Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Mr Speaker, I also seek to speak on indulgence. In the world of politics it's not always possible to express a farewell message. I'm pleased that I have such an opportunity. After 5½ years of serving my community, I want to say thank you for the unique experiences that have been part of this unusual life journey. Being any kind of leader in any aspect of social fabric is about service—at least, that has been my priority for many years.
I would like to start in an unusual place, and that is to thank the cleaners, the security men and women and the House attendants, whose collective service to this place is amazing. Luch, you deserve a special mention for the unending supply of glasses of water 'on the house'. Thanks for that gesture of friendliness. It has been appreciated. The team in Aussies, especially Bridget, knows my coffee better than I do. This is a welcome addition every day, often more than once, and their friendly service is such a plus.
I reread my maiden speech just to make sure the goals I set were not completely unrealistic. Those targets were put in place by an idealistic woman, and that was me. I had no complete understanding of just how difficult advocacy can be. Together with input from the community, we have had a great run in Gilmore. Almost all of my targets have been met and many more achieved to make living in Gilmore just that much better.
Roads and youth unemployment levels have always been priority issues—not enough of the first and too much of the second. Well over $250 million has been delivered for roads and transport infrastructure, and youth unemployment has been brought down from almost 30 per cent to hovering around and sometimes below 10 per cent. Only a government that has financial responsibility as the guiding principle can get such results.
When the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was Treasurer, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the words: 'We're not changing the envelope. If you need investment for projects, go and negotiate with the relevant ministers.' It's my true belief that the Liberals and Nationals are best placed to keep a sensible approach to the budget for Australia. I'm old enough to have endured Labor-driven recessions that we 'had to have' and interest rates of 17 per cent while trying to make ends meet with mortgages, business loans and employee wages, and I'm pretty sure that's why I stand with the Liberal and National members of parliament, because we do know how to keep Australia financially strong, with a long-term vision.
However, as this is most likely my last chance to put on record just how hard my government and I have worked to deliver for the people of Gilmore, let's just recap on some of my favourites. Because I've never been one to fully exploit these achievements, this will be the formal record of my work and the efforts of those living, working and serving in the Gilmore community.
In 5½ years, over $2 billion has been invested, building on a similar amount under the previous member for Gilmore, Jo Gash. Some were tiny amounts, but changing accident-prone intersections throughout the electorate, from roundabouts in the Nowra CBD to the Tuross Head turnoff, has been making a huge difference for people's safety. There was funding for road blackspots, for rail fencing and for mobile phone blackspots, so that we could have safety and communication in the long stretches of the Princes Highway—those are examples of improvements. There is still more to do, but it's improving in every quarter. The funding for the Tomakin roundabout was a massive injection of $3.4 million, making everyone very happy, locals and tourists alike. And, finally, we've had $25 million invested and committed to match the state funding for the Batemans Bay aquatic and performing arts precinct. This has been two decades in the making and is now a confirmed project, before the election.
There are preschool and pony club kitchens, and, for Men's Sheds, solar and new equipment for their activities—and of course there are never enough tools in a Men's Shed! The Yumaro enterprise, under the guidance of their board and CEO Mark Brantingham, has been a favourite of mine, developing their workshop space and then investing in the accommodation and respite facility for people with a disability. Their passion and advocacy inspired me to push hard for their projects. That was so too for Anne Minato at Muddy Puddles for children with developmental difficulties. Then of course there was Charles Stuart, the tireless worker for the fully inclusive playground at Batehaven. What a joy it has been, getting to know them all and working with them to see the completion of their dreams and to serve their community better.
The Moruya airport, with the extra infrastructure, helping grow the seaplane business, Sea Breeze Aviation; the parachute jumpers at Skydive Oz; the oyster hatchery—these reflect the dynamics of a council making changes, and federal government investment. I thank the previous mayor, Lindsay Brown, for assisting me to identify projects for the Eurobodalla, and I thank the current mayor, Liz Innes, for her vision to follow through on these projects for her community.
The Shoalhaven, which has about two-thirds of the population of Gilmore, is home to the amazing HMAS Albatross. It has been a hive of upgrades, reconstruction, security, investment and innovation, and I am extremely proud to have worked alongside some great officers and serving men and women at both Albatross and my adopted base, Creswell: Captains Simon Bateman, Steve Hussey, Charles Huxtable and Fiona Sneath, and the fabulous Commodores Vince Di Pietro and Chris Smallhorn. The measured and super skills of Tim Barrett, Chief of Navy, now retired and living in Gilmore, helped bring the vision of a helicopter base of excellence to fruition in our very own backyard. That vision was almost interrupted by a Queensland MP, who wanted the Helicopter Aircrew Training System in his electorate. This was the first of many projects where my tenacity paid off, and we kept that project—keeping hundreds of our locals and Navy personnel employed in the Shoalhaven. Over half a billion dollars have been invested in the base already, and there are significantly more to come. I never did get the hang of all the acronyms; I would've needed a book the size of the Webster dictionary!
Speaking of Vince Di Pietro, he has become a friend and was integral in igniting my passion for the work done at Triple Care Farm, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility for youth in the northern sector of Gilmore, now the outstanding location of a detox unit, due to the investment of $2 million by this federal government—thank you, Greg—to complement the funds already raised by the Sir David Martin Foundation. Triple Care Farm is making exceptional headway for lost youth and distraught parents. In fact, this model rehab facility is the inspiration for a Triple Care facility to be established in Cairns and another in Batemans Bay for rehabilitation. These are not just promises but commitments by this government. They will change the lives of these young people who are seeking to take a different direction in their journey of life. I thank the Sir David Martin Foundation, Gabriella Holmes, Alex Green, Ben Carblis, and all the people connected, for their inspiring actions that helped me push for additional funding.
When I pass the basketball and sports centre at Bomaderry, the bridge at Duck Creek near Huskisson, the Dunn Lewis Centre in Ulladulla, travel on Turpentine Road, pass the skate parks at Culburra, Manyana and Sanctuary Point, I quietly smile, knowing that my advocacy helped these projects to become a reality. There are a number of local people who have shared their efforts and their dreams and they have been so important on the journey: Ralph Cook and John Martin, for the basketball stadium fit-out, Gayle Dunn for her tireless energy for the youth in Ulladulla, and the entrepreneurial efforts of Alex McNeilly, turning the federal government promise of $20,000 for a little skate park into a $650,000 development at Culburra Beach, which is a skaters dream, with a children's play area, amenity block and fitness facility. It is used all the time by locals and visitors to Culburra Beach. If only we had more people like that.
Many of my local Indigenous organisations have prospered and grown during the last five years—the Waminda women—especially with the behind the scenes support of Raj and Sophie Ray, the families and workers at Cullunghutti, and especially the Jerrinja, with their growth and self-pride youth training initiatives and exploration of their natural skills as saltwater people. The number of young Indigenous year 12 students continues to grow each year and they make everybody so proud. I was particularly pleased when I was made aware of a title deed hurdle for Jerrinja and I was able to resolve this for them, leading to marine-culture ventures, eco-tourism, residential expansion and, above all else, employment and training for our Indigenous youth.
The injection of the $20 million job package into regional development has been transformational for productivity, employment and innovation. From dairy to engineering, to training and botanic gardens, from aquaculture to airport expansions, this has been terrific and I compliment every participating business for their efforts. They have all paid off. I wish to thank all our small business owners for their vision, growing the local economy and employing more people, and my government for investing so well in this region.
Unemployment in Gilmore, particularly for youth, has been stubbornly high. This is absolutely not the situation now. The Liberal-National government has delivered in every respect and plans to continue this after the next election, given the chance by a well-informed voting public. Yet the local media has said very little about reduced unemployment. In the early years they were quick and strident in their criticism. I guess good news just isn't newsworthy.
However, today should be a celebration for the people of Gilmore striving to make things better for the local people. It has been my driving force. It is my belief that each of us in our different roles has the ability to inspire others to be the best that they can be, whether this is in media, business, politics or parenting. We have a responsibility to inspire for good. I thank the journos who share this ethic—and they know who they are. I'm glad there are more of them than those who dwell in doom and disaster. I am reminded often by a quote now pinned on the wall in my office. It has been helpful when I see the wrong actions of others. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi:
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
I still love the ocean.
I have loved the opportunity to work alongside Ros Dundas from CARE Australia. The forums we've held have empowered me to be a mentor for women parliamentarians in Myanmar, via the International Women's Development Agency. The last 5½ years have been a collective effort of mentoring, guiding and assisting in so many different ways: women like Wendy Woodward, Pat Davis and Dorothy Barker, supporters Jim Reid, Pam Coles, Richard and Maxine Warner, Kath and John Le Bas, Fran and Huon Hassall, Kellie Marsh and her son Nathan, Kath and Ross Waddell, Ron and Marilyn Silberberg and John and Caryl Haslem. Even though Caryl is no longer with us, her energy and vibrancy remain an inspiration. And there are so many others whose help was amazing in the 2013 election, and then again in 2016. We wouldn't have won without you all.
Surprisingly, my staff records filled almost two cartons—amazing people doing a fabulous job helping to sort out problems for our people and promote great Liberal-National policy and achievements. Some are young people and some are older, but all are completely dedicated to doing their best. There are some who should be mentioned as being really special: Molly Anstiss, Claire Short and Marie Wright, now working in the travel industry; Saskia Macey, now a mum; her mum, Nikki Macey, working in the ACT government; Kate Ryan, now working in the Shoalhaven City Council; Alana Faust, working in a community leadership organisation; Jacob Williams, working with Wollongong council; Avalon Bourne, developing leadership in our local area; Brad Stait, now working for the justice department; Glenn Ellard, who gave politics the flick and is training to be a chef and loving it; Georgina Neuhaus, now working for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, my friend the Hon. Senator Marise Payne; James Perrin, now working for the Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt, who is also a mate; and many others who have gone on to bigger and better places.
But I say without reservation that my current team have been with me for some time and have become my dear friends. And they really are precious, as the last couple of years have been tumultuous. Keeley Hayden, also doing her degree, is my first point of call and handles the day-to-day really well. Miriam Williams has developed exceptional skill with NBN issues, NDIS and immigration, helping so many people to get to the bottom of a problem. Dave Marshall is pretty good on Facebook and making videos. He is terrific with communications issues and Centrelink. He is very quiet and compassionate for people who are really stressed with their problems. Jen Hampshire, who is the ultimate 'keep calm and pretend everything is fine' person, is multi-skilled, down-to-earth and a treasured friend. Her wise and considered counsel, especially in recent times, has made me feel that Jen is family. Finally, there is Bonnie Marshall, who has been with me since my first phrase way back in 2012—'I think I'll have a crack at pre-selection for Gilmore, what do you reckon?' She is practical, talented, no-nonsense, funny, loyal and a great friend. We have been bound as mates since the first time I laughingly told her about a house I door-knocked where I could distinctly hear the clip-clop of horse's hooves inside the house and a whinny as I trod on the verandah. That horse was her pony and it had broken the back door to the neighbouring house, also owned by the family and unoccupied at the time. We have so many funny stories that have occurred since then—like seagull splats on fish and chips and adopting three-legged goats. They just go on. I think we'll write a book—Bonnie's Animal Adventures!
It is events such as these that I will hold precious, not the disappointing mechanics of change that were the catalyst for me being in this House giving my final speech. To those loyal Liberals who worked tirelessly to hold Gilmore in the best political position, I salute your every effort. I say thank you to Andrew Humphries, Ian Hardy, Jan Natt, Wilga Crehan, Shirley Batho, Dave and Jan Tarbertt, Kay McNiven, Gavin McClure, Neil Harnwell, David and Sandy Smith, David Grey, Liz Tooley, Jo Brown, Tom Marshall, Ken Levy and Graham Williams.
My first career was teaching and, 40 years ago, I began a friendship with Chris Costin. This friendship continues still—supportive and independent, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to laugh with. Thank you for it all and for sharing your family with me—Warwick, Matt, Richard and Greg and all their partners and all their lovely children.
There are two other very important friends, both mentors and tormentors—especially at campaign times. They are Jo Gash and John Bennett. In addition, during our campaigns, they acted with the assistance of Martin L behind the scenes. Their loyalty and hard work are unquestionable. They have an uncanny knack of knowing just what strategy will work best during a campaign. That included getting rid of bats in Batemans Bay—thank you, Greg Hunt; tempering and, in some cases, insisting on subtle changes to my campaign media that made a softer landing and a better effect; helping to fundraise; and booth worker lists. And, before I forget, thank you to every single booth worker, permitter of signs, person handing out shopping lists and to-do lists and all the other related activities of keeping my ID awareness pretty high. Thank you. But back to John and Jo. In a campaign, their strength and guidance is brilliant. I am proud to call them my most valued friends. We will remain that way for many years to come. Jo, Jen, Bonnie and John, you are simply the best.
My children, Rodney, Kim and Barry; Barry's wife, Romee; and my granddaughters, Sophie Mae and Eva Nellie, have been the emotional rocks and inspiration during what has been a roller-coaster ride, particularly in the last six to eight months. From a bitter and unexpected AGM changeover and all that happened around that time to an amazing opportunity to represent my country at the United Nations General Assembly—speaking to the UN Security Council on the Australian perspective on the role of women, peace and security—to less than a week later writing the eulogy for my father's memorial service, there have been so many highs and lows.
But my family has been there for me through it all, as has my mother, Valerie Lewis, who is here today, who has shared the journey of politics, from doorknocking in Shell Cove to handing out at polling booths, and who has a good grasp of what's going on, as she lives in the electorate of Cook, that of the Prime Minister, my friend Scott Morrison. Mum, thank you for your love and sympathy when it was needed. Even though my dad is no longer here, I thank him too for giving me the philosophy of serving others, which has been and continues to be my guiding principle.
So what else have I learned while being the representative of a community of over 150,000? Well, firstly, be careful where you doorknock, dodge the horses and, when informed that there are residents with guns in a particular street, dodge that street too. True story! Learn to walk, not rush, in trying to get to meetings and deadlines. After several falls, I have tallied three broken toes, two bruised ribs and a break in the main shin bone after launching myself and crash-landing on my knee when trying to get to a photo shoot for the Princes Highway funding. It's a pity I didn't realise it was broken; the pain over Christmas may not have been so bad!
In this hurly-burly world of politics, the best part is the work you can do for single cases where bureaucracy has complicated the circumstances and where, as the MP, you can help unravel the barriers. I will never forget a village visit at Wandandian, a very small village in my electorate, where a community transport bus pulled up and a single person stepped down, clearly not in good health. Her problem was that she had gone into hospital for bypass surgery—I could see the top of the scar; she had died during the operation, been revived, experienced kidney failure during that period and now she had dialysis three days a week, hence being on the community transport bus. She'd been chatting to the driver and said she'd been refused access to the disability support pension and didn't know what to do next. The driver had seen my flyer advertising my visit to Wandandian, so he drove to the village and said, 'Go see her.' A single phone call to the minister's office and a quiet demand to have the situation resolved before 10 o'clock the following day, with back payment to be calculated and deposited, made the difference for that woman. She rang me in tears of joy the next afternoon. These are the wonderful memories that make all the other rubbish of being a member of parliament worthwhile. I don't look at my Facebook anymore and I know I'm not alone in that.
I would like to thank some of the women MPs and senators for their inspiration, dignity, political leadership or words of friendship and genuine encouragement: Julie Bishop, Nola Marino, Senator Marise Payne, Senator Fiona Nash—no longer in the parliament, but we have stayed in touch since she departed—and surprisingly, but I hope the bipartisanship trend continues and grows, Senator Penny Wong, Senator Claire Moore, Gai Brodtmann and Madeleine King. Often being compassionate and understanding of parliamentary events, your words have meant so much. Collectively, you have all been supportive in different ways.
The electorate of Gilmore is named after Dame Mary Gilmore, a teacher, a poet and a woman with social justice ethics. She was born in NSW in 1865. Ninety years later, I was born. I have social justice ethics, I was a teacher and I am a poet. One of the more stressful events while being an MP surrounded my citizenship, so I have taken a couple of lines from Dame Mary Gilmore's poem called 'Nationality'—it seems a natural fit—and I have followed on with my own lines. She says:
I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate …
I have added:
I see my daughter and my son
As equals in the future world
Where each of us is valued as part of our cultural whole
Where our conscience, efforts and ambition reflect the goodness of our soul.
For fifty years ago, which seems so very far,
We girls were wearing mini-skirts and yelling 'burn the bra!'
And yet we still don't have equality in any field I know
And the gap between you blokes and us just simply seems to grow.
When men and women see compassion as a reflection of moral courage, when we shed tears and we're not judged for doing so but recognised as having the ability to share experiences and reach out to others, when we all realise that empathy is the energising force that helps make a difference for others and when we search for news and views from different sources and evaluate from many sides, then we'll be the unpolluted ocean of humanity that will be the better way forward for our sons and daughters and grandchildren. Then our extended families will be part of a social fabric that connects, reconnects, shares and cares, offering help while not inferring that if someone accepts your help then they are somehow weaker. When we can do this in our families, in our towns and perhaps, dare I say, even in our nation, we will be so much better than we are—for these are the strengths of women, and these strengths are needed.
I remain an idealist. I consider others as being essentially good—well, at least most others. I'm still working on some, but I'm only human!
Finally, I will finish by saying thank you to everyone for the rare chance to be in this place and serve the community. I recall a phrase which had less meaning in my youth and a lot more meaning now. It was one of my dad's: 'I was complaining about my journey until I saw my sister walking with no shoes; I was complaining about my shoes until I saw my sister with no feet.' I've changed the gender in that phrase because I want young women to think into the future of their 'sisters' and their journey. While in the USA, I met a woman who is part of the 50x50 group—advocating for fifty per cent of leadership positions to be held by women by 2050. I sure hope it happens around the world before then. I'll be 90 years old and that's way too long to wait.
In the meantime, I look forward to the next chapter of my life—a time line from daughter to mother to teacher to sweet manufacturer—everybody knows about my fudge business—to volunteer in India to politician. I wonder what will be next, though I am grateful for the journey so far.