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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 25

Mr JOHNSON (10:36 AM) —I begin, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, by congratulating you on your re-election—one of the few from the endangered species of Labor Party members in the state of Tasmania. I am pleased and honoured to rise in this new parliament today—the 41st Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia—to express my strong support for the Howard government's plans and policies for the three years ahead and to speak of my priorities as a local member, as the re-elected federal member for the seat of Ryan in Queensland. At the outset, I extend my congratulations to all those who are coming to the parliament for the first time. I congratulate those who have presented speeches for the first time on some wonderful speeches and some very strong personal stories therein.

It is incumbent upon me to thank the people of Ryan for re-electing me as their local federal member. It is a great honour. It is an honour that I do not take lightly, and it is a privilege to have been returned as the sitting Liberal member with an increased primary vote of over six per cent and an overall vote of over 60 per cent. As I said in my maiden speech to the parliament almost three years ago, I consider my election to the Commonwealth parliament as a very deep honour. It is a particular honour because I am, I guess, one of the younger members of the parliament and because I am an Australian that was not born in this country but came to this country as a young boy. I say to the people of Ryan that it is a privilege I do not take for granted and I will continue to work very hard not only for those who subscribe very strongly to the views, philosophies and policies of the Howard government but also for those who did not vote for me. I will be a representative for all the people of Ryan.

In the election, I campaigned very much on my plans for the local community, and I look forward to continuing to deliver those plans and continuing to create more opportunities for the people of Ryan: small business, local community groups, all residents and, in particular, the young people of Ryan. One of the great pleasures of a local member is the opportunity to meet the full spectrum of the Australian community, from young kids at schools to those in retirement homes, those in businesses and those who do great work for our community.

The election result on 9 October was a truly historic one for the government. The parliament represents the voice of the Australian people. In our democratic system the people of Australia, I think overwhelmingly, decided that their interests were best served by the return of the Howard government. Listening to the speeches of the new members and looking around the chamber in the last few days, I note that the parliament is as diverse and as rich as the tapestry of the nation that we collectively represent. Those who have come to this parliament come from all walks of life. They come from all parts of this country. They come from successful businesses and high networks and they come here from careers in the police force, academia and many other spheres of professional life.

Those of us who stand for parliament and for political office—whether or not we are successful—owe a great deal of gratitude to those who contribute to our campaigns. I want to take this opportunity in my speech on the address-in-reply to express in the parliament my very deepest thanks to all those who have made my campaign in Ryan successful—those in the Liberal Party, the volunteers, supporters, friends and family who gave so much of their time to making our campaign very successful. I want to express in the parliament my very special thanks. It would not have been a successful campaign without the great deal of investment in time that they awarded to the Liberal Party and to me as the local candidate.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Ryan campaign chairman, Mr Phil Williams, and his wife, Brenda Williams; the campaign director, Talena Elson; the campaign coordinator, Bernie Mack; my campaign manager, Shona Leppanen-Gibson; my campaign treasurer, Garth Wong; and volunteer coordinator, Mr Barrie Middleton. They are fine Australians who have a great love of democracy and a great love of the Liberal Party and what we can do in government for the people of Australia and of course for the people of Ryan.

It is important for me to make special mention of the booth captains who showed great dedication on election day. They get up very early in the morning and do the hard work before the rest of us get up, and they deserve the full thanks of all of us on this side of the parliament who were re-elected. It is also important for me to acknowledge two special members of the Ryan FEC. They are two exceptional Liberals: Jimmy Smith and David Gowen. They are two Australians who I think represent Australia in so many ways. In their lives, these Australians have done so much for our country in their work and now in their retirement they are heavily engaged in the community and also in supporting the Liberal Party in Ryan.

The Prime Minister's strong leadership since taking office in 1996 has ensured that our nation remains respected internationally and secure domestically. The Treasurer's superb stewardship of the national economy has meant that millions of Australians have been able to enjoy the benefits of a strong and growing economy—well-paid jobs and bright futures. The budget is in surplus. The national debt, so appallingly left to the incoming coalition government in 1996—$96 billion of national debt—continues to be paid off by this government so that future generations of Australians can look forward to an unencumbered future, a future without Labor's debt. That is one reason that so many people voted for the government.

Now, as the Howard government approaches its fourth term in government with a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, we will be able to advance the reforms that have been so frustrated in the Senate by the opposition and the minor parties. The strong result at the last election has given the government a mandate to march forward with important and vital reforms—reforms that will make a difference to this country's national economic life. It is important that we do see this as a mandate. As a member of the government, as a sitting Liberal member, I want to confirm that that is how I view the election of the Howard government. In a democracy, parties are elected to make decisions on behalf of the country. That is our system of government. We have been elected by the people. We have a commission, we have a trust, to carry out the policies and the philosophies which guide this party.

That is why so many people are involved in the Liberal Party. They not only support their local members but also have a strong and abiding faith in the philosophy of liberalism, which of course very strongly includes a belief in the unlimited potential of the individual—the belief that an individual can achieve so much; that an individual can overcome obstacles and do great things without the heavy hand of a bureaucracy and governments.

For me as the local federal member for Ryan, one of the key areas that I wish to focus on will be the area of small business. For Ryan businesses, some of the most important reforms on the agenda for the government are those relating to workplace relations—issues that are impacting very strongly on Australia's small business sector. In Australia we have over 1.1 million small businesses that play a crucial role in this country's economy. They employ over 3.3 million Australians and account for nearly 50 per cent of all jobs in the private sector. Businesses are not only about giving people jobs; they are also about human dignity. They are about giving people an opportunity to pursue goals and interests. They represent a vehicle in which people can contribute to a strong and vibrant community. That is why small businesses are all so important.

The Howard government's aim has always been to create the most flexible and dynamic workplace relations system possible to support our entrepreneurs and small businesses. I am delighted that the Governor-General spoke in his opening remarks to the parliament about the importance of entrepreneurship and about this government creating a culture of entrepreneurship.

Since its election, the Howard government has initiated crucial workplace reforms that have made vast differences to the conditions of employers and employees. Nationally, the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.3 per cent, and it continues to fall. It is now at its lowest level in more than a quarter of a century. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in February 1977—decades ago. We have higher productivity growth which has meant increased real wages. Real wages for full-time workers are now more than 13 per cent higher than when Labor was in government. Strikes are at their lowest level since records were first kept in the early part of the 20th century. Businesses and workers are benefiting from these conditions and contributing to Australia's strong economic performance.

Clearly, there is more to be done. I want to strongly encourage small and medium sized businesses to look at opportunities for exports. The government's $30 million support over four years in terms of the export management development grants will, I think, be an important part of helping small and medium sized businesses export to the world. I was pleased to hear in this morning's news that on 1 January 2005 the US-Australia free trade agreement will come into force. This is good for business and good for Australia because it will continue to ensure the strong growth of the national economy.

Workplace reforms must focus on simplifying, and producing a better balance for, the dismissal rights and obligations of employers and employees, and, as I said, particularly for small businesses. With the strong connection and contact I have with local small businesses in Ryan, I am continually reminded how important it is that the government push ahead with vital reforms to unfair dismissal laws. These reforms will ensure that the small business sector continues to thrive and prosper. Changes must be made to take the unfair dismissal laws burden off the back of small businesses and protect them from redundancy payments. We have to ensure that our industrious and creative small business operators can get on with the job of growing their businesses. Their business is business. Their business is to employ more Australians and add to the national wealth of this country.

During the election campaign, the Howard government pledged to commit $2 million to establish a pilot program focusing on providing small businesses with access to mediation services as a low-cost and informal alternative to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. I think this is an example of why the Australian people have re-elected the Howard government. It is an example of a party in this parliament coming up with ideas, policies and initiatives that actually make a difference to people and businesses in the community.

In this 41st Parliament, I encourage the opposition to come up with ideas, initiatives and policies and rid themselves of the trend of personal abuse that seemed to be a hallmark of the Labor Party in the 40th Parliament. There is no place in Australian political life for personal abuse, and I think the Australian people would be delighted if both sides of parliament, all members of parliament, abstained from engaging in commentary of a personal nature against other members of parliament. It is time we acknowledged that this parliament is the place for ideas, for robust exchange of thoughts, a place where we can debate the important issues that affect the country. We should not be afraid of doing that with all the enthusiasm and rigour that guide our philosophies and our parties, but, at the same time, there is ample opportunity for us do that in the spirit of democracy, in the spirit of what we are here for, which is to make this country better and make the lives of Australians the length and breadth of this country that much stronger and prosperous.

Disputes in the workplace are costly for small business. I think the program I have just referred to would go a long way towards a low-cost and less adversarial method of dispute resolution. In Ryan, we have over 5,000 small businesses. In my second term as a local member I look forward to continuing to meet small business operators and engaging with them about some of the important issues they face.

As I have just alluded to, I have always believed that when businesses prosper the whole community prospers. When businesses flourish they employ more people, providing jobs for local residents and increasing the number of services that can be provided to a community's schools, charities and worthwhile causes. Many small businesses contribute in terms of sponsorship and fundraising for local communities. That is certainly the case in the Ryan electorate.

The Ryan electorate is a very special place. The Brisbane River meanders through the electorate's suburbs of Toowong, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Kenmore, Chapel Hill, Mount Ommaney and Jindalee and makes it a very special place. It is an enlarged electorate that takes in suburbs that were formerly part of the federal seat of Blair, from the breathtaking Mount Nebo to Lake Manchester and the Brisbane Forest Park. There are many green and relaxing parks scattered throughout the Ryan electorate. I have had the pleasure of living in the Ryan electorate for almost 25 years. I say to the people of Ryan that I will continue to work hard, consistent with someone who has lived in the local community for almost a quarter of a century.

One of the special honours bestowed upon me in my first term representing the people of Ryan in the parliament was to be invited to be patron of the Moggill Koala Hospital. I am delighted to have received a letter from the Moggill Koala Hospital asking me if I will continue in that role and continue my support for them. They are a terrific organisation, and I will certainly accept with great pleasure their kind invitation. It is important that all of us in the parliament acknowledge the importance of local communities and what local individuals do to support the environment.

One of my key priorities over the next three years is to secure more funding for the Envirofund and Green Corps projects in the electorate of Ryan. These are the kinds of substantial projects that make a true difference to our communities. In Ryan, we have had four local Green Corps programs delivered through Greening Australia, at Pullenvale and at Kenmore, and I have been pleased to attend all the launches and all the graduation ceremonies of these projects. I am always impressed with the young people who are engaged in that and the great work that they do. They make a real difference to the community in Ryan, and I know from attending the graduation ceremonies the benefits and the skills that the young people acquire. Next year I will be sponsoring four participants from two Green Corps projects to come to Canberra to meet with the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell, to advise him on their experiences, to promote the program and to outline how important funding for those programs is for the people of Ryan.

Education is, of course, a very strong national policy issue and in the Ryan electorate the University of Queensland is based at St Lucia. I want to pledge to those who attend this university and those who work there my strong support for its funding. It is a university that attracts an enormous amount of funds from the Howard government—and so it should, because it is one of the premier institutions of higher learning in this country. It was recently voted one of the top 50 universities in the world and it has been at the forefront of excellence in higher education.

At the same time, I want to place very strongly in the Hansard my absolute support for the government's intention to do something about compulsory student unionism. I am not going to stand aside and allow the student body of a campus to use funds from students to campaign politically. This is not their place; they should be engaged in the worthy cause of studying and achieving qualifications that will empower them in their lives ahead. I have been contacted in recent weeks by many students asking that the government continue their policy on voluntary student unionism. We will, I hope, legislate to ensure that students have a choice regarding university organisations and their right of freedom of association.

I am very proud of the achievements in the local Ryan community over the last three years. I am delighted to be back in the parliament as a member of the Howard government. I will continue to work very hard for the people of Ryan. I will continue to be a member who has enthusiasm and integrity. I will continue to represent their concerns, their interests and what is important to them in their national parliament. It is important for all members in this parliament to acknowledge that it is a great privilege to be in this place. Sometimes I think that can be forgotten, but as one of the younger members of the 41st Parliament I intend to ensure that the privilege that has been bestowed on me by the people of Ryan is not forgotten.

Some 40-odd per cent of the electorate of Ryan is made up of families with children. These are the Australians who count on me to represent them very strongly in the parliament—to talk about schools and education, to talk about businesses and to talk about the environment because that is what is important to them. I look forward, with my colleagues, to governing in the interests of this country. I think the government has a wonderful opportunity in this 41st Parliament to do some special things for this country that will advance the national agenda and ensure that, decades hence, Australians will look back on this parliament as a historic one that was able to do great things in the life of this country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! Before I call the honourable member for Adelaide, I remind the House that this is the member's first speech and I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.