Pages tagged "Speeches"

  • Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013

    I rise today to speak against the amendment to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013 currently before the House. As has been previously suggested by my colleagues, the proposed legislation is dangerous. It is dangerous because of its ambiguity. It is dangerous because of its far-reaching implications and it is dangerous because the government is determined to push this through without adequate consultation or examination. But worse than that, it is unnecessary.

    Let's look at the current legislation. As it currently exists, the act we now have outlines the standards to be met by registered organisations in relation to their internal rules, their elections, the conduct of office holders and their financial reporting. It also provides the Fair Work Commission with the power to register, investigate and hold accountable these organisations. It does this because the previous Labor government introduced this framework back in 2009. It was amended to make it stronger only last year. The amendment strengthened financial accountability requirements and provided for salary disclosure of top officials and disclosure of financial interests of officials. It introduced mandatory training to ensure that representatives of registered organisations were meeting their governance and accounting obligations. It created tougher penalties for breaches of the act, and the investigatory powers of the Fair Work Commission were strengthened. The 2009 and 2012 act created a fair and workable balance.

    Again, all this happened under a Labor government. So, as a result of our reforms, the regulation of registered organisations has never been stronger, penalties for misconduct have never been tougher, accountability has never been greater, and the powers of the Fair Work Commission to investigate and prosecute any breaches have never been wider. Stronger, tougher, greater and wider—this act as it stands is industrial relations for the Olympics.

    We did these things because they were necessary, but those opposite are hell-bent on flexing their muscles and trying to prove to the world that they are the toughest—not like the grown-ups they purport to be, but like bullies. This was evident in their rhetoric when the legislation was strengthened by the previous government. On 21 June 2012, the member for Bradfield said in the House that the legislation was:

    … nothing but a minor piece of window-dressing produced by the minister and the government in a desperate attempt to try and divert and distract media and public scrutiny from the sorry state of governance in the union movement.
    'Divert and distract'—if we want to talk about attempts to divert and distract, I am not sure you could find a finer example than this government. 'Look over there' has become quite the strategy for them, hasn’t it? We see it with their education policy, with their climate change policy and with their economic policy.

    We saw it again only yesterday. In her intrepid foray into industrial relations, the Assistant Minister for Education was here, in a state of hysteria, using coalition catchphrases like 'slush funds' and 'union mates', instead of talking about how the government had broken yet another promise, this time on child care. And they are at it again today, making statements that do not stand up to scrutiny. For instance, they talk about how this is not an attack on trade unions and then, in the same breath, they go off on a diatribe—an absolute tirade—about how dreadful our unions supposedly are. The member for Ryan made mention of unions 25 times in her speech—25 times—and yet they claim that somehow this is not about unionism. Then, they want to talk about how necessary this legislation is. But, as the Leader of the House said in his second reading speech:

    … the majority of registered organisations do the right thing and in many cases maintain higher standards than those that are currently required.
    See what I mean, Deputy Speaker? Is it about unions? Is it not? Is it a necessary change, or are organisations already meeting their obligations? It does not quite add up. They do this because they do not want to talk about what is really happening here, they do not want to talk about why they really believe this legislation is so necessary and they certainly do not want to talk about why they are in such a hurry to get it passed. Like any other conjurer, they are relying on tricks and misdirection.

    So let's try and see through the illusion. Let's take a step back—let's look at the current legislation as it stands. I previously mentioned the current powers afforded to the Fair Work Commission. And, as we have heard today, the government say it is not enough, that more needs to be done to make the regulation of registered organisations more like corporations. But, as it stands, the regulation of registered organisations—particularly after our 2012 amendments—is already fairly similar to the existing regulation of corporations. Sections 180 to 183 of the Corporations Act require that officers exercise appropriate care and diligence, that they operate in good faith, and that they do not abuse their position or misuse information. These sections are comparable to sections 285 to 288 of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act in its existing form. In fact, in terms of the requirements for financial reporting, the current civil penalties are higher for registered organisations. The main difference is the existing provision for criminal penalties under the Corporations Act.

    Under the proposed legislation before the House, the government have included new criminal penalties which would apply when an officer fails to comply with the registered organisation commission's new investigative powers. Some of these offences are punishable by a financial penalty of up to $340,000, five years imprisonment, or both. By implementing such legislation, the government have clearly forgotten that we have criminal laws to prosecute offences relating to fraud or dishonesty—that we already have a judicial system which independently assesses guilt and innocence. It is simply not necessary for the government to try and superimpose these laws on a system that is already working.

    That brings me to my next point.

    Mr Nikolic: Madam Speaker, I have an intervention under 66(a). Would the honourable member explain for 30 seconds why, if the regulatory regime is sufficient, it took longer than the Great War to prosecute the case against Mr Thomson?

    The SPEAKER: Is the member prepared to take the question?

    Ms RYAN: No. That brings me to my next point, about independence and accountability. In recent weeks, the coalition government have demonstrated their unflappable commitment to independent advice, by scrapping 20 advisory bodies! Yes, this government have certainly shown the world how much they value independent and informed advice. Given this complete lack of commitment to independence, why are the government seeking to establish an 'independent authority' like the registered organisations commissioner? Well, under the current bill before the House, the commissioner is to be appointed by the minister. But never fear, because, under the 2013 coalition policy, we are assured of the commissioner's independence. It reads:

    The first head of the Registered Organisations Commission will be appointed by the Minister but will not be subject to Ministerial direction.

    That sounds reassuring, except, of course, that under proposed section 329FA, we find that the minister is in fact allowed to give direction to the commissioner, but only if it is written. So, first we were assured the commissioner would be completely independent, and then we were told the minister would actually play a role in the commissioner's appointment and, in direct contradiction to the government's own policy document, would be given direction.

    What next? It is yet another broken promise from an already broken government. It is also a particularly curious situation when, for all their rhetoric about government intervention and the nanny state, those who sit opposite are pushing this kind of agenda. It is even more curious, given their self-purported hatred of regulatory burden and red tape, that they are also advocating for a system that can only add to an organisation's administration. This was just one of many concerns raised by affected parties.

    The Australian Community Services Employers Association, for example, has raised the massive regulatory burden the bill would impose, particularly for small organisations.


    I will start where I left off. Further, the Australian Industry Group have that a number of the requirements of the proposed legislation would be far more onerous and time-consuming than those under the Corporations Act. In particular, they brought up the proposed requirement that insists that all material assets—not only those that raise the possibility of a conflict of interest but everything—must be declared. This disclosure is required of all members, not just the committee. If the legislation goes ahead, officers of registered organisations will be subject to higher levels of scrutiny than directors and all officers or committee members of incorporated associations. The Australian Industry Group also called for the removal of all criminal penalties under the proposed legislation, noting correctly that these kinds of matters should be dealt with under criminal law.

    Despite all their claims to the contrary, the Abbott government is aware of how much all this could hurt. A spokesperson for the Minister for Employment has conceded that the concerns of multiple employer groups had been raised with the government. The Leader of the House admitted that members of the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council had suggested that this bill needed to be delayed; that more time was needed as more work needed to be done. But not by this government. Even with the Australian Chamber of Commerce saying that with such little time they could only attempt to review the proposed legislation, this government is still insisting on trying to ram it through.

    This government knows, then, that this is bad and hurried policy, but just does not care. Thus we see another pattern emerging here: rushed and panicked policy. Despite advice to the contrary, this government rushes headlong into legislation that is unnecessary and, frankly, dangerous. And this 'grown-up' government is behaving like this on all fronts and not as it had promised; not as it had assured us. It is cracking.

    Underneath that cracking facade we see what all of this is really about. It is not about administration to improve accountability or the need for additional criminal charges. This is about a government that hates unions. As we have seen in the past and as we see today, a Liberal government never wastes an opportunity to bully unions and workers. It is not just its ideology; it is its passion. Its calculated contempt is what really underlies this legislation: contempt for the hard-fought wages and conditions that we all share; contempt for the unions that won them; contempt for every single worker in this country—nurses, builders, paramedics, teachers, accountants, people who work in car manufacturing. The government has contempt for each and every one. That is what the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill represents.

    If their true intentions are not already abundantly clear, maybe we should take a look at the man who is leading this government. He is not a man who has had a proud history of fair industrial relations; he is not a man who has a legacy as someone who cares about workers. While those opposite may stand up on their soapboxes and protest to the contrary, history says more about this than they ever could. They cannot wave their magic wand and have it all disappear, because we have long memories. We know that this is the party that created that policy with the most ironic name of all, Work Choices. We know that this is the party that removed unfair dismissal laws, shunted fair pay and conditions and tried to ban industrial action. And this is the party that is furtively doing everything that it can to wreck workers and undermine unions once again. That is what this is really about. I urge the House to oppose this bill.

    Debate adjourned.

  • National Body Image Awareness Program

    It is with great sadness today that I speak on this matter. I thank the member for Newcastle for her initiative in bringing it before the House, and I welcome the comments from the members for Hotham and Solomon, because it is a most important issue. From working closely with young people, I know the terrible impacts that our society's obsession with a superficial notion of beauty is having on the confidence, self-esteem and mental health of many.

    I have seen it with my students and I have seen it with my children's friends. I have seen it too many times. I have seen its impact firsthand as children moved into adolescence. In its least destructive manifestations, it stunts the confidence of our young people. They become self-critical and unhappy, and their bodies can never replicate the images with which they are bombarded. In its worst manifestations, it slowly takes over lives becoming all encompassing, damaging physical and mental health. It is insidious, isolating and intransigent. And it is not an issue that affects only my community. Negative body image and disordered eating behaviours do not discriminate based on age, gender, race or wealth. It is pervasive and it is widespread, and it has the potential to end people's lives. It is not a problem that is going away.

    The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimates that around one in 20 Australians has an eating disorder, and it is a rate that is increasing. In fact, between 1995 and 2005, the prevalence of eating disorders doubled among both males and females. We are seeing an increase in hospital admissions for treatment of children under 10 years old with disordered eating behaviours. The Butterfly Foundation has reported that calls for help to their support line increased 200 per cent in 2013. While we sometimes hear a lot about these issues, we as a community need a greater understanding of what it is we are really facing.

    Eating disorders are a group of very serious and multifaceted mental illnesses. They involve disturbed eating behaviours and a significant distortion of body image and its relationship to self-worth. Those who suffer from these illnesses can face psychiatric and behavioural difficulties, medical complications, permanent disability but they can also face long-term social, financial and functional impairment. Of course, the impact of an eating disorder is not only felt by the affected individual; it is also felt by families, friends, classmates and communities. I have witnessed the impact on families and caregivers—stress, loss of income, disruption to relationships and a high risk of suicide. The human cost is hard to watch, harder I know to bear. But the cost to the economy is also significant.

    The total socioeconomic cost of eating disorders last year was estimated by Deloitte to be at $69.7 billion. The figure includes financial costs of close to $100 million for the health system and $15.1 billion a year in lost productivity. As you can see, it is an issue that has the potential to harm the entire community. It was with this in mind that the previous Labor governments acted. In 2010, we launched the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. It brings together around 540 eating disorder stakeholders in public health, mental health, education and research as well as the media. Together, they are developing a national and consistent approach to the prevention and management of eating disorders in Australia. In the same push, we launched the National Body Image Awareness Program. The program aims to create awareness around some of the causes affecting negative body image, including the role of the media, fashion and beauty industries. Both these programs reflect the understanding of Labor governments that negative body image and eating disorders need to be a health priority. It reflects our commitment to promoting healthy living, exercise and positive personal body image, and our belief that we, as representatives of our communities, have a role to play in addressing these issues. It is an imperative that the current government show the same determination to act because there is still more to be done. It is vitally important that we continue existing support services, assist ongoing research and ensure the best chance of success: early intervention. The impact of these illnesses are being felt in our homes, in our communities and across our nation. I call on the coalition government to confirm their commitment to addressing these issues and not leave this to fester.

  • Health Workforce Australia

    I too rise to speak on clinical training for our health professionals and the importance of the work being undertaken by Health Workforce Australia, and I thank the member for Kingston for the motion. As the representative of a growing community, I recognise the importance of ensuring the continued success of our health system, particularly in terms of our outer metropolitan and rural and regional communities—and I note that it is not just regional communities.

    We face many challenges: an ageing population, an increased rate of heart disease, a rise in diabetes, mental health issues and addressing the concerns of those from migrant and Indigenous backgrounds. All of these issues affect my community and every community in Australia.

    We need the workforce to be able to effectively address these issues. We need skilled and innovative doctors, nurses and allied health workers on the ground. We need a productive health system that enhances development and advancement. Also, we need to ensure we have health professionals in the areas and specialties where they are needed.

    As you can see, providing adequate and comprehensive clinical training is truly about the health and wellbeing of our population and our nation. It is then imperative that we do all we can to proactively plan and assist health training capacity for our health professionals, now and into the future. In doing so, we can create a flexible, innovative and responsive health workforce that can meet the needs of all Australians. Government has a vital role to play in this.

    Back in 2009 the National Health Workforce Taskforce identified that an additional ongoing intake of 12,000 students a year would be necessary to meet future health workforce requirements. Without this additional workforce we face a shortage of doctors, nurses and health professionals; an increasingly disparate and unequal health system; and a system where patients, based on nothing more than their postcode, are left behind.

    That is why Health Workforce Australia is so important. As a Commonwealth authority, Health Workforce Australia delivers a nationwide and collaborative approach to our health workforce. Since its beginnings, Health Workforce Australia has been working cooperatively with governments and non-government organisations alike. By working with both the health and tertiary sector, they play an important role in planning and training Australia's health workforce.

    An important part of this is ensuring greater training opportunities in the healthcare system. It was, for example, Health Workforce Australia that played an active role in increasing the depth of clinical training for our health students. Most recently, figures show a 50 per cent increase in the number of clinical training days in 2012, compared with 2010.

    A huge component of this work is the Clinical Training Funding program, which provides funding to ensure there are enough training places to meet Australia's future health workforce needs. In total, the Clinical Training Funding program committed $432.2 million to public and private health services and universities. This assistance has meant the creation of 8,400 new clinical training places for students across 22 individual disciplines. Importantly, the program also actively promotes a balance in the distribution of clinical placements and students in our most underserviced areas. The Clinical Training Funding program is creating Australia's health professionals of the future, where and when we need them. It is key to our success.

    Given the importance of this assistance, and the bipartisan support that another member spoke of, it is of great concern that the Assistant Minister for Health has suggested that unallocated funding to support critical clinical training has been frozen by the Abbott government. If they are acutely aware, we call on them to act. This is about the very future of our doctors and our nurses, the very future of our health system and the very future of our nation's wellbeing—and it is December 2013.

    Surely the current Minister for Health can see this is too important an issue to play politics with, so I call on the coalition government to immediately make available funding to our universities and health services to ensure clinical placements continue to be available and that our students have greater access to placements now and into the future. It is about the health and wellbeing of every Australian.

  • Iramoo Primary School

    I rise today to speak about the great work being undertaken at Iramoo Primary School in my electorate. I do so to demonstrate through a specific example that inequity in education, the existence of which was confirmed last week by the PISA report, can be overcome in our schools through system-wide improvement, focused on building leadership and teacher capacity.

    Iramoo is a primary school with significant and increasing disadvantage. To provide context, under the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage ranking, the national average is 1,000. Four years ago, Iramoo had an ICSEA ranking of 940 and grade 5 students performed 50 points below the state average in reading, writing and numeracy.

    In 2012 it had an ICSEA ranking of 928. The measure of disadvantage had actually increased and yet Iramoo students performed above state average in reading, writing and numeracy. In fact, they demonstrated growth higher than the state mean in every area that was assessed. Most impressive was the mean growth of 107 points for students between grade 3 and grade 5, particularly when compared to the state mean growth of 81 points.

    They achieved this by utilising targeted federal government national school partnership funding. With this financial assistance, Iramoo started coaching for teachers and early intervention programs for students. And they demonstrated, like so many others in my electorate, what happens when you are serious about addressing inequity, and about improving teaching and learning.

    When I visited the school two weeks ago, the principal, Moira Findlay, spoke at length of the work of the last four years and of the need for the work to continue. Just imagine what they could do with adequate Better Schools funding. But, instead of certainty, they have confusion. Because of those opposite, the funding that Iramoo Primary School needs to continue its vital programs is now in doubt. Not only have they reduced long-term funding for education but they have also given the Victorian government licence to cut their own contributions. With no strings attached, the Napthine government can now use federal money in place of its own funding.

    We are dealing with a state government that ripped away money from TAFE and ripped away money from vocational education. Just like its federal counterpart, it is not a government that seems to care about education.

    So I call on this government and Minister Pyne to end the doubt, to fulfil the promise of a unity ticket on education and to let Iramoo continue its four-year journey. Who knows how far this school and these students could go and what contribution they could make if we had a government willing to invest in their future?

  • GST on mobile home parks

    I am extremely concerned about the Australian tax office's draft ruling to increase the GST on mobile home parks. I am advised that my electorate of Lalor has approximately 620 mobile or demountable homes, with almost 950 permanent residents who will be adversely affected by this ruling. Earlier this week, I spoke about tenancy eviction and homelessness in my electorate. This draft ruling is another housing pressure that our community cannot afford.

    My office has been inundated by local residents from various retirement villages who are concerned about the burden of having to find between $700 and $1,200 extra per year to pay the GST if it is applied and passed on. One constituent in particular, Bob from Ison village in Wyndham, is very worried about the impact this draft ruling could have on him and others like him, not only financially but also the undue stress it will cause.

    I am aware that residents in three Lalor retirement villages are currently preparing petitions to the House on this matter. Mr Abbott promised during the election campaign that there would be no change to the GST, but now he is in government it feels like another promise is going to be broken.

    I stand in the House today to oppose the increase in GST on moveable homes and implore the government to keep its promise and remove the worry this draft ruling is currently causing to the people in my electorate of Lalor.

  • Wyndham Housing Forum

    I welcome the opportunity this evening to talk about a housing forum I recently hosted in my electorate. The forum brought together many from our community, including representatives from local aid agencies, Victoria Police and the Department of Human Services, as well as our local councillors and state members of parliament. On the table for discussion were homelessness, tenancy eviction and mortgage stress.

    These are issues of huge importance to my local community. A recent report from the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal shows that 263 eviction warrants were executed in 2012-13. Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, a total of 684 evictions were executed. Let me repeat that, because it is a shocking figure—684 households within the Wyndham local government area have been evicted over the past three years. This represents the highest number for any LGA within the state—and this is only tenancy eviction. It does not include the number of local residents who are homeless, those who are desperately waiting for public housing, those at risk of foreclosure on their mortgages or those for whom meeting the rent is a week to week proposition.

    Over the election campaign, while at train stations and street stalls, numerous local residents approached me about these issues, not just for themselves but out of concern for a friend, a neighbour or the wider community. I think it is because the concept of home is one we all hold very dear. Indeed, at the end of a parliamentary sitting week, I am particularly reminded of just how important it is. When these people are at risk of tenancy eviction or not being able to meet their housing payments, we know their employment, their education and the future of their family are also at risk.

    Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed and so, following my election as member for Lalor, I wanted to take immediate action. I knew a forum would be the best way to bring together people from across our community—to talk about the local experiences of housing and homelessness, to discover what we have and what is missing and, ultimately, to help find a solution. The causes surrounding and affecting housing stress in our community are probably not a surprise. They range from being afraid to ask for help, to domestic violence, family breakdown and drugs and alcohol. They are the same issues that to some degree affect every community in Australia. But in a growing community like ours, where infrastructure and services can sometimes struggle to keep up, they are exacerbated. Too often residents, whatever their problem may be, do not know where to go for help and so we lose our best chance for success—early intervention.

    In discussing the factors that are worsening the issue, we also spoke about how much the cuts currently being proposed by the Abbott government would hurt. The abolition of the SchoolKids Bonus and the end of the low income support bonus will only punish the most vulnerable in our community. Already constituents are contacting me afraid of what Abbott's axe will mean for their ability to meet their rent or mortgage payments, put food on the table and send their kids to school.

    I have also been contacted about the ATO's draft ruling in relation to charging GST on moveable home estates. I know that Bob, a local Werribee resident, is concerned that should the changes go ahead, many—particularly seniors—may not be able to stay in their homes. Even more troubling, one of the first things Tony Abbott did as Prime Minister was to abolish the Council on Homelessness, and that was followed soon after by the axing of the National Housing Supply Council. This hardly signals a commitment to tackling housing stress.

    More recently, the government has refused to commit to the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. Under the Affordable Housing Agreement, more than $6 billion worth of assistance was supplied to low- and middle-income Australians in its first five years. Locally, under the Social Housing Initiative, we saw a helping hand extended with thirteen homes built for Wyndham families. The Partnership Agreement on Homelessness also provided funding to help those in our community at risk. There was long-term accommodation, emergency assistance and outreach for those particularly vulnerable—our young people, seniors, those with mental health concerns. And now we hear that the government is unwilling to confirm future performance reporting for the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

    This is of grave concern to everyone in our community, because a home is more than four walls. I call on the coalition to affirm their commitment to tackling housing stress and homelessness, and to continue the important work undertaken by previous Labor governments.

  • Education Funding

    I rise to speak today about a subject dear to my heart and dear to the hearts of parents and teachers in the 53 schools within the electorate of Lalor. I speak of education funding reform. I wish I could talk about the impact of high expectations on student learning, on the impact of the meta analysis of Professor Robert Marzano and Professor John Hattie. I wish I could talk about the impact that had on schools. I wish I could rise today to speak about this in a real and useful way. But, unfortunately, this vitally important issue has been reduced to a mere debacle by those opposite. There have been backflips, half-pikes and half-pikes with twists used to obfuscate this critical policy area during and since the election campaign. In the process, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education have made and broken promises, leaving school leaders in every state and territory of our nation trying to read the words, read between the lines, infer and guess what the future will be for their schools.

    Let me summarise. In the last three years, while the Gillard government conducted an exhaustive education review that attracted 7,000 submissions, in his capacity as shadow minister, the member for Sturt asked just three questions about education. On release of the Gonski report, the same member took just minutes to dismiss it as a con. When Better Schools proved critical to voters, they did a U-turn and promised a unity ticket, even though it was two years and many millions of dollars short. After taking government, we heard Minister Pyne talking about the curriculum, specifically the history curriculum—yes, that old chestnut. Predictably, this stole the headlines while the undoing of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, or ACARA, went unnoticed. Next he was backflipping on the now non-unity ticket and saying he needed to go back to the drawing board—the drawing board of the previous, Liberal government. Then we had the Prime Minister saying he did not promise anything, or maybe he did and we misheard him, or maybe we all just imagined it. Anyway, the Prime Minister would only keep the promise that he had not made, that we had imagined but that no-one had heard. And then yesterday he declared he would fulfil the misheard promise that maybe had been made after all. Now he is telling us he will go one better and find the money for the state governments who have shown their contempt for student learning by putting politics over progress. But it is still not unity. It is another new promise, this time to our state premiers that they do not need to spend money on education after all.

    I am tired just trying to make sense of it all, but not trying to make sense of it is not a luxury that we can afford—not for the parents of our students or the committed educators; they need to know so they can plan and implement programs to give every child the best chance in life. The most damning thing of all in this circus charading as policy is what lies behind all the shenanigans. There are a couple of giveaways: the destruction of ACARA as an independent body working with states and territories and putting in place a critical data source to tell the story of our schools and of disparity amongst them. This and Minister Pyne's assertion that Australia does not have an equity issue are the keys to this protracted mess. It tells us much about this government's plans for education. They are not interested in addressing inequity; they are acting to enshrine it by hiding it and denying it. But the My School website and the ACARA data have been available for a long time and schools have been tracking their progress against national and state benchmarks for years.

    Today I want to share the story of two schools I visited in my electorate last week. Both have made good use of national partnerships money and Victorian equity funding over the past four years. The first is Westgrove Primary School. The principal is Lila Gray. In 2009, Westgrove had an ICSEA—Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage—ranking of 989 and their grade 3 students performed below average in reading, writing and numeracy. By 2012 it had an ICSEA ranking of 956. The measure of disadvantage had in fact increased, and yet the grade 3 students performed above the state average in reading, writing and numeracy in 2013. The second is Iramoo Primary School. The principal is Moira Findlay. Four years ago, this school had an ICSEA ranking of 940 and grade 5 students performed 50 points below the state average in reading, writing and numeracy. In 2012 it had an ICSEA ranking of 928.

  • Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013

    I rise today not only to speak as the member for Lalor, but also to speak as a mother, a former teacher and a concerned citizen—to add my voice to those on this side of the House who are critically concerned about this bill and its implementation. I do this because the legislation currently before the House is of great concern to anyone who cares about justice and fairness. It is a great concern to those of us who have family working in the building industry. It is of great concern to those who care about our young apprentices and trades assistants and their safety at work. And it is of great concern to those who value our democracy and the civil liberties that come from living in this great nation.

    While the government is attempting to frame the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission as a so-called 'sensible centre', it is anything but. This bill is not just a threat to workers or to unions, it is a threat to every Australian. In its previous incarnation, back in 2005, the Liberal Party then led by John Howard, attempted to frame the introduction of the ABCC in the same way—as a sensible solution. They argued that it was about curbing illegal activity and that it was, somehow, paradoxically, a win for workers. They argued it would reduce industrial disputes and increase labour productivity growth. Of course, Deputy Speaker, we know what it was really about. It was, and is, an attempt to demonise the union movement, as we have just heard, and impinge upon the rights of workers: rights fought for and enshrined in our industrial relations history; rights recognised by the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Act proudly passed by the previous Labor government in 2011 to abolish the ABCC and establish the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate—the real, sensible centre of industrial relations.

    I am particularly troubled about what the proposed legislation could mean for those who work within the building and construction industry. I am the mother of a concreter, and I am concerned about his safety and the safety of those he works with. As a former teacher, I am concerned about our young apprentices and trades assistants; those who do not know that they can, and should, raise safety concerns; those who, like my own three sons, who are too willing to please; and those who are willing put themselves at risk to get the job done. Those opposite would not be proposing legislation that puts our young people's safety at risk if they too had sat in the principal's chair in a school in Lalor. You may groan, but I am a teacher and therefore a storyteller. They would not be taking action to hamstring a union defending work safety if they had seen what I have seen.

    Let me share with you, Deputy Speaker, a particularly awful example of a student, a 15-year-old boy, who left our school to take up an apprenticeship in the building industry, building houses in Lalor. I watched him excitedly get his T-shirt signed by his classmates on his last day of school. This was supposed to be the next phase of his life, his next big adventure. In spite of this, I gave him the normal spiel and reassured him that, should it not work out, he would always be welcomed back. It was only three months until he returned—not because he had decided it was not for him and not because he had reconsidered that maybe school was not so bad after all, but, devastatingly, because he was in a non-unionised workplace and had been intimidated, bullied and physically assaulted by his employer. Unfortunately, I have many more stories like that I could share. That is not to say that all employers are doing the wrong thing. Most are responsible and genuinely care about the their workers. They believe in occupational health and safety, as we all do. They understand its importance and they are willing to do what it takes to make their workplaces safe.

    But the building and construction industry is a dangerous one. To date, this year there have been 18 construction workers who have lost their lives at work, and that is 18 too many. Every worker has the right to come home safely. Under this proposed re-introduction of the ABCC, I fear the Liberal government would make it harder for construction workers and union officials to stand up for safety on site. Not only is this an attack upon unions and workers, but it also a draconian attack on the most basic of civil liberties. And let's just be clear about what the passing of this legislation could mean. Under the Howard government's ABCC, the commission had the power to secretly interrogate a witness and then prevent them from telling anyone that they have even been interviewed. We have heard this several times today from this side of the House. Obviously it is ringing bells on this side of the House, as, I believe, it will with the Australian people. Under the former ABCC, there was no right to silence, there was no right to legal representation and—because of the risk of being called to stand before the commission—there was a very real threat to freedom of association. These draconian measures did not just apply to those from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union nor just to employees, employers or contractors in the building and construction industry, but to anyone and everyone.

    In fact, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 December 2007, and as said again here today, a bystander—an academic from a Melbourne university—was called before the commission. His crime? He had simply walked past a building site at the wrong time. His punishment? He was to be called before the commission and interrogated for hours. It sounds like something that would happen under a dictatorship, not here in our enlightened democracy. But that was what did happen under the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the very same ABCC that the United Nations International Labour Organization found to have contravened conventions that Australia was signatory to—the right of workers to organise, the right to petition and the right to freedom of association. The commission's powers were so extreme that even the conservative stronghold of the Institute of Public Affairs said it went too far. And yet, for all its unprecedented power, plus $66 million in funding, the ABCC led to not even one criminal conviction—not one.

    How then are the government justifying this return of the Australian Building and Construction Commission? The same way they justified its introduction. The government throw around terms like 'productivity' and 'growth', without connecting them to anything real or tangible. They talk in figures that mean little and prove even less. They ignore that under the current Fair Work system, labour productivity has continued to increase over the last 10 quarters. They ignore that on average this growth is close to three times higher than under Work Choices. And they ignore that the rate of industrial disputes in the building and construction industry is on average less than one-fifth of the rate seen under the previous Liberal government. They do this because the facts are not on their side.

    In fact the report that the government, and many of its speakers here today, are using as some sort of legitimisation was dismissed by a Federal Court judge as deeply flawed. He even recommended the figures from the self-purported Independent Economics group be disregarded due to their lack of rigour or integrity. So how then did this group arrive at the figure that the Australian Building and Construction Commission provided over $7 billion annually in benefits to the economy, and how did they reach the subsequent figure that its abolition has cost consumers around 75 per cent? They guessed. They plucked a number from thin air. It is, after all, very easy to get the figures you want if you are willing to just make them up.

    So if this is clearly not to do with improving the industry and not to do with tackling crime, one must ask: what is this really all about? This is yet another attack by Tony Abbott and the Liberal government on industrial relations and our unions. And it really is a poorly made Trojan horse—a Trojan horse to disguise the beginning of the return to Work Choices and an attack upon fair industrial relations in this country. Because, while they may not take their promises seriously, they do take their ideology seriously. They say that they hate red tape and that they hate the nanny state. But what they really hate is the CFMEU. They can dress it up in any way they like—that is what this is really all about. Even more concerning for every worker is that the bill extends the commission beyond the building industry into the maritime industry and the transport and supply sector. It also extends the ABCC's jurisdiction offshore. If this legislation is passed, this is just the beginning.

  • Local sport

    I would like to speak today about my local VFL club, the Werribee Tigers and, in particular, a very important community program they run—the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project. The Werribee Tigers are a growing footy club. Having survived threats of closure in the past, they continue to seek to expand and upgrade. The club has in fact taken on significant leadership roles in recent years. They are the elite football club in our area but they support all our football clubs, both junior and senior. Those playing in the WRFL, the GDFL, Victorian Amateurs and Super Rules make contributions and give support to all of our local football clubs.

    They are looking to the future. The Tigers grew the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project with that vision to the future. This project is about boosting sports and recreational participation for young migrants living in Wyndham and Lalor. It is about providing opportunities for them to learn new skills, make new friends and create a greater, more connected society.

    Sport is a great unifier and the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project is about inclusion and about community. It is a very important project, one which is, pardon the pun, already kicking goals. It is greatly appreciated by these young people and the wider community. This project is not just about football; it is about participation in all sports. The program links to other sports and sees young people participating in soccer, netball, basketball and lawn bowls, amongst other things.

    Despite this, the future of the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project is currently at risk. It is at risk because the Abbott government is unwilling to confirm funding for the program. Announced in June, the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project was to receive $50,000 under the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program. In partnership with the Centre for Multicultural Youth, the local council and AFL Victoria, this funding was to be used to employ a dedicated officer, a contact point for the community, an advocate for the program, a leader in the program. Although I was not in the position I am in now, as a Tiger supporter and having been a parent, teacher and principal in the electorate, I was thrilled to hear that they would be a recipient of federal government funding for this purpose in particular. I was thrilled because I know how important sport can be, how important the Werribee Football Club is, how much this kind of program matters and how it could make a difference in our community. I was even more pleased when I heard the individual planned for this employment was Majok BOL Ngong—far more commonly known within our community as 'Shaggy'.

    Shaggy and his family came to Australia in 2005 from South Sudan. I first had the pleasure of getting to know Shaggy, as we all call him, in 2008, when he became a student at a school at which I was assistant principal, Galvin Park Secondary College. Since that time I have had the privilege to watch Shaggy grow as a leader. He is a respectful, committed young man who came to our area after a few years in Australia, absolutely committed to creating a home and having his people connected to the broader community. He worked through issues in our schoolyard as a mediator. He is a first-class young man, a genuine leader. He is not just a leader amongst the Sudanese students; he is not just a leader at the footy club; he is a community leader. Through his involvement with local churches, council programs, as a welfare officer with the Manor Lakes Football Club and now through the Wyndham Sporting Opportunities Project, he has had multiple opportunities to lead. When Shaggy talks about what it means to be a leader, he talks about responsibility, awareness and trust. He and the Werribee Tigers recognise the challenges that our community faces.

    In a growing and diversifying community like ours we need to be vigilant to prevent intolerance, exclusion and a lack of opportunity. They also insist that they have a role in addressing these issues. So, if they are willing to do their bit, why then is the government refusing to do its bit? Funding for this project was already launched, included in the budget and was announced back in June. Let me repeat myself: because of the coalition's refusal to confirm an integral, budgeted, promised funding, this young man could lose his employment and this program may have to close its doors.


  • Maiden Speech

    One of the warm memories I have of the federal election campaign of 1998 was seeing our Labor candidate for Lalor, Julia Gillard, speak humbly and fondly of her predecessor as local member, Barry Jones. On countless occasions that year people said to her, 'You'll have big shoes to fill.' Now I know how she felt.

    The electorate of Lalor has been well served by our members of parliament. Our area was proud of Jim Cairns's passion for justice and peace. Our area was proud of Barry Jones's dedication to knowledge and reason. I was so glad to see Barry last month at the launch of Clare Wright's marvellous book, The forgotten rebels of Eureka. He was as generous as ever, and I assured him that the spirit of the oaths taken under the Southern Cross still lives in the seat named for Peter Lalor today.

    But we were so proud of Julia Gillard. Every day for 16 years we saw our local member set her alarm clock early and go out and stand up for the things she believed in and the things we believed in. She made a difference at Werribee Primary School; she made a difference in Washington DC and from the first time I met her, when we were working to stop CSR and the Kennett government from turning our city into a toxic dump site, to this day, when she is working to improve education around the world, Julia Gillard has remained one of us—a decent, sincere, hardworking, unpretentious and optimistic person who endured more and achieved more, much of it in this very chamber, than I could ever describe here. She is a mighty Australian, a great Prime Minister and a bonzer local member. I will just try to be worthy of my part in her succession every day in this place.

    So with my first words in the House I thank Prime Minister Gillard. And there are some other people I also want to thank today. Thank you to all those who encouraged me to seek preselection for this seat and who worked to ensure that our local members had the opportunity of a ballot—in particular, Paul Howes, my colleague Senator Stephen Conroy and Werribee branch president, Susan Foster.

    Thank you, too, to my state colleagues: Tim Pallas, Jill Hennessy, John Eren and, most particularly, Telmo Languiller for their support during the campaign and beyond. To my federal colleagues: thank you for your welcome. It is a privilege to be a part of this passionate, committed team.

    Thanks also to everyone who worked with me and for me on all the campaign days. Thanks to Anthony for being there for everyone and to the remarkable Rondah Rietveld, who led a magnificent campaign team. And thank heavens there were too many of you to name, or we would never have got all the work done! Thank you all.

    One very special person, who will be annoyed at being singled out, is my great mate, Michelle Fitzgerald. Michelle and I had long been friends when we joined the Labor Party in 1996. Fitzy—thank you for everything, and I mean 'everything'. People who say that the Labor Party has lost touch with our values or lost touch with our community should spend some time with Michelle. That is all I need to say about her, and all I need to say about that.

    Thank you to my family, without whom there would be nothing. John, I love you. Michael, Anthony and James, I am so proud of you. My boys now joke that despite the new career not much has changed; I will still get recesses and I will answer the bells! To my mum, my brothers and sisters and the extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews: thank you for your support, not just during the election campaign but always.

    And thank you, above all, to the electors of Lalor, who gave me their precious votes, and to every elector of Lalor who took part in our great democracy on 7 September 2013. You are Lalor people and I will represent you all here in this place.

    I stand here today because of four things. I am here because I am a Werribee person; I am here because I am the woman my family made me; I am here because I am a teacher; and I am here because I am Labor. The culture that I love in my community, the values I carry from my childhood and career and the beliefs that I cherish in my party all hold together as one. Ours is a diverse and growing community. Indeed, it bears a resemblance to the home of our namesake. Like Ballarat during the gold rush, Lalor is a place of opportunity, a place where settlers from around the world come to test their fortunes and to make their homes. It is a place where the diaspora comes together to create a unique mixture of culture and language, and where traditions are accepted, created and cherished.

    But instead of the sprawl of ramshackle tents and timber buildings of Peter Lalor's Ballarat, ours is a modern, thriving city. When Julia Gillard first stood as candidate, in the 1998 election, 169 votes were cast in Point Cook. At the most recent election over 10,000 voters in Point Cook made their voices heard, and I have no doubt the population will continue to grow.

    And yet, despite this growth, Lalor is a place of deep-rooted history. It was the home of the Woiwurung and Wathawurung people before it became a stopover for early settlers travelling between Geelong and Melbourne. Little River was the place my ancestors chose to settle in the 1850s and I am truly proud that it forms part of the electorate I represent today.

    Lalor is also a place of breadth. It extends, as the Werribee Football Club song describes, from the playing fields of Melbourne to the sands of Chirnside Park. It is a place that encompasses both new and old, and with this come significant challenges: not just the adversity associated with meeting employment, infrastructure or service needs, but also, and most importantly, the challenge of continually building a connected, inclusive and just community. This challenge is met every day because, despite their differences, the people of Lalor share the same spirit.

    We are home to an ethic of service: we know how to help each other. We are home to an ethic of struggle: we know how to fight for what is right. And we love our people and our place. In Lalor we know that fairness and opportunity are something that we have a responsibility to achieve for one another. We know that, even in a great social-democratic nation, society is not always fair. And that means we know that we have to take care of our own. That is the spirit of our Indigenous people. The fight of local Koori people, including my nieces Caity and Alix, to proclaim their history and heritage is testament to their tenacity. I reflect upon this every time I take part in an acknowledgement of country.

    That is the spirit of the people who have family roots in the district going back to the 1840s. They came and they built. I reflect on it every time I go to my electorate office, which is on land once owned by my grandfather and where my uncle and his family built their home. And that is the spirit of the people we welcome to Lalor from all over the world every year. They have made the same journey my ancestors made from Ireland and Scotland, that the Italians, Greeks and others made following World War II. I see it in our Asian, African and South American communities and in people of dozens of other creeds and places of origin—the very same character, the very same beliefs. They arrive ready to be part of our community, like they have been here all their lives.

    Madam Speaker, that is the spirit of our area. I am here to represent that spirit because I am a Werribee person. Werribee is under my fingernails and under my feet. And I am here to represent that spirit because I am the woman my family made me. They are in my blood and bone.

    I am here because I am a Ryan, granddaughter of Joe, an Irish Catholic farmer who was vehemently anticonscription in the first war and who served his community not in uniform but in government—three times president of our shire. I am here because I am a McNaughton too, granddaughter of Kit, his wife. A century ago next year Kit was nursing in Egypt and on Lemnos and then in France. She served the men of Gallipoli and the men of the Somme. She finished her service as Australia's first plastic surgery nurse and she received the Royal Red Cross First Class. I am here because I am a Farrell, granddaughter of Bill: a Tasmanian, a miner, who enlisted, aged 21, in 1914. He described himself as 'an Anglican, with no prior service but a good rifle shot'. He fought with the 12th Battalion, Third Brigade, and later with the 51st. And I am here because I am a McCarthy. Lillian, my grandmother, was one of 13. She knew about service to family and showered love on us all—and, yes, that Anglican digger had to convert to Catholicism to marry her. That was what diversity looked like in those years.

    My father, Gerald, and my mother, Dot, made our home at Werribee Park and later in Werribee. I am here because of them. My father was a dairy, sheep and grain farmer—and if you know farming, you know that means he showed his eight children what work was. My mother became a widow in 1973—and if you know widows you know that means she showed her sons and daughters how to rely on themselves. My mother taught us about inclusion and patience and love. All were welcome in her home and in her heart. Mum raised eight of us: two teachers, two disability advocates, a lawyer, two truck drivers and a publican. She taught us that each of us could and should do whatever it was that fulfilled us. I often joke that there are two genetic strands running through us: one entrepreneurial, the other public service. I think the publican probably did his share of both!

    I grew up in that family and I grew up in that community. They taught me service and struggle and to love that place. When you are the seventh child in an eight-child pile-up, you also learn to speak your piece. School for me was St Andrews and then MacKillop College, when it was just a couple of portables in a cabbage patch. For a while I worked as a packer, and for my sins I even worked in sales. But the teaching degree I began at Melbourne State College in 1980 was the great professional moment of my life—before today. Teaching became my passion and my life. I remember my students at Darwin High School, Laverton High School, Galvin Park Secondary College and, most recently, Moonee Ponds Primary School. Tom Carroll, one of those students from Laverton, is with us today. He represents them all.

    Year after year those kids would come in thinking in black and white and they would leave seeing the shades of grey. Year after year those kids would come in feeling small and they would leave writing their lives large. Teaching English, I could help them out at the start of their lives as citizens not just as consumers. Looking at them, I knew that there would come a time when they would want to write their story. Teaching them, I knew that in that moment they would not be alone or unable because they would have the language to participate and the skills to make their voices heard. Working in the classroom alongside those young people gave me such an opportunity to make a quality intervention and make a difference in a life. Serving as a principal gave me a whole other insight into the big picture challenges to ensure quality in every classroom, to minimise between-school differences, to change teaching practice, to realise the potential of every child.

    It was also then I fully recognised the achievements of another western suburbs Labor MP. Lynne Kosky, then Victorian minister for education, was the first to implement genuine needs based funding for our schools. This seminal shift radically enhanced how we could teach and foster our young people. I was fortunate to see Lynne in the electorate on Saturday at the Point Cook Relay for Life. As always, she was out in front, leading her community to support one another.

    It was also as a teacher and principal I experienced the transformative impact of national partnerships funding, another Labor achievement. As a principal in Melbourne's western metropolitan region, I experienced firsthand the changes the funding and research based improvement strategies could achieve. Inspired and guided by regional network leaders and committed local leadership, we implemented strategies that saw our region become the fastest improving region in Victoria over four years. I saw firsthand the positive difference this made to student learning and to family expectations. I saw that when governments get serious, lives change. That opportunity and that insight will be with me every day here, in every issue and debate.

    I am also here—and I am only here—because I am Labor and, really, I am Labor because of CSR. The dramatic story of the campaign to save my town from the toxic fate that threatened us in the 1990s is well known in my electorate. And it is literally a dramatic story. With a friend I wrote a play about it calledHole in the Ground. I could be here till Christmas telling you of all the things a lot of us did in those days, but I will not because I respect the conventions of a first speech to avoid partisanship and controversy and, believe me, when I talk about what Premier Kennett and CSR wanted to do to us there is not much that is bipartisan or uncontroversial in what I had to say.

    But what I do want to reflect on today is what I learned and what my community learned in that campaign. We learned that we had a voice and that we could make it heard in Spring Street and beyond. We learned to collaborate, to organise and to fight. This was no crude exercise in populism. We did not just win the campaign, we won the argument. We overcame through head not just through heart and, when the business was over, it turned out that this vital development was not so vital after all. It was never built anywhere, and there is a lesson for all leaders in that.

    The fight was led in true Lalor fashion by a diverse bunch—a suburban solicitor who cut his teeth fighting for Indigenous land rights in Queensland, Frank Purcell; a farmer, long-serving local councillor and leader in our community, Julian Menegazzo; an academic and a tireless activist for social justice and the environment, Harry van Morst; and me. We were joined by our community in all its shapes and sizes.

    I will never forget the amazement and excitement and delight of many of my conservative friends in a place which still had many of the features of an old Australian country town when they found out that the unions were coming. We were 15,000 gathered in protest at the Werribee racecourse on a bitterly cold autumn night when we heard not only that Trades Hall was supporting us but that union women and union men would stand alongside us and join the blockade if it came to that, and they would not leave until the job was done. It was our Eureka moment, when we knew we would persevere, knew we would prevail.

    It was also a stark moment of understanding of who was on our side and to whom we could turn for help. We knew from day one that it was no accident that the leaders of a Liberal government and CSR thought this dump should be in our postcode, not in theirs. We rapidly found out it was no accident. It was the unions and the Labor Party, led by John Brumby, we could turn to for support—the same people who will always stand alongside those in need, who protect our kids, with their strong work ethic and eagerness to please, from the vulnerabilities of an unsafe workplace, have fought and won the conditions we take for granted and who with courage and kindness fight for those unheard. So, yes, I come here very proud to speak for Labor.

    We have a lot to do in this place—infrastructure, health, disability care. My community needs services and infrastructure and we need them from all levels of government and we need them on time. Our nation needs more too. We need real action on climate change and continued commitment to an inclusive, caring and just society. We need economic growth and job creation. We also need to have what my predecessor described as a 'sophisticated conversation' about the role of gender in this country.

    But what must underpin all of this is education, because nothing matters more. It is a tribute to Labor's legacy in education of generations past that someone like me from a family like mine is standing here today. I am here to accept a great responsibility—to hold on to that legacy and to fight for it. But I also come to fight for the future. I carry with me the hopes of those I have worked beside—hardworking, creative, collaborative teachers and principals who are dedicated to the complex work of taking every child on a productive and fulfilling learning journey. I will be fighting for them, for our schools and for students. I will fight to ensure that promises are kept and that the future of our kids, whether they be in Woolwich or Werribee, is not determined by their postcode, and to ensure that education is held up as the great equaliser and liberator it truly is.

    I know this as a Werribee person, as the humble daughter of Ryans and Farrells and McNaughtons and McCarthys, as a teacher and principal, as an activist and as a passionate Labor representative. That is the service ahead of me in Canberra. And because the politics of a democracy is a contest of interest and ideas, that is the struggle ahead of me in Canberra too. It is not the way of these speeches or the nature of these occasions to reflect on the political forces we oppose. There will be time for that. Thank you, Madam Speaker, I cannot wait.