Labor Members fight over Macedon
From Open Labor:
An overwhelming vote of ordinary Labor members for a candidate in the state seat of Macedon is set to be overturned this evening by a secret deal between Left and Right factions.
The decision to disregard the vote for Christian Zahra, who obtained more than 80 per cent of two-candidate’s preferred votes in a plebiscite of members in Macedon, makes a mockery of adherence to the rules and commitment to democracy within the ALP.
It follows last week’s decision of the National Executive to deny local votes for Victorian Upper House candidates and to preselect candidates itself, after ignoring the National Returning Officer’s decision that the ballot was invalid due to not meeting Affirmative Action rules.
Open Labor calls on the ALP’s Public Office Selection Committee to respect the wishes of ALP members in the seat of Macedon and to preselect Christian Zahra.
The issue in Macedon is not the quality of the two main candidates, who are both excellent.
Nor is it exclusively an affirmative action issue, although the party’s commitment to women being preselected in 40 per cent of winnable seats will no doubt be invoked to justify the Macedon decision.
The issue is democracy, and whether the ALP leadership wants to have a party that engages and respects the views of its members and the rules that it currently has in place, or whether it is happy to have branch members continue to leave the party in frustration at being denied a role and selectively applies the rules to distort the outcome to suit the purposes of a few factional warlords.
Open Labor supports the current rule for Affirmative Action, but believes that the party must consistently apply the rules, and not pick and choose which rule to implement to suit a factional, pre-determined outcome.
It will be nothing short of breath-taking hypocrisy if the Affirmative Action rule is used to justify the overturning of a local rank and file vote in Macedon, and at the same time over-ride the National Returning Officer’s ruling on a National Executive ballot that ignores the AA rule.
Open Labor also calls on the State Branch of the ALP to follow the examples of other state branches to make pre-selection processes more inclusive and democratic and to abide by the Affirmative Action rule, not simply when it is convenient for factional purposes.
After the success of the surge of democracy in our party that saw for the first time rank and file participation in electing the national leader, people could be forgiven for assuming the same meaningful participation by branch members would apply in choosing local candidates for State and Federal electorates.
The forthcoming Victorian State pre-selections indicate the exact opposite.
In mind boggling displays of arrogance prominent Victorian branch factional warlords from the left and right have always insisted on a series of cross faction deals that ensure their nominee gains endorsement in most pre-selections.
It’s claimed that these arrangements provide ‘stability’. In reality this ‘stability pact’ is simply just a mechanism to preserve power for three or four usually self-appointed factional leaders. They, with hands on hearts, will tell you they are strong supporters of Party democracy. What they don’t tell you is democracy is only acceptable as long as it doesn’t impact on their power or self-interest.
In most instances the actual breakdown of factional stability is caused by the very same factional operatives. The attempt to remove former Federal Parliamentary Leader Simon Crean in Hotham and the successful and brutal dumping of nonaligned Federal MP’s Anne Corcoran, Bob Sercombe and Gavin O’Connor prior to the 2007 Federal Election are clear examples of the arrogance exhibited by the same factional operatives.
Rather than create stability across the party these deals have precisely the opposite effect on party democracy and rank and file participation in pre selections – particularly in regional communities where there are much smaller numbers of branch members.
Most regional rank and file members resent this type of factional bastardry especially after so many local branch members work hard to win a seat from the Liberals, build the vote up to a respectable margin usually over many years and without any help from the so called factional leaders and then have the seat taken over by one or the other of the main factions who then seize the opportunity to ensure their nominee gets pre-selected.
The Bendigo Federal electorate was part of a similar cross factional deal favouring the Victorian Labor Unity (Right) faction when I was pre-selected in 1997. Paul Higgins was the then anointed Labor Unity candidate with the nonaligned group also fielding a candidate in Gary Thorn.
Of the 178 Bendigo FEA members eligible to vote I gained the highest local vote (62%) with the other two candidates sharing the remaining 38% with Gary Thorn, the nonaligned candidate gaining most of that remaining 38%.
This resulted in an all-out effort by Labor Unity and sections of the Left who then dumped the official Labor Unity candidate and supported the nonaligned candidate to ensure the left candidate was defeated and the deal was adhered to.
However, with 62% of the local rank and file vote (more than doubling the local vote of each of the two non-left candidates) and with some support from non-members of the left on the central panel, I was able to win the overall ballot by just 1 vote.
Because we in Bendigo have, up until now, a united party organisation with no factional game playing we were able to win the Bendigo Federal electorate on six occasions and have similar results in State elections. Having candidates enjoying strong local branch support was and still is a vital part of that success.
Few people outside the Party will be aware of the ridiculous cross factional arrangement that has the State Electorate of Macedon allocated to the left faction resulting in an attempt to bring someone from the Melbourne metropolitan district with no affinity to or knowledge of the region into the electorate as the endorsed candidate.
The Daylesford Branch has recognised the stupidity and arrogance of this proposal and has initiated a pledge for all candidates seeking pre-selection in Macedon which states:
I (candidates name)
commit as a Labor candidate for the State seat of Macedon, to accept the outcome of the local vote and agree to resign my candidacy before the meeting of the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) if I am unsuccessful in winning a majority of the local ballot.
So far, of the four candidates who have indicated their intention to nominate only Christian Zahra has signed the pledge with the other three indicating they will refuse to sign.
The others including the Left’s official candidate are apparently prepared to claim the endorsement based on a factional deal with a minority of local support and run the risk of alienating the majority of Macedon Branch members and adversely impacting on the effectiveness of the local campaign.
The question has to be asked: where will the non-signatories loyalties be placed?
To the electors and Labor branch members of the Macedon electorate or the faction that secured them the pre selection against the wishes of the majority of branch members.
Regional candidates and MP’s loyalties need to be with their electorates and branch members within their electorate and not with groups or organisations based outside the electorate.
In another display of arrogance the Victorian ALP rejected a request for a postal vote for local branch members, despite 4 out of 5 branches (representing 85% of local branch members) supporting the request in writing. Postal voting in large regional electorates is usually acceptable in most instances.
The State branch has now insisted on the main Polling Place for Macedon (open for 8 hours) being located at the electorate office of Joanne Duncan MP in Gisborne – more than fifty minutes’ drive from the vast majority of branch members in the Macedon electorate with a second polling booth located in Kyneton for just two hours the next day (between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm)
This is a clear attempt to disenfranchise as many local branch members as possible and minimise the vote of the candidate who is running against the ‘deal’.
The new electorate of Macedon is very marginal and the Liberals will be targeting the seat in 2014, so it will be a tough campaign. We need a Labor candidate with the maturity, tenacity, sound political judgement and strong regional marginal seats experience to win the seat for Labor. I believe Christian Zahra is the best candidate by a country mile to win Macedon for Labor.
Former Labor Federal MP for Bendigo 1998 – 2013
10 December 2013
Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (17:13): on indulgence: how do I follow an act like the delightful Dr Mal Washer? I wish him well.
I am going to start with the thankyous because I do not want to miss out on people who deserve to be thanked. I will start with my campaign team over what has been almost 15 years. I am talking about Leigh Svendson, Sue McKenzie, Marty Stradbrook, Elaine Walsh and Bill Murray. Then, of course, there is my staff. I understand they are all watching this on the Sky channel in the office, probably drinking copious cups of tea and coffee. To Sue McKenzie, Lisa Lane, Marty Stradbrook, Jacinta Allen, Elaine Harrington, Neil Wilson—Neil is, unfortunately, no longer on this earth, but I will never forget the day he came to the office to deliver a phone message and his tie was completely shredded. He had leaned over the shredder to do something, and his tie dangled into it. He had this big, silly grin on his face and a shredded tie. Lorna Erwin, Peter Downes, the late Richard Clarke, Shannon Farley, Cassie Farley, Sandra Chenhall, Natalie Pretlove, Jackie Diamond, Katie Condliffe, Fabian Reed, Marg Dericott, Bill Muray, Jamie Driscoll, Stuart McKenzie and Louise Fisher.
Of course I have to thank my wife, Diane. We have been constant companions since we were both 17 years of age. She has been a tower of strength for me. Our relationship has endured 35 years of the music sector, 35 years involvement in politics—and my support for the Collingwood Football Club. I would be lost without her.
I thought I would start by talking about my first speech in this House. I remember it well because we had a whip at that stage called Leo McLeay, and Leo used to delight in making things very difficult for people, especially if you happened to be from the Left. He did not even give me a day’s notice: he told me on the day that I would be delivering my first speech later that afternoon—to which I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ So I had the speech prepared, and I remember sitting down just prior to the time I was due to get up, looking through the pages and noticing page 2 was missing. So I got up, sprinted out of the chamber, down the corridor, into the lift, up to the second floor, into my office, printed it off again, got all the way back and sat down just prior to getting the call. Of course, when I stood up to start delivering the speech I was puffing, panting and sweating. I could hear voices saying, ‘Look, the poor soul, he’s nervous, he’s very concerned.’ The truth is I was only slightly nervous but I was totally knackered!
On to more serious matters. I joined the Australian Labor Party on 3 September 1976. I remember that precise date because I got married on 4 September 1976. It was Labor’s opposition to the war in Vietnam and particularly the influence of the late Dr Jim Cairns that guided me into 37 years of party membership and resulted in my election to this place in 1998. I am extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve since that date, and when I say ‘we’ I am talking about my office and the people associated with it.
Naturally I would have liked to have served on the front bench, in opposition or in government, administering a portfolio, but that was not to be. I had to defend some very narrow margins in the Bendigo electorate, especially during the early years, and I could not see any point in being away from the electorate to the extent required to manage a portfolio and then losing the seat as a result. Besides, during my first three parliamentary terms, to be available for promotion you had to kiss the backside of some of the sub factional warlords, usually self-appointed, to be guaranteed a spot. I was never prepared to do that.
And as I am the sole member of my own sub faction, it would have been a little difficult for me to perform that task, actually. We changed the method of frontbench appointments in 2008 to allow the leader to select the team. I opposed that then and I still do. Consequently, I did not spend any time waiting, nor did I expect a phone call re promotion from either leader—and, of course, neither of them disappointed me.
But I am more than happy in what we—my office—have achieved. Our office has responded to more than 150,000 inquiries, always in a courteous and professional manner. For the period of 2007 to 2013 under the Labor governments, the Bendigo electorate has received more than $1.26 billion of federal government funding to improve community, education and health facilities, to maintain employment and social cohesion, to improve living standards and to address some of the major challenges facing our community, such as climate change and future communications needs.
I am proud to be a member of a party that has initiated milestone initiatives like: the price on carbon; exceptional management of the impact of the global financial crisis; low unemployment; low inflation and a low interest rate; the AAA credit rating; national education reform; the national disability scheme; the National Broadband Network; the resource rent tax, which is tax on mining company super profits; the Murray-Darling Basin reform; and the apology to the stolen generation. It was very moving when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered that great «speech» and it was a great privilege to be in the chamber then.
There have been a range of local campaigns which I am proud to be associated with. The Calder Highway campaign was a classic. We had a four-year campaign of struggle to get the Howard government to honour its commitment and fund a duplicated highway from Melbourne all the way to Bendigo. That was a major struggle and I am pleased to say it was delivered just prior to the 2007 election. The opposition, the Liberals, took the view then that they had no chance of winning the seat of Bendigo unless that was completed. They completed it, and I still won the seat. I am very proud of that.
There was the big campaign to maintain the Bushmaster contract. You would all be familiar with the Bushmaster, the armoured personnel carrier that is saving lives in Afghanistan as we speak. In 1997 the initial contract was signed with what was then Australian Defence Industries when the ADI Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle was chosen as the preferred option over the ASVS Taipan vehicle to proceed to the next stage. A production contract was signed with ADI for 370 Bushmasters to be delivered by 2002. There was and, believe it or not, there is still considerable opposition from senior Army and defence personnel regarding the suitability of the Bushmaster vehicle, with a clear preference from some for an overseas product. I still cannot believe that that exists today, even after all the success.
In 2001 Peter Reith replaced John Moore as the defence minister and, after receiving a Defence recommendation, announced he intended cancelling the Bushmaster contract.
Labor made the Bushmaster contract and the Calder Highway the main issues in the 2001 federal election campaign. The Howard government won that election, but I was re-elected on that particular platform. In 2002 I took a deputation to the new defence minister, Senator Robert Hill, to argue the case for retaining the contract with what was then still Australian Defence Industries.
On 26 June 2002 Defence Minister Hill announced that the government would honour a revised Bushmaster contract with ADI, with a reduced number of vehicles—I think it was down from 370 to 299. Thales Bendigo have now produced 1,000 Bushmasters. Just last Friday we celebrated the one-thousandth machine, and the former Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, told a large gathering of Thales employees recently that the ADF estimated that Bushmasters have saved close to 300 lives, mostly Australian, in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very, very proud of that.
The Australian Department of Defence LAND 121 Phase 4 vehicle replacement program will provide the ADF with up to 1,300 light protected mobility vehicles, or PMV-Ls, and some non-armoured vehicles to replace part of the current Land Rover fleet. Thales, the company that now owns ADI, had designed and built the Hawkei PMV-L to compete for this contract and, again, there was and still is, believe it or not, considerable opposition to Australian design from the Defence department, both military and civilian. On 23 April 2009, I took a briefing from the most senior people in the DMO on the LAND 121 Phase 4 project and the officials told me—and I had my senior staff member, Stuart Mackenzie, with me at the time—that they did not believe Thales was capable of producing a light protected mobility vehicle. So we started an intensive lobbying campaign similar to the Bushmaster campaign of those earlier years.
On 26 May 2010, the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, announced funding for three Australian manufactured PMV-L vehicles to compete against the US JLTV. Thales, Force Protection and General Dynamics each received up to $9 million to develop prototypes. Thales’ Hawkei was the only Australian designed and manufactured prototype in the competition. On 24 February 2011, Thales delivered two Hawkei prototypes to Defence for an intensive test and appraisal process. A recommendation to government on the preferred Australian PMV-L to compete with the successful US JLTV was anticipated later that year, with 2013 or early 2014 cited as a possible date for financial decision and a contract negotiation.
On 19 April, 300 people rallied in Bendigo in support of Australian defence manufacturing and Thales vehicle contracts. The Thales Hawkei won the Australian Defence Force ‘Down Select’ process—what we call the preferred tenderer status. This is the vehicle that they said Thales would never build and suddenly it had won the Down Select. It is now the preferred vehicle.
Defence minister, Stephen Smith, announced future prototype development funding for the Hawkei program. Thales has been granted another $38 million for Hawkei prototype development under the Defence Materiel Organisation first pass approval process and this brings the total Commonwealth investment to $47 million.
So I am particularly proud of that. That is a contract worth potentially between $1.3 billion to Bendigo. Final testing and prototype development will continue throughout 2013-14 when contract negotiations should commence. All the hard work has been done and I think that the only risk that could lose a contract worth potentially $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion is the election of a coalition government. Both Tony Abbott and shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have refused to guarantee that they will support funding for prototype development for the Hawkei, and that is a real shame. But I am confident that Labor will win the election anyway and it will be fine.
One of the other big campaigns I am proud to be associated with was the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, or DIGO. There was a recommendation from the Defence department to relocate that from Bendigo, where it has been since 1942, up to Canberra with about 130 jobs associated with it. Again we waged a major campaign and a deputation to Defence Minister Robert Hill. Bendigo has a lot to thank Senator Robert Hill for, I must say. He has been very, very supportive in giving us appointments in the first place, listening to the argument and then acting on it, usually in our favour. So I am always indebted to him. He announced that DIGO would stay in Bendigo. They would vacate Fortuna, the old historic mansion, and move to a new building which was yet to be built at a cost of about $11 million, and that has happened.
Another defence-related Bendigo success story is Australian Defence Apparel, ADA. This innovative company manufactures uniforms and personal body armour for defence requirements. One of the things I am very proud about in our defence manufacturing capability in Bendigo is the fact that we only make things that save lives; we do not make things that kill people. All our defence manufacturing is very philosophically pure. We make things like Bushmasters, that have saved 300 lives, and armour protection that saves the lives of people who serve in war zones.
I want to particularly acknowledge the outstanding contribution to Bendigo’s economy through ADA by its founder, Brian Rush, who really needs to be canonised. He took on this company, bought it from Australian Defence Industry and privatised it. It is a privatisation success story that I am almost reluctant to talk about for obvious reasons, but it is a great success story and it is Brian’s stewardship that it has certainly done it.
ADA has always invested its own resources into research and development and is constantly developing new products, like ceramics for lifesaving body armour, and, far from just sitting around waiting for lucrative government contracts, Brian Rush has always had the courage to invest in new materials and new products. And I am sure that under the new CEO David Giles Kaye we will also see ADA continue to provide innovative solutions in armour protection for our service men and women.
I have deliberately spent some time during this speech on Bendigo’s defence and defence industry sector, and for a good reason. It is vital to our economy and jobs. In fact research by the City of Greater Bendigo Council—research that my office, or I, commissioned—showed that the sector is worth a massive $750 million in total output per year to Bendigo’s economy and is responsible for around 830 direct jobs, with a full consumption effect of over 1,600 indirect jobs. Defence and defence manufacturing are vital components of the Bendigo economy.
I am particularly proud of the campaign we waged to make sure that the La Trobe University campus in Bendigo stayed, a major university in Bendigo, and that it was not gutted with all of the resources going to Bundoora—and I know that the member for Scullin and my good friend the member for Batman probably shared that same view. I commissioned four well-known Bendigo identities, Andrew Cairns, Jan Boynton, Ian McBean and my former chief of staff, the late Richard Clarke, to prepare a report on La Trobe University’s future in Bendigo and the impact that it makes in Bendigo’s economy. It is a major powerhouse in Bendigo’s economy.
They produced a great report, and when La Trobe was going through its own processes of what they called ‘vertical integration’, they actually adopted a lot of the recommendations from that report that I had commissioned. So I am particularly proud of that.
I am particularly proud of the campaign to preserve the book-printing industry in Maryborough, and my good mate the member for Hotham, sitting in front of me, would be well aware of that. He has been there and has visited plenty of times. Maryborough is a very small community in my electorate of Bendigo. It is one of the most depressed regions in Bendigo and this had the potential to devastate the biggest employer in that town. I lobbied cabinet ministers and just about everybody who would listen that this was a very, very silly move to make and I am pleased to say that the cabinet finally resolved in my favour—by one vote. But it was enough.
I am indebted to the local Bendigo media because, without their interest and assistance, the campaigns that I have just mentioned would have been much harder, and much, much harder. I am pleased to say that I have had an effective relationship with the Canberra press gallery; I have never annoyed them too much and by and large they have left me alone—and I appreciate that. That system worked very well!
I have been fortunate enough to make some lasting friendships from all sides of this House and from the staff—security staff, attendants and COMCAR drivers. I have enjoyed working with members opposite, and on various committees over the past 15 years, and I refer particularly to the member for Hinkler, the member for Barker and the member for New England, among others. In all seriousness, this parliament, and indeed this nation, is fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Tony Windsor in its ranks. I wish him well for the forthcoming election.
There are two members of the opposition that I regard as close friends. I will not name them—
Honourable members interjecting—Name them! Name them!
Mr GIBBONS: I will not name them because I do not want to embarrass them! But then again, the former member for Corangamite used to do a great job of embarrassing himself. Particularly, I say to all of them and to those who I am referring to, that friends of mine are friends for life.
This 43rd parliament has been particularly difficult and we have all had to make sacrifices. I have had to refrain from enjoying that extra scotch before dinner for fear of knocking myself out and missing a division! But sacrifices had to be made.
Valedictory speeches are a time for reflection, and generally for reflection about the past. I am going to be serious for a minute and now would like to spend a few moments reflecting on our nation’s future, in particular two of the challenges that will face my successor as the member for Bendigo and the 44th parliament as a whole.
The first of these is climate change. Scientists tell us that the actions that the world takes in the next decade will be critical; critical to whether we manage to slow the effects of man-made global warming during the 21st century, or whether we leave our children and grandchildren to contend with potentially catastrophic changes to their way of life.
I am proud of the fact that Labor came into office in 2007 recognising the importance of this challenge, and I am proud that as I leave this House Australia is doing its part by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon-pricing scheme introduced into this parliament has placed Australia among the 35 countries and 13 regions that have implemented emissions trading schemes. Just yesterday, the city of Shenzhen in China launched an ETS that covers more emissions than Australia’s entire carbon market. We have started doing our part, and it would be a tragedy if the anti-science attitude from the vested interests manages to divert us from that course.
The second great challenge for the next and subsequent parliaments is the shift of economic and political power from the Western nations to Asia. As the government’s white paper recognises, the rise of Asia will be a defining feature of the 21st century. Within the life of the next couple of parliaments, Asia will not only be the world’s largest producer of goods and services but will also be the world’s largest consumer of them. It is already the most populous region in the world, and it will soon become home to most of the world’s middle-class—I do not really like to use that term.
And we must not forget that there is more to Asia than India and China. Our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, is the fourth-largest country in the world. Its 17,000 islands command the air and sea approaches to Australia, yet still we know so little about this country that is on our own doorstep and which is already the 15th-largest economy in the world. It is somewhere we fly over on the way to somewhere else, or go to to enjoy the beaches. The changes going on to our north represent terrific opportunities for this country if we have the courage to take them.
But in order to do this, we must make some changes too. We have to be prepared to increase our engagement with the region. If we better understand its people and its cultures, we can be a major beneficiary of Asia’s rising position in the world. Steering the country through these changes will be a major challenge for members of future parliaments. I leave this House optimistic about our nation’s future; optimistic that we will be able to deal with the major challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that we face in the 21st century.
And that is probably an appropriate note on which to conclude my final speech in this place. I thank you all for attending.
The SPEAKER: I would like to congratulate the member for Bendigo on his speech and wish him well in his retirement from this place.
Mr GIBBONS (5:10 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Hawker. Please accept my congratulations on your appointment to the Speaker’s Panel and those of your colleagues. Being elected to the federal parliament is one of, if not, the highest honours that anyone can receive from their community. The electors of Bendigo have demonstrated a great confidence in me, and I intend to justify that confidence.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my campaign team, in particular Leigh Svendson, Jacinta Allan, Peter Stevenson, Bob Cameron MLA, David and Helen Kennedy, Lorna Erwin, Bill Murray, Margaret Lewis, Len Peacock, Marty Stradbrook, John McQuilten and Elaine Walsh, as well as the many hundreds of members and volunteers, all of whom played an important part in winning Bendigo for Labor. It would be nice if I were able to think that they could not have achieved this victory without me, because I know that I could not have achieved it without them.
To my wife Diane, my mother Jasmine, my sisters Karen and Jane and my brother Dale: I express my sincere thanks for their support and encouragement. I also acknowledge the important influence of my late father, Jim Gibbons , the only left leaning `used car dealer’ I have ever known. He would be extremely proud if he were alive today.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, and the Labor team. They waged a great campaign, resulting in many new MPs being elected on this side of the House. I am proud to be among them, and I look forward to working with them over the coming years. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my immediate predecessor, Bruce Reid, and his family a long, happy and healthy retirement.
I stand in this House with a diverse background. I have worked as a carer for disabled people. I have been, I am proud to say, a trade union official and have started and operated a successful small business. I have worked for three state Labor leaders and served as chairman of directors, vice-chairman and treasurer at the Bendigo hospital, which is the major referral centre for the Bendigo region. The hospital then had an annual budget of around $40 million per year and a staff of 700.
My first job was as an apprentice motor mechanic and later a storeman in the automotive parts industry. I spent 15 years as a semi-professional musician playing in and around Bendigo and regional Victoria. I believe this varied background will equip me to represent the people of Bendigo and its surrounding communities very effectively.
I come into this place as the 15th federal member for Bendigo since Federation. There have been 6½ Labor MPs and 6½ conservative MPs for Bendigo since 1901—the two remaining halves coming in the form of one William Morris Hughes, that legendary ratter, who held the seat of Bendigo from 1917 to 1922. He obviously could not make up his mind whether he was a conservative or a Labor man. So you can see that, to that extent, I am in somewhat dubious company. But there have been many fine representatives of Bendigo from both sides of the House, and I would like to acknowledge some of them from our side of politics today.
For example, Percy Clarey held Bendigo for Labor from 1949 to 1960 and was a former President of the ACTU. Noel Beaton succeeded him in 1960 and retired in 1969, when my good friend David Kennedy was elected in a by-election and was then re-elected in the general election later that year. John Brumby was the next Labor MP for Bendigo, and he held the seat from 1983 to 1990. He will, no doubt, be the next Premier of Victoria, and I can think of no-one better equipped, more hardworking or more dedicated to occupy that office. If I can be as effective a member for Bendigo as those I have just mentioned, I am sure the electors of Bendigo will be well satisfied.
Bendigo is fast becoming the privatisation capital of Australia as conservative governments continue to implement the economic rationalist dogmas that are devastating regional Australia. In the years since the Kennett government and the Howard government took office, the Bendigo district has lost over 1,600 full-time public sector jobs as a result of privatisation, preparation for privatisation and public sector cuts.
These massive job losses have been imposed on areas including health, education, the SEC or Powercorp, the Gas and Fuel Corporation, Coliban Water, Telstra, the Veterinary Laboratory, the Australian Taxation Office, VicRoads, local government agencies, the Bendigo Railway Workshops, Australian Defence Industries, the Army Topographic Survey Establishment, La Trobe University (Bendigo), the Family Court, the Department of Social Security and Centrelink. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have official unemployment figures for the electorate in the order of 11 per cent. I believe the true figures are in fact much higher. Even heavier, of course, is the level of youth unemployment in the Bendigo region.
There are answers to tackling the unemployment problem, but if we are to begin to turn the tide we have to scrap the economic rationalist principles that I believe are largely to blame for the present levels. Governments at federal and state level must also accept that regions like Bendigo need to have a strong government infrastructure base as a foundation for their economic future. We must have appropriately funded government agencies including health, education and local government institutions. These continue to be major providers of employment «in» Bendigo, Castlemaine, Heathcote and Maryborough and were formerly the lifeblood of smaller towns like Wedderburn, Elmore, Maldon, Dunolly, Bridgewater and Inglewood.
Telstra alone has shed close to 300 full-time jobs from the Bendigo district over the past 2½ years, resulting in the loss of some $12 million per year from the Bendigo district’s economy. This has had a devastating impact on our small businesses and has contributed to the large number of empty shops and offices throughout the city of Bendigo in particular. What is most disturbing is that the latest round of Telstra job losses comes from the Bendigo Fault Centre, with the remaining 52 jobs being relocated to Launceston, Tasmania. The service is still being provided, but only from Launceston. So Launceston gains Telstra’s entire Southern Regional Fault Service Centre, with over 100 jobs, entirely at Bendigo’s expense.
When central Victorians were asked to indicate their preference for a communications carrier, between Telstra and Optus, a massive 96 per cent voted to stay with Telstra. I wonder what would happen now if that ballot was repeated. The people would undoubtedly desert Telstra in large numbers in favour of their competitors—and no wonder.
The federal government has the capacity and indeed the responsibility to review its policy of arms-length involvement in not only Telstra but every aspect of government services so that regions like Bendigo not only maintain current employment levels and government agencies but begin to increase employment levels by developing new services into the future. We can then set about attracting appropriate private sector industries to our region, especially in the information technology and telecommunications areas which the Bendigo region is well placed to provide.
The changes will at least signal our commitment to address the terrible inequities that are changing the face of regional Australia. Once we were a country where the ideal was that all should have enough to live with dignity; we had jobs and we had a good social security safety net. Now, with record unemployment, we are becoming a land where those who are comfortable and secure are in danger of living in fear of those who have lost all hope.
Our small town communities are being devastated by the economic policies of conservative governments. I refer in particular to the Victorian state government’s plans to impose a new sewerage scheme on people who cannot afford it and who do not need or want it. For a lot of people in small towns around Bendigo this was a major issue in the federal election. They wanted to send a clear signal to the coalition parties in Victoria that they are tired of having conservative governments impose their ideas against the will of the majority of the people.
The costs involve head-works charges of some $1,950 plus anything up to $3,000 per household for internal plumbing. This is far in excess of what most residents in these towns can afford. For pensioners, unemployed and others on low incomes these costs are absolutely ruinous. I congratulate the North Central Waste Water Alliance for its energetic campaign and, in particular, I congratulate John Olsen, Alister Gray and the others who have been leading figures in standing up for their communities against the uncaring attitude of remote and big governments.
In contrast to the Victorian government, we have the New South Wales government providing the same service for its smaller communities by funding 75 per cent of the head-works costs out of state government funds with local government picking up the remaining 25 per cent and in most cases not passing these costs on to their residents. The contrast is staggering. On the one hand, we have the Victorian government riding roughshod over its people and imposing its privatisation mania in spite of public opposition. On the other hand, we have the New South Wales Labor government listening to its people and governing in accordance with its wishes. I will continue to support the Waste Water Alliance in their campaign for a fair deal. Small towns in the Bendigo electorate sent a very clear message to the conservative parties in the October election and it must be heeded.
The coalition’s economic policies are also having a devastating effect on the Australian Defence Industries plant in Bendigo. This industry is a major component of Bendigo’s economy, with a current employment level of around 360 jobs. The massive scaling back of 150 jobs by the coalition in the pre-privatisation process has stripped away much needed personnel expertise, which will be lost to the region forever. We do not know what number of jobs will be retained with privatisation or even if the plant will in fact survive into the future.
The performance of the coalition has been especially disgraceful considering that the current Prime Minister aimed to lead the public to believe in the 1996 election campaign that ADI Bendigo would not be privatised. Another example of broken promises to Bendigo is the failure to deliver the $2 million promised to the Bendigo Art Gallery for redevelopment. In the 1996 election in Bendigo the coalition promised to contribute the $2 million. They broke that promise as soon as the election was out of the way. In fact, until a few weeks before the October election this year, they even denied they ever made the commitment. Then, suddenly, with the election on the way, they announced that they would pay the $2 million. The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston, then claimed that the cheque was `as good as in the mail’. I can just see the headline: `Coalition keep promise they never made’.
Also under threat alongside ADI is Bendigo’s Army Topographical Survey Establishment, which is scheduled to have its building sold out from under it. This is a magnificent historic building and property called `Fortuna’, which is a major part of Bendigo’s history and heritage. This property will also face the auctioneer’s hammer under the coalition’s program of unloading large numbers of Defence properties across Australia. Another 150 jobs are therefore placed at risk.
I will now deal with the GST and its effect on the people of the Bendigo federal electorate. Labor secured a swing of around 4.6 per cent in Bendigo. This was the second largest swing in the marginal federal seats in Victoria, and the largest swing in regional Victoria. Labor in Bendigo campaigned vigorously against the GST. There was widespread concern over the far-reaching effects of the GST, especially among pensioners, the unemployed and low income earners. Small businesses also were constantly expressing their fears and worries over the burden the GST would cause to them as unpaid tax collectors.
In Maryborough, which relies heavily on its book printing industry, the GST will increase its cost of inputs by a massive 4.5 per cent. This comes on top of the coalition’s scrapping of the printing industry’s book bounty. This latter move has increased the industry’s costs by some four per cent and threatens the future viability of the industry and the security of about 600 jobs. Is it any wonder that people are deserting the coalition when it has no industry policy and no regional development policy other than increasing the costs of production and destroying jobs with the GST?
The Bendigo electorate and regional Australia need a genuine industry policy and a genuine regional development policy to ensure the future of our existing industries and to add to economic growth and jobs growth. Regional Australia desperately needs the vision and policies of the kind that were spelled out during the election campaign by the Labor team.
Another issue of widespread concern has been the move to establish a casino in Bendigo. This proposal emerged early in August and received the enthusiastic encouragement of the Victorian state government. It is noteworthy that the state government’s support for the proposal came after the federal coalition had announced an inquiry into the effects of gaming throughout Australia. No doubt honourable members are only too well aware of the community concern that has arisen in Victoria since the establishment of Crown Casino and the development of the casino culture, especially with its close links with the Victorian state government. It is therefore hardly surprising that there has been extensive concern expressed in Bendigo over the casino proposal and the state government’s backing for it.
A nation is measured by the way it cares for its elderly citizens. Older Australians are entitled to security and peace of mind, and the past 2½ years have been anything but comforting to our elderly. I refer to the disruptive and unfair scheme of nursing home fees introduced by the coalition government. The scheme has caused enormous heartache and distress for senior citizens, and this anxiety was experienced by many in the Bendigo electorate. To add to this, the state coalition government plans to privatise some 60 nursing home beds in Bendigo, beds which are now very capably administered by the Bendigo Health Care Group. The Bendigo Health Care Group has been debarred from tendering for its own beds, despite the fact that it would prefer to submit a tender.
I have lived in Bendigo for the past 43 years and have spent all my working life in Bendigo. I can think of no better place to live. It is a great city and a great community, and I want to see it flourish and prosper. I want a sound future for the rural communities and the cities and towns of the electorate.
I noticed in the window of the Government Whip’s Office a poster which states `Ballarat—the greatest Victorian city’. I have some bad news for the honourable member for Ballarat: that poster is wrong. Bendigo offers a richer history, although similar to Ballarat. The Australian constitution was in fact drafted in Bendigo by Sir John Quick, who was the first MHR for Bendigo. In more recent times Bendigo has enjoyed a faster growth rate than has its sister city. Bendigo holds the Challenge Cup, which is a basketball competition between the two cities, I remind the honourable member.
Bendigo’s regional daily newspaper beat all comers in the tabloid section for the Asian Pacific region, in only its second edition after becoming a tabloid. Bendigo’s local TV news service consistently outrates the Ballarat service per head of population. Bendigo has its own banking group, which has pioneered the community banking concept as a result of the major banks closing some 1,132 small branches throughout Australia. This excellent service allows small towns to establish their own bank branch, with the Bendigo Bank providing the infrastructure and support, and the bank and the community share all of the revenue. This innovative service was designed and implemented in Bendigo, and now the ANZ Bank and the Bank of Melbourne are considering implementing a similar service.
I could go on for some time speaking on the merits of Bendigo in relation to its sister city but I will not, except to say finally that Bendigo enjoys a far more attractive climate than does Ballarat. In fact, I recently had the pleasure of being in that city when it actually stopped raining, but that was only because it hailed.
I have focused in my speech today on local issues, because my election campaign was very much a local campaign which concentrated on the matters that have been uppermost in the minds of the local people. Each of these issues was, of course, a reflection of nationwide and state-wide issues. The voters in the Bendigo electorate showed convincingly that government must come back to the people and put the needs of ordinary citizens before the narrow economic ideology that has driven the conservative parties.
I believe that Labor is the only party with the intellectual capacity to establish and implement policies that benefit all Australians, irrespective of their economic circumstance. Labor is the only party capable of governing with the required compassion for those who are unable, for a variety of reasons, to fend for themselves. Bendigo’s vote for Labor is indeed heartening, and I look forward to working in partnership with the electorate I have been elected to represent, and to helping achieve Labor’s victory at the next election. It is only after a major change in ideology that we will realise our true goals of seeing each and every Australian function at their full potential.
Honourable members —Hear, hear!
Response to Prime Ministers Statement –Iraq 5th February 2003:
Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (8.41 p.m.) –I will begin by informing the House that a large crowd of around 1,000 people attended a peace rally in Bendigo last Friday. This clearly shows the depth of feeling against war by people from central Victoria of all age groups and all backgrounds. Labor’s position, as outlined by the opposition leader earlier today, has been consistent since April last year.
Labor say that there should be no military action to disarm Iraq without the authority of the United Nations. Labor will support any decision of the United Nations Security Council to enforce resolution 1441 in the event of Iraqi non-compliance, and Labor will not support a US unilateral attack on Iraq. The Prime Minister claims that no decision to participate in a war against Iraq has been taken, yet he has sent 2,000 defence personnel to the Persian Gulf region. Labor oppose this dishonest deployment, which has occurred without consultation with the Australian people or this parliament.
Tonight we heard revelations about the admission by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, that Australia would prefer UN backing; however–and this was not a point that could be made publicly–Australia was not in a position, if the UN process broke down, to withdraw our ships and other presence from the Gulf. This would have to be the greatest act of deception ever perpetrated on the Australian people by a Commonwealth government.
We know that lying is an integral strategy of this Prime Minister; here we have clear evidence of deception, lying to the Australian people over such a sensitive area as sending defence personnel to a war against another country. This miserable excuse for a human being is not fit to be Prime Minister of this country.
Labor’s opposition to the decision to deploy troops is directed squarely at those responsible for it–the Prime Minister and this government–and not at the defence personnel involved. They are simply doing their job as directed by the government of the day. That is their task. Even if the decision to deploy them is wrong, as it is in this case, they are required to follow orders. If they are required to participate in any action against Iraq–UN-sanctioned or otherwise–then they are entitled to the full support of the Australian people, and Labor will ensure they get it.
Our argument is with the Howard government, not with our defence forces. We wish our defence force men and women well, and we wish them a speedy and safe return home to their families. It is deplorable that the Prime Minister of Australia is acting as a hitchhiker on the US road to war. A war on Iraq without UN authority is a US war that serves only the purposes of the Bush administration, and Australia should not be involved in it. Most, if not all, wars are immoral and this war would be particularly immoral. The Howard-Bush regime would have us believe that a strike against Iraq would assist in the campaign against global terrorism. It would not.
If we are fair dinkum about the fight against global terrorism, then we should at least attempt to address the global hatreds that fuel global terrorism. An attack on Iraq, whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN, must only increase the likelihood of further terrorist acts because it will inflame hatreds that have existed for many years. The military are quick to remind us that the strike against Iraq would be all over in about two weeks. They may be right. But the ramifications of such a strike are likely to be with us for many decades. Even peace-loving members of the Islamic community–and there are millions in that category–could regard an attack on Iraq, whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN, as an attack on all members of the Islamic faith, thereby fuelling the hatred that breeds international terrorism.
War should always be the instrument of last resort, but in this case it seems the United States cannot start one fast enough, and its excuses are seen to be little more than fig leaves to justify an attack on Iraq. There are times when war is necessary and cannot be avoided, but this is not one of those times. This is not a defensive war: there is no evident threat that Iraq will attack the United States and there is certainly no threat by Iraq that it will attack Australia.
The regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is a brutal and repressive dictatorship; it is one of the ugliest regimes that has afflicted this world. It does not hold free elections and would probably not survive a free election, but it was backed by the US during Iraq’s war with Iran and supported thereafter until Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. In fact, recent TV footage has reminded the world of the close ties the US developed with Iraq during its war with Iran: Donald Rumsfeld, the hawkish US Secretary of Defence of today, was pictured in friendly and comfortable circumstances at that time in Baghdad with Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was defeated in the Gulf War, and he has been weakened and kept contained ever since.
The UN weapons inspectors sent to Iraq last year have not completed their inspections. The rush to war cannot be justified. Nobody seems to be able to halt the US military juggernaut and the bellicose conservatives that have been running the US political system since the Supreme Court gave the presidency to George W. Bush. It seems there is no more chance for the world today to stop the US war on Iraq than there was in December 1941 for it to stop the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbour.
An attempt is being made to manipulate the Security Council into war and into legitimising the war; it is being told by the US that the US will go to war regardless of the decisions of the Security Council. The Security Council is in effect being told by the United States that its function is to roll over and serve the purposes not of the world and international peace but of the Bush administration and its war.
The Prime Minister of Australia tells us that the UN Security Council must prove its relevance. What he really means is that it must be just a plaything of the United States. What he means is that he is happy to discredit the United Nations in the eyes of the rest of the world by making it not the voice of the world but the voice of the Bush administration.
Australia’s interests lie in a world order that is based on the United Nations; peace, harmony and cooperation; and the rule of international law. The UN, created in 1945, offers a far better prospect of world peace than the power play and self-interest of one domineering world power.
The principle of the UN’s existence means that there are rules for nations to live by, they are made by all nations for all nations and all nations have an interest in abiding by them. This is the world order that Australia needs and has a major interest in preserving. There is no question that, without the insistent pressure of the United States for action against Iraq, war with Iraq would not be on anybody’s agenda. Like the missiles that are already programmed for targets in Iraq, this war will bear the stamp `Made in the USA’.
I say this with much regret because I would rather see the United States play a positive role in the world, as it was playing recently during the Clinton administration. America can stand for much that is great and it has stood for much that is great. Regrettably, however, President Bush’s domineering manner and policies are squandering much of the goodwill and fellow feeling that other nations felt for the United States after the terrible terrorist attack of September 11 2001.
From its beginning the Bush administration has pursued a more narrow and more strident self-interest in world affairs that places the interests of America ahead of those of other nations. This is its policy of unilateralism. It is seen by many around the world as having exploited the dominance it has achieved with the end of the Cold War to push itself and its interests ahead, regardless of many of the major interests of other nations. Among those have been the US opposition to the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gases, the withdrawal of the US from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the pursuit of the `son of star wars’ missile defence system. Along with that has been an unwillingness to resolve major areas of tension in which the United States has been a player.
Instead it has branded so-called rogue states. It has portrayed these states–Iraq, Iran and North Korea–as an `axis of evil’. The United States has also proclaimed that it has the right to take pre-emptive military action against states that threaten its international dominance. Quite clearly, Iraq fits into this dangerous scheme, along with Iran and North Korea. Quite clearly, a war against Iraq fits into this aggressive attitude. I refer to General Peter Gration, who was the Chief of the Australian Defence Force during the Gulf War of 1991.
He stated his opposition to war against Iraq in an article in the Melbourne Age of 2 January this year:
……As 2003 dawns, the threat of a US-led war against Iraq looms over the world. The question for Australia is, should we take part? If we do, it will be the first time in our history that we have taken part in unprovoked offensive military action against another country.
……The war would be the first practical implementation of recently announced changes in US national security policy. This has moved from containment and deterrence to an open-ended doctrine of the right to pre-emptive strike if the US perceives a threat developing to its global supremacy.
…….In my view, this is bad policy that strikes at the very heart of efforts to create a rules-based international order, and can only lead to a less stable security environment and a marginalised UN.
……..If we go to war without UN endorsement, our actions as signatories of the UN Charter would, in effect, be illegal.
He concludes by putting the view that the alternative to war is:
… to continue to pursue the present course of action through the UN inspectors already in Iraq, even in the face of some Iraqi intransigence. This is likely to be a prolonged, frustrating and probably messy and untidy business, but in the end should be effective in removing the WMD and preventing their further development. (End quote)
I want to highlight my concern about the dangers of applying the idea of the right to a pre-emptive attack on another nation. The idea marks a massive move away from limiting and containing Iraq as a potential user of weapons of mass destruction. It goes further: to embracing an outright attack on a nation. It opens the door to worse instability and it places the interests of one nation far ahead of those of the world community. It weakens the United Nations. It puts the UN in the shocking position of either doing nothing while the pre-emptive attack is being planned and advocated or of taking sides with one great power and endorsing its belligerence.
One has to ask what the real intentions of the US are in its rush to attack Iraq. On the one hand the US says it wants to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. On the face of it that sounds reasonable, especially if it can be achieved with UN support, and without invading and bombing Iraq. On the other hand, however, the Bush administration has been trumpeting regime change in Iraq. Regime change by war is not part of international law. The doctrine means the US will overthrow the regime ruling Iraq, as it has said it would do, and it will do this by war. It will wage war whether it has the approval and support of the UN or not.
I have a lot more to say but I am going to run out of time. I will conclude with a remark in relation to the very successful peace rally that was held in Bendigo last Friday. I congratulate the organisers of that rally and those who attended. Certainly it drove home to me the depth of feeling there is in central Victoria, as indeed there is all over Australia, against any sort of war on Iraq and against Australia’s participation in it. As the Bendigo district people sang when they rallied against the war last Friday, it’s time to give peace a chance.