Use power to fight for people: senator

·3-min read

The power wielded by parliamentarians needs to be used to enhance the lives of workers around Australia, Labor senator Linda White says.

Recalling the collapse of Ansett, the former trade unionist and lawyer used her first speech in the Senate to speak of the responsibility she felt to help even the playing field for those facing disadvantage.

"Getting justice for people has dominated my working life," she said.

"For some people, their pathway in life is determined by the circumstances of their birth.

"Governments, however, have the power to open up new choices and opportunities that would otherwise remain out of reach. The power we have in this place to change lives is significant."

Unions were left to pick up the pieces after the collapse of Ansett, with a decade long fight to secure nearly $760 million owing to workers, Senator White said.

The senator's first speech came a week before the 21st anniversary of the airline's collapse.

"As a union official, there is nothing as bad as finding out that 4500 of your members have lost their jobs on the one day. The Ansett collapse broke many people," she said.

"It was a brutal reminder that markets don't prioritise the wellbeing of workers. It was also a lesson in how the decisions by governments not to intervene also changes lives.

"It was left to union members to take up the fight for these Australians, and that is what we did."

The Victorian senator first encountered the union movement during her first job at McDonald's when the franchise she worked for was bought out by the parent company.

A union organiser from what is now the United Workers Union met with staff one night and the now-senator was chosen as a delegate.

"In the end, we kept our jobs longer than we would have otherwise, but the 'expensive' staff, like me, were eventually rostered off," Senator White said.

"It was an early lesson about insecure work and the perils of casualisation.

"I felt the power of collectivism for the first time, and it has been my driving force ever since."

NSW Nationals senator Ross Cadell also used his first speech to pledge to fight power imbalances, this time between rural Australia and the cities.

"I want to fight the imbalance of power between the cities and the regions, between the haves and have nots, between the loud and the silent," he told the Senate.

"How is it fair that previous governments have taken away powers of farmers to collectively bargain with massive corporations for a fair price of produce, leaving them working 24/7 for a minimum wage.

"Where I'm from, we've given up any hope of government doing anything for us. We just hope they don't do anything to us. How is that a good thing?"

The senator, who hails from the NSW Hunter region, called for decentralisation and a reallocation of large infrastructure budgets to favour rural and regional Australia.

He formerly served as the NSW Nationals state director as now acts as the party's Senate whip.

"Let's put that money into the regions so that people can have the best of both worlds, a life and a community," he said.

"I am here to be a right royal pain in the posterior to the status quo."