First Parliamentary Speech 24th November 1998

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.

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.

Condolence motion Dr Jim Cairns

Cairns, Hon. Dr James Ford October 14 2003

Mr GIBBONS  (Bendigo) (5.40 p.m.) —Jim Cairns was one of the giants of Australian politics. He was always a dominant figure in the Labor movement. He was a dominant figure in this parliament. He was a dominant figure in the life of Australia. Jim Cairns exercised unequalled moral authority in the Australian and international anti-Vietnam War movements.

This authority was based on his own ethical principles in favour of peace and justice. It was also based on his systematic study of the history of Indochina—as it was then called—and on his systematic study of the history of the Cold War. The book The Eagle and the Lotus was a history he wrote for Australians to help them understand Vietnam’s historic struggle for independence and unity.

His moral authority came from his remarkable courage and conviction. These were qualities he displayed in taking a strong public stand against the US war in Vietnam and against Australia’s military support for the United States of America. He took this stand early. He was ahead of his time. He maintained it through to the end of Australia’s intervention.

This came with the election of the Whitlam government—a political victory that he played a big part in achieving. Along with these impressive qualities, he was a skilful and persuasive public speaker. He was not a demagogue. He had powerful beliefs of his own that arose from his own life experiences and from his study of politics, economics and international affairs. He did not seek to manipulate people or to exploit them; quite the opposite. He preferred to believe that people were essentially reasonable and fair-minded and that they could be persuaded to a course of action if they had the evidence before them.

This is why his learning was so important. He had the information and he had the insight and he put a powerful case against the United States’ war on Vietnam and against Australia’s subservience, under the conservatives, to United States administrations at that time.

Jim Cairns also knew it was vital to help build a mass movement in Australia against the war. It was vital because the forces in America and Australia supporting the war had all the big battalions on their side. They were in government. They traded on fear and suspicion and they were backed by most of the media moguls. This was the time of the Cold War. The Reds were allegedly on the march and were already under the beds, if one believed the war hawks in America and the war parrots in Australia. The flag, patriotism, loyalty and national security were all claimed to be on the side of the forces that were yapping behind the hobnailed boots of the war makers in the United States.

Jim Cairns was a major figure in the peace movement. He became the embodiment of the peace movement and of peace itself. He helped it and he guided it to grow and become a mighty force. He was an inspiration to the masses of people who joined the moratorium demonstrations and demanded an end to the war. Australia and the world this year, 2003, for the first time have seen massive demonstrations rivalling the anti-Vietnam War moratorium demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s.

Significantly, the impetus for these mass demonstrations against the US invasion of Iraq was the same as the impetus for the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. It is, of course, a sad reflection on the flourishing belligerence of rogue elements in United States administrations that they have learned so few of the lessons they should have learned from their defeat in Vietnam. They have learned so little that they have put the world through it all again in Iraq.

Yet already, only months after the alleged conquest of Iraq, there are voices being heard for the US to extricate itself from the quicksand it has made for itself in Iraq. In the 1960s and 1970s the US dug itself deeper and deeper into its own quagmire in Vietnam. It took years and huge destruction and slaughter to cover America’s final humiliating withdrawal.

If he were here in this House today Jim Cairns might well ask, `What have they learnt?’

The answer is: very little. And what has the conservative government of Australia learnt from the debacle of the Vietnam War? Just as little. He would say that this government has been just as ready as its conservative predecessors in the 1960s to follow blindly behind the rogue elements in the current United States administration and to rush to sign up for its latest military adventure.

Jim Cairns certainly could take a lot of heart from the big rallies that took place earlier this year in Australia, across the globe and in the US regarding the assault on Iraq. In his time he showed something that conservatives can never bear to recognise—namely, that there is good sense, decency and courage in the people as a whole and that people will organise themselves effectively in big movements to oppose aggressive wars and injustices inflicted on the world by cynical and immoral governments. At the basis of Dr Cairns’ opposition to the war against Vietnam was his moral conviction that war is repugnant to a civilised world.

This conviction rallied massive numbers of people to the peace cause just as it called people out onto the streets in Australia and Britain and around the world earlier this year. I personally remember the power of Jim Cairns’ message in the 1970s. It was the message that prompted me to become a member of the Australian Labor Party.

Much has been written about the life of this man, and much of it has been distorted. During his leadership of the Vietnam moratoriums he spoke of the ridiculous laws at that time governing distribution of leaflets and large assemblies of demonstrators. He was critical of the authorities that introduced and presided over those laws—the Melbourne City Council and the Bolte state government. He claimed it was this type of authority that stifled free speech. He went on to say he hoped that that authority had had its day.

The headlines screamed `Cairns Denounces Authority’. The headlines, mainly in the Murdoch chain of newspapers—and isn’t it surprising how things have not changed much—were designed to distort the original message by implying that Cairns had said he hoped that all authority had had its day. That is not what he said at all. This is just one of many instances where the media, especially the print media, appeared hell bent on destroying him and, as a consequence, destroying the Australian Labor Party—as I said before, things have not changed all that much.

Much has been written about the so-called Morosi affair and much of this was also distorted. During the media frenzy at that time, Cairns was urged to sever all ties with Ms Morosi but he refused to do so. Not to have stood by her would have been contrary to everything he believed in and Jim Cairns never said or did anything he did not believe in. As one of his biographers stated: It was the very qualities that so distinguished him as a man that ultimately crippled him as a politician.

I have always admired Jim Cairns. He was committed to the welfare of his fellow human beings for all of his adult life. He showed that ideas and principles are worth fighting for and are really what democracy is all about. He was a man of courage and integrity in his dedication to the cause of peace and justice. I thank Jim Cairns for the inspiration that he gave to me and so many others and for his outstanding contribution to Australia and the human race. This nation has lost a great Australian. I offer my condolences to his family and friends.

 

The political history and importance of defence manufacturing to Bendigo’s economy:

Part 1:

There is much talk about our economy today being resourced based—indeed, our resources industries do make a huge contribution to our national output—but, as the former Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan pointed out in a post-budget speech to the National Press Club, this is as much an oversimplification as thinking Australia was just an agricultural economy during the last century. We are not simply a resource economy and the time of our manufacturers has not passed. Indeed, our manufacturers have innovated and moved with the times and they will continue to do so.

This paper concentrates on defence manufacturing, its importance to the Bendigo region’s economy and jobs and how this sector has been responsible for making or breaking the aspirations of several political candidates and in some cases political careers. It is worth spending some time going through a brief history of defence manufacturing in Bendigo.

Seventy years ago the Commonwealth government announced plans to build a Commonwealth ordinance factory in north Bendigo to manufacture and refurbish heavy gun barrels for the Australian Navy, produce munitions and a range of other heavy engineering tasks for the war effort. Between 1942 and 1981, the factory not only manufactured and refurbished defence equipment for Australia’s requirements but also completed several large export contracts including some for the United States navy. At its peak of operations the factory employed well in excess of a thousand people.

The announcement in 1981 by then Treasurer Phillip Lynch that the Fraser government would sell or close the Commonwealth Ordinance Factory with a loss of hundreds of jobs produced an angry reaction in the Bendigo community. A study of the impact of the proposed closure on Bendigo’s economy was undertaken and an intensive lobbying campaign got underway. In fact, three Bendigo councillors got together and nominated as legislative assembly candidates in the 1982 Victorian election on a cross-party ‘Save the Commonwealth Ordinance Factory’ ticket.

The idea was that those electors who would normally vote Liberal but wanted to register a protest about the factory sale or closure could vote for Councillor Joe Pearce and direct their second preference to the Liberals, Labor voters could vote for Councillor Dick Turner and direct preferences to Labor and those supporting other parties could vote for Councillor Chris Stoltz and then preference one of the minor parties or candidates. In the event, sitting Liberal member Daryl McClure was dumped and Labor’s official candidate, David Kennedy, who campaigned extensively on the Commonwealth Ordinance Factory issue, was elected.

The proposed closure claimed another political victim in the following year’s federal election when sitting Liberal member and then Chief Government Whip John Bouchier was defeated by Labor’s John Brumby. The future of the Commonwealth Ordinance Factory was once more a major issue in the local campaign.

In the late 1980s the Commonwealth government restructured several government owned defence manufacturers, including the Commonwealth Ordinance Factory and the Commonwealth Clothing Factory which had been manufacturing defence uniforms and combat clothing since 1912.

In 1989, then Minister for Defence Kim Beazley announced that a new government owned entity, Australian Defence Industries or ADI, would bring these organisations together to create Australia’s largest defence manufacturer. Another reorganisation in 1992 saw ADI consolidate its defence clothing manufacturing operations in one location at McGoldrick Court in Bendigo.

Three years later, this was established as a separate business and subsequently sold to the private sector and became Australian Defence Apparel. This company has a track record of innovation in the manufacture of combat clothing and associated equipment. It continues to operate today, producing high-value personal body armour as well as a range of military and combat uniforms, and currently employs about 300 people.

The future of the remaining ADI operations was again an issue in the run-up to the 1996 federal election. The then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, visited Bendigo and promised not to privatise ADI. He told a press conference, including the Bendigo Advertiser, on 14 February 1996, ‘No, no and no; we have no plans to privatise ADI.’ The coalition won the election and John Howard became Prime Minister on 2 March 1996. Bruce Reid, who had defeated Labor’s John Brumby in the 1990 election, was re-elected as the federal member for Bendigo with an expectation that the government would keep its promise not to privatise ADI.

The ADF’s Land 116 project Bushranger replacement vehicle program called for a fully armoured Infantry mobility vehicle. In early 1997, the government selected ADI’s Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle as a preferred option over the ASVS Taipan alternative. Then in February Liberal Minister for Defence, Ian McLachlan, announced the government’s decision to fully privatise ADI, despite John Howard’s campaign promise to Bendigo not to do so.

The Howard government was re-elected in 1998, but I successfully defeated the new Liberal candidate for Bendigo, Max Turner—Bruce Reid having announced his decision to retire—with the ADI privations betrayal and the future of the Bushmaster contract among the main local issues. John Moore replaced Ian McLachlan as defence minister in 1998 and the following year the Howard government sold ADI to a fifty-fifty partnership comprising Transfield Australia and French company Thompsons-CSF, which is now Thales.

In 1999, the first production contract for 370 Bushmasters was signed with ADI and the first Bushmasters to be used on operations, the two original prototype test vehicles affectionately known as B1 and B2, were deployed to East Timor. After Peter Reith replaced John Moore as defence minister in 2001, he received a recommendation from the Defence Materiel Organisation that the Bushmaster production contract should be cancelled. Sections of the defence department and senior military personnel had expressed strong doubts regarding the Bushmaster’s suitability for the ADF.

This ensured that the suitability of the Bushmaster and ADI would again be a major issue in the 2001 federal election campaign. The Howard government was re-elected, but I was successful in retaining Bendigo for Labor.

In March 2002, I led a deputation to new defence minister, Senator Robert Hill, to argue the case for retaining the Bushmaster contract for ADI. Four months later, Senator Hill, to his great credit, announced that the government would honour a revised Bushmaster contract with ADI, although the number of vehicles would be reduced from 370 to 299.

Part 2:

The first production Bushmasters rolled off the assembly line at ADI Bendigo in 2003 and in 2006 Thales Australia acquired 100 per cent ownership of ADI and assumed full control of its operations. The company restructured and Thales specialist vehicles were created at the Bendigo factory. By this time, more Bushmasters had been deployed in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, where again and again they demonstrated their superiority in saving the lives of Australian defence soldiers.

After succeeding Senator Hill as defence minister, Dr Brendan Nelson increased the contract with ADI for Bushmaster PMVs to a total of about 730 vehicles. This was about the time that the Australian Defence Force Land 121 Phase 3 vehicle acquisition program released specifications for several light, medium and heavy trucks including a number of armour protected vehicles. Twenty vehicles were initially assessed with a view to short listing the light to medium category down to three, but despite the Bushmaster’s proven combat performance, a utility variant, then called the Copperhead, was not even included in the initial assessment process. Again, some senior defence personnel had expressed doubts on this vehicle’s suitability.

Meanwhile, having seen the success of Bushmasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Netherlands Defence Force placed an initial order for 25 Bushmasters, which was subsequently increased to a total of 86 vehicles. This important export order was won despite a conspicuous lack of support from the Howard government for Thales’ efforts to sell their world-beating products overseas.

In the 2007 federal election, potential export markets for Thales protected mobility vehicles was a major issue in the Bendigo campaign. I retained the seat for Labor and the member for Hunter was sworn in as the new defence minister in the Rudd government. This was followed by further export success for the Bushmaster when the British defence force took delivery of 24 vehicles.

In 2008 the new Labor government overhauled the troubled Land 121 Phase 3 program resulting in the Bushmaster single-cab utility vehicle finally being considered in a new round of initial assessments. Subsequently the Defence Materiel Organisation short-listed the Bushmaster utility, along with vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and MAN. The Bushmaster Single Cab Utility vehicle was finally overlooked by the ADF in favour of its MAN competitor.

The ADF also needs to replace a significant part of its ageing Land Rover fleet and its Land 121 Phase 4 program will provide around 1,300 light protected mobility vehicles for this purpose. Defence minister Fitzgibbon announced in 2008 that Australia would commit about $40 million to participate in the US joint light tactical vehicle development program, with a view to buying a US vehicle to meet the ADF’s light protected mobility vehicle requirements. The minister’s statement also signalled an opportunity for Australia’s defence manufacturing sector to compete in the light protected mobility vehicle program, and Thales developed the Hawkei prototype for this category.

However, during private briefings on Land 121 Phase 4 from senior DMO personnel in 2009, I was told that they did not believe Thales were capable of producing a light protected mobility vehicle. Senator John Faulkner replaced the member for Hunter as Minister for Defence later that year and a separate Minister for Defence Materiel, the member for Charlton, was appointed.

In May Minister Combet announced funding for three Australian manufactured light protected mobility vehicles to compete against the US JLTV. Thales, Force Protection and General Dynamics each received funding of up to $9 million to develop prototypes. Thales’ Hawkei is the only Australian designed and manufactured vehicle involved.

We had also learned from the US documents made public by WikiLeaks last year that US diplomats have been pressuring Australian officials to abandon our defence manufacturing sector and purchase products exclusively from the United States.

In the narrow re-election of the Gillard the government in 2010, I was returned as the member for Bendigo, the member for Perth replaced Senator Faulkner as the Minister for Defence and the member for Blaxland became Minister for Defence Materiel. In February this year Thales delivered two Hawkei prototypes for an intensive test and appraisal process to select an Australian light protected mobility vehicle to compete with the successful US JLTV vehicle. A decision on this is anticipated within two years.

The people of Bendigo continue to support the city’s defence industries. In April, about 300 people attended a rally to demonstrate that support. Since then, the defence minister has announced an order for another 101 Bushmaster PMVs for the Australian Army. Today, Thales is part of Bendigo’s progressive and innovative defence industry—one that also includes protective clothing manufacturer Australian Defence Apparel and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation.

Bendigo’s defence industries employ more than 800 people and the jobs supported by the ADA and Thales operations alone represent approximately 18 per cent of Bendigo’s total employment in manufacturing. It is one of the key sectors of Bendigo’s economy. The annual direct output generated by the defence industry in Bendigo is estimated at more than $490 million and, including the flow-on effects to other sectors, the industry’s total contribution to the local economy is estimated to be around $760 million a year.

Australia has a world-class, innovative manufacturing capability in protected mobility vehicles and armoured protective clothing. I believe it is in our national interest that this should be retained and supported—and this is a regionally-based industry that contributes significantly to the economy of central Victoria.

As I have also shown, we do not always make it easy for our domestic manufacturers to deliver the world-class products they are capable of producing. The saga I have recounted of Thales and its Bushmaster vehicle program is one of delay, prevarication and uncertainty, and it has claimed more than one political scalp along the way.

ENDS

Postscript:

The 1000th Bushmaster rolled off the assembly line at Thales Bendigo on June 14 2013.

 

CONDOLENCES – Victorian Bushfires

CONDOLENCES – Victorian Bushfires – House of Reps Hansard – 9 February 2009

Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (3:11 PM) —

I too rise in support of this condolence motion.

No matter how good the news reporter, no matter how skilled the photographer, no matter how brave the cameraman, it is impossible for most of us to appreciate from media reports just what it is like to experience a horrific bushfire. When you speak to people who have been through these horrors, you hear firsthand about the towering flames and the unbelievable speed with which they engulf everything before them. You hear about the unbearable heat that burns your skin, blisters paint and melts solid objects before your very eyes. You hear about the dense, acrid smoke that makes it impossible to see more than a couple of feet around you—smoke that chokes and burns your airways as you try to breathe and irritates your eyes, making it even harder for you to see. You hear about the noise—the roar of the flames, the wailing of the sirens, the beating rotors of water-bombing helicopters and the intermittent explosions as the heat ignites gas cylinders. You hear about the guts and determination to save family members, pets and livestock, family homes and lifetimes of possessions. You hear about successful efforts to defeat the flames against all odds, and you hear about the despair when the flames win the unequal battle and devour homes and memories. And of course you hear about the loss of life—of family, friends, neighbours, pets, livestock and native wildlife.

Last weekend was one of the darkest in Victoria’s history. We knew it was coming. Weather forecasters had been telling us for weeks that the conditions were going to be deadly, the worst since Ash Wednesday 1983. Temperatures soared all around the state, and more than a month without rain compounded the effects of more than a decade of drought. The emergency services had been issuing warnings for days. Ten days earlier my electorate had a foretaste of what we could expect, when smaller fires threatened the townships of Malmsbury and Taradale. Many rural residents around my electorate heeded this warning and reviewed their personal fire-management plans. Fire-fighting equipment was checked and checked again. Protective clothing was at the ready. Last Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Within hours the mercury was climbing as the temperature broke new records. The wind speed increased until it resembled some gigantic fan heater. Many people in Bendigo had been out early to do their shopping and had retreated .to the comfort of their air conditioners to sit out the day. The day seemed to be passing quietly—until mid-afternoon.

Then, as the Prime Minister has said, ‘Hell in all its fury visited the good people of Victoria.’ It visited Bendigo in the form of a firestorm in the inner suburb of Maiden Gully. Within minutes 15-metre high flames raced through the tinder dry undergrowth towards the suburbs of West Bendigo, California Gully, Long Gully and Eaglehawk. Despite the warnings, a fire in the middle of the city came as a complete surprise to most of the residents. ‘I never thought I’d see this happen here,’ one told the local newspaper.

In the ensuing hours, the fire consumed homes, sheds, tractors and cars as it roared across the west of Bendigo. Three hundred fire-fighters tackled the inferno and countless residents battled to save their homes. Some succeeded; some did not. The area is now littered with burnt timbers and corrugated iron. Scorched brick chimney stacks stand like tombstones to the memory of the houses of which they were once part.

The final property toll is still not certain. This morning it appears that 20 homes have been confirmed as destroyed, and this figure could rise as high as 50 as the investigation teams continued to carry out their work. Sadly, it has been confirmed that at least one person has lost his life and there are reports of a possible second casualty that is yet to be confirmed. The confirmed fatality was a 48-year-old man who was confined to a wheelchair and could not escape from his burning home. Our thoughts and condolences go to his family and his friends at this difficult time.

At the same time that Bendigo was going through its own hell, another blaze at Redesdale, to the south-west of the city, was burning through 10,000 hectares of farmland and bush. Seven homes have been confirmed as destroyed, and this figure could reach 15 once the investigations have concluded. Fortunately, there appears to have been no loss of life in human form from this fire, but livestock and wildlife losses are expected to be significant.

Naturally, we offer our condolences to those who lose loved ones in tragedies such as this, but our thoughts must also be with those who have escaped with their lives but have lost their homes and livelihoods. It is, of course, true that houses can be rebuilt and furniture, televisions, carpets and curtains can all be replaced. So can important documents such as passports and drivers licences. But many other possessions lost in fires are irreplaceable. Photographs, old school reports, letters, childhood toys and family heirlooms are all part of who we are. When we lose these precious mementos we lose a part of ourselves. The scars of losing them can run deep indeed. So our thoughts are also with those who have survived this ordeal but lost their homes and precious possessions.

This morning the Bendigo fire is under control and the people affected are now in the recovery phase. Fire-fighters expect to have the fire at Redesdale contained later today. We must, of course, pay tribute to our emergency service workers. During the fires in my electorate there were countless heroic efforts to save people and possessions, and we must not forget that similar efforts are still being made in other parts of Victoria even as we speak today. Many of our fire-fighters are volunteers. They readily give up their spare time to protect our communities and they work tirelessly when called out to a fire. It is surely no exaggeration to say that we could not survive without them.

Our thanks also go to our police officers and medical emergency workers, whose efforts were indispensable. I would also like to thank the workers from the various organisations that are now helping the Bendigo and Redesdale communities recover from their ordeal—the officers and councillors from the Macedon Ranges Shire Council, other councils around Victoria and, in particular, the staff, officers and councillors of the City of Greater Bendigo, who have demonstrated superb organisational skills when implementing their long established disaster management system. This has been a huge help for those directly affected by this tragedy, and everyone in Bendigo should be extremely proud of the way they have carried out their roles and responsibilities.

State, federal and local government assistance is now available, and offers of help from the community and community organisations have been overwhelming. In a macabre way, Bendigo was fortunate last weekend. Other communities around Victoria have already suffered much greater loss of life and homes, and the danger continues while fires remain out of control. Our thoughts are with all those Victorians who are still battling the worst bushfire disaster in our history and with those who are starting the long road to recovery from its horrendous effects.

I would also like to thank all members of this House who have sent messages of goodwill and encouragement over the last couple of days—they were much appreciated.

 

Australia’s troop deployment to Afghanistan

MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS – Afghanistan – House of Reps Hansard – 26 October 2010

Mr Gibbons (Bendigo) (5:56 PM) —I have no doubt that all members speaking in this first debate on our military deployment in Afghanistan will pay tribute to the Australian men and women who are currently serving their country and I join my fellow parliamentarians in expressing the nation’s gratitude to those who put their lives at risk on a daily basis, and especially those who already have paid, or may pay in the future, with their lives on active service. I extend deepest condolences on behalf of the people of central Victoria to the family and friends of those who have already fallen.

It is appropriate that we express our gratitude because as a nation we have not always done so in the past. The disgraceful treatment of our returning servicemen and women during and following the war in Vietnam remains a stain on our country’s history and must never be repeated.

Whether or not the political decision by the government of the day to go to war was a good one or a bad one, the men and women we put in harm’s way have had no say in where they are sent or whether they go. They merely do their duty to their nation. As politicians we carry the ultimate responsibility for strategic decisions about war and we must resist the temptation to cross the boundary and start playing armchair generals, as some on the other side of this House have been doing in recent weeks. Making uninformed calls for additional equipment that is inappropriate and unsuited to the conditions in which our troops are deployed is both reckless and irresponsible. Being able to compete in a triathlon and firing off a few rounds of ammunition on a visit to Oruzgan does not make you a military commander. It is not this parliament’s role to second-guess tactical military decisions. This debate must concentrate on the strategic and political issues.

The fact that this debate is taking place nine years after the first deployment of Australian troops in Afghanistan means we must focus on dealing with the strategic realities that we face today. We cannot go back and change the past. We cannot go back and change the reasons why we became involved in Afghanistan in the first place. The fact is that we are there. We have troops and civilian personnel on the ground today and any decisions that are made about our future involvement must be based on the situation today and that expected to prevail in the future.

Having said that, it is useful to review what has transpired since 2001. Perhaps the first point to make is that there have been two quite different stages to our involvement in Afghanistan. Australia’s commitment began in October 2001 after the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington killed more than 3,000 people, including 10 Australians. Australian special forces joined American, British and other international troops in an intensive campaign against al-Qaeda and those who gave them sanctuary, including the Taliban. By December 2002 the Taliban had fallen and many al-Qaeda operatives had been killed whilst the remainder had fled across the border to Pakistan and our special forces troops had returned home.

In December 2001, Australia also made a commitment to the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, whose United Nations mandate to provide security around Kabul was subsequently extended to cover the entire country. But, unfortunately, this promising start was followed by the distraction of Iraq. The reckless determination of the Bush and Blair administrations, aided and abetted by the former Howard government, to pursue Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction meant operations in Afghanistan were all but ignored and many of the hard won gains on the ground were thrown away.

 

In the context of the campaign against al-Qaeda, the invasion of Iraq must be seen as a strategic blunder, as well as being of doubtful legality. It is something that the Australian Labor Party voted against in this parliament at the time.

By September 2005, the rising insurgency forced members of ISAF to refocus on Afghanistan and Australian special forces were deployed again. ISAF continues to operate under a United Nations mandate, which was renewed earlier this month for a further year. Its strategic objectives are to establish security across the country and then transfer responsibility for security and governance to the Afghan authorities, which will permit a phased withdrawal of the international troops. Since August 2003, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, has assumed responsibility for the leadership of ISAF and Australia now has some 1,550 military personnel in Afghanistan both as part of ISAF and in the special operations task group. This is the largest contribution from any non-NATO member of ISAF. We also have a sizeable civilian presence, including AusAID officials, diplomats and members of the Australian Federal Police.

International terrorist attacks did not begin and end on 11 September 2001. Since then, some 100 Australians have been killed in attacks overseas, including 88 Australians in the Bali bombing of 2002 and four in the second Bali bombing in 2005. Our embassy in Jakarta was bombed in 2004. In each of these cases, the terrorist groups involved had links to Afghanistan. Although no longer the safe haven that it once was, if the current insurgency in Afghanistan were to succeed and the international community were to withdraw, then Afghanistan could once again become a base for terrorists. Al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit and indoctrinate, train, plan, finance and conspire to kill would be far greater than it is today. The propaganda victory for terrorists worldwide would be enormous.

It is in Australia’s national interest that safe havens for terrorists, particularly those in South Asia and the Pacific, are kept to a minimum and their operations disrupted as much as possible. The strategic objective for Australia is clear: to deny terrorist networks a safe haven in Afghanistan. That is why Australia is participating in ISAF with many longstanding friends and allies, including the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Singapore and Korea. The last two are among the Asian countries participating. There are also several Muslim countries involved, including Turkey, Jordan and Malaysia.

Australia’s specific contributions to ISAF include training and mentoring the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade to assume responsibility for security in Oruzgan province, building the capacity of the Afghan National Police to perform civil policing and helping improve the Afghan government’s capacity to deliver core public services and create more income-earning opportunities for its people. As well as supporting this transitional program in Oruzgan, our special forces are still targeting the insurgent network in and around the province, disrupting insurgent operations and supply routes. This is dangerous work for our soldiers and we must expect there to be further casualties and loss of life among our troops.

The government is committed to providing the best protection and support for our soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. Over the past 12 months, more than $1.2 billion in funding has been announced for additional force protection measures for Australian personnel, including upgraded body armour and rocket, artillery and mortar protection. I am pleased to note that manufacturers in my electorate are at the forefront of protecting our service men and women. The Bendigo built Thales Bushmaster has time and time again demonstrated its unrivalled capability to protect our troops from gunfire, bombs and improvised explosive devices that would have otherwise resulted in fatalities. Australian Defence Apparel is a world-leading producer of body armour and also supplies more basic items such as combat uniforms.

I am extremely proud that Bendigo’s defence manufacturing sector is totally geared to produce vehicles and equipment designed to save lives and not destroy lives—somewhat of a unique situation in Australia today.

I regret that I have to inform the House that this proud record of protecting our troops overseas is now at some risk. I learnt earlier today that Thales Australia, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster in Bendigo, has announced redundancies at its Bendigo plant, largely due to lack of immediate further orders for its world-leading technology from our own Department of Defence. Innovation is the engine that grows our economy and it would be a national tragedy if this country’s knowledge and expertise in protected mobility design and manufacture were lost due to the bureaucratic maze that our Department of Defence operates in. I am quite sure that the governments of Britain and the United States would not let this happen to its defence manufacturers and neither should we. I will have more to say about this matter later when I have more details.

Returning to Afghanistan, we need to be clear that the task we have taken on in that country is not nation building. We are there to support the Afghan people’s transition to a stable government—one that is able to maintain its own national security and protect its own population. I do, however, believe that the UN, including Australia, has been too ambitious, as it was in Iraq. We must accept that we have made promises about democracy, the rule of law and human rights for women and minorities which cannot realistically be delivered in a handful of years to a country without any democratic tradition. Success for the UN and ISAF will therefore have to mean achieving an intermediate state of affairs in Afghanistan that is somewhere between ideal and intolerable.

It may be that the idea of a centralised Afghan democracy is too radical for a country in which central administration has never worked in the past. There are a range of outcomes that the Afghan government and ISAF might find acceptable that are achievable. None of these outcomes are perfect and all would require sacrifice. But a compromise that would allow ISAF to withdraw its troops may have to involve a more inclusive, flexible and decentralised political settlement, perhaps in conjunction with the Taliban in some areas of the country. This should be acceptable to Australia also. After all, we count among our friends many nations that are not democracies. We can surely accommodate another one.

To achieve even a limited strategic objective will require ISAF to remain engaged in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Australia should remain part of the coalition. There will still be a need for Australians to conduct training and other defence cooperation activities. The civilian led aid and development effort should also continue. We have heard from the Prime Minister that these support, training and development tasks may continue in some form through to the end of this decade at least. In light of this, while my heart may be saying that we should bring our troops home now, my head supports the Prime Minister’s view that we have to stay.

This is the decision I have come to after careful consideration of the available information and not, as the member for Denison suggested in his speech last week, because I have sacrificed my soul for my party’s political self-interest—an accusation I strongly resent. I believe I am representing the views of most in my electorate in light of the two beautiful young women from Bendigo whose lives were so tragically cut short while they were doing nothing but enjoying a holiday in Bali. So I say to the member for Denison: don’t come into this House and lecture people about conscience or principle, because I and many others on this side of the House are acting precisely according to our consciences in supporting our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan.

 

 

In summary, Afghanistan is a completely different situation to Iraq. Afghanistan has always been a war of self-defence, launched after al-Qaeda’s strikes on September 11, rather than a pre-emptive strike which turned out to be without foundation.

It was initiated pursuant to international law under the United Nations Security Council’s mandate and it continues to be supported by key leaders in the international community. Australia has a proud history of supporting the aims and objectives of the United Nations. A unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan would raise questions about our commitment to the UN and to the rule of international law.

While we value the Australia-United States alliance—and I recognise its importance to our national security—I would much rather see the US acting multilaterally under a UN mandate than charging around the world as a lone maverick engaged in its own foreign policy adventures. This is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan, and if we turn our backs on that now, at a time when the US President is trying to steer his country away from ill-advised, unilateral military interventions, we will be playing into the hands of those American hawks who argue that it is always better for the US to act on its own, even in defiance of the United Nations.

Finally, we must not forget that we have moral obligations to Afghans. We should not bolt for the exit because the going gets tougher. We should make sure that when we leave we have discharged our responsibilities to the international community, to our allies and, most importantly, to the people of Afghanistan. In conclusion, I believe that it is in Australia’s national interest to remain part of the United Nations international commitment in Afghanistan.

Independent News Media/Media Accountability

Federation Chamber August 20 2012
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS

Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (10:59): An independent news media plays an essential role in maintaining the individual freedoms we enjoy in a democratic society. But participatory democracy only works if citizens have sufficient and accurate information about an issue for them to make up their own minds about what they think about it. If something is reported unfairly or inaccurately, not only does it potentially harm those mentioned in the story, but it also misleads every reader, viewer or listener of that story. Unfortunately, the contemporary news media are failing to perform this vital role in a way that is acceptable to the community at large. In fact, there are journalists and many media practitioners that demand the right to deliberately mislead by stating untruths and to not be held to account, and it is no surprise that these very same media practitioners are the loudest and strongest critics of any form of effective media accountability.
Currently journalists and other media practitioners are only accountable to whoever employs them. Consequently, over the past couple of decades, there have been increasing indications that the media has lost the community’s faith. It has lost the community’s confidence that it can be trusted to run its businesses in an ethical and socially acceptable manner. It only takes a few examples of unethical or irresponsible behaviour to destroy that public confidence, to destroy the industry’s so-called social licence to operate. With little distinction these days between news reporting and opinion, it is almost impossible for readers to distinguish between the information they can trust and the information about which they should be very sceptical.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Australian journalists are consistently ranked among the least honest and ethical professions in the annual Roy Morgan reputation survey. Nor is it surprising that newspaper circulation has been falling for years, and those who think that this is just due to the internet are kidding themselves. The plain fact is that fewer and fewer people, especially among our younger citizens, want to buy what newspapers and other media outlets are currently selling.
In the private sector, self-regulation in the form of codes of ethics and industry appointed bodies such as the Australian Press Council have clearly not delivered standards of journalistic integrity that the public has a right to expect and, in fact, does expect. I support many of the recommendations in the Finkelstein report, which the government is currently considering. In particular, I agree with its conclusion that the current regulatory mechanisms are:
… not sufficient to achieve the degree of accountability desirable in a democracy.
Accountability is what this motion is all about.
I accept and fully support the concept that the media has a role, indeed a responsibility, to hold governments and oppositions to account. However, some media companies, particularly News L t d media companies—and there are others—seem extremely reluctant to hold the current federal opposition to any worthwhile form of account.
Let me be quite clear that I am not seeking to curtail anybody’s right to free speech, including those with whom I may disagree.
I also accept that everyone, including redneck extremist columnists and shock jocks like the Andrew Bolts, Alan Joneses and Piers Akermans of this world—and there are others—should be free to express whatever opinion they like. But in return for that freedom they must, in my view, meet three criteria: what they say must be within the law; when they are expressing an opinion, it must be clearly identified as an opinion and clearly distinguishable from reporting; and, whether it is opinion or reporting, it must be factually correct.
The media’s pleading that they are a special case is becoming increasingly hollow as their behaviour and their failure to be effectively accountable to their readers and the wider community continue to erode public trust in their industry—and, perhaps more importantly, contribute to the degradation of our public debate. Of course, it comes as no surprise that one of the people most responsible for the declining quality of public debate in this country, the Leader of the Opposition, should be unable to grasp the concept that freedom of speech also carries with it a responsibility to be fair and accurate.
His recent speech to the Institute of Public Affairs saw him arguing that insulting and humiliating media articles, and hurt feelings, are the price we have to pay for freedom of speech. In his criticism of Andrew Bolt’s conviction under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Leader of the Opposition accepted that Mr Bolt’s articles were, ‘almost certainly not his finest’ and ‘there may have been some factual errors’.
Exactly the same could be said of the passages referring to Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, in Bob Ellis’s 1997 book Goodbye Jerusalem, but this did not prevent Mr Abbott suing Mr Ellis and his publishers because his feelings had been hurt. Obviously the Leader of the Opposition believes that the hurt feelings of a few Indigenous Australians are a price we have to pay, but his hurt feelings and those of his mates are not. And what happened to Bob Ellis’s right to freedom of speech?
We should not, perhaps, be surprised at the audacious way in which the Leader of the Opposition brushes aside the factual inaccuracies in Mr Bolt’s articles, despite the judge in the case saying that among the reasons for his findings was ‘the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language’—after all, virtually every statement made by Mr Abbott since becoming Leader of the Opposition has been a paragon of factual errors, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language.
This is where I do not think the Finkelstein report goes far enough, when it comes to sanctions for inaccuracy in media reporting and opinion. Prominently publishing or broadcasting apologies, corrections or retractions is all very well—and I agree with the report’s recommendations about strengthening these processes—but there are far more serious consequences for democracy if a media article misleads the public.
A misinformed public cannot possibly form reasonable views about matters of national importance. As a society, we seem to have little difficulty deciding what socially acceptable behaviour in most walks of life is. For example, our legislatures, our regulators and our legal system seem to be able to determine what constitutes misleading advertising. I fail to see why it should not be possible to do the same for misleading media stories.
Penalties of commercially significant amounts do appear to lead to improved behaviour, and in recent months we have seen Apple fined $2¼ million for misleading consumers about its iPad; and internet service provider TPG fined $2 million over its misleading advertisements. In my view, fines such as these for publishing blatant untruths or misleading news reports, or temporary suspensions of the right to publish or broadcast, would lead to a major improvement in the accuracy and fairness of our media. When a media outlet, journalist or redneck shock jock deliberately broadcasts or publishes a statement that they know is factually wrong and it is subsequently proven that they knew it was factually wrong they ought to be subject to an appropriate penalty.
As far as independent oversight of the media is concerned, I agree with the Finkelstein report’s recommendation to replace the Australian Media and Communication Authority and the Australian Press Council with a new media council. However, I believe stricter rules are required for council membership to ensure the required degree of independence. To start with, no-one who has held elected political office should be eligible for appointment. And, while it is important that the council has knowledge of the media industry through members with media experience, the majority of its members should comprise appointees with legal, regulatory and community experience. And no members with media experience should be currently employed in the industry.
It is also vital that such a new regulatory body be provided with adequate resourcing to enable it to enforce statutorily-defined sanctions against today’s financially and politically powerful news media companies.
We have recently seen announcements by Australia’s two largest media organisations about major changes to the structure of their organisations and also about significant changes in share ownership of some media companies. In the light of these developments it is imperative for our democracy that federal parliament act sooner rather than later to rectify the manifest deficiencies in our current media accountability arrangements.
I repeat what I said earlier: I am not seeking to curtail anybody’s right to free speech, least of all of those with whom I may disagree. I will always strongly support the media’s role and responsibility in holding governments and oppositions to account. But I am seeking to impose greater accountability on those who claim the right to free speech and who then deliberately and constantly breach that right and the community trust that goes with it.
ENDS