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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 97

Mr HENRY (6:26 PM) —The word `privilege' is often used too easily. But as I sat down to write this first speech, and now as I stand here to deliver it, I can think of no better word. If it is, as I believe, a privilege to be an Australian citizen, I am deeply conscious of what a privilege it is to be elected to our parliament. So it is with great pride and gratitude that I embark on my new role representing the community that my family and I have called home for 20 years, and which our electoral system now calls the seat of Hasluck. In my sense of gratitude my thoughts have turned to many of the people who have contributed to my presence here today. First of all, may I pay tribute to the family and to all of the values associated with it in Australian life. In particular, I pay tribute to my family. My everlasting appreciation goes to my late parents for their support and for their many sacrifices in bringing into this world my two brothers and me. I wish they could all be here today as I know that they would be bursting with pride. Sadly, my mother passed away less than one year ago.

This memory provides some poignancy as I stand here today in Parliament House. Over 62 years ago, as a young, vibrant woman, my mother worked in Canberra as a typist in the Attorney-General's Department. My father, like very many young men and women of the time, left school and enlisted to serve his country. During that time of war, he experienced being torpedoed off Cyprus, being wounded by a landmine in Borneo and he suffered his share of hardships in New Guinea. My father was uncomplaining, in spite of his experiences. He got on with the job of securing a future for himself and his young family. He and my mother were typical of their time. They were both committed to ensuring that their three sons had the best opportunities in education and life—perhaps that is something that I did not fully appreciate at the time. With commitment and persistence my father's ambition to be a solicitor was realised after he achieved the age of 50. For me, his efforts have been a guiding light. His commitment and persistence—those qualities of never giving up—have also sustained me in the course of my life. I also recognise the wonderful influence of my two brothers, Robert and Keith, in shaping my early life and, more recently, in shaping their respective families.

I am also sincerely thankful for the support of many people who gave freely of their time, expertise, experience and kindness from preselection and along the path to election. There are too many people to thank them all in this speech but I must specifically mention Helen Leslie, who gave so selflessly of her time and energy for several long months. My campaign committee were second to none, led by Barry MacKinnon and ably supported by Andrew Reynolds, Helen Morton, Graeme Harris, Nick Braining, Sue Wood, Heather Gilmour, Norm Haywood and Peter Stewart. I send a very special thank you to the many helpers—some 400—on election day and all those from the Hasluck division for their support.

A real stalwart was Senator elect Judith Adams, who worked tirelessly for many months on my behalf. Senator Alan Eggleston, as patron senator for Hasluck, was also available to lend an ear and provide practical support. Thank you, Alan. Thanks also to Senators Ellison and Campbell for their support and encouragement during the course of the campaign and a special thanks to Senator Ross Lightfoot, who encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring and run for preselection, for his ongoing support.

Most of all, however, my gratitude and my sense of living a truly privileged life is always due to my four wonderful daughters, Nellandra, Hannah, Harriette and Hillary, and the love of my life, Mary, my wife. I am pleased to acknowledge them in the gallery today. The path to standing here as a member of parliament would have been very different indeed without their generosity of spirit, unfailing support and invaluable sense of humour.

The seat of Hasluck lies to the east of Perth, encompassing a unique mix of outer metropolitan suburbs. Hasluck first became a federal seat at the 2001 election and was named after the highly respected and influential Liberals Sir Paul and Dame Alexandra Hasluck. Dame Alexandra was a noted historian and Sir Paul succeeded in several careers, including as a journalist, diplomat, academic and bureaucrat, before being elected as a federal member of parliament in 1949. During his time in successive Menzies' governments he held the portfolios of Territories, Defence and External Affairs. The Haslucks were known to people of all political persuasions as deeply intelligent and compassionate people.

Sir Paul was appointed Governor-General in 1969 and served until 1974. His standing in public life and his reputation was as a well-informed, thoughtful man of enormous integrity. He is fondly remembered by all who knew him in and out of parliament and on both sides of the House. These themes of contribution to the local and national communities in which I belong and of honourable partisanship within the Liberal Party are aspirations for my own service in parliament. If my contribution can be even a fraction of that of the Haslucks I will be very proud indeed.

The part of the nation I am here to represent is in many ways a true microcosm of Australia. It reaches from the hills suburbs of Lesmurdie, Kalamunda and Gooseberry Hill north-west to the historic township of Midland and Guildford and south to the newer city of Gosnells. It encompasses rural and semirural communities, industrial hubs of yesterday and today, vital transport industries, tourism, hospitality, vineyards, orchards and market gardens. People from over 70 different countries and nationalities live in both charming older residential suburbs undergoing rejuvenation and a wide range of newer residential developments. It is a seat blessed with several important conservation areas, including national parks and state forests, many of Western Australia's most important wetlands and both the major waterways for Perth—the Canning and Perth's signature river, the Swan, flow through Hasluck.

Before the election campaign started I spent almost a year meeting and listening to as many members of the Hasluck community as I could. Devoting myself to this gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn what my community's hopes and concerns really were. People told me of their worries for their businesses, for their children's education, for their health care, for their safety and for their environment. Of particular concern to me were the numbers of people who had found the public sector unresponsive in meeting or addressing their needs. While many of the issues raised were in a personal context, there were many local community examples where concerns for health, welfare and safety appeared to be ignored. I would like to refer to some of these.

The Kalamunda District Community Hospital is an example. Over 95 per cent of the residents of the serviced area wish to retain maternity and obstetric services at this hospital. It has an exemplary health and safety record, and I am committed to supporting it and the community's efforts to retain the full range of services currently delivered. Other issues include safe school crossings for Wattle Grove and Helena primary schools and ablution blocks for Gosnells and High Wycombe primary schools, just to mention a few. In raising some of these concerns it is important that I also mention the wonderful job being done by so many volunteers on P&C committees, in welfare organisations, in community care groups and in sporting organisations. These volunteers and these organisations make our communities what they are today.

Like Sir Paul Hasluck, I too have enjoyed a diverse career before this new role. I began my working life as a jackeroo and went on to gain unforgettable experiences working on farming properties in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia and in the agricultural industry in general. I then was fortunate to have opportunities to work in the construction industry, establishing my own building and concrete-drilling and sawing company, which in turn led to me becoming involved in a company developing oilfield production technology in the USA.

For the past 18 years I have been working in the building and construction sector with the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association and the Master Painters, Decorators and Signwriters Association, representing the needs of their respective memberships. This has involved me in the development of the plumbing industry at state, national and global levels. I have gained enormously from these experiences, which have included establishing an award-winning industry based vocational training centre, creating public-private partnerships to promote water and energy efficiency strategies for our communities and playing a key role in industry reform. I have enjoyed over 40 years working in and with small business.

Far more than being a privilege, being a member of parliament is a responsibility—a responsibility to contribute to the future of our nation, a responsibility not to be squandered. There are many challenges facing the Australian community at the beginning of the 21st century. I hope to contribute positively to as many of these as I can. I wish to take this opportunity to raise those important issues particularly close to my heart: the challenge of how we manage our water resources for future generations and the challenge of how we skill and train ourselves and our people for the future world of work.

I will start with water. The world has only the same amount of water as it did at the beginning of human civilisation, but now our global population is approaching six billion. It is a sobering fact indeed that only a tiny fraction of one per cent of all the water on earth is both suitable and available for human consumption. Our expectations of water use have increased dramatically in recent generations. There are more of us than ever before, and each of us uses more water than our predecessors would have dreamt of. This situation cannot continue and is only exacerbated by changes in rainfall patterns and the dryland salinity now affecting much of the nation's land.

It is now abundantly clear that we as a community must embark on an unprecedented combined national effort addressing how we manage, protect, use and share this most precious of the land's natural resources. There will be no magic bullet, no easy solution, but efforts are starting, and many fresh and worthy new approaches are being proposed. It is well recognised that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, ensuring that issues of water supply, management, use and reuse are a priority on the public policy agenda. It is therefore very pleasing to see that the Prime Minister of this country has identified water as a top personal priority for this term of government.

There is no doubt that water and its provision to our human population will be one of the greatest challenges facing not only Australia but the world in the 21st century. It has been reported that more than 2.6 billion people do not have adequate access to fresh water and sanitation and that thousands of people across the world die on a daily basis as a result of this deprivation and inadequacy. Human life is not possible without fresh water. We in Australia are somewhat more fortunate; although, following a series of droughts and an increasing urban population and demand on our agricultural industries, we are facing a critical challenge to our water supply. It is very gratifying to see that the Australian government has already moved to establish the National Water Commission, which will be charged with driving reform.

We all must ensure that we stimulate our communities and industries to come up with innovations in addressing water use. The Green Plumber program, developed by the Master Plumbers Association, is one example of how industry and community can play a proactive role in this process. We need to look at new ideas and innovation—such as harvesting stormwater from our cities—and reconsider our approach to potable water and its distribution; the quality of water requirements for industrial purposes; recycling and reusing grey water for domestic and industrial use; improvements to irrigation techniques and infrastructure; the active use of aquifers for water storage; and the construction of new water transport facilities.

In Western Australia, these options excite much community interest and support. There are many ideas on the drawing board, such as in my home state the suggested pipeline from the Kimberleys to Perth and the planned desalination plant for Cockburn Sound, south of Perth. All of these options need to be evaluated—carefully and thoroughly. Rather than being skewed by self-interest, all of these options need to be carefully and thoroughly evaluated, with one eye firmly focused on the needs of future generations, families, business, industry and communities.

Like many with more expertise than I can claim, I have serious concerns about the wisdom of some of these projects. A desalination plant, for example, is extremely expensive to build, has a high energy cost and therefore also has significant greenhouse gas consequences. It also raises the prospect of local environmental degradation through hypersalinity. A pipeline would appear to be expensive, but would today's investment costs be seen that way in 50 or 100 years time? Where would we be today without C.Y. O'Connor's pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie, this year celebrating 100 years? I am delighted to now be part of a federal government team that has already been active on this issue. However, I am disappointed that, given the challenges we face in Western Australia with water supply and management, the WA government has chosen to go it alone.

The issue of vocational training may seem unrelated to that of water, but the underlying challenge is how our community chooses to respond. Apprenticeship training has an even longer history than academic institutions and continues to be an invaluable learning tradition and employment pathway in our society. In spite of this tradition, Australia is facing a serious national skills shortage. In my own electorate of Hasluck, we particularly need mechanics, welders, fitters and building trades men and women. Those of us who have an appreciation and empathy for trades and apprenticeship training and the huge contribution that trades have made to individuals, communities, businesses, employment and indeed our nation were delighted to hear the Prime Minister say, `I want to see an Australia where a trade apprenticeship is just as valued as a university degree.'

The record of the Howard government in the area of vocational and apprenticeship training speaks for itself: 416,800 new apprentices and trainees in training at the end of the March quarter 2004; 282,800 commencements in the 12 months ending March 2004, up from the previous year; 132,000 completions in the 12 months to March 2004, up a massive 12 per cent from the previous year. These statistics are a clear indication that the policies of the Howard government are working.

The election commitments made by the Prime Minister and the government will also make a significant contribution to further increasing the intake of new apprentices and trainees over the next three years. In particular, the establishment of 24 Australian technical colleges will make a very positive contribution to attracting greater involvement by school leavers in trade training and a greater participation by industry in skilling Australians. The need to create an effective alternative to TAFE colleges in delivering industry specific skills has been demonstrated with the advent some years ago of industry specific training centres. This is an area that I have had some experience in, having been responsible for establishing and operating MPA Skills in Western Australia, specialising in training for plumbing and painting apprentices and skill enhancement programs for trades men and women.

It is fair to say that one of the greatest challenges facing our vocational training system is that of the Commonwealth-state relationship and the bureaucracy associated with it. At a time of national skills shortages, we simply cannot afford this. Programs such as User Choice which should be providing training options for apprentices and employers alike have been severely curtailed, adding to the confusion and bureaucratic maze employers are expected to work their way through to make a considerable investment in training for the benefit of their business and also for the continued economic sustainability and benefit of Australia. The leadership role of the Prime Minister and his government in introducing Australian technical colleges will go a long way to overcoming this unnecessary impasse in state and Commonwealth funding arrangements for vocational training.

Mr Speaker, I do have a concern that not enough employers are investing in training apprentices. I believe that this is caused by a lack of real incentive, poaching of apprentices, and the real cost of investing in training for individual employers. Perhaps we should consider that, for those employers who invest in skilling Australia, such investments be treated in the same way that we encourage companies to participate in research and development. If it is recognised that research and development is a driver of economic growth, skilling Australians is essential for our continued economic growth. It therefore stands to reason that a tax incentive in the form of a tax concession has the potential to be a more realistic and simple incentive to encourage employers to train apprentices. Without a simple incentive for private investment in education and training, it is probable that we will continue to face skill shortages. Indeed, if we consider our ageing work force across most industry sectors, there is an urgent need to attract greater investment in training.

As well as attracting new entrants to the trades from the school sector, we need to consider reskilling those already in the work force who are underemployed or facing redundancy from their current employment. As our work force ages, this strategy will only become more important and more urgent. As with all things that should be seen as investments, the sooner we begin, the easier and more effective our efforts will be. While an individual must accept some responsibility for ongoing skill development during their working life, it is not an issue for them alone. The increasing rate of change in technical skills and knowledge and the continuous change in the business environment and workplace suggests the need for ongoing vocational training. Those businesses that adapt more readily to this could achieve a significant competitive advantage. The process of continuous learning and our attitude to lifelong learning needs to move beyond rhetoric to the point that it is built into our workplaces, schools and communities.

In addition, much more needs to be done to ensure the industry relevance, knowledge and skills of trainers and lecturers who play such an important role in influencing the next generation and subsequent generations of Australia's work force. This will require a structured process aimed at ensuring both a consistent industry interface during the course of a trainer's working life and continuous industry specific skills development. In talking about vocational training we should also acknowledge the significant contribution that group training companies have made to the contemporary evolution and development of apprenticeship training and traineeships in this country.

The final challenge I wish to raise here today is the question of how we can better support small business. This is the sector that most truly underpins our economic capacity and, indeed, our Australian way of life. The small business sector is full of some of Australia's most self-reliant, innovative and entrepreneurial people. They create employment and build both individual and economic capacity from the smallest of our country towns to the biggest of our cities.

Recent figures indicate that Australia now boasts a significant increase in the self-employed. This is a telling statistic, reflecting what individuals are actually looking for in their working lives. It has been predicted that over the next 30 years or so the majority of the work force will be self-employed, yet we still allow excessive regulation and compliance requirements to stand in the way of these people and their aspirations. We oblige people to operate within a regulated labour market with restrictive award conditions that are in nobody's long-term interests, and we leave them vulnerable to unfettered access and disruption by representatives of unions.

In focusing on the tiny number of employers that may not do the right thing, we are systematically and consistently penalising tens of thousands of employers who do. Add to this the fact that the complexity and level of our taxation, including the cumulative effect of many individual taxes on businesses, act as a powerful disincentive to business growth and to employment. Countless people are missing out on jobs that are simply not being created.

What we do about water, training and small business are just three of the important questions facing us as a nation. Each of these is close to my heart and important to my electorate. Each is something I hope to be able to make a positive contribution towards while I represent all the people of the electorate of Hasluck, without fear or favour. It is because of them that I stand here today, indescribably proud to be the federal member for the seat of Hasluck during this, the 41st Australian Parliament. I thank the House for its indulgence.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Braddon, I would like to acknowledge the presence of the President of the Senate. Before the member for Braddon commences, I remind the House that this is his first speech and I ask the House to extend the usual courtesies.