Tim Watts was first elected as the ALP member for Gellibrand at the 2013 federal election.
Watts replaced Nicola Roxon in this safe ALP seat that has never been held by the Coalition parties.
Gellibrand is located in the western suburbs of Melbourne. It extends from Maidstone in the north to Williamstown in the south, and from the Maribrynong River in the east to Altona Meadows in the west. Other main suburbs include Albion, Altona, Ardeer, Brooklyn, Footscray, Footscray West, Kingsville, Newport, Seaholme, South Kingsville, Sunshine, Sunshine West, Spotswood, Tottenham, Yarraville and Williamstown.
This is Watts’s first speech to the House of Representatives.
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Transcript of the first speech to the House of Representatives by the ALP member for Gellibrand, Tim Watts.
Thank you Madam Speaker.
I rise to speak in this place for the first time, conscious that I do so not only in front of the House, but most importantly, my family.
My two children are at the same time 2nd and 7th generation Australians.
On their paternal side, they are the progeny of six generations of Anglo Saxon protestants, and on their maternal side, of first generation Chinese-Australian immigrants.
My children’s paternal ancestor, John Watts, set out for Australia from England as a 19 year old in 1840.
He came to Australia seeking the opportunity of ‘colonial life’, and become a land owner in the area now represented here by the Member for Groom.
In 1859, he was elected as the Member for Drayton and Toowoomba in the first Queensland Parliament and later became Minister for Public Works.
I regret to inform the house that John Watts was not a Labor man,
..describing himself instead as a ‘liberal conservative’..
but I do not question his judgement too severely for the great Australian Labor Party would not be established until some 24 years after he had left Parliament.
My wife and her family came to this country from Hong Kong in 1985, seeking the same freedom and opportunity in our nation as John Watts did nearly 150 years before.
They brought with them a different language and cultural tradition, but they shared the same desire and determination to be the architects of a better life for themselves and their children.
Today, these braided threads of my children’s heritage are equally fundamental parts of both their own, and the Australian identity.
However in 1877, less than ten years after my ancestor left Parliament, the Queensland Parliament passed a series of laws designed to force Chinese residents out of the state.
The presence of my family today – diverse, happy, and thriving in modern Australia – is a living testament of how far we have come as a nation over the past 150 years.
This transformation didn’t happen by accident.
It happened because of our politics.
Members will appreciate that ‘politics’ is a term of contempt in this country.
However, as unpopular as it may be, it is our politics that created the institutional framework for Australia’s prosperity.
The success of our politics at building the institutions of growth and fairness in our society has been our true national advantage.
This is why I am humbled to be elected to this place as the Member for Gellibrand.
I am particularly honoured to be representing a seat with such a strong Labor history.
Gellibrand has always been held by the Labor Party and most recently, Nicola Roxon and Ralph Willis provided four decades of extraordinary service to the Labor cause.
It’s not easy to be a Labor member of this house.
While Labor’s ideological objective – expanding equality of opportunity, economic and social – is very simple, more often than not, the political task of advancing this cause has been a hard one.
Labor is the fire in our democracy.
We are the source of the combustion that drives political change in our nation.
But this flame is difficult to maintain.
When the tenders of this flame have failed to fuel it, when we have let the embers of reform burn too low, the public has overlooked us.
Equally, when we have let the fires of radical change burn too rapidly, when the flame has grown too wild, the public has recoiled and rejected us.
My strategy for the tending of this flame of change is taken from New Labour strategist, the late Lord Philip Gould.
He convinced me that progressives shouldn’t focus simply on winning elections, as crucial as that was, but instead plan for the bigger picture of ‘winning centuries’.
Lord Gould argued that to ‘win centuries’, Labour must win the battle of ideas in the community over the long term – rallying public support to our causes in both government AND opposition – and forcing the conservatives to fight on political ground already captured in the minds of the public by the ideas of the progressive movement.
To win centuries, Labor must shape public opinion over time, not merely reflect it.
In fact, Labor must win the public debate so comprehensively that once introduced, our reforms are so embedded in a bedrock of community support that they simply cannot be overturned by a transient conservative government.
Labor’s agenda ‘won’ the 20th Century.
We weren’t in power for the majority of the past 100 years – but our ideas were.
From the Fischer Government’s championing of old-age pensions and workers compensation,
..to the Curtin Government’s war time leadership and foundational work on the ANZUS alliance;
– from the Chifley Government’s nation building and leadership in the establishment of the United Nations,
..to the Whitlam government’s opening of Australia to the world through tariff reduction, trade relations with China and multiculturalism;
– from the Hawke government’s Medicare, HECS, compulsory superannuation, dollar float and financial deregulation,
..to the Keating government’s Native Title Act, Enterprise Bargaining, National Competition Policy and APEC Leader’s meeting..
and throughout it all, the union movement’s fight for better conditions for workers –
– it has been Labor ideas that shaped our nation in the 20th Century.
Winning the 21st Century
Members on this side of the House can look back on this legacy with pride.
But the question confronting new members is how we can ‘win’ the 21st century.
The Labor reforms of the past are a great legacy. But they are just that – past.
We must keep feeding the fires of political reform; looking ahead and engaging with the challenges of the future.
To ‘win’ the next century, Labor must see the changing landscape of Australia, understand the trends that are already shaping our future, and paint the big picture of how Labor’s reform agenda will create a fairer and more prosperous nation.
This is a challenge that the party will need to take up on many fronts: Education, Secure Work, Climate Change, Urban Liveability, Workforce Participation, the Ageing Population and Regulatory Growth to name just a few.
There are however, three fronts of this fight that I want to address briefly today:
- First, defending the role of Government in a period of fiscal challenge;
- Second, championing the online communities that have emerged as a result of the digital revolution; and
- Third, showing that the success of our open economy, depends on our open society founded on immigration and multiculturalism.
Defending the Role of Government in a Time of Fiscal Challenge
The first ‘must win’ debate for Labor is the role of government in a time of fiscal challenge.
The case for an intelligent, active government needs to be continually remade.
We in the Labor party are different from the Conservatives because we understand the role that Government must play to make our nation fairer and more prosperous.
While, Labor must resist the unthinking left whose answer is always and everywhere to increase the role of the state, we must also rebut the ideologues of the Right who see no role for government that does not simply prop up the status quo.
It is no secret that Australia is currently in a period of structural fiscal constraint.
Important sources of Government revenue are under pressure and significant areas of government expenditure are growing.
If we do nothing, the budget goes backwards.
Yet, while you might easily miss it amongst din and filthy clamour of partisanship and sloganeering, Australia already has a lean government by world standards.
Our tax to GDP and spending to GDP ratios are amongst the lowest in the developed world.
Despite this, the conservative response to fiscal contraction has been to unthinkingly and ideologically cut government spending.
Their instinct is to chase the spiral downwards.
In this context, Labor must convince the public that the size of government must be determined primarily by our expectations of it.
While some public revenue sources are under pressure, the task of Government has not reduced.
We cannot cut our way to a fairer and more prosperous nation.
We must continue to invest in urban infrastructure so that the strains of population growth do not cripple the productivity of those living in our cities and suburbs.
Investments like the Regional Rail Link and the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel that will allow for more services and ensure a faster and more reliable commute for people across Melbourne’s West – not just for those who catch the train but also for those who drive.
We must invest in the nation’s human capital, ensuring that we have a workforce that possesses the skills needed to do the high paying work of a modern economy.
Investments like Labor’s Better Schools package that delivered millions in additional funding for schools in Melbourne’s West, and was distributed to those who needed it the most through a Needs Based Funding model.
We must to continue to invest in the health of our people to avoid the emerging fiscal, productivity and participation crisis of the rise of chronic disease.
In Gellibrand, 5.3% of the population currently suffers from diabetes. It is estimated that there are half as many people again with undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Without investments in preventative health like Labor’s Medicare Locals, the costs of this chronic disease will be felt throughout the budget and economy.
These brief examples show that there will always be problems that we need to collectively pool our resources in order to solve.
In these areas, the short-term savings of ‘smaller government’ condemns our society and our economy to greater costs in the long term.
The Digital Revolution
The second ‘must win’ debate for Labor is our response to the digital revolution.
The word ‘revolution’ is over-used. But one of the few true revolutions we have experienced in our society over the past decade has been the impact of the spread of digital technology on the way people communicate.
Before coming to this place, I spent the better part ten years working in the ICT industry and have seen the pace and scale of this change first hand.
Consider that the first iPhone was released in this country in the year AFTER, the Rudd Government was elected.
In the barely six years since, the proportion of the Australian population who own a smart phone has exploded to over 72%.
All of whom are now walking around with a computer processor in their pocket more powerful than those used by NASA to put a man on the moon fifty years ago.
However, for all its technical wonder, the most important aspect of the digital revolution is not technology – it’s people.
The internet has made it dramatically easier to find other people who are passionate about the same things you are, to share information with these people and then to collaborate on producing altogether new information with others within these communities – often motivated by non-financial causes.
This new mode of production – peer production – has brought us a series of what Australian economist, Nicholas Gruen has called emergent public goods..
goods like the GNU/Linux operating system that support the majority of the world’s web-servers..
the Android mobile operating system operating on the majority of the world’s smart phones..
and Wikipedia, the largest encyclopaedia ever produced.
At the same time, social media has allowed specialised communities of interest to form around even the most obscure subjects, producing unprecedented and constantly evolving repositories of technical expertise, culture and journalism.
All created by communities, for the benefit of other community members.
As Michael Wesch puts it, in this new age of mass connectivity, “The Machine is Us”.
These changes are particularly important for the progressive movement.
We’re a movement founded on collective action – on people working together for mutual gain.
From the early co-operatives, mutual societies and trade unions, progressives have pioneered new institutional arrangements for organising collective action.
The digital revolution has made a panoply of new ways of acting collectively possible, but we have not yet engaged with this change on a philosophical or institutional level.
We need to do so soon, as the way we respond to the digital revolution has the potential to become a major ideological divide over the next century.
It has implications for how progressives should think about issues as varied as tax, defence, public services, trade, privacy and infrastructure investment.
For this reason, the work of thinkers like Yochai Benkler, Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Laurence Lessig and Eric Von Hippel who have studied these online communities should be essential reading for all progressives.
In particular, progressives must become aware of the ways that government and business can stifle these online communities.
There are already many examples of this in Australia – particularly with respect to intellectual property.
As Chief Justice French noted in a case close to the heart of my predecessor, the Tobacco Plain Packaging challenge, intellectual property is an instrument of policy, created by government to serve the public.
Figures as varied as Adam Smith, Freidrich Hayek and Thomas Jefferson have long warned of the dangers of this statutory monopoly – and its tendency to expand.
Despite this, policy makers continue to view intellectual property as little more than an innate property right to be unthinkingly protected by Government.
This orthodoxy is buttressed by trade agreements – often negotiated without transparency or democratic accountability – that instead of promoting free trade are increasingly promoting the expansion of private statutory monopolies.
Australian copyright law, in which all reproduction is prohibited other than in specific, narrow exceptions, is particularly problematic and is currently throwing sand in the gears of digital innovation.
In the absence of a broad based ‘fair use’ exception, innovations like the Google search engine and the iPod legally problematic under Australian law upon introduction, chilling incentives for digital innovation in this country.
Patent laws are already becoming a similar hand-brake on digital innovation. As ‘Maker’ communities and 3D printing grow in popularity, so too will disputes over patent infringement.
In response, progressives should champion a new micro-economic reform agenda to re-evaluate intellectual property law from first principles – focusing on incentives and public benefits, not the mindless protection of statutory monopolies.
This process should be led by economists and innovators, not lawyers and rent seekers.
Without it, intellectual property will increasingly become an instrument of the protection of vested interests rather than the promotion of innovation.
As progressives, we must stand up for the new online communities created by the digital revolution.
They are our people, acting in a long progressive tradition, and we must be a voice for them in this place.
To win the 21st century, on matters digital our mantra as progressives must become “It’s the Community, Stupid”.
An Open Economy is Built on an Open Society
The final ‘must win’ debate for Labor is the importance of Australia’s open society to our open economy.
Through Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, Labor has argued the case for the openness of our economy well.
What we have not argued with similar vigour is that an open economy cannot reach its full potential, without an equally open society.
The foundation stones of Australia’s open society have been immigration and multiculturalism.
Our early history was of course violent, and the product of thinking and ideas that are foreign to us now.
But even then, the ‘Southern Continent’ was a canvas for the projected hopes of many in Europe and Asia.
A new place that could, perhaps, be free of the injustices and prejudices of the old worlds.
For the most part we have borne out this promise,,.
..though we will not have fully honoured it until we break our remaining links with the exclusive institution of the British Monarchy and become a republic that allows all Australians say that they have a head of state that is one of their own.
As a nation, we have used this position as a beacon for ambitious dreamers around the world, to our overwhelming benefit.
Like my family, over 60% of the residents of Gellibrand have at least one parent born overseas.
In the last term of government alone, we welcomed 368,825 skilled migrants to our shores – increasing our productiveness and helping us to avoid the costs of an aging population.
The reason these migrants chose Australia is the opportunity of an open society that has proven to the world that multiculturalism can make our nation stronger.
As Tim Soutphommasane has argued, Australia has developed a uniquely successful model of multiculturalism founded on the concept of citizenship.
This model recognises that cultural heritage can form an important part of a citizen’s identity and that generally, individuals should be free to express it.
However, by viewing multiculturalism through the prism of citizenship, Australian multiculturalism has also emphasised that this liberty is coupled with the unifying and overarching obligations we all have as citizens in a liberal democracy.
Australia is a country where you’re free to wear a hajib, or to celebrate Italy winning a World Cup game – even when they beat Australia…
But you can’t bribe a government official, incite ethnic violence or marry a child bride.
The openness of our society and the opportunity we have extended to migrants to our nation has left Australia better placed to succeed in an open, global economy.
As the great Australian chronicler of our nation’s Anglo-Celtic convict heritage, Robert Hughes has noted:
“(Multiculturalism) proposes.. that some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures. ..the future .. in a globalized economy .. will lie with people who can think and act with informed grace across ethnic, cultural, linguistic lines… In the world that is coming, if you can’t navigate difference, you’ve had it.”
Despite this, there are those who seek to threaten Australia’s multicultural success.
There are those on the other side of this Chamber, who do not understand the success of the Australian model of multiculturalism and instead attack it with imported political arguments.
There are those who are willing to risk the success of our multicultural, open society to seek political advantage through the demonization of asylum seekers who arrive through unauthorised channels.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than the decision of this Government to rename the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Let’s examine those words: Citizenship and Border Protection.
One of those words is about inclusion; One is about repulsion.
One is about opportunity; one is about fear.
One represents a very large number of people; the other a very small.
Such are the ignorant, inverted priorities of the Coalition.
Priorities that sacrifice the very foundation of the success of the Australian model of multiculturalism – citizenship – in favour of language that raises the draw bridge on the rest of the world.
Labor must challenge these threats to the success of our open society and continue to convince the public that Australian multiculturalism makes our nation stronger.
We must argue that while we are morally compelled to do what is necessary to ensure that asylum seekers arrive in Australia in a fair and orderly way – to protect the primacy of Australian citizenship for all – we must also ensure that we are offering refuge to those in need in proportion to our capacity to assist.
In this context, this government’s dramatic cuts to Australia’s annual refugee intake AND aid budget, at a time when so many people – in the countries surrounding Syria and in the refugee camps of Africa and Asia – are so desperate, is an abject moral failure.
These are good people, with the bad luck to live in countries whose governments gas their citizens or where militias murder, mutilate and rape women and children.
As a party who believes in equality of opportunity, in a nation that has benefitted so much from an open society and in a country that knows how to make multiculturalism work – Labor cannot abandon them if we hope to win the 21st century.
Thanks and Acknowledgments
I would like to conclude by thanking the people who have contributed to my being here today.
To my wife, Joyce – it is a cliché to say that someone is your better half, but in my case, my wife is truly everything good in a person that I am not.
I thank you for your love, support and sacrifice and I say here today that you now have a written commitment from me, in Hansard, that our family life will not be ‘Borgen-ed’ by this job.
To my Grandfather who, passed recently, and my Grandmother who is here today –and who stamped the twin obligations of hard work and community service on generations of their family – I thank you.
To my immediate family – my father, Peter, my mother Yvonne, my brother and sister David and Sarah. My uncles, Ian, Michael, Barry and Derek and aunts Jacqui and Pam – the people who helped me to find my political values and supported me in chasing my dreams – I thank you
To my in-laws Wang and Dominica Kwok, I thank you for welcoming me into your family and supporting Joyce and I in this difficult expedition into political life.
Thanking party supporters by name is a sure way to offend many given the hundreds who gave their time to the Labor campaign in Gellibrand, so I will limit myself to thanking my core campaign committee, Jesse Overton-Skinner, Melissa Horne, Hamish Park, Fiona Ward, Matt Nurse, Cesar Piperno, Andrew Moore and James Kenyon.
To Senator Conroy, who has supported and mentored me for many years now – even when he has thought me to be misguided. We don’t always agree – he’s a Collingwood supporter after all – but I am proud to be associated with his enormous contribution to Australia and the Labor cause.
Finally, I want to thank the other MPs on this side of the house who have given first speeches in this Parliament.
I have had the privilege of listening to many of your speeches before giving my own today and it has been an inspiration.
I proudly associate myself with these speeches.
We are the Promethean party – the bearers of the fires of political change.
This task is a difficult one, but I am confident in Labor’s future knowing that I share this mission with you all.
I thank the House.