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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 138

Ms JAKOBSEN(5.30) —I move:

That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to:

May it please Your Excellency:

We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

I am pleased and honoured to move this motion on behalf of the Government and I thank my colleagues for the privilege. Firstly, Mr Speaker, in accordance with convention, may I congratulate you on your re-election to your high and important office. I understand and have observed during my short time here that you discharge your duties fairly and in a good natured manner. From all accounts, the respect which members of this House have for you personally equals the respect they have for the position which you hold. I assure you of my co-operation during my term in this House. I congratulate also the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees on her re-election and on the high esteem in which she is held in this House.

I enter this Parliament as a member of the Australian Labor Party and as the elected representative of the people of Cowan in Western Australia. By electing me, the residents of Cowan have indicated their approval of and support for the Hawke Government's achievements during its first term in office and for the continuance of its policies of economic reconstruction and national reconciliation. In accepting the privilege the electors have conferred upon me, I undertake to represent them to the very best of my ability.

The seat of Cowan was formed as a result of the redistribution last year and comprises the northern segment of the old Stirling electorate and the southern section of the old Moore electorate. I am indebted to my colleagues the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard) and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) for their ministrations, in days gone by, to the residents of what is now my electorate. As the beneficiary of their, and the Labor Party's, electoral goodwill, I thank them. The electorate is named after Edith Cowan, the first woman to enter Parliament in Australia and only the second woman to achieve that distinction in the British Empire-the first being Lady Astor. It is claimed that when Edith Cowan was first elected the Age warned that if her example were to inspire other women there would be 'many dreary and neglected homes throughout the country sacrificed on the altar of political ambition'. I hasten to assure the House, and the Age, that my home is no more dreary or neglected now that I am a member of parliament than it was before I became one. Indeed, I gladly and gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance I have received from my husband and my children in reaching this place.

The welfare of women and children was always of great concern to Edith Cowan, and her work in founding the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Western Australia is well known. Mrs Cowan was also associated with the Children's Protection Society and she founded the Women's Service Guild. She was an outstanding personality in the women's movement both in Western Australia and Australia, and was an active and courageous social reformer. Edith Cowan always hoped that the way she had paved for women's representation in the Parliament would be followed by more members of her sex. As a woman I am proud to have followed her example. I applaud her achievements and her memory and am privileged to represent the electorate which honours her name.

Those honourable members who are familiar with Western Australia's geography and demography will appreciate that the electorate of Cowan is situated in the northern growth corridor of Perth's metropolitan area. It is primarily a residential seat with large numbers of homes under purchase and/or construction. Many of the newer residents have benefited from the Government's first home owners scheme and many more have been assisted by its achievements in lowering interest rates and inflation. Because families in my electorate, by and large, face substantial mortgage repayments, they are particularly sensitive to movements in interest rates and associated economic policy. Others, who are not in a position to build or buy their own homes, are concerned about the allocation of Federal money to public housing through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.

The majority of residents in Cowan have relatively young families and are extremely concerned about taxation policy. The Institute of Family Studies has found that between 1975-76 and 1984-85 families with children had the highest tax increases, with large families encountering the greatest average tax rate increases. Accordingly, I welcome the taxation review which is to take place later this year and the Government's undertaking to make the tax system fairer, simpler and more efficient. It is imperative that income be redistributed more equitably and more progressively. Together with the taxation review, the Government has signalled its intention to reintroduce the bottom of the harbour Bills which were rejected during the last Parliament. In doing so it has clearly renewed its commitment to give the highest priority to measures against tax avoidance and evasion, which constantly undermine the equity of our taxation system.

As a person interested in and concerned about issues affecting women in our community, I count myself fortunate to be a member of a government which possesses such a formidable record of action in this area. In particular, the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was a milestone in Australia's political history. It is pleasing to note that the Government's affirmative action pilot program is receiving excellent co-operation from the companies and departments involved. One of its major achievements to date has been the improvement in community attitudes towards women, especially in terms of employment. In my electorate women with children have a desperate need for more child care and family day care services. The Government's commitment to create an additional 20,000 child care places will hopefully mean that they can look forward to an improvement in their position in the near future. Discussions are currently taking place between Federal, State and local government representatives in the Wanneroo area with a view to ensuring maximum community involvement in the provision of children's services and a substantial increase in the care available.

The Governor-General's address also refers to Australia's participation in International Youth Year activities. Young people are the foundation of our future as a nation and I am confident that the foreshadowed examination of issues affecting young Australians will realistically address the problems of youth unemployment and homelessness, among other things. Too many young people in my electorate are affected by the tragedy of unemployment and suffer the problems of despondency and low self-esteem which long periods out of work inevitably induce. Some of these young people have become involved with community youth support scheme groups in the area and others have taken up activities organised by education program for unemployed youth, or EPUY, groups. Many have been assisted by the Government's employment creation initiatives through the community employment program, which is designed to assist disadvantaged groups and individuals.

Prospects for teenage job seekers remain optimistic as a result of the Government's in principle acceptance of the Kirby recommendations on youth traineeships and its intention to move urgently in the youth policy area. Where youth employment is concerned it is also necessary to encourage actively private enterprise to adopt a more responsible and sympathetic attitude to employment generation and training for young people. Furthermore, employer groups need to shelve their constantly reiterated calls for a reduction of youth wage rates as a solution to youth unemployment. It is nothing more than a recipe for the exploitation of young people already in the work force. To the extent that more jobs may be provided for young people, these would necessarily be at the expense of adults-possibly those with families to support-who are presently employed in relatively unskilled occupations. The net contribution of such a scheme to the overall problem of unemployment would be nil and young people in the work force would find themselves substantially worse off in wage terms.

At this stage I pay tribute to two groups in my electorate which have been working to assist unemployed young people for some considerable time. Both groups have shown initiative and determination in the way they have responded to particular obstacles and challenges confronting them. The Whitfords community youth support scheme has acquired its own building and has now embarked on a project to extend a helping hand to another needy and worthwhile organisation which arranges therapeutic activities for the disabled. This group-CATA as it is known-is seeking government financial assistance but has the misfortune of failing to fit into any of the funding avenues available to groups providing valuable community services. The Balga community youth support scheme has been operating in extremely cramped premises for some time and has now taken the matter into its own hands by launching an appeal for funds from the public for the specific purpose of overcoming its accommodation difficulties. I wish both organisations well in their respective endeavours now and in the future. The work that they do is greatly appreciated by the community at large as well as by the young unemployed people they so ably assist.

There is also a need within my electorate for another community youth support scheme in the Girrawheen area where unemployment levels are disproportionately high. I shall continue to pursue this matter through the appropriate channels. I also gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the Anglican health and welfare services in pursuit of Skills West funding for a program to improve the employment skills of women in the Girrawheen area and their endeavours to gain the support of local employers for an employer attachment scheme involving work experience and training.

The Governor-General, in his Speech, also referred to the Government's intention to establish principles for national land rights legislation in recognition of the fundamental importance of the land to Aborigines. As Australians we must all acknowledge, accept and honour the historical debt we owe to the Aboriginal people, whose traditional lands were acquired by early white settlers without the benefit of a treaty. Racism and paternalism can no longer be tolerated in this country. Aboriginal people must be permitted to reclaim as much of their heritage as possible. Their dignity as a people and their future participation as citizens of this country depend upon this being achieved. The eyes of the world are on Australia over this question. No amount of political posturing will disguise attempts to shy away from our national obligation in this significant and long overdue area of basic human rights. I am pleased to acknowledge the support and encouragement of many church and community groups in my electorate and elsewhere in Australia on this aspect of Federal Government endeavour.

Another area of national and international importance, which this Government is squarely facing up to, is the issue of peace and disarmament. As a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom I urge the government to continue its efforts to promote the proposals for a South Pacific nuclear-free zone and an Indian Ocean zone of peace. In the same vein, I extend my sincere congratulations to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and the Federal Labor Caucus on the courage of their decision to review the commitment relating to MX missile tests. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, this issue is of great concern to a broad section of the Australian community. There is a groundswell of public opinion and the Government would have been insensitive and irresponsible to have ignored that opinion.

As stated in the Governor-General's Speech, this Government remains deeply and firmly committed to advancing the cause of peace, arms control and disarmament. I am confident that it will continue to have the fortitude and determination necessary to respond to the wishes of the people on issues of national importance such as these. After all, as Edith Cowan is reported to have said, the aim of all parliaments should be the peace and happiness of those for whom they legislate. I thank honourable members for their attention.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Before I call the honourable member for St George, I point out to honourable members that this also is a maiden speech and I ask the House to observe the usual courtesies.