This is the first speech of Judith Adams, Liberal Senator from Western Australia.
Senator Adams was elected at the 2004 federal election. She took up her seat on July 1, 2005.
Hansard transcript of Senator Judith Adams’s first speech to the Senate.
(5:01 PM) — Mr President, may I congratulate you on your re-election and thank you and the staff of the Senate for an excellent three-day orientation program. This was made available to the class of 2004 to prepare us for the responsibilities and challenges of being a senator. It is a great honour and privilege for me to become a member of the Senate representing Western Australia. I sincerely thank the Liberal Party State Council delegates for their endorsement. To the people of Western Australia who elected me, I will do my best to represent you with honesty, sincerity and integrity. Special mention must be made of the contribution of my predecessor, the former Senator Sue Knowles, who spent nearly 21 years representing Western Australia in this place. Sue is remembered for her direct approach to issues, her debating skills and her committee work, especially in the areas of social and health policy. She will also be remembered for her compassion and support she gave to her fellow committee members. I thank Sue for her encouragement and assistance to me, both before and after my election, and I wish her well in her future endeavours.
As I stand here today, taking up the challenge of the Howard government’s work force participation policy to keep mature aged, experienced people in the workplace, I am proud to say that I am the second oldest woman to have ever entered the Senate. The oldest woman to enter the Senate was also a West Australian: Agnes Robertson, who represented the Liberal Party in her first term and the Country Party in her second term. It is interesting to note that since Federation, 51 senators have entered the Senate aged 60 years or over. In the past 50 years, only 11 senators have entered the Senate aged 60 years or over. I am indeed privileged to be one of those.
Life experience cannot be bought or traded. I stood for the Senate knowing that I had the background, the experience and the will to represent Western Australia and to especially represent those people who live and work in rural and remote areas. I am a person who has made the most of my opportunities and I will use my experience and skills to make informed decisions in this place.
Despite not being born in Australia, my New Zealand family background has strong links with the Anzac tradition. It is important I mention today that on 8 August 1915, 90 years ago, my grandfather, Trooper Percy George Pitt-Palmer of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, was killed—missing in action at Chunuk Bair, a hilltop on the Gallipoli peninsula. When the First World War broke out, as an accomplished horseman, he took his two horses and left his wife and baby daughter—my mother—on the family farm in Auckland. He sailed to Egypt via Tasmania and Albany along with the Australian troops. He was dismounted in Egypt and landed at Anzac Cove on 12 May 1915. General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote:
These New Zealanders and Australians and, best of all, the Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and above all the last named, are the flower of our troops or of any other troops in the world.
A fitting tribute for those who fought to give us our freedom and democracy.
My mother continued in her father’s footsteps and served as a nursing sister during the Second World War on the New Zealand hospital ship, Maunganui. This year is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and on Monday we recognise Victory in the Pacific Day. It is important to acknowledge the courage and determination of those who defended us and the free world in history’s greatest war. Anzac Day has always been very special to me. As time passes, the importance of Anzac Day, as an occasion for reflection, acknowledgement and recommitment, seems to be strengthening, especially with the number of young people now attending services.
After completing my general nursing training, I followed the family tradition and joined the New Zealand Territorial Army as a commissioned officer in No. 2 General Hospital. This was an excellent opportunity to learn about and be part of the New Zealand Defence Force.
My sister, Margaret, and I were given a wonderful start in life by our parents. They worked extremely hard to ensure that we had every opportunity to achieve and we were both given an excellent education. Sadly, my father and sister have passed on, but my 92-year-old mother is still fit and healthy and is living by herself and walking four kilometres every day. She is taking a very active interest in my new career, and I sincerely thank her for all the sacrifices she has made for me.
I qualified as a general nurse, a midwife and gained a Diploma in Operating Theatre Nursing, and was always determined that I would use my nursing career to see the world. I worked in a number of New Zealand hospitals, as a member of the 1967 New Zealand surgical team in South Vietnam and as a relieving matron/midwife throughout rural and remote Western Australia. During my employment as a member of the Medical Department’s Emergency Nursing Service in Western Australia, I met my husband, Gordon. He was a Royal Flying Doctor Service pilot based at Meekatharra, a small town in the Murchison. This was the town famously referred to by Tammy Fraser as ‘the end of the earth’. We have been married for 35 years and have two sons, Stuart and Robert. Whilst Stuart is currently in the United States promoting Australian merino wool on behalf of his company, iZWool, Gordon and Robert are in the gallery today. I thank them all for the support and advice they have given me over many years.
For the past 31 years, the family has been farming at Kojonup, in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. Last year Kojonup, with a population of 2,045, was named the ‘tidiest town in Western Australia’ and went on to win the National Local Government Partnership Award for 2004. Kojonup is well known for its community participation and volunteers. One of the town’s highlights and tourist attractions is the multiaward winning Kodja Place. The Kodja Place Visitor and Interpretive Centre is unique in Australia. It is an example of what can be achieved by cultures working together in harmony and a community that believes in itself and its future. This project, which involved the building of an Aboriginal cultural heritage centre, an historical interpretive centre and a regional rose garden, was partly funded by a Centenary of Federation grant. I am proud to be part of this vibrant community and I congratulate all those involved in its long and varied record of achievements.
Having travelled extensively throughout rural Western Australia, I understand the problems and issues confronting such a diverse state. These include dealing with environmental change, pest control, salinity, drought and a shortage of water. Other issues facing Western Australia are the importance of retaining the live export trade, property rights, retaining skilled workers throughout rural and remote Western Australia, problems associated with animal rights activists and dealing with the consequences of the state government’s recent electoral reform, which greatly reduces country representation in the parliament.
The northern area of Western Australia has border control and quarantine issues associated with its vast coastline. On the inland border, there is the threat to our waterways and native fauna, with the problem of the advancing cane toads from Queensland. In the Pilbara, wild camels are also a great cause for concern, coming in from the desert on to pastoral lands, destroying feed and damaging infrastructure in remote communities. Wild dogs in the pastoral rangelands area have reached plague proportions, and the necessity to build a vermin proof fence has become an urgent reality. A feasibility study is to be undertaken, looking at the erection of a 3,000-kilometre vermin proof fence from Port Hedland in the north to Mundrabillia on the Nullarbor. I strongly support this initiative, as the number of sheep being killed on pastoral stations has caused an economic downturn in the area. Those pastoralists who are now running cattle are also losing calves to the marauding dog packs. Livestock transport companies have been badly affected, with the downturn in the sheep numbers, and are now faced with huge increases in licensing fees.
The salinity issue in the wheat belt is another ongoing concern and, with the National Water Initiative not yet signed by the Western Australian government, our state will continue to suffer. There are many ideas on how to deal with salinity, but with such a large and diverse area involved, one size simply does not fit all. The water table is rising and is causing problems in many wheat belt towns. Salt is destroying large areas of productive farm land, as well as the road infrastructure. On a positive note, Western Australia has become the investment centre for Australia. Last year, the booming resources sector generated $28.38 billion in production value. This represents 77 per cent of the state’s exports and provides $1.14 billion in royalties to government. An estimated 192,000 Western Australians are employed, directly or indirectly, in the resources sector.
Having worked in the north of the state when the mining industry was establishing its towns and infrastructure, I have always had a keen interest in the development of the Pilbara region. Recently I had the opportunity, courtesy of the Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, to tour a number of offshore and onshore petroleum, gas and mineral sites. These sites are located throughout Western Australia in the Pilbara, Kimberley, Mid-West, Goldfields and the South-West regions. I thank David Parker of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy for organising these visits.
I am not likely to forget the day the 2004 federal election poll was declared in Western Australia. At the time of my declaration as a senator, I was underground in a refuge chamber on the 26th level of the Plutonic Gold Mine in the Northern Goldfields. Visiting these sites has given me an excellent understanding of the issues confronting the respective companies. These include the shortage of a skilled work force, the ‘fly in, fly out’ work force versus the residential work force, the decaying town infrastructure and the poaching of employees by other companies once they are trained.
All the mine sites are focusing strongly on sustainability and rehabilitation, and many are employing local Indigenous people in the building and metal trades and rehabilitation areas. Retired, mature age tradespeople are being encouraged to return to the work force as mentors and instructors for apprentices. There is also a large focus on employing more women in the resources sector and on school recruitment programs. It is essential that future mineral exploration is encouraged, and I am supportive of the flow-through share schemes proposal.
Rural health and age care issues have been a high priority for me. Along with my nursing background, I have extensive experience as a board member on a number of health service boards in Western Australia. I am therefore very much aware of the practical problems confronting rural communities in relation to the retention of health professionals and access to health services. I have represented Western Australian organisations and the Consumers Health Forum on a number of national health committees. I was also a member of the panel which recently reviewed the role of the Divisions of General Practice throughout Australia, and I am pleased to see our project officer, Robin Wells, in the gallery.
This experience has highlighted the many extra difficulties facing patients in rural and regional Australia as a result of their relative isolation from city centres and major medical facilities. Travel to metropolitan centres for specialist medical treatment can cause considerable financial burden with out-of-pocket expenses and the loss of local support networks. These issues have been constantly raised during my long involvement with the National Rural Health Alliance, the Breast Cancer Network Australia and recently with the Patient Access Committee of the Radiation Oncology Jurisdictional Implementation Group, ROJIG.
I firmly believe that the Patient Assistance Travel Schemes in each state need best-practice national guidelines to ensure rural patients have flexibility in accessing the best possible medical assistance. Since the Commonwealth handed the responsibility of the Patient Assistance Travel Scheme, PATS, over to the states in 1987, this issue has been reviewed many times. Recommendations from five recent parliamentary committee reports have highlighted the problems associated with these travel schemes. We have the evidence and data to tackle the problem, and I will be strongly recommending to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee that the administration of PATS must be dealt with urgently. It is a complex issue, as it falls within the states’ jurisdiction, but something must be done.
As a breast cancer survivor and a member of the Breastscreen WA Advisory Committee, I am keen to support the lowering of the target age group for the National Breast Cancer Screening Program. I believe it should be reduced to 45 years, with the upper limit being extended from 69 years to 74 years. At present, women aged 40 to 49 and those over 69 can attend the clinics. However, they are not routinely invited unless they are within the target age group. With the heightened awareness of breast cancer, many women are very anxious to take part in this program. There is evidence to suggest that these women, on each side of the target group, would benefit from routine screening mammograms.
The ageing population is a huge challenge with a record number of baby boomers about to retire. The next generation of ageing Australians will demand far more choices and more services than the current generation. The increase in dementia will further complicate the provision of aged care services. I must congratulate my Western Australian colleague the Hon. Julie Bishop, the Minister for Ageing, on the current allocation of residential aged care places, extended home care packages and the focus on dementia and respite care. Having been a member of the Aged Care Planning Advisory Committee in Western Australia for a number of years, I am well aware of the future problems associated with meeting the demands of an ageing population.
The impending sale of Telstra is causing a great deal of angst in rural and remote Australia. It is essential that the regulations set down for the privatisation of Telstra allow for rural and remote Australians to be given access to new communications technology. Australia’s wealth is created in regional, rural and remote areas, and it is important that business opportunities are not lost due to inadequate communication services. I have experienced first hand the improvement of telecommunications in rural and remote Australia, and I want to be guaranteed that it will continue.
As a committed Liberal, I have spent many years involved in party activities and campaigns. I firmly believe that community consultation is most important and that the grassroots voice must be listened to. As a past president of O’Connor Division, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the member for O’Connor, the Hon. Wilson Tuckey. Although we don’t always agree, I sincerely thank him for his ongoing support and advice.
To my staff, friends in the gallery and my WA parliamentary colleagues, thank you all for being here today. To Liberal Party State President, Danielle Blain and State Director, Paul Everingham, congratulations on the enormous effort you and your respective teams put in during the federal and state campaigns. To my State Women’s Council colleagues, and especially past presidents Anne Ritson and Daphne Bogue, thank you all for your support. In conclusion, I am looking forward to ‘getting on with the job of strengthening Australia.’