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Monday, 14 March 1994
Page: 1509

Senator ABETZ (5.12 p.m.) —It is with a true sense of pride and honour that I rise this afternoon to deliver my first speech. I say pride and honour because to be chosen by one's state and party to serve in this chamber is truly an honour. It is especially so when one has been chosen to represent the best and most beautiful of the states by the most dynamic political party this country has produced in the most important house of this parliament. It is a bit like winning the trifecta.

  My presence here today was activated by the decision of Senator Brian Archer to retire. On behalf of the people of Tasmania, I pay tribute to him for his work, and I wish him and his wife Dorothy well in retirement.

  Let me also take this opportunity to thank the Clerk of the Senate and his staff, and senators of all persuasions, for their kind assistance and guidance in acquainting me with this house, its procedures and, above all, its maze of corridors.

  I wish to pay special tribute to my partner, friend and wife, Michelle, who has been so supportive. In doing so, I acknowledge her presence in the gallery today, and also her birthday.

  I have referred to the winning trio of Tasmania, the Liberal Party and the Senate, and I seek briefly to deal with each before moving on to some personal and philosophical matters.

  To represent Tasmania, Australia's island state, is a pleasure. The only disadvantage is having to spend so much time out of Tasmania.

  Tasmania's natural beauty, its non-polluting power generation, its decentralised nature, its industries, its lifestyle and its friendly people make it truly unique. Its still relatively unpolluted condition needs to be maintained and improved upon to fully exploit our very real and burgeoning agrifood export and tourism potential.

  Our export trade is relatively modest in total figures, but on a per head of population basis we hold our heads very high with a total export trade of $1.5 billion in 1992-93. That was a six per cent increase over the previous year. That was despite the depressed commodity prices in the areas of zinc, wool and copper and the so-called Keating engineered depression that `we had to have'.

  In our exports to the Association of South East Asian Nations we have seen rapid growth in the last 12 months. Indeed, 65 per cent of our trade went to Asia compared with the national average, which is below 60 per cent. Good relations with Asia are vitally important to the future economic wellbeing of my state and, I venture to add, our country as a whole.

  We have seen strong growth in the agrifood sectors of meat, dairy, seafood, wine and fresh vegetables. Our economic focus needs to adjust to include and fully utilise these new opportunities. I am sure that under the sound guidance of the state Liberal government our position will continue to improve.

  Tasmania has a proud record, yet successive Labor governments have cut Commonwealth funding to Tasmania on a per capita basis by over 30 per cent in the past decade compared with the Australian average of a 16.4 per cent reduction. That slashing of funds is unfair, inappropriate and has caused great budgetary difficulties to successive Tasmanian governments. The honourable member for Blaxland, the now Prime Minister (Mr Keating), said in his maiden speech:

. . . the standard of living that people enjoy varies in accordance with what government services are available to them.

His government's record in slashing funds to Tasmania has led to a decreased standard of living for my fellow Tasmanians, who have the lowest income per head of population.

  Funding to Tasmania ought to be on the basis that Tasmania is entitled to all the rights and entitlements of a fully-fledged state. Funding simply on a per head basis denies us, as a state, from enjoying all the infrastructure requirements we need to effectively run our state in such areas as policing, health and education.

  What I have just referred to is often passed over as dull economics, and I agree to a certain extent that it is. Whilst the figures are important for the welfare of our state and our nation, we as parliamentarians need to focus beyond the figures. We need to focus on the impact of changing trends. My state's zinc workers have declined in number. Woolgrowers have been devastated. And within each of these industries there are families, mothers, fathers and children with hopes and aspirations of their own that are thwarted, if not completely shattered.

  Similarly, with our growth industries each opportunity should be seen not only in export dollars and balance of payment terms, which are of course vital, but also as lifting each individual's self-esteem, allowing people to make a positive, useful and fulfilling contribution to the state and their fellow Tasmanians and letting them realise their own dreams—be it a new car, a house, an engagement or wedding ring or the opportunity of starting a family. A truly great Tasmanian, Dame Enid Lyons, said in her maiden speech:

. . . the problems of government are not the problems of statistics but the problems of human values, human hearts and human feelings.

In all these economic matters, the impact of decisions on individual family units, with their own dreams and aspirations, should never be forgotten.

  As a Liberal, I can confidently say that the Liberal Party is clearly the party of success and reform in Australian history. Of late, federally, we have not performed so well, but that does not deny us as Liberals, on this side of the house, the right to proclaim in our 50th year that all amendments to our great constitution have been ones that we have supported and initiated, that the vast majority of social reforms have been introduced by us, that the golden era of Australia's history was under the guidance of the Liberal Party and that we hold state and territory government in all but two places—Queensland and the ACT.

  Ours is a history of success and reform. Ours is a philosophy of dealing with individuals and assisting them to develop their personal skills for the nation's good, as opposed to the dogma that all individuals need to conform, be brought to the lowest common denominator and succumb to the requirements of what the powerbrokers perceive to be the national good. Ours is a philosophy of standing positively for the free person, their initiative, individuality and acceptance of responsibility.

  Unlike some who bleat `social justice' and point the finger at everyone other than themselves I, like so many other Liberals, have made a real and personal contribution in this area. The reason for that is a belief in personal responsibility. My involvement with the Jireh House Women's Shelter, Youth Accommodation Services of Tasmania and a host of other community welfare organisations is, I believe, a prouder and more sincere record than that of those who simply utter the words `social justice' and then ask government to somehow magically fix it. Personal, individual action speaks so much louder than words.

  As a senator, I am proud to be a member of this most important house of our parliament. This house is the brake on excesses of government and bureaucracy and a protection for the states. Our Senate was given special powers by our founding fathers and we should never seek to diminish those powers, as was recently mooted. The attempts by our Prime Minister to denigrate our chamber with his trademark characteristic is of great concern. I found in the front of Odgers' Australian Senate Practice the following quote about the Senate from the Rt Hon. Sir Edmund Barton, our first Prime Minister:

We cannot fail to remember that the Constitution designed the Senate to be a House of greater power than any ordinary second chamber. Not only by its expressed powers, but by the equality of its representation of the States, the Senate was intended to be able to protect the States from aggression.

I also found in Odgers this quote from Senator the Rt Hon. Sir George Pearce, who has the distinction of being the longest serving member ever of this chamber:

The Senate was constituted as it is, after long fighting, prolonged discussions, many compromises, and many concessions on the part of the various shades of political thought throughout the Commonwealth, and it stands there in the Constitution in a position that has no equal in any Legislature throughout the world.

That position ought to be protected and employed for our masters—the people of our various states.

  Each one of us in this chamber is unique. We have been moulded and fashioned by a variety of factors. I, of course, am no exception. As the youngest of six children of an immigrant family that came to Australia in 1961 on an assisted passage, I say on behalf of my whole family a wholehearted thank-you for that assisted passage and the wonderful opportunities provided in this great country. The fact that the then state Labor government arranged the migration also makes it responsible, to a certain extent, for my presence here today.

  My parents sought to instil in me a value system of service above self and dedication to tasks at hand and provided me with a stable, loving, nurturing family home and a deep Christian faith. It is that faith that makes me confident that my parents are watching today's proceedings from a gallery a lot loftier than this place, in all its splendour, could ever provide. Whilst not from a background of financial privilege, I am from the most privileged of backgrounds, wealthy in values and wealthy in family nurture and love.

  Educated in the state school system and the University of Tasmania, I decided very early that the philosophy of the Liberal Party was the one for me. Within days of starting at university, I received my bill for compulsory student union membership. Inquiries told me that failure to pay would lead to the withholding of results. What a blot on the life of our academic institutions. The vice-chancellors and the university administrations stand condemned. The very institutions that allegedly foster individual thought force all students, like sheep, into compulsory student union membership under the threat of being denied the fruit of their labours. I found that abhorrent. I still find it abhorrent. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Court government in Western Australia for its initiative and trust that other states will soon follow by abolishing compulsory student unionism.

  The Australian Liberal Students Federation championed the cause of voluntary student unionism and I joined the Liberal Party at university. I am proud of the fact that I am a life member and a former president of that organisation, which has produced so many of today's leaders. The experiences gained, the lessons learned and the friends made will last a lifetime.

  My first taste of representative democracy was with my fellow students of the University of Tasmania, who so kindly supported me, allowing me to top the polls on many occasions. During my university years I was able to supplement the then tertiary education assistance scheme with taxi driving, farm labouring and a brief stint as a research officer to a truly fantastic former senator, Shirley Walters. She has been a great inspiration to me and I am thankful that I can place that on record today.

  After university, I was employed as an apprentice and then as a lawyer for some five years. For the past eight years I have been practising in partnership as a barrister and solicitor. Through my legal practice I was fortunate to make contacts with all walks of life. That has been an enriching experience and I am thankful for it.

  With that brief thumbnail sketch, I seek in the remaining moments to discuss my personal philosophy and views on some of the controversial issues of the day. I, with Woodrow Wilson, believe that liberty has never come from the government. The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.

  Australia is largely a Christian nation. Eighty per cent of our population acknowledges the Christian faith. I hope and pray for Australia's sake that it clings to its Christian heritage and values. I believe in, and will defend, the fundamentals of our constitutional structures, which have served Australia so well for nearly a century. Like all documents, the constitution needs to be refined from time to time. I acknowledge that it may require attention, but not the intrusive surgery as suggested by some.

  I support our federalist system of government and the rights of the citizens of each state to largely determine their own social and local policies. I am concerned at the trend to internationalism in our domestic law making. Sure, let us learn from our fellow world citizens; let us discuss and debate their ideas, but we should never forgo our national sovereignty.

  The family unit is the fundamental and essential unit of our society. Strong families build strong nations. Strong families provide shelter and nurture for all their members from the rigours of day-to-day life. The family is a haven in which to seek solace. In this, the International Year of the Family I cannot help but feel that the celebrations are being hijacked. If we let down our families, we let down our nation. I join with King George V, who was quoted by Dame Enid Lyons as having said:

The foundation of a nation's greatness is in the homes of its people.

Unfortunately, the rate of marriage failures, youth suicides and delinquency and a lot of other social ills can be traced back to the very real pressures being placed on the family unit.

  To succeed, we all need dreams, goals, aspirations—a vision for the future. At the last election I believe my party lost its focus from the dream and concentrated on the detail. Our dream was real and it remains with me, as I am sure it remains with all my colleagues. To use an analogy: we tried to sell a house to our fellow Australians, a house that would have gone a long way to fulfilling their aspirations, but we got bogged down in telling the people why our mortar was stronger and better than Labor's. We were no longer selling the house, but the individual components that go to make up the house and, accordingly, the people lost sight of our dream.

  Australia needs a dream, a vision and goals to work towards. But they will not be achieved unless we—Australians all—are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve those goals. Government, of itself, cannot deliver our dreams. At best, it can only facilitate and encourage. My ideal Australia is one where social justice and fairness are paramount—measured not by dollars spent on welfare but by support for those in real need and reward for those who work hard. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr put it, `I have no respect for the passion of equality which seems to me to be merely idealising envy'. I believe in equality of opportunity, not in equality of outcome.

  My ideal Australia is one where every Australian has the opportunity for employment; where family life flourishes, nurturing and supporting all; where our industries—primary, secondary and tertiary—are buoyant; and where our flag and national symbols are honoured by all. I believe in an Australia where we have a set of values which would have Mother Teresa in place of Madonna on the magazine covers; where we have a truly dynamic federalist system of government with a diffusion of power and decentralisation; and where there is a genuine support for the victims of domestic violence, youth homelessness, suicide and other social ills.

  My ideal Australia is one where the financial and environmental position of Australia is such that we can say to our children, `We leave you with an inheritance and not a debt, and with a clean country, not a polluted country'; where the aged and returned service people are properly cared for in recognition of their contributions; where individual responsibility for self and nation is embraced; and where there is true world peace and social harmony. I could list others, and I have not listed in any specific order the ones I have mentioned. Our dreams will be unfulfilled and our work worthless unless we acknowledge the words of Sir Robert Menzies when he said:

. . . we believe that under the blessing of divine providence, and given goodwill, mutual tolerance and understanding, energy and an individual sense of purpose there is no task which Australia cannot perform and no difficulty which she cannot overcome.

With those ingredients there is no vision that need remain unfulfilled. We, on all sides, need to provide that amalgam of qualities for our country, Australia. It is to that task I dedicate my stay in this chamber.

  I thank honourable senators for their courtesy.

  Honourable senators—Hear, hear!