House debates

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Parliamentary Representation


10:15 am

Photo of Ken O'DowdKen O'Dowd (Flynn, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

on indulgence—In the autumn of 2010, I'd never thought of being a politician. Yet, by the spring of 2010, I was one. The preselected candidate for Flynn had withdrawn his nomination. I was in the party room of the local branch and was told to get a candidate—quick time. When the music stopped, I was left holding the ball.

Flynn is a fairly large electorate. It's 133,000 square kilometres, twice the size of Tasmania. From my business experience, I knew about 50 per cent of the electorate, which just happened to change boundaries between 2007 and 2010. The other 50 per cent, in North and South Burnett, I wasn't too familiar with, so I had to get to know that area pretty quickly in the three months leading into the election.

The election came and went in a blur, and suddenly I was the new member for Flynn. Where to now? Fortunately, Senator Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell and Connie Fierravanti-Wells came and gave me some very good advice. Barnaby was in the Senate in those days. I thank Graham McVean. He was my early chief of staff and helped me on the way too.

After three days on the road with Senator Fierravanti-Wells, she told me I had her baffled; she didn't know what faction I belonged to. I responded by saying I didn't know what a 'faction' was; I thought they were only in the Labor Party. How wrong was I! I also found out something else about Connie. I took her down an underground sapphire mine at the Gemfields. She was very allergic to bats. She quickly left me, and I found her later on in the shop buying sapphires.

So I went into parliament treating my constituents like I did my customers. I was in business for 30 years prior to becoming a parliamentarian. The 'customer is always right' philosophy is what I've based my, probably, four terms on. In the first term, 2010 to 2014, we were in opposition, and the class of 2010 were already making their presence felt in opposition. John Alexander was a case in point. Harry Jenkins was the Speaker, and, unlike some of my colleagues—like Michael McCormack, George Christensen and Ewen Jones—I was never evicted prematurely from the House. Michael McCormack chalked up seven evictions. I think George Christensen probably would have beat him, but nevertheless. Ewen Jones had the loudest voice in the parliament, and he quite often got kicked out. There were other guys in the House then. The late Paul Neville and Bruce Scott were much more refined, and they were never asked to leave the chamber. Even our Nationals leader, Warren Truss, a true statesman, was sent out, much to our surprise. Harry wasn't in the chair on that day.

Christmas 2010 it had began to rain but forgot to stop. A lot of damage was done on all the river flats throughout Flynn: the Nogoa, the Comet, the Dawson, the Fitzroy, the Kolan, the Burnett and Barambah Creek all flooded. 'One-in-100-year flood,' they said. Emerald, Theodore, Bundaberg, Gayndah, Rockhampton—all were flooded. Roads and property damage was extensive. A similar event happened in 2013, with the same result. Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister and Anna Bligh was the Premier, and they both came to Flynn. We were grateful for the financial assistance they offered in yet another one-in-100-year flood. John Cobb, the former member for Calare and the then shadow minister for agriculture, quipped that he'd spent more time in Flynn during 2010 to 2013 than he had in his own electorate. These flood events were a sharp learning curve for me. It was great to see the three levels of government working together to restore the damage.

Through my four terms I've worked with committees: trade and investment, petitions, defence, treaties and agriculture. This gave me a much better understanding of how these portfolios work and what work has to be done, and that it takes committee members from both sides of the House to achieve what we achieved. My current deputy chair, Justine Elliott, is a pleasure to work with, as is the secretariat.

I did plenty of overseas delegations, and every country I visited had their own issues and their own way of handling their chosen style of government. After two trips to Palestine and Israel, I'm hoping a solution can be found very soon. Peace between these two nations is paramount to the whole region. I leave it to my friends Mark Coulton, Marie Vamvakinou, Anne Aly and others to continue the fight for justice to bring human rights and peace to this troubled land. His Excellency Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, is a very sincere person and a true gentleman. You'll always have my support. Senator Patrick Dodson, the late Alex Gallacher, former member for Macarthur Russell Matheson and member for Fowler Chris Hayes have proved to be great team members on these delegations, and we remain good friends.

Along the way there have been many people who helped me, and I'd like to take a moment to mention some of their names: John and Sue Engwicht, Mike Burns, Ross Drayton, Cameron and Joan Millar, Sonia Burton, Graeme and Lyn Johnston, Neil and Margaret Dunbar, Don Williams, Ian and Norma Rolfe, Eddie and Mary Vella, Colin and Catherine Dunne, Peter Craig, Darryl Kelly, Ron Norman, Frank Fraser, Graham and Lyn McVean, Craig Butler, Don Holt, Tony Goodwin, Hec Kilah, Oz Blacker, good mate the late Greg McCann, Kathy Duff, Margi Morris, Barbara Hocking, Gil and Michelle Smith, the late Percy Iszlaub from Wondai, Wally Knight, Mark Postle, Bob McCosker, Bob Pailthorpe, Graham Hartley, Glen Bryce, Don and Carmel Waugh, Ken and Val McInness, Ivan and Gleniss Shepherdson, Jeff and Bronwyn Schultz and John Gibbs.

I turn to the class of 2010—now the cream comes to the top, outstanding!—and the ministers who came out of that class: Josh Frydenberg, Karen Andrews, Ken Wyatt, Dan Tehan and Alan Tudge. They will continue to serve this country well. I've got my federal colleagues on my electorate boundaries in the federal scene. I share about 200 or 300 kilometres of boundaries with David Littleproud and then I have Llew O'Brien from Wide Bay, Keith Pitt from Hinkler and Michelle Landry from Capricornia. I have state colleagues—Lachlan Millar in Gregory, Colin Boyce in Callide and Stephen Bennett from Burnett near Bundaberg. I've eight mayors and, of course, the councillors. I thank them for the work they do. They do a great job, and they will continue to do a great job.

There's about 10 of us on this side of the House departing: Greg Hunt, John Alexander, Kevin Andrews, Nicolle Flint, Andrew Laming, Steve Irons, George Christensen, Christian Porter and Damian Drum. I wish those 10 people all the best in their new lives. There are others from the other side leaving, and I'll just mention a couple. I don't know the whole list, but there is Joel Fitzgibbon—Joel and I have got something in common: we spread a bit of coal dust on our porridge every morning—Warren Snowdon and, of course, Chris Hayes. I wish Chris would get off that motorbike and stop having accidents. I want to thank the Canberra parliamentary staff for the work they do: the clerks, secretaries, Comcar drivers, transport officers, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the mail and delivery teams, the Hansard reporters, the caters and the attendants. You all do a fantastic job looking after us while we're in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, former prime ministers Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard and deputy prime ministers Warren Truss and Michael McCormack: you've all done an outstanding job and made outstanding contributions to make Australia a better place. Well done in what you have done! I wouldn't like to do your job for all the coal in Queensland.

So my parliamentary journey has come to an end and I look back over what I've achieved for Flynn. To name a few projects, there is the Rookwood Weir, water projects in the North and South Burnett, the Gracemere to Yeppen four-lane highway, the Philip Street bypass, lights at Dawson Road, funding for the Springsure to Tambo road—David Littleproud probably wants to take some credit for that too. There is the John Peterson Bridge at Mundubbera. There are the men's sheds. What a great bunch of men's sheds we have in Flynn and across Australia! They do a fantastic job. There is the wooden bridge replacements, over 30 mobile phone towers, the upgrade of the Bruce Highway from Gin Gin to Rockhampton, six passing lanes on the Capricorn Highway, flood damage recovery, the swimming pool at Blackwater, the rebuild of the Mount Morgan range after the flood, the betterment projects in the Gayndah-Mundubbera area, the new disaster centre at Gayndah Airport, skills training centres in the Gladstone High School and at the CQUniversity, Southern Oil—and I thank Michael McCormack for introducing me to Tim Rose and those guys from Southern Oil who decided to make Gladstone their northern depot. There is headspace in Gladstone and Emerald, the Emerald Hospital upgrades and health precinct at Emerald, and multiple projects under the regional jobs programs.

My future project, which I hope to be alive to see, is the Gladstone to Toowoomba rail link. It is a very important piece of infrastructure and we're currently doing the business case study on that right now.

I turn to my staff at Gladstone and Emerald. Sue Carige and Lane Buffington have been with me from the start. Lane is here with us today. Of course, we then have Rachel Hardy, Natasha Nixon and Jenny, who have also been in the Gladstone office for a long, long time. I'd like to thank Mitch for stepping in at short notice. He does the media for me at the moment. Thank you all. You all do a wonderful job.

I turn to my family. We were raised on a dairy farm at Bracewell near Mount Larcom. Mum and Dad had to work very hard in those days to support my three sisters and my one brother. The three sisters and one brother were allergic to milking cows, and that left me doing the job on most occasions. I don't mind saying that because it's true. But where would you be without your family and their unwavering support?

On a sad note, while I've been in parliament my mother, my brother, Bob, my sister Maureen and my brother-in-law George have passed away. I've got to thank my children, Ben and Amber, and the grandkids for their support. To my partner, Shirley, thank you for being with me on this very special journey and for keeping the home fires burning whilst I was on the road and at other places. Fast horses and stud Brahman cattle may be the answer in our retirement. To my sisters Bernice and Lorraine and my sister-in-law, Joyce, and brother-in-law John: thank you for your support over the years. Thanks for your encouragement and good feedback over the four terms.

To my Flynn constituents, thank you for making Flynn the economic powerhouse that it is for Queensland and for Australia's economic future. They include coalminers, heavy-industry workers, gas workers, cattle producers, farmers and transport workers. They are innovators such as the Ian Burnett family and the Carl Morawitz family in cotton; SwarmFarm Robotics' Andrew and Josie Bate in robotic farming. In the citrus industry there is Craig Pressler; Craig Meyer is also in citrus. In the sugar industry, Dale Hollis and Alan Dingle; Craig Myer from Mundubbera is also in citrus. They are health and emergency workers. They are small business, SMEs and large businesses; mum and dad businesses. To my constituents of Flynn: keep up the hard work, forward thinking and determination. You all have a right to be well-represented in parliament, and I sincerely thank you for your votes of confidence in me. It has been an honour and a pleasure to serve you. I will close on this note. God bless you all. I thank the House. Thank you.


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