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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 933


Senator ASKEW (Tasmania) (17:00): It is with great pride that I rise to deliver my first speech in this place. I have spent many hours over recent years in this beautiful building and I have immense respect for all it represents. As a result, I am humbled to be standing in this chamber as a senator for Tasmania.

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the welcome I have received from you, Mr President, together with the Clerk, the Black Rod and the other officers of the Senate. You have been ready with welcome advice and assistance in recent weeks, which is much appreciated. I also acknowledge the warmth I have received from honourable senators around the chamber.

It was a great honour to be sworn in yesterday as the 605th senator in the Australian parliament and the 85th senator for Tasmania since Federation. I am acutely aware of the level of expectation and responsibilities that accompany the oath of office, and I intend to use my best endeavours to live up to the commitment that I have given to the people of Australia.

As you know, Mr President, I am standing here today following the resignation of David Bushby. David represented Tasmania with dedication and commitment over the past 11½ years. He was a proactive and influential member of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team, and I believe that as both deputy whip and then chief government whip in the Senate he earned the respect of those around him.

Many who come to serve their country in parliament can often identify the one person who instilled the initial thought that one day we could ourselves be elected to serve. Interestingly, that person for me was David during a conversation as far back as 2006. He is not only my predecessor but also my brother, and we were both greatly influenced by a challenge from our father, shortly before he died, to get actively involved with politics.

Growing up in Tasmania, I am the third and middle child of Max and Elaine Bushby. My father, Max Bushby OBE, was a member of the House of Assembly in Tasmania from 1961 to 1986 and Speaker of that house for four of those years.

My dad was a proud Tasmanian, who during his life worked in real estate and property development. He was a United Nations war correspondent during the Korean War, a lay preacher, and also very involved in numerous church and community organisations. Sadly, we lost him to prostate cancer in August 1994 at the age of 67—a great man, lost to us far too soon.

With Dad regularly absent from home due to parliamentary commitments, my mother, Elaine, was the backbone of our family in our formative years. She was also involved in many church and community organisations, and we all grew up with a clear understanding of the importance of making a difference in the world through active participation and a strong expectation.

Mum, who cannot be here today due to her deteriorating health, was also politically active, particularly through her long involvement in the National Council of Women in the area of policies affecting women. She was awarded life membership of that council for her efforts spanning more than 40 years, and I have often thought that she should have followed my father into politics. They certainly were a strong team, both in their marriage and in public life.

If she had decided to run for office, that would certainly not have been unprecedented in Tasmania. The first woman to enter our Australian parliament did just that. Dame Enid Lyons, the widow of Prime Minister Joe Lyons, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, representing the original United Australia Party in the then Tasmanian seat of Darwin—since renamed Braddon—in North-West Tasmania. She remained an MP until ill health led to her resignation in 1951. Her time in parliament was short but distinguished, and she went on to be active in public organisations for another 30 years.

Dame Enid Lyons was the first conservative woman from Tasmania to enter the federal parliamentary scene and, as senators will know, the first woman to be appointed to cabinet. Regrettably, since Dame Enid, there have been only two other conservative Tasmanian women elected to the federal parliament, until now.

Interestingly, all four women to represent Tasmania in Canberra have had family links. Two succeeded their husbands in parliament, and the other two of us were the daughters of politicians.

Shirley Walters was the first woman elected as a senator for Tasmania, from any party. She served from 1975 until 1993. Shirley's father was Sir Eric Harrison, who was deputy leader first of the United Australia Party and then of the Liberal Party under Prime Minister Robert Menzies. A leader at the time, Senator Walters was an early champion of the right of women to choose to be in the workforce or not. Teamed with former Labor senator Pat Giles, they made a formidable duo in developing policies in the social services and community affairs areas which were adopted by both major political parties. Their joint contribution has not been recognised enough.

Senator Walters was joined in the Senate by Jocelyn Newman in 1986. Jocelyn's husband, Kevin Newman, was the member for Bass, from the famous Bass by-election, from 1975 until 1984, and he was a minister for most of that time. Senator Jocelyn Newman was the Minister for Social Security from 1996 to 1998, and then Minister for Family and Community Services from 1998 to 2001. She also held the Status of Women portfolio during the period 1998 to 2001. Jocelyn resigned in 2002, leaving a lasting legacy in reshaping the delivery of social security entitlements, and being recognised as the minister responsible for establishing Centrelink.

It has often disappointed me that the Liberal Party has not better celebrated its achievement in areas of social policy. It was the Menzies government that introduced child endowment, the first governmental recognition of the additional costs borne by families. It was also a Liberal government that recognised the importance of adequate housing in the postwar era, and the first Australian woman to administer a department was Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, who was appointed Minister for Housing by Harold Holt on Australia Day 1966. She held that ministry for the next five years before achieving another first, as the first Australian woman to be appointed head of a diplomatic mission, as High Commissioner to New Zealand.

It's important that we remember the achievements of these trail-blazing women: Enid Lyons, Shirley Walters, Jocelyn Newman and Annabelle Rankin—all of them able politicians and all of them Liberals. I feel honoured and inspired to be standing in the shadow of such highly regarded and respected women. They are, however, just some who have paved the way for women in politics today.

We often hear about the need to increase the representation of women in politics. I agree. The simple truth is that we live in a representative democracy and it is self-evident that women comprise around 50 per cent of our populace. However, this is only one part of the equation. I also believe that we need diversity in all areas, be that age, gender, religious belief or work background. We rightly trumpet that Australia is a multicultural country, and we can reasonably hold up our example to the rest of the world of welcoming people from across the globe to be part of our community. But do our state and federal parliaments reflect this fact? They are beginning to—slowly—but it is a long journey and we still have a long way to go. In this regard, it is worth noting that, with the re-election of Liberal member Joan Rylah to the Tasmanian House of Assembly, 14 members in that 25-member chamber are now women. I believe that is the highest percentage in any parliament since Federation.

But the media seems a little fixated on parliaments. What is often not properly acknowledged, and celebrated, is the large number of capable elected women representatives in local governments across Australia. In my own state, there are 29 local councils, 12 of which are led by women mayors, such as the George Town mayor, Bridget Archer, and there are many more women councillors. Most large businesses see the merit of increasing female representation on their boards, which is only logical since I think they will find that many of their shareholders are women, especially women who hold shares through managed superannuation funds. But, in this public debate, the women who head up other organisations are often overlooked, including those who lead local community organisations, not-for-profit bodies, professional associations and—dare a Liberal say it—even trade unions and employee bodies. They are all part of the superstructure that contributes to our Australian society.

My journey to this place has been interesting and may vary from that of many honourable senators. I left school following matriculation, and my later study was undertaken after having my family. I sincerely believe that I have valuable experience which I bring to the deliberations of the Senate and its committees. I worked in the banking and financial sector. I've worked in the not-for-profit sector, and I have been privileged to serve on charitable boards. I have also worked in public service alongside a number of politicians and ministers at both a state and federal government level.

Through my banking career, I have been fortunate to be offered many opportunities to grow and learn. I was encouraged to advance into leadership and management positions, and I am grateful to the managers and colleagues who believed in me. The business, retail and commercial knowledge I gained in that banking experience has underpinned my career. It is true that the banking royal commission, so ably chaired by former Justice Kenneth Hayne, has shed light on poor practice not only in banking but also in other financial institutions. As the old saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. However, the exposure of poor practice by some people in some banks and finance companies does, I submit, not truly reflect the vital work banks do in securing and strengthening our economy.

As someone who has spent the vast bulk of my working life in retail banking, I am the first to say that poor practices should be exposed and those undertaking them should be held to account. But it is important not to overlook the diligent work being undertaken by tens of thousands of loyal and committed staff who get great job satisfaction in assisting Australians with their everyday banking needs. The only thing that separates a bank officer from a bank customer is a counter. We all share the same pressures of home budgets, making ends meet, working out how to buy a house, planning for retirement and dealing with unexpected expenses which can arise. My experience with former banking colleagues and with senior managers is that almost everyone I met approached their job and their responsibilities with integrity and care for the circumstances of the individual customer. With this background, I welcome the Treasurer's announcement, delivered yesterday in the budget, of $35 million to support a corporate criminal jurisdiction in the Federal Court to address referrals for prosecutions stemming from the royal commission.

Another part of my career was working in the not-for-profit sector. For a short time I had the privilege of working with the StGiles Society in Tasmania, a disability provider originally formed to care for children affected by the polio outbreak in the 1930s. Eighty years later, StGiles now assists thousands of children and adults with disabilities each year across Tasmania. Growing up, our family lived quite close to the original StGiles complex. I remember as a young child attending the annual fete at StGiles with my parents and participating in the primary school choir when we visited to sing for the children. I always came away moved by that experience and inspired by the children, who were so positive and excited, despite the physical difficulties they faced and living in what was then a residential-style institution.

The future is certainly vastly different for people with disabilities. The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme has changed the lives of so many people, giving them greater control over the services they use, and ownership and certainty over their future. This initiative, which was developed with bipartisan support, is a classic example of what can be done when we as politicians work together to achieve the best outcomes for the people of Australia.

As I alluded to earlier, I have worked with several members of parliament at a state and federal level. I would like to place on record my personal thanks to each of them for the opportunities they afforded me and their encouragement as I have pursued my aspirations over recent years. I particularly mention Guy Barnett, Michael Ferguson, Will Hodgman, Andrew Nikolic, Sarah Courtney and Dan Tehan. One thing they all have in common is a commitment to hard work and public service, which I may say has been my consistent experience in almost all of my interactions with members of parliament over the years, regardless of their political allegiance.

As a fifth-generation Tasmanian, I am enormously proud of my home state. It has been a great pleasure to see Tasmania flourish under the leadership of Premier Will Hodgman and his government since 2014. With the influence of strong fiscal leadership, the state has turned around and is leading in many indicators, including business confidence and investment, tourism growth and, most importantly, reversal of population decline. With world-leading ecotourism ventures, internationally acclaimed mountain bike trails and golf courses rated in the top 10 in the world, who wouldn't want to visit there or, even better still, move there. Tasmania's hidden secrets have been discovered, and our beautiful state is now attracting record numbers of tourists, with international tourist numbers up 15 per cent last year alone. Our population is growing, and many people from mainland states are making 'the Tassie change'—selling up and moving to Tasmania to enjoy our relaxed, healthy and very enticing lifestyle.

Of course, renewable energy is nothing new to any Tasmanian. We grew up thinking it was the norm. And it is worth remembering that, for all the spectacular achievements of the Snowy Mountains scheme, the Tasmanian network of dams and power generation built by the Hydro-Electric Commission and its successor is larger still. The federal government's recent announcement of the Battery of the Nation will significantly enhance this asset and Tasmania's status as a home of renewable energy.

I welcomed the Prime Minister's recent announcement that migrants will be encouraged to settle in regional Australia and that will be an incentive for them on the path to achieve permanent residency. It is a truism that our major cities on Australia's eastern seaboard are becoming overcrowded, with the associated infrastructure pressures that go with fast-increasing populations, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. It is also true that the Tasmanian government and employers in my state welcome new arrivals with open arms. I think my colleagues from South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory would echo those views. It is essential that our population policy recognises where the needs are and that the migration framework caters for that.

In welcoming permanent migrants, I think it is important for us to remind ourselves just why people choose to come to live in Australia. When asked, one of the common points they make is the stability of our government and our institutions. We might understand that Australians have a healthy cynicism about politicians, part of the tall poppy syndrome which may be seen to be part of our national make-up. But it is important to reflect that many in the waves of postwar migrants, who came to Australia because of the disruption in Europe of the two world wars, and many who have come in recent years from Asia expressed the same view about yearning for a country with stability, not only in government but in our courts and institutions; stability in gainful employment; and an education system they can rely on for their children. I believe it is a mistake to jettison the bedrock values that have been the foundation of Australia since European settlement, based on the misplaced view that this is what new migrants want.

One topical example comes to mind. Our system of government and laws is based on Judeo-Christian principles, and we begin the day's proceedings with a Christian prayer. Senators do not have to say the prayer or even be present in the chamber when it's said. There is no compulsion, but it has been a part of our parliamentary proceedings since the first meeting in 1901. There has been a proposal in Victoria to abolish the Lord's Prayer in that parliament. It was made by a minor party in that state's upper house. I want to place on record that it seems to me to be a particularly poorly timed proposal in the wake of the awful events in Christchurch. A response to intolerance should never, logically, be more intolerance. We respect those of all faiths who have come to Australia, or indeed those of no faith, just as we respect Australians born here according to their creed or belief. I have never heard one leader of a non-Christian faith call for the abolition of the Lord's Prayer in our parliament. These suggestions always come from other quarters, and, as I say, when unpacked, aren't at their core really about inclusion at all—quite the opposite.

On the theme of stamping out intolerance, one of the campaigns I look forward to supporting in the Senate is the initiative against cyberbullying. Every generation has its bullies, but the electronic age has given bullying a devastating and sinister new dimension. All of us have been shocked by examples of young Australians who have taken their own lives or who have been profoundly affected by bullying on social media, with their parents and other friends often totally oblivious. We as a parliament need to support all endeavours to stamp out this type of behaviour and at the same time establish safe-haven structures for those who are being bullied.

It is a great privilege to be standing here today representing the people of Tasmania on behalf of the Liberal Party. I thank the members of the party for the confidence they have shown in me; my Liberal Senate team colleagues Senators Abetz, Colbeck and Duniam; and the leadership of the Tasmanian division, especially state president Geoff Page and state director Sam McQuestin—I have known and worked with them for many years in a variety of capacities, and I thank them for their consistent advice and support.

I am very fortunate to have a wide circle of friends and colleagues, many of whom work in this building and some of whom are here today. There really are too many to mention by name. However, please accept my thanks for your guidance, support and friendship over many years. Having said that, I would like to acknowledge just two: Phil Connole and Don Morris. They are not just long-term friends but also mentors, and I thank them for their valued advice over many years.

To my staff, who, despite our short time together, are already a strong, cohesive team: thank you for your commitment, dedication and hard work, and thanks in anticipation for what I am going to ask you to do! None of us here could operate without the support of our staff.

I would also like to recognise those of my family who have joined me here today: my brothers, Peter and Michael, my sister, Helen, and sisters-in law Debbie, Janine and Jan, with her partner John. I am proud to see my son, Thomas, and his partner, Hannah. And I'd like, of course, to thank my husband, John. The encouragement and support you have all given to me is appreciated more than you will ever know. As a family, we are so fortunate to have such a close and supportive relationship, despite our geographical spread.

Although my mother could not join us today, I am sure that she is watching me from the Sandhill nursing home in Launceston, accompanied by my daughter, Amanda. I am confident that, like all mothers, she will be my greatest critic, but I know she will also be my most vocal supporter. Mum, you have always been an inspiration to me, demonstrating your Christian faith through the life you have lived and showering us with your unconditional love. We could not have asked for more.

Only a few months ago, I could not have contemplated being sworn in yesterday as a senator for Tasmania. None of us knows what the future holds. Whether my time in this place is long or short, I commit to serving the people of Tasmania to the best of my ability and to representing their views and aspirations in this place. I thank the Senate.