Thursday, 21 October 2010
Debate resumed from 20 October, on the proposed address-in-reply to the speech of Her Excellency the Governor-General—
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, express our loyalty to the Sovereign, and thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to the Parliament—
on motion by Ms O’Neill:
That the Address be agreed to.
‘I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of rugged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.’ Dorothea Mackellar’s famous lines best describe our wonderful and unique Australia. Her words could also specifically apply to the Riverina region of southern New South Wales, the area I now proudly represent in this parliament. It is a region like no other in this wide, brown land for it stretches from the magnificent Snowy Mountains across to the red, dusty plains around Hillston and beyond.
This starkly differing landscape has resulted in amazing diversity within the Riverina, which encompasses an area of almost 61½-thousand square kilometres. Yet the people of the Riverina, as different as they may be, are bound by a common thread. The thing which binds them is a country spirit—a ‘can-do’ attitude—which is embedded in their hearts and minds as they seek to build a better region, a better Australia, a brighter future. The people of the Riverina have contributed mightily to this nation and will continue to do so. All they need is a fair go. It is all they have ever sought. Just some recognition for their worth to this great nation.
When Mackellar wrote of a sunburnt land, she was echoing the sentiments expressed in a journal entry by the first European to visit the district now occupied by the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. ‘The whole country,’ explorer John Oxley despaired in 1817, ‘seems burnt up with a long continued drought … a country which for bareness and desolation has no equal. I am the first white man to see it and I think I will undoubtedly be the last.’ Oxley did not, however, count on the resilience of those early settlers whose push westward during the 19th century was unceasing and whose pioneering spirit could not be broken.
In 1906 the Barren Jack and Murrumbidgee Canals Construction Act was introduced by New South Wales Secretary for Public Works Charles Lee, after whom Leeton is named. On tiny blocks of stiff clay soil, far removed from markets, the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area Scheme was launched. The official opening, the turning on of the water by State Minister for Public Works Arthur Griffith, whose name lives on through the vibrant Riverina city bearing his name, took place at Yanco in 1912. By 1916 it was deemed that the MIA was a place fit for heroes—and more than a thousand of our bravest from the Great War took up soldier settlement blocks. This historical background to the establishment of the MIA is important because it is one of the greatest success stories of Australia and therefore the Riverina. May it continue to be so.
The next grand engineering feat, in fact the most outstanding in Australia’s history, also took place within the boundaries of what is now the Riverina electorate. The Snowy Mountains Scheme, constructed between 1949 and 1974, generates electricity and enhances irrigation flows for the dry west. It was built by people from 32 countries, many of whom had been at war with each other only a few years earlier, and it had a significant effect on the cultural mix of Australia.
Griffith was Australia’s major early experiment in cultural integration and this inter-racial melting pot has stood the test of time, which says a lot about the people and their acceptance of each other for the greater good—that ‘can-do’ mentality. The Riverina is, therefore, the cradle of Australian multiculturalism. It is a region which has defied an inhospitable landscape, a less than always favourable climate and a racial mix which has worked in few other places. It has progressed in spite of itself. It has advanced because people of many and varied ethnic backgrounds cast aside their differences, rolled up their sleeves and, under a hot Australian sun, got on with the essential and back-breaking task of tilling the soil in order to produce the food to feed the nation. Our nation. Our people.
Against all odds and often in the most trying of times, the MIA has lasted generation after generation thanks to the hardy resolve of its people. What those determined and resourceful people of the MIA do not need and will not survive against now is poor policy from this place—this place which is supposed to protect and support Australian industry; this place which is here to stick up for the Aussie battler; this parliament which now, more than ever before, says it is focusing on the needs and the rights of rural and regional Australia.
Well, here is the real test. Here is the challenge facing this parliament, this nation. Never mind whatever else you may have heard previously stated in this chamber, let it be known this is the greatest moral dilemma of our time. Do we, as a nation, turn our backs on our fellow Australians who have done everything asked of them by government—turning a barren and desolate land, according to Oxley, into the country’s food bowl?
Do we, as a nation, now repay the farmers who have still managed to put food on our tables despite a dozen years of the worst ever drought by taking the precious resource with which they need to grow their produce? Can we, in all conscience, allow a situation whereby the very people who feed us and sustain us are coerced, encouraged or forced—call it what you like—into selling their right to use water? Buybacks lead to waterless properties and the loss of jobs and food production as well as the confidence in and the viability of regional communities. None of us in this House should want that, nor can we afford that. Food production is serious business in the MIA, contributing more than $2.5 billion annually to the Australian economy. The Australian Farm Institute says that every Griffith farmer feeds 150 Australians and 450 foreigners each year. Those same farmers and many more besides are now faced with the very real and grim prospect that they will be unable to continue the irreplaceable role they play and that their parents and grandparents before them played in the service of this country—feeding the nation.
I am the son of a dryland farmer, and his father and grandfather also ploughed their Riverina paddocks, planted crops and hoped Mother Nature would be kind. Sometimes she was and times were good. Other years were not so generous, but that is the cycle of farming—an industry reliant on the right amount of rain falling at the right time. When it does not rain for years on end, it does not mean it will not rain again. It does not mean we all need to listen to a government grant-seeking academic sprouting doom and gloom about climate changing irreversibly. My father was a big believer in weather cycles—drought followed by flood—just like we have at present. It is just as Dorothea Mackellar described: weather doing what it has always done in this unforgiving land. We just have to make the best of what we get. Flo Grant, an Aboriginal elder with the Wiradjuri people in Wagga Wagga, summed up the water issue so eloquently and succinctly just last week. ‘We all like to eat,’ she said. ‘Farmers have to come first and foremost. They need the water to grow the food. The environment will always take care of itself as it has been doing for tens of thousands of years.’ Her comment rings far truer than the nonsense we hear so often spoken by so many who base their views on mere assumptions of what might or might not happen. And here is another truism. Our irrigators, our farmers, are the best in the world. They are the best environmentalists because their livelihoods and their futures depend on it. They are world leaders in maximising production using the least amount of water. Australian food quality is second to none. That is why it needs protection—fair trade rather than free trade.
There is a worryingly growing chasm between our overcrowded cities and the bush, and it is incumbent upon all of us and particularly those of us in this House to do more to bridge the gap. If we do not then people in cities will forget where their food comes from; they will take it for granted, accept more imports and then wonder why their food prices have gone up and there are food safety scares. We all want a better environment, but who is actually prepared to do something, to go without or to put their hand in their pocket to achieve it? If this is a difficult prospect for most people then think about this before far-reaching decisions are made in the name of the environment—and remember we cannot make a decision in the name of the environment without knowing what the supposed environmental benefits will be, without embracing people and without considering the human cost.
When our farmers talk about biosecurity threats we, in this parliament, need to listen and act. Our wheat growers’ best interests were not looked after when the single desk was dismantled in 2008. Our apple growers were blighted, pun intended, in July this year when final approval was given for China to begin exporting apples to Australia. This move has the potential to ruin Batlow, a town in my electorate. It is bad enough that Riverina’s wheat and apple growers are now confronted by so much uncertainty due to poor policy, but we should not, cannot and must not allow our family farms to now be left high and dry. Everyone wants a healthy river system, none more so than the good folk of Coleambally, Griffith and Leeton and other towns, villages and farms in the Murrumbidgee Valley. We can have good environmental flows and family farms.
Some reports put the number as high as 7,000 who attended a Murray-Darling Basin Authority community information session at Griffith last Thursday. Those who turned up were upset. They were united. And people power won the day. The ashes from the ceremonial, some would say justifiable, burning of a heap of copies of the guide were still smouldering—no-one doused the flames because they do not waste water in Griffith—when the government announced an overdue parliamentary inquiry into the socio-economic effects of any proposed water cutbacks. Let us hope some good comes of this. Let us hope sanity prevails for the good of our irrigation communities, for the good of those who wish to eat home-grown food in the future and for the good of Australia.
We need to better store, better harvest and better use water—our most valuable asset. We are not doing it at the moment. Our country has some of the most inventive minds, finest engineers, smartest entrepreneurs, willing workers and people prepared to have a go, to try things. But do we have the conviction and courage to stand up for what is best for Australia? Do we have the political will to do what is necessary and build dams where there is an abundance of water and pipe it to areas most in need? We have enough water in this country; we are just not using it wisely. Let us have a vision, show some courage and start planning now for projects of the scale of the MIA and the Snowy scheme to again show the world what a mighty nation of thinkers and builders we are. What a fine legacy that would be for generations to follow! It all comes down to common sense. What a shame there is not a federal portfolio for it.
The Mayor of Tumbarumba, Ian Chaffey, at a Nationals’ election campaign fundraising luncheon hosted by my good friend, Labor Party life member George Martin—such is the spirit of cooperation in the Riverina—declared that there ought to be a ‘ministry for getting things done’. That could work too! One project of vital importance to the entire Riverina is a new Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. It was first promised in 1980 but the people are still waiting. They are good people in the Riverina. They are tolerant. They are generous. They helped to fund their own cancer care centre. But while their spirit of giving will never wane, their patience is certainly wearing thin. They too rallied in their thousands recently to demand action for a new regional referral hospital. Wagga Base is terribly run-down. Local physician-cardiologist, Doctor Gerard Carroll, describes it as ‘dangerous’. Whilst the building is dilapidated, staff members at the hospital continue to be caring, conscientious and consummate professionals in the most trying of conditions. They are to be admired for the extraordinary feats they perform in the less than ordinary working environment they are forced to endure. The current Wagga Wagga Base Hospital was first promised in 1958 and officially opened just over four years later—four short years. It has now been 30 long years since the first pledge was made to rebuild. Both sides of state politics, it must be said, have reneged on promises made. But, you know, for a mother with a sick child lying limp in her arms or an age pensioner waiting in pain for surgery, they neither know nor care about political sides or whether it is federal or state funding—they just desire and deserve to be treated in a facility similar in standard to those many metropolitan people take for granted.
There is an opportunity in this parliament to end the wait for the long-suffering Riverina residents and medical fraternity who ought to be given—and who need—a facility offering the very best in modern health. I commit myself to doing what I can to help this process. Health is so important. It is for most people the No. 1 priority. That is understandable. Without good health, you have nothing. During the election campaign I doorknocked thousands of Riverina homes. Health and water were by far top-of-the-mind issues. People were also concerned about increasing costs of living, how we would repay the debt and protecting small business and the vital transport industry.
I encountered very few people who rated national broadband as something they could not live without—maybe a dozen, probably less, out of the many thousands of residents of all ages who spoke to me at their doorstep, in the street and at various events in the lead-up to the election. The $43 billion that Labor claims the National Broadband Network will cost—in truth, probably twice that amount—would fund more than a hundred new base hospitals of the size the Riverina requires. Think of the public health system our regions could have. What a crying shame! What a wasted opportunity! More doctors, nurses, allied and mental health professionals and aged-care services are desperately needed in rural and regional areas. Nationally, we need to do more for Aboriginal health to increase the life expectancy and standard of living of our first nation people.
The Riverina is so very fortunate to have a facility such as Kurrajong Waratah which provides opportunities, support and training to more than 700 babies, children and adults with an intellectual disability or developmental delay and their families and carers on a daily basis. Wagga Wagga, or more specifically the Army Recruit Training Centre at Blamey Barracks, Kapooka, is the home of the Australian soldier. My hometown is a tri-service city boasting Air Force and Navy bases as well. It also has a progressive campus of Charles Sturt University, a leader in tertiary education.
Education is fundamental to a successful society. We must have a strong public school system. Equally, funding of non-government schools is essential to ensuring that parents continue to have a choice as to where their children will be educated. The fact that 704,000 young Australians—or one in five students—receives a Catholic education should be evidence enough to this parliament that every cent of support is needed and well spent and that future funding should be at the very least maintained and properly indexed, not frozen at its current level or, worse, scrapped. That any government would even contemplate withdrawing money from Catholic schools is an insult at a time when we are rightly celebrating the woman who was the first to introduce a national curriculum, our own Mary MacKillop, St Mary of the Cross.
Catholic schools are very accountable and always spend government funding wisely. For proof, one needs only to look at the Building the Education Revolution projects costed and managed by Catholic school dioceses. These have given the government—and, therefore, the taxpayers of this nation—good value for money. Schools have received worthwhile facilities generally on budget and on time. Compare this with the disgraceful rip-off which occurred in the public system where schools had no say in who did the work, how much it would cost or what sort of building would be thrown up. The BER, in principle, was a good idea and a way to stimulate the economy. Similarly, the Home Insulation Program was also, in theory, worth while, but it is in the execution where this Labor government mucks everything up. It is why practical people such as Councillor Chaffey want a ‘ministry for getting things done’.
Country people are sensible people. They are fair dinkum. They expect when someone says they will do something that they will follow through, deliver, get it done. This is why so many regional Australians feel let down at the moment. They feel that, despite all they do for this great nation of ours, their worth is not recognised or appreciated, not by this government in its previous term, not by a government which now expects regional Australia to produce more and more with less and less—less water, less money for health and roads. It cannot continue to happen. Prices at the farm gate in no way reflect those being demanded by the duopoly which controls the Australian grocery and retail market. Petrol prices in Wagga Wagga are uniformly high—in fact, consistently and unfairly the highest in the state. The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission needs to show it has real teeth and do something about this—soon. When regional Australia is strong, so too is our nation. It is time a few more in this place took heed of that and started to give our regions, our future, a decent go. That is why I joined The Nationals.
This year our party celebrates 90 years. The foundation leader of the then Country Party in 1920 was William McWilliams, with whom I feel a sense of connection for prior to entering politics he was engaged in that noble profession of editing a newspaper. While the nay-sayers have long predicted our demise, the Nationals refuse to go away. Indeed, since Federation in 1901, no party has spent as much time on the government benches as the Country Party and Nationals. We have a solid record of achievement, purpose and stability and will continue to stand up for country people, real Australia. We are a party of toilers and doers, the only party the sole interest of which is looking after and speaking up for rural and regional Australians, the only party which cares about regional Australia the most. That is our only focus.
I am the 14th member privileged to serve Riverina, a foundation seat in the parliament of Australia. It is a duty and an honour which means so much to me. The inaugural member for Riverina, John Chanter, was the first member of the House of Representatives to have been defeated three times in the same seat. He kept coming back for more, which must say something for the fighting qualities of this pioneering politician. The man who defeated him by just five votes at the 1903 election, Robert Blackwood, was born in Australia but had the distinction of being runner-up in the amateur lightweight boxing championship in England—again, those fighting qualities.
My predecessor, Kay Hull, was also a fighter. She punched way above her weight. What a fighter! What a lady! I have Kay to thank for my being here today. Short in stature but big in heart, Kay delivered genuine and lasting outcomes for the Riverina. She was friendly but feisty, compassionate yet controversial. Her commitment to her electorate was absolutely unconditional. The Riverina always came first. She was a shining example of what it means to be a good local member.
I also pay tribute to another dynamic woman—the Nationals state chairman, Christine Ferguson. The party I represent is passionate about being a grassroots organisation and no-one has championed this better than Christine. I am delighted that the Nationals’ highly talented state director, Ben Franklin, and his devoted energetic and excellent team of Greg Dezman, Douglas Martin, Nathan Quigley and Felicity Walker are in the public gallery today. Their amazing support helped enormously in what we all achieved together on 21 August. It was a truly team effort. Federal Nationals director, Brad Henderson, and his campaign officer, Erin Adams, were people to whom I often looked for advice and were always patient, measured and, most importantly, correct.
No political party has a more dependable leader than the Nationals’ Warren Truss. Reliability is a hallmark of the Nationals. One of our party’s great strengths is its stability. In our 90 years we have only had 12 federal leaders and Warren, who visited the Riverina three times during the lead-up to the election, exemplifies the traits of honesty, integrity and solidarity that this parliament has come to expect of our party. I was also delighted Senators Barnaby Joyce and Nigel Scullion took the time to help the campaign. However, no National came to the Riverina more than the irrepressible Senator Fiona Nash, for whom nothing was too much trouble and whose bubbly appearance and wealth of knowledge proved invaluable wherever and whenever she bobbed up, whether it was at a street stall or an evening meeting with interested constituents. The state members for Murrumbidgee, Adrian Piccoli, and Burrinjuck, Katrina Hodgkinson, also trumpeted the Nationals message loudly and proudly in the Riverina. I look forward to 26 March next year when they will help the Barry O’Farrell-Andrew Stoner New South Wales coalition jettison the most inept Labor government in this country to the oblivion where it belongs.
The management of my campaign committee was in the safest pair of hands. The indefatigable Joe Dennis splendidly coordinated advertising, booths, mail-outs, media, signage, strategy and anything and anyone else needing his expertise. It was a terrific performance from a terrific person. Joe’s parents, Anna and John, as well as Tina Bingham, Isabelle Britt, the Hon. Rick Bull, Wes Fang, Pam Halliburton, Margaret Hill, Dominic Hopkinson, Georgie Hutchinson, Joanne McLennan, Donna Neville-Ross, Gretchen and Richard Sleeman, Angela Smit, Lucy Spora, Robert and Lesley Vennell, and my wife Catherine, were as dedicated a campaign team as could be. Thank you, one and all.
The sort of teamwork the Nationals exude is underlined by the fact that four others who stood for preselection—Wes Fang, Mark Hoskinson, William Maslin, and John Minogue—all pitched in and did not just what they could to help but went above and beyond to make sure the party retained the seat. I am delighted Rick Firman, the Deputy Mayor of the marvellous town of Temora and someone whose counsel and friendship I value, is here today. To all those loyal Nationals branch members and volunteers who handed out in the cold at any one of the more than 100 booths or helped out in some other way, thank you. I am eternally grateful to the Riverina electors for their trust and vow to always do my best on their behalf.
I was brought up in a time when life was much simpler. My late father, Lance, was very busy with the farm but found time to build me a billycart, a cricket net and football goalposts. It was an era when, if the sun was up, children played outdoors. We were encouraged to climb trees and to swim in the river. Skinning your knee and getting a little dirty were part of everyday adventures. The local council did not get sued if someone fell off a swing. People generally took responsibility for their own actions. My dad instilled in me a hard-work ethic. By his actions he demonstrated that anything was possible, anything worth doing was worth doing well and his word was his bond. They are examples I follow. My mother, Eileen, made a happy home and she and dad raised five children—Denise, Robyn, Julieanne and Mark being the others.
There is one person here today to whom I am indebted more than any other—my beautiful wife, Catherine. As well as being the devoted mother of our three lovely children, Georgina, Alexander and Nicholas, who are all now teenagers, she has always been my guiding strength, my keenest ally and my fiercest critic. She has sacrificed much in order that I can pursue my dreams. Her parents, Beverley and the late Bernard Shaw, have also had a profound and positive influence on my life.
Politics is not about power; it is about people—representing those people and speaking up for them loudly, often and passionately. I have lived my life by this motto: I promise not to be silent when I ought to speak. That is my commitment to the people of the Riverina and to this parliament. Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker and members of the House, it is with a sense of history and humility that I stand here as the elected member for Wright, a newly created seat in the south-east corner of Queensland. I thank the electorate for entrusting me with the honour of representing them in this our nation’s House of parliament. I can report that as I moved through my electorate on my path to this place the people gave me some clear messages. My farmers are struggling to get a better price for the product at the farm gate. My businesses, small and large, are struggling with an increasing level of compliance and red tape. My mums and dads are struggling to meet the cost of living as it quickly becomes unmanageable.
In preparing this speech I sought the guidance of political colleagues both in this House and in the Senate, both past and present. I have sought the compassion of family and friends and the wisdom of party members and communities. The overwhelming advice was, ‘Just be yourself and prepare a speech that will have relevance to your electorate now and in 20 years time.’ During my recent political journey I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of my campaign team, who worked tirelessly throughout the campaign along with a great number of volunteers who unselfishly manned booths and scrutineered on election day. It is with humility that I thank you for your contribution to our local victory. Each of you as volunteers should celebrate, knowing that your contribution assisted in such a historic outcome—the election of the first-ever member for the seat of Wright. To the electors of Wright, who I now represent, I owe you a debt which I will repay through the long hours of hard work in which I will invest as your member of parliament. Please know this about me: I will never give up.
The seat of Wright is named after one of Australia’s more famous female poets, whose views on the environment and social issues were ahead of her time. Judith Wright resided in Mt Tamborine and had a strong connection with the Australian landscape. The seat of Wright is a newly created seat, and one could say it is the beginning of an era which is as diverse as the seat itself—from Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast through to the spectacular hinterland of Mt Tamborine and the Canungra Valley, the beautiful fertile Scenic Rim district, up to the west of Logan City, where we have exciting growth with the expected creation of the two new towns of Yarrabilba and Flagstone and right through to the bottom of the Toowoomba range, encompassing the food bowl of Queensland’s mighty Lockyer Valley.
The diversity of the electorate is immense, from its vital food production and associated industries to the smaller sectors and those homeowners and families who seek a lifestyle outside the metropolitan areas. Despite the obvious wealth, there are a large number of everyday residents who are doing it tough. The Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, Lifeline and similar agencies have large client bases and, sadly, they are growing—yet, I have 22 private polo fields in my electorate. The electorate of Wright contains a collection of communities which represent contemporary Australia in its myriad forms. However, the links to the past are not far beneath the surface. First came the timber-cutters and sawmillers who provided the raw materials for the region and for Brisbane houses. They were joined by the farmers and the graziers who cleared the land and now produce the food that we consume as a nation. Where once the bullock wagons slowly carved their tracks across the landscape road trains are now travelling at a hundred kilometres an hour. Much of the transport infrastructure built over the past hundred years is now struggling under the weight of heavy vehicles and traffic volumes which our forebears would scarcely imagine. The timber bridges that dot the landscape may have a rustic charm but they cannot meet the demands of modern traffic. What was once a hard day’s travel by stagecoach from the centre of Brisbane to the Cobb and Co. depot at Jimboomba is today little more than an hour’s drive; however, that drive gets more expensive and crowded each day, as the years go by. The outer suburban fringe is now contested territory between energy producers, farmers and urban sprawl. All government services are under extreme pressure. There are not enough hospital beds and a regional transport infrastructure upgrade is long overdue.
It is timely that I now reach back into the history pages and draw on the words of the founder of the Australian Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, in his landmark speech ‘The Forgotten People’, which he delivered in 1942. He spoke of that majority of the population who he identified as, and I quote:
The forgotten class … who properly regarded, represent the backbone of this country.
He went on to say:
But what really happens to us will depend on how many people we have who are of the great, and [sober and dynamic middle class]—the strivers, the planners, the ambitious ones. We shall destroy them at our peril.
This is the very sector of the community I refer to as the silent majority. The silent majority today are struggling with the cost of utilities such as power and water. The silent majority are struggling with the increasing costs of fuel and food. The silent majority go about their business in an efficient way. The silent majority work to ensure a better life for their family and community. I will provide a voice for the silent majority of the electorate. These are not the people you see on the front page of the paper or on the television each night; they do not seek glory or public notoriety as they quietly go about their tasks. These are the many people of my electorate who go about providing random acts of kindness which enrich us all: the staff and families of Rural Lifestyle Options and Beaucare, who work with the disabled and elderly; the charity service providers and the support networks; the Pauline Fathers from the Marian Valley; or the bloke who just pulls over on the side of the road and helps someone change a tyre. We in the parliament have to give greater support to this silent majority and support them in more effective ways, for if we fail to support them we will surely destroy them, and we destroy them at our peril. Those powerful words spoken over a half a century ago remain relevant today.
The time has come to reflect upon this nation’s over regulation and this government’s waste and escalating mismanagement. The time has come for us to look more carefully at the practices of government. I am concerned that the machinery of government is becoming more reliant on external advice. The budget expenditure on external consultants and advisors has been steadily increasing and the growing trend of outsourcing the decision-making process has been steadily eroding the capacity of departments to provide quality advice in a timely fashion. In some cases, the terms of references given to consultants are skewed to the political agenda of the government. This is not an efficient use of government money. In my experience in the private sector, mismanagement dooms an enterprise to insolvency. Efficiency is the pathway to business success and, likewise, efficiency is the only acceptable pathway to good government. These are the things which ensured my success in business and they are the same things which I will bring to my work here.
It is fair to say that some sectors of government are under constant review and are change weary. I understand, that my stance may be met with vigorous resistance from sectors of the machinery of government, with a thousand good reasons why something cannot be done. To them I say: shift your mind to a different place and give me a thousand reasons how it can be done. I want the machinery of government to know that I will always be trying to make things better. I want them to know that on this issue I will be fair and I will be consistent, and I will not give up. I will not give up because my people expect me to pursue these issues to the best of my ability.
The silent majority are the average Australians who, through hard work, tenacity and self-reliance, have played their part in the development of this nation. My electorate contains some of the richest farming land in the nation—and I make the point, in response to the first speech by the honourable member for Riverina: we have some crackerjack country as well! I aim to give maximum respect and support to those working in the agriculture sectors, from the research scientists and teachers at the Gatton campus of the University of Queensland to the farmers and graziers going about their business producing food for our tables and for export. In the early days these were the men and women who cleared the scrub and tilled the soil. Like their contemporaries, they did not give up when things got hard; they simply worked and hoped for a better tomorrow.
Many of those families are still there today. However, increasing state and local government controls over their property rights and access to water and vegetation management restrictions now threaten their very livelihoods. I am going to search for solutions to these problems, for a reduction in red tape and ways in which we can increase the prices paid to farmers at the farm gate, for without these people we are all poorer; without these people we become captive to overseas producers and overseas markets; without these people we lose our dignity and our sovereignty.
In this my first term in this place I have set myself these goals: I will do my best to represent the silent majority, the forgotten people, the disappointed, the urban fringe dwellers, the long-established families in the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim, the tree-change communities in the Gold Coast hinterland, and the outer suburban residents of Logan City and the small towns dotted along the highways and byways of what is truly a beautiful landscape.
One community in particular deserves a special mention: the men and women of the Canungra jungle warfare training centre. It is here that generations of soldiers have lived and trained. They are, in the Anzac tradition, the warriors to whom we turn when the dangerous and difficult work of protecting this nation has to be done. We live with them and their families in our midst and in return it is these warriors who offer their lives and youth in our protection and the nation’s defence. It will be my privilege to represent those people.
I want to put into Hansard my commitment to family values and the Australian tradition of fairness and hard work and of tolerance, tenacity and resilience. To my electors, know this: as a husband and father I will represent you as best I can. I owe you my place in this House and I will not be silenced on my opposition to those things which threaten our quality of life. I will oppose the sale of illicit drugs, with the terrible scars they leave on society. Businesses and families should know that I will be working for a safe environment for work and play, and for the protection of our youth and elderly. I will not tolerate those who prey on our children and elderly, the very ones who have contributed to this great nation and the ones who will be its future. To those who see the helpless and vulnerable as an easy target for assault, know this: you will not be welcome in the seat of Wright.
At this stage of my speech I would like to share with you a little of who I am and how I came to be in this place. As I stand here today in the centre of the nation I realise how profound the journey to this place has been for me. I am one of four children in my family. My father died when I was eight years old, leaving my mother to raise us alone, so I am well aware of the financial pressures of being brought up in a household whose sole source of income for many years was a widow’s pension. Mum is a devout Catholic, and we were dragged to every novena, every stations of the cross and every benediction. As a young adolescent, to make time go quicker at mass, I became an altar boy. I was always ambitious. I remember even as an altar boy I always wanted to be the Pope. We had a warm and loving childhood, and I thank all my family for their friendship, love, support and encouragement.
I acknowledge my mother and family here today in the gallery. To each of you: I thank you for your guidance, love and support. With tongue in cheek, I disclose to the members of the House that the constant thrashings I received in my childhood were unfounded and ill informed at the time and have left me a shy and reserved shell of the man I once was. To each of you: I love you all very much. Most importantly, in the gallery is my loving wife, Lynn, and daughter, Grace. To Lynn, who looks after me, loves me and sacrifices time with me so that I may serve my community: your commitment to our marriage and friendship is immeasurable, and for that I will always love you. To Grace: I am so proud of the many personal achievements that are already part of your young life. Know that your dad is your No. 1 ‘clapper’, mate. I love you very much.
I also acknowledge my friends and relatives who have travelled here all the way from Queensland, including the senators in the gallery, and take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank Senator Barnaby Joyce for encouraging me to pursue a political career in the House of Representatives.
I grew up in Rockhampton and have worked in Clermont, Blackwater, Emerald, Toowoomba, St George and Beaudesert—all great regional towns of Queensland. I started my career as a ringer on a station halfway between Clermont and Charters Towers in the Kilcummin district, where I learnt the principles of hard work with no concept of time, only that of working until the job is done, from daylight to dark—a skill set of a strong work ethic that serves me well today. I then worked in Emerald in the finance industry, specialising in agri-finance, where I gained further skills in fiscal literacy that gave me the economic fundamentals to assist clients. These skills served me well both in my own business enterprises and later in boardroom activities.
My transition to self-employment was accelerated by tendering for and winning a courier run from Emerald to Rockhampton six nights a week, transporting the local papers and, later, courier parcels. I built that business to 14 depots across the state, employing 105 permanent staff and subcontractors. My wife and I have now divested ourselves of much of that, retaining only our specialised services division, comprising eight staff. Our company’s growth was built on a two-pronged strategy: one of internal domestic growth and the other of growth by mergers and acquisitions. It is this skill set that served me well in my role as chairman of the transition action committee that worked on the due diligence process for the merger of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland to create the Liberal National Party of Queensland.
The success of the LNP in Queensland has contributed to delivering the coalition to the threshold of government. This was no accident, just as it is no accident that the LNP now have a strong membership that consists of 13,000 contributing Queenslanders. We put aside three-cornered contests which saw us compete against ourselves and delivered 11 new capable, motivated federal members. I also acknowledge the class of 2010. To each of them: I acknowledge your arrival in this place and wish you every success and a long, effective political career.
I recognise the strength of the federal Liberal Party and its long history of national leadership. I stand here as a representative of the newly formed LNP, the Queensland division of the Liberal Party of Australia, which also has an affiliation with the National Party of Australia. They are both conservative parties that have a long and proud tradition of serving their communities and governing the nation.
I acknowledge the contribution and friendship of the LNP state president, Mr Bruce Mclvor, and his entire executive, in particular the LNP state treasurer, Mr Barry O’Sullivan, who is in the gallery today—friendships that I will honour for the rest of my life. It was a proud day when Barry and I registered the LNP as a political party with the Australian Electoral Commission and the Electoral Commission of Queensland.
While there will be many tasks in front of me here in this place, I acknowledge the single interest groups who seek to influence the decisions made in this House. I will be fair in my support for each cause and I will treat each case on its merits, but my support will always be skewed to the protection and encouragement of the silent majority of my electorate.
To conclude, I return to my opening comments about what my electors have told me and I give them these undertakings. I will endeavour to fight to get my farmers a better price for their product at the farm gate. I will fight for my small and large business operators who struggle with ever-increasing costs of ‘over-compliance’ from all tiers of government. I will fight for the mums and dads of the electorate of Wright who are struggling to make ends meet. I will oppose unnecessary new taxes which threaten to take more money out their pockets each week.
Although my immediate focus is on the electorate of Wright, I will always try to take the national interest into consideration. Therefore, when it comes to fighting for my electorate, what is good for my electorate and what is good for my nation, I will not give up. From now until the day I leave this place, I will try to make things better. Know this: I will never give up. Thank you.
I congratulate the member for Wright on his first speech. It is something momentous, which you will remember all your life. For the few hundreds of us who have been members of parliament, who are greatly honoured by the Australian people, it is a great credit to have achieved that status. I congratulate him on becoming the new member for Wright.
I want to thank all of the people who worked on my campaign in Melbourne Ports: my campaign director, Garth Head, deputy campaign director, Dr Jane Shelton, my staff and the many volunteers who contributed their time and effort to the campaign, including Dr Henry and Marcia Pinskier, George Droutsas, who had some very welcome news in the Melbourne newspapers recently, Roger Byrne, John Dyett, Martin Foley, Jenny Huppert, Tony Lupton, Ian Strong, Jackie Burgess, John Lewis, Bunna Walsh and Simon Kosmer, all the local branches in Melbourne Ports and the more than 300 volunteers and 31 booth captains, who worked tirelessly to help me achieve a 57.56 per cent result, which is the highest margin Melbourne Ports has had for the Labor Party since it was redistributed on the current boundaries in 1990.
I come into this House today with some additional good news for the voters of Melbourne Ports in that the Redistribution Committee has just published maps which largely accord with the submissions I made to the committee. It is an honour to represent the people of Melbourne Ports and I want to continue to represent the people I have largely represented since 1998. I am very pleased to see that the electoral commissioners have made a number of changes to the initial maps, affecting the seats of Corangamite, McEwen and Melbourne Ports, all in a way that preserves the boundaries of those seats, more than their initial maps would have. This is one of the strictures by which the Electoral Commission is meant to operate. Therefore, it is particularly gratifying to see them doing that.
I particularly want to thank my delightful wife and barrister about town, Amanda Mendes Da Costa, who stood with me in the freezing cold pre-polling, when she was not in court. All of us experienced the phenomenon of people voting early, and standing at polling booths in Melbourne in the winter is a challenge to members of parliament and candidates.
I want to congratulate new colleagues who sit in this chamber, including Rob Mitchell, the member for McEwen: Geoff Lyons, the member for Bass; Stephen Jones, the new member for Throsby; Laura Smyth for La Trobe; and Deborah O’Neill, the new member for Robertson. I particularly want to single out for congratulations my good friend Ed Husic, who arrived here, as he should have earlier, but for some dastardly and uncalled-for propaganda which shamed the entire Australian political system. It is really good to have him here, widening the full range of Australian backgrounds in this House of Representatives.
This House is all the better for the new members who join us in this place. It is poorer for the loss of tireless workers who have striven for a better way of life for the Australian people. I miss my good friends—Jennie George, the former member for Throsby, Belinda O’Neal, the former member for Robertson and Roger Price, the former member for Chifley and Bob Debus, the former member for Macquarie.
Education is the key to equality. The government’s investment in schools across the nation—from Wollongong to Toowoomba, to Barinia in South Australia, to Subiaco in Western Australia and to Melbourne Ports in Victoria—has seen primary schools and secondary schools receive state-of-the-art classrooms, multipurpose halls, language centres and playing fields. Over the last four years under the then Minister for Education, now Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australian schools have had a golden era of Australian investment in the nation’s education system. If we do not invest in providing our children with the best equipped schools and the best equipped resources, we do not only ourselves but also the nation a disservice.
It is enormously satisfying for me to visit local schools and see this investment come to fruition. The government has invested over $65 million in schools across Melbourne Ports and to see young, bright and enthusiastic students benefiting from the government’s programs gives me great pride. If we do nothing else, we must ensure that the future generations of leaders, entrepreneurs, sports stars, academics, authors and scientists have the best education system. I have been across the system, from the Japanese school in Melbourne Ports to the Catholic Galilee Primary School, and we are soon going to be opening wonderful secondary schools.
I see all of this criticism of the school program from some media sources and the Liberal Party, but in my electorate—particularly in the government sector—I see only positives. At Glen Eira College the building of a language laboratory, where Chinese and French are going to be taken up, has attracted students from right across Melbourne, many of Chinese background. They are going particularly to Glen Eira College to do more Chinese language studies. Nearby, we have a feeder school. In Caulfield Junior College—a government school, which teaches French at primary level—we now have a secondary school that is also teaching French and has resources and facilities provided by this government. If we had not had the BER, these kinds of facilities, especially those in government schools in Melbourne Ports, would not have been possible.
We have the phenomenon in the inner city of having larger numbers of younger people with families moving in and the government program could not have come at a better time. It has built classrooms in schools right across the system—independent, Catholic, Jewish and government—that have been absolutely necessary.
I turn to the issue of emergency housing for the disadvantaged. On 23 April this year I joined the then federal Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, and the Victorian Minister for Housing, Richard Wynne, together with some great people from my friends in the Salvation Army, Territorial Commander Caroline Knaggs, and that great figure of the Salvation Army, General Eva Burrows, to open the Salvation Army’s Crisis Accommodation Centre in Upton Road, St Kilda. The Salvation Army’s Crisis Accommodation Centre is one of a number of projects in my electorate providing emergency housing in which this federal government has invested to the tune of $53 million. Of this funding, $36 million is targeted at housing projects through the Port Phillip Housing Association, the South Port Community Housing Group, and St Kilda Community Housing. I have been to most of these projects and to say that they are achieving their ends is putting it mildly. Of this amount, $5.1 million is for a new building of 17 units in Grey Street, $1.5 million for eight units in Alma Road, $1.1 million for nine new units in Blessington Street, St Kilda, $1.5 million for 14 new units in Jackson Street and $5.5 million for 36 new units in Beaconsfield Parade. The Australian government has made homelessness a national priority. In the previous government, under Minister Plibersek, the building of these new facilities in my electorate was a step forward to making the changes necessary to cut the rate of homelessness by 2020.
One issue that has got some attention during the recent election and which I think should be given more prominence is electoral reform. The High Court’s decision on 6 August to invalidate the draconian Liberal rort introduced by the Howard government in 2006 was welcome. Under the previous conservative government’s legislation, the electoral roll was closed on the day the writs were issued for an election to be held. Previously, for decades people had had seven days to enrol or update their details. The draconian law passed by the Liberals in 2006, when they controlled the Senate, was deliberately designed to disenfranchise as many young people as possible as well as people who shifted their address.
The win by GetUp! in the High Court was an important one, but I note it was not this parliament that led to the change to rectify the disenfranchisement of thousands of young Australians. The Australian Electoral Commission reports, and has made recommendations about ways this should be changed, that 1.4 million Australians are not on the electoral roll. This is in part due to laws passed by the previous government, which over its period of 12 years in office excluded tens of thousands of Australians who shift their address and who usually got a provisional vote at the polling booth but do not get it any more.
This legislation was designed to prevent individuals from voting, in that provisional voters had to produce photo ID at the polling booth in order to have their provisional vote admitted. Voters without such ID would later go to the AEC office with a photo ID and validate the vote. But how many can often find an obscure AEC office, which is often not even sited in their electorate? The previous system was much more sensible. The returning officer at the polling booth double-enveloped a person’s application for a provisional vote. If the person lived in the electorate, the officer compared the signature on the outside of the envelope with a signature at the electoral office. Fully 50 per cent of people who applied for provisional votes under the previous system that applied for decades received them.
In an earlier submission to this House, I regrettably exaggerated the number of people that this affected. I said it was 166,000. Thanks to some advice from the Electoral Commission, I can now report that number was in fact only 130,000—28,000 of whom were Australians who were denied a vote due to the coalition’s 2006 legislation which made it much more difficult to obtain a provisional vote. Only 19 per cent of people who applied for one received one. As I said, in all previous elections, including the elections from 1996 to 2007 at which the Liberal Party was elected, fully 50 per cent of people who applied for a provisional vote with a double envelope and signature on the outside system were admitted. They should have been, of course, included in a compulsory voting system where we should try to get on the roll every person we can who is a legitimate voter.
During the last parliament, the Australian Electoral Commission itself recognised that this process of taking citizens off the roll had disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Australians. Currently, the AEC processes remorselessly remove people from the roll when they change address, but these AEC removals have not been matched by legislation or the technical ability of the AEC to use modern technology to get people back on the rolls.
We are all familiar with this as members of parliament—people who shift addresses that are confirmed by the AEC and have themselves taken off the electoral roll. They then get a snail mail letter from the AEC, which especially shift workers, people working interstate, people who are overseas or young people do not tend to respond to. It is our civic duty to represent those that sent us here. It is also our civic duty to ensure that every Australian has a right to have their say in who represents them in this place. Therefore, I hope that the 43rd Parliament will take up the mantle of ensuring that those who had no voice at the last election will have one at the next election.
I am also confident that this parliament will be able to put in place concrete measures to address climate change. If only some of those opposite were willing to help the government rather than just be wreckers. The last parliament was a story of double-crosses by members of the opposition. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency explained to this House that there is a cost to not putting a carbon price into the Australian economy. It is a cost that we will bear for as long as we are not able to legislate changes in this area. I hope that the non-partisan committee that is investigating a carbon price makes recommendations that lead to Australia’s being able to become internationally competitive in this area, and I mention the fact that the minister pointed out to me that AGL Energy estimates there will be a $2 billion negative effect in the form of higher electricity prices by the year 2020 if we do not legislate in favour of a carbon price.
It seems an age ago now, but the Liberal Party did once have a leader who believed in climate change and the need for action to combat it. During the last parliament, the Labor Party spent many months working with that leader to create a system to begin the process of lowering carbon emissions in Australia. But, as we know, the Liberal leader was toppled by a faction in the coalition that refuses to believe in the existence of climate change. That leader was replaced with the current Leader of the Opposition, who believes that climate change is, as he said so eloquently, ‘absolute crap’. Having negotiated a deal with the government, the opposition then broke their word—which is becoming something of a pattern—and voted against the government’s legislation. It is doubtful that the Liberals’ hardline Senate-driven opposition to the science of climate change will change while they have their current leader, so it is unlikely that the government will be able to work with them to combat climate change.
I turn to some issues of Australian foreign policy. The three pillars maintaining the Australian-US alliance are that we work through the United Nations system, that we build our relations with our Asian neighbours and that we build our relations with our Pacific neighbours. Each of these has been strengthened by the current government. Our relationship with the Obama administration is very strong, and we see eye to eye with that administration on many issues. We have been playing a leading and constructive role at the UN and we have worked to strengthen our regional relations, including those with China, India and Indonesia, the three countries which hold the keys to our regional future.
Today, managing our relations with China has become a fourth pillar of our foreign policy. Recently we have seen suggestions that Australia and the US should resign ourselves to Chinese military and political supremacy in our region and in certain Oceanic areas. I reject that view, and I think most of the Australian people reject that choice’s being forced on them. Australia should welcome a strong, prosperous and stable China and its return to the great power status that it should have as a great and populous country as well as accept its legitimate aspiration to be treated with the respect that its status merits. But we must always defend the values that our country stands for—democratic government, human rights and international law. We should not betray these values in our dealings with China, even while we maintain advantageous economic relations.
One development that is threatening the world at the moment is the determination of the theocratic regime in Iran to develop nuclear weapons and use them against its neighbours. This situation has the potential to be the most dangerous threat the world has faced since the Cuban missile crisis. Iran has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and continues to skirt its obligations. Our autonomous sanctions legislation, introduced this year, imposes sanctions on a total of 21 Iranian individuals and 20 Iranian organisations. The two additional organisations are Bank Mellat, one of four designated banks under UN Security Council resolutions, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, IRISL.
Along with the United States, the European Union, South Korea and Japan, Australia has introduced autonomous sanctions to complement the very tough United Nations sanctions that were introduced this year. The sanctions, a result of a resolution of the Security Council, are working at the moment. It is interesting to see that Sydney based engineering contractor Wolsey Parsons have announced that, since the sanctions were introduced, they will not be accepting any more work in Iran. Australia has imposed sanctions on Iran since 2008.
Iran has failed to comply with UN Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835, which call on it to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and suspend its proliferation activities, and that is frightening. It is currently enriching uranium to 20 per cent. In September, the IAEA said that Iran was pushing ahead with higher level enrichment and continually failing to answer the agency’s questions about the military dimensions of its nuclear work. The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat not only to the Middle East but also to the world, and it should not be taken lightly.
The Iranian government’s influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza cannot be underestimated and makes these sanctions even more integral. I am very pleased that the former defence minister in this government, John Faulkner, blocked three Australian shipments to Iran. The Australian government’s move to block dual use items from being shipped to Iran is an important step in ensuring that Australian companies do not assist Iran or its proliferation activities. I conclude by saying that we must continue to put pressure on Australian financial institutions and organisations not to associate or assist Iran to skirt international sanctions. Those that are assisting Iran to do that should be publicly called out for what they are doing: assisting in the worsening of the international situation. (Time expired)
I would like to begin by congratulating all of the 150 members who were elected to this place in what was a historic election. It was a great honour and a privilege for me personally to be elected here the first time, and then to be returned as well is something that I personally would never take for granted. I am sure the other members of this place would agree with me on that point. It was a historic election on many fronts—most obviously the closeness of the result but also the fact that we have had our youngest ever member of parliament, our first Muslim MP, our first Aboriginal MP and also the first Greens MP elected to the House of Representatives. So I congratulate them all in particular for those historic milestones but also all other new members. We have just heard the inaugural speeches of two of the new members, and I particularly want to mention the member for Riverina. The new member for Riverina physically has some very small shoes to fill but metaphorically he has the boots of a giant to fill in the absence of the former member, Kay Hull. Kay may have been small in stature but she is fondly remembered by all in this place, particularly in the National Party, for the enormous impression she made as a member of parliament and simply by being a good local member. I do not think there is any greater praise we could give to a member at the end of their career than to say that she was a good local member and she served this place with distinction.
To those of us who were re-elected, I congratulate them. I congratulate you all on winning the support and the trust of your communities. To have your contract renewed for the next three years I think is a credit to all who have put in so much time and effort, both in the campaign phase and also in the years leading up to the election. It is a very different parliament from the one we have just finished and I welcome the package of reforms that have been negotiated, which I believe will provide more opportunities for private members’ business and allow local members to raise more local issues. I recall that in my own maiden speech I commented on the need for greater respect to be demonstrated in this place and I believe the Australian people are demanding that from us. They are watching us and they are demanding it from us in this new parliament. I believe that neither side is the font of all knowledge and it is incumbent on both sides to listen to the debates and to consider the ideas and the merits of policies that are put forward and not simply oppose for opposition’s sake. I believe at the same time that the government has a responsibility to listen to the ideas put forward by the opposition, to take them on board and to amend policy to reflect the feedback they receive from the other side.
We can have robust debate, but when it descends into name-calling and heckling I do not think we do ourselves any great credit in this place. So from my perspective I will certainly be doing everything I can to hold this government to account, but I will work with ministers where appropriate to achieve good outcomes for my electorate—not just for the good of Gippsland but for all regional Australians. I will be, as I said, urging the ministers to listen more to opposition MPs. I do not believe that in the first term the government actually lacked ideas; they simply lacked the ability to deliver the projects on the ground. Their record of delivery has been appalling and there are many occasions where they have been quite incompetent when it comes to issues such as the Home Insulation Program and certain aspects of the Building the Education Revolution program. In both those programs there were opportunities for the government to listen to the advice provided by others—sometimes from this side of the House, sometimes from departments—but those opportunities to listen were ignored.
Like other MPs, I come to this place with an enormous amount of support from a team of volunteers that helped us to get elected in the first place, and it would be remiss of me not to use this occasion to thank so many people for their support during the election. It was a great result for us in Gippsland. Against a swing that was heading towards the government in Victoria, we were able to record a swing of more than five per cent to the National Party. That is the first time since 1996 that the seat of Gippsland has been won on primaries. So I was delighted with the result but fully cognisant of the fact that the result was a team effort. Nothing could have been achieved without the strength of a team behind me. The National’s performance at a federal level, with Warren Truss as our leader, is one that we can be very proud of. To win additional seats and to see all my colleagues in the Nationals returned, plus some new faces in our party room, gives me great hope for the future of our party. It is something that media commentators may want to take a closer look at. Although they are still writing stories about the death of the Nationals, the facts do not fit their story. We have had three additional members of the House of Representatives elected and also an additional senator elected in Victoria. I thank my colleagues in the Nationals for the support they have shown me over the past 2½ years. It really is, in comparison to the other parties, I believe, more of a family style party in the sense that we do get along very well, we work closely with each other and we are quite a small unit. We enjoy each other’s company enormously, and I think that is the strength of our party looking to the future.
I would also like to thank our federal director, Brad Henderson, for his support and encouragement over the years and certainly during the election campaign. Brad and his team do a terrific job. He has only a small team but they do a terrific job in supporting the MPs, particularly in the lead-up to the election. At a local level, nothing is possible for a member of parliament without the support of good staff. I think we are all able to do our jobs because we have staff who are willing to share the load with us. I am very fortunate in my seat of Gippsland to have excellent staff and I would like to thank them all individually: Ruth Lucas, Nicole Conway, Kirsten Collins, Jenny Graham, Jenny Hammett, Jo Crawford, Heather Buntine, Di Lilburne and Chris Daffey. I assure the House that I do not actually have nine staff working full time for me—just a mixture of part-time and maternity leave positions which makes it sound like more than usual. But my staff have been an enormous support to me over the past 2½ years and they continue to offer their professional skills, their dedication and their loyalty to help us in the role that we fulfil and to help me personally in the role I play in the Gippsland electorate.
The role of volunteers in election campaigns is critical to us all and I had great support right throughout the electorate. But in particular I would like to thank four individuals. At the risk of offending all the others who did a great deal of work, I would like to congratulate and thank Barry Buntine, Fred Crook and Ann and Laurie Hiscock, because they took on the majority of the burden of the pre-poll. For those who live in Victoria, the pre-poll in winter is an arduous occasion. I must say, if there is any electoral reform that I feel very passionately about today it would be a ban on winter elections.
The member for Ballarat and other members endorse that. My volunteers certainly risked hypothermia to hand out how-to-vote cards at the height of the winter chill in Victoria. I would also like to congratulate my opponents in the seat of Gippsland. It was a campaign conducted in good spirit. It was fiercely contested but it was fair, it was honest and it was a good contest. So I congratulate my opponents in that regard.
My campaign gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time getting out to a lot of the smaller towns in the electorate of Gippsland. You get to drive around a lot when you represent a seat of about 30,000-plus square kilometres. We conducted what we called a ‘Talk to me tour’, in which we encouraged people to come out and meet with us at shopping centres and community markets. I am a big believer in listening to local knowledge—listening to people with practical experiences on the ground and listening to the ideas of country people, who have a lot of commonsense to offer members of parliament. A lot of issues were discussed during that time and it gave me a good sense of where the people of Gippsland would like me to go over the next three years.
I believe that the key to the future of the Gippsland and Latrobe Valley communities is to make sure that our young people have access to a quality education and also to support economic growth opportunities by promoting local businesses as much as possible. I believe that if more of the young people growing up in our region have the chance to learn new skills and secure employment in our region, without being forced to move away, we will have a more vibrant and prosperous region in the future. For those young people who do need to move away to further education, whether to take up a trade or to go to university, we must fix the system of student income support to help them and their families with the high cost of accommodation and other expenses.
The election in Gippsland was very much decided on local issues. The biggest issue was the threat posed by the Labor Party and the Greens to jobs in our traditional industries, such as power generation, paper manufacturing, mining, timber harvesting, tourism and fishing. I reject the proposition that is regularly put in the media that the Greens are the only party that cares about the environment. I believe every person in this place and every political party cares about the environment. Some of the more extreme policies of the Greens—now in partnership with the Labor Party—are a direct threat to jobs.
Gippslanders have sent a strong message to Canberra that they are tired of city based MPs telling them how to live their lives. As a person who has been a member of Landcare for several years and a strong advocate for the future of Gippsland Lakes, I want to see more funding allocated for practical environmental work and projects to build better facilities on public land and our waterways for everyone to enjoy the magnificent environment of Gippsland. The so-called environmental policies which would ban fishing or lock people out of parks are a recipe for disaster. We must fight against the extreme views of people who do not even live in our community.
It is an interesting electoral fact that the further you move away from regional Australia the more likely you are to vote Greens. Around Melbourne the Greens might have a primary vote of 30 per cent, but by the time you get to Gippsland the Greens’ primary vote drops to six per cent. The people who actually live, work and engage with the environment on a daily basis do not vote Greens, because they realise that the Greens’ extreme policies are a threat to jobs in our traditional industries. The electoral map will show that to you anywhere you go in Australia. In the city and urban areas you will find people voting for the Greens. Out in the country, where people have commonsense and work with the environment daily, they reject the Greens’ policies.
A huge challenge before us, which is not directly related to my electorate, is the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The prospect of a government legislated drought is something I am very concerned about. As a Gippslander, I talk to my colleagues in the Murray-Darling Basin. I am adamant that I will not be part of any policy that seeks to shut down country towns. In our deliberations in this place on the plan, when it is finally released, the people must come first. Economic, social and environmental needs are not mutually exclusive. We can find a balance.
I was heartened yesterday when the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities spoke in this place in what I regard as probably the best MPI since I was elected. The minister spoke about balance. I appeal to him to as soon as possible rule out some of the more extreme aspects of the guide. The heartache and anxiety that have been caused throughout the Murray-Darling Basin by the more extreme claims in the guide are adding to the suffering of people. I believe it is within the minister’s capacity to take steps to relieve some of the stress by ruling out some of the more extreme aspects of the guide as it stands. I congratulate also the member for Parkes for his presentation yesterday on the MPI. I believe it was very well balanced and displayed a huge amount of commonsense, which is what I have come to expect from my good friend and colleague the member for Parkes.
As the local member, I believe it is my role to come into this place and fight for a fair share on behalf of the people of Gippsland. That is the contract I have signed with the people of Gippsland for the next three years. I believe that it starts with jobs, which I have just talked about—fighting for local jobs in our traditional industries like farming, fishing, timber production and the Latrobe Valley power industry.
Throughout the campaign, many claims were made, particularly in the metropolitan media, about the coal-fired power-generating sector. I say ‘particularly in the metropolitan media’ because none of the ministers concerned had the courage to come to Gippsland to make the claims. The vilification of the coal-fired power-generating sector and of the power generators’ workers must stop. I have appealed to the Prime Minister and her ministers to stop vilifying these people, who have done only what has been asked of them by their nation. All they have done is provide the cheap and reliable baseload energy supply that Victoria and Australia has demanded for job growth and the economic prosperity of our nation. I am frankly disgusted by some of the claims which are made, almost on a daily basis, in the metropolitan media about the brown coal power sector. There is a myth that surrounds the Hazelwood power station in particular that somehow we can shut down Hazelwood power station, which generates 25 per cent of Victoria’s power supply, and there will be no cost. That is fanciful thinking that will result in massive job losses. Quite simply, in any case, there is no baseload supply of energy available in Victoria to replace Hazelwood. So I do appeal to other members to think a little bit more before they open their mouths and make claims about the brown coal power sector.
I also refer briefly to the other great myth which is spread around our community in relation to coal more generally. I understand that in 2008-09 Australia exported 270 million tonnes of coal to India, Korea, Japan and China. As far as I am aware, those four nations have not accumulated a massive pile of coal just to look at. They have burnt that coal in their power stations to provide their economic prosperity and wealth. It is absolute folly for us to say that we are going to shut down coal-fired power generators in this country but be quite happy to export coal to other places. I will not be part of anything that shuts down the Latrobe Valley power sector, risks jobs in our traditional industries, seeks to vilify the hardworking families of the Latrobe Valley and causes them unnecessary grief and strain, all for the political outcome of achieving Green preferences in the city for the Labor Party.
I believe that another key area that the people of Gippsland would like me to focus on over the next three years is making sure that we have access to good health services. I give credit to the Minister for Health and Ageing in relation to a couple of announcements which were made in the months leading up to the election. I supported them at the time and support them again today. One announcement was the provision of more than $20 million for the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre and another was the decision to provide $1.5 million for Rotary Centenary House.
I have spoken in the chamber before about Rotary Centenary House. Without doubt one of the greatest achievements by my community over the last five years is to have built a facility which provides accommodation for people while they are receiving cancer treatment. It is a sad fact that the demand on the facility has got to the stage where an additional nine units are required. The government has come on board with $1.5 million and the community is going to raise in the vicinity of $1 million. I support the community’s efforts and I congratulate the government for its willingness to support that particular project.
The real challenge for us in Gippsland, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott—and I assume it would be a challenge faced by your own community of Maranoa—is in attracting and retaining skilled health professionals in regional areas. It is our health workforce which provides us with our greatest difficulty. We need to be doing more on a long-term basis to train more country kids in the first place. That is why I am so passionate about student income support, the independent youth allowance and the other forms of youth allowance. We need to make sure that young people in regional communities have the chance to achieve their full potential. Achieving full potential for many of them may mean going to university several hours away from home, and we need to make sure that we do as much as we possibly can to reduce that economic barrier. I think that one of the key issues to make sure that we have access to skilled health professionals in regional areas is by training young people who have had experience of country life and who are more likely to return to regional Australia in the future. I also believe that we could do a lot more. The Rural Doctors Association of Australia is, I think, on the right track. We can do a lot more in terms of targeted funding for recruitment to help improve access to GPs, specialists and allied health professionals in our regional communities.
On the other side of the health debate on the concept of prevention and keeping people healthy, I congratulate the government for some of its initiatives in investing in sporting and recreation facilities. I encourage it to go further in the future in partnership with local and state governments. The more facilities we can provide for young people to get engaged in their communities, to be active and be part of community recreational clubs, the more likely they are to live long and fulfilling lives and healthy lives in regional areas.
I focus quite considerably in my electorate on helping young people to achieve their full potential. If there is one thing after I leave this place that I would like to be remembered for, it is that I have always worked hard to help young Gippslanders achieve their best. I spend a lot of time in the schools in my community and one of the things I talk about is aspiration. I see the school students here in the gallery today and I wish them well in their studies. It is so important for us in regional communities to encourage our young people to achieve their absolute best. If they are the only person in their family to ever reach year 12, that is fantastic, then they should aim to be the only person in their family to go onto university. I am not saying that university is the only way to measure your life by, but it is so important that if young people have the ability then we should help and nurture them in that ambition. Our role in this place is to reduce some of the economic barriers which are stopping so many of those young people from going on to achieve their absolute best.
A message I give to the young people when I meet with them is to get involved and to be someone who is prepared to take action in the community, to be someone who joins community or sporting groups and to actually participate in everything that our communities have to offer. Decisions are made, as we all know, by the people who turn up. So I am encouraging young people in my community to make sure that they are the ones who turn up and to take action by getting involved in community life.
My other great passion is the environment of Gippsland, in particular the Gippsland Lakes. I have spoken before in this place on the need for additional funding for research, for monitoring and for practical environmental work which is so critical for the future of our environment. I am at a loss to understand why the state government has cut funding for the Gippsland Lakes task force. Also the federal government has made no recurrent budget commitments beyond the $3 million, which is about to run out.
I am also at a loss to understand why the current government has cut $11 million from the forward estimates for the Landcare movement. If we can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising propaganda campaigns about climate change or advertising propaganda campaigns about the mining tax, we can afford to find a few million dollars to help 100,000 Landcare volunteers in Australia who are doing the practical and hard work required to sustain the environment through regional Australia.
As I said at the outset it is a great honour and privilege to come to this place. I congratulate again all members who have been given that honour and I wish them well over the next three years in their deliberations.
It is with great pleasure that I rise today to add my voice to the words that have been contributed to this debate in the address-in-reply. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon the election campaign that we have all endured—some more so than others. It is very much that punctuation mark, if you like, in the term of the parliament, the term of our democracy, where local residents in communities all around the country have an opportunity to determine the future direction of this nation.
I know that in communities such as the electorate of Lindsay people take their responsibility very seriously. They take their responsibility to determine the future of our government and the future of our nation with great care. It is with a sense of privilege that I return to this place as the member for Lindsay after having served for one term. My association and my connection with the Lindsay electorate goes back many years. Of course, having contested the 2001 and 2004 elections unsuccessfully, it was a source of great pride for me to have the opportunity to serve my community at the 2007 election. To be given the opportunity to continue to service our local community is something that I am very proud of. I thank the local residents who voted to give me the opportunity to keep working hard for our community.
I went to the election in Lindsay based on what I believed was a record of achievement in our local community. As someone who had served in the Penrith area for 11 years as a councillor and then as the member for Lindsay, it was on that record that I went to the election. As part of the Labor government that was elected in 2007 I had been a part of a government that had delivered a great deal for my local community. It was on the strength of the record of achievement of that government that I went back before the people at the election.
I think it is important to reflect upon some of the projects and achievements that were delivered in the Lindsay electorate in the three years of the previous government, because that is central to understanding why I believe it was so important that the people of Lindsay did what they did—and that was to give me the opportunity to keep working in our community as the local member.
Over the last three years the Labor government has delivered the biggest investment in the Nepean Hospital of any Commonwealth government in the history of that hospital. The Nepean Hospital is the central tertiary referral hospital in my electorate, but it serves a catchment that is much greater than my electorate. We often see stories in the papers or on the television news that talk about the lack of capacity in our hospitals. Sometimes these stories go to resourcing issues; other times they go to issues connected with the great challenge of delivering the high-quality health services that we expect in this country, combined with the challenges of an ageing and growing population. The stresses of a growing population are felt as much in a place like my community as in any place in this country. That is why I believe it was significant that as a government we contributed $96.4 million to the redevelopment of the Nepean Hospital.
The works at Nepean Hospital have already commenced, and those works will be expansive. They will include: the construction of six more operating theatres; extra day-only and extended day-only beds; two new, purpose-built, 30-bed surgical wards to replace the older wards and a new surgical outpatient clinic; a new 12-bed intensive care pod, including six more intensive care unit beds; a new renal dialysis unit for hospital inpatients; and a new 64-bed mental health unit and community mental health facilities. In addition to that, there will be an extra 32 chairs in the oral health building.
They are the capital improvements that this government is making at the Nepean Hospital but, as any person who has worked in the hospital system or who has attended our hospitals as a patient will tell you, it is one thing to put money into the bricks and mortar; it is another to resource the hospital system on an ongoing basis. That is why the health reforms of the government in our previous term are so important to delivering the improvements in health care in communities such as mine. It is not just about delivering the improvements in the infrastructure; it is about delivering the ongoing resourcing improvements that are needed to improve the quality of health care.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the staff at the Nepean Hospital, the many doctors and nurses and other employees of the hospital who are not necessarily in clinical roles who contribute and always give their all to try to ensure that local residents have access to quality services. The job of governance is to empower those people to do the jobs that they so passionately commit themselves to by committing adequate resources. I believe that the commitments that we have made over the last three years go a long way towards doing that.
In addition to the investment in the Nepean Hospital itself, we have also invested $17.2 million in the new clinical school, which will be run by the University of Sydney. We are very pleased to have the Nepean Hospital as a teaching hospital in our local community, but with the investment in the new clinical school we will give medical students who are undertaking their practical work at the hospital a real home within the Penrith community. We think that this is important not just in terms of investing in the skills of the future health workforce. It is also about trying to ensure that we are able to establish a strong connection between those practitioners who come into our area and the community itself. That is what will ultimately ensure that communities such as mine have the health professionals that they need into the future. The clinical school is a significant initiative because, particularly in marrying up with the very good work that the Nepean Medical Research Foundation have been doing in our community, it will also improve the research capabilities of the health professionals within our region. This is important work and I want to acknowledge the outstanding work that is being done by the many health professionals that form the network of clinicians of the Nepean Hospital.
One of the big initiatives that we pursued—and which I championed—in the last term of parliament was trying to secure funding for a commuter car park at the Penrith station. We are an outer suburban electorate. People who live in my community often travel into the city. The only public transport option is catching the train. Often the connection from their homes to the station is a difficult one for people to make. Public transport does not service that connection that well. So for so many families driving to the station and parking their car before hopping on the train to head into work in the city or Parramatta or other parts of Western Sydney is a central part of their daily existence. Providing adequate parking for people as they confront all of the challenges that come with getting to work in the morning is something that has been a massive challenge in our community. We have been working with the state government to try to secure a future for the north Penrith army land site, which is adjacent to the northern side of the Penrith station, to ensure not only that we have car parking facilities—although that has been an important part of what the Commonwealth has been engaged with—but also that we are able to ultimately, as far as our community is concerned, achieve a development outcome that will make it a site that the people of our community will be proud of and that will help us lift the productive capacity of our local community by ensuring that employment, residential and retail opportunities are available at the very centre of this major transport hub which is the Penrith station. I am very pleased to have worked as a part of the government to deliver that funding towards the commuter car park and I look forward to the commencement of the construction of that in the near future.
In our local community we have a history of having a very strong representation in the trades. Whilst, in some respects, we are under-represented when it comes to participation in higher education, many tradespeople live in my electorate. Many people understand that the importance of securing a vocational education is just as important as having the opportunity to go to university. That is why I am particularly proud of the more than $13 million that the government have invested in trades training centres in my local community, one which will be hosted at Kingswood High for all of the government schools in our local community and then another trades training centre hosted at McCarthy Catholic College, which will service the Catholic schools within the region. These initiatives will deliver real opportunities to young people in our community, to get the chance to learn the skills that they will need not just as part of their qualification to get through school but to begin learning the trade that they will ultimately undertake and hopefully go on to complete, to work in the area for which they have a trade and to fill some of those skills shortages that we have right across the country. These skills shortages are hampering our ability to realise the productive capability that our country requires.
Our investments in education and health have very much been the cornerstone of the first term of our government. Having achieved the opportunity of a second term, we look forward to completing those investments, to seeing them through to their completion and also building upon them. I want to comment briefly on the computers in schools program, which has been an outstanding program. When the first stage of the rollout began to occur in my electorate, members will remember that priority was given to those schools that had a ratio that was worse than one computer for every eight students. I suspect that very few electorates benefited from that initiative in the first phase—where, frankly, the ratios were appalling—as much as my electorate. But, as a result of that initiative, we have been able to invest in the technological capacity of our schools, ensuring that all of the high schools, between years 9 and 12, in my electorate now have ratios of one to two. As we move towards the completion of that funding period for which funds were committed, that will move to one to one. I am very proud of this because, as I have travelled from school to school, I have seen the way in which this technology is being employed. It really is changing the nature of the classroom, engaging more and more young people in particular in their education so that they can go on and realise the potential that a good education can help them realise.
There were many other achievements and the government made a number of commitments in the course of the election campaign, and I will briefly refer to those. There was a commitment of $1 million to repair the Western Sydney International Hockey Centre. This is a tremendous initiative that will keep hockey going in our local community. The facilities were so bad that the future of hockey was in jeopardy. A sum of $7½ million was committed to the Cumberland Conservation Corridor. This builds on the $15 million that we committed in the previous term. This is about ensuring that we have green-space opportunities in Western Sydney so that, with the march of development, the urban sprawl, we are able to preserve some of our natural environment and ensure that there is the green space that livable communities require.
In addition to that, we made a commitment in relation to the Safer Suburbs Plan to invest in CCTV lighting and other community safety measures around the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre and in the Westfield shopping centre. Whilst referring to the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre I make the point, with some sorrow but also with some pride, that the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, which is located in Penrith, was given that name with the permission of Joan Sutherland. As many Australians and many people throughout the world mourn her loss, my sympathies go to her husband, Richard Bonynge. I know that the two of them have been great supporters of that facility, having visited the facility on a number of occasions, giving kids in Western Sydney the opportunity to pursue their potential in cultural and artistic pursuits. That is something that our local community has benefited greatly from. We thank her for allowing her name to be used for ‘The Joan,’ as we refer to it.
I would like to thank a few people who assisted me throughout the election campaign and assisted in our local campaign. I wish to acknowledge the fact that I believe I am here for a second term as the member for Lindsay because of the very strong local campaign that we ran. I had tremendous support from a number of people. I wish to take the opportunity to thank my family, in particular my wife, Kylie, and our four children, for having endured all that comes with running in a marginal seat. Without their support I would not have been able to contest the election and go on to win. I thank them very much for their support. I thank my parents, my siblings and my many family members who contributed. They all made and played a very important part in helping me hold on to the role that I am so proud to have as the member for Lindsay.
I wish to acknowledge a number of people who took what, in my experience, is a very big step—that is, people who are not connected with political parties came forward and allowed their name to be associated with me by endorsing me as the local member. I would like to thank Michael Morris, who is head of the Samuel Morris Foundation. Michael and his wife, Joanne, and their son Samuel are great advocates for the cause of preventing drownings and near-death drowning experiences in homes right across the country. I thank them for putting their name behind me in support of my efforts as the local member.
I would like to thank Jackie Legenda and Mark Fleming, a family in Emu Heights. They are very decent people who were prepared to come forward and endorse what I have been able to do as the member and to give me a vote of confidence and put that before the electorate. I would like to thank Greg Alexander. (Time expired)
Order! It being 1.45 pm, the debate is interrupted. In accordance with standing order 43 the debate may be resumed at a later hour and the parliamentary secretary will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.