Senator John Faulkner (ALP-NSW) – Maiden Speech

This is the first speech by Senator John Faulkner, an ALP representative from New South Wales.

Faulkner filled a casual vacancy to replace Arthur Gietzelt, a former minister in the Hawke government.

Faulkner previously worked in disability education and as Assistant General Secretary of the NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party.

Faulkner served as a senator until February 2015. He was a minister in the Keating, Rudd and Gillard governments.

  • Listen to an extract of Faulkner’s speech (1m)
  • Listen to Senator Chris Puplick respond to Faulkner (2m)

Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Senator John Faulkner.

FaulknerSenator FAULKNER (5.28) —Thank you, Mr President. I would like to commence my contribution by thanking those members of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) whose support and confidence have resulted in my election to the Senate. Since late 1980 I served the ALP in a full time capacity as Assistant General Secretary of its New South Wales Branch. Many claim that machine politics in the New South Wales Branch of the ALP is as tough as anywhere in the world. I think after my experience over the past 10 years that I am in a very good position to pass judgment on that assessment. I say only this: it was tough at times, but it would have been very tough, if not impossible, to survive during the difficult periods without the support and resolve of my colleagues on the Left of the New South Wales ALP. I must also say that in large measure I enjoyed my period as an officer of the Labor Party. It was a privilege to be directly involved in Federal Labor’s successful campaigns of 1983, 1984 and 1987 and State Labor’s winning campaigns of 1981 and 1984.

It is often forgotten that the electorate of New South Wales is one of the largest electorates in the democratic world. In terms of providing constituency representation, I suspect that only senators from the more populous States of the United States of America have larger electorates. The Senate has provided an alternative form of constituency representation for people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to approach a parliamentarian of their own political persuasion. I hope to join my other Labor Senate colleagues in New South Wales in providing ALP supporters in Liberal Party and National Party lower House seats with active and sympathetic representation.

I also wish to place on record my thanks to my family for the sacrifices that they have made over the years and no doubt will make in the future. My wife, Sandra Nori, who is the member for McKell in the New South Wales Parliament, and particularly my two children, Bonnie and Lachlan, have often borne the brunt of my political involvement. I can only hope that in the years to come my children will believe that I was worthy of the sacrifices that they have made.

I come to the Senate as a result of the resignation of Arthur Gietzelt. I take this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to Arthur’s public service over the years. Arthur was a councillor on the Sutherland Shire Council, situated in the south of Sydney, from 1956 until 1971 and served as its president for nine years. Those years of Arthur’s leadership in Sutherland shire were crucial to making the area what it is today. Indeed, Arthur himself has often said that he believes his period in local government was the most productive and satisfying of his political career.

During his presidency, Arthur developed an area with little or no local infrastructure into a well serviced region. He stopped high-rise development around Cronulla beach and Caringbah. He made the council efficient and accountable. He never shied away from using his position as shire president to highlight wider causes such as the anti-apartheid and peace movements. He was first in Australia to ban South African competitors from a national sporting event, a surf-lifesaving carnival at Cronulla, and he led Vietnam moratorium marches in Sutherland shire.

Arthur’s principled position on many issues earned him his enemies. During the early morning of Sunday 7 March 1971, the senator-elect and his wife, Dawn, were blasted from their sleep by an explosion which demolished the front walls of their house and left gaping holes in the roof above their heads. The force of the explosion blew out windows of surrounding homes and it was heard up to 10 kilometres away. Someone had planted 17 sticks of gelignite on the steps of the Gietzelt family home. The attack represented one of the thankfully rare acts of political terrorism in our country. It was the first bomb attack perpetrated on anyone in Australia in peacetime. In recent political history it would rank with the attack on Arthur Calwell in 1966 and the bashings of Peter Baldwin and Jim Cairns in their homes. With the support of his family, Arthur showed a special kind of courage to recover from the trauma of March 1971 to continue to fight publicly for his political beliefs.

The highlight of Arthur’s parliamentary career was his service as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, where his achievements were considerable. He oversaw a complete rewriting of veterans’ legislation which had been amended nearly 100 times in its 70-year history, culminating in the passing of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act in 1986. He ensured that repatriation hospitals were overhauled after years of neglect by previous governments. In 1983, morale in the repatriation hospitals was at rock bottom. Pay was low and the equipment was ancient. Under Arthur’s guidance, the hospitals were modernised and revamped, so that an operation in a repatriation hospital no longer became a life-endangering experience.

It is also appropriate to mention the support that Arthur has received from his wife, Dawn, and three children during the trials and tribulations of a long and often turbulent time in public life. I wish both Arthur and Dawn Gietzelt a long and happy retirement.

I wish to touch briefly on the issue of provision of services to people with disabilities, which has been an area of personal concern and involvement of mine over many years and one that I intend to pursue in the Senate. Prior to my full-time political career, I worked in the field of special education, teaching children with severe disabilities. Certainly giant strides have been made in the provision of services to people with disabilities over the past decade. An example close to my heart was the assumption of responsibility by State governments in Australia for the education of all children, regardless of the nature or degree of their disability.

The Disability Services Act has also represented a major breakthrough in providing opportunities for people with disabilities in the areas of employment, accommodation and training. As the chairman of a citizen advocacy group established in the inner west of Sydney, as yet unfunded by the Department of Community Services and Health, I can assure the Senate that, though much has been achieved in the disability area, there is still a great deal more to be done. I hope to involve myself in the task of bringing these issues to the attention of the Senate.

I would like to make some comments now about my own State, New South Wales. On 19 March 1988 we saw the election in New South Wales of a coalition government, the first in New South Wales for 12 years and the first Liberal mainland victory in 14 attempts. Conservative political commentators hailed that victory as the beginning of a conservative resurgence in this country, a resurgence that would begin in New South Wales, carry through to Western Australia and Victoria, and culminate in a Federal coalition victory. It was to be a victory for the New Right, the dry Thatcher-inspired conservatism that dominates the Liberal Party and is now moving to total control. Indeed, the Greiner Government has been touted as the great model for new liberalism in Australia.

John Hyde, the Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Public Policy, said that Mr Greiner’s win put dry politics in the Liberal Party on trial for the first time. I would suggest that not only has it been put on trial, it has also been found guilty: found guilty of ripping the heart out of the education system in New South Wales; found guilty of placing decent and affordable housing beyond the reach of ordinary people; found guilty of cutting health services and slashing hospital budgets; found guilty of defrauding the people of New South Wales by promising prior to the New South Wales election that no State government charges would rise by more than the consumer price index and after the election massively increasing a whole range of taxes and charges; and found guilty of abandoning Labor’s commitment to environmental protection in New South Wales.

I remind the Senate that John Howard is a New South Wales Liberal. Ian Sinclair is a New South Wales National. They are the national leaders of the parties that form government in New South Wales. They, together and alone, are signatories to the Federal coalition’s blueprint for government, the Future Directions document. The actions of the Greiner Government provide a very interesting comparison with Future Directions. The reality of Future Directions is for all to see in New South Wales today. There are no future directions in New South Wales. In New South Wales we are going backwards.

I take, for example, education. Education and training, perhaps more than any other factor, holds the key to Australia’s social, cultural and economic well-being. It follows that governments, State and Federal, have the responsibility of improving the quality of our education systems and providing educational opportunities for young Australians. In New South Wales the education system has taken a drubbing since the conservatives took office in March last year and, as would be expected, those attacks have centred on public education, the bete noire of all conservatives. In New South Wales in its first year of office the Greiner Government axed 2,500 teaching positions and 800 ancillary staff from the public system. The consequences of such savage cuts have been increased class sizes and a large increase in the number of composite classes. Almost every public school in the State has lost staff. Fifteen schools will be closed and sold for their real estate value. Swimming classes have suffered major cutbacks. Thirty per cent of public schools have abandoned language classes. The list goes on and on. All these changes add up to one result: a plummeting decline in educational offerings and standards in New South Wales, a decline that increases the pressure on parents to seek alternatives for their children in private education.

What do the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia say about education standards in Future Directions? They say:

Raising educational standards and extending parental influence and choice in the type of education their children receive is our first priority.

The conservatives’ real priorities are clear from their brief stint of government in New South Wales where they have been standards wreckers, not standards raisers. Their notion of giving choice to parents boils down to destroying the public schools system so as to increase the attractiveness of the private system. The whole coalition policy is class-driven. In New South Wales the Greiner Government is deliberately seeking to perpetuate class distinctions by establishing specialist high schools which, at an early age, lock children into streams based on parental aspirations. Often educational achievement relates not to intelligence but to parental aspirations and a child’s self-esteem. That is why, for generation after generation, regardless of fees and costs, the children of tertiary educated professional groups tend to follow their parents into universities. It is sometimes only the lack of parental example that prevents the children of working people entering universities in the same proportion.

A child of 11 or 12 does not know whether he or she wants to become a carpenter or a nuclear physicist. Education should be about delaying life’s choices as late as possible. Every child is entitled to an academic core until 15 or 16 years of age which includes exposure to a wide range of experiences and fields of study. Later, they can choose. The New South Wales Government policy is a return to the pre-World War II education system of one school for the ambitious and another for those who are deemed to be ungifted. Unfortunately, Nick Greiner and John Howard are enslaved by the same anti-public system crusade. While Mr Greiner reduces opportunities, Mr Howard would cut funding for the public schools and hand over more to private schools. The same Party, the same plan, the same result.

Future Directions also provides us with a good insight into the Liberal Party’s thinking on the housing issue. It says:

Most people want to become home-owners but Labor is directing resources to public rented housing and the lifelong dependence on government that brings. . . Our priority will be to assist people to buy their own home rather than to make them dependent on the government.

Public housing tenants and the homeless really are in the New Right’s gun sights. In New South Wales existing public housing tenants are facing an unprecedented squeeze at the hands of the Greiner Government. In April, the rents of many low income tenants were raised by up to 100 per cent. It appears that the Liberals’ plan to reduce the huge waiting lists for public housing is to force everybody, except the destitute, into the private rental market.

What is more, there is a total lack of planning in the New South Wales Government’s approach to public housing. Property deals with developers take precedence over well-serviced public housing development. Hundreds of public housing properties in booming areas have been sold in New South Wales with only part of the profits being put into compensatory acquisitions. Where new property is acquired it is almost inevitably badly serviced in terms of transport and amenities. Mr Greiner’s massive sell-offs and abandonment of public housing projects have resulted in a significant decrease of public housing stock and increased waiting lists. And then, in a dramatic display of contempt for the needs of tenants in New South Wales, the Government decided to cease funding of all of New South Wales 24 independent tenancy advisory services. As for the homeless, there is nothing in the policies of the Liberals, not even hope.

The record in health in New South Wales is just as bad. The Future Directions document outlines the conservative agenda for health care in Australia. It is quite straightforward-the destruction of Medicare, coupled with an underfunded public health system and a subsidised private system. We have seen in New South Wales the imposition of a 1.5 per cent cut to the entire health budget, cynically disguised as productivity savings, which has meant $35m less spent on basic health services this year. In total, over 1,000 hospital beds have closed, causing a dramatic increase in waiting lists. These cuts reflect the conservatives’ strategy of running down and undermining confidence in our public hospitals, all to satisfy the New Right ideology of a user-pays, private health care system.

The fundamental theme of Future Directions is support for the family. We are told that the Liberal and National parties put families first. They say that the family is the cornerstone of society. The legacy of the first year of the Greiner Government in New South Wales has shown new liberalism to be unashamedly anti-family. One of the most effective ways to assist families, particularly young families, as a State Government, is to hold State charges and taxes down.

During the New South Wales election campaign Nick Greiner gave repeated assurances that State charges would not outstrip the consumer price index (CPI). But Mr Greiner’s assurances are obviously worth very little, because this is his record: electricity bills up 9.1 per cent for the average home; water rates up 12 per cent and an $80 levy for water pollution; public transport fares up an average 12.5 per cent, with some rising by as much as 100 per cent; gas charges up 10.1 per cent; petrol tax up 3c a litre; car registrations up $26 for the average car, with another $110 increase for Transcover taking effect in July; the cost of a private bed in a public hospital up by 15 per cent; the first-ever TAFE charge of $263 for higher education courses, and a $100 charge for other enrolments.

The deceit in this is breathtaking. These charges will increase the national CPI by at least 0.4 per cent and the New South Wales CPI by 1.25 per cent. New South Wales currently has the highest inflation rate of any Australian State as a result of State Government charge hikes. And that is not the end of it. Further increases are planned-particularly for public transport fares. All this from a man who before the election said he was pro-family. Now John Howard and Ian Sinclair are making the same noises. Given the Liberals’ record in New South Wales, it is not hard to see what would be lurking on the other side of the disaster of a coalition Federal election victory.

Last month the Treasurer (Mr Keating) released details of tax cuts that would come into effect on 1 July this year. Those cuts represent the largest single act of tax relief in our nation’s history. They will provide unprecedented assistance to average wage earners who for years have paid more than their fair share of tax, while many of our corporate high-flyers have evaded their tax responsibilities. The tax cuts will provide assistance to average Australian families-those people who quietly and unpretentiously go about building a better life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately for families living under new liberalism, in New South Wales the benefits of the tax cuts will be significantly reduced. The average New South Wales family will be up to $16 a week, or $850 a year, worse off as a result of higher taxes and charges levied by the manager of New South Wales Incorporated, Premier Greiner.

Immediately upon gaining office the Greiner Government, directed by the National Party heavies Wal Murray and Ian Causley, turned its attention to the environment and set about winding back the many achievements and high environmental protection standards set by Labor in New South Wales. The Greiner Government’s record on the environment is absolutely reprehensible. It is typified by the willy-nilly continuation of logging on the North Coast, where attempts to have logging halted by nominating areas for protection under the Wilderness Act have been refused by the Government. Mr Greiner’s attempt to downgrade the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which stipulates that environmental impact statements had to precede logging and were enforceable by law, was only narrowly defeated in the Legislative Council.

The New South Wales Government has placed a moratorium on the creation of new national parks. In the existing south-east National Estate areas Mr Greiner has taken the confrontationist approach of ordering logging to commence, whilst a Federal Government forest inventory of possible alternative sites in the area was under way. Premier Greiner has also introduced a new coastal development code, which has been described as `superficial and without teeth’ by Milo Dunphy, the Director of the Total Environment Centre. Under this code, a number of un- popular coastal developments have been approved by the Government, despite opposition from local councils and the Department of Environment and Planning.

The lessons of the Greiner management model are clear: ordinary people in New South Wales are being penalised; families whose children attend public school are copping it; public housing tenants and those in the private rental market are copping it; the people who use public transport are copping it; the sick and the disadvantaged are copping it. I say that New South Wales is the reality of new liberalism. The philosophy of the New South Wales Government of user pays and fee for service has only hurt the battlers. That is Mr Greiner’s agenda. It is important to remember that it is the Federal coalition’s agenda too.

However, let us not forget that, compared to his Federal counterparts, Mr Greiner is seen as a bit of a wet or, to put it in his own terms, `warm and dry’. Of course, the Federal Liberals are bone dry. The purge over the last couple of days of Victorian Liberal wets is further evidence of the Federal Liberals’ lurch to the right. For those who think that the Greiner Government in New South Wales is bad, a New Right Howard-Sinclair Federal government would be a catastrophe for people dependent on government benefits and services.

In the 1980s it has been fashionable to say that the difference between the major parties has become blurred. After 12 months of Greinerism in New South Wales, it is not so fashionable. The Federal Labor Government does stand for a very clear difference. Labor, federally, believes in adequate public infrastructure. It believes in a wages and taxes policy that looks after the poor and disadvantaged. It believes in equality, and not the perpetuation of advantages and easy fortunes for tax rorters and the shufflers of corporate papers. And it stands as an essential bulwark against the ravages of Mr Greiner and new Liberalism in New South Wales.

In conclusion I should like to thank the officers and staff of the Senate for all their assistance over the past few weeks, as well as those senators who have helped me. It is a great honour to represent the Australian Labor Party in the Senate. I am committed to doing my best for my Party and fighting for social justice for the people I represent.

Debate (on motion by Senator Richardson) adjourned.

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