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Thursday, 14 February 2002
Page: 209

Mr WINDSOR (11:14 AM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley. I must congratulate you. It is a privilege to deliver this first address before you, seeing we were both in the New South Wales state chamber for a period of years. I must say I have a very high regard for your capacity in relation to natural resource issues and hope to share some similar concerns with you in my period in this parliament.

It is an honour to be elected as the member for New England. New England is a very exciting electorate. I have grown up in that electorate; I was educated in a little place called Werris Creek near where I have a property. I was also educated at Farrer agricultural high school near Tamworth, which is in the electorate, and went to university at the regional University of New England. My family have had a long relationship with that particular part of the world.

I also served for 10 years as the state member for Tamworth as an Independent, and I am delighted to see my fellow Independents in the chamber: the member for Calare and the member for Kennedy. I do congratulate them on their rise to this high office, and I hope to share with them many of the issues that we have in common in relation to our country constituents.

Canberra is not a place that is unknown to me. I have many fond memories of Canberra, and in fact the very first airline trip that I took was as a 10-year-old, as a Legacy ward. From Tamworth, I flew down in a DC3, with a regional airline that is now defunct. That is one of the issues that I intend to raise in my time in parliament and will raise this morning. It was a very worthwhile experience for me at that age. Interestingly enough my youngest son, Tom, actually turned 10 yesterday and was in this building, so there was a little bit of deja vu there.

As I said, I have other contacts with Canberra. I was very involved during the mid-eighties with the two Canberra farmer rallies that took place and was instrumental in organising some of the transportation from the north of the state to the Canberra rallies. They were very emotional occasions for those people who were there; I can quite understand how people rise to the occasion in war, because there was a very real feeling of camaraderie on those particular occasions.

I was also involved during the eighties with the National Farmers Federation and the New South Wales Farmers Association in various lobbying trips to Canberra. One of the most amusing ones that I recall was when a group of five of us were down here for a week. One night we were visiting the then Senator George Georges, whom some of you would know, and we thought we were making amazing progress in relation to the issues of flystrike in sheep and the culling of kangaroos, when Georges eyes tended to glaze over. We thought: `Well, we've lost him; he's not understanding what we're talking about.' Then he brightened, and said to us, `You must come back tomorrow. It's very important that I talk to you some more, but the Yes, Minister program is now on and I will have to leave you'! It was that period of time. That was in Old Parliament House. I will always remember that, as we followed Senator Georges out, most of the members of parliament were also going into the television room to watch this particular educational program.

I thank firstly the voters of New England for giving me the opportunity to serve them, and I pledge to work very hard for all of my constituents. It is a very broad electorate. I recognise the service of the previous member, Stuart St Clair, and the member before him, who served for 36 years in this place and is a former Speaker of this House, Ian Sinclair. I recognise the contribution that both those men have made to that electorate.

I particularly thank at the start my campaign chairmen, Stephen Hall from Tamworth and Peter Pardy from the city of Armidale, and also particularly recognise Helen Tickle and Graham Nuttall, who is with me today in the parliament. I thank all the people who worked tirelessly in my campaign—I think we had something like 900 to 1,000 people. We had a tremendous team of people that actually wanted to generate change and prove that no seat can be taken for granted by any party. I think that is one of the things that is happening at the moment, particularly in regional Australia: there is a growing understanding by regional and country people that they can influence the political process if in fact they want to become involved in the issues and in the process itself. It is very important that, as country representatives—and I mean the people on both sides of the parliament as well as the Independents who are country representatives—we do unite on those issues of common importance to our constituency.

I would say at the start of this delivery that one of the things that has always fascinated me in relation to country representation is that, even though we have 30 per cent of the population in terms of the vote, most of that vote historically has been taken for granted by one side of the parliament. We are in a unique situation politically, and have been for the last decade, in my view, where the basic policy framework that the nation is operating under has been by way of agreement by both sides of the parliament. We have had the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party agreeing with a basic policy framework. I take issue with that agreement taking place over this last decade, and take issue with some of the patchy benefits of that economic framework, particularly, but not only, for country people. I will elaborate on some of those issues in a moment.

I also take the opportunity to thank my campaign director for the three state campaigns that I won in the New South Wales parliament, Peter Pulley. He has been a great strength to me over the years in bouncing off ideas on the sorts of things where you need some counsel from time to time. To my staff at the state level—and I am very proud to say that the same staff that I had at the state level will be coming over into the federal office; we have worked well together for many years—and to my family, particularly my wife, Lyn, who is not here today but was here yesterday; my two sons, Andrew and Tom; and my daughter, Kate: the efforts that they have put in over many years in relation to parliamentary participation have been outstanding, and I thank them.

I also recognise my mother. She ran a property after my father died when I was eight years of age. He thought he was bulletproof—and he was not—and did not leave a will. Back in those days many of you would understand the impact that would have on the widow and the children. Trying to operate a property in that particular circumstance was difficult from time to time. I do appreciate the guidance that my mother has given me over many years. In relation to the political process, she has been a great strength in that as a child growing up there was never any demarcation of class in our family. It was not really until I was at university that I came to the recognition that some people thought they were more important than others. I had a family background that did not pursue that in any way at all, and I hope that is reflected in the way in which I represent the electorate.

Some people have asked, `Why make the move from state to federal politics?'—I had the safest seat in New South Wales—`Why take a risk and move into federal politics?' I have been in state politics for 10 years. One of the things—and I mentioned this earlier—that I had continually noticed in a whole range of issues was that the policy framework in which the states were working—and partly through the Council of Australian Governments arrangements and a whole range of intergovernmental arrangements—was determined at a federal level. In my view, to overcome some of the very patchy and even negative effects on country towns we have to make changes in policy at the federal level. That can be done, and I believe country people can lead the charge on that.

It is disappointing that, particularly in recent years, there has not been an impetus from country people in this place to recognise the lack of flexibility in policy—that also applies to other marginalised groups. I encourage and challenge country people to take advantage of the political process. There is always talk of the balance of power situation. With 30 per cent of the vote, country Australia has the potential to have the balance of power—irrespective of who is in power in this chamber—and influence the political process far more than it has in the past. There has been a lack of flexibility. The only way to influence that is through the federal chamber.

As I mentioned earlier, we have this unique environment where all the major parties have decided to back a framework which will have very little regard for distance, remoteness, smallness or social equity. Some of the rules applying to competition policy, with its economic rationalist approach on many of these issues, have no flexibility in regard to smallness, distance and remoteness. The very policies that are emanating from this place, whether they be fuel policy or aged care policy—even policies relating to country doctors, or the lack thereof—are emanating from that basic policy framework, which has not delivered equity to country constituents in particular.

There are a number of issues that I will briefly run through that I believe are important. They were part of my campaign and I consider that the electorate has endorsed the issues that I ran with. It was very strongly based around the need to have greater flexibility in relation to the economic framework that impacts on a very large nation. I happen to believe that with a low population and large land mass we do not necessarily have to follow policy mixes that are determined in other parts of the world. That is not to say that I am antiglobalisation—I am not. I think we would be hiding our heads in the sand if we tried to remove ourselves from the world. But there does have to be greater flexibility in relation to some of the policies that emanate from this place.

Competition policy, as I have mentioned, has absolutely no regard for distance. Fred Hilmer did not put it in the equation; it is not there. Smallness is not there. The message that the policy sends to country communities is to proceed to your nearest major regional centre, go to the coast, go to Sydney or go to buggery. That is the message that both sides of the parliament are sending to country constituents. It is pointless saying to country people at election time that there are people in here that genuinely represent their aspirations when the government drives a policy mix that is sending that message back through to them. It is a very short-term outlook for the larger regional centres to presume that they will have a short-term benefit through the sponge effect, because the very policy that is eroding the smaller communities now—and I am talking about smaller communities of 6,000 and 8,000 people, not just villages of 400 or 500—is having a disastrous effect. If that policy is not changed to recognise distance, smallness, remoteness and some degree of social equity, you will continue to see a shrinkage of regional Australia, something which should be abhorred.

I believe there is a solution to the country doctor issue. I do not think there has been leadership displayed in this place to address that issue. I think it can be done through the Medicare provider numbers. We should look at the geographic provision of Medicare provider numbers. When you break up the funding arrangements—that is, the proportion of the Medicare dollar, which is taxpayer funded money, that is spent in the health industry—there is a basic inequity that needs to be addressed. If you are a city patient, you are getting about $149 per year spent on you. If you are a country patient, you are getting $61. That partly reflects not only the lack of doctors and the difficulty in getting to see a doctor in some communities but also some overservicing in some of the major metropolitan areas. There is half a billion dollars of inequity annually in relation to that issue. People say, `There isn't any money to try and remedy this with incentives to assist doctors to get into country towns,' but there is. There is half a billion dollars worth of inequity.

Telstra is a very important issue and unless my electorate has a sudden change of heart I will not being supporting any full sale of Telstra. If senators are concerned about the impact of policy in the long term and not just about some short-term gain in terms of the competitive aspects of commercialisation of Telstra, I urge them to really consider this issue because of the importance of communications. You cannot expect a fully commercialised operation to deliver equity to people who have distance and remoteness to work with. It just will not happen. It never has in the past and it will not happen in the future.

The aged care debate is one that I believe in very strongly. If you come from a small community, why shouldn't you be able to retire and live in the community? People are making decisions in their forties to move away from country towns because they know they will not be able to see out their dying days in that community, so there needs to be more flexibility in that area.

I think there have been 51 inquiries into the fuel issue over the years. It is a classic case: we raise $12.5 billion from fuel; we put $1.6 billion back into roads and think that is great. I think it is disgraceful. The fact is that we raise 48c a litre from tax on fuel in a nation of this magnitude—with its distances, remoteness, all those things—and then say to the export sector that it has to go out and fight on the world market. I am fully aware that there is a state component of that tax through the GST—and I am pleased to see the Minister for Trade is here— but to have a 48c in the dollar tax and then expect the community to go out and bargain on a level playing field is quite ridiculous. The matter needs to be addressed.

I think I was one of the few politicians that went to an election saying that he would increase taxation. I think we do need an environmental fund to activate some of the remedial work. With a review of the competition policy rules, particularly in relation to property rights, there does need to be adequate funding and it should not be tied to the sale of assets. A dollar a week from every member of the Australian community raises a billion dollars in a year. That is the magnitude of the fundraising capacity that we have, but there has to be transparency.

I also believe, particularly given the insurance debacle of recent months, that we need a disaster fund to be set up and run by government. It would impact not only on the farming community when there were exceptional circumstances but also on the Newcastle earthquakes, the Cyclone Tracys—those sorts of events. It should be a transparent fund in which there is money and its use is triggered when needed.

Mr Katter — Hear, hear!

Mr WINDSOR —Thank you to the member for Kennedy. Zonal taxation is another area that I think the government has had a look at. The National Farmers Federation, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Local Government Association et cetera have backed it. It is very important that those sorts of issues be reinvigorated in this parliament.

I think we need a population plan. The process that we are going through at the moment with the Tampa is a disgrace. Locking people up for two or three years indicates to me that the process is not working. That does not mean we open the borders up to everybody but we have to develop a different process that does have a more compassionate approach to it.

I support the minister, Joe Hockey, in relation to the insurance issue and I think this parliament really has to get behind that. It is an issue that is going to destroy Australia and it will destroy the smaller country communities first if we do not do something about it.

There are a couple of local electorate issues that I would urge the ministers involved to take up. One is in the city of Tamworth where we are embracing a national equine centre. Australia does not have a national equine centre where events of international significance can be put on. Currently the Tamworth community has raised $10.5 million to go towards the $14 million project and requires $3.5 million from the federal government. I am sure the Minister for Transport and Regional Services will look on that favourably.

The learning centre at Glen Innes is also an area that does need to be addressed. The University of New England is another. I was very pleased yesterday to hear the Minister for Education, Science and Training talk about some flexible approaches in relation to regional universities. I would offer my assistance in any particular way to help him.

The challenge is to country people in the political arena. We do have opportunities to have far more influence in this particular forum. I am delighted to be one of three Independents who are going to take that challenge on and try and do as much as we can for our constituencies.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! Before I call Mr John Cobb, I remind honourable members that this is his first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.