Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your election to the position of Deputy Speaker. I know you will bring great grace and poise to the position. I thank my parliamentary colleagues currently in the chamber who have chosen to share this with me. I woke on 8 September this year with a great sense of gratitude that the people in my community had put their faith and their trust in me to be their representative in this chamber. I am humbled yet also excited about getting on with the job they have entrusted me to do. I have had the privilege of having met all the past members of Page—from Ian Robinson, who was the inaugural member in 1984, Harry Woods, Ian Causley and Janelle Saffin. They have all been good advocates for our community, and I plan to continue in that tradition. I would like to take you on a bird's eye tour of the seat of Page; outline what will be delivered to my community this term; why only a good government can deliver on these promises; and, lastly, acknowledge the support of the people that helped me to be here to represent Page.
Firstly, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of discovering the natural beauty of Page, let me take you on a short journey. I want you to imagine you are a bird and you are flying south. You are on the Queensland-New South Wales border. It is probably the best way to be going. You are 60 kilometres inland from the coast and down below you see a great expanse of grazing country and tree plantations. You then come into view of Woodenbong and you realise you have entered a very special place. Flying down a spectacular valley you see Kyogle, home of the Bush Turkeys and a community, that is so proudly self-reliant that 40 years ago when they needed a new road through rugged country they simply cleared the land and built it themselves on voluntary labour.
You veer east at Cedar Point and fly over Bentley before discovering the cosmopolitan regional city of Lismore and its iconic villages. Still heading east, you fly over Alstonville and Wollongbar with its fertile plateau and, if you look left, you will see Paul's macadamia farm and Craig's dairy farm. Flying down the escarpment, you see the vibrant centre of Ballina by the sea, and the Richmond River meeting the ocean. You veer south now and you fly 100 kilometres down the coast over communities such as Evans Head and Woodburn, stunning national parks and fishing boats plying their trade, until in the distance you notice the mighty Clarence River. At its mouth are the fishing and tourism meccas of Yamba and Iluka. You fly upriver past Lawrence and you cannot believe how good this flight is, because now you observe the jacaranda city herself—Grafton.
You then fly up the Nymboida and are overwhelmed by its rugged beauty before turning north over Baryulgil and encountering the magnificent grazing country surrounding Tabulam. Turning east you see the beef capital of Australia, Casino, before nestling quietly into the Richmond Valley for a rest. You have just flown over a very special place, God's own, the electorate of Page. Yet, the physical beauty of a place in which people live does not create a community. I am fortunate to live among a group of people where volunteering and selfless acts are the norm. This is want creates a community, it is want binds us together.
In this parliament, I will be working to improve the lives of the people of Page and strengthen that which holds us together. Our first job has to be to repeal the carbon tax. It was never going to change the climate and it is a job-destroying tax. What is worse, it broke household budgets, particularly those of our ageing population on a fixed income. I also acknowledge that the coalition government will continue to fund the Pacific Highway at a level of 80 per cent federal funding to ensure the quickest possible duplication of this badly-needed infrastructure. The previous government wanted to revert to a 50 per cent funding split that would have pushed out the completion date. More than $5 billion of federal money will be spent on this highway in the next few years and most of it will be in Page. This project will save lives and it will bring hundreds of construction jobs and, on completion, tourism and other businesses will reap the rewards by linking our companies with the large market places of Sydney and Brisbane and bring more tourism to the area. The businesses of Page are also crying out for the government to cut red and green tape. Every day as I walk around my community, they tell me it needs to change. With local business chambers I am already working to find examples of this restrictive red tape that must be thrown in the bin, because these needless regulations are job killers.
I am also looking forward to delivering on the election promises I committed to during the election campaign. As stated: more than $5 billion of federal money to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway; $4.5 million for the stage 1 upgrade of Ballina hospital; completing the upgrade of the Grafton hockey clubhouse; an investment of almost half a million dollars to provide CCTV in Casino to make our streets safer; completing the Iluka-Woomba Men's Shed; installing a new goalposts at the McKittrick Park in Grafton; a new training centre at the Bunjum Aboriginal Co-op; full restoration of the Bellman Hangar at Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome and the fit-out of the museum; upgrading of the Mid-Richmond Neighbourhood Centre; Green Army projects on Susan Island in Grafton and at Tabulam; and others that are still on the drawing board.
Madam Speaker—I like to have you here and I acknowledge you on the job you have been given and the great poise that you bring to the role—mining and farming can be a delicate balancing act in certain regions. I acknowledge the work done by my coalition colleagues in the New South Wales parliament, tightening up farmer protection in relation to coal seam gas mining in New South Wales. I acknowledge my federal colleagues and our position. Our policy is that water and prime agricultural land, as well as built-up areas, need to be protected from CSG mining. I believe, and in my opinion, so does the majority of my community, that given current extraction techniques this policy currently rules out the electorate of Page from CSG mining.
I would like to explain to this House why I want to represent the people of Page. Good government I believe must come from good values. Good values lead to good decisions and good decisions ensure a good government. So, what are these values? Good values are summarised, I believe, in an Australian colloquialism which expresses whether life is productive or not, and that is the great Australian saying of 'have a go'. Everyone in our country needs to have a go. The reason our country has long punched above its weight is because our nation was built on the 'have a go' philosophy. Everything we do in this chamber needs to support those Australians who are having a go.
This Australian belief, together with the First Australians, who I believe are the guardians of this nation's soul and who give us a spiritual connection with our land, makes us the great country we are. The reason I am a proud member of the Nationals and the coalition government is that I believe we hold the values that support those having a go, that reward entrepreneurship, that support job creation and that care for wellbeing in our communities. Small business and the private sector fund every public service job in this country and therefore need to be nurtured. To provide important social services to our communities we need a healthy private sector to pay for them. And, importantly, it is the Nationals which focus on regional Australia and ensure that regions like mine are not forgotten.
I am naturally an optimistic person, and we as a nation have much to be optimistic about. But we do face challenges. I see challenges divided into three areas: economic, social and environmental. Economically, when you include private debt, we are one of the most indebted countries in the world. We must have a government that is prudent and responsible. When the Australian people want responsible economic management, they always turn to the coalition, as they know we are the only ones who can do this.
Presently, governments around the world are engaging in massive debt creation. Some are also involved in quantitative easing, simply printing money to stimulate an economy—all this within a fiat currency system and the fractional reserve banking model that we operate. Many pitfalls, such as the global financial crisis, can confront such a system, and we need to be prudent.
Socially, Australia is a wonderful example of a rich, diverse multicultural society. We have many institutions which make this system work, not least our public education system. We need to continue to support the role it plays, not only in educating our young but also in building the nation.
Environmentally, we have great challenges as the world population increases. Our farmers are well poised to play a great role in feeding Australia and the world. Indeed, they are doing so now. We do, however, need to get off our farmers' backs, as with all businesses, and let them do what they know how to do without all the red and green tape that currently binds them. Farmers know the demands of their land like no-one else. It was they who understood the concept of sustainability well before the inner city so-called intellectuals stumbled across the word over their lattes and decided they had the right to tell fanners how they should farm and what they can and cannot do.
No-one can campaign for political office and take a seat in parliament without the help of others. I am but the face of a team who put a lot of work into winning this seat for the coalition. Firstly, I wish to thank Ben Franklin and his team at the NSW state Nationals office, especially Ross Cadell, Tony Sarks, Sam Pearn and Nathan Quigley. They always had the faith and belief that we could win this seat and, Ben, we did.
Thank you to my two campaign managers Andrew Gordon and Fay Boyd. Andrew would ring me every day and simply say, 'Kevin, what I can do for you today?' His boundless energy and enthusiasm were crucial and inspiring to me. Fay Boyd garnered troops and resources in the Clarence like a field marshal—you do not say 'no' to Fay. Her dedication and effort were total, and I thank her.
I thank all the federal parliamentary team who visited and helped, especially Warren Truss, Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce, Michael McCormack, Darren Chester, Fiona Nash, Luke Hartsuyker, Andrew Laming, Michael Ronaldson, John Williams, Mark Coulton and Michael Keenan. To my three state colleagues for their friendship and support: Chris Gulaptis, Thomas George and Don Page. To all the volunteers, who totalled in the hundreds, and my campaign team. I thank them all. To my office staff, Chris, Peter, Jo and Julie, who are already giving great service to constituent requests.
To my father and mother-in-law, Kevin and Pat Webber, whose family history traces back many generations in the local community. My father-in-law's family was one the first families to settle at Wyrallah. I thank them for helping keep our home front functioning when the campaign was on.
I am a fourth-generation Australian and, like all families, we have had our highs and lows, one generation wiped out by a hailstorm, others by drought. My mother and father, who have died in recent years, taught me four lessons that stand out: self-responsibility—only I could generate the life I wanted; resilience—when things don't work out, don't give up; compassion for others; and community involvement.
My father, John Hogan, was always the little entrepreneur who looked out for others in his community. He was an electrician in our country town and once did a job for a friend—a biscuit salesman—who was in financial difficulties. Knowing this friend was doing it tough, Dad took the payment in biscuits. I had a great, if not nutritious, week. I am not sure if my mother was all that happy with this form of payment. To my mother, Betty, who showered me in love, belief and prayers, which I know still protect me to this day from the naysayers who tell you why you can't do something or why something won't happen.
To my sisters, Teresa and Sue, who are here today, I thank them and their families for all the decades of looking out for their younger brother. To my sister, Marg, who sadly died two weeks before the election, for the laughter she brought to my childhood home. And to my family, my wife, Karen, my best ally and my greatest supporter, every step in my life's journey and endeavour has been with her for 20 years and I feel blessed to have her with me. And, yes, I thought your television ad was a really good one, and better than mine too! To my children, Bridget, Sean and Rosie, if and when you ever have children you may come to realise how much love and purpose you bring to my life.
Lastly, I humbly bring a range of my life experiences to this chamber, and lessons I have learnt. Through my career I invested and traded a multibillion dollar portfolio when I worked in the financial markets and learnt the importance of good economic management. I presented an economic update on Sky News for a number of years. I have been a teacher and understand the importance of education to the fabric of our society. As a farmer and small business owner I know that this is the engine room of our economy As an investment officer of an industry superannuation fund I know the importance of super to people's retirement. But can I say that the greatest privilege I have had is to represent my community in this chamber. And I say to the people of Page, my community, I will always speak for what I believe is in your interests and vote for things that are for the best interests of our community and our great nation of Australia.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and congratulations on your ascent to the chair. Firstly, I want to give my very great thanks to the people of the Perth electorate for the faith that you have placed in me. It is truly a great honour to be elected to represent you and I pledge that I will do my very best to advocate on your behalf and to take our community forward.
The people of Perth know that it was not an easy decision for me to contest the seat. I was loving my gig as Mayor of Vincent and we were doing exciting things there. But what persuaded me with the many punters who rang, emailed, bailed me up on the street and told me that I had a duty to do it. In the end I agreed—there are big issues that need to be addressed nationally. And I have been given the opportunity to learn a few things over the last 25 years or so that could allow me to make a useful contribution to the national debate.
It was the enthusiasm of the Labor supporters that really kept me going during what was a very intense campaign. It was energising to encounter so many people across all demographic groups that still see the Australian Labor Party as a positive force, a force for good in our society. It really put the wind beneath the wings. I also thank those many people who normally are in the blue team who were prepared to support me. To the unions who encouraged and supported me, thank you very much. To the individuals and the businesses that gave us the money to do what had to be done, thank you.
Of course, I want to acknowledge the fantastic people that worked on my campaign. It was a delightfully professional operation. I was so grateful for those always cheerful troops who joined me at the railway stations at 6.30 am, or spent their weekends and evenings at shopping centres, mass leafleting, doorknocking or phone canvassing. To the tremendous team that coordinated the election day presence, you were the best. And to the outdoor campaign, we really blitzed it.
As always, I had extraordinary support from my immediate and extended family and my brilliant friends. I simply could not have done any of my 10 elections and 25 years in public life without your love and faith in me. To my dearest Umi and Atlas, thank you very much for your competitive enthusiasm for the photo ops. And a big thanks to all those who have come today.
I need also to thank my comrades and staff, past and present, from the state parliament. We have been a great team. There are so many people I would like to individually recognise, and I will elsewhere. Guys, you know who you are—and you know I love youse all! But I do need to make special mention of Daniel Pastorelli, the calm and impeccably organised campaign manager, who knows when to hold and knows when to fold. Daniel, this is our second successful campaign together. And a special thanks to Rita Saffioti and John Carey for connecting me with Daniel and for the work that we have all done together for so many years, and to former colleague Tom Stephens who has always been such a great support. To Lenda and Kelly who channelled me on social media, thank you for such a good job of being me. I want especially to acknowledge Steve Keogh and Richard Farrell, loyal friends and spear carriers who have been with me since my very first election, and to my partner, Derek, who insisted I take this on even though he knew it would make his life tougher, thank you so much for your loyalty.
I pay tribute to Stephen Smith, my predecessor, for his 20 long years of dedicated service. Stephen is massively respected across the electorate of Perth and, indeed, across Australia. Not only is he valued as a local member, but people are also proud to see Stephen representing Australia with such distinction and grace in the roles of foreign minister and minister for defence.
Thanks also to another predecessor, my old mate Ric Charlesworth. I had worked on Ric's and Stephen's campaigns and it was great to see them reciprocate so enthusiastically. And if I could just illustrate the strength of the Labor tradition in Perth, it was poignant to have the grandson and great-grandson of another of my predecessors, Tom Burke, working on the campaign.
I will go light on the autobiography—I am a little bit over me. I will just say that I grew up with an enormously strong sense of being an Australian—a strong attachment to the landscape, an understanding that the opportunities that we enjoyed were brought to us by generations who fought for universal suffrage, a fair wages system and free education. I grew up with a deep fondness of Aboriginal people and an understanding of the value of embracing our black history and healing the wounds of the past. I always understood that these things do not just happen. In a democracy you cannot say that someone should do something—that someone is you.
Here are a few of the things that I think should be done. I have come to understand why so many Australians are leaving school after 10 to 12 years unable to confidently read and write. The Productivity Commission report on literacy and labour market skills cited evidence that more than 40 per cent of working age Australians did not have the literacy and numeracy to effectively participate in society. International studies reflect that the last major study ranked Australian last in literacy in the seven English-speaking nations assessed.
Some seven years ago, Lee Musameci, the principal at Challis, a government school cluster in my then seat of Armadale, challenged me to get involved with her school's determination not to accept that their students should be doomed to the pattern of failure that has been accepted for decades. Like many, I had wondered why so many kids seem to struggle at school and why there were so many children with learning difficulties. What I learnt from firsthand observation and from my work as a chair of a parliamentary committee and from working with extraordinarily dedicated principals, teachers, academics and researchers, is that our prevailing pedagogy is actually creating the problem. We are generating 'instructional casualties' by allowing the 'whole language' pedagogy to retain its ascendancy in our instruction of literacy—and I might say to the Minister for Education that this is not a party political issue; this is a problem that has been with us for at least two if not three decades. In this whole language belief system, reading is acquired naturally as speech is. The emphasis is on creating a word-rich environment and encouraging the guessing of the written word from pictorial clues and context. But the research shows us over and over again that while there are students you can learn to read in this way, many do not. It is an approach that particularly fails kids from lower socioeconomic and Aboriginal backgrounds. It may even disadvantage boys.
The written word is a code and we need to train children to decode it in a systematic and highly structured way. Teaching to this code will see 95 to 97 per cent of children learn to read readily. This is not a right-wing 'back-to-basics' campaign, nor is it a campaign to remove creativity from learning and teaching. It is a campaign to stop the education of so many Australians particularly those from less privileged backgrounds from being undermined by a few hundred academics and mid-ranking state education bureaucrats whose attachment to whole language and its mongrel child, the 'balanced approach', is prioritised over science. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the teachers union. When confronted with endemic failure, these proponents blame poor parenting and the fact that many kids are coming to school with developmental vulnerabilities. And this is true, and here I want to acknowledge the invaluable insight we have into this problem through the Australian Early Development Index.
It is true we all need to improve the development of zero- to three-year-olds, but even without that we can be delivering so much more in the school system. Indeed, these developmental challenges make it even more necessary that we get the instructional technique right and not muck around with methodologies that have no scientific backing. Explicit instruction of these skills is not boring or cruel. I have seen classrooms of four- and five-year-olds totally engaged as they learn sounds, letters, blends and grammar. Not only do they learn to read, they learn to succeed. I have witnessed an incredible turnaround in test results in schools who have challenged the orthodoxy. We cannot keep talking about the value of education unless we address this basic building block. Literacy is the foundation stone of our transmission of knowledge.
We need to build on the national infrastructure we have in place with ACARA and NAPLAN but we must insist that the clear direction of rigorous research be embedded in the national curriculum. We need to ensure that NAPLAN does not mask the problem by setting a minimum standard so low that it is a meaningless guide to functional literacy. We need to ensure our university faculties of education embrace scientific rigour. This is truly a national issue. It goes directly to our future as a nation, which must compete globally. We cannot walk away from this.
Nor can we walk away from the challenges presented by global warming—its reality, its cause and the response. It has been appalling to watch how the consensus that existed across Australia in 2007 has been destroyed. Unlike most of my colleagues, I do not believe that the Prime Minister is a climate change denier—that would merely indicate scientific illiteracy. This is something much worse. This is a moral indifference to what happens beyond one's own political horizon.
The opportunity to wedge the community was spotted as many were transferring their worry quotient from climate change to the global financial crisis. It was ruthlessly exploited. The government is abandoning not only a price on carbon but all the associated architecture established to give us the scientific and economic advice and to provide the much-needed vehicle for investment and vehicles for research and development of renewable energy technology.
Pricing of carbon has worked. It has reduced our emissions from the electricity sector by 6.1 per cent while at the same time the economy has grown by 2.5 per cent. It is interesting to look at how focused we are on honouring the sacrifice of former generations of Australians at war. We understandably speak with reverence of the culture of duty and sacrifice at the front line and on the home front. But we are now hearing that Australians today cannot be asked to accept any inconvenience or impost, no matter how great the threat.
By not confronting the problem now, not only will it make it hard to address later but we lose the opportunity to be at the forefront of technological development. We will see the easy option taken. And, just as the Australian economy became flabby and uncompetitive under tariff barriers, it will languish under a carbon protection scheme. Australians see that the climate is changing. They get that there is a risk. But we need the leadership of solutions. We need to inspire the community with the vision of a 21st century technology that can turn this challenge into an opportunity.
I am also a committed advocate for Western Australia. A brief bit of my history here might be relevant. At the age of 18, I was given a one-way air ticket to Perth organised by my older siblings. Thanks, guys! This adventure totally changed the direction of my life. I loved Perth immediately. It was sunny. People were good natured and totally welcoming. Some used to say that Perth was good from the neck down, but I never believed that enjoying life was incompatible with intelligence, compassion and engagement. Ever since then, with a couple of work stints in Melbourne and Sydney, I have been living in WA. I have never regretted that decision. I have well and truly had the operation.
Some eastern staters, even on my own side, think that we are a mob of whingers. Indeed, until I became a minister in the WA government, I thought my beloved fellow West Aussies were a little bit neurotic about the eastern states' attitude to WA. I soon learned the errors of my way when I started attending the ministerial transport council in 2001—
An opposition member interjecting—
and saw how off the radar we were—yes, in 2001 it changed—and that the cause of this was not hostility but unfamiliarity. The east-coasters had travelled on each other's roads but not on ours. WA was almost a foreign country. I always remember that around 2003 I obtained a leaked copy of the proposed new national transport plan charting the roads that would attract Commonwealth funding. The east coast was crisscrossed like a game of snakes and ladders, joining all those economically important towns: Tamworth, the Stand by Your Man capital; Mildura, very important for dried fruit; Shepparton, which does canned fruits—all very important. But I pointed out that WA just had one road east and one road north, and it did not even include the Burrup. I was asked, not, 'Where's the Burrup?' but, 'What's the Burrup?' It was, of course, one of the major export-earning areas for the country, producing vast tonnages of natural gas and iron ore.
It has often been pointed out that WA for many years has been the net beneficiary of Commonwealth transfers, but people are not so familiar with the fact that WA's future development was actually held back for a good decade by federal policy indifferent to our needs. Most of Australia's iron ore is in WA, and, in the latter half of the 1930s, Japanese interests wished to reopen and expand mines that were there. The government of the day understandably did not want to offend the Japanese but did not want to facilitate their war effort, so they deliberately sexed down the estimates of our iron ore reserves and said to the Japanese, 'Oh gosh, sorry, we don't have much of the stuff; we'll need to keep it for our own use,' a totally sensible posture at the time. Of course, once the war was over, Western Australians just presumed that the truth would prevail, but throughout the 1950s the federal government refused to lift the ban, and it was not until 1960 that WA was allowed to export iron ore—to commence development for the export of iron ore and to take that great leap forward.
Today WA gets 44c in every GST dollar it collects under a deal negotiated by conservative governments of Howard and Court. I do not expect the GST arrangements to change anytime soon, but there are many other ways in which funding metrics are designed for the economic structures of the eastern seaboard and in that way are skewed against our very different economy.
We are growing rapidly. Our contribution to GDP has gone up from 10 to 14 per cent in the last 10 years. To sustain this extraordinary growth, we do need more federal assistance with infrastructure. I want to particularly acknowledge the support of Martin Ferguson and the then minister for infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, for being so responsive to our case and for massively boosting federal spending in WA infrastructure, even making the investment into those previously off-the-map Pilbara port roads.
But it is not only road funding that we need. Perth is growing by 1,000 people a week, and our public transport needs some massive investment to keep our city functioning. It is an environmental issue, as private passenger transport is a major contributor to our carbon footprint. It is also an increasingly important social issue, with family and community life being compromised by long commute times and residents of outer suburbs spending as much as 20 per cent of their income on private transport. And it is an economic issue: 78 per cent of Western Australians live in greater metropolitan Perth. It is a population that drives the mining industry that is fuelling our national economy.
Indeed, 80 per cent of Australians live in big cities. More than ever, we need a federal government that understands the economic importance of cities and how central mobility is to exploiting the diversity and specialisation of skills that are at the heart of the economic benefit of a city. I had the opportunity to oversee the doubling of Perth's passenger rail system in just six years. We showed that, if you provide first-class public transport alternatives, commuters will convert in droves. We saw public transport use in the area increase immediately by more than 350 per cent and substantial increases in patronage across the network. Expanding the network makes the entire network more attractive.
It is preposterous that we have a federal government that says, 'We don't do cities and we don't do metropolitan rail.' When was the last time we actually had a Liberal federal transport minister or a conservative federal transport minister from the city? I am very proud to be part of the Labor team that has a long commitment to the cities and to delivering the infrastructure that will allow the cities to thrive and to provide their residents with a good life, and that is what we are here for: to understand and deliver those things that we need as a community to allow each and every Australian to have their place in the sun. It is as simple as that.
It is with great honour and pride that I occupy this seat in the 44th Australian Parliament. The privilege and responsibility bestowed upon me and our government by the people of Lyne, where we have lived for the last 21 years, is foremost in my mind. This building and this national capital are by no means strange places to me, as I actually grew up across the border in Queanbeyan. I am one of seven children who grew up in an old house that had my father's busy general practice in the front two rooms. Patients would turn up at the door, so life as a child was pretty busy. Life in Australia and life in Queanbeyan was different then. It was very much a country town. As I grew up, our country's multicultural heritage was starting to blossom, with migrants from all nations descending on Queanbeyan. Many from the freshly completed Snowy Mountains scheme had arrived to build our nation's capital.
Also, like many generations of Australians, my parents worked damn hard to advance our family's interests and put us all through a stellar education. I grew up with a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a nurse and had a general practice in our front living room so it is not too surprising that I ended up in medicine. But as well as great parents, along the way I had some great teachers. I would like to acknowledge some of them. Brother Thomas Moore, my sixth class teacher, developed my interest in public affairs and history. The late Father Charles Frazer developed my exposure to classics and the early philosophers. During my medical student years I had some great teachers, including the late Dr Roman Judzeiwicz and after that Professor Ian Cook, David de Carle, Chris Vickers and many others. All of these teachers, my parents and friends taught me as much by example and deed as by words.
From my father, a vociferous and passionate follower and commentator on all things political, I must have inherited the political gene. After dabbling and being interested in student politics, the pressures and the commitments of an all-consuming medical career dragged me away from politics, but I have returned now after years of on-call, study and training to become a gastroenterologist.
My wife and I, like so many young families, migrated up the North Coast to a place called Port Macquarie on the banks of the Hastings River so I could practise my profession and raise a family. When we arrived in Port Macquarie by necessity I had to also become a small business man, because there was no endoscopy facility at all, even though they had employed me as an endoscopist and gastroenterologist. So I had to learn about business, finance, employment and all the things that occur with small business. We have been involved in the beef production industry personally and we have a long family heritage of trying to make a living out of the land. So I do not come here with a MBA but I come here with real-life experience in the front lines of medicine and with the responsibility of business and the weight of 14 pay packets on my mind for decades or more.
When politics becomes very dysfunctional politics starts to invade people's lives. Four or five years ago I thought that I could shout at the TV for the rest of my life and throw the paper in disgust or get involved in politics. I graduated from commentating on politics at dinner parties to actually being involved. That comment, 'They should do this,' is us, so we have a weighty responsibility upon us.
A government should encourage entrepreneurs. It should allow individuals to exercise their initiative, innovate and reap the rewards of their risk, their hard work and the finance that they put up rather than taxing the arse off them. In public administration my aspiration is to keep all levels of government as small and as efficient as possible, otherwise each level consumes another portion of our taxpayers' wealth.
Our defence capability defines us. It lets us trade with the world in peace and it is our nation's insurance. It should have size and reserves so that we can stand on our own if required. Whilst treaties and allies are central to our defence, we cannot scrimp on our responsibilities and subcontract them to our allies.
The key hallmarks of our system of liberal democracy which we have inherited from Britain should never be taken for granted. It seems trite to talk about the freedom of speech, the rule of law, the separation of powers, property rights and the primacy of the individual as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others, but really if property rights are being removed in part or in whole by the government—and governments can do that—they should offer compensation or they should return the property right. Freedom of speech should be protected and it should not be muffled or diluted by the passing fashions of perceived political correctness. The principle of free markets is to be encouraged, but in the extreme it can lead to a monopolised market, which is then no longer free or fair. That is only where government should intervene. Treaties with nations or other bodies should share common aspirations and goals, but we should not ever sign away our sovereign powers.
Henry Parkes and his colleagues did a sterling job with our Constitution, with the division of responsibilities and the definition of public administration between state and federal, but there are some things in our federation that I think need fixing. We should, firstly, complete it with appropriate recognition of our Indigenous peoples. Initially the roles of the Commonwealth and the states roughly matched their revenue. Roles and responsibilities were very clear, but now—due to changes in the taxing power that happened during the two world wars, the growth of a social welfare system that was nowhere to be seen in 1900, and the growth of bureaucracies at all three levels of government—there is a growing funding disparity and a blurring of responsibilities. There is increasing waste and duplication between the Commonwealth and the states. We seem to have a creeping and confused federalism, where the federal government is continuing to assume the responsibilities of the states and, on occasions, vice versa.
Another thing is the voting system for the Senate, a system that defines who gets into the other place. As we have just witnessed, the voting system that produces senators appears to be structurally flawed and it potentially could again deliver outcomes that seem inconsistent with the intention of the voters. I think it is time to re-evaluate.
There is another frustration that is expressed within the community—and I certainly heard about it as I doorknocked thousands of houses, clocking up 48,000 kilometres and two sets of shoes—that is, a frustration with so many elections. Also there is a frustration with the inability for any government to deliver their agenda within one term, and I suppose that is why we hardly ever see a one-term government anymore. But I think too much energy goes into electioneering rather than governing. One conclusion is that the three-year term for this House is too short to deliver that agenda. Some Australian states seem to survive democracy with four-year terms, we install senators for six years and our founding democratic system in Westminster has run with five-year terms for generations—again, we need to re-evaluate.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of five previous members of my electorate, and it is my intention to build on their achievements, not to disparage them. I would like to personally thank two previous members: one who is now deceased, the late Bruce Cowan, for his personal help, as well as former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile.
The Lyne electorate and its natural wonders remain one of our greatest assets. We have golden sands on many iconic beaches; we have Crescent Head in the north to Hallidays Point in the south. We have verdant coastal plains that are guarded by the sentinel Three Brothers mountain range on the coast. And it reaches west to the mountain ranges. We have mighty rivers running from the mountains down to the sea: the Macleay in the north, the Hastings and the Camden Haven in the middle, and the mighty Manning in the south. My electorate encompasses the ancestral home of the Daingatti, Biripai and Worimi people, who have lived there for millennia; it has been my family's home only for the past 21 years.
Lyne electorate's cities, towns and villages have all played a part in the history of Australia. John Oxley reached the Hastings River back in 1818, and Port Macquarie was the third penal settlement in the colony. Free enterprise settlers from the Australian Agricultural Company—AA Co.—reached the Manning in 1831. One of our pre-Federation state members was our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton. And now, decades later, we have major centres in Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Laurieton, Camden Haven, Taree Wingham and Gloucester. They are all great communities with happy people who work hard, who volunteer and try to get ahead.
Migration north out of the cities is a phenomenon the whole country has seen, but we have swelled with retirees and young families seeking cheap housing. We have many secondary industries that have grown up behind our initial primary industries of timber, fishing, beef and dairy: we have steel fabricators, coalminers, a large construction and housing industry, marine and boat builders and defence contractors. The service and professional economies have grown enormously: we have regional administration, banking and a large not-for-profit sector. We also have a huge age and healthcare centre and a large and growing sector of education providers and trainers. Tourism and hospitality have also become critical to our region.
On the surface it looks great, but underneath there are many challenges my electorate faces that mirror those of the nation. The previous wealth generators—timber and fishing and dairy—are being challenged by aggressive restriction of resources, particularly in timber and fishing. The dairy and beef industries suffer from low commodity prices. Aggressive market behaviour and poor bargaining powers made a bad situation worse. These and all the other industries need long-term security for their primary resources to allow new investment, and we need to reduce the cost of business so that they can attract new investment.
Many robust small businesses have weathered the changes in our economy, but unfortunately in my electorate 300 have gone by the wayside since 2009. The complexities and costs thrust upon them by red, green and industrial tape, and that aggressive market behaviour I referred to earlier, have created challenges that were too great for them.
The other problem in my electorate is that large sections of Lyne's communities rely in part or wholly on the government for their incomes because of poor educational outcomes, unemployment and family breakdown. The best thing a government can do is to deliver policies that build stronger families, effective early learning, subsequent completion of education and training and conditions so that businesses, not governments, can generate jobs.
Infrastructure is so important—our roads, our rail links, air and telecommunications form the arteries of commerce and tourism. They are all in need of a serious upgrade in our area. That is why it is so important that we do complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway to the Queensland border and our other regional transport links that we have committed to, like the Bucketts Way that will link the Manning Valley and Gloucester primary and secondary industries. I want to deliver the things I have campaigned on—Green Army projects, the tennis court upgrades in Port Macquarie and CCTV to make our streets, where there is a high incidence of crime, safer.
The North Coast rail system is a relic. It transports bulk freight along with tens of thousands of tourists. People talk about the 'very fast train', but in our part of the world on the North Coast we have to deal with the very slow train. I would like to achieve some upgrades of that in my time.
Our health system, which is the envy of many countries, is under strain. It is essentially underwritten by our federal government, whether it is direct grants to the states through Medicare or all the other bits in between. The taxpayer is being a giant self-insurer. We need to have an insurance system that removes the risk from the taxpayer by encouraging widely held health insurance. If it is widely held we get community rating principle and it becomes cheaper, not more expensive, and then it is affordable to the average family. It then protects our public health system and can be a second funding stream for it, like it used to be, and allow delivery of timely health care to the people of Australia. That is why it is so vital that in the long term we remain committed to it.
The ageing population will continue to place huge demands on Australian population. We have been living that for many years, because in Lyne we have double the aged population average of the country.
We talk about the northern food bowl and the potential there, but there is huge potential in our part of the country. The Lyne electorate's fertile valleys and those of the mid-North Coast could contribute extensively to food production—again, if upscaling of agriculture occurs and food processing is added into the value-adding chain.
In Taree we have a hidden jewel called the Manning River, but the potential for increased boat building, tourism, property development, marine services and many other industries lie dormant because the river mouth is unnavigable most of the time. Unfinished infrastructure at its mouth would be great to complete to allow those potentials to become realities.
I am very honoured to be entering this parliament as a member of The Nationals. Our party has a long and proud history in this place. I want to make sure that myself and our party have a long record of achievement for our electorates and the regions—both a voice at the cabinet table and through the other sections of executive government.
My journey here was not a solo voyage and I have so many people to thank. I would like to thank the party and my electorate for placing faith in me and I would like to thank all those parliamentarians and other party members who came to help me in the campaign, including your good self, Madam Speaker. I would like to think frontbenchers Barnaby Joyce, Nigel Scullion, Fiona Nash, Luke Hartsuyker, Bruce Billson, Julie Bishop, Michael Ronaldson, Michael Keenan, Darren Chester, Michael McCormack and 'Wacka' Williams.
I would particularly like to thank my great friend, confidant, adviser and mentor of many years—our good Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man whom I have known since childhood. He comes from a wonderful family, some of whom are up in the chamber and I have known them all for many years. He is a man of the highest integrity and I know he is already making a great Prime Minister and leader of our nation. PM, thank you so much for your help and support.
I would like to thank Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. Warren brings a wealth of experience and wisdom to the leadership of our government our nation—and he certainly got the frequent Flyer points up coming to our electorate.
I would like to thank the people in our party. I would like to thank New South Wales head office under the guidance of Ben Franklin and all the others in his team, including is people on the ground—Tom Aubert, Hugh O'Dwyer, Ross Cadell and Elissa Wynn.
I would like to thank people from my 2010 campaign—Georgie McDuling, Bill Yates, James Dunn, Rob Nardella and Peter Loveday—who were there for the long run. I would also like to think my mother and father and the late Daphne Filtness for their enduring love and instilling a sense of confidence in me. I would like to thank my brothers and sisters for their collective years of advice and help. I would also like to thank my electorate chairman, Jane Corcoran; my campaign manager Terry Sara; and the federal secretariat help and director, Christine Ferguson.
I cannot thank all of the 732 people who helped me in the campaign, but down in Gloucester I would like to mention Don Dunlop and his team; the Taree team headed up by Arthur Chapman, Warren Young and Craig Webster; and all those who helped over at Old Bar, including Jane Vincent.
Ladies and gentlemen, when we get into this House, so many of our decisions have so many ramifications for so many people. It is a great honour and a great privilege. I would like to tell the people in my electorate that I am so honoured and privileged to be your ombudsman both with all of us here and the executive government. As members of this House we are a voice for our electorates. We on this side of the chamber—admittedly we have gone over the edge—speak with a voice of common-sense, reason and real life experience, and we believe in the 'keep it simple' principle.
Ladies and gentlemen: I will work tirelessly for my electorate and I will work tirelessly for the nation so that we all reach our possibilities. We all have great potential and it is important that as Australians we make sure that all of us get a chance to shine, to take our risks, to bite the bullet and do it. Thank you very much.