Private Members' Business - Dementia Awareness Week

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:45): I rise to support the motion before this chamber tonight put by the member for Newcastle, and commend her for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. In particular, I acknowledge that it came as no surprise to me that she would do so, because she has a long history of advocacy for people in many circumstances where they suffer from disadvantage or disability, but this is an important one too. I also want to endorse the comments of the member for Brisbane. And I am sure that in regard to my colleagues the members for Shortland and Ryan, who are in the chamber to speak on it, I will be able to endorse their comments in advance, because I know that both of them are people well committed to the issues that confront those dealing with dementia as well. The motion that has been put before us from the member for Newcastle, starts by noting the extent of the problem as it confronts us as a nation, and it is true that dementia is a significant chronic disease. It is the third leading cause of death in Australia—that is, after heart disease and stroke. There are one in four people over the age of 85 who have dementia, and the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow from 269,000 people today to almost one million by 2050. It is important to realise that around 52 per cent of all aged care recipients have some form of dementia. Continue reading

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (12:16): I rise to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. There has been much conversation and debate about how we got to this point and a lot of casting of aspersions on motives. I think, at the end of the day, good policy requires us to address the content of the legislation. Rather than question why we are here and whose motives contributed what to that process, it is a matter of what legislation is before the parliament, what the intent of the legislation is, whether it will be achieved and whether it is something that as a nation we seek to support. On those bases—not on the basis of all the spurious mud-slinging we have heard from the other side—I support the bill before the House. As a local member I have had representations from people in my area about their concerns. So I am pleased to support the bill today, and I wanted to recognise the significant number of representations that have been made to me and to local people who have expressed their views to me on the matter. I want to acknowledge the important work of our ministers in finding an appropriate way to deal with what is an important issue. The minister for the environment said on 11 September, only this week: If we get this wrong, there are risks to the environment, to commercial operators and to everyone who loves fishing and they are risks I am not prepared to take. Continue reading

Matter of Public Importance - Education

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (16:23): I rise to address what is obviously a very important matter of public importance. I will go to a few of the comments made by the member for Aston. I will first draw the House's attention to the fact that, as a Victorian member, he did not once mention TAFEs in his contribution on education. Given what has happened to TAFEs in Victoria, I am not at all surprised. I very much look forward to other Victorians' contributions and their attempts to explain the drastic cuts of the Baillieu government to TAFEs in Victoria. Mr Tudge interjecting— Mr Tehan interjecting— The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The member for Wannon is disorderly by interjecting outside of his place in this chamber. He will find himself out of the chamber if he does it again. Ms BIRD: I would point out to my colleagues on the other side that despite extreme provocation during the contribution of the member for Aston I did not once interrupt his contribution. I would appreciate a similar courtesy. I have followed with great interest other MPIs in the debate that has been occurring about the Baillieu government's cuts to TAFE in Victoria. I have noticed that, on each occasion, they have failed to get Victorians to stand up and speak on them, by and large. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:39): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. The Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) to update the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships and to authorise wider use and disclosure of personal information collected for the purposes of the act. The maximum amounts for other grants under section 41-45, and Commonwealth scholarships under section 46-40, of the act are being updated to provide for indexation and other variations to funding amounts and to include the next funding year. The bill will allow the minister to determine, by legislative instrument, the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships from 2013 onwards.   Continue reading

Matter of Public Importance - Asylum Seekers

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (15:53): There is a question to be answered in this place today as we deal with this MPI: what interest do those on the other side have in continuing a debate on one of the most difficult issues that this nation and indeed countries internationally face today—that is, the movement of people around the world, particularly in our region? Those on the opposite side continue to talk about this issue because they believe it is in their political interests. The first two speakers talked about what they called a changing position of the government and completely ignored the fact that they have been all over the shop themselves. They ignored the deals they offered to the Greens, for example, in the last round of discussion on the legislation the government had put before the House. We could go around and around in circles in what I would argue is a fairly pointless point-scoring political activity and say that we need to debate this in this House. Even when we make a position clear about finding a good outcome that would work to stop people-smuggling, they shift their position again. That is the reality of what we face in this debate. Before parliament got up for the winter break, as outlined at the beginning of this debate, people came into this chamber devastated by the fact that we have faced 400 cold, lonely, desperate, terrifying deaths at sea. That was the reality which so many on this side had struggled to deal with—to come to a policy position which we felt would stop drownings from occurring. It was not easy for many people on this side of the House to come to a policy position that really challenged competing principles and priorities, but we came to a position which acknowledged that the regional challenges we all face as nations dealing with the movement of people who are in desperate circumstances required a regional cooperative solution. That is what we had worked on as the government. It reflected the reality. Continue reading

Statements on Indulgence: Vietnam Veterans Day

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:20): I rise today to add my comments to the statements made by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and the shadow minister for defence to the parliament on Monday and to commend the contributions made by my colleagues, the members for Fowler and Paterson, immediately before my contribution today. Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated in Australia on 18 August each year. It is a time to reflect in particular on the battle of Long Tan and the Australians who served during the Vietnam War and it is an opportunity to remember those who, most sadly, did not come home. At the request of the South Vietnamese government, a team of 30 Australian military advisers were sent to Vietnam during July and August 1962, 50 years ago this year. This was followed in August 1964 by the Royal Australian Air Force, sending a flight of Caribou aircraft. Australia sent the first battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, 1RAR, in June 1965. As hostilities escalated, the Australian government introduced the National Service Scheme, which saw conscripts involved in that conflict as well as all nine RAR battalions over the period of the war. Public opposition to the war eventually led to the Allied political leadership announcing the gradual withdrawal of Allied forces from 1971, and the Australian commitment ended in June 1973. Continue reading

Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:30): On behalf of the Attorney-General, I thank members for their contribution to the debate on the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012. This bill may not be the most controversial to have been introduced in this term of parliament, but it is a testament to the dedication and attention to detail of government drafters to make sure that the Commonwealth statute book is free from error or ambiguity. I am encouraged that such bills continue to attract bipartisan support in this parliament and applaud the speakers for digging deep to find some interesting components of these largely technical changes. The government is proud to facilitate and support the passage of statute law revision bills, which perform a vital service in improving the quality of Commonwealth legislation. The regular review of legislation by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel enables minor errors in the Commonwealth statute books to be efficiently addressed and improves the accuracy and usability of Commonwealth acts. These improvements reflect the government's commitment to creating clearer and more accessible Commonwealth laws, an important component of our agenda to improve access to justice. We have seen this in other recent bills, including the Legislative Instruments Act (Sunsetting Measures) Bill, which will assist in the removal of thousands of redundant regulations over coming years, and the Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Bill, which will reform court discovery processes and better define and deal with vexatious litigants who clog up court time. Continue reading

Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (20:41): Tonight I reaffirm my intention to support the Marriage Amendment Act 2012, introduced as a private member's bill by my colleague the member for Throsby, which aims to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples. Over recent times, I have sought the views of my constituency on this issue and have received arguments both for and against the change. Indeed, over 1,500 constituents contacted me, some on multiple occasions, by various methods, including petitions, standard email campaigns and personally written emails and letters. I came to the debate undetermined about my own views on this issue. I have a significant appreciation of the special nature of marriage for those with various religious affiliations. I have also spent much of my adult life arguing that people in committed relationships who are not married deserve to have that relationship given the same legal and social acceptance and recognition as those who are married. I also have a profoundly held belief that gay and lesbian individuals and couples should not face harassment, discrimination or denial of rights extended to other Australians. For that reason, I welcomed the significant legislative reforms put in place by the new Labor government when we came to office in 2007. Since I was genuinely undetermined about my own views, I read with an honestly inquiring mind all the submissions made to me. I received personal representations both in my electorate and in Canberra from groups wishing to explain their views on the legislation. In large part, these interactions were well considered and respectful and I appreciate those who argued their case passionately but without attacking the other side of the argument—or indeed me—in a personal way. Sadly, this was not universally the case. But those who resorted to personal attacks simply wasted an opportunity to influence my views. Continue reading

Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD» (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:01): There are moments in time in this place when you know that a debate has shifted. I think that today we clearly face one of those moments in time. Members across the chamber have reflected on how personally their views on what has been a particularly vexed issue have brought them to this point in time in this place at this time. It is true, as others have reflected, that, sadly, how we manage the movement of displaced people in our region has not always been a vexed issue in this place, and we have had bipartisanship in the past. We have had a vexed, difficult debate for many years now on this issue, and not just between the parties but within the parties. That is some of the conversation that we have heard. For me, December last year was a turning point. I have two young adult sons, and I have often entered this debate talking to people about how I would feel personally if my sons were under threat, under danger of their lives, and what actions I would take to get them out of that place and into a place of security and safety. It has always been a reflection in the back of my mind when I have come to these issues—and they are hard issues for everyone. Continue reading

Private Members Business - National Year of Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:37): I think it is the first time I have addressed the chamber while you have been in the chair, Deputy Speaker Oakeshott, so I also add my congratulations to you for joining the speakers panel. In the same vein, I have been following the debate from earlier today on the motion of the member for Lyons and I commend all those who have contributed to it. It is a particularly important issue that many of us feel very strongly about. The member's motion correctly identifies that the 2006 ABS Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, which is the most recent national survey of adult literacy and numeracy and the competency in those matters, found that 46 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 74—that is, about seven million people—have prose literacy levels below the level that COAG has since agreed is needed for an individual to meet the complex demands of work and life in a modern economy. The survey was also conducted internationally and showed comparable and concerning results for the developed English-speaking nations such as Canada and New Zealand. These results suggest that there is a significant number of Australian adults today who do not have the reading or writing skills needed to participate effectively and confidently in a modern economy. The jobs of the future will require higher skills and this means that those without adequate reading and writing skills will be left behind when it comes to getting a job, to having a career path, to changing jobs or indeed to improving their qualifications over their lifetime. And, as many speakers indicated, the low-literacy issue is not just an issue for jobseekers and workers who want to thrive in their job but it also means they will find it difficult in today's workplace. Continue reading