Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (17:02): I commence by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and paying my respects to elders past and present. It has been, for me, a great privilege and a considerable pleasure to serve the state of Western Australia in this place since 2008. There is no greater honour, in my view—no greater responsibility in our democracy—than for us to be entrusted by our fellow citizens with the duty to represent them, the opportunity to contribute to the legislation that protects their needs, serves their interests and shapes our great nation.
I thank my fellow Western Australians for their trust and the opportunity given to me to serve them in both the state Legislative Council and the Senate. Today I pay tribute to the great many community, social justice, disability, local government, LGBTI, women's, environment and Indigenous organisations and advocates I have had the great pleasure of working with and supporting over the last six years. It has also been a great honour to work with Indigenous custodians who have welcomed me to their country around my state and around the nation. I have seen too much poverty, too much hardship in WA's Indigenous communities but also extraordinary resilience and leadership and great vision. I particularly want to thank all those Indigenous leaders and elders who have taught me so much about the Indigenous cultural economies that they have been working so hard to build and develop. In particular, I wish the ranger programs around our country well.
I want to thank the Australian Labor Party for the honour of representing our party and advancing our values. All of us in this place know that we owe our capacity to make a contribution to a great many other people. So, first and foremost, I want to thank the members of the WA Labor Party and our affiliated unions for our shared values, our commitment and the many tireless hours spent together over many election campaigns. I thank EMILY's List, I thank Young Labor Women's Network, and I thank Rainbow Labor for their support. I thank the ALP branches around my state of WA and their members. I know how hard all the members of the party work to contribute and uphold our mutual values.
I have some wonderful friends and comrades who have made my parliamentary career possible, and I want to pause to remember and thank the late Jock Ferguson. I thank Steve McCartney, Sally Talbot, Jon Ford, Geoff Gallop, Joan Kirner, Mick Buchan, Christy Cain, Sue Bowers, Penny Sharpe, Jo Tilley, Ashley Hogan, Philip O'Donoghue, the Dawson family, the Comries, Shane Hill, Linda Whatman, Feyi Akindoyeni, Erik Locke and many others who have gone out of their way to give me great support over the years.
I want to thank my own union, the AMWU, for their never-ending and never-yielding support. I thank the MUA, the CFMEU, the CPSU, the ETU, the CEPU and all of their officials and members. For me today it is incredibly important to recognise that unions play a vital role not only in upholding workplace rights but in defending and promoting the broad egalitarian values of our nation. Unions have been at the core of those values and they are needed in our country now more than ever.
I want to thank my family. I thank Greg, Fleur, Jammo, Nicholas, Alyce and, in particular, my mother, Sandra, who has always gone above and beyond to support me, including many weeks of handing out how-to-vote cards at remote and early polling places. I want to thank Dennis Liddelow and Stephen Dawson. And I want to pause to thank all of my wonderful colleagues in this place on both sides of the chamber. Your friendship, support and shared values have meant the world to me. I want to thank all of the parliamentary staff and officers who keep this amazing organisation moving.
It has been for me in the time I have been here an enormous privilege to work with people who, like me, are absolutely bursting with the conviction that they want to better the fabric of our great nation. I pay tribute, on that note, to my staff, current and past, for their time, talent, loyalty, fun and humour—their humour is not always in good taste, but never mind!—Justine Parker, Alanna Clohesy, Kate Deverall, Tania McCartney, Nicky McKimmie, Michael Hyde, Tony O'Gorman, David Scaife and a great many others who have volunteered their time and skills to me.
I want to thank my wonderful partner, Aram Hosie, for his love, care and support and for sharing what has been a demanding journey. Your own commitment to fighting for progressive and inclusive values has always been a wonderful inspiration to me.
I wish, of course, that I had had the opportunity to serve longer and to contribute more in this place, but it was not to be. The events surrounding the 2013 election—the recount and the rerun—brought home to me very clearly, as I am sure it did for many others in this place and throughout our community, how vitally important the integrity of our democratic processes really are and how vitally important it is to be able to have absolute confidence in the operation of the institutions and organisations that safeguard our democratic process in this nation and, indeed, the laws and regulations which govern it. Very often they have served us very well.
Unfortunately, last year that was not the case. My own personal disappointment is a minor thing, in my view, when set beside the potential for those events to undermine the trust and confidence in the electoral process which underpins the legitimacy of our parliament and our government. I will not be here in this place to be part of the discussions and debates about what steps need to be taken to ensure that what happened in Western Australia in 2013 never happens again, but I urge all of you, my soon-to-be former colleagues, and all of our colleagues in the other place to remember that the right of any government to enact any policies and of any parliament to legislate rests entirely on their democratic nature. As such, the highest priority must be that the election of governments and parliaments are fair and, indeed, are known to be fair.
I would also say, on that note, to members of my own party, whether parliamentarians or not, that fair, transparent and democratic processes within political parties are as important to the integrity of our system as are fair and transparent democratic elections. This is true not only for Labor, of course, but I have had very much a front row seat to the recent public failures of Labor in my own state of Western Australia to meet that important standard. I will be part of the state Labor conference in early July and I really hope that the prospect of reform is made a reality. It is a challenge that we simply must meet.
Again, my own personal disappointment is insignificant beside the consequences for our party, our members and, most importantly, the men and women around Australia who depend on us, on Labor, to defend their right to health care, to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and for their children to get a quality education. There are consequences for all those who depend on Labor to defend all those rights which together make up the Australian 'fair go'. Too often, those who resist the democratic reform of our party characterise it as a distraction, a sideshow or us focusing on ourselves. As we have seen in Western Australia, that damages more than the party itself. It damages the hopes, aspirations and chances of those whom it is Labor's purpose to serve.
In Western Australia, those people are now facing the double impact of vicious cuts at both the state and federal levels. So when we look to the issue of electoral legitimacy we must also look to the fact that before both WA Senate elections our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promised no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS and no new taxes. But every one of these promises was broken in the first Hockey-Abbott budget. In other words, there is no mandate for these attacks and they have no democratic legitimacy.
Labor left government with low inflation, a million new jobs were created in the five years before the last election, there were low interest rates, net debt peaked at one-seventh of the level of other advanced economies, we have a AAA credit rating and we have superannuation savings that are larger than the size of our economy. But the budget before this parliament is simply the Abbott government's ideological blueprint for a less fair Australia—an Australia that has dismantled egalitarian values so the rich can grow richer and leave the rest of our country behind.
But these are not social or economic principles that work. Labor knows that squeezing the spending power of those on low and middle incomes means lower demand, which in turn is bad for growth in our economy. We also know that unequal access to education shuts people out of the Labor market and stops them from reaching their potential. We know that is bad, in turn, for economic efficiency. The existence of extreme disparities between rich and poor undermines social cohesion, it erodes cooperation and trust and it has grave negative consequences for productivity in our country. In my view, the abandonment of egalitarian values is not good for people and nor is it good for our economy. Egalitarian values have always underpinned Labor's approach to work, income, superannuation, retirement, health, education and more. There are hidden in the budget papers massive cuts to many of the NGOs that support community services in Western Australia. Hidden in the budget papers there is an $80 billion cut to our schools and hospitals—a cut for which there has been no consultation; not a shred of consultation and no forewarning or discussion. These cuts will compound what have already been devastating losses for the schools and hospitals of my state; they will hit household budgets, along with increased taxes and charges on a great many fronts.
It is, to me, an absolute disgrace that Colin Barnett has been so profoundly missing from the deep criticism directed at the Abbott government by state premiers about the impact of these cuts on our nation. Colin Barnett, as you can see from the cuts he has already made, is in lockstep ideologically with the federal coalition's abandonment of egalitarian values. The scale of the betrayal of these values is in my view unprecedented. It is a budget that will see the worst off in our community hit harder, not just in proportional terms but in absolute terms, than the best off. For example, low-income families with children are suffering reductions of between 10 and 15 per cent of their disposable income. A couple with two school-aged children earning $60,000 will stand to lose just over $6,000 while for those on $200,000 the impact is just $400. Think about that. In Joe Hockey's Australia, in Tony Abbott's Australia, the harder you are doing it the harder the coalition will slug you. That is why we have seen such anger in the Australian community over the unfairness of this budget. The issue is immediate and it remains white-hot.
This just goes to show how out of touch the Abbott government is in completely failing to realise that the fair go is a mainstream Australian value. They completely fail to realise that their hatred of Medicare is a minority view in our country, and they fail to realise that despite the best efforts of successive Liberal governments Australians care for their neighbours; they care for their workmates and their friends and not just for themselves. The government underestimates the innate Australian ethos of mateship, and it underestimates the capacity of Australians to extend that mateship beyond traditional limitations. It has been, in my opinion, an all too frequent failure of those who wish to imagine that others share their own narrow view of community—a view curtailed by income, by race, by gender or by sexual orientation.
I am presently on the left of my party. Those with my views are often characterised, kindly, as progressives or, less kindly, as radicals. Either term is used to marginalise us, to imply we are extreme or to suggest we are a minority. I have always found it ironic that the very views that led to my being labelled like that are exactly those views which are shared by the majority of the Australian population—although not by the majority of the Australian parliament. I support the end of discrimination in the Marriage Act—not because it affects me, although it does affect me, but because equal rights for all Australians has always been a touchstone for me, in all aspects of my political involvement. I can assure you that that will remain the case in the future. More than 65 per cent of Australians agree with me. If this parliament truly reflected the views of those who elect us, marriage equality would be a reality.
I support the right of women to make their own reproductive choices and not have government make those choices for them—and 80 per cent of Australians agree with me. I have been equally opposed to laws that force women to bear children when they do not want to and laws intended to prevent women from bearing children when they wish to. Pro choice means the right to choose, and I am profoundly grateful that I have been able to choose motherhood. I participated in amending laws intended to prevent women like me from accessing the same medical care as married women. I did that back in 2001 in the state parliament. Laws were finally changed in Victoria in 2010, finally giving women like me, regardless of their marital status, regardless of the gender of our partners or whether we have partners at all, access to the same legal rights to treatment as married women in this country. Despite attempts to characterise views such as mine as radical, every piece of research in this country demonstrates that these views are shared by a majority of Australians. They are mainstream views, and it is those who deny them that are the extremists in our country. It remains a great disappointment to me that my party still contains a small rump of those extremists who exercise, in my view, power far in excess of their number, and most certainly in excess of their support among our party's members and among our party's unions.
I have spent my time in this place—indeed, my whole involvement in the Labor Party—working to fulfil my commitment to making this country a better place. It is a long-held and never-finished task, as a great Labor Prime Minister once said. He said:
To promote equality, involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land; and liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.
For me, motherhood will not change that. In fact, as I anticipate parenthood I feel more commitment, more dedication and more urgency about the task of making this country one where all of us enjoy equal rights and equal protection before the law, where a helping hand and a fair go are for all, regardless of where you live or who your parents are. As I think of the country that my child will live in—the future they will see—I am more certain than ever that we cannot argue any more, that the problems that affect the rest of the world can be stopped at our borders. We are more interconnected that at any time in human history; surely the global financial crisis taught us that. Surely the challenge of our changing climate shows us that. And surely the plight of refugees who have made their way to our shores also shows us that.
If we want a better Australia, we must do our part as global citizens to build and create a better world, and we must appreciate that we cannot do it alone, either. Our national interest demands that we be engaged global citizens, that we take part in genuine international cooperation and that we take our share of responsibility for addressing climate change and for addressing inequality both in and outside our nation's borders. And it demands that we learn as well as teach.
In the months and years ahead, this place will see these and other great challenges for our country and our community discussed and debated. I have to say that my faith in our democracy is strong enough for me to say that perhaps they will even be resolved. I leave those endeavours in your hands, my friends, and in the hands of those who are soon to join this chamber. I wish you well, I wish you success, and I wish you to see clearly the real needs and aspirations of those who should be the highest aim of our parliament. That is the Australian people. My own efforts to this end will be in other places in the months and years ahead, but I promise you that they will not cease.