May 10, 2017

Address In Reply Speech – 10 May 2017

I rise tonight to speak in the address-in-reply debate, particularly to respond to the Turnbull government’s recent budget but also obviously the Governor-General’s speech. Some of the key themes of my speech, particularly in relation to rapidly growing outer-suburban Melbourne, are issues like infrastructure and population growth and the social services being provided to those areas. According to the National Growth Areas Alliance, Australia’s fast-growing outer suburbs are home to five million people. In the Casey region of my electorate of Holt, we are home to the fastest growing suburb in Australia, Cranbourne East. There is rapid population growth occurring in the outer suburbs, but the key problem is that social infrastructure, roads, schools, jobs and services are not keeping up with this population growth.

Research commissioned by the NGAA shows that there is a $50 billion backlog in infrastructure for fast-growing outer suburbs like mine, and unless it is seriously addressed that figure will grow to $73 billion in the next 15 years. By then the population in these areas is expected to reach 7.5 million people. In light of that, I would encourage the Turnbull government, notwithstanding the budget they have just brought down, to give special consideration to setting up a specialised fund for the outer suburbs, in the same way that the rural and regional areas have a dedicated fund. I believe it is only fair that growing outer suburbs are treated equally to get their fair share of infrastructure funding.

As an example of that, in 2015 I supported the investment of $10 million under the National Stronger Regions Fund to build a new arts precinct at Bunjil Place at Westfield Fountain Gate. That will be finished later this year. However, subsequent to that, the Turnbull government cut the National Stronger Regions Fund, replacing it with the Building Better Regions Fund, which now excludes outer suburban electorates like Holt. Given the amount of population growth that is occurring in areas like Holt and outer suburbs dotted all around the country, it is absolutely ludicrous that you could not reuse funding in that fund for projects like Bunjil Place. There are tens of Bunjil Place type projects that cannot be funded. It seemed to be good enough for us to access this fund when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister. Perhaps it was the change in Prime Minister, because it is now not good enough: since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, we cannot access it.

This particularly strikes me when we have, for example, a local bowls club—the Narre Warren Bowls Club—looking for about a million dollars to fund a new shade structure. That sounds like a lot of money for a bowls club, but, particularly given the work happening in the private sector around Bunjil Place, around Westfield Fountain Gate, the area is becoming a regional hub. There is innovation in this design, and the concept behind it is to have a shaded area which people from everywhere can use as an entertainment area. It fits in perfectly. We recently wrote to the minister responsible for the Stronger Regions Fund and were told they did not have funding for that anymore. It is absolutely ridiculous. Twelve months before, you could access this fund; now you cannot. How many projects like the one I mentioned would there be?

The member for Watson, who spoke prior to me, was talking about the contribution made by the Sikh community in our area. They are a substantial presence in my area. They are a great boon to our community. They work very closely with me in the area of taxi driving and the compensation the Victorian state government is paying taxi drivers, and also on issues like community safety. They have been at the forefront of representing the general community on these issues. They have a wonderful temple that they want to expand so that they can offer services like feeding homeless people at night. Under normal circumstances, under the previous fund, that would have qualified for funding, but now it does not.

This sends a message to the outer suburban community, who can see the great population growth that is occurring. If you drive down Clyde Road in Narre Warren going to Cranbourne you can see the phenomenal growth that is occurring. You really do know that it is the fastest growing area in Australia when you drive down there, because of the number of houses that are being built. You would think that, given the taxes that all those people pay and the lives that they are establishing there, it would be a very well developed area, that there would be the social infrastructure, that there would be the funding capacity to build soccer stadiums, football stadiums and all the infrastructure that a growing outer suburb needs. But there is not, and I think that is absolutely ridiculous. So my request as part of the address-in-reply is for the Turnbull government to look at what their predecessors did and then see whether or not they can do something like that—make a readjustment or create a separate fund—so that suburbs like mine can access the regional funds they are entitled to.

Obviously, there is an issue about community safety. My constituency has been struck quite hard by terrorism and extremism in our area, our very suburbs, in particular the shooting at the Endeavour Hills police station in 2014 and the foiled Anzac Day plot in April 2015. One of the great things about my constituency is the way in which the community has come together cohesively, inclusively and in a measured way. It would do great credit to the shock jocks, the people who mouth off about terrorism, and others even in this place who mouth off about various communities if they came to my community and saw the cohesiveness that it has, notwithstanding the challenges it has experienced. I would certainly like to thank our agencies for the work they do—our intelligence agencies, the Federal Police and in particular our local police, who are right at the front line of that threat. The threat has not abated; it is still there. But one thing we will not do is allow that threat, however it manifests, to shape how we live our lives. As I said, that is to the great credit of our community. When you walk into the Westfield shopping centre, the Endeavour Hills Shopping Centre or the Cranbourne Park Shopping Centre you see we have a very strong, resilient, capable group of people there. As I said, they do great credit to the community, particularly in countering those who are trying to foment hate in various sections of the community.

I remember that when I first came here in 1999 I said the worst form of politics is wedge politics—dividing one element of the community from another. We saw elements of that in 1996 when a particular person established a party. I can recall that that party was going to be established in Dandenong around the late nineties—it was 1996 or 1997—and for the first time I saw what were almost riots in the streets, around Dandenong Town Hall, when that party tried to establish itself right in the heart of multicultural Melbourne. There was such a strong feeling that this was not Australia; that it was not about wedging groups against each other. We were all Australians no matter what race, colour or creed we were and we were all together on this journey in our part of the Australian story.

That meeting was not successful. They did not establish a branch of One Nation—let’s call the party the party. But further down the track what disturbs me is when others use the difficulties we have experienced in our local area, be they terrorism or community safety, to attack the community. That does not help us at all in dealing with it. As members in the chamber know, I am Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It does not help us in trying to deal with the problem. It does not help us in trying to solve the problem. It just causes tension between communities. It actually exacerbates the problem. We have strong communities, like our Sikh community. We have a very large Indian community, a Sri Lankan community, a Chinese community—I could go on and on; it is a very multicultural area—and they are not succumbing to that fear.

I would, though, touch on one issue that I campaigned on during the federal election, which was community safety—not community safety in the sense of national security but community safety in the sense of people not feeling safe in their homes. That had emerged as an issue, but I think a number of people on the other side of the fence were quite confused as to why I was campaigning on it.

My attention was drawn to concerns about community safety when I was doorknocking in the area around Cranbourne East prior to the election campaign and someone I doorknocked was too afraid to open their door. Originally I thought, ‘Of course that would happen; it’s a politician doorknocking around election time,’ but when the person actually did come out, after identifying who I was, she said the reason she would not open the door was that she was afraid of local gangs that were around the area. We conducted a forum during the federal election campaign and we have been campaigning on this issue ever since. I have talked about the explosive growth that we have in my electorate. I have 120,000 electors but I have 196,000 people living in my electorate. It is a very large number of people. When those people move to the outer suburbs they deserve to be kept safe. That is our job; that is a government’s job. That is what we have to do whether we be state, federal or local government, but predominantly in the national sphere, the macro sphere, it is the federal government. In the state sphere, obviously, it is the state government.

We are seeing, through the investment of the Andrews government, more police coming online—I think there is funding for nearly 3,000 extra police—but in the meantime there is still much to be done. That is a welcome development, but we really do need to get those resources out there as fast as possible. It takes time and resources to train police officers, and then they need to get experience before they can become fully operational. So we certainly welcome that investment, but I draw the attention of my state colleagues to the fact that those concerns remain. There is still an issue. There are still ways in which this difficulty can be challenged, and I think it is something that we should talk more about. I will be talking more about it on behalf of my constituency, because that has been raised as an issue.

The other thing I wanted to touch on, particularly given the national security issue I just talked about, is the budget that the federal government has delivered. Some, even within the honourable member’s own ranks on the other side, are talking about it as being socialist, which is a very scary concept when you are throwing it at the Turnbull government. Perhaps Malcolm in 1994 to 1996 might have been close to the mark, but I do not regard him as being a socialist at this point in time—and we could talk about that in much greater detail. But one of the key concerns I have—it touches on national security but it touches on other areas as well—is how people perceive the role of government these days.

In national security there is a classic case in point. I was in the United States after the San Bernardino massacre. I was there, in my capacity as deputy chair of the intelligence and security committee, to meet intelligence agencies—the CIA, the FBI—and also the US Department of State and other people. The great issue of concern being raised by those agencies was that Apple would not unlock for the FBI the iPhone that was used by the perpetrators of that terrorist act, the two individuals. The FBI then had to resort to other means to ensure that the phone could be unlocked. It struck me, as someone in government—we had cross-jurisdictional conversations about this, and it is something I would put on the record—that the question is: when do private companies dictate how we run national security, whether in this country, in the United States of America or in the United Kingdom, because they are similarly minded jurisdictions?

This is not an argument to say that we should have further sweeping national security reforms that compel companies to do things that they might not want to do or that would inhibit the way in which they make money. That is not what I want. But what has occurred to me in my time in the national security space, which is about 12 years, is the increasing challenge that major companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other such companies have—Apple, for example, which was the manufacturer of the phones—when there is a need from a national security perspective to access their telecommunications devices or communication streams. I think this is one of the issues that governments—come what may and in some, way shape or form—are going to have to confront: where do we draw a limit on the role of the state? This needs to be confronted by this government, and, if we are successful at the next election, a Shorten Labor government, and also by governments across the world—not so much by Russia and others, but particularly by our Western democracies.

My belief is that our primary role as a government is to provide security for our citizens. We do that. We send people overseas to conflicts to defend our way of life. They have served our country incredibly faithfully and well, and continue to do so in conflicts that we are dealing with at the present period of time, such as the eradication of ISIS, in particular, in Iraq. So, that is our primary responsibility. Then the question occurs: in a functioning Western democracy, where does the state intersect with the role of imposing, perhaps, legislation on a corporation that compels it to provide information that might be essential for the safeguarding of national security? An example, as I said, was San Bernardino, and there are other examples that have been provided in classified briefings that I cannot go into. This is going to be a major problem. I am certainly hoping to travel to the United States in the next couple of months. Why am I talking about this during an address-in-reply speech? Because national security affects everyone. We do not have functioning economies and we do not have a functioning way of life unless our security is protected—at a macro level with national security and at a micro level with our state police and local law and order.

There is an area that I intend to flesh out, and, as I said, I have had conversations with counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom about this issue, which has been going now for some period of time: I believe that government is going to have to play a greater role with the information that it might need to obtain from companies like Apple and Google—not in an authoritarian way, but in a way such that we do not have to go to third parties. I think going to third parties is a very unhelpful way of doing it, and, citing the San Bernardino case in particular, it is just not going to work. We really do need those companies to come to the party. That does not mean, necessarily, building backdoors in, as some have suggested with some of the Apple products or other products on the market. But it does mean that, when we really do need to access the technologies, the data streams and the devices, we can do that in order to keep our community safe.

I promise you that this is going to be an evolving conversation. We talk about encryption, and companies have become remarkably successful providing encryption services that, basically, protect organisations commercially and protect individuals. That is to be welcomed, but the question is how do you get that overall balance right—from them trying to protect their customer base to the issue of national security? This is going to be one of the great arguments that we will have as governments of any persuasion over the next two to three years—particularly as we should anticipate that there will be more leaks about what agencies do. One thing I disagree with in terms of my discussions with the Americans is that they were quite confident that there would not be further leaks. That was last year, and, in fact, we have seen further leaks. When you have aggregated data in any way, shape or form, it can be hacked, regardless of what the security levels are. So I think we should assume that that is going to happen, and we should assume at some stage in the national security environment in the next five to 10 years that we will have ongoing leaks about the way our agencies do their business. That is going to provide a challenge for legislators, governments and security agencies, but we are operating in that environment. I do not think there is any need to pretend that we are not. I think what we do need to do, as a safeguard, is ensure that we have appropriate oversight of these agencies—not so much by the executive of the parliament, but by duly elected committees comprising parliamentary members. I am fortunate to be part of a committee—the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—which I think does perform an important oversight role. I understand there is an independent review that is being conducted into the intelligence agencies by some nominated individuals, and there are also the oversight arrangements, which include the oversight arrangements by our committees. I say to those independent reviewers, to this government and to any government that we made need to increase our powers. If we do not increase the oversight, we will not have the support of the public. You can rest assured that we will have more leaks and, when we have more leaks, they will need to be investigated and there will need to be more oversight. That should come from elected officials; it should not come just from people who are commissioned for the purpose of an inquiry. In the next two to five years, I think you will see that become another of the great arguments of our age. I will leave it there.

 

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