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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 103


Mr BAKER (6:51 PM) — Mr Speaker may I, at the outset, congratulate you on your election and Mr Deputy Speaker and Mr Second Deputy Speaker on their re-election. It is with a deep sense of pride that I rise in this chamber to address the House. I know I share that feeling with everyone here, especially the recently elected new members on both sides. We have a sense of great privilege at being elected to represent our constituents.

During the great constitutional debates of the 1890s, our founding fathers discussed what to call the main elected chamber of the prospective federal government. A number of names were considered, but the greatest support went to adopting the name `House of Representatives'. This was a deliberate step. The new Australian parliament could have chosen a neutral term, such as `house of assembly' or adopted the style of many European parliaments and used `house of delegates'. Yet the founders had no doubt that the main responsibilities of the members of the new federal house of government were to represent their constituents; their needs, their concerns and their aspirations.

One of those founding fathers was the Tasmanian statesman Sir Edward Braddon. He was a distinguished colonial premier of Tasmania and represented Tasmania at several federal conventions. In 1903 Sir Edward Braddon—who, coincidentally, was at the time a neighbouring farmer of my paternal great-grandfather—was elected the first member for Wilmot, but he died a year later, in 1904. Some public minded local landowners subsequently set aside some land on a vantage point near Forth, a small town between Devonport and Burnie. This land is called Braddon's Lookout and commands a magnificent view of much of the north-west coast and Bass Strait. The lookout is above Lillico Beach, named after my maternal forebears, who first settled this land in 1865. It is important to remind ourselves of this because we do not often remember those people who got together to write our Constitution, and it is right that we honour them.

From 1903 the north-west federal seat was known as Darwin because Charles Darwin's famous ship the Beagle dropped anchor on the north-west coast to replenish supplies of fresh water during its voyage to the Southern Ocean. The first member for Darwin was the flamboyant King O'Malley. O'Malley was the minister for home affairs at the time when Canberra was chosen as the future site of the federal capital in 1913 and was in fact the longest living member of the first federal parliament when he died in 1953. Another prominent member was Sir George Bell, who became Speaker of the House of Representatives and a significant parliamentarian. A beautiful part of my electorate, Bell's Parade, near Latrobe—where I spent many happy hours as a child—is named in his memory.

But perhaps the most famous of my predecessors in this seat is the Hon. Dame Enid Muriel Lyons, widow of the distinguished Tasmanian who became Prime Minister, Joe Lyons. Dame Enid was member for Darwin from 1943 to 1951, when she was forced to retire because of ill health. Dame Enid is well known as the first woman to become a member of this House, representing first the United Australia Party and, when it was founded, the Liberal Party. She was also the first woman to become minister of the Crown, serving in the Menzies government from 1949 to 1951 as Vice-President of the Executive Council. Her late husband had held that same portfolio, and I think this would be the only occasion when a husband and wife have shared such an achievement. Although her health forced Dame Enid to leave the parliament in 1951, she continued a significant role in public life over the next 30 years, serving as a commissioner of the ABC and fulfilling many public engagements. As a child growing up in Devonport, I have fond memories of watching Dame Enid piloting her grey Humber car through the streets, and of dodging it at times. She was known and loved by many.

In 1955, when Aubrey Luck was the Liberal member, the parliament passed a resolution changing the name of the seat from Darwin to Braddon. Aubrey held many public offices during and after his parliamentary term, including a very important position as a very popular patron of the Devonport Football Club. I played for the club for a number of seasons and was fortunate to be captain, play in two premierships and represent Tasmania. I remember Mr Luck as a supportive presence and a friend of my parents.

Two of my other distinguished Liberal predecessors were Ray Groom, a former prominent footballer who held the seat of Braddon from 1975 to 1984, served as a minister in the Fraser government and later held office as Premier of Tasmania; and Chris Miles, who was the Braddon MP from 1984 to 1998 and was Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet in the first Howard government. So, as the new member for Braddon, I am very conscious of the legacy of previous federal Liberal parliamentarians who have so ably represented the electorate.

I believe I am fortunate, although some members of my family would say that is debatable, to have some political blood running through my veins. My great-uncle Elliott Lillico was member for Meander in the Tasmanian Legislative Council and then a Liberal senator for Tasmania for 15 years before retiring in 1974. My maternal great-grandfather was Sir Alexander Lillico, a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council for some 30 years—a record which still stands today. Sir Alexander entered parliament as an unassuming farmer who, it is recorded, `had neither the benefit of oratory nor of high education'. His main quality was integrity, and I believe that is a special asset that is missing in many sectors today.

In 1944 the Labor government wanted the states to transfer certain powers to the Commonwealth. This was supported by each state parliament except the Tasmanian Legislative Council. The Tasmanian upper house was split 10-8, with Sir Alexander Lillico leading the opposition. Dr Evatt was despatched by Prime Minister Curtin to Tasmania to secure support for that bill. This became known as the Evatt versus Lillico affair. Evatt failed to persuade the Tasmanians to change their opposition. Frustrated, he put the powers bill to a referendum. It was rejected by every state except South Australia, where it passed by only a slim margin. This is a lesson well worth recording. The instinct of a small minority to oppose something thought desirable by almost every other parliamentarian in Australia was proven to be in fact consistent with the overwhelming view of the electorate. It is a very important reminder, I believe, that we must always keep in touch with our electors. They are, after all, our employers. I swore the oath of allegiance as the member for Braddon somewhat daunted by the list of predecessors who have held this seat.

I was born in Devonport and raised along with my three elder sisters on the family farm nearby. When attending school in Devonport I was a restless young man who preferred learning by doing rather than in the classroom. Consequently, I left after grade 10 to train as a carpenter and joiner, and obtained a trade certificate at the Devonport Technical College. After a period, and with counsel from my previous teachers, I decided to further my studies at the Tasmanian State Institute of Technology and later at the University of Tasmania. I completed a Bachelor of Education and subsequently was employed as a secondary teacher in Tasmanian high schools.

I then made a career choice to pursue further studies in commerce and law and move back to the business world in the area of business and financial management. This provided me with opportunities to travel overseas, including to the USA and Canada, and the chance to observe other national financial systems in action. This experience was invaluable, and I met many who were envious of the probity and efficiency of the Australian financial system.

In November 1998, whilst working in Launceston in northern Tasmania, something happened which dramatically changed the course of my life. While crossing a one-way street, I looked the wrong way in a moment of distraction. The result was a traumatic injury and many months in acute care in hospital, followed by well over three years of intensive physical rehabilitation. This placed great stresses on my personal life, and I want to pay tribute to my family—especially to my mother, Margaret Joy, and to my three sisters, Helen, Diane and Peta, who were enormously supportive during this period. I wish to acknowledge two of my sisters, Helen and Diane, who are here in the gallery today. My mother always gave our family unreserved support. She was our guiding light—a beautiful person who had a special and unique relationship with each family member. We were devastated when, after a short illness, she died in the middle of this election campaign. I know she would have been proud to see one of her children standing in this House.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. On many occasions I could not see anything positive about what happened to me. Yet, that saying is true. I met some wonderful medical and nursing staff at the Launceston General Hospital, and I made some truly inspirational friends amongst my fellow patients. Once I was back on my feet, I resolved to give something back to society. I became involved in the Road Trauma Support Team in northern Tasmania and the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust, and I became a member of the Tasmanian Road Safety Consultative Committee. It is not widely known that for every road death in Tasmania, 30 people are seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents; and it is even worse in some mainland states. These injuries include paraplegia, loss of limbs and serious brain damage. A former Tasmanian Premier, the Hon. Tony Rundle, rightly called this `the hidden disease'. I am strongly of the view that there should be compulsory driver education in every Australian school, from grade 9 to grade 12. If a school today decided not to offer computer science, maths or English, parents and the community would be rightly astonished. Yet a number of schools either ignore driver education or have ceased to offer it. Irreparable damage can be done by a young, inexperienced driver in charge of a motor car, and governments at all levels have an obligation to prepare young Australians for the nation's roads.

One legacy which the experience of being in that road accident has instilled in me is the highest regard for our public hospital system and for the quality of the people who make it work. That is something I shall never forget. One of the tasks I took on was to become chairman of the Save Launceston General Hospital Committee. In this role I acted as an intermediary for the hospital's medical and other staff and the state bureaucracy. I was astounded to find—having come from a private industry background—that no fewer than 32 approvals were needed for an expenditure of $20,000 or more by the hospital. I am not sure that the system has improved, and it is very important that state governments around Australia tackle the burden of red tape and bureaucracy that is eating up so much of the health dollar.

The electorate that I am privileged to represent is in a beautiful part of the state. I was marvelling last week, yet again, at how rich the agricultural land is in that part of Tasmania. And it will not be surprising for members to learn that 10 per cent of the population of Braddon are directly employed in agriculture. There is a wide variety of farming, including cropping and sheep farming, and it is the state's centre for dairy production. We are also privileged to have other niche markets. We have kelp harvesting and poppy production, we are a world leader in pyrethrum production, and we have a significant tulip estate at Table Cape—which has grown to be so successful that it has become a popular tourist attraction and actually exports products to the Netherlands during the northern winter. We also have a fledgling wine-growing industry in Braddon, which should not be too surprising given that our latitude is the same in the south as Tuscany in the north.

Out of the city of Devonport, the `gateway to Tasmania', operate the three Spirit of Tasmania ferries—two to Melbourne and one to Sydney. It is important to remind the House that a large measure of the commercial success of these vessels, which have heralded a significant tourism boom in Tasmania and have contributed to lower airfares, came directly from the Howard government's decision in 1996 to establish the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme.

Apart from the 10 per cent who are involved in agriculture, 15 per cent of the adults in the Braddon electorate are employed in some form of manufacturing industry, and a further 25 per cent are employed in construction or trade orientated industries.

I have deliberately set out these statistics to give the House an indication of the profile of the seat of Braddon, which swung to the Liberal Party by a margin of almost 7½ per cent on 9 October this year. That was the strongest swing to the Liberal Party nationwide to gain a seat—an outstanding result for the Liberal Party. That outcome is directly attributable to two things: the hard work of the Liberal Party grassroots members in all of the branches on the north-west coast and the consistent leadership of this country by our Prime Minister. I wish to acknowledge and thank the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team: Senators Calvert, Abetz, Colbeck, Watson and Barnett. Richard Colbeck led the north-west coast ably. I thank you. I also thank the ministers who journeyed down to our great electorate, and I make a special mention of Mr Philip Parsons, the campaign director, and his family, who gave me tremendous support through the election.

As someone working in financial management, I was in no doubt that the hard work undertaken by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer over the last eight years—to first stabilise and then grow our national economy to be a world leader—is the most important achievement. Without a strong economy, no government can do good things for Australia and Australians. More than 70 per cent of people in my electorate own or are currently buying their homes, so they have a clear understanding of the vital importance of managing our $800 billion economy, of maintaining a budget surplus and of the proper management of interest rates.

I was particularly pleased to see in the Governor-General's speech that His Excellency mentioned the Future Fund, to take account of the ageing of the Australian population. Braddon has one of the older demographics in the country, with 14 per cent of the electorate being aged over 65 years, so I will take a particular interest in the management of the health and welfare sector. One of the most important elements of aged care is allowing people to remain independent as long as they are able, preferably in their own homes. People having to move because of frailty not only dislocates them but can also separate them from family, friends and the network with which they are familiar. I am a strong believer in improved domiciliary care and the development of graded aged care facilities, where a resident can move from an independent-living unit, to hostel type accommodation, to a nursing home—depending upon their personal circumstances and own needs. There are a number of excellent facilities in Braddon, but the ageing profile of our nation means that the private sector will have to work more with the federal and state governments to fulfil this need.

I have been very supportive of the Howard government's support for apprenticeships and for the technical education system nationally. Since 1996 the number of apprentices in Braddon has increased threefold and the government has successfully moved to dispel the myth that vocational education is somehow `second best' to tertiary study. As someone with a rural upbringing who began his working career with a four-year apprenticeship, then decided to go on to university study and is in the process of completing his third university degree, I believe that I am equipped to remind the House that each career path is as valuable as the other. I commend the Prime Minister for his announcement during the election campaign that 24 new federal technical colleges would be established across Australia if the government were returned.

The mining industry is also a strong contributor to the economy in my electorate. A variety of mining operations flourish in Braddon, such as the Savage River mine. Magnetite ore is mined at Savage River and then pumped along an 85-kilometre pipeline to Port Latta, where it is pelletised. Production in 2002-03 totalled some 5.3 million tonnes and provided employment for 420 people. At Railton, south of Devonport, the Cement Australia plant operates using local limestone. In 2002-03 more than 1.26 million tonnes were produced, the vast majority shipped here to mainland Australia. The cement operation at Railton provides employment for over 170 people. There is a range of other mining operations including mineral sands operations at Naracoopa on King Island and magnesite mining at Arthur River and Main Creek. One of the as yet largely untapped resources is the dolomite resource at Circular Head. I am advised that the reserve of dolomite in that area of Tasmania is the largest concentration in the Southern Hemisphere, and there are a number of exciting possibilities there for future exploration.

Braddon also boasts Australian Paper's Wesley Vale and Burnie mills, where combined annual production is more than a quarter of a million tonnes. Together they employ over 500 people and have ongoing relationships with some 140 local contractors. Braddon also boasts major ports at Burnie and Devonport and a significant port at Stanley. These services not only export manufactured and raw materials but also support a flourishing local fishing industry. Braddon is also where some of the finest cheeses in the world are produced and—this may surprise honourable members—is the location of a growing market in quality chocolates, a benefit of our rich dairy assets. My electorate is also one of the biggest exporters of onions overseas and provides all of the potato needs to two well-known national takeaway restaurant chains.

Braddon also is a world leader in forestry and associated timber industries. It possesses timbers such as the magnificent Huon pine, blackwood, myrtle, celery-top pine and Tasmanian eucalypt. After the implementation of the Howard government's election policy, over one million hectares of forests in Tasmania will be protected forever. This amounts to some 42 per cent of Tasmania's landmass. This is a unique outcome unequalled in the world today. It is my responsibility to dispel the myth that there are few trees left in Tasmania. In fact, the opposite is true.

Braddon, therefore, is a diverse electorate. It has two significant cities, a number of other substantial towns and no particular central point. This makes it a particular challenge for any federal representative, but I pledge now to represent every part of the electorate from King Island to the far north-west coast, to Savage River and Waratah, Smithton, Burnie, Ulverstone and Devonport. Tasmania is a small state and, perhaps uniquely in Australia, most people know at least one state and/or federal parliamentarian. I fully understand that with that friendly familiarity comes a burden of trust and responsibility that I will strive to fulfil.

In common with many Australians and other honourable members, my family has served our nation in time of war. My grandfather Arthur Horden Baker fought in France with the Australian Army in World War I and paid the supreme sacrifice. My late father, Petre Baker, served as a Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, attached to Bomber Command, and participated in a remarkable 60 flights over occupied Europe. He returned to farm on the north-west coast and rarely talked about this brave service. He was a man of immense character whom I was privileged to have as a father. My brother-in-law Rodney Layton served in Vietnam and my nephew Nathan Layton has continued the family tradition, serving in the Royal Australian Air Force in Iraq in this year. Honourable members can perhaps imagine how proud I am of that. With this family background, I feel it is so important that our nation has been led during these difficult times by a strong and resolute leader. We certainly have such a man in our Prime Minister.

I look forward to contributing to the work of the fourth Howard government. I look forward to being a representative of all the people of Braddon—to listening to their concerns and representing them in the counsels of government. When my great-grandfather died in 1966 at the age of 94, the Advocate newspaper said that `his main asset was his sincerity and he was guided by what he thought would be best for the state'. I do not know if a higher tribute is possible for any parliamentarian. With the support of my colleagues I intend to dedicate myself to working hard and consistently for the people of Braddon and the Parliament of Australia. I thank the House.