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Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Page: 9472


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (22:10): Earlier today I was fortunate to meet with His Excellency Mr Yuval Rotem, Ambassador of the State of Israel to Australia. The ambassador was proud to talk of his nation's transition to a position of world leader in innovation and technology, declaring that Apple are opening a technology park in Israel, their first outside of the United States. Similarly, my electorate of Bennelong incorporates Macquarie Park, known as the innovation capital of Australia, housing global giants in pharmaceuticals and technology. As we compared notes of our two countries' development, the ambassador regaled me with the story of how the Jewish homeland very nearly located in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. With the Jewish people being persecuted in Europe and searching for a safe haven, the barren north-west corner of Australia presented many opportunities for both parties, yet the idea was cut short by the outbreak of World War II.

It is a matter of history that over the next few years great atrocities were committed against the Jewish people, leading the United Nations to partition Palestine. In 1948, after much bloodshed, the state of Israel was born. There were two great obstacles for this young nation to overcome: the influx of refugees and the challenge of the desert. In response, Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, famously wrote that 'for those who make the desert bloom there is room for hundreds, thousands and even millions'. Devoid of the riches that oil provides for their neighbours, the people of Israel set about their task of building a nation. Their components were hard work, determination, imagination, innovation and applied intelligence. As more refugees arrived from other parts of the world, the values of communication and teamwork were harnessed.

We can only wonder how different things might have been if, back in 1939, the door to the Kimberleys was opened to these people. In today's Australia we have debates about asylum seekers, our capacity to take refugees, opportunities to water vast regions of Australia to feed the world, and infrastructure projects that will promote growth to unimaginable levels.

What can we learn from Israel's experience? Ben-Gurion's mantra led to communities being built throughout the desert, with transport, energy and water infrastructure linking people, towns and cities, creating jobs and boosting the economy. The human resources were found in the influx of refugees fleeing persecution with a determination to invest their blood, sweat and tears into the new home that had embraced them. In the current context, our migration debate has become mired in policy failure. It is essential that the full suite of the Howard-era policies be implemented to stop the loss of life and allow us to initiate a broader productive conversation on building our nation. That conversation must include a way to make our own desert bloom, to take the pressure off our major cities and promote regions as world-class destinations for businesses and families.

High-speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne could allow a town like Goulburn, Yass or Shepparton to become a modern day Beersheba. Access to reliable water and energy infrastructure will assist those desert regions that we consider uninhabitable to flourish. And perhaps, just like we did with the Snowy hydro scheme 60 years ago, the crucial human capital to build these projects can come through properly processed humanitarian entrants who possess the skills and the determination to invest into their new home.

The alternative is our current reality. Our major cities are overcrowded. Sydney has the second highest property prices in the world, and the Melbourne-to-Sydney flight path is the third busiest worldwide. That patch of red dirt that so easily could have become the Jewish homeland is now mostly inhabited by fly-in fly-out workers who will soon be joined by temporary migrants on 457 visas. There must be a better way. With those same characteristics that our frontier pioneers brought to this nation 200 years ago, it is now our time to realise our full potential to invest in our land and our people and to make our desert bloom.