Tuesday, 13 September 2016
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations on your election to your position there.
I acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, the custodians of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which Braddon encompasses today and pay my respect to their elders past and present.
I rise here before you today as the proud first woman elected to the division of Braddon. It has taken some 61 years. However, I am not the first woman to represent the people of the north-west coast of Tasmania in this place. Sixty-five years on, I proudly follow in the footsteps of one other woman: a member for the former division of Darwin, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman in federal cabinet, Dame Enid Lyons.
In her first speech she said:
I hope that I shall never forget that everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being, …
Dame Enid has left a rich legacy in my electorate. She was the wife of Tasmania's only Prime Minister, Joe Lyons, and Devonport is privileged to have a Prime Minister's residence, Home Hill, just up the road from my house, with Dame Enid's personal touches gracing every inch of this wonderful family home.
From her election in 1943, Dame Enid—at that stage a widowed mother of 12 children—successfully led the way for women in federal politics. As she said in her first speech:
I am well aware that, as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come.
We have come a long way since Dame Enid in terms of gender equality. A photo of the 1949 cabinet that you can see at Home Hill is a stark reminder of that. In a sea of dark suits stands Dame Enid, the only woman, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, many governments since, and even of recent times, have not done much better in ensuring there is more than one woman in cabinet. I am proud to stand here as a member on this side, surrounded by talented women. However, from my view here, looking at the other side reminds me somewhat of that cabinet photo of 1949.
I wish to thank the people of Braddon for having faith in me and my ability to represent them here in the federal parliament. Without their support I would not be here, and I will not lose sight of that very fact. The people of King Island and the north-west and west coasts of Tasmania are a resilient lot. We genuinely care for each other, across our towns and cities and our regional, rural and remote communities. We come together in times of crisis; whether they be raging bushfires, devastating droughts or tragic floods, we are generous in nature. It is said there are six degrees of separation; I contest—and dare I say—that in Tasmania there are about three. We all know each other, just about; we are willing to pitch in when someone is in need, and we will do whatever we can to help.
Imagine if you can, the deep, dark forests of the World Heritage areas of south-west Tasmania: pristine and still rivers that mirror the land and sky; wild beaches of white sand and oxidised boulders on the edge of the world; coastal and rural towns and cities brimming with friendly faces and built heritage; breathing in the cleanest air in the world; eating the best steak you have ever had from the grass-fed cattle; drinking the purest water and devouring the best vegetables from the richest volcanic soils; and for seafood lovers, delighting in the world-renowned salmon, ocean trout and shellfish.
Our natural beauty, our wonderful, humble people and our innovative industries and products create our clean green image. This is our competitive advantage that no other place can rival and which needs to be protected at all cost.
We can have balance in what we do, how we interact with our environment, how we can have sustainable development, jobs, industry and business—trading on our competitive advantage, using the Tasmania brand to access markets many others cannot. To go to either extreme, to lock or unlock everything, can only result in damage to our reputation, our economy and our way of life.
We are unassuming, we are unpretentious, we do not boast, yet we should be shouting from every rooftop just how wonderful our products and our people really are. As the years go by, others are doing that for us. I think that is what makes us so special. I believe I live in the best electorate in Australia, but I know the people of Braddon will tell you if you are doing something right and they will tell you when you are doing something wrong. Whether on local or national issues, Braddon has been a marginal seat for 20 years. I would like to pay tribute to Brett Whiteley, the former Liberal member, and Sid Sidebottom, the previous Labor member, for their commitment and dedication to serving the people of Braddon. I would also like to thank Sid for his advice and guidance during the campaign.
To know what we stand for as aspiring politicians, to articulate this to our electors, we must first understand where and who we come from. I am a twin to Damon, a boilermaker welder, and born to Terry and Tresna. My mother, who is here today, spent most of my early childhood volunteering at the P&F and at the local Migrant Resource Centre. I thank her for instilling in me fierce independence, a touch of feistiness and a desire to contribute to my community. Thank you, Mum, for being there for me and my family over this campaign and for the sacrifices you made so that my brother and I had opportunities. I know I have made you proud.
My father was a seafarer, a ten-pound Pom who fell in love with the sea, joined the merchant navy and then became a steward on the Princess of Tasmania, the Empress of Australia and finally the Abel Tasman, the passenger vessels connecting Tasmania to the mainland, on which he passed away at sea when I was 10 years old. He was a strong union man, and many of his past workmates have told me of his passion for helping others in the workplace, whether on the ship or on the wharf, regardless of what union or association they belonged to, in order to make it a safer place and improve their working conditions. This was before the unions amalgamated to form the MUA, a union that I feel a deep connection to; a union and an industry that supported my family growing up and a union that supported me during this campaign. I feel truly honoured by and hold deep gratitude to the members of the MUA for their belief in me and their passion, fighting to keep an Australian shipping industry that supports so many families with stable work and decent pay.
I would also like to thank the union movement, in particular the CFMEU, AMWU, ASU, HACSU, SDA, CPSU, United Voice and CEPU, for their support for me and for working Australians, who are disgracefully and continually attacked by conservative governments. In addition, many thanks go to EMILY's List for their support of me and progressive women in politics.
My values of equality, fairness, equity and justice I know I received from my parents. These are the values that have guided and will continue to guide me as I make decisions on behalf of the people of Braddon. As an elected alderman on the Devonport City Council for nearly seven years, my decision making on behalf of the residents was based on these values. I believe most reasonable people share in these values. I have a vision for our country to espouse these values in how we interact with each other and how governments and institutions practice equality and fairness; a vision of a society that treats everyone as equals regardless of who we are, where we come from or who we love. Is this a utopian world? I hope not.
I want my children to live in a tolerant world. I want them to have choices, not barriers. As a University of Tasmania graduate in the mid-1990s, at a time in Tasmania when many of my age were leaving the state, I took the first job I could get, working in television. It was not glamorous, it paid terribly, but it was a job. I eventually left Tasmania, not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to. I moved to Perth, WA, to study at Murdoch University, continued to work in television, and after three years was desperate to come home. Perth is a fantastic place—far too hot for me—but it is not Tasmania.
I do not want my children, Ethan, Alex and Oliver, to feel they need to leave Tasmania to have opportunities. They are the reason I chose to contest local government elections. They are the reason I contested a state and a federal election. I want to be part of creating their future and the future of all Tasmanians. I do not look in the rear-view mirror but always ahead. I live by the motto 'Where there's a will, there's a way.' I thank my boys for their understanding of what I do and that I may not be around as much now. To the two of them who are here today, Ethan and Alex: dream big, as you can do anything! Please do your homework, and remember how important education is to your future. I love you all.
Returning from Perth some 14 years ago, I never thought of being involved in politics. With bachelor's degrees in geography and history, another in environmental impact assessment and a postgraduate diploma in environmental management, I managed to secure a job with the environment minister, Bryan Green, former Deputy Premier and now leader of the state opposition. Bryan gave me the confidence to contest elections and gave me the priceless opportunity to work for the people of Braddon. He also gave me the opportunity to work overseas, allowing me to return to my job when I needed to come home. It was in London, working for the British civil service in the area of constitutional affairs and at the time of the London bombings, that I met my partner, Richard, some 11 years ago. I brought him back to Tasmania with me, and with that I gained an extended family across the oceans in South Africa. Thank you, Bryan, for your faith and belief in me. Bryan, Senator Carol Brown and former senator Kay Denman said to me about eight years ago that I would be a good parliamentarian. I hope I prove them right.
I have seen the best and worst of politics, and the latter does have a lasting impact. Putting my hand up to contest this election was not done lightly, yet I had one advantage. In many years helping the people of Braddon as an electorate officer and campaigning for many elections, you soon get to know the people in the electorate, but not everyone. Yet some of the comments I received from voters this election made me question my decision to run: 'You are all the same, only in it for yourselves.' 'You'll go in with the best intentions and come out as bad and corrupt as the rest.' I felt saddened that people felt this way about me; that they tarred me with the same brush as others who behave this way, yet did not know me as a person. None of this comes as a surprise, as I have been around politics a long time, but I say this because daily I heard stories of a community let down by their last representative.
We know the profession of politician is not considered by the general public as one that carries a lot of trust and respect, but it should. Yes, we are human; we are fallible. We make mistakes and at times demonstrate poor judgement. However, there are many examples over many years of politicians who inadvertently, because they are so out of touch with broad public expectations, or deliberately, because of a sense of entitlement, meet and exceed the cynical perceptions of politicians conveyed to me by such comments. I know there are many in this place, and in the past, who have worked tirelessly to improve our country in a positive way without seeking massive public recognition or media attention. These are the politicians and the work that the media need to promote more. I realise this would not be as interesting as divisive political commentary by those fuelled by ignorance and fear.
Mitchell is a volunteer for Labor. He is a recipient of the NDIS. Before the NDIS, Mitchell would not have spoken to people he did not know, let alone speak in public. But now he has spoken at conferences, had radio interviews and has come doorknocking on my campaign. Mitchell and his family are extremely thankful to people like Bill Shorten, Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard for the NDIS. This is the type of work we do here that changes people's lives. I am very privileged to know many on this side of the House, and I am in the company of passionate, compassionate and talented people who I know are here for the right reasons: to serve the people they represent and to help make our communities better, guided by their values. Yet it is a reminder to us all that our ability, desire and actions to listen to the people in our communities, to truly listen, are how we can stay grounded. It is how we can develop good policy and have conversations and interactions that are meaningful and that make a positive difference.
The moment we forget how we came to this place and who we serve, or the moment our actions or inactions do not allow us to engage in a meaningful way with people from all walks of life—not just our core base—we will fall foul of and live up to the cynicism that was echoed to me during this election. I say this to put it on record, as a reminder not just to myself but to all, and especially to the electors of Braddon: I will listen; I will do my best to understand. I truly do care, and I respect what you tell me. We may not agree, but I will respect you. As some wise politician once said: you can never keep everyone happy all of the time. Yet to treat our electors with contempt, to not have our doors open to them and to refuse to engage is a sure way to electoral defeat. That is my commitment to the people of Braddon, and I know they will tell me if I stray away from this. I am also reminded of a comment a dairy farmer said to me at a farmers meeting just after the election. He said: 'See that bloke with dirt on his boots? He has the same number of votes as the one in the expensive suit.'
It is clear that the policies Labor took to the election articulated the priorities of my electorate and many others. That is because we listened, and we understood what was important to people. In my electorate we have a high burden of chronic disease and low educational attainment. We have a growing prevalence of chronic conditions, yet it is clear that better health care has driven down mortality rates. Better and targeted investment in preventative health measures will further reduce preventable diseases. My electorate is very acutely aware of the importance of health funding. So, should health be a policy and funding priority? I strongly believe it should. Tax breaks for the banks and big business at the expense of health funding just will not cut it in my electorate.
Similarly, education as a funding and policy priority is just as important. Not only does educational level influence health behaviour, it can also influence socioeconomic status. By not investing in appropriate evidence based models of education funding, we will tragically let down future generations. I heard some of our opponents during the campaign say that we cannot afford Gonski. Well if you cannot afford to invest in a proven model of education funding that puts the child first and is not based on need, which is Gonski, then you should not be in government. Needs based funding will result in families placing more value on education as fewer children fall through the cracks because they receive the attention they need in our classrooms. I will continue to fight for a better return in education for Tasmanians. If we do not, we set up our country for failure as we will not have developed the next generation to a level that allows them to participate in a global market and have the skills for the jobs of the future.
We also have high unemployment, high underemployment and low workforce participation. During the campaign I gained funding commitments for infrastructure projects that will grow our local economies, grow jobs and improve the liveability of our towns and cities. Unfortunately, not all of these projects received bipartisan support. They are priority projects for local government—the level of government closest to the people, and a sector I have a great passion for. They are projects that communities want to invest in as the economic and social returns to them are immense. The coastal pathways project will link our communities along the beautiful north-facing coastline, which cycle tourists will flock to and which will drive private investment and jobs—and this is one such priority project. I will continue to fight for this project, and the many others that support our communities and our economy.
I will also continue to fight for a better NBN. Tasmania led the way for fibre-to-the-premises NBN. Yet now some of our cities and towns, particularly in my electorate, will receive the second-rate fibre to the node. We will have, whenever the NBN is delivered in Tasmania in full, an inequitable essential service, with many centres in my electorate unable to compete for new IT industries or population growth, as many mainlanders will inevitably move to our island state but will be less likely to move to my region. We will be constricted by a broadband network that is not futureproofed. What has resulted in the NBN during the previous term of government is nothing short of a national tragedy.
Mental health needs to become a long-term national priority, and I know this is very important to the people in my electorate. Earlier this year I graduated from Monash University with a graduate diploma of psychology, which will serve me well in this place, and I have developed the understanding and passion for better mental health services for Braddon. This will be a focus for me during this term. People need and deserve better access to responsive mental health and allied health services in our cities and towns.
These are just some of the challenges and opportunities for my electorate. I will continue to listen and learn from the people of Braddon as I have done during the election campaign. But I was, and will continue to be, helped by a group of passionate people wanting positive and progressive change for Tasmania. Without their help, I would not have been able to communicate and interact as broadly with my community.
I want to thank Senator Anne Urquhart for her unwavering support as my mentor and sounding board, guiding me, advising me and just being there. To my campaign team—John, Julie, Donna, Amanda, Lyn, Bec, Ali, Sharifah, Melissa and Gemma—thank you. I am grateful to every person involved in the campaign—the many volunteers who door-knocked and made phone calls and staffed pre-poll and polling booths in the freezing cold and relentless rain; 15-year-old Sam, who phoned voters; my older volunteers in their 70s and 80s; and everyone in between. They are the true believers of what we do and who we are. This is a team effort, a sum of all parts. I am overwhelmed at the support from the Labor branches in my electorate and I thank each member for their belief and confidence in me. It is not over; we have just begun and we have many, many more conversations to make.
To my Tasmanian federal colleagues—Julie Collins and Senators Carol Brown, Catrina Bilyk, Helen Polley and Lisa Singh—thank you for your friendship and support. To the state parliamentary Labor Party—especially Bryan Green, Michelle O'Byrne and Rebecca White—thank you for your belief in me and the wonderful work you do for Tasmania. Thank you also to my friend and acting secretary Karelle Logan and to Alex Manning, from Nat Sec, George Wright, Paul Erikson and Sebastian Zwalf. What a formidable team of exceptional Labor people!
I was very privileged to have had many visits from shadow ministers over the past year who gave their time to speak with many individuals and groups within my electorate, and for that I am truly thankful. Thank you to Anthony Albanese for launching my campaign in a field of strawberries at the Berry Patch at Turners Beach—he remembers that fondly! Thank you to Tanya Plibersek, Catherine King, Andrew Leigh, Jason Clare, Jenny Macklin, Brendan O'Connor, Stephen Jones, Joel Fitzgibbon, Sharon Bird and Senators Doug Cameron, Claire Moore and Kim Carr. And, of course, I thank Bill Shorten. He visited my electorate a number of times. He demonstrated a keen interest in and commitment to regional Tasmania and its people. Thank you.
I would also like to thank my previous colleagues in local government and at Devonport City Council for their support and friendship despite our political differences. I gained a nickname at the council—'VS', the Velvet Sledgehammer! I hope I can live up to that reputation in this place when I need to be a strong voice for the people of Braddon.
Finally, thank you to my staff, my wonderful friends and, of course, my family here and in South Africa. To Mum and my stepdad, Ray: thank you for your belief in me and all you do to support my family. To the Keay family in New South Wales and beyond: thank you for telling me my dad would be proud that I am a chip off the old block. It means so much to me to hear that. And to my partner, Richard, who cannot be here today: thank you for coming on this journey with me. It may not always be a straight or flat road that we will travel; it will be one of hills and gullies, of richness and opportunities, of challenges and obstacles, but together we will have a great journey.
Thank you Braddon for the opportunity you have provided to me. If we have belief in what we can achieve, if we tackle our challenges together head on, we can continue to be proud of who we are and we can grab with both hands many opportunities to advance our piece of paradise. Thank you.
Before I call the honourable member for Maranoa, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies. I personally would like to welcome my northern neighbour. We share a boundary of about 800 kilometres.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is truly a great honour to stand in this nation's 45th Parliament representing the people of Maranoa as their 10th representative. I am extremely proud to stand here today as the third consecutive generation of the Littleproud family to serve the people of Queensland in all three tiers of government. My grandfather, George Littleproud, served at the local level as deputy mayor of the Chinchilla Shire; my father, Brian, served at the state level as Minister for Education and the Environment; and now I have ascended to the federal level, an achievement that my family and I are incredibly proud of and humbled by.
Maranoa is one of Australia's 75 Federation seats and the nation's fifth largest electorate in land size, spanning more than 730,000 square kilometres across Queensland, encapsulating some of our country's most diverse and productive land and, more importantly, some of its most resilient, hardworking and resourceful people. Maranoa extends along more than 90 per cent of the Queensland-New South Wales border, all of the Queensland-South Australia border and nearly half of the Queensland-Northern Territory border. From Stanthorpe in the south-east to Birdsville in the far south-west, and from Winton and Bedourie in the north-west to Kingaroy and Blackbutt in the north-east, Maranoa covers more than three-times the size of Victoria. It is managed at a local level by 17 regional and shire councils and seven state seats in the Queensland parliament.
Before I go any further, I acknowledge the 37 traditional owner groups across Maranoa, covering the Eyre, Riverine, Kooris and Murris regions. I acknowledge their elders and the significant role they play as custodians in the preservation and advancement of Australia's first people's culture in Maranoa.
Maranoa, by reason of its sheer size, is a diverse electorate of industry and opportunity, ranging from mining, with the development of the gas and coal industry, to manufacturing, primarily in the value-adding of our agricultural products, to the increasingly important tourism industry. Tourism continues to mature in Maranoa as our brand develops and travellers gain an appreciation of our unique lifestyle. Tourism continues to play an important part in the diversification of our small communities and their economies, particularly through drought.
However, agriculture is the common thread that links each and every community across Maranoa together; it is the major contributor to every community's economy in terms of employment, returns to producers, and support to small businesses in each of our communities.
I am proud to say I have lived and worked in Maranoa all my life. I grew up in the little town of Chinchilla some 3½ hours west of Brisbane. Growing up in Chinchilla was the quintessential childhood in a small country town—plenty of mates, cricket, football, tennis, swimming, fishing and camping. You were raised not just by your family in Chinchilla but by the entire community. My pulse always lifts when I go home to Chinchilla; it is the knowledge and comfort that you are in the familiar surrounds of family. Chinchilla made me who I am today, and I am forever grateful for the investment the community of Chinchilla has invested in me.
Professionally I was fortunate enough to forge a career in banking, living and working in many parts of the electorate such as Miles, Nanango, Charleville, St George, Stanthorpe and ultimately Warwick, where my wife and I now live and raise our three boys, Tom, Hugh, and Harry, who are all here tonight. My wife and I have not only made the ultimate investment in Maranoa by bringing our family up there but also invested in our own small business in Warwick employing local people, because we believe in the future of our community and Maranoa.
I do not want to spend my time today talking about my life story; instead I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the people who have entrusted me to represent them, and the challenges we face—but more importantly the great opportunities that lie ahead of us in Maranoa.
Fundamentally I believe a federal government's responsibility is not to impose in the daily lives of Australians but to create an environment and the infrastructure around them so they can generate their own wealth that subsequently builds healthier communities.
Preparing for this speech today, I took the time to read the maiden speech delivered in May 1990 by my predecessor, the Hon. Bruce Scott, who passionately and diligently represented Maranoa for more than 25 years—and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Bruce for his dedication to Maranoa and its people. It is interesting to note that, in that speech, Bruce described the hardship some parts of the electorate were suffering after devastating floods. Ironically, today many parts of Maranoa face a greater threat from years of enduring drought. The drought in central western and south-western Queensland over the past five years has been an economic, environmental and human catastrophe and it continues to unravel before our eyes.
While recent rain has created cautious optimism, it will take more than a few rain events to allow communities to recover in full. But to reinforce the resilience of the people of Maranoa this glimmer of hope is enough for them to continue on. Some would say it is a country thing, but I say it is a pride thing—pride in our communities and pride in our families. Nelson Mandela once said, 'The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.' That is exactly what the people of Maranoa are doing. Whether it is flood, fire or drought, the people of Maranoa have forged livelihoods but, more importantly, communities that have in turn nurtured some of our country's finest.
All my professional life has been involved in business, and I have therefore built a strong passion for economic development. I believe economic development not only creates opportunity for individual wealth but, more importantly, builds healthier communities—communities where you can educate your children, receive good health care and have good employment prospects, and that you can travel the world from and, above all, call home.
The trade agreements that this coalition government negotiated over the last three years are fundamental to setting the right environment for Maranoa. The direct impact—particularly for agriculture—has been profound, with those benefits finally being realised at a profit and loss level now. All across the electorate I have been listening to people who tell me of the tangible benefits of these agreements. Three weeks ago, I was told by one of our beef producers that only two years ago he was receiving $400 a head for his steers but today he is receiving more than three times that amount. This is putting money into the pockets of every producer and, importantly, flowing back into our local communities and stimulating their economies.
But perhaps the most salient reinforcement that these trade agreements will deliver for all of Maranoa came from feedback I received this year when I visited a drought-affected farmer in central western Queensland. In the depths of financial and emotional despair after four years of debilitating drought, when asked whether they saw a future in agriculture, the response I got was that the only person important to them in politics in Australia was a man called Andrew Robb, our then trade minister, because they knew that when it did rain all the hard work they had done for years keeping their breeding stock alive would be worth something and there would be a future for them and their children.
In this producer's moment of utter despair and helplessness, the appreciation of the benefits these agreements would provide them and the fact it became a beacon of hope that gave them the strength and courage to fight on is a moment I will never forget. Trade agreements have been criticised by some who falsely yearn for the perceived comfort of economic policies of yesteryear, but the world has moved past them. In simplistic terms, we have a population of 24 million but produce enough food for 75 million, so if we do not engage the world we will not have communities like Longreach, Charleville, Roma, Kingaroy or Dalby.
We in Maranoa need to embrace the global economy more than anybody. We have what the world wants and our language and our actions need to reflect that; we are now global players. We need to engage the world like we never have before, because the opportunities are boundless. The people of Maranoa are not victims. We are not some economic backwater. Instead, we hold the keys to our own and the nation's prosperity. It is a matter of us grabbing it.
While the coalition government has done an outstanding job in creating the right environment around the people of Maranoa in negotiating trade deals and providing small business tax cuts to the 25½ thousand small-business owners in Maranoa, to take advantage of these opportunities it is imperative that we, as a federal government, complement this with the tools of the 21st century.
The great innovators of our country and adopters of technology and science have always been in electorates like Maranoa, because we have to be. Our history in this space runs deep, with the humble beginnings of Qantas nearly 100 years ago in the outback of Maranoa. To this day, Qantas is the only airline in the world to have built its own aircraft. In a small hanger in the outback town of Longreach, commercial aviation in this country was born because of the vision and the need of those who pioneered this great country.
Fast forward this to today, where cutting-edge scientific research and technology has seen the development and production in Stanthorpe of the Queen Garnet plum, a fruit with the highest levels of antioxidants and anthocyanins in the world. Using the best minds and hands in Maranoa—amongst the best in the world—they are changing the shape of food and health globally.
So, when you define the strategic infrastructure needed to continue to forge Maranoa ahead and to complement its people, it comes down to one word: connectivity. It is a continual investment in telecommunications and transport infrastructure that connects our products to the world that will create the innovation and wealth that will make Maranoa a community of choice for people to live in and do business.
Rolling out the NBN to more than 68,000 households and businesses right across Maranoa over the next two years is paramount, but complementing this with mobile phone connectivity is essential. The businesses of Maranoa are operating multimillion dollar cutting-edge technology that requires connectivity to engage in a global economy.
It is not just about the economic benefits of providing these digital tools; there are social responsibilities that need to be met by us as a government. The benefits of telehealth have huge potential for not only improving health outcomes in regional and remote areas but also saving money for patients and taxpayers by reducing significant travel and hospital costs. More importantly, telehealth will allow people to be treated closer to their loved ones and homes.
In education, the coalition government's commitment to creating designated data plans for distance education students is another initiative that every Australian should be proud of. It is abhorrent to think that the quality of education for children in Maranoa and other regional electorates is determined by their postcode. This initiative keeps families from having to leave the regions and, invariably, secures the precious human capital we need to be the most productive to build better regional communities.
Physical connectivity needs to complement our investment in the digital economy. Our roads and rail are the arteries of Maranoa. While I acknowledge the social and safety benefits of the coalition's $1.6 billion investment in the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, the real beneficiary is Maranoa. The connectivity this infrastructure will provide in building efficiency into our exports will be profound and return real dollars to towns right across Maranoa. Coupled with the inland rail, which is one of the great visionary builds of our generation, it will build the framework for innovation and investment that will deliver further opportunity to Maranoa. It will create an Australian export hub right on our doorstep. These two key infrastructure assets will be further complemented by the new Wellcamp airport, which will see Maranoa's produce exported around the world and again provide Maranoa the tools of the 21st century.
The story of Maranoa from an agricultural perspective is that of 'just add water'. While, ultimately, that lies with Mother Nature, there are a number of man-made initiatives that can also play a key role in developing Maranoa and inland Australia. The Murray-Darling Basin plan has had a significant impact on communities in Maranoa. The balance has been weighted disproportionately, without an understanding of the social and economic impacts on our communities. The responsible stewardship of our water is something every Australian takes seriously, and now we have an opportunity to reset the triple bottom line.
The coalition's commitment to the $2.5 billion water fund is a significant step in acknowledging the power of water to local regional economies. This initiative has set the foundation to reset the mindset around water usage to one predicated on science and technology and not a blind green agenda.
The coalition government has committed to exploring two projects that could potentially transform communities across Maranoa. Transferring the nearly 150,000 megalitres of recycled water a year from Brisbane to the Darling Downs could potentially contribute to addressing the triple bottom line sought in the Murray-Darling plan. Building a business case for the Emu Swamp Dam will potentially also give just as much significance proportionately to the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt region. Having worked in banking in Stanthorpe, I can assure you of the value that a megalitre of water can contribute to not only the agricultural sector but the entire community.
Water infrastructure will not only stimulate Maranoa; it will build resilience for dry times. There are many locations in the central west and south west where water infrastructure opportunities are limited. But the coalition's investment in dog fencing is also building the resilience of and the opportunity of diversification for many graziers affected by drought.
The economic return to not only the producer but also regional communities is exponential, but so too are the environmental gains. The protection of vulnerable native fauna is something that this initiative has also achieved and should be supported further.
Continued infrastructure investment that connects us in Maranoa to a global economy is critical. I believe any investment by government in Maranoa would not be a handout but something that could be prosecuted on an economic case that we can demonstrate will progress not only Maranoa but the entire nation.
Maranoa contributes more per capita GDP than the Gold Coast, Toowoomba or Townsville. Three regional councils in Maranoa alone contribute more per capita than Brisbane city. Maranoa's unemployment rate of 2.62 per cent reinforces our economic credentials, our resilience and our work ethic. It is important to remember that this contribution to our nation has been achieved through one of the worst droughts in living memory over the last four years.
It would be remiss of me before I close not to pay tribute to the party people who have guided and counselled me over so many years for their tireless work during the campaign. I thank Phil and Arngel Sturgess; Jen Tunley; Denise Jeitz, who is also here today; Dawn Scrymergour; and Fiona Gaske, to name a few, for all their work. I am humbled by their support. To run a campaign across such a vast electorate with 119 booths was nothing short of a herculean effort. To Gary Spence, the LNP President in Queensland, I offer my sincere thanks for his support during the campaign. He is a friend I have truly gained through this. I thank my good friend and mentor Lawrence Springborg for his support, friendship and guidance over so many years. I can only hope that in some small way I can emulate the dignified and statesmanlike way he has held himself over a long career in public office.
I thank my National Party parliamentary colleagues, both here and in the Senate, for their congratulations and support. I am in admiration of the collegiate and nurturing culture that they have preserved as custodians of this great party and to which I now commit myself. But above all I look forward to working with each of them to progress regional and rural Australia.
In closing I would like to pay tribute to my family. My wife, Sarah, and our three boys—Tom, Hugh and Harry—are a constant pillar of support for me and for that I am truly grateful. I also pay tribute to my parents, Brian and Peta Littleproud, who have shaped me into the person I am today. I have had a privileged upbringing not in a material sense but in that I have never wanted for anything that I have needed. For that I am eternally grateful.
I am proud to say that I am the product of Maranoa. It has allowed me to build a career, start a business, travel the world and, above all, raise a family. No matter how long I am given the privilege to represent the people of Maranoa, if the only thing I achieve is to provide those same opportunities to our current children and the generations to come I will have succeeded, and that is all I ask. Thank you.
It is indeed a great privilege to give my first speech in this great place as the member for Mayo. Mayo stretches from Springton at the southern tip of Eden Valley along the length of the Adelaide Hills, down the Fleurieu to the mouth of the mighty Murray and across the south coast, including the southern vales and the jewel in the Mayo crown: Kangaroo Island. In total it covers over 9,300 square kilometres, encompassing more than 35 townships, seven wine regions, highly arable farmland and incredible wildlife.
I am the first woman in 115 years to represent my region that has been known as Mayo since 1984. It was previously part of the former seat of Angas. This is a great honour bestowed upon me by my community of Mayo and I will remember this opportunity each and every day that I am our member.
I am the first member of the Nick Xenophon Team to be elected to the House of Representatives. We represent the sensible middle ground where decisions are made through community engagement and the application of common sense, not partisan political ideology. As I stand here I am reminded of a speech given in this place by the Hon. Don Chipp in March 1977 after resigning from the Liberal Party. He said:
The parties seem to polarise on almost every issue, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it, and I wonder whether the ordinary voter is not becoming sick and tired of the vested interests which unduly influence the present political parties and yearn for the emergence of a third political force, representing middle of the road policies which would owe allegiance to no outside pressure group.
Although spoken nearly 40 years ago, I believe those words are more relevant today than they were back in 1977. I look forward to more diverse representation, a growing crossbench and a vision of this place returning to what the Fathers of Federation intended: a place that is the genuine contest of ideas on how best to safeguard the future prosperity of Australia for all Australians.
We must as representatives of our nation move away from short-term fixes to sensible, informed and evidence based planning. The long-term prosperity of our nation depends on it. We must as a nation move away from language that is divisive and hurtful. 'Lifters' and 'leaners', the 'taxed' and the 'not taxed'—this language does not bring us together; it divides us. It is not helpful, true or necessary. I was a single mum for many years. Parenting is, I believe, the hardest job in the world, and single parenting is doubly so. I was so busy trying to make ends meet, picking up as many hours as I could to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. I would have been heartbroken at that time to think that my government did not see value in me and my family, that I was not earning enough to be a contributor to our country. We must remember that the greatest group of 'not taxed' in our nation is our senior citizens, who continue to 'lift' and contribute enormously to our nation. We must remember that our senior citizens have already paid their fair share of tax. They, like any other Australian who happens to be at home or at work, are completely undeserving of such a label. Each of us has capacity to contribute to the nation, and that contribution should not be valued or devalued based on how big the dollar figure is on our taxation return.
As a South Australian, I want to talk candidly about the challenges facing my state. We helped to build this nation, and the manufacturing industry helped to build our great state, providing a great livelihood for many hardworking South Australians. My beloved South Australia is at a precipice. I am an avid student of our history and I do not believe there has been a more challenging time for South Australia since the Great Depression. South Australia was once the industrial powerhouse of Australia. We made the steel, built the fridges, washing machines and even clotheslines for generations of Australians. We built the ships and the submarines, and we built many of the cars too: Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Holden. My dad worked at Mitsubishi's Lonsdale factory until it closed. He was very proud of the cars he made and earned a wage that ensured that my sister and I had a good education and everything we needed.
Sadly, the era of being able to purchase an Australian car from the assembly line at Holden is coming to a close, and I believe it is an untimely close that was exacerbated by politics, particularly the politics of 'free market, no matter the consequence'. Gone with the ability for Australians to build and purchase an Australian car is the financial stability and livelihoods of thousands of South Australians. The impending closure of Holden is premature in the sense that there has been little time or opportunity for South Australia to successfully transition to new industries. Should Arrium's Whyalla Steelworks also close, it will be disastrous for South Australia and Australia. We must, as a nation, continue to manufacture steel; to not support this industry is risking our nation's ability to build quality infrastructure into the future.
I would like to draw to the parliament's attention the issues facing rural Australia and, in particular, rural South Australia. In recent times, the political narrative has emphasised the need for Australia to be more agile and to be innovative. I believe rural Australia and in particular primary producers have led the way in innovation and ingenuity. By way of example, Kangaroo Island in my electorate is a place where, despite the enormous challenges brought on by its remoteness and geographic isolation, the businesses and community have shown themselves to be entrepreneurial, through collaboration and through the pursuit of excellence. As a result, they are leaders in artisan food production. And so our regional farming communities must be supported to be part of the future investment in innovation; the 'ideas boom' must include a regional and rural focus. There is enormous potential for young people, in particular, to develop new business opportunities in farming and food production, and I would urge the government to ensure that investment in innovation is not solely concentrated in our eastern capital cities.
By the year 2050 our world population is predicted to be 10 billion. The continent of Asia, our nearest neighbour, is expected to be 5.2 billion of this global population, with a growing middle class. With a global population of10 billion, Australia'sability to continue to produce some of the best quality food in the world will be our greatest asset.For South Australia and, in particular, Mayo, the growing global population will provide enormous opportunity, particularly given our diverse agricultural, horticultural and viticultural industries, which include apples, pears, cherries, grapes, dairy, grains and beef cattle production to name just a few.
In South Australia our dairy industry has shrunk from more than 667 farms to just 250 farms since deregulation. Dairy farmers work seven days a week, even at sunrise and sunset. Previous governments advocated for dairy deregulation and we now have an industry that is suffering for a multitude of reasons. I believe it is incumbent upon government not just to offer loans to farmers, which encourages more debt, but to properly assist this industry to have a sustainable future.
In recent years the value of South Australia's agricultural industry has been overshadowed by mining. However, it is worth noting that in 2015 only 12,700 people in South Australia were employed in the mining industry, compared to more than 40,000 people in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. Challenges for our farmers will include increasing food supply, encroaching urban sprawl and competing demands for water. We need to ensure that the policies implemented support rural Australia and do not make it harder to remain on the land.
With a growing global population and the world looking to feed its own countries, we will face increasing pressure of foreign purchasing of our most arable farm land. Whilst the Foreign Investment Review Board threshold has recently been lowered, I believe that the threshold is still too high and fails to protect our sovereignty. I am not against foreign investment in Australia, but investment and ownership are two different things, and once we sell the farm it will be near impossible to buy it back.
The other major challenge facing our nation is our aging population. A decade ago Australia had a population where 14.5 million people were aged under 50 years. Only 1.6 per cent of the population were aged 85 years or older. By the year 2050, the percentage of Australians aged 85 years or older is expected to increase to nearly seven per cent As a result, we will be faced with the challenge of a declining total workforce participation rate. Also, a decade ago we as a nation had five working people for every person aged over 64 years, and this will shrink to just three people. For South Australia, the oldest mainland state, we will feel the effect of this even more, and, for my electorate of Mayo, we will feel it the most. Victor Harbor is the town with the biggest population of over-75-year-olds in South Australia. Goolwa and Mount Barker are also within the top 10 of South Australia's most elderly populations.
Whilst I have talked extensively about the high-quality farmland and produce within Mayo and the value of farming to our nation more generally, it must be highlighted that the agricultural industry is also an aging industry. Australian farmers are considerably older than other workers. In 2011, the median age for farmers was 53 years of age, and just 13 per cent of farmers were aged 35 years or younger. We need to ensure, as an industry, that it is attractive for young people to enter primary production. We need to ensure there are entry points for young people to build primary production businesses, that they are rewarded for their work and that they have confidence in their ability to farm into the future. Most importantly, this includes certainty in being able to access water.
On that note, I would like to touch upon the future of young people in Australia. I am a firm believer that, if the first experience a young person has when leaving education is to end up on the unemployment queue, then we as a nation have failed them. South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in the nation and the highest youth unemployment in mainland Australia. In the Adelaide Hills our official youth unemployment rate is more than 17 per cent. However, this is really a hidden number because, once a young person is in work for just a couple of hours, they are no longer counted as unemployed.
Realistically, when you combine youth unemployment and underemployment, you are talking about one in three young people not working as much as they would like to or are able to. The tragedy for South Australia is that we are losing our best and brightest young people. And even when they do not want to go, they are being pulled interstate because that is where the jobs are, and few ever return. This is unacceptable. A sustainable community, a vibrant community, let alone a sustainable state, cannot haemorrhage so much of its youth interstate. To ensure that this issue is properly addressed, we need to have a dedicated minister for youth. To not have a dedicated minister for youth in this parliament is an opportunity lost.
The reality is: if we value older Australians being looked after well into their retirement, we need to ensure we have full youth employment, not youth unemployment at more than double the mainstream unemployment rate. It is simply future-proofing. Contributing significantly to our youth unemployment rate is the reality that every year fewer and fewer entry-level jobs exist. When I left school, if you wanted to get a job, you did not need experience or qualifications; you could be a filing clerk or a junior hand. All were a good start. All led to something if you worked hard. Those jobs do not exist anymore.
We are also setting up young people to fail. University was free for young people in the 1970s and for most of the eighties. Now young people face huge costs to attend university, and the threat of deregulation of the sector and expensive course fees hang over their heads. This parliament must tackle housing affordability and all those policies, including negative gearing, that are making home ownership an elusive dream for too many young people.
In this parliament we need to address the lack of opportunities for young people if we want to address the effect of our aging population. Even simply providing traineeship opportunities in each and every one of our electorate offices and Senate offices would provide more than 650 career starts for young people over the term of a parliament. To quote author Jennifer Rayner in her book Generation Less:
A country that makes no room for the young is a country that will forfeit a fair future. This must not become Australia.
Fewer than 1,200 people since Federation have had the privilege of standing in the House of Representatives on behalf of their community. No person gets to this position alone, and so I have many people to thank who tirelessly supported me since my announcement as a candidate back in December 2015. Firstly, I thank Senator Nick Xenophon, who is here today, who not only gave me opportunity to run as a candidate but has been and continues to be a great mentor and a good friend. I thank my husband, Nathan, my confidant and best friend. I would not be here if it were not for your love and support. To my three children, Edward, William and Evelyn, thank you for your patience and understanding and also for believing in me.
I thank my parents, Tina and George—they are here tonight—for their courage to immigrate as a young couple with a baby on their knee to this great country. With little money in their pockets, they left their families and all they knew in the hope that they could give that baby, me, a better life. Thank you for picking South Australia as our home—although I do smile when I think that my mum selected South Australia from a map of Australia and thought the salt lakes of South Australia's outback, especially Lake Eyre and Lake Torrens, would be good places to picnic on Sundays because they reminded her of the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan and Ohio in her home country of the United States. No matter what your methodology for choosing, you made the best choice.
And I thank the many hundreds of volunteers who stood in the rain for me and a special group of campaign volunteers who met with me each week to strategise and share ideas. I am grateful for your tenacity, political knowledge and vision, and I know for many of you it was at great personal sacrifice after decades of allegiance to a different political party.
Finally, I thank the people of Mayo. Thank you for coming out to the community forums I held across the electorate, to the sausage sizzles in parks in summer and the community centres we filled during winter and every country show. Thank you for sharing what matters to you; what matters to us. This is the start of our conversation and I very much look forward to continuing this dialogue that will lead to action for our community. Thank you for taking a chance on me, for changing our political landscape. There is no greater honour than to represent you in our nation's capital. I will do everything I can to keep democracy as close as possible to our communities so that your voice is heard. My focus, my energy, my heart will be dedicated to making Mayo matter.