Monday, 18 February 2008

Hansard 2007-02-13 Inaugural Speech

13 FEBRUARY 2007

“The Barry family frequently had meagre fare while their intended meal, and often their shoes, were given to Carlton residents who came to the door hungry. My uncles and aunts remember as small children often waking up with unknown children sharing their bed, put there quietly late at night, while homeless families were found more permanent accommodation.”

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) —

Thank you President. I offer my congratulations for your election to the chair and to all Members for their election.

I would like to first acknowledge and thank all those heroic Australians who over the last century have risked and even given their lives in defence of our country. I would also like to thank and pay tribute to the volunteers who have been courageously fighting bush fires in Victoria.

Today, I would like to thank those who have helped me, explain my political motivations, and tell you about the DLP and how I hope to make a contribution in this Parliament.

I am very glad to have won, but sorry that it was at the expense of Elaine Carbines whom I know to be a very hard working, honest and talented woman. I would also like to acknowledge Samantha Macintosh of the Nationals and Marcus Ward of the Greens for their intelligence and generosity of spirit.

This is the first election win for the Democratic Labor Party anywhere for thirty six years and the first in this Parliament for fifty one years. I am strongly aware that many DLP people have deserved a seat in Parliament much more than me. I am reminded in particular of Jim Brosnan, and the late, great Frank Dowling, whom it was my privilege and honour to know when I was a boy.

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting my predecessor in this Parliament, Mr Frank Scully, DLP MP from 1955 to 1958. He is 87 years old now but his intelligence, courtesy, charm and goodness are immediately apparent. I will strive to be worthy of his example.

The people of Western Victoria brought me here, and I am grateful. In the cities of Geelong and Ballarat and small towns like Nhil and Camperdown, from Melton and Werribee to the border there are people who voted DLP and people who helped. I am not a Western Victorian but have been genuinely impressed by the people of Western Victoria. They really do represent the best of the Australian tradition. Western Victorians see strangers as opportunities rather than as threats.

I thank those parties which gave me their second preferences — People Power, Country Alliance and Family First.

My thanks also to the Parliamentary staff who have been welcoming and extremely helpful and to all Members who have welcomed me to this Parliament. Coming in from outside, I have been impressed by the intelligence, obvious decency and dedication of many Members from all sides of this chamber.

There are individuals I must thank, including my running mates, Clare and David Power and Leanne and Michael Casanova of Ballarat. I would also like to thank Max Crockett of Geelong, my uncle Bill Barry Junior, Alan Guilfoyle of Melbourne, Pat Healy of Hamilton and DLP stalwarts John Mulholland and Pat Crea. I thank my friend Stephen Williams who contributed his expertise in public relations. His intelligence and creativity were crucial in overcoming the media's resistance to covering my campaign.

I would like to thank my parents—Mary and Frank Kavanagh. They did not have a lot to give materially but they did give their children strong values, including a love of learning and respect for education. Their love, care, worry and sacrifice raised six good citizens. My mother has been quite active in politics for most of her life.

My mother's parents, Bill and Mary Barry were important figures in the DLP story. My grandfather was president of the Carlton branch of the ALP from the age of eighteen and a member of the other House for twenty three years. He was Labour Parliamentary secretary for seventeen years and held several portfolios as well as being a Melbourne City Councillor for sixteen years and Labor leader in the Council. At its first election, in 1955, the DLP was often called "the Barry Party".

My grandfather was of convict stock - his grandfather, James Barry, was said to have been transported to Van Diemen's Land for agitating against the British occupation of Ireland. My grandfather's father, William Barry, I will call him, devoted his life to improving the lives of working people. He was instrumental in establishing a number of unions and the Labour Party itself in Tasmania and the Carlton branch where he was campaign manager for FH Bromley who was elected Labour Member for Carlton in 1892. William Barry's union activities marked him in the Depression that began in 1896 and he was forced to move to the goldfields of WA, where he worked for Federation.

My grandfather, Bill Barry, sought and used his positions to help battlers. He fought for the mentally ill and for improvements to 'sustenance' during the Great Depression. He was responsible for locating the Royal Children's hospital where it now stands, helped greatly to win the Olympic Games for Melbourne and campaigned tirelessly against capital punishment. As Minister for Health he introduced a comprehensive range of measures which resulted in the near eradication of tuberculosis, initiatives that were copied in other states. These were among many other political achievements.

My grandmother, Mary Barry, was also a member of the ALP for decades. While still a teenager, she was an activist against conscription and for Ireland's liberation. She led Labour Women for many years, in an honorary capacity, and was on the ALP executive - the only woman, during the Split. After the Split, she continued working for the Australian people, through the DLP, until her death. She succeeded in having women prisoners moved out of Pentridge. She fought with all she had for those condemned to execution, organised for relief during the Second World War and successfully lobbied for child endowment and other assistance to families.

My grandparents' qualities, including their enthusiasm for helping others, partly represented the times in which they lived. They worked not only in the Party and the Parliament but, in the then existing Labour tradition, they also helped the disadvantaged within their home. "No-one in Carlton will sleep outside" campaigned my grandfather during the Great Depression. With support from others, my grandparents housed the homeless, fed the hungry and clothed the desperate - literally. My grandmother's skills as a seamstress were often utilised altering my grandfather's clothes so that constituents could attend job interviews. The Barry family frequently had meagre fare while their intended meal, and often their shoes, were given to Carlton residents who came to the door hungry. My uncles and aunts remember as small children often waking up with unknown children sharing their bed, put there quietly late at night, while homeless families were found more permanent accommodation.

My grandparents are the people effectively referred to by John Cain Junior recently as "sectarian serpents". As to this particular assertion I would like to draw attention to the observations of Robert Murray, the most authoritative and objective commentator on the Split. In his book, "The Split", referring to John Cain Senior of course, he says, “this might be said even of Cain – bitterness against the Barry Group flowed over, all too often to be reinforced by deep seated religious prejudices, which came to the surface under pressure" (p.248).

The Australian labour movement of the nineteenth century was the true origin of the Democratic Labor Party. In the mid 1950s however the extreme left attempted to take over the ALP, especially to prevent parts of the Labour Party continuing to counter Communist attempts to control Australia's unions. The extremists were aided by the mental state of the ALP's federal leader who took their side and purported to have the legitimate Labour executive in Victoria sacked. The utterly bogus and unconstitutional nature of the persecution was confirmed by the ALP's own Jim McLelland and Clyde Cameron shortly before their deaths. The eventual result was that a majority, sixty percent, of Labour Party members in Victoria (and nearly eighty percent of Labour Party branches) were expelled or left in sympathy to form what became the Democratic Labor Party.

The DLP was clearly then, anything but a "splinter group". Nor was the DLP the instigator of the Split, DLP people were its victims.

Dozens of Parliamentarians gave up careers. Their sacrifice was for a principle, a correct one, now vindicated by history. In my view this has given the DLP an extraordinary legacy of courage and nobility. When I was a child I thought that the DLP's founders were heroes who had sacrificed so much, including their livelihoods, to oppose barbarism. I still think so.

DLP people were sometimes treated despicably both during and after the Split by the more extreme of their opponents. To the greatly limited extent that it is my right to respond to this, I offer the observation that the prayer which begins the business of this House each sitting day makes it perfectly clear that we dare not even ask for forgiveness for ourselves without first forgiving others.

Anti-Communists are almost invariably portrayed in our media as misguided lunatics. Whatever the ridicule and derision however, the DLP's assessment of the nature of Communism was accurate. The DLP saw Communism for what it was - economically primitive, inherently brutal and expansionist, and by its nature, murderous on a mass scale.

I have experienced at first hard and even felt, painfully, some of the practical manifestations of Communism in other parts of the world. It was partially in trq3ibute to the DLP that I joyfully joined with thousands of others in the physical knocking down of the Berlin Wall seventeen years ago.

The DLP has not only been correct in what it has opposed however, but also in what it has supported and in what it has initiated. The DLP was the first party to recognise the importance of Asia to our future and was the first parliamentary party in Australia to call for an end to the White Australia policy. It pioneered votes for eighteen year olds and equal pay for equal work. The DLP supported unions which advanced the interests of their workers without destroying the businesses which employed them, while also recognising union responsibilities to the broader Australian community. The DLP initiated child endowment for large families and government assistance for families to buy a home. It also struggled for, and achieved a measure of justice in education funding and pushed for genuine decentralisation and environmental protection. Little wonder then that even Sir Robert Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party, after his retirement, voted DLP. The DLP's initiatives of decades ago continue to benefit the lives of most Australians to this day.

Why did almost 60,000 Victorians vote for the DLP at the last election after it had been ignored for so long? I think it was at least in part because the voters of the generation before me, and before most of you, here, know how much was sacrificed in the past, and know how hard Democratic Labor people have worked to implement new ideas for their community and their country.

I summarise what the DLP stands for in this way: We are For Life, For Workers and Battlers, For Families and for Australia".

The DLP lost parliamentary representation in the mid 1970s, in my view largely because of its steadfast support for South Vietnam. There are many significant ideas - for example profit-sharing between business and workers -that could have been much more successful in Australia if the DLP had retained its influence. The DLP would have opposed many of the mistakes that have been made by governments in recent decades. Surely DLP Parliamentarians would also have done something for the three million unborn who have been aborted in Australia over the last thirty years or so.

I'd now like to tell you how I see some present and future challenges.

I believe that we could really address illness, poverty and family breakdowns and dramatically cut crime by genuinely tackling drugs and problem gambling. Addiction, whether to legal or illegal substances or to destructive behaviours is a huge, avoidable threat to individual and community health, prosperity, and security.

Our current drug strategies are failing — we need to change our approach. We need strategies that are both compassionate and effective. Drug usage should remain illegal. Users who are not trafficking, however, should be sentenced, not to jail, but to treatment. Sweden reports that 70 to 80% of its non-voluntary patients are made addiction-free through compulsory treatment.

The current state of rehabilitation in Victoria is bad, even for those who voluntarily seek treatment. There are bureaucratic obstacles and insufficient resources.

We should work with the courts and community groups to develop comprehensive programs of rehabilitation and treatment; for voluntary and non-voluntary patients and we must put up the money to pay for them.

Some users of legal drugs need help too. Those with drinking problems and tobacco addiction deserve more than an assumption of the moral high ground by those who disapprove of their habits. They have paid quite enough in taxes on their habits to fully warrant government help to get out of the deadly traps they are in. As Minister of Health, my grandfather brought to Australia the world's best expertise in the fight against polio. I believe that now, we should bring the world's best medical and psychological techniques to Victoria and subsidise the most effective programmes that can be devised to help the victims of addictions.

What is loosely called "addiction to gambling" is destroying the lives of some people and spurring crime. Gambling brings many millions of dollars to the government but at a catastrophic cost to some families and individuals. I believe that our present poker machine policies and practices exploit the poor, the lonely and the ignorant and should be changed. I think we have an obligation to ensure that gambling is sensibly and effectively regulated in such a way as to minimise problem gambling.

The DLP pioneered government assistance for first home buyers. It is an achievement I would like to see built on. Even after recent reforms, Victorian families wishing to buy a home will still be taxed almost $15,000 to put an average roof over their children's heads. I believe that we should not be taxing families at all when they buy a first home.

I have been a teacher in Victorian schools and have taught and lectured in other countries. I have views about education. Our education system needs to provide a high level of skills, whether of an academic or technical nature as appropriate to the interests and abilities of students. The relatively recent decision to abolish technical schools, in my opinion and experience, has simultaneously lowered the quality of academic education, even for the academically gifted while causing the state to fail in its obligations to provide for non-academic students. The current state of education in Victoria is such that even our best universities now need to offer remedial English to new students.

Non ownership of a school by the government should not mean disownership of responsibility for that school's students by the state. The parents of students in non-government schools pay taxes to the government and their children are entitled to assistance from the government.

State schools should not teach sectarian values, nor should they indoctrinate children in leftist ideology. Schools are a natural place however for young people to learn fundamental, positive social attitudes, particularly the expectation that we all can and should contribute to, and not always take from, the community we share with other people, in other words, that is responsibilities as well as rights.

We represent and owe fairness to all Victorians. Aboriginals and others who are in particular need should be offered particular help on the basis of their need. We should remember however that in the distribution of limited resources, discrimination in favour of one is discrimination against another. Our long term aim should be equality before the law and we should be very careful not to take actions which will result in the creation of different levels of citizenship for future generations.

On most social issues, I believe that people should be largely free to pursue their own happiness in their own way. The contrasting issue is, of course, abortion because I believe, for good reasons, that human life begins at conception. This is not an article of religious faith but is a conclusion based on logic, knowledge, experience and reason.

The unborn person is admittedly human life at its most immature, its most vulnerable, its weakest, its most defenceless. Surely however, the young, the defenceless and the weak deserve more rather than less legal protection.

In addition to justice for the unborn, babies who are born alive after undergoing attempted abortion procedures are as entitled to respect and medical attention as anybody else. This is not often talked about but there are around fifty cases a year in the UK, suggesting an annual rate of perhaps four or five in Victoria. Investigations have been held in other states into babies being neglected after surviving attempted abortions. One baby in Sydney had been discovered crying in a waste bin. Victorian law should make it explicit that medical personnel are obliged to help such babies.

To me, this is a central issue - the limits of government and individual power. To have no reasoned and reasonable position on the limitations of such power is to conspire silently in creating a world where the abuse of power has no limits.

I congratulate this government on making this chamber a forum for a true multitude of counsellors. I hope to be a counsellor on behalf the unrepresented – including children in non-government schools and for the unborn who have no voice at all.

I also hope to speak for those who did vote but are underrepresented, including the aged and the disabled, and the supporters of minor parties.

They voted - not to bring down the government, but to counsel it.

They voted - not for the carefully crafted image of a major party, but for their own firmly held beliefs.

They voted - not for power, but to be heard.

I share at least some common ground with every Member here. I look forward to working with other Members who have expressed concerns which I share on challenges including homelessness, crime, environmental protection, public transport and our water crisis.

The government has a strong mandate so I expect to vote with the government quite often. Wisely however, Victorians also want their government to be accountable and so I will vote for measures which the government may not like, to put it under scrutiny which is fair, reasonable and close.

I may fail but will aspire to emulate the courage and dedication of the DLP's founders in working for the enduring ideals and values of the Democratic Labor Party - For Australia, For Workers and Battlers, For Families, For Life.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Ph: 03 5222 1503
Fax: 03 5222 8677


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