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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 353

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia) (12:15 PM) —I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land. I honour the prior occupation of our continent by Indigenous peoples before the great European migrations. I am of part of those migrations. In June 1966, Mum and Dad packed our bags and a trunk and, along with my brother, David, and sister, Carol, we sailed from Southampton, England, on the ship Fairsea. I was eight years old. Our destination was Adelaide. We were a family of £10 Poms, part of the migration that filled the steel mills, the manufacturing plants and factories of Kwinana, Newcastle, the Illawarra, Geelong, Adelaide and the Iron Triangle of South Australia. Although that was more than 40 years ago, the smell of diesel fumes still makes me feel seasick. The voyage took us first to Western Australia, where we spent the day visiting the city that many years later became my home town. Then we sailed to Adelaide, disembarked, boarded a bus and travelled north for 400 kilometres to Whyalla. We stayed in a migrant hostel before settling into our state housing commission house, this would be our home for the next 13 years. My dad, Gordon, worked at BHP’s Whyalla steel mill.

In 1976, I graduated from Whyalla High, having been taught along the way by wonderful teachers such as Ken Harrington, Dale Dodderidge and Bruce Wilton. They taught me well and they taught me much. Today when I meet teachers, principals or education specialists I think of the teachers who gave me the tools to shape my views. Teaching is a vital and invaluable profession. I will not forget the work of my teachers, their educating, their mentoring and their generosity. In this place, I acknowledge them all.

Throughout the 2007 election the government promised an education revolution—a revolution that will end the technology gap, the digital divide. That is why the government will put computers in schools for all year 9 to 12 students. I am committed to using my time in this place to do what I can to strengthen our schools and support our school children and teachers.

The education plans of our new government are vital to future generations of Australians. It is important that we invest in education. The future of our nation depends upon it. We all know education is not just what we learn at school. From my teachers I got the educational foundation for building a career. From my parents and my friends I learned the principles that underpin the two forces in my life: Labor politics and love. I learned my first lessons in politics from dad. He has an uncomplicated approach to life and a simple view of fairness. From my mum, Olive, I learned about love—love without complexity or condition. From mum I also learned about family.

First, let me speak of Labor politics. I joined the Australian Labor Party in 1974 at the age of 16 and met a wonderful influence in my life, Laurie Wallis, a former boilermaker who was elected to this parliament in 1969 and retired in 1983. As I studied for my degree in economics at the Australian National University here in Canberra, Laurie would invite me up to parliament to watch the theatre of politics. After graduating in the early 1980s, I travelled to the Northern Territory. I taught a little and did a few odd jobs that took me around the Territory. Eventually, I got a job with the late Bob Collins. In Darwin, generous people gathered me in and helped me to understand their world. I will always remember Barbara James, the Gerritsen family, Dawn Lawrie and of course Bob.

In the Northern Territory I met people who were deeply committed to building pathways out of poverty for Aboriginal people. We were also focused on getting Aboriginal people into parliament, a cause which is no less important today. Politics may be a difficult life choice but, at its best, it helps form enduring experiences and strong friendships. A cynic may believe politics is about acquaintances, alliances and transient friendships. I have never thought that was true. In any event, it makes us what we are and it makes me what I am. Politics brought me back to Canberra in 1986 to work in the national office of the Australian Labor Party, where I was fortunate to meet Robert Ray. Robert taught me the importance of courage and that principle and politics are comfortable bedfellows. He was a real mentor. From Bob Hogg and Bob McMullan, who were great national secretaries of the Australian Labor Party, I learned about patience, carefulness of thought and generosity of spirit. I also learned a vital lesson for politicians: we should never get too far ahead or, indeed, too full of ourselves.

My mission as I followed them as the Labor Party’s national secretary was to continue the work they had begun: to build the ALP as a truly national organisation. From all these people I learned, and will forever strive to master, the greatest lesson: always seek to learn from others.

I will speak now of love. I met my wife, Deborah, when she worked for the Australian Labor Party in Western Australia. Deborah is now my closest friend. She is the person on whom I rely, the strength that holds our family together, the one to whom I turn as we set the principles of life for our three young sons. At almost 50, I find my beautiful, bright and wonderful boys, Riley, Darcy and Toby, are a constant source of pride, joy, love and fun. I stand before you as a new member of parliament but I am first and always the father of my boys and husband to my wife. My family will always come first, and I thank Mum for this lesson.

Just as a strong economy is the essence of a strong nation, loving families and sustaining relationships are the essence of a strong community. From a young age it was clear to me that principles are the central value of politics, that the language of democracy is discourse and debate and that the most important element of all is compromise. Without compromise we lose cohesion and risk progress. Life in politics has taught me the importance of liberal democracy, of a strong economy and of the central importance of social cohesion.

In winning the seat of Brand for the Australian Labor Party, I acknowledge and pay tribute to Kim Beazley for his contribution to my local community and to Australian public life. Kim was not just a politician. He is a statesman. He is our former leader and Deputy Prime Minister. He epitomises the notion of public service, giving a great part of his life to the party, to politics, to parliament and to the Australian people. I am honoured to continue in his footsteps as Labor’s representative in this place for the people of Brand.

In acknowledging the privilege that I have been given, it is impossible not to recognise the support and help I have received and continue to receive from my family—Deborah, Riley, Darcy and Toby—and also from Rosalie and Peter Walsh and the broader Walsh families, who are, by nature, much more forgiving than the former senator. Many of us are lucky enough to have friends who have become family. Thank you, Lois Anderson.

I acknowledge and thank friends and local ALP branch members Rob Millhouse, Joy Stewart, Barry and Jerroldine Gilbert, Kath Gallop, John and Peg Cotter, Esther Grogan, Margaret and Max Duff, Sandra Lee, Coral Richards, Peter Kane, Andy and Margaret Mitchell, Brendan McShanag, Gus Riggs, Kelly Harman, Guy Morgan, Ray Thomson, Aleta Johnston, Natalie Machin, Terry Healy, Briony Sefton, Ron Hassell, Lee and Rita Gunn, Senator Glenn Sterle and, of course, my campaign manager, Renay Sheehan. I also thank Renay’s husband, Aaron, for his tolerance and generosity and Chloe, their daughter, for her sacrifices.

None of us in this place can win election campaign without the help of many people. I thank all of our branch members. I thank my local MPs, David Templeman, Mark McGowan and, especially, Paul Papalia. All of these people deserve the credit for my being here. I trust I will do them justice.

The electorate of Brand covers about 430 square kilometres along the Western Australian coast from south of Perth to Peel Inlet. It includes the cities of Kwinana, Rockingham and Mandurah. These are significant centres and major sources of industrial activity, housing and employment. Fleet Base West at Garden Island is also strategically central to the nation’s defence capability. In 2008, the electorate of Brand will generate about $20 billion towards the Australian economy. The Kwinana industrial area will contribute most of that amount.

For our economic and strategic capabilities, Brand is one of the most important electorates in Australia. It is where increasing numbers of people come to live, to work, to raise families and to retire. It is where young people find that the Kwinana industrial area can provide the trades and skills which are tickets to the world. It is where we build ships, generate energy, smelt metals, make fertiliser, liquefy gases, produce agricultural products, process chemicals, export grain, build houses and even turn seawater into drinking water. It is where industry and environmental protection go hand in hand. It is where we have made industry good for people because it creates wealth and it creates jobs, and work creates dignity and pride for people and their communities. It is also good because profitable industry can afford the highest environmental standards; indeed, it is a virtuous cycle.

In keeping with this theme, Kwinana is where the success of one industry depends on the success of its neighbours. Kwinana is one place in Australia where we lead the world, trading in and reusing the by-products of industry for greater energy efficiency, water conservation and lower emissions to the soil, air and water. Kwinana industries share more than 120 synergies, a great example of which is the sequestration of 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, which is now mixed with mining residue to lower its alkalinity so that the residue can grow trees. It is where we keep our industry clean, productive and protected by a green buffer zone.

Such interdependence is unique and a credit to those who own, manage and work in businesses in Kwinana and Rockingham. These industries directly and indirectly pay the wages of 26,000 Australians every year. Innovative industry sits comfortably with modern and effective trade unions. Professional and flexible workplaces are supported by insightful unions. Increasingly I see growing confidence between employers and organised labour, a confidence which I hope continues.

Australia has many rapidly growing coastal regions and growth corridors like Kwinana, Rockingham and Mandurah which need federal support, particularly as we experience unprecedented demographic change. By way of example, in the Rockingham, Kwinana and Mandurah areas, industry expects that about half of their current skilled workers will retire in the next 15 years. Only six per cent of their workforce today is under the age of 24. Western Australia’s industry is reporting the imminent retirement of a large cohort of skilled workers. It also reports great difficulty in recruiting trainees, trades professionals, plant operators and project managers, safety personnel, accounts clerks and receptionists. Unless we, as a nation, respond to our skills crisis, we risk the sustainability of economic growth. This is not special pleading for my electorate. Western Australia and the nation need to deal with this dynamic. Kwinana and Rockingham are where we take the lead in educating our children and creating the pathways to industry, jobs and the future.

Providing the best skilled workforce makes our economy resilient. It makes communities strong and gives opportunity to thousands of future Australians. It is why we need a coherent and sustainable training plan. Kwinana and Rockingham have every ingredient we need to create the best model for training workers. It is one of the nation’s largest industrial areas; it is crying out for people. It has 18 secondary schools. It has technical and further education institutions and university campuses. The massive industries and growing communities of Rockingham and Kwinana are where Labor’s plan for skilling Australia will come to life.

Of all the democratic nation-states created in the 20th century, none has been as successful as Australia. We have created the most effective democracy and a strong economy. But democratic processes are always a work in progress. We have done some things well. The secret ballot, for example, is a unique Australian creation. We have led innovation in parliamentary processes, yet it took 60 years to extend the franchise to Aboriginal people and a further seven years to include them in the census. Our robust institutions, strong public sector and sense of nationhood have helped generations to build a wealthy, capable country. Along the way we have allowed differences of opinion to surface and be discussed and yet we are still able to get along. This is an endearing and enduring legacy to all of those who perform public service for this country. But it is also our duty to support the emerging fragile democracies in our region. We have not been good at exporting our model nor at engaging hearts and minds in the seeding of democratic institutions. When we look to Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Fiji we see the need for these nations to build a robust democracy. But it is not easy, and emerging nations such as Timor demonstrate the need for a strong economy when building a strong democracy. My friend President Jose Ramos-Horta is a great man—honourable, hard-working and true to his task. As he lies in a hospital bed in Darwin, wounded by a bullet from a rebel’s gun, we have cause to pause. The struggle to build a strong and sustainable democracy must be theirs, but their struggle to build a sustainable and resilient economy is also ours. Without a strong economy, democracy will not survive. Without a strong economy, there is no capacity to protect the environment, to create civil order or to protect property rights. It is clear to me that we must work to build sustainable economies, capable governments and jobs in our region. Democracy will thrive amid affluence, as it does in Australia.

In this context we cannot usefully discuss sharing the fruits of economic growth unless we have first created wealth and sustained its creation. Getting the economy right is at the very heart of nation building and at the heart of our national interest. A robust and sustainable economy allows for a surplus to be distributed to those in need. I believe that for a liberal democracy to survive it must be underpinned by a strong economy and continually improving living standards. By continually improving the productivity of our economy we create economic wealth to support our greatest purpose: the sharing of its benefits. These benefits include better education, shelter for everyone, environmental protection and better opportunities for the poor, the dispossessed, the disadvantaged and the homeless. A healthy economy allows us to best respond to present and future challenges and is central to our success as a nation. Indeed, a strong economy is in my view the central pillar in our mission to define and determine our national interest and to give life and meaning to the values of Australians.

As I begin my term as the member for Brand I commit myself to unwavering support for the human, physical and financial infrastructure which allows our economy to grow. By definition, this involves consideration of our national interest and our national values. This is my aspiration and I accept it will draw criticism from time to time. Indeed, Australians enjoy criticising their politicians. That is how it is. It is part of the discourse and debate of a vibrant democracy. It is also something I welcome. It nurtures my desire to learn from others in my quest to do what is best and what is right for our nation. This is what I have learned from the influential people in my life. I hope I can make proud the people who put me here. I hope I can always do what is best and right for our nation.