Mr FEENEY (Batman) (12:12): Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and I congratulate you on your ascension to that important office.
It is my great honour to rise for the first time in this House as the member for Batman. Being an enthusiast for Australian political history and particularly Labor history, I well appreciate what a privilege and duty it is to represent this constituency. I am the 11th member for Batman since the division was proclaimed in 1906. Only twice in more than 100 years has Batman returned a non-Labor MP to stand in this House. Students of history will know that Sam Benson, a former captain of the Royal Australian Navy and MP for Batman from 1962 to 1969, was re-elected in 1966 as an Independent following his expulsion from the ALP for his refusal to resign from the Defend Australia Committee, a body then proscribed by the ALP national executive. I look forward to this fate not being visited upon me! The division of Batman has remained loyal to Labor because of the essential values of Labor that resonate throughout the diverse communities of the electorate. Labor values around justice, a fair go for all and the continuing task of building a more egalitarian society have an eternal currency in Batman.
Batman is an inner metropolitan electorate in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, largely found between the Darebin and Merri creeks. The suburbs of Batman include Alphington, Croxton, Fairfield, Northcote, Preston, Reservoir, Thornbury, Westgarth and Clifton Hill. The electorate is often described as being diverse, and for very good reason. It has long been home to immigrants to Australia, and today older and established communities of Greek and Italian migrants are joined by newer Australians from Lebanon, China, India and Asia. Nearly half of Batman's population speak a language other than English at home, and some one in 10 are not fluent in English.
I acknowledge the history and contributions of the various communities, migrants and refugees that have settled in Batman and made it their home. Their endeavours have enriched the economic, social, cultural and artistic character of our community and created a cosmopolitan locality where variety and difference are welcomed and encouraged rather than suppressed and shunned. Batman is home to people of diverse races, ethnicities, faiths and beliefs, abilities, talents and aspirations, age and occupations, income and lifestyles. I will cherish this diversity and value it as an important civic asset. I will endeavour to promote, encourage, foster and harness this diversity and encourage an environment in Batman where diversity is celebrated, acknowledged and respected. Our social cohesion must not be taken for granted; rather, it must be defended.
Batman is among the largest and most diverse communities found anywhere in Victoria. With a population of over 136,000, over 52,877 speak a language other than English at home including African, Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Croatian, Italian, Greek and Nepalese.
In considering Batman, one could well characterise the electorate as being a tale of two cities. The northern parts of Batman could be described as possessing the attributes of a traditional Labor electorate, with working people whose priorities for themselves and for their families are better job opportunities, better housing, stronger educational options for their children and support for the aged. A comparatively high number of these people are found in unskilled, low-skilled or traditional blue-collar trades. Many are retired or pensioners. For these Australians—for the most part loyal Labor Party supporters—a key contemporary concern is jobs. The decline of jobs in manufacturing , most notably in the automotive industry, is of great concern. Education and vocational training, the creation of new job opportunities in light manufacturing and the need to grasp new opportunities in new industries are all of critical importance for the people of Batman.
The northern portion of Batman is also home to La Trobe University, the third oldest university in the State of Victoria. La Trobe has been one of Australia's pioneering universities for 40 years, renowned for its excellence in innovation in relation to the big issues of our time. Home to some 34,000 students, La Trobe's founders aspired to create a university that would bring quality tertiary education to the northern suburbs of Melbourne. La Trobe University lives by its mandate and provides access to quality education for those from many disadvantaged communities, transforming the lives of its students and playing an important and leading role in our local community. It is a university which keeps faith with its original mission.
The southern reaches of the electorate of Batman have witnessed significant demographic change over recent years. The proximity of Northcote and its surrounds to Melbourne centre, its amenities and its ambience have all seen housing prices steadily rise. Southern Batman has been marked by the departure of many of its older working-class inhabitants and the influx of new populations of highly educated and high-income people, often young professionals and families. Today, High Street is hip. Political, progressive and informed, the inhabitants of Batman's southern suburbs often have differing priorities from their northern neighbours. Here issues such as action on climate change, the importance of investment in public transport, planning issues and fair treatment of asylum seekers often take the fore. But here, too, Labor's values and record of achievement resonate powerfully. Labor is the party of justice, the party which has consistently sought and delivered action on climate change, the party which is now opposing the flamboyant $8 billion east-west tunnel of Premier Napthine and instead is seeking meaningful transport solutions for our community.
I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Hon. Martin Ferguson, former member for Batman. He was and is a giant of the ALP and of the wider labour movement. A former ACTU president and a Labor frontbencher from the moment he arrived in this place in 1996, Martin played a central role in the restructuring of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, championing the accord between government and the ACTU and sharing in the accomplishment of rises in family payments targeted to low-income earners, higher school retention rates, compulsory superannuation and the proper vocational training for our unemployed. Later, as Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism, Martin was justifiably proud of his record in micro-economic reform, in facilitating the biggest pipeline of investment ever seen in Australia, of Tourism 2020 and an expanding tourism market for Australia in Asia.
Perhaps less well known in this place, Martin also enjoyed an unrivalled reputation as a local MP. As I have visited schools, childcare centres, churches and community groups throughout my electorate, I have consistently found that he was very highly regarded, well known and respected. As the MP for Batman he was no absentee landlord, but rather an active and passionate local member, connected to his electorate and its diversities. They are big shoes to fill and I shall continue to rely upon his counsel.
I had the honour of serving as a senator for Victoria from July 2008 until the September general election. For that reason, this might be said to be my second first speech. I have in recent days carefully re-read my first speech, as you might imagine, and the sentiments, content and heartfelt thanks found therein are as relevant for me today as they were when first articulated in 2008. That is why I am taking the liberty in this speech and on this occasion of talking about my particular interest, my policy passion if you will, which is Australia's defence and national security. My interest in defence and national security policy is longstanding. For those who have known me a long time—and many here meet that qualification including old university friends Bill Shorten, Richard Marles and Bernie Ripoll—this policy area has always held my keenest interest. For this reason, my appointment as Parliamentary Secretary for Defence in September 2010 was a particular joy for me.
Newspoll regularly asks the question: which one of the ALP, coalition or someone else do you think would best handle the issue of defence? Typically the coalition has outperformed Labor on this poll measure by around two to one, bearing out the fact that it is a truism that the conservative side of politics enjoys defence credentials of what might be described as a brand attribute. Only in the years 2008 and 2009, in recent times, did the coalition and Labor enjoy parity on this measure. Yet, the coalition is defence lazy. The simplistic notion that right-wing parties will always be stronger on national security policy does not bear scrutiny. The notion that the coalition is strong on defence policy actually emboldens the coalition to do little or nothing. In recent times we have seen the coalition use its defence credentials to avoid articulating any meaningful defence policy and to avoid presenting detailed or even coherent defence policies. Instead, the coalition has followed Labor in supporting Force 2030, has followed Labor in aspiring for a defence budget of two per cent of GDP and has followed Labor in supporting a maritime strategy for Australia's national defence.
The Australian Labor Party has always been the party of defence and national security. There are powerful reasons why Labor is and remains the political party best able to manage the national security interests of our nation. The ALP has always conceived most clearly Australia's place in the world. The ALP has always been a party of internationalists. This was true in 1942 and it is true today.
It is Labor that perceives Australia as a free, independent, middle power with a free, independent foreign policy. Australia's interest is to promote a rules based world order marked by multilateralism and by ever-strengthening international and humanitarian law—nations operating in a rules based system. It is in this way that the great crises and tragedies of mankind's greatest century of violence, the 20th century, can be avoided and never repeated. This is why Labor politicians were found playing a leadership role in the formation of the UN. It is Labor that conceives of Australia as a self-reliant nation. It is for these reasons that Labor has always supported Australia's possessing a strong and capable Australian Defence Force, one that is capable of acting independently and effectively across the threat spectrum in support of our unique national interests, our freedom and our ability to work multilaterally with our friends and allies to protect and defend critical sea lanes and the global commons that support our extensive trade—a defence force that gives substance to our claim to be a middle power. Labor has never envisaged Australia or its defence forces as mere auxiliaries for other nations and other interests. It is Labor that conceived of Australia as a member of the UN Security Council rather than as a mere deputy sheriff.
The A in ALP—Australian—is a signpost to the strong vein of patriotism and national identity that is found in Labor's DNA. We are a party that pride ourselves on our history. No other Australian political party celebrates its history as we do. For over a century it has been Labor that has built the institutions and values that today form such a central place in the Australian identity—the fair go at work, Medicare, the age pension and enshrining the notion that there should be equality of opportunity for every Australian. So too does the ALP celebrate its successful history in the field of defence policy. It was Labor politicians who ensured the Royal Australian Navy had the capability and wherewithal in 1914 to dominate the South Pacific and sweep German colonial power from our own region. It was Labor that provided the leadership of Australia during the darkest days of World War II. It was Prime Minister Curtin who moved Australia into close alliance with the United States of America. And it was Labor that brought Australian soldiers back from the Middle East to confront the threat of Imperial Japan in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. It was destined to be the ALP that most clearly saw our nation's path in 1942.
So it is today. At a time when long-held assumptions about national security are changing and the rise of China is changing forever relations between the nations of the Indo-Pacific it is Labor that is focused on reshaping our alliance with the US, on maintaining Australia's edge in our neighbourhood and on strengthening multilateral institutions in our own region. It is no mere accident of history that it was Labor that recognised the People's Republic of China in 1972. Nor is it an accident of history that in recent times we have seen Labor further strengthen our relationship with China. Labor's capacity to navigate Australia through changing international environments is longstanding and remains one of the great attributes of our party. Every nation as it forges its identity and its character looks to formative events in its history. The War of Independence and the Civil War are central to understanding the contemporary US and its values and mores. For the United Kingdom it is its history as an empire upon which the sun never set. For France it is the French Revolution, Napoleon and the bloody sacrifice of World War I. So it is for Australia: for our young nation and our story of how we evolved from a collection of colonies into an ever more confident nation, the Anzac legend has always held pride of place in the formation of our national identity. Of course, militarily, Gallipoli was a defeat, perhaps even a fiasco. Yet, as a campaign it is sacred for us. The reason for that is not its military accomplishments, but rather what the sacrifice of our soldiers meant and came to mean. The crucible of war has always played a central role in forming our Australian identity. The Anzacs at Gallipoli and later the soldiers, sailors and airmen of Tobruk, Milne Bay, Kokoda, Long Tan, Tarin Kowt and innumerable other places all embody our cultural notions of mateship, larrikinism, independence, practical ingenuity and self reliance. The Australian Defence Force is a uniquely Australian institution. Australians take great pride in its history, instincts and values and in the loyalty and sacrifice of its people.
From the moment that Martin Ferguson announced his retirement from this place on 28 May 2013 my life has been a blur. The process of an ALP preselection immediately followed by the federal election in September meant that I found myself confronting in very quick succession innumerable challenges.
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
Mr FEENEY: In meeting those challenges—and defying the recalcitrance of my colleagues—I relied upon the friendship, dedication and acumen of innumerable friends, both old and new. Of course, firstly I would like to acknowledge Martin Ferguson. His enthusiasm for my candidacy and outspoken support for me was powerful, and I will be ever thankful for it. It is also true to say that Batman has a Robin. Robin Scott MP, the member for Preston, has always been a source of great support and counsel for me. So too has Nazih Elasmar MLC, the member for Melbourne north province. I also acknowledge Fiona Richardson, the MP for Northcote, and her husband Stephen Newnham. There are many local ALP activists upon whose support, efforts and insights I will continue to rely, including Alison Donohue; Dr Stanley Chang, local GP and Chinese community leader; Andy Mylonas and his daughter Ana Sarakinis; Adele McBride; Peter Putnam and Matt Candelars. They are all emblematic of a thriving ALP community, whose member I have the great prestige and honour of being here in this place.
As everyone here knows, we come to rely upon our staff enormously. They form, if you will, our Canberra family. I take this opportunity to acknowledge them and the work they have done for me in recent times: Ben Maxfield, who also worked as my campaign director in the recent Batman election; Dee Cakir; Jeffrey von Drennen; Heam Elasmar; Bella Mentor; Lloyd Toffolon; George Macris; Adam Reid; and Isabelle Kingshott. These folk have put in enormous amounts of effort for me, and several of them continue to do so. I am eternally grateful to them for their loyalty and for their effort. I also acknowledge the work of Laura Wood, who has recently joined me from the Department of Defence, having worked for me previously as a departmental liaison officer. I look forward to meeting my shadow ministerial challenges with her advice and counsel.
Lastly, I acknowledge my family. As I said in my first first speech, my family have always been a source of great strength and inspiration to me. I am blessed in the sense that I have always enjoyed the support and love of a loving family. Can I thank again my parents, Basil and Margaret Varghese and Ian and Lyn Feeney. I am blessed, Deputy Speaker, with four parents, all of whom love me and all of whom have provided me with great strength. Can I acknowledge my wife Liberty Sanger—an extraordinary woman, an inspiring woman. I said before and I say again, her marrying me is the greatest honour ever bestowed upon me and it will ever remain thus.
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