more embarrassing for my colleague, the member for Solomon. If we're serious about civics education, we should ensure that all students, wherever they live, should have the opportunity to see the parliament in action and visit national monuments like the War Memorial. If you were to average out the cost of what it would be to provide a serious and sufficient subsidy, it would be less than $60 per Australian high school student per year. That would allow students to visit this parliament wherever they live, wherever they study, wherever they go to school.

An honourable member: It's not a bad idea.

Mr GORMAN: It's a very good idea, and I appreciate the support. It is fundamentally democratic. One idea I might get less support on, I'll now turn to! In addition to getting more young people to come and visit the national capital, I also believe that, when we talk about engaging with Australians, we should have the parliament go and visit other parts of Australia. Often we hear from people the idea that we should move Commonwealth departments out to regional areas or to other states. I see no reason why we wouldn't in fact actually take the parliament itself, have question time in, you know, Joondalup, and that would be a good thing to make sure we actually hear from people and for people to see the parliament in action. I believe it would raise standards for parliamentarians, it would increase engagement with the work of the parliament and it would probably address some of the Prime Minister's concerns about what he calls the 'Canberra bubble'. We've done it before.

An honourable member: What's the cost?

Mr GORMAN: Democracy, as I said before, is a very expensive business. We've done this before. In 2001, for the Centenary of Federation, this parliament sat in Melbourne in a ceremonial sitting. The state parliaments in Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland have all held regional sittings, and that is something that has not been isolated to one side of politics.

Finally, we should also look to how we make sure to continue to tell our history through the medium where we most commonly do it, which is through our Australian prime ministers. I want to commend the University of New South Wales for the opening of the John Howard Prime Ministerial Library at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. It is an incredibly important way for many of us to learn the lessons of his prime ministership and how they may be able to help us in the future. I believe that we should continue that tradition and look to have every Australian Prime Minister recognised with a prime ministerial library.

I was lucky to study at Curtin University, where the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library sits, and to learn much of John Curtin's life through that library. Some might say that maybe Frank Forde doesn't deserve to have a library of his own, although I believe there are some lessons that could be learned from his very short time in the prime minister's office.

Democracy is not cheap, but we accepted that when we set out to draft the Constitution. We should invest in ourselves and in our democracy.