Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you on your appointment.
I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the land of the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples and I thank them and acknowledge their elders past and present. I would also like to acknowledge the Dharawal people of my own electorate and the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and thank them for their support and such positive encouragement throughout the election campaign. I would also like to acknowledge our Aboriginal colleagues: Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Jacqui Lambie, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the Hon. Ken Wyatt and the Hon. Linda Burney. It is a truly historic time that we welcome so many Indigenous members of parliament and we can all tackle the large discrepancies in Indigenous health, incarceration rates, child removal and workforce participation which have been a national shame for far too long.
When it was suggested I stand for preselection for Macarthur for the Labor Party, I was very greatly honoured. Subsequently, to win the election by such a significant margin was very, very humbling, but I do feel a great weight of expectation upon my shoulders and I will do my best to fulfil those expectations. I would like to thank the previous member for Macarthur, Russell Matheson. Even though we are on opposite sides, he is a decent man and I wish him well. I thank him for his good wishes after the election. It is with great pride that I hold the seat previously held by the Hon. John Kerin during the time of the Whitlam Labor government—a time of my political awakening—and who later was the member for Werriwa and a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments. I would also like to acknowledge the previous Labor members for Macarthur: Colin Hollis, Stephen Martin and Chris Haviland. They served the area well, but it has been 20 years since Macarthur has had a Labor member.
The seat of Macarthur is one of the most rapidly growing areas in Australia. It was originally a farming area, the original Cowpastures. It is now named after John and Elizabeth Macarthur, the founders of the Australian merino wool industry. I am pleased to report their descendants still live in the area. Macarthur has rapidly become urbanised and its population of 150,000 is increasing every day. Macarthur embraces many suburbs, including old areas of Campbelltown, Ingleburn and Minto and the newer areas of Harrington Park, Oran Park, Gregory Hills and Currans Hill. There is great diversity in Macarthur. There are large areas of public housing, but also significant areas with house prices well over $1 million.
A baby having begun crying in the gallery—
I like that sound. Whilst the demographics are changing, the area is predominantly one of young families looking to the future with optimism. It has been my great privilege to care for the children of Macarthur for over 30 years as a paediatrician.
The story of Macarthur is the story of its people and the enormous resource they are. Macarthur, as I have mentioned, has many areas of disadvantage, but also areas of great affluence. It has many people prominent in the arts, music and academia. It has prominent business people as well as many high-profile sportspeople. It has a strong, well-educated workforce with a significant manufacturing base even now.
I intend to make sure that in Macarthur we foster local jobs so that people can work locally. I have promised to try and improve our local infrastructure to make the quality of life better for our residents. This means making sure that all three levels of government and business work together to provide improvements in public transport, schools, roads, hospitals, industry and social policy so that everyone can feel included. I know that with cooperation at all levels we can make a big difference to how people feel about and look to the future. We can make substantial differences to people's lives. We are all in this together, and inclusion is the only approach that works. Everyone should be supported. As best as we can manage, I feel it is about taking luck out of the equation.
But having said that, I am a very lucky man. I have had a very privileged life. I am the eldest of four children. My father, Selwyn, was a dentist and president of the West Harbour rugby union club for many years.
An opposition member: Good man.
He was a very good man. My mother, Ruth, was a preschool teacher. My extended family is mostly professional and one of the oldest Jewish families in Australia. My siblings—Greg, Andrew and Lynn—have been very supportive, and I thank them for their support and encouragement.
I am proud that my great-great-grandfather Abraham Rheuben came here as a convict at age 16 and helped build the first permanent synagogue in Australia, which still stands today in Hobart. He became an alderman and successful businessman. It was said of him that he always reached out into the darkness to help those less fortunate than himself. He believed in paying his employees a wage sufficient for them to support their families. He also supported his employees when they became unwell and he supported the families whose main breadwinner had died.
My great-grandmother Jenny Scott Griffiths was a mother of 10, a prominent Labor Party leader at the turn of the century, a prominent feminist, pacifist and also the editor of the Australian Women's Weekly during the First World War. However, she was sacked from her role as editor for her anti-conscription views. She was quoted as saying, 'The world would be a better place if men stayed in the kitchen doing the cooking and cleaning and women ran the businesses.' I think it is probably still true today.
My paternal grandfather came to Australia as a cabin boy on a ship at age 13. He jumped ship in Sydney, hid from the authorities and later educated himself. He became a very successful man and he became mayor of Katoomba, the city of the Blue Mountains. Like the first settlers, yet another boat person who has done well. His wife, my grandmother Ruby Greenburg, died at the birth of my father, Selwyn, and my father, who I loved dearly, was forever regretful that he neither met nor knew his mother.
My outlook on life has been shaped by my history and, I think, also by a great deal of luck. While I have lived a fortunate life, many others have not. I trained as a paediatrician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children at Camperdown in Sydney. I am the first paediatrician to serve in this place. I have had wonderful mentors. Early in my career Dr John Davis, always known as Tubby Davis, encouraged me to be a paediatrician and supported my training. Dr Arnold Tink mentored me at the children's hospital and supported me in some very stressful times during my fellowship. Sadly, both men are no longer with us, but they were both wonderful role models for me, and I owe much of my achievements to their guidance. In my paediatric career in Macarthur, I could not have had better colleagues than Professor John Whitehall, Professor Matt Edwards, Dr Rick Dunstan, Dr Geoff Bent, Dr Caroline Cottier, Dr Katherine Allgood, Dr Sethi Ung, Dr Raymond Chin, Dr Kim Leung, Dr Bijenda Gautam and Sister Amanda Ramsay. Especially, I would like to thank my very good friends Dr Andrew McDonald—a previous shadow minister for health in the New South Wales government—and Dr Jenny McDonald for their constant support and very wise counsel over many years.
I have always been encouraged by my patients and their families. I have seen children with many different developmental problems and illnesses. I have seen them through their serious illness and seen some who have died—and I remember every one of them. I have witnessed the illnesses and heartbreaking sorrow that they have faced with bravery, candour and strength, and I marvel at the ability of children and their parents and extended families to deal with situations that would test us all.
I know the joy that can come from what, to us, are little victories—the autistic boy who at the age of 12 says 'I love you, Mum' for the first time; the intellectually handicapped girl who is finally toilet trained at the age of 10 after many years of trying; the four-year-old Bangladeshi boy with cerebral palsy who is able to swallow solids for the first time. Seeing those victories means so much to me. I am part of their journey and it has been, and continues to be, a great privilege. I have cherished every child I have seen. It was a great pleasure during the election campaign to knock on doors and see some of the people I had seen as children now grown up with families of their own.
Increasingly, it has become apparent to me that there are large inequalities in health care. though not necessarily at first sight related to health issues. Sir Michael Marmot, in Australia to deliver the Boyer lectures, talks about the social determinants of health and demonstrates that health inequalities arise from inequalities in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. They are related to inequities in power, money and resources. It was Martin Luther King who said that the most severe type of discrimination is discrimination in health care. These issues have become increasingly apparent to me over the 36 years I have spent caring for children and families. These I call 'access issues'—access to health care, access to work, access to housing and access to education.
I am old enough to have seen the tremendous burden healthcare costs caused families before the implementation of a universal health care system. Medibank—as it was first called—only became a reality in Australia after a double dissolution election was forced on the Whitlam government and the subsequent parliamentary joint sitting. Even then, the Fraser Liberal government sought to emasculate the core principle of universality, only for it to be restored by the Hawke Labor government in 1984. Medicare was the Australian Labor Party's great gift to the Australian people and it is a gift that we intend to see keeps on giving. It has been under siege many times in the last 40 years by reactionary forces and vested interests both inside and outside the medical profession. Labor—only Labor—has constantly fought to protect it, especially bulk-billing. We do need to adapt and refine Medicare as our world changes, but we must maintain a universal healthcare system and make sure that all Australians have access to the best health care.
There have been remarkable advances in health care in the last few years, and I have been lucky enough to witness them. We will continue to advance such things as whole genome sequencing, looking at the genetic basis of disease, and pharmacogenetics, looking at individual pharmacological treatments. Robotic surgery and endoscopic surgery have caused dramatic improvements in care, and we must make sure that we maintain equality of access to these evolving technologies.
I have always tried to do my best to support the children and the families I have seen—emotionally and socially, as well as medically. I have tried to get them through what are sometimes traumatic and stressful periods. I have always made myself available to them. However, for some time I have been concerned about these access difficulties, particularly for my patients with disabilities. Recently, I saw a family of five children who I have known for many years. Both parents were working. One of the younger children was born with multiple congenital abnormalities and is quite disabled. We had just managed to get some school support—including modification of the school itself—in place for this little girl at her local school when the family came to see me on an urgent basis. Unfortunately, the house they were renting was being sold and they had to move. They did not feel they would be able to afford to rent in the local area and they felt they would never be able to afford to buy a house of their own. They would have to move to another area and we would have to start all over again the whole process of organising school support, as well as medical supports. This was going to make life very difficult for the family.
This was related to non-medical difficulties such as housing affordability and having access to stable housing, which makes ongoing care very difficult. A permanent place of residence is very important, particularly if your child has a disability requiring physical, educational and health supports. I have also seen an increasing number of children recently whose families feel they have been excluded from specialist care such as ear, nose and throat surgery, ophthalmic surgery, paediatric surgery and mental health support. Some families are placed in a position where the gap cost is so much they cannot afford to access specialist care, as very few specialists bulk bill. This is not the Australia that I want. The WHO tells us that our healthcare costs are not unaffordable. We spend about 9½ or 10 per cent of our GDP on health care. In some developed countries, such as the United States, it is up to 17 per cent of GDP—for worse care.
According to the latest census data—the latest accurate census data, I should say!—there are significant and increasing wealth discrepancies in Australia. For example, the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australian households control 60 per cent of total household net worth; the bottom 20 per cent control only one per cent of household net worth. The proportion of Australian households owning their own homes—as we know—is steadily decreasing.
I believe it is only the Labor Party, with its policies of social justice, including equality in health care, equality in education and social policy, that can provide a framework of equity and equality for all Australian families, and that is what I care about.
That is why I am here today. Labor's economic policies, such as the reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax, as well as changes to the superannuation system, are necessary if we are to have a fairer country and restore the capacity of the Commonwealth to provide new programs and initiatives. My overwhelming belief is that we are all in this together, and we should judge a society by how it treats its most disadvantaged and most powerless. Supporting these people is something that is the responsibility of us all. For example, a proper rollout of the NDIS will make an enormous difference to these children and to these families that I see. I am determined to see the NDIS rolled out as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. It is extremely gratifying, I must say, to know that the NDIS has bipartisan support, but the rollout has been slow and some severely handicapped people are struggling to access care.
Very briefly, there are some issues that we also need to address that are long overdue. I am a 63-year-old conservative, middle-class doctor; society has changed a lot in my time. I was born and I grew up in a different era. However, there are some issues that we must act on now. My position on Australia's refugee policy is well known. We must also act on marriage equality. This, to me, is a human rights issue, and as elected representatives we must vote for marriage equality. The plebiscite is a divisive, non-binding and expensive sideshow. I have been happily married for 36 years, and I would not deny that right to anyone. I also want the children of the same-sex couples that I see to have the same uncontestable rights as my children and my grandchildren. We also must have constitutional recognition of our Indigenous people: it is long overdue and will partially redress some of the wrongs of the past. Many people in our nation remain ignorant of the entrenched disparities and mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. I can recall very well, as a teenager, thinking it both wrong and simply downright odd that Aboriginal people had only just been given full voting rights and that, as late as 1967, the federal parliament was still prohibited from making laws to advance their welfare and protect their interests. Fifty years from now, my own grandchildren may well look back and wonder how it could possibly be that, for close to 120 years, the Australian Constitution—our national compact—did not fully recognise our country's first inhabitants. History is a tough judge, particularly of those who oppose change for no good reason or—worse still—out of ignorance, fear or prejudice. We must not ignore this part of our past and present any longer. We must act for the future and recognise the original owners of this country. I also believe, in order to move forward, we must become a republic.
I have come some distance over time, and I have many people to thank. My parents are no longer with us, but I loved them dearly and I think they would be proud of me—although I think my father would have probably been prouder if I had played for the Wallabies. I thank my state colleagues, Greg Warren, the member for Campbelltown; Anoulack Chanthivong, the member for Macquarie Fields; and my federal colleagues, Chris Hayes and the now retired Laurie Ferguson, who have tirelessly encouraged, supported and pushed me all the way. I thank Kaila Murnain, General Secretary of the NSW ALP, for the support and encouragement she has given me. I also thank, and I acknowledge the support of, the affiliated unions of Unions NSW, especially Gerard Hayes from the HSU, and the TWU. I would like to thank the Campbelltown councillors who supported me, in particular Meg Oates and Rudi Kolkman, who supported me so diligently. I also thank my branch members from the Camden, Campbelltown and Ingleburn branches, and Pauline and Ray James from the veterans community. I am grateful, too, to my campaign crew, who have stuck with me: Jennifer Light, Jess Malnersic, Jason Cranson, Raymond Pham, Amy Mulcahy, Mitch Wright, Kathryn Miller, Karen Hunt, Emily Baldwin, George Brticevic, Darcy Lound and my cousin Scott Whitmont—who is here today—and all the wonderful Young Labor supporters. They all gave me great support and put up with me over a long campaign. I certainly could not have done it without them. Thanks also to my secretary, Cheryl Roberts, who has provided continual support in my practice for over 30 years and puts up with my eccentricities. I want to also acknowledge—and this is really important—my newly elected NSW colleagues: Emma Hussar, Emma McBride, Susan Templeman, Anne Stanley, Linda Burney and Meryl Swanson. They have been a wonderful support for me as well, as the only newly elected male Labor member from NSW. They certainly prove that two X chromosomes are better than one! I particularly thank Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, and the Labor Party front bench, Chris Bowen, Ed Husic, Tony Burke, Stephen Jones, Jason Clare, Joel Fitzgibbon, Deb O'Neil, Andrew Leigh, Sharon Bird and all their colleagues, who have been tremendously supportive and encouraging of me. I am also grateful to the people of Macarthur. I am conscious of the expectations they have of me, and I promise to do my best to fulfil them.
I have of course left the best till last. To my children, William, Edward, Eliza, Amelia, Rheuben and Rosetta: you cannot know how much I love you and how proud I am of you. I am so grateful for your support. I know I am not a perfect parent, but no-one could love you more. I love my grandchildren, Julian, Verity, Hamish, Archie and Jarvis, and to my daughter-in-law, Laura, and son-in-law, Greg: you are wonderful supports to me and I love you dearly. To my wife, Sharon: you are my muse. Marrying you is the best thing I ever did. You are more beautiful every day, more perceptive and more wise. I cannot imagine this journey without you. I do not know how you cope with me, our six kids, and managing all of our household crises, minor and major, almost as a single parent. I love you more than ever. We have many more exciting adventures to come.
So I am here today for no other reason than to try and make life better for the children and the families that I have cared for over a long period of time. I want them all to do well. I love seeing them still and I will always be available to them. I look forward to working constructively as the 45th Parliament gets to work; there are some urgent things that we need to do, and some important changes that need to happen. As always, I look forward to the future with optimism. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the House.
As a child, the sound of my mother's footsteps coming towards my bedroom to wake me in the morning was a reassuring feature of daily life. Inevitably I was awake before she made the door but the rhythm, the sound and the intensity of her walk were unmistakable. Each morning the moment would arrive when she would fling the door open with that effervescent greeting, 'Time to rise and shine'.
Twenty years ago this month, my mother approached my room to wake me but it was with a very different sound, pace and tempo. Seared on my mind from that night was the speed of her approach and her scream as she flung open the door of my bedroom, sobbing, 'Dad's gone; Dad's gone.'
I got up from my bed to comfort my mum, trying to calm her. I went down the hall to my father's office, where he worked late into the night for his clients. There I found his pyjamas in a pile and on the glass-topped table in the hall was a note, like so many of the notes from my father, written in red pen on the back of a used envelope. It said simply: 'I am sorry Sylvia. I just can't cope, love, John.' I felt a great emptiness ripping at my stomach. I went to the garage and saw the car was missing. We called the police and later they came round to tell us they had found my father's body at the bottom of The Gap at Watsons Bay.
There is a point in life when you are supposed to become a man. As I stood on the veranda and watched the sun come up that morning, I knew my day had come. My father loved music. He played 2CH on the radio from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to bed. Easy listening music was the soundtrack of my childhood, but the day he died the music died with him, and it was years before I could listen to his music again without tearing up.
Over the past 20 years, I have gone back over the week leading up to my father's death too many times, and I keep thinking back to the signs he was giving us. Although we had always been a family that hugged each other, my father had started giving us all these very long hugs. My father prided himself on being a great car parker, and yet the week before he died he did not seem to care how he parked. In hindsight, it was clear that something had changed. I knew it, but I did not say anything. You ask yourself: 'What could I have done? What should I have said? Could I have reached out in a way that I did not? Could I have said, as we say now, "Are you OK?"'
I reflect on my own conduct the night before my father died, when he asked if I could help him polish his shoes before he left for a dinner at my brother's school. I remember as a self-absorbed 20-year old the petulance and rudeness with which I waived away the opportunity to help my father, a man who so often helped me, and there is not a day that I do not regret it. Suicide, they used to say, is a victimless crime, but they never count the loved ones left behind.
In the past 20 years we have changed our approach to suicide, depression and mental health. And, while there has rightly been a focus on the mental health of adolescents and young people, we must remember people suffering at other stages in their lives are equally important. And, sadly, the number of older people taking their own lives is increasing. My own father was 55.
In these past 20 years, we have spent millions on mental health and suicide prevention. Every government has tried but, despite all the good will, it is a fight we are losing. In my own electorate we have had more than 100 people take their own lives in the last eight years. Across Australia eight people die by suicide every day. All this shows that government money alone will not solve this epidemic. Treating depression as a medical issue is not working. Rather, we need to rebuild caring communities where people know and notice the signs and acknowledge the people around them; where we ask, 'Are you okay?' or, more directly and importantly, 'Are you contemplating suicide?' And we need to create the conditions where those who are thinking about suicide feel comfortable enough to ask for help.
Through my work in this place, I want to help empower Australians to build a greater sense of community. I have seen active engagement in community combat loneliness and enable people to see a world outside themselves. In a society where people are more pressured and more isolated than ever before, active engagement in community fosters civility, courtesy and understanding—virtues that are all too often undervalued and supplanted by anger. There is a role for government in supporting organisations and individuals that reach out to the socially isolated in our community, even in the face of continued rejection. And there is a role for government in fostering innovative solutions that address suicide prevention. I hope that those innovative solutions will enable communities to learn from what has worked and connect other efforts across our country. I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister's personal interest in suicide prevention and the leadership he and the Minister for Health and Aged Care took in devising the National Suicide Prevention Strategy. As a member of this House I want to do what I can to pierce the loneliness, the desperation and the blackness that people who suffer depression feel. During my time here I will always be an advocate for better mental health policy.
When I think of my father, though, mostly I think not of the way he died but, rather, of the way he lived. My father, John, was an only child. His father was a pharmacist. His mother and her family escaped Nazi Germany in 1936 for the freedom and sanctuary of Australia. My father was an accountant. He had his own practice at Parramatta. As I child I would go with him to the office or visit clients in their homes, businesses and factories. He knew their lives, their families and their ups and downs: when they succeeded and when they struggled, when they were failing and when they were flourishing. He was a friend they saw once a year to help them comply with the law and get their affairs in order. But even more than that he was an adviser on how they could get on with and grow their businesses. To the extent that I become an effective member for Berowra, it will be because of Dad's example of professionalism, trust and care in working for his clients and the personal touch they loved him for.
Dad was a man much involved in his community. He sat on the board of our local synagogue. He sat on a theatre board. He was involved in the school my brother and I attended. Dad was hardworking and diligent and prided himself on doing things properly and by the book. He was quiet, unassuming, patient and slow to anger. He had a husky voice that made him sound like Louis Armstrong. He and my mother, Sylvia, gave me three great gifts: my life, my faith and my education.
My father instilled in my brother Lindsay and me an important set of values: courtesy, civility and fair dealing with everyone with whom he interacted; the need to give back to the community and get involved; and a deep sense of faith and love of the joys of Judaism. He gave us a strong sense, shared by all Jews, that our story is part of a much larger story; that we should be, in Jonathan Sacks' words, 'true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith'. While I do not always live up to my father's ideals, his are the fundamental values which have shaped my life. There is a Jewish idea that one should bring joy, or 'naches', to one's parents. I hope that my election to this place would have brought him as much naches as it has brought my mother and the rest of my family.
It is to my mother, Sylvia, that I owe the greatest thanks for being here today. Her courage and her unconditional love for my brother and me has sustained our family through celebrations and sorrows. With her unshakable belief that anything was possible for her boys, she created a home filled with love, stability and opportunity. Nothing has ever been too much for her. But of all her gifts to us, the enthusiasm for active citizenship, the patriotism she instilled in my brother and me and the fact that, hopefully, we are happy, well-rounded and grateful Australians, is her greatest contribution.
My mother, Sylvia, is a fifth-generation Australian. Her grandfather was a Gallipoli Anzac and rode in the charge of the light horse at Be'er Sheva. Her mother, Barbara, who passed away last week aged 95, served as a nurse in the Australian Army during the Second World War. Mum's father, Sam, served in the ill-fated 8th Division. He was taken prisoner in Changi and survived the horrors of the Burma Railway. The war left my grandfather with a stammer and a steely determination. What kept him alive in those dark days was a dream to come home and start his own hardware business, which he did after the war, employing many of his fellow former POWs. The prosperity that my grandfather created was due to his hard work and ingenuity in predicting the need for building supplies to meet a postwar building boom.
My mother's Anglo-Jewry gave her a particular take on being an Australian. Fiercely patriotic about Australia and loyal to the Crown, she realised the historical peculiarity to be both Jewish and free, and that had such an impact on me. As I grew up towards the end of the Cold War, with its threat to freedom everywhere, my mother would constantly remind us of the responsibility that comes with the freedom we enjoy in Australia—to be thankful for it and to preserve it whenever it is threatened—because, as she would teach me, most people in most places at most times are not free.
When I was a child my mother read to me about Australia's history and explained how our own family's story fitted into the broader Australian story—a story of explorers, soldiers, farmers, shopkeepers and professionals, people willing to chance their arm, who carved out a country in this physically isolated but socially tolerant land. My own contribution to this story will be influenced by the combination of my father's quiet virtues and my mother's perhaps slightly less quiet, but always deeply patriotic, civic virtues.
It was that instilled sense of history and an early interest in politics that prompted me to want to serve in this place. And so around the time of my 10th birthday I asked my parents not for a BMX bike or a cricket bat but for a copy of the Australian Constitution. I think the Latin term for such behaviour is 'nerdus maximus'.
Our Constitution is unique and worthy of celebration. It belongs to everyone. It was written and debated all over the country, led by that great generation of liberal and conservative barrister-parliamentarians. Americans and Canadians wrote their constitutions in secret. Modern constitutions tend to be written by legal academics. But the Australian Constitution was written in Australia, by Australians, for Australian conditions: from the School of Arts at Tenterfield to the courthouse at Corowa; from the drawing rooms of Adelaide to the libraries of Hobart; in parliamentary chambers in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne; and, of special significance for me, on the Hawkesbury River, in the Berowra electorate, on a paddle-steamer called the Lucinda,where our first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, and our first Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, drafted the judicial power of the Commonwealth.
The Australian Constitution has provided the basis for stable government and economic prosperity for over a century. At a time when constitutional structures and political systems around the world are breaking down, Australia's constitutional achievement should be a source of enormous pride. Our Constitution establishes our unique Australian democracy. The Constitution matters as much for what it does not say as for what it does. Our Constitution contains no symbolic language and no bill of rights. Its sparse legal language is its strength. It has meant that only the most creative judges have been able to invent implied rights to frustrate the democratic will.
The Constitution has figured prominently in my career and contributions to the public debate. As the youngest elected delegate at the 1998 Constitutional Convention, I remain a committed constitutional monarchist, like my friend and former employer, the member for Warringah. I see it as the best system of government of all the available alternatives.
In 2009, I worked with a broad cross-section of Australians to ensure the defeat of an Australian bill of rights because I believe in the capacity of the political process to solve problems, and I am against an American-style judiciary which makes political, rather than legal, decisions because of their bill of rights. In 2013, with the members for Goldstein and Mitchell and some senators from the other place, I led a scrappy but successful insurgency against Labor's plans to have the Commonwealth intervene in local government.
In important public debates, in a time of increasing polarisation of views, we need people who can build consensus and find the middle ground. And so in more recent times, I have worked with Indigenous leaders and constitutional conservatives to find a constitutional way to make better policy about, and give due recognition of, Indigenous Australians while avoiding the downsides of inserting symbolic language into a technical document which requires interpretation by judges.
Today, the Constitution has an important role to play in the next chapter of Australia's unfinished economic reforms. The next item on our reform agenda must be to address the inefficiencies in our federation. The states and the Commonwealth should have more clearly delineated responsibilities and the finances to deliver them. Instead, today, we have a system of buck-passing, duplication and inefficiency; a lopsided federation that the framers would not recognise.
Canberra should not have a monopoly on finance and policy. It has become fashionable to think that whenever the states fail Canberra will do a better job. But pink batts, school halls and the Mersey hospital demonstrate that service delivery is not always Canberra's forte. Canberra collects too much tax, while every year the states come begging because they do not raise enough money to finance their own services. Addressing this dissonance in our federation should deliver less red tape, less duplication, better roads, better schools and better hospitals designed and run to meet local needs. It should also lead to greater policy innovation as competition between the states drives excellence.
I have had the privilege of working for two of Australia's great federalists, High Court Justice Ian Callinan, who honours me with his presence here today, and Professor Greg Craven. I have also spent several years thinking about federalism as the vice-president of the Samuel Griffith Society. I am not the first person to seek to propose reform of the federation on a federalist model. Coalition and Labor politicians have pursued this option before, but every time such solutions have been proposed, they have been undermined by short-term politicking. Previous economic reforms had a greater chance of success when there was cross-party consensus. The same approach is needed to the reform our federation today.
We know the task is to deliver the states more of their own source revenue and to lighten Canberra's footprint in areas of policy for which it has little expertise. What has been lacking is the political cooperation to make it happen. I, therefore, propose to look for reform partners in all parties in this parliament to establish a group to build consensus for reform of fiscal federalism. Reform of this scale can be daunting, and while we may not complete the task while we are in this place, nor are we free to desist from it.
But by far my most important task is to serve the people of Berowra with the full measure of my devotion. The electorate of Berowra was created in 1969, and runs from the banks of the Hawkesbury River to the M2 motorway. The people of Berowra are community minded and self-reliant. That is why there is a greater number of volunteers, people of faith and small business owners than in many other communities. Despite its strengths, the Berowra community is one that faces major infrastructure challenges. Pennant Hills Road is one of the worst roads in Australia. But now, Liberal state and federal governments are working with the private sector to deliver NorthConnex, which will remove 5,000 trucks from Pennant Hills Road every day, improving air quality and reducing noise while completing the missing national transport link between the M1 and the M2.
It is not the only infrastructure issue we face. Other roads, like New Line Road, need widening to take into account the growing population in the electorate and in surrounding areas. And the undulating hills and sparse population in the rural areas make mobile connectivity difficult. But the coalition's Mobile Black Spot Program is starting to address this infrastructure challenge.
I wish to thank the people of Berowra for giving me the extraordinary opportunity to serve them. My first duty will always be to them. I would like to thank the members of the Liberal Party in Berowra, and my friends and supporters beyond that organisation, for all their work to see me come into this place. Many have travelled vast distances and waited many hours to be here today. The best way I can demonstrate my gratitude to them is through the quality of my service here. In that, I hope to emulate the style of my three predecessors: Philip Ruddock, who through his record term helped build an ethnically diverse country with strong secure borders; Professor Harry Edwards, who was a leading economic thinker on microfinancing; and one of Australia's most distinguished lawyers, the first member for Berowra, Tom Hughes AO QC, who is here in the gallery today.
I am also honoured that my friend Heather Henderson, the daughter of Sir Robert Menzies, is here today. For 6½ years I had the privilege of running the centre named after her father, and I acknowledge Tom Harley, my chairman at the Menzies Research Centre, who is here. Sir Robert Menzies was a poor country boy from a one-horse town, who by dint of his own hard work and intellect rose to lead his profession, his party and his nation. Our task as Liberals is to create the conditions so the next generation's Robert Menzies can rise and thrive. I am conscious of the huge responsibility involved in being the Liberal member for Berowra and I will seek to carry on Sir Robert Menzies's traditions of policy and principle in all I do in this place.
Finally, I wish to thank my wife, Joanna. If my parents gave me the foundations for a good and worthwhile life in years past, it is Joanna who anchors me in the present and always points me forward with optimism to the future. She more than any other is the reason I am here. Joanna introduced me to Berowra. It was her home before it was mine. I could not have embarked on this journey without her. She is smart, accomplished, beautiful and challenging, and she has never lost faith in me. She is, in fact, perfect in every way, except for that occasion 11 years ago when her judgement clearly failed her and she decided to marry me. Joanna, I love you with all my heart.
Every new member comes into this place with life experience from which they can draw strength. I come here with the certain knowledge that no-one lives a perfect life, that we all need help and community in good times and hard times, but I draw strength from the example of my family. I draw strength from my faith. I draw strength from Australia's traditions of service. And I draw strength from our unique Australian story of progress epitomized by the stories of the individuals who persevered and wrote our Constitution. Reform is never easy but the opportunity to participate in the public debate and advocate for the cause I believe in—a strong, free, confident and prosperous Australia—fills me with the greatest enthusiasm.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton, and congratulations on your ascension to that position. It is certainly an incredible honour to be able to stand in this place as a representative of the people of the electorate of Murray. There is a huge sense of humility that engulfs a member when they are elected to the House of Representatives—well, there is with this member anyway. We all know that the 100,000-plus people who make up the electorate are relying on us to be their voice in Canberra. This responsibility can never be taken lightly.
The electorate of Murray can be largely described as the greater Goulburn Valley in north central Victoria as well as the large area in the west of the electorate, mainly comprising the Loddon shire. It is the electorate that I grew up in and it is the electorate that I am so proud to represent. I understand very clearly that the people who have put me in this place, just like the people who put everyone else in this place, expect us to do whatever we can to make their lives better.
I have certainly taken a circuitous route to this House and I understand very clearly that the role of an MP is not about us; it is about the people we represent. There is little doubt that I am somewhat an accidental politician. I was raised on a dairy farm in Congupna, about 10 kilometres north of Shepparton. I reckon I was lucky from day one to be born into a loving family. I am the youngest of seven children, with five brothers and one beautiful sister, Kerry. I give a shout out to Kerry's husband, Francis, who had an operation just yesterday. I am sure he is doing well.
My father's father was an alcoholic who drank away the family farm in the New South Wales Riverina region, so in the 1950s my dad and his two brothers made their way to the Goulburn Valley to start a new life. I was able to witness firsthand that hard work and smarts were not optional extras in one's life plans but were integral elements of any future vision. My mother was an amazing woman. I still have no idea how she was able to raise seven kids, do all the chores on the farm that she did, cook three meals a day for the old man and be Shepparton Citizen of the Year in 1978.
I went to school in Shepparton. I had a couple of years at a boarding school in the mid 1970s and then returned to Congupna to finish my schooling and complete a building apprenticeship. I left the Goulburn Valley to play footy for Geelong when I was 20. When I was 26 I bought a steel fabrication and construction business in Werribee. That business was very tough going, especially when the demands of the football industry were ever increasing. I remember having last month's bills in one hand and this month's bills turning up in the other hand, and not having the money to pay either.
It was at a time also where I too had to wear a Prime Minister who liked to brag about his Italian suits and expected us to thank him for 'the recession we had to have' and the 23 per cent interest rates that nearly forced us to the wall. It certainly strengthened my views about the Labor Party and business. But, by further investment in the manufacturing side of that business, over time we were able to turn things around. It is with considerable pride that I look back on that chapter, with memories of hard work, long hours and possibly more good decisions than bad ones.
At the end of 1993, I went to the amazing city of Sydney to work with the great Ron Barassi and spent the next five years working with the Sydney Swans, with both Ron Barassi and Rodney Eade. Barass had a favourite saying: 'If it is to be, it is up to me.' I was very lucky to have spent my first years as an assistant coach with this living legend and I learned to revel in his brutal honesty when it came to any debate. He also had another saying, which was, 'That's just your opinion. You're not necessarily right and you're not necessarily wrong; it's just your opinion.'
One of Ron's and the Swan's greatest fans is none other than the minister for transport, Darren Chester. Darren expressed a similar view in his maiden speech, which I will quote. He said:
What we believe in as political party members are our opinions. Our job is to attend parliament and to argue those opinions with all the passion and enthusiasm we have, but they are still just opinions.
To think that either side has a mortgage on what is right or what is wrong is absolute folly.
What both sides have a mortgage on is a responsibility to respect each other’s opinions.
The reason why Darren's quote and Ron Barassi's sayings are so similar is that, when Darren made that maiden speech in 2008, he was actually quoting my maiden speech that I made in the Victorian parliament in 2002, and I was actually quoting Ron Barassi and the speeches that he gave all of his life. So this might be the first maiden speech where someone actually gets to quote someone else's maiden speech where that person's maiden speech was quoting their own maiden speech from another parliament. Anyway, whoever is quoting whom, it is still true that opinions are just opinions.
In 1998, I went to Fremantle as their second senior coach, and they had been in the AFL for four years. It was an amazing opportunity and the people of Fremantle were very welcoming, as were the members of the Fremantle Golf Club, where I met many lifelong friends. I had three wonderful years in Western Australia and, whilst the success of the venture west did not flow over to the on-field component, it was a life experience that very few get to realise, and once again I acknowledge how fortunate I was to be given that role.
It is sort of poignant having seen Matthew Pavlich being hoisted onto his teammate's shoulders two weeks ago as he left the field for his final game after 17 seasons, because he has come a long way from the 17-year-old from West Torrens who said to me, 'If you draft me to Fremantle, it will be my worst nightmare come true.' Well, we did draft him and he has just finished what many would consider to be a fairytale career.
I was unceremoniously relieved of my AFL coaching duties in 2001. It was a bit like reality TV before its time, where I was informed that I had been sacked by the media, live on Channel 7. In 2002 I moved to Bendigo to coach the VFL team, the Bendigo Diggers, and at the end of that year, following a couple of phone calls from persistent politicians, I decided to run for the Upper House position in the November state election, for the Nationals.
My previous life as a builder and a footy coach has given me a healthy understanding of what the average Australian thinks of politicians. I remember very clearly the day that I announced I was going to run for the Victorian state Upper House seat of North West Province and the conversation I had with the then leader of the state National Party, Peter Ryan. He said to me, 'I want you to clearly remember what it is you think of politicians right now.' I said, 'Okay. Yeah, I've got that, but what's the point? The thoughts aren't that positive.' His answer was one I will not forget. He said, 'If you get in, you're going to meet a heap of politicians and many of them are going to be ripping people who work incredibly hard for their communities. So you're going to go in there and you're going to like them and you're going to change your mind. But the people that you represent will not get the opportunity to meet the people in the way you will, so they'll always have the opinion of politicians that you do now. So never forget it, because that's who you're actually representing.'
Fourteen years in state parliament teaches you many things—namely, it is very difficult to deliver for your people, for your electorate, when you are in opposition. It teaches you to take advantage of every day that you are in government, because you do not know how long you are going to have that opportunity.
There are other lessons, like it costs more to deliver services in rural and regional Australia than it does to deliver those same services in Melbourne and Sydney. We should always be cognisant of the cost of travel in the areas of delivery in health, policing and education. If we refuse to acknowledge the true cost of distance, then we run the risk of further embedding the imbalance between services and amenities enjoyed by our major cities as compared to those available in rural and regional Australia.
I have always considered myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of the Nationals team. Having other members actively going out of their way to assist in your development, never having to look over your shoulder, never having to worry about your side of the team and what they are doing is a tremendous advantage. I find that we are able to concentrate solely on the job of serving our people, serving our electorate, and leaving the internal politics to others.
The National Party members in the Victorian state government have built a very strong reputation for being incredibly hard workers and extremely connected to their communities. And, in good National Party tradition, they also lead the parliament in practical jokes. I have seen cars in the car park literally disappear and turn up hundreds of meters away, with no explanation as to how that happened. I have found a disused forklift wheel in the backseat of my car, again with no explanation as to where that came from. I have learnt never to leave my iPhone or iPad sitting around when my colleagues know the security code, because those phone calls you get from the opposition the next day wanting you to explain that obscure message that you sent them late last night can sometimes be very difficult to explain, when you obviously have no recall as to what was in it. I have even seen it happen with a colleague. They were staying up late one night and when some stubbies of beer were being handed out, in amongst the beer was a bottle of balsamic vinegar and the unsuspecting member took a swig from what he thought was a stubby of beer. Everybody burst out laughing. The screwed up look on the face of that member of parliament will remain with me till the day I die. I know that the team in Melbourne, in Spring Street, are watching that big TV with the nasty scratch on the corner, and I do want to send a big shout-out to big Jeff Fenech: 'I love youse all! I love my time with you.'
From watching and observing leaders and, in my case, great leaders in Peter Ryan and Peter Walsh in the Legislative Assembly and Peter Hall in the Legislative Council, I have realised the importance of being able to listen—to listen to your constituents, to listen to your colleagues and to listen to your opponents. I am staggered as to how many people feel as though they have to have a say on each and every issue, even though most of them add nothing to the general conversation. Real leaders are people of few words, but, when they speak, people listen.
There is something very satisfying about being part of a group that is trustworthy and tight. It takes years to build the culture of a team that is in this place to serve others. I desperately want the Nationals in government, under the leadership of Barnaby Joyce, with its coalition partners, to be the team that truly connects with and relates to their people. I also want to acknowledge Matthew Guy and his Liberal team and thank him for his friendship. We are both truly 'coalitionists' and realise that each other's party makes our own party better.
When I look at the electorate of Murray and cast a vision as to how I would like to see this region in the future, I am immediately reminded of the current dairy crisis, where for many the farmgate price of milk and milk products is currently below the cost of production. Whilst this is a worldwide problem, it is hitting incredibly hard in the Goulburn Valley, and although many farming businesses will be working incredible hours they will still lose serious amounts of money just so that they can keep their herds together for a time when the demand pushes the price of milk past the cost of production. Hopefully, it will move into a space where a profit may be made and some of these businesses in the dairy industry can enjoy some well-deserved success.
The Goulburn Valley in the Murray electorate, which I proudly represent, is a great part of Australia—possibly the greatest. The river that gives the electorate its name is amazing in itself, and the communities that are built on it from Yarrawonga to Echuca are huge tourist towns, with amazing experiences waiting for people to explore. There is amazing potential within the business sector, be it in agriculture, the professional services sector, engineering or manufacturing.
Wateris possibly the most critical component of the Murray electorate. It is the vital lifeblood of our region from the West Loddon pipeline, which had $20 million committed to it in the election campaign, thanks to Barnaby Joyce, to the reset of the connections project; it has cost nearly $2 billion to modernise water and irrigation practices. The state government has now pushed that project out to 2020. It is clear that we must have governments that keep supporting agriculture now and into the future to ensure that we have the water to grow the produce that our businesses are set up to grow. Private enterprise has invested heavily in on-farm infrastructure. As you can see when you drive around there right now, with solid rains, the grain crops, sheep and cattle are all looking at record yields.
Transport infrastructureis also a big issue in Murray, and while improvements to the region were announced recently, like the Echuca-Moama Bridge, thanks to Darren Chester, there is a never-ending list of projects still to be completed. The Goulburn Valley is also home to a series of processor and packaging industries, which are directly related to the primary producers, and at the heart of their prosperity is access to water. It would be fair to say that over recent years, and certainly with the introduction of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, that the environment has been given priority over agriculture. This is another challenge facing all of us in this place as we try to reach a better balance between looking after our environmental assets and giving our businesses the opportunity to produce the food and fibre that they are capable of producing. It is our job in this place to help and assist our people, to make their lives easier, to reduce red tape, to build infrastructure, to create fair and flexible work environments for both our employers and our employees.
I also want to thank all of the Nationals team that helped out during the campaign. It was long, it was cold and it was really long and it was really cold. You all know who you are, and I thank each and every one of you sincerely.
One of my real concerns about my electorate and one that I share with all of my Nationals' colleagues—it has been mentioned today—is education. In regional Australia, certainly in regional Victoria, our educational outcomes when measured by year 12 completion rates and transitioning through to university are really struggling to compare with students in our metropolitan cities, where their measures are improving year on year. This gap in educational attainment is a real worry, because there is a very clear correlation between education and wealth. The LGAs in Victoria with the highest or best educational attainment levels are also the local government areas that produce the highest weekly incomes in the state. Those areas which have the poorest levels of education generate the lowest weekly incomes—the correlation is stark. If we want to have prosperous regions, cities, towns and people to represent then we need to improve educational outcomes in rural and regional Australia.
There is also a stark correlation between wealth and health. When you compare those local government areas, those with low weekly incomes are exactly the same areas as those with poor health outcomes. Those areas, in terms of oral health, diabetes, cancer survival rates, obesity and life expectancy, all suffer poorer ratings than those areas with high weekly incomes. So the message is simple: education equals wealth, and wealth equals health. Again, if we want to represent prosperous and healthy communities then we need to improve our educational attainment levels.
During my time in the state parliament, I had the opportunity to assist the former leader, Peter Ryan, as his Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development. I am incredibly proud of the hundreds and hundreds of projects we were able to bring to fruition by using the Regional Growth Fund to invest in rural and regional Victoria. And I am very proud of the $22 million we were able to find to invest in SPC to secure 500 jobs in Shepparton.
For the last nine months of the Napthine government, I was Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for Veterans Affairs. Sport in Victoria, like every other state and territory, creates interest and passion unlike any other pursuit. I do love all sports, and I have enormous respect for the role that sporting clubs play in the whole dynamic of Australian communities. Sports clubs, in particular team sports clubs, keep our children out of the justice system. They tutor and mentor our sons and daughters, giving these kids life lessons, without them realising they are receiving them. Involvement in sport enables us to be more active and healthier than we would otherwise be. We need to look at investment in community sporting facilities as an investment in the health of our communities and as a smart and proactive way to spend our health budget.
That is why, as Minister for Sport and Recreation in Victoria, I insisted that we change the rules to ensure that if a community club was struggling to find the money it needed for its contribution to a specific project, then their in-kind contribution in the form of labour and/or donated materials could be used as their share of the co-investment in these projects. This philosophy was all about helping those clubs and those communities that were prepared to help themselves.
As every other member in this House has acknowledged, it is very true that for every member of parliament there is an incredible support network that carries so much of the load, and that is their family.
I have five children aged from 19 to 34. I am incredibly lucky to have loving relationships with all of them. Their support for my foray into federal politics was paramount to me actually making that decision. I couldn't have made this commitment without their support. So to Corey, Gabrielle—I have to shout out to Gabrielle because she is in Canada—Alyce and Luke: thank you. Also, to Josh, Sally, Willow, Olive and Sonny: I want to thank you all for how good you make me feel. I have admiration for how you are all living your lives. I love you unconditionally.
As I said earlier, I am the youngest of seven children. I have a couple of my brothers in the gallery today. To Chris and Des: thank you very much for your unconditional love and support. Again, I fully realise how lucky I am to have been born into a strong family of community volunteers. My family has been volunteering since the word 'volunteer' became fashionable. Quite simply, when I grew up if a role needed to be filled it was filled. It was filled without expectation of thanks or kudos. These roles were always completed, the work was done and the community got on and it prospered.
I must also acknowledge my fantastic partner, Ros. I met Ros almost 10 years ago. Again, I was incredibly lucky to find someone so gorgeous, so smart and with such a kind and generous heart. I would also like to thank Ros for the way her family has accepted me into their lives so readily. I would like to thank Ron and Di, Leela and Harry, Lousie and Louis, and Reena and Keith. You have all been incredibly welcoming and accepting, as have Ros's two wonderful sons, Sam and James. Ros has somewhat had her life turned upside down by my decision to move to Murray, but I am incredibly appreciative of her unflinching love and support in the knowledge that it is totally reciprocated.
I would like to finish with a quote from a speech that the former Premier of Victoria Denis Napthine gave when he was a minister in the Ted Baillieu government in 2011. He took the floor at a coalition conference and he said to all of the state MPs, 'The positions you hold in the community are really, really important. The role you play and the work you do is incredibly important. People in your community think that you are a very important person and your perception is that you are very important. What you have to understand is that you, all of you, are very important people. And if you believe this, you're in real trouble!' I think there might be a few people in this building in real trouble!
First of all, I am honoured to be joined by so many of my colleagues here in the chamber so late in the evening. I am sure it has more to do with the events of the last sitting week than any expectations that I will be eloquent or profound!
I first visited this parliament as a teenager on a family road trip. I remember my brothers running pretty much right across the roof of this place and rolling down the grassy slopes on the sides of the building in a way that security probably does not permit today. I don't remember being up there in the gallery, but my parents, who I am very proud to say are up there tonight, tell me that I was.
Between that visit and now, I have had many causes to reflect deeply on the achievements of our nation and our past governments. The sacrifice and the service of the men and women in this place have steered Australia through the challenges of 115 years of Federation, two world wars and countless moral trials and economic tribulations. I am humbled, but enthusiastic about having this opportunity to contribute my service to the betterment of our nation.
Australia is one of the longest continuously running democracies on earth. Our Federation was formed thoughtfully in peacetime and benefits from great foundations and traditions. We are a beacon of freedom, prosperity, diversity, justice and security in an often difficult world.
I see our nation, in some ways, as our sanctuary: an economic sanctuary, an environmental sanctuary and a sanctuary affording us safety from many of the events, illnesses and other miseries in the wider world. We should take very seriously the responsibility that comes with having the custodianship of both a nation and a continent.
I come to this place deeply connected to Australia's small business class. My family have been retailers and shopkeepers for generations, and also builders, farmers and sawmillers.
I was born in Tweed Heads in New South Wales. I was the first of my family to attend university. Before that, I am proud to have attended government schools in Mitcham, Victoria; in Elimbah near Caboolture; and in Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast.
I believe the last federal MP to be born in Tweed Heads was Neville Bonner, Australia's first Indigenous politician. He was a great Queensland politician and a constitutional conservative. I have admired his principled approach, along with how gracefully he represented the diversity of our country, as a proud Liberal. I hope to say more about Neville Bonner in the future. In the meantime, I hope I can emulate his style.
It is almost passe for me to cover some personal issues of diversity here tonight, because two fellow Liberals in this chamber have recently covered these issues so superbly. Yet I cannot help reflecting, just now, in this moment, that in about 10 other countries around the world someone like me would be defenestrated or sentenced to death, as a political or religious statement.
Medieval ideals and concentrated political power both share a common lack of respect for the fundamental value of a human life. Liberal democracy will continue to prove itself, the only consistent friend of those around the world who are women, gay, or ethnic or religious minorities.
To the extent our voices in this place make any difference in the wider world, let my voice say—loudly and defiantly—that my presence here is not symptomatic of a weakening Western world. Rather, I stand here speaking for the ongoing triumph of liberal democracy, with the willing support of those who understand the fundamental value of human life and the powerful potential of each individual.
My heritage is a story of successful immigration and enterprise. My family—like so many others—has sent relatives to conflicts around the world, to defend freedom and democracy. I pledge my ongoing support for our defence forces, to uphold the Anzac legacy, and I will 'never forget' that everything we have now is as a result of their sacrifice.
I also want to proudly declare my passion for conservation. Following the family road trips as a kid, my love of hiking, camping and fishing has taken me all over this sunburnt nation. I feel most alive, and most at peace, when I am alone with nature. Time will tell how I come to feel in this 'house of animals'!
From the wilds of Tasmania to the Red Centre, from the Daintree to the Nullarbor to the Pilbara, I have a deep love of our wilderness, our native flora and fauna. I also express my respect for the first peoples of our land. Our beautiful, dreaming continent is lucky to have the oldest continuing cultures on earth as custodians and storytellers. I pay special tribute to those who have had custodianship of the Brisbane area for thousands of generations—the Turrbal and Jagera people.
I would like to express my thanks—and my dedication—to the people of Brisbane. I am so honoured you have given me this opportunity to represent you. I will repay your vote of faith by working hard. I hope to deliver a style of representation that is visible, accessible, responsive and deeply thoughtful about the challenges we face.
Despite those many challenges, I will always be naturally optimistic. I have witnessed so many community groups, organisations, school communities and volunteers, all around Brisbane, doing such astonishing work. It truly is inspiring and gives me great faith and confidence in humankind. To the Brisbane researchers who found the world's first vaccines for cancers, helping save over a quarter of a million lives every year; to the innovative Brisbane art scene taking the world by storm; to the empires being built by the Brisbane coffee barons; to the Brisbane teachers and educators making international education our city's biggest export—you prove that there is so much to be optimistic about, and I will dedicate my efforts to helping you, and locals like you, to contribute to a better world.
I acknowledge my parents, Norm and Carol. Dad, you set a standard most could never meet, in terms of hard work and dedication to your family. Your sacrifices and your example fuel the fire in my belly. You taught me to grit my teeth and stay the course through tough times; to be undeterred by those who talk or criticise instead of acting; and to seek justice and be a voice for the little guy.
Mum, as well as unconditional love, you gave me a love of words, books and learning. If I am ever literate and comprehensible in this place, it is because you sat us down as kids and you read to us. To my partner, Roger, my best friend and source of unconditional understanding: your smile would shine through any darkness. I love you.
To my brothers, Wayne, Brendan and Daniel: thank you for your camaraderie. Your practical jokes and antics have already caused me some headlines. I almost look forward to more of those headlines, knowing how my brothers will always keep me so very grounded. And we just received the happy word this afternoon that I am to be an uncle again, for the eighth time.
To the rest of my family—including my grandmothers, Elma and Carol—you have taught me that nothing matters more than family. A strong, happy family is always the safety net of first resort.
I acknowledge and thank everyone who worked so hard on the Brisbane campaign. Almost 700 of you contributed in some way, and I cannot attempt to name you all in this speech, but you should be proud that your efforts made such a difference.
The preselection was relatively late and Brisbane has usually been won by our political opponents. Yet this result was a record win. I will work hard to make you proud for helping me become just the 12th member for Brisbane since Federation.
At the risk of singling out just a few extraordinary contributions, I would like to put on record the efforts of my campaign manager, Pete Coulson, and campaign executive members Dan Frost-Foster and Tony Gleeson. You put your lives on hold and sacrificed more than most to achieve victory.
I would also like to give my thanks to the executive staff of the LNP. The election results in Queensland speak for themselves. Thank you to the Prime Minister, other ministers and colleagues for their support through the campaign. Thanks especially to Minister Peter Dutton and Attorney-General George Brandis for their support. Thank you to the Queensland LNP leader, Tim Nicholls; to the Brisbane lord mayor; and to all seven local councillors whose wards overlap with the division of Brisbane. I look forward to working so constructively with you for the benefit of our great area.
I would like to pay tribute to the former member for Brisbane, the Hon. Teresa Gambaro. Teresa served this parliament for 18 years, first as the member for Petrie and then as the member for Brisbane. Teresa represented the strong contribution of the Italian community to the electorate of Brisbane, which is as strong now as ever. So many of our families' stories should remind us of the value of welcoming migration with open arms when migrants are attracted to the promise of this lucky country, the freedom and the opportunity and the space to work hard and make something of yourself.
I would like to acknowledge Mark Brodie, the chairman of the National Retail Association, as well as the board and the staff who have worked tirelessly and loyally for the benefit of our nation's retail and services sectors. I pledge to continue to work hard to support these industries which have sustained me and so many in my family for generations. There are roughly about 400,000 shopfronts, cafes, food outlets and stores around our country. About 10,000 of them are in my electorate of Brisbane. The majority of them are family owned small businesses. Collectively, they are the biggest source of jobs and opportunities for Australians. More than 1 in 10 Australians work in them. And if every shopfront could be encouraged to employ two more workers tomorrow, our unemployment rate would be zero. Zero. Meaning the majority of mature-aged Australians, Indigenous Australians and the disabled who are looking for work would find the dignity they want and deserve.
These industries already do more than any other sector to provide jobs, opportunities and prosperity for the young, for women, for the least-skilled. And we will be relying on them more than ever as some so-called fast lanes of the economy now slow. Yet there is not and there never has been a minister for retail or a department overseeing these industries, unlike every other major industry you could name. And while I am not for a moment suggesting that these businesses want or need a bureaucracy looking over their shoulders, they do need a strong voice.
If decision-makers do not properly comprehend the needs and the potential of small business, or if they think first and foremost of big business, big unions or big government when they make decisions then we fail small businesses, because, while small businesses are not usually directly regulated or licensed, they certainly do feel the cumulative burden of business red tape. Well-intentioned but ill-considered and sometimes poorly administered regulations are currently strangling these businesses—sometimes to death.
The evidence is already in if you know where to look for it. When the Fair Work Ombudsman audits small businesses in retail, fast food or hair and beauty, it regularly finds non-compliance rates of about 40 per cent. A long list of other regulators actually find similar rates of noncompliance in small business—around 40 per cent—in areas like health and safety and consumer law. This noncompliance is typically minor, technical and inadvertent in nature rather than serious or deliberate, but the point is we have so many areas of regulation now with the rules changing so frequently in so many of those areas that small businesses in Australia are already overwhelmed. Speaking frankly: they survive right now in a fraught purgatory of non-compliance and non-enforcement.
Our party was founded on the notion that the small-business middle class needs a strong voice. In Robert Menzies' most famous address, 'The forgotten people', he said that the rich and powerful 'are as a rule able to protect themselves.' He said he wanted to represent 'shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on.' Today, the small-business class is just as likely to include professional consultants, creative industry types, tradies and independent contractors.
I suggest some priorities for this government to better support small business. Firstly, wherever possible we need business regulations to be more around principles rather than based on prescriptions. Secondly, we need a change of culture within some of our regulators. They need to support principle based regulation by being more willing to give the equivalent of private rulings. Every time a government officer says, 'We don't give legal advice,' in response to a legitimate small-business query they are sacrificing goodwill between government and industry and failing to achieve better outcomes for Australian consumers. A culture change also requires regulators to abandon their preference for seeking scalps through media releases, court rulings and penalties. Imagine a world in which a regulator goes into a business, gets free and ready access to diligently audit the processes of the business in exchange for confidentiality in helping that business to overcome any problems that they unearthed. That style of collaboration would be less adversarial, cheaper and would likely result in much faster and better outcomes for consumers and the government.
Thirdly, I propose that this government works to introduce a new industrial relations award specifically to apply to start-ups and small business. In recognition of the fact that small businesses are already struggling with the cumulative burden of red tape, a new small-business award should aim to be less prescriptive and more principles based than the current industry awards. It must maintain the high base wage rates Australians deserve. I have always been proud that Australia has some of the highest wage levels in the world. I will always work hard to find every means possible to sustainably grow real wages for Australians.
A small-business award should also provide for penalty rates and overtime as set by the Fair Work Commission. These loadings should apply on public holidays and on any hours in a normal week outside of 40 core hours nominated by the small business. Such an award would do more than almost anything else to supercharge the small-business sector and encourage them to create the jobs we need.
Some believe the topic of industrial relations is off limits these days, yet Australians deserve to know the truth: that in industries like retail the penalty rate system is a sham and a lie and on the brink of breaking down. The system is a sham because the specified penalty rates will not actually be paid to most retail workers this weekend, or any other weekend. Not in small business, most of whom will shut or bring in family members to work, and not in big business, who use agreements with big unions to water down and avoid penalty rates. The lie at the heart of this system is that the so-called strongest defenders of penalty rates in the labour movement are complicit in the specified penalty rates not being paid to many workers.
And the system is at risk of breaking down as the Fair Work Commission is forced to confront the fact that big unions have signed off on agreements that make many workers worse off than under the awards. Such agreements are supposed to be prohibited. If they do get struck out, this ticking time bomb threatens the shifts and hours of thousands upon thousands of our most vulnerable workers. This government must be ready to act if that occurs.
On the topic of big business, there has been some recent public debate around the role that big business and their associations should play in elections and in shaping policy. The coalition went to this election with one of the strongest pro-growth platforms in living memory. Yet in the heat of the campaign, there was little third party support from certain organisations whose job it was to vigorously explain why the country so critically needs jobs and growth at this time. There are some organisations that do diligently prosecute the case for reform. Yet there are some in big business, it seems, who believe it may be possible to skirt the public contests about the tax they pay or the regulations they comply with. Those missing in action seem to believe that the biggest potential beneficiaries of economic reforms should be able to free ride on the efforts and work of smaller, less resourced businesses and groups. They should not assume such a political paradigm might continue.
We on this side of the House support enterprise and free markets. We want small businesses to grow into big businesses and create the jobs and opportunities Australians critically need. Yet, coming from small business—and as a former regulator and economist—I am naturally suspicious of concentrated power, whether that is found in the clumsy power of central government, the institutional influence of trade unions or the market power of big business. I believe the more powerful you are the more responsibility you have to wield your power in a way that is true to your origins, and benefits and protects the little guys coming from the same place where you started. Those who abandon the national debate should not be surprised to see that reform is predominantly targeted elsewhere, such as towards small businesses.
Finally, populism is on the march again around the world and, indeed, in Australia. Populism is shorthand for protectionism, the antithesis of trade. While our country is our sanctuary, we should never be isolationist or inward looking. Every sustainable gain in humankind's standard of living has come about from skills, specialisation and trade. Global forces that could barely be contained a century ago through protectionist policies certainly cannot be contained that way now in a digital and internet age.
Dusting off the old red megaphone of populism might give some grievances a good airing, but it is not a sincere solution. The answer lies with a government that can offer a comprehensive program: optimism; applying every effort to education, training and skills; understanding how free markets require good but light-handed regulation; and how skilled and compassionate migration relies on rules that can maintain the confidence of the people.
In dedicating my service to this 45th Parliament and to Brisbane, I want to quote former Prime Minister Sir George Reid. His words from 113 years ago beautifully express, my optimism and my themes here tonight:
Our policy has no fear of human progress, the tides of the world's commerce may rise, the triumphal march of human discoveries may bring nations more and more closely together, but these events have no terror for us. We have a policy of national not sectional ideals. The words liberty, equality and fraternity are not to us a mere phrase; we believe in their spirit being embodied in the legislative policy of a great, intelligent democracy, and say, in the words of Tennyson—
Ring out the slowly dying cause
Ring out the feuds of rich and poor
Ring out the old, ring in the new
Ring out the false, ring in the true
I acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the member for Brisbane in his maiden speech, and also the outstanding contributions of all those who have preceded him this afternoon.