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Tuesday, 2 September 1997
Page: 6199

Senator PAYNE(4.36 p.m.) —Madam President, it is with mixed senses of both responsibility and honour and a not insignificant feeling of relief that I finally stand here to make this, my first speech in this place as a senator for New South Wales. After some months of unnatural silent observation, I am pleased to revert to type: on my feet holding forth.

I thank you, Madam President, for your guidance on my introduction to this chamber, and to the clerks, officers and attendants for their assistance and support. I also want to thank my staff—Karen Smith, Hazel Elliott and Georgina Inwood—for their loyalty and support over the past few months.

Madam President, my presence in this chamber is the culmination of a long held desire to make a contribution to the Australian political process—a desire I have pursued over many years with the faith and support of my family and friends, in many cases long suffering. For a child from a non-political background my aberrant and obsessional political behaviour often bemused my parents and sibling. My mother and brother, who are present in the gallery, are the constants both in my life and over more than 15 years in Liberal politics. It is my great regret that my father, my mentor, is not with me today. A World War II veteran, a chartered accountant by profession and a farmer by passion, he gave me every opportunity in life and with his guidance I have tried to make the most of them. It is often remarked that it is difficult to make true friends in politics. I am pleased to say that my true friends, the ones who always tell me when I am wrong, are here today in number as they have been so many times before and I am grateful for the strength of their support.

Madam President, I began my political life with the view that as a young Australian I had a responsibility to become involved; to make a contribution if I wished to have a say in the future of my country. I am a product of the Liberal Party of New South Wales, which I joined in 1982—a party with strong and proud traditions which is honoured to count amongst its number the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Howard). In fact, the Prime Minister and I began our political lives, although some decades apart, in the same Young Liberal branch in suburban Sydney. I have served on my party's state executive since 1987, have been a member of the federal executive and done virtually any job that needed doing since I joined the organisation over 15 years ago.

As a former state and federal president of the Young Liberal Movement I am proud to have been made a life member of the New South Wales division of the Young Liberals. They are indeed a formidable but, more importantly, a valuable political organisation, encouraging political debate, campaigning and training amongst their membership. They are fiercely loyal to the traditions of the Movement and to the principles on which our party was founded. They, as do I, hold these words of our party's founder, Sir Robert Menzies, as tenets of faith, and I quote:

We took the name `Liberal' because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise . . .

As a young party member I learnt the value of political training and professionalism from the experts. I was fortunate to work over a number of years with great Liberals: my friends the Hon. Ted Pickering, the Hon. Andrew Peacock, my now leader Senator the Hon. Robert Hill and my colleague the Finance Minister the Hon. John Fahey. With these Liberals, as a young, inexperienced political activist, I learnt a great deal.

I am committed to maximising the participation of young Australians in our political process. If I can follow the example and support given to me, I will have made some small contribution to that endeavour. I also salute the women of the Liberal Party. It has not always been an easy road but the great successes of the Liberal Women's Forum, particularly in the 1996 election, have set in concrete the importance of our efforts. The faith, the tenacity and the mutual support of the women won through. As the youngest woman in the coalition, I am proud to join the ranks of women in Canberra and hope to welcome many more female colleagues here in the next few years. I need say no more about the involvement of women in politics than to invoke the words of one of the world's great political leaders, Burma's Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi:

It is not the prerogative of men alone to bring light to this world. Women—with their capacity for compassion and self sacrifice, their courage and perseverance—have done much to dissipate the darkness of intolerance and hate.

As a newly appointed senator for New South Wales I have opened my office in the heart of the greatest city in Australia, in Parramatta in greater western Sydney. I am proud to join my Liberal colleagues Ross Cameron, the member for Parramatta, and Jackie Kelly, the member for Lindsay, in their electorates. The Liberal Party in greater western Sydney is now represented by three young, enthusiastic, committed Liberals and we are there to stay.

Greater western Sydney is one of the most important economic regions in Australia. In a recent speech by the Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister, Tim Fischer, he acknowledged the region as `one of Australia's economic powerhouses', with a GDP of $34 billion and a population of 1.4 million. With its commitment to excellence, its enthusiasm, innovation and commitment to Australia, the contribution made by business in greater western Sydney to Australia's economic performance is second to none.

Fifty years ago in this place, in October 1947, the first female Liberal senator, Queensland Senator Annabel Rankin, made her first speech. In quoting her words I also acknowledge her role as one of the trailblazers for Australian women in politics. She said:

The opportunity will arise for me to express my opinion on particular topics; but I believe that, today, I should invite honourable senators to pause in the midst of political tumult, lift their eyes above the mists, and try to see for themselves where Australia is heading.

In inviting honourable senators to do the same today, to `lift their eyes above the mists', I ask that on behalf of all young Australians. Throughout my short political life, I have been absolutely committed to maximising the involvement of young Australians in politics. I regard one of my particular responsibilities as a parliamentarian as being to communicate ideas and policies to the young people of this country who are our future and to listen to their responses and views about where Australia is heading. There is no replacement for effective communication and young Australians deserve nothing less than to have their politicians listen to them.

In looking above the mists, as Senator Rankin exhorted her colleagues, I look to a future Australia that is proud of its diverse and varied community. From Australia's original indigenous inhabitants to the first European settlers to migrants from the many hundreds of countries now represented here, we live in peace in one of the richest communities in the world.

There is no room, in my view, for the division and destruction wrought by hate based race politics. The jingoistic simplicity of the One Nation mantra may have an hypnotic effect on some Australians, but the danger of the extremist politics practised by One Nation remains. Pauline Hanson's One Nation party has been identified as a threat to our trading relations, as having a negative impact on tourism and to the uptake of Australian services by international consumers. But, Madam President, ultimately it is simply offensive, unacceptable and morally repugnant.

I said earlier that I am a product of the Liberal Party organisation. I was a member of the organisation's federal executive for two years and, as one who has sat around that table and many others, I believe it is also time for that body to address the challenge to the traditions of decent, fair-minded tolerant Australian politics represented by the rise of One Nation.

Not only for our migrants but for indigenous Australians, political life has been momentous over the last two years. I am not a parent, but I am a daughter, a sister, and a granddaughter. My commitment to and love for my family has guided my life. I watched, read and listened with interest to discussions surrounding the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report into The Stolen Generation.

I could not but put myself in the position of those whose stories filled the report. As I was growing up in my safe and stable family, in my home and at my school, children my age in Aboriginal Australia were still being taken from their homes, their parents and their siblings. I can never feel their pain, but I can try to understand the devastation I would feel in their situation, and I can apologise for those misguided acts. As a nation we must answer the challenge of reconciliation now for the memory of those for whom it is already too late and for the sake of future generations.

A future Australia should be a nation free from discrimination against any individual. Discrimination against people based on their gender, their race, their sexuality, their religion, their HIV status or their education does not belong in our democracy. Before I hear the clamouring cries of right-wing media commentators about political correctness: this is not a statement about women's rights, gay rights or minority rights; rather, it is about human rights.

It is about the essence of liberalism—the freedom of the individual to live their lives as they see fit whilst respecting in every case the rights of others; developing their own individual potential to the fullest; enjoying the right to be judged on their own individual merit; and, importantly, being respected simply as an individual.

Too often I have seen at first-hand the impact of discrimination against people based on their HIV status. As a committee member of the AIDS Council of New South Wales, I have tried to redress this in some small way, and it is in this context that I recognise the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. With the rest of the world, I was stunned by news of her untimely passing—a young woman, only three years older than me. Her contribution to the campaigns fighting, firstly, discrimination against people with AIDS and, secondly, for a ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines are indicative of her commitment to humanity.

As they look towards the future, young Australians will hopefully look to a strong nation continuing to stand boldly on the world stage in political, trade and diplomatic terms. For almost 10 years, my interest has been in developing relations between young political and business leaders from Australia and the nations in our region. Between Australia and a score of countries in Asia, dozens of young leaders have exchanged visits and formed lasting relationships under the auspices of many programs, and particularly the Australia-Asia Young Leaders Program, of which I was a committee member until my appointment to the Senate.

Australia's economic and diplomatic interests will be most effectively advanced if young Australians take an active role in pursuing our relationships in Asia. In addition to exchange programs, there are valuable opportunities to maximise interest in the Australian education system in Asia, and particularly to encourage young Australians to learn and utilise Asian languages in their education and later business lives. I believe the next 10 years must bring enormous increases in the level of engagement of young Australians in Asia, an investment both for their own benefit and for the long-term development of our relationships in the region.

It is also my fervent hope that the view to the future includes an Australian head of state. The debate on constitutional change should proceed in a constructive and enlightened manner, with young Australians as very active participants in that process. My hope is that we will as a nation be able to take the best of our history and traditions which have served us for almost a century and build on them towards an Australian republic. During my time in this parliament, with the will of the majority of Australians in favour of change, I know I will see an Australian—one of us, who lives amongst us and is chosen by Australians—take up office as our head of state.

Finally, for all Australians, when I look above the political tumult to the future, I hope to see a nation that is strong and confident in itself. That will be so if the youth of our nation can face the future with strength and confidence.

It seems to me that there is a number of pressing social issues challenging young Australians that it is our responsibility as political leaders to address. Preservation and repair of the natural environment, cooperative efforts by community and government to reduce homelessness, and a drug use prevention strategy that really works are examples of these issues.

The government's efforts to introduce policies to address the seemingly intractable problem of youth unemployment will go a long way to returning confidence and hope to young Australians and faith in the future of their nation. But the largely hidden national tragedy of youth suicide is more difficult to grapple with. My strong view is that summits and talk fests are of limited utility. They give no hope—no hope at all to the vulnerable.

For young people in this nation, and predominantly young men, suicide is the only answer to their desperation, all too commonly chosen. Young Australians have a right not to have to live with that fear, and it is incumbent upon us to help find the answers.

Madam President, there are few good things written about politicians but many challenges issued to us. The great Australian writer Patrick White issued this challenge in his poem Nine thoughts from Sydney, an appropriate selection perhaps for a senator from New South Wales. He wrote:

Where is the politician who will flower like the leptospermum citrata,

Who will sound like the surf out of the Antarctic.

Who has in his hands the knots of coolibah,

And in his soul the tears of migrants landing from Piraeus?

If we, as members of parliament, bear the sentiments of this challenge in mind in our words and our deeds, then I for one believe we will better earn the respect of our communities and perhaps ignite in young Australians a flame of faith in their parliamentary system and their parliamentary representatives. That for me is a challenge worth meeting. Thank you, Madam President.

Honourable senators —Hear, hear!