I have just returned from the national capital, Canberra, where my brother Jim Turnour gave his maiden speech to the Australian federal parliament.
While Jim and I don’t agree on climate change – his views are more like those of David Jones, occasional commentator at this blog and Head of Climate Analysis Section, Australian Bureau of Meteorology – we do agree on many other issues. Last night in parliament Jim said:
“Political leaders and governments impact the daily lives of the citizens they represent. The good ones provide leadership and vision that can inspire great endeavour and achievement and that can heal historical pain and suffering.
Through legislation, they shape the foundations of the country and the society they envision. So the decisions we make in this parliament can improve the lives of every Australian, whether they know it or not. And I can think of no more important or rewarding work than to be part of a government ready to provide that leadership, to be part of a government ready to shape the foundations for a fairer and more prosperous society that ensures that every Australian—no matter their economic, social or cultural background—has the opportunity to participate fully and reach their potential.
This is the Labor ideal, and I am proud to be part of a Labor government. I therefore come to this parliament recognising the power that we as a government possess and determined not to waste the opportunity that I have been given to help shape a fairer and more prosperous Australia.
Jim Turnour delivering his maiden speech to parliament
As the member for Leichhardt, I represent a large and diverse electorate, stretching from Saibai Island in the Torres Strait bordering Papua New Guinea, through Cape York Peninsula to and including the great city of Cairns. Leichhardt, more than any other seat in our federation, is a microcosm of Australia. It contains remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, small rural towns built on mining and agriculture, and popular tourist destinations like Cairns and Port Douglas.
Cairns is a rapidly growing regional city, with sprawling outer suburbs and inner city communities where old Queenslanders are making way for new unit developments. The population is expected to grow from 125,000 to 180,000 over the next 10 years. We have mortgage-belt aspirationals, bluecollar battlers, sea changers, tree changers, farmers, graziers, miners, Islanders, Aboriginals and, of course, strong migrant communities. The economy founded on agriculture and mining continues to diversify, with tourism, construction, marine, aviation, defence, film and education playing important roles in our developing regional economy.
It is no wonder that the many challenges confronting Australia in the 21st century are being experienced by communities in my electorate of Leichhardt. Businesses are crying out for skilled labour, and there is an urgent need for investment in roads and community infrastructure like sporting facilities and childcare centres. Our major hospital, the Cairns Base, experiences chronic bed shortages, and patients have to travel away to receive many specialist services, including oncology and cardiac procedures. Working families are struggling under rising interest rates, petrol and grocery prices. Many young people are, for the first time, starting to question whether they will ever be able to afford to buy their own home, while many Indigenous people are welfare dependent, have limited opportunities for full-time employment and suffer poor health and educational outcomes.
Climate change is also placing at risk our World Heritage Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforest, our
agricultural industries and low lying coastal communities.
These are major challenges requiring long-term planning and investment, while for working families they are practical problems they face every day. I am proud to be part of a government that brings new leadership— that understands and responds to everyday problems but remains focused on ideas to build a modern Australia equipped for the 21st century. I am working hard to lend a helping hand on the everyday problems being faced by my constituents while building a long-term plan to tackle the challenges facing my communities. I am proud of the many local commitments I secured during the recent election campaign, including increased road funding for the Bruce Highway and Peninsula Development Road, and new health services through a GP superclinic, an MRI for Cairns Base Hospital and funding to improve oncology services.
In the tropical north our natural assets, our close proximity to Asia and the Pacific region and our tropical expertise provide us with unique opportunities to grow and strengthen our local economy. To take advantage of these opportunities and to prosper into the future Australia must remain a technologically advanced country. That is why the Rudd Labor government is investing in nation building infrastructure and an education revolution. Our high-speed fibre-to-the-node communications network will go beyond the capital cities and will connect our rural and regional communities to the global economy. If we unlock the creative potential of our population through education and training and have world-class infrastructure then we will be able to compete and do business anywhere in the world.
Our human creativity and access to world-class infrastructure is also key to our fight against climate change. Leichhardt is home to some of the world’s great natural wonders in the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest, which are both at risk from climate change. Island communities in the Torres Strait like Saibai and Boigu are also under threat from rising sea levels. The problem of climate change has arisen because of a failure of our market based economy to cost in pollution in the form of greenhouse gas emissions. This classic example of market failure has produced climate change that now poses a real threat to our environment, our local economy and our way of life. This problem requires practical local action and a global solution. An enormous challenge for our government will be how we intervene in the market to ensure that the real cost of greenhouse gas emissions is reflected in the market for fossil fuels. Getting this right will be critical not only to tackling climate change but to ensuring that our quality of life does not decline as we develop and adopt new renewable fuels and technologies to replace old ones.
The market based economy that, although not perfect, has allowed for the creation of so much of our wealth is also under threat from uncertainty in financial markets and the increasing power of global corporations. The uncertainty in financial markets generated through the United States sub-prime mortgage crisis is a factor in Australia’s rising interest rates. Financial markets have failed halfway around the world, yet the impacts are being felt by families with mortgages in Leichhardt and all across Australia.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in a report into petrol prices released in December last year, found no evidence of price fixing by major oil companies but found that they were operating in a comfortable oligopoly. Labor has since announced a petrol commissioner to monitor prices and improve transparency in the fuel industry. Legislation to protect consumers from monopolistic market power and unethical behaviour in the marketplace is critical to our long-term economic and social prosperity.
Climate change, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the domination of large corporations in the supply chain for basic goods and services like food and fuel underline the important role that governments must play in regulating markets so they create prosperity not only today but into the future for the broader community. Increasingly, though, regulating these markets requires agreements that cross national borders. We need leadership and a new effort to develop global solutions to the problem of market failure. Australia is well placed to play a leadership role in developing these solutions. To do this we must participate fully in the global community, and that is why it was so important for Australia to have signed the Kyoto protocol and joined the global effort to tackle climate change.
Critical to our long-term future is also our agenda for reform through the Council of Australian Governments. The fact that the federal and every state government is Labor provides us with a unique opportunity to put aside the blame game that we must not squander. In a report for the Business Council of Australia, Access Economics estimated that cost shifting, duplication and other inefficiencies in Commonwealth-state funding arrangements cost some $9 billion per year. Of this, $5 billion is related to spending inefficiencies, including around $1 billion in health related inefficiencies.
In areas like health, where there will always be more demand than funding, it is imperative that we make the best use of available resources. When we squander precious resources we make those who may be waiting for treatment suffer longer and we have fewer resources available to take much needed action to prevent people getting sick. New medical technologies have improved the quality of life of many people suffering debilitating illnesses and ensured that we all live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. The spiralling cost of these technologies, however, creates huge challenges for governments who want to ensure that it is not only the better off within the community who have access to these new treatments. Preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease that develop over a person’s lifetime are also increasingly threatening the sustainability of our public healthcare system.
Reform is required to reduce waste and duplication and improve service delivery across government. This is not only an economic but a moral imperative in areas like health and Indigenous affairs.
Leichhardt is home to wonderful Indigenous cultures and the historic Mabo and Wik native title decisions. I would like to pay a special tribute to the numerous Indigenous traditional owners and elders from my electorate who have fought to maintain not only their culture and rights but those of other Indigenous Australians. In Leichhardt, like in other parts of Australia, Indigenous people statistically have poorer health and lower levels of education and are more likely to be on welfare or in jail than non-Indigenous Australians. It is no wonder that Indigenous life expectancy is 17 years less.
We need practical action by government in partnership with Indigenous communities to close this gap. We need an evidence based approach that holds people accountable and delivers action and real improvements in health and education and creates economic opportunities while tackling the debilitating impacts of welfare dependency and substance abuse.
We also need leadership that inspires and heals, and I am proud to be part of a government that has shown that leadership by apologising to the stolen generations as its first order of business during the opening of this parliament. It is this combination of leadership that touches a deep emotional chord and uplifts the human spirit and that, when combined with real and substantial practical action, starts us down the road to closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. As Paul Keating put it in his famous Redfern speech, how we respond to Indigenous Australia:
… is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the
world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be … the land of the fair go and
the better chance.
I believe Australians believe in equality of opportunity, enshrined in what we term the ‘fair go’. We believe in a fair go that embodies rights and responsibilities. Australians expect everyone to get a fair go when it comes to the basics, including health, education and a job, but we also expect everyone to have a go and contribute depending on their ability and circumstances. We are practical people, common-sense people, who look for straight answers to the challenges we face in everyday life. ‘Does it work?’ and ‘is it fair?’ are simple but powerful values that Australians understand and that I learnt growing up.
I was born the third of four children. My parents, John and Joan Turnour, who are in the gallery today, grew small crops and ran cattle at Coomalie Creek, near Batchelor, 56 miles south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory during the 1950s and sixties. They established the block from scratch, building their house from home-made bricks, and experienced the hardships of bush life. My parents would make a career of pioneering, setting up properties firstly in Australia and then overseas in Indonesia and the Philippines. Dad is a do-it-yourself man who can fix pretty much anything with whatever is at hand; even the kitchen cupboards were fastened to the wall in one of our homes with eight-gauge wire. My Mum is an only child who came to Australia as a ten-pound Pom in 1952, aged 21. She never seems fazed by anything and has always been active in the local community, whether it is at the Country Women’s Association, the parents and friends association or the local church. I proudly carry her maiden name, Pearce, as my middle name. My parents were determined that all of us kids would get a good education.
I boarded at Brisbane Grammar School and subsequently went to the University of Queensland, where I graduated with degrees in agriculture and, later, economics. So I grew up with strong role models, surrounded by different cultures, learning to use what resources I had to find practical solutions to the challenges of everyday life. I was taught to treat people fairly, even if the world is not always fair. So thank you, Mum and Dad and my sisters Jennifer and Caroline, who are in the gallery today, and my brother, Matthew, for your love and support and the lessons learnt. The support of my family, my education and the practical skills I learnt growing up have held me in good stead throughout my working life.
For almost 20 years I built a career working with farmers and graziers for the Department of Primary Industries and as an agricultural consultant in Australia and overseas. Most recently I managed Operation Farm Clear, a large project that employed more than 200 people and assisted more than 1,000 farmers to recover following the devastation of severe Tropical Cyclone Larry.
Politics, though, has always interested me. At home we always talked about politics and I was at university at the end of the Bjelke-Petersen era and experienced the great mood for change that elected the Goss Labor government in Queensland. My younger sister, Caroline Turnour, has had the greatest influence over my political career. She told me to stop whingeing about John Howard back in 1998 and join the Labor Party. In 2001 she suggested I contact Senator Jan McLucas, who is in the chamber today, and work for a politician and see what it was really like. I was so glad my sister was there last year when I finally won after the disappointment of the 2004 campaign, so thank you, Caroline, for always being there and for your advice and support.
I want to pay tribute to my wife, Tiffany, who is in the gallery today. Politics is tough on families but she knows I love this job and how hard we have both worked to get here. I thank you, Tiffany, for the love and support you have given me and for the sacrifices you have made and the many more ahead.
To my beautiful daughter, Zoe Joan: the size of my electorate and its distance from Canberra means that I am going to miss some of your growing up. I am going to work hard not to miss too much and I hope that you appreciate and enjoy some of the unique experiences you will have as the daughter of a parliamentarian.
In Leichhardt we achieved a massive swing approaching 15 per cent and I want to thank my campaign and the Your Rights at Work campaign for the effort they put in. The timing was right and the national swing was on, but you do not achieve 15 per cent without a great local campaign. I was endorsed in April 2006 and we ran a mini-campaign later that year, thanks to the efforts of my campaign director, Mike Bailey, and Toni Fulton and the financial backing of the Cairns branch. This campaign leveraged off the national Your Rights at Work campaign and the local Where’s Warren? campaign, driven by Stuart Trail and the Electrical Trades Union. Stuart Trail would go on to become the ACTU Your Rights at Work coordinator in Leichhardt and there is no doubt that the community activism the entire union movement created on the ground in Leichhardt galvanised opposition to the Work Choices laws and drew people back to the Labor Party. Thank you, Stuart Trail and Kevin O’Sullivan, for leading the campaign and all the unionists who worked so hard to get rid of the Howard government. We could not have done it without you.
Leichhardt is an electorate of more than 150,000 square kilometres with diverse communities and it requires great logistical planning to run a good campaign. Lesley Clark, the former member for Barron River, came on board to coordinate the overall campaign in the last few months, enabling me to focus fully on my job as the candidate. Her knowledge and experience of marginal seat campaigning is only exceeded by her generosity of spirit when it comes to supporting the Labor Party. I could not have had anyone better running the local Labor campaign. She and Mike Bailey were ably supported by so many fantastic people, but I need to name a few who have supported me over many years or have given up so much of their time during the recent campaign. Thank you, Hazel Lees, for so professionally managing the finances.
Thank you, Cathy Lovern, my campaign director from 2004, who I have so often turned to and who has never let me down. Thankyous go to Jan Lahney, who is also in the gallery today, John Pratt, John Tuite, Sue Tom, John Thompson, Dorothy Grauer, Cam Muir, Jackie Clarkson, Alison Alloway, Andrew Lucas, Les Francis and all the others who have worked so hard on the campaign. A thankyou goes to Allen Ringland, who ran the best corflute campaign ever. John Adams did a great job organising the Cape and Torres Strait while Martin Hurst similarly did a great job organising the polling booths.
I want to pay tribute to my Senate colleague Jan McLucas, who is in the chamber today, for her support over many years. I learnt a great deal about politics while working for Jan—so thank you very much. I also want to thank my Senate colleague Claire Moore for her support during the recent campaign. State members Jason O’Brien, Steven Wettenhall, Warren Pitt and Desley Boyle have all supported me wherever they could. I look forward to working with them to improve the lives of the communities we represent. I also want to thank the Queensland and national ALP campaigns, who so ably supported our local effort.
Finally I want to pay tribute to the candidates and members who went before me. To Chris Lewis and Matt Trezise, who ran for Labor in 1998 and 2001: the time just wasn’t right. To John Gayler, Peter Dodd and Warren Entsch: I hope you are enjoying your retirement from parliament and thank you, John, for your support and advice.
I hope to have a long career in this place achieving good things for my communities and my country. Everything we achieve in life we achieve through the support of others and that is particularly the case when it comes to politics. I am so lucky to have had a supportive family growing up and now such a wonderful partner in Tiffany. I have great staff and a strong base of support in Leichhardt and I am now looking forward to working with members of this House and of the Senate and their staff over the years ahead because political leaders and governments really can make a difference!”
End of speech
You can read more about Jim Turnour here: