Mike Kelly (ALP – Eden-Monaro) – Second Maiden Speech

Mike Kelly, who regained the NSW electorate of Eden-Monaro at the July election, has delivered his second maiden speech to the House of Representatives.

Kelly

Kelly, 56, previously represented the seat from 2007 until 2013. He served as a Parliamentary Secretary in the Gillard government from 2010 and was the Minister for Defence Materiel in the Gillard and Rudd governments in 2013. Prior to entering parliament, he had a long career in the Australian Defence Force as a military lawyer.

Kelly secured 41.88% of the primary vote and 52.93% of the two-party-preferred vote in Eden-Monaro. He achieved a swing of 5.84% to wrest the seat from the Liberal Party’s Peter Hendy. As a result, the electorate, which extends from Queanbeyan into the south-east corner of NSW, has lost the bellwether status it held since 1972, as a seat that always goes with the government of the day.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Mike Kelly, ALP member for Eden-Monaro.

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (13:19): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Now, where was I before I was rudely interrupted?

Firstly, Mr Speaker, congratulations on your reappointment. I think I speak for the nation when I say what great relief and joy we had when you were initially appointed, in the circumstances, and I do not think we have had any cause for regret since that time. Thank you for all you have done to restore sanity to the House and good luck with the rest of this term; I know it will not be easy.

It is wonderful to be here as, now, a member of two classes. Hopefully that gives me the opportunity to learn more and to make many more friends.

An opposition member: You have needed more classes.

Dr MIKE KELLY: It is often said to me that I need more classes. It is wonderful to see, reflecting on the first speeches we have heard, what a massive infusion of talent we have had into this House.

Kelly

I listened to the member for Perth talk about his experiences with asbestos victims. That was a very formative experience in my career too after I left university. I will never forget reading some of the records that were revealed in some of those processes where American executives in asbestos companies had for many years hidden the results of X-rays on their workers and what they were suffering in terms of the damage from asbestos. One conversation in particular stuck out to me. It was a discussion whereby they were arguing about whether those records should be revealed to the workers. One of these executives vigorously argued that that should not be the case. The response to that from one of the other executives was: ‘What are you proposing—that we work our workers to death?’ The response to that from the other executive from Johns Manville was: ‘We find it’s cheaper that way.’ Nothing brought home to me more effectively how important the trade union movement is. Effectively, the justice that has been achieved and the reforms in work safety that have been achieved have been achieved through that great movement.

Listening to many of these other comments, I realise too what an enrichment we have had in this House by the infusion of our Indigenous representatives. It really is adding to the quality of this place and adding tremendous new perspectives.

There are others who we will be hearing from. In particular, I look forward to hearing from the member for Wills, whom I served with in Iraq 10 years ago. It is where he met his wife Lydia, who is definitely the better half. She is a very intelligent and strong woman. It is wonderful to be here 10 years later serving in the House together, to bring that experience to bear along with people like Anne Aly, who has tremendous background in the counterterrorism struggle that we are engaged in at the moment.

It is coincidental that I speak today after we have heard from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on security matters. I am very proud to have picked up responsibility as the shadow assistant minister for defence industry and support. In the last couple of years I have been working on security matters for our leader, and I would like to echo his comments from this morning in relation to the bipartisan spirit with which we cooperated with the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, who I worked a lot with behind the scenes to ensure that bipartisan approach. I will say on the public record that I greatly respected Peta Credlin as a strong, intelligent woman. It seems that some have problems with strong, intelligent women. I am glad to say that on this side of the House that is not a problem. I wish her well. I am very pleased to see the security team that has been appointed on this side of the House. I do believe that we will continue in that very important spirit of bipartisanship in what is an essential aspect of the federal government’s responsibility. We on this side of the House certainly take that very seriously.

That brings me to the circumstances in which the election was fought. We have representation now in this parliament that seems to hark back to the days between the two world wars, between the First World War and the Depression, when people reached out to ideologies that seemed to provide simple answers. It brings to mind the old saying that for every complex problem there is an answer that is simple, clear and wrong. To those who are reaching out for simple answers I would say that some of the ideas and approaches put forward by some of the people who have entered this building will not provide greater security. In fact, in some aspects they will endanger that security if they go uncontested. So I am grateful for the opportunity to be back in this House to be able to do that contesting.

Kelly

I will say also that I really hope to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Minister for Defence Industry, but I do warn him that I will challenge vigorously and in detail any attempts to misrepresent the record of the Labor Party and Labor governments on security and defence industry. There has been some of that and I intend to contest it.

That brings me to the primary reason for my being here, which is to represent the people of Eden-Monaro. I think there are many reasons why I was returned to this place to do that representation. There were generic issues, which we have commented on, in relation to health matters. I think it would be a grave mistake for the government to believe that text messages were the issue for the people of our communities. People were fearful of lived experience and the disappointments and the approach of the death by a thousand cuts to Medicare and health measures that have been occurring in recent times. I had farmers and other people on the phone to me in tears in anticipation of the extra imposts of the changes that were in prospect for Medicare. They did not need text messages or me to tell them about those threats. Those concerns are real and they need to be addressed. We have ongoing health issues in places like Pambula hospital, Tumut and Yass, and I have to advocate for their benefit in this place.

We also of course have the education issue. Nowhere is that more important than in rural and regional Australia. The great promise of the Gonski program was not the dollars but the programs that the program funds, in particular the rural and regional loadings, the loadings for our Indigenous kids and disabled kids. The early days of the program were having such an impact in my region in schools like Bega public and Eden public, where we have large populations of Indigenous kids. The dramatic improvements that it was delivering show why we need to go the full Gonski, as they say, and I hope to continue to advocate for that and to see it brought to fruition.

A very important issue for us—right up there in the top three issues in our region—was renewable energy and climate change. In all the polls you will see that our region understands that issue deeply. We are probably the canary in the cage in the mine in many ways, because we are really more vulnerable than other areas of Australia. We have a billion-dollar skiing industry, and to see the contraction of the snow available for that industry over the years has been deeply distressing. Obviously, if we do not take urgent action that industry will be under threat. The Sapphire Coast is at risk from sea level rises and salination. We have fruitgrowers on the south-west slopes who rely on dependable and predictable rain patterns and who cannot afford to be placed in the circumstances they were in that recent terrible drought.

We have many reasons to be fearful of exaggerated climate change through further temperature rises. But, more than that, our region saw the massive opportunity that the response to climate change presented. One of the things I am tremendously proud of is the great body of policy work that was done by our team during the last few years. The central piece of that for me is the Climate Change Action Plan. It is a magnificent, 41-page document that does not just comprehensively address the issue of climate change but presents a program for economic reform that will help drive the new economy that we need. There was nowhere that the benefit of that investment was landing more profoundly than Eden-Monaro. During the time that I was a member, from 2007 to 2013, we saw over $1 billion of investment in renewable energy projects alone, leaving aside subsidiary industry and investment. It was the largest single source of private investment we have ever seen in Eden-Monaro. We have every single available renewable energy resource in our region and we are close to the grid, so the opportunities for us are enormous. We are also home of course to the big granddaddy of renewable energy, Snowy Hydro. I will send this shot across the bow of the government, because we have seen these ideas perpetuated or floated from time to time, most recently in articles in The Financial Review: we will never sit still for any attempts to privatise the Snowy Hydro scheme. It was tried by the Howard government in 2006 but widespread community reaction prevented it happening then. We will not let it happen, ever.

I am proud to stand side by side with my mates and colleagues in the ETU, who are sound men and women of integrity, fortitude and courage. They highlighted the dangers of privatisation to us: there would be job losses in the electricity industry and there would be price rises and issues that would arise from the security of our grid. We are seeing all of that playing out. So I am proud to stand with them in this fight and to keep that battle going.

But there are so many issues in our region that our union brothers and sisters are fighting that are so important to my community—for example, penalty rates. There are our high levels of underemployment in our region, where we have people who may only have two or three days of work a week and need those penalty rates of the weekend in order to put food on the table. You would need to put yourself in their position to understand the importance of penalty rates. There are our forestry and construction workers who just want to come home in one piece at night—what can possibly be wrong with that ideal?

Our public servants have suffered from terrible impositions over the last few years, as members here who represent this area know and a great many of them live in Eden-Monaro and Queanbeyan. The government is suffering itself from its inability to deliver even its own policies in that process. It has been grossly inefficient because we are seeing the hiring of consultants, adding cost to federal budgets, without the efficiency result coming from that. It has a terrible effect on our region. We depend a lot on the holiday-makers driving from Canberra and Queanbeyan, and that has put a big hole in our economy.

I want to also highlight in particular a group who are very close to my heart. They are all around us in this building. The cleaners in this building have suffered terrible impositions under the changes that have been made by this government. It is extremely hard to get by and support their families on the wages that they are asked to survive on—it is unconscionable. I would like to reach out to all members in this House to address this issue, because it is just unsustainable. I am proud to stand side by side with United Voice to keep fighting that battle as well. If the cleaners are around, do not ignore them. They are not shadows and they are not ghosts; they are real people. I am proud to say that many of the people who work in this House live in Queanbeyan, so we have a big stake in this building.

I must say too that the forced mergers in New South Wales were a big issue as well. This is a process that is deeply flawed and badly executed. I think many of my fellow colleagues across the other side of the chamber, who have seen this playing out, feel the same way that I do about how this has been handled and some of them have spoken out. The people of Tumbarumba are still not happy and will not accept this forced merger process—it will not stand for them. They have commissioned me to take that fight up with Minister Toole, and I will do that.

Kelly

They are not alone: the people of Bombala are equally distressed at what has happened. These were councils that were in the black and met the Fit for the Future criteria, but were nevertheless forced to merge. It is this syndrome of people in Sydney thinking, ‘We know what’s best and we’ll just draw big red lines with crayons on maps in country New South Wales without any consideration for the community of interest, the traditions and the geography.’

Particularly if you look at my region—we are now bigger than 66 countries in the world and we have a bloody great mountain range in the middle, with a lot of snow and ice during this time of year—there are significant issues about how we relate to each other. The government is Sydney simply ignored all of that. It is not good enough and we need to come back and have a look at how that has been done. Of course, a lot of infrastructure issues impact on our region. I call on my colleagues on the other side to work with me to deliver the Barton Highway duplication. The New South Wales government also needs to see the importance of this as an investment in the southern New South Wales economy and the huge potential that we have there now.

The issues that I have been advocating for 10 years are starting to come to fruition, in terms of the opening up of the Port of Eden for committed commercial use and also for greater tourism through the extension of the wharf and the bringing in of large cruisers, boosting our tourism. There will soon be the opening of the Canberra international airport, which will also provide not only extra tourists from that source but an opportunity to get our wonderful high-quality produce from this region onto plates in that region and take advantage of that.

From as far afield as the cherries of Young to the beautiful fruit from the Batlow growers to our abalone oysters and wonderful seafood from the coast to our beef, sheepmeat and our superfine Merino wool, this is a huge opportunity for us and we need to work together as a region to exploit the full potential of that. The Barton Highway is an important piece of inland infrastructure to help make that real. I need not only this federal government but also the state government to realise that it is not just about commuters to Canberra from New South Wales: it is a broader regional economic investment.

We also have tremendous social and economic issues around jobs. I will now pursue a strategic economic plan for our region, where I hope to bring together all my colleagues from all parties—right across the divide at state and federal level—to take advantage of those issues that I have just mentioned and also to do our best to get a proper rollout of the NBN and make the most use of it. I have certainly seen a lot of potential demonstrated in our region. One significant example is Jane Cay and her business Birdsnest down in Cooma. It started out as a simple shop in Cooma and now occupies an entire block of the town, employing 110 people on very magnificent, flexible workplace arrangements. It employs largely women, working around their lives as wives of farmers, mothers and whatnot. It is a tremendous example of what is possible in rural and regional areas and the potential that the NBN will further open up.

There is a lot for me to do and I am very eager to get on with it. One of the most important things that has led to me being here is that the community has spoken loud and clear that they must have community based representation. In these last few years, we have seen a break in our tradition of having members of both sides who are part of our community. That just did not happen in the last couple of years. I know there are a lot of relieved Liberal Party members in Eden-Monaro who are happy to see the change. Obviously, it is now my responsibility to meet those expectations from all those people who said to me that they were voting Labor for the first time.

I also want to thank all those people in the branches in our region. They are just magnificent people. I thank my fantastic campaign electoral office staff, Riley, and Robbie Rynehart, our campaign manager. He is a magnificent bloke who has stuck with me through a lot of ups and downs. I thank Linda Colman, Radmila Noveska, Sarah Niall, Jil and Brian Brown. Brian is a really good bloke for an artilleryman, but I have never held that against him!

There are so many others. There were thousands of people out there volunteering for us, from the Young Labor troops across the border here in the ACT to all our proud union members and trades men and women. I would love to pay tribute to Steve Butler, Graham Kelly, Jarrod Dwyer, Bernie Smith and all those wonderful people who stood beside us shoulder to shoulder. It was an inspiring experience because they all believed in what we believe in in terms of the future of this country. It was an inspiring experience for me.

But primarily I must thank my wife and my son. My wife has been with me through all my character-building years of 20 years in the Army through Somalia, Bosnia, Timor and a year in Iraq and then the sedate experience that I have had here with its high level of security in a marginal seat. She has been there all along. I would like to say that it is a partnership of equals, but I know that that is a lie. It reminds me of the phrase that ‘behind every successful man is a surprised woman’. Thank you for your support. And I thank my son as well. We are really proud of him with his ideals.

I would like to conclude with this observation. One of my guiding principles is a dictum by first century scholar Rabbi Tarfon, who said: ‘We are not obliged to complete the work of perfecting the world, but we are not permitted to resile from it.’ My view is that I am here to be a part of a continuum of the movement to improve the human condition and that is why I am proud to be part of the labour movement. I want to be here to move that ball forward and be a part of that human chain of progress, which is not immutable and is not inevitable. It requires a lot of passion, sacrifice, leadership and discipline to build it brick by brick with blood, sweat and tears. I am immensely proud particularly to be standing shoulder to shoulder with these men and women in that endeavour. Thank you for having me back.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Eden-Monaro and I welcome back a fellow member of the class of 2007. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.

Kelly

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