Backbencher Kevin Rudd Seeks International Adviser, Preferably Chinese-Speaking

Queensland Labor backbencher Kevin Rudd is looking for a new adviser. Advertisements for the position appeared in daily newspapers today.

The advertisement stipulates that “this adviser will play an important role in advising Mr. Rudd in his capacity as a former Prime Minister with a focus on research and Mr. Rudd’s ongoing work in international forums”.

The position will be based in Brisbane in Rudd’s electorate of Griffith. “Candidates with high level fluency in Chinese are encouraged to apply.”

Advertisement

House of Representatives Debates Gay Marriage Resolution

An impressive debate began in the House of Representatives tonight on a motion by the Greens member, Adam Bandt, calling on parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Bandt’s motion reads:

That this House:

(1) notes there is:

(a) a growing list of countries that allow same-sex couples to marry including the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, SPain, Canada and South Africa; and

(b) widespread support for equal marriage in the Australian community; and

(2) calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Speaking to the motion, Bandt said, “there have been many attempts through history to limit love and all have failed”. The text of his speech is at the end of this page. [Read more…]

Giving Substance To The Words

There are thirty-two new members of the 43rd Parliament, elected on August 21st. Three of them are returning after a voluntary or enforced absence. As a group they constitute one-fifth of the House of Representatives, a significant turnover and renewal of the lower house. Many of them will be there for years to come.

Over the past month, I have made a point of watching the maiden, or first, speeches of these members. On the whole, it is difficult not to be impressed by these fledgling parliamentarians.

There has been much comment on the moving speech from the Western Australian Liberal, Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous member of the House, but others also delivered considered and thoughtful speeches. [Read more…]

First Speeches by Members of the 43rd Parliament

The 43rd Parliament met for the first time on Tuesday 28th September 2010.

First speeches by new members began the next day, the first day of normal business.

Audio of each speech will be added to this page as it becomes available. [Read more…]

Petro Georgiou: Valedictory Speech

This is the valedictory speech by Petro Georgiou, Liberal member for Kooyong, in the House of Representatives.

Georgiou won Kooyong in a by-election on November 19, 1994, succeeding Andrew Peacock. He retired at the 2010 election and was replaced by Josh Frydenberg.

Mr Speaker I was in the Chamber to hear Kim Beazley’s brilliant valedictory. One of the distinctive things he did was to thank people at the beginning, rather than the end of the speech. Expressions of gratitude are too often truncated by time constraints, so I’m going to emulate Kim’s example.

One of the nice things about growing older, at least in my case, is that the black list shrinks, while the white list of debts that cannot be repaid grows. I want to thank my mother Anastasia and my late father Constandino Georgiou for their enormous affection and commitment to their children despite the pressures and anxieties of migration. I want to thank my children Constandino and Alexia, who while still very young felt the impact of my involvement in politics. They are in the gallery today. They are admirable young people. [Read more…]

Craig Thomson – First Speech

This is the text of the first speech to the House of Representatives by Craig Thomson.

Thomson was elected as the ALP member for Dobell at the 2007 election.

Dobell is a provincial electorate on the central coast of New South Wales. It includes the centres of Bateau Bay, Berkeley Vale, Blue Haven, Matcham, Mount Elliot, Ourimbah, The Entrance, Warnervale, Wyoming, Wyong, the Yarramalong Valley, and parts of Erina Heights, Gorokan, Holgate, Lisarow, Kulnura, Narara, Niagara Park and Wamberal.

Craig ThomsonMr CRAIG THOMSON (6:12 PM) — Can I say right at the start what a great honour it is to be here today representing the people of Dobell in this place. Not many people get the honour and privilege of representing in federal parliament and to be counted amongst them is an immense privilege.

At this stage, I need to acknowledge the fantastic advice and assistance I received from Mark Arbib, Karl Bitar and Sam Dastyari from the New South Wales ALP head office. All of the Labor shadow ministers in the last parliament were great, but, in particular, Wayne Swan and Anthony Albanese need to be acknowledged for the support they gave to and tireless work they put into my campaign. Senator Hutchins has been a fantastic supporter for many years and has helped to create the opportunity to win back Dobell. Along with former member Michael Lee, he has provided tremendous insight into the many issues that affect the people of Dobell. I would also like to acknowledge the work of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. He visited my electorate four times, along with many other electorates around the country. The shot of old Hawkie charisma was just the lift that my campaign needed. [Read more…]

Petro Georgiou Attacks Government Over Citizenship Test

The Liberal Party backbencher, Petro Georgiou, has attacked the government’s proposed citizenship test.

In an address to the Italian Assistance Association in Melbourne, Georgiou said it was not correct to describe the changes as just “commonsense”. He said: “What is involved – even if it is not intended – is a fundamental political and social regression that will erect unreasonable and unnecessary barriers to citizenship that are unprecedented in this country.”

This is the text of Petro Georgio’s speech to the CO.AS.IT Italian Assistance Association in Carlton, Melbourne.

Australian Citizenship in the 21st Century

Petro Georgiou, Liberal MHR for KooyongThe Australian Parliament passes a great deal of legislation. Much of it does not impact on the future of our nation. Our fundamental citizenship laws do. This year, the Parliament will be asked to reverse the longstanding thrust of our approach to citizenship.

Since Australian citizenship was created in 1949, and our country began its massive immigration programme, successive governments have chosen an inclusive approach to citizenship. Discrimination against non-English speaking migrants was ended; English-language requirements were eased; residency requirements were reduced and then made equal for all; discriminatory voting privileges were addressed; dual citizenship was allowed; and all were required to attend a citizenship ceremony. The belief was that if we encouraged and embraced migrants who wanted to become Australians, we would build a better and stronger nation.

The inclusiveness of our approach to citizenship has been sustained through massive changes in the racial and cultural composition of our migrant intake. We have sometimes felt anxious about the speed and magnitude of this change. But Australia has held fast and not compromised its belief in inclusiveness. And we have been vindicated by history. The society we have produced is not perfect. It is, however, a society which is arguably the most successful, unified and harmonious multicultural nation in the world.

Nonetheless, in 2007, the Parliament will be asked to reverse the historic direction of inclusiveness, and Government and Opposition seem inclined to do so. Our current system requires applicants to demonstrate a basic knowledge of English and an understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship. These are assessed at a compulsory interview. What is proposed is that these are replaced by a more difficult and complex “formal citizenship test”. New requirements will include English-language comprehension and an understanding of Australian values, institutions, traditions and symbols. These would be assessed via a computer-based, 30-question, multiple-choice test.

Some have described these proposed changes as just “commonsense”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. What is involved – even if it is not intended – is a fundamental political and social regression that will erect unreasonable and unnecessary barriers to citizenship that are unprecedented in this country.

In the course of the debate, six core reasons have been advanced for changing our citizenship laws. I will examine these six rationales in turn. But let me first give you a preview of my conclusions. The reasons for change are not sustainable. Their premises are unsound, their evidence is deficient. Australia’s historic achievements are underestimated and we risk compromising our proven success.

Reason #1: Increased immigration of people from cultures vastly different from our own

We are told that we need a tougher citizenship test because, today, Australia faces the unprecedented challenge posed by migrants coming from cultures far removed from our own and from the cultures of earlier waves of European migrants.

The facts do not support this assertion.

There has been a fundamental change in the racial and cultural composition of our migrant intake. It occurred 30 years ago. In the 1960s, 86% of our migrants were European and less than 5% came from Asia. The demise of the White Australia Policy saw Asian immigration rise steadily throughout the 1970s to reach 30% of our total migrant intake in 1980. Asian immigration has exceeded European every year since 1984.

The magnitude of the change from Europe to Asia in the 1980s created a perception that there was an “Asian immigration crisis”. Some believed that the cultural difference between Asians and Australia’s traditional migrant source cultures posed fundamental problems for Australia. There were calls to reduce the intake from Asia. Australia held its nerve. There was no apocalypse. The contribution and commitment of Asian Australians were recognised. Many of the key proponents of restricting Asian immigration subsequently accepted they had been wrong. Even in the depths of those difficult days, however, no one advocated making our citizenship laws more exclusionary.

Apart from the shift from European to Asian sources of immigrants, there have been no other major changes in our migrant intake. The Middle Eastern component of our total migrant intake has remained a steady 5% for the last 30 years. Over that same period, the proportion of New Zealanders has increased by 6%. The proportion of migrants from Africa has also increased by 6%. This has primarily been due to increased numbers from South Africa and Zimbabwe and, over the last decade, 21,000 Sudanese refugees. In the decade following the fall of Saigon, we took in 100,000 Indochinese, constituting 12% of our total migrant intake. By contrast, the Sudanese comprised 2.1% of our intake over the last decade.

The statistics refute the claim that taking in migrants from cultures far removed from our own is a new challenge facing Australia. Australia met that challenge 30 years ago when the centre of gravity of our migrant intake swung from Europe to Asia and stayed there. There have been some difficult and ugly periods: the Asian debate in the 1980s, and the Hansonite outbreak in the following decade. But we have surmounted these challenges, prospered and grown stronger. We did so without resorting to new and higher barriers to citizenship. Quite the opposite, we did so because we maintained our commitment to inclusion.

Reason #2: The present test is too easy, resulting in citizenship not being valued

Under our present system, the granting of citizenship is likened to scattering confetti. The test is said to be too easy. “Many people” are described as taking out citizenship without commitment, just for the sake of a passport, and without understanding the pledge they are making.

These are significant charges. The only basis for them is a single, unsourced assertion that at one citizenship ceremony a number of people left before the national anthem was sung. It is difficult to imagine a flimsier basis on which to launch a major reversal of a policy direction that has stood the test of time for almost 60 years.

Is there any evidence from the hundreds of MPs of all political persuasions who attend citizenship ceremonies that they doubt the sincerity of the people who take the pledge? There is not. The testimony of MPs, consistently stated on the public record, is that people taking the citizenship pledge do so genuinely, enthusiastically, and after reflection. Why should this be outweighed by a single anecdote?

I think that we all recognise that no test can absolutely demonstrate a person’s motives and commitments. But if it is true that the present test allows people to take out citizenship because it is easy – just for an Australian passport – one would not expect large numbers of people not to take up the opportunity. In fact, that is precisely what happens. Almost a million permanent Australian residents choose not to become citizens, despite the fact that they are eligible to do so, and that they could readily pass the current test. Over half of them have English as their native language. Despite being bombarded by massive government multi-media advertising campaigns seeking to entice them to become citizens, they do not choose to do so. That is entirely their right. Their contribution to Australia is indisputable, and their reasons for not becoming citizens are no doubt complex. But they do disprove the assertion that people become citizens just for a passport.

If it is true that citizenship is scattered around like confetti, acceptance of those who apply should be a mere formality. It is not. Applicants have to be independently assessed to determine whether they are of good character, have basic English, and understand the responsibilities of citizenship. On average, over three and a half thousand applicants a year are refused citizenship because they do not meet the requirements.

These, however, are just fragments of evidence. A demonstration of what has been in the hearts and minds of the three and a half million people who have become citizens since 1949 can be found in our history. Many of them could not have passed the “formal citizenship test” that is being proposed. But it is unquestionable that they committed to Australia. They have enriched every facet of our nation’s life. They have worked hard and obeyed the law. They have defended Australia. They have been good parents and fine neighbours. Our present citizenship system has overwhelmingly given Australia good citizens. How can we say, against the weight of our history, that they took citizenship out just because it was easy?

Reason #3: A real incentive to learn English

It is said that imposing a tougher English-language test is necessary because it will provide a “real incentive” for migrants to learn English.

Before going further, one thing needs to be made crystal clear. There is already a requirement that applicants for citizenship must have a basic knowledge of English. This is enshrined in the Citizenship Act, and is tested at a compulsory interview. The so-called “formal citizenship test” does not establish a test where none existed before. What it does is significantly increase the barriers to becoming a citizen.

I absolutely believe that it is of the utmost importance that people are encouraged and supported to learn English: it benefits them, their families, and the community. English as the national language and the promotion of its acquisition have always been central tenets of Australian multiculturalism. The community consensus, shared by both migrants and native-born, is that English is important for citizenship. And the greater the proficiency in English, the greater one’s ability to take advantage of the opportunities that Australia has to offer.

The concern I have about this aspect of the proposal is that it assumes – without evidence – that many migrants are unmotivated or resistant to learning English and that the threat of denial of citizenship is an appropriate and effective spur to get them to study harder.

This profoundly misunderstands the migrant experience. Migrants do recognise the centrality of English in Australian society. Migrants of a non-English speaking background do grasp that limited English proficiency blocks many paths in our society.

Before using the stick of the denial of citizenship to penalise people, it is incumbent upon us to establish the nature and extent of limits on English-language fluency. Do certain immigrants not want to learn, or are they stymied by the lack of availability of classes? Are they fully occupied in meeting other demands, such as employment and family responsibilities? Are there simply limits on how much English some people can learn?

Beyond this, however, the assumption that the new test will provide a real incentive to learn English founders on the facts of illiteracy in Australia. Under the new, proposed, “formal” citizenship requirements, applicants will “first need to have successfully completed a test, designed to demonstrate their knowledge of the English language”. This will be assessed via a 30-question, multiple-choice, computer-based test. To answer the questions, applicants will need to study a detailed handbook.

This test represents a fundamental shift away from our current focus on basic English speaking ability to a test of literacy: the ability to read, comprehend and respond to written English.

The clear fact is that thousands of people would fail such a test, even when English is their native language. Scientific studies conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that two and a half million Australians have very poor literacy skills. They have great difficulties in using many of the printed materials that are encountered in everyday life. One and a half million people who have English as their native language fall into this low skill category. These people for instance cannot “locate information on a medicine label giving the maximum number of days the medicine should be taken”. They cannot “enter the number of theatre tickets required on an order form”. Recently it has been indicated that alternative testing arrangements will be made for people with low literacy skills and that this would involve only a few people. The ABS data show that this is optimistic in the extreme.

The native-born do not have to pass any tests to be citizens. That is as it should be. But for a test of citizenship to be a real incentive for migrants to learn English, it cannot demand a level of proficiency that is beyond the reach of a significant number of Australians who have English as their mother tongue. Rather than an incentive to learn English, the new test will be a punishment for those with low literacy who happen to be born overseas. It will fail to achieve its ostensible objectives and it is totally inconsistent with Australia’s commitment to equal treatment and a fair go.

Reason #4: We should follow other countries

Proponents of the test argue that we should follow the UK, Canada, the US and the Netherlands – countries that are “well ahead” in introducing a “formal” citizenship test.

But no evidence has been provided that the tests in these countries have been effective. The British test, which is the preferred model, was introduced just over one year ago. It is certainly too soon to assess its long-term impact.

Moreover, why do we feel that we have to follow other countries? Australia has an unsurpassed record of multicultural harmony and integration. Why should we abandon our history and experience and seek to mimic countries with less distinguished achievements? There is no reason to be culturally submissive to other nations. We long ago got over our cultural cringe. We should not revert to it in an area where our achievements make Australia worthy of emulation by others.

Reason #5: There is overwhelming public support for the proposed test

Proponents of the new test claim that opinion polls and responses to a government discussion paper show overwhelming support for the test.

The evidence does not bear this out.

Two opinion polls are cited to demonstrate public support for the new test.

The first is a Newspoll survey which asked, ‘Are you in favour or against knowledge of English being a requirement for becoming an Australian citizen?’ A great majority were in favour. Knowledge of English, however, is currently a requirement for becoming a citizen. Why this should not be seen as an endorsement of the current arrangements is beyond me. The second is a Daily Telegraph telephone poll. There was strong support for the proposition that migrants should have a good understanding of English before becoming citizens. However only 395 people phoned in.

There was a third poll of 3,196 respondents that was somehow overlooked. That was an internet poll conducted by The Age asking whether people supported the introduction of a citizenship test – 65% did not.

Regarding the responses to the Discussion Paper, these have been described as demonstrating strong, overwhelming community support for a “formal” citizenship test of English and an understanding of national “values, institutions and traditions”. This is not borne out by an examination of the responses.

There were over 1,600 responses to the Discussion Paper. Only 116 were made publicly available. Of these, 75% opposed the new test. Those in opposition included all the state and territory governments that made a submission, 13 of 15 local governments, and the majority of church groups, ethnic organisations, legal bodies and civil liberties associations. The key reasons advanced for this opposition included: a lack of evidence to justify the change, that current processes worked well, that new migrants already have a strong desire to learn English and integrate, that they would suffer from a more punitive approach, and that further marginalisation and discrimination would occur.

None of the almost 1500 individual submissions were published on the grounds of “protecting people’s privacy” but a statistical summary was provided by DIMA. The results are as follows.

The only question on which a majority agreed was whether Australia should introduce a formal citizenship test. As there is already a test in place, the conclusions one draws from this are quite unclear.

When we turn to the other elements of the test there was absolutely no agreement at all. Of the remaining 15 questions, five were grouped under the heading “the content of the test”. They covered issues including the need for a formal test of the level of English competence, and extending the current requirements to a broad knowledge of Australia including history and symbols. The summary reported that none of the responses to these questions could be analysed in a statistically significant way.

An examination of the responses to the other ten questions, covering such issues as the importance of knowledge of Australia and the level of English required, shows a staggering average non-response rate of 77%.

With respect to the outcomes of the face-to-face consultations attended by 129 invitees, DIMA noted that there was both support and opposition to the test. It did not feel that this should be reported “simply in raw numbers for or against the test”, and did not provide any numbers at all.

One could think of a number of ways to describe the results of the responses to the Discussion Paper. Overwhelming community support is certainly not one of them.

Reason #6: It will reassure the Australian people

The final rationale advanced for the new test is that Australians feel insecure and that their identity is threatened. A tougher citizenship test that requires affirmation of a shared Australian identity and values will apparently reassure them. As with the other rationales examined above, this one is similarly unsubstantiated.

Australians are undoubtedly disturbed by the threat of terrorism and by the pace of global change. It is, however, a gargantuan leap from these concerns to the assertion that there is a widespread belief in the community that our identity is under threat and that the proposed new test would be a reasonable and effective way to allay community concerns.

Can we reassure Australians by imposing a uniform identity on people who want to become citizens? Many of us have a notion of what an Australian identity is. The problem is that our concepts are not necessarily the same. The specifics of any elaborated Australian identity have been endlessly contested.

A number of my colleagues have chanced their arms on what it means to be an Australian. One has signalled that knowledge of cricket might be an important element. A second has indicated that strong, physical infrastructure is a fundamental value. A third has put forward Simpson (and his donkey) as “everything that is at the heart of what it means to be Australian”.

I have to say that Simpson was one of my childhood heroes. He was lauded in the Readers imposed on primary school pupils by the Victorian State Education system. He was, however, an Englishman who arrived in Australia as an illegal boatperson, having jumped ship in 1910. He was a republican at the apogee of the British Empire. He was a staunch trade unionist and an advocate for an English workers’ revolution.

Such are the pitfalls of defining what it means to be an Australian. We cannot wish these complexities away. We need to recognise that definitions of national identity and national values are not fixed but are constantly in flux. Indeed, they can sometimes change at breakneck speed.

Let me exemplify. The questions for the proposed new citizenship test would be drawn from “Let’s Participate: A Course in Australian Citizenship”. “Let’s Participate” enshrines multiculturalism, encouraging the use of community languages, expressing diverse cultural beliefs, and rejecting discrimination on the basis of culture. It emphasises that the acceptance of diversity is a vital part of what being an Australian means. I personally endorse all of this wholeheartedly and have always done so.

The problem is that just a few weeks ago multiculturalism was banished from the national political lexicon because it means different things to different people. Okay, some people don’t like the term multiculturalism. But what about the basic theme of diversity? The Preamble to the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 has this as one of its tenets: “Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, uniting all Australians while respecting their diversity”. Unfortunately, the new values to which applicants for citizenship will have to subscribe pointedly omit any reference to the value of diversity that was, just a few short months ago, a pillar of our citizenship.

I do not believe we can reassure people about Australia’s identity by turning our back on our historic achievements. One of these is an inclusive citizenship policy. Another is a belief that we need to respect our cultural diversity and recognise that it has enriched and strengthened our nation. The fact is that, whatever politicians say, Australians overwhelmingly support multiculturalism – even if they might interpret it differently. In any event, more Australians put tolerance of different religions and cultures at the top of their list of the most important Australian values, well ahead of mateship.

Toughening the laws on citizenship and excluding migrants who want to commit to Australia but who cannot jump the higher hurdle of a literacy test may reassure some people, projecting images of unity and conformity. I do not believe we should make it harder for people to become citizens in order to project an illusory reassurance. Moreover, to do so would flagrantly contradict the spirit of fair play, one of the values the new test is supposed to engender in new citizens.

The anxieties caused by the pace of change, the impact of globalization, and the threat of terrorism are real and substantial. The way to reassure people is not to inflate their anxiety with flawed evidence and defective public policy. The way to reassure people is to reflect accurately what we have achieved through our inclusive citizenship policies and our embrace of cultural diversity. Our nation has a greater proportion of overseas born than any of the countries that the proponents of the new test want us to emulate. And, we have made an enormous success out of this. We have created an admirable, decent and harmonious country. Our success is demonstrable. Our success has been based on the embrace of new citizens, not their exclusion. On respect for cultural diversity, not its dismissal.

Conclusion

Let there be no misapprehension about the impact of the proposed new test: it will stop many immigrants who are committed to Australia as their home from becoming citizens and thereby full members of our community.

The plain fact is that hundreds of thousands of native-born and immigrant Australians would not be able to pass the test.

Low literacy skills should not make a new migrant unworthy of citizenship, just as it does not and should not debar the native-born from the right to fully participate in the life of the nation.

Applying a harsh new test for citizenship would diminish Australia’s real strength and cohesion.

A letter published in The Age reflects the experience and the sentiment of hundreds of thousands of migrants to this country. The author wrote:

Older migrants were not subjected to an English-language test and, in many instances, they never did master the language of their new country. Finding work, establishing a home and family and ensuring a secure future for their children took all their energy and resolve. They did not underestimate the importance of developing knowledge of English and there was a sense of regret and sometimes despair that they needed to rely on others to ease their way in an English-speaking environment….they were, however, model Australian citizens and their loyalty to this country was rock solid [Nina Mills, Blairgowrie].

Since Australian citizenship was created, many hundreds of thousands have been accepted as citizens, despite having only basic English proficiency. They have made enormous and universally acknowledged contributions to their new nation. How can it be in the interest of cohesion and integration to impose new barriers to citizenship, barriers that would have prevented its acquisition by so many Australians who have proven to be model citizens?

Would being refused access to citizenship have increased their commitment and identification with Australia? Would it have accelerated their integration in our society? Would it have built their confidence in interaction with others? Would governments have responded to their needs despite the fact that they were denied the vote? Would they have won the respect of other Australians if they had been permanently relegated to the position of guest workers? The only rational answer is no.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we need to constantly seek to improve the English-language skills of our immigrants and to maximise their opportunities in our society. But in order to do this we need a robust analysis of the nature and extent of English-language difficulties and how these can be overcome. Similarly, where there are barriers to migrants being able to participate effectively in Australian society we need to define them and establish how they can best be dismantled.

The usual processes of departmental advice have not served us well in this regard, perhaps understandably given the Department of Immigration’s preoccupations in other areas. There is, however, a model that has proven its worth in the past. That is the Galbally Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants established by Malcolm Fraser, which reported three decades ago. This review had a seminal impact on our society and its ability to respond effectively to Australia’s cultural and ethnic diversity.

I believe that there would be strong support for the Government to establish a small group of knowledgeable and experienced people who command the confidence of the general community to investigate the impediments to English-language acquisition and to effective integration and make recommendations on the measures and resources necessary to address them. I would commend this course of action.

Ladies and gentlemen, the fact that Australia’s citizenship laws have been made progressively more inclusive has provided a basis of trust, confidence and achievement. The fact that we accepted people with modest English as citizens has broken down barriers, not maintained them. The establishment of a new test that would exclude people who are committed to Australia and could pass the present test will create barriers, restrict opportunities, and impede participation. It would not be apparent immediately but it would happen, and it would diminish Australia.

Julia Gillard’s Maiden Speech to the House of Representatives

This is the text of the maiden speech of the new Labor member for Lalor, Julia Gillard, in the House of Representatives.

To be elected to this House as a Labor representative is a great honour. To be elected as the first woman ever chosen by the Victorian branch of the Labor Party to stand for an historically safe seat is more than a personal honour; it is a Labor landmark, as is the record number of Labor women sitting in this House. It is a cause for celebration and will inspire us to ensure that many more women follow us into this parliament. Having reached this place, my first task as the new member for Lalor is to thank the outgoing member, Mr Barry Jones, for his service to the local community over the past 21 years, for his contribution to Australian political life and for his personal support and encouragement.

Barry Jones has a unique place in Australian political life. Barry is famed throughout Australia for his intellect and is respected throughout Australia for his genuineness and compassion. In an age of cynicism about politicians, Barry Jones is one of the few politicians of whom Australians are truly fond. In the electorate of Lalor he is loved. While he will be sorely missed from this House, Barry will continue to serve the Labor Party as its national president and will continue his passionate engagement with Australia in his writing and public speaking.

The electorate of Lalor, so ably served by Barry Jones, is situated in Melbourne’s outer west. Young families flock to Lalor and new housing estates are constantly being built. Part of Melbourne’s industrial heartland, Lalor contains the Altona petrochemical complex, the Laverton industrial estate and the Toyota manufacturing plant, as well as the Point Cook and Laverton air bases. Far less well known and perhaps surprising to some, given the standard imagery of Melbourne’s west, Lalor encompasses a significant agricultural precinct at Werribee South and throughout the electorate you find internationally protected wetlands. Lalor also contains major tourist attractions, including the historic Werribee Mansion, the open range zoo and the State Rose Garden.

As part of Melbourne’s industrial west, the people of Lalor have always had to try harder. There is a sense of community and a fighting spirit often missing from the sleeker suburbs. That fighting spirit is now being called upon in a major community campaign to stop CSR turning the local quarry at Werribee into a toxic dump. There are only two reasons why Werribee has been selected as the site for this toxic dump: CSR wants to make money by filling its disused quarry with toxic waste and the Kennett government thinks Werribee is no more than a dumping ground because Melbourne’s sewage farm is located there. But Premier Kennett and CSR are wrong.

When the Victorian Premier turns to the west, he holds his nose and closes his eyes. If he opened his eyes, he would have seen the 15,000 Werribee residents who rallied to stop the dump. And by now he should be smelling the scent of a political defeat because this is a fight that Lalor, named for that great fighter against injustice Peter Lalor, will win.

The electoral division of Lalor has enjoyed great stability and quality in its parliamentary representatives. Since its creation in 1949, apart from the curious aberration of being represented by the Liberal Party for one parliamentary term, Lalor has been represented in this place by only three members: Reg Pollard, Jim Cairns, the famous antiwar advocate, and Barry Jones. Whilst its parliamentary representation may have been stable, like all of Australia, the electorate of Lalor has undergone a radical transformation since World War II. In Lalor, as in our nation generally, the twin forces of globalisation and rapidly changing technology, particularly information technology, have remade and will continue to remake our lives.

The prevailing mood of insecurity is an understandable community response to the swirling winds of change which threaten to blow us to unknowable destinations. In Hugh Mackay’s Mind and Mood study and in Clemenger’s Silent Majority report, we find a society in which individuals increasingly feel insecure and powerless to control their lives in the face of rapid economic restructuring and social change. Most tellingly of all, parents believe their teenagers are facing a tougher world than they themselves faced. As a community, in common with societies throughout the Western world, our response to insecurity has run from simple nostalgia to the spectacle of the frightened turning on the vulnerable. Endless remakes of the songs and movies of the 1960s and 1970s and the rise of reactionary politics have something in common—both seek a return to a mythical, simpler time, a deep and dreamless sleep.

Various conservative politicians, some with subtlety, some nakedly, have encouraged this dangerous trend. So-called ‘wedge politics’ sells the big lie that the answer to insecurity is to tread on the weakest amongst us. This shabby opportunism has hurt many and helped none.

For far too long public debate in Australia has failed to nourish or inspire us. For far too long it has been limited to the day-to-day monitoring of the health of our economy rather than the morals and goals of our society. The end result of this political cycle is a weary people who no longer believe what politicians say and who think the politicians saying it do not even believe it themselves.

In my view, the electors of Lalor, and the Australian people, are looking for a return to passion and conviction in Australian politics and to the clear articulation of values. They rightly want to know what their politicians stand for, what we believe in and by what measures we are prepared to be judged. If the politics of values comes to the fore, then the Labor Party will win that contest. It is only the Labor Party that can claim to be based clearly upon a value system, a value system that has endured since the Labor Party’s formation, even though the policies based upon those values are constantly revised in order to meet the needs of a changed and changing world.

We stand for the right of ordinary Australians—those who have neither wealth nor power—to a fair go, to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, to be recognised and valued as citizens and to have a say in their nation’s future.

Our values are fundamentally democratic and collective. We understand the great enduring truth that individuals are immeasurably strengthened by being members of a team, of a society, and that a strong community provides the best platform from which individuals can excel. And we understand that the key aspiration of each generation of Australians is to ensure that the generation to follow, their daughters and sons, will lead a better life. These values—our core Labor values—are true signposts which take us beyond some of the sterile debates of the past.

Our conservative opponents would have Australians believe that our nation will only find its place in an open and competitive global economy if we sign up to the cult of individualism, to the survival of the fittest. By contrast, Labor—guided by our values—understands that, just like the most loving homes produce the confident kids who are able to face the world and take the risks necessary to get ahead, a nurturing and caring society is the best foundation for the individuals who will ensure Australia competes in the global market.

A strong economy and a strong society are not contradictory goals. Indeed, you can only achieve a sustainably strong economy by creating a strong society. A country is strengthened by individual security and national inclusiveness.

But security alone is not enough. A vision to satisfy Australians, a Labor vision, must also be a vision of opportunity, a vision whereby each and every Australian, no matter what their personal circumstances, is given an opportunity to develop and to excel, a vision whereby we can truly believe that the opportunities for the next generation will be better.

My personal story shows the difference that opportunity can make to a life. My father John and my mother Moira, who is watching from the gallery today, migrated to this country with my sister Alison and I as assisted passage migrants in 1966. Immigrants need courage and creativity; they need open minds and sturdy hearts. What the last red-headed woman who made a first speech in this place will never understand is that the vast majority of migrants come here determined to make a better life for themselves and their kids, and they are prepared to work unbelievably hard to achieve that dream.

My father worked in a variety of blue-collar jobs before training as a psychiatric nurse. My mother worked as a domestic in an aged care institution. Between them they have contributed more to this country as workers, as citizens, than they ever cost it. And because they chose this country, while they still have their accents and their culture, they love this country and the lives they have made within it. Because they chose this country, they take nothing about it for granted: they celebrate and know its worth. And that is the truth of our history of migration, our history of multiculturalism.

In return, Australia has offered me opportunities that would have been beyond my parents’ understanding when they stepped off that boat in Adelaide in 1966. It would have been inconceivable to them that their child, and a daughter at that, could be offered the opportunity to obtain two degrees from a university and to serve in the nation’s parliament. I have only been able to take up those opportunities because of the excellent state education system which flourished in South Australia under the Dunstan Labor government and the access to universities made possible by the Whitlam government’s abolition of up-front fees.

In coming to this House, I bring with me a passionately held view that it is fundamental to Labor’s vision, to our compact with this and the next generation, that Australia not only offers the opportunities I enjoyed but offers the opportunity to train, to retrain, to excel, throughout life. Around the world now there is a trend back to the Centre Left, to social democratic parties that stress the importance of raising the educational standards of all citizens, not just a lucky few. This is because not only economists but ordinary people understand that the future of Australia and the future of themselves and their children is tied to educational success.

Australia cannot afford to waste talent. But, under this government, we are engaging in that shameful and cruel waste. We are denying Australians access to opportunity. In its 1996 budget, this government took $1.8 billion of public support away from our university system. The inevitable result has been a decline in the number of students starting courses at our universities. When the cuts took effect, Victoria tumbled from having the second highest growth rate in commencing enrolments to being the state with the biggest fall, a 4.7 per cent fall in commencing enrolments—a statistic which speaks of misery and lost opportunity.

Perhaps worst of all, under this government we have returned to a system of privilege rather than merit in our universities, a system of allowing the rich to buy a place while those with better entrance marks but not enough money miss out—a system which was eradicated by the Whitlam government when I was in primary school.

Of course, inequality in our education system is not just confined to higher education. Let me give you just one example involving my own electorate. High achievers are those talented young people who come in the top 7.5 per cent of results in their year 12 marks. Last year, one very good but very exclusive ladies college in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne alone had 111 high achievers in the pivotal subject of English. The 40 working-class secondary schools north and west of the Yarra, including the schools in my electorate, managed only 84 between them.

The students from my electorate are not any less intelligent than those from Higgins or Kooyong but their educational opportunities are not the same. Certainly, this massive discrepancy would be lessened if we as a nation were prepared to seriously tackle the inequality of opportunity that exists in our education system and create a high-class state school system. My predecessor, Barry Jones, used to say that unfortunately postcodes are probably the strongest factor in determining a person’s expectations of success in life. It will be one of my priorities in politics to ensure that in the Australia of the future the famous quizmaster is, for once, wrong.

My passion for education is not only the product of my own personal experience; it is the result of having campaigned on these very issues as a university student. One of the features of this parliament is that every few elections there arrives a new generation of politicians distinctly different from the people who preceded them. People today make a lot of the new generation from the other side of this House who emerged from the battles with left-wing students on our campuses in the 1970s. I come from the generation of students who followed. Like them, we fought what we saw as self-indulgence and pampered extremism. Ours was a radicalism fashioned by a desire to be practical, much like my Welsh forebear, Nye Bevan, who was just one of the people from whom we took inspiration.

I will not pretend that the antics of a bunch of university students had much relevance to real working people, but we were always conscious that we were part of a wider movement to create a fairer society and give others the opportunities we were fortunate enough to have. We always understood the value of working collectively, of unionism. While experience in the student movement inspired those on the other side of the House to dedicate themselves to the destruction of unionism, it inspired us to work with and for unions. It inspired me to spend eight years as an industrial lawyer defending trade unions and working people. In this place, I will remain fiercely committed to working with unions and to working for fair industrial laws.

Our youthful anger may now be tempered by experience but the same beliefs in fairness and the same fire remain. Those friends from university have remained my comrades since the early 1980s. They are people of intelligence, public spiritedness and integrity. We stuck together and we retained our common goals. Today you can find them fighting in our great trade union movement to protect the jobs of timber workers, rubbish collectors, home care workers, nurses and Aussie post workers, defending injured workers in the courts and helping prepare the ALP for the new millennium.

Today I pay tribute to them and especially to the most committed of them all, Michael O’Connor, who has been my closest confidant since those heady days. I would not have reached this place without his support and without the support of the friends and family members who care about me and have turned up in remarkable force today. My sincere thanks to: my mother, Moira; my father, John; my sister, Alison; her partner, Paul; and their children, Jenna and Tom. To Darrell Cochrane and Joan Kirner for never once wavering: my thanks. To Robyn McLeod: thanks for your friendship. To John Brumby, who so richly deserves to be the next Premier of Victoria: thanks for the opportunity to work with you and learn from you. To the member for Batman, Martin Ferguson: thanks for your help and personal support. And to my wonderful supporters in Lalor, including Terry Bracks, Henry Barlow and Fiona Richardson watching from the gallery today: I will do everything in my power to make you proud.