Maiden Speech

Monday 18 February, 2002

It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate on the address-in-reply so soon after such a courageous Australian as the member for Macarthur and on the morning after the story of Australia’s first Winter Olympics gold medallist, Steven Bradbury.

Australia’s story is the story of a thousand communities, from the first inhabitants to the most recent.

My community is the seat of Flinders. It comprises Western Port and the Mornington Peninsula.

It is where I was born, it is where I was raised and it is where I have returned.

What I have rediscovered is that Flinders is not the story of geography, beautiful as it is; it is the story of people, great people, many of whom have touched my life and have taught me the true meaning of community spirit—people whom I call friends.
So it is the story of Sarah Meredith, an 18-year-old woman from Blind Bight, who has overcome a hearing disability not only to have achieved academic success but to have made such a contribution as to be named the City of Casey’s Junior Citizen of the Year.

It is the story of Steve Brockwell, a fisherman from San Remo, who battles not just to provide a livelihood for himself and his family but also to represent the future of all those who work the sea with him.

It is the story of Wanda Tearle, a woman who has given her heart and soul to making the Crib Point Community House a place where the lost and the hurt can find both solace and hope.

It is the story of Tom McGann, a courageous eight-year-old from Mount Martha, who has overcome the shackles of muscular atrophy and reached out to the world by designing and building his own web site.

And it is the story of Gil Mulling, who has for many years now, along with a team of dedicated volunteers, managed Vinnies Kitchen in Rosebud, providing both food and hope to some of the most needy people of the peninsula, all of whom have their own stories to tell.

Named after Matthew Flinders, who first sailed through Port Phillip Heads 200 years ago, the seat of Flinders is, then, a celebration of human achievement. But Flinders is also a work in progress, and there are clear challenges in education, employment, environment and health.

In education we have limited opportunities for tertiary training. At age 18, students either have to leave the area or look for unskilled labour. There is, then, the need to develop practical educational opportunities; opportunities such as an IT skill centre for Phillip Island, a maritime college for Hastings, an upgrade of the Rosebud TAFE and creation of a secondary college at Somerville—all about providing opportunities for our young.

In employment we have closed the gap between the Flinders area and the rest of Australia. But in order to improve further we need to develop both our education and our infrastructure through projects such as expansion of the pier at Phillip Island to allow cruise ships to dock, which in turn will bring tourism, which in turn will bring employment; establishment of a trans-Tasman ferry for Western Port; consideration of a port for Hastings; and planning for a second Melbourne airport, perhaps at Monomeith, a decade or so from now. All of that is about planning for the future. Significantly, all of these projects can be delivered by the private sector.

Transport, too, is critical if the people of Flinders are to be fully integrated into the broader Victorian community. Completion of the Bass Highway project, duplication of the Western Port Highway to Hastings and inclusion of the peninsula in the Metropolitan Transport System are all key needs if the people of Flinders are to prosper.

It is not hard to be passionate about the environment in an area of such diverse and sweeping natural beauty. To my mind it is, then, both vandalism and reckless waste to discharge over 400 megalitres of only partially treated sewage daily in the seas off Gunnamatta Beach. The real challenge is to encourage the Victorian government to utilise the creative market solutions which already exist. Slightly further west of Gunnamatta Beach, as the Department of Defence vacates the spectacular hills and cliff tops of Point Nepean at the east head of Port Phillip Bay, I reaffirm my commitment to doing all that I can to ensure that this area becomes available not for the few but for all people, not only within our community but in the broader community and for all time. It is a beautiful area.

In health, there is a heartfelt need for general practitioners, whether it is in Lang Lang, in Pearcedale or in Corinella. I am hopeful and confident that the government’s initiative to attract doctors to rural and urban fringe areas will assist people. There is a great sense of anticipation about that initiative. Similarly, I think there is more that can be done to help upgrade emergency services at Rosebud and Koo Wee Rup hospitals. One of the factors placing pressure on these hospitals is the growing number of people seeking aged care facilities within Flinders. I therefore welcome the appointment of the first Minister for Ageing and look forward to working with him on improvement of facilities for Flinders for the frail elderly and on incentives for self-funded retirees.

These are Flinders’ challenges. Many of those challenges are common to the broader Australian story. That broader Australian story is about the values we employ in meeting our common challenges. One of our guiding values must be compassion, and the heart of compassion is the expansion of people’s liberty, for there is no compassion in a future confined to welfare dependency; there is no compassion in a future confined to poverty traps. There is absolutely no compassion in a system which, as Menzies described it, `discourages ambition, envies success and distrusts independent thought’.

So the expansion of people’s liberty is about creating both opportunity and the capacity to exercise that opportunity. With that liberty comes aspiration: the capacity to dream and to hope. And hope is arguably the greatest of all freedoms. That is why William Hazlitt said, `The love of liberty is the love of others.’
While there are two great traditions represented in this House, liberalism and social democracy, and I respect the motives of those on the other side, I am for liberalism—clearly, simply, unequivocally.

Both parties do share two fundamental values. Both believe in freedom and equality, or, as liberals prefer, fairness. But the real difference between the two parties is an ordinal one. Liberals choose freedom first; Social Democrats choose equality. Yet the history—whether it is Locke or De Tocqueville or Thomas Friedman—tells us the same thing: liberalism leads to greater fairness but enforced equality never liberates. Never.

Indeed, those who have chosen equality over liberty have produced societies that few would call attractive, whether they be the crushing collectivism of the failed Communist experiment; the enduring unemployment, bloated bureaucracy and social dependency of the European left; or simply the grinding elitism of Sussex Street, which proposes a benevolent vanguard of government, friends and union leaders.

The whole notion of a benevolent vanguard underestimates middle Australia. It underestimates the farmer in Lang Lang, the business owner in Dromana, the nurse in Koo Wee Rup and the chicken processor in Somerville. This middle Australia is above all else the heart of the nation and they are truly forgotten in a system where the state moves from being the facilitator to the provider, the decider and the powerbroker.

So how do we ensure that middle Australia rightfully takes its place at the heart of the nation?

The answer is that we have to have an open society. We have to believe in our capacity to reform, to adapt and to embrace the future, not to cling to outmoded ideas and structures. If we are to move to an open society, how do we get there?

In just the same way as Flinders is a work in progress, Australia is a work in progress. There are great tasks on both the economic and the social side. It is important to recognise that economics is not the end but the indispensable means. It is the indispensable means because a job is the single best answer to overcoming the trap of both material poverty and the loss of hope.

I believe, then, we have five great national economic goals, and these guide my time in the House. First, to encourage free trade, because new markets allow rural communities to prosper and they allow our industries to compete globally.

To that end, I stand squarely behind the goal of ending tariffs at the earliest practical time.

Second, we have to encourage the flow of investment and I therefore support an ongoing decrease in the level of capital gains and corporate taxation—not because these in some way benefit those who invest, though I have no problem with that outcome, but because in the end nothing generates more jobs, which in turn break down poverty, faster than new investment.

Third, we must attract and retain our share of the best and brightest thinkers and doers. High marginal tax rates are a disincentive in a time of global labour flow. What we need instead are incentives to attract the innovators and the job creators.

Fourth, we must prepare for an ageing Australia, so eloquently spoken of by the member for Ryan in his own first speech. We must do that by bolstering our productive middle and maintaining a sustainable ratio between those who are working and those whose working days are finished. I support the setting of national targets to pre-empt our ageing baby boomers—a term which of course could never apply to the Minister for Foreign Affairs—and recognise that this must mean greater levels of migration, but particularly amongst those most skilled and able to contribute to the productive future of Australia.

Fifth, we must unleash the power of our companies and our people. That simply means two things. It means that it is unwise to deny our greatest telecommunications asset the chance to compete effectively in a global market. It needs equity to acquire core technologies such as cable assets to participate in deals and not to have its hands tied behind its back. If it participates in deals which bring cable assets, these in turn bring the broadband we need. If we deny those, so much for the notion of a knowledge nation! Also, developing our companies means ensuring that laggards—those who would abuse the system—are no longer paid unfair dismissal bribes with money that could best be used for rewarding the most effective workers and at the same time overcoming the barriers which prohibit real democracy within the union movement. In all of these areas I am proud to lend my support to the work of the government.

But economics is not the end goal of the Australian story.

I believe that there are also five key social imperatives facing Australia over the next 20 years. The first is building on the achievements of the last six years, which have seen private health care coverage make the extraordinary leap from 30 per cent of Australians in 1998 to 45 per cent of Australians in 2001.

The next expansion in private health coverage is, I believe, through employer incentives for the inclusion of health care in workplace arrangements—perhaps through creative ways of excluding employer health care from the fringe benefits tax regime. The result of this, the freeing of resources which private health care generates—it is not about some special system of privilege, it is about freeing resources for the rest of society—will allow even greater funding to be directed to our elderly, who, as the then new member for Bennelong said in his first speech in 1974—when, incidentally, I was eight years old—`face the twin threats of loneliness and alienation’. The same threats and challenges are with us today.

Our second social task is broadening the very nature of what education means in Australia. That means providing incentives for lifetime training, and it means providing concrete alternatives for those who seek education outside of the traditional academic path.

Our third task—and I am very passionate about this—is protecting and preserving our environment. There are many environmental initiatives, of which the government’s national salinity strategy may be the most important. Personally, I want to make it a crusade to help establish a national ocean outfall policy aimed at ending the routine, destructive and wasteful discharge of effluent into our seas by 2025. It is a great task, but if we partner with the private sector and create incentives for re-use then I believe it is achievable. That really would be something for us to achieve as a nation.

Fourth, we need to continue bridging the divides. At home, as the Prime Minister said in his acceptance speech after the 1998 election, there remains much to be done in the reconciliation of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. These two stories have run parallel for far too long. Abroad, we also have a role, realistically focused, in bridging the divide between those who have and those who have not, and also between those who remain implacable foes of one another. We cannot and must not be passive when there is evil afoot. Bridging divides leads ultimately to building a national sense of unity—for a unified nation, based on inclusive decision making, can achieve immeasurably more than a divided one.

Fifth, we must continue to renew our institutions of governance. I am one of those who believe that four-year terms for the House, linked to a two-term cycle for the Senate, is a step forward.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I turn from the parliament back to the story of my community. I have been granted the opportunity to serve in this chamber by the grace of the electors of Flinders. I thank them for their trust and I pledge to serve as a representative for the whole community. I also wish to thank my illustrious predecessors in Flinders: Sir Philip Lynch, whose family I knew well and who represented the area with a passion and served the nation with great dignity; and, of course, his successor, Peter Reith, whose legacy will be the end of sclerosis on our waterfront. Moreover, within Flinders, he made an enormous contribution to individual lives, just one example of which was in helping to found Newhaven Christian College.

I particularly thank all those supporters and members of the party who volunteered their time and their efforts to my election, led by the wonderful Julie Heron, my electorate chairperson. I have special thanks for my friend and mentor, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who taught me that in both politics and life tenacity counts above all else—although a good sense of humour always helps.

Last of all I thank my magnificent friends—all of you—and my family. My mother is passed, but she would be happy—I think. For my father, who served in another chamber in another place, I wish only to live out the values you taught me: service, integrity of spirit, and generosity.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the story of Australia is the story of a thousand communities, and the story of Flinders is the story of Sarah Meredith, Tom McGann and Gil Mulling. In weaving their stories together, the goal is hope, the vision is an open society and the path is along policies that encourage liberty. If I can assist my constituents and the wider community towards those ends then that will be enough. Thank you.