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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 2381

Mr BARTLETT(10.33 a.m.) —Many times over the years I have sat in these galleries and watched with fascination the proceedings of this House but, until quite recently, not ever really thinking that I would stand here.   To have the opportunity of representing my community in the parliament of this country is a rare privilege and one for which I am very grateful.

Over the past few weeks some 38 new members have risen to deliver their maiden speeches. I would like to begin by acknowledging the quality of so many of these members on both sides of the House. In their first offerings, many have enthusiastically sung the praises of their own electorates—a perfectly understandable sentiment—but, with respect, I say to the honourable members that until you visit Macquarie you have not seen anything!

For the uninitiated, a brief geography lesson. Macquarie covers about 4,000 square kilometres extending north-south in a band about an hour's drive west of Sydney. It covers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country: the rugged and spectacular Blue Mountains, including the Three Sisters, the Jamison and Megalong Valleys and the untouched Wollemi, Kanangra-Boyd and Blue Mountains national parks—some of which I soon hope to see achieve world heritage listing. It includes the mighty and majestic Hawkesbury River with its fertile flood plains, and it includes the tranquil beauty of the Kurrajong Hills and the spectacular Grose Valley and Colo River.

Not only is Macquarie abundantly endowed with physical beauty, not only is it a unique tourist attraction, but also it is an area steeped in history. The region was settled initially by several indigenous tribes, particularly the Gundungurra and other Dharug speakers. More recently, European history in the region dates back almost to the First Fleet.

The Hawkesbury was settled from 1794, and the towns of Richmond, Wilberforce, Windsor, Pitt Town and Castlereagh were selected in 1810 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. In the Blue Mountains, the trail-blazing exploits in 1813 by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth across the Blue Mountains have left their mark on the string of settlements which basically follow the route trod by those early pioneers. I would like to focus briefly on three of the most significant political figures associated with the area I represent because I feel that each of them has something to teach us.

The first is Governor Lachlan Macquarie—obviously from a time well before the seat was created but the one from whom it derives its name. Macquarie, whose epitaph calls him the `Father of Australia', was a man of vision, determined to push the frontiers and extend our horizons. His establishment of new towns, his commissioning of the crossing of the Blue Mountains and his encouragement of early exploration all mark him as someone who was not willing to accept the status quo. But he was also a pragmatist. His energetic program of public works and development of infrastructure, his concerns to tackle Sydney's water pollution problems and his determination to use the Hawkesbury Valley to supply Sydney's agricultural needs all show his practical and down-to-earth approach to government.

Macquarie was also a humanitarian. His establishment of public schools, his attempts to lift the moral standards of society in order to protect family life, his attempts at humanitarian reconciliation with the indigenous people and his well-known program of emancipation all point to a man committed to social justice. In fact, his obituary in the gazette of the time said of him rather succinctly: `To serve mankind was his delight.' A challenge for any of us in public life.

The second key figure whose link with the electorate is perhaps not so well known is Sir Henry Parkes. Parkes, the `Father of Federation', at times lived in the Blue Mountains and, in fact, lies buried there in a grave at Faulconbridge—a town named after his mother's family name. In fact, earlier this year we commemorated at Faulconbridge the centenary of his death.

The message from Sir Henry Parkes is, to use his own words, `The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all.' In his battle to bring together six separate struggling colonies into one great nation, Parkes concentrated on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us. He was driven by the vision of nationhood that can be achieved only when we allow our differences to be swallowed up in the things that we share. The challenge here for us is to put aside our differences of background, race, religion and ideology, and focus on our common aspirations and the good of those we represent.

The third great figure of history associated with the electorate of Macquarie is the former Prime Minister Ben Chifley who held the seat from 1928 to 1931 and then from 1940 until his death in 1951. What Ben Chifley brought to Australia was a determination to rebuild the country after the devastation of war. It involved a commitment to providing a reasonable standard of living for all. In his view, this required sound economic management and the eradication of unemployment. He rightly saw employment not only as a necessary ingredient for economic wellbeing but also as a vital component in an individual's self-respect. These issues, I believe, are still paramount if we are to achieve economic and social justice in this country.

I would like to turn briefly to more recent history, as recent in fact as 2 March this year. Like so many of the new members, I stand in this parliament because of the events on that day or, more accurately, because of a string of forces leading up to and culminating at the ballot box on 2 March. In my electorate of Macquarie over 4,600 voters changed their minds since the previous election. The obvious questions are: who and why? If I knew who, I would shake each of their hands individually.

They are questions, however, worth pursuing, not for the sake of raking over the coals or rubbing in the salt, as tempting as that might be, but because it enables us to focus better on the needs of those we serve. It is possible that those voters included some of the 3,500 registered unemployed in the electorate, many of whom had been out of work for over a year or the thousands more hidden unemployed, people tired of endless training programs, job queues and frustrated hopes. It probably included some of the hundreds of low income earners I met during the campaign who felt cheated by the fact that they worked 40 or 50 hours a week and, after doing so, were no better off than others they knew on welfare. It possibly included some of the 13,500 home buyers in the electorate worried about the mortgages hanging over their heads and battling the effects of the previous government's high interest rate policy.

Perhaps it included some of the 3,000 defence personnel at RAAF Base Richmond who were disillusioned and demoralised at the ongoing battering and neglect of Australia's defence forces, or some of the hundreds of independent retirees throughout the electorate incensed at the discrimination they feel at being penalised rather than rewarded for having saved for their own retirement.

Perhaps it included many of the frail aged and their families despairing at the severe shortage of nursing home beds in the electorate, a mere 877, with virtually every nursing home having an enormous unmet waiting list. It probably included most of the 4,000-odd small businesses in the electorate sick of being slugged every time they turn around, fed up with the endless pile of paperwork, red tape, taxes and the ultimate humiliation of Labor's ridiculous unfair dismissal laws—and then being told, `This is as good as it gets.'

It probably included many friends of the environment appalled at the degradation of the Blue Mountains streams and the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system, and wanting to see action. I daresay it included ordinary men and women from all sections of the community concerned at the direction of the country, sick of paying rising taxes to see no real benefit, sick of playing second fiddle to sectional interests, alarmed at the decline of our health system, confused over what seemed to be anti-family policies and anxious about the growing legacy of debt left to our children. There are no doubt many other reasons as well.

The fact that over 4,500 Macquarie voters changed is the reason I am here today and the fact that over half a million voters nationwide did the same thing is the reason I stand on this side of the House with so many fine colleagues. Yet this places an enormous responsibility on the government and brings with it some great challenges.

The first challenge is the need to restore responsible economic management. The head-in-the-sand approach of the previous government, graduates from the ostrich school of economics, has been a disaster that has left us with a net foreign debt which increased from $23 billion to $180 billion in the last 13 years and total net foreign liabilities of $270 billion, involving the sale of many of our national icons; a current account deficit dangerously close to six per cent of GDP; and Commonwealth public sector debt which has blown out from $32 billion to $97 billion in the last five years—up from 10 per cent of GDP to 20 per cent of GDP in that time.

Real interest rates are amongst the highest in the industrialised world and unemployment is stuck at around 8.5 per cent of GDP, with youth unemployment at a tragic 27 per cent. Possibly there are up to another million hidden unemployed or underemployed who have either given up looking for work or have settled for part-time work. We have a GDP per capita which has fallen from 10th in the world in 1983 to 22nd now, with increasing inequality in income distribution and increasing levels of poverty in this country.

Tackling these issues demands enormous vision and commitment. Amongst other things it requires policies to lift the level of national savings. In addition to correcting the public sector savings problems it also means raising the household savings ratio, which has fallen from seven per cent of GDP to less than one per cent in the last decade. It requires an honest review of our taxation system and an overhaul of the industrial relations system, with a view to providing real labour market flexibility and enhancing productivity, results which I am sure will flow from our recently tabled workplace relations bill. It requires a determination to hasten the pace of micro-economic reform, raise productivity and lift our international competitiveness from its appalling 21st place in the world. It requires policies designed to promote incentives in this country—incentive to work, incentive to invest, incentive to save, incentive to innovate, incentive to take risks and incentives to be independent. We must reward those who are willing to have a go.

The second challenge is to restore the fundamental place of the family in our community. Strong family units are central to a healthy society—central in providing a secure upbringing for our children and a sense of worth for our emerging young people, central in fostering patterns of care, love and respect in human relationships, central in providing a place of help and strength in an often hostile world, central in providing a real welfare net in times of material hardship.

Sadly, families are under increasing pressure—pressure from policies which have often assisted sectional interests and ignored their impact on the family; financial pressures in the form of increased taxes, higher interest rates and unemployment have often been the last straw for struggling families; pressure from the media, which has glorified lifestyles which are destructive to the family unit; and pressures from a range of philosophies which undermine the intrinsic worth of the individual. To counter some of these forces is nigh on impossible, but to start where we can is absolutely crucial.

The third challenge for us is to restore public confidence in the political processes of this country. Over the past few years, the public have understandably become increasingly cynical, witnesses to a degeneration of many of the conventions and practices of government; to declining standards of parliamentary behaviour; to governments which have come to treat the truth as a disposable commodity, trotted out when politically convenient and discarded just as easily; to governments which have treated parliament with contempt; and to governments of arrogance out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary Australians. I believe that we have an enormous responsibility to restore the trust and confidence of the Australian people.

The fourth challenge for us is to restore balance. For too long we have seen policy decisions driven by ideological excess or acquiescence to powerful interest groups. We need to restore balance between idealism and pragmatism—to be driven by our ideals but to understand that they must work in the real world—balance between equity and efficiency so that we seek a fair distribution of income but not in a way that reduces incentive and productivity and ultimately lowers the living standards of all; balance between dependence and independence so that our welfare net provides genuine security for those who need it but does not discourage the struggle for self-sufficiency; balance between individualism and community so that our collective commitments flow from individual freedom, not from regulation or coercion; balance between rights and responsibilities so that what we expect from society is more than matched by what we desire to contribute.

I am proud to be part of a government which, I am sure, will rise to these challenges, a government which will earnestly tackle our economic problems, a government which will protect and strengthen the family unit, a government which will restore public trust in our political system, and a government which will help restore balance in the thrust of government policy.

Mr Deputy Speaker, without the help of very many special people, it would not be possible for me to stand here today. I wish to publicly acknowledge and thank all of those who have helped. I begin by thanking those who have made the long trip down here to support me today, including many friends, supporters and family. I particularly acknowledge the mayor of the Blue Mountains,

Michael Neall, and his wife, Pauline; the deputy mayor of the Hawkesbury council, Les Sheather; the general manager of Hawkesbury council; and several other councillors from Hawkesbury council. Thank you all—friends, supporters and family—for making this trip today.

In all, during the campaign, around 600 helpers contributed to our success. Honourable members will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to mention each one by name. However, please allow me to mention some. I thank, first, the campaign team and other key helpers: Jim Aitken, Jennifer Scott, Chris Vander Kley, Jim Patterson, Randall Walker, Troy Craig, Sean Fannin, Janette Lennox, Quentin Cook, Mike Kouriloff, Bob Stagg, Mal McEwen, Judy McDougall, Wal Howard, Fred Thompson, Daniel Miles, Matthew Barnes, Rebecca Mason, Brendan Cooper, Peta Demery, Mark Connell, Nils Kenny and Peter Bardos. A particular thank you to Betty Smith, who put in so much time for so long before the election. Secondly, thank you to several sitting members: Alan Cadman, Andrew Thomson, Senator Bob Woods and the New South Wales state member Peter Debnam. My thanks also go to a number of shadow ministers who visited the electorate before the election.

Thirdly, I want to thank my brother and his family and the many friends who gave tremendous encouragement along the way and, in some cases, assisted in spite of their political leanings. I particularly want to thank my wife, Christine, and our family, Kate, Erin and Tim, for their tremendous patience during a long campaign. Christine's tremendous support and encouragement as well as long summer days spent doorknocking with me were invaluable. I would also like to place on record my gratitude to my parents, long since deceased, who, in spite of having so little, gave so much, who raised us in a secure and loving environment, who gave us every encouragement to achieve to the best of our ability, and who taught by example that people are more important than possessions and that giving is indeed more important than receiving.

Lastly, I want to publicly thank God for the opportunity of serving in this place and for the ultimate direction and meaning I believe He gives to our endeavours. None of us knows how long we will be here, but for the time afforded me my pledge is simply this: to represent with energy and determination the people of my electorate of Macquarie and to contribute in whatever way I can to the delivery of sound government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —Before I call the honourable member for Blaxland, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.