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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1515

Senator TILLEM (Victoria) (17:32): Thank you, Mr President. As I was making my way to the chamber last week—the bells were ringing, the lights were flashing and my pager was going off—I was asked by Senators Sterle and Gallacher why I always smile. I smile because it gives me great joy to be in this place representing the great state of Victoria. It is an honour and a privilege.

Representing Victoria is truly one of the highest honours I could aspire to. I love Victoria. I would like to take a moment to tell senators some of things I love about it. I love the smell of coffee as I walk through the Melbourne laneways in the morning and the pulse of excitement as the fans walk down Yarra Park to the MCG to watch my beloved Tigers play the greatest game in the world, AFL. I love driving down the many avenues of honour, with Bacchus Marsh being a particular favourite; the hustle and bustle of the Queen Victoria Market on a Saturday morning; the golden beaches stretching along the south coast, and the Great Ocean Road; and a pasta dish on Lygon St, fish and chips in Lorne or a noodle soup in Victoria Street.

But what really makes Victoria great are Victorians. When the crowd chants, 'We love you 'cause you’re a Victorian!' at the Boxing Day test match, I know what they mean.

I am here replacing Senator David Feeney, whom I congratulate for his six years of service in this place. Senator Feeney resigned to run for the seat of Batman, which he won. I congratulate him on that victory and on his election to the opposition front bench. I wish him well for the future.

The decisions we take in this place have a profound effect on the lives of our fellow Australians. One of the main reasons I am here is a government policy. The policy I refer to was that of the Fraser government. In 1976, the Liberal Party 'acted humanely' on asylum seekers and illegal immigrants; that was a quote from the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Hon. Michael MacKellar. It was that humane act of a Liberal government that allowed an illegal immigrant at the time to become a citizen and to bring his wife and child to make a life, a better life, for his family. That illegal immigrant is my father, Ramazan Tillem.

My father left the home which he built as a young man. The house was made of rocks carried from the banks of a nearby riverbed. The mortar was straw and mud. The walls were whitewashed with lime scraped from caves in the nearby mountains. He left his wife and newborn son in search of a better life. He found that life in Australia. His story is the same as many thousands that have made Australia home. He told me recently that one of the first words he learnt when he came to this country was 'job'. He came here for a job and that is what he found. He walked up onto the factory floor and said, 'Job,' and he got one. My, what different times they were! He began at Toyota and then did a short stint at Dunlop. Ford was looking for hardworking men, so he helped them out for a little bit. But he finally found his home at Holden, where he worked for most of his life.

On this journey with my dad was Fatma, my mum. Having arrived in an unfamiliar place and speaking not a word of English she too sought out work. She worked on an assembly line at a biscuit factory; she made shoes at a small factory in Collingwood; she made electronic components at a company called Wilco; she sewed clothes for the ADF; and finally did some outwork from home.

The term 'sweat equity' was coined for my parents and thousands of parents like them. Their hard work meant that we could move out of high-rise public housing, on the 16th floor in Richmond. Borrowing $36,000 in 1981, and earning $170 a week, they bought what was to be our family home in Glenroy, where my brother, my sister and I grew up. Having left their families in search of a better life, they found that better life in Australia, where they could provide for their new family, where their kids could get an education and where recently, when they needed to, they could get health care in their advancing years. And now I get to thank them as a senator in the Australian parliament: thank you mum and dad.

There have been many influences in my life that have led me here. We are all products of our cultures, our families, our friends, the people we come across, the struggles we have, the battles we fight, our successes and our failures. Every person adds a little bit to who we become. I firstly acknowledge my wife, whose greatest gift to me is the little man who is sitting next to her. She is a wonderful mother to our son and words of thanks can never be enough. My little sister, Derya, is also here, and her greatest contribution to my career has been to tell me to get a real job. My brother, Zafer, and my sister-in-law Tulin cannot be here today, because they are now the proud parents of their first child, my niece, Aylin Tillem, who came into this world on Sunday. I congratulate them and wish them all the best.

The Senate knows, I am sure, that I am the first person of Turkish origin and the second Muslim to serve in this parliament. In 1967 Australia signed an immigration treaty with Turkey, and today there are about 150,000 people of Turkish descent in Australia. Turkish Australians are very grateful for the opportunities this country has given them, for the freedom and the prosperity they have found here. Overwhelmingly, they have taken up Australian citizenship.

I am a proud product of the Victorian state education system. I went to Glenroy Primary School, University High School and RMIT. This upbringing, with a public school education and a hardworking family, instilled in me values that stay with me and will continue to do so—and one of them is the importance of community. I believe in strong community life. Although the world is growing ever smaller, many people are increasingly isolated from their communities. I hope in this place we can do something to change that.

In the Australian Turkish community, I was raised to believe in kindness, in charity and in faith. My faith, which I inherited from my parents, has guided me throughout my life. But I have learnt throughout my whole life that religious discrimination is not an answer; it is the problem. If I disagree with anyone in this chamber and in this place, it will be because of your political views and your poor argument.

Turkey and Australia have a longstanding relationship that was forged across battlelines. We stand as two nations that have grown from a beginning as enemies, when lots of lives were lost. In 1915 the Anzacs landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, or Gelibolu Yaramadasi, as the Turks call it. For eight months, Australians and Turks fought each other. There was grave loss of life, but from that loss came a bond and a friendship that has endured for 100 years. Every year thousands of Australians—and young Australians—venture to Gallipoli to see the places where their great-grandfathers fought, and the Turkish government welcomes them with open arms. They see the mass graves where more than 60,000 Turkish soldiers died and are buried, and the places where more than 8,700 Australians are buried. They also see the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the front-line commander at the time of Gallipoli. I am sure you have heard these words, but I will repeat them:

… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Today Turkey is a nation of 75 million people, and an increasingly prosperous and important regional power, forming as it does a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The bond of shared sacrifice on the shores of Gallipoli is a valuable one, and honourable Senators Ronaldson and Farrell will have an important role to play in fostering a stronger diplomatic and economic relationship leading up to the 100th anniversary of the Anzacs. Australian exports to Turkey in 2011 were worth well over $600 million. We run a healthy trade surplus with Turkey, but investment and trade could be a lot more.

When I was sworn in a little while ago, I was struck by the fact that none of the four senators sworn in that day was from a traditional Anglo-Australian background. I was born in Turkey, Senator Seselja is the son of Croatian immigrants, Senator Peris is the first Indigenous woman to become a member of this parliament, and the junior senator on my left, Senator Dastyari, was born in Iran. We join a Senate which is increasingly multicultural—that is, a Senate which reflects a vibrant Australia. On this side, we have Senator Wong, who was born in Malaysia, while Senator Singh is of Fijian-Indian background. On the other side, Senator Abetz is German, and Senator Cormann is from Belgium. Senator Fierravanti-Wells is of Italian background, and Senator Sinodinos, a neighbour of mine, is from Greece. We have Senators Di Natale and Xenophon continuing the Mediterranean theme, and even Senator Bernardi has his origins in other parts. Yet we are all Australians, sharing common Australian values, sharing common civic responsibilities and all working for the benefit of our common homeland. That is one of the things that gives me faith in the future of this country.

I strongly believe that the best is yet to come for Australia, but if we are to achieve that we need a government that will be committed to the values that have brought us this far. I hope the current government is committed to those values, but they will be judged by their actions.

I joined the Labor Party 20 years ago, inspired by the leadership of Hawke and Keating. My values are Labor values: fairness, equality, solidarity, and an economy and a parliament that serve the people.

Victoria is Australia's manufacturing heartland. I will be an advocate in this Senate for Victorian jobs and—my speech was going to say we would be negligent if we let companies like Holden fall; so I guess we are negligent. Many thousands of people would be affected by the failure and collapse of manufacturing, and my home state of Victoria would be affected, I think, worst of all.

We have a shared a common responsibility to look after the citizens of this country and we cannot do that selectively. A job gives every Australian immense self-worth and dignity. I will fight for the rights of all Australians: to be able to work, to give our kids the opportunity for an education just like I got, to get health care and to look after those that need our help. These are Labor values and, I believe, the values of most Australians.

That is why I was proud to stand as a candidate in September for a party which had saved Australia from recession during the global financial crisis, which had built new school buildings across the country, which was rolling out the National Broadband Network, which had legislated for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and which was tackling climate change. But as a party we need to do some questioning about what went wrong, what happened. Despite the great legislative record we can point to, we lost that election.

I believe Labor has made a great start in regaining the confidence of the electorate. Opening up the election of our new federal parliamentary leader to the rank-and-file members of the party was a great innovation, and party members were lucky that we had two excellent candidates from which to choose. But we need to do a lot more to reform our party, to make it once again what it always should be: the natural voice for the great majority of Australians who want moderate, sensible, stable and progressive government; a government which works for the benefit of lower- and middle-income families; a government which plays an active role in the economy and in building national infrastructure; and a government which enhances the rights and freedoms of Australians.

I am a product of the rank and file of the ALP—from the grassroots, from the membership. I am proud of the role that I have played in the institution. The time for real reform within the ALP is overdue. We made great strides in electing our leader with real input from the ALP membership, and now it is time for state branches to do the same. Since the election, ALP membership across Australia has surged. If we are to retain those members and attract more, we have to give our members a real say in the way the party is run and the way it chooses its candidates. We need to rethink our relationship with stakeholders. I congratulate groups like Local Labor and Open Labor on the work they have done on this front. We have too often taken away the rights of members, and the membership are demanding we give it back to them. I will be a champion of this cause. I will make the argument at branch meetings. I will make the argument at our conferences. I will make the argument in every forum that I can.

There are many policy issues that I would like to talk about, but in the time available to me today I will limit them to two. The first is an important one, housing affordability, and where I come from, in Melbourne's north, it is a real problem. It is the dream of most Australians not to buy a house but to buy a home. The reality of homeownership in this country is that it is increasingly out of reach for most people. There are many reasons for that, but one important reason is negative gearing. The tax system currently provides incentives for investors to buy up residential properties and use them to reduce their tax bill. Not only does this divert investment from more productive purposes; it also drives up the price of housing, making it much more difficult for young families to buy their own homes. Negative gearing creates a transfer of wealth from low-income renters and homebuyers to high-income investors. This is not the way to encourage homeownership for low- and middle-income families, an objective which I believe is shared by both sides of the chamber. I believe it is time to once again have a debate about the effect of negative gearing on housing affordability in our cities.

The second issue I want to touch briefly on is organ donation. Despite the best efforts of successive governments in this country, Australia still has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the developed world. For a country that leads in lots of areas, we are lagging behind in this one. We are lagging behind countries like Spain, Croatia and Belgium, and it is because of the system we have. Organ donation, what we can do after we have passed away, is something that we can hang our hats on as a legacy to those that come after us. We have an opt-in system, which means that a person must agree in advance that, in the event of their death, their organs can be used for transplantation. In other countries where they have an opt-out system, under which a deceased person's organs may be used unless they have previously refused permission, they are getting great results and huge numbers. We need to look at what we can do in this country to move to such a system. We could save many lives, young and old. There was recently the story of the young girl in Queensland who helped save a life, and she is a shining light to all of us, one we should follow. I will be using my time in the Senate to advocate for an opt-out system in Australia.

Before I finish, there are some people I want to thank for their efforts in making it possible for me to be here today. I will begin with a couple of Stephens. There is Senator Conroy, whom I know I will be friends with for a very long time, because I know too much. And there is my longest friend in politics, Stephen Newnham, who when we first met provided me with direction and support. From the other place there is Richard Marles, who provides me some balance and a positive view on things when I think the glass is half empty. There are my state parliamentary colleagues John Hamdi Eren, who has always been there when I needed support, and Telmo Languiller—'Hold your nerve,' he told me, and I did. Thanks, Telmo.

I would like to make special mention of Wayne Mader, the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Transport Workers Union, without whose support I would not be here. A more genuine person I will not meet. I am also grateful for the support I received from Tim Kennedy, Michael Donovan, Kevin Bracken and Joan Doyle during my preselection. My thanks to Noah Carroll, the State Secretary of the Victorian branch of the ALP, and a friend, for the great work he is doing in Victoria. My thanks to Cesar Piperno, who has always been there in support of our work on a local level, and to Steve Le for his insights into the world of sport.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to Ella George and Samuel Thomas Rae for their hard work over the years and for putting up with me. And I am grateful for the local support I receive from councillors Oscar Yildiz and Michael Teti, and for the steady hand of Ali Ouaida and the whole Ouaida family locally.

I would like to make special mention of the Turkish community, where I come from, and in particular the Denizli community, which is the homeland of my parents, and their president, Mr Sadik Sozer, who cannot be here with us today because last week we lost a much-loved member of our community in a tragic and brutal act of violence. My thoughts are with the family of Mr Omer Ali Aysel.

Before I forget, I will thank my staff, who I know I have been riding pretty hard recently: Hashem, Alfred, Ridvan, Susan—and I know I am going to forget someone, so I do apologise. But I am not going to forget Bridget—thank you for reminding me, Sam—because today is Bridget's birthday, and I wish her a happy one.

While I am in the Senate, I will be working every day to repay their faith, to argue the case for Labor and to represent the voices of Victorians.

I would like to finish off by talking about someone who I have not spoken about so far. At this point I want to talk about my son, Mikail, who asked me if he could stand up when I talked about him, and he duly has. When I got appointed to the Senate I was driving him to school one day, having explained to him what the Senate does, and he asked me if I had 'made any laws yet, Dad?' I said no, I had not. He went, 'Well, what're you going to do?' I said, 'Well, do you have any suggestions?' Thoughtfully, he put his hand to his cheek and said: 'You know what, Dad? You should make a law where you make more schools, because not all the kids can fit on the mat.' And for that policy suggestion I thank him. Son, I am proud of you every single day.

Thank you, Mr President.