01/02/2012 - 11:25

Equality of opportunity a driving force

01/02/2012 - 11:25


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A focus on the environment and industry policy were two issues driving the new Labor leader when he entered politics.

A focus on the environment and industry policy were two issues driving the new Labor leader when he entered politics. 

EXPERIENCE is a great teacher. Having spent the greater part of my youth in relatively small country towns as the son of parents of modest income, I grew to understand the inequality between people and communities. 

It was a fact of life in the area in which I lived that if one’s parents were wealthy, one was afforded opportunities; if they were not, one missed out. It became apparent to me then, as it still is, that it was through the actions of government or representative organisations – for example, the union movement – that ordinary people were afforded opportunities. 

This overarching principle was true in the 1970s and it is also true in the 1990s. This principle applies in country towns and it is especially the case in expanding urban areas, such as Rockingham, which are on the edge of large cities. It is and always will be a fact of Australian politics that the Australian Labor Party best represents these people and communities.

 It has been the central theme of the Australian Labor Party over the 106 years of its existence that the guiding goal of society should be the improvement of the lives of all regardless of who they are or from where they come. 

For Labor to properly achieve its goals of equality of opportunity, guaranteeing the future of the state and a decent life and job for all, it must reassert itself in what will increasingly become the two great domestic issues of the age – industry policy and the environment. If members were to walk into a classroom and ask the students what they thought was the major issue of this age, it is more than likely they would say, ‘the environment’. Their preoccupation with this issue will increase in the future. 

It must be Labor’s goal to ensure that clean air, clean water, the prevention of soil erosion and the protection of endangered species continue to be part of its focus.

Members on this side of politics have the willpower and conviction to legislate, speak out and act on these matters. If they continue to do so, they will guarantee not only their future, but also the future of their children. 

Another issue on which the Labor Party can act is industry policy. At present there is unacceptable unemployment and certainly an unacceptable sense of job insecurity in the community. To a large extent the Western Australian economy relies on its mineral and commodity production and not on manufactured goods. The best jobs, the highest-paying jobs, are in the mining industry. However, there are not enough of these jobs to go around because they rely heavily on world markets, which can fall sharply and quickly. 

WA must have more manufacturing and downstream processing industries as well as the service industries that cater to them. It is at the heart of Labor philosophy that there is a role for government to ensure that these industries are encouraged to establish, not through the discredited technique of excessive protection, but by finding something smarter which is targeted at, and is sympathetic to, industry without pandering to sectional interests. 

It is no coincidence that the countries with the highest standards of living are the same countries that spend the most per capita on research and development. Labor’s intention is to encourage research and development, build infrastructure, and introduce mechanisms to ensure that the great pool of national superannuation savings is invested in Australia. 

In comparative terms I am a young member of parliament. The fact that my wife and I were married in December and purchased our first home (in Rockingham) last Monday makes us representative of the thousands of people in Perth’s southern suburban rim who feel alienated by this government. 

Thousands of people are choosing to make their home in the City of Rockingham each year. 

It is one of the relatively rare areas in urban Australia where ordinary Australian families can afford to buy a decent home at a fair price in close proximity to a major city and the ocean. In comparison with virtually all other mainland capitals, home prices in Perth are very competitive. 

This makes an important difference to the quality of life of Western Australians. Rockingham is an area that consistently records massive growth. 

In addition to the massive population growth there has been a corresponding increase in the wealth produced and the output of the industrial area known as the Kwinana strip. 

The major employers in this area include: Alcoa, with 1,033 employees; Wesfarmers CSBP Limited, 600; BP Refinery (Kwinana) Pty Ltd, 490; and United Construction Pty Ltd, 1,250. 

These industries are the major centre of downstream processing in WA. It is only through maximising the productive capacities of these downstream processing industries and industries in other areas by providing them with the opportunities to grow and prosper will WA become a truly great economic state. 

Additionally, Rockingham is home to one of the four most important military bases in Australia – HMAS Stirling. 

For employment and attitudes, Stirling is extremely important to Rockingham and has had a positive effect on our community. 

Despite the massive population growth in the southern suburbs, particularly in Rockingham, the area makes an immense contribution to the state’s wealth, particularly in downstream processing.

Despite Rockingham’s contribution to the defence of the state and the nation, however, there is an appalling lack of state-funded public infrastructure in Rockingham. 

Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of any sort of commitment by the state government to rectify this problem, which manifests itself in a large number of ways in the areas of health services, schools, police numbers and facilities, and state government offices. 

During this speech I will confine myself to the issue of transport infrastructure. Firstly, a rail line to service the burgeoning suburbs south of Fremantle should be an absolute priority. It is a Labor priority. 

From 1989 until last year I served as a member of the permanent naval forces. 

Indeed I resigned only to contest last year’s election, and I am now a member of the Navy Reserve.

It is commonly accepted within defence circles that Kim Beazley (jnr) was the best Australian defence minister since John Curtin. Labor’s defence record is solid gold. It was Labor that successfully led this nation through the darkest days of both world wars. 

However, it was during Mr Beazley’s tenure as defence minister that the Australian Defence Forces were transformed. It was Mr Beazley who determined that the construction of Australia’s new service combatants, the ANZAC frigates and our new submarine fleet, the Collins class, would be undertaken in Australia. 

Australian made by Australian workers is the essence of Labor’s policy. Furthermore, it was Labor and Mr Beazley who made the biggest commitment to the defence of WA since the WWII when the strategic decision was made 10 years ago to base half the navy’s fleet in WA. This means that now more than half a billion dollars worth of construction on Garden Island has been completed. 

Some 2,500 defence employees and their families reside in my area, and as a result hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, purchasing and expenditure now accrue to the WA economy. Whenever one drives past Transfield in Coogee one is likely to see a frigate, destroyer escort or patrol boat being refitted. There has been precious little recognition of these facts by this state government. 

There is no appreciation of our strategic location in South-East Asia, little understanding of our navy’s role as host operating with other navies in our region, and very little support for the provision of infrastructure to both Garden Island and Rockingham. 

Major navy bases require infrastructure, especially in the transport area. 

This is important not only for supply, but also to maintain the morale of our service personnel and their families. 

Indeed, under this government the most notable actions in defence have been attempts to allow commercial mining interests to enter Garden Island without consultation with the navy. 

Secondly, no attempts have been made to help the Australian Defence Forces to obtain security of title over training areas in WA. 

I would like to close my first speech by reiterating these central points – it is time that attention was focused on Perth’s expanding southern suburbs. It is clear that the people of Perth’s southern suburbs want a better deal. It is no less clear that they deserve a better deal.

This is an edited version of Mark McGowan’s inaugural speech to the WA Parliament in March 1997.


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