Maiden speech to Parliament

Maiden speech to Parliament

Wednesday February 13, 2008

I rise to make my first speech with a mixture of pride and honour, because I have been chosen by the people of Forrest to be their voice in federal parliament.

I acknowledge and thank them for their vote of confidence in my ability to represent them in an electorate which is one of the fastest-growing, most diverse, dynamic and productive regional areas in Australia.

I live and work in the small regional town of Harvey. As in most small towns, it is necessary for local people and families to work together to make sure that the community functions effectively. It does not happen on its own.

Like many people in regional areas I have worked with and for the community for the majority of my life. Equally, I respect and understand that those same communities know best what works for them. I was raised, very fortunately, in a pioneering transport family and both of my parents were very strong and committed community volunteers.

My father was a Lions Melvin Jones recipient who provided his earthmoving equipment and expertise for countless community projects throughout his life.

My mother was a very quiet achiever, dedicated to her family and the local community. She was a life member of St John’s Ambulance. She assisted with Meals on Wheels, school canteens and many other organisations. But they both instilled in me a hard work ethic, strong family values and an absolute commitment to the broader community.

I worked in an accountancy practice until my husband and I purchased a small dairy farm in Harvey. Hard work and a progressive commercial focus has seen this venture grow into a significant family business. And like most small family businesses that meant that I had to basically master every job.

It was this hands-on environment—and it was hands-on—that led me to agripolitical and broad regional involvement. As a member of a range of regional, state and national bodies, boards and groups, I have negotiated pretty complex issues with federal and state governments over many years and I am perfectly comfortable driving a tractor or a truck—I have got the truck licence—as well as discussing business strategies in any boardroom.

In building a small business during tough economic times and dairy deregulation, I have learned to be highly resourceful and innovative in order to survive and succeed. This enabled our business to operate effectively in a new environment of productivity and competitiveness.

From my extensive community and regional involvement, I have a very sound grasp of the grassroots issues concerning families, individuals, business and community groups. I have worked with people of all ages, from kindergarten to senior citizens, as well as junior and senior sporting groups and football clubs as president for the last 10 years—and we won premierships!

 I have been a very strong advocate for the region, irrespective of whom I had to deal with. And I will voice my views for the people of Forrest in the same manner here in parliament. I well understand the challenges that lie ahead for one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia.

Politics is about people. I entered politics to be of further service to the people of Forrest. I will provide them with emphatic and strong representation here in Canberra. Many of these people assisted me during my campaign.

I would like to briefly take this opportunity to thank my family and friends, my campaign team, my Liberal colleagues and my supporters, the branch members, and those in the wider community, particularly those who were with me from day one. Thank you all most sincerely for your loyalty and dedication, especially over the last 12 months. I am now the seventh member and the first ever female member for Forrest.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!

The electorate of Forrest was first proclaimed in 1922. It was named after Sir John Forrest, who was the first Premier of Western Australia.

My electorate covers 21,000 square kilometres, encompassing the south-west corner of Western Australia, from a little-known place called Yarloop in the north down to Walpole. It is beautiful. Forrest includes the city of Bunbury and the 10 shires of Harvey, Donnybrook-Balingup, Dardanup, Collie, Capel, Busselton, Augusta, Margaret River, Bridgetown-Greenbushes, Nannup and Manjimup.

My immediate predecessor, the Hon. Geoff Prosser, was a very well known identity in the south-west. In this House, I acknowledge his contribution over the past 20 years to an electorate that is now the home of over 140,000 people.

It is worthy of note that approximately 22 per cent of the people living there are children, up to the age of 14 years—a higher percentage than those living in the rest of Australia. But, for me, the group aged between 15 and 24 years stands at only 12.2 per cent, a lower percentage than the rest of Australia. Here is where some of the regional issues kick in. I am using this statistic to illustrate that this is an issue facing youth and families in regional areas such as Forrest.

I attribute this lower percentage to the need for students to leave my regional area to pursue tertiary education at universities in Perth and beyond. Many never return to live and work within the region again.

To improve student retention in the south-west, I will maintain support for the development of a further tertiary institution. It is essential to create additional strengths for the south-west economy, integrating with expanding mining and resources sectors and providing industry and various employment sectors with related programs such as engineering and surveying and trades that in the longer term will help to provide and address some of the chronic skills shortages in my region.

Equally, it would attract and retain residents to study, train and work in our local communities. This initiative, importantly, could also reduce the financial burden on south-west students and their families who need to leave home to study at metropolitan universities and tertiary institutions.

I want to ensure a sustainable evolving generation for tomorrow.

Talented, motivated young people are essential to my region and to Australia. With a population growth projection of 45 per cent in the greater Bunbury region, Busselton and surrounding areas between now and 2021, the challenge ahead is to plan for and invest in the infrastructure and social services required to accommodate this growth.

I take great comfort from the knowledge that Forrest is actually a micro snapshot of regional Australia. When I stand in this House to action initiatives, I can be assured that the benefits will apply to the broader regional population as well as to my own electorate.

Significant growth in industry also requires regional infrastructure. You want to hear about industry? Come to Forrest! The south-west is the source of many internationally renowned products.

The mining sector is the highest earner in the region, followed by forestry, agriculture—which includes horticulture and viticulture—and tourism. In fact, the south-west of Western Australia is an absolute and utter economic powerhouse.

I want to deliver that message here: it is an economic powerhouse. For example, we have major supplies of alumina, the world’s largest and highest-grade spodumene and the world’s largest tantalum deposit. As a result, the Bunbury port is one of the busiest in the state. Investment in road and rail infrastructure is essential to facilitate proposed expansions in this resource sector—and, let’s face it, investing in Forrest is investing for Australia.

I wish to briefly focus on two key issues facing not only the people in my electorate but also the Australian public. The first issue is water, and the importance of economically and environmentally sustainable land and water management. Harvey Water, in the Forrest electorate, is a regionally owned and operated irrigation scheme run by farmers. It is acknowledged as a world leader in its field.

Secondly, we need to focus on food production that is also economically and environmentally viable. It is critical for farmers and growers to have continued access to quality water and land. Australian food has a hard-won international reputation as being clean and green.

Furthermore, the production of food close to local and regional markets helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the Australian food supply.

I am proud to say that we have some of the most efficient producers of food and fibre in the world, and I believe that our communities must be able to buy quality, fresh, locally and regionally produced home-grown food. Government must ensure that the policy environment progresses the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the agricultural sector.

As part of that, I also value small business. It is a critical part of the economic and social fabric of so many regional centres and towns right across Australia, particularly in Forrest.

The majority of small businesses are family owned and run. They are a major employer nationally and are the cornerstone of our society. And never forget: small business is a critical player in strengthening competition in the marketplace.

It is my intention to engage in trade practices and small business issues. My focus will also be on implementing and building on practical plans to create regional economic development, employment and social opportunities, making my south-west an even better place to live, to work, to invest, to raise a family, to enjoy recreation and to retire.

The people of Forrest will have my full representation, from those who live in the major population centres to those who live in the rural and wider areas. I will continue to work diligently to address the issue of drugs in schools and in the wider community, and to strive to ensure security for our seniors. Every person has the right to feel safe and secure in their own home.

As part of my representation of the people in Forrest I will also maintain a focus on health delivery outcomes and work towards attracting more doctors and allied health professionals to the region to ensure medical services and aged-care facilities keep pace with the projected population growth.

Finally, I need once again to acknowledge and thank the people of Forrest for their support. To them, I say this: you can be assured that I will be ‘focused on Forrest’ and that I will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf as your voice in this parliament.

Thank you.