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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Page: 115

Senator BUSHBY (4:58 PM) —I rise here today as the 75th senator for Tasmania and the 519th person who has had the honour to sit in the Senate of the Australian parliament. The relativity of these two numbers highlights the balance between the states that was built into our federalist system by our forebears. Their absolute value highlights how rare an honour it is and the great responsibility that the few who sit in this place accept in making decisions that affect so many.

I would not be standing here today were it not for the resignation of Paul Calvert. Paul was a truly great senator of inimitable style. His highly affable nature allowed him to develop strong relationships that he could use to achieve significant outcomes for those he represented. Tasmanians were very privileged to have him serve them in the Senate for over 20 years and Australians have been well served by his five years as President of this place. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Clerk of the Senate, the Deputy Clerk, Black Rod and their staff for their guidance. I have no doubt that their knowledge and experience will be needed on many further occasions.

I would also like to thank my good friend Don Morris for his assistance, which has certainly made my transition so much smoother, as well as both the Liberal Party in Tasmania and the Parliament of Tasmania for the faith they have placed in me by sending me to this place.

The greatest influence on my political life and the man who set me on the path that has led me to this place was my father, the Hon. Max Bushby OBE, who was a state Liberal member for Bass from 1961 to 1986, the last four years as Speaker, and amongst other things a war correspondent in the Korean War, a lay preacher, a state and national president of a number of voluntary and church organisations, and a passionate anticommunism crusader. As I grew up, I never doubted that my father had chosen his calling because he believed his efforts could make a difference for the people of northern Tasmania. He was the most honest, principled and hardworking role model a child could ask for and he created in me a belief that politicians sought only to serve. Sadly, my father passed away in August 1994, some 21 months after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

About a month before he died, my father encouraged me to become actively involved in politics. And I did, with my path leading me to a number of senior roles in the Liberal Party and, in seeking to find new ways to serve the party and the people of Tasmania, leading me here today. My only regret as I stand in this chamber this evening is that my father, who set me off on that path, is not here to see it. I do, however, take great pleasure in acknowledging the presence of my mother, Elaine; my brothers, Peter and Michael; my sisters, Wendy and Helen; together with my nephew, Ben; nieces, Laura and Amanda; and my sister-in-law Debbie. I would also like to thank my many friends and colleagues who have made the effort to attend today, some travelling far to be here.

I am a fifth generation Tasmanian—and no Tasmanian jokes please! My great-great-grandfather, George Bushby, arrived from England at the fledgling Swan River settlement in 1829 as an employee of the pioneering Henty family. Swan River in 1829 was a marginal proposition, and in 1832 George Bushby moved to Van Diemen’s Land, again with the Henty family, settled in Launceston and did significantly better than he had in the west. As such, I was almost a Western Australian, but I am not. I am a Tasmanian, and I am proud of it. But, like many Western Australians, I passionately believe in our federalist system and in the benefits for all Australians of the important role the states have played and continue to play in our system of government, and that this role provides a major pillar of the stability we have enjoyed as a nation and of what has made our system of government one of the most, if not the most, successful in the world.

Tasmania has since 1996 gone from strength to strength. We have strong industry growth in a number of sectors, with the highest level of full-time employment achieved in manufacturing, followed by retail trade, construction, health and community services and then agriculture, forestry and fishing. Employment is up and unemployment is down. Average weekly earnings are up, turnover of retail establishments is up and population is up. However, despite all these measures moving in the right direction, in each of them we lag behind all other states. This simply is not good enough if Tasmania is to develop a robustness to its economy that will see it survive any future economic downturn. I believe this is in part caused by the failure of the Tasmanian Labor government to fully capitalise on the opportunities created by the national coalition government led recovery, combined with the alarming message sent by the activist green movement in Tasmania that we do not want investment—shamefully, including visits to Tasmania’s trading partners talking down trade with Tasmanian businesses.

Despite this, the Tasmanian economy is buoyant, and credit for this must go to the efforts of our current Australian government and the specific measures implemented to address Tasmania’s particular disadvantages, such as the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme and the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme. Looking forward, Tasmania must continue to develop new opportunities that provide a balanced solution to future economic and social needs, a balance that must include sensible large-scale development as well as small, and everything in between.

Of course, my responsibilities as a senator are to not only Tasmanians but all Australians. The 21 million or so Australians who are alive today are amongst the most fortunate people who have ever lived. Life for the vast majority of people who have walked this earth has been a constant struggle to find the basic necessities for survival—food, clean water, shelter, warmth and security. They had a low life expectancy, little security for their person, their property or their families, no medical or health care or education, no social security safety nets and no freedom of movement, association, speech or to dissent. Leisure as we know it, discretionary income, the rule of law and security of person and property simply did not exist, and sadly still does not for many people of the world.

In Australia today very few of us face such a basic daily struggle to survive. We have access to adequate health and hospital services regardless of our ability to pay. The vast majority of those able and willing to work can, and when they do they get paid a higher real wage and get to keep more of it. Where Australians are not able to work or to find work, a safety net ensures that they do not fall through the cracks, and most Australians feel relatively comfortable about their personal security and that of their families and their property. I see it as my clear responsibility to continue to support laws and policy outcomes that ensure Australians retain their status as some of the most fortunate people who have ever lived, because the balance of factors that have delivered us to this most fortunate position is a fragile one and one that can be affected by the decisions we make, the messages we send and the leadership we show.

The fact that fewer than 10 nations remained free and democratic for the entirety of last century demonstrates that we cannot assume that what is will always be. The people of all nations aspire to achieve prosperity, democracy, freedom and justice yet few have consistently achieved this aspiration. As demonstrated by the loss of some or all of those freedoms elsewhere, their establishment is no guarantee of their continuance.

History shows us that there are a number of key factors that have delivered our stability as a nation. These include: that we are a constitutional monarchy with a head of state who leaves our executive and legislative arms to work almost entirely without interference; an independent judiciary; a well-balanced federal system with a clear set of checks and balances; a free market system where Australians are encouraged to seek to better themselves through hard work and ingenuity, with the promise of reaping the rewards when successful; an acknowledgment that all Australians benefit from the promotion of successful businesses, as this success creates jobs, raises taxes to pay for health, education, defence and social measures and builds wealth; the application and wholesale acceptance by Australians of the rule of law; a widespread belief in and application of the Judaeo-Christian ethic and a belief in the importance of the family unit as the bedrock of society; sensible and strong alliances with nations of similar values and a preparedness to defend our way of life and that of our allies as and when required; and that we are egalitarian enough and wealthy enough to ensure that those who may have fallen through the cracks, whether as a result of poor life decisions or through no fault of their own, are looked after through appropriate safety net, welfare and charitable measures.

We need to set a legislative and policy framework in which a strong and robust economy can flourish, so that Australians who are willing and able to work can, and at a wage that allows them to provide well for themselves and their families.

If you believe that business success creates prosperity and jobs, you should leave business as free as possible to succeed. If you think that government spending, taxing and regulating distort business outcomes and penalise success, then you should stop government doing these things. The role for government is not to interfere with fair competition but to ensure fair competition and to minimise the obstacles placed in the way of small business owners working hard to build successful enterprises.

At this point I am reminded of the words used by Abraham Lincoln, who set out far more eloquently than I ever could certain truths that should always be remembered:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.

You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.

You cannot further brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred.

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

I am always amazed at criticism of governments that ‘focus too much on the economy’. What is the alternative? If you do not achieve a strong economy, you have more Australians without work—with consequential loss of self-esteem, increases in crime and social problems, more bankruptcies and home foreclosures and less tax to fund hospitals, aged care, childcare, defence, social security and schools. What critics fail to acknowledge is that a focus on the economy is merely a means to achieve the end, and not the end in itself.

Eleven years ago, our economy was on its knees and our society exhibited all of these negative consequences and more. We had a parliamentary secretary in the then Labor government saying things were not so bad compared to the economies of Mali, Peru and Bangladesh, and left wing commentators saying that we should not be so distressed at the idea of living in a Third World economy.

Paul Keating is known to have said around that time, ‘If you change the government, you change the country.’ Thankfully, in 1996 the government did change and the economic, legislative and social programs implemented by the coalition government since have changed the country and returned security and certainty about our economic prospects, with all the positive social benefits that follow.

We currently face a rapidly changing world. It is incumbent upon those of us in this place and the other place to ensure that we strike a considered balance between policy responses appropriate to meet the challenges of change and to capitalise on new opportunities, and those fundamental principles that have delivered us to where we are as a nation today. In looking forward we must be innovative, flexible and creative but always remember the lessons of the past.

One of the great challenges we face is that of demographic change. The industrialised world is coming to the end of two centuries of great population growth fuelled by the transition from societies with high birth rates and low life expectancies, to societies with low birth rates and high life expectancies. The consequences of this transition include a likely negative natural rate of population change as the number of deaths in industrialised nations exceeds the number of births. In Australia, this will be likely to occur in the first half of this century. Accordingly, without immigration at a level notably higher than today’s, Australia’s population may start falling during the next 50 years.

A further consequence is the changing structure of the Australian population. We will need new, innovative approaches to issues arising from an enormous shift of people from the workforce into retirement, as the baby boomers age, with unprecedented growth in demand for health services, aged care and aged pensions. And, as this generation of retirees will be highly active and ‘cashed-up’, new opportunities will arise, catering to their increased leisure needs.

The proportion of Australians of working age will also decline, which will exacerbate the current skills and labour shortage. And the patterns of population change will unfold at different rates across the states, causing disparities and new regional challenges. Given the impending nature of these demographic changes, the decisions we make in the next five to 10 years will have a great impact on how we weather the next three to four decades, our future prosperity and our place in the world.

Measures that can affect population growth from the perspective of the natural rate of increase—for example the baby bonus—should be considered, and so should other measures that make it easier for people to choose to have a family, such as assistance for collective childcare in people’s homes, tax deductability of education, or income splitting. We should also consider how we can compete with other nations facing similar demographic challenges to attract migrants who can meet our skills needs, including stronger incentives to attract migrants to regional areas.

The shift in the proportion of working age Australians will also require the adoption of innovative approaches to issues such as industrial relations. New thinking is required on policy and legislative responses that are flexible enough to maintain an appropriate and fair balance between the needs of employers and those of employees in a highly fluid and competitive labour market. In times of labour shortage—a situation we already face—employees have a strong bargaining position, and industrial laws should reflect this to maximise the job creation potential at that time. If it is possible to achieve full employment, or near it, we should impose a framework that makes it reality, whilst ensuring appropriate safety net provisions are maintained. Flexibility, not ideology, is the key. The laws should reflect the times.

Mr President, it is clear that the issue of water security is of enormous importance to the future of this country and that changing weather patterns have highlighted the need to rethink the way we approach water use and conservation in Australia. Current thinking is big desalination plants and massive infrastructure projects to solve this issue big time and in one hit. These approaches may be the answer and must be considered.

But I also believe that sometimes the solutions to big problems are small. We need to look at solutions that involve better harnessing of water resources at local levels: better use of rain that falls on the roofs of houses, sheds, schools and barns by collecting it for use for both potable and non-potable purposes. For example, using rainwater in toilets can reduce reticulated water usage by up to 17 per cent. And we must make better use of water that currently runs into the sea—at the end of creeks and rivers—by investing significantly in dams in local areas for domestic and production purposes. Despite Australia being the driest continent, more than enough water to meet our needs falls and flows to the sea, and we have water resources that are not fully utilised, particularly in Tasmania and in the north of Australia.

The impact of human activity on our climate is also a matter of great concern to many Australians. I do not pretend to understand the details of the science on the extent to which our activities have an effect. However, what is clear is that there are over six billion people on this planet and their existence must affect our environment. Although it is prudent to try to limit the impact, the reality is we cannot eliminate it, so we need to plan for change to adapt to the impact of our activities in a way that balances our obligation to provide a sustainable future for our children with our ongoing need for economic and social activity. Environmental change has always been with us and humanity has always adapted. Regardless of the cause of current change, we need to monitor the actual effects and make provision to address the demonstrable consequences as they arise—for example, through greater investment in water security and innovative methods of water retention and use, and the adoption of cleaner energy options.

The other great challenge in coming years is that posed by terrorism. There is no easy way to address this threat. In the short term, we need to take a strong stance against all terrorist acts and implement appropriate measures to minimise the risks that fanaticism fuelled actions can pose to innocent people. In the long term, I believe, the only answer is to raise the desire of populations in all nations to achieve prosperity, democracy, freedom and justice through education, the fostering of new economic and trade opportunities and the encouraging of stable democratic institutions.

There are many other topics of interest on which I would like to express my thoughts this evening, but time does not permit. In the coming months and—hopefully—years, I will take up the opportunity to do so.

I now wish to specifically acknowledge my wife, Sarah, and my three daughters, Mollie, Lily and Emily. My appointment to this place will undoubtedly take me away from them far more than I or they would like. I will inevitably miss many of the important moments in the lives of my children and will leave Sarah to shoulder many of the burdens of parenthood that are better shared in partnership. It is a sacrifice that I have chosen to make as much for the future of my children as for any other reason, but one that Sarah and my children will endure not by their own choice. For that I thank them and I particularly thank my wife for her love and support.

Not that long ago, shortly after I was announced as Paul Calvert’s replacement by the Liberal Party in Tasmania, a member of this place passed on a sage piece of advice. The comment was: ‘This place will find you out.’ I hope that when this place does find me out it uncovers a senator who is passionate about his state and his country, who is tenacious, capable and driven to deliver an Australia in which all Australians can continue to enjoy life in a prosperous, just, stable, secure and democratic nation. Thank you, Mr President.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!