Monday, 15 February 2021
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
by leave—I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Groom making a statement immediately and that the Member speak without limitation of time.
Question agreed to.
I am honoured to represent the good people of Groom. It's a place of strong community values that is proud both of its ambitions for the future and of its history.
My own family's history is but a small part of the great Australian journey, and I stand before you as both a proud citizen of modern Australia and a proud descendant of the pioneers whose labours laid the foundations of this nation. My father's ancestors arrived as Scottish farmers, who followed the promise of opportunity that called them out of Glasgow and out of Fife. They docked at Adelaide and made their way by horse and cart into northern New South Wales, eventually reaching the golden triangle between Inverell, Moree and North Star. Life wasn't always easy but it was good, and Australia has given us much.
The Australian journey was entirely different for my mother's family. William Shaw arrived as a convict on the Third Fleet in 1791; Catherine Neal was transported some five years later, and I'm the product of their union, nine generations on. Another convict ancestor, Humphrey Gainey, was sent here much later, in 1830, following a rather unsuccessful stint as a highwayman in Cork.
The Gaineys and the Shaws struggled to find their place in Australia, but, over time, duty called and they were ready to serve. My great-grandfather, John Hercules Robertson, was gassed in the First World War and, upon his return home, his lungs continued to painfully deteriorate. He lived just long enough to see both of his sons return safely home from the Second World War, and I think of what dark nights he must have spent, waiting for news of his boys.
My grandfather's story is very much that of the men of his generation. Due to his injuries, Stuart Robertson returned from the war too late to receive the soldier settlement scheme and together with his wife, Hazel, who had served in the Australian Women's Army Service, had to start from nothing, having been prepared to give everything. But they never complained. With his own hands he built a jig to cast concrete blocks on Sundays, while the rest of the week he worked three jobs to save enough money to buy a plot of land. When he finished building his house, he turned his boundless energy to building the community of Warialda that he so loved, and I thank the member for Parkes for his own dedication to that beautiful town.
For 25 years my grandfather was chief of the local fire brigade, volunteered with the Lions Club and was Santa Claus to a couple of generations of kids. When Hazel descended into dementia, he spent every breakfast, lunch and tea for 11 years by her side at the nursing home. He served his country, his community and his family with loyalty, good humour and kindness. He had a hard life but a good one, and he gave Australia much.
What is shared amongst my family's stories, be it in finding here plenty or penury, is what makes Australia great; with hard work we can build something good within ourselves, and with service we can build something even better together. This nation has always understood the value of equality of opportunity and reward for effort—the foundation principles of our coalition government—which is why a Centre-Right coalition has been called into government by the Australian people for 68 of the last 98 years.
Australia today is greater than it has ever been, with greater reward for effort and greater opportunities for all Australians. This country is full of family histories of service, of dedication, of hands heavy with the callouses earned under the slow labours of crafting this country. We come from varied beginnings but together we have built a nation that Australians are proud of. It is our responsibility to place into the next generation's hands the tools and the callouses they'll need to build our future.
My greatest hope is that our nation will always be a place for people from every corner of the world to contribute and gain reward for their effort. My father-in-law's family fled Europe after the Second World War and came to Australia with not a pound in their pockets, not a word of English on their tongues. Many Australians will understand, having experienced that very situation. Alphonsus Vanderhorst was raised with a deep love for his new home and a desire to serve the nation that had taken him in. My wife and I were extremely proud when he recently retired after 49 years of service and support to the Australian Army, many of those spent at the Oakey Army Aviation Centre in my electorate.
The seat of Groom nestles around the city of Toowoomba, Queensland's very own shining city on a hill. It was there that my wife was born and raised, and when it came time for us to settle down and raise our own family there was no easier decision to make. Encompassing towns and villages such as Pittsworth, Oakey, Highfields, Bowenville, Greenmount and Goombungee, Groom is characterised by its thriving agricultural industry and its beautiful, tree-lined suburbs.
However, drive through our region and you will find we are much more than just farmland and feedlots. I've mentioned the Oakey barracks, with another barracks at Cabarlah, and we have a mine at Acland that at its peak supported 500 local jobs and I hope to see those good days return. Underpinning these heavy industries are Groom's manufacturing and transport industries that place our region as a strategic hub as we build Inland Rail. In Toowoomba Region health is the largest employer and our wonderful health professionals play such an important role in our city, with health care being one of the key reasons that so many people choose to move to Toowoomba. In education, again, our region plays the role of a hub, with an extraordinary array of excellent public and private schools servicing families from all across southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Heritage Bank, Australia's largest customer owned bank, has its headquarters located in Toowoomba and our region greatly benefits from the support of our local financial industry.
With such strong foundations in place you can see why the Toowoomba Region is a great place to come to, and it's with pride that we reflect upon the many success stories of those Australians who've chosen to make their home among us in more recent years. It's a joy to walk through Queens Park on a weekend afternoon and see the children from so many different cultural backgrounds playing together. The integration of the Yazidi and Somali communities in Toowoomba sets the benchmark for modern immigration, and if regional Australia is to thrive we need to learn from this experience.
I recently received a note from a local resident, Mrs Bonita Cattell, that best describes how we work together in Groom. She writes:
We met some (Yazidi) families in a park twelve months ago and have had them in our home a number of times. We went to an end of fast celebration in December where we met a young Yazidi (man) from Armidale. He said his parents were lonely in Toowoomba as they had not met many Australians. So we visited them two days later … and are having them in our home. We are in our seventies and our lives have been enriched by them.
Mrs Cattell goes on to ask that I pass on her thanks to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the role he played in bringing these people to Australia. Well, for the first and the last time, I will dare to speak on behalf of Mr Abbott and say, 'No, Bonita, it is you who deserves the thanks.'
The reason we work together so well in Groom is that we have a strong sense of our culture—we know who we are and what we are about. Our service clubs, religious organisations and community groups are committed to helping others. I know that my predecessor, Dr John McVeigh, felt very passionately on this point and I thank him for his service to our community.
Toowoomba was and continues to be built by people who are driven to lead their communities, from the early pioneers to modern pioneers, like Clive Berghofer, John Russell, Gary Gardner, the Wagner family, and the many others who understand that we were not born to be shaped by government but, rather, that the future will be shaped by the hands of the people themselves. Groom has never lacked leadership and it is my privilege to serve beside the region's leaders of today.
The political history of Groom tells us much about the contribution that conservatism has made to modern Australia. Our first federal member, William Groom, after whom the seat is now named, spoke on the role of the individual in shaping the nation and warned against the spread of socialism. In doing so, he gave word to the beliefs of those who valued a fair go. He understood that national growth could only be supported by government and not led by it and that it would be individual enterprise that our nation must be built on. He also believed in the value of community and that it was the duty of every person to lend a helping hand. A society's capacity to act upon its compassionate instincts is underlined by economic strength and individual freedoms.
Littleton Groom carried on his father's place in parliament and pushed strongly for rail infrastructure to open up supply and distribution networks for Toowoomba's agricultural sector. Nearly a hundred years later, in the age of Inland Rail—a project that will arguably benefit the Toowoomba region more than most along its entire route—it's important to remember that this concept is not new, nor is it unproven. Littleton Groom believed in the power of nation-building infrastructure, and it's a belief that has passed on through every federal member for Groom since. I'll work hard to ensure that Inland Rail delivers every possible benefit to the people of the Toowoomba region.
While delivering Inland Rail will keep our hands busy in the short term, we must look to the future, and fast passenger rail connecting Toowoomba to the rest of South-East Queensland is inevitable, with the question being not if but when, as the city continues to grow and prosper.
Every member for Groom has stood up for a prosperous, fair and united Australia, and I will be no different. I'll work for a future that pays less attention to the unimportant differences between us and instead rewards good character and hard work. I'll work for an Australia that centres itself around the family. I'll work for an Australia that has opportunity for all and is strong enough to give a hand up to those who have fallen on hard times. I'll work for an Australia that continues the traditions and institutions that have made Western civilisation the greatest source of good known to man. These are the beliefs that make me a proud member of the Liberal National Party, and I hold them dearly.
What unites us is an understanding that freedom and responsibility can only ever exist in the hands of an individual, an understanding that no amount of government intervention can stay the sweep of Adam Smith's invisible hand. I believe in equality of opportunity as best not only for the individual but also for the nation, as it allows for discrimination only on the basis of competence, ensuring our best people are given the greatest chance to do the most good.
We pray that 2021 will be a very different year from 2020. I was not surprised to find that we ended 2020 with consumer confidence at a 10-year high, because this confidence has been noticeable in the conversations I've had with the people of Groom. Our people have confidence in Australia's ability to handle the pandemic, they have confidence in their community's ability to work together for a greater good and they have confidence in the Morrison government's plan to rebuild our economy. The people of Groom are optimistic about their future, and this is a very good thing for Australia, because we're a great contributor to the nation, with a high gross regional product. I represent an area where, if government makes an investment, it will get a return on that investment. I represent an area that is growing and wants to continue to grow. Gus Romero and Mark Cassidy, both owners of Harvey Norman franchises in my electorate, tell me they're excited about the current growth they see in Groom's property market. They know that, after you build a new home or after you renovate your home, the next thing you do is furnish it. In Highfields, the Avenues development sold 30 blocks in 14 days after the announcement of the HomeBuilder grant. This wasn't an injection of cash; it was an injection of confidence.
I bring to the parliament a keen interest in foreign policy that has grown during my time overseas, in countries aligned to our values and not. I view Australia, more and more, as having a significant role to play in the world. We are a Western nation in all but geography, and our future success lies not in becoming more politically akin to our neighbours but in continuing to provide them with a unique proposition. We are a safe haven for their investment, a willing partner for their trade. The trajectory of this entire region bends towards Western ideals, and we have an important leadership role to play. We must always value our point of difference and fight to retain it.
As a trading partner we have so much to offer our neighbours—we have an abundance of natural resources, great educational facilities and excellent agricultural products that we can deliver with high quality and high reliability. We seek trade partnerships in good faith and understand that a rising tide lifts all boats.
I'm very proud of the contribution Groom has made to our nation's military efforts, and we have a long history. Toowoomba Grammar School's Army Cadet Unit predates the formation of the Australian Army itself and counts among its alumni the great ANZAC general Sir Harry Chauvel, who served with such distinction in Gallipoli and the Middle East.
I'm also very proud of the contribution that the defence industry makes to our local economy and our local community. Toowoomba is a great place to expand our defence facilities, as we have room to grow, infrastructure in place and longstanding bonds of friendship with the defence community.
I take this opportunity to bring to the House's attention the goodwill that our defence community generates not just at home but internationally. During last year's bushfires, the Republic of Singapore Air Force contributed two Chinook helicopters, which are based at Oakey, to support relief efforts carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force. Our defence community not only are there to protect us in times of trouble but also serve as terrific ambassadors for us on the international stage. Long may Australia's defence community call Groom home.
As a mining engineer, I've seen both good and bad mining around the world, and Australia should be very proud of the high standard of mining practices that take place within our borders. The men and women who go to work in Australia's pits and portals are amongst our best workers, and, as a project manager, it was always such a privilege and an honour to lead my crews into their daily work. Australian miners operate under the world's best quality, safety and environmental standards while still presenting a highly profitable investment option. In part this is due to our readiness to champion new technologies and push the development of future technologies.
Prior to entering politics, I led research in the mining industry with a cooperative research centre. The new technologies that have been advanced by that organisation have been enthusiastically supported by the industry with companies such as Hatch and Orica committing to commercialise research undertaken there. Big miners such as BHP Billiton, Newcrest and Anglo American have partnered with CRC ORE because they know that these Australian technologies have the power to reduce both water and energy consumption thus reducing the cost and the carbon footprint of their operations. This is an example of government accelerating the process of technology uptake by bringing together researchers with end users in an environment that demands performance and cost efficiency. We cannot underestimate the role that technology will play in addressing the future challenges faced by government, industry and households alike.
At the University of Southern Queensland, Groom's future as not just a regional but a national technology centre is being realised. USQ is building sovereign defence and space capability in advanced manufacturing, hypersonics, rocketry and astrophysics. In this context, 'building sovereign capability' is another way of saying 'return on investment', and this is a great example of an Australian university proudly contributing to Australia's national interests.
The Darling Downs Health Service has plans for a new state-of-the-art hospital in Toowoomba that will not only cater for the region's growing needs but will provide access to the latest medical technologies and incorporate expanded teaching and research facilities.
Obadare Group received an accelerating commercialisation grant from this government and have turned themselves into Australia's only API-licensed drill rig producer, now establishing the Toowoomba region as a service centre for the oil and gas industry—again, more investment, more return.
Local builder, Geoff Gibson, is using Earth Friendly Concrete, a product researched, developed and commercialised in Toowoomba by Wagners, that reduces the embodied carbon of concrete by up to 80 per cent. This product is now being used in London on the biggest infrastructure project in Europe, HS2, and is another example of technology driving Toowoomba's future.
In Groom, we're unafraid to push into the future of energy production with a truly agnostic approach having a thermal coalmine, two solar farms and a gas-fired power station. We happily embrace opportunity and are ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.
I'm humbled to be standing here today and I'm aware of the incredible opportunity that I have been afforded, to focus my energies solely on the doing of good for my nation; there are many people to thank for that. To the Liberal National Party, its members across the state and particularly the Groom FDC and the excellent SECs of Toowoomba North, Toowoomba South and Condamine, I owe a debt of service. To Cynthia Hardy, John Martlew, Ben Ready and all the volunteers who stood out on prepoll and election day, I say thank you.
Last year, the member for Lingiari spoke movingly on the impact that his political career had on his family, and, although we sit on opposite sides of the chamber and at opposite ends of our careers, his words formed in me a chord that I would like here to strike. I want to thank my parents, Allen and Barbara, for inspiring me to ask for more out of life. As a boy and a young man, I had the pleasure of working side by side with my father, labouring under the hot Queensland sun; no-one has ever asked more of me nor shown me more the extent to which the mind can overcome the limitations of the body. My mother has been the living embodiment of the idea that 'life is good', and what stores I have of resilience and humility I get from her. Mum, I remember, as a boy, watching you working as a Hansard reporter down here in this very chamber. I hope you like the view from the gallery as much as I did.
To my beautiful wife, Louise, your love, the persistence of your honesty and your belief in what we can achieve together continues to surprise and overwhelm me. This, as with every other step we've taken around the world, is a shared journey; we are here together.
To my beautiful children, Adeline, Everard and Claude, I love you and I'm proud of you. I give you the same challenge that my father laid upon me: that is, it is your responsibility to take a step further in life than I have. I trust you with that.
There are some people that I have long called friends, that I now get to call colleagues, and I wish to thank them for all their help and support. Senator Rennick, you have been a good friend and a great mate. Senator Stoker, I thank you for always supporting me. I thank you and Adam for helping Louise and I make the decision to stand for Groom, and I thank you for being a role model to my daughter. Sadly, I do not have the chance to be a colleague to former Senator Barry O'Sullivan, but I treasure his friendship and guidance all the same. Barry keeps his best deeds private and makes his rougher edges public in complete opposition and perhaps stubborn defiance to the trends of the day. I thank him and Kristina for their support.
I thank Sam Catalano for setting us both the challenge on the day of our graduation of building 'exceptional careers'. Sam, we've always held each other to account, together meeting both success and failure as the imposters they are. To my other great mate in the UK, Oliver Richbell, Tangles, you may not know it but it was in our many conversations at the Jamaica Wine House and on the late train to Bedford that my political convictions were forming. You have played a bigger part than you know.
I want to thank the teachers I had at Ipswich Grammar School—Mike Murray and Maggie Chay in particular. Mike joins us in the gallery. I recall the memory of two fine educators who did the most to shape my young life, Mr Ray Swan and Mr Dick Rima. Finally I thank Wendy Armstrong, Trevor Watts, Fred Geldart and Bill O'Chee for their kind care and counsel.
The LNP works best when it recognises itself as a grassroots volunteer organisation. There have been hundreds of people who have stood up for me, but I want to mention the small handful of very young party members who got behind me from the moment I put my hand up for preselection. They carried no weight in the party and they promised no influence; they only demanded that I always remain true to myself. Doug Allen, Justin McGovern, Ben Apsey and Jeremy Bazley, you are the future of the LNP. Our party and our nation depend upon constant renewal of ideas and reaffirmation of beliefs. Doug, I look forward to your future contributions.
Today, under the strong leadership of Scott Morrison, we are bringing together Australia's stories—those of our modern nation and those of what was—and we are creating something even better as we continue the great Australian journey. I leave you with the epigraph to On Our Selection written by Groom's own Steele Rudd:
To You "Who Gave Our Country Birth;" to the memory of You whose names, whose giant enterprise, whose deeds of fortitude and daring were never engraved on tablet or tombstone; to You who strove through the silences of the Bush-lands and made them ours; to You who delved and toiled in loneliness through the years that have faded away; to You who have no place in the history of our Country so far as it is yet written; to You who have done MOST for this Land; to You for whom few, in the march of settlement, in the turmoil of busy city life, now appear to care; and to you particularly, GOOD OLD DAD …