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Wednesday, 4 May 1983
Page: 196


Senator JACK EVANS(6.0) —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I ask you to congratulate the President and the Deputy President of the Senate on my behalf on their election. I look forward to making my contribution to this Parliament under their guidance. I am very proud to be the first Australian Democrat from Western Australia to speak in the Address-in- Reply debate in this Parliament. Fate and the Senate election system play strange tricks on candidates. In 1977 I achieved what I believed was the highest quota of primary votes of any Senate candidate who did not win a seat. In 1980 we came within 500-odd votes of winning-I believe the closest vote on record-and still missed out winning a seat. Thanks to the continuing support and confidence of the Australian Democrats in Western Australia at our third attempt we were successful. This spirit is typical of Democrats around Australia. Not only are they caring, concerned people but also they have a dedication to this country which is an inspiration to all of us.

It is now evident that Australians from all States recognise the value of having a third independent political force in this country. Third parties are not new to Australia. However, the Australian Democrats not only hold the balance of power in the Senate but also offer genuine alternatives to the confrontationism of our political system. My Democrat colleagues and I can and will act positively to break down the polarised nature of parliament. We will continue to act as watch-dogs and we will exercise the mandate we have been given. We will propose alternatives to government policies and we will initiate legislation and debate in areas we believe to be important. The three party system will benefit the Senate and our system of government but most of all it will benefit our constituents as their respect for a constructive, concensus seeking parliament evolves.

This Government, according to the Speech by the Governor-General, wishes to make many parliamentary and electoral reforms. These are vitally important. They will continue the democratisation of government. The proposed reforms are also important because they are making Australians think about the nature of our government. In general, it could be alleged that many Australians are not concerned, or aware, of the inequalities and impracticalities of the present system of government. Reforms such as those proposed are valuable because they increase the awareness of the Australian population.

The Australian Democrats have introduced to this country, and, indeed, to the world, a new style of participatory democracy. Our democratic method of deciding policies, the election of our leaders by the total membership of the party and the right of any member to initiate policy or constitutional change, has set a pattern for participatory democracy which this country would do well to follow. It is exciting to see that the other new political party making a substantial mark on politics in the English speaking world-the British Social Democratic party-has adopted these methods to develop its own policies. I commend to this Parliament the concept of citizens' initiative which enables a representative group of citizens to initiate legislative or constitutional changes through a system of referendums.

I support the Bill of my colleague Senator Mason which would establish this right if a successful referendum followed. In my State of Western Australia only the government of the day can bring about constitutional or electoral reform. A conservative government-from which my State has suffered or benefited, depending on one's point of view-has had absolute control of the Parliament since the day it was first opened. The gerrymandered upper House is a parody of democracy. One can understand the frustration of Western Australian citizens who realise that there is neither a constitutional nor democratic means for them to reform the upper House of that State. The very Constitution itself can be changed at the whim of the parliament of the day without reference to the people. The establishment of the rights of ordinary people to petition for a referendum binding on the Government is a vital step in reforming our political systems across this nation.

The Australian Democrats are committed to the introduction to Australia of a new era of industrial democracy. There are many exciting developments in other countries which could be used as a guide to far better industrial relations and to a concept of participatory industrial decision making. We want to enhance both the rights and the job satisfaction of people in the work force. We will pursue the legislation introduced by one of Australia's great exponents of industrial democracy, former Senator John Siddons, I hope with the support of the new Government and the Opposition.

The Australian Democrats recognise the values and virtues of a mixed economy which provides for an appropriate system of support for those in need, together with an environment which encourages individual enterprise by individuals and groups. Nonetheless, this country suffers from one of the most restricted, protected anti-private enterprise economic systems in the free world. Governments have not only constrained free and open competition but also have protected large monopolistic enterprises and industries, frequently to the detriment of the smaller enterprises. The Australian Democrats believe the economic wellbeing of Australia rests with individual enterprise, especially small business. In place of constraints and barriers, small business people should be encouraged, given incentives and supported by the Government. The kiss of life to small business not only will revive the most dynamic sector of the economy but also will create jobs and stimulate demand for goods and services. Small business employs 65 per cent of the Australian work force and is growing.

To alleviate unemployment it is surely logical for the only expanding area of economy to be nurtured. For far too long Australia has suffered from ad hoc government economic planning. This is partly caused by the relatively short three-year parliamentary term. That period is shorter for some governments. It is apparently endemic to our system that even if the government does engage in long term indicative planning for its own purposes the rest of the community is denied access to this information. No major enterprise would survive very long without long term plans. It is imperative that the governments of Australia provide the economic guidelines within which Australian enterprise must function . I welcome the dissemination of information by this Government and its moves to introduce indicative planning for a number of industries. The Australian Democrats would like to see these moves extended and co-ordinated by a small, open and independent agency.

We have little cause to be proud of the actions of some Australians within our own country. Australia is one nation and yet a minority wishes to see Australia divided. This minority has argued, for instance, States rights in regard to the Franklin Dam issue. It is not a States rights issue; it is an Australian issue; it is an environmental issue. In the past decade we have witnessed a resurgence of national feeling and cohesiveness. It is a shame that this should be destroyed by the inappropriate use of States rights arguments. The States do have powers and responsibilities and they have fulfilled a valuable role. Notwithstanding the nature of the States, government needs to be brought closer to the people. Power needs to be dispersed from national and State levels to a level much nearer to the grass roots of Australia. Local government needs to be more effectively used for instance. Regionalisation and decentralisation will be a positive step in beginning to develop Australia's most important resource, our people. Australians are the most valuable asset Australia has. We need to develop and nurture this human capital and ensure that it is utilised to its fullest extent.

In particular, we need to examine education-its role, its content and its funding. Education is an investment in the future. If Australia is to reap its rewards we need to invest heavily now. Tertiary and post-secondary educational institutions are catering for more students yet their funding is not being increased correspondingly. More funds are not the only answer, however. The nature of education itself must be examined. Students cannot benefit from tertiary and post-secondary education if they are mistrained or discarded by inappropriate secondary schooling. Likewise, primary and pre-primary education are vital building blocks in developing our human resource. But education is more than buildings and teachers. The Government has a duty to create a national environment within which learning and personal development are encouraged.

Education has to grow hand in hand with high technology in this country. As society adapts to high technology Australians, both young and old, must also adapt. The use of computers and the development of a technological awareness need to become an integral part of every Australian's preparation for future years. High technology must become a tool rather than a master. This will occur only through increased knowledge, awareness and experience. The education system , therefore, has a crucial role to play. Individuals must be valued more than technology. Technology must be developed and employed but not to the detriment of individuals. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that technology does not create a society in which people are increasingly superfluous. The importance of the individual is paramount. Technology must be adapted to aid the growth and aspirations of society and those within it. Unemployment, particularly among young Australians, is a problem related to both education and high technology. Unemployment is Australia's greatest social problem.

Unless both education and high technology are developed with an awareness of this problem the social cost to Australia will be immense. The status of the individual must be lifted. In modern society there is a frightening tendency for the individual to be subordinated to supposedly more important institutions and necessity. The basic human rights of every Australian must be formally recognised and entrenched by all governments. Australia must have a Bill of individual rights. History-even current events-has demonstrated that elements in our society ignore and suppress those rights. Discrimination must end, particularly in relation to race and sex. Australians must be encouraged, educated and, if necessary, even coerced into stopping discrimination. The plight of the Aboriginal peoples must be redressed and handicaps imposed by society on those people must be removed. Australians and the Australian Government must increasingly recognise the value and status of individuals. We must be aware of handicaps-physical, economic or as a result of discrimination- and be prepared to act to redress the inequalities that do exist. Every person, no matter what disadvantage he suffers, should be able to participate in and be a valuable member of our community.

Individuals while having rights also have responsibilities. Each and every Australian has a responsibility to fellow Australians and to future generations of Australians. This responsibility is becoming increasingly recognised in regard to the environment.

It is every Australian's responsibility to ensure that the Tasmanian South West wilderness area is preserved for future generations of Australians and the rest of the world. It is pleasing to note that a majority of Australians already acknowledge this responsibility. Similarly, we must protect other portions of our national heritage such as our rain forests, waterways and endangered coastal areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Cockburn Sound-in my State-and our rare timber forest areas such as the beautiful jarrah and karri forests in Western Australia.

It is our responsibility, as Australians, to ensure that apart from research and medical purposes nuclear energy is never used in this country. This country has the resources and the expertise never to need nuclear energy or a nuclear fuel industry of any kind. Nuclear waste is a legacy which we cannot leave to future generations.

I am pleased that the new Government has acknowledged the debts that we owe to other Australians and our children. The Australian Labor Party has come to government with long-overdue initiatives and reforms. The Government it replaced had become complacent and was not responding adequately to the needs of Australians. The reputation and economy of Australia and the great individualism of Australians has grown as our rural and mining areas in the back blocks of this country have thrived. But as a nation we have been inclined to take from our rural and mining areas all of the benefits without returning an adequate share to the people who live and work in those areas.

This is not simply a matter of compensating people for living in difficult environments-in fact many Australians far prefer those environments to the city lifestyle-but rather a matter of recognising our national need to enhance the quality of life in those areas. The people with the courage, fortitude and initiative to work in those areas will have children with the same qualities. Those children must be given the avenues currently denied them but which are available to childen in city areas. The women in rural and mining areas are renowned for their resilience, their ability to tolerate hardships and their initiative. It is not acceptable to take advantage of these qualities and simply let these people provide the wealth of the nation without reaping, at the very least, rewards equal to those who live in the cities.

Whilst Australia has an adequate health service system, so much emphasis has been placed on the economic and repairing aspects of our health system that we have tended to ignore the urgent need for all governments to encourage the concept of preventive health. I believe that by fostering sport and other health giving activities, by educating for better eating habits and improved lifestyles , the people of Australia will live happier, healthier lives. From the economic point of view the cost of health repair will gradually decline. One can understand that given the choice of spending millions to put out the fire of bad health today, a government may not be inclined to spend additional millions on preventing that fire from starting. This is one of the difficulties which any government has to face up to: Is it willing to invest in the short term for benefits which will accrue to a subsequent government, maybe decades later? I hope that this Government is not so short-sighted as its predecessors and will move the emphasis towards building good health for all of our people.

I commend the new Government's proposed programs, its attitude that there is much to be done within Australia and that it is time for initiatives and reform. While there are some ALP initiatives and policies with which I do not agree, I applaud the spirit of co-operative development that the new Government has already shown. I have but one reservation. Will this new Government ossify, as did the old Government? Will we see the spirit of initiative develop into a docile air of complacency? Will the concern of this new Government degenerate into a lack of concern and an acceptance of the status quo? Only time will tell. Australia has had a breath of fresh air. It is vital that this breath does not slowly fade and become stale, that Labor in its turn does not pursue power for power's sake.

Australians, with people around the world, are becoming increasingly aware of a number of global issues. Environmental issues are becoming more important, but nuclear power and nuclear weapons are the issues of greatest concern. The campaign for nuclear disarmament celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year when its support is at its peak. The concern for peace is becoming so great that the average person is becoming aware of and involved in anti-nuclear movements. The Greenham Common women's peace camp is an example of the growing concern and growing fear. It is a concern that has prompted Australians also to march and demonstrate. It is imperative that the proliferation of nuclear arms be halted. A nuclear war threatens civilisation itself. The Black Death, the fate of the Roman Empire, the Thirty Years' War would be nothing compared with the effect of even a limited nuclear war.

In addition the establishment of nuclear-free zones must be encouraged, particularly in the Indian Ocean. The nations around the Indian Ocean have little to gain from the presence of nuclear weapons. However, the world has much to gain from the establishment of a large nuclear weapon-free area of the globe and Australia, of course, has a vested interest in such a zone. While the Indian Ocean nuclear-free zone is only a concept, Australia has with other nations maintained another peace zone which has had reality for 22 years. I refer, of course, to the Antarctic Treaty. This was established as a zone free from military activities, and has encouraged international scientific research and co -operation. It appears that this 30-year treaty will be successful for the whole period. It is hoped the new treaty which is being negotiated will be as successful.

Australia has helped to achieve one nuclear-free zone and it is crucial that we combine with other nations to create others. We Australians should be proud of our participation in the Antarctic Treaty.

I am sure that honourable senators will understand the concern of a Western Australian when the topic of defence is discussed. Our State has the longest coastline of any in the Commonwealth. It is vulnerable to drug importation, illegal immigration and criminal infiltration. A fleet of relatively small, fast , quickly deployed naval vessels providing surveillance around our coastline would be preferred to, for instance, a single aircraft carrier, wherever it might be deployed.

Probably no other country has the opportunity and the environment Australia has to develop a great multicultural society. With our abundant resources, our ample living space, our generally tolerant society and our many established networks- such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Special Broadcasting Service and our sporting and cultural networks-Australia is uniquely placed. The enrichment of the Australian lifestyle, through the infusion of some of the world's oldest and richest cultures, has set a pattern from which Australians and the world can benefit. The Australian Democrats will support and encourage in every way possible the development of attitudes throughout our society which enourage Australians from other cultural backgrounds to bring their cultural wealth with them. At the same time they can adapt to those parts of our lifestyle which suit their needs. Thus, our new citizens will enrich our society , give to their children the values of two cultures and obtain a fulfilment they would otherwise lose were they compelled to reject their former culture.

The Australian Democrats bring to this Parliament a truly reformist attitude. Let me be clear. Our nation has existed in an international backwater for years while other progressive, reform governments have overtaken us. The Governor- General has indicated in his Speech that the new Government plans some long- overdue reforms. We need bold innovations. We need a spirit of constructive co- operation and a new inspirational level of political integrity. My Democrat colleagues and I intend to ensure that the Government fulfils its responsibilities to all Australians. I shall try not only to be a prompter and a watchdog but also to present initiatives to this Parliament. The very presence of Australian Democrats in this chamber is a sign that the Australian people want traditional confrontationist politics to be replaced by a consensus- orientated approach. Australians need to work together to face the challenges which lie before us. If Parliament can lead all Australians in working for the good of this nation and the individuals who comprise it, it will fulfil its responsibility to the whole nation. I and the Australian Democrats will do our best to achieve this end.

Honourable senators-Hear, hear!

Sitting suspended from 6.26 to 9 p.m.