House debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Governor-General's Speech


11:38 am

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

And Graham Perrett was the fantastic chair. Our recommendation for a national FASD prevention strategy was adopted, and at last there seems to be some greater recognition of this disability, its cause and its prevention. We could eradicate this greatest cause of non-genetic newborn brain damage, which is the result of the baby being exposed to alcohol in the womb. FASD, or FAS, is 100 per cent preventable if the pregnant woman simply does not drink for the duration of her pregnancy. Too many Australian women are still not aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol when pregnant. The alcohol culture, lobbying and industry in Australia are very powerful. I am proud to be the patron of the Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association and I commend the work of these volunteers. I thank this government for continuing to roll out the national FASD strategy.

My work as the chair of the Australian group of the Asia-Pacific parliamentary population development forum has helped me build close relationships with like-minded MPs across our region. I am vice-chair of the umbrella Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, chaired by Japan's Dr Keizo Takemi. It was a privilege to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week to report on our work, which will feed into their G7 deliberations. This forum is tackling the horrors of child marriage, FGM, the trafficking of women and girls, grinding poverty, poor health and education access, and women's need for empowerment, all of which are such pressing issues in our region. Changes are so important for the peace and prosperity of our region, but, as well, it is a right of every person, man or woman, to have a safe and decent life.

It has also been a pleasure to chair the Mongolian, East Timorese, Moroccan, Congolese and UN parliamentary friendship groups. I must say that the three months working with the Australian mission to the UN in New York, at the end of 2014 was an exceptional experience, and I thank this parliament for the opportunity. I was so proud to see Australia in the chair of the Security Council. I think Julie Bishop is one of our greatest foreign affairs ministers. I have been pleased to co-chair our drug reform and harm minimisation group, which championed the new medicinal cannabis legislation. Senator Richard Di Natale did so much to achieve that outcome. Our Dying with Dignity bipartisan group still has some way to go.

I talked about my commitment to Indigenous Australia in my maiden speech. One of my first books was a documentary history of Australia's race relations. During my time in this place I have seen the development of the parliamentary protocols which daily acknowledge the traditional owners, the flying of Indigenous flags and the 'welcome to country' ceremonies. These are significant symbols to be observed by the Australian public, in viewing the parliament as a model. They reflect the rightful place of our First Australians, the original owners of our country. But, of course, beyond the symbolism, we need the outcomes, and we all acknowledge the unacceptable gap between the life experience of Indigenous Australians and that of the rest of our society. I was proud to represent the government on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation for five years until 2000. I celebrated that great march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with my children, and the march in Melbourne that brought black and white Australians together, many for the first time. It has also been a joy to see our first House of Representatives Indigenous Australian MP, Ken Wyatt. May he be joined by many others in the future, especially if they are women. It is a disappointment that this parliament will see a reduction in numbers of women in the 45th Parliament. That is of great concern for our Liberal-National coalition and it is a concern for all of us in the parliament because we want to be seen to be representative of all of the Australian nation.

Every member of this chamber knows that, without highly professional and dedicated electoral office staff, their goals cannot be realised. I have had the great good fortune to have been supported by some of the best electoral staff you could find. Most of them are here with me today. They have all been committed to the cause of Murray and all have gone beyond the call of duty to help assist our constituents, often in great distress, and to give me 100 per cent support. Great staff have served before, but currently they are: Rhonda Whitehead, the first face to greet people as they come through the door in my office—she has been a wonder and has been with me more than 10 years; Steve Cooper, my case manager, has been with me for, I think, seven years; Callum Whitehead, my great media manager who recently left me—he has been luckily inherited by another member; and, of course, my part-timers, Vicki Neale and Lynette Philips. They have all been magnificent. It has been a real Team Murray effort. I also want to refer to Simon Frost and Andrew Cox, previous staffers who are now state Liberal division CEOs in Victoria and WA and doing great Liberal work. Two of my staff have run for parliament.

I want to pay a special tribute and pass on my deep gratitude to Mary Coad, my chief of staff for the last 10 years. Mary has been my right-hand person, deeply committed to the electorate and all of my other issues. She is always highly efficient, selfless, loyal and able to organise the seemingly impossible at very short notice. Mary has been such an integral part of my life for the last 10 years that I really do not know what I will do without her. She will remain a true friend, of course, and a fellow champion of Murray. I thank her most sincerely.

I thank the marvellous team who helped me raise the funds and campaign in that impossible election of 1996 and who are still my core team today—although I do confess there have been a few additions. I call them my 'Liberal family'. Only five or six were members of the Liberal Party before 1996, but now they make up my branches or are members of my fundraising 250 club.

There are too many names to mention and it is always a terrible danger when you start mentioning names that someone will be left out, but I do need to put on the record my enormous thanks to Bill Parsons and his wife, Gwen. Bill has been my federal electorate chair since my election in1996. He is the driver of my 250 club. He has been at the centre of the Liberal business of Murray for all of these 20 years. Also with me for all or most of those 20 years have been the wonderful Del and Gerald Brown, John Taig, the Van Zeists, Barry and Lorraine Smith, the Sterlings, the Lovell-Brown family, the Salis, Peter Twomey, Santo Varapodia and his late wife, Theresa, Keppel Turnour and his late wife, Helen, Kevin and June Reid, Marty Richardson, Rob Watson, Ruary and Nanette MacKenzie, Don Oberon, Ron and Rhonda Crossman, Mackenzie Craig, all the wonderful Inglewood-Wedderburn people of the Loddon branch, especially their pioneer, Maureen Turnbull, all the wonderful people of my Loddon-Murray branch, President Alan and Betty Mann, Alice and Cliff Harrison, Campbell and Janice Chalmers, Vince and Cheryl Bartels, John and Margaret Nelsons, Kelvin Jeffery, Ron Bear and so many more. The late Bill Hunter is also a Liberal icon in Murray. We miss him greatly.

One of the secrets of my success in staffing over 100 booths without any branches and managing the campaign in 1996 was the fact that I am related to half of the electorate—the western half, the great Tragowel Plains-Boort-Pyramid Hill area. It was easy when I was able to hand the job of coordination over to my brother Grant and my beloved cousin Rhonda Hosking. Rhonda then became my electorate officer in a second unofficial office I opened in Kerang, which I had for 10 years until the boundaries were changed. She used her own home as my office and contact point—a most generous arrangement. Rhonda was a brilliant electorate officer. She knew everybody; she cared about everybody, and she has also managed the Loddon-Murray branch with Alan Mann, a second cousin, ever since. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rhonda Hosking and deeply appreciate all that she has done for the area that we both love and call home.

I also want to acknowledge the unceasing support of my beloved father, Harvey Bawden, who remains vitally interested in all things in Murray where he farmed for 50 years. My mother, who passed away some 18 months ago, has also always been my inspiration. My sisters and brothers have always been loving and free with their advice, and my own children, Georgia and Nadia, who are here today, my son Kirk and my 11 grandchildren are a constant reminder to me about why the work we do is so important and why all of us strive so hard to make the country a better place. I thank them—my children—for their unconditional love and support.

It is hard to believe that it is 20 years since I first stood in this place. I did not anticipate that we were about to face the worst droughts and floods on record and various other challenges that have kept on coming. But, perhaps, that is the nature of life in rural and regional Australia. We are largely price takers and dependent on the vagaries of weather and global markets. I strongly believe that we will soon see the viability of the irrigation system and the irrigators protected. As I have said, our irrigation system is our lifeblood. It underpins our economy and it is a vital part of the solution to our 27 per cent youth unemployment.

My Murray electorate is magnificent. Its people are heroic, innovative and resourceful. We are proudly one of the most multicultural populations in regional Australia. We celebrate our diversity and the history of our pioneers. We have strong and vigorous Indigenous communities. I am proud that some of my grandchildren are growing up as a part of Murray. They are lucky children.

I leave this parliament proud of the gains made, regretful about the problems that are yet to be resolved. But every day it has been a privilege and an honour and a joy to serve the people of Murray. I thank the House.


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