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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 119

Senator CARR (11.48 a.m.) —I move:

That the following Address-in-Reply be agreed to:

To His Excellency the Governor-General


  We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign and to thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

Mastering the skills needed to effectively represent the labour movement in this place will be a challenging task—even a slightly daunting one—but it is a task that I am looking forward to. Already I have learned a great deal from my Caucus colleagues in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. I know that I will continue to benefit from their experience and comradeship.

  One politician whose example has been especially important to me is my predecessor, John Button. His commitment to Australian industry and sustainable industry development has helped to put this country in a stronger position to meet the challenges ahead than it might otherwise have been. He believed that Australia's future depended on its ability to maintain a strong, innovative and diverse industrial base. This is a belief I share.

  John Button's commitment to Australian industry marked him as an authentic Australian nationalist—unlike the sham loyalists who bristle whenever anyone suggests that we should have our own flag, but who could not care less where the flag is manufactured or who owns the ground it is planted in. John Button's reputation for honesty and integrity has enhanced the standing of politicians generally, as well as the cause of Labor in Victoria and beyond. His record of achievement will be difficult to match.

  Despite the efforts of John Button and Labor governments over the last decade, Australia remains a highly inequitable society. The recent federal election highlighted the great differences that exist between the obsessions of the parties opposite and the just society that Labor is striving to build—a society built on shared effort, shared rewards and a fair go for all.

  The election was resolved in favour of Labor's vision. The people of this country once again rejected the attitudes and the policies of the New Right which have held the Liberal Party of Australia captive for the past 10 years. The result on 13 March demonstrated the level of public commitment to social democratic values in this country. It indicated the direction that the majority of Australians wanted their society to move in. It demonstrated once again the confidence that the Australian people have in the Keating Government and the Australian Labor Party, and the ideals they represent.

  Even in times of adversity, like those we are currently going through, Australians recognise that Labor's values are their values and that Labor's aspirations are their aspirations. Perhaps it is especially in times of adversity that we remember these things. Labor is the party committed to ensuring that each person in this country develops to his or her full potential.

  Labor continues to believe that a dynamic public sector has a vital role to play in correcting inequalities, spreading opportunities and guiding the nation to greatness. Only the state can marshal the resources needed to ensure that all Australians—regardless of accidents of birth or the whims of fortune—enjoy a reasonable standard of living and participate meaningfully in the affairs of this country. Only Labor has the courage and know-how to use the enormous public resources at its disposal for the public good.

  By way of contrast, the anti-Labor forces want to divide people, deprive them of their entitlements and debase their true value as citizens of this country. Hopefully, the dividers, the deprivers and the debasers in this country will have learnt something from the recent election. Hopefully, they will reassess their inhumane policies; they will abandon their bankrupt ideology; and they will join with the Keating Government and the people of Australia in creating a fairer, more equitable society.

  Australians will not allow the prosperity of the few to be built on the hardship of the many. The sooner that all parties recognise that, the sooner they will find a place within the Australian compact—a compact based on the principles of social democracy. The great challenge that Australians face, as we move towards the centenary of Federation in 2001, is how to maintain that compact, maintain our commitment to Australia as one nation and enshrine it in our Constitution.

  One thing is certain, and that is that Australians' belief in themselves and each other will be severely challenged if we do not lift employment and improve the conditions of employment. The worst of the recession is over but the level of unemployment remains unacceptably high. The Government has made getting Australians back to work its first priority.

  As a Victorian, the long-term economic decline of my home State is a matter of special concern. The 1980s brought to light deep structural problems within our economy and saw a major shift in resources from the south-east of the continent to the north and the west. Throughout that decade, economic growth in Victoria was often below the national average as measured by national account estimates.

  During the recent recession, 60 per cent of Australian job losses occurred in Victoria. The reasons for Victoria's decline are complex. One will search in vain for a truthful explanation of the State's predicament in the self-serving propaganda of the Kennett Government. Victoria's current problems cannot be adequately explained purely in terms of debt, which is lower under Labor than it was under Henry Bolte; in terms of wage costs, which are lower under Labor than they were under Rupert Hamer; or just in terms of financial mismanagement, which is worse under Jeff Kennett than it has ever been before.

  The depth of the recession in Victoria can be attributed to the interaction of structural factors like the State's reliance on protected industries; cyclical factors like the inevitable collapse of the speculative construction boom; and human factors like the failure of poorly managed enterprises such as the Farrow Group.

  Our effectiveness in dealing with the problem of protracted unemployment will depend on our ability to strengthen the link between manufacturing and industry services, particularly telecommunications, transport and marketing. The first Keating Government gave a fresh impetus to Victoria's economic recovery with its One Nation statement. The major infrastructure projects announced in One Nation provided the foundation for future development and will be of lasting benefit to this country, not least to depressed areas like Victoria in which many of the projects were based.

  As a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, my perspective will be a national one. I certainly do not have any time for parochial notions of States rights. Nevertheless, there is a strong need to articulate regional concerns at the national level and to ensure that all Australians work together to address those concerns.

  We should indeed be one nation and, over our 93-year history as a united people, Victoria has made great sacrifices to assist the less prosperous States of the Commonwealth. Victorians do not begrudge those sacrifices. In fact, we are proud of the contribution we have made to the wellbeing of Australians beyond our own State borders. All Australians now recognise that, if we are to go forward, we must do so together. That may mean that some of Victoria's past generosity in the national interest has to be returned in kind.

  Forging a new republic will mean revising our relationship with other nations. But it is not enough to reform our external power relations. We must reform our internal power relations as well, and there are no power relations so fundamental in our society as industrial relations. For those who do have a job, industrial relations is a basic issue of concern. For those who do not have a job but are seeking work, the relationship between workers and employers is no less important.

  Industrial relations was the Achilles heel for the Liberal Party in the last election. Its promise to tilt the balance of industrial power even further in favour of employers was roundly rejected by the people of this country. We have outgrown our 19th century Constitution and we have outgrown 19th century notions of master and servant as well.

  It was precisely to combat those notions that the Australian trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party emerged. Trade unions still offer working people their best chance of improving their standard of living and securing some measure of real control over their lives.

  Similarly, it is the duty of social democrats in government to ensure that minimum standards, benchmarks and safety nets are enshrined in law to protect individuals and communities that do not have the organised capacity to defend themselves when pitted against the greater power of capital.

  The arbitration system remains one of the supreme achievements of Australian social democracy. However, this is not to say that it cannot be improved. Labor's accord processes provide sufficient flexibility to allow the Government to respond to changes in social conditions while still protecting basic human rights. The last accord, known as mark 7, places responsibility for industrial organisation on workers and their unions, operating within a framework of minimum standards awarded by industrial tribunals. It throws out an enormous challenge to our trade unions to be relevant and effective in the changing economic conditions of the 1990s.

  Just as employers vary in their approach to industrial relations, so unions vary in quality and competence. If a union is not doing its job, it is important that there exists a wages and conditions floor to ensure that community standards are protected. There are currently some 900 federal awards. Many of these are completely outdated and in need of major revision. Many offer wages and conditions grossly inferior to enterprise agreements currently being won by workers and their unions. In Victoria, hundreds of thousands of workers are fleeing to the federal industrial jurisdiction to escape the savage attacks launched on them by the Kennett Government. Today, tens of thousands of workers have struck against the Kennett Government's industrial madness.

  It is obvious that we can never truly be one nation, one social democracy, one united republic, unless we can guarantee all Australian workers reasonable and comparable rewards for their labour. It does not matter whether they are victims of a political vendetta, like the workers of Victoria, whether they are isolated or poorly organised, or whether they are young, female or part-time workers, all Australian employees should enjoy the protection of one national industrial relations system along the reform lines described in accord mark 7 and referred to in the Governor-General's speech yesterday.

  Education gives Australia a window on the world. For many working class Australians, education is the key to overcoming the barriers to social participation and economic security. Achieving a more equitable spread of educational opportunities will play a vital part in uniting the people of this country in one national purpose and allowing them to enjoy the fruits of our national life.

  The current series of Labor governments' records of achievement in education are outstanding. They are to be commended for giving more and more people the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of schooling. The number of Australian children staying on to year 12 has increased from four in 10 to eight in 10 over the space of 10 years. However, much more can be done to provide not just equality of opportunity but greater equality of educational outcomes. The unequal educational outcomes we see today are primarily the result of differences in social background, economic circumstances and what educationalists have come to call cultural capital. Australians can no longer afford to go on wasting the talents of young people simply because they were born to working class parents.

  Unfortunately, in Victoria today the State Government seems determined to undermine state education. The long term effect of this policy could well be that working class people are deprived of the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. The Kennett Government's schools of the future program seems designed to further advantage already resource-rich schools in wealthier suburbs and to further impoverish those in less wealthy areas.

  Despite these efforts in Victoria to undermine public education, the public education system in this country generally does a first-rate job. We must make every effort to make sure it can meet the exacting requirements of the future. We have to raise the status of primary education, which is where the foundations of educational success begin. We need to build on the advances we have made in secondary education and we need to enlarge the scope of technical, tertiary and further education. We should be giving all Australian children education which empowers them to understand and enjoy the environment in which they live—and even, if they see fit, to change it. This is what I call a democratic education, and I believe it will be the cornerstone of a new Australian republic.

  Australia is essentially an urban nation, and the problems of Australian cities need to be addressed if we are to remake our society. Joint actions by the Commonwealth, the States and local government will be required to deal with the decaying infrastructure in our older urban centres and the demand for new infrastructure in growth areas. The public sector as a whole will need to expend not millions but billions of dollars over the coming decades to provide basic services to the majority of Australians who live in our major cities. Building and managing those services will be an enormous task, but there is nothing to be gained by postponing it. The Government is to be applauded for strengthening its urban development program at this crucial time in the life cycle of our cities.

  A republican Australia would at last be free of the confusion about our national identity which has baffled many people overseas and even some within our own shores. Australia's national identity is lived out each day by its people, and it lives on in the National Estate. During the past 20 years, Labor governments have established a proud tradition of protecting and enlarging our natural and cultural heritage. Labor has introduced legislation to preserve world heritage areas, the built environment and our Aboriginal heritage. At the Federal level, there has been enormous investment in national institutions such as the Australian National Gallery, the National Library of Australia, the National Maritime Museum and the National Museum of Australia. These museums and repositories contain the collective memory and the collective conscience of the nation. It will be essential in a new Australian republic that all Australians have access to this wealth of material, and I welcome the Government's commitment to the establishment of a foundation of Australian cultural development.

  The Federal Government can help also by encouraging museums around the country to come together and establish genuinely national databases for research, educational and public use. The Commonwealth could use its good offices—and perhaps a little funding—to establish the necessary framework for cooperation. It should be possible by 2001 to create a series of national databases that will give all Australians, wherever they live, access to the collections of our major libraries, galleries and museums. Those collections define our past achievements and our future hopes. They will provide us with the raw material from which we can forge a new and truly independent Australian identity.

  While a republican Australia will be prepared to treat all nations of the world as friends and equals, its future will lie in Asia rather than among the rapidly multiplying nations of Europe. We will have to deal with new uncertainties as we endeavour to establish our place in a region marked by enormous cultural diversity and enormous economic potential. Even now we are operating in an environment where national self-reliance and independence are the essential pre-conditions of international cooperation. They are increasingly important—if increasingly difficult—objectives to achieve. National self-reliance can be measured in economic and foreign policy terms and also in terms of defence.

  Since the 1950s many in the Australian Labor Party have tried to sidestep the defence debate. It is no longer acceptable for those of us on the left of politics to abdicate our responsibilities in this area. Defence expenditure makes up a significant part of the national budget, and we need to consider our economic and social goals as much as military issues when weighing up defence policy options. Defence expenditure should be directed, above all, towards securing Australia's autonomy and supporting Australian industry. This is not necessarily an argument for higher defence spending.

  Rather than more money spent on defence overall, we simply need more money to be spent on defence priorities set in Canberra, rather than the conservatives' policy of following priorities set in Washington; more money spent on defence procurement which supports Australian industry; and more money spent on defence policies which reflect Australia's independent strategic interests and our strategic obligations to our regional partners. I am sure next year's defence white paper examining Australia's force structure and investment priorities will address these issues.

  Finally, the Labor Party is committed to constitutional reform. We have a lot of unfinished business left over from the 19th century, when working people and their representatives were largely excluded from the constitution-making process. In my view, the republican debate has so far been too narrow in its focus. If we are to achieve meaningful constitutional change we should be thinking and talking about broader issues than who should be the president of Australia. For instance, there can be no new republic without a reconciliation with the Aboriginal people of this country.

  The present ground swell for constitutional reform gives us a once-in-a-century chance to declare our independence, and that is not insignificant. It also gives us the chance to give constitutional expression to Australia's social and democratic values. I welcome the Government's commitment, as outlined in the Governor-General's speech yesterday, to ongoing constitutional reform, considered separately and on its own merits. It is important to remember that a constitution is not just a set of procedural rules or a description of political machinery; it is also a statement of beliefs and aspirations. The founders of the Commonwealth understood that political structures can embody certain principles, and they set out to write a constitution that reflected their belief that the interests of property could predominate over the interests of the majority. This is why Australia is a federation and this is why federalism has become essentially a device to fragment and frustrate the democratic will. That is why we have the section 92 free trade guarantee and other provisions designed to prevent people from exercising control over capital.

  The recent election result is a reminder that Australians no longer subscribe to the principle that property should come first, the people second—that is, if they ever really did. That result demonstrates once again that a majority of Australians are unshakably committed to the principles of social democracy, equal rights and opportunities for all. It shows that the people of this country recognise and cherish the fact that we should be one nation. We should be using the republican debate to review the fundamental shape of our federation, the division of powers between the various levels of government and the way they are funded. The debate gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate the prickly question of fiscal equalisation, which is currently working very much against the majority of people in this country who happen to live in the south-east of the continent. It is essential that funding is directed to regions of real need, in line with national priorities. We should be examining how best we can organise the public sector to serve our future needs. In particular, we should be exploring the possibility of an enhanced role for local government.

  The need for comprehensive constitutional reform is self-evident. However, it is essential that discussions about the future constitution include consideration of the sorts of social relations we want to protect and advance in this country. Writing England's monarch out of Australia's Constitution will certainly encourage greater pride and confidence in our national identity. But we need to do more than that if we want a constitution which enshrines our social democratic consensus, a constitution which fosters a more equitable and participatory Australia.

  I conclude on a personal note by thanking the many people who have entrusted me with the responsibility of representing them in this chamber. First and foremost, I thank the Labor voters of Victoria for electing me and for their part in returning the Keating Government. I thank my party, the Australian Labor Party, for giving me the opportunity to embark on this great challenge. Thanks in particular go to the many tireless workers in the Victorian branch and their trade union affiliates, especially the Victorian branch of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, its officials and its secretary, Wally Curran, who have given me tremendous support and encouragement. They have also given unstinting support to Labor in Victoria during the difficult times we have had in recent years. I know that they will continue to give that support in the even more difficult times ahead.

  Finally, I thank my wife Carole and my family, without whose love, care and tolerance of the demands of political life I would not be here today. My three daughters will come of age in the first decade of the 21st century. I will do everything in my power to ensure that they come of age in an even more equitable, prosperous and open Australian social democracy and in a new Australian republic.

Senator Loosley —I second the motion, compliment Senator Carr on his first speech, and reserve the right to speak at a later date.