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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Page: 78

Senator BERNARDI (4:59 PM) —In rising to make my first speech in this place, I extend my gratitude to honourable senators and Senate staff for the welcome and the courtesies that they have extended to me. During my time here, I will, to the best of my ability, represent the state of South Australia and the national interest by acting upon my best convictions without selfishness or malice.

I come to this chamber as a proud South Australian; Adelaide, Australia’s most civilised city, has always been my home. It is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, save that too many of our children leave in their early adulthood and too few return. While Adelaide has been rated as one of the world’s top five lifestyle cities in which to live, South Australia needs to be economically stronger. We have great potential to build on our international reputation in the arts, wine and aquaculture industries, but this alone will not be enough. We need to more effectively target and develop specific areas that will provide for our state’s future prosperity.

One of these areas, I believe, is the defence industry. The defence industry represents the greatest potential for South Australia to strengthen our manufacturing and industry base. Indeed, we are well placed to become a leader in the defence industry—from shipbuilding and ballistics technology through to systems development. Our state now needs to ensure we have the expertise and the facilities ready to make this opportunity a reality.

We already have a skilled and vibrant population, many of whom have settled in South Australia from other nations. Our migrant population has helped to establish and build South Australia. Our wine industry was founded by settlers from Germany. Our thriving fishing industry features many prominent Greek, German and Croatian families. In fact, our citizens have links to over 200 different nations, and the signature of their diverse cultures is etched on the very foundation of South Australian life. Today, more than 20 per cent of people who call South Australia home were born overseas.

One of these people is my father, Leon Bernardi. He came to Australia in 1958 from the town of Montebelluna in the region of Veneto in northern Italy. He arrived in Australia with little English but a great deal of energy. At the age of 28 he established his first business and, through hard work and determination, he has since provided employment to several hundred South Australians. He is but one of many thousands of migrants who have helped to shape our nation culturally and economically whilst building a better life for themselves and a more enriching one for all Australians.

Since Federation, Australia’s migrants and all her citizens have enjoyed a stable political system that has provided opportunity and prosperity under our rule of law. Some may consider it bold for me to link the stability of our political system to our national prosperity, but order and stability provide the platform upon which all else can be based, for governments, for business and for families.

Stability has also been a hallmark of my family life. My father, Leon, and my mother, Jo, who are both here today, have celebrated nearly 40 years of marriage, during which they have raised three sons, embraced three daughters in law and doted on seven grandchildren. My mother is a fourth-generation Australian and is the pillar that supports our family strength. Her unfailing support for my father and her children and the warmth and generosity she extends to all have been our greatest gift. Her decision to remain at home and care for her children during our early years is one that I am forever thankful for. I know that not all parents have the opportunity or actually want to make this sacrifice for their children, but sacrifice is love, and we should always be mindful that this is one of the most important gifts that any parent can give their child.

Like my mother, my wife, Sinead, who migrated to this land with her parents and siblings from the Republic of Ireland, has become the bedrock on which our family life has been built. I have been fortunate to have married my best friend and my greatest advocate. Without Sinead’s support I would not be in this place and would not have the pleasure of having her and our two sons, Oscar and Harvey, in the gallery today. Like most parents, I am very proud of my children, but their impact on my life goes far beyond that of paternal pride. Oscar and Harvey have given my life a perspective that was not readily available before. They have given me cause to reflect on the society that our children will inherit when they have children of their own.

It is for future generations that we need to redress the decline of social capital—the goodwill, the fellowship and the sense of community service—because these are the substances that count for most in the daily lives of people. These are ideals that all parents need to share with their children, because it is within the family unit that these lessons are best learned.

But social capital or any social program, no matter how well intentioned, cannot be sustained without a strong economy. Creating an environment that encourages prosperity begins with government, is sustained by business and is shared by individuals. Our nation today is a prosperous and confident one. We are admired and respected by the international community, comfortable with our responsibilities at home and abroad. We have strong employment and low interest rates and, while our level of personal debt is alarmingly high, we finally have a debt free public sector.

Our prosperity is directly linked to important structural reforms that began with the deregulation of the banking system and the floating of the Australian dollar. While these were introduced under a Labor government, they were Liberal Party policies and they were only implemented with the support of the Liberal Party. Whether in opposition or in government, the Liberal Party remains committed to our belief in free markets. We remain true to our core philosophy of individual rights and responsibility. We remain a party that supports enterprise and encourages initiative. As a government, we have continued to support the interests of our citizens by encouraging choice in education, choice in superannuation and choice in health care. We have created a business environment that encourages employment and allows business to actually get on with business.

However, more can be done, particularly for the many thousands of men and women who operate in small business. Like my father and my brothers, I have always been involved in small business, firstly as a hotelier and later in the financial services industry. Small businesses are the engine room of our economy. They are the largest employer group outside of government. It is in our national interest to further strengthen the culture of entrepreneurship by supporting skills training for small business operators.

We also need to make dealing with government easier by making the small business environment as streamlined and effective as possible. By making available a simple business structure that provided flow-through taxation benefits and limited liability, we could encourage investment in small business. This would be good for all Australians because a strong business environment allows government to invest in the important infrastructure and policy programs that build a better society.

Investment, though, is not only the preserve of government. Australian business needs to invest even more in people, in training and in research and development. Government can foster extra investment in these areas through targeted incentives that reward those who are prepared to make a long-term commitment to people and to skills.

We should not take for granted the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy today. They are a product of our robust Constitution and they have been defended at home and abroad by the men and women of our defence forces. More than 100,000 Australians have given their lives in defence of our nation’s interests and we should remember those who have fallen protecting our freedom and our democracy.

Whilst a military career is now chosen by too few of our citizens, it is heartening to note the growing community recognition for our Defence Force personnel through the Anzac Day services. I say heartening because I remember the cries by the vocal minority during the 1980s who called for Anzac Day to be abolished with claims that commemoration services actually glorified war. When I was at school I was astonished to learn of the lack of respect given to our veterans who served in Vietnam and how they were not afforded the full recognition for their sacrifice, their bravery and their honour. I am pleased to report that this is no longer the case. With every passing year the number of young people attending Anzac vigils both here and overseas grows steadily higher and our patriotism grows with it. To me, this is evidence that the mainstream of Australia, of which I am proud to be a member, have reclaimed their voice—not only in relation to Anzac Day but in many different forums.

I remember when I was president of the Liberal Party in South Australia I was approached by the head of the party’s multicultural committee, a man of Chinese background. He said to me, ‘We are all proud to be Australian and we should acknowledge this by singing our national anthem before each state council meeting.’ And he was right. So we began singing our national anthem as witness to our pride in our nation. I have to tell you things were a little bit muted at first, but I can report today that we sing proud and we sing strong, and our voice is the voice of mainstream values.

The mainstream of Australia has clearly rejected the so-called ‘rights’ that are at odds with our laws and our traditions. In fact, one could argue the entire concept of ‘rights’ has been so debased in recent times that it is difficult to know what is a right and what is simply a desire. You will hear people telling you they have a right to swim in a certain suburban pool or the right to borrow a book from a community library or even that they have the right to die. These are not rights—these are desires governed and formed by personal belief and self-interest. And yet ironically in this new culture of rights we are often taken into the realm of a contest in deciding whose rights should prevail. I know of child-care centres in Adelaide where management were so worried about offending non-Christian children they decided to ban Christmas celebrations. As I wrote to them at the time: what about the right for a young child to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas? It is a sad day for our nation when to celebrate the birth of the king of peace causes offence.

The modern rights industry can be even more extreme, often equating the rights of an animal or a plant to that of a man, thereby reducing mankind to just another species among species. Such claims undermine our commonsense and of course they undermine the natural law. In simple terms, the natural law is that which is written in our hearts and the hearts of all cultures. I would like to touch upon just one element of the natural law: the act of marriage. Marriage is not a right; it was not invented—marriage simply is. Marriage has been reserved as a sacred bond between a man and a woman across times, across cultures and across very different religious beliefs. Marriage is the very foundation of the family, and the family is the basic unit of society. Thus marriage is a personal relationship with public significance and we are right to recognise this in our laws. Because the term ‘rights’ has been corrupted in recent times, in my mind we need to transfer the concept into one of respect for the dignity of the individual. Indeed, my attraction to the Liberal Party is because of its support for the individual.

It would not be possible for me to make my first speech in this chamber without recognising the importance of sport and physical activity in the health and wellbeing of our nation. I am a product of the Australian sporting system and I know first-hand of its benefits to individuals and to our society. Sport is character building, it provides health and fitness and it is the great egalitarian process where participation and mateship are often more important than the actual result.

We need to invest in a healthy future for all Australians but this is especially important for our children. Sport teaches children cooperation, teamwork, responsibility and humility. It helps them to learn new concepts and, best of all, sport is fun. It was participation in sport that led me to try rowing, where I eventually won a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport. The AIS provided me with a pathway into the Australian rowing team and I represented my country at the world championships and a number of other international regattas.

I consider myself very fortunate to have represented Australia on the sporting field—or lake as it was for me—but I consider myself more fortunate to have aided in the development of sport in this country. Through my work as a board member of the Australian Sports Commission and as Chairman of the Australian Sports Foundation I know of the urgent need for improved sporting facilities, particularly in regional Australia. I know of the long-term implications for our country if we cannot get our children more active. It is a matter of national importance that physical activity and exercise are recognised as a key element of the healthy development of our children.

I am particularly enthusiastic about the role that sport can play in uplifting the lives of Indigenous Australians. It has been personally satisfying for me to have helped implement programs within Aboriginal communities that have led to a direct improvement in school attendance and a reduction in substance abuse. This is a hidden benefit of sport to our society. It can make a meaningful difference to the character and health of our nation and while that is the case it will always have my strong support.

Through my involvement in sport and my ancestry I have experienced first hand the global environment in which Australia plays an important part. We cannot afford to reduce our involvement in international affairs, nor can we cease to stand for that which is morally right and that which is good for our nation, good for our region and good for our world.

I take my place as a senator for South Australia mindful of the significant contributions made by previous South Australians within this chamber. In particular I recognise the contribution to this place by my predecessor, the Hon. Robert Hill. I would also like to acknowledge the current Leader of the Government in the Senate—Senator the Hon. Nick Minchin. Over many years I have been grateful for his careful guidance, for his support and for his friendship. To commence my parliamentary career under the leadership of Senator Minchin and to have been escorted into this place by my good friends Senator Ferguson and Senator Ferris has indeed been a rare honour.

Notwithstanding my personal experiences or qualities, I would not be here today if it were not for the support of my parents, my family and my friends. I am grateful for all they have done to accommodate my political involvement over the years and, whilst there are too many contributors to name individually, I would like to extend my special gratitude to the members of the Liberal Party.

I am a strong and passionate supporter of active participation in the party political system. Whilst I believe that the enterprise and freedom represented by the broad church that is the Liberal Party of Australia is in the best interests of this nation, I accept that there are people who have not yet come to this conclusion. And while I will continue to try to win the hearts and minds of those who do not share my belief in the sanctity of human life or my belief that to ensure peace we must be prepared to fight for it, I respect their opposing voice and value their contribution to democracy.

However, in my mind there are no greater supporters of democracy than the good men and women of the Liberal Party. Our party is based on individuals. It is organised and operated by volunteers. In a time when the ‘age of belonging’ seems to have passed many organisations by, the Liberal Party remains a true party of the people. I am honoured to have served as the youngest state president in the history of the South Australian Liberal Party and also as the youngest Federal Vice-President of the Liberal Party of Australia. And today, as the youngest Liberal senator in this place, I am humbled by the faith that has placed in me. I will repay that faith by representing my state interests in this chamber while also being mindful of the national interest.

In concluding my remarks today I would like to reflect on the characteristics ascribed to a former South Australian senator and President of the Senate: the late Sir Condor Laucke. Sir Condor was regarded by his colleagues as having great humility, a high standard of personal integrity and a sense of fair play. Whilst in this place, I shall do my best to reflect Sir Condor’s principles and in doing so I shall be guided by my conscience, my family, my country and my God.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!