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Wednesday, 1 September 1993
Page: 807


Senator ELLISON (6.07 p.m.) —Thank you, Mr President, for asking that the usual courtesies be extended to me. I will endeavour to honour that courtesy in the way that is expected of someone giving his first speech. Firstly, may I congratulate you on your re-election to the presidency of the Senate. The fact that it was unopposed is no doubt due to the contribution you have made to the Senate in that role.

  I now take up my place as a senator for Western Australia, having succeeded a long line of senators. Among that number was Senator Peter Durack QC, and I want to take a moment to pay tribute to him. Peter Durack's service as a senator spanned 22 years. During that time his numerous achievements numbered no less than holding the position of Attorney-General of this country. I wish Peter well in his retirement as do no doubt those senators here today who recall his contribution.

  Whilst the 76 of us assembled in this house represent the people of Australia we, like any Australian, come from families and friends who have supported us. To this end I acknowledge and thank the Liberal Party of Western Australia for endorsing me to represent it in this house. I thank fellow members from the Liberal Party of Western Australia whom I have worked with over the years. I also thank the people of Western Australia for electing me to this position to represent them and their families. I am indeed privileged to be able to serve and in both cases I shall use my best endeavours not to breach the trust which has been placed in me.

  More personally, I thank my parents for their support and the sacrifices they both endured for my education and upbringing. Particularly, I wish to thank my dear wife, Caroline, for her support which she has selflessly given to me. I am a fortunate man to have such a wife who will be there with me, and no doubt the years to come will require even more sacrifices.

  Whilst I pause to reflect a moment on matters personal, I can say that I am lucky to have had something of a varied background. It is one which in some ways reflects Australian society. I have a mother of English Protestant background, a father of Irish Catholic background and my wife, although born in Australia, has Greek-Macedonian origins. Both my parents and parents-in-law migrated to Australia to find a land of opportunity. They found a land of great opportunity and to their credit worked hard to establish themselves in this country. I hope such a background will give me an understanding in my approach to matters touching on the nation's interests.

  At this point perhaps an examination of Liberal philosophy is both timely and topical in view of recent comments in the press and in this chamber. Firstly, my involvement with the Liberal philosophy and the Liberal Party has been longstanding since my days at the University of Western Australia. It stems from a time I spent working in England as a student in the 1970s. At that time I encountered a `welfare state' which was going nowhere and not fulfilling its stated goal to serve the working men and women in that country. Such an experience caused me to contemplate a philosophy which would entail as much as possible freedom of the individual, equal opportunity for all and an economic policy which would complement those ideals and thereby make the system work.

  There has been criticism of this party stating that it has been overcome by `economic rationalism' at the expense of its philosophy. Perhaps an examination of the matter will clarify the point and relay to senators what I am trying to say.

  The term `liberalism' has been the subject of popular misinterpretation over the years. The values and ideals of that philosophy have perhaps not been articulated as well as they might have been, but I do believe that in the last 10 years there has been both locally and overseas a re-examination of that philosophy. I believe that history will judge this party's policies in the recent federal election as wide-ranging and of such diversity as to encompass both economic and social policy.

  To discount Liberal philosophy as mere `economic rationalism' is indeed short-sighted. Although an economic manifesto is essential, there is of course more to it than that and a brief analysis of the origins of the philosophy may convey to fellow senators the point I am making.

  Liberalism is one of the oldest surviving political philosophies. As long ago as the 17th century, human beings turned their minds to a new order of things. England and Europe were witnessing great changes. In England, feudal encrustations obstructed the progress of mankind. During that period men such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith subsequently began to question the role of government and citizens within society. Towards the end of the 17th century John Locke wrote that society and state were two different things. Locke stated:

The function of the state was to permit people to live in a society by protecting them in their property relationships and to keep them from killing, maiming or otherwise harming each other.

Beyond that, both individuals and state should be left alone to order things by mutual contract or by a principle of voluntary association.

Of course, up until that time human beings were not free to order their affairs as they wished. Thus it was that men such as Locke concentrated on the freedom of human beings within society.

  On the other hand, Adam Smith in his work Wealth of Nations concentrated on matters economic. Smith translated these new found ideals into the marketplace. For the first time people were talking about freeing up that marketplace from the feudal bonds which then existed.

  It is not too much to say that economics could not exist at all without the prior establishment of basic rights such as the rights to life, liberty and property. If one has a right to life, one must be at liberty to work and sustain oneself and one must have access to the means of production, specifically land and tools.

  It was the likes of Locke and Adam Smith who influenced Jefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence for America in 1776. The air was literally alive with new ideas; and so the stage was set for the continuing evolution of Liberal philosophy.

  Over the ensuing two centuries, America developed a system of democratic capitalism founded on a federal system. Meanwhile in England a Westminster system incorporating responsible government was adopted. The monarchy was reduced to only a titular head in that country. Both systems evolved from the philosophy of liberalism born in the 17th century. The break from the old world was complete and democracy as we now know it was on its way.

  Liberal philosophy has been developed on the basis that the role of government is to make as few laws as possible. John Locke said:

There was no need for laws to any other end but only for the security of government and protection of people in their lives, estates and liberties.

This philosophy, Mr President, is one which supports a modern form of democratic capitalism. A recent American writer, Michael Novak, describes this as comprising three systems in one: firstly, an economy based on markets and incentives; secondly, a polity respectful of the rights of an individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and, thirdly, a pluralistic system of cultural institutions moved by liberty and justice for all. These are laudable ideals and ones which find themselves at ease with liberal philosophy. As you can see, the thrust of the philosophy is much broader than just economic rationalism.

  It is perhaps worthwhile at this point to compare the philosophy of democratic socialism to that of democratic capitalism. The democratic socialist gives higher priority to the distribution of wealth while the democratic capitalist ensures that, firstly, there is the production to produce the wealth. Of course, if there is not the wealth to distribute, socialism must fail. A brief analysis of developments in eastern Europe proves that this is so. It also demonstrates yet again that where there is no property right, where there is lack of liberty and where the individual is overpowered by the collective, the system will collapse. This is exactly what Locke and Adam Smith encountered in the 17th and 18th centuries, and we have seen it as recently as this decade in eastern Europe.

  Modern Western governments have embraced a reasonably successful system of government which is largely anti-collectivist. It is a system which provides the yeast for voluntary planning and individual choice. Whilst I am the first to admit that such systems are not perfect, they are still the best that we have.

  In summary, Mr President, a liberal is one who could be termed as one who prefers individual action to collective action but who still would commend the cooperative efforts of individuals joined in voluntary association. A liberal is also one who would certainly condone government action where government alone is able to do the job. A fitting summary could be: where regulation is not necessary, it then becomes necessary not to regulate.

  But how does this all apply to Australia in the 1990s? The question of our constitution, government and the role of this very house are being debated now publicly just as our founding fathers did 100 years ago. In the 1890s Australia had the buds of nationhood. Our country was experiencing its own distinctive literature in the form of Paterson and Lawson. Our art, which was depicted so well by the Heidelberg school, was uniquely Australian. So it was no surprise that Australians turned towards a union of the states to demonstrate nationhood in a political sense.

  During the 1890s, the founding fathers had the benefit of some 200 years experience in England and America from which to draw. In fact, it could be said that, by virtue of this evolution, the original ideas of liberalism found their way into the modern Australian political structure. Constitutional conventions throughout the 1890s forged and framed our national constitution, which carried forward the tradition of a Westminster style of government, albeit on a federal framework.

  The unique advantage of federation is that it caused Australia to exist; it made Australia possible. As in America, Australia had a vast area to govern with a diversity of interests and so federation was a useful system to employ. The bargain for federation was struck on various conditions and understandings. Less populous states were fearful that the rights and interests of their citizens might be subjugated by the greater states. The rights and interests of citizens in each state had to be protected. The Senate was therefore designed to safeguard such rights.

  In Western Australia, we tend to view states rights as citizens rights. Certainly a pastoralist in the north-western corner of Australia would have different concerns and interests to a factory worker in Dandenong, Melbourne. A sound federal system must accommodate these diverse interests and rights. States rights is not a philosophy or idea which is peculiar to Western Australia; it is essential to the federal system.

  This house, therefore, is charged with being a states house. Indeed, when this honourable house was conceived, it was initially termed the States' Assembly in order to reflect the vote of this body being one of a states house. That, of course, is not the end of it, for the Senate has been established as a check on government, a check on executive autocracy and a check on the unbridled growth of centralism, which can only impede in the long run the rights of states and the freedom of their respective citizens.

  Section 53 of the constitution provides that the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all laws save for those provisions dealing with money bills. Quite clearly, therefore, we are not a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives, nor are we meant to be. The Senate must not be curtailed in its role in any way. If this house is deficient, we have only ourselves to blame. If we responsibly uphold the role of the Senate, Mr President, it will ensure good democracy for this country.

  As I have mentioned, I represent the state of Western Australia. Western Australia is unique by any standards. It occupies 2.5 million square kilometres, which is an area just less than the size of western Europe. It occupies a third of the landmass of this continent, yet it has only 9.6 per cent of the nation's population. Despite that small percentage of population, the state contributes 25 per cent of the nation's total exports. If ever Australia is to make an economic comeback, it will be led by this great state.

  Western Australia is a major producer and exporter in the areas of wheat, sheep, iron ore, gold, diamonds and fishing. In 1991-92, that state attracted five times its population in the area of tourism. Our wine industry is world-class and, if not impeded, will no doubt contribute greatly to the state's future exports.

  Western Australia is a state which is acutely aware of the problems facing the rural sector. Throughout the state, farmers are experiencing great difficulties. Over recent times, a combination of bad seasons, high interest rates and a lack of foreign markets has resulted in the destruction of rural family life and country towns as we know them. Any plans for Australia's future must address this potential disaster.

  Western Australia also has a great mining industry, which in 1992 was worth no less than $12 billion to this country. This, too, must be encouraged, although I am the first to acknowledge that any development must address environmental issues, albeit in balance with the needs of this country to develop.

  Indeed, there are legitimate environmental problems in Western Australia which need addressing. For instance, soil degradation in the west is a major concern for the state. Of all the saline soil in the country, 57 per cent is found in Western Australia. Ground water found in the inland is often saltier than the ocean hundreds of miles away.

  Another issue of great concern to Western Australia is the recent decision by the High Court now known as the Mabo decision. It was handed down last year and it affects my state greatly. Until that case, there had been two forms of title: Crown title, and various types of lesser titles which derive from a grant from the Crown, such as freehold or leasehold. Mabo's case created a third category of title—namely, native title.

  Since Federation, land management and title have remained exclusively in the jurisdiction of the states. The states derive this as a result of residual powers in the constitution. It was something obviously addressed by the founding fathers, as it was not included in the Commonwealth's enumerated powers contained in section 51 of the constitution. It was deliberately left out and clearly done so as part of the bargain for Federation. As a result of the Mabo decision, the Commonwealth has now encroached on to an area previously the exclusive domain of the states. This is a move, which on a constitutional basis, I oppose.

  There are, of course, the wider and more important economic problems caused by this decision. This decision resulted in economic uncertainty of immense proportions. Up to 80 per cent of Western Australia is theoretically subject to claims as a result of this decision. Not only in Western Australia but across the country investor confidence has been eroded. Uncertainty as to land title cannot be tolerated. The result of any such uncertainty will cause the system of land title to collapse and along with it any form of investment. Again on this basis I am opposed to this decision.

  This does not mean that I am opposed to any assistance to our indigenous peoples—quite the contrary. But the starting point must be the recognition that, as with all Australians, assistance is granted on the basis of need, not racial or ethnic origin.

  The process of any reconciliation with our indigenous peoples is a completely different question to that of Mabo. The Mabo decision will not enhance the situation of Australia's indigenous peoples as some protagonists say. All Australians, whether black or white, deserve equal opportunities. All Australians should enjoy these liberal ideals first espoused 300 years ago. Human beings want a livelihood and they want freedom to enjoy the fruits of that livelihood.

  The Mabo decision will not stop the 30 per cent mortality rate of fringe dwellers in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Maria Meredith from the Ningamia community, which forms part of those fringe dwellers, stated publicly last week that questions such as health and education had to be addressed if fringe dwellers were to have a chance. There was no mention of the Mabo decision and how it would decrease that mortality rate.

  At the Western Australian Liberal State Conference this year, two Aboriginal identities in Kalgoorlie stated publicly that what Aboriginal people really want is employment. As a legal practitioner who has represented Australians, both black and white, and usually from the lower economic rung, I can tell honourable senators that employment would go a long way to increasing their lot. In fact I do not need to dwell on the human cost of unemployment.

  I have represented people who would not have been in the courts that I appeared in if they had a job and had self-esteem. Their families would not have broken up and the community would not have suffered from the crimes that they committed. That is the social cost of unemployment; that is the social equation I am talking about today. As I have stated before, a sound economic policy and human rights are inextricably linked. The two must co-exist for any system to survive and prosper as a just society.

  Where does Australia go from here? Firstly, this country has no problem with its identity. For a small country Australia has had more than a passing influence on international affairs since federation. Tragically, part of this influence has been by the way of the loss of too many Australian lives in two world wars. In fact, Australia's only real national day is Anzac day when the country as a whole comes to a halt and recalls the sacrifices made by generations of Australians before us.

  The nation's flag, which flies above this very house, has been part and parcel of our identity and has been this country's standard in everything from theatres of war to the Olympic games. It does not need changing. If there is to be debate on the republic, so be it, but let that debate be democratic and let it not be by elite committees. Instead let us use constitutional conventions which have been traditionally used in the past.

  At the end of the day, our maxim should be, `IF change is not necessary, it then becomes necessary not to change'. For my part I see no reason to change. Let us not become obsessed with distractions whilst ignoring the essential problems of this country.

  Any honest assessment of this country's situation would reveal that this country is in its worst social and economic crisis since the depression. Any future planning must include that the family be an essential keystone of Australian life; that full employment must never be anything less than an ultimate goal; that all Australians have the freedom and opportunity to advance themselves; that the role of government and its spending be reduced and limited; that the burden of income tax be greatly reduced with the taxation system reformed to make it simple and fairer; and that there be a federal democracy which accommodates these essential requirements for a just society.

  A Liberal philosophy as I have outlined can achieve these goals. It was this party that had at the last election these goals as its manifesto. Failure to achieve these goals would risk losing a generation of Australians who have experienced high unemployment and a loss of self-esteem. They now face an uncertain future. If, however, we achieve these essential goals, then as we approach the end of this century and the end of this millennium, for Australia the best is yet to come.

  Honourable senators, our responsibility is great and our burden heavy but I ask everyone, whether Christian or not, to remember in our deliberations the prayer that we say each day; that is, that the Almighty may direct and prosper our work to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

  Opposition senators—Hear, hear!