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Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Page: 1469

Mr CHAMPION (11:40 AM) —I am fortunate to be just the second Labor member to represent the electors of Wakefield. My only Labor predecessor, Sydney McHugh, served just two short years between 1938 and 1940. Sydney McHugh was a farmer from Quorn who also served in the state parliament and who entered federal parliament after the death of the war hero Charles Hawker. In his time here, Sydney McHugh made speeches about the wheat industry, ethanol and pensions and expressed concern about the River Murray running dry. Some things do not change.

For the remaining years Wakefield was a rural seat, and its representation was conservative. The electorate is now made up of the proud working-class communities of the northern suburbs of Adelaide and the busy and picturesque town of Gawler. It stretches out to the Adelaide Plains and the Clare and Gilbert valleys, and at its heart is my home town of Kapunda. The history of my electorate indicates I should make the most of my time in the House, because it may be a brief stay. That I am here at all is a reflection of the love, work and sacrifice of many people, especially my mother, Tina; my sister, Simone, and her partner, Nadia; my first girlfriend, Annette; my Aunty Lynda; and my grandfather, the late Victor Baile. I have been blessed to have kept so many close friends from my Kapunda High School and Salisbury university days—Spike and Robbie, the Grafton and Bettison families, Susie, Lee and Brigid, Lisa J, Brett and, especially, Kirsten Andrews—all of whose friendship I treasure.

There are too many good people to thank from the South Australian Labor Party, because I have been given the great opportunities of being president of the state branch and a candidate for public office. I would not have enjoyed such opportunities were it not for the advice, support and friendship of Don Farrell, Tom Koutsantonis and Michael Brown. I would like to especially acknowledge Tony Piccolo, who is the state member for Light, Nimfa Farrell, Bernard Finnigan, Aemon Bourke, Zoe Bettison, Reggie Martin, Tung Ngo, Annette Hurley, John Quirke, Brad Kitshke, Chad Buchanen, Tom Kenyon, Stephen Mullighan, Mike Rann, Young Labor, the SDA, the CEPU and the Wakefield FEC for their hard work on my campaign. My final thanks have to go to my campaign manager, Peter Malinauskus, who was a driving force behind my campaign and a person who I think is destined to make a great contribution to the lives of retail workers and the Australian union movement.

The Prime Minister once told this House:

We are all the product of our own experiences and the ideas with which we have been confronted.

When I look at all the experiences in my life prior to my election to this place, nothing is as influential in my life’s trajectory as my father’s alcoholism. I loved my father but through his addiction I saw the fragility of family life, how precarious a family’s financial circumstances can become and how the emotional torment of addiction can echo through a family for years. Once addiction hits a family, nothing is ever the same again, and it is easy for families to fall into a cycle of crisis, reaction and, sometimes, despair. I know that, while many in politics talk about strong families, the reality is that many families are often as much defined by their weaknesses as they are by their strengths, so I am proud to be part of a government which takes the misuse of alcohol as a serious policy challenge.

There have, of course, been other defining experiences. I may well be the only supermarket trolley collector ever to enter this parliament and, at the very least, I am probably the first one to admit it. I have had many minimum-wage jobs in my youth—working on farms and at racecourses, picking grapes and apricots, cleaning offices and working in warehouses. But it was collecting trolleys for a contractor at the Burnside Shopping Centre in the early nineties that confirmed my views about how conditions at work affect our society. I learnt about the reality of workplace negotiations. My boss was a nice person, but he would rob you blind if he got the chance! He paid the base award hourly rate but he never paid the penalty rates that were due in the award. I was conscious that, if you complained, your hours would drop or you would be moved to another site far away from your home. Although I was a member of the union and had campaigned against Sunday trading, like so many other workers I was not going to make my working life uncomfortable by directly confronting my employer.

That is the reality faced by so many workers in minimum-wage jobs—not much protection, not much bargaining power and not much choice. When I look back on it I regard myself as pretty lucky. I was lucky because, a few years later, trolley collectors lost what little award protection they had as a legal technicality was exploited by a new wave of ruthless employers. Wages fell as a result of competition between the companies for contracts and the weak bargaining position of workers. In the late nineties in South Australia it was not unusual to find trolley collectors working 60 or 70 hours a week for as little as $5 an hour.

It was these experiences that hardened my convictions regarding industrial relations and compelled me to be active in the Labor party and the union movement and, ultimately, stand for election in Wakefield. My experience as a trade union official taught me that the most important prerequisite for public office is empathy for others. Every time I went to a shop or a warehouse to represent workers, I learnt something new or met a person whose experiences were different from mine. This experience was excellent preparation for being a candidate.

As a candidate I spent a lot of time in what could best be described as ‘struggle suburbs’—places where poor urban amenity, high unemployment, fragile families and antisocial behaviour all intersect. These are communities that have to live every day with the consequences of substance abuse, poverty, mental illness and the growing digital divide. These are places where social problems have become intergenerational and interconnected. Whole communities have largely been locked out of the opportunities created by a growing economy. These communities are made up of many good people who make the best of their circumstances.

Some of the most disadvantaged areas in South Australia are in the electorate of Wakefield. It is important to acknowledge that many government decisions have either failed these communities or not served their interests. These communities paid the price for tariff reductions, the wrecking of the Housing Trust, the deregulation of the workforce and the often callous indifference of Centrelink. The greatest failure, though, is that, at a time when the economy is producing jobs, many cannot avail themselves of these opportunities because they have been out of work for so long that they do not have the skills, the support, the resources or the networks to participate. Once disadvantage is concentrated, it feeds on itself.

To his credit, my predecessor, David Fawcett, made the House aware of some of these problems in his maiden speech. I acknowledge Mr Fawcett’s contribution and note that he was held in high regard by many in the electorate. He had some success in convincing the previous government to fund a community audit in Playford North. It was the only real sign of interest by the former government in 11 long years, despite Playford North being an area targeted for a major urban renewal project by the City of Playford and the Rann government. This project has great potential to ameliorate disadvantage, and it is my hope that many of the government’s policies in housing, skills and training will assist in that goal.

The government has already committed $7.5 million to build a GP superclinic in Playford North. This clinic will provide vital health services to an area in which there is high demand and it will attract new doctors and new services to an area in transition. My hope is that this clinic will be a practical demonstration of our commitment to this area. Urban renewal projects like Playford North provide an opportunity for governments, local councils and non-government organisations to prove that poverty and disadvantage can be diminished through investment, cooperation and a clear long-term commitment. These projects are the front-line of social inclusion and the elimination of poverty and extreme disadvantage.

When I doorknocked, nothing was more confronting than meeting elderly Australians who were reliant on the pension and had little savings. These people are good citizens. They have worked hard, raised families and built communities. They now count every cent in their budgets and there are few if any luxuries. Those in the private rental market are particularly vulnerable. Poverty amongst the elderly is a tragedy. It is only when you see the impact of this type of poverty that you realise how important compulsory superannuation is. Superannuation is the only cost-effective solution for government to prevent poverty in the retirement years. The introduction of occupational superannuation by the Hawke government is Labor’s greatest postwar economic and social achievement. It represented the triumph of decades of political and industrial struggle by the Labor movement.

The benefits of that struggle are obvious. Superannuation provides greater independence, financial security and dignity for those in retirement. It increases national savings in a world where capital is increasingly mobile and increasingly fickle. It has made us less reliant on foreign investment and, to some degree, it has allowed Australians to ‘buy back the farm’ and invest in their own country’s wealth-producing assets. Superannuation is a wealth multiplier and a major contributor to the success of the Australian economy over the last 15 years. Most importantly, superannuation redistributes wealth from capital to working families and individuals. It redistributes wealth at a time when people need it most—in their retirement years.

If our superannuation system has any fault it is that the contribution rate of nine per cent is too low to fund an adequate retirement for the average Australian employee. Labor’s platform sets out a goal of a 15 per cent contribution level and notes that government, individuals and employers all have a greater contribution to make in order to reach this important national objective. I believe we should consider what can be done to ensure even higher contribution rates for those on minimum wages and those who have significant periods outside the paid workforce. Higher contributions will increase national savings and underwrite another period of national economic growth. Higher contributions will ensure that the benefits of the mining boom are not squandered but instead invested and distributed more equally across the community. I believe it is vitally important that we have a long-term timetable for our superannuation system so that the community is given certainty about the additional contributions that will need to be made.

As a representative in a regional electorate, I have spent a fair amount of time in pubs meeting people—and having the odd drink. But one of the sobering observations I have made in my visits is that all the good works undertaken by governments to improve living standards can be undermined in a very short period by one individual’s addiction to a machine. Electronic gaming machines are devices that many in the community misunderstand. The addictive nature of these machines is not immediately clear to the consumer, the community or their representatives. These machines are a riddle wrapped in an enigma for most of us. We do not know how they work or why our fellow citizens fall under their spell, so often we blame the victim and say it is a matter of individual choice or we stereotype the victim—it is just the poor, the old or the bored who are vulnerable. But treatment providers will tell you that they treat people from every walk of life—from surgeons to factory workers, young and old, with a variety of incomes and lifestyles. If you meet recovering addicts, you are struck by how normal they are, but their stories give an insight into how terrible their addiction is. In an information booklet from Pokies Anonymous, one woman, Debbie, recounts her experience:

Pokies hook you so quickly. They get into your head. The music is subliminal and comes back to you at any time of the day and all of a sudden you have the urge to play and head off in the direction of the closest machines. Anytime I lost $1800, I would go home and think of doing something to myself.

The Productivity Commission found that around 130,000 Australians have severe problems with gambling. Many of them are addicted to poker machines. Tragically, one in 10 have contemplated suicide because of their addiction. It is clear that the current regulations concerning electronic gaming machines are insufficient to protect the health of a minority of consumers. I believe that many of the design features of electronic gaming machines make addiction a natural consequence of their operation; that the frequency of winning—the reinforcement schedules—may tap into powerful psychological motivators of intermittent rewards; that the use of unbalanced reels gives some consumers a distorted view of how the game operates; that what consumers see on the screen does not accurately reflect the calculations of the computer inside the machine; that the illusion of the near miss combined with maximum line betting may encourage larger stakes and larger losses; and that the lights, sounds and music may complement the core design features and become associated with the stimulus to gamble.

The design of these machines should be regulated. The manufacturers should be required to reveal to the government their research on design and consumer response. Additional resources should be devoted to academic research into the structural features of these machines which may be addictive. With this information we will be better equipped to legislate for strict requirements on their design and manufacture to prevent problem gambling from occurring from the outset, to minimise the financial damage caused and to empower those addicted to kick their habit.

I began this speech by talking about my Labor predecessor, Sydney McHugh. As I said before, Mr McHugh spoke on many issues of contemporary relevance. In rather old-fashioned language, Mr McHugh stated this about his service in this House:

We come here to give service because we early caught the disease of endeavouring to render public services in some sphere and to leave the world better than we found it.

I hope my time here honours this sentiment and leaves the world and my electorate better than I found it.

Debate (on motion by Mr Windsor) adjourned.