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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1759

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:50): It is a great privilege to speak today to the address-in-reply on the occasion of the formation of the 44th Parliament. I want to begin by thanking the people of Calwell for their generous support and endorsement of my candidacy in the federal election of 2013. In returning to the 44th Parliament, I begin my fifth term as the member for Calwell. I have always aimed to be the best possible representative for my community. It is a role that carries responsibilities which I take very seriously and, as such, I will always endeavour to place the interests of my community at the front and centre of my work. My electorate is as diverse as it is interesting. I have spoken many times in this place about the diversity and complexity of the communities in Melbourne's north.

In this parliament, I have the privilege of welcoming to the federal seat of Calwell, following the last Victorian redistribution, a very large new community to the north-west of Melbourne. I am pleased to be representing the people of Keilor, Keilor Village, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Sydenham and a small portion of the suburb of Hillside. These communities are not entirely new additions to the federal seat of Calwell. They were part of my constituency when I first became the member for Calwell in 2001, but were lost in the redistribution that followed in my first term. The most recent redistribution has brought them back into Calwell and I certainly look forward to our re-acquaintance. I also look forward to the opportunity to serve them.

I would like to say goodbye to the good people of Sunbury and Bulla and to those constituents north of Craigieburn Road. It was an honour to have represented them and I trust they will continue to be well represented by your good self, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, member for McEwen. I look forward to working with you as my neighbour to the north, as we advance the interests of Melbourne's north-western constituencies.

During the first term of the Rudd Labor government, the fast-growing suburb of Craigieburn, of which you and I share almost half each, received $9½ million from the Commonwealth government under the infrastructure funding at the time to build a new global learning centre. This was a significant contribution from the Rudd Labor government to a community which desperately needed a new library. I had the great pleasure of opening the Hume Global Learning Centre at Craigieburn a couple of years ago at which you, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, were also present.

I can report to the House that the suburb of Craigieburn now has a magnificent state-of-the-art library, a library for the 21st century, which is open to all the community. It is innovative and high tech. Most recently, it has also become the centre for the newly established multiversity, which is a new way of accessing higher education courses online, providing flexibility for training and life-long learning. Such a multiversity will provide great choices to all our constituents regardless of their age. My community has been transformed as a result of this infrastructure. It would not have been possible without the Infrastructure Australia programs established by the previous Labor government.

Despite the significant changes to the new boundaries of the federal seat of Calwell, I am pleased to say that it remains pretty much a dynamic and democratically diverse electorate, one whose residents—virtually all of them—have the same migrant story as my own. The people are from all corners of the globe. They range from newly arrived migrants, predominantly refugees fleeing war and persecution. I acknowledge the new and emerging Iraqi community, which is predominantly Chaldean Christian and Assyrian Christian. I take this opportunity to congratulate them on the fact that they have taken up citizenship in massive numbers. Deputy Speaker Mitchell, you and I have been to many citizenship ceremonies where a large number of people taking Australian citizenship are newly arrived from Iraq.

There are also the second and third generation Australians of Italian and Greek background or from Croatia, Serbia and Poland. Also, there are a very large number of Australians of Turkish background. All this makes Calwell home to the largest Muslim constituency in Victoria and second in the country. We have a lot of newer communities from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Africa, and smaller communities from Myanmar, Nepal, the South Pacific Islands and New Zealand. And we have a lot of Australians of Irish, Scottish and English backgrounds. They are all part of the very rich fabric of this very multicultural part of Melbourne's north.

In recent times we have seen a steady influx of those who are escaping the hardships unleashed by the global financial crisis. Dealing with these constituents reminds us all—certainly me—of the very substantial impact the global financial crisis has had, especially in Europe, where a large number of my constituents come from. They retain very close ties to family in their countries of origin and they, too, feel their families' stress in those countries.

Calwell is the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present and give thanks to this parliament for continuing the work of reconciliation with our first people, beginning with the apology to the stolen generation by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. We are continuing in this parliament towards constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, for which I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Abbott, who has said that the government will, within 12 months, put forward for public consultation a draft constitutional amendment to recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution. I affirm to this House my support for such a process. In particular, I affirm the importance of bipartisanship in this very important process if we are to have a successful outcome.

As I stated, Calwell is demographically very diverse, reflecting the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the broader Australian community. As different as we all may be in our community, either culturally, socially, linguistically or in our faith, we all share a common bond—that is, our contemporary Australian identity, an identity forged through our Australian citizenship and characterised by a dynamic multicultural inheritance. This uniquely Australian contemporary identity has been in the making since Federation. I would say it has been somewhat turbocharged by successive waves of migration since the great post Second World War immigration program of Arthur Calwell, working its way through to today's migrants, but almost always acknowledging that we have a contemporary multicultural identity with an ancient Indigenous inheritance. This is what being Australian is for my constituents and for me.

Bipartisanship on issues of the Australian identity is paramount to the cohesion and unity of the broader Australian community. I personally—and I know a lot of other colleagues also—do not wish to return to the days of previous parliaments where Australia's multiculturalism was used as a tool for political wedging by politicians who sought notoriety and fame on the back of what were essentially racist views. We did succeed in the 42nd and 43rd parliaments to bring about bipartisanship on multicultural Australia and it is absolutely imperative that we continue to uphold this as well as to work for bipartisanship on Indigenous Australia.

I want to note that in the media today there is a report that the anti-Islam Dutch member of parliament, Geert Wilders, who is the founder of the Freedom Party and whose presentation, incidentally, took place in my electorate in Melbourne, has announced his intention to return to Australia next year to help launch a new party defending Western values, which is to be known as the Australian Liberty Alliance. Geert Wilders is quoted in his YouTube address as saying:

Many of you are disappointed with current political parties and have had enough with politicians who sell out our Western civilisation.

I am a politician who was born in the country commonly referred to as the cradle of Western civilisation and I could not think of a more appalling affront to the values of our Western civilisation and democracy than the narrow extremist views of politicians such as Geert Wilders.

I watched in horror as the Golden Party—a political party that has become fairly notorious and which I believe has comparable values and espouses similar views to Geert Wilders's Freedom Party—in Greece push similar rhetoric. The result was devastating for Greek society. I do regret the support that Geert Wilders seems to have received from the Q Society, which is an Australian Islam-critical group as they are now being referred to. I would like to caution colleagues to be very careful about embracing such sentiment and rhetoric because it has ramifications. It certainly has ramifications with cohesion in the community.

I went into the election as a candidate for the Australian Labor Party. Our message to the electorate was one of delivering a fairer Australia where the hopes and aspirations of all of our citizens regardless of their creed, colour or station in life could be realised, an Australia which cared about the disadvantaged in our community, an Australia that supported its frail and elderly, and an Australia that provided an opportunity for employment to everybody: to men, to women and in particular to young people.

The Labor Party while in government translated these values and aspirations into a suite of reformist policies that we recommitted to during the election campaign of 2013. Of course we are absolutely focused on holding this government to account on the commitments it made during the federal election campaign to implement the social reform agenda of the former Labor government in relation to the disability support scheme and to the Gonski school reform package.

On 7 September last year my constituents voted amongst other things for these reforms. In fact, 64.5 per cent on a two party preferred basis voted for me as the Labor candidate. That for me was a resounding affirmation of the policies that I took forward on behalf of the Labor Party to the election. However, I wish to note that I intend to work for all of my constituents regardless of whether they voted for me or not and I intend to bring to the attention of this House their concerns and their aspirations. That is my prime responsibility as their member and I look forward to the opportunity and to the challenges.

My work in my electorate, as with all of us, brings us into regular contact with constituents and community groups. The hopes and aspirations that they have and that they convey to me are largely centred around their neighbourhoods, their families, the broader community and of course our country as a whole. My constituents are people who rely on governments to deliver good services and practical solutions for those things that matter most to them and to their families. In Calwell this involves lifting the burden of the cost of living, providing a decent education for their children and looking after their families and ageing parents. Importantly, more than anything, it involves the opportunity to have a job now and into the future. My electorate has been one that has been hit considerably by massive job losses, ranging from Ford and the car industry to now the announced Qantas job losses. The constituents in my electorate are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to and very concerned about job prospects and the availability of jobs for themselves and for their children.

My community is also a community that is involved in settling many new migrants, especially under the refugee humanitarian program. Although Australia has one of the best settlement service programs in the world—in fact, it is world's best practice—there is always scope for improvement. My very large and newly emerging Iraqi community is testament to the success of the settlement programs. But there is a continuing need for practical, well-funded services to address problem areas such as, in their case, difficulties with recognition of their degrees and qualifications and, indeed, no recognition of former work experience. For migrants, this stands as the single most common impediment to their prospects of participating in the job market, especially in areas that they have been trained for or educated in.

With a large number of first-generation migrants ageing in Calwell, government support and assistance for the care of the elderly, who have already contributed throughout their working lives to Australia's prosperity, is absolutely imperative. Older Australians deserve peace of mind, certainty and confidence. This is absolutely true and I am absolutely pleased to hear these words from the government. But they cannot be just words; they must be matched with practical, adequately-funded services. I am proud to say that the previous Labor government did have a comprehensive aged-care package. We implemented, amongst other things, the historic increase to the old age pension.

The current government needs to be fully aware that it cannot in all good conscience make cuts at the expense of older Australians. So, whatever it intends, in relation to the welfare review—and I acknowledge the Minister for Social Services in the chamber at the moment—I know it must be well intended. I hope that the government's response will reflect the difficulties and hardships of making ends meet for those people who are on welfare payments, because understanding and empathy with people's predicaments, coupled with a compassionate rather than a punitive response, is what my constituents value and expect from their government. I am sure the broader Australian community shares these sentiments.

This is why, I think, they voted for the Labor Party agenda on 7 September in the election. It is the reason that the talks of cutbacks, especially to vital services that build and assist community, as well as speculation around the budget audit process and its possible outcomes, has created a growing anxiety in my community. It should not come as a surprise to learn that people are anxious about austerity measures and about audits and cuts. And in particular I would like to note that there is a lot of angst around the proposed or mooted changes to the Medicare bulk-billing regime. Some 92 per cent of GP services in Calwell are bulk-billed, and the reason for that is that people are in a financial situation that effectively requires bulk-billing. So any changes there would be very difficult for people and families in my electorate.

So, whatever this new narrative espoused by the current government around 'the end of the age of entitlement' is, we have to be mindful that there will always be legitimate reasons that some people in our community will need assistance and support from government.

Unfortunately, I am running out of time, but in the time I have left I would like to make a point of noting in this House that the government's introduction of legislation to repeal the schoolkids bonus will be a significant blow to the thousands of low- and middle-income families in the federal seat of Calwell. In fact, in Calwell some 28,691 kids and their families received the schoolkids bonus. I can assure the House that the loss of this will hit those families in my electorate quite hard. I would really like the government to reconsider its position on that policy. With those final words, I would like to again thank the good people of Calwell for re-electing me. I look forward to working for them in the next term of this parliament.