Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
Oct 23, 2017

Statements by Members – Petition: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:30): I seek leave to table a petition from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to the Prime Minister, signed by more than 50 organisations in civil society.

Leave granted.

Mr ALBANESE: This petition is signed by a very broad group of people representing civil society: Amnesty International, the ACTU, the Edmund Rice Centre, Oxfam, Sisters of St Joseph, the National Council of Churches, and many other organisations. It’s been coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which campaigned strongly for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to be adopted by the United Nations. It has been supported already by more than 122 nations and it will enter into force when ratified by 50 countries. Due to its leadership, for a small organisation that began in Melbourne, ICAN received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017. Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons on earth, as the petition says. They pose a threat so grave, they’re an existential risk to all humanity.

Oct 16, 2017

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:07): I rise to oppose this legislation, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017. It was American novelist Norman Mailer who said:

Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer.

That’s exactly what sits at the heart of this legislation—the coalition’s obsession with undermining trade unions at any cost, a distraction for a government that has lost its way, a government obsessed with obliterating collective bargaining, with eroding human dignity and hurting working families by subjecting workplaces to the law of the jungle.

This bill is presented in the guise of improving productivity and cracking down on illegality. But the bottom line, now and throughout Australia’s history, is that the conservative forces just don’t like unions. They just don’t respect the fact that working people, due to the nature of the workplace and the power imbalance that is inherent in production, join together to bargain with employers. Their antipathy for unions is so extreme, though, that it blinds them to just a bit of common sense, and it blinds them to community standards. Even at a time when we have declining real wages and declining living standards, which have been recognised by the Reserve Bank of Australia and by the business community as a handbrake on economic growth, we have a government that is determined to drive those wages and conditions down further. This is the sort of ideology that brought Work Choices to the parliament of Australia on the first occasion on which those opposite had the numbers in both houses. And, with that Work Choices legislation, they destroyed themselves. It should give them pause. They should think back to how clever they thought they were when that Work Choices legislation, with its Orwellian name, passed the House of Representatives and the Senate. It led to their demise as a government. It led to division in Australian workplaces and in the Australian community. In the same way, they’re waging a war against penalty rates. They seem completely oblivious to the fact that so many families in their electorates rely upon penalty rates to pay their mortgages, to pay school fees for their kids, to put food on the kitchen table and to pay for the essentials of life. They don’t get it.

This legislation is just another example of their obsessive attacks on the trade union movement and its very existence. It purports to impose upon registered organisations and their officials the same level of accountability that applies to company directors. But it doesn’t do that. It goes much further than that. It even goes beyond the recommendations of the Heydon royal commission, it goes beyond the government’s undertakings in the last election campaign and it contravenes the International Labour Organization’s convention 87—the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention of 1948. But they just can’t help themselves.

Our nation faces a range of serious challenges that require government attention. Many of them could be the subject of cross-party consensus in the national interest, not the least of which delivering on infrastructure that builds jobs and creates economic growth. We could be using our time usefully working together on such matters. But what we have over and over again from this government are attacks on working people, attacks aimed at undermining the trade union movement, attacks which are ideological and attacks which are against the fair go that Australians hold dear.

In general terms, this bill seeks to increase accountability measures for registered organisations and their office holders, including making it easier to deregister them. It also imposes a new public interest test on proposed union mergers. I’ve got no problem at all with people who break the law or act inappropriately being prosecuted, as they should be. But my overriding concern is that deregistering trade unions because of inappropriate behaviour by a single official attacks union members who have nothing to do with that bad behaviour. The fact is that it is a punitive approach. It’s short-sighted. It’s the equivalent of deregistering a company because one of its directors broke the law rather than simply prosecuting the director. Take the various corporate scandals that have occurred, not the least of which were in the banking sector recently. No-one’s proposing that those companies be declared illegal and wound up because of the fact that some of our major financial institutions have been financing activities that are completely illegal. Wrongdoing by one official does not justify the denial of industrial representation for an entire workforce.

In his second reading speech, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment went to great lengths to assert that these changes would bring the administration of trade unions, employer organisations and their officers into line with the laws concerning the administration of companies. But, as you go through the provisions, it is clear that it’s just not true. The bill allows for disqualification of an officer of a registered organisation to be brought by the commissioner, the minister or what is defined as ‘a person with sufficient interest’. There are no safeguards there to prevent vexatious claims. There’s no description of how a person qualifies to have sufficient interest. Once a ground is made out for the disqualification of an officer under this provision, the onus of proof is placed upon the officer to establish why disqualification would be unjust. But the equivalent provision under the Corporations Act places no such onus of proof upon company directors facing disqualification. The bill provides no maximum period of disqualification, leaving the matter to the discretion of the court. It also creates penalties for the offence of a disqualified person continuing to influence a registered organisation. But the penalty provided here is double that provided in the Corporations Act.

Similarly, this bill’s regime for cancelling the registration of a union is far broader than the Corporations Act’s equivalent provisions relating to the winding up of a company. A company, for instance, could repeatedly be found to have put at risk the lives of its workers or to have repeatedly not paid proper wages, but it would not face a wind-up order. By contrast, this bill says a union can be deregistered if some of its members take unprotected industrial action.

The new provisions relating to union amalgamation are way out of whack with the law relating to company mergers. Under the current Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, it is a simple matter for unions to amalgamate if members vote for amalgamation under a ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. That’s a commonsense provision. It’s democracy in action. It’s workers being organised on the basis of the views of those workers themselves. That is why those provisions are currently there. No argument has been put by those opposite about why this change is necessary. This bill is deliberately aimed at making it harder for unions to amalgamate. It’s clearly aimed at the CFMEU, the MUA and the TCFUA. That’s what this is aimed at. It’s special legislation that’s an attempt to abuse political power and to impose the will of the coalition parties on how unions, specifically, should choose to organise themselves.

It’s an extraordinary proposition if we were going to go down this road. It creates a public interest test that the minister claims is the equivalent of the competition test that applies to company mergers, including whether the unions concerned have a record of complying with the law. The test also takes into account the impact an amalgamation would have on employers, employees and the industry concerned. It goes a lot further than the competition test for company mergers. Indeed, companies could have an extensive record of breaches of the law, including the underpaying of wages. That doesn’t prevent that company from merging with another company. It should be dealt with on the basis of any breach of the law, just as any breach of the law by unions should be dealt with. When there’s a breach of the law the response should be the same whether it’s unions, employer organisations or companies.

We shouldn’t have the attitude of those opposite, which is to come into this chamber and attempt to engage, essentially, in industrial relations by legislation in order to fulfil the obsession that those opposite have with undermining unions. We on this side of the House want an industrial relations system that punishes wrongdoing, whether by employees, trade unions or employers. You never hear those opposite talk about what’s happened with the underpayment of the wages of 7-Eleven workers. You never hear those opposite stand up and talk about industrial accidents and how many people lose their lives on building sites and in the construction sector, the mining sector and other sectors. You never hear those opposite talk about the pressure that transport workers are put under. Indeed, this government came in and undermined the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a mechanism established after long consultation—with support from major employers—and aimed at producing safe rates, after a parliamentary inquiry that was bipartisan and unanimous in its recommendations. It took years to work through to get a system whereby people weren’t pressured into driving practices that weren’t safe in order to secure their employment, that it wasn’t either/or, and that you had a system whereby throughout the supply chain you had safe practices. It was a measure that had an impact on truck drivers, but also had an impact on all of us who share the roads with truck drivers—a road safety measure that hasn’t been replaced with any measures at all by this government.

We’ve seen again in the transport sector the next tranche of legislation, aimed at removing Australian seafarers from work around our coasts on ships that have the Australian flag on the back of them, paying Australian wages and conditions, and having them replaced by foreign workers being paid foreign wages and working under foreign work conditions. It is extraordinary that the government has been prepared to go down this road. That is why this legislation should be rejected. This is a government that is producing legislation that’s all about its ideology. It’s not about jobs. It’s not about national economic growth. It’s not about the national interest. It’s not about the interests of working families. It’s just about its obsession with the trade union movement. In doing that, it undermines itself, as it did with Work Choices. That’s one of the reasons this government is being rejected by the Australian people.

Oct 16, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Climate Change

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:44): I’m pleased to support the motion moved by the member for Moreton, because it is critical that this parliament and, indeed, the world act on climate change. We know that 2014, 2015 and 2016 were the hottest years on record. We know that heatwaves are starting earlier. Tragically, we know that storms, hurricanes and cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense. We know that the Great Barrier Reef has had two bleaching events over the last 18 months. We know that we’ve just had, as a country, the warmest winter on record; average maximum temperatures around Australia reached nearly two degrees Celsius above average. The nation also experienced our second driest June on record. Indeed, more than 260 heat and low-rainfall records were broken during the winter months. Australia’s average winter temperatures have increased by around one degree Celsius since 1910. Last summer, Sydney had its hottest summer on record, with a mean temperature 2.8 degrees Celsius above average; Brisbane had its hottest summer on record, with a mean temperature 1.7 degrees above average; Canberra had its hottest summer on record, with daytime temperatures and recorded temperatures of at least 35 degrees Celsius on 18 days. Adelaide experienced its hottest Christmas Day in 70 years, at 41.3 degrees Celsius. Moree in regional New South Wales experienced 54 consecutive days of temperatures 35 degrees Celsius or above, a record for the state.

When you have all of that evidence on top of the scientists telling us that we need to act on anthropogenic climate change—climate change caused by human activity—then I find it extraordinary that you wouldn’t act, even if you question all of it, under the precautionary principle, for the same reason that you take out insurance. And yet where the government’s at was exemplified by the person who appears to be leading it on climate change, Tony Abbott, who went to London to argue that higher temperatures might even be beneficial because far more people die in cold snaps. It was an extraordinarily arrogant statement to make. And what the science tells us isn’t that every extreme weather event—like Hurricane Katrina or the disaster in Puerto Rico or the increased number of cyclones that we’ve seen in North Queensland—is because of climate change. What you can say, though, is that, when you have them occurring more often, with the intensity being stronger, then there’s something going on here.

That is why this motion is so important. It calls for action. It points out that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility shouldn’t be used to subsidise a venture such as Adani, that that is a distortion in the market, that it is an intervention, that it is an admission that the project doesn’t stack up commercially. That’s what that is. We know that the future is in renewables, like the Kidston project in the old Kidston Gold mine or like the Kennedy Energy Park or like the pumped hydro I visited with the member for Kennedy. There are 537,000 solar panels in the first stage of the Kidston project—an exciting project that will produce jobs and provide 24-hour supply because of the pumped hydro. Australia’s future is in renewables.

Oct 16, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Australia-US Relations

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:01): I’m pleased to take the opportunity to contribute to the debate about the importance of the relationship between Australia and the United States. I do so because in spite of the fact that this is a motion moved by a government backbencher, the government has not been able to provide speakers in support of its own motion. That says a lot about the current government and the demoralised state that it finds itself in. It is not even prepared to back up its own members when they move a motion. We on this side are prepared to back up the importance of the relationship between Australia and the United States. It is one of the three pillars that we believe our foreign policy should be built upon: the relationship with the United States, the relationship with countries in our region, and the engagement with multilateral forums, in particular through the United Nations and its agencies.

The United States is a complex country. It’s a diverse country. I had the opportunity to visit, as a guest of the United States, a long time ago before I was a member of parliament and visited places as diverse as New York, Washington, Boston, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans. You really get a feel for how it is a different place from Australia—a different culture. But we have so much in common and, as the world becomes more globalised, that engagement and those people-to-people relations are so important. That doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree. Friends should tell their other friends when they think they’ve got it wrong. I back up the comments of the member for Chifley. The United States, under President Trump, has got it wrong when it comes to discrimination against people visiting the United States on the basis of their faith. That is simply a wrong policy. It’s one that damages the integrity of the United States of America, a country that we look towards for international leadership and a country that we have stood side by side with so often in times of conflict and in times of difficulty. That’s what friends should be able to do—not be compliant or subservient but be forthright in defending Australia’s national interest. This is absolutely critical. Each year I have participated in the Australia-US dialogue in both Australia and the United States. That brings together people from politics, business, the public service, the diplomatic corps and the military in a way that is incredibly constructive. One of the things that you get out of those processes is a genuine dialogue and, from time to time, a genuine disagreement, both within the delegations and between the delegations. That’s as it should be because that is what democracy is all about.

The United States, I think, remains a beacon for the world—when you look at its democratic system and the fact that you can have these challenges which are occurring in the United States in their internal politics at the moment that are still resolved in a peaceful manner. That is certainly far preferable to the conflict that we see, and how change occurs, in other parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean that we should not look critically, because we’re impacted by some of the decisions that are made by the United States in particular. Supporting the alliance, as we do, shouldn’t mean that we are not prepared to put forward Australia’s national interest. We on this side of the chamber, as the Australian Labor Party, have such a strong history with our alliance with the United States. We have proudly supported that. We have engaged with that, and we will continue to do so into the future

Sep 13, 2017

Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017 – Second Reading

That the words ‘the next sitting’ be omitted with a view to substituting ‘the first sitting in 2018’ to allow proper consultation to take place consistent with the commitment made by the Government.

The fact is that, on this government’s watch, the Pacific Triangle, the CSL Pacific, the Pioneer, the Lindsay Clarke, the Tandara Spirit, the Araluen Spirit, the Alexander Spirit, the British Loyalty, the Hooghly Spirit, the MV Portland, CSL Melbourne, British Fidelity, CSL Brisbane and CSL Thevenard have all left our shores. They have left our shores and the Australian flag has been lowered. The Australian flag has been lowered and Australian jobs have been lost. This is a government that has been prepared to destroy the Australian shipping industry because, rather than having Australian workers who are members of unions, it prefers to have foreign workers being paid foreign wages on foreign-flagged ships around our coasts.

The abuse of the temporary licence system is something that has to be addressed. This government has no plan. Indeed this is replacing the Australian flag with the white flag when it comes to Australian jobs. On this government’s watch, it has allowed temporary licences for work, such as that done by the MV Portland, which takes minerals from Western Australia to Portland in Victoria to the smelter and then the ship returns to Western Australia—a very consistent voyage between two destinations that in no way could be defined as temporary. Yet this government has failed to put in place a mechanism to ensure that the legislation carried by this parliament in 2012 is given a chance to operate. That has led to a loss of Australian jobs.

I think this minister, who has his 50th birthday today, I am told, isn’t too bad a bloke. But he’s a part of a bad government. On this, he said ‘another key message from my recent stakeholder consultations is that regular certainty, indeed, ideally bipartisanship, is essential for investment,’ and it is. But has there been any briefing for the opposition on this legislation? No, there hasn’t been. Has there been an exposure draft of this legislation? No, there hasn’t been. Has there been consultation with stakeholders? Have they had the potential to see this legislation? No, there hasn’t been.

It stands in stark contrast to the way that we on this side dealt with this when we were in government. In 2007, we asked a parliamentary committee to conduct a comprehensive review; indeed, I think one that the member for Ballarat played a critical role in. In October 2008, that committee brought down a unanimous bipartisan report that provided the basis for the legislation moving forward. In 2009, we established a shipping policy advisory group comprising shippers, industry and unions, convened in order to implement the committee’s recommendations. We released a discussion paper for public comment in 2010, and in 2011 we established three industry reference groups to work through the details of the reform package. Later in 2011, we released exposure drafts of the bills for public comment and another roundtable was conducted with industry and government officials. And then, of course, we introduced the legislation to the parliament and it was carried by this parliament at that time in spite of the extensive consultation, the attempt at bipartisanship and the getting together with industry players, whether they be users of ships or owners of Australian ships in the shipping industry, to participate in this process.

Yet what we have now is legislation being introduced into this parliament consistent with this government’s attempts to destroy Australian shipping. We had legislation from the minister’s predecessor, the former member for Wide Bay and Deputy Prime Minister. It came before this parliament and it was the first legislation I had ever seen that made it clear in the explanatory memorandum that the result of that legislation would be the replacement of the Australian workforce with a foreign workforce. We had Australian businesses, such as tourism operators in the Kimberley, being advised by departmental officials that the way they should go forward and be competitive was to replace the Australian flag on the back of their ships, to put a foreign flag on them and to employ a foreign workforce on foreign wages.

That was an extraordinary admission made by the government officials at that time. I don’t blame them; I blame the elected government for that responsibility. Mr Bill Milby gave extraordinary evidence before the Senate about the conversations that were taking place when he asked for a briefing about how he could deal with the response to the legislation that was being put forward by the government. That legislation was defeated in the Senate because people of goodwill said they wouldn’t cop this. Senator Xenophon, who would normally, as is his practice, grant a second reading amendment so there could be further debate, killed that legislation at that point. He refused to allow it to occur.

What we have now is in spite of the fact that a birthday boy over there was prepared to make comments at a Shipping Australia Limited annual review in January 2017 like:

I am acutely aware of the need to work in a bipartisan way …

But we are not seeing that. We are not seeing that happen.

Of course, there is the euphemism of industry bodies such as ‘Shipping Australia’, which is actually about foreign ships. It shows that they know Australians want to see an Australian shipping industry, because it is in the interests of our economy, it is in the interests of our environment and it is in the interests of our national security. The minister at the table regularly speaks about stopping boats. Well, this legislation and this government’s approach has been to stop ships and boats with the Australian flag on them and replace them with foreign ships around the coast that, of course, enter our harbours without the same migration or security checks that Australian workers have to go through to get their MSICs.

We have very clearly put forward our preparedness to sit down with the minister and work through these issues. Certainty is required for legislation to produce the intended outcome—a revitalisation of the Australian shipping industry. So I am very disappointed with the minister. In spite of the fact that we received commitments about proper consultation about any legislation before it comes into the House, that simply hasn’t happened. It has been abandoned. Once again, there is another gap between the rhetoric of the government and the reality. Teresa Lloyd from the industry body, who is overseas, contacted us to tell us she had been notified that this legislation was coming in this week and asked us whether we knew anything about it. That was how we found out about the legislation. So the Australian shipping industry has not been briefed on this bill either. How hard is it to pick up the phone? We sat last week in parliament. How hard would it have been to get a proper briefing to allow for some advice before we went forward? This amendment will allow for that proper consultation to occur, and that is why it should be carried.

Sep 12, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Trauma Counselling

For almost 50 years, RDVSA have provided specialist sexual assault and domestic violence trauma counselling. Its staff are highly qualified. RDVSA uses the Standards of Practice Manual for Services against Sexual Violence, which requires counsellors to have a tertiary qualification in counselling, social work, psychology or equivalent, and at least three years counselling experience. The organisation is well-known for this expertise, and its executive officer, Karen Willis, has received an AOM for her work in relation to violence against women.

Since its inception, 1800RESPECT, which is an important Labor legacy—and RDVSA has been the sole provider of its specialist trauma counselling, assisting women living with domestic violence nationwide. The decision to withdraw from the 1800RESPECT counselling service follows a series of decisions made by the Turnbull government and lengthy negotiations with Medibank Health Solutions. In October 2006 RDVSA’s contract with the Turnbull government expired, and the contract for 1800RESPECT was put out to tender. While the Turnbull government has announced the 1800RESPECT service will continue, RDVSA will see its funding slashed by 75 per cent, with this funding allocated to three other organisations. It would also be required to operate as part of the MHS call centre model. MHS, of course, was not subject to an open-tender process. The quality and experience of these three other organisations is not under dispute. Each plays a critical role in their respective states assisting women living with domestic violence.

The issue here is with the Turnbull government’s decision to slash RDVSA’s funding by 75 per cent, which will see a reduction in the specialist services they offer, and a loss of jobs. The previous speaker, with respect, said they could just go to work for one of the organisations that has been offered a contract. If they were to do that, it would require these women, with families, to move interstate. It is not that simple, and the government knows that full well.

The Turnbull government should be looking at ways it can facilitate the growth of organisations like RDVSA. The fact is that new support for crisis services should not involve a reduction in the availability of much needed trauma counselling services. But for RDVSA this decision to withdraw is not just about the reduction in funding. It’s also about some of the new contract conditions, which have caused serious concerns. These ethical concerns are about requirements that include an obligation to hand over client files, and to allow voice recording, and we are yet to be told how these voice recordings would be excluded from obligations under subpoenas.

If RDVSA had accepted the new panel arrangement, the organisation would have seen 50 staff redundancies. As it is, withdrawing from the contract means 70 staff redundancies. We’ve been told the staff support this decision, because of their many concerns about the proposed new arrangement. This last change to the service, to reduce access to trauma counsellors and transform the service so that it focuses on information and referral, rather than specialist trauma counselling, comes after the Turnbull government and its for-profit contractor, Medibank Health Services, last year started diverting callers away from RDVSA specialist trauma counsellors to lesser-qualified people, in a first responder triage process. The Turnbull government needs to say how it will make sure that Australian victims and survivors of domestic and family violence and sexual violence, and their supporters, have access to specialist trauma counselling.

The Turnbull government also must say what it will do to avoid the loss of 70 experienced frontline domestic and family violence and sexual violence staff. These are committed people—I have met with them. They’re very upset that they won’t be able to continue to do the work. The Turnbull government also must say how the severance entitlement of these frontline workers will be covered. 

(Time expired)

Sep 12, 2017

Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (A More Sustainable, Responsive and Transparent Higher Education System) Bill 2017 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:49): I rise to speak against the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (A More Sustainable, Responsive and Transparent Higher Education System) Bill 2017. I do so because if this legislation is carried by this parliament it will undermine tertiary education in Australia as we know it. This bill represents a $3.8 billion cut to higher education in this country. It is a cut that’s across the board and a cut that will damage the nature of educational opportunity in this country.

This is a cut, of course, that overwhelmingly will have an impact on young Australians. It is an increase to the average student contribution towards the cost of a degree from 42 per cent up to 46 per cent. It represents a $12,000 decrease to the amount that a graduate is allowed to earn—a decrease to $42,000—before the mandatory repayment of HECS-HELP fees begins. Furthermore, access to Commonwealth supported places for permanent residents and New Zealand citizens studying in Australia will be removed indefinitely. It is ironic, given the debate that has taken place over the citizenship of the Deputy Prime Minister in this country, that they’re undermining the ability and capacity of New Zealand citizens to fully participate in Australian society.

It is a concern that across the board this represents an attack on opportunity. Whilst student contributions are increased and repayment thresholds are lowered for all tertiary institutions, including TAFE and vocational education and training students, those worst hit in this latest round of cuts are our universities. Australian universities are about to be subjected to a 2.5 per cent funding cut that Malcolm Turnbull’s coalition, in its finest example of doublespeak yet, calls an efficiency dividend. Not to mention the 7.5 per cent hike in student fees over the next four years and the removal of Commonwealth supported places for postgraduate students.

This, of course, is about government priorities—whether a government priority is corporate tax cuts for the top end of town or whether it is providing support for the higher education needs of our country. If Australia is going to prosper in the Asian century, we need to prosper on the basis of how smart we are and how innovative we are, and on the capacity of our human capital to compete in this region. We shouldn’t try to compete by lowering wages and conditions and we shouldn’t try to compete by undermining the capacity of our population—particularly our young population—but this is what the government would do. This is what this legislation represents.

It also represents, I believe, a fundamental, philosophical divide across this chamber. Those in the Liberal Party seem to believe that education is just about benefitting the individual—that an individual benefits and gets a higher income, and that they should therefore contribute more to that educational opportunity. The problem with that is twofold. Firstly, it doesn’t understand or take into account the fact that increasing educational opportunity and increasing the capacity of our population—particularly our younger generations—to make the most of themselves and to educate themselves in ways which both contribute commercially to the economy and contribute to their capacity to make a difference in society, is a benefit for that society as a whole. It’s not just about the individual and the benefit to them.

That is a fundamental difference in what Labor has always understood about education: that education is the great enabler. That is why the Hawke government and the Keating government were very proud of the fact that in 1983 some three out of 10 Australian young people completed their Higher School Certificate and, at the end of that period in 1996, that figure was above eight out of 10. That was a great legacy of the Hawke and Keating governments. That followed the great Whitlam government reforms that opened up tertiary education to working-class people.

Many of us who sit in this chamber would be the first people in their families to complete a university degree. I was the first person in my family to complete schooling, let alone a university degree. That means that we maximise the benefit for the individual, but we also maximise the benefit to the economy and to society as a whole by maximising the collective potential of those people who make up our local communities.

Federal Labor came into office in 2007—something that we will be celebrating in coming months. We increased funding for universities from $8 billion to $14 billion over our six years in office, a $6 billion increase in contributions to universities. During that period, we saw again a massive increase in the number of people who were able to go to university. That changed the composition of the people who were going to universities. People from lower and middle incomes who had been missing out then got that opportunity.

Labor also has a plan for TAFE and the vocational education and training sector. The last Labor government contributed over $19 billion in Commonwealth funding towards the VET and TAFE sector, including investment in infrastructure and technology upgrades. There is legislation before this parliament to abolish funds that Labor established—the Building Australia Fund, to build transport infrastructure, which was approved by Infrastructure Australia; and the Education Investment Fund, which was for building education infrastructure around the country. They just want to abolish those.

The reinvigoration of TAFE and VET courses is of particular importance to me. The Design Centre Enmore, one of the most notable TAFEs in New South Wales, resides in the inner west. This centre specialises in industrial design, fashion design and visual design, and has flourished in spite of the cuts to services imposed by the coalition and reinforced by the state government, which has also undermined TAFE. Just down the road, Petersham TAFE in West Street has been forced to close its doors. It specialised in communications. How extraordinary is it that a TAFE centre in a global city like Sydney specialising in communications, giving young people that opportunity, has shut its doors because of cuts by the New South Wales coalition government, reinforced by the attitude of the federal government?

It is because of Labor’s proven track record and our belief in higher education that we will oppose the measures in this bill that increase student fees and lower the HECS, HELP, TAFE and VET repayment thresholds. We oppose these changes, just as we opposed and successfully defeated the proposal from Tony Abbott in the last term of government to have $100,000 degrees. We know that the changes proposed in this legislation come at a time when Australians are paying the sixth-highest level of university fees in the OECD. The memory of university fee deregulation is still fresh in the minds of most. Had this plan been accepted, we would have had a two-tiered higher education system—the privileged, who could afford it, and the underprivileged, who could not. One of the great distinctions and divides in Australian politics is between Labor, who believe in creating opportunity, and our conservative opponents, who believe in entrenching privilege. And that is why we see education as the great enabler.

I am concerned with this legislation and the impact that it has on universities. Universities support more than 130,000 jobs across Australia. If you cut an amount of funding from an institution, somewhere down the line a job is lost. If you cut $3.8 billion from the institutions, you could be certain that the jobs lost will be in the thousands. That’s important in local institutions like the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney, which service my electorate even though they’re just outside my boundaries. But it is also critically important for universities like the University of New England, in Armidale, the University of Newcastle and the University of Wollongong. All of these campuses have had a critical role to play in those local regional economies.

One of the things Australia has been very good at over the years is developing new technology and innovation—whether it be solar technology at the Australian National University or the University of New South Wales or wi-fi and information technology down at the University of Wollongong. Across the board our universities have been world class in innovation, research, ideas and breakthroughs. What we haven’t always been good at it commercialising those opportunities and value-adding so that we create the jobs here in Australia. And the real debate should be how we do that, how we maximise the intellectual capacity that we have here into job creation down the line.

This government really isn’t interested in that, though. A university campus, a TAFE campus or a school they just see as a target for cuts. Australian electrical engineer Dr John O’Sullivan invented an integral component of wi-fi while looking for a way to measure the mass of a black hole. Dr O’Sullivan undertook his undergraduate degree in engineering at Sydney uni. Australian writer Garth Nix penned the Old Kingdom trilogy, an internationally successful series that raised the bar for science fiction and fantasy writers worldwide. He was a graduate of the University of Canberra. Across the board, there is enormous success that we should be proud of.

This legislation would provide a loss of over $600 million in my home state of New South Wales alone. This legislation is not worthy of support in this parliament. This legislation will undermine our capacity as an economy. It will hurt individuals and their capacity to make the most of themselves in life and provide support to their family. It will undermine our standing on the global stage, where we’ve been very proud of the high ranking that our universities have reached over recent years. Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. Nelson Mandela was right. This legislation is wrong.

Sep 11, 2017

Statements by Members – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:54): Nothing signifies this government’s neglect of regional Australia more than having a look at the gap between the rhetoric and the reality when it comes to infrastructure. Let’s have a look. Black spots: promised $220 million over three years; actual: $115 million. Heavy Vehicles Safety and Productivity Program around those regional roads: promised $171 million in the first three years; delivered: $64.6 million, cut by $107 million—the Bruce Highway cut and the Pacific Highway cut. The Northern Australia Investment Facility: not a single dollar actually spent. The only money that has gone out is for the board meetings that are held in the CBD in Sydney! Not a single dollar out of that program! Financial assistance grants: frozen.

Then comes the New England Highway—the Bolivia Hill upgrade, the Tenterfield bypass and the Scone bypass, funded by the previous federal Labor government: nothing done in 2014, nothing done in 2015 and nothing in 2016. It’s taken the member for New England facing a by-election before they’ve even called tenders!

What a joke! This is a government that has contempt for regional Australia until they face a by-election. Then they turn themselves to action. 

(Time expired)

Sep 5, 2017

Regional Development and Decentralisation Committee Report

Federation Chamber
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:16): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate as the shadow minister for regional development, and to be able to outline what four years of neglect and failure mean in our regions when it comes, particularly, to energy, to the National Broadband Network, to infrastructure investment and to water policy. Energy is what I will begin with.

When it comes to energy, there’s a bit of a debate as to whether there should be a new coal-fired power station in Northern Queensland, or whether, indeed, renewable energy is the future. Last fortnight, I visited Hughenden, Kidston and the Kennedy Project in north-west Queensland with the member for Kennedy, Bob Katter. There we looked at the reality of what is happening on the ground, not because of the coalition government, but in spite of the federal government. There we looked at exciting projects which are taking place.

The Kidston Solar Project is about 280 kilometres north-west of Townsville. It sits on the side of the abandoned gold mine, which ceased production around the turn of the century. The developer, Genex, came up with the quite ingenious idea of redeveloping the site as a solar and pumped hydro facility, taking advantage of the existing mine infrastructure. The company is installing 537,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on a tracking system that will follow the sun across the sky. Once fully commissioned early next year, this facility will generate enough electricity to power more than 26,000 homes, with its second stage set to add more capacity, making it the largest solar farm in Australia.

As part of stage 2, the company will utilise the old mine’s tailings dam to create a 250-megawatt pumped storage hydro project. Some of the power produced by the sun by day will be used to pump water up to the dam, and at night the water will be used to drive turbines. This integration of solar and pumped storage will provide stability to the grid and a pathway to the 24/7 supply of renewable energy.

I also visited what will soon become the site of the Kennedy Energy Park located outside of Hughenden. This project will combine solar, wind and battery storage to create renewable energy on a scale comparable to Queensland’s large coal-fired power plants like Tarong and Stanwell—enough electricity to power up to a million homes. Both projects have been strongly backed by the Palaszczuk Queensland Labor government, but they might have withered on the vine without the mitigation of risk through the support of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, both of which were set up by the former federal Labor government and which are agencies that the current government tried to abolish when it came to office.

The current government is also continuing to resist Professor Finkel’s recommendation of a clean energy target to provide the certainty for investment that’s required. Regional Australia will particularly benefit from certainty in investment and job creation. On the ground, the ideological conflict between the Abbott forces and the Turnbull forces in this coalition government are completely irrelevant to the people of Hughenden, to the people who are creating jobs and to the people who are developing north-west Queensland.

Moving to other opportunities for decentralisation when it comes to infrastructure, we hear a lot of rhetoric from this government about infrastructure investment. What we don’t actually see is dollars. When it comes to the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway, the major routes up the east coast of Australia, we haven’t seen new investment from the coalition government. What we’ve seen is the government relying upon the investment that was put in place by the former Labor government. Projects which the member for Maranoa mentioned, such as the Warrego Highway, were already in the budget. We haven’t seen any additional investment there. The Parliamentary Budget Office has advised that over the coming decade infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP will fall from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent—a halving of investment. Over the forward estimates, from an estimate of over $9 billion that was supposed to be spent last year, investment declines to $4.2 billion in 2021—it falls off a cliff—and it is regional Australia that will suffer as a result. There will be not only fewer short-term jobs and less activity in the construction sector but also, in the long-run, much less economic activity.

There is one powerhouse project that the government could support to support regional economic development and decentralisation, and that is high-speed rail from Brisbane to Melbourne through Sydney and Canberra. High-speed rail would provide an economic stimulus to towns along the route such as Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, down through to this great inland city, the bush capital of Canberra, then through Wagga Wagga, Albury and Shepparton. Yet this government has withdrawn the funds that were there to establish a high-speed rail authority when it came to office.

The next issue that the government could address is the National Broadband Network. The National Broadband Network is vital for creating the same business and economic opportunities for people, whether they live in the CBD of our capital cities or whether they live in a regional centre. In terms of the competitive advantage that the NBN would bring to regional Australia where it has been turned on properly in places with fibre to the home and with fibre to the business, it has certainly done that. It would enable a business in Coffs Harbour to compete on the same basis for international contracts and international business opportunities as one based in George Street in Sydney. Yet this government has this so-called hybrid model, which is essentially that if you can afford to have fibre connected to your home, you can pay for it. But for everyone else it is a matter of privilege. And sometimes it is just a matter of accident. Depending upon where in a regional town you live, you might have fibre on one side of the street and copper—second-rate delivery—on the other side of the street. That will impact the economic value of those homes. It is quite extraordinary that the National Broadband Network has had to concede that its development of fibre technology is such that it can be rolled out more cheaply than the millions of metres of copper wire that have been purchased by the current government—it is quite extraordinary that that would happen—in 2017.

Lastly, when it comes to the proper management of our water resources, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin, we have seen a failure by this government to manage those issues properly. We have referrals to various corruption agencies as a result of that, but it is a complete failure of government leadership. Whether it is high-speed rail, water management, energy, the National Broadband Network, rail or road infrastructure, this government is failing regional Australia and that is why it is suffering a decline of support in regional Australia. The huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality of this government means it stands condemned.

Aug 14, 2017

Bills – Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:08): I’m very pleased to follow my friend and colleague the member for Blaxland and that the member for Greenway and the member for Werriwa are in the chamber as well—three other Sydney MPs who represent multicultural electorates and who are proud of the fact that Australia is the nation that we are today because, with the exception of the First Australians, we are all descendants of migrants, be they British migrants or migrants from all over the world who have come to make Australia their home.

When I see a bill which is aimed at an existing law, my starting point is always: what problem is it trying to fix? If something’s broken then it is the responsibility of this parliament to intervene, to create new laws, to update the laws of the nation and to make sure that laws become fit for purpose. But this piece of legislation—indeed, even the very title of the bill, including the word ‘strengthening’—implies there is something weak about the existing arrangements. We’re asked to accept that being able to speak conversational English is no longer sufficient for people to become Australian citizens. This is snobbery of the highest order. We’ll now require people to pass a university-level English test—a test which, frankly, I would question whether members of this House would be able to do. We’re asked to accept that being a law-abiding citizen who has lived here for four years is no longer enough to justify the privilege of Australian citizenship. Under these changes, people would be required to demonstrate that they possess Australian values and that they have integrated into our community.

Now, I am always pleased to keep an open mind when it comes to legislative amendments, but the truth is that there is no evidence that this legislation is necessary. It didn’t originate in the bureaucracy. It certainly didn’t come from our national security agencies. It has its genesis in the ideological obsession of some of those opposite in the Liberal Party—a Liberal Party that is prepared to play politics with issues of our national citizenship. To me, the issues of citizenship, national security and law and order should be taken very seriously indeed. What they shouldn’t become is a plaything for the Liberal Party’s internal divisions—divisions based upon some in the Liberal Party who hark back to a golden era of white picket fences, an Anglo Saxon culture being predominant in this country, a lack of diversity and a lack of modernism that has made Australia the successful nation that we are today. My fear is that this legislation is all about the culture wars, where the Prime Minister has been prepared to just throw out all the things that he knows Australia needs. He is prepared to throw out decades of conviction that he has held in order to appease the culture warriors in the right wing of the Liberal Party.

This is an extraordinary proposition that has come before the parliament, which is why we have referred the bill to a Senate inquiry and why the member for Watson has moved such a comprehensive second reading amendment to it. There have been no arguments put up for its adoption. Let’s just have a look at some of the issues which are specifically created by this legislation. Firstly, there is the issue of the English tests. The fact is that the tests which people currently sit for are, of course, written in English. The existing courses teach what is known as competent standards under the International English Language Testing System. The proposed change means that what would actually be required to be competent in English would be a university level of English, which would change the whole dynamic. One of the great privileges that we have as members of parliament is attending citizenship ceremonies. What we have then, as in my part of the world, is people from all over the world—Asia in our region, South America, Africa and Europe—who come to pledge their allegiance to this great nation. It is extraordinary the emotion that people feel. There is no better place to be in Australia than at Enmore Park on Australia Day, on the afternoon of those citizenship ceremonies. There are tears, there are hugs, there are people proudly waving the Australian flag, there are speeches and there is a huge gathering of the family and friends of those people who are becoming citizens on that day. It seems to me to be quite remarkable that the legislation before us is aimed at making the process harder and longer before people can enjoy those ceremonies. That flies in the face of what we should be doing as a nation, which is encouraging people to declare their allegiance to Australia—encouraging people to become full citizens and to participate fully in the civic life of this country.

These people currently pay taxes and they work damn hard in this country. If you have a look at the sorts of people who do these jobs, menial work in particular, whether it be in the agricultural sector or whether it be cleaning our offices here in this building, you see that they tend to be people who have come to Australia to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They don’t ask for much. What they do ask for—and what they expect and what they deserve—is respect. And that is what this legislation does not give them. This legislation changes the parameter of the debate from one in which we’re encouraging people to become citizens to one in which we’re thinking up barriers to citizenship and barriers to that civic participation, including voting—which may well be the motivation of those who are putting forward this proposition.

The extraordinary thing about the requirement for university-level English is that none of the proposals put forward by the government speak about an increase in funding to assist people to learn English. Indeed, the changes to the Adult Migrant English Service and other organisations and the attacks on TAFE have undermined participation by community members. We don’t expect people to have a PhD in English in order to be citizens, unless we’re deliberately putting the qualification bar so high that we are excluding people. Another issue in the bill is the extension of the time for people to be eligible to become citizens.

It is interesting that national security agencies haven’t even been consulted on the issues in the legislation. We take a bipartisan approach to national security issues. I had another briefing this morning about transport security. I’ve worked very constructively with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, on all the issues that have been raised in recent times about threats to our security, and Labor has never played politics with these issues. But there is no national security justification for these moves.

This, of course, goes to Australian values. Australian values are about respect for democracy and respect for the rule of law. We’re also talking about the Australian value of the fair go. The truth is that the fair go is given short shrift by this legislation. The legislation also gives the minister the right to set aside Administrative Appeals Tribunal findings concerning character and identity if the minister believes it is in the public interest. Labor have reserved our position on that. We want to see some evidence, though, that that is necessary, and that’s one of the things that we’ll consider through the Senate process. The process up to now has been atrociously handled by the government, with a sham community consultation process. There certainly hasn’t been adequate consultation with the communities who will be directly affected by this. Multicultural leaders who go out and promote Australian citizenship have had that process undermined.

Today, a day on which the great Les Murray, one of the champions of multiculturalism in this country, is being farewelled at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, is a day on which it is timely to remind the House of the contribution that people who’ve come from across the world have made to Australia. Les Murray, who came here as a young boy in 1957 in the wake of the Hungarian uprising, put down by the Stalinists in 1956, made an incredible contribution to turning football into the amazing participation sport that it is in this country today. He was also a constant advocate of multiculturalism and, from such humble origins, an iconic figure in this country. Indeed, he became a character in popular culture with the TISM song, What Nationality is Les Murray?—one of my favourites, where the chorus is ‘Les is more’—because everything about Les Murray was larger than life, and I think that his contribution should be valued.

We have heard a lot about Australian values, and part of that is respect and inclusion. I do want to make a brief comment about the rejection by Waverley Council and the Land and Environment Court recently of a planning proposal to establish a Jewish synagogue at Bondi. This is a very poor sign for our country. We cannot allow the threat of terrorism and violence to stop people being able to practise their faith, whatever faith that is. Whether it be a Jewish synagogue, or an Islamic mosque, or a Catholic Church, or a Buddhist temple, people have a right to practise their faith in this country. We shouldn’t ever, ever concede that because some would threaten a particular faith or group of people in our society we should allow those threats to be successful. I think that was quite an appalling decision, and I want to put on the record my opposition to it.

Australians are made up of people of different religions, different ethnicities, different racial backgrounds, different genders and different sexualities, but we make Australia what it is today—this great melting pot—through citizenship. I think that we should support the amendment that has been moved by the member for Watson, and the government really needs to reconsider where it’s going with its approach to Australian citizenship—it should be something that we’re advocating, not something that we’re making harder.

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Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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