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Tuesday, 5 June 2001
Page: 27286


Mr SCIACCA (5:54 PM) —I was listening intently to the member for Dunkley. What rubbish, from a government that has been the biggest taxing and spending government in the history of this country, to put words in the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition and to suggest all sorts of scary things. The reality is that if anyone is going to be raising taxes it would be you lot, if we were to have the unfortunate situation that you were re-elected at the next election.

To a large extent this budget has been about trying to pump back into the government departments and services money that has been drained out during the last six years by the coalition government. There is an election just around the corner, and the government are hoping that if they are seen to be reinvesting in research and development and redistributing funds in vital areas such as education then the Australian public will forgive their past transgressions and return them to office come polling day. But the Australian people cannot be so easily duped. The cuts that this government have made over the last six years have not gone unnoticed. Cuts to government spending are having a very real impact on the community. While bonus payments to age pensioners and tax cuts for self-funded retirees are welcome, they are not enough to repair the damage.

Australian customs and quarantine services are to receive a significant funding boost under this budget. If you speak with one of my constituents, Mr Allan Stainer, who owns and runs Australian Garlic Bread International in my electorate of Bowman, he will tell you that this funding boost is much needed. But, as for many Australians, for Mr Stainer this budget move is too little too late. Mr Stainer runs a successful business. He employs 35 people, many of them my constituents, and his company can proudly boast that it is the largest producer of garlic bread products in Australia. Seeing an opportunity to expand his company, Mr Stainer decided to purchase some special automated bread making equipment earlier this year. He anticipated that the new machinery would not only increase his production levels but would generate up to 10 new jobs. As the baking equipment was only available overseas, Mr Stainer duly approached Customs to apply for the two per cent tariff concession. Customs granted this concession. However, when the equipment arrived in Australia, it arrived in three separate shipments. Customs then made the erratic decision that, because the equipment arrived on three different ships, they would no longer approve the tariff concession. The concession amounted to around $200,000, and Mr Stainer was advised that he would have to pay the $200,000 or Customs would retain the goods. In the meantime, Mr Stainer had made arrangements for five technicians to travel to Brisbane from France to assemble the machinery. At this stage Mr Stainer, in frustration, contacted his local member, who of course is me, and my office. I am pleased to inform the House that eventually we were able to negotiate with Customs and Mr Stainer received a special dispensation. In the end, 23 days elapsed between the arrival of the shipment and receipt of the equipment by my constituent. For 23 days Mr Stainer had to cover the unexpected expenses of pay and accommodation for the visiting French technicians. Then, to add insult to injury, Customs demanded that he pay container storage fees. By the time the shipment was finally released, these fees came to the staggering total of $13,000.

This government insists that it is trying to do the right thing by small business. Yet this is just one example of a small businessman who has not only been let down but has been left considerably out of pocket by a system that is unresponsive to the needs of business. I call on the minister responsible to explore means of compensating Allan Stainer for the additional expense he has had to bear through no fault of his own but through a delay forced by Customs's fumbling. I also call on the minister to review Customs's procedures to ensure people like Mr Stainer receive assistance rather than obstacles when they endeavour to expand business and generate jobs for Australia. I particularly want to congratulate Mr Stainer. He is a man prepared to stand up for his rights, a man prepared to fight until such time as he got some justice, although it cost him money and time. If it were not for people like Mr Stainer, I do not think Australia would be the place that it is today.

The celebrations for the Centenary of Federation this year have given all Australians the opportunity to rekindle their interest in learning more about our unique history as a peaceful, democratic nation and about those figures who have been responsible for moulding this country into the great nation that it is today. I wish to draw to the attention of the House in the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002 the achievements of one such great Australian: a great Australian who served the people of the electorate of Melbourne in this House for some 30 years; who led the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party through eight years and three elections; and who during his term as immigration minister during the postwar years urged Australians to `populate or perish', thereby changing the character of Australia's immigration program and ultimately altering the face of Australian society.

I speak, of course, of Arthur Calwell, whose achievements were regrettably much maligned in the ABC television program 100 Years: the Australian Story that went to air earlier this year. Following the broadcast of part 2 of the series, which purported to follow the history of Australia's immigration program, I was contacted by Mary Elizabeth Calwell, who was rightfully distressed at the distorted image of her father that the program had presented. When she was originally approached by the ABC, Mary Elizabeth was happy to assist the series producers in collecting the documentation, film and sound recordings needed to create a clear and accurate picture of Calwell's aims and achievements during his time as immigration minister from 1945 to 1949. Yet, when the program went to air, much of the material Mary Elizabeth had referred to the producers was excluded, and many of the major achievements of Arthur Calwell's term as immigration minister were omitted.

The depiction of Arthur Calwell in this series has not only caused insult to his family but denied Calwell the acknowledgment he rightly deserves as an early advocate for racial equality in Australian politics. During the Internet forum following the screening of the episode in question, the author of the series recorded the producers' intention to `depict Hanson as following from Calwell'. I believe it is incumbent on the ABC as our publicly funded national broadcaster to value truthful reporting above sensationalism. I hope that future ABC endeavours to document this important period in the history of Australia's immigration program will redress the imbalance of reporting featured in 100 Years.

While Arthur Calwell undeniably worked within the constraints of the White Australia Policy, to compare him to the politics of division preached by Pauline Hanson—or even to refer to that in a presumptive way—is both misleading and irresponsible. It must be remembered that when Arthur Calwell was appointed the new Minister for Immigration in 1945, and for many years thereafter, the White Australia Policy enjoyed bipartisan support and the support of the Australian public. Two decades would pass before the Restrictive Immigration Act was repealed, yet Calwell enjoyed close ties with the Australian Chinese community. In 1941 Calwell made statements in parliament calling for provisions whereby Chinese residents could be naturalised and, in 1947, after holding consultations with the Chinese ambassador and in his capacity as Minister for Immigration, he made submissions to this end to the cabinet of the time.

The postwar immigration program administered by Calwell represented the first significant move away from the Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy of the White Australia Policy. Arthur Calwell was criticised when the immigration regulations were amended to define the Middle East as part of Europe, thereby opening our doors to a broader cross-section of migrants. Under Calwell's postwar program, Australia welcomed migrants from Malta, Italy, Greece, Egypt and Lebanon, and he was responsible for instigating the program that saw the relocation of some 20,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to Australia between 1945 and 1949.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of Calwell's contribution as the architect of a more inclusive migration program and a more tolerant Australian society is the recognition and affection he is afforded by our many migrant communities. When Arthur Calwell's funeral procession passed through Melbourne, the Chinese community closed their shops and businesses in Little Bourke Street as a tribute, while his significant contribution to the Jewish community was recognised in November 1996 when the Jewish National Fund established the A.A. Calwell Forest of Life.

In this budget, the government has earmarked nearly $5 million to be spent on a campaign to reinforce the value of citizenship to people who are Australians either by choice or by birth. Of course, it was Arthur Calwell who guided the Citizenship Act through the parliament, allowing Australians from diverse backgrounds to unite and be identified for the first time as members of an independent and cohesive nation. The ABC undertakes in its charter to inform and to educate. I would hope that in the near future our national broadcaster will have occasion to highlight the tremendous contribution Arthur Calwell made to the growth of Australia as we know it today.

I would also like to bring to the attention of the House a situation, again in my own electorate, where the government, through its instrumentality Australia Post, is putting economic considerations above the health and wellbeing of employees in the Public Service. In March this year I was approached by a number of residents in my constituency of Bowman who are or have been employed at the Australia Post Business Centre at Dollery Road, Capalaba. The business centre is located next to an electricity substation, and the workers contacted me to alert me to their concerns about the high incidence of cancer and auto-immune related diseases amongst past and present employees. Some 11 workers have been diagnosed with cancer. Of those, four have passed away. Six workers have been diagnosed with potentially fatal auto-immune diseases. Four cases of chronic tension headaches have been reported, and in three of the four cases the headaches ceased when the sufferer left the employ of the post office. The people who came to see me originally with respect to this matter were Angie Adams—of whom I will talk in a moment—Valda Cole, Liz Humbles and David Kent. I mention them because they are very brave people. They are people who, like my constituent Mr Stainer, were not prepared to sit back and cop it. They wanted to see if something could be done about it, not so much to help themselves, because in most cases there is not a lot that they can benefit from, but rather to help those that are still working in that environment.

I am advised that those affected make up about 20 per cent of staff employed at the post office since the business centre opened in Dollery Road in 1988. That is an enormous percentage: 20 per cent of all people that have worked in this one environment have ended up with problems. As I have said, if that is a coincidence, it is one hell of a coincidence. When this information was brought to the attention of Australia Post, I was pleased that they agreed to conduct an investigation into the possible causes of the health problems that staff and former staff were experiencing. Indeed, on 17 April Australia Post issued a press release indicating that tests on the radiation levels emitted by the neighbouring substation were well within safety limits. Yet since the story was reported in our local newspaper, the Bayside Bulletin, and in the metropolitan media, Angie Adams—who I referred to before—the spokesperson for affected staff members, has regretfully been inundated with calls from local business people and previous residents who have been affected by similar ailments. There are too many incidents of cancer related deaths and disease for this to be a coincidence. Despite the results of the radiation tests, staff are not satisfied and have voted overwhelmingly for the centre to be relocated.

Australia Post has a responsibility, both to workers and to the many members of the public who do business at the centre daily, to institute a full investigation into this matter. Pending a full inquiry into possible environmental and workplace factors that could affect the health of staff, the centre and its services should be relocated. The potential cost to the health and wellbeing of staff must be the priority. Any financial costs associated with the temporary or permanent relocation of the centre pale in comparison. I have never before seen such courage displayed as that of the spokesperson for this group, Angie Adams. She is a terrific lady and I respect her very highly. I have not seen anyone who has gone to so much trouble and taken so much time not only to help those who are still alive that have been affected by the problems in that workplace but to protect others that are there now.

Australia Post did carry out tests. It seems that the test results were normal. I accept that they have done that and I appreciate that they have done that. I am not being critical of them. Normally I never receive any complaints about Australia Post. They are very good. On this occasion, though, I think they are letting economic considerations get in their way. If there is any chance whatsoever that this place is somehow contaminated, even though we cannot put our finger on what it is, in my view we cannot gamble with people's futures and with their health. As I have said to them before: `Don't do it. Make sure that you get them out and make sure that everything is okay.'

Mr Michael Choi, the recently elected member for Capalaba—he is a good friend of mine and is the first Chinese person to be elected to the Queensland state parliament—wrote to Bill Mitchell, the General Manager of Australia Post. He said:

I write to thank you for forwarding a copy of the report released by Queensland Health dated 24 April 2001 and the subsequent report dated 2 May 2001, in relation to the Capalaba Business Centre.

The report indicated that there is seemingly no evidence to conclude any linkage between the illnesses and the building.

However, I do encourage Australia Post to continue its investigation, leaving no stone unturned.

... ... ...

The professionalism and imparity of the report is beyond question. However, maybe we should be mindful of the fact that science and medicine in nature, are a progressive knowledge, as we possess information today which has eluded us years before. In the fullness of time, perhaps there may be a reason for these illnesses, rather than a case of mathematical coincidence. I say this with the utmost respect for science and medicine as a qualified engineer.

In view of the lack of confidence from the staff as indicated by their vote on 3 May 2001, and constituents who have also expressed concern to me, would Australia Post be prepared to consider the relocation of their building, so that this matter can be put to rest without having a shadow overcasting the staff and your customers for years to come.

I look forward to your reply.

I could not agree more with those words from Michael Choi.

Finally, I want to bring up a case which is and has been of great concern to me in relation to the new cadet scheme. On page 5 of today's Courier-Mail an article, `Top army figure to overhaul cadets', said:

A senior defence force officer will oversee Australia's 25,000-strong cadet service as part of a shake-up announced yesterday.

Major-General Darryl Low Choy has been appointed the first director-general ...

... ... ...

In Queensland, the service has come under fire after two cadets died at training camps.

Clare Stokes, 18, died when the faulty and overloaded vehicle she was travelling in overturned on a property in North Queensland in 1997.

... ... ...

Clare Stokes' mother Marie said: `If these reforms are carried out, Clare's death won't have been in vain.'

Mrs Stokes said when her daughter died the Defence Force denied responsibility for the cadets.

`In a sense we were deceived before by the fact we all believed they were all strongly connected with the Australian Defence Force,' she said.

Mrs Stokes said the reforms appeared to clearly bring the cadets under the control of the defence force.

From the day that Clare Stokes died, her parents, Paul and Marie Stokes, have been working very hard to achieve this end. Indeed, they have left no stone unturned by writing to everybody that they could. I took their case up and I have made certain comments and certain pleas in this parliament on their behalf. They have been unyielding in their efforts to make sure that their daughter's life was not in vain. I say tonight to them that the life of their daughter—that 18 years she had on this earth—has not been in vain. Because of their persistence, their obvious love for their daughter and their obvious grief for her loss—something to which I can personally relate—their daughter has really meant something because what they wanted to achieve has been achieved. I congratulate the government for taking action. They did it because there were a couple of deaths in Queensland. The second was another young person, who drowned. I say to the Stokes: well done; you are very good people and you have proven that two people can make a difference.