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Tuesday, 11 March 2008
Page: 1367

Mr ZAPPIA (6:55 PM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I begin by adding my congratulations and good wishes to you on your election as Speaker of the House. I begin my first address in this place by thanking Matilda House and the Ngunawal people for their very gracious welcome to Canberra on the opening day of parliament. I congratulate other members of the House on their election or re-election last November, and I compliment the class of 2007 on the very impressive first speeches that have been made so far. For new members there is a lot to learn in this place, and I also thank the Parliament House staff, the officeholders and my parliamentary colleagues for all their assistance as I settle in. I also thank the people who have travelled from interstate to come along and hear me as I present my first address in this place. I particularly acknowledge Tony Catanzariti MLC from New South Wales.

I speak in support of the motion moved by the member for Solomon in response to the address to parliament by His Excellency the Governor-General. His Excellency’s address outlined the Rudd government’s agenda for the 42nd Parliament. It is an agenda which Labor took to the Australian people last year and which was resoundingly endorsed on 24 November. It is an agenda which responds to Australia’s needs of today, which responds to the challenges of the 21st century, which restores international respect for Australia, which restores fairness and decency in our society and which treats all people as equals.

To be a new member of a new government with a new agenda for Australia gives me cause for much optimism. That optimism was certainly justified when, on the second day of this parliament, the parliament said sorry to the stolen generations of Indigenous Australians. To be here as a government member on such a historic occasion was both an inspirational beginning to my time here and a matter of personal relevance. Shortly after Sir Ronald Wilson presented the Bringing them home report to the government, I asked him to address a public forum in Salisbury. I can vividly recall him emotionally recounting some of the heart-wrenching stories that were conveyed to him in the course of his inquiry. I have also, on other occasions, discussed with Elliott Johnston QC his earlier report on Aboriginal deaths in custody and I count as friends many of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains, some of whom came to Canberra to hear the Prime Minister say sorry.

Since Federation, the national parliament has shaped our nation. It is where our civic leaders have met to discuss and debate the national and international affairs of our nation. It is where elected members have brought the grievances, the aspirations and the expectations of the Australian people. And it is where our future will be forged. Those of us elected to this place bring with us the hopes of so many Australians. We bring with us the hopes of the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged and the most in need. We bring with us the hopes of those who, for reasons beyond their control, do not have the ability to stand up for themselves and whose only influence is their right to vote—and sometimes they do not even have that—and whose only hope is that they will be heard by the people they elect every three years.

I am the 1059th person and the 95th South Australian to be elected to this place. I am most grateful to the people of Makin for placing their faith in me and for giving me the opportunity to represent them. Over the years I have met with literally thousands of people from the Makin electorate and I value the friendships that I have formed with so many of them. What I value just as much, however, are the efforts so many people in Makin make every day to help others or manage our environment through their voluntary work with organisations such as the RSL; the National Servicemen’s Association; school councils; Lions, Rotary and Zonta clubs; sports clubs; Meals on Wheels; Trees for Life; Friends of Dry Creek Trail and Friends of Cobbler Creek; and so many other local community groups or through simply being a grandparent or a friend. These people do what they do because they care.

The seat of Makin takes in many of the northern and north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide. The seat was created in 1984 and was named after Norman Makin, a former distinguished member of this House. From 1984 until 1996 the seat was held by Peter Duncan and from 1996 until last year by Trish Draper. I acknowledge the contribution they both made in public life. The people of Makin elected me to this place and they will determine how long I remain here. The issues I campaigned on in the 2007 election I intend to now pursue as their member of parliament.

As I listened to the first speeches of others, the words ‘privilege’ and ‘honour’ were used often. Indeed, it is a privilege and an honour to be elected to this place. Regrettably, the privilege and the honour are not matched by the esteem in which politicians are held by the wider populace—and perhaps for good reason. Politicians have not always covered themselves in glory, and parliamentary processes have increasingly come under question. In particular, over the last decade the decrease in transparency and accountability of government, the erosion of human rights, the manipulation of electoral laws, the abuse of public office, the process of appointment of people to high public office and the behaviour of politicians in this place have all contributed to the cynicism and mistrust that people have of politicians and governments. The words ‘rights’, ‘respect’, ‘liberties’ and ‘democracy’ underpin the oath of allegiance that new citizens swear on becoming Australia’s citizens. There should be no greater example of upholding those values than by the Australian parliament. Democracy is fundamental to the Australian way of life. Democracy, however, is only as good as the level of engagement of the people it serves, and people will only engage in the political process if they have confidence in that process. That is why it is so important to restore the faith of Australians in this parliament and why I support the accountability and transparency measures already announced by the Prime Minister. On the question of rights, I have for some time supported and publicly spoken about an Australian bill of rights, and I was encouraged to hear the member for Fremantle and the member for Blair express the same view in their first speeches.

It is expected that your first speech will define who you are, what you value and what your agenda might be. I cannot do all of that in 20 minutes but I will provide some answers to those questions. Firstly, I am a Christian who respects the views of others. I was raised in Pooraka, a working-class suburb, and that is where I still live. I was drafted into the ALP in the late 1960s by Reg Groth, the then member for the state parliament seat of Salisbury. Reg Groth and his personal assistant, Lynn Arnold, encouraged me to stand for Salisbury council when a casual vacancy arose in 1977. Lynn Arnold was at the time a Salisbury council member. He went on to be Premier of South Australia, and I learnt a lot from him. I was elected and, whilst never intending to, remained on the council for 30 years, serving as mayor for the last 10 years.

I believe that my time in local government has prepared me well for my time in this place. As Mayor of Salisbury, I saw firsthand families struggling to make ends meet; old Australians, particularly single pensioners, living a life that should shame us all; Indigenous people living a life that none of us would want for ourselves; defence forces veterans neglected as they try to cope with the horrors of war that they live with every day of their lives; people with disabilities or health issues struggling through life, when just a little more help could make so much difference to their lives and those of their carers; and the grief in so many families caused by drug abuse or gambling addiction. For these people and so many others, life is a constant struggle. I know that there are no simple solutions to their needs but I do not accept that we could not do more—yet we could find $3 billion for an unnecessary war in Iraq.

As Mayor of Salisbury I also saw the best of Australian life. I saw the new arrivals from all over the world—from the UK, from South America, from Europe, from Africa, from Asia and from the Middle East—settle into their new land and quickly contribute to Australia’s development. I saw my friend Hieu Van Le, a Vietnamese boat arrival, become Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. I saw the generosity of the Australian people in moments of hardship, natural disaster or tragic events. I saw the success stories of local businesses, built on hard work, family sacrifice, long hours and financial risk. I saw the extraordinary talents of young people in the schools, in our TAFEs and in our universities, I saw the Christian churches reach out to the refugees, the homeless and the hungry, and I saw young paraplegics like Neil Fuller, Mathew Cowdrey and Richard Maurovic become local heroes.

As mayor and councillor I also saw the important role of local government in communities. Today I do not have time to speak about local government but I will make the following point. Local government was established in Australia in 1840—that is, 61 years before this parliament. After being entrenched in our system of government across Australia for 168 years, it is time that local government was recognised in our Constitution.

The environment, the economy and social policies are inextricably linked, and in the time I have today I want to briefly touch on all three of these areas. Australia is a prosperous country, rich in natural resources, and, by most comparisons, is considered a wealthy country. But that wealth is unevenly distributed, and there is too much inequity of income and assets across Australia. For the year 2005-06, the poorest 20 per cent of households received about eight per cent of national income, while the richest 20 per cent received approximately 38 per cent. Of greater concern is that two million Australians are today living in poverty, and more and more people are facing financial pressures, with household debt reaching $1,170 billion and credit card debt now at almost $43 billion. As I talk to people, it is clear that the greatest cost pressures are coming from home repayments, food and fuel costs. It is worth noting that last financial year the four major banks, the two grocery retail giants and the four major oil companies made a combined profit of over $21 billion. That equates to nearly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country, yet they keep increasing their prices and, in the case of the banks, their interest rates and fees, and they pay their CEOs millions of dollars per annum.

I am also concerned that many young people may never own their own home. It is my view that home ownership creates stable households and individual security, builds stronger communities and provides the best environment in which to raise children. I support the Rudd government’s housing policy announcements to date, but I suspect more will need to be done. Shortly before I stepped down as mayor, Salisbury Council endorsed a shared equity housing scheme which would make homeownership considerably more affordable. It is a sensible scheme that should be looked at by all levels of government, and I intend discussing the scheme with the Minister for Housing.

On another matter, I welcome Senator Kim Carr’s announcement of a tariff policy review in Australia. Over the last 40 years we have lost too many manufacturing jobs to overseas countries. In doing so, we have lost many of the trade skills which are now in short supply and on which we are spending large sums of money to re-establish. From 1949 until the late 1960s, about 29 per cent of Australia’s labour force was employed in manufacturing. Today, manufacturing accounts for only 10 per cent of employment, and there has been a corresponding decline in manufacturing’s share of Australia’s GDP, which has also fallen to around 10 per cent. Furthermore—and more concerning—we have lost our manufacturing capability, leaving Australia vulnerable to overseas countries in the future. The manufacturing sector is particularly important to my home state of South Australia and to the region I represent, and I am appreciative of the Rudd government’s $20 million commitment for a manufacturing innovation precinct in my region. The closure of the Mitsubishi plant in Adelaide, in which 1,200 jobs will be lost, highlights an additional disturbing reality. Today our economy and the livelihood of so many Australians are at the mercy of overseas boardrooms.

The issue which concerns people around the world is climate change and environmental mismanagement. In 2001, in a public address, I warned of water shortages, and in January last year, in another public address, I said that the greatest threat facing humanity was not terrorism but climate change and global warming. Regardless of what is causing our climate to change, our failure to prepare has already cost us dearly. The drought we are experiencing, the worst in 100 years, has over the last two years totally changed the way we value and use water. Of particular concern is the critical state of the Murray-Darling system. This river system contributes in excess of $50 billion annually to Australia’s GDP, sustains hundreds of towns and tourism destinations along its water course and creates a 2,000-kilometre ecosystem corridor through Australia. In the late 1970s, Ralph Jacobi, the member for Hawker at the time, raised in this place his concerns about the demise of the Murray River. Unbeliev-ably, the response from subsequent governments was to issue more water rights. Sadly, our mismanagement of the Murray has cost lives and export income and brought financial ruin to many farming families. The only useful outcome from the drought is the acceptance by most people that climate change is real, that it affects us all and that we must act now.

There are solutions to our water needs, but they require tough decisions and political will. Thirty years ago, the City of Salisbury began a visionary concept of collecting rainwater, cleaning it through wetlands, storing the water underground and then re-using it when required. Today the city supplies billions of litres of water annually to homes, industry and playing fields from the wetlands, and the City of Salisbury is an acclaimed world leader in stormwater harvesting and re-use. There should be more of these schemes around Australia, if for no other reason than because they are a very cost-effective way of providing water.

My journey to this place has been a long one, and today time does not allow me to acknowledge all of the people I would like to acknowledge and thank. I could not, however, let this occasion pass without acknowledging at least some of the key people who influenced or helped me along the way. From 1976 until his retirement in 1981, I worked for Senator Jim Cavanagh. During that time I formed a friendship with Ralph Jacobi, whom I mentioned earlier. They were both good men; neither was self-serving and both had a social conscience. They both influenced my political outlook.

I also thank the small team of people who helped me when I contested Makin in the 2004 election. We did not win in 2004 but we went against the tide and reduced the margin to less than one per cent. In 2007 there was clearly a mood for change across Australia and, whilst I do not intend to offer an election analysis, there is no question that Kevin Rudd’s leadership of Labor was a determining factor in the election result. I thank Kevin Rudd, his deputy, Julia Gillard, and all my parliamentary colleagues, both state and federal members, for their assistance over a long campaign period.

I am extremely grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who campaigned with me day after day, doorknocking, letterboxing, putting up posters, working on polling booths, answering phones and so on. I especially mention David Gray and Lee Odenwalder—I see David and Lee are here tonight and I thank them for coming—Matthew Deane, Justin Hanson, Georgie Matches, Nina Gerace—I think she is here as well—and Mike Tumbers. I also thank the many union members from the Your Rights at Work team, the LHMU, the AWU, the NUW, the ASU, the MUA, the CFMEU and the HSU, who campaigned tirelessly alongside me so that we could bring to an end the Howard government’s 11-year assault on working Australians.

Mr Speaker, may I digress a moment. It is interesting—in fact, hypocritical—that those who are the most vitriolic in their attacks on unions are themselves more likely than not to be members of professional associations or bus-iness associations, and they use their associations to attack and vilify working Aust-ralians who dare to organise themselves just so that they can defend the human rights of people who have only their labour to bargain with.

I was raised to value my family, and my family has always been there for me. I would not be here today without the support, understanding and encouragement of my wife, Vicki, who is here tonight as well; my children, Rocky, Francesca and Concetta; my brother Dominic and his wife, Anna; my brother Frank and his wife, Frances; my brother Pat and his wife, Jo Anne; and my sister, Rosa, and her husband, Dominic. They have all been an incredible help to me right throughout my life. Of course, it all began with my parents, who sacrificed so much of their lives so that my brothers, my sister and I could have a better life. My deep disappointment is that my father did not live to see me elected to this place. It was my father who brought politics into our lives and who instilled in me the belief that it is only through politics and education that you can change society.

We live in challenging times. We have never been wealthier or more knowledgeable, yet never has the future been so uncertain. In a complex, integrated world, global problems become Australia’s problems. Information technology changes our world faster than we can adapt and faster than we can reskill our workforce. We face massive workforce shortages and serious environmental dilemmas. We face the challenges of managing an Australian economy heavily influenced by external forces and multinationals over which we have very little control. These are just some of the difficult responsibilities of government. It is my view that those countries which manage their environment well, which educate their people and which minimise global influences over their economies will prosper most. I know that we cannot change the past, but we can change the present and build the foundations for a better future for all Australians. When my time in this place ends, I want to walk away with a clear conscience that I have done all that I can to create a more prosperous, a more sustainable, a more just and a more compassionate Australia.