Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
May 3, 2016

Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016 – Consideration of Senate Message

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:04): The opposition will be supporting this proposition moved by the minister, but we are somewhat bemused that this government that has just begun this term, because this is week 2, allegedly, of this current sitting of parliament, is frankly so incompetent that we have circumstances whereby we have this occurrence. It may well have occurred early on in my 20 years in this place, but certainly since I have held the position of Leader of the House or the Manager of Opposition Business it has not occurred. This is quite unusual. It has occurred because the government failed to understand what was appropriate when it put together the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill.

Due to the very strong advocacy from my colleague the member for Perth, the government has recognised that it made an error in its original drafting of the bill on the definition of ‘Northern Australia’. The substantial amendments that the government has foreshadowed will have to be moved in this House first and then carried in the Senate second. That is what should occur. Mr Speaker, I know that you and I would agree on the primacy of the House of Representatives under the Constitution. It now needs to be done through this rather convoluted procedural action moved by the government.

We certainly endorse your statement, Mr Speaker, on the constitutional issues. You are quite right, of course. But we find it extraordinary that the government had to have the Australian Constitution drawn to its attention in what is week 2 of a parliament that was convened to consider two pieces of legislation, one of which it dropped. That says it all about why this government should be put out of its misery on 2 July. It simply has not been competent to act like a government. It continues to act like an opposition in exile on the government benches.

This extraordinary proposition that is before the parliament today, which as I said the Labor Party will facilitate, is a change to legislation which has been advocated primarily by the member for Perth but supported by the Australian Labor Party to try and get this right. Of course, we facilitated the passage of the northern Australia infrastructure legislation through the parliament after it was prorogued. We put it through very quickly to try and help this fledgling new cabinet minister over here, because it is in our nature to be constructive, which is why we will support this proposition. But we say that Australia does not have long to wait before it has a government that understands the way the parliament works and is actually able to govern competently. We will have that opportunity. This bill only provides for loans for northern Australia, but it is legislation which we support, but we support it being conducted in a way that is obviously consistent with the Australian Constitution. My colleague the member for Perth will speak about the substance of these changes when the minister moves his amendments subsequent to the procedural resolutions that are currently before the House.

Question agreed to.

Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation for the bill and proposed amendments announced.

May 2, 2016

Water Amendment (Review Implementation and Other Measures) Bill 2015, Tax Laws Amendment (New Tax System for Managed Investment Trusts) Bill 2015, Income Tax Rates Amendment (Managed Investment Trusts) Bill 2015, Medicare Levy Amendment (Attribution Managed Investment Trusts) Bill 2015, Income Tax (Attribution Managed Investment Trusts—Offsets) Bill 2015, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015, Australian Crime Commission Amendment (National Policing Information) Bill 2015, Australian Crime Commission (National Policing Information Charges) Bill 2015, Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016, Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No. 1) Bill 2016, Corporations Amendment (Crowd-sourced Funding) Bill 2015, Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2015, Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill 2014

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:03): I rise to speak to this motion that has been moved by the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation. I indicate that we will not be opposing the motion, but this is quite an extraordinary occurrence. This request is a direct result of the decision by the government to prorogue the parliament; we are pretending that this is a new parliament. In the motion put forward by the assistant minister, he indicated that this motion was resuming debate on legislation considered in the last session of parliament. It is the same session. It is the same thing. Something called an election determines when sessions occur. This is still the 44th Parliament, and yet what we had a fortnight ago—a pretence that it was a new session—was a direct result of the government’s failure to manage this parliament, let alone manage the nation. We had the Governor-General open the parliament and give a speech to the parliament indicating—as is his task as the representative of our head of state, who remains the Queen of the Commonwealth of Australia—what the government’s priorities would be for this session of parliament, as if it were new. People might recall that there were two bills mentioned, but one of them was not even debated by the parliament. It got dropped off and they did not bother to pretend that that was the case. If you cannot run the parliament you cannot run the nation, and this is a government that has shown itself incapable of running the parliament.

The reason this motion is before the parliament is to give the Senate something to do. At one stage during the last fortnight we had the extraordinary circumstance where there was only one bill before the House of Representatives—my bill supporting a high-speed rail authority, which will be moved formally later today. There were the extraordinary circumstances of the proroguing of parliament and the listing of two bills, one of which was not even debated, and now the Senate has to have bills continued for debate, as if none of this had occurred. This is extraordinary, just as it is extraordinary that it appears we will rush to an election in order for the government to avoid scrutiny of its budget measures and avoid the normal processes that would take place: Senate estimates over a two-week period and a full and proper debate between now and 1 July. These are the normal processes, but, because of the government’s desperation, its lack of an agenda and its lack of a sense of purpose, it simply cannot even sustain itself in the normal three-year term, which I think most Australians would regard as being too short as it is. Certainly, we on this side of the House support four-year terms for the parliament.

This motion says a lot about this government. I was Leader of the House in the minority parliament from 2010 to 2013. With respect to my friend the member for Sturt, this mob would not make it to lunchtime, let alone to question time, on day one if they had 70 votes out of 150. They have 90, and they still cannot manage the parliament. So we have this extraordinary circumstance, due to the extraordinary generosity of my colleague and friend the member for Watson, the Manager of Opposition Business, allowing this to occur. Otherwise the Senate would be sitting over there on what they perhaps would call ‘a long morning tea break’, because there would be nothing before the Senate to actually debate—just like after the parliament was prorogued and brought back the Senate had to break not once but twice because it had absolutely nothing before it in terms of business. These are extraordinary circumstances that simply were not considered when the Prime Minister showed how clever he was by pretending that the parliament was new. It is not new. This is an old government with no agenda except a repeat of the 2014 budget.

We will not oppose this. Frankly, if this was the opposition from 2010 to 2013, or the opposition at any time that the member for Warringah was the Manager of Opposition Business, there is no way that this would have been allowed. This would have been blocked. There probably would have been suspension motions on the basis of this absurd proposition in order for the parliament to function. But, because we in Labor are responsible, we do take our obligations seriously and we are not political opportunists like those opposite, Labor will not be opposing this resolution.

Question agreed to.

May 2, 2016

High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:05): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Inspirational author Helen Keller, the first sight-impaired person to earn a university degree, once made a critical observation about vision.

She said:

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.

The proposed high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is a project that requires vision.

It is big—more than 1,700 kilometres long.

It is challenging—it will involve the construction of tens of kilometres of tunnels.

It is complex, necessarily involving the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory as well as dozens of local councils.

Making a project of this scale a reality requires vision.

We must imagine a better future and take actions to create that future.

We have done the research.

We know that the project is viable.

What this parliament needs to do is commit to the next step required to make it a reality—the creation of an authority to advance detailed planning and work with other jurisdictions and begin to acquire the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl.

That is the thinking behind this bill.

A long road

This is the third time this bill has come before us.

I first introduced it in December 2013 as the first private member’s bill before the parliament this term.

However, a lack of political will from the government meant the bill lapsed, requiring me to reintroduce it in October last year.

But once again, this bill lapsed last month when the government prorogued the parliament in extraordinary circumstances and then reconvened it for a special fresh sitting staged to allow it to contrive reasons for the double dissolution of the parliament.

So I reintroduced this bill on 19 April.

We could have debated it back then. Indeed, at one stage it was literally the only piece of legislation that was before the House of Representatives.

Yet this government showed no vision, despite the fact that people like former trade minister Andrew Robb, have come out as strong supporters of high-speed rail.

Mr Robb has stated that he could produce the names of international companies that had told him they could deliver the project in full.

Last month someone in the government floated the idea in a national newspaper that the entire project could be delivered using value capture.

This, I do not think, is realistic.

Any politician who tells you that they can fund an entire rail line using value capture is pulling your leg.

And like most of the government’s thought bubbles, the idea collapsed within hours when the parliamentary secretary for cities ruled out support for the project.

This is indeed a shame.

It is another lost opportunity from a government that had a plan to win government but no plan to govern.

The project

As transport minister in the former Labor government, I commissioned a two-part study involving extensive consultation with industry and international operators of high-speed rail, as well as significant community input.

The study, published in April 2013, included the business case for the project, consideration of environmental issues, projections of patronage, the proposed route, proposed stations and proposed time lines.

It found that high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia was indeed a viable proposition.

For example, it found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, $2.15 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

The report found that once fully operational across the Brisbane to Melbourne corridor, high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers each and every year.

At speeds of 350 kilometres per hour, people would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney, or Melbourne to Brisbane, in less than three hours. Of course, new technology is seeing speeds in excess of that.

The report found that Commonwealth leadership and coordination would be essential, given the number of jurisdictions involved.

High-speed rail would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80 kilometres of tunnels, including 67 kilometres in Sydney alone.

But despite these challenges, the experts said that high-speed rail had huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades.

We can anticipate significant population growth over coming decades along the route of this proposed line.

We can also anticipate that growing pressure for a carbon-constrained economy will drive the economics of this project ever more positively over time.

We can also anticipate that if we fail to act soon, delivery of high-speed rail will be made more difficult and more costly because parts of the corridor will be built out by urban sprawl.

That is why this bill proposes to create an 11-person high-speed rail authority to bring together all affected states and territories as well as rail and engineering experts to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor.

Members would include:

One member from each of the jurisdictions affected—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory;

One member representing the Australian Local Government Association;

One member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association; and

Five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise—to make sure there is engineering and other expertise on the authority.

The authority’s roles would include consideration of:

Land use planning relating to the corridor;

Safety;

Measures to minimise environmental impact;

Public consultation; and

Intervention to purchase the corridor.

This is not an idea that I came up with. We had proper process, and I appointed a High Speed Rail Advisory Group that included people such as the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, and Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye.

It was chaired by the deputy secretary of my former department, Lyn O’Connell.

Serious people having a look at a serious issue and coming up with serious suggestions about the way forward, and a way forward that should have been bipartisan.

That is why the former Labor government embraced these recommendations, which were unanimous, and allocated $54 million to establish the authority and begin the process of corridor acquisition.

But in 2013 the incoming coalition government scrapped this allocation and turned its back on the project.

Vision

To best understand the potential of high-speed rail, we need to look well beyond 2016 and consider where this nation will be in coming decades.

We know that our population will be larger.

We now that this growth will be concentrated precisely on the route of this high-speed rail proposal.

We can also expect the world will have moved in terms of economic options as it is doing in Asia and Europe towards rail. Rail is the transport of the 21st century.

According to the high-speed rail study I referred to earlier, travel on the east coast of Australia is forecast to grow by about 1.8 per cent every year over the next two decades and to increase by 60 per cent by 2035.

The study said east coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065.

There is another compelling reason to proceed with high-speed rail, and that is the boost to regional Australia. That is why this bill will be seconded by the member for Newcastle.

Stations are proposed for the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

This project will position these centres to take some of the population growth pressure off our capital cities, which will no doubt be a key issue in the future.

Importantly, it will also provide for uplift value by the economic improvement that will occur in those regional centres to be factored into the funding, building and construction of the high-speed rail line.

It could also deliver a massive improvement in liveability.

Imagining living in Newcastle or the Southern Highlands and being able to commute to the central business district of Sydney in under an hour. It will transform those centres and facilitate new business.

Conclusion

Vision is one of the obligations of leadership.

Today’s leaders will best serve those who follow us if we think ahead.

True leaders do not just sit around waiting for the telephone to ring. They act.

This parliament should show some genuine leadership by acting on high-speed rail, starting today by debating and supporting this bill.

I fear this is unlikely, given the government’s refusal to debate this issue over the last three years.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In the general election in July, the people of Australia have the ability to take this issue out of this visionless coalition government’s hands.

A Shorten Labor government will act where the Abbott-Turnbull government has failed.

We will establish a high-speed rail authority.

We will ask the authority to move quickly towards calling for expressions of interest from international rail companies that have shown a capacity to deliver real projects.

Labor is prepared to think ahead.

Future generations will be the beneficiaries.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Is there a seconder to the motion?

Ms Claydon: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.

Apr 18, 2016

Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016, Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:27): I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 and the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016. Last month, 25 Australians died in traffic accidents that involved heavy vehicles. Last year, the death toll was in excess of 300 for accidents that involved heavy vehicles. That is more than double the number of people who sit in this House of Representatives—and that is just one year. No government serious about the welfare of Australians would accept this dreadful statistic without trying to do something about it. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, who just spoke, is correct in referring to some of the other programs that are about doing something about it that have bipartisan support—the Black Spots Program. The program that I introduced that is no longer a specific program—the heavy vehicle safety and productivity program—was about identifying areas for rest stops on highways right around the country. It is something that, as I drive down the Pacific Highway or the Hume and have a look at the new rest stops that have been built as a result of the conscious decision to include that as part of the economic stimulus program, I am very proud of.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was also a necessary component. The minister said, ‘Let’s not politicise this issue’, and yet to bring in this legislation today, when parliament sat for five weeks out of seven earlier this year during which this issue was not raised at all, says it all about the politicisation of this issue. This is unworthy legislation to be brought in during a special sitting that was not mentioned in any of the correspondence between the government and the Governor-General just weeks ago, when the Prime Minister made the absurd decision to prorogue the parliament and to pretend that this is the first day of a new parliament. I have been in this place for 20 years. You have first days of parliament after you have elections. Tony Abbott won an election in 2013; Malcolm Turnbull has not. The proroguing of the parliament and the pretence that this is somehow a new parliament with a new agenda is politicisation in the extreme.

To bring in this legislation does no credit to the minister or to anyone on that side of the chamber, because this tribunal has been in place since 2012. Those opposite have had three years to raise something about this tribunal and yet there has been nothing from them—no piece of legislation seeking to amend the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal or how it would operate, and no submission to the tribunal when it was deliberating on making this determination. There has been not a word from those opposite in the government. Yet now we have the ultimate politicisation of road safety and this issue.

Just last month I attended a breakfast function here in Canberra. I heard from a truck driver named John Waltis. He offered up a statistic that was so disturbing that it should concern every member of this House. He has attended the funerals of 52 truck drivers killed on the job. That is 52 families that have lost their breadwinner, their father, their mother, their sibling or their child. In a nation as big and prosperous as Australia, a nation that relies heavily on road freight, we have a responsibility as legislators to ensure that road safety is paramount when it comes to regulation of the industry. Death rates for the road transport industry are 12 times the average for the entire workforce.

Safety must not be a matter of political engagement. Yet today we are being asked by a desperate government to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, an organisation specifically established by the former Labor government to focus on road safety in the trucking industry. There is nothing deficient about the tribunal, but this government has made such a mess of running the country that it has decided to target this organisation as part of a cynical re-election campaign. Because of the government’s failures it cannot run on its record. Indeed, this is a government that has been in opposition for its entire three years. Now the latest expression of its opposition mentality and focus is to reject safe rates.

If you are opposed to safe rates, it must mean by definition that you somehow support unsafe rates. At the heart of this debate is that simple view. If you do not believe that there is a connection between pay rates and safety then by all means argue that, but you must argue it on the basis of evidence. Every study that has been done, including the 2008 report of the National Transport Commission, the Jaguar Consulting report of 2014 and the PricewaterhouseCoopers report released just months ago, has shown a clear link. The PwC report, for example, recognised at page 86 that commission orders reduce crash rates between 10 and 18 per cent. Common sense tells you that that is the case. If people are paid for eight hours to do a task that in reality takes 12 hours, corners will be cut and those cut corners endanger not just truck drivers but all road users. That is why this legislation demeans all those good people across the parliament who worked on these issues for so many years—people like Paul Neville and others who during the Howard government produced the House of Representatives landmark committee report Beyond the midnight oil.

This legislation did not come from nowhere. We had hearings in this parliament in the lead-up to the creation of the tribunal, having proper consultation with industry, academics and experts. This was not something that was dreamed up. Indeed, the argument somehow that this is about the Transport Workers Union is so absurd that it shows no understanding of the industry. Members of the TWU who work for the big companies like Linfox and Toll organise their pay rates through enterprise bargaining between their union and their employer. This is for people who are outside of the industrial system, people who are owner-drivers, who are not in a position to negotiate in a collective bargaining forum and say that you cannot pay unsafe rates. That is the task of the tribunal—to make sure that you cannot have circumstances whereby people are put under pressure: ‘Do it for this rate or we will get someone else who will.’ It is similar to the opposition that we on this side of the House had to Work Choices legislation whereby an individual waiting to get a job could be told: ‘Do it for $3 an hour even though you should be paid $20 an hour. If not, the person behind you will do it for that amount,’ and destroy any ability for collective bargaining.

This is a government that is just determined to have scare campaigns about trade unions. This is the next step. We have had the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation that will create a different set of laws for people who work in the construction sector from the rest of the workforce and here we have a cynical attempt—something that has not been argued for until the last couple of weeks in terms of looking for an election issue.

The former government did establish a tribunal, following the publication of a series of reports and following extensive—extensive—consultation. It was about stamping out practices like speeding, not taking rest stops and using amphetamines and other drugs to stay awake. There is no dispute that these facts are there, and they were accepted by an all-party committee that backed the creation of the tribunal.

Consider the evidence of a truckie named Andrew who told the New South Wales industrial commission that he was required to work so many hours that he would hallucinate while driving. Andrew said he once imagined he saw another truck doing a three-point turn on the highway up ahead and stopped. As traffic banked up behind him, another truckie radioed to ask why he had stopped in the middle of the road. There was no truck up ahead.

Another driver named Robert revealed in a 2011 survey that he had asked his boss for time off to have his tyres replaced in the name of safety. The boss refused. Not long after, he was driving along at 100 kilometres per hour with a full load when one of his tyres blew out. ‘It’s sheer luck no-one was killed,’ Robert said.

Before the creation of the tribunal, too many trucks were moving around the nation’s highways being driven by people forced by economic necessity to adopt practices that put their lives at risk—not just their lives but those of other road users. The tribunal provided orders that can include minimum pay levels; clear conditions for loading and unloading; waiting times; working hours; load limits; payment methods, payment periods and other means of reducing pay related pressures; and practices and incentives which contribute to unsafe work practices. The bottom line here is that truck drivers should be able to earn a decent living without having to risk their own lives or the lives of others. That is why we call them ‘safe rates’.

Key figures in the National Party clearly indicated that they knew where we were coming from when this legislation was carried. This is what New South Wales senator John Williams, a former truck driver, told the Senate on 20 March 2012:

We are talking about safe rates. We are talking about what truckies are paid, especially the contractors when they unload at Coles and Woolworths. I do not have a problem with what you are proposing.

Later on, on 16 March this year, Senator Williams said this in the Senate:

When the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was put through this place when Labor was in government I did not have a lot of bad things to say about it because, as a former pig farmer, I know how Woolworths treated me. I know what the big end of town does to the small Aussie battlers, as I call them.

We have had a look at the expertise that is there about the connection between road safety and pay rates. Indeed, The Conversation had a look at these issues and asked Professor Michael Quinlan, the director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, to review the evidence, including the PwC report. Professor Quinlan found that drivers being paid per trip drove an average of 15 kilometres an hour faster than drivers on an hourly rate. Let me read his verdict. It says:

Albanese was correct. There is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety.

I cannot fault The Conversation on its academic rigour. They also asked a US academic, Michael Belzer, an associate professor in economics at Wayne State University in Detroit, to review Mr Quinlan’s findings. He described Mr Quinlan’s report as an excellent summary of the issue and backed its findings.

This, today, is all about politics. The parliament exists to provide a venue for debate. Often we agree, but sometimes we do not. But what we should not be having a debate about is road safety. What we should have in terms of road safety is an absolute commitment from everyone in this parliament to do whatever they can to decrease the likelihood of deaths and accidents on our roads. That is why I will strongly oppose this legislation that has been brought forward in such extraordinary circumstances.

Mar 16, 2016

Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (09:52): Aviation and maritime security should be above partisan politics. It is the responsibility of any federal government of any political persuasion to ensure that our nation’s transport security arrangements are fit for purpose and up to date with the security threats of the day. It is equally the responsibility of any federal opposition to scrutinise proposals put forward by the government in the spirit of cooperation, offering advice where it can while avoiding needless political partisanship. That is the approach that Labor has always taken over my 20 years in this parliament, and for the most part it has been the approach of the coalition.

The member for Wide Bay and I had much conflict over transport policy over the many years that we shadowed each other prior to his recent decision to step down from the frontbench and the leadership of the Nationals and, therefore, the Deputy Prime Ministership. But during that time we worked together on the serious issues that related to the safety of the travelling public, regardless of which of us was in government. I am sure that the new Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, will take the same approach. However, I want to point out to the minister that this bill, toughening background checks on Australian aviation and shipping workers, comes as the government is actively encouraging Australian shipping companies to sack their Australian crews and replace them with foreign crews whose background is simply not subject to the same level of checks. Indeed, yesterday afternoon we learnt of yet another Australian crew being sacked and replaced by a presumably foreign crew. I refer to BP’s decision to terminate use of the British Loyalty oil tanker and sack its Australian crew. I will return to that point later in this contribution.

While this legislation seeks to ensure that Australian workers in airports and ports have no links to organised crime or terrorists, the government is pursuing an approach to the maritime industry that actually undermines that goal, because it undermines the very presence of an Australian flag on the back of ships around our coasts and the presence of Australian mariners on those ships. That makes no sense. That is why I have not just referred to the economic and environmental consequences of an explicit policy that favours foreign ships over Australian ships around our coast. The policy also has national security implications.

As I referred to a moment ago, the world of transport safety is a dynamic one. The frequent emergence of new threats requires constant vigilance on the part of law-makers. For example, in the 20th century no-one would have imagined the huge changes to the world’s airports that were made necessary by the terrorist attacks on New York on 11 September 2001. We have to respond to threats as they arise, and we also have to anticipate what those new threats are and take actions in a precautionary way, if we deem them to be necessary. We should take proper advice and not play politics with national security.

When introducing this legislation, the member for Wide Bay said that it was part of the government’s response to the recommendations of last December’s report from the National Ice Taskforce. The task force found that 200,000 Australians use the crystalline form of methamphetamine, also known as ice. It called for stronger law enforcement measures to tackle the trafficking of the drug, including toughening background checks made on people seeking Aviation Security Identification Cards and Maritime Security Identification Cards.

In response, this bill proposes strengthening the Aviation Transport Security Act and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act. These are laws that were created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In their current form, they are designed to prevent unlawful interference in the aviation and maritime sectors that could cause damage to passengers, crew, workers or property. They are aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on airports, ports, aircraft and ships. They ensure that before any port or airport worker is granted an identity card, he or she is subject to strict background checks to ensure that he or she has no connections to terrorist groups. The bill before us today seeks to broaden the scope of these checks to also include checks on an applicant’s background for links to, ‘serious and organised crime’. It, therefore, adds to the existing laws a secondary purpose aimed at preventing drug trafficking.

Labor will not oppose this legislation in the House of Representatives. We agree that parliament should respond to the recommendations of the National Ice Taskforce with respect to drug trafficking. We need to focus on law enforcement as well as helping addicts with treatment. However, the opposition does have concerns about this bill, relating to the possibility of unintended consequences. That is why we reserve our position when it comes to the Senate, after there is a proper, open and transparent process to make sure that there are not unintended consequences of this bill. I appreciate the fact that the minister ensured that I had a departmental briefing on this legislation. Hence, we will not be moving amendments at this stage in the House of Representatives or opposing the bill.

We want to make sure that these issues are not partisan, but we also want to make sure that combining checks relating to terrorism and organised crime is the most appropriate way to deal with maritime and aviation security. Specifically, we question whether the addition of an organised crime check to the existing terrorism check might inadvertently affect the level of rigor that applies to the terrorism check. That is a standard which applies to security in the transport sector. There are very specific reasons why, for example, we check for the presence of certain goods being carried on aircraft and do not check for others. We do it so that those people responsible for the checks can concentrate on what can cause real damage if someone acts inappropriately, for example, on an aircraft. That is why through the changes I made as aviation minister we deemed that the previous ban, for example, on cutlery on aircraft was not appropriate given the circumstances of what could occur on an aircraft. We constantly have to update these regulations and laws. I understand that. At that time that practical change received bipartisan support—eventually—from the then opposition.

We know from events in New York the consequences of terrorist infiltration of aircraft. We know that one terrorist attack on an aircraft can literally cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. That is why the ASIC and MSIC card regimes were brought into effect. It is essential that authorities maintain a laser-like focus on protecting the travelling public. The parliament must be very careful about making changes to existing security arrangements without serious and widespread consultation. The last thing we want to see when dealing with drug trafficking is our efforts compromising transport safety. That is why Labor has already moved to establish a Senate inquiry on this matter. Call it due diligence. We would like to hear a range of views on how transport security checks are working and how the system might be affected by the proposed change.

I stress again that the opposition understands that the intent of this legislation is to address drug trafficking and specifically the scourge of ice that is having such a terrible impact on so many of our communities, particularly those in rural and regional Australia. The impact on young people is quite horrific. It is a drug that leads to violence, break up of families and literally death and destruction in local communities. We as a parliament should do what we can to get rid off this scourge, but we also need to ensure that transport security is not compromised in that process.

That is why the new minister across the table here, Mr Chester, should examine these issues carefully. He should also, I think, examine the clear inconsistencies between this legislation’s aim of ensuring that maritime workers have no links with terrorists or organised crime and the government’s parallel agenda of encouraging greater use of foreign flagged ships crewed by foreign crews. The legislation that was rejected by the Senate last year explicitly stated in its explanatory memorandum and in its regulatory impact statement that it would result in the reflagging of Australian ships with foreign flags and the replacement of Australian mariners with foreign mariners on those ships.

It is unfortunate that, ever since it took office, the government has been seeking to undermine the Australian domestic shipping industry. Last year it attempted to legislate to end any preference for Australian flagged vessels in the domestic cargo trade. This legislation would have required Australian flagged vessels that pay crews Australian-level wages to compete directly with foreign flagged vessels crewed by foreign mariners being paid Third World wages. Obviously, given their lower wage rates, the overseas flagged vessels would have had a competitive advantage. That is why we have labelled this legislation ‘Work Choices on water’. That is why the legislation was rejected in the Senate.

Since the Senate rejected that move, the government has sought to achieve its objective through the back door. It has been abusing a provision of existing maritime law which allows the use of foreign vessels for temporary work where no Australian ship is available. The former government introduced legislation that was flexible and gave preference to Australian ships unashamedly but said, where they were not available, foreign ships could be used but that their workers would have to be paid Australian wages under Australian conditions. The new government has abused the fact that this was not protectionist legislation and did not close our coast to foreign ships to indeed close the coast to Australian flagged vessels. That is basically what has happened here. The government facilitating the sacking of 40 Australian mariners by granting Alcoa a licence and allowing it to replace the MV Portland with a foreign vessel is, perhaps, the most explicit abuse of these laws. For decades the MV Portland had taken the raw material in Western Australia around the coast of the Great Australian Bight to Portland where it was off-loaded at the refinery. It then got taken back to Western Australia.

Nothing could be less temporary than a freight task, purely domestic, from one destination to another and return. That was the sole duty of the MVPortland. Yet a temporary licence was granted, even though temporary licences are for temporary work where no Australian ship was available. But the MVPortland, of course, was there, as were those 40 Australian mariners, who were real Australians with real families, earning real wages, paying real Australian taxes, putting real food on the table for their families and contributing to that local regional economy in Portland, and they were wiped out by the ideology of this government. It is quite extraordinary that the visas were given to the foreign crew and that the former minister, the member for Wide Bay, was notified on 17 December that this was going to happen, but he remained silent on it for weeks while those workers and their families defended Australian jobs.

The problem is that Australian authorities have far less awareness of the backgrounds of overseas mariners than they have of local mariners, whose backgrounds have been vetted as part of the process of issuing a Maritime Security Identification Card. That is the truth. We have this legislation before the parliament, which would enhance what are already very rigorous security checks for anyone working in our airports and ports, but we are allowing essentially a free-for-all around our coast and in our harbours on these vessels without any real security checks, and we are favouring that. So if you are working on the dock unloading a ship, or if you are the truck driver taking goods from the port, or if you are anyone accessing that area, then you go through this extraordinary level of security checking already. Yet, if you are on one of these ships from a country in our region,—and a lot of the countries, of course, use Third World workers from the Philippines or from Indonesia or other countries because they pay them Third World wages—which are full of petrol and are in our harbours around the most populated areas of the country, what could go wrong? Yet this government favours it.

In 2012, so you do not have to take my word for it, the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security said with respect to the offshore oil and gas sector—the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security is independent of the government of the day, and it was an office that was established by the Howard government:

As the Australian-based industry and associated employment demands continue to grow, the employee profile of many companies is changing and more foreign workers, generally operating under 457 visa arrangements, are being engaged.

As is the case internationally, the ability to effectively vet potential employees, either through company recruitment processes, Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSICs), passport or 457 visa related checks is essentially limited to basic character style assessment and cannot operate as a genuine security clearance process. These limitations need to be understood and reflected in other and wider complementary security arrangements.

Let me repeat those words of the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security, not my words. They said, ‘cannot operate as a genuine security clearance process.’ What this means is that while this parliament is today being asked to consider toughening up the MSIC and ASIC process, the government is going out of its way to replace Australians with MSICs with foreign crews which have not been through a proper security clearance process. That is a fact and it is very concerning. I am advised that there are ports in regional Australian where people can access them with nothing more than a passport or a driver’s licence of whatever country they come from. We need to tighten security not undermine it.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection also has security concerns about the implications of a shift to the use of more foreign flagged ships registered in flag-of-convenience nations like Panama and Liberia. They are ships whose very ownership is often hidden in structures which are far from transparent. In a submission to the Senate inquiry being conducted now into the increasing use of flag-of-convenience vessels in Australian waters, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection warned this government:

… there are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit.

It went on to say that, in many flag-of-convenience nations, there was limited transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels. This is the government’s own department of immigration’s submission. It said:

Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC—

flag-of-convenience—

ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.

This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities, including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling, and facilitating prohibited imports or exports.

These are very serious issues for a government that talks about border security, from a department that is in charge of border control. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that flag-of-convenience ships ‘may be used in a range of illegal activities’, including people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports or exports. That did not come from the Labor Party. That did not come from the trade union movement. That came from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. That is why the opposition is concerned about the government’s position: there needs to be a consistent attitude towards the national interest and national security when it comes to our coasts.

I note that it has been reported today that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection recognises that the previous minister’s legislation, which was rejected by the Senate, was flawed and understands that there is a need to have a different policy. I say again to the minister, as I have said before in private and in public, that the Labor Party are up for reform that assists Australian shipping, assists productivity and is in the national interest, and we are prepared to work with the government, with MIAL—the peak body for the Australian shipping industry—and with the workforce to ensure the growth of the Australian shipping industry. But we are not prepared to sit back and see that industry simply wiped out, which is what the previous legislation explicitly called for.

So the opposition will allow this legislation to go through the House of Representatives unopposed by us, but we do reserve our right to give consideration to changes to the bill when it is in the Senate, on the basis of the committee inquiry and on the basis of submissions that might be made to it, because we do want to make sure that we get this right and that all of these areas have bipartisan support. I say again: you cannot be tightening up security in ports and airports whilst you are ideologically pushing to remove the Australian flag and the Australian workforce from our coastal shipping.

I refer again to the development with BP that I mentioned earlier in my contribution. The British Fidelity is the last Australian-crewed fuel tanker in service around the Australian coast. It takes oil product from Kwinana primarily to Adelaide and other coastal points, with an Australian crew. If this route is now undertaken by a foreign crew, then all of Australia’s imported fuel and all other fuel moved around the Australian coast will be done by foreign crews. Think about that. If you do not think there are national security implications to there being no presence of Australian crews when that fuel is moved around the Australian coast, then you have not thought about it very deeply.

And I do not understand how Australia’s fuel security is aided by this decision. Our fuel security is so essential to our national economy. I do not know how the minister could possibly have properly applied the act when he issued a temporary licence for a vessel to replace the British Fidelity, knowing, as he must have, that it would be used to facilitate the sacking of Australian workers from work that is done here in Australia.

I say to the minister: he needs to get on top of the national interest here. The National Party, named as it is because, it says, it stands up for Australia’s national interest needs to see that, of all of the coalition. I can understand perhaps someone with a small-l libertarian, economic free market philosophy saying there is no need for any Australian flag or Australian presence in this context. Well, there is. There is, due to our economy. But there is also a national security interest here.

I conclude where I began. Transport safety laws are beyond politics. They should also be beyond ideology. That is why we need to have a consistent view on these issues. The government needs to heed the warnings given by experts at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and by the Inspector of Transport Security, put ideology aside and make sure it acts in the national interest when it comes to national security. We on this side will continue to support the national interest and to do so in a consistent fashion.

Mar 2, 2016

Statements by Members – Grayndler Electorate

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:57): Twenty years ago today I had the honour of being elected as the member for Grayndler. I never forget the date because it happened to be my 33rd birthday, and since then I have been proud to represent my local community as the Labor representative and to serve as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, Leader of the House and shadow minister. For two decades my electorate office in Grayndler has assisted many thousands of people. I thank my staff, my Labor Party members and the voters of Grayndler for giving me the ongoing privilege of serving here. Most of all I thank my family, who give up a lot when we are here, and I thank Carmel and Nathan.

In my first speech I said:

I will be satisfied if I can be remembered as someone who will stand up for the interests of my electorate, for working class people, for the labour movement and for our progressive advancement as a nation into the next century.

Now that we are in the next century my values remain the same, and I look forward to continuing to serve—however, on the other side of the House—after the next election.

Mar 2, 2016

Procedure Committee Report

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:36): I rise to support the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure’s report into the consideration in detail of the main appropriation bill. It is appropriate that this debate takes place in the Federation Chamber because, for the last two years, some issues have arisen with regard to the interpretation of the existing standing orders in dealing with the appropriations consideration-in-detail debate. The consideration in detail of appropriations is an important opportunity for House of Representatives members to question the budget and the details of the budget—whether that be in a general sense, in my case as shadow minister for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism, or in a specific, electorate based sense, in my case as the member for Grayndler, in the inner-west of Sydney. Unlike senators, who, of course, represent the states and territories, House of Reps members should be given the opportunity to raise issues that are of concern to their particular electorates. This is the only real opportunity that House of Representatives members have to question the executive about budget details.

What has occurred, though, is an attempt on two occasions—which were unsuccessful—by ministers to organise the debate so that there was one speaker from the opposition, then a speaker from the government and then the minister in response. Effectively, that cut down the opportunities for the opposition members to question the budget to one opportunity out of each three. Of course, that is contrary to the standing orders, which require the call to alternate from the left to the right of the chair or from government to opposition members. It created some tension in the chamber when there was an attempt to change that system. Hence I asked the then Speaker, the member for Mackellar, to initiate an inquiry into those issues, and the Speaker did so, and this report is as a result of that. I am pleased that the committee saw fit to ask me to give evidence to that to improve the functioning of those processes.

What they have come up with is essentially a confirmation that the call should alternate, and in some cases it suggests that the minister should not seek the call and should therefore allow a government backbench member to participate in the debate. But it also recommends, importantly, that the time of contributions be reduced to two minutes. What that should do is encourage more debate across the chamber and encourage members to genuinely ask questions of ministers and ministers—who, of course, have departmental representatives in the chamber advising them at the time that they are presenting—to be able to answer those questions.

I think it is a very important part of accountability in terms of the budget. In recent times, since the last budget was handed down, there have been three announcements by the government of infrastructure projects, all of which, we have been told, come from within the existing budget. That can only mean one thing, which is that other projects are being cut to fund the new announcements. But we do not hear what they are, and that is not accountable—to this parliament or to the Australian people through this parliament—for budget matters. That is, I think, one of the issues that individual members would have a right to ask about: why is it that projects are proceeding faster or slower than was envisaged in terms of the budget detail?

Of course, we have another announcement on top of three new projects, and that is, I think, far worse than taking money from one project and giving it to another. That is the $18 million that is being taken from infrastructure investment—to actually build projects—and being used to pay for advertising the government’s failure to build infrastructure. I have seen one of the ads that are on television, and I have had a look at the website that advertises the projects that the government, in the lead-up to the election this year, is spending $18 million on. You will not be surprised, Madam Deputy Speaker, that just about all of the projects that are mentioned are projects that were initiated by the former Labor government, and the government is spending $18 million—cut from the existing infrastructure budget that was there for actual construction—to hide the fact that it has failed and that, indeed, public sector infrastructure investment has fallen by 20 per cent according to the ABS figures for September 2015 compared with September 2013. So it is quite an extraordinary proposition that you cut funding and you then cut it further in order to pay for an advertising campaign to pretend that you have not cut funding.

They are the sorts of issues that ought to be able to be raised when it comes to the appropriation bills. Members of parliament get only one opportunity for each portfolio area to scrutinise the executive. Government members, of course, can far more easily drop by a minister’s office and request information of relevance to their electorate, but for non-government members, whoever the government of the day is, that is a prime opportunity that they have in real time to get answers. That is why this reform, which is recommended by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, which would confirm the alternating of the call, is the appropriate way to go, as I suggested in this chamber on more than one occasion. It confirms that my understanding of the standing orders was right and that ministers’ attempts to manipulate those processes so that they were not accountable to this chamber were simply wrong and have been seen for what they are. But also I think the reduction of time to two minutes is worthy of support, and the recommendation is that it be a trial. I think that will encourage genuine questions to be asked and hopefully ministers—certainly competent ministers—should be able to answer those questions for members in this chamber.

Debate adjourned.

Mar 2, 2016

Constituency statements – Rail Infrastructure

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:33): I rise to support high-speed rail down the east coast of Australia. In government as the infrastructure minister, I commissioned a $20-million study into the economic opportunities that would be presented by high-speed rail. There is no doubt that it would be a game-changer. The study found that—just as in Europe and in Asia, high-speed rail is being rolled out—in Australia, particularly down the east coast on a route between Brisbane and Melbourne via great regional centres like Newcastle, and here in Canberra, it would be a game-changer. In relation to the capital city routes between Sydney and Brisbane and between Sydney and Melbourne, which consistently rank in the top 10 of the most travelled air routes in the world—indeed, at one stage last year, Sydney to Melbourne was the busiest air route in the world—it would put those great cities under three hours away from each other. Given the convenience of rail travel compared with other modes, be it the motor vehicle or air travel, it would be taken up by Australians as well as by visitors to Australia. This is truly a nation-building project. It was found that, between Sydney and Melbourne, there would be a $2.15 benefit for every dollar invested.

That is why it was very disappointing that, as part of its draconian 2014 budget, the government cut all of the funding for the high-speed rail authority that had been recommended by an advisory group made up of eminent Australians, including the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia and other representatives. They recommended that that authority was required because of the intergovernmental nature of a route that will go through three states as well as the Australian Capital Territory. They recommended that we need to start preserving the corridor now so that construction could commence in an efficient way in the future.

So I call upon the government to adopt my private member’s bill that is before the parliament to establish such an authority. Andrew Robb has now come out in support of it; it is a pity he sat in the cabinet that cut the funding for it. We need to get on with this project in the interests of jobs and our economy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): In accordance with standing order 193, the time for members’ constituency statements has concluded.

 

Mar 2, 2016

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Access Regime and NBN Companies) Bill 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:03): I rise to oppose the Telecommunications Legislation Commencement (Access Regime and NBN Companies) Bill 2015, although it is understood that the government will gut its own legislation through a series of amendments that it has flagged to remove parts 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 of the bill. That is of course, I think, symbolic of what the government has done when it comes to the National Broadband Network: it has gutted its own policies when it comes to the NBN.

I had the great honour of being the communications minister at the end of the period in which we were in office. What I saw were professional public servants, a professional board led by its chair Siobhan McKenna and an organisation that is so important for transforming Australia’s infrastructure.

The current Prime Minister, who was appointed the communications minister after the election by his dear friend Tony Abbott as the shadow Minister for Communications, was given the task of ‘destroying the NBN’—that was the task, direct quote from Tony Abbott, when he appointed Malcolm Turnbull as the shadow minister for communications.

I think that he was very much the shadow minister for ‘fraudband’ rather than broadband and the copper economy rather than the digital economy. We saw Malcolm Turnbull as the communications minister set about destroying the NBN.

There is a fundamental difference in views: we on this side of the House supported fibre to the premise, fibre to the home and fibre to the business. We saw that as essential as enabling people to connect to water, electricity or other utilities. Fibre and fast-speed broadband are not something that should be kept from people on the basis of their income; it should be accessible for all.

Those opposite, with the approach of the current Prime Minister, have a very different philosophical view. You have fibre to the node or a fibre to the fridge-type box on the corner of streets and then the old copper wire into people’s homes or businesses. If people are wealthy enough, they can connect up to high-speed broadband through fibre So we change it from a universal system to one that reflects people’s wealth.

One of the things that is extraordinary is that in 2016 access to high-speed broadband is essential for any student at school and any business, and it is particularly important in regional Australia. One of the issues of the NBN is that access to high-speed broadband can, in a country such as Australia, break down some of those spatial inequalities that are there. If you can establish a business in a regional centre—like Coffs Harbour, where I turned on the NBN as the minister and as Deputy Prime Minister in 2013—then that makes living in those regional cities and towns much more attractive. The overheads of living in a regional city are often far less, in terms of rent or ownership of business premises compared to if you are in the CBD of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth.

We saw the NBN as very much an equity issue. The National Broadband Network should be rolled out right around the country. We know that that is world’s best practice. We know that in government we achieved the structural separation of Telstra and other significant reforms which essentially had laid dormant under 12 years of the Howard government.

In terms of the principles that were being rolled out, the government has this absurd proposition that somehow they have a mandate for what they are doing. Of course, when people such as journalists at the ABC have been critical of the NBN, they quite clearly have been intimidated into not being able to express their views. Indeed, it is quite extraordinary that an article written by Emma Alberici after she hosted a debate between myself and the now Prime Minister on Lateline was published after the federal election and not before, because of so-called checks that needed to take place.

While in opposition Malcolm Turnbull had this to say:

We are going to do a rigorous analysis, we will get Infrastructure Australia to do an independent cost-benefit analysis.

Instead of appointing Infrastructure Australia, which is what Malcolm Turnbull said repeatedly in terms of those issues, Mr Turnbull appointed a collection of former Liberal Party staffers and advisors and critics of the National Broadband Network to conduct his cost-benefit analysis. The Senate select committee into the NBN had a look at the Vertigan panel’s independent cost-benefit analysis to broadband. What that Senate select committee highlighted was a number of absolute shortcuts and failures when it came to a proper cost-benefit analysis. The extraordinary circumstance now whereby the government purchased in 2016 through the National Broadband Network some 1,800,000 metres of copper—that was the last amount purchased—is almost beyond belief in 2016. But what that shows is just how hopeless the government’s approach was. That is why what we have seen from the government is a doubling of costs and a halving of speed under the government’s own analysis.

The costs appear to be going up and up and up. We saw the extraordinary payment to Telstra for the existing network. It takes a special kind of profligacy to engage with Telstra the way that they did. They are now finding out, funnily enough. In the strategic review that took place in December 2013 they said it would cost $55 million to fix up the copper. Two years later they are saying that figure is $641 million. That is much more than a tenfold increase. In the strategic review they said that there would be $2½ billion of revenue this year and next. Now they say that figure is $1.1 billion—much less than half. They said that the fibre-to-the-node cost for the home would be $600. The actual cost, two years later, they find to be $1,600. That is an increase of 167 per cent.

All of those issues show what a failure it has been. Indeed, this government, when it comes to the NBN, shows its lack of vision for this nation. There can be no more visionary a project than the NBN, because the NBN will have an impact not just on our economy, but on the way education services are delivered, the way health services are delivered, the way that our entire national economy functions and, importantly, the way that regional economies function. That is why it is so disappointing that the National Party tail has just wagged itself at the end of the Liberal Party dog. They have failed to stand up for the interests of regional Australia when it comes to the NBN. There are people over there, including the now Leader of the National Party, who used to say quite strong things about universal service obligations and the need to have the same service available in the bush as in the city, but they are pretty quiet about that now.

Fundamentally this government stands condemned for the fact that Malcolm Turnbull said that the rollout of the NBN would be completed in 2016—this year—at 25 megabits per second minimum speed. This Prime Minister also went down to Tasmania and said very clearly that the Tasmanian rollout, which was contracted, would be continued and should have been completed by now. Everyone in Tasmania, by right now, was going to have access to the NBN, and yet you can stand on a street in Launceston and look across the road and one side does not get it and the other side does get it—with an extraordinary impact, of course, on house prices, which the government likes to consider that it is interested in, due to an accident of where the lines were drawn on the map. The people who missed out are going to miss out forever under this government’s plan, because they will not get fibre to the premises.

I think this goes to the heart of the competence of the person that we now have as the Prime Minister. He made big promises. He was very critical of the former government. He had one job and one job only. He did not do anything else. He did not do media reform. He did not do anything else, except maybe plot against Prime Minister Abbott. He certainly was very conscious of that, and of spending time taking selfies on public transport—which he now, of course, does not fund. But the fact is that a doubling of the cost, a halving of the speed and inequitable distribution so that we will have haves and have-nots, suburbs divided on the basis of access to NBN—

Ms Butler: And the delay.

Mr ALBANESE: and the delay in times, the blow-out in terms of delivery, show that this Prime Minister could not deliver as communications minister, so it is no wonder that he is all at sea when it comes to providing national leadership for Australia.

 

Feb 25, 2016

Constituency statements – Marriage

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (09:54): Last Sunday I joined my fellow Labor representatives Tanya Plibersek, Jo Haylen, Penny Sharpe and Linda Scott at Fair Day in Victoria Park. Like many years before, we took the opportunity to plant our messages of support for marriage equality in the Sea of Hearts, organised by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. I also look forward to marching alongside many tens of thousands who will participate at the Mardi Gras parade, as I have done nearly every year since 1983. Fair Day and Mardi Gras are important celebrations for the gay and lesbian community in Sydney. It is a celebration of the diversity which makes Sydney a great global city. But it is also a time to recognise the ongoing discrimination that continues to occur against the gay and lesbian community in a range of areas, including the recognition of their relationships.

I have always believed that equal rights for all people, regardless of sexuality, race or gender, are fundamental rights. Through Labor governments we have seen significant advancement in this area. In every election since 1996 Labor has committed to removing important areas of legal discrimination against same-sex couples. This has included taxation, superannuation, social security, health, aged care, veterans entitlements, workers compensation and employment entitlements. Most recently we have successfully extended Labor’s Paid Parental Leave scheme to include same-sex couples.

These are important steps forward, but we must recognise that there is still some way to go. That is why it is important that in schools we promote tolerance and support for diversity, and why the position of Simon Birmingham, the education minister, is correct in supporting that process, which is now under review because of the views of a very small minority within the coalition. I am proud to be part of the ALP, whose support through our platform for marriage equality is now entrenched. I believe that Australia will join the nations that have recognised that people should be allowed to marry the person that they love. That is because institutions, just like society’s values, evolve over time.

It is significant that today the New South Wales Parliament will apologise to the 78ers for the discrimination and suffering they endured at the first Mardi Gras march. The reaction of media outlets, many political leaders and the police to the first Mardi Gras was a disgraceful show of discrimination and an abuse of power. I wish to acknowledge the contribution of the 78ers to the ongoing fight for equality in Australia, as they played an important role in forging the path for law reform.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

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

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