Alex Gallacher, Senator for South Australia
First Speech - 17/08/2011
Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (17:03): Thank you, Mr President. I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your re-election as President. I trust I will benefit from your wisdom and guidance as I learn the ropes in this place. To all new senators I extend my congratulations on your election. To the very capable parliamentary staff: I thank you for your welcome and guidance to date.
I fill a vacancy created by Annette Hurley's decision not to seek another term. Annette has set a high benchmark through her dedication and work ethic. Her contribution to the Labor Party has been of the highest order, and the fact that I have inherited a fully functioning office with well-trained and capable staff is testament to Annette's demonstrated capacity for always doing the right thing, ensuring a smooth transition. As a new senator I greatly appreciate the fact that Nimfa Farrell, Peter Gonis, Matthew Marozzi and Dianna Zollo have chosen to continue their service. I look forward to continuing and upholding the high standard set by Annette and wish her all the best in her future endeavours.
I was born in New Cumnock, Scotland, in 1954 and arrived in Australia in 1966. My father, like so many migrants, came to Australia seeking a better chance for himself and his family. Sadly, my mother and father are no longer with us and cannot be here today. However, I am certain they would be very proud. However, my Aunty Doris and Aunty Mattie put a little Scottish perspective on hearing the news with stern advice along the lines of, 'Don't get a big head,' and, 'Don't get too big for your boots'—advice I intend to heed.
Many people have been instrumental in my taking this place as a senator for South Australia—firstly, the Labor voters of South Australia. I am deeply humbled and honoured to be one of your representatives. I will strive to be true to the Labor values of a fair go and a better chance for all. It is my belief that the Labor Party is the only party that provides all Australians a greater share of the prosperity of this great nation. I truly hope I can repay the faith that you have placed in your party in electing me to this place.
My wife, Paola, has been a tower of strength. Her love and capacity for ensuring the important things in life—family, children and grandchildren—are front and centre have ensured that I have become a much better person, ensuring the humility and respect for others necessary to make an effective contribution. Our children, Caroline, Ian, Terry and Frank, are a source of immense pride and, along with Dave, Seonaid, Tammy and Sharon, hopefully the source of many more grandchildren to add to the ranks of Connor, Lachlan and Mia.
I firmly believe that all Australians want a better environment and a greater opportunity for those who come after them and I will endeavour to fulfil that obligation in my role here in the Senate.
To my brother Joe, a lifelong source of good advice and stability: I thank you for being here to share this occasion. A number of friends and family are here tonight proudly wearing medals pertaining to military service, without which our country would not be what it is today. I salute your past and continuing service. I well remember that vigorous debate on the TWU committee of management when the Howard government committed troops to Timor. The debate ended when it was realised that the government had the executive power to commit the troops and it was then the job of the TWU, in the words of WA secretary Jim McGiveron, to make sure the troops had everything necessary to ensure their comfort and success. We must never let our democratic right to argue for or against military involvement obscure the fact that an elected government has the authority to commit our armed forces to places of conflict. It is my belief that we must always resource and afford our complete respect to our people who bravely take up that challenge.
Many friends, present and absent, from all walks of life have wished me well. I salute you and assure you that your contribution to my development is greatly appreciated. John Camillo, AMWU; Deb Black, FSU; and Bob Donnelly, ETU: I thank you and your organisations for your friendship and support. To Peter Malinauskas of the SDA, a wise head on young shoulders, I say: to have so capably replaced former secretary Don Farrell in such a short time is a testament to your dedication and work ethic. I am privileged to have your friendship and your organisation's support.
To my good friend Don Farrell, who encouraged me to take up the role, I say: I will endeavour to reward your confidence and friendship. My friends at the TWU of Australia—Jim McGiveron, Tony Sheldon, Michael Maine, Wayne Forno, Wayne Mader, John Berger and Peter Biaginni—and many rank-and-file members, delegates and executive members have all congratulated me on my elevation to this place. I thank them. I promise I will endeavour to uphold their ideals and aspirations for safe, secure and well-paid jobs.
To my successor at the TWU SA-NT branch, Ray Wyatt, and his team in South Australia and the Northern Territory I say that I am confident you will take our branch along the pathway to greater success. I cherish the loyalty and comradeship of existing and past office holders. The branch's success is evidence of the untiring efforts of those selfless characters who I have had the privilege of working with. Bryan McIntosh, Bob Whinnen and my great friend and confidante former president Doug Frusher are real standouts amongst many contributors in my 23 years at the TWU.
It is the function of first speeches to outline key interests and policy drivers. There are no surprises here. I have three priority interests—the transport industry, road safety and superannuation. I have been involved in the transport industry all my life. In my humble opinion, there is no better place to work. There is no smoke and mirrors, just plain-talking, hardworking employees and employers alike in a tough, competitive industry which works harder than most people imagine and continues to work while most people are asleep. Along the way, I have been privileged to meet some icons of the transport industry—some well known and others not so well known. They all share common attributes—that is, a capacity for hard work and a selfless dedication to the task at hand. Employers and employee representatives in the transport industry share these attributes and have generally made the industry a very efficient machine, putting the goods in the right spot, on time and in full, ensuring the society we live in functions effectively.
Clearly the transport and distribution sector is a vital part of our economy, and it is facing massive growth and massive challenges. A recent study by the Victorian Transport Association indicated profitability and driver availability were the two most significant issues facing this sector of our economy. This is the age-old transport issue: how can an industry attract new skilled entrants when constrained by profitability? Combine this fact with regulatory authorities diligently working in states and territories across an industry which effectively has no boundaries and real challenges emerge.
The fact that only a third of the transport task is long distance does not diminish the importance of that component. Just-in-time or, more accurately, exactly-on-time delivery schedules increase the challenge. Local distribution tasks integrate with intercity and interstate operations, ensuring the necessities of life are in the nation's supermarkets and retail outlets.
Concentration of power in the freight owners creates an imbalance in negotiations which often impacts on profitability, cascading down into increased pressure on operators, with negative outcomes for the industry and the broader community.
Regulatory authorities are an important part of protecting our community. They need to be given the resources and the direction to actively pursue those disreputable operators not complying with the regulations and ensure a level playing field which will allow the reputable operators to gain a fair return on their investment.
The industry's contribution to carbon emissions is a significant challenge. The industry is responsible for about six per cent of our carbon emissions, and this is predicted to double over the next 20 years. Major industry groups believe they can reduce 20 per cent of these emissions through reduced fuel consumption initiatives which I believe government should support. Technology in engine design may also reduce carbon emissions. However, doing nothing is not an option, as passing on the increased costs imposed will have a significant impact on inflation, affecting every household and business in the community.
Professional drivers should be able to complete work without excessive fatigue, injury and death as a daily challenge. Clearly, safe systems of work are the responsibility of all participants in the transport chain. The impacts in human terms and economically of getting it wrong are enormous. To quote our Prime Minister at the ACTU congress in 2009:
We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends meet.
Clearly the transport industry faces many challenges; however, it always has. Its entrepreneurial spirit is undiminished. Challenges will be met; transport workers and their employers will soldier on. It is unlikely that Australia will wake up one morning and find the necessities of life not in the nation's stores. However, a prudent approach would be to not take this for granted and to work towards increased stability in the sector by careful evaluation and action on the demonstrated needs of this sector. A lifetime on the road in my working life and capacity as a TWU official has made me aware of the ever-present dangers that each Australian faces every day when they drive their vehicle. I have a real passion for road safety. Our country's prosperity is reflected in our love affair with the motor vehicle. The freedom and mobility achieved by owning a car are tempered with the sickening human and economic cost of vehicle accidents. The various authorities charged with third-party insurance provision understand that death is relatively cheap when compared with the costs associated with serious and catastrophic injuries. The attendant economic costs are enormous, estimated to be $27 billion to the Australian economy. I have always believed that we should adopt the Swedish model of Vision Zero, which requires a move from traditional thinking. Vision Zero starts with this statement:
We are human and we make mistakes. Our bodies are subject to biomechanical tolerance limits and simply not designed to travel at high speed. Yet we do so anyway. An effective road safety system must always take human fallibility into account.
I am glad this Labor government is doing exactly that in the recently announced National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020. There is no city or town across our nation that will not benefit from this fundamental shift in our approach to road safety.
Enormous effort is currently dedicated by all stakeholders in the provision of road safety. Many outcomes are heading in the right direction: improved roads, improved vehicle design, smart systems for avoiding crashes, rigorous enforcement and tremendous improvements in recovery and treatment at intensive care facilities of crash victims all play their part. However, I am certain that those dedicated people responsible for road trauma would prefer not to await with dread the next accident victims on any long weekend in Australia. Is it acceptable that our police, paramedics and firefighters are simply putting a body into a bag or cleaning up the blood left on our streets? Surely it would benefit all if they did not have to do such tasks. Sweden does it better with 4.3 deaths per 100,000. Australia, despite our geographical differences, can improve its 5.78 annual deaths per 100,000. Saving 1,291 lives and reducing 32,000 injuries across Australia is a challenge we should accept.
Finally, the toll amongst our youngest drivers is most severe. When our least experienced drivers make up far too significant a percentage of deaths and injuries then we are duty bound to advocate for change and integrate the failing human in design. It must be accepted that a great proportion of young drivers do not offend. It is the risk takers, the bulletproof few, that make up this disproportionate and dreadful statistic. The importation of vehicles into Australia with much lower safety features than Australian made cars, or the great majority of imported models, is a serious concern. These vehicles marketed on price alone will have a negative effect on any improvements in deaths and serious injury if they become popular amongst our most vulnerable road users.
As a TWU official with a long involvement in the improvements of workers' rights, I believe government must act in the interest of workers in retirement. Superannuation has been one of the great learning curves of my career. Along the way I have been privileged to work with many fine people. The TWU super fund and its board of industry representatives is a great organisation ably led by chairman David Galbally QC and CEO Bill McMillin. I am honoured by the presence of Bill McMillin and director Peter Garske here tonight. The challenges facing industry funds are numerous. I am grateful that the Labor government is introducing significant reforms such as MySuper and is moving to increase the superannuation guarantee contribution to 12 per cent. Low fees and no commissions are critical drivers of increasing member accounts. Members' interest in super accounts generally equates with increased balances, and often education is least evident at the most important times. Lack of education or even interest at the most important time—that is, when you are young—is commonplace. In order to take advantage of what Einstein referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, compound interest, young people need to be educated, preferably at school.
Our national superannuation savings pool of $1.36 trillion is the envy of the developed world. The fact that the Howard government dropped the ball and failed to deliver on improved legislated contributions was an important opportunity lost. The changing demographics of our nation and the fact that we are living longer and therefore need to fund a longer period of retirement present some real challenges. Increased migration boosting the workforce is one solution. Our children accepting a greater tax burden for the costs of providing for longer retirement is another. However, I believe we should educate and ensure people have the skills and the contributions necessary to fund a good retirement outcome, whilst ensuring the age pension remains as a vital safety net.
Members will always demand value for money, and it is my belief that this is best achieved by the industry fund not-for-profit model, with all profits back to member accounts. Trustee directors representing employer and employees and only acting in the best interest of members are a world-class model. The Australian superannuation industry has a remarkable record in achieving rationalisation of funds. Clearly the appropriate and prudent regulation of long-term investments on behalf of members needs to be stringent and the cost of complying has driven rationalisation. Various studies have shown that many funds have achieved brand status, with loyalty driven by industry participation and trust in the board representatives. The optimum number of funds and the optimum size should be left to the members, who will vote with their account should a fund lapse in standards. Enforcement of employer obligations is an industry concern. Whether it is an employer simply not honouring its obligations or going broke is an increasing concern. Little seems to be done to pursue those not meeting a legal obligation, and in my view this inequity needs to be addressed. For the nation to continue to build long-term national savings in a world awash with debt is too great an opportunity to be missed. All efforts should be made to increase our long-term savings, as clearly the power in the world rests with the lender not the borrower.
The main threat to super is the increasing level of uncertainty in members' minds in respect of share markets. Their interest increases with account balances and members make decisions, usually conservative decisions, which comfort them in uncertain times. However, this may not be in the best interests of their future retirement outcomes. After owning their home, superannuation is possibly the next biggest investment of workers. An increasing aversion to volatility could open up opportunity to invest in simple and clear products, providing capital for infrastructure. The things you drive on, work in or fly out of—you can see them and they cannot disappear in a global financial meltdown. They generally behave in a predictable way and should deliver a higher return than cash. An education campaign to increase members' awareness and understanding may see growth in allocation to infrastructure as an investment for the long term. Simply switching between a balanced option, a growth option or a cash option as a result of the daily news is unlikely to secure the long-term result required for enough retirement income.
Finally, I will finish with the following quotation by Theodore Roosevelt, sent to me by my daughter Caroline:
Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
My daughter has captured in that quotation something that I have tried to do all my life, and I hope to continue that work in this place.