The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN (Valedictory Speech) [3.28 p.m.]: Mr President—
The Hon. Trevor Khan: Is this it?
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: Yes, this is it. This afternoon I make what will be my final address in this place. While my time here has been relatively short, much has happened to provide a lifetime of reflection on the strange and unruly beast we call politics. That is potentially a good thing, considering that my election to the Senate come 14 September is by no means guaranteed.
Mr President, even though we are on very different sides of politics, I have enjoyed the moments I have worked with you and I wish you well as you continue in your role. I thank you for entrusting me with the role of Temporary Chair of Committees. I know at times when I sat in the chair I found it particularly difficult not to interject or participate in the debate, so I have admired your attempts particularly to restore order when it is sorely needed. However, order in a more fundamental sense is badly in need of being restored in this place, but more on that later.
Unfortunately, I leave here after a period of two years and nine months sharing some of the despair that many in the community feel about the state of politics right now. I despair at the taking away by the stroke of a pen years, often lifetimes, of specialised knowledge of dedicated public servants, scientists and community leaders on the reckless political whim of sometimes frighteningly inexperienced Ministers. I despair at the way in which years of objective, thorough, scientific research, which has been undertaken under the most rigorous peer-review conditions, is treated with flippant disregard and sometimes unbridled derision by some in this place. I despair at the politicisation of protecting the environment.
People who dedicate their lives to contributing to a healthier, safer and more sustainable world deserve our respect. Instead, there appears to be an anti-science, anti-intellectual and anti-environment motivation driving too many agendas in this place and in the Government more broadly. Perhaps my most depressing memory of this place is the appalling attacks on science, starting with the disgraceful closure of the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre of Excellence. This was a decision made through incompetence and recklessness and with malicious disregard for the careers of dozens of public service professionals who have dedicated their lives to doing good. These people do good for us all. But there are those in this place who would brand them as “do-gooders”, as though they should hang their heads in shame for doing good. I know it has taken enormous time and effort by some to ensure this description is now uttered with scorn.
I despair that members are too comfortable in this place. Why does the sanctity of Parliament—being part of the MPs club, if you like—give people a licence to behave worse than they ordinarily would in public? No doubt everyone is thinking of Ministers behaving badly, the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], and some of the more high-profile disasters over the years; but that is not what I am referring to in this instance. I have been embarrassed for all of us—for the Clerks and the attendants, for this place and for all of our political institutions—when groups of school students sit in the public gallery, for example, particularly during question time, and witness our conduct as a Parliament and the behaviour of Ministers and members who seem intent on reliving their primary school days. Actually, the damage we cause is worse than in any schoolyard.
Over the past month or two I have been reluctant to attend question time. I have a confession to make: I have largely stayed away because I think it is a waste of time. Members in this place ask questions of three Ministers, all of whom are men. More often than not the Ministers get away with refusing to answer the questions put to them. This is particularly the case when questions are asked by The Greens. I do not wish for this to be a personal attack on the three Ministers of this House.
The PRESIDENT: Order! That is good. While the member has been extended wide latitude, I advise her that if she reflects on individual members she will be directed to resume her seat.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN: I will not be reflecting individually. In my interactions and daily workings with Ministers Gallacher, Gay and Pearce, I found them generally respectful and good to deal with. I am by no means a wowser. I like banter and jokes as much as anyone, but there is a time and place for mucking around. I believe we all need to reflect on how it has got to the point where the Chamber is apparently the place for all-too-often childish behaviour—behaviour which is not unique to any Minister, to any member, or to this Parliament. The previous Government and Parliament were the same, and it is mirrored in parliaments across the country. It is a culture that previous members have created and that many members in this place perpetuate. It is a culture that all State and Federal representatives need to take responsibility for and address.
It is much more than just our collective performance in question time. It is also about how much time is spent on political pointscoring, such as the practice of members putting quite ridiculous motions on the Notice Paper—many just to score political points and others to deliberately waste time. The politicisation of the committee process by some members is another case in point. I believe that elected representatives in parliaments across the country are letting the people down. Is it little wonder that politicians are placed near the bottom of the trustworthy list? It has been truly alarming to see the role of the Legislative Council and its members usurped by the self-interest of a few.
When the Government struck its deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to secure a guarantee of passage of its legislation, it made a mockery of the role of the Legislative Council as a House of review. Since then the people of New South Wales have been held to ransom by the Shooters and Fishers Party and the role of this House as a House of review is no longer. The Shooters and Fishers Party’s list of demands—the conditions of its support for the Government—has been quite public, sitting proudly on its website. It feels like being on the set of a movie about a hostage situation, but in this script there is no Dirty Harry or Bruce Willis among our leaders ready to save the day. Duck hunting, hunting in national parks, logging in national parks, de-gazetting national parks, a return to broadscale land clearing and a relaxation of gun control laws are all on the cards.
The Shooters and Fishers Party claims that there is a battle of cultures and that they are standing up for their culture. But there is no hunting culture in this State. This is not North America. That idea has been manufactured by the taxpayer-funded Game Council. Instead, the culture war that does now exist is one that the Government ignores at its peril. New South Wales has a proud history and culture of protecting its native animals, plants and special places. The people of New South Wales are justifiably proud of this State’s track record of creating national parks and more recently marine parks. Little did I know when I delivered my inaugural speech on 21 September 2010, in which I described the beauty and significance of the State’s national parks, that I would then spend so much of my time here defending them.
Where is the community backing for this move by the Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party to declare open season on our State’s natural heritage? This is being repeated in Queensland and no-one would be under any illusions that a Tony Abbott Federal government would be any different. We routinely underestimate or simply forget that people place their trust in us to use this place wisely and in their interests. I believe the Government’s decision to undermine what makes our national parks so special to so many people is already backfiring. There is an opportunity cost when we waste time, when we pass bad laws, when we wind back advances made in blind ignorance and self-interest. Time is critical here. Will you all look back at your time here 30 years hence and feel satisfied you did all you could to ensure you hand on to future generations a better world?
We all have a responsibility to contribute to a positive legacy. I am satisfied that I will look back at my time here knowing that I did my best to make a positive contribution to advancing important issues for society. The right to die with dignity is a fundamental right that this place will agree with and endorse in the not-too-distant future. I understood that my private member’s bill was likely to fall short of gaining majority support this time. However, I believe that my contribution has propelled this vital issue along an inevitable path to law reform in this place and others around Australia. An issue that is even closer to its overdue recognition in law is the right for everyone to marry the person they love. I leave this place knowing I did what I could to end this discrimination. I am very proud that members showed strength of conviction by supporting my motion in 2012 which called on the Federal Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. I will watch the ongoing work of the cross-party marriage equality working group in this Parliament with interest. I wish it and its members luck.
When a nine-year-old boy died at Singleton when his school bus was hit by a prime mover in September last year, I continued my work with parents and transport safety advocates on a proposal for the sensible and logical introduction of seatbelts on school buses. The bill I introduced was the culmination of years of hard work by parents across the State—parents who, sick with worry, for far too long put their kids on school buses not fitted with seatbelts. Again, my approaches to the Minister for Transport’s office to discuss the bill, which merely put in place some of the more achievable and necessary recommendations from the Government’s own advisory committee, have not effectively been dealt with. This is another example of a long overdue reform. I firmly believe that in this place I have been able to contribute to bringing it closer to reality.
One of my first successes in this place was initiating an inquiry into the high costs associated with building rail infrastructure in New South Wales compared to the rest of the country. Despite being frustrated with the lack of useful information provided by Treasury, various transport bureaucrats and others, the committee was able to find that rail projects are more expensive here, and made recommendations for cost efficiency measures to be introduced. Shortly after the Coalition won government, attacks on cycling and bike paths gained profile in the media. I am proud of my campaign with the cycling community to build more visible support for bike paths and my bike path visit with the roads Minister was a memorable part of that campaign.
After the release of hexavalent chromium from the Orica plant at Newcastle last year, I listened to the community and introduced a bill to require licensed companies to immediately notify authorities of any incident that was likely to cause material harm to the environment. The Greens campaigned hard with the community for pollution law reform at that time. I was pleased when the Government incorporated the elements of my private member’s bill into its own reform bill. I leave this place satisfied that The Greens have played an instrumental role in improving safeguards for the community. However, there is much more work to do. My replacement who will fill my casual vacancy, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, will take up my portfolios. Those portfolios include the environment. Dr Mehreen brings a wealth of experience and knowledge and I know she will make a profound contribution to Parliament, to the community and to The Greens in the coming years.
I do not leave this place in the knowledge that there has been a positive contribution by members to perhaps the most urgent issue facing life on Earth: climate change. It is damning that elected members of the Government refuse to even acknowledge the reality of climate change or that humans contribute to making it worse. My earlier comments about an anti-science agenda in this place are particularly relevant in this case. Some of the most respected and also the most conservative science and policy organisations in Australia and across the world have raised the alarm about the ramifications of rising temperatures and sea levels for human life as a result of human-induced climate.
A worldwide panel of leading researchers of climate science—the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change—has been sounding the alarm for action to reduce carbon emissions for the past decade and more. According to a confidential Federal Treasury report, climate change is the single most pressing challenge Australia faces over the coming decade. This view is shared by the World Bank, the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund and the CSIRO, as well as 97 per cent of the world’s climate scientists. Could any other issue achieve such overwhelming consensus? Yet our decision-makers refuse to act and pretend there is still a debate.
Despite all of this, the performance of Ministers at budget estimates hearings and in question time when asked about the issue of climate change has been irresponsible. I have asked questions about climate change in this Parliament and during budget estimates. At a time when leadership on this issue is urgently needed, the Government has gone missing. The howls of derision from those opposite when I mention the words “climate change” have been very disappointing during my time here. In my inaugural speech I said:
Future generations will look back at this time with an even greater sense of anger and dismay if the people given the power to act continue to sit and do nothing.
Little did I know at that time that the future government would actively wind back action on climate change—perhaps an even greater crime than doing nothing. The failure of the majority of members in this place to recognise and act in what I believe are the interests of the safety and survival of people now and in the future will, I believe, be regarded in 30 years’ time, perhaps sooner, as a generational crime. Having said all that about the behaviour of members in this place—in question time, during budget estimates and even on committees—I indicate that I have very much valued working with members from all sides of politics on very important issues. Together we have tackled marriage equality, domestic violence, pollution law reform and the closure of the Cronulla Fisheries Research Station of Excellence.
I am very impressed by the calibre of women and men who keep this Parliament functioning smoothly. I have very much enjoyed working with the Clerk, David Blunt, who has been in the role only a relatively short time. I greatly admire his wisdom and experience. I also acknowledge his deputy, Stephen Reynolds; Kate Cadell, Susan Want, Rachel Callinan and Stephen Frappell and everyone in the Procedure Office; Julie Langsworth, who offered great support when I started in the role; and the attendants, Maurice, Charles, Lucy, and Mike in particular, who were all here when I started as a staffer in 2003. In all my interactions with the clerks, the attendants and every other member of staff in this place, they have been nothing short of professional. Thank you for your professionalism and grace in performing your role.
I have particularly enjoyed the committee process and thank everyone who has made such valuable contributions to the inquiries with which I have been involved. A special thanks to the Social Issues committee secretariat, particularly Merrin Thompson, and the chair, Niall Blair. Niall Blair is probably the only member other than my colleagues I will mention personally. I very much appreciated our work together on the Social Issues committee, particularly the work on the domestic violence and the transition and support inquiries. To all the other committee staff whom I have had the pleasure of working with—Beverly Duffy, Madeleine Foley, Rhia Victorino, Stewart Smith, Miriam Cullen, Teresa McMichael and others—thank you for your knowledge and your patience in bringing together such divergent opinions and personalities and your attempts to ensure the committee process maintains its integrity and its value to the people of New South Wales.
My work on committees has enabled me to get to know the Hansard staff, particularly when travelling to conduct hearings in regional areas. It was a pleasure to travel with Trevor McDonald—who is present at the moment—Annemarie Doyle, Sally Violet and others and to get to know them all a little more. To all the other Hansard staff, thank you for the essential work you do. To all the hardworking people who keep this place ticking along behind the scenes—from human resources to library researchers, security, Phil Freeman and all the catering staff and dining room attendants—thank you for your dedication to this place and your cheery hellos and support.
Finally, I come to acknowledgements of a more personal nature. I have always said an elected representative is only as good as the team around them, so I would like to thank my staff and volunteers who have provided incredible support since September 2010—Justin Field, Louise Callaway, Julienne Nurse, Holly Kendall, Gail Broadbent, who is present here today, Nicola Beynon, Sandra Heilpern, who is in the public gallery, Neneh Darwin, David Lenton, who is in the President’s gallery, Carolyn Williams, John Sexton, Andrew Rhodes, Liz Jacka, Gillian Reffell, and the many more interns and volunteers who have helped me on various projects and campaigns during my time here.
I express my deepest gratitude to Peter Stahel, who was been my adviser and confidante since day one, for his hard work, dedication, loyalty and friendship. The support I have received from colleagues and from The Greens members across the State over the past 2¾ years has been incredible and invaluable. In particular, the friendships that I now have with Jan Barham and Jeremy Buckingham will, I know, be lifelong. I thank my eternally patient, ever-present, constantly cooking partner, Paul Sheridan. I am the envy of almost everyone I know that I have Paul in my life. Thank you for the strength and love you have provided me during my time here.
Many nations yearn for a stable democracy and for stable parliaments like the one we are so lucky to be in today. We should remember this and we should cherish our democracy and our parliaments as well as any role we are lucky enough to play. Meanwhile, many nations in the future will be yearning for a stable climate system. I truly hope that the majority of members in this place one day very soon step up to the challenge that all leaders of today should be meeting; that is, ensuring future generations can enjoy the world, the climate system, the environment and the collective wealth we are so lucky to enjoy today.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Minister for Roads and Ports) [3.48 p.m.], in reply: I wish the Hon. Cate Faehrmann well in her future life. I assure those who read her speech that she is a much nicer, more decent and much-liked member of this House than some of the words she used may make her appear. I wish her all the very best for the future. I, and I am sure most members, believe that if she does not make the Senate it will not be because of her personal attitudes, her personality or the friendships she has made; it may be because of some of the others we have sent ahead of her.
I support the Heavy Vehicle (Adoption of National Law) Bill 2013. The introduction of a Heavy Vehicle National Law and the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator deliver greater consistency in regulation across jurisdictions and enable cost savings by eliminating unnecessary duplication. The use of national systems and processes which emerge from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s one-stop shop will offer heavy vehicle operators, governments and the community better coordination of access decisions across all levels of government, especially last-mile access decisions, and improved compliance and enforcement strategies that encourage industry participation in accreditation schemes in return for mass, dimension and load productivity benefits.
They also will bring improvements to the regulation of fatigue, offering greater flexibility to operators while ensuring that safety standards are not compromised; they will offer information technology applications that will improve operator efficiencies, such as better online fleet management capability; they will reduce the time needed to train drivers, given there will be one nationally consistent set of rules; and they will provide the same outcome in the same circumstances across all jurisdictions given the common policies, procedures and processes that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will introduce. All of this should lead to a reduction in regulatory inconsistencies that currently plague operators and significantly add to the costs of doing business.
All of this should lead to a reduction in regulatory inconsistencies that currently plague operators and significantly add to the costs of doing business. The regulator will work on behalf of operators with cross-border businesses and local government to ensure a single permit with a straightforward set of operating conditions to cover each applicable jurisdiction. This system will allow access permit applications to be sent simultaneously to decision-makers in councils and State road authorities, facilitating the assessment tasks of road authorities and reducing the burden of operators which, under current arrangement, must contact road authorities themselves. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will introduce case managers to coordinate access applications across councils and State road authorities. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will also introduce, for the first time, centralised data on access applications, which will provide intelligence on infrastructure bottlenecks.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law provides for ministerial guidelines that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will publish to assist road managers in applying consistent processes and criteria while assessing access applications and determining appropriate access to the road network. The passage of the Heavy Vehicle (Adoption of National Law) Bill 2013 and the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in New South Wales will deliver an economic boost for New South Wales and the nation over time. In 2006, the Productivity Commission estimated potential net gains of $7.5 billion if a national approach to heavy vehicle regulation were adopted.
In February 2011, the National Transport Commission developed a Regulatory Impact Statement addressing the Heavy Vehicle National Law and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. It suggested potential productivity benefits for the nation’s economy of between $5.6 billion and $12.4 billion over 20 years to be realised as a result of this reform. If those estimates are realised, the flow-on effects will be good for the hip pocket of everyone in this State. I thank members from all sides of the House and all parties for their support. I commend the bill to the House.