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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 93

Mr BOWEN (6:08 PM) —From the high rises of Fairfield to the farms of Kemps Creek, Prospect is a diverse and exciting community. It is the community that I grew up in, and it has given me enormous opportunities. It is an honour to represent my community in this House as the third member for Prospect.

In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip and Watkin Tench stood on a hill west of the settlement at Sydney Cove. They agreed that the area that they could see from the hill was fertile and had good prospects. Accordingly, the hill and the region that they surveyed came to be known as Prospect. Governor Phillip was right about the area having good prospects, but I am sure he would not recognise the multicultural city that has developed in its fields. Families who have lived in Prospect for six generations have welcomed recent arrivals who have struggled over oceans to get here and make our area their home.

It is appropriate tonight that I pay tribute to the second member for Prospect, the Hon. Janice Crosio. Janice was a larger than life figure in our electorate. She had a remarkable knack of reading the mood of her constituents and representing their views here in Canberra with a loud, booming voice to make sure that they were heard. I am not Janice Crosio, and I will not attempt to be. I am a different person with a different style. But if I can read the views of the electorate and represent their views here as well as she did over so many years, I will be doing well as a member of this place.

I thank the people of Prospect for their support on 9 October. I said all through the campaign that I did not take their support for granted and that I would be treating the seat like it was marginal. This was not spin and it remains my approach. I do not, and never will, take the support of the people of Prospect for granted, and I will be working to retain and increase their support over the coming years.

I thank the men and women of Labor—the members of Fairfield, Greystanes, Smithfield and St Clair Colyton branches who worked hard on election day, many of them all day. I am sure the House will not mind me acknowledging just a few people who worked above and beyond the call of duty in the lead-up to the campaign: Rolando Atienza, Rodolfo Dimitui, Ninos Khoshaba, Bill Dumbrell, Gino Coeira, Tim McPhail, Jim Hanna and Albert Mooshi. I also thank the senior vice-president of the New South Wales branch of the ALP, Bernie Riordan, the general secretary, Mark Arbib, and John Azarias, Paul Binsted and Gabbie Trainor for their support. My gratitude also goes to some of my new colleagues who lent me advice and assistance. I thank the Leader of the Opposition, the members for Barton, Perth, Lilley, Hunter, Fowler and Chifley and also Senator Conroy.

My involvement in politics did not begin when the six-week campaign began. I joined the Labor Party 17 years ago and was elected to Fairfield Council in 1995. Over that time, there were three people in particular who have taken every opportunity to support me and to urge me on to eventually become the member for Prospect. I did not need much urging. However, I do very much appreciate the support of Anwar Khoshaba, Claro Cruz and Carl Scully. Three more fiercely loyal individuals you could not hope to meet. Anwar Khoshaba will not mind me saying that he often drives me to distraction with his views on many issues, but I will always appreciate his passionate loyalty to me. The Hon. Carl Scully has also been a constant supporter and confidant over those years. I had the pleasure of being his chief of staff for the last four years. He knows the stresses and strains on somebody who hopes to represent their area in parliament. He has been a great friend and supporter, and I am glad he could join us in the gallery tonight.

In politics, as in life, personal friends can provide emotional sustenance in the bad times and share the joy in the good times. I have been fortunate to have a group of friends who have been a wonderful support. It is an honour to call them friends. Some of them are political, some very definitely are not. Tonight in my first contribution to this House, I would like to place on record my thanks to Chris Russell, Brent and Tessa Thomas, Charlie Monti, Greg Lozelle, Robert, Peter Presdee, Chris Minns, Anna Collins and Matt Brown.

In addition, there is one other friend I would like to mention. For many years I shared my hopes and aspirations with Ed Husic. We compared notes, we shared disappointments, we celebrated victories and we helped each other. We debated policies and we incubated ideas to improve the lot of Western Sydney. My one regret tonight is that he listens from the gallery and not from the chamber. He will one day join us in this parliament, and Australia will be the better for his contribution.

I of course want to make mention tonight of my parents. Ross and Christine Bowen taught me many things. They taught me not by lessons or homilies but simply by example. They taught me to avoid pretension, to work hard and to do what I believe to be right, regardless of the personal consequences. They tell me they are proud of me, and tonight I tell the House that I am proud of them.

The final person I want to mention tonight is my wife, Rebecca. We met at a New South Wales conference of the Labor Party, but our life has grown to encompass so much more than politics. She has been a wonderful supporter. We are now building a house together in Smithfield, at the foot of Prospect Hill, and we are soon to bring a little girl into the world. Rebecca has supported my aspirations in every way possible, and I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her.

As a new Labor member of this House, I see my role as being a voice for the people who have no other voice in the national political debate. Australia is one of a small number of states throughout the world that is constituted as a Commonwealth. The term `Commonwealth' was chosen not only to represent that the government was based on the common consent of the people but also to represent those almost unique Australian attributes of fairness and tolerance.

I welcome the debate on moral values in this House and across the country. I am happy to stand behind the moral values of fairness and tolerance, and to argue for them vigorously. I say this about the morals debate: bring it on. It is not enough to talk about family values. Fixing things like the family debt trap, and providing more incentives for people to go from welfare to work, are important too. I am happy to argue that we can be, and must be, an efficient and modern economy which still has fairness and tolerance as the basis of our Commonwealth. We can be a productive economy which has protections built in for people who have been unfairly dismissed. We can be a nation that trades successfully with different nations across the world, but that does not mean we cannot stand up and be counted against abuses of human rights.

We need to create more wealth, and we need to share it fairly amongst the people who have contributed to its creation. I have long had a policy interest in wealth creation through Australia becoming a leading-edge country in the field of research and development. Between 1983 and 1994 our national levels of research and development trebled. In the decade prior to that, research and development had been declining, and our levels of R&D are only now returning to the levels that we had when the Keating government lost office. The increase in R&D during the Hawke and Keating years did not just happen. This is one example of where government programs can have a remarkable impact. The 150 per cent research and development concession and the R&D syndication program had a real benefit and a beneficial impact on our levels of research; but more than that, they had a real impact on our economy. We can strengthen our trading position, embracing high value added goods that cushion us against future downturns in our terms of trade.

I am always amazed by the skills the Australian people possess. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot compete with any other country in the world when it comes to our technological skills. Australian research has traditionally been very strong in the fields of environmental science and biology. This stands us in good stead to capitalise on the growth in the emerging field of biotechnology. I fear that an ideological culture that opposes government involvement in the economy may see us miss many more opportunities in this field. We need to support our universities as they incubate talent and ideas.

Recently I was concerned to read of an idea floated by the Minister for Education, Science and Training to establish universities without research departments. A university is not there just to communicate knowledge; it is there to create knowledge. It is there to foster a culture of innovation and excellence in the national interest. And that is not just our traditional universities in the capital cities. Some of the best research universities in the world are not in the capital cities but in the regions. Good research at universities that can be considered amongst the best in the world is not some elite distraction from the main game of the economy; it is essential for a modern, cutting-edge economy, which Australia can become.

I represent an area of blue- and white-collar workers, farmers and small business people. This nation's industrial relations policy must strike a balance between a modern, highly productive economy and protection for people who are in an unequal bargaining position with their employer—people struggling to find a voice. What we have seen introduced into the industrial relations system over the last eight years has not always meant more choice. I have seen, first-hand, levels of intimidation and an unequal bargaining system which does not promote a more productive and cooperative Australia. I support a decentralised bargaining system that empowers the enterprise—it was, after all, Labor which pioneered this approach—but it must be the enterprise that is empowered, and not one half of the bargaining unit over the other.

I mentioned earlier that I represent in this House many small business owners. In the 12 months leading up to the election, I doorknocked nearly 10,000 houses throughout my electorate. Of course, in that project I came across many small business people. Small business people are working families struggling just like any other working family. Not one small business owner raised with me the need to provide them with an exemption from the unfair dismissal laws. None of them said to me, `Can I please have the power to sack somebody unfairly?' However, many raised with me the need to reduce the onerous burden of the GST and other paperwork compliance costs. They also raised with me the need for support in their dealings with franchisers and landlords. Many small business owners find themselves in unequal bargaining positions, just like other members of the work force. I include small business people in the category of people struggling to find a voice in the national debate. I will be paying particular attention to the interests and aspirations of small business people during my time in this House.

Inequity is not just a matter of economics. As mayor of Fairfield, and then as president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, I spent a lot of time dealing with the concept of `place'. A community can have its spirit lifted and its quality of life improved by an effort to improve its urban environment. We often hear of our more affluent areas being described as `leafy', but there is no reason why an area that could never be described as `affluent' should not be described as `leafy'. There is no reason why our public spaces and shopping centres cannot be places for cultural enrichment, instead of unattractive and barren wastelands. Our experience in Cabramatta has shown that the urban environment is important. Law enforcement experts have said that the work of Fairfield council in improving place management and the urban amenity has been a vital factor in reducing crime in Cabramatta. Of course, it was not this alone that reduced crime: a very significant police effort has been the main focus. But the Australian people have consistently identified law and order as their major concern, and any steps which make a contribution to reducing crime must be welcomed.

I do not regard this as exclusively a matter for local government. I believe that state and federal governments can do more when it comes to the urban environment. When I was mayor, I saw first-hand how much can be achieved with a relatively small outlay of money, but I also saw how hard it is, for a council struggling with so many commitments, to find that money. This nation desperately needs the re-establishment of a federal department of urban affairs and a return to federal involvement in urban affairs, along the lines of the previous government's successful Better Cities Program.

As to being a voice for those without a voice, I believe a particular obligation falls on me—along with my friend the honourable member for Fowler—as the representative of the most culturally diverse area in Australia. Members of various cultural groups who have settled in the seat of Prospect have taught me more than any textbook ever could about the preciousness of human rights. To talk to someone who has had all three of his daughters executed gives you a very keen appreciation of the need to take a robust approach to human rights. A breach of human rights anywhere is an attack on human rights everywhere. To paraphrase Elie Wiesel: when human rights are under attack we must interfere. As an opposition backbencher, I do not have any illusions that I will be able to make a great material difference in this regard. However, I do want to make this one pledge: I will never be silent. Quiet and diplomatic representations in the corridors of the House will sometimes be the most appropriate way of dealing with a matter. At other times, perhaps, a louder approach will be necessary. Either way, I will not be silent.

Members of all religions or philosophies should be able to practise their beliefs in freedom. I include in this a group like Falun Gong, which has as its creed truth, forbearance and tolerance. They do not deserve to be tortured for espousing such basic beliefs as these. I will not be silent on the unspeakable suffering and heartache that is occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan. This suffering receives almost no attention in the Australian media but it is the biggest humanitarian crisis of the last 10 years. In an area as large as France, 70,000 human beings have lost their lives to a combination of hunger, disease and murder. If an event even 10 per cent as horrendous as this occurred in a Western country we would see massive coverage and massive action from the governments of the world.

Recently in Prospect we have received our latest round of migration refugees from the Sudan. It gives me an enormous sense of pride as I walk around Fairfield to see small Sudanese children in the uniforms of Fairfield Primary School. These children have endured far more in their little lives than most of us will have to endure if we live to old age. Yet, they are relatively lucky; hundreds of thousands of others are not. I will not be silent on human rights in places like Vietnam or Myanmar or anywhere else in the world. To have somebody imprisoned for a crime of `disrespecting democratic freedoms' for expressing their democratic view is something I can never be silent about. I believe Australia and individual members of this House need to keep open the lines of communication with the governments of all nations. But we must have human rights as our highest priority in these discussions. As a nation we must say: `Here we stand; we can do no other.'

When my time in this House comes to an end I hope it will be judged to have been a success. The definition of success that I will be applying when I come to judge my time in this House is one that was written a long time ago by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was at one stage Chaplain of the House of Representatives of another commonwealth—that of Massachusetts. These are words that I have found inspiring for a long time and I would like to share them with the House tonight:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

This is the test that I will apply to myself when my time in this House comes to an end. I thank the House for its courtesy.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Hasluck, I remind honourable members that this is his first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.