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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 362

Ms PARKE (12:56 PM) —Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Ngunnawal people, and the traditional owners of the land in Fremantle, the Nyungar people, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

In life we tend to remember moments rather than hours or days or years. I will surely remember this one, as I also remember the moment when I learned that my friend Jean-Selim Kanaan, one of the UN’s best and brightest, with whom I had worked in Kosovo, was killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. The year before he was killed, Jean-Selim published a book called Ma Guerre a l ’Indifference , ‘My War Against Indifference’. I dedicate this first speech to Jean-Selim and to all the others who have served in the cause of peace and in the war against indifference.

Politics is a war against indifference. Like many people who have sought or who seek to make a public service contribution through politics, I cannot be indifferent to the millions of Australians who have been left behind during the resources boom and who struggle with rising costs of living while their incomes remain static, or who cannot gain access to housing or health services when needed. I cannot be indifferent to the massive underinvestment in public education, skills training and infrastructure that has occurred in the past decade, or to the trebling of the HECS debt in that period. And I cannot be indifferent to the homeless, or to those suffering mental illness, or living with disability, or to the one billion of our fellow human beings who live in extreme poverty. Politics is also about service. It is about the service we give to those ideals that inform our present conduct and that shape our vision of the future. It is about the service we give to the people who have chosen us to represent them and the service we give to all Australians through our contribution to the work of this national parliament.

As a new member I am deeply humbled to have been elected by the people of Fremantle to be their 10th representative in this place since Federation. And I am at their service. Fremantle was named after Captain Charles Fremantle, a man of somewhat dubious reputation and doubtful seafaring skills, who nonetheless had the foresight to declare Fremantle ‘a place of consequence’. Fremantle might properly be regarded as Australia’s Ellis Island—the first landing place for migrants arriving by sea. Today it is a hardworking, multicultural community made up of men, women and children who are Australian by birth and Australian by choice. Based around a major working port, whose efficiency owes much to the Maritime Union of Australia, Fremantle has developed a unique charm and character, being home to what many regard as the best-preserved 19th century cityscape in Australia, the busiest regional airport in the Southern Hemisphere, at Jandakot, one of the fastest growing local council areas in the country, at Cockburn, and the greatest football team in Australia, the Freo Dockers. Fremantle also supports a precious natural and Indigenous heritage—for example, the Bibra Lake and Beeliar Wetlands—as well as a rich cultural, artistic and intellectual tradition through its many artists, writers, musicians, students and academics.

I am happy to say that indifference is anathema to the people of Fremantle. They are engaged, politically conscious and have strong and ‘sometimes bolshie’ views, as Carmen Lawrence noted approvingly in her valedictory speech. They also have high expectations—not surprisingly for an electorate which has been represented since World War II by four outstanding Labor members: Australia’s great wartime and nation-building Prime Minister, John Curtin; Kim Beazley Sr, who, as acknowledged in a condolence motion this week, made critical contributions to education policy and the quest for justice for Indigenous Australians while serving as the member for Fremantle for 32 years and as a cabinet minister in the Whitlam government; John Dawkins, a cabinet minister in the Hawke and Keating governments during a period of tremendous economic reform; and Carmen Lawrence, the first woman Premier in Australia, a health minister in the Keating government and the first popularly-elected National President of the Australian Labor Party. I honour the very significant contributions of my predecessors in the seat of Fremantle, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Carmen Lawrence for the support and wise counsel she has given me over the last year and pay special tribute to her extraordinary contribution to state and federal politics. Carmen used her peerless intelligence, compassion and strength to promote the cause of women in public life, to protect the environment and support the arts, and to assist vulnerable members of our society, such as people with disabilities, carers, seniors, Indigenous communities and refugees. I know that she continues that work today.

I also want to thank my family for their love and support, especially my parents, George and Lorraine; my sister, Georgina, and her husband, Chris; my brothers, Aaron and Justin; and my grandparents, Henry and Beryl Burge and Jean and Jesse Pat Parke. I never knew my Grandfather Parke, who, like many veterans, continued to suffer the effects of war after returning home; and he died when my father was only a teenager. I would like to thank my dear friends, some of whom are here today and some very far away. I also thank the Western Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party and my federal and state colleagues, with special thanks to Jim McGinty and Alannah MacTiernan. I thank the hundreds of local members and other volunteers who worked incredibly hard on my campaign under the guidance of my wonderful campaign team. Finally, I want to acknowledge with gratitude the support of EMILY’s List.

I note the Labor Party’s success in selecting and promoting women as parliamentary representatives. Women make up approximately 35 per cent of the Labor parliamentarians in this new parliament, and women constitute 36.5 per cent of all state, federal and territory Labor parliamentarians. This is compared with 23 per cent and 13 per cent for the Liberal and National parties respectively. To those who say there is no great value in proactively addressing the representative imbalance, I say: look at those numbers.

Like many of my predecessors, I come to the task and the honour of representing the people of Fremantle as a relative newcomer to Fremantle. I am like many Australians who trace their personal and professional development, their sense of identity, through many places, here and abroad. I am, at the outset, from my family’s orchard farm near Donnybrook in country Western Australia. My great-grandfather, John Stanley Parke, and his son George were the first people to export Granny Smith apples to the world, and they did so in 1922 through the port of Fremantle. My family were unusual among farmers for being Labor supporters, and they instilled in me a passion for social justice, for the environment and for the welfare of animals.

I grew up and was educated at public schools in the beautiful south-west of WA, where I later returned to work as the solicitor-in-charge at the Bunbury Community Legal Centre. It was while acting on behalf of the legal centre’s clients that I learned the value of strong local representation and advocacy. As Margaret Mead observed:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

I am from Kosovo and Gaza and Beirut and New York. These are the places where I worked for the United Nations in a number of roles: peacekeeping and reconstruction in Kosovo and humanitarian affairs in Gaza. In New York I helped establish the UN Ethics Office, and in Lebanon I was part of the UN commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was killed exactly three years ago today. I am, like many Australians, from many places. But I have come home to Fremantle. I hope that my capacity to act as an effective parliamentary representative has been enriched by my experiences in both Australia and abroad.

I began this first speech talking about the war against indifference. I now want to set out three of the most important areas in which I intend to wage that struggle. The first is Australia’s place in the world. We are living at a time when everything is more connected than ever before, and we are surrounded by change and uncertainty. Advances in information technology, increased levels of migration and displacement, and the integration of nation states into free trade and single-currency collectives are, variously, key trends of 21st century globalisation. It is imperative that Australia transform its education and training systems, communications and transport infrastructure to ensure that we can participate fully and to the highest level in the global economy.

The Rudd Labor government’s commitment to an education revolution, with its strategic emphasis on maths, science and technology—as well as its program to significantly upgrade Australia’s broadband infrastructure and foster innovation—will assist in this transformation. While our connection to the world brings us unprecedented opportunities for international trade, travel and communications, it also presents us with an altered risk and security environment. Scientists and economists have warned about the impending catastrophic impact on the natural and human environment of climate change. Even the head of the Australian Federal Police has declared climate change to be the greatest security threat of this century.

With regard to global terrorism, there can be no justification for the pursuit of political objectives through an accumulation of shattered bodies and destroyed lives; yet our response to such acts of violence must be resolutely long term and proactive, rather than last-minute and reactive. As noted by former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, you cannot fight a war on terror without also fighting a war on disadvantage, discrimination and despair. Security, development and human rights are inextricably linked. Tackling poverty in our region through the Millennium Development Goals is part of a wider strategy to deal with terrorism, climate change, pandemics and refugees. The tragic and profoundly anti-democratic events in East Timor this week highlight the importance of supporting our neighbours in their struggle to uphold democracy, stability and the rule of law. In my view it is crucial that the global community returns to a law based system of international engagement and action. We know the consequences of abandoning that approach. They include the war in Iraq, the use of torture and Guantanamo prison. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an instrument with a bipartisan legacy that goes back to Australia’s critical role—when ‘Doc’ Herbert Evatt was President of the UN General Assembly—in drafting the declaration. I would respectfully submit that one of the pressing tasks for this new parliament as a whole—as we remember that anniversary—is to rescue Doc Evatt’s legacy.

I would like to relate, at this point, a recent experience. In July 2006 I was working in Beirut when the war started between Israel and Hezbollah. Three days earlier, the main concern for ordinary Lebanese was the World Cup soccer final between France and Italy. Suddenly, to their immense bewilderment, these life-loving people found themselves in the midst of a war. UN international staff and Lebanese people with a second passport, including many Australians, were evacuated by ship to Cyprus. We enjoyed a warm welcome on board from the Australian Federal Police officers who had volunteered to work on the evacuation, but it was a gut-wrenching experience to be sailing away to safety while our local Lebanese staff stood on the quay and waved. These were just ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances over which they had no control.

My experience overseas has shown me that, but for an accident of time and place of birth, any of us could be facing war or persecution or genocide. Any of us could find ourselves needing a place to go and be safe for a while. I am proud to say that Fremantle has been, and continues to be, such a place. It is now home to people who have come from Africa, often escaping the gravest circumstances. Just as in the past, Fremantle has received migrants from South-East Asia, the United Kingdom and southern Europe. To all these people, Australia represents a new hope and, for many, a new experience—the experience of life without fear. As Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said: ‘The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.’

Australia’s international focus must be on revitalising our engagement with the Asia-Pacific region and on consolidating our important bilateral and regional relationships. I also have a particular interest in seeing Australia once again play a positive role within the United Nations. In light of Australia’s longstanding place as one of the founders and champions of the UN and of multilateralism, it has been distressing to witness the damage to Australia’s international reputation during the past decade as a result of the treatment of asylum seekers, the refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol, our involvement in the Iraq war, and the Australian Wheat Board scandal. These things also served to distract attention from the excellent work performed by Australian peacekeepers and AFP personnel around the world, as my colleague the new member for Eden-Monaro attested in his first speech yesterday.

I look forward to working with my parliamentary colleagues to ensure that Australia renews its cooperative and constructive participation with other nations in international and regional fora to address global challenges such as climate change, poverty and capacity development, nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, refugees, migration, security and pandemics. And, very importantly, I believe Australia can play a key role in the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

The second area to which I intend to devote special attention is the issue of sustainability. Once upon a time, if you were not an environmentalist, it might have been said that you did not have a heart. Today, if you are still not an environmentalist, it must be said that you do not have a brain. The deadly serious challenge of global warming means that we must now contemplate the limits and conditions of our long-term existence on this planet. We have to acknowledge that the way we have been going is not sustainable. We must make up for a decade of national inaction by taking steps to reduce our dependence on oil, to develop renewable energy sources and energy efficiencies, and to accept that demand management is part of the equation, and we need to protect our biodiversity and our water resources.

You cannot have a strong and sustainable economy without a strong community and a sustainable environment. I am happy to say that strength of community and the pursuit of sustainability are well established in the Fremantle electorate. South Fremantle Senior High School has set out to be the first carbon neutral secondary school in Australia. The Southern Metropolitan Regional Council, which serves the recycling needs of several city councils in the electorate, is an Australian leader in sustainable waste management. Indeed, if the national emissions trading scheme is designed effectively, organisations like the SMRC will be carbon creditors, able to fund the further research and development of their technologies by trading the contributions they make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the seabed off Fremantle there is a company trialling a simple wave-power technology that is designed to generate clean power and produce desalinated water. Inland, the rapidly growing south-eastern part of the electorate is now linked to the city of Perth by a state-of-the-art train service that the Western Australian Gallop-Carpenter government has brought to completion. All the while, there is a range of community groups fighting to protect the Beeliar regional wetlands, to rehabilitate injured native animals, to protect Indigenous heritage, to protest against Japanese whaling and to push for sustainable transport, housing and industry.

Finally, as the sum of my ideals, I believe in the promise of good government. Government can reflect the best in us and it can, by the collective power we vest in it, be a creative and enabling force for positive change. Democracy is not something that only happens every three years on election day; it is a living thing and it must be nourished, tended and maintained through greater openness, access and interaction between government and the wider community. In launching my election campaign last year, Kim Beazley noted that one of the consequences of a change in government would be the reopening of the space for public debate. To that end, I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiatives to hold community cabinet meetings; to depoliticise the Public Service, the boards of statutory bodies and the system of funding grants to research centres and community organisations; to strengthen FOI and bring in federal whistleblower protection legislation; and to restore ministerial accountability.

On other issues of governance, let me say that I will add my voice to the arguments in favour of longer, fixed-term Commonwealth parliaments and greater transparency in disclosure of election donations, in favour of a federal bill of rights, and in favour of a requirement for parliament’s consent before Australian troops are committed to war in the absence of an immediate security threat or a UN Security Council mandate. I say also that I look forward to that special moment, in the not-too-distant future, when Australia will finally have its own head of state.

I began this first speech with a dedication to Jean-Selim Kanaan and his war against indifference. Let me end by acknowledging another inspirational person, Heather Vicenti. Heather is a Fremantle constituent and she travelled from Coolbellup to Canberra this week as my guest, on behalf of the people of Fremantle, to be present for the apology. Heather, who is now 72 years old, was born in the goldfields east of Kalgoorlie, a member of the Wongi people, and she was taken from her mother when she was two years old. She spent most of her childhood at Roelands Church of Christ Mission outside Perth, where she was trained as a domestic servant. During her challenging life she, in turn, had children taken away, and four of her seven adult children died in tragic circumstances, including a son who was shot by prison guards while in custody. Heather has written a book about her life and her experiences as a member of the stolen generations. Its title is Too Many Tears.

As Sir Ronald Wilson said in the Bringing them home report, ‘The process of storytelling was itself the beginning of a healing process.’ It is my hope that the stories of the stolen generations, and of Indigenous dispossession more broadly, will continue to be told and heard together with a celebration of the cultural diversity and richness of Australia’s Indigenous heritage as one of the key strands within the new national curriculum. I know that Heather’s experience, energy and indomitable spirit are a kind of irrepressible magic that will remain a touchstone for me as I join with my fellow parliamentarians in seeking to bridge the unacceptable chasm in quality of life and life expectancy that still exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Finally, while I acknowledge that there is an aspect of our democracy that is necessarily and even usefully adversarial, I also believe there is greater scope for cooperative, consensus politics. We have seen this week what can be achieved when parliamentarians leave aside the us-and-them approach in favour of a joint commitment to the welfare and dignity of our fellow Australians. I hope that my work in this place on behalf of the people of Fremantle can be part of an ongoing cooperative effort towards more such victories in the war against indifference.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the member for Cowan, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.