The full text of Stephen Jones' first speech to Parliament, Tuesday 19 October 2010.
Full speech: To download a PDF of this speech, click here.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (5:48 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, can I start by adding my voice of congratulations to those who have congratulated you in your election to the role of Deputy Speaker.
I start by acknowledging today that I stand today on the land of the Ngunawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I thank their elders past and present.
I have the privilege of representing the people of the Illawarra and Southern Highlands as the third member for Throsby and the 1,076th member of the House of Representatives. I have the honour of succeeding a fine parliamentarian, a great servant of the Labor Party and the labour movement, a friend to many here present, and a great Australian: Jennie George. I also have the honour of succeeding a fine representative of the people of Throsby, Mr Colin Hollis. I pay tribute to their great contributions to the electorate and to the parliament.
I am proud of the region where I grew up, the Illawarra—the place where I first acquired my interest in politics. The Illawarra is the place where I learned that the Australian Labor Party is part of a broad, progressive movement committed to social justice and to equity. Labor is the political party which recognises that the problems which confront each generation cannot be surmounted by individuals working in isolation, however great the individual. Rather, it is through organisation, achieving a collective will, through cooperation and political leadership, that real and lasting change occurs. Never was the country in greater need of this leadership than it is today.
Every significant challenge that we now face as a nation and in my region requires leadership from this parliament, leadership to achieve health reform, achieve education reform and deal with climate change and leadership in improving our productive capacity by upgrading our infrastructure and in managing our water and mineral resources for the benefit of future generations. I am proud to be a member of the Gillard Labor government, because it is a government which is committed to showing leadership and achieving long-term solutions in the national interest. In addition, Prime Minister, you stand as an example to my daughter, who is here in the gallery today. She is only six, but she will grow up knowing that in this country a woman can aspire to be the Prime Minister.
I come to this parliament believing that the values that formed around the dinner table of a large Catholic family, and on the creaking wooden desks towered over by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and later the Christian Brothers, will help me to serve my electorate, my party and my country. I come to this place with the benefit of a good education, which was sometimes free and always valued—valued not just as the means by which I could get ahead but because it helps to bring more light and understanding, and less fear and confusion, to the world in which we live.
I am the lucky husband to Julia, the most intelligent and beautiful woman I am ever likely to meet. I am father to Jessica and Patrick. May my hopes for the world that they will inherit be the cause for which I discharge my duties in this place. I am the proud son of Margaret and Mark, brother to Maree, Luke, Adam and Amanda. The latter two are not with us in the gallery today but they are probably, due to the marvels of modern technology, huddled around a laptop somewhere in the Netherlands, the place they now call their home. My father, Mark, is not here. He passed away on Anzac Day in 1996. I am sad at this because he taught me so much—foremost the hunger to learn and the fact that there was more than one way to be a father, to be a husband and to be a male in modern Australia. He was a man indeed ahead of his time. I am so pleased that my mother, Margaret, who quite literally broke her arm to get here, is able to do so, because I am very proud to say that she was my first and most important role model. In no small part this is because she raised a large family with little money and instilled in each of us a strong set of values and a belief in the importance of conviction and in the importance of having the courage of those convictions and of persistence and hard work; the belief that we are put on this earth for a purpose which is greater than ourselves; the belief that we have an obligation to family, to community and to country.
It is this sense of obligation and purpose that has governed the decisions I have made in pursuing the work that I have done. If I am known by others in this place it would be through my role as the National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, an organisation I worked for for over 16 years and of which I am a proud life member. I have had the great privilege of being a delegate, an organiser, a lawyer and an official of the Community and Public Sector Union. In that time I undertook many hard-fought campaigns against some formidable and well-resourced opponents, many of them who sit in this place. I cannot speak more highly of the men and women who are members of the CPSU. They work in government departments and agencies, in the telecommunications and broadcasting industries. They are as committed to the performance of the public services they deliver as they are to their union. They have stuck by their union when it was not only unfashionable to do so but when in many cases it was a job-jeopardising move. To the hundreds of CPSU men and women who lost their jobs over the last decade for little other reason than that they were a union representative, I honour your commitment, and I will do my bit here to ensure that this country never again recedes into the industrial bigotry which made that possible.
I was involved in many campaigns which demonstrated to me and hopefully others that unions were often the last line of defence when things went really wrong. For over a decade I campaigned for job security and dignity in Telstra and in other telecommunications companies. When a company called OneTel collapsed owing employees and other creditors millions of dollars, I was very proud that I was able to organise the young workers and run a campaign to win full repayment of all of their entitlements. I also had the great honour of spending two years working at the ACTU and had the great privilege to work with men like Bernie Banton and Greg Combet, the former secretary of the ACTU and now Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in a campaign to win justice for the victims of James Hardie asbestos products.
I think unions are an important part of any free society, and in Australia the union movement is probably the only independent body of men and women that has the reach, the resources and the inclination to challenge and question the dictates of power, whether government or corporate. However uncomfortable the result may be for us in this place from time to time, I firmly believe that Australia is a better place because unions exist.
Prior to working as a union official I spent many years as a community worker. It helped me understand that community workers are the glue that holds much of Australia together. I worked as a youth advocate for several years in a disadvantaged region of Campbelltown. I worked for several years with children who had developmental disabilities and later with adults who had suffered spinal cord injury. This was poorly paid but profoundly rewarding work. It gave me an insight into the lives of carers who daily struggle to provide food, shelter, love and some normality to the lives of their children and loved ones—usually at great cost to their own lives and those of the rest of their family. During this period of my life time was always of the essence as I juggled full-time work with part-time study. I was proud that I was able to do that, completing first an arts degree at a great institution which I will be advocating for in this place, the University of Wollongong, and then subsequently a law degree at Macquarie University.
The boundaries of the electorate of Throsby have changed since the previous election. It now more closely resembles the shape of the electorate when it was created in 1984. It stretches from the ocean of the Illawarra far into the inland and the Hume Highway. The electorate of Throsby overlies the traditional lands of the Darawal, the Wadi Wadi and the Gundungurra people. I pay my respects to your elders past and present. I thank the present elders for your friendship and support. I thank you for your custodianship of land and culture.
There is a special place on the road below Robertson in the Southern Highlands of NSW that never fails to move me by its beauty. As you approach Macquarie Pass the careful driver can pull to the side of the road, and from that single vantage point you look east and you can see the suburbs of Albion Park creeping towards the last dairy farms at the foot of Macquarie Pass. You can look past the suburbs of Dapto, Warilla, Windang, Warrawong and Port Kembla, which is home to the largest integrated steel works in the Southern Hemisphere and the deepest harbour on the eastern seaboard. You can see the beautiful Lake Illawarra and the surrounding suburbs that make up the most densely populated parts of the electorate.
If you turn to the west—and you are knocked over by the waft coming from the dairy farm owned by Jim Mauger, a councillor from the Wingecarribee Shire Council—you can see the verdant green fields and pastures which surround the iconic towns of Robertson, Exeter, Moss Vale, Berrima, Bowral, Mittagong and Welby. These were all places of early settlement and are now service centres for the surrounding farms, the mine, the cement works at Moss Vale and, increasingly, the tourist centres. But from where you stand you see the defining feature of the electorate; it is the rugged and beautiful Illawarra Escarpment. It is a segment of the Great Dividing Range. At first it was a source of cedar and then coal. It is the cause of our prodigious rainfall and our summer storms. For eons it has also been the passage through which human beings have travelled in exchange of culture, artefacts and food and it is now a passage to the coast.
The population of Throsby is as diverse as its landscape. It is a united nations of people who left their birthplace with a small suitcase and hearts full of hope that Australia would welcome them and help them make a better life here. One in five people were born elsewhere and they have quite literally built the cities and suburbs of Throsby.
Throsby is one of the best places in Australia to live but it is not yet the best place to work. Unemployment, while decreasing, persistently sits at about 1.5 to two per cent above the national average. Even these figures hide the concentrations of unemployment in certain suburbs and amongst young people, in part due to the massive transformation of Throsby’s industry that occurred throughout the eighties and nineties.
At the time that I left school around 20,000 worked in the steel works. Now, there are fewer than 10,000. It drives home to me the point that our next economic transformation—the restructuring of our economy to deal with global warming and to make industry more sustainable—must draw upon the lessons of the eighties and nineties and on the need to assist the companies and the individuals to make this change.
There are many priorities that I will talk about—aspirations and things that I will work on with my colleague Sharon Bird to advance the interests of the people of the Illawarra and the broader Throsby electorate. There are two projects that I would like to mention briefly. The first is the NBN. It matters because over 67 per cent of small businesses in the electorate of Throsby are home based. The NBN is their pathway to the capital cities of Australia and the markets of the world. There are over 20,000 people who daily make a passage from Illawarra to the suburbs and the inner city of Sydney in the cause of work and livelihood. The NBN is their opportunity to get off those train platforms at five and six o’clock in the morning and spend more time in their communities and their households with their families. There is much more work to be done to rebuild our health and our education infrastructure, but the advances that have been made over the last three years have made a significant difference, and I intend to build on the great work of Jennie George working in partnership with the member for Cunningham in the interests of our people.
In the time that I have left I would like to say a few words about my beliefs. I joined the party of Fisher, Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating and of pioneering women like Jessie Street, Susan Ryan, Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence, all names well known in this place. They are men and women of different times but they are joined together by a common belief that this wonderful country with all its wealth and beauty will only be truly great when the least advantaged of us have the same life opportunities as those who by accident of birth enjoy great privilege.
There have always been critics from the Left and Right who claim that we have drifted from our historic mission. I take the opportunity of my first speech to set out the four convictions that lie at the heart of my belief and of Labor values. They are a continuous thread that ties together the reform objectives of the first Labor government, Chris Watson’s, to the Gillard government of this 43rd Parliament. I stand by each of them.
The first conviction is that we must see the world through the eyes of working men and women. Let me say quite clearly: I do not believe that any party has a monopoly on the vote of Australian working people. A simple reason for this is that most Australians do not define themselves solely by their work or their class. But what I can say with great confidence is that Labor and I will always approach the task we do in this place with the needs and aspirations of working men and women in mind. It has been so since the first band of Labor representatives entered parliament with the objective of legislating to bring about a fairer means of resolving disputes between employers and employees. It informed our resolve to abolish the harsh and unjust Work Choices legislation. It is what drives us to remove inequality between men and women at work and elsewhere. It is what has led us to introduce the nation’s first universal paid parental leave scheme. It is the belief that working men and women, and not just the privileged few, should have access to a decent retirement that led the Labor pioneers to campaign for an age pension. This saw federal Labor, in partnership with the union movement, introduce occupational superannuation. Then, on returning to government in 2007, we increased pensions by over $100 per fortnight. It now falls to this Labor government to return to the unfinished business of ensuring that we can extend compulsory super to 12 per cent of wages. It is our belief that postcode should not be the determinant of destiny—the determinant of access to health and education and to all of life’s other opportunities.
The second conviction is that we need a cohesive and progressive economic vision for our country. I believe that Labor is the party which is committed to building long-term economic capacity. This commitment stems from the knowledge that it creates jobs and improves the quality of life of those we represent.
The third conviction is that Australia must have the confidence to build a nation and the confidence to engage in nation building. One hundred years ago the first Labor government elected in its own right had the courage to plan and imagine a transcontinental railway. Labor remains committed to building more railways in this country, but we also have the courage and conviction to build the railway of this century, the National Broadband Network, and its liberating effect on our economy and our lives.
The fourth and final conviction is the belief that any credible national government must have a credible approach to national security. In early 1942 Labor’s John Curtin spoke those famous words:
Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.
He laid the foundation for a new direction in national security and defence. What emerged over the next decade was the ANZUS alliance. It has been the keystone in our national security architecture ever since.
It is my belief that from Federation to this day it has been Labor in government which has taken the key decisions that have defined our nation’s approach to national security. Whether it was Andrew Fisher when he founded the Australian navy, whether it was the governments of Curtin and Chifley, which managed our nation through its most challenging wartime years, whether it was that great Labor pioneer HV Evatt, who was so instrumental in the formation of the United Nations, its treaties and its institutions, or whether it was Gough Whitlam, who re-established our relationship with China that we now prosper so much from, it has been Labor that has taken the tough decisions in advancing our cause in this region, and we do not retreat from this territory—it is ours.
Some call us an old party. Implicit in this is a criticism. I wear it as a badge of honour and I say with pride that I belong to a party that has a set of values and a tradition that has endured over 100 years of challenge. We were there at the formation of this parliament, through two world wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the global financial crisis of 2008-09. It is true: we are not revolutionaries but reformists. It is true that we come to this place hungry for reform but armed with the burning patience that knows that the perfect must never become the enemy of the good.
Mr Speaker, you have been as patient as I have been indulgent with the time. Can I conclude by thanking a few people. Firstly, I acknowledge the great support that I have had from the former member for Throsby, Jennie George, and the current member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, who I know I will form a long and productive partnership with. I thank the fantastic branch members of the Labor Party, in particular those who have joined us from the Port Kembla branch—Bobby Turner, Ann Martin, and I think I might have seen Tommy Ward there earlier as well. From the Southern Highlands Branch, I thank Jan Merriman, Graham McLaughlin, Phil Yeo, Maurie O’Sullivan, Jo Babb, and from the Warilla and Mount Warrigal branches, Phil Rayner and Jim David. As for our campaign team, I could not have hoped for better: Anthony Keenan, Jane Mulligan and Carol Jordan, who have joined me on my staff, together with Danielle Ribergaard and everyone who did the pre-poll.
I am grateful for the great support from my union—the Community and Public Sector Union. I have seen many members and officials and former officials in the audience. I am so proud to be here today to talk of your cause and your issues, and I will represent your interests to the best of my ability where I can in this place. To the CFMEU Miners Division, Bobby Timbs and Spotty White, who took time from dealing with their own problems to assist me in my campaign, and to the MUA’s Gary ‘Hollywood’ Keane, the AWU’s Andy Gillespie and Wayne Phillips: thank you very much, as well as to all of the other unions on the South Coast who assisted me. On the South Coast it is sometimes hard to separate people who wear a union hat from those who wear another hat, but I thank Narelle Clay, Richard ‘Makie’ Davis, Colin and Melissa Markham and many, many others.
I have already mentioned my mum, my wife and my family, but I also include Sally Quilter, Michael Quilter, and Adrian Quilter, and my great friends Stephen Fitzpatrick, Michael Samaras, Luke Foley and, last but not least, the electors of Throsby.
It is said that this speech should be the standard against which my actions will be measured henceforth. So it should be