A Speech by Darren Churchill, Candidate for Ginninderra, to the University of Canberra “Candid Candidates” Election Event, UC Refectory, 15 October, 2008

A Speech by Darren Churchill, Candidate for Ginninderra, to the University of Canberra “Candid Candidates” Election Event, UC Refectory, 15 October, 2008

G’day,

Folks, it could be said that the Australian Democrats have done quite a bit of work on Social Justice. That is true. Right from the beginning, my party was formed on the principles of honesty, tolerance and compassion, with policies based on common sense and fairness.

We are the true small “l” liberals, socially progressive, being a voice for Aboriginal reconciliation, human rights and refugees as well as championing the environment long before it was ever trendy to do so. In 2008, the ACT Democrats stand by those very same principles

The Australian Democrats have always taken a positive approach to the idea of Social Inclusion by recognising and responding to the diverse needs of all Australians, with particular emphasis on those in greatest need. We continue to do so.

Social inclusion is about social cohesion. It is about creating a framework, whereby the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed, are provided with the opportunities to share in society’s prosperity, to participate in society.

It is the role of government to ensure that there is a safety net to protect those who slip through the cracks of our economic and social structures.

For many Canberrans the real threats to their security come from poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunity or poor access to services.

I have been asked today to talk about four specific topics and I will focus the bulk of my speech on these areas.

Firstly, Cost of Living

The cost of living is a difficult statistic to calculate. People with different lifestyles spend their income on different “baskets” of goods and services. Are you a poor student? Or do you have a family and buying a house? Are you a retiree or a pensioner? Quality of life is a related concept. Some people choose to have a lower income so that they can live somewhere quiet and peaceful and some like the higher income and stress and congestion of city life.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that Canberra is the third most expensive capital city to live in, in Australia, behind Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra has the second highest average income. Australia has a lower average cost of living than the USA or UK. But, from a Democrats perspective, what is more important than a single average statistic is the spread from poor to rich. Does our society give everyone a fair chance to get started – to buy a home if you want to? Do we have a decent welfare safety net to catch the disadvantaged? Can we all get a decent feed and medical attention?

The Democrats believe that the best way to avoid a cost of living problem is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity for full time employment. The ACT government has a significant role to play in planning for future employment and economic growth and stability. Canberra has never really had a long term plan to achieve this goal, and its something the Democrats have as a priority.

The Skills Crisis

Some people claim there is a skills crisis in Australia. I say there is business and industry management failure. Why are their job vacancies that can’t be filled (without cheap migrant labour)? Because either the pay or conditions just aren’t good enough. I don’t believe Australians are too lazy too work, but they are also not stupid enough to work for nothing. Business and Industries with a labour problem need to get their act together and offer decent conditions.

One of the major failures in industries where there is a supposed skills shortage is really the inability for workers to get a reliable income. You can’t work and plan for your future if you don’t have a steady income (unless you are on a hundred thousand dollars a year or more). With an ageing workforce and an increase in the expectation that people will cater for their own retirement income through superannuation, the casualisation of the workforce is just increasing the tax burden on those who do have regular incomes.

Sustainability of Development

Sustainability has three equally important aspects – economic, environmental and social. Its what we Democrats call the triple bottom line. It’s the core of the way that the Democrats judge good policy, by how policy meets those three criteria.

Economic sustainability means we need to develop a broad based and efficient employment base designed around what Canberra is good at. We don’t have minerals or agriculture as an economic base, so we have to have something else – and something other than reliance on being the seat of Australian government.

The Democrats support the development of high-tech, information-tech and green jobs. We want the ACT to capitalise on the research base we have in the CSIRO and our Universities to make Canberra a centre of excellence for housing construction processes that are energy efficient, water efficient and carbon neutral.

Environmental sustainability means maintaining a high quality of both urban and rural environment. Right now, we have to ensure that the international economic crisis is managed, but it can’t be allowed to overtake the importance of tackling the global warming problem.

The Democrats want the ACT to have long term water use and energy plans, to make sure that we can maintain a decent standard of living while maintaining good environmental water flows and minimising our carbon debt. Our transport policy aims to move an increasing percentage of commuters from cars to public transport – buses and light rail – and bicycles. Ideally, we’d like a full 24-hour bus service, seven days a week. But that’s something we have to work our way up to as Canberra grows. We accept that there are circumstances where private transport is still the only way to be flexible, and we need to cater properly for that too.

Social sustainability means having a range of housing, education and health services and infrastructure so that everyone has a reasonable standard of living. (And accepting that it is the role of the Federal government to manage things like unemployment and disability incomes)

The Democrats have a vision of Canberra with more high-rise, high density living around town centres and transport corridors while maintaining a suburban Bush Capital lifestyle for those who want it, and providing a decent supply of student accommodation and emergency welfare housing. We want to revert to a system of local neighbourhood primary schools to rebuild community cohesiveness and minimise travel. We want much more government funding for health to increase the supply of doctors (and especially bulk billing doctors), to reduce hospital waiting times and to increase community-nursing services for those who find it difficult to travel.

Higher Education Funding

This is to a large extent a Federal government issue, but there are things we can do at a local level. Governments have a responsibility to give every Australian a good education, but the Democrats believe that vocational training should mainly be the role of the business or industry that wants specific skills.

The Democrats have always opposed plans for commercial funding of educational institutions and believe that even at a tertiary level subject curricula should be designed to give an educational expertise rather than a specific narrow skill set just designed for a specific job. Job skills change as jobs come and go over time – education should be designed to give students the ability to be trained and re-trained as necessary. But, we also believe that individual companies or industries should provide scholarships and apprenticeships to individual students so as to be able to supply their own industry requirements.

Governance

For better governance, the Democrats stand by our principle that Governments should be held to honour their election promises. And recognise that a government has a mandate to govern and implement the platform it was elected to, but not to dictate or force through unfair legislation; it must be scrutinised and debated to “keep the bastards honest.”

We are the negotiators, the natural party of the cross-benches, the people who know how to make otherwise bad legislation into better, fairer legislation for all. We work for good outcomes. If laws are to be honest and just, the Assembly and the public must be given ample time to discuss all proposed legislation.

We don’t side with either Labor or Liberal. We maintain our independence. It is an obligation on Democrats politicians to vote with their conscience on all issues.

So, whether it is a re-elected Labor government, on Saturday. Or, whether it is a new Liberal government. If we are elected, as Democrats, Greg Tannahill and I (Darren Churchill) will maintain an independent cross-bench. We will be sensible negotiators. We will uphold the Australian Democrats principles of honesty, tolerance and compassion. And, we will “Keep the Bastards Honest!”

Thank you.

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