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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator STERLE (4:19 PM) —I can take one of two lines in this matters of public importance debate today, and I will take the more mature, grown-up line. I could feign anger, like Senator Mason, wave my hands around and pretend that I am absolutely disgusted and that the more I raise my voice the more people will be listening out there. But I am above that. We will leave that out of it. Or I could take the Senator Joyce line, where I just prattle on and talk about nothing, as long as I am screaming and going red in the face.

While I am on that, I do want to clarify what I mean by that. I had the misfortune to walk past the television when Senator Joyce was prattling on about something to do with the economic boom and how it is still alive and well around Australia. They were not really his words; it was something like that. I was reading the West Australian, that fine Western Australian newspaper, today and I noticed on page 17 an article by one Dawn Gibson. I have not met Dawn yet, but no doubt I eventually will. Dawn was talking about cashed-up bogans. For all those out there who are not aware, cashed-up bogans are those middle-aged people, probably about my age, who all own a V8 and a couple of houses and have made a lot of money on the back of the skills shortage and the mining and commodities boom—which has been fantastic, especially in my home state of Western Australia, as I have no doubt it has been in Senator Joyce’s and your home state of Queensland, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore.

Senator Joyce made the outlandish statement that the boom is still going and that everything is fine. If Senator Joyce does come across to Western Australia to check out how the boom is going or not going—and I do not want to get into Mr Brendan Grylls’s ears about who he should and should not be talking to—he might want to take note of page 17 of the West Australian and Dawn Gibson’s article. I would like to quote from it. She interviewed KPMG demographer Mr Bernard Salt. Most of us have heard of Mr Salt and the outstanding work that he does. Mr Salt talks about the mining boom in Western Australia and he says his warning comes amid the following indications:

Global economic woes will impact heavily on WA’s employment market. Several big mining companies, including Consolidated Minerals, Newcrest Mining and Mount Gibson Iron have announced in the past month that they have axed or plan to axe hundreds of jobs because of plummeting metal prices and reduced demand.

Having to requote that article does not make me feel good, but, whether Senator Joyce and other senators opposite want to believe it or not, the world is changing daily. Yes, we have been through a wonderful economic boom, a financial boom, through the commodity markets—especially in the fine state of Western Australia, which has every mineral you could want and more. And, yes, the Commonwealth of Australia and Australian taxpayers and users of infrastructure and the like have made a lot of money out of that. But I do not know how many times ministers will have to get up in question time and reiterate to those opposite that we have a global financial crisis. One would hope that, by now, senators opposite would climb above politics—I take that back; they are not mature enough to actually do that—but I am still waiting for the tooth fairy. One day the tooth fairy may bring you back the tooth you lost when you were four or five years old, Senator Williams and Senator Nash—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—Senator Sterle, I remind you to address your remarks through the chair.

Senator STERLE —I am sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President. Through the chair: the tooth fairy may visit senators opposite one day. We are seriously in financial strife around the world. The newspapers are continually telling us that Europe is in recession—and we are tightening the belt financially. One must really wonder what makes sensible mature senators on the other side come out with some of the nonsense that we hear in the chamber daily. The latest from Senator Mason is an absolute pearler. He used the term ‘annus horribilis’—for crying out loud!

I would like to touch on a few things the Rudd government has done. I had the privilege earlier this year of accompanying the former President of the Senate—the second best President we have had since I have been here—on a tour of Europe. We visited some European parliaments—the French parliament, the Belgian parliament, the parliament of the Netherlands and the parliament of Austria. Politicians from both persuasions, left and right, wanted to congratulate us, the new government, on two things as we walked into every meeting and every room. Man and woman, shoulder to shoulder, they thanked us and wanted us to take back to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, their sincere appreciation for Australia joining the rest of the world community in ratifying the Kyoto protocol.

In our little part of the world, we sometimes think everything is here. And we are very lucky to be living in Australia and having these conditions for our children to grow up in. But there are some ups and downs, and it takes a change of government to bring things back up again with respect to fairness and equity in the workplace. These European parliamentarians could not wait to thank us on how mature Australia was to finally sign the Kyoto protocol. That makes your chest puff out and you think it is great to be part of the Rudd Labor government. But the second thing they wanted to congratulate us on—and I know your views on Indigenous Australia, Madam Acting Deputy President, and I think you know mine quite well—was the apology to the stolen generation.

Unfortunately, some of the behaviour by the West Australian Liberals when the Prime Minister was making his stolen generation apology was nothing short of disgraceful. But I felt proud to be a member of the Rudd Labor government. The day of the apology was a beautiful day. I walked to Parliament House, as I do every morning. I came up past Old Parliament House and I could not believe the number of people on the front lawn. It made me feel damned proud to be an Aussie. There were Indigenous Australians and white Australians. I walked into this fine building and had the privilege of seeing the welcome to country, which was absolutely moving. It was certainly supported by all on our side of politics, the government, and fortunately by a lot of the other side. But there were some notable absentees. What a wonderful day it was.

I represent Western Australians of all colours, creeds and religions, which I am proud to do. My job takes me through the Kimberley and the Pilbara a lot.

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

Senator STERLE —We do very well, Senator Faulkner, there is no doubt about that—and I had the privilege of being in the Pilbara last week talking to some Indigenous people. But on my first trip through the Kimberley we were thanked by Indigenous Australians who had tears in their eyes because they were so damned proud to hear the Prime Minister deliver the apology. And I have not seen the sky fall in. This is still a wonderfully fine country. We are still doing all right, even though it is getting harder and harder. Apologising to Indigenous Australians did not bring the country down; it did not collapse the economy.

Apologising to Indigenous Australians and ratifying the Kyoto protocol were the two things the Prime Minister did in the very early days of his prime ministership—and what wonderful initiatives they were. But I do not have the words to respond to the accusation from the opposition. When it first came across my desk, I thought it was a joke. But then I saw that it was not a joke because it had come from the whip’s office. Senators opposite actually sent that disgraceful wording through.

But let us talk about other things that the Rudd Labor government has done. Regardless of what those opposite wish to agree to, Labor was swept to power 12 months ago on a range of issues. In my heart of hearts, there were three very important issues: (1) the environment—quite clearly; (2) the opposition, through former Prime Minister Howard, had delivered no fewer than 10 interest rate rises in a row, leading Australians to think that they could control interest rates and keep them down; and (3), very importantly, Work Choices. That was the bogey. I may as well keep saying it: Work Choices! Work Choices! They do not like to hear it. Thank you very much for giving Australia Work Choices! You did so well that you were thanked by being booted out on your backsides. It was a disgraceful, bastardly act. We saw industrial relations tipped on its head after 100 odd years of Federation in this country. No wonder Australians revolted against you. But they sit there and ask: what has Labor done? What about our Building Australia Fund and our $20 billion infrastructure fund? That is another thing we have had to take up because of the mess that was left for us. (Time expired)