Senator Madigan: First Speech

John Madigan, Senator for Victoria

First Speech

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (17:55): Thank you, Mr President, and congratulations on your re-election as President of the Senate. Before anything else I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Senate who, like you, have been both patient and professional in helping me accustom myself to this new role. It has only been eight weeks and already I have come to realise that the Senate would not be able to function without the tireless efforts of these dedicated people.

Mr President, there is an expression, 'It's been a long time between drinks'. For the Democratic Labor Party I cannot think of a more apt description of our re-emergence into the federal arena. For me personally I can honestly say that the last 12 months of my life has been a surreal experience. Twelve months ago I was paying the bills by, amongst other things, forging pinch bars for Munro Engineering's post drivers—those in the rural community would know—while campaigning for the Senate on the side. After a series of lengthy discussions with many people, my wife, Teresa, was convinced that I should stand for the Senate but that the chances of my winning were slight.

At about 11 pm on election night, Antony Green, wearing a puzzled look on his face, announced, 'We appear to have a DLP senator.' I imagined that all the junior journalists would be searching Wikipedia for some reference to this new and obscure group. Teresa came to me, gave me a whack on the back of the head and said, 'So much for your predictions.'

For what my wife, Teresa, and my children, Lucy and Jack, have had to put up with, then and now, and will probably have to put up with for some years to come, I am truly grateful and apologetic. To my mother, Patricia, and my late father, John, I give thanks for having been raised in a loving and supportive home. To my grandparents, John, Hilda, Seymour and Myrtle, to my siblings, Catherine, Luke and Mark, as well as my wife's family and the members of my extended family across Australia and to all my friends, especially Richard Rigby and Kevin Flintoff, I would like to express my appreciation for the support they have given me.

To the Presentation Sisters and the Christian Brothers, especially Brother McManus, Brother McDonough, Brother Ward and Brother McGlade, I would sincerely like to thank them for their wonderful guidance, prayers and patience that they have given me over the years. To Tom Colmo, Denny Wheelahan, Carl Pettersen, Lance McAnulty, Harry Rizzetti, Jim Baxter and Gus Henderson—the blacksmiths, foundrymen and wheelwrights of my childhood—I offer my deep and heartfelt thanks to them for revealing the skills and wonders of their craft to a wide-eyed young lad. To Frank Pocock and Shane Taylor, my masters and mentors at the Victorian Railways Newport workshops, where as a proud member of the AMWU I did my apprenticeship, I give my sincere thanks and appreciation for sharing with me the skills, disciplines and knowledge of our trade.

And, lastly, I would like to give a special thanks to my great-great-grandfather, Antonio Salvadore Dominguez, for jumping ship in Port Phillip 140-odd years ago. I am sure at that time he would never have believed that one of his great-great-grandsons of one of Australia's early boat people would rise to the office of senator. From the Victorian Railways to my blacksmith's forge at Hepburn Springs in the Central Victorian Highlands, I now find myself representing the people of Victoria and Australia in the Senate. As the Victorian Senate candidate for the Democratic Labor Party, my election was far from a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, the people of Victoria, the DLP members and a group of determined smaller parties demanding better representation and accountability from the majors thought otherwise. Through the dedication, prayers and incredible hard work of so many true believers in the labour movement—stalwarts such as Billy and Cath O’Connell of east Trentham and the late Max and Eileen Crockett of Geelong—the Democratic Labor Party achieved a remarkable feat. The DLP has been referred to as 'the party of the last, the least and the lost' in Australian society. We were the first party to call for an end to the White Australia policy and to seek equal pay for equal work, the vote for 18-year-olds, equity in education funding and many other conditions that Australians now take for granted.

Our antidumping policy, placing the onus of proof on the overseas competitor rather than on the local producer, has largely been addressed by the work of Senator Nick Xenophon, who has done his best to address the plight of the Australian worker and the Australian family.

The drug problem is a scourge on our society and, apart from the devastation wrought on families and individuals, it causes untold harm to our economy and our industries. I believe a nationwide campaign must be considered and we will be examining ways in which to introduce compulsory detoxification and rehabilitation for addicts of illegal drugs.

I could go on about legislation but there will be plenty of days for that in this chamber. During my time here there will no doubt be a number of controversial bills proposed. I do not intend to be deliberately controversial simply for a few cheap headlines but on some issues I cannot be complicit by my silence.

I am a senator representing the state of Victoria, the state that, in 2008, passed the worst abortion laws in the Western world. They would be the worst in the entire world, but we can be proud of the fact that in this matter Victoria is not quite as bad as the current occupiers of Tiananmen Square. These laws have been described as the most inhumane laws ever passed in this country. Some members on both sides of the house opposed them—unfortunately, not enough. In the last few weeks I have received thousands of emails on the live export trade. I was sickened by the sight of animals treated so inhumanely but what I will never understand is how people can so easily turn away from the even greater suffering we cause to our own children. Life at every stage is precious. No joy comes from a violent loss of life. I urge those senators who are unfamiliar with the scope of the Victorian laws to examine them in the hope they are never repeated in other states and may one day be repealed.

Everywhere I go I meet Australians who feel that they have lost their voice and that no politician from either side of the fence could give a damn about their future or the future of their families and communities. Year after year workers, families, farmers and small businesses are alienated by decisions of successive governments that allow and, apparently, encourage the easy sell-off of Australian companies, Australian jobs and Australia’s future. Every year ordinary Australians—that is, the people we are supposed to represent and defend—lose more and more control of their land and its resources. These ordinary Australians actually own this country—not us, their elected representatives; not the multinational corporations; and not the overseas buyers of our resources, our farms and our future.

We are the representatives of the Australian people, not their masters. And yet decision after decision made in this parliament strips the Australian people of the ownership of their own country. We rightly make laws protecting the ownership of land for the Indigenous people of this country but we seem incapable of making laws that will actively protect the resources, industry and land of the Australian people as a whole. Our people are told again and again that we are short-sighted if we do not embrace the supposed level playing field of global economics and the free trade system. This level playing field looks more like a ski slope to most Australians. Australian businesses pay superannuation, workers compensation, award wages and incur a dozen other costs to give our workforce a safe and secure environment. How many of our competitors incur the same costs? How many of them use workers as grist to the mill, provide no safety provisions, no superannuation, no leave and whose wage levels are barely high enough to meet daily costs?

Our manufacturing sector is under siege, a siege as great as any we fought in past wars. This week we see BlueScope Steel going under, with the loss of over 1,000 jobs. Say it quick enough and it is easy: 1,000 jobs. But it is not 1,000 jobs, is it? It is 1,000 families. It is the communities these thousands live in, the shops, the schools and the small businesses that rely on their money to keep going. One thousand jobs, families, communities—another statistic—but at least the directors of BlueScope can sympathise with them while they holiday in France or Hong Kong or anywhere their bonus dollar buys them more. If we are not making decisions that make the lives of Australians better, then we should at least make sure we do not make them any worse. A country is what a country makes. The great economies of the world have strong manufacturing sectors. They do not survive by simply digging holes in the ground, turning their country into a nation of drink waiters or educating their competitors on how to bury them.

During my time here, however long that will be, I hope to take steps to change this situation and to help restore and protect Australia’s industry to the best of my ability for the betterment of Australian families and workers. I also hope to raise the awareness of federal politicians of the daily pressures facing the Australian worker and farmer. Accordingly I will be moving to establish a parliamentary program. Just as the members and senators of the Australian parliament can and should show their support for the Australian Defence Force by taking part in the ADF Parliamentary Program, I believe an Australian manufacturing and farming sector parliamentary program should be established. Such a program would help senators and members gain a better appreciation for the men and women whose hard work keeps this nation alive. Surely a hands-on approach to the working conditions of the average Australian would benefit all of us when debating relevant legislation.

Finally, I would like to address something particularly close to the DLP and its members. Thirty-seven years ago the last DLP senators left the Senate. McManus, Little, Kane, Byrne and Gair: names that were once spoken of—either with admiration or derision—in households across this nation. They were the last of their kind, the last of an era, and their passing was not mourned by the parties present here today.

Two visionaries, John Curtin, who hailed from my wife's birthplace of Creswick, and Ben Chifley, a Bathurst boy and a railwayman, had proclaimed the principles of the labour movement only a few years prior to the split. Less than a decade had passed since a Labor government had saved this nation from invasion during the Second World War, and now the same party was prepared to sacrifice that hard-won future to an ideology with an agenda of social engineering and an upheaval as destructive as any invading army. Fifty-one members of parliament, including 14 ministers and a state Premier, stood fast for the Labor principles they swore to uphold and for this they were expelled, abandoned and left to carry on the fight for the sake of the Australian people and ironically to defend the principles of the Australian Labor Party. For most of the next 20 years the DLP held the balance of power and played a major role in determining who would govern this country. Were we always right in the decisions we made? No—we made mistakes too.

Over the last couple of years the Liberal Party has made a number of references to their apparent Labor credentials. We have heard that 'the principles of the DLP are alive and well in the Liberal Party', and even more recently that if Ben Chifley were alive today he would vote Liberal. Well, I can assure you that the DLP and its principles are alive and well—in the DLP. I can also assure you that the great Ben Chifley, a former Prime Minister of the labour movement that I support, would have resigned his office rather than vote Liberal. The Libs seem to forget that another great Prime Minister and the father of their party, Sir Robert Menzies, was so discouraged with the direction the Liberal Party had taken after his departure that, as confirmed by his family, rather than vote Liberal he voted for the Democratic Labor Party. So instead of Chifley voting for the Liberals, it is Menzies who showed the way by voting for a Labor Party.

Most of you have heard or read the following words at some time in your life. They speak to those who genuinely believe in the role that a Labor Party has in the future of this country and the lives of its people:

I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective—the light on the hill—which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.

This excerpt from Ben Chifley's Light on the Hill speech to an ALP conference, a united ALP, in 1949 defines the labour movement then, now and hereafter. Sixty-two years later we who call ourselves Labor are again called upon to fulfil that movement. Are we bringing something better to the people? Or are we just about putting an extra sixpence in our pockets? Are we providing better standards of living? Or are we just about making someone Prime Minister at any cost? Are we spreading greater happiness to the people? Or is a helping hand too much to pay for the betterment of mankind? And if we cannot answer these questions as honestly as Chifley asked them, is the continuation of this labour movement worth fighting for?

The DLP and the ALP are not the same. We differ in a number of ways but we both came from the same lineage and, however much some members on both sides may dislike it, we are kin, of sorts. Frank McManus, a true and loyal Labor senator, remarked:

I have often said that the best Government for Australia is a good Labor Government and the worst is a bad Labor Government.

This nation needs, wants and hopes for a good Labor government that will bring something better to the people—that works for the betterment of our people. The labour movement is still waiting to be fulfilled. The ALP has a chance to reaffirm its commitment to that unchanging labour movement. The DLP intends to pursue that vision. It would be good to do so with kin. May we all remember that it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to put the common good back into the Commonwealth.

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