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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 433

Mr COATES (Denison) - It is with a great deal of pleasure that 1 rise for the first time to speak in the Address-in-Reply debate on the Governor-General's Speech. I would like to take this opportunity to wish the former member for Denison, Dr Bob Solomon, good luck in his new career and to say to each honourable member opposite who may have been his friend that I am sorry to have caused his departure from your midst. However, I can assure those honourable members that I am not sorry to have won the seat of Denison for the Australian Labor Party.

I understand that I am the youngest member of the current Parliament, though, of course, by no means the youngest member ever. I imagine that the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) is probably glad to have the title taken from him. I do not underestimate the responsibility I have been given by the electors of Denison. Tasmania certainly gave all of us who represent the electorates in that State an overwhelming endorsement. I hope that neither I nor my Party gives them reason to be disappointed or to feel that their confidence in us was unwarranted.

It was certainly very satisfying to have won Denison for the Australian Labor Party so decisively and, by that, to have played a part in enabling this Government to come into office, and so to allow the reforms to commence. We lost Denison in 1949 when we lost government; we have now regained it as we return to office. If this is significant, I do not mind having my personal political fortunes linked to those of the Party as a whole, because this Government, by its actions and achievements, is going to remain in office for a long time. There was a lot of personal satisfaction involved in winning the election after all the sacrifices which my wife and family cheerfully put up with during the campaign. And it meant that all those faithful people, young and old, who worked so hard to help, had their reward. It was their victory and the Party's victory. It was immensely gratifying to see the pleasure it gave to so many staunch supporters of the Australian Labor Party - those who are young and were able to see a dynamic, progressive government come into power - a government which was obviously prepared to represent their hopes and aspirations and which was to be attuned to the direction they wanted this nation to go.

But perhaps even more so was 1 glad for the older supporters of Labor who had waited so long for this victory. These people had suffered the frustration of opposition just as much as Labor members of this House and it was very moving to have so many such people ring me up, choked with emotion, to express their pleasure at the victory. For many of them, it was the first time they had ever voted for a winning candidate. However, the election has been run and won and the affairs of this nation are now being handled with a zeal and purpose never before seen.

The initiatives already taken in the fields of education, housing and social security alone are the beginning, to use the GovernorGeneral's own words, of a program designed to achieve basic changes in the administration and structure of Australian society. Perhaps I could give the House some examples. The Schools Commission and the Pre-Schools Commission have already been set up. Extra finance has been provided to universities and colleges of advanced education so that needy students can continue their courses pending the abolition of tertiary education fees next year. Promised social security and repatriation pension increases backdated to early December will soon be paid. Inquiries have been set up into national superannuation, national compensation and other welfare matters so that a thorough review of these areas can be made. Grants to the States have been made for the building of more houses for rental. The list goes on and on.

An amazingly large number of Australians are genuinely surprised to find that it is possible to have a government which keeps its promises. The reaction to this realisation has been a surge of pride and nationalism and a revitalisation of people's belief in democracy, Parliament and politics as means by which reforms can be achieved. Even the most cynical and apathetic in our community have been impressed. And there are a few for whom I feel rather sorry, who are - or feign to be - appalled and frightened that changes have in fact been made and that more are to come. These are the people who still believe the ranting and raving of the Opposition about socialism, about peace and about having a democratically based party in power. Honourable members opposite keep on pushing the idea that these are dirty words. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), in his usual lovable way, did so today.

I think I should warn the members of the Opposition that, if they are not careful, their actions and words in this regard will only backfire on them and, because of the progress made by the Government reinforce the views of those who believe in justice and equity, and convince many of those who have been led to believe they should be opposed to the word socialism that, in fact, it is in the best interests of the nation - because this is what we are about - the establishment of a fair society. We are a socialist party and we should not be ashamed to say so. I think that the Party is itself partly to blame for the past success of the Liberal Party, so called, and the Australian Country Party, and others whom I will not name, in their blackening of the word 'socialism'. We have, to a certain extent, ignored the misrepresentations instead of reacting positively and explaning to the people what a modern democratic socialist thinks, and how our policies fit in wilh that.

The Opposition makes much of the democratic structure of the Labor Party and this has been particularly so in the last few days. However, our system is perfectly justifiable and in fact gives desirable safeguards to the public, because the electors are fully aware of the basic platform of the Party within the framework of which we work. The platform is a public document, resulting from debate at open conferences which are representative of the tens of thousands of Australians who make up the Australian Labor Party, and which anyone who subscribes to the Party's principles can join, and join in that decision-making process. The public knows that the policy they voted for when they supported Labor candidates cannot be changed at the drop of a hat by a handful of people, unlike the policies of the Parties opposite when they are in government.

The other word that, to its everlasting disgrace, the present Opposition has tried to make out to be a dirty word is 'peace'. It still makes me sick to think of how the Opposition, when in government, got this nation involved in the Indo-China war. Vietnam is a blot on this country for which we can never fully atone - neither for the 500 young Australians who needlessly lost their lives and the thousands of others who had their lives interrupted and their minds damaged by what went on there, nor for the millions of Vietnamese in whose country Australia interfered and aided and abetted the United States of America to interfere. I am certain that the previous Government's so-called 'moral' support for the war helped to prolong it. If, instead, it had exercised some truly moral influence on the United States, there might have been a chance that much of the waste of lives would not have occurred.

Mr Speaker,1 am an environmentalist. 1 believe in conservation of our national heritage. Being from Tasmania where there are so many natural assets worth preserving, 1 am perhaps more aware than most of the need for conservation. And there are major pollution problems all over Australia. But I believe the greatest pollution has occurred in Vietnam, helped along by the previous Government. In Vietnam there has been an incredible tonnage of bombs dropped, causing massive destruction of the Vietnamese environment and causing untold pollution, as well as the appalling destruction of lives. What is just as bad is the pollution in Vietnam which has yet to have its violent effect. I am referring to the millions of tiny, nasty, anti-personnel weapons which have been scattered in Vietnam, with the details of which most honourable members are familiar. These insidious weapons are lying undetectable in the jungle, waiting for some unsuspecting Vietnamese, perhaps as yet unborn, to tread on or activate by passing nearby. And this will still be able to happen, even a decade from now. Surely this is the ultimate in pollution. This is part of the legacy that has been left behind after the war has finished and for which those sitting opposite must bear part of the responsibility and blame.

Thank goodness we now have a Government which has 'peace' as its objective and which believes in having peaceful relationships with other nations. We now have a

Government which has a balanced foreign policy and which believes that our defence forces should be made up of volunteers. The ending of conscription is one of the major results of the election by which Australia has gained in self respect and in international respect.

I now want to refer to Tasmania and my electorate of Denison. Denison takes in most of the western shore of Hobart, including the central city area, the near city suburbs, Sandy Bay to Blackman's Bay to the south, and New Town, Moonah and Glenorchy to the north. Those who are familiar with Hobart will know that Denison thus takes in a complete range of suburbs.

Hobart, as the capital of Tasmania, shares the whole State's special problems due to size and geographical isolation. The major problem relates to transport, both passenger and freight, and the shipping costs involved which affect the whole State's economy. Because of our small population we have less flexibility in withstanding the cost of freight on goods being moved in and out of the State. I believe that this Government has a responsibility to ensure that Tasmania is not at a disadvantage compared to other parts of Australia in the matter of transport costs. We are an island which means we have an almost complete reliance on shipping. We should not be penalised for that. The Commonwealth has the constitutional power, through the Interstate Commission, to ensure that this disadvantage is reduced. I am pleased that the Commission is to be revived. It is unlikely that rt will completely solve all of Tasmania's problems but it is my hope that the Interstate Commission will go a long way towards improving the situation.

Another related matter which I will be pushing for is the removal of the shackles which have bound the Australian National Line in the past, so that the ANL does not have to have the irreconcilable dual role of making a profit and of providing its essential service at reasonable rates to areas which need it. The previous Government grossly neglected Tasmania. The percentage of Commonwealth departmental spending in Tasmania was minute compared to what it should have been on a population basis. This situation must be improved by our new Government. We have a duty to do so, and I have a duty to do all I can to ensure that the Government does increase its spending in Tasmania, for employ ment reasons and for the economy in general. It is neither necessary nor desirable for Commonwealth activities to be centred in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne. Decentralised location of Commonwealth departments and parts of departments is in the national interest and in the interests of the development of specific cities and regions. Hobart is the suitable location for several government industries and I have already taken up with some of the Ministers involved some suggestions for certain sections of Commonwealth departments.

This Parliament has a great challenge before it to improve Australian society and its quality of life. This will be a momentous Parliament. We have a duty to implement all the policies for which we have a mandate. It is a great honour to be a part of the Government Party which has this mandate and to be a member of this Parliament. I support the AddressinReply.

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