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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 919

Ms PARKE (1:24 PM) —Mr Speaker, I join my colleagues in congratulating you on your return to that important position in what will be an interesting and I hope productive time in this place. I return to parliament with the renewed privilege of representing the people of the Fremantle electorate. It is an enormous honour and also a heavy responsibility that comes with representative politics, for each of us elected to this place is charged with the task of making a difference for our own communities and for Australia as a whole. I said in my first speech that politics is about service, and that this service is both to the communities that we represent and to the set of ideals and values that draw us to this vocation. I have certainly reflected on that over the last three years and, as a federal member, I have done my best to come to grips with the difficulties involved in trying to give that service effectively and across as many areas as one would like. Not surprisingly the doing is inevitably harder and more complicated than the saying, and one of the most straightforward difficulties is choosing how to give priority to the literally hundreds of issues that arise in this work.

I reflected on the twin notions of service I have spoken about in the aftermath of the recent campaign, when some chose to make use of Edmund Burke’s formulation of the duty representatives owe to their electorates in order to argue for one kind of minority government over another. The statement relied upon spoke about the bond of trust that exists between constituents and their representative. Burke said:

Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But Edmund Burke knew there were limits to what might be called the purely delegate view of representative politics. He went on to say:

But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

The exclusive use of male pronouns aside, this is a well-expressed argument for the application of values and the primacy of disinterested judgment in preference to the potentially fickle influence of popular opinion or ad hoc representations. It is a statement in support of guiding principles as an essential part of the decision-making framework and against the purely delegate view. There is a fine balance, then, in politics and in life between the need to hear and sometimes accept views that are different from one’s own and the value of conviction that remains steadfast in the face of opposition or unpopularity. Listening to others and being prepared to put aside your view has a value, but so does the act of persuading others to take a new approach to an intractable problem or to changing circumstances. For all those reasons I will continue to take guidance from the idea of service to both the community I represent and to the set of values that underpin my capacity to make judgments on the issues I confront.

As someone who has been re-elected for the first time I have now experienced the benefit of the cycle in which representatives are judged and tested, and I can see the value of a cycle that allows one to reflect on the things that have been achieved and the things that remain to be done. Today I intend to talk about the matters large and small and local and national that I regard as areas of particular interest or focus, the matters and issues on which I will seek to make some meaningful contribution in this term.

The Fremantle electorate has as its natural focus the beautiful and vibrant port city of Fremantle. The significance of the city as a regional centre and its location in the north-west corner of the electorate can tend to obscure the fact that the eastern and south-eastern parts of the Fremantle electorate are experiencing the fastest growth and development. I have always been very much aware of this and I have spoken in this place on a number of occasions about the strengths, challenges and needs of this area of my electorate. It is a part of the Perth south metro region that is flourishing through its access to the coast at Coogee and Jervoise Bay and as a result of the extension of the rail line from Perth to Mandurah by the Gallop-Carpenter Labor government. That is, of course, in addition to the proactive work of the City of Cockburn, the South West Group and, most importantly of all, the energy, entrepreneurship and strong community spirit of individuals, families and businesses in the area.

The Perth metro area south of the river is served by the train line from Perth to Fremantle and by the newer inland Perth-Mandurah train line, which in my electorate runs through the suburbs of North Lake, South Lake, Jandakot, Atwell, Success and Aubin Grove. But, as I have mentioned, there is enormous scope for development in the central and coastal south metro corridors, and it is logical that this area be encouraged and supported by the provision of appropriate infrastructure. It is for that reason that I have worked particularly hard to argue for community facilities, such as the new fire and emergency services headquarters in Jandakot, near Cockburn central, to which the government has now committed $1.5 million.

I also hope the Western Australian government can soon adopt a transport plan for the south metro region that includes a strategic and forward-looking commitment to a second tier public transport network like light rail. Such a plan is necessary and it should be developed as a priority in order to complement the current and planned residential expansion along the Cockburn coast in particular. Unfortunately, the current state government’s principal transport planning initiative is to pursue the outdated and hugely damaging Roe Highway stage 8. This road will have an unnecessary and unacceptable impact on another of the critical north-south features of the Fremantle electorate—namely, the string of lakes and wetlands that form the spine of the Beeliar Regional Park. This is an internationally significant ecosystem. It is enormously significant to local Aboriginal people, represented by elder Patrick Hume, for its archaeological and mythological heritage sites. It is one of the great environmental and community assets in the metropolitan area south of the Swan River. I will continue to support an approach to transport planning in metropolitan Western Australia that looks beyond the tired and reflexive decision to keep building further huge expensive roads in a network that already provides more kilometres per capita than almost anywhere else in the world. There are better solutions for reducing road congestion and the impact of road freight, not least in properly supporting rail freight—an initiative which the current WA government has flagrantly abandoned.

I have noted before in this place that the Fremantle electorate is a leader in urban sustainability and there have been a number of achievements in the last year that bear this out. Western Australia is well placed to be a major participant in renewable energy development and I am keen to ensure that WA is seen not just in terms of its mining strength but also in terms of its potential for innovation and expansion when it comes to renewables like solar, solar thermal, wave, geothermal and wind power. It is hard sometimes not to feel that WA’s capacity in this area is overlooked, perhaps because of its obvious strength in traditional energy resources. I am resolved to advocate on behalf of renewable energy and other emission reduction or carbon abatement initiatives in my electorate and in my state.

In addition to my work in the Fremantle electorate and my work in this place as a representative of Fremantle and of Western Australia, there are several matters of national importance that I intend to pursue. In the area of health, I have already signalled my interest in seeing a small but important change to the Patents Act 1990 that will prevent the patenting of genetic material or sequences and therefore stop the private and commercial exploitation of what is our most fundamental common property and common wealth. I draw members’ attention to my notice of motion relating to gene patents that was debated on Monday night, 18 October, and I encourage interested parliamentarians and members of the public to consider the discussion and inform themselves on the issue.

It is also clear that Australia needs to quicken the pace and expand the scope of national health reform as a whole, in particular in the area of preventative health. That is a project that this government is well placed to advance, partly because the sound underlying structure of the national health system was built by Labor governments of the past and partly because this government has already made progress in the area of health reform. I commend the incredible work done by the Minister for Health and Ageing in this area to date, and I look forward to being part of a Labor government that continues to shape a sustainable and effective national health system. This includes being prepared to take hard decisions to ensure that health funding is applied as effectively as it can be—as in the case of our preparedness to direct government support on the basis of need to those who take out private health insurance.

The issue of care, both for the elderly and for people with disability, is of enormous significance. I look forward to the Productivity Commission’s examination of a national disability insurance scheme, for there can be few areas of policy that present such enormous potential to improve the quality of Australian life for the millions of people who live with disability or care for those who do. On that front, I welcome the creation of the special disability trust, which allows parents of children with disability to make provision for their care. This reform is one of those small but important improvements that occur through government without ever intruding into the wider public awareness. I am aware that further improvements to the operation of those trusts have been introduced in a bill today, and I look forward to their becoming law. I want to make special mention of Ray Walter and his wife and their son Glenn—an indefatigable Western Australian family who have campaigned on this issue for years. I am one of several WA parliamentarians to have had the benefit of Ray’s tireless advocacy on this issue, and I want to particularly acknowledge the passionate concern of the member for Pearce, who had a notice of motion on this subject on Monday.

When it comes to aged care, I am strongly in favour of considering new and further approaches to support elderly Australians and their families in circumstances where an elderly couple or an individual wants to continue to live independently but needs assistance to do so. There is scope to explore both existing and innovative means of providing care in the home, which I believe will have benefits for elderly Australians and their families, in addition to cost savings. There is also no doubt that we need to focus efforts and resources on residential aged-care capacity, service and consistency right now if we are to avoid a crisis in the near future. I support calls for further funding and attention to be given to this sector and I look forward to welcoming the new Minister for Mental Health and Ageing to Fremantle to meet with aged-care providers and workers. Of course, the quality of aged and disability care depends more than anything on the people who directly provide that care and on the proper staff-patient ratios that allow care workers to do what they do best—in appropriate working conditions. Due to the strength of the resources sector, WA has particular difficulties when it comes to retaining workers in the aged-care sector. I support a proportion of increased funding being ring-fenced for the improvement of wages to care workers.

Finally, on the health topic, can I say how welcome it was that the recent election drew public and media attention to the issue of mental health. This is a matter of great concern in my electorate, and while Fremantle has been fortunate to benefit from one of the new headspace centres I also look forward to the implementation of the government’s further initiatives in the area of suicide prevention.

In the area of governance and ethics, I intend to further pursue a number of issues. I believe that our system of government should operate to ensure that the decision to commit Australian troops overseas to war is subject to full parliamentary consideration, debate, and approval—rather than being a matter for the executive alone. This week we are debating our commitment in Afghanistan, and so it is timely that we extrapolate from those circumstances to consider the process by which we come to make these commitments in the first place. It is inevitable that we will have to make similar decisions in the future and I believe there are compelling reasons—most vividly illustrated by the Howard government’s decision to go to war in Iraq—to provide greater scrutiny of the decision to commit troops to war through a process which requires parliamentary consideration and consent.

I remain committed to the good sense and necessity of a human rights act and I reject wholeheartedly the idea that this question has been resolved or that a human rights act is some kind of high-flown, marginal reform. In fact, such an act not only would incorporate domestically Australia’s international commitments under human rights treaties but would enshrine the very Australian notion of a fair go within our legal system because it would empower ordinary Australians against the excesses of the executive. You have only to reflect on the tragic WA case of Mr Ward, who died in the back of a prison van in January 2008, whose agonising death was described by the coroner as wholly unnecessary and avoidable. No person or body—not the drivers of the prison van; not the company, G4S, running the prisoner transport services on behalf of the government; not the police or the justice of the peace; not the Department of Corrective Services or the Department of the Attorney General—has been held accountable, and nor are they likely to be. The treatment of Aboriginal people in WA’s justice system was unacceptable in 1901, when the Labor member for Coolgardie, Hugh Mahon, moved a motion calling for a royal commission into the matter, and it is unacceptable in modern Australia. The deplorable police tasering incidents that have recently come to light only add weight to this.

In the area of international engagement, I will renew my efforts to be part of the worldwide push to end the use of the death penalty. The death penalty is anathema to civilised human society. As I have said before in this place on more than one occasion, it is wrong, dangerous and immoral for the state to put a citizen to death. It demeans us all and it should be stopped.

I join with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in believing that Australia has a role to play in helping to keep the Millennium Development Goals on track. Progress has been made in some areas, but the 2015 targets are likely to be missed, particularly those relating to maternal and child health, unless the international community increases its efforts in this regard. In my view, we must never stop striving to end the obscenity of two billion of our fellow human beings living and dying in extreme poverty. I can confidently say that the electorate I represent wants Australia to play a meaningful role when it comes to global efforts to reduce poverty, disadvantage and suffering.

When we look to characterise the nature of Australia’s outlook on the world, it is hard not to be struck by our record of deep generosity and compassion in relation to events like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the floods in Bangladesh and the earthquake in Haiti. That outward-looking concern for our fellow human beings, and especially for those who live in less secure or well-off circumstances than we do, is an extension of our openness and sense of fairness. It is fitting, therefore, that I finish this speech by making mention of a fundraising concert I attended in Fremantle on Saturday. This event, titled simply ‘Concert for Pakistan’, was organised by a group of Fremantle people, from the local Oxfam group and including other community members, who recognised that the flood disaster in Pakistan had not registered as strongly on the public consciousness as the scale of the catastrophe demands. I suspect that one of the contributing reasons for its lack of profile was the federal election and its aftermath, which dominated the media and public focus at the time.

In any case, the Concert for Pakistan involved a large number of people from across the greater Fremantle community who gave their time and resources to raise money for the ongoing effort to deal with the terrible impact of the floods in that country. I was very happy to be there to introduce a couple of the bands who donated their performances on Saturday, and it always lifts the heart to be in a group of people—men, women, and children—who come together to contribute their time, money and good wishes for men, women and children who are just like them but who, by fate and circumstance, are suffering terrible privation.

I would particularly like to recognise the work of Jon Strachan, who until recently was a councillor in the City of Fremantle. He continues his longstanding efforts as an environmental and social campaigner and he certainly lives by the motto ‘Think global, act local’, or to borrow a mantra from Mahatma Gandhi ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’.

That is the principle on which I am happy to conclude my speech at the commencement of the 43rd Parliament. It is a principle that applies to some of the greatest challenges we face in Australia, and as a global community. It applies to climate change, it applies to the finite and dwindling supply of hydrocarbons that dominate our current energy-use profile, it applies to the issue of global poverty and the insecurity and conflict that flows from desperation; and it flows from the disparity between those who have and those who have not.