Consecration of St Mina & St Marina Coptic Church Speech – 11 Sept 2017

Sep 11, 2017

I rise today to speak of a very special event, a very special community, and a towering figure who graced my electorate with his presence on Friday morning, with over 1,000 people in attendance. Last Friday, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, 118th and current Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of St Mark and leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consecrated the St Mina and St Marina Church, which is located in Hallam. Gathered amongst his enormous flock, he blessed this inspirational church, which is truly an iconic religious site in the City of Casey.

St Mina and St Marina Church, in Hallam, was established in 1991 and the new church built in 2012. The current church clergy is headed by my good friend Father Abanoub Attalla. The church seats up to 1,200 people and has dedicated classrooms for Sunday school services. As I said to His Holiness, this marvellous building can be seen from the Princes Highway and many parts of my electorate. To me, this place of Christian worship has always inspired two emotions—and, I suspect, in the Coptic Christians in my area—faith and hope, two emotions that I suspect have sustained the Coptic Christian community in spite of ongoing persecution, systematic harassment and murder of its members. In the past five years they have had to endure horrific suicide bombings that have killed and injured many Copts. In fact, His Holiness himself was targeted in attacks earlier this year. That he was present in my electorate to consecrate this lovely Coptic place of worship meant so much to the Coptic community and to the many leaders who attended this service. It is an unfortunate fact that evildoers are still intent on silencing this great spiritual leader, so this meant intense scrutiny by Victoria Police and the AFP during that day. I would like to thank all of the serving officers who kept us safe during the service.

To say there was an air of wild excitement would be to understate the impact of the presence of His Holiness at the church. I was honoured to present him with an Australian flag that was flown in Parliament House on that day. I spoke about the persecution of his ancient faith and the slaughter of innocents—now called martyrs—by the cold-blooded killers who want to extinguish Christianity in the Middle East. To them I say now: you will fail. Remember this: nations rise and nations fall, people are born and people die, but faith endures. It has endured for millennia, and it will endure now. You will not extinguish this faith, particularly when there are great spiritual leaders like His Holiness Pope Tawadros. He is the rock of his church against the waves of hopelessness and despair. So, do what you will, but that faith will endure. It will prosper and, particularly given great spiritual leaders like His Holiness, it will continue into the future.

Afghan Community in Australia Speech – 5 Sept 2017

Sep 5, 2017

I rise tonight to speak about the Afghan-Australian community. On Tuesday, 22 August, I was delighted to attend the Afghan Independence Day celebrations at the Springvale Town Hall. On the night, over 300 local Afghan-Australians attended the celebrations. I wish to thank Dor Aschna, President of the Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association, for organising the wonderful event that had a great spirit of unity and purpose. I also wish to thank Alande Mustafa Safi from the Paragon Business Group for sponsoring this event. The Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association was formed in 1999. It specialises in providing Afghan refugees with settlement assistance and establishment in everyday life in Australia. Each year, the Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association organises Afghan Independence Day celebrations to bring local Afghans living in the city of Casey and the city of Greater Dandenong together for a joyful celebration. Afghan Independence Day is celebrated in Afghanistan on 19 August to commemorate the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919 and it also marks the date that Afghanistan regained full independence.

Since migrating to Australia, Afghan Australians have made a wonderful contribution to our nation. According to the 2016 census, we now have 53,082 Australians of Afghan ancestry residing in this country, with 18,116 living in Victoria, mainly in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. In Australia, the first Afghan people came to this country during the 1860s as cameleers. I don’t think many Australians would know that, for a period of time from the 1860s to the early 1900s, the Afghani cameleers and their ships of the desert became the backbone of the Australian economy. Afghani cameleers transported the supplies and equipment needed to construct some of Australia’s earliest and greatest infrastructure projects, such as the Overland Telegraph and the Trans-Australian Railway. It’s estimated that, from 1870 to 1900 alone, more than 2,000 cameleers came to Australia.

It’s worthy to note that the famous Ghan train service from Adelaide to Darwin has an emblem which is an Afghan on a camel, in recognition of the efforts of the Afghanis who opened up the inhospitable interior of our country. They also assisted many explorers like Burke and Wills, even on that ill-fated expedition. Without them, we would not have discovered significant portions of the interior of our country. In debates about the contribution of our Afghan community in Australia, I certainly would draw to the attention of the Australian community their significant contribution to the development of our country. The second group of Afghani immigrants arrived in Australia following the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, which increased the Afghan-born population to about 1,000 people during the early 1990s. A severe drought in 2000, as well as ongoing war in Afghanistan, which has continued, led to a new influx of Afghan refugees and migrants fleeing persecution who now call Australia home.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet one of the recent members of the Afghan-Australian community, Dr Iftikhar Ahmad. He is the new imam at the Omar Farooq Mosque in Doveton. At times, I thought this meeting would never take place. It was a long and drawn-out process for Dr Ahmad and his family to come to Australia—a three-year process to be exact. In those three years, the mosque was left without a permanent imam, a source of much anguish to the local Afghan community.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the immigration minister, Minister Dutton, and his staff with regard to this matter—specifically, their assistance in providing updates, where possible and appropriate, on the progression of Dr Ahmad’s visa application. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Dr Ahmad’s arrival has been met with much excitement and enthusiasm from the community, as well as a healthy level of expectation. Dr Ahmad has big shoes to fill. The former imam, the late Noorullah Noori, whom I’ve spoken about previously in this place, was highly respected and was, in fact, a revered and esteemed leader whose lasting legacy of compassion and support for the community is still prominent in the memories of all who knew him. In meeting Dr Ahmad, I’m confident that we have someone who can follow in Mr Noori’s substantial footsteps. Dr Ahmad is imminently qualified for his position. He holds two masters degrees, as well as a PhD in Islamic studies, and speaks five languages. These are qualifications and skills that will stand him in good stead when he engages with the community. The Afghan community has made, as I have just outlined, a great contribution to our country and will continue to do so in the future.

Human Rights Abuses in Cambodia Speech – 4 Sept 2017

Sep 4, 2017

I commend the motion put forward by the member for McMahon and the contribution by the member for Bruce, who I know is a passionate advocate on behalf of the Cambodian community here and in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, along with the member for Hotham and the member for Isaacs. I too note the significant contribution that Cambodian Australians have made to our community, because they really have been one of the success stories of Australia’s multiculturalism. It has been mentioned previously that my predecessor, Gareth Evans, had some significant role in the Cambodian community and the difficulties that arose out of the killing fields of the Pol Pot regime. I refer to the motion, which states:

… between 1975 and 1986, over 12,000 Cambodians were settled in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program after being forced to flee their homeland by the Khmer Rouge;

In the four years—and it’s important in this debate to recall the context—that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century. The barbaric Khmer Rouge regime in power in that period of time claimed the lives of up to two million people. According to the BBC, under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside. But this horrific attempt at social engineering had enormous cost. Many families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork. That’s important to reflect upon, particularly given the current concerns of the Cambodian community here in this country.

I pay tribute to the former member for Holt, Gareth Evans. As many in this House will know, he played a significant role in the political settlement of this conflict. As foreign minister, he helped secure the 1991 Paris peace accord, which ultimately resulted in direct involvement by the United Nations in the civil administration of Cambodia during the transition period.

Given that history, particularly of my most illustrious predecessor, it is of grave concern to see the recent actions of the Cambodian government. In recent years, the local Cambodian Australian community, including the Cambodian Australian Federation, in Springvale, along with Gareth Evans and many others who have taken an enduring interest in and focus on the future of the Cambodian state, have voiced concerns about increasing human rights abuses and the attack on free speech. For example, the Cambodian community is very concerned about Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s assault on government critics, which has intensified since May 2015. The Cambodia Daily newspaper, a frequent critic of the government, has been forced to close down recently. An incredibly disturbing development occurred last year with the assassination of political activist Kem Ley, which caused deep concern and anguish amongst the Cambodian community in my region. Most recently, the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, has been taken into custody by around 100 police. The accusation is treason.

On Saturday, 9 September, the Cambodian Association of Victoria, under the leadership of President Youhorn Chea, will be leading a protest at the Springvale Town Hall condemning the Cambodian government’s recent actions of suppressing dissenting voices in Cambodia and, importantly, particularly given Gareth Evans’s involvement, failing to fulfil commitments as a party to the 1991 Paris peace accord. I know that many members of the Cambodian Australian community as well as the broader community will be in attendance to support this particular action.

We have been blessed with the contributions made by important figures within the Cambodian community in my time in politics. For example, Victoria has been incredibly well represented by Hong Lim, the Victorian state member for Clarinda. He’s obviously of Cambodian-Chinese descent. He’s been a member for 21 years. Hong was the first and only Chinese Cambodian to be elected to a parliament anywhere in the English-speaking world and has served the community very well. Councillor Youhorn Chea was the first Cambodian mayor when he was the Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. We now have Councillor Heang Tak, from the Paperbark Ward, who has also been Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. Their contribution to this country has been amazing and fulfilling. They are one of Australia’s great multicultural success stories. We need to do what we can, as we are with this motion by the member for McMahon, in supporting them with their concerns about what is happening in Cambodia today.

A word about our Young Veterans Speech – 15 Aug 2017

Aug 15, 2017

I rise in this debate to raise my concerns about a lack of ongoing investment by the Turnbull government into the outer suburbs of Australia’s major cities—in particular, the rapidly growing south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne in my electorate of Holt. In the Casey region of my electorate, we are home to one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia. In fact, we’ve been nominated as having one of the fastest-growing suburbs, which is Cranbourne East. There is enormous population growth occurring in these outer suburbs. One of the key issues that we have identified is that social infrastructure—I use the term ‘social infrastructure’ in terms of essential services and services for the wellbeing of people—like the NBN and the building of new roads is not keeping up with this population growth.

The City of Casey has a population of 311,000 people, as we speak, as I understand it, and, in the next 20 to 30 years, will have a population that’s the same size as Canberra. This is a rapidly-growing area. It’s continued to grow and it does have major issues with connectivity in terms of roads and in terms of the internet.

We have just distributed a survey to our residents and one of the issues was the NBN in my area. One of the key things from the feedback was people asking: ‘When are we going to get access to this particular service?’ Each week my office gets many queries about the lack of, for example, ADSL broadband services to homes in Cranbourne, Clyde, Narre Warren South and Lynbrook. People only have access to the wireless internet and so not only are they not getting NBN but they are getting a substandard service they have to pay a lot for to access the internet. Given it’s the 21st century and the number of businesses in my constituency, particularly in areas like Hallam—where we have world-leading companies working on LED lighting, for example, that sell to the rest of the world—they need access to the internet speeds that NBN would bring them.

In Holt, according to the latest figures provided by NBN Co, we have just over 12,000 homes and businesses connected to the NBN. Whilst the rollout will increase later this year, it’s still the case that the Turnbull government can’t ensure that over 55,000 homes and businesses will be connected by 2019. As a classic example of this, I’ve recently been working with residents in the Belmond on Clyde estate who didn’t have access to a phone or the internet or mobile phone services, in some cases for five months. The estate is right next to the fastest-growing area in Australia. It’s somewhere in the order of 43 or 44 kilometres away from the Melbourne city centre. We’re not talking about outer rural areas; we are talking about outer suburban areas. I am pleased the residents in the Belmond on Clyde estate now have access to the NBN. We had to campaign heavily. It’s a tribute to the residents there that they campaigned, appeared in an article in The Age and brought forward the installation date of the NBN. However, notwithstanding that, they still don’t have access to a reliable mobile phone service. A new mobile phone tower still needs to be built to keep up with the population growth, but it hasn’t been installed as yet. When you go into that estate, you’re struggling with mobile phone services. Given we’re right in the centre of one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia and the fastest-growing suburb is Cranbourne East, it is very concerning they can’t get access to what I call essential services. They are essential services.

In the end it is not an unreasonable ask that the NBN rollout needs to be sped up, particularly in the suburbs my constituency covers, in order to provide a fast and reliable broadband service that residents and students and businesses need. Because it’s going to be the crucible of a lot of social and economic growth in Melbourne over the next 20 to 30 years, the fact that it doesn’t have these essential services—even things like access to mobile phone services—is not acceptable.

Another grievance for many families in Holt, particularly from our survey, is the issue of ongoing congestion on roads in the Casey region. Residents spend way too much time in traffic on the Monash Freeway, South Gippsland Highway, Clyde Road and Thompsons Road, to name a few. Driving on these roads and speaking to people who drive on these roads, I remain absolutely committed to campaigning for extra funding to ease the congestion. The trouble is that all these housing estates are being constructed and there are a lot of great young people and families shifting into this area to create a home and a future for themselves and their kids—they have access to a local school—but, when they hop on the road to get out of the estate to transit to their employment or elsewhere, the roads are insufficient to cope with the growth. One major road to be completed in my constituency is Thompsons Road in Cranbourne. During the 2016 federal election, I was absolutely delighted that Labor committed to investing $85 million in funding Thompsons Road, which would have duplicated high-volume sections of Thompsons Road to six lanes and upgraded the intersections to the Frankston-Dandenong Road and the Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road.

At present, it is only the Victorian Labor government that is showing any commitment to easing the traffic congestion on Thompsons Road. The Andrews Labor government has started stage 1 construction of Thompsons Road through investing $175 million on removing a level crossing and building a six-lane carriage over the Cranbourne railway line. According to the Victorian government, stage 2 upgrade works will widen Thompsons Road from Frankston-Dandenong Road to Marriott Boulevard, and from Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road to Berwick Cranbourne Road. A key part of the Thompsons Road project is, in fact, an overpass that should be built over the Western Port Highway. There is no funding for that. That’s where part of that $85 million was going to go. That hasn’t been invested. Again, I call upon the federal Turnbull government to actually provide that funding to ensure that that essential piece of the puzzle for Thompsons Road is completed.

Another area that I am closely associated with, particularly through my work with young veterans, is the way in which we continue to treat our veterans after their years of service in this country. As pointed out in Ruth Lambert’s article The war within last year, more than 40 military personnel and veterans were found to have taken their life last year—roughly the same figure as the number of Australians killed in Afghanistan during 13 years of war. It’s very clear in talking to and working with the veteran community in my area that a number are battling very serious mental health issues. I believe that it’s vital that we do all we can to listen to their concerns and provide more support in times of need.

I wish to commend the National Mental Health Commission for releasing in March 2017 a review of suicide and self-harm by veterans and members of the Australian Defence Force. The National Mental Health Commission report heard from more than 3,200 people. It found that when our service personnel are serving they are 50 per cent less likely to commit suicide, according to the information provided, than those of the same age who weren’t in the Australian Defence Force but that, after they come out of the ADF, their risk of suicide dramatically increases. The report recommended the government improve support for young veterans who have left the service in the past five years and could be it risk of suicide and self-harm. I certainly commend the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs’ plan to invest $350 million as a result of this report. In a bipartisan way, having worked with Minister Tehan when he was chair of the intelligence and security committee, I know that he is fully committed to ensuring that the government will do the best that it can do in assisting with veterans’ mental health needs.

In the time remaining, I would like to talk about the young veterans, particularly in my area—without naming them—who do a lot of work to look after their fellow service men and women, particularly those who been in theatres of conflict. It’s amazing when you are dealing with someone sitting in your office, who could be someone out of a movie, I guess you could say, in terms of his looks, his physique, his manner and his wellbeing, and know that that same person is at very high risk of suicide, even sitting in your office, and that that person can’t drive a car and can’t leave his home because of the severity of his PTSD symptoms. I commend the work that the young veterans are doing in my area to assist with these troubling cases. There will be many more that we will have to deal with. They went overseas to provide a way of life and freedom for us, and we owe it to them to do our utmost to look after them when they come back to this country.

Endeavour Hills Police Station Terrorist Attack Coronial Inquest Findings Speech – 14 Aug 2017

Aug 14, 2017

On 23 September 2014, terrorism visited my electorate when a young man tried to kill two police officers by stabbing them to death in front of the Endeavour Hills Police Station. The coroner brought down his findings on 31 July this year. and I want to read into the record some of the findings of Coroner John Olle’s inquest into this event, which had worldwide ramifications, particularly with respect to the young man attempting to kill the two police officers post a fatwa that was issued by ISIL.

There has been a lot of conjecture by uninformed persons about what actually happened that night. So, for the purposes of clarity for those who seek to denigrate the work of the fine officers involved in the Police Force and ASIO, I’d like to read into the record the coroner’s findings with respect to this matter. The coroner’s findings read:

My investigation has revealed that the men and women who work in this increasingly complex field of counter-terrorism are committed, courageous and worthy of our utmost respect, and their commitment to preserving our national security is exemplary.

It must not be forgotten that the events I have investigated occurred in a vastly different landscape to the present.

Numan’s death occurred within days of an Islamic State fatwa, the impact of which could not be reasonably foreseen. There had been no terrorist attack world-wide of the nature of Numan’s attack on Officers A and B.

In the months prior to his death, Numan had settled on a course to fight overseas. He had been radicalised. In hindsight, several significant events occurred in the days prior to his death that may have culminated in Numan’s decision to carry out an opportunistic attack on police officers.

However, absent hindsight, I consider the risk assessments and decisions made to meet with Numan on that fateful night could not be reasonably subject to criticism.

I find that Numan engaged in a course of conduct that involved radicalisation and behaviour that was increasingly dangerous, ultimately causing his death.

I find that the gunshot that caused Numan’s death was fired by Officer A, but that other non-fatal tactical options available to Officer A would not have prevented the potentially fatal injuries being inflicted on officer B by Numan.

I make no adverse findings against any of the officers involved in the incident.

I express my sincere condolences to Numan’s family who have acted with unwavering composure throughout my investigation, irrespective of the immense grief they experience.

I also express my condolences to all the officers who were involved in this incident, in particular Officers A and B, whose lives have been changed immeasurably.

I know both Officers A and B and proudly say that I know them. I hope for them that this coroner’s finding brings them closure to a very traumatic event that will deeply impact the rest of their lives.

North Korea Private Members Motion Speech – 14 Aug 2017

Aug 14, 2017

I wish to commend the motion raised by the member for Berowra, which condemns the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea, for the ongoing development and testing of illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including intercontinental ballistic missile tests in June and July 2017. I’m also deeply concerned by reports from US intelligence analysts that have assessed that North Korea has produced a miniaturised nuclear warhead that could fit inside a ballistic missile and that last week it was threatening to strike the US base of Guam. In my view the threat posed by North Korea and supreme leader Kim Jong-un is one of the greatest security challenges facing Australia, and it is something that we should be talking about in this place. However, we must proceed with caution to ensure, as much as we can, that we maintain peace, stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

I welcome the UN Security Council imposing new sanctions on North Korea—which was supported, importantly, by Russia and China—for carrying out intercontinental ballistic missile tests on 3 July and 28 July 2017. I welcome UN resolution 2371, which targets North Korea’s primary exports, including coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. According to Richard Roth’s CNN report, the sanctions also target other revenue streams, such as banks and joint ventures with foreign companies. The sanctions will slash North Korea’s annual export revenue of $3 billion by more than a third, according to a statement from the office of Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations. UN resolution 2371 not only imposes the strongest sanctions ever imposed in response to a ballistic missile test but also calls on North Korea to cease any further missile launches, nuclear tests or acts of provocation.

It is vital in the coming weeks, if it can be done, to de-escalate tensions, stop the war of words and urge North Korea to return to diplomatic talks. It’s been unfortunate that, since 2009, six-party talks between Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, the US and North Korea have been suspended. In his annual new year’s address in January 2017, the North Korean leader declared his country to be in the final stage of preparation for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. As North Korea has carried out these tests, it is imperative that some form of diplomatic talks be convened. Any diplomatic talks may be unable to force North Korea to give up its current stockpile of weapons in the short term. As we say in political negotiations, it’s best to prepare for the worst but negotiate for the best possible outcome.

In extemporising a bit about what is occurring in this situation, in light of the somewhat provocative language used by what I categorise to be the very reckless leader of North Korea, it is imperative that the political class maintain an appropriate posture in dealing with the bellicose threats issued by that leader. I particularly welcome the contribution made by someone I know, John McLaughlin, a former deputy director at the Central Intelligence Agency between 2001 and 2004, and acting director in 2004. In this period of escalating crisis, he refers on his social media to a conversation, which occurred at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, between President John F Kennedy, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and Pierre Salinger. In that discussion President Kennedy urged restraint in the use of language about what actions would be taken and sought to clarify what Lyndon Johnson had said, because Lyndon Johnson had intimated that there’d be direct military action taken against Cuba. In a general sense, in any utterances made, I think we could do with the sort of discipline and rigour that was applied by President Kennedy. Whilst preparing for the worst, we must negotiate for the best. That implies, I think, some significant challenges for Australia in terms of its future defence should North Korea not comply with the UN sanctions and UN directives, but, at this stage, cool heads should prevail.

headspace Narre Warren & Dandenong Speech – 21 June 2017

Jun 21, 2017

I would like to talk about two headspace centres—one in Narre Warren and one in Dandenong—and to pay tribute to the young people of Casey, without whose efforts we would not have had those headspace centres. In 2011 and 2012 in and around my constituency we had what we call a suicide cluster, for want of a better term, of young people who were taking their own lives. The number of people hurting themselves and taking their own lives was of sufficient magnitude that in 2012 we commissioned a summit on youth suicide, which was led by Professor Pat McGorry. Four Corners filmed the summit and broadcast a wonderful program called ‘There is no 3G in Heaven’, which talked about the individual stories of parents who have lost their children and the impact of youth suicide on parents and families. It was traumatic for everyone who was involved.

The key driver of this, and the people I want to pay tribute to, were the young people from the Casey youth study tour, who drew this to my attention in early 2012. Some of those young people had been friends of those who had taken their own lives, and for those young people, through the auspices of the city of Casey study tour, to come into my office and talk about their individual experiences and talk about the loss of their peers and how that impacted on their lives was an incredible act of bravery, from what I could see. The fact that they wanted something done and their impetus, drive and enthusiasm were the main reasons we had this youth summit in August 2012 and for what it led to. Up until that period of time there were no headspace centres in the midst of this rather awful set of circumstances. As a consequence of their lobbying, there are now two headspace centres. That is overlaid with a youth early psychosis service that is run by Associate Professor Simon Stafrace from The Alfred hospital.

We talk about young people not having a say in politics anymore, not having any influence, but that is not true. Those headspace centres are testament to the young people who worked hard together; lobbied me, respectfully; lobbied others in the city of Casey; and auspiced this youth suicide summit in 2012. So to those young people who may or may not be watching, who think they are powerless and do not have a voice: that is not true. You have a voice, and your voice, particularly in the city of Casey, led to the creation of two headspace centres, and those two headspace centres and the early psychosis centre are saving lives. That is because of you young people and the work that you did to lobby for those services.

Counter Terrorism Speech – 19 June 2017

Jun 14, 2017

I would like to thank the member for La Trobe for moving this motion that relates to terrorism and terrorism offences relating to the 2016 Christmas Day terror plot and other matters. It talks about the number of people that have been charged, the number of people that have been convicted, the number of people before the courts on terrorism offences and the disruption that has occurred to terrorist plots by the AFP and our intelligence agencies. It talks about the issue of violence and extremism that we are confronting collectively.

This has a very personal aspect for me, as I have said in this place on numerous occasions. It particularly has a personal aspect, I am sure, for two particular people and others that will be watching the address that I give here this evening. On 23 September 2014 terrorism took place in my electorate of Holt—a place I never thought would ever feel the touch of terrorism. That was at the Endeavour Hills Police Station, when a young individual attempted to kill two counterterrorism police officers. If it were not for the bravery of both of those officers and if not for the response of one of those officers in that life-threatening situation, both officers would have died. My children used to play in the area when they were younger. This was one of the first events that happened in the Western world post a particular edict that was issued by the Islamic State about attacking police officers. Little did I know that it would happen on my doorstep, on the evening of 23 September 2014.

There were two very fine individuals that were involved in that event—two police officers. I am proud to say that I know both of those police officers as friends and as two individuals that have experienced a lot. The media pays attention to the immediacy of the event, but those two individuals still live with that night. We are waiting for the coroner’s findings. I am hoping that after nearly three years those two officers find some peace when the coroner brings down his findings about that night. I am quite sure that the officers will be mentioned very favourably in terms of their endeavours and what they did on that evening. That evening is going to live with them for the rest of their lives. When we are talking about terrorism we are talking about the impact. It is never going to leave those two individuals. I just wanted to assure them, because they will see this speech, and to thank them for their sacrifice, to thank them for what they did and to say that I will continue to support them and remember the sacrifice they made that night on 23 September 2014.

I was not involved in Operation Rising but I happened to stumble across Rising before it occurred, which was the Anzac Day plot. I would particularly like to thank the special operations group that was involved in that, and in particular the individual I would call the spiritual head of the special operations group. I want to thank this officer for his insight, for his support of his officers and for the guidance he provides to the officers in the special operations group.

What we are confronting here is an ideology as powerful as any that I have ever seen. I think what the public needs to understand is that, notwithstanding potential combat victories in Syria and Iraq, this ideology is not just going to be extinguished. We are going to be dealing with the manifestations of this ideology—this perversion—for a long period of time. I would counsel those who would think that, because we are going to defeat these people, we will not see events occurring on our shore. I said in 2014 that I thought, on the basis of what I was being told by intelligence agencies, that we would have a terrorist attack in our country, and it occurred. We will have other events, Mr Deputy Speaker Hastie, as you know, that will happen on our shores.

One thing I will tell those who might be even thinking about perpetrating this sort of act is this: never underestimate the Australian people. Never underestimate their strength and resolve. Our values and our society will always be and will always outlast those who seek to divide us and seek to terrorise us. As you can see with what they have done in Manchester and in other attacks on English soil, they have made a mistake to awaken the Blitz spirit of the British, and they will find the same will occur to them if they try to do that in this country. They will never break our resolve. We will defeat them not just militarily but ideologically. We will not succumb to their threat of terrorism. We will not succumb to what they will try to do to our country.

Ongoing Persecution of Coptic Christians Speech – 14 June 2017

Jun 14, 2017

Tonight I want to speak about a special community in my electorate, a community who, over the past years, have endured many tribulations and been forced to helplessly watch the persecution of those of their faith in Egypt. That community is the Coptic Christian community from Egypt.

If you ever wanted to see a structure that embodies its community and its positive impact and effect on our landscape, you need only look at the magnificent St Mina and St Marina Coptic Orthodox Church in Hallam. It is a landmark building which can be seen by all travelling on the Princess Highway. Often I gaze across the highway at night and admire its magnificent towers and steeples, adorned as they are by the crosses on top. The Coptic community established their church in Hallam in 1993, when there was nothing more on the land than a cattle shed. As the community has grown, so has this place of worship. From that cattle shed to this now imposing spiritual centre and community hub, this church offers the Coptic community and its followers a sense of faith, hope and renewal.

I wish to commend the outstanding leadership of this wonderful community and church by His Grace Bishop Suriel, the Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, Western Australia and New Zealand. This man has dedicated his life to the Coptic community. He leads his people in good times and bad. And I am afraid to say that there have been many dark days for the Coptic community in this country.

I have spoken in this place on numerous occasions about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. This ancient Christian community has, for over 1,000 years, suffered persecution under different rulers in Egypt. As approximately 10 per cent of the population of 91 million people, the situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt has always been precarious, as they are an ancient Christian minority in the epicentre of the Muslim world.

But what I want to raise again in this House tonight is the more recent persecution of those in the Coptic community. For example, on 1 January 2011, 22 people died after a suicide bomber set off a massive explosion as hundreds of Coptic Christians celebrated a New Year’s Eve service in the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria. Several congregation members who were killed in this murderous atrocity had relatives in Australia. In October 2011, following the burning of a Coptic church in Upper Egypt, security forces clashed with Christian protesters and 28 people, mostly Copts, were killed. In 2013 Muslim extremists laid siege to Egypt’s main Coptic cathedral in Cairo. This assault followed a funeral for five men who died days earlier in Khusus, a town north of Cairo, in clashes with militants. Muslim extremists also carried out a despicable and cowardly mass murder and beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, on 15 February 2015, by ISIL affiliated terrorists. The majority of the victims came from poor villages and went to Libya to work as labourers to send money to families back at home.

On 11 December 2016 an ISIS suicide bombing at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo killed at least 25 people and wounded 49. At least seven Coptic Christians in North Sinai, the stronghold of Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, were killed in the following months, prompting the majority of Coptic residents in al-Arish, the area’s biggest town, to flee to mainland Egypt. On 19 February 2017, in a video that was published, ISIL claimed responsibility for the Cairo cathedral bombing and threatened further attacks on Christians, accusing them of being ‘the spearhead of the crusader project to fight God’s religion in Egypt’. On Friday, 26 May 2017 at least 28 people were killed and 23 others were injured in Egypt after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, many children, who were traveling to a monastery. On 9 April 2017, their Palm Sunday, at least 45 people were killed in separate suicide bombings, whilst many more were injured. According to the Interior Ministry, Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was inside St Mark’s Church but was not harmed.

As you can see, there are a litany of terrorist attacks on the Coptic community in Egypt. As I said, it is an ancient community. It is a community that has suffered much over the years. But I wanted to reaffirm to the Coptic Christian community, particularly the Coptic Christian community that I represent in my constituency, that those attacks do not go uncondemned in this place. The community has the support of those in this place, and we will continue to lobby to keep these people safe. And for those seeking to flee persecution, who are on our shores, we will continue to represent you and to encourage the government to look at the cases currently before them and hopefully encourage the government to reach a good decision in recognising the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Australia’s Taxi & Hire Car Industry Hardship Speech – 29 May 2017

May 29, 2017

I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-18 tonight. Obviously I will raise concerns relating to the Turnbull government’s budget for 2017. In overview, this budget has failed to support industries in transition and has failed to invest in the outer suburbs of Australia’s major cities, in particular the south-eastern region of Melbourne and my electorate of Holt.

In a broader sense though, I wanted to talk about the failure of governments, both state and federal governments, to deal with the issue of what I call ‘disruptive technology’; the havoc that it wreaks on good people who have made investments in good faith, who then have those investments taken away from them by these disruptive technologies that are not regulated in the same way; the impact it has had on industries, and on one particular industry that I am going to mention; the fact that governments of all persuasions are allowing these disruptive technologies to come in without appropriate regulation and oversight; and what the long-term consequences of that are going to be for our community and our society.

The primary example I want to talk about tonight is the ongoing plight of Australia’s taxi and hire car industries. The taxi and hire car industries throughout the world have been going through a global transition that has been brought about by the digital revolution, and by the new economy. However, rather than receiving the needed support that happens when new industries come in through transition, the federal government, the Turnbull government, and, unfortunately, state governments have completely neglected the industry and the ongoing suffering that is being experienced in dealing with this transition.

Many of my constituents and others would have read about the term ‘global disruption’ to various industries. One of the first prime examples of this has been the global disruption to the taxi and hire car industries. This occurred due to changes in the way people can order a taxi and/or other transportation services, such as Uber. Governments around the world have responded in different ways to technologies and new industries like Uber. For example, Denmark, France, Bulgaria and Finland have all stood up and banned Uber, while Uber has in the main been allowed to exist in the USA and is trying to spread into 82 other countries around the world. It is now interesting that, because of some of the concerns about Uber, there is some unionisation occurring of the Uber workforce in the United States.

In Victoria, the previous Baillieu and Napthine Liberal Victorian government between 2010 and 2014 failed to take any action to address the disruption of this industry when it first came in. What happened was they allowed Uber to exist in Victoria, effectively unregulated. As a result, taxi licence values dropped by half, from about $500,000 on average to about $250,000 during the four years of the previous Liberal state government. During that period, not one cent of financial assistance was paid.

In light of this legislative mess, the Andrews Labor government brought in reforms to attempt to compensate those who were affected; however, I would say they are not ideal. They provided $494 million to those affected. Through this package, perpetual metropolitan licence holders will receive $100,000 for their first licence and $50,000 per licence for up to three more, while additional financial support can be provided under the hardship funding. It sounds good, but let us see what the ramifications of that are. Rather than supporting the need to provide much-needed financial support to this industry, the Liberal opposition in Victoria is blocking the bill in parliament—that compensation bill. Because the bill is now stuck in parliament—it is being debated in committee—it is denying families vital funds that they need now. In addition, if we look at the Turnbull government, it is still planning to tax the payments the Andrews government will be making to those taxi cab and hire car owners and drivers that are in need.

Despite this taxi and hire car assistance package being provided, the families involved in this industry are under a great deal of stress. The value of their licences is now zero, and their income has been radically reduced. In many cases the value of their taxi or hire car plate was superannuation for these families. That was their investment. As a result of the establishment of Uber, these families have nothing. They have no superannuation, just a substantial debt.

Over the last two years our office has been working closely with Victorian Taxi & Hire Car Families. We have been assisting roughly 3,000 families who individually own or operate taxis or hire cars. To those who do not know each of these 3,000 families are suffering to varying degrees as a result of very comprehensive changes to the taxi and hire car industry. For example, in one case a family bought a taxi licence in 2011 for $513,000. In Victoria this taxi licence is now worth nothing. The family is clearly now in severe financial hardship. The family still owes $350,430 on the taxi licence. It will receive only $100,000 of financial assistance from the state government. This means the family is left with a debt of $250,430 to deal with for the rest of their lives. This is but one example of how taxis and hire car families have been affected and of the financial hardship they are experiencing.

Let me talk about that in a more graphic way. Since August 2016 Victorian Taxi & Hire Car Families has compiled statistics from among their members. They have attribute to the hardship experienced by this transition, the death of three members due to ongoing stress, 11 families having had to sell their family homes, six families having gone through a divorce, five members having suffered a heart attack, four members suffering other severe health issues and four members now suffering from cancer. This situation could be mitigated if the state Labor government were to fully fund and provide additional financial support to those families that are struggling to cope at present. I call on the Turnbull government also to commit to not taxing the payments the Andrews Labor government is wishing to make as this financial assistance.

The Victorian taxi and hire car industry wants a long-term future, and it is vital that Australian governments consider assisting the taxi industry. There is a reason why I would do that Uber has failed to fulfil its tax obligations, infringed workers’ rights and failed to provide insurance protection for customers injured in a crash in Australia in all cases. That does not apply to the taxi industry.

New operators providing transportation services should be treated like taxis and hire cars and not be allowed to get away with not paying tax and with disobeying Australian laws. Yet that is what is actually happening. The people involved in the taxi and hire car industry have done nothing wrong. They pay their taxes and provide an essential service to Australians. In contrast, the families involved in Victorian Taxi & Hire Car Families believe existing laws are not being enforced to properly regulate Uber. So there is a situation where there is a disruptive industry, a technology, a grouping and a major conglomerate worth $60 billion that comes into this country and does not abide by the law of the country. It does not pay tax. Yet it is rewarded by governments bending to its will by allowing this lack of regulation to occur. That sets a very undesirable precedent for other industries where that will occur. We are seeing the thin edge of the wedge. It will not be just taxi and hire car families; it will be other industries. This plan of deregulation and disruptive technology will not stop with taxis and hire cars. It will progress through all sorts of industries. We are seeing the canary in the coalmine. It is the taxi and hire car families that are having to pay the price at this point in time.

Victorian Taxi & Hire Car Families also wanted to remind the chamber that a taxi driver in Manchester, AJ Singh, decided to turn off his meter and offer free lifts to people who were caught up in the atrocity committed last week in Manchester. During the Bourke Street tragedy in Melbourne in January 2017, taxi driver Lou Bougias intervened and immediately went to the aid of multiple victims and provided direction to others who joined in to help. His actions became one of the most inspirational acts to emerge in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy. In contrast—and we know this because we have looked at it—during the Lindt cafe siege in Martin Place in December 2014, according to Ben Grubb in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Uber decided to charge passengers four times the usual rate under its surge pricing scheme. In times of need we see taxi drivers—the regulated industry—stepping in and showing compassion. I believe compassion should be extended to those in the taxi and hire car industry in their time of need.

According to Elizabeth Knight’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald last week, one of Australia’s wealthiest and most high-profile investors, Hamish Douglass, has called Uber ‘a Ponzi scheme and one that will be broke in 10 years’. Thus, it might be a good idea for the Australian government and some of our state governments to question their ongoing support for Uber and look at whether it is leading to ongoing hardship for those in the taxi and hire car industry in Australia. They are seeing a regulated industry being wiped out for an industry that might not be around in the next five to 10 years.

I and my colleagues the member for Wills and the member for Batman have worked assiduously to ensure the taxi and hire car industry is supported. I would certainly urge the Turnbull government to intervene in some way to take some action to address the unfolding human tragedy that is occurring within an industry in transition in Australia. There are 3,000 families in the Victorian taxi and hire car industry group that need urgent financial assistance right now. I would also make that call to the Andrews Labor government. It needs to step in and provide additional financial support as soon as possible.

Rather than just talking about the taxi and high car industry, I would like to point out this budget’s neglect of the outer suburbs like those in my region. I note that the Turnbull government has a plan for the new airport at Badgerys Creek in Sydney, but there is certainly no commensurate plan for the outer suburbs in Melbourne and, in particular, in the south-east of Melbourne in my electorate of Holt. In light of the decline of Australia’s automotive manufacturing capability and the closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station, it is vital that we set a new renewable energy manufacturing jobs plan for the south-east of Melbourne.

If you look at the scale of the contribution that the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne make, they generate 44 per cent of Victoria’s manufactured product. That is according to the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Alliance, or SEMMA. Industry provides 17 per cent of south-east Melbourne’s 549,000 jobs. There are more than 300 exporters located in this region. The question is: what support was provided in the budget for Australian manufacturing, especially as the automotive sector is winding down? One of the key priorities is to continue to invest in this manufacturing hub of the south-east of Melbourne so we can keep jobs in our local area.

Another important point that can be made is in respect of the lack of funding for road congestion in my electorate. This is a substantial issue. We deal with congestion on the Monash Freeway, the South Gippsland Highway, Clyde Road and Thompsons Road, to name just a few roads, and congestion, particularly on Thompsons Road, is a substantial issue for people in my constituency. The priority is to fully fund the completion of Thompsons Road in Cranbourne. During the 2016 campaign I was delighted that Labor committed to investing $85 million in funding for Thompsons Road, which would duplicate high-volume sections of Thompsons Road, making it six lanes wide, build a full grade separation at Western Port Highway intersection and upgrade the intersections with Frankston-Dandenong Road and Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road. The grade separation, if it is not funded, becomes a self-defeating enterprise. There are funds available, we know there are funds available, and we have certainly seen those funds committed by the Prime Minister to other states and territories. I would call upon the federal Turnbull government to make a commitment to fund this grade separation, in particular at the intersection of Thompsons Road and Western Port Highway. It is essential work that needs to be done. It should not just be left to the state government to fund this. The Turnbull government should be doing this. We made that commitment, and we would expect to see that matched by the Turnbull government.

I would like to finish where I started and remember those taxi families and hire car families. They continue to need our support. They are the canary in the coalmine: where goes the taxi and hire car industry, we will see other industries doing the same fairly soon.

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