I rise to express my dismay and anger about the New South Wales government’s latest proposal to convert the former tram sheds next to the Leichhardt campus of Sydney Secondary College into an industrial construction site for the WestConnex toll road project.
Last week, without undertaking any consultation with the local community or local elected representatives, the government notified residents it wanted to use this land as a dive site for the construction of the stage 3 tunnel for the WestConnex project. This exemplifies the appalling lack of proper community engagement that has caused so much resentment towards this project.
The Leichhardt campus is already overcrowded. Almost 1,000 students are packed into a site that has little open space and only one school oval. That is why the school community has been campaigning for years to have incorporated into the school the very site that Sydney Motorway Corporation are now targeting. In any normal sized school, this land would already be a part of the grounds. If built, the dive site will become a major construction site, where earth will be removed to build the tunnels that make up stage 3 of the tollway. That anyone would propose this type of major construction virtually on the grounds of a local public high school is beyond belief. Daily truck movements and tunnelling activity will expose students to noise pollution, dust and dangerous traffic conditions.
In 2010 I was proud to open the sports field adjacent to the tram sheds—prior to that, they had none—following a grant to Leichhardt council from the former federal Labor government under our Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. The grounds are heavily used by students as well as local sports clubs on weekdays and weekends. How will sport or any other outdoor activity on the current grounds be enjoyed when they are surrounded, over and under, by an industrial construction site? By any measure, the location is entirely inappropriate for tunnelling.
What is worse is that the government does not even know where the tunnel will be going. In the notification letter sent out to residents, Sydney Motorway Corporation declares that they will ‘soon release a design report that includes the latest tunnel route, all short-listed M4-M5 link potential construction sites and other details’. This is a project where they have started building the tunnel at one end without knowing where it is going or where it is coming up. They are literally making it up as they go along. Because the government does not know where the tunnel is going to end, there is also no final completion date for the project, which means the site will be in use for an indefinite period of time. There is no set end to the disruption.
Besides bad planning, the outrageous thing is that the primary motivation behind choosing Leichhardt High School, or Sydney Secondary College, as it is now known, is simply greed. The choice of site is motivated by Sydney Motorway Corporation—which will be privatised down the track, and its assets sold off—thinking that, because the tram sheds are state-owned land, they will not have to purchase more for the construction site, when other locations are available.
The minutes of a recent meeting between Sydney Motorway Corporation and the Inner West Council reveal that the New South Wales Department of Education has given in-principle support to this absurd proposal. It is a shocking betrayal of the school community for the department to secretly enter into negotiations and give tacit approval to such a dangerous plan.
The new education minister, Rob Stokes, must intervene to protect the students and staff at the Leichhardt campus from this proposal. Premier Berejiklian should intervene and rule out this proposal immediately. To think that placing an industrial construction site next to a public high school was ever a good idea is completely nonsensical, particularly when there are no entry or exit points apart from driving through an oval—the only oval—that services almost a thousand students.
Sydney does need infrastructure. But it does not need to show utter contempt for communities while it is being built, and that is what has happened with this proposal. It is total and utter contempt. It will be opposed by the local community, and the local community will ensure that this does not happen.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:12): I rise to support the motion from my friend the member for Griffith, acknowledging that this week we will hold, on Thursday, World AIDS Day, and the theme this year is: HIV is still here and it is on the move. World AIDS Day has been held every year since 1988. More than 36 million people around the world are living with HIV.
The first recorded case of HIV AIDS in Australia was in Sydney in October 1982, and the first Australian death from AIDS occurred in July 1983. Between 1984 and mid-1985, there was a 540 per cent increase in HIV infections. And there was no cure. Labor health minister Neal Blewett, with the support of the then opposition, deserves incredible praise for embarking on a world-leading, pioneering and brave campaign to promote a safe-sex message. A television advertisement showing the Grim Reaper knocking people down like pins in a bowling alley was first screened on 5 April 1987 and kicked off efforts to provide the public with reliable information on preventing HIV and AIDS.
The success of the campaign can be judged by the reduction in the rate of infections. New diagnoses of HIV—according to the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations, based in my electorate in Newtown—have stabilised at just over 1,000 per year in the last three years. HIV diagnosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, however, has been increasing over the last five years. Ninety per cent of people living with HIV are men.
The stabilisation follows a concerted effort to increase the scope and regularity of HIV testing. The key is awareness. Pre-exposure prophylaxis has revolutionised HIV prevention. Through its use—along with rapid HIV testing, treatment as prevention, condoms and lube, and supportive attitudes and laws—the situation in Australia has stabilised. What is more, highly effective treatment for those with HIV means that deaths in Australia are now rare.
Unfortunately, people are still dying, including my dear friend and the first out MP in Australia, Paul O’Grady, who passed away in recent times after a very long illness. When he contracted HIV he resigned from the New South Wales parliament because he was not expected to live very much longer. He of course lived for decades longer as a result of the effort of science in prolonging people’s lives and providing that treatment.
Internationally, there remains a massive challenge. In our region of the Asia-Pacific, 180,000 cases of AIDS and 1.2 million cases of HIV are reported each year. The Australian government has committed $220 million over three years towards the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This fund operates in 120 countries and is estimated to have saved 20 million lives since 2002. Australia should play a leading role in our region in tackling HIV, and this of course should be a bipartisan effort.
I want to today pay tribute to those people who in the early years had the courage to come out and say that they were HIV positive, sometimes attracting criticism and very personal derision as a result of the courageous stance that they took. Many of those people are no longer around. But, as a result of that many—hundreds of thousands—of lives here in Australia have been saved. The courage and vision that the former Labor government showed—and also it must be said the fact that the opposition of the time was prepared to support that leadership from Neal Blewett has made a real difference in our society. It is another reason why we need to be open about these issues, how we need to as a community do whatever we can to ensure that in future years we do not actually have a theme of ‘HIV is still here and it is on the move’; but that we can celebrate that HIV is in the past.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:43): Today I rise to give voice to the concerns, frustration and suffering of my constituents in the suburb of Haberfield who are being adversely affected by the construction of the WestConnex project. Many have experienced ongoing noise pollution as a result of late-night construction works, as well as increased risk to pedestrian safety caused by large-truck movements in local streets. For several months, residents in Wattle Street and adjoining areas have been suffering from unacceptable late-night noise between 9 pm and 5 am. Older residents and families with small children have been particularly impacted and are finding the ongoing noise pollution very distressing. Residents have informed me that they have continually raised concerns with the Sydney Motorway Corporation and New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services about the impact this noise is having on their sleep patterns and quality of life.
Unfortunately, to date the response from New South Wales government agencies has been hopelessly inadequate. This extraordinary level of late-night noise pollution is certainly not acceptable. I understand that RMS would prefer to carry out works at night in order to minimise daytime disruption to traffic flows and to expedite completion of the project; however, indefinitely sacrificing the quality of life of hundreds of Haberfield residents in order to meet these objectives is unfair and unprofessional. The failure to police limits on the movement of heavy vehicles in local streets in Haberfield is also posing safety risks for residents there.
There are specified routes that trucks working on WestConnex are required to use; however, residents have continually reported to me that drivers are not adhering to this plan. In addition to that, some of the work that has been carried out in streets such as Northcote Street have occurred before the notification has gone out to residents saying that this work will occur. When this was raised with one of the workers on site, he said, ‘That way we’ll get less complaints’. And they wonder why the community are concerned about these issues! Once quiet streets, including those on which primary schools and childcare centres are located, have now become thoroughfares for large and dangerous vehicles because conditions of consent for this project are not being enforced. Added to that is the anguish caused by the fact that the head of the planning system in New South Wales, Lucy Turnbull, stated that she was not even aware that houses were being demolished in the heritage suburb of Haberfield. The New South Wales government has a responsibility to protect the amenity of people living in Haberfield; they are not doing the right thing, and they must do better.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:55): I rise to propose specific solutions to the problem of cruise ship pollution in White Bay in my electorate. In June, I contacted the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, to offer bipartisan support for action to ensure that cruise ships on Sydney Harbour use low-sulphur fuel. At that time, the New South Wales government announced that their regulation to impose a 0.1 per cent sulphur content limit on fuel used by cruise ships in Sydney Harbour would not come into effect because recently introduced federal legislation had inadvertently made the New South Wales government’s new regulation inoperable. This New South Wales regulation remains in place, although it does not have effect in law.
Residents living close to the White Bay terminal have been legitimately concerned about the health impact of the sulphur based fuels being used by cruise ships since the terminal opened. They have been active on this issue for many years. Today I propose both a short-term and a permanent solution to this problem of air pollution. There is no reason that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority cannot immediately fix this through a marine order that places in federal regulation the same low-sulphur fuel requirements for cruise ships as previously set in regulation by the state government. I call on Minister Chester and the government to do this as a matter of urgency.
Cruise ships docked in dense urban areas need strict regulation of their emissions, but we know there is also the technology available to allow emissions from these ships to be eliminated. Ship-to-shore power must be delivered. It allows cruise passenger ships that are docked to be able to access land based power. This can eliminate the need for ships to burn fuel while in port and provide a permanent solution to the problem of air pollution from cruise ships. It is now five months since I received assurances from the minister that this issue would be addressed, but for more than five years Balmain residents have been advocating for proper environmental regulation of this cruise passenger terminal. I am pleased that the cruise ship industry has agreed to voluntarily adhere to the use of low-sulphur fuel as an interim measure, but Commonwealth action is now required to secure permanent protections. I believe that Minister Chester understands this. Where the Commonwealth makes legislation that has unintended ill effects, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to find a remedy. I am proposing a constructive way forward, but I am also putting the minister and the government on notice that if they continue to fail to act I intend to propose and fight for proper environmental protections against cruise ship emissions for my local community.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:49): I rise to address the issue of nuclear disarmament. On 27 October, the United Nations adopted a crucial and important resolution to convene a UN conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. One hundred and twenty-three nations voted in favour of this resolution. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has said:
This historic decision heralds an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
I commend the hard work of ICAN in Australia in helping to progress the disarmament agenda. However, it is disappointing that Australia was not one of the 123 countries that voted in favour of this resolution; they did not even abstain. They were one of the few countries very much in the minority that voted against this resolution. As well as establishing the conference for 2017, the proposal also recorded the international community’s urgency in securing substantive progress in multilateral nuclear disarmament talks in the meantime. Yet, in the fortnight that has followed this important vote, and even after extensive questioning that took place in the Senate, the federal government is still to provide a sufficient answer as to why Australia was not one of those that supported a ban on the worst weapons of mass destruction.
The Labor Party’s platform affirms our belief that, as a non-nuclear armed nation and a good international citizen, Australian can make a significant contribution to promoting disarmament, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles and the responsible use of nuclear technology. Unfortunately, the recent voting record of those opposite shows that they do not share the same priorities that we do. We have now reached a time where an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations are ready to outlaw nuclear weapons, just as the world has outlawed chemical and biological weapons. The Turnbull government must stop working to undermine this process; instead, it must work with other nations. The government should commit to attending the 2017 negotiating conference. If Australia fails to participate, this will tarnish our international reputation as a disarmament supporter. This is a huge opportunity for the international community to make real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:03): I will not be voting for this legislation. This is legislation which has no policy basis whatsoever. Neither the contributions of those opposite nor indeed the legislation itself indicate why the government believes this legislation is necessary. The previous speaker spoke about Labor’s position and what we said before the election. He should have a look at what his own government said before the election. They said that they had got the policy settings right. They said that they had stopped the boats. They said they had removed all of the incentives with regard to people smugglers. Yet now we have new legislation, which was not mentioned during the election campaign, that is all about politics and not about substance or policy. They should be better than that. This country deserves better than that. But what we have here is a government without an agenda, contriving division as a means to attack the Labor Party for political reasons. It is a government that is preoccupied with conflict when it should be looking for solutions to the challenges facing this nation. It prefers conflict to outcomes. The government’s justification for this bill is that the legislation will deter people smugglers. But you can be harsh against people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
What this government should be dealing with is the challenge of settling people who are now on Nauru and Manus and have been there indefinitely. Indefinite detention causes mental anguish. All of the experts say that that is the case. If we are aware that circumstances not of those people’s making are causing mental anguish then we as a parliament, as people concerned with our common humanity, have a responsibility to do something about it. What the government should be doing—and should have done well before now—is identifying those people and placing them in third countries so that those who have been recognised as genuine refugees are settled in accordance with the responsibilities that we have. Those people who are not genuine refugees should, of course, return to their country of origin. But this legislation goes much further than suggesting that people will not be settled here in Australia; it says that people will be banned for life from coming to Australia, whether it be as tourists, to visit relatives or as business representatives.
Last Saturday night I had the honour of attending the Ethnic Business Awards in Melbourne. The government was represented by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin and Minister for Foreign Affairs. She gave quite a good speech to that event, lauding the major recipients. The recipient of the major business award was a former Iranian refugee. The recipient of the major small business award was a refugee—a boat person—who came from Vietnam. The fact is that the government, in its rhetoric, is reinforcing views in the community very deliberately that somehow anyone who seeks asylum is not legitimate, does not have a contribution to make. And the government must know that it is sending that message to the Australian community, which is perhaps why Pauline Hanson has been so supportive of this policy.
But they must know something else as well, because we on this side have been determined, in a bipartisan way, to support policies that genuinely deter people smugglers. But in question time, for answer after answer, they have been prepared to stand up here and send a message to the people smugglers that somehow there is not a bipartisan position in this parliament on deterring people smugglers—being prepared to send that message. It is consistent with a government that, when it is in trouble, reaches into the bottom drawer and brings out policies, such as this one, for which there is no mandate—policies that were never mentioned before an election that we have just been through.
They say there is a justification in terms of assisting the settlement of the people of Nauru and Manus, but we know that that is not true. How do we know that is not true? Because the conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, told people it is not true when he told the people of Australia and, importantly, of his own country, New Zealand, that he would not cop a two-tiered citizenship for New Zealand citizens and that his offer to provide settlement for people on Manus and Nauru, which he has made and repeated a number of times, would be withdrawn if it was conditional upon granting a secondary citizenship status to those refugees. Therefore, it would be even more difficult to provide a solution to the major issue the government should now be dealing with, which is the settlement of those people—something they have a responsibility to do.
The fact is that the whole of this parliament has put forward a clear message, and that consensus is being breached by those opposite. How irresponsible of them: sending a message to the people smugglers that somehow this is not a bipartisan position but at the same time wanting to send a message to the Australian people that there is political gain for the government in seeking to create a political division where none should be. They are prepared to use these people as pawns whose human rights, dignity and mental health can just be taken and given away in order to secure the game of politics, which is what their plan is here.
The fact is that there is extraordinary dysfunction within this deeply divided government, led by a Prime Minister who is constantly looking over his shoulder to ensure that he is not abandoned by the hard right-wing members of his own political party. The polls are bad. Morale is down. The critics are circling. The Prime Minister needs a political circuit-breaker. The two things that they draw on is that they usually complain about unions and try to create a division and political conflict over the issue of asylum seekers. And that is what we are seeing here: no practical reason for this change. Its only purpose is to give the government an opportunity to attack the opposition.
A government that should be concerned with economic growth, should be concerned with job creation, should be concerned with future education, should be concerned with health care and should be concerned with nation building through infrastructure has, because it does not have an agenda on any of those issues, fallen back on this issue. Similarly, the inquiry announced by the cabinet to have a parliamentary committee inquiry into the conduct of the Human Rights Commission and antidiscrimination law in this country was, again, an attempt to create division and conflict in the community, to create a return to the old culture wars by putting people against each other. They cite, of course, the investigation into the cartoonist Bill Leak, claiming that 18C denies Mr Leak his freedom of speech. The truth is that in this country we do have freedom of speech. Whilst that cartoon might not be something I would have drawn, he had the right to do so. I think the complaint should be dismissed, and I have no doubt that it will not result in any consequences against Bill Leak.
I spoke to Bill Leak today, and I accept that he is someone who is going through some real anguish as a result of the complaint being made against him. I am certainly sympathetic with the view that, whether it is Bill Leak or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in France or cartoonists anywhere else, people have to have their right to be provocative from time to time and to be defended on that basis—not because you agree with them, but because artistic freedom is an important part of our democracy. So I do think that it is unfortunate. There is no doubt that section 18D of the act provides protection for fair comment, which is why the investigation will go nowhere. Indeed, if there is any problem at all here it is that the Human Rights Commission should have an extended power to be able to deal expeditiously with complaints that have no chance of being upheld or having any further consequences. That would of course be a positive thing, and I understand the Human Rights Commission itself has asked for that to occur.
But here we have the government again looking to have an issue where none should be. Proper leadership of the country is about creating unity and harmony and dealing with the issues where we have common interests. As I speak in this chamber, there is a count being conducted in the United States, which is a deeply divided country. We in Australia, particularly those of us in this parliament, have a responsibility to show leadership. But, from what we have seen from the Prime Minister—someone I know very well and I have known since before he was in parliament—he is not himself. The Malcolm Turnbull I met last century, before he was in parliament, would never have given the angry, full of vitriol answers that we have seen in question time when talking about the bill that is before us today, and we would not have had any of the hyperbole and the exaggeration that we have had from this Prime Minister. I think that is quite sad. I read an important analysis in The Australian written by Peter Van Onselen on the weekend. He wrote:
The re-emergence of the culture wars is a sure sign the current PM has lost control of the political narrative, not to mention his party’s right flank and the handle he would have hoped to have on the philosophical and cultural direction of the country.
When we talk about this debate, we need to start and end with this: when we talk about asylum seekers and refugees, we are talking about real people and we should not be doing anything in this parliament to cause pain to them simply for the sake of a perceived political advantage—and that is what this legislation is about.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:23): Labor support the ratification of the Paris Agreement and the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. That is because we believe that it is imperative that we act to avoid dangerous climate change. But we do have a range of concerns: firstly, the target that Australia committed to under the agreement is quite inadequate. It lacks ambition that is required in order for us to advance and play our part. Secondly, the government has not outlined any mechanism to ensure that these modest targets can be achieved. Thirdly, we do want to ensure that communities that are impacted by the shift to a carbon-constrained economy—such as the community in the Latrobe Valley around the Hazelwood power station, that we have seen the closure of announced—are provided with appropriate support for economic restructuring. That has to happen in advance; we should not wait until announcements such as the one of a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, when we were in government we established economic transition plans, including for the Latrobe Valley. It is a pity that the current government cut $9.6 million from that plan when they came to office after the 2013 election.
Labor comes to this debate with a very strong record of commitment to international agreements aimed at addressing climate change. Australia, of course, signed the Kyoto protocol on 24 April 1998, but it took the election of a Labor government to actually get that agreement ratified. I am very proud of the fact that we did that, on 12 December 2007, as the very first act of the Rudd Labor government. On the afternoon of the day that we were sworn in to the ministry at Yarralumla, that agreement was ratified and signed by Prime Minister Rudd. Our predecessors had done nothing about the issue and, indeed, continued to be dominated by climate change sceptics and argue against the science of climate change, as well as against taking action to avoid dangerous climate change. As a result, as Labor’s environment spokesperson, I introduced the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill to the parliament on 14 February 2005. At that time, I said:
This is not a debate about Right or Left. This is a debate about right and wrong. It is a debate about old ways or new paths. It is not a debate about blame; it is a debate about real solutions to problems that are real now, but potentially catastrophic if not addressed.
In spite of the fact that there was a global movement, including here in Australia, the government of the day was very unmoved. We took action not just to ratify the Kyoto protocol but to put in place a pathway to a carbon constrained economy. We put a price on carbon as a prelude to the creation of an emissions trading scheme. Indeed, we saw the coalition become not just climate change sceptics but market sceptics in opposing the emissions trading scheme. We put in place, as part of the climate change blueprint, announced by Kim Beazley with me as the shadow environment minister, the 20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target. At the time of that announcement, the target was two per cent. We essentially would not have had an effective renewable energy industry without that increase of the target. We provided significant support for the development of alternative power sources. We provided compensation to help low-income earners cope with the effects of change. We invested more in public transport than all previous governments combined, thereby lowering emissions in the transport sector. We understood that it needed a whole-of-government approach.
That was followed, it must be said, by a period in which there was an attempt to have a consensus among sensible people across the parliament. Indeed, the member for Wentworth, in 2010, said this as the member for Wentworth:
It truly requires us to think as a species, not just to think as individuals.
… … …
… in order to do that … we must make a dramatic reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now you can look at the targets, 50 per cent the common sort of rubric rule of thumb is to cut emissions by 2050 … I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut … without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy, that is to say energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero emission sources.
Such a strong and a principled view, but that, of course, was Malcolm Turnbull as the member for Wentworth, not Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, he has embraced the so-called Direct Action Plan that he ridiculed when it was proposed by Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, as the opposition leader. So what we have is a change of Prime Minister but not a change of climate change strategy. And that is unfortunate indeed, because this Prime Minister does know better, but this Prime Minister is frozen in time while the world warms around him. We know that each and every year we are seeing it coming through in the figures—whether it be year-on-year, or the hottest month, or the hottest week, or the hottest season—around the globe and we need to take action.
The Paris Agreement came into force last Friday with enough of the large emitters already having signed up to ensure that it was put in place in record time. It is good that Labor will be part of the agreement but, as Labor members of the committee have noted, we are disappointed at its lack of ambition. Under the coalition, Australia’s commitment to the world in the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. There is broad concern that that level of commitment is not consistent with keeping temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the agreement targets. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has said:
Australia’s current emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 should thus be regarded as a low-case scenario. Australia’s final 2030 target is likely to be higher and somewhere between this and a high-case scenario of 45-63 per cent, which is Australia’s fair share of burden to limit warming to 2 degrees C.
It is very clear that we do need to be more ambitious.
Whatever the target is, we need an effective mechanism to get there. We need a target linked to total emissions. We need to have a renewable energy target after 2020. We need to ensure that we provide support to bodies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We need to make sure that there is a whole-of-government response. As it is now, importantly, national emissions are projected to keep growing to 2020, and likely beyond, until Australia has a real climate change policy. This is an issue which we have a responsibility to deal with not just for us but for our children and our grandchildren. This is an intergenerational equity issue beyond all others, which is why this parliament must show leadership and it is critical that Australia play our role as good global citizens.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:32): I rise to inform the House of the story of a 72-year-old constituent of mine which reflects the shameful consequences on many older Australians that have come from the narrow-sighted changes surrounding pension assets. This constituent has been a hard-working tertiary educator and devoted single mother to four children. Instead of being now able to look forward to a comfortable and well-earned retirement, she is now faced with an uncertain economic future. She is also unsure of whether she will be able to continue to live in the inner-west community she calls home.
This uncertainty is the result of the rule changes that were supported by the coalition government and members of the Greens political party. This change has meant that my constituent’s pension has been reduced by over $300 a fortnight, simply due to her downsizing her home two years ago. The issue involves the so-called regifting of an asset: the difference between the sale price of her former family home and the purchase price of her new home. This money was used by her son, who continues to face particular living needs as he deals with and recovers from addiction. Of course, these changes also have an impact on housing policy and housing affordability in a city like Sydney.
Retiring in her 71st year due to ailing health, her new pension has now been cut to only $125 a week. With only a very modest superannuation balance, like a lot of women, she is facing the general cost-of-living pressures that are affecting Australians of all ages, and, on top of this, a range of specific medical costs, as well as an unexpected levy in her apartment complex. She is therefore now facing the dilemma of how to continue to get by financially. I find it appalling that this 72-year-old, who has contributed so much to the local and broader community, is receiving advice from Centrelink to either return to work or ask her son for money.
In the lead-up to the 2014 budget, I warned publicly of the dangers that changes to the pension asset test would have on Australians. While little can now be done to repair the damage that the Liberals and Greens political parties have done, I remain committed to standing up for what is right and fair. I hope that those who supported the changes will realise the impact of their ill-considered actions and consider the best interests of retired Australians in the future.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:18): I take this opportunity to talk about shipping and the potential impact on our environment of shipping in two areas: firstly, the Great Barrier Reef, and secondly, in my electorate of Grayndler. On 20 September, when asked about calls from the environmental movement for more protection of the Great Barrier Reef from coal freighters, the Deputy Prime Minister said that shipping accidents on the reef were inevitable. He said:
…but that’s life. If you have ships at sea you’re going to have them run into things and sink from time to time.
As the person who was the transport minister in the previous government, responsible for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, I say thank goodness that is not the approach of AMSA or the regulatory authorities. The comment was reckless in the extreme. The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking after the government reached a $39.3 million out-of-court damages settlement with the operators of Shen Neng 1, a coal freighter that ran aground at Douglas Shoal about 100 kilometres east of Rockhampton in 2010. When the Shen Neng 1 hit the reef it was 10 kilometres outside the shipping lanes. The mariner in charge was operating on little sleep because the vessel did not observe Australian workplace health and safety requirements—that is why he was jailed for 18 months for negligence. While accidents certainly have happened, they are more likely to happen if ships passing through the reef are being steered by sleepy overseas operators who have no idea where they are. It is up to governments to maintain high safety standards and that is why an Australian shipping industry is vital—not optional but vital. Governments through appropriate regulation can certainly have an impact. What the Deputy Prime Minister has said is ignorant in the extreme and puts under threat the overwhelming support that there is for safe passage of ships to Australia’s north and around our coastline.
I want to talk about another issue which is of concern, particularly in my electorate. In June I contacted the transport minister, Darren Chester, to offer bipartisan support for action to ensure that cruise ships on Sydney Harbour use low-sulphur fuel. There has been concern because the New South Wales government carried legislation at the same time as the federal government was considering anti-pollution legislation, which had the unintended consequence of rendering inoperable the state government’s new requirements on the use of low-sulphur fuel, 0.1 per cent or less, on Sydney Harbour.
Residents of Balmain have expressed legitimate concern about fuel fumes from cruise ships in White Bay. It is important that the Commonwealth act and address this problem. Since the election I have repeatedly asked Minister Chester to fulfil his commitment to resolve this issue either through legislation or other means but it needs to be required in a way which is better than just voluntary compliance. Cruise ships do provide significant economic activity for Australia but it is important that they operate within environmental best practice. I am pleased that the cruise ship industry has agreed to voluntarily implement this New South Wales government policy of using low-sulphur fuel but Commonwealth action is required. If the Commonwealth makes legislation that has unintended consequences then it is its responsibility to fix it. Minister Chester understands that there is a problem but he needs to fix it. This government seems incapable of being able to legislate in the national interest. This is an issue which is not ideological, which has bipartisan support. I say to the minister: get on board; introduce the legislation. We on this side will ensure its quick passage through both houses of parliament and fix this problem.
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:29): I oppose the plebiscite because it is costly. I oppose the plebiscite because it is divisive. Most importantly, I oppose the plebiscite because it is ineffective. A plebiscite will, just as the previous speaker indicated, lead to a parliamentary bill and parliamentary motion. The previous speaker also indicated what we all know: a majority of the Australian people support marriage equality. We know that is the case. It is acknowledged that that is the case. It is overwhelming. And it is now the case that a majority of House of Representatives members and senators, including the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, support marriage equality. We should get on with it and do our job.
The previous speaker also spoke about the conscience votes that we have had in parliament on this side of the House, even though no conscience vote was allowed by those opposite. A few years ago a majority of the parliament did not support marriage equality. When I was elected in 1996, the priority of same-sex couples was certainly not having the right to marry; there were a range of other reforms that had a practical impact on their lives that were much higher up the agenda. Those issues were dealt with by the former Labor government when we amended some 84 pieces of legislation—on superannuation, on health, on migration, on social security. All of those pieces of legislation passed this parliament without rancour, without opposition and without creating division in the community.
When they were first raised, they were controversial. When I first raised the Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill in my first term of parliament, that was a controversial issue. There was not even unanimous support within my own party. When you spoke about sexuality in this place, people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Now there is far greater total tolerance, and far greater respect for the fact that we are a diverse community. This campaign for marriage equality is about unfinished business. ‘Equality’ is a really important term here. That is why the plebiscite is so wrong. We decide in this House social security, taxation arrangements, infrastructure policy, health policy, education policy and defence policy. We determine that.
Why is this one issue being singled out? We know that it is all an attempt by the opponents of marriage equality, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to stop marriage equality. That is why this was put up within the coalition party room. When it was put up, it was opposed within their party room by the current Prime Minister and many of those opposite. Are we on this side of the House supposed to be bound somehow by the fact that Malcolm Turnbull rolled over on his own principles in order to secure the prime ministership by guaranteeing that he would adopt the same policy as his predecessor, Tony Abbott? I actually thought Malcolm Turnbull was better than that. He has a proud record of marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in his electorate, and of standing up genuinely on these issues. I know that he is an opponent of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. It makes it even sadder that he is prepared to take the position that he has, knowing the consequences that it will have for division in the community, for same-sex couples and for their families. They know the consequences, which is why they are so strident in their opposition to this.
I believe very strongly that we should have a vote and a determination in this parliament, and we should do it sooner rather than later. Some of the best debates I have been involved with in parliament have been conscience votes on controversial issues like voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research. They have been respectful debates. They have been the parliament at its finest, where people have thought about each and every word that they were going to contribute to the debate. I have been in a minority—it must be said—in those debates, but they have been respectful. I actually think those debates taking place have raised the standing of this parliament as a result.
That is the way forward. In the 20 years I have had the honour of sitting as a member of the House of Representatives, extraordinary advances have been made towards removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Marriage equality will be not the final step, but a significant step. The debate about removing discrimination is not just about laws; it is about the way that people conduct themselves in our community. If you engage with young people now—certainly, the ones that I speak to—then they wonder what the big deal is here. What is the issue? Marriage equality will not affect anyone’s existing right; it simply extends an existing right to some people who have previously been denied that right.
It will not affect anyone’s marriage; indeed, it will strengthen the institution of marriage by allowing more people to participate in it. It will not require churches to do anything against their will. It will simply provide equality for everyone before the law. And, when it is all over, just like as happened in most of the industrialised world now—in the United Kingdom under the conservatives, in New Zealand under the conservatives, in many of the states of United States, in Canada and in many of the countries of Europe—people will wonder what all the fuss was about and people will just get on with their lives. That is why the Prime Minister really should show leadership on this.
Marriage equality does come down to issues of tolerance and respect. I believe that tolerance and respect needs to be held by all people who participate in this debate, both the supporters and the opponents of marriage equality. I have been very much on the record for a very long time as a supporter of marriage equality but also as a supporter of the conscience vote. I understand that some people of faith who regard marriage not as a civil institution that is governed by laws and legislation but as something that is a sacred institution handed down from God have a different view, and I respect their right to hold their view. That is why any of the legislation that has been drawn up by people such as my colleague, the now member for Whitlam and then member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, included religious exemptions, and that is something that is supported by the gay and lesbian community. A conscience vote of this parliament would allow people who have religious convictions and do not want to choose between that position and the position of civil lawmaking to vote accordingly. It would ensure that the parliament is able to be respectful.
But it does go both ways. The truth is that the families that I have met with through organisations such as Rainbow Families are genuinely and legitimately concerned about the implications of a divisive debate. The member previously quoted the member for Barton in her contribution last night. Due to boundary changes by the Electoral Commission, I now live in the electorate of Barton. During the election campaign, in a marginal seat, I got material in my letterbox which can only be described as targeting Linda Burney because of her Aboriginality and her religion in a way that was offensive and divisive—and it backfired on those people who distributed that material. The concerns that those families have are absolutely legitimate concerns.
I am yet to have a same-sex family in my electorate—not one—ask me to vote for this legislation that is before the parliament. I have my own views that happen to accord with that view. My gut instinct was always to oppose the plebiscite, because we as parliamentarians have a job to do and we should do it. But we do have to be very cognisant of the fact that, as The Smiths said in that great song What Difference Does it Make?, ‘Heavy words are so lightly thrown.’ One of my concerns reflects the view of that great songwriter Morrissey when he said those words. Words are thrown around in a debate which we know, from some of the comments that have been made already in this debate, will be very hurtful and will create needless division. The fact that the government intends to publicly fund this debate is, I think, even more reason to oppose this legislation.
The fact is that we could knock this over this afternoon by having a vote of this parliament. It could go to the Senate tonight and they could deal with it. Then, next week, we could just get on with business. This is an enormous roadblock to the government getting on with other business. Its insistence on this divisive plebiscite is standing in the way of the promotion of harmony and unity, which this parliament has an obligation to pursue. We can see that there is a great deal of distrust of elected representatives playing out in areas such as the US presidential election. We need to lift standards of public discourse and lead the community in promoting respect and inclusion. Have marriage equality and have it through this parliament.