Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate you not only on your election but also on your great love of the great game of basketball. While we are no longer able to caucus together, we can still test who has the better shot—somewhere else, where standing orders and new paradigms do not dictate the outcome.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I am often asked how it feels to have arrived in this place. It took me a while to get here; you would think I could answer the question quickly. All I can say is that I am humbled by the weight of moment, especially considering I follow in the footsteps of a tremendous servant and advocate for the residents of Chifley, the Hon. Roger Price. He dedicated his heart and soul to Chifley, something remarked upon with respect and regard by so many residents during the campaign. It is without doubt he is well regarded in Chifley, but he is remembered warmly here. On a personal level, I am so grateful that you gave a 21-year-old who knew everything a job and the chance to prove he had way more to learn. To Roger, his wife, Robyn, and all his children: I know I am not the only one to thank him for his friendship, advice and support.
When I reflect on the electorate of Chifley and the man it was named after, it seems to me a perfect unison, for the path worn by a great Australian in Ben Chifley is a path embarked upon by so many in the electorate named after him, where the application of education joined with a commitment to improvement of the self and others has allowed residents in neighbourhoods from Mt Druitt through Blacktown and up to Marsden Park the chance to see beyond the present to a richer future.
I admire so much within the people I have the privilege to represent: the value they place on reward after hard work; their decency; their dignity; their faith and love of family; and their support for their neighbours, their community and those ‘having a go’ to make something better. For so many of us in the Labor movement, Ben Chifley’s words spoke to us across generations when he said:
The urgency that rests behind the Labor movement, pushing it on to do things, to create new conditions, to reorganise the economy of the country, always means that the people who work within the Labor movement, people who lead, can never have an easy job.
And with advice to constantly guide and inform, he reminds us:
The most that we can do is to help the masses of the people and give to them some sense of security and some degree of human happiness.
While recognising the importance of Labor’s role in generating material wealth, he saw the Labor movement as being driven by a deeper motivation, shared by many of us today, to deliver security and peace of mind and to ensure, in part, that Australians will never be haunted by an inability to provide. Sons and daughters of the blue-collar workers of this country have witnessed that ambition spur on their own parents and then spark within them an ethic of effort, service and sacrifice.
I am an indebted and proud product of our public education system, having benefited from my learning at Blacktown South Public School and Mitchell High School. On this day, I place on record my deepest thanks for the regard and care teachers dedicate to their students, day-in day-out, like the teachers who helped me—people such as Ferdo Mathews and Rhona Morath. I, like many others in my area, cannot thank enough those responsible for pushing for the establishment of a university in Western Sydney. I am happy to be one of its first graduates to make a contribution in this place, but for me graduation from UWS is distinction enough. To those before us in the Labor movement who have been responsible for providing my generation with educational opportunity perceived beyond reach: I stand here as an appreciative beneficiary.
We continue to carry this ambition to this day and beyond—inheriting a desire to ensure an even greater breadth of educational opportunity—expressed in our push to lift spending in schools, and establish trade training centres. Schools in the Chifley electorate have witnessed a surge of new investment like never before. Prime Minister, it is a source of enormous satisfaction that during the greatest economic challenge of the last 75 years, an arm of the Commonwealth response mobilised government investment in a way that has left an enduring benefit to students for years to come. And, just as two decades ago when Labor moved to open avenues of education in the tertiary sector, Labor today is building the platform for the delivery of new skills to our society and economy through the rollout of trade training centres. Doonside Technology High, Evans High, Loyola Senior High and Tyndale Christian School are all advanced in their preparations for new trade training centres. Other schools are also lining up to do the same and I look forward to eagerly supporting them.
Retention rates in our area are stubbornly lower than the national average. Our trade training centres hold great potential in the campaign to lift the numbers of students staying on to years 11 and 12. Lessons from times past speak to me about the value of this initiative. While we have had 20 years of continuous economic growth in this country, there have been those that have been buffeted by movements in industry. The drive for productivity and change can be a great platform from which growth and value spring but it can be a tough teacher to those who fail to possess the skills and qualifications to weather these changes. We would be condemned if we failed to learn from the pain of past economic restructuring. The trade training centres demonstrate, in part, we have an ear to history and a heart for the future of our young.
Besides lifting local retention rates, I am also focused on other issues in the area of education and early childhood development, be they the need for early childhood speech pathology or building on the work being carried out to boost student performance and attendance rates at schools, along the successful lines of what is being achieved at Plumpton High School under Principal Eric Jamieson, or taking on the issue of childhood obesity, which doctors I have consulted with locally tell me disturbs them the most or working to help lift the quality of life for people with a disability and their carers.
These issues demand my focus because they stand as challenges to our young and Chifley is a young electorate, with a third of its residents aged 19 or under—the second most ‘youthful’ electorate in our nation. We must seize every opportunity to help them fulfil their promise and potential. Besides its youth, Chifley is marked by its potential growth, swept up within the wave of residential development that continues to transform Western Sydney. As we grow, we need to ensure that the infrastructure is there to improve the experience of our new residents and their existing neighbours.
Our party has moved to invest in infrastructure to involve itself in urban development and to lift healthcare spending—all vital to our country, especially so in Chifley. Our investment in the development of a high-speed, modern National Broadband Network threads us to a future of prosperity and development in line with, or better than, what is being experienced in other corners of the globe.
Some of the issues I have referred to are not issues confined to one electorate; they span suburbs in Western Sydney. On these matters, I look forward to joining with my good friend, the member for Greenway. Both of us committed to giving something back to the areas we have been raised in and are still tied so closely to. We have travelled some way from the days of setting up our local Young Labor Association in her dad’s backyard 20 years ago.
While we are brought here as individual representatives, we bear a collective responsibility to national life and fortune. Pressing issues affecting the country bind us in national mission. Looming before us is the challenge of environmental repair, the task of addressing the impact of climate change. Regardless of the accumulated contributions of generations before, we are now called upon to correct the damage done.
We will either take decisions on this matter now or avoid them. In so doing, we will either liberate generations of Australians from a poorer future or consign them to it. On this issue, I am conscious of those who are to follow us. I would hope they would judge us in the way we proudly remember Australian generations of times gone past who said that, ‘We bore sacrifice to ensure that our children’s children could live their lives as richly if not better than us.’
Growing up I saw how Labor governments of the eighties and nineties appealed to a sense of national purpose to build a better country. We are drawn now to what I would describe as a generational purpose. We cannot be distracted by the notion of waiting for others before committing to action ourselves—seduced to embrace a form of ‘climate change isolationism’, to make us shirk our responsibilities—as if hoping our consciences will be secure in blaming others for our own unwillingness to take up our environmental obligations.
I recall the economic reforms in years gone by, such as the massive trade liberalisation we undertook 20 years ago. We never waited for trade doors to be opened elsewhere before doing what was right for this country. We made the right call: we set up the Cairns Group, we pushed for APEC and we prosecuted the cause elsewhere. Australia and the world are now better for this. The same must follow on addressing climate change and preparing our economy for a future less reliant on current carbon levels.
I was born in a generation where capitalism and communism struggled across different planes for supremacy and we lived under a shadow of potential elimination. That contest has been closed but I argue that the question of how we organise ourselves to improve society continues to evolve. We are now driven by a new quest to establish a balance between the hunger for individual freedom and the need for us to act collectively. My overarching desire is to ensure our collective actions can help individuals and their communities reap their full potential.
My fundamental world view rests—at its core—on the notion of balance. I do not just tolerate alternate views; I remain open to them, I learn from and grow from them—and I value differences in our society and in our debates about the future of our society. We should celebrate our different skills and ideas, while realising that at some point we must combine our energies and effort for the sake of community and country.
Having said that, I do not believe in delegating burden or responsibility to others. Industry can and should advocate economic and tax reform—but they cannot expect someone else to pay for it. Small business should be freed from red tape and benefit from strong trade practices laws but understand that there will be those that strive to improve the security of employment for their employees. Employees should be protected by fair workplace laws while understanding that strong balance sheets and stronger profits are one of the best job security measures going around. And politicians cannot expect that perpetual electoral victory through short-term, tactical wins at the expense of hard but necessary reform will honour the country we love and work for.
Fear is not what should be used to win or run government. It is what we beat back with the courage within government; courage to prove we can be better than who we are. Ultimately, we are all in this journey together. We will make sacrifices together and we will be enriched together.
Following these previous points, I seek to make one other. I mentioned earlier that we rightly celebrate 20 years of economic growth. On so many levels, we live a vastly better life than our parents and their parents. But while wealth has expanded phenomenally, we are not only failing to share this better within society, but it seems we expect greater sacrifice from those who should not be called upon to bear so much.
We work some of the longest hours in the world, much of it as unpaid overtime. Full-time employment is being challenged by casualisation as the predominant form of work. Outsourcing wears down conditions and security. And the share of economic growth and wealth that is snared by profits is at its highest level in 50 years while the wages share stands at its lowest. Wealth has certainly blossomed, but it is not hard for me to sympathise with the view that we are witnessing a distorted transfer of wealth from pay packets to balance sheets.
The laws of this land have a big part to play in bringing back some balance. If we all have a stake in the success of our country we should ensure we savour a fair share of that success. In this place, this issue remains a critical concern to me because, with respect, we are not—as some would describe—a ‘market democracy.’ We are a democracy which operates a market economy. We have civic responsibilities and economic priorities. It is worth remembering that in some parts of the world, the hand of the market works one way while another hand suppresses the liberties of those that live and work within it. Again, a concentration on balance should guide the decisions we make in this House.
At this point I would like to turn to the experiences of a man who, 50 years ago, decided his fortune and future lay beyond the confines of a country village in Europe. He travelled from one hemisphere to the other. He made hard choices and sacrifices. He did it without formal education. He succeeded without the safety net of a healthy bank balance. He brought his wife over and they started a family without one around them. They raised their children in Western Sydney.
He travelled the country for his work as a welder, working on iconic projects inaugurated by the Chifley government such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. His wife taught herself English and made sure their children learned their multiplication tables before dinner, regardless of their resistance or howls of hunger.
Their story may sound similar to many, but was very special to my brother Alan, my sister Sabina and me. On behalf of my siblings, we remain perpetually grateful that our nation’s public service was so efficient in processing my father’s application for immigration because we do not know how we could have ever brought ourselves to support the Springboks.
Between both of my parents—Hasib and Hasiba—I was taught the biggest of life’s lessons but I always carry within me my mother’s words:
As important as it is to have food on the table, we also have to feed the soul.
My parents are here today along with our friends and my ‘extended Bosnian family’—welcome. To my family spread across Europe, my love and thoughts. And welcome to the honourable Ambassador of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Damir Arnaut, who joins us in the chamber today. Mum and Dad, I dedicate this speech to you, your dreams, your journey, your toil:
Od mog srca, tvome srcu: nemogu da ti se dosta zahvalim.
From my heart to yours, I cannot thank you enough.
As I make this contribution in response to the considered words of our current Governor-General, I am mindful of the words of one of her predecessors and one of our nation’s most noble citizens, Sir William Deane, who said:
I am convinced that it is our multi-culturalism which has made possible our national unity notwithstanding that we Australians directly or indirectly come from all regions, races, cultures and religions of the world.
A truism is buried within those words because no migrant undertakes the dislocation and sacrifice to reach these shores and set up a new life upon them with any aim other than to provide a better life for their family, and repay in part their debt to our great nation by being loyal, proud, hardworking citizens, such as the ones I see every day in an electorate as diverse as Chifley.
This is exactly the experience that brings greater meaning to the words of Sir William. Migrant families bring with them a tenacious determination to join in unity with the ambitions and hopes and purpose of a new nation—a multicultural nation. To me, multiculturalism represents a vast reservoir of energy this nation can tap into. When we harness all the goodwill and talent across all the corners of this land, from the first owners to the recently arrived, we build one of the greatest countries on the planet.
I continue to draw inspiration from a nation whose success vaults off the backs of many, regardless of their background. We continue a mission that sprang from the birth of our nation, spelt out by one of our founding fathers, Sir Henry Parkes, when he called out to our country by saying:
We should grow at once—in a day, as it were—from a group of disunited communities into one solid, powerful, rich and widely respected power.
The words of 1890 are heard clearly in 2010.
As much as I and the sons and daughters of migrants across our land are thankful for the opportunities extended to us by our new home, I am mindful that this was only possible because of the sacrifices made by our land’s traditional owners. As we acknowledge their ownership, we are obliged by dint of national kinship to repay this debt by ensuring that they too have every opportunity to prosper, grow and pass on their culture and traditions to a generation that will be stronger than the last.
My arrival here finally brings together the children of Abraham, Christians, Jews and Muslims, working together with other people of faith, with other people of values, for the national good, united under this one roof. I recognise the words of Dame Enid Lyons in 1943, when she said:
I am aware that as I acquit myself in the work I have undertaken for the next three years, so I shall either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those who wish to follow me in public service …
I would hope to acquit myself in the way that any other member would seek to in this place where my faith, and its emphasis on bettering ourselves within an acknowledgement of responsibility to community, will be my companion in my efforts to represent all the residents of the diverse electorate I am honoured to represent, regardless of their background, respectful of their faith and values, without reference to their vote for my party or not, and supporting those efforts designed to build a greater community for our area.
Arriving in this place did not occur by chance, but with the support and effort of many. A range of friends extended to me the benefit of their support and the value of their advice. The strength of my gratitude for their help and support is as strong today as it was in 2004. My thanks go to ALP New South Wales General Secretary Sam Dastyari, NSW ALP President Bernie Riordan and Senator Mark Arbib. I would not be delivering this speech today without the support of the member for Griffith. My thanks also go to the member for Blaxland, the member for Perth and the member for Grayndler, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, and to the late John Ducker, who opened the door of the party to me. I want to pay tribute to the member for Lilley for his steadfast, ready counsel in harder times.
I warmly thank my friends in the union movement: Derrick Belan and the NUW, the AWU, the FSU, the CPSU, the ANF, the LHMU, the TWU and the ASU. I pay special gratitude to the members and officials of the union I had the honour to be national president of, the CEPU. In particular, I single out the support from my good friend, Jim Metcher. I welcome all my CEPU friends and members in the gallery, including Cameron Thiele.
My gratitude also goes to the ALP branches and members, with special thanks to Chifley Federal Electorate Council Secretary Tom Kenny, President Gayle Barbagello and campaign dynamo Rebel Hanlon and wife Rachael. I also thank state MPs Richard Amery and Allan Shearan, Blacktown Councillor Charlie Lowles and his wife, Alma, and council colleagues.
My thanks go to those who devoted so much to our campaign: Barbara Williams, Rosanna Maccarone, David Field, Sejla Perviz, Nicole and Manassa Seniloli, my sister Sabina, and Behyad Jafari. A special mention goes to some people who are driving down from Lismore right now and listening to this, Nathan Metcher and Vanessa Pereya. My thanks go to all of them for the grind, the effort and the laughs.
For over 20 years, with fire, steel and heart the one many of us know as the Little General, Merleen Millson, has been in the background—enjoy today, my friend. And my thanks go to some friends along the way: Elvis, Harry, Adam, Yosi, Bec and big Johnny, along with the one whose life breathes courage and has inspired me, Jason.
There is one for whom my greatest thanks seems an inadequate gesture. The Labor Party is truly fortunate to have as one of its servants a man of great integrity, intelligence and strength, and I have been fortunate to be counted as a friend. To the member for McMahon, his wife Rebecca and children, Gracie and Max, my abiding gratitude. It is my hope and wish that another friend and a person of enormous potential will join with us in this place to make a contribution to national life in the way he ought: Brent Thomas, hurry up and get here already.
As many of us know, we travel through our days with simply the will and character within ourselves to find a way through this life, but ultimately the experience is made so much richer by sharing it and yourself with others. My eternal love and gratitude goes to my wife and true companion, Bridget.
To Phil Tilley, Christine Tilley and Ian Cooper, thank you for bringing me within your embrace. I recognise your lifelong passion for education and introducing so many young Australians to the world of learning and opening their hearts to the joy of music.
In drawing my contribution to a close, I make these final remarks. Life has taught me about the power contained within the black letter of the law, recognising implicitly that these laws may enhance or constrict individual or collective freedoms. Our decisions can and do impact on the lives of others and the way they live their lives. My preference will always be for government to bring in laws that aid individuals in pursuing their endeavours, exercising the greatest breadth of their freedoms, found upon a pre-eminent aim of enhancing the quality of life for communities across the country. The exercise of individual will best occurs within a framework of considered decision making along with accountability and responsibility for individual actions, particularly where there is a potential for impacting on the well being of self and others.
I thank my party for selecting me as its candidate and I thank our electorate for choosing my party. From this day, may I remain approachable, continuing to listen and continuing to act, and above all, may wisdom and humility guide me both in this place and beyond.
To view the video footage of Ed Husic’s First Speech in Parliament click the following links: