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Thursday, 21 February 2002
Page: 780

Ms HALL (10:50 AM) —I would like to thank the voters of Shortland for the confidence they have shown in me by returning me to this place. It is a great honour, and I pledge to them that I will serve them loyally throughout the term of this parliament.

There are a couple of things I would like to pick up on from the speech of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The first is that, whilst he may feel the North Coast is the best place to live, I would have to say that it is the second best place. Having lived on the North Coast for the first part of my life, I am able to appreciate the virtues of that area and compare them with the wonderful area that I live in now: Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast of New South Wales. It is a truly beautiful area that has some very wonderful people living in it whom, as I have already mentioned, I am very privileged to represent in this place.

The second thing I would like to pick up on—and I did not intend to do this in this debate—is the fantasy that the minister portrayed to this House today, the distortion of facts and the fact that he really does not understand anything about the Labor Party. If that is the sort of information he is going to spread throughout his electorate, it is understandable that it is something that needs to be addressed. As for talking about things that happened in Richmond during the election, people who lived in caravan parks there were inundated in the few days before the election with pamphlets stating that illegal immigrants were going to be settled in the caravan parks in Richmond. I find that rather despicable. I feel that the whole campaign in Richmond was one that you would not want to replicate—as was the entire 2001 election campaign. But more of that in a moment.

The Governor-General's speech at the opening of parliament outlines the government's vision for Australia. It is supposedly a vision for the future, an outline of what the government hopes to achieve in its term of government. The Governor-General's speech at the opening of the 40th Parliament was very disappointing, to say the least. It was a speech that had no vision whatsoever for the future. It was a speech that gave no hope to families, no hope to workers and no hope to older Australians. It was a speech that showed that the Howard government was bereft of ideas, a government with no third-term agenda. The only themes or policies outlined in the speech were those driven by the government's ideological enslavement to attacking unions, the cult of the individual, economic rationalism and wealth for the deserving few.

I will concentrate on those issues. On unions and workers, it outlined a vision to attack compulsory union fees, it referred to the introduction of secret ballots—this is all legislation—and the House is currently discussing fair dismissal procedures. Throughout this government's present term, as with its previous term, I am sure we are going to be inundated with a diatribe of attacks on unions and workers and the vilification of unions. You can see that the government is already starting to set its agenda for the next election, with the royal commission into the CFMEU. It is all about creating a division between one group in society and another group in society rather than trying to work with unions and with workers. If you look at what a union is, it is an organisation of workers. Unions were set up to address the power imbalance that existed between employers and workers. Unfortunately, what this government is about is eroding that balance, trying to establish an environment where one group has all the power. It is about class warfare; it is about worker against business against employer. I really feel that that is wrong. For a country to thrive and grow and survive, we need an environment where all sections of the community work together, not a society that is based on conflict.

This government is noted for its economic rationalism. Rather than being there to represent the people and saying, `We're here to establish a strong community and a series of good, strong communities,' what it says is, `The economy is here, and you, the people, are here to support that economy.' It talks about having retired $55 billion worth of debt. This is being done by selling off all our government assets—and there is more to come.

I have a vision for Australia of shared prosperity for all, not just for a few people who can benefit by this government's economic rationalism and the push we have seen over the last few years. I have a vision—but not of a two-tiered society, one where we have the haves and the have-nots, a society where people, through no fault of their own, are forced to rely on welfare benefits or support from Centrelink. I have a vision of assisting the unemployed to actually find work, rather than vilifying people, as this government tends to do. Its talk of `mutual obligation' is obligation on one side, obligation by the person who is in receipt of some sort of assistance from the government, be it assistance to find work or be it income support.

We have a system of education where people attending private schools are advantaged— something that everybody should aspire to be—rather than an education system that is there for everybody and where everybody has the opportunity to have the same quality of education. This government's health system has once again, instead of putting money into the public system, been putting money into the insurance industry. Because of that, people in the electorate that I live in and represent are being severely disadvantaged—and I will talk a little more about that—by doctors no longer bulk-billing and doctors closing their books because there is a shortage of doctors in the area that I represent and live in. All you have to do is go to the eastern suburbs of Sydney—which is not so far away from where I live—and you can walk into any doctor's surgery and find that they are bulk-billing. It really seems to me that it is a very unfair system, which this government supports, a system that disadvantages the most disadvantaged in our community.

This government values self-reliance and really respects a person who is able to get in there, stand up for themselves and achieve on their merits. It gives rampant support for the cult of the individual, for choice and for rewarding people for being able to succeed. But what it does not do is recognise that people have different ability levels and different opportunities in life and that sometimes, because of these differences, they cannot make the same choices and are not as able to be self-reliant. By pushing the cult of the individual, what you are doing is ensuring that these people will be disadvantaged for the whole of their lives. So to the honourable members opposite, I suggest that they actually get out into their communities and talk not just to their friends and the elite in their electorate but to some of those people who have had a life in which they have struggled and struggled and in which they do not have the same opportunities that the members themselves have had.

It is the Howard government's slavish commitment to these values and this philosophy that justifies any action it or the Prime Minister takes. When the Prime Minister said earlier last year that he would do whatever he had to do to win the election, this was understandable because, in his mind and in the minds of the members opposite, you are rewarded for your efforts and actions. So, if you have to push the boundaries of decency to win, so be it. The reward is winning. That is what it is all about—winning. You do whatever you have to do to win.

Since the resumption of the parliament, we have seen just how far John Howard and his cronies—the government—are prepared to go. That has been very evident with the `children overboard' affair. It is almost inconceivable that a government would think of, let alone try to manipulate, a situation, or public opinion, in the way this government has done. It really has diminished our democracy, and it leaves such a bad taste not only in my mouth but in the mouths of many, many thousands of Australians.

First, there was the Tampa issue. It engendered fear and hatred towards people who were fleeing the most horrendous circumstances. If you look at what has happened subsequently in Afghanistan, you can see that it was not a very pleasant place to live. But these people were portrayed to Australians as queuejumpers. It is not like pushing to the front of a queue at the supermarket; it is impossible to get on those immigration queues. The situation is chaotic. There is no procedure in place to process those people seeking to escape these horrendous circumstances. It was all about vilification of those people. The Pacific solution has cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. The government is saying that that has resolved the problem: that the hard stance that it took has ended the problem of people trying to come to Australia and escape these horrendous circumstances. It has not solved the problem. The number of people trying to come to Australia has fallen because it is the monsoon season. Let us see what happens when that ends. And let us see what stunt the government pulls.

I have watched with great interest this week the `children overboard' fiasco. The Prime Minister says, `I knew nothing; I know nothing.' The minister for immigration says, `I knew nothing. Anyhow, it does not really matter because they tried to sink the boat; they're dreadful, horrible people.' Once again, there is this vilification of people trying to escape their horrendous circumstances.

Max Moore-Wilton knew nothing. What about the Prime Minister's staff? It is very interesting to track what has been happening in his office, isn't it? It is very interesting to read about it and it is a source of interesting speculation. What about Peter Reith? The revelations last night by Air Marshal Angus Houston mean that the integrity of this government is very questionable, and that is very sad. What about Jane Halton and her role in the whole event, and the reward that she has subsequently received? Yet we hear throughout the saga that no-one is responsible. If no-one is responsible and no-one knows what is happening, I ask: who is governing Australia?

We are really seeing to what level the Prime Minister—honest John, the never, ever man— will stoop. The implication for the government, and for all of us, is that it creates scepticism about politicians. It really undermines our system of government. We should not be about winning at all costs. We are about representing the people of Australia and providing good government. We are going to have different opinions on matters—and I have already mentioned a number of those. I look at education differently from members on the other side. I believe that everybody is entitled to a good education, while members on the other side believe that some people are entitled to a better education than others. I believe this is all about government and governance. I believe that, as members of parliament, we are role models for the rest of Australia. It is about leadership, and it is about making sure that Australia is viewed overseas as a worthwhile country and it is about our international reputation.

What we have is a government in crisis. This government stumbles from one crisis to another. Everyday we hear about another crisis. One is the government's portrayal of the lip-sewing incident at Woomera. We now hear that no adults sewed children's lips together. We also have the Governor-General, who is under siege for choosing to ignore allegations of child sexual abuse—one of the most disgraceful acts persons can perform—

Dr Southcott —I raise a point of order. Under standing order 74, no member can refer to the Governor-General during debate in a manner which is disrespectful. I put to you that the member for Shortland's remarks are disorderly and that she is in breach of that standing order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—I would remind the member for Shortland that I think she ought to temper her remarks in that area.

Ms HALL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Currently there is a cloud over the office of Governor-General. It is interesting that the current Governor-General in Australia is the Prime Minister's man. He chose him without consultation with anyone in the community. He chose him without consultation with anyone in the parliament. He chose to appoint a person of the church, and there were always questions about the separation of powers of the church and the state. The Prime Minister has always argued that the Governor-General's role is sacrosanct. It is worth while casting our minds back to the republic referendum. The Prime Minister objected to changing the system and the system that was put forward was to have consultation with the community and to have a presidential nomination committee, and then the Governor-General or the president would be appointed by a two-thirds majority of the parliament. The Prime Minister argued against this because you could not trust politicians; you could only trust the Prime Minister. We have seen just how much you can trust the Prime Minister and we can see what that has led to!

This latest crisis has shown that our current system of government is flawed. It is flawed because we have a head of state who lives in the UK and the person who represents that head of state in Australia is chosen undemocratically by one person—the Prime Minister. It is time to revisit the issue of Australia becoming a republic. The people of Australia deserve better.

Whilst I am in this partliament I intend to fight to see that the people of Australia get a better deal. I intend to fight to see that education is available for all, that it does not become a debate about private and public schools but rather that the government recognises that every single person in Australia should have the opportunity to receive a quality education. I intend to fight to see that bulk-billing remains, to see that the government takes action so that there are enough doctors available in the community. I intend to fight to see that there are jobs for everyone, to see that people can have some security of employment so that people do not have to stand by the telephone waiting for that call.

This is a government for a few; it is not a government for all. It is a government that lurches from one crisis to another. It is a government that looks after its friends at the expense of the community as a whole. It is a government of ideologues and it is a government that is totally bereft of ideas.