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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14972


Mr ZAHRA (12:12 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate on the motion to take note of the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services. The report is entitled Time running out: shaping regional Australia's future. I will begin by reading from the report a quote which I think is pretty right:

Action is needed to ensure that many regional communities don't just survive but learn to thrive once again.

Without action to stop the reduction of services still occurring throughout many areas and a new focus for investment in regional Australia, we face the danger of Australia being divided into `two nations' ...

I am now going to read out a series of quotes which I think are very far from right—I think they are completely wrong and completely abhorrent. The first is this:

The Grapes of Wrath was about the Oakies who recognised they had to get out of a dust bowl and go to California ...

The next quote is this:

It's up to people in the bush to create their own future—for those who can't, don't ask us to make the world spin slower.

The next is this:

If you choose to live 500 kilometres from a major metropolis, you are not going to have a five-star teaching hospital and a battery of specialist doctors, and you are not going to have the same level of access to the media, telecommunications and other services, and that's a fact of life. In the long run the solution is not to force ever greater service obligations on Telstra, but to introduce genuine competition.

And there is more to come:

If you make the choice to go out to a remote part of Australia you get certain benefits. If you want to live in my electorate of Parramatta ... you pay $300,000 for a four-bedroom house. Now you can buy that four-bedroom house in Walgett or Burke or Collarenebri for about $50,000. There are upsides and downsides.

That is a series of quotes which I do not think are anywhere near right. And the last one from that gentleman is this:

If you find yourself unable to find a job in a regional centre ... you ought not to expect the rest of the country to underwrite your choice to stay there.

You would have thought that the next quote I am going to read out would be inconsistent with those first few, but apparently that is not the case:

It's true that the great enclaves of poverty are in regional and remote areas.

Any sensible person would have thought that the first five of those statements were inconsistent with the last. Apparently that is not the case, however, as far as this person's thoughts are concerned.

I want to state clearly that I am not surprised to say that the person who made those comments is a Liberal. The person who made those comments is none other than the Liberal member for Parramatta. The mask has dropped and the Liberal Party stand exposed and naked in front of the world in regard to their true attitude towards rural and regional Australia. This person, the spoilt child of the establishment—



Mr ZAHRA —I am sorry, I missed that comment, but I think colleagues on the other side are probably agreeing with my comments. It is disappointing to hear these comments, even if they are from the Liberal member for Parramatta. I think most people would agree that he is churlish and brain dead at the best of times, moronic and often half-witted. This represents the worst type of middle class snobbery and it is a view which I could understand would be typical of that inner city suburban Liberal lawyer's viewpoint which has started to dominate, or which has always really dominated, as far as Liberal Party policy goes.

I want to address some of the comments which the Liberal member for Parramatta has made. He states:

If you make the choice to go out to a remote part of Australia you get certain benefits. If you want to live in my electorate of Parramatta ... you pay $300,000 for a four-bedroom house.

We do not necessarily choose where we live. We live there because we are from there; we are proud to be from those areas. We did not come from inner-city Sydney or inner-city Melbourne and say, `I have a house here which is worth $500,000 or $600,000. I am going to choose to leave all of that and head out to the Latrobe Valley because I can buy a house there for $20,000 or $30,000.' That is not right; even though Ross Cameron, the Liberal member for Parramatta, believes it, it is not right.

I think most people in the chamber representing, as they do, rural electorates, will find that type of attitude abhorrent. They should stand against, and voice their criticism of, the Liberal member for Parramatta and his views. Unchallenged, those views become the views of the Liberal Party. It is up to the Liberal Party and their coalition partner, the National Party, to come out and repudiate clearly those views—not to quietly mutter in corners that they disagree, but to come out and boldly state their vision for rural Australia. It has to be a better vision than that articulated by the Liberal member for Parramatta.

The comments made by the Liberal member for Parramatta are typical of the Liberal Party in so many ways. They are ignorant of reality and, for those of you who have actually read the book The Grapes of Wrath, they are ignorant of literature. When the Liberal member for Parramatta makes the comment, `The Grapes of Wrath was about the Oakies who recognised they had to get out of a dust bowl and go to California,' he does not understand that The Grapes of Wrath is a tragedy. It is a book of untold horror of a group of people who have been forced out of the community in which they and their families live. They are forced to sell everything they have at bargain basement prices and they lose everything they have to the banks, the corporations and all of the conservative political interests which are driving them off the land. They go out in an old truck to try to find any sort of work elsewhere. That is what The Grapes of Wrath is all about. It is a tragedy and it has bitterness throughout.

It seems to me that in making the reference that somehow this book is a case study to refer to in terms of what the government should do today, the Liberal member for Parramatta is revealing the real strategy behind the government's approach to rural and regional Australia. They want us all to become Okies: to get in our big old trucks, to load the beds on top, to load a couple of chooks on the back in a couple of cages, to get on the road and to start picking fruit somewhere for $12 a day. I think that is the real attitude which has been exposed by the Liberal Party in the comments made by the Liberal member for Parramatta. It is no surprise to me that the Liberal Party not only get it wrong as far as reality goes but also get it wrong as far as the truth in the literature goes. They have misquoted and misrepresented the ideas of Steinbeck in his book The Grapes of Wrath, and I am sure that Steinbeck would be appalled and would find abhorrent that there is a member of parliament going around using the horror, the terror and the tragedy of his book to try to advocate that people should leave regional areas and rural communities. That was never the intention of the book. The book was intended to expose the plight of those people in rural communities who were given a hard time by conservative political interests, big corporations and the banks all of those years ago.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that in the year 2000 we still have those same policies and attitudes coming from a federal government. We now have the attitude that maybe people should be encouraged to just get up and leave rural Australia, that maybe they should be forced to just become a travelling group of itinerant workers to be used from time to time to pick fruit or to do any other general labouring work whenever it is required. As far as the Liberal Party are concerned, we could just put them on a train every now and then and forget about them having any links to their community, forget about them having any rights to raise their kids in a place which has got a good school and forget about them having access to basic health services and rural telecommunications infrastructure—all those things.

What the Liberal Party are on about is creating rural Australia in the image of the Okies of Steinbeck's novel. They want to see this group of itinerant workers used as labour around the place whenever Sydney or Melbourne—the two beacons as far as the Liberal Party are concerned; the only two places which exist as far as the Liberal Party are concerned—need some work done. Maybe they could get a very big truck, put all the Okies in it and then ship us back into Melbourne or Sydney whenever there is a construction project going or maybe they could move us around wherever they need us to go and do a bit of work.


Mr WiltonTheBeverly Hillbillies.


Mr ZAHRA —That is the only attitude which they have, and my colleague the honourable member for Isaacs points out that we in rural areas could become like The Beverly Hillbillies, loading all of our stuff on the back of the truck and driving out wherever the government directs that there is a bit of work to do. That is all they want from us; that is the only vision they have for us.

When people ask me what we in the Labor Party are about, I unashamedly say, `We are about a rural renaissance where rural areas in Australia are given the opportunity to excel, to build on their natural strengths and advantages.' That is the vision which we in the Labor Party have for rural Australia. Unlike the Liberal Party, we do not have the view that we should become this itinerant group of workers, that we should drive around in big trucks wherever the work is going to be and not ask, as the Liberal member for Parramatta has suggested, for the world to slow down or to stop spinning quite so quickly. We are not intimidated by the changes happening in the world. We welcome the changes happening in the world, and we want to make them work for us, for rural Australia. That is the vision which we have.

The only place in which the Liberal member for Parramatta thinks the world is spinning is Sydney—in the inner suburbs, in the affluent areas, in the places where you can buy a house for only $400,000 or $500,000. That is what he thinks civilisation is all about. That is what he thinks having any relationship with the world is all about. You can only have a relationship with the world, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, if you live in Melbourne or Sydney. Mr Deputy Speaker, they are wrong; they are badly wrong. With the changes taking place in information technology and with the emergence of the new economy, you can interact with the world from anywhere. In fact, it is better in so many ways and it is far more cost effective and economically sensible to have those interactions not from Melbourne or Sydney but from parts of rural and regional Australia. I will read again, for the benefit of members in this chamber and anyone else who might read this from time to time, what the Liberal member for Parramatta had to say only a day or so ago:

The Grapes of Wrath was about the Oakies who recognised they had to get out of a dust bowl and go to California...

I have to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker: I do not consider myself to be an Okie; nor do I consider the Latrobe Valley to be a dust bowl. I am proud to come from the Latrobe Valley and we are far from being a dust bowl. Every rural member of this House should stand up to the likes of the Liberal member for Parramatta and his spiv mates in the Liberal Party and condemn what he has had to say about the areas that we represent. Where are you all? Where are you all standing up for your constituencies and condemning this sort of rubbish? `A dust bowl.' Is that what they think of Tasmania? Is that what they think of rural New South Wales? Is that what they think of Far North Queensland or Western Australia? Why aren't all the members of parliament who represent rural areas standing up and saying, `Ross Cameron, the Liberal member for Parramatta, you have got it wrong, sport. You have got it completely wrong.' Every last member of parliament in this place should be standing against that viewpoint. The mask has dropped and the Liberal Party stand exposed for all of the world to see. This is how they view regional Australia: as a dust bowl. They view all of those rural electors, all of those good, decent, hardworking rural people, as Okies. They should be ashamed of themselves. (Time expired)