Wayne Swan (ALP-Lilley) – Maiden Speech 1993

Wayne Swan was elected as the ALP member for Lilley at the 1993 federal election.

Swan was defeated in 1996 but regained the seat in 1998.

This is his 1993 maiden speech.

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Hansard transcript of Maiden Speech by Wayne Swan, ALP member for Lilley.

Wayne SwanMr SWAN (6.03 p.m.) — Mr Deputy Speaker, my most important task today is to thank the people of Lilley for their support and trust. My commitment to them is to work hard, to listen to their views and to strongly represent their interests in this place. I offer you, Mr Deputy Speaker, my congratulations on the attainment of your office. I also congratulate the honourable member for Dickson (Mr Lavarch), and the honourable member for Rankin (Mr Beddall) on their places in the Ministry.

A first speech in the national Parliament only gives me a few minutes to express gratitude to colleagues, as well as to place on record my primary interest in national and local affairs. Since I was in my early twenties, politics has been the overriding concern of my professional life. I have been very fortunate—indeed, I think some people would say lucky—in my political involvement. Over the last five years as State campaign director for the Queensland branch of the Australian Labor Party, and as State secretary, I have had the privilege of participating in a new era of political reform in my State. The election of the Goss Government in 1989 heralded a long overdue era of reform in my State.

In carrying out my responsibilities in this House, I draw upon some 19 years of political involvement in the Australian Labor Party. Today I take the opportunity to place on record some of the people who have played a part in that development. To begin with, I would like to pay tribute to my late parents, whose retirement was cruelly cut short by ill health. Neither my mother nor my father thought that the world owed them a living. They taught their family the value of hard work, to have respect for their fellow citizens, and to always help those in need. They believed in an Australia where every person had the right to a fair go, where ordinary people would be able to fulfil their dreams, regardless of where they came from or the social group they were born into.

My father, an old Labor man, was distrustful of big banks, big entrepreneurs, big companies and the media. He believed that most of the institutions in our society were rigged against people who earned a wage for a living. He believed that the conservatives used social background as a brick wall, blocking opportunity for ordinary people. My parents, and many of their generation, did not get a fair go. I was fortunate enough to get a fair go, and I got that fair go from the Whitlam Government.

I joined the Labor Party in 1974, following the May double dissolution. At that time I was at university on a scholarship and beginning to reap the rewards of Whitlam’s expansion of tertiary education—as did many other people from my background. The sacking of the Whitlam Government in 1975 pushed me into deeper political involvement. In 1978 I went to work for two of the great warriors of the Labor movement—Mick Young and Bill Hayden. With them I received much of my early schooling in politics. They taught me the traditions of the Labor movement, and they taught me the fundamental importance of social justice.

For Mick Young, Bill Hayden and my father, there was always one pre-eminent issue for the labor movement—jobs. Not just the number of jobs, but the quality of jobs—career structures, technological change, levels of pay, training, and all of the issues associated with developing new industries in this country.

I was fortunate enough to be born into a privileged generation that took full employment for granted. It is an awesome responsibility to enter this Parliament at a time when unemployment exceeds 10 per cent and long-term unemployment is approaching half a million. The social cost of unemployment places enormous responsibility not just on politicians in this House but also on academics, industrial leaders and everyone in our community not to tap the mat and say, `There is nothing we can do’. We should never resort to the pathetic bleating that we sometimes hear from sections of our community that there is nothing that can be done.

It is our duty, as national leaders, to ensure that the inevitable sacrifices flowing from unemployment are equitably borne; that fundamental principles of justice are preserved and applied; that all the nation’s resources of intellect and expertise are drawn into the struggle to combat unemployment. That must be our foremost task. With unemployment, Australia faces the fourth greatest challenge of its first century of federation—a challenge as great as those presented by two world wars and the great depression. This Parliament must have a decisive role in reshaping Australia, in recharging the economy and in restoring employment. I therefore applaud the commitment of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Beazley) to tackle this problem head on. It is the most fundamental thing we can do.

However, hindering the development of appropriate interventionist policies over the past few decades has been the unhealthy dominance of laissez-faire economists in universities, in the bureaucracy, in private industry and in the conservative parties. To those people, greed is good and taxation is theft. As for helping people, we have all heard what the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) has had to say about that form of compassion. He said, `If you bend down to help people they drag you down’.

These ideologues believe that as the rich get richer they generate something called the trickle-down effect. After 12 years of Presidents Reagan and Bush, most of the United States is still waiting for the first few drops. In America, a decade of laissez-faire economics has produced even greater inequality and appalling social services. This evening I refer to the bastion of laissez-faire dogma in this country. It is found not only in the conservative parties but also in the Industry Commission. We should consider that in some depth. From reading the reports of the Industry Commission, it seems that the only role the commission would have for government is building barbed wire fences and providing police around the suburbs to keep out the non-existent unemployed.

I commend to members of this House a recent paper by John Quiggin of the Australian National University in which he convincingly demonstrates that the economic models used by the Industry Commission are significantly flawed. There is a kind of callousness about the Industry Commission language which makes the early Scrooge look very generous. In his paper Quiggin picks up on the wording of a section of the Commission’s report in 1990-91 referring to structural change in the economy. The Industry Commission says:

Many of those displaced will quickly find new jobs. Finding employment will be harder for others. In special cases, however, Government sometimes feels compelled to provide additional measures which places some individuals in favoured positions compared with those facing hardship from other causes.

The implication of that statement is that no unemployed person should ever receive any special assistance. In other words, forget about the unemployed—just find the level playing field and all will follow. I believe the commission never asks the essential questions. I think we should take some time to ask them here this evening. On the commission’s dream level playing field what balls are the players playing with? How many are in the teams? Are there any injured? Is the wind blowing? Did it rain last night? Finally, Mr Speaker, as you would appreciate, on the level playing field is there a referee to be found?

The point is that, just as in any football match, so in economic conditions there are many factors which need to be considered. The problem is that to the ideologues of the Industry Commission these are variables which do not compute and therefore do not exist, and they never recognise the injured on the field. The best societies are those where the Government is always working to create conditions in which markets and industry can function, and where there are strong government social policies. The great strength of the Keating Government, and the Hawke Government before it, was that unlike the United Kingdom and the United States, in the 1980s Australia did not throw the baby out with the bathwater and completely adopt laissez-faire economics in all of its economic policies. In the 1980s we led the world with a national health care system and a financially sustainable social security net. We maintained the belief in a strong industry policy, and we succeeded in creating an outward looking, export orientated framework for our industry, as the recent McKinsey report demonstrates.

These achievements mark the Hawke-Keating governments as great governments. But unfortunately in the 1980s in certain areas of the economy there was excessive domestic and international borrowing by paper-shuffling entrepreneurs. To avoid the mistakes of the 1980s, in the 1990s we must subject the laissez-faire economists to the same scrutiny to which they have subjected everybody else, so that we can move towards developing an even stronger industrial base.

Already, as a product of our existing industry policy, there have been some notable success stories in research and in innovation. In a number of these cases quite modest amounts of government assistance have had far-reaching effects. It is this sort of assistance that is frequently opposed by the ideologues in the Industry Commission, and always completely opposed by the Opposition parties. If the assistance is given, it can produce exports and jobs.

I want to refer to one firm in my electorate, Sastek, located at Hamilton. Sastek is developing software and computer equipment for abattoirs. Throughout the 1980s it has gained increasing export markets all over the world. It openly acknowledges that it has done this through government assistance and government grants to do with market research and many other aspects of its operation. Today Sastek is an expanding firm in Lilley with 60 employees, and it has done so with considerable assistance of an interventionist industry policy and grants through that policy from this Government.

Building exports in specialist markets from small manufacturing enterprises is crucial to our future. I believe this is the positive agenda for the 1990s. But, beyond industry policy there is a range of very important social policies that must be developed. I want to refer to only one or two this evening. The development of language skills, especially Asian languages, will be crucially important in this coming decade. Here, Queensland has developed a world leading program where it matters—in primary schools where there are currently something like 60,000 students learning a language other than English. Queensland is now leading Australia in foreign language education. I believe foreign language education is an essential ingredient to us becoming an export orientated trading nation, as well as one that is culturally tolerant and understanding. I believe it will be in firms like Sastek in the 21st century that many of these Asian speaking students will be located and will find jobs.

This initiative from the Queensland Government is yet another sign of just how much our State has changed since the election of the Goss Government. I believe Queensland was once an enclave, setting itself apart from the rest of Australia. Queensland is now a national leader, economically and socially, and the program of foreign languages in primary schools is but one example of that leadership.

I would like to refer to one other not sufficiently appreciated matter in the national capital: Queensland’s path-breaking land rights legislation. This is a reform which is largely unacknowledged on the national stage, particularly in the ill-informed cafe society of Canberra, comfortably removed from the practical problems of delivering progressive programs on the ground.

Sitting in this House is not just about our personal experience, or our philosophical beliefs; it is also about representing the people in the communities in which we live. No group of people in my community is more deserving of representation than the aged. People who have worked and contributed to our nation throughout their lifetime are deserving of our support in their retirement. The record of the Labor Government in aged care over the past decade has been very substantial. Just over 22 per cent of the population of Lilley is aged over 60 years, which is about 50 per cent above the national average. So aged care programs are vital in my electorate.

In recent times one particularly impressive program of dramatic effect has been the extension of assistance for home based care for the aged. Many in my community have no alternative but to enter other accommodation. In Lilley there are 110 nursing home beds per 1,000 residents—about double the State average. The rights and conditions of people living and working in these homes are deserving of the highest scrutiny and protection.

I believe most of the aged, as well as the young, see that a republic is inevitable. All but a few trenchant critics understand that the true symbol of our independence is an Australian head of state. Many of the older generation, including the war generation like my father, are quite happy to accept the republic, but they do feel uneasy about changes to the flag. Much of this stems from sentiment about fighting under the flag in past wars. The sentiment about the flag in the older generation is there. We should not ignore it; we should take note and take care.

A vital industry for the electorate of Lilley is racing, centred at Eagle Farm, Doomben, Albion Park and Deagon. The racing industry means jobs in Lilley. It is not only important for those jobs; it also contributes significantly to the national economy. For too long there has been not sufficient consideration of the economic importance of sport, but this was the case with the arts as well. We need to have a look at the economic importance of sport.

It was the Labor Government which commissioned the first survey of Australian racing in 1991. The financial impact estimated by that survey of the racing industry was $6 billion. It is almost as big as the car industry, and bigger than the printing industry. I believe that the racing industry is ideally placed to participate in our export drive into Asia. The survey I referred to earlier recommended a one-off conference involving selected industry representatives to chart the future of the racing industry in this country. I assure the industry that it has my full support in that endeavour, and I will also be seeking the support of the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly).

One of the largest employers in Lilley, and a major focal point for commerce and environmental pollution, is the Brisbane airport. Brisbane has the most efficient airport in the FAC network, which is a tribute to the productivity of its staff. While the airport’s capacity on present calculations will be sufficient for the next couple of decades, we should be thinking about a second airport now. Aircraft noise is a significant problem for residents on both sides of the river, particularly in Hamilton, Ascot, Hendra and adjacent suburbs. In working to reduce aircraft noise we must make sure that community groups continue to have effective consultation with airport representatives.

The economics of flight paths over residential areas on the north and south sides of the river should never be allowed to override or take priority over the concerns of residents about noise and safety. We should be vigilant and, where necessary, oppose departures from the task force reports which have been designed to protect the quality of life of residents.

In winding up, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mrs Elaine Darling.

Government members — Hear, hear!

Mr SWAN — Winning Lilley in 1980, she turned a relatively safe Liberal seat into a Labor seat. She did it through committed and effective representation over 12 years. I thank her for her invaluable assistance, and pay tribute to her this evening. Members like Mrs Darling, together with our dedicated branch membership and affiliated trade unions, are what make Labor such a powerful force for change. Unions like the Australian Workers Union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union, the Metal Workers Union, the Miscellaneous Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union are important agents for change.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Kim, and my daughters, Erinn and Libby, who were to be here this evening but unfortunately are not.

Whatever we do in this place must be aimed at the long term future—the long term future of the nation and the long term future of our children. Policies to achieve that, however, will change over time. Child care is a very good example. We have now committed ourselves to financially recognising the importance of unpaid work in the home, caring for children—a tremendous initiative of this Government, as are the other child care initiatives.

The hallmark of the Keating Government is its vision for the future, a vision of Australia as a sophisticated independent trading nation. The hallmark of the Labor tradition is our capacity to think, to develop ideas, and to put them into action in uniquely Australian ways.

The year 2001 will not just be about a republic and the centenary of Federation, important as they are; it will also be 100 years of continuous Labor Party parliamentary representation in this House. In 1901, the Liberal Party’s predecessors were a crumbling club of factions fighting over free trade. They remain so today. The great strength of the Labor Party is its commitment to justice, fairness and dignity. I hope to represent those principles in this House. I thank the House for its silence and I say to you, Mr Speaker, that had you been the referee in Brisbane yesterday the Broncos would have still won, on one of the few level playing fields left in the country.

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