Browsing articles in "Speeches Archive"
Mar 23, 2018

Speech Qantas Perth – London inaugural flight – ‘QF9: A game-changer for the nation’ – Perth

History is made in fascinating ways, but aviation has always charted its own path.

Pushing boundaries…

Unlocking new possibilities…

Shrinking the globe…

In 1947 it took four days to fly from Australia to London – a trip known as the Kangaroo Route because of its many stops.

QF9, tomorrow’s inaugural flight from Perth to London, has reduced this to 17 hours with zero stops.

The first direct flight connecting Australia to Europe.

It’s an historic moment for aviation and it’s a game-changer for Western Australia.

Congratulations Qantas on this momentous event.

And congratulations WA on securing this flight.

WA already has a great relationship with the UK.

Indeed, more international tourists visit WA from the UK than anywhere else, making up about 15 percent of the source market.

But non-stop flights will transform the dynamics of Australian tourism.

And now, WA will benefit from the increased numbers coming to this destination, which is fantastic in its own right.

It will also benefit from those Australians who choose to stop here for a few days on their way to Europe and inbound travellers who do the same, even though their final destination is on the East Coast.

A huge boon for hotel owners and tourism operators.

It also opens up new opportunities for regional Western Australia, home to many superb tourism attractions…

For instance, Broome with its white stretches of coastal and the spectacular wilderness of the Kimberley…

The Pilbara region and its red dirt landscape…

The silent majesty of Ningaloo Reef’s whale sharks…

And no visit to WA would be complete without stopping by the Margaret River, home to some of the world’s best wine and craft beer.

It strikes me just how far aviation has come, even in recent years.

Flying has not always been this easy, or affordable.

Indeed, the first time I flew on a plane, I was 21 and heading to Canberra for a Parliamentary sitting week. I’d just started working for Tom Uren.

Flying has opened up our eyes and our imagination.

Today, because of aviation, more people than ever before can access new experiences.

Whether it’s exploring the vast expanse of Australia, or visiting towns and cities overseas, flying makes this achievable.

So I’m looking forward to this inaugural flight, which marks a milestone.

And I have to say I’m also looking forward to the Qantas safety video – the best of its kind in the world.

The video on domestic flights, of course, combines a critical safety message with a stellar showcase of tourism destinations from around the nation.

And I understand the 2018 video on the new 787 Dreamliner shows the diversity of Aussies living abroad.

Qantas has always sought to convey the Australian spirit to its travellers. It’s done this well.

It is also an honour to join you in London as we promote Australia as a tourism destination to the world.

There truly is no place like home.

Mar 22, 2018

Speech to launch Record Store Day 2018 – ‘Record Store Day and the Power of Music’ – Red Eye Records, Sydney

Thanks for that introduction. Last year when I was asked to be the Record Store Day Ambassador I was rapt. I am a genuine fan of music and I’m in awe, it must be said, of musicians like Amber Lawrence and Dan Sultan, who’ve just been announced as ambassadors for Record Store Day, which will be celebrated on April 21.

Dan is a mate of mine and a great bloke. He has performed as a backup singer at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, when I DJ’d  there as a fundraiser for Reclink – which is another organisation that brings together young people and musicians and artists to promote social change and connect to marginalised young people through music.

One of the reasons why I was pleased to participate is that music is more than just something you experience for three or four minutes. Music is a part of people’s identity. It is part of their lives. I hear so many people making comments like “I remember when I saw this band’’, or “I remember when I went into this record store”, “I remember when I bought this record’’.

In my early days, I went to school at St Mary’s Cathedral up the road here, and I would go into Phantom Records or Red Eye Records which has been around for almost as long as I have. I always loved seeing and getting to touch the records. When Frog asked me to go into Songland in Canberra and bring some of my personal collection, I brought a Phantom Records Compilation, which had all sorts of bands like the Sunnyboys, Le Hoodoo Gurus and Flaming Hands – that era of music that was very exciting.

It was also, I think, the height of the live grassroots music scene. Happily, live music is making a comeback. I represent the Inner West and the number of music venues that are opening up, be they new venues or old venues like Marrickville Bowlo. There is a poster over there for the Celibate Rifles playing at Marrickville Bowlo. The Oils played at Marrickville Bowlo, just a fantastic event. It’s quite useful the fact that we have these little devices, mobile phones, and if we’re interested in music, I am on Spotify as well,  and if I’m interested in an artist, I can download and listen to a couple of tracks and see if I like a particular artist.

But to me there is nothing quite like an album. You can touch it. You can feel it, and you can listen to the songs in the order in which they were meant to be heard.

That is part of the experience and part of the artistry. You can look at the cover and the artwork, the design, the creativity that is reflected in a record in particular.

CDs are okay too, but there is nothing quite like vinyl and putting the needle on a piece of vinyl and hearing that authentic music as it was meant to be heard.

So Record Store Day a fantastic initiative. It is a global movement and it’s fantastic that there is so many new artists will be making new releases, or re-releases, in John Farnham’s case of course, and that people will be coming together all over the world, on Saturday, the 21st of April.

Last year I was just stunned by how big it was, how many people were going into these independent record stores and for some of them experiencing them for the first time.

As the Ambassador I think one of the highlights was – we’ve got a Polish Club 10-inch here – and one of the highlights I think was playing Polish Club on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio Ten. I doubt whether Polish Club expected to be played on vinyl on commercial television at 9:15am on a Friday morning. But one of the things that Record Store Day does is provide that opportunity. I appeared on Sunrise, The Today Show, I did a lot of radio and hopefully did my bit, and got positive feedback. So many of my mates said: “I got out my old records, I went and bought a turntable and got engaged in that whole movement.’’

Now the Lead Ambassador this year is someone who is, unlike me wanting to be involved in the music industry, the real deal. For me, if it was a choice between being a muso and being Deputy Prime Minister, I would have taken being a muso any day. There is no question that is what I would have wanted to do.

Lack of talent got in the way there. Not even the man I am about to introduce would have been able to overcome that lack of talent that I had.

He is a rock industry legend. Even though over the years he has promoted some of Australia’s and the world’s biggest artists through Frontier Touring, in recent times as well, he has established another organisation that promotes more independent and up and coming bands as well.

Michael is someone who I think is without peer, in terms of a promoter of rock music here in Australia and getting global artists to come to Australia as well and connect them up.

One of the things about the big artists when they’ve come as well is that so many bands when I look back, the first time I saw them was as a support act for one of the big international stars. That’s why there is such a strong link between the Australian music industry and someone who is connected up internationally with Elton John and Radiohead and the other big artists that Michael has promoted.

So I can’t think of anyone better, when we’re talking about promoting Record Store Day, than one of Australia’s greatest ever promoters – Michael Chugg.

Mar 15, 2018

Speech to Green Cities – ‘Energising Communities”- Melbourne

Not all years are remarkable, but 2008 certainly was.

In that year we watched in trepidation as Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions collapsed, triggering the GFC.

The nation paused as Kevin Rudd delivered the historic apology to the Stolen Generations.

And many of us celebrated as Barack Obama made history as the first African American to be elected President of the United States of America.

It is no wonder, perhaps, that one world event sidled past largely uncommented upon.

In 2008, which is also when I was serving as the nation’s first ever Infrastructure Minister, the World Bank confirmed that for the first time ever, the world’s population tipped over to become more urban than rural…

A trajectory that is significant because one decade on it has surged ahead.

Indeed, the world is on track to become 70 percent urban by 2050.

Countries around the world are grappling with this rapid urbanisation.

Here in Australia, all of our capital cities are projected to experience a significant rise in urban population between now and 2031.

Projections are that by then, the population of our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 percent.

Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 percent.

Many of our cities are already feeling the pinch of urbanisation.

Urban sprawl, congested roads, overcrowded public transport, declining housing affordability and an unequal distribution of employment opportunities are just a few of the challenges experienced every day by people living in our cities.

To make matters worse, these factors combined have taken a toll on our natural environment.

And, at the same time, they also pose a threat to public health through an increase in pollution and the subsequent loss of green space as a result of urban development.

On the one hand, cities are the engine room of our nation’s economy, places of opportunity and hope for many people seeking prosperity and advancement.

But on the other hand, our cities have both an impact on climate change, which in turn impacts on our cities.

Cities may cover less than two per cent of the earth’s surface; however they consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of all carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s why greening our cities goes beyond the aesthetic.

It is an absolutely fundamental part of our response as a nation to the challenge of climate change.

Yet as urbanist Jane Jacobs said:

“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans”…

A good reminder that in our haste to respond to a growing urban population we cannot forget those communities that already exist.

After all, these people will be the most impacted by any change.

This is why the theme of today’s conference – energising communities – is so important.

The fact is that without all of us, our local communities included, working together towards greener cities, achieving this goal becomes so much harder.

 

UNPACKING LIVEABILITY

Just these last few weeks there has been a great deal of media coverage about liveability in our major cities following the release of the Infrastructure Australia ‘Future Cities’ report.

Here in Melbourne, The Age has looked at the challenge of the daily commute for people living in outer suburbs.

In Sydney, the Sydney Morning Herald has canvassed reasons why people leave the city, with their research revealing that locals are moving to other parts of Australia.

This in itself is not a bad thing.

Indeed, growing our regional cities must be part of any national strategy to accommodate an increasing population and ensure a more equal distribution of the economic dividends from this growth.

However, one researcher for the SMH described this phenomenon as such:

“Sydneysiders as they move out of this place haven’t given up on city living, they’ve just given up on this city.”

Now this is of concern. Real concern.

The fact is our cities are in a state of change and how we respond will make all the difference.

It’s a serious responsibility, but also a unique opportunity for local councils, policy makers and industry to leave their mark and create a positive legacy.

So people don’t think that moving away from cities like Sydney or Melbourne is the only way to have true quality of life.

Best practice must be at the heart of any strategy.

We need to make sure that development in our inner and outer suburbs reflects an understanding of how people live.

This means well placed development that incorporates access to amenities like public transport so that people can get to work as well as parks and sporting facilities for kids so they can be active and healthy.

It means development that has thought about local road networks and the impact additional traffic might have on an area.

And, above all, it means development that does not seek to replace what is special in a community, but rather preserve and enhance it.

So that we create places that cultivate social cohesion and promote opportunities for neighbours to come together.

Indeed, as Jan Gehl said:

“Only architecture that considers human scale and interaction is successful architecture.”

Developers need to show they understand the area in which they seek to build or otherwise community dissatisfaction and resistance will continue to be an issue.

It’s true that we need to have a mature, whole of society discussion about how we manage growth.

But we can’t put problems down to the NIMBY effect alone, and I have read a number of recent opinion pieces in this vein, including one from the Grattan Institute which said:

“Opposition to development is rising again. Unless today’s generation of politicians stares down the NIMBYs, Sydney will repeat the mistakes of the past, and housing affordability will get worse.”

My concern is that comments such as these puts all the responsibility on existing residents to change their behaviour, without also looking at the need for the developer to work with communities and local councils to achieve genuinely good outcomes.

It also disregards the sense of pride people have in place and their community which, if anything, we should be looking to harness as we seek to shape future neighbourhoods.

And it ignores the role state and federal governments can play in making sure supporting infrastructure is in place – particularly in instances where growth corridors are being driven by the government.

There are many examples where development has been done well.

Harold Park in Sydney’s inner west is one such place.

An old racetrack and tramshed, the latter of which had fallen into disrepair.

Mirvac, by working with the councils and local community, has revitalised the site which today features well designed, medium-density housing in tree-lined streets.

The Tramsheds are now home to restaurants and cafes, with the nearby Jubilee Park giving people space to exercise and catch up with friends and family.

This same company, Mirvac, has experienced the flipside of this with its initial plans to build 28-storey towers in Marrickville, where nothing of the kind exists and has attracted widespread community protests.

In what has been a public relations debacle every street in south Marrickville has corflute posters which say ‘Marrickville not Mirvacville’.

I’m pleased that they are now reassessing their plans and looking to involve the community more closely in any future proposal.

It’s simple – working with people is the best way to get good outcomes.

 

GREENING OUR CITIES

But there are lots of ways to make our cities more liveable and research suggests greening them is key.

In addition to combatting some of the worst effects of climate change, green cities can make people happier and healthier.

Achieving this, of course, goes beyond just a bricks and mortar approach.

I was pleased to see a focus on green and blue networks in the Western Sydney City Deal.

As part of this a ‘blue and green grid’ will ensure existing waterways across the Hawkesbury catchment area are protected and places of amenity.

Urban waterways have so much potential, yet too often are underutilised.

Recently, Labor announced we would invest in the restoration of urban rivers and corridors in Merri Creek, Darebin Creek and the surrounding catchment area.

In my own electorate, the Cooks River, which winds its way through the inner west, benefited from investment when we were last in Government.

While there is still a way to go, cleaning up the river has transformed the area into a place of recreation and natural beauty.

And of course, when it comes to energising communities, local projects such as urban waterways and parks are a great place to start.

Indeed, many groups already exist that are dedicated to the protection of the natural environment in their urban areas.

Around the world there are a number of innovative ideas aimed at bringing nature into the built space.

For instance in Berlin, at the old Tempelhof airport site, urban farms give people living in nearby apartments a chance to tend their own allotment and mingle with others in their neighbourhood.

It’s a trend that has caught on.

Today Europe’s biggest urban farm can be found on the rooftop of a concrete building in The Hague that is also home to a fish farm.

Vertical forests in Milan, Singapore and a number of other cities, including Central Park in Sydney, act as a sponge, absorbing and purifying water before it is reused.

Community gardens are multiplying in Australian suburbs. In my local community, Marrickville West Public School has a community garden tended lovingly by volunteers, which provides both fresh food for local residents and educational benefits for the students.

Renewables, too, are playing an important role.

In just the last three years the number of cities around the world sourcing more than 70 per cent of their power from renewables has more than doubled to 100.

Smart technology is also enabling greener cities.

It plays a dual role; maximising the potential of pre-existing assets while identifying new opportunities. Infrastructure is an important beneficiary of this.

 

CONCLUSION

It was Shakespeare who wrote:

“What is the city but the people?”

Our cities are diverse, complex places steeped in their own history.

Each neighbourhood recognised for its own character.

To ensure our cities are productive, sustainable and liveable we must work with people, energising communities, to achieve the best possible outcomes.

And as our cities continue to grow in size, we must ensure they are places of sustainability, incorporating best practice into their design.

Greening our cities must be at the heart of our strategy when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change ensuring that, at the same time, we don’t leave our citizens behind.

 

Mar 7, 2018

Speech to Australian Logistics Council Forum 2018: Towards a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy – ‘Getting the National Freight and Supply Strategy right’ – Royal Randwick Ballroom, Sydney

Today I want to open with a quote from a politician I’m not usually taken to quoting: Margaret Thatcher.

In 1985 the then British Prime Minister made the following observation:

You might have heard a lot lately about ‘infrastructure’ – the new ‘in’ word.  Some of you might even ask exactly what it is.  You and I come by road or rail.  But economists travel on infrastructure.

What a difference 30 years makes.

Today, the meaning and importance of infrastructure is understood well beyond the economics profession.  Indeed, to paraphrase another Prime Minister of yesteryear, Paul Keating: I’ll guarantee if you walk into any pet shop in Australia, the resident galah will be talking about infrastructure policy.

That is a good thing.

The fact is, in the highly competitive, globalised world of the 21st century, the prices consumers pay, the profits businesses make, the quality of life people enjoy and the export income Australia earns will more than ever depend on the adequacy and quality of our roads, railways, sea and air ports, electricity grids, and telecommunication networks.

Or to put it another way, investing in good infrastructure generates long term economic and jobs growth, lifts productivity, creates inclusive communities, builds a low carbon future, enables businesses to grow, and gives our exporters a competitive edge.

The provision of infrastructure can no longer be considered a second order public policy priority.  In 2018, an effective infrastructure policy is fundamental to an effective economic policy, an effective housing affordability policy and an effective environmental policy.

But the key word here is ‘effective’.

If we are to maximise its economic, social and environmental dividends, infrastructure policy has to be got right – and that starts with a genuine commitment to a long term strategy based on an objective, evidence-based assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs.

Towards another National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy

That brings me to the purpose of today’s gathering, namely to identify the key policy reforms and investment decisions that should be reflected in the final version of the Government’s 20 year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

Without a doubt, the freight and logistics sector is the lifeblood of the Australian economy and I welcome the Government’s commitment to looking at how it can better support the vital job you do, including through improvements to the infrastructure you rely upon.

However, I would also note that the current Government was fortunate enough to inherit a long term comprehensive plan that would have achieved precisely that.

Developed by Infrastructure Australia with input from the National Transport Commission, industry, as well as state and territory authorities, the National Land Freight Strategy, which I released as Infrastructure and Transport Minister in 2012, was a blueprint for a streamlined, integrated and multimodal transport system capable of moving goods quickly, reliably and at lowest cost.

It complemented the National Ports Strategy published that same year.

The work had been done.

All the current Government had to do was pick it up and implement it.

Instead at first they chose to do nothing.  Then in November 2016 – more than three years after coming to office – the then Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester had a eureka moment.  He finally saw merit in national leadership and long term planning.

To be blunt, the process we are now going through is little more than an exercise in reinventing the wheel and slapping a slightly different name on it.  Worse still, by the time the Government finally releases its strategy, which is not expected until the end of this year, we will have wasted more than five years.

The Challenge

So let’s turn to the future and what Federal Labor believes an effective National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy should contain – of course, building on the work we did when last in government.

Our starting point is that Australia’s existing freight and logistic network is struggling to cope with the demands already being placed on it, let alone the added demands expected in the years ahead.

For one thing, Australia’s population is expected to grow by 400,000 people a year.  As former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has pointed out, that is equivalent to “building a new city the size of Sydney every decade; or building a new city the size of Newcastle or Canberra every year.”

That’s a lot of extra consumers who will expect the shelves of their favourite shops and local supermarkets to be filled with the products and brands they need and enjoy.

Then of course there will be the growing demand from industry to supply the raw material and capital equipment required to make those consumer goods in the first place.  Meanwhile, our exporters will continue to expect their products be quickly and reliably transported to customers around the globe.

Simply put, the national freight task is set to become even greater and more complex.

And that fact is borne out by the statistics.

For example, according to Infrastructure Australia container movements across the nation’s wharves will increase 165 per cent between now and 2031.  Over that same period, non-containerised trade is projected to grow by 138 per cent.

But it’s not just our ports that are getting busier; so too are our roads and rail lines.

The volume of freight needing to be transported around the country on the back of trucks and trains will almost double over the next two decades.

And we should not forget the increasing role our airports are playing in the distribution of freight both domestically and internationally.  Indeed, Sydney Airport already rivals Port Botany in terms of the value of trade flowing through it, with much of the outbound freight being Australia’s highly sought after agricultural products such as meat, vegetables, fruit and seafood.

Our challenge is to meet this growing freight task head on; to build and maintain a modern, well-planned, efficient and safe freight and logistics network which supports rather than hinders Australia’s future economic development.

That will require an investment by the nation’s freight and logistic operators in emerging technologies and new, innovative ways of servicing the customer.

The role of government, on the other hand, is to not only establish the regulatory framework that will unlock that private sector ingenuity, but to also identify, plan and invest in the long term, system wide solutions that will support the growth of the freight and logistics sector as a whole.

And the national government has a particularly unique role to play in this endeavour.

Traditionally, infrastructure policy has been segmented by mode – road, rail, aviation and shipping – as well as by jurisdiction.  But it is a tradition that has failed to adequately serve the national interest, often pitting modes and states against each other in a zero sum game.

One national, integrated network

Accordingly, the first prerequisite of an effective National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy is to remedy the limitations of our Federated structure of government.  That means ignoring state and territory borders, and identifying the existing and yet-to-be built roads, rail lines, intermodals, ports and airports which together would form a truly national and integrated freight network.

Importantly, this prioritisation process would protect current and future transport corridors and other strategic pieces of land from urban encroachment.  Ports, airports, intermodal, highways and rail hubs would then be able to expand when required – and do so at a lower cost and with minimal impact on the community.

What’s more, the backbone of any national freight network of the future must be rail.  Just as rail needs to be at the heart of moving people around our big cities, it also needs to take on an even greater role in the movement of freight around our country.

That is not to diminish the indispensable role of road transport.

Indeed, when last in government Federal Labor doubled the roads budget.  In just six years we built and upgraded 7,500 kilometres of road nationwide, including completing the duplication of the Hume Highway, accelerating the upgrade of the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway, and improving the safety and flood immunity of hundreds of kilometres of the Bruce.

But when it comes to moving large volumes of freight over long distances, rail has significant advantages.  It can do the job at a lower cost and more safely.  And it is the most energy-efficient mode of land transport, meaning less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint.

In fact, rail produces three times less harmful carbon emissions than road.

The more freight carried by rail also translates into lower highway maintenance costs, less congested urban arteries and fewer road accidents.  Just one 1,800 metre train can replace as many as 100 trucks.

It was for all these reasons that the former Federal Labor Government delivered the biggest investment in Australia’s freight rail infrastructure in more than a century.

First and foremost, we rebuilt a third of the Interstate Network – or some 3,800 kilometres of track.  This work included re-railing, installing new passing loops and extending existing ones, and replacing the ageing timber sleepers with 3.4 million Australian-made concrete sleepers which don’t buckle on hot days.

In addition, we addressed a number of major bottlenecks in the network.

This included the biggest bottleneck of them all: Sydney.

For decades freight trains endured frustrating delays getting into and out of this sprawling city due to limited tracks and the priority given to passenger trains, particularly during peak periods.  The solution was to build a new 36 kilometre dedicated line between Macarthur and Chullora, thereby separating freight from passenger trains.

This $1 billion piece of infrastructure tripled the capacity of this vital rail corridor.

What’s more, this new line in Sydney’s south was complemented by a $1.1 billion upgrade to the rail corridor through the City’s northern suburbs to Newcastle as well as the duplication of the line to Port Botany, Australia’s second largest container port.

To further support the growth and smooth operation of Port Botany – and reduce traffic congestion – we also established the Moorebank Logistics Park under the leadership of Kerry Schott.

Located next to the Southern Sydney Freight Line in the City’s South West, this facility will comprise:

  • An import-export terminal with a capacity to handle up to 1.05 million containers annually;
  • An interstate terminal with a capacity to handle up to 500,000 containers annually; and
  • Up to 850,000 sqm of warehousing where containers can be unpacked before delivery of their contents to their final destinations.

When completed, this new intermodal, which is being delivered as public-private partnership, will take up to 3,000 trucks a day off Sydney’s road network, create around 6,800 jobs and produce more than $11 billion in economic, social and environmental benefits.

But our investment in rail didn’t stop there.

In Victoria we upgraded the rail connection to Geelong Port.  In South Australia we untangled the passenger and freight lines near Adelaide’s CBD.  In Western Australia we improved rail access to Esperance Port, and restored and upgraded the State’s Grain Rail Network.  In Tasmania we initiated the Freight Rail Revitalisation Program, which is replacing 290 kilometres of ageing track.

And we connected Queensland to the Interstate Network for the first time.

As a result of this extensive capital works program travel times from Perth to the east coast were cut by nine hours and by seven hours between Melbourne and Brisbane.  This in turn has led many businesses to re-evaluate the benefits of rail.  For example, a couple of years ago Woolworths made the decision to transfer 34,000 tonnes of dry goods from road to rail.

Today, around half of the domestic freight task is performed by rail.

However, while Federal Labor did do much during our previous six years in office to reverse decades of neglect, I am also the first to acknowledge that there is still much more to be done.

The modernisation of the nation’s rail freight infrastructure must continue.

I now want to quickly turn to another safe, environmentally sustainable mode of transport that could be doing more of the heavy lifting when it comes to the national freight task – and that is coastal shipping.

As a vast island continent with ports around our coastline, it defies logic that in
2018 this industry is no bigger than it was 40 years ago.  In fact, in recent years it has been in decline, with just 17 per cent of the domestic freight task now being carried in the hull of ships.

Worse still, our proud Australian flagged merchant fleet, as well as the skilled workforce it trains and employs, is fast disappearing.  Today, much of the freight that does go by sea is being transported by ships that are foreign flagged and foreign-crewed.

Preventing the demise of this industry was a priority of the former Federal Labor Government.  Motivated by sound economic, environmental and national security reasons we put in place a package of reforms designed to level the playing field between Australian shippers and their international competitors.

This package included a zero tax rate, more generous accelerated depreciation arrangements, rollover relief for selected capital assets and new tax incentives to employ local seafarers.  We also created an International Shipping Register which allows operators of Australian flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on internationally agreed rates and conditions.

These measures were based on the extensive reform programs that had already been successfully implemented by other maritime nations such as the United Kingdom, Japan, China and Denmark.

However, for Labor’s suite of reforms to work, they needed time.

Unfortunately, even before our reforms took effect the Coalition was undermining them with attacks calculated to create uncertainty and sow doubt in the minds of those considering investing in the Australian industry.  But not satisfied with white-anting Labor’s reforms in Opposition, once elected the Coalition moved quickly to scrap them altogether and dismantle what remains of the domestic industry.

All of us want to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia – but not at any cost, particularly if that cost is the destruction of a strategically-significant industry and the loss of a highly-skilled workforce.

The Coalition’s 2015 legislation put ideology ahead of the national interest, and was rightly rejected by the Senate.

Nonetheless, the Coalition’s antagonism towards maritime in general, and our domestic shipping industry in particular, continues to this day.  And there is no better example of this than the fact that the “National Key Freight Routes Map” which appears on the Department of Infrastructure’s website does not have one shipping route on it.

The bottom line is: there is a very real difference between the two sides of politics when it comes to shipping.  The Coalition doesn’t believe Australia needs a viable, competitive and growing domestic industry.  Federal Labor does – and we will be taking a set of policies to the next election that will help rebuild the Australian industry.

Simply put, we want to see more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian flagged ships carrying more Australian goods around the Australian coastline.

Better use of our existing infrastructure

The second prerequisite of an effective strategy is recognition that it is often far smarter and cheaper to get the most out of our existing infrastructure than to always build anew.

In practice this means fitting new technology to improve traffic flows along major motorways, using higher productivity vehicles, creating dedicated freight routes and separating passenger trains from freight trains.

Technology, in particular, has the greatest potential to unlock significant efficiency gains.

That’s why, for example, we invested in the Managed Motorways Program, which sought to incorporate intelligent transport solutions into urban motorway networks.  These included entry ramp signalling, variable speed limit signs, CCTVs and digital message signs that provide motorists with live updates on traffic conditions and delays.

In Victoria we committed $9.9 million in our last Budget to upgrade the Intelligent Transport System along a 4.1 kilometre section of the Monash Freeway.  While in the scheme of things that was a relatively small amount of funding, it would have generated an extraordinary $11.50 of benefits for every $1 invested, according to Infrastructure Australia.

Unfortunately, this was one of those worthy projects cancelled by the incoming Coalition Government.

Fewer, smarter regulations

The third prerequisite of an effective national strategy is a commitment to a seamless national economy, with the aim of enhancing long term productivity growth and freeing up the movement of interstate trade.  Primarily, this will involve further reforms to the way your sector is regulated.

In government, we made significant progress in this endeavour.

Indeed, we replaced the 23 separate state, territory and Federal agencies that previously regulated heavy vehicles, rail safety and maritime safety, along with their costly and confusing array of regulations, with just three national regulators each administering one set of modern, nationwide laws.

And let me tell you, that was no easy feat. It involved many rounds of negotiations between myself and state and territory ministers, in many cases against determined resistance from their bureaucracies that were more interested in protecting their fiefdoms than advancing the national interest.

Unfortunately, that reform agenda has stalled.  It needs to be restarted.

Investment

Lastly, a strategy without real dollars attached is simply a statement of good intentions.

Building and maintaining a freight and logistics network fit for purpose requires consistent investment and while the private sector does have a role to play in closing the infrastructure funding gap, governments cannot avoid their responsibility to invest in projects which benefit the economy as a whole.

But at a time when the Federal Government should be lifting its investment in the nation’s infrastructure, it is actually planning to cut it.  According to their own Budget Papers, grant funding will almost halve from $8 billion this financial year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

What’s more, last year’s Budget committed grant funding to just one new project nationwide – and it was $13.8 million for the Far North Collector Road near the NSW town of Nowra in the marginal seat of Gilmore.  It was a project most people had never heard of until Budget night.

Little wonder then that the pipeline of Federally-funded projects is fast drying up.

With few exceptions, the major Federally-funded road and rail projects now under construction around the country were first identified and then funded by the former Federal Labor Government.

According to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, Federal investment in road and rail projects, expressed as a proportion of GDP, is projected to drop from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent over the coming decade.

That’s a 50 per cent cut.

The fact is Federal grant funding is vital – and less of it will mean less infrastructure.

But while the quantity of available investment is important, so too is ensuring that the taxpayer gets value for money.  It is imperative that funding go to projects that will fix an identified problem; projects where the planning has been done; projects offering the highest economic, social and environmental returns.

Simply put, the more zeros on a project’s price tag does not automatically mean the project is a better solution than a cheaper alternative.  As I mentioned earlier, equipping an existing motorway with intelligent transport systems can achieve a similar outcome sooner and at a fraction of the cost of building a whole new motorway.

However too often politicians are bedazzled by mega-projects and commit billions in the absence of a rigorously, independent assessment and before the planning work is done.

And just a few kilometres from here is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

I give it to the NSW Government; with Westconnex they have certainly come up with the most expensive road project in the nation’s history, a project where they literally started digging the tunnels before they knew where those tunnels would come up.  It’s a project that has taken on a life of its own.

Even now the detailed planning remains a work in progress.

But here’s the kicker, despite having bulldozed hundreds of houses and creating anxiety among just about everyone in the local community that their home, school or park will be next, this $17 billion (at a minimum) mega-project will not actually achieve what it was meant to, namely easing congestion around and improving access to Sydney Airport and Port Botany.

It stops well short of both.

It will now take yet another multi-billion project to finish the job.

In the years to come Westconnex will be studied by academics, engineers and planners for how not to deliver a major project.

Another mega-project that could well go the same way as Westconnex is Inland Rail.

As I have already said, Federal Labor is a strong advocate of freight rail and we support the Inland Rail project.  After all, it was the former Federal Labor Government that committed $900 million to upgrade the existing track that will eventually form part of the line and to progress the project to the construction stage.

However, in their desperation to find pre-election photo opportunities, the Government is saying there will be a sod turning later this year to mark the start of work on the Parkes to Narromine section.  It appears the delivery of this project is now being driven more by the electoral cycle than what is required to ensure its ultimate success.

The fact is the final route alignment has still not been finalised; environmental approvals have still not been sought, let alone approved; hundreds of land resumptions have still not occurred; and details of the public private partnership that will deliver the most challenging part of the project – the section through the Great Dividing Range in South East Queensland – have still not been released.

What’s more, a significant proportion of the ARTC’s revenue is generated on track leased to it by the NSW and Victorian governments, including the profitable Hunter Valley Coal Network.  To provide the company with the long term financial certainty it needs before proceeding with the project, it is seeking to have those leases extended until the end of the century.

Those negotiations are still ongoing.

Most significantly, there are still serious questions over how this project can be fully funded via an ‘off budget’ $8.4 billion equity injection into the ARTC, given the Government’s own 2015 Implementation Study chaired by John Anderson concluded that “the expected operating revenue over 50 years will not cover the initial capital investment required to build the railway”.

This fact was reaffirmed only a couple weeks ago by the CEO of the ARTC, the company tasked with building the line.  Appearing before the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, John Fullerton said:

“From a strict ARTC point of view, no, the revenue that flows to us would never cover the full capital cost and provide a return.”

The Government needs to take a step back and ensure they have got the fundamentals of this project right from the outset.  Otherwise in the years to come Inland Rail will be studied alongside Westconnex for how not to deliver a major infrastructure project.

Conclusion

In conclusion I want to congratulate the Australian Logistics Council for organising this event and bringing together such a talented group of professionals from across the nation’s freight and logistics sector.  I greatly respect the experience, the expertise and the leadership right here in this room.

I also acknowledge the work the ALC has done over many years to build consensus within the sector and across the political system around public policy issues important to the future of our country.

The fact is there is too much partisanship today; too many people are simply spoiling for a fight and are prepared to put tribal loyalties ahead of the national interest; too often a good idea is shot down for no other reason than it was proposed by someone in the other party.

Now, I am not saying we have to always agree on everything, and I have just outlined some of the key points of policy difference between Labor and the Coalition in the areas of infrastructure and transport.

However, I do want to signal today my willingness to work with the current Government to find common ground, and ensure we end up with a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy that prepares Australia for the future challenges and best serves your businesses, your customers and of course, the wider Australian community.

Australia’s long term national interest demands nothing less.

Mar 1, 2018

Adjournment – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:59): I rise to pay tribute to the 78ers, those brave gay men and lesbian women and their supporters, who, 40 years ago, marched in favour of recognition of their rights as human beings for legal equality. This Saturday will see the 40th celebration of Mardi Gras in Sydney, and it will be a celebration of the fact that we now have marriage equality. But that is only the case because of the hard yards that were done by those brave men and women, who, of course, marched into police lines and were arrested for standing up for human rights. I pay tribute to them.
Feb 27, 2018

Statements on Indulgence – Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples: 10th Anniversary

Federation Chamber

At the time, of course, this followed years of indecision—years in which Prime Minister Howard said that it would be inappropriate for the parliament to apologise. It was argued that those who would deliver that apology were not personally responsible for taking Indigenous children from their parents over the previous decades. The events of that momentous day show how wrong that view was. It was certainly the proudest day of the 22 years I’ll celebrate as a member of this parliament this coming Friday. It was a day when we as a parliament righted a wrong. It was a day when, after years of denial, the parliament recognised the injustices and inhumanity visited upon the stolen generations.

Those who were there that day will all remember it. This was a time when the nation paused to reflect our history, and indeed that day made history. I want to pay tribute in particular to the generosity of the members of the stolen generations themselves who came to this parliament, sat around that chamber and weren’t bitter about their experience. They accepted the spirit in which the apology was given by Prime Minister Rudd on behalf of the nation. I looked up as the Prime Minister spoke, and I saw scores of members of the stolen generation weeping, sitting in their seats trembling, holding each other’s hands.

I’ve seen since, of course, the depiction of meetings out on the front lawn and right around our nation, where the response was the same. My son’s then primary school stopped to watch this historic event on a large screen. The members of the stolen generation, that day, received just a little bit of warm-hearted response that helped make them feel as though the nation understood, in a small way, the incredible trauma that had been done to them. It will indeed be remembered for a very long time. As Prime Minister Rudd said:

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

As the speech continued, everyone in the parliament knew that we were doing the right thing, as did the millions of Australians gathered around the nation. And indeed, when Prime Minister Rudd finished that address, around the nation, as well as in the chamber, they leapt to their feet to applaud.

Of course, the apology was not the end of the story; it was just the beginning. We knew at the time that the apology needed to be backed up with concrete action, that it was just a step on the road to reconciliation. Importantly, establishing the Closing the gap report to parliament was an important step forward. Some progress has been made in three out of the seven targets. They include the target to halve the gap in child mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade, the target that 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds would be enrolled in early education by 2025, and the target to halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020. Not on track are life expectancy, employment, reading and writing, and school attendance.

I was somewhat disappointed by some of the reporting and public discussion of the Prime Minister’s report to parliament on Closing the Gap, because there was a tone of pessimism. That, I believe, is a wrong analysis. It will take generations to close the gap—indeed, decades of bipartisanship. Let me quote former Prime Minister Rudd when he spoke at the National Press Club just last month. He said:

… these targets were meant to be ambitious; they were meant to challenge us all; because we had to shake ourselves out of our national torpor that business as usual was fine, or we could just fiddle at the edges of indigenous disadvantage.

Mr Rudd went on to say that, while we must accept our failures and act to correct them, we must also celebrate our progress. Because of Closing the Gap, more Indigenous children are finishing school. Because of Closing the Gap, fewer infants are dying. Because of Closing the Gap, more youngsters are receiving early childhood education. We have a long way to go, but we can’t give up. We have a responsibility to the First Australians, as privileged as we are to live in the nation with the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet, to close the gap across the board so that these issues of education, health, employment and life expectancy are all dealt with.

The apology and Closing the Gap are also critical to the achievement of broader reconciliation. This requires collaboration and it requires that we listen to Indigenous people. Hence the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This calls for a voice to the parliament. Who could disagree with the concept that Indigenous Australians are entitled to put forward their view about legislation before this parliament that impacts them? What they are not asking for is a third chamber. They are asking for a voice to the parliament. It was very pleasing that Labor have said that we will work towards achieving that. I’d ask the Prime Minister to reconsider the rejection of the Uluru statement. It is important that these issues be bipartisan. We must engage with Indigenous people who have gone through a process of consultation with communities around the nation, and not just dismiss them, and certainly not misrepresent what they are asking for. We have a long way to go to achieve reconciliation in this country, but the apology was an important step. It’s one that I’m proud, as a member of the House of Representatives, to be associated with. It is very important that we have signified the tenth anniversary of this historic occasion.

Feb 23, 2018

Speech to Qantas Australian Tourism Awards – ‘Tourism Central to Future Growth’ – Perth

There are many sayings about tourism and travel, but I like the one that goes, ‘travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.’

Indeed, in Australia travel is always an enriching experience.

Our beaches are regularly ranked amongst the best in the world.

Our cities are incredibly vibrant and exciting.

Our outback offers a landscape unrivalled by anywhere else.

Whether it’s WA’s brilliant coastline, the expanse of red desert that dominates Central Australia, the rainforests of Tropical North Queensland, the rolling hills of wine country in the Hunter Valley, mountainous Tasmania, the sun setting over the Top End, or Kangaroo Island in SA – there’s something here for everyone.

And of course our history, which dates back at least 65,000 years, means we are home to the world’s oldest living culture.

Today, our first people continue to play an integral role in sharing this past and teaching not only us, but international visitors as well, about the importance of appreciating and caring for the land.

And as the challenges associated with climate change continue to grow, this is more important than ever before.

So I congratulate each of the Award nominees and recipients. The incredible diversity of the Australian tourism sector is certainly on show tonight.

Tourism has been identified as one of Australia’s super-growth sectors.

It underpins the local economies of towns and cities across the nation, generating more than $100 billion in overall economic activity.

And each year as the number of visitors to our shores increase – 8.8 million in the year ending December 2017, up 6.5 per cent from the year before – it’s clear that the work you do is making a difference.

It’s also significant that the awards are here at Perth Stadium – one of the first corporate events to be held here.

Quality infrastructure such as this is an essential part of the tourist experience.

Just the other week I visited the iconic tourist destination, Scarborough Beach, with my colleague and Member for Perth Tim Hammond.

There the City of Stirling is continuing its work to revitalise the area.

This will see WA continue to build its prominence as a world-class surfing destination.

Investment such as this becomes even more important in the light of several emerging trends, including an increase in independent travel from international visitors, particularly those from China.

But there’s also much to see outside our big cities.

If we can encourage visitors to get out into regional Australia, we can increase the average number of nights visitors stay as well as their expenditure.

Here in WA, nearly 1 million international visitors visited the state in the year ending September 2017.

That’s fantastic.

And the new Perth-to-London direct by Qantas, starting next month, will bring enormous tourism benefit to WA, as people take the opportunity to stop over to and from Europe and see what WA has to offer.

WA received a huge boost from Roger Federer’s famous ‘quokka selfie’ on Rottnest Island.  More than half a billion people in 45 countries saw this photo.

If just 1 per cent of those who saw this decided to come get a selfie of their own, that would result in five million visitors.

Get that quokka a contract.

We know that tourism marketing works, with return on investment delivering $16 benefit for every $1 invested.

But while we continue to promote Australia to international markets, there’s also an opportunity to increase our domestic visitor market, both intra-state and inter-state, as well through tourism promotion.

Prominent WA author Tim Winton had this to say about Australia:

“It’s good for the spirit, to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer and more complex than ourselves to consider.”

It is through tourism and the work you do, that we have an opportunity to experience the many wonders of our nation and showcase them to the rest of the world.

FRIDAY, 23 FEBRUARY, 2018

Dec 7, 2017

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Consideration in Detail

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (09:55): Those great philosophers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards once sang: ‘You can’t always get you what you want, but you get what you need.’ This bill is what people need. They do not need delay or for the bill to be put off or for a series of amendments to be carried by this House that then get referred to the Senate, begin the whole debate all over again and return to this House at some time in the future.

What my community want, as they have clearly indicated, is to get this done. That’s what Australians voted for in overwhelming numbers. Is this bill perfect? No. It’s a product of a consensus. It is a product of a collective effort by people of goodwill, across the Senate, to ensure that reform can move forward. During the voluntary postal survey, I and other advocates of a vote for yes, in response to the misleading campaigns of those who suggested that this would have all sorts of unknown consequences to the lives of people who won’t be impacted by this legislation at all, clearly said: ‘There is a bill already. It’s a bill in the name of Dean Smith in the Senate.’ It’s a bill which has received, quite remarkably, unanimous support and consensus in the Senate.

I say to the member for Melbourne that there’s a time when you don’t think, ‘Oh, I can make this improvement here so that it satisfies all of my wants.’ This bill is it. This isn’t a time for grandstanding. This isn’t a time for trying to ensure there’s product differentiation. This is a time for national unity. This is a time for support by people of goodwill, across this parliament, and I pay tribute to people on the other side of the chamber—people I don’t normally agree with—because it’s hard. It’s easier if you’re in a party looking for purity all of the time on every issue and you say, ‘I think maybe there might perhaps be consequences to this, though I don’t think they’re real,’ which is what the member for Melbourne just indicated, and it is what he indicated in his second reading speech. He spoke about these amendments as restating things that are already in the Sex Discrimination Act. He said that this amendment would seek to change the title of the bill. Guess what? Do a survey of Australians and see how many people know the title of any particular bill, and I’d be amazed if you still want to hold up marriage equality in order to make change that is not of substance.

That’s a fundamental area of disagreement that I have and why I’m in a major party, the Australian Labor Party. What I do in this place is come in here to make a real difference to real people and to real lives. That is what this legislation will do. That is why all of the amendments to this legislation should be rejected, whether they be the amendments we’re considering now or future amendments moved by some of the opponents of marriage equality seeking to make changes which are not necessary. These issues were considered during the Senate processes. We have an outcome—we have an outcome that will produce marriage equality and can do it today. The big campaign of marriage equality was ‘let’s get this done’. Let’s not delay, let’s not look for areas of disagreement, because that’s simply not productive. I say to the member for Melbourne that I think it’s unfortunate that these unnecessary amendments are being moved. I won’t be supporting them. I call upon other members of the House not to support them, not to support the other amendments and to get this done today.

Dec 4, 2017

Debate on Senate Motion Regarding New Zealand’s Offer to Settle Refugees

Message No. 253, 29 November 2017, from the Senate was reported informing the House that the Senate had agreed to the following resolution:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i)      The New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, has continued to pressure Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees who are currently in offshore detention;

(ii)     New Zealand will begin work to expedite processing refugees if, and when, the offer is accepted; and

(iii)    Prime Minister Ardern stated: “We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done’’; and

(b)     Calls on the Government to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees and negotiate conditions similar to the United States refugee resettlement agreement.

The Senate requests the concurrence of the House in this resolution.

 

MR ALBANESE: I rise to support this resolution from the Senate.

I do so and say to the Government that this is an opportunity for it to rise to the occasion. There are many things that this resolution is not about. This resolution does not stop offshore processing. This resolution does not assist people smugglers.

This resolution is consistent with getting an outcome. At the end of the day, the Government is responsible for outcomes, not just rhetoric. The PNG court determined in April 2016 what the closing date of the Manus facility would be.

In April 2017, the Government came to an agreement with the Government of Papua New Guinea that it would close. Yet, the UNHCR has indicated that the alternative facilities simply weren’t all ready at the time of closure.

What you also have is men who have been in detention for four and a half years with still no security as to what the future is for them.

People who commit crimes, serious crimes, are often not detained for that period of time. A majority of these people have been found to be refugees. That is, they have been found under our international obligations to be deserving of Australia’s care. It has been found that we have a responsibility to these people.

We simply cannot have the approach of the Minister, which is to say: “This is nothing to do with me. This is something to do with the Government of Papua New Guinea, nothing to do with Australia’’.

The fact is that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. We on this side of the House take that approach. What we won’t do is just wash our hands of the responsibilities that Australia clearly has.

The Minister says that he won’t consider the resettlement option in New Zealand now. But he leaves it open for the future. He indicates that’s correct.

If not now, when? What is to be gained, apart from politics, in leaving these people in further uncertainty when the New Zealand Government – under both the conservatives, under the leadership of John Key, and now under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern – has offered to assist these individuals but also, frankly, to assist Australia?

If the Minister says we have no responsibility, if he doesn’t think that this is impacting on Australia’s standing in the world, then he is wrong. I say to him, with respect – he might disagree with that assessment; people can look at objective facts and come to different conclusions – but it is a fact, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, that this is impacting on Australia’s standing in the world.

It is also a fact that John Howard, a person he admires, led a government where John Howard, in spite of the rhetoric, said that the people who were on the Tampa would never settle in Australia and never settle in New Zealand – that they’d be sent home. The fact is that many of those people are today settled here in Australia as Australian citizens and many of those people settled in New Zealand.

Very clearly it would be possible for these people to come to an arrangement, which New Zealand has indicated would be possible, whereby they commit – they’ve said they would want to if they were settled in New Zealand – to stay there because they would feel welcome there because of the actions of the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Opposition.

A good friend of mine, Father Dave Smith of Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, visited Manus Island a few weeks ago. It is interesting to look at the interviews that Father Dave, as he’s known, had with the people there.

This is someone who travelled there out of his view of what a Christian should do. I have disagreements with him on some issues politically, it must be said, but there is no question whatsoever of his genuineness. There are so many Australians who are looking for a genuine outcome when it comes to this situation. The fact is that a genuine outcome is settlement in third countries.

If the Government can say it’s OK for people to settle in the United States and that that wouldn’t provide a pull factor, but somehow New Zealand is not okay, then that is an extraordinary proposition. If the Minister doesn’t think that it’s possible to deal with the issue of the relationship of New Zealand visas into Australia, then I think he’s wrong there.

Quite clearly, with a little bit of leadership rather than ongoing rhetoric – and I disagree very strongly with some of the characterisations that have been made personally against the Minister. I don’t think that adds to the debate at all. I’m not seeking to do that here at all. What I am seeking to do is to say that these people, who have been in detention at what was intended to be a processing centre to then settle people in third countries, not in Australia, have now been there for four and a half years, and that is just too long. That is having an impact on their mental health as well as their physical health. It would for anyone.

When I was at my good, old Catholic school, one of the values that I was taught was about putting yourself in other people’s positions. I say to the Minister – put yourself in the position of those people. The Minister needs, frankly, to act with a little bit more maturity rather than the sort of knee-jerk: “Let’s hold these people almost as political hostages’’. That is unacceptable.

The fact is that these people need a solution. That is why we are prepared to support this resolution. We are trying to help the Minister find a way out of his predicament, frankly, because, at the moment, the way isn’t just to stay in a circumstance whereby he says: “’Oh well, this is all about Labor.’’ This is about the Minister. He has a responsibility. This resolution provides a way forward.

 

Dec 4, 2017

Marriage Equality Speech – House of Representatives

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:06):  I’m proud to stand in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 moved by the member for Leichhardt in this parliament today.

In June 1990, my courageous friend Paul O’Grady, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, came out as a gay man. He was most certainly not the first gay man elected to the New South Wales parliament, but it took until 1990 for someone to have the confidence to declare their sexuality openly. When I discussed this move with Paul, he said very clearly, ‘I am who I am.’ It was an act of courage that made it much easier for other people in the same circumstance as Paul to openly declare their sexuality. In 1993, three years later, he and his partner, Murray, were attacked and harassed on William Street. Paul O’Grady, a member of the Legislative Council, dialled triple 0. He tried to convince the person on the other end of the phone that he was being threatened by a gang of youths in what was known colloquially as ‘poofter bashing’, which occurred then and still occurs today. He was hung up on, a member of the Legislative Council.

When we talk about discrimination and the fear in society created by intolerance and hatred, it is important today to recognise the courage of those gay men and lesbian women over decades in which debate was far different to what it is today. People like Paul, I think, couldn’t have imagined us having a debate in the parliament with such broad support for marriage equality across the political spectrum. So today I begin by paying tribute to people like Paul; to people like Craig Johnston, a Sydney city councillor; to people like Lex Watson, the academic; to people like Julie McCrossin; to all those people who marched in 1978 in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. They marched not in a parade that was being cheered and shown on national television; they marched in a parade towards a confrontation with police, who locked them up, who assaulted them and who abused them.

Part of the reason that today is so important is that today, in supporting this legislation, we are saying that we are a tolerant nation, that we are a respectful nation and that we are a nation that is stronger because of our diversity. I think it is unfortunate that we will be one of the last advanced industrialised nations to recognise marriage equality when this legislation is passed. Nonetheless, catching up with the rest of the world is a good thing. I pay tribute to all those who did the hard yards—the really hard yards—to get us to this place.

In 1996, in my first speech in this chamber, I mentioned removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In my first term of parliament, after consultation with the gay and lesbian community, I moved the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill in this chamber. It says something about where the debate was then compared with now that we couldn’t even get a debate on that issue; that legislation wasn’t even supported by every member of my own party. But what it did was lay some groundwork for a debate within my party about the need to tackle discrimination. And, of course, eventually, under the first term of the Rudd Labor government, we removed some 84 pieces of discrimination that were in legislation. This was discrimination not just in areas like superannuation, but in social security, immigration and health care.

When I was first elected, there were very real circumstances of partners of loved ones being denied access to their partners when they were in hospital. There were issues whereby couples who shared houses were thrown out of the house that they had lived in with their partner because of non-acceptance by the family of that partner. The scourge, of course, of HIV-AIDS was still having a massive impact—including, of course, taking the life of Paul O’Grady, who showed his courage once again in openly declaring that he was HIV-positive and therefore being able to lead a campaign for the care that was required. Of course, Neal Blewett, as health minister in the Labor government, led the world in responding to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, literally resulting in thousands of lives being saved.

So, today, this is unfinished business on that march towards equality, in the march towards respect for each other. It is a reminder that society does move forward, although not always in a straight line. Opponents of progress do fight for the status quo. Reactionaries do seek to turn back the gains of the past. But here in this parliament progress is moving forward. Human rights are moving forward. Parliament is not leading in this case, of course; we’re following. We are following the voluntary postal ballot that was held.

I am very proud to support this legislation, and I won’t be supporting amendments to this legislation. This has been through the process of a Senate committee. This itself is a compromise to this legislation. It’s one that will not have an impact on religious freedom.

Part of the reason that today is so important is that today, in supporting this legislation, we are saying that we are a tolerant nation, that we are a respectful nation and that we are a nation that is stronger because of our diversity. I think it is unfortunate that we will be one of the last advanced industrialised nations to recognise marriage equality when this legislation is passed. Nonetheless, catching up with the rest of the world is a good thing. I pay tribute to all those who did the hard yards—the really hard yards—to get us to this place.

In 1996, in my first speech in this chamber, I mentioned removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In my first term of parliament, after consultation with the gay and lesbian community, I moved the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill in this chamber. It says something about where the debate was then compared with now that we couldn’t even get a debate on that issue; that legislation wasn’t even supported by every member of my own party. But what it did was lay some groundwork for a debate within my party about the need to tackle discrimination. And, of course, eventually, under the first term of the Rudd Labor government, we removed some 84 pieces of discrimination that were in legislation. This was discrimination not just in areas like superannuation, but in social security, immigration and health care.

When I was first elected, there were very real circumstances of partners of loved ones being denied access to their partners when they were in hospital. There were issues whereby couples who shared houses were thrown out of the house that they had lived in with their partner because of non-acceptance by the family of that partner. The scourge, of course, of HIV-AIDS was still having a massive impact—including, of course, taking the life of Paul O’Grady, who showed his courage once again in openly declaring that he was HIV-positive and therefore being able to lead a campaign for the care that was required. Of course, Neal Blewett, as health minister in the Labor government, led the world in responding to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, literally resulting in thousands of lives being saved.

So, today, this is unfinished business on that march towards equality, in the march towards respect for each other. It is a reminder that society does move forward, although not always in a straight line. Opponents of progress do fight for the status quo. Reactionaries do seek to turn back the gains of the past. But here in this parliament progress is moving forward. Human rights are moving forward. Parliament is not leading in this case, of course; we’re following. We are following the voluntary postal ballot that was held.

I am very proud to support this legislation, and I won’t be supporting amendments to this legislation. This has been through the process of a Senate committee. This itself is a compromise to this legislation. It’s one that will not have an impact on religious freedom.

In conclusion, can I say that this legislation is a good moment in this parliament. Some of the best moments since I’ve been here, whether I’ve been on the majority or minority side, have been conscience votes. I think we should have more of them, not less, frankly, whereby parliamentarians can make their contribution. I want to say that it’s particularly good to be with people like the member for Sydney, the member for Melbourne Ports and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong, in particular, who has shown such courage over a long period of time, in internal and external debates, to get us to the position we’re in today. The member for Leichhardt has also shown great courage in advancing this issue within his party, and I pay tribute to him and others who have been prepared to really push this issue and ensure this reform happens.

It is, however, of course, the Australian people who have led the parliament on this issue. I’ve been convinced for some time that a majority of Australians had shifted their view to favour marriage equality some time ago. I hear many Australians say: ‘I didn’t used to support marriage equality. I do now.’ I don’t know of anyone who has said it to me the other way around—who has changed their mind from ‘yes’ to ‘no’. Australians want us to live and let live. They’ve decided that as individuals we have no right to cast judgements on love as it is felt by others. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)

 

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