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Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 392


Senator JENKINS(4.38) —I rise to address the Senate for the first time as an Australian Democrat senator for Western Australia with a mingled sense of pride and humility. It is a great honour to be here and I thank the President and fellow senators for their courtesy and, in particular, the staff of Parliament House, at all levels, for their unfailing helpfulness. I also congratulate the other new senators on the content and delivery of their maiden speeches in this place. I am humbled by the awareness of the duties and responsibilities which lie ahead of me and I am proud to have been chosen by the Australian Democrats and the people of Western Australia to represent them. In particular, I thank my family, especially my husband Brian and my six children and step-children, Nicole, Sue, Evan, Jemma, Fraser and Enoch, and the friends and supporters who stood by me through the gruelling process which is democracy.

I had previously stood for public office as an Australian Democrat candidate four times-that is, for each parliamentary House for which I am eligible to stand. On each of those occasions I stood in what must be acknowledged to have been an unwinnable position. Why did I do this as a person with a rewarding professional career in technical and further education (TAFE), as a head of department at the Perth Technical College, as a person with a happy family life? What is it that time after time drives Australian Democrats to contest seats which are virtually unwinnable? I believe that the answer to that question is motivation and a desire for social justice. There are many concerns which simply cannot be ignored, and I am proud to be one of the army of Australian Democrats who have stood up and been counted in elections in recent years in a spirit of dogged determination.

In my case, I arrived in Australia as an immigrant in 1969 during the later stages of the Vietnam war, and I brought with me a commitment to peace which had led me to be part of the great swell of anti-war and anti-nuclear feeling which swept Europe and Britain at that time. My first political act in my new country was to protest at the Australian involvement in that terrible war in Vietnam, and I continue to oppose Australia's involvement in the global nuclear strategy of a foreign power-any foreign power. Western Australia is particularly abused by the positioning of foreign bases and by being repeatedly used as a berth for nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships of another nation and for the rest and recreation of the very large numbers of their service personnel.

There are few seekers of peace who are not also passionately concerned for the environment. I would like to quote Don Chipp, although many others have said it. He said that there is no point in saving the world if the world you are saving is not worth saving. Coming from Western Australia, I have a particular set of issues which are my concern.

I have given an undertaking to the Australian Conservation Foundation of Western Australia that I shall work closely with it on its conservation agenda. I refer to the mining of uranium in Rudall River National Park, the issue of woodchipping, which includes the conditions of licence and the role of the Australian Heritage Commission, and Shark Bay and the radioactive mineral sands dispute in the south-west of Western Australia.

As the solitary Democrat elected in Western Australia, I feel obliged to become involved in some of the issues where there is no parliamentarian at the State level who is prepared to stand alongside and speak up for concerned citizens. One such issue is the proposed new brickworks to be sited at Midland in the Swan Valley. Another is the proposed subdivision and development of 19 hectares of natural bushland still miraculously surviving within the boundaries of metropolitan Perth. Other current concerns of Western Australian citizens are the sodium cyanide plant to be sited at Kwinana just south of Perth, a polychlorinated byphenyl and toxic waste incinerator and even a nuclear waste disposal facility, destined perhaps for the Kalgoorlie area, and the synthetic rutile plant now operating at Geraldton, with devastating effects on the lungs of residents. I could go on, but observing the convention of not being overcontroversial in this my maiden speech, I shall just add that in Western Australia the connection between millionaire developers, the Western Australian Development Corporation and the State Government is indeed wondrous to behold.

Unfortunately, it is in the nature of governments and official experts to give false assurances to people concerned about their environment and their futures. Some four or five years ago, as a Western Australian State election candidate I participated in a multi-party symposium on multicultural affairs at the North Perth Town Hall. The quietest, most polite segment of the 500-strong audience was a group of migrants who had been sent to work at Wittenoom in the 1950s and 1960s and who had become afflicted with asbestosis. After the meeting, these tragic figures formed a circle around me and implored me to seek some official recognition of their plight. They had accepted that justice would be denied them until after their death. They had no reasonable hope of compensation for themselves. They were begging that the truth of their work-caused disability might simply be recognised and that some reparation might be extended to their families. These patient men with grey skin are etched indelibly on my memory. They had exhausted every avenue of communication with the Government and the Opposition of the time. They had been rejected and ignored by the politicians elected and paid to represent them. Successive governments were guilty, alongside the employing asbestos company, in dismissing medical advice which should have spared those workers their agonising fate.

Had honourable senators been there to see the expressions of pain and despair on the faces of those asbestosis sufferers, they would understand why the Democrats have maintained the principle of compassion and struggled for 10 years to give Australians a new kind of political party. We are not, as some have said, a temporary bloc of disaffected drop-outs from one or other of the bigger parties. Reason and compassion demand that at least some paid representatives turn their back on the blind forces of big capital and big unions and, as Senator Haines mentioned a short while ago, big corporate welfare. It appears that it is left to the Australian Democrats to speak up for disfranchised minorities.

In 1985, with my then colleague, Sue Paull, I was joint co-ordinator of a citizens' initiative action group, called the Castle Keepers. We waged a successful campaign to save the 1910 Perth Technical School building from demolition. In this campaign-a strictly one-issue campaign-supported by people of all political persuasions, ages and backgrounds, there was continuing evidence of backroom deals and improper procedures involving would be developers and government-backed organisations. This was not followed up by us. Our sole aim was to preserve the building for future generations of Western Australians. However, I was delighted to read in yesterday's edition of the Perth Sunday Times that a plan has been mooted to give members of the police force a three-month amnesty if evidence is given which leads to the charging and conviction of a corrupt colleague. How far could we extend this principle-to city and shire councils, to government corporations, perhaps to the Government itself?

My background is that I am a linguist and, since first living in Perth, in 1971, I have had close association both professionally and personally with non-English-speaking migrants. In 1981, as senior lecturer in languages at the Perth Technical College, I was responsible for setting up the first interpreter courses in Western Australia. I have also had considerable input into the national languages policy at State and Federal level. I therefore listened with pleasure to His Excellency the Governor-General speaking in this place when he stated:

The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia . . . will give definition, direction and drive to the policy of multiculturalism. At the same time the Government's access and equity strategy will help ensure that Government services and programs are available fairly to all Australians.

His Excellency also stated that the Government is committed to a national policy on languages `which aims to ensure that all Australians master English, our common tongue'. It is my regret that this positive statement comes comes just a year after the Government dismantled the English as a second language program in government schools, passing the responsibility for this essential matter to the States, not all of which have picked up this responsibility-and Western Australia is one which has not. These cuts in funding for the schools' English as a second language program are both senselessly cruel and a false economy, as a glimpse backward can reveal.

Many people who came to Australia in the late 1940s and early 1950s during the period of heavy post-war immigration arrived here as children, speaking only their mother tongues. As this was the period of assimilation and integration, they were immediately placed in the classroom with native English speakers, and they just had to make the best of it.

Cio che questi bambini hanno sentito in classe sarebbe stato esattamente quello che questa frase in Italiano rappresenta per molte persone che mi stanno ascoltando al momento. E peggio ancora, perche classi in Inglese come Seconda Lingua erano quasi inesistenti nelle scuole allora, molti di questi bambini sfortunamente erano destinati a diventare semi-analfabeti in entrambi le due lingue.

These children did not have the advantage, which some honourable senators may now need, of a translation. I repeat in English what I have just said in Italian:

What these children heard in the classroom would have sounded just like what this sentence in Italian sounds to a lot of the people who are listening to me right now.

And what's worse, because English as a Second Language classes were virtually non-existent in schools at that time, sadly a lot of these children were destined to become adults who were semi-literate in two languages.

That is what I said in Italian. We must not reproduce that tragedy. English as a second language classes must be maintained in our schools, whether through the agents of Federal or State governments.

I worked in TAFE from 1972 until I was required to resign in order to stand as a candidate in the recent election-and that is another area that requires some examination. The funding for TAFE has been cut dramatically over the past few years. At the same time, the student demand for TAFE has risen equally dramatically. Where are the second chance people to go if their local technical college can no longer accommodate them? Short term skills training in the form of traineeships and other similar courses for those who have been unemployed for the requisite amount of time cannot replace the courses which must be curtailed because of cuts in TAFE funding. A lot of what we call education cannot slot readily into the category of employment or training. Courses in skills for the unemployed are necessary, but it must be realised that people who are `educated' in the real sense of the word make better employees and can be trained in skills more effectively.

As I said, I came to Australia as an immigrant, albeit an English-speaking one, and I am justly proud that this is a democracy and that all citizens have the opportunity to be educated, to be healthy and to take part in the political life of the country by voting, by joining or forming political groups and parties, by standing for public office and even by being able to be elected to this place without benefit of personal fortune, aristocratic parents or political influence.

`All power is a trust', said Benjamin Disraeli, `from the people and for the people'.

It is a political cliche that we have the best voting system in the world-the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania and the modified Hare-Clark system under which the Senate and the upper Houses in South Australia and New South Wales are elected. However, it is a pity that we still have governments in lower Houses elected by unrepresentative methods of single member seats. In my own State of Western Australia, we Democrats have campaigned for many years to remove a serious malapportionment in the State's upper House, and I can say with great pride and pleasure that the next State election in Western Australia will see the introduction of a form of proportional representation to the election of the Legislative Council, when the State will be divided into six multi-member electorates. I believe that the Australian Capital Territory would be well advised to select such a democratic system of electing its members when it is self-governing. Canberra itself has four discrete areas which, since the city planners sensibly followed natural boundaries, could provide four naturally distinct multi-member electorates.

Since 1949 the Senate has been elected by a system of proportional representation treating each State as a single multi-member electorate. This has had the effect of allowing into the Senate representatives of minority parties and Independents. It was made clear to us new senators during our orientation that it is because of the present composition of the Senate that it is now a genuine House of review. We were told to expect a higher level of debate than in the other place, and a concentration on the issues at hand rather than personal abuse. I am sure that, for the most part, that is true, and that it was not a Senate Whip to whom Don Chipp referred during his book launch yesterday when he described how one Whip used to tell newcomers to the Parliament:

Now that you are here you can forget all the--

`rubbish' is my euphemism for what Don actually said--

. . . you talked during your election campaign, about saving the world and helping mankind. Now that you're here, you will think, do, and most importantly, vote, as the Party tells you.

I am sure that none of my new colleagues were told that and that this chamber will remain a House which truly represents States' interests. However, having visited the new Parliament House, I am disturbed to see the concept of the Executive being set apart from the House of Representatives and the Senate. As stated by Perth journalist Peter Rees in the Western Mail two weeks ago:

The frightening symbolism of this is that the new Houses of Parliament will be simply an adjunct to executive government.

My very supportive running mate in the recent election, who was also my predecessor in this place as Western Australian Democrat senator, Jack Evans, suggested in an adjournment debate that democracy can function, and be expected to function, only if there is an educated electorate. Australian Democrats Leader, Janine Haines, made a similar observation during the recent election campaign, and stated that this means teaching young people how the system works, and teaching it in such a way that they are interested in what they are learning, so that they see how vitally important politics is to every aspect of their lives.

If democracy is to survive in Australia, then it must involve the people, not repel them. The people must be given the option of voting meaningfully for the party of their choice from a range of parties and individual candidates who represent the whole range of opinion in the electorate and in both Houses of Parliament-and they must know what they are doing. This, of course, demands of the government of the day a conscious policy of enlightenment. It demands also of the media in Australia that owners and editors raise their eyes from the account sheet and accept some measure of responsibility for the political process which they so freely criticise. Twenty years ago Don Chipp wrote that true democracy cannot survive without a free Press and electronic media, and he expressed unease about the concentration of Australian media ownership even then. He wrote:

It is safe to assume that Parliament in present circumstances is little protection for peoples' rights. The media seem to have given up hope of improving Parliament. The electorate is becoming inactive and less informed. . . .

It is perhaps surprising that Don Chipp expected the media to do any such thing as improve parliament, but he remembers a time when this was the case. The Australian Democrats have been in existence for 10 years-10 years of urging people to become vocal, critical and distrustful of the official experts. We have urged people to become involved, on the one hand, to resist the officially sanctioned monstrosities of so-called development and, on the other hand, to be staunch in the defence of our own civil liberties; to resist, on the one hand, the ugly racism which is the darker side of our multi-racial nation and, on the other, the Orwellian computerised society in which one's number becomes one's name.

I am proud to be here in this place as an Australian Democrats senator in this distinguished company, and I am proud and humble to be able to give what service I can to my State and my country.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Before I call Senator McGauran, I remind honourable senators that this is his maiden speech. I would ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.