the Hon Penny Wong is the Minister for Climate
Change and Water
of Climate Change
for Climate Change and Water - media releases
WONG LAUNCHES CHILDREN'S BOOK ABOUT RIVER MURRAY
is an extraordinary privilege and honour to stand
here today in this place and to have the opportunity
to speak in this chamber. To be a member of the
parliament of this country is almost beyond my
by acknowledging the Indigenous peoples of Australia
and the fact that we stand on their land. I congratulate
you, Mr President, on your election as our President
and I also congratulate those newly elected senators
with whom I take office. At the outset, I wish
to acknowledge the contribution of the two outgoing
South Australian senators, Rosemary Crowley and
Chris Schacht. Both have made enormous contributions
as Labor representatives. I particularly want
to thank former Senator Rosemary Crowley for her
support of me over the years and when I sought
preselection as her replacement.
thoughts this morning were of my late paternal
grandmother or Poh Poh as I called her in her
language. She was a diminutive woman with an indomitable
spirit. A Chinese woman of the Hakka or guest
people, she was my grandfather's second wife.
When the war came to Malaysia, she and the rest
of the family were in Sandakan, a name that many
who fought in Australia's defence will be familiar
with. Most of the family died during the war and
she was left alone to care for my father and his
siblings in unspeakable circumstances, which she
did through extraordinary determination and a
will to survive. She was barely literate; she
was humble and compassionate but the strongest
person I have ever known. Her name was Madam Lai
Fung Shim and that her grand-daughter is here
today would have been a source of pride but probably
some consternation to her. How much the world
can change in two generations.
this family history is why I place such an emphasis
on the need for compassion. What lies at the heart
of any truly civilised society? Surely it must
be compassion. Compassion must be that underlying
principle, that core value at the heart of our
collective consciousness. If not compassion, then
what? Economic efficiency? Or the imposition of
some subjective moral code, defined by some and
imposed on the many?
call for compassion is not a plea for some bleeding-heart
view of the world or a retreat to weak or populist
government. Nor is it to shirk the responsibility
of leadership to make hard decisions when these
are called for. But it is to assert that those
with power should act with compassion for those
who have less, and that the experience of those
who are marginalised cannot be bypassed, ignored
or minimised as it so often is. Compassion is
what underscores our relationships with one another,
and it is compassion which enables us to come
to a place of community even in our diversity.
Yet this country in recent times has been sadly
lacking in compassion.
us reclaim the phrase `one nation.' I seek a nation
that is truly one nation, one in which all Australians
can share regardless of race or gender, or other
attribute, regardless of where they live and where
difference is not a basis for exclusion. We do
not live in such a country. We are not yet truly
one nation. But it is the task of political leaders
to build one.
are a nation in which where you live determines
your likelihood of success, where disadvantage
has become more entrenched, where the poor are
getting poorer and where this government fails
to act to bring real opportunities to those who
have few. The shared dream of an egalitarian Australia
is increasingly becoming a myth. Income distribution
over the last decade is characterised by a disappearing
middle, but there are increasing numbers of low-
and high-income earners.
is a widening gap between poor and rich Australia.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon. One
driving force is the increasing openness of our
economy to the world. Much has been written and
said about globalisation. We are part of a globalised
economy, for better or for worse, and that will
not change. This presents us with both enormous
opportunities and enormous challenges. The shape
of our country in the decades to come will be
largely determined by how we deal with the changes
brought by globalisation. We must ensure that
the benefits are shared. We must equip Australians
better for this new world. Allowing the marketplace
to determine the outcome will simply entrench
disadvantage and exacerbate existing inequalities.
This will undermine the fabric of the Australian
thing my father always told me was this: `They
can take everything away from you but they can't
take your education.' For him the opportunity
to study that he was given, particularly the Colombo
Plan scholarship to Australia, defined his life.
It gave him opportunities he would never otherwise
have had and enabled him to climb out of the poverty
he experienced as a child in Malaysia. It is a
large part of how I come to be here today.
know that, when a child is born in this country,
that child's access to learning opportunities
and how much schooling his or her parents have
are factors that will have an enormous impact
on the child's future. Why, then, do we find it
acceptable as a community to remove resources
from our public schools and give them to wealthier
dimension of the increasing inequality in this
country is a spatial one. Inequality can be increasingly
described on a regional basis. By `regions' I
do not only mean rural areas; I am also referring
to metropolitan areas—those areas in our
cities and outer metropolitan areas which are
vulnerable and disadvantaged. One commentator
has described these areas as `islands largely
outside the main traffic routes of economic growth'.
I say government has to redirect the traffic.
to my own state of South Australia. Over 70 per
cent of the labour force in certain suburbs to
the north and north-west of Adelaide have no post-school
qualifications. Many of these areas have disproportionately
high levels of low-income families, and in some
areas youth unemployment is in excess of 30 per
cent. Why do we think that this is acceptable?
We must bring a regional focus to our work. We
must look to better ways of providing support
to communities that are struggling. An adequate
social welfare system is a baseline policy only—something
we must have to provide a social and financial
floor, a level below which we consider it is unacceptable
to allow people to slide. It is not a substitute
for policies of opportunity.
the last election Labor enunciated a plan for
education priority zones. This targeted particular
areas of educational disadvantage, recognising
that educational opportunities are so important
to future outcomes. We must build on this initiative.
We must develop ways of delivering economic assistance
with a regional dimension. Let us not forget that
one of the early acts of this government was to
scrap the bulk of the Commonwealth's regional
development responsibilities. The then minister
Mr Sharp justified this decision on the basis
that there was no `clear rationale or constitutional
basis for Commonwealth involvement' in this area.
I say that there is.
is the responsibility of the national government
to truly govern for all Australians regardless
of where they live. We should identify economic
priority zones—communities which are vulnerable
or struggling, in which the opportunities for
work and education are unacceptably limited. It
is not enough simply to dismiss these communities
as `lazy' or criticise the number of families
on welfare. We should provide additional resources
to these communities, to their schools and to
their young people. And we should ensure that
there is a regional dimension to our industry
cities are not homogenous, nor is there equality
of opportunity between different metropolitan
areas. You cannot govern with a `one size fits
all' approach. Bringing a more regionally focused
dimension to economic policy is fundamentally
an issue of equity. It is a Labor agenda.
a nation that is truly one nation, one in which
all Australians can share, regardless of race.
Instead, I believe we are in danger of being swamped
by prejudice. Let us speak openly and honestly
about race in this country, about what last year's
election signified and about where we are now.
Let us speak openly about the damage that has
been done and let us do it without being subject
to the dismissive and disrespectful taunts about
political correctness. In recent years there has
been much preaching from the current Prime Minister
about political correctness, that we have had
too much of it. Instead now we have a climate
in which someone who speaks out about injustice,
prejudice or discrimination is dismissed as simply
being politically correct. Compassion has been
delegitimised—instead it is seen as elitism.
It is as if we have developed a new orthodoxy,
one in which it is correct to defend racism but
incorrect to defend tolerance. We have a new political
I and many others speak of the way this government
engenders division and not unity, we do not do
so because it is politically correct. We do so
because we believe it, because we see it and because
it saddens us. We say that what has been done
and said is wrong, not because we ascribe to some
obscure elitist moral code but because we believe
it is harmful to our community. Prejudice and
distrust cannot build a community but they can
tear one apart.
is a country of vast distances and open spaces
and many different environments. It is no less
diverse in its peoples than in its landscape.
This diversity can be an aspect of our shared
identity or it can be the fault line around which
our community fractures.
the decades since the arrival of Europeans to
this land, race has been a rather uncomfortable
topic for us—first, in the subjugation of
the Aboriginal peoples of this land, and later
in how we dealt with the various waves of migrants
to our shores. We all know that we had the White
Australia Policy until the late 1960s, with bipartisan
have also had a rather uneasy relationship with
Asia for much of the postwar period. Phrases such
as `the yellow peril' and `two Wongs don't make
a white' exemplify the darker tendencies of our
history. Over the years this relationship has
matured as our selfperception has broadened, but
this aspect of our history can still resonate
mother's family can trace its origins back to
my ancestor Samuel Chapman, one of the original
settlers in South Australia, who arrived on the
Cygnet in 1836. However, I came here from Malaysia
as a child in 1977. It was a hard time, to leave
a familiar place and come to somewhere where you
and your family were seen as so different. Racial
abuse was not unusual. It used to lead me to wonder,
`How long do you have to be here and how much
do you have to love this country before you are
the years since that time, we saw our community
move forward and come together and start to engender
a national identity that was truly inclusive.
Critical to this was the then Prime Minister Paul
Keating's articulation of our place in the Asia-Pacific
region. Equally powerful were his discussions
of Kokoda and the fall of Singapore as being among
the defining moments in our nation's history—moments
when we came to realise the limitations of the
protection offered by the mother country, Britain;
historical moments which remind us how inextricably
linked we are with the region in which we live.
returning from Malaysia after visiting my family
there during this time. When the aeroplane wheels
hit the tarmac, I recall feeling like this really
was my country—not just in my heart, but
that I was included, that our national identity
was for me as well. Nationhood is so much about
a shared history and a belief in a shared future.
different Australia is today. Never forget that
it was this current Prime Minister who called
for a reduction in Asian immigration in 1988.
He said that the pace of Asian immigration was
a cause for concern. You might take that to mean
that those Asians who were here in 1988 are welcome,
but not necessarily all of those who have arrived
since. The Prime Minister premised his arguments
on the grounds of social cohesion. You have to
ask what effect his own comments had on social
cohesion. I know how it felt for me and my family
and many like us during this time.
there was Pauline Hanson, who said we were in
danger of being overrun by Asians. And what did
the Prime Minister do? Did he as the Prime Minister
show that moral leadership which was called for?
When asked to comment on whether Aboriginal and
Asian Australians should be protected from people
like Pauline Hanson, the Prime Minister said:
are you saying that somebody shouldn't be allowed
to say what she said? I would say in a country
such as Australia people should be allowed to
sort of message does this send to our community?
That it is acceptable to rail against people who
look different? That these sorts of comments are
no different from any other sort of political
commentary? Leadership was called for, not to
deny freedom of speech but to assert the harm
in what she said. Leadership was called for, but
it was not provided.
there was the Wik legislation, and the government's
claims that people's backyards and homes could
be threatened by native title. We saw our Prime
Minister on national television, holding up a
map of Australia to show just how much of Australia
the Aboriginal people already had rights over.
And then there was the Tampa. Who can forget that
most enduring image of last year's election campaign,
that photograph of the Prime Minister, in sober
black and white, attempting to look statesmanlike,
with the slogan: `We will decide who comes to
this country and the circumstances in which they
come.' This is the statement which epitomises
Prime Minister Howard's vision for this country.
This is the core of what he offered us at the
last election. It is a statement of self-evident
fact. It is not a policy statement. Of course
we decide who comes to this country. So why say
it? The only reason that you would is because
you wanted to strike a chord of discord, because
you wanted to foster division.
there is the `children overboard' affair, where
the Australian people were lied to about the actions
of asylum seekers. Despite the relevant minister
being informed that the reports of children being
thrown overboard were incorrect, this government
failed to correct the record. What motivates a
government to do such a thing? What underlies
this litany of divisive politicking is a lack
of compassion, a lack of compassion for the other,
for those who might be adversely affected.
may be some who will say I am being too critical.
I ask them this. When has your Prime Minister,
John Howard, done or said something that made
you feel proud to be Australian? When can you
point to a time when he exercised his leadership
to bring Australians together? Contrast this with
what we saw at the opening ceremony of the Olympic
Games in Sydney—the black elder and the
young girl, the sense of optimism and togetherness
felt by all, how it felt in our hearts when we
sang, `I am, you are, we are Australian'.
that the vast majority of Australians are good-hearted
people. We have a sense of fairness and a commonsense
approach to the world. This keeps us grounded.
I also believe the factors which most weigh on
social cohesion are economic hardship and political
leadership. People do not share if they do not
have their fair share. Nor do they listen if they
are not listened to. So we must work to create
a nation where there is a fair share for all.
We must listen and discuss, not lecture. But we
must never again go down the path that was shown
to us last year, where the fault lines within
our community were opened up for base political
purposes. Let us hold on to that shared belief,
that common purpose that arises at certain moments
in our history. Let us truly be one nation.
I said at the outset, it is an extraordinary honour
to be in this place. You only get here with the
support of many. The first acknowledgment I make
is of course to those people in South Australia
who chose to support the Labor Party at the last
election. They put me here, and it is them I represent.
I thank the members of the South Australian branch
of the party who saw fit to preselect me. I am
grateful for and humbled by their support. I hope
I can justify the faith they have shown in me.
I want to make special mention of a few: Mark
Butler, Ian Hunter, Patrick Conlon, Jay Weatherill,
Stephanie Key, Senator Nick Bolkus, Susan Close,
Steve Georganas and Steven May. I also thank the
many trade unions that chose to support me. It
might be unfashionable to be a trade unionist
these days, but I wear that badge with pride.
I especially thank the Liquor, Hospitality and
Miscellaneous Workers Union; the Australian Workers
Union; the Construction, Forestry, Mining and
Energy Union; the Australian Services Union; and
the United Firefighters Union for their support.
I am honoured that unions representing working
Australians in such a diverse range of occupations
chose to support me.
family and friends have always been a great source
of support to me. Many are here today to share
this experience. I thank them for being here,
for their love and support until now and in the
future. To my father, I wish you could have been
here, but know that you taught me many things
that I can draw on, now and tomorrow. To my mother,
your intellect, mischievousness, sense of humour
and unfailing love sustain me. I want to make
special mention of my younger brother Toby, who
turned 30 on the day I was elected to this place,
and died 10 days later. Your life and death ensure
that I shall never forget what it is like for
those who are truly marginalised. Finally, I thank
Dascia, Courtney and Rohan, without whose love
and support I would never have considered standing
for preselection, and without whom I would not
be here today. Thank you, fellow senators, and
thank you, Mr President. (Credit:
19 March 2008
REPORT SUPPORTS RUDD LABOR GOVERNMENT’S
ACTION ON CLIMATE
CHANGE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
independent report released today supports the
Rudd Labor Government’s action on climate
change and the environment after 11 years of Howard
for the Environment, Peter Garrett, and Minister
for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong,
jointly received the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Environmental
Performance Review of Australia from Mr Lorents
Lorentsen, head of the OECD Environment Directorate.
OECD has prepared a comprehensive report on environmental
management in Australia,
covering national, state, territory and local
government efforts over the last decade,”
independent report demonstrates that the effects
of 11 years of Howard Government neglect of the
environment required decisive action by the Rudd
Garrett said the Government had already pre-empted
many of the report’s 45 recommendations
with programs such as the new $2.25 billion program
called Caring for our Country, announced last
for our County supports the recommendation that
the capacity of regional natural resource management
bodies should be expanded,” Mr Garrett said.
program focuses on six national priorities to
help restore the health of Australia’s environment
and improve land management practices:
* the national reserve system;
* biodiversity and natural icons – including
weed and feral animal control and threatened
* coastal environments and critical aquatic habitats;
* sustainable farm practices – including
* natural resource management in remote and northern
* community skills, knowledge and engagement.
Wong said the Rudd Government had already moved
on one of the report’s most significant
recommendations: the need to introduce a national
greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme.
Monday, I announced a detailed timetable for the
introduction of emissions trading,” Senator
first act of the Rudd Government was to ratify
Kyoto and we are on track to meet our Kyoto target.
we have begun the process of restoring the River
Murray by announcing $50 million this year for
purchasing water for the environment.”
and recommendations of the OECD report are available
Garrett – Ben Pratt on (02) 6277 7640 or
0419 968 734
Wong – Ilsa Colson on 0418 368 639
and the environment