The 44th Parliament. Address In Reply.

sj_parl.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:59): It is a great honour to once again represent the people of Throsby, and I thank them for returning me for my second term in this parliament. I undertake to do this with the same vigour that I did in my first term as their member. Can I take the opportunity to congratulate all the new and returning members to the 44th Parliament.

At the opening of this parliament we gathered in the Senate chamber for the Governor-General's address. The Governor-General, I should say, undertakes her functions with an energy and dedication that would shame the most fervent of democrats, but when this ageing ritual is laid bare it rubs more than just a little at the Australian sense of democracy. The journey for members of the House of Representatives to the Senate remains a misguided nod to mother England. Lords down-under it is not but, still, we gather there in obedience in belief that the vice-regal should not address us all in the Commons. I say that it would do no harm to the splendour of the day if we were to gather for this formal occasion in the Great Hall, as has been recommended by many members of both sides of the House on several occasions over the last decade.

By tradition the Governor-General's address is given on the advice of the government of the day. While ever we remain a constitutional monarchy, with the King or Queen of England as our head of state, the monarch's representative in Australia deserves better advice than that that has been provided by this government. What we heard at the opening of this parliament was not a program for the betterment of our nation—not at all. For those who had hoped that the Abbott government could convert their seductively simple slogans into the necessarily complex policy, it has not started well.

I remind the House that while the first act of the Rudd Labor government was an apology to the stolen generation, one of the first acts of the Abbott government was necessarily to apologise to the leaders of the Asia-Pacific region for the Prime Minister's own oafish remarks as opposition leader and beyond. I have got to say that he had much to be sorry for.

While the government of Australia has changed, the challenges we face as a nation certainly have not. At the recent federal election, I stood on a platform that included taking strong action on climate change. I took this position because I believe in the science and because I believe that I do not want my children to have to pay the price for our generation's wanton indolence. This problem will simply not go away. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to make the necessary changes to deal with this threat. Our responsibility here is to heed the expert advice and to reflect that advice in policy and legislation. And when seeking advice on climate change matters, I err in favour of the scientists over the radio shock jocks. I agree with the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and with many other experts who say that climate change is underway and we need to take action now to slow and adjust that effect.

I support putting in place measures which are effective and have the lowest cost to taxpayers and to the economy as a whole. In my view, Labor's policy meets this test; the Abbott government's does not. The major snag in the government's obsessive crusade to repeal the carbon tax is that it leaves no useful or sensible policy in its place. Labor on this issue is on the right side of history. We want to make sure that Australia is not left doing nothing on the issue. We support ending the carbon tax. We do not agree with axing the law which caps it.

Since coming to government less than six months ago the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, has presided over the loss of 63,000 full-time jobs. That is over 10,000 jobs a month, 2½ thousand jobs a week, 350 jobs a day. This is despite his promise to create one million jobs within five years. Contrast this to Labor's record—employment grew by over 960,000 jobs, with more people in work than at any time during our nation's history, despite the global financial crisis.

The government wants to dismiss their critics, particularly their economic critics, as champions of entitlement or the 'protectors of protection'. They beg us to avert our gaze from the thousands of jobs that are currently being lost and focus somewhere down the track—focus on the future. This is cold comfort for the workers in Geelong, in Elizabeth, in Altona, in Shepparton and in the suburbs of my own electorate, where one in 10 jobs have traditionally relied on the manufacturing sector.

While the Treasurer executes his own war on entitlements, I will be championing my constituents' entitlement to a decent job with fair pay that enables them to meet their cost-of-living pressures. Indifference to the loss of industrial jobs is a problem. The failure to have a plan to help those who are looking for work right now is a tragedy, which turns the entreaty for us to look to the future into a cruel farce. It is unusual in an act of leadership to entreat us to hope for less, but this is exactly what the Treasurer is asking us to do. Make no mistake, this is what this war on entitlements is all about.

I have to say the coalition likes a war. The Prime Minister has waged his war on the ABC. The education minister, despite not having done a skerrick of policy work in opposition, has launched a cultural war against universities, a three-day school funding war that did not end very well for him, a war against the national curriculum and, last week, a war on teacher training. But, Deputy Speaker, with an eye on more than his current job, the Treasurer is not going to be outdone: he is launching his own war on your entitlements and he is gathering his troops. They are never upfront with the Australian people about this; they do not talk straight. After weeks of broken promises on education, the National Broadband Network, debt and many other things, the Prime Minister simply waved it away as miscommunication—in his words:

We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made, or the promise that some people might have liked us to make.

This is the man who warned us not to believe anything he said unless it was written in stone.

The coalition, Deputy Speaker, wants you to think that an 'age of entitlement' refers to somebody else's entitlements, not yours—somebody, perhaps, who is undeserving of that which they receive. Make no mistake, this is a war on the entitlements of working people, a war on the entitlements of families, a war on the entitlements of pensioners. It is not a war on the entitlements of mining companies or wealthy CEOs. Let's be clear about what this actually means. This is about the affordability of health care. This is about a decent living wage. This is about dignity at work and in retirement. It is a war on equality in education, on a clean and sustainable environment and on reliable access to decent broadband. These are the real markers of a fair society and the real markers of what a responsible government will deliver. These are things that Australians have a right to feel entitled to.

In the Illawarra we are undergoing an economic transformation from the traditional manufacturing and mining industries towards growing retail, education, ICT and service sectors. However, despite its tremendous attributes, the region also includes some high levels of social disadvantage and higher than the national average of unemployment. The economic future of this region is heavily dependent on reliable, superfast broadband that the NBN could provide. Right now, a lack of reliable broadband is a huge problem for people in areas that I represent, such as Albion Park, Oak Flats, Horsley, parts of Dapto and the Southern Highlands, where overloaded exchanges and geographic difficulties mean many cannot even connect to basic ADSL services and have to rely on unreliable, overpriced dial-up or expensive, patchy wireless services. For suburbs and towns like those, I believe there is a strong case for fibre to the premises to be supplied to ensure an adequate broadband service is delivered. Labor is committed to rolling out the National Broadband Network to more homes and businesses in my electorate of Throsby than in any other region in Australia—but, of course, this is all now at risk.

I have had some harsh words to say about the government in this address, but one area that I am in complete agreement with is the commitment to closing the gap. I can say that I was genuinely moved by the statements of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition when the sixth Closing the Gap report was tabled in the last sitting week of this parliament. Across the parliament we are in agreement that to make good on our historic apology and quest for reconciliation we need to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous disadvantage. While we have made a start in addressing the disparity in the key areas of education, health, employment and life expectancy we are still way off the pace. Let's not lose the opportunity that the 44th Parliament presents to make real and significant differences to Indigenous Australians. While money may not be everything, we need to ensure that as the government is taking the axe to so many programs that support equality and welfare, those who are making a tangible difference to Aboriginal Australians need not feel the blow. This should be a bipartisan commitment.

Can I also say something about parliamentary support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people. In our national anthem we sing the words:

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share …

Of course, the plains were not empty when white people arrived here. They were occupied by a people who have practised their culture and lived on this land for in excess of 30,000 years. No other country in the world can make that claim. No other country can say: 'We are home to a place where, for 30,000 years, human beings have practised a culture and have been at one with the land—a culture that still exists to this day.' They were our first people and they deserve to be recognised as equals in our national Constitution.

The story is simple: for as long as our Constitution includes the vestiges of that first act of racism, we are not the country that we can be, we are not the people that we should be. I say that it falls to this parliament, in a historic act of bipartisanship, to pass the legislation that is unnecessary, to formulate the words that are necessary, so that we can rid our national body politic of this stain and not only recognise the first Australians in our Constitution, as our founding document, but also remove the last vestiges of racism from our Constitution so we can all stand tall and proud.

I will take the opportunity to use the time remaining to say thank you to the people who have assisted me in ensuring I can continue to represent them as their member for Throsby: the friends, the family, the staff, the volunteers, the members and all who assisted and those who voted for me in what was a very tough election. There were over 10 candidates running for the seat of Throsby. Most of them were from the area. There were one or two blow-ins including a blow-in for the National Party, whom they plonked into the campaign late in the piece, thinking that his pop star appeal might turn some voters' heads—and I am very pleased to say that no such thing occurred. It was certainly a hard-fought election. Mostly it was clean, and it is a fantastic honour to be standing here in our parliament representing the people of Throsby for another three years—an honour, I have to say, that I do not take lightly.

I thank my wife and children. As all members in this place know, it is not an easy job being a wife or child of a parliamentarian. They give up much so that we can fulfil the role as representatives in this most important of institutions. I thank my mum, my mother- and father-in-law and our extended family for the support they have shown me over the last three years and for the support they gave to me during the election campaign.

I would like to thank the staff who work for me. Simon Zulian is my indefatigable campaign director, and I am very pleased he has continued to support me by coming onto my staff full time after the election. He has been a pillar of strength. I thank my friend and former colleague Jane Mulligan for her steadfast support during the campaign and for the three years previously. It has been a great honour to work alongside a person of such capacity and integrity. I thank my electorate staff—Caitlin, Carol and Danielle—for the ongoing support that they provide to me. Quite often, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, we get a lot of attention for the work we do in this place, but it is the day-in day-out work in our electorate offices that enables us to continue turning up here over the years. The staff who are manning the phones and the front desk at our offices deserve every bit of thanks that we can give to them for the difficult work that they carry out on our behalf. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, people rarely ring the electorate office when everything is going well; it is generally with a complaint or a problem and it is our staff on the front line who deal with that. So I pay tribute to those staff who are doing that on my behalf.

I take the opportunity to thank the Mayor of Shellharbour, Marianne Saliba, and her team of councillors. I have worked very closely with them over the last three years and I hope to enjoy the ability to work very closely with them over the next three years. I thank the Deputy Mayor of Wollongong, Chris Connor, and his team of councillors whom I have also worked very closely with, and Councillor Graham McLaughlin from Wingecarribee Shire Council who is a great mate and who has been a great support for me up in the Southern Highlands of my electorate. Thank you very much.

There are also the local party members and volunteers, the executive members of the six Labor Party branches across my electorate—Port Kembla, Warilla/Mount Warrigal, Shellharbour/Barrack Heights, Albion Park/Oak Flats, Dapto and the Southern Highlands. I thank them all for the work that they have done. Each of the volunteers from the vast area of the Southern Highlands often travel great distances. Very frequently they come down into the campaign office, man the phones or do work on behalf of the campaign. Christine Tilley, Justine Fischer, Jan Merriman and Warren Glase were available at a moment's notice, like so many others in the Southern Highlands, and I thank them very much. I thank my great mate Louis Stefanovski for his ongoing and enduring support, particularly for his assistance in translating Macedonian both face to face and in my many election periodicals. To my mate Jose Madrid who did great work coordinating our campaign volunteers, thank you.

I also take the opportunity to thank the campaign teams in Cunningham and Gilmore for their cooperation and support. We work as team Labor in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands and we could not have done everything we have done without their cooperation. I thank the great team of New South Wales ALP, people like: Anthony Albanese, the member for Grayndler, for launching my campaign and for his support over the previous three years and over the last few months; Labor legend Bob Hawke for visiting the region in the lead-up to the campaign; and from the party office as the then party secretary, Sam Dastyari, who has now joined us in the other place; my mate the assistant secretary of the party, John Graham; and my friends from the Organised Labour Movement. I give special thanks to the members of the Community and Public Sector Union who have always supported me, and members of the Maritime Union of Australia and people throughout the South Coast who have seen the important work that I do, I hope, in supporting their causes and who have given up some of their time and effort to support me in my campaign.

I thank my opponents for what was mostly a fair fight. I thank the members of the media, local and national, for mostly fair coverage, and the Australian Electoral Commission for their impartial and professional conduct. They do an absolutely outstanding job. I know that from time to time, particularly over the last election, they cop a few brickbats, but in my division they were absolutely professional staff and I am sure that any of the candidates who stood in that election would say the same thing. The staff at the AEC in the Throsby division did an outstanding job and I thank them for their work. I thank the teachers in my electorate who overwhelmingly supported the government's plan for better schools.

I end where I started by thanking the people of my electorate. I truly am in love with the region. I think that it is a fantastic place and I thank the people for putting their trust in me for another three years. I leave you with this commitment: I will not let you down.

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  • commented 2014-03-19 16:49:05 +1100
    Well done and as always thankyou Stephen for your tireless committment and everything you do for Throsby in ensuriung the issues of the electorate are heard
    Cheers Danna Nelse
    Manager Albion Park Rail Neighbourhood Centre
  • commented 2014-03-19 16:45:47 +1100
    And this, sir, is why I haven’t quite managed to abandon Labor for the Greens.