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Monday, 6 May 1996
Page: 404


Dr SOUTHCOTT(8.25 p.m.) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would also like to thank the member for Fraser (Mr Langmore) for his contribution. I understand he has written a book addressing the topic of full employment, a topic that I will be addressing in my speech, albeit from a different perspective.

I first came to Canberra in 1979. I was in shorts, the corridors of the parliament were wooden duckboards and the flags of the city were flying at half mast following the assassination of Mountbatten. Sadly, when I returned to Canberra last week, this time to take my seat in this House, the flags were again flying low.

I would like to take this opportunity to convey my sympathies to all those who have been and still are affected by the tragedy that occurred in Port Arthur: all the families, friends and relatives of the innocent victims, the people of Tasmania and the people of Australia.

Boothby's previous representatives leave big shoes for me to fill: Sir John McLeay, the longest serving Speaker in this House of Representatives, John McLeay, a minister in the Fraser government, and Steele Hall, a former South Australian Premier. The last two assisted with my campaign, as did several senators and members, state and federal, past and present.

Interestingly, Boothby was one of the first two seats to elect a representative who was not of Anglo-Celtic origin. George Dankel, a butcher who was born in Germany, held the seat for the ALP during the years of World War I. Given his heritage, it was not surprising that he lost his seat in the Billy Hughes 1917 khaki election.

Boothby is fortunate to contain several dynamic institutions, both public and private. Flinders Medical Centre, the second largest hospital in South Australia, contains several centres of excellence in clinical work and research. I should know because until recently I was working in Accident and Emergency there.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Flinders University is a high profile research institution. It is the first Australian university to offer the four-year postgraduate medical degree. Headed by Professor Judith Sloan, it houses the National Institute for Labour Studies. The economics faculty has also provided key economic and political advisers to Paul Keating, Kim Beazley and Ralph Willis—but do not hold that against the electorate. Whilst I received my degree in medicine from the University of Adelaide, it is at Flinders that I am currently completing a bachelor of economics.

At their Tonsley Park plant, Mitsubishi Motors continue to manufacture and assemble quality motor vehicles in the electorate. Boothby also contains a network of components manufacturers to supply this car plant.   Export orientated, the local plant recently won the right to supply their new model Magnas to every country in the world outside Japan. Bedford Industries, which has recently celebrated 50 years of service, continues to be a national leader in the training, personal development and support of people with disabilities.

Another place at which I have spent some time working is the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital, another major institution in the electorate—I can see the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Mr Bruce Scott) nodding his head—where I worked with veterans of the Second World War and occasionally even with those of the First World War.

Three years ago, I went backpacking in Turkey and visited Anzac Cove. Every day, 20 to 30 Australians, most of them young Australians, would make a pilgrimage to Gallipoli. On the day that I was there, few articulated why it was important to visit but most knew that it was.

As we approach the centenary of federation, it is evident that young Australians are still looking for positive role models. Over the last 20 months, the most common inquiry I received—I would have received it almost every day—was not regarding Telstra, industrial relations or Medicare but why a doctor would want to be a member of parliament. To me, the frequency of the question highlights the cynicism that Australians have about their elected members and their political institutions. That is especially prevalent amongst the young.

I was only 15 years old when the Hawke-Keating era began. My knowledge of Mal colm Fraser's government is by definition second-hand, and that would be typical for my generation. Indeed, not only am I part of a post-Vietnam War generation, I am also almost part of a post-Cold War generation.

In the early 1980s, things were very different. The ALP seemed to have a stranglehold on voters aged between 18 and 39. In a sense, the Liberal Party lost a generation through the legacy of the Vietnam War and the events surrounding the dismissal of Whitlam.

Today's first-time voters have known only Labor governments. It is clear that for my generation the Australian Labor Party became the establishment. Over their 13 years in government, the ALP displayed all the traits of a ruling elite: a born-to-rule air with the concomitant possession of the sole right to bestow privilege and a disdain for parliament. It is no wonder that Australians have become cynical about politics and politicians. Having endured 13 years of opposition, the new generation of Liberals knows only too well that there is no such thing as a natural party of government. If there is a born-to-rule generation in Australian politics, it now sits opposite.

Drawing on the Westminster tradition, the Australian parliament is ranked sovereign. By being answerable to parliament—that is, to the people of Australia—the potential excesses of executive power are constrained. I am pleased that both the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Tim Fischer) have declared their intention to restore the parliament's primacy.

I think it is fair to say that since the oil shocks and consequent stagflation of the 1970s, the blot of unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, has become so ingrained in the fabric of Western economies that it would be easy to give up the hope of there ever being a period of full employment again. I, along with my contemporaries, are justifiably incredulous when we are told by those who were born in the immediate aftermath of the war that when they left school not only did they have the opportunity to explore whatever avenues they wanted but also this exploration would inevitably translate into an actual career.

In chronicling the strange collapse of the Keating government, Robert Manne has commented that the voting results of the 2 March election indicate the presence in contemporary Australia of two rather distinct working class political cultures. The first, Manne contends, might be described as the culture of an older, geographically immobile working class whose voting patterns are still rooted in traditional Labor and union soil. The second is a younger, socially and geographically more mobile group, more entrepreneurially minded, which has almost altogether shed the Labor and union loyalties of the old manufacturing working class—a group of people who would like to be their own bosses, a group of people who would like to control their own destinies.

A story I would like to relate in this vein concerns two young women who lived in my electorate. The two young women were sisters. After beginning their first year of university, they both decided that formal study was not for them. Engaging in a joint venture with a local charity, a charity which, incidentally, assists disadvantaged young kids, the charity provided the stock—that was, recycled clothing—and the sisters took the risk. The agreement was that they should have an equal share of the profit.

With start-up capital of only $750, the young women set up shop. After three years they are now the market leaders in recycled clothing. They employ two other people and they are about to open their second shop. Those sisters exhibit the drive of this new entrepreneurially-minded, mobile generation who are desperate to be financially independent and who are desperate to work.

A genuine question that one can ask in the wake of the 2 March election is: where is the next generation of ALP supporters going to come from? According to the latest ABS figures, Australian workers continue to desert the union movement. More critically for the ALP, trade union membership is lowest amongst young workers. Only 19 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds and less than a quarter of 20- to 24-year-olds were in unions last August.

Will young ALP members look back in 20 years and reassess the State Bank collapse or the blow-out in foreign debt as a good thing, as what motivated them to join the Labor Party? Are they going to recall the induced recession or the corruption of WA Inc. with the same pride that Chifley and Whitlam are remembered now? The next generation of ALP supporters will have condoned the deficit legacy of Hawke, Bannon, Cain, Keating and Burke.

Last week the Governor-General spoke of the government's intention to lift burdens from the small business sector so that it can generate new jobs and that small business will be promoted as the dynamic engine of our economy which can offer new jobs and opportunities. Too much time is spent by small business filling out mindless government surveys. The government will reduce red tape, unnecessary paperwork and regulation identified by a new small business deregulation task force. I do not believe that it is overstating the case to say that the only prospect this post-industrial society has of ever returning to a period of full employment depends on the health of the small business sector.

As it is the fastest growing sector of the economy, we need to nurture this growth by deregulating the Labor market and alleviating the tax burden. If one were to look at the figures, one would never even consider the idea of starting a small business. Sixty per cent of small businesses go broke in the first two years of operation, yet small business is responsible for at least 47 per cent of total Australian employment. That is a percentage which is still growing now.

Small business is tailor-made for the technological revolution. With its capacity to cut costs and introduce flexibility, small business has grown particularly rapidly. In Boothby, the company Medical Communications Associates makes software whose aim is to keep sufferers from chronic diseases like diabetes out of hospital. The software runs on a pen-based computer system designed for use in patients' homes by GPs and district nurses. It was written with translation into Asian languages in mind.  From a very small modest office in the electorate, the founders of this company are geared towards exporting their product into Asia.

For a long time now I have held the view that the beliefs the Liberal Party holds make it perfectly positioned to foster and encourage all the talented and creative people who are seeking to set up small businesses in what we may call the green sector. The capacity of small business to succeed in niche marketing is undeniable. For example, the exportation of solar technology, aquiculture, clean, green products and food to the rest of the world would provide employment for many of our young people. Similarly, privately run sanctuaries in South Australia have pioneered the successful breeding of the platypus in captivity and are successfully conserving many of our endangered native species.

The tradition of the Liberal Party is an organic one. Incorporating a number of traditions upon its formation, the modern Liberal Party continues to develop its identity. The 1980s was a time when the debate over the Deakinite settlement was joined. By the end of the decade, the federation trifecta pillars of wage arbitration and tariff protection were cracking, and the White Australia policy had long been consigned to the dustbin. Internationally, economic liberalism and liberal democracy triumphed over the decaying state-run economies and authoritarian systems of government.

While around the world the jury is now in regarding the need for there to be a healthy competitive economy—high levels of protection entrench privilege—the challenge now is to focus on the sort of society that will take Australia into the 21st century. I believe that we should aim for a society which respects and encourages individuals, families and community associations. Policies which promote community and civic duty that work to bind us together are essential to avoid our society descending into an individualistic state of nature. There are simply some things that I will never accept the state can do as well as families and voluntary organisations in maintaining the social fabric.

In closing, I would like to thank the Liberal Party, which gave me the opportunity to represent my local area in federal parliament. I would like to thank my friends and supporters who have backed me at various times over the last 10 years, many of whom are in the gallery tonight. My family could not be here today but I have no doubt they are listening to the parliamentary broadcast now. They helped instil in me many of the values that I hold and which will guide me in representing the electors of Boothby. To my mother, Ann, and father, Lindsay, to Michael and Emma—thank you.