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Thursday, 14 February 2002
Page: 213

Mr JOHN COBB (11:35 AM) —My congratulations to the Speaker, you, Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, and the member for Page on your election. It is a tremendous honour to be representing the seat of Parkes in the federal parliament of Australia. In taking up that position I must acknowledge the people of our electorate who have given me an obvious and awesome responsibility.

I am not going to attempt to name all of those who have made it possible for me to be here. The major thanks to them will be in the effort and the results that we make in the years ahead. I do, however, have to make mention of my wife, Gai, and all my daughters. The reason I mention them is not just for the support and the help and the sacrifice they have made but that, despite knowing the effect of public life on private life, Gai has gone into this with me totally.

There are two people, however, to whom I am in debt above all else. They are Lee and Mary Cobb, my parents, who have made everything possible. Neither of them are now with us and obviously had nothing to do with the November election, but they were both returned service people who volunteered five years of their lives and never once did I hear them say that Australia, or anyone, owed them anything.

I am also very proud not only to be the member of federal parliament for Parkes but also to be part of a very old and distinguished party. We are not perfect and sometimes all parties and all governments must look at what they do and at their approach. But when we really assess Australian politics, with its concentration of people in the capital cities, we need the National Party. The people of Parkes have confidence in the National Party and in the government in times of emergency and in times of crisis. We as a party have to be equally convincing and give the same kind of confidence, and that is what has happened in the last few years, in less exciting times as well.

Parkes is, of course, named after the person who was considered to be the Father of Federation, Sir Henry Parkes. What could be more appropriate than to be the new member for Parkes giving a maiden speech just after Australia Day? It is not the day which most Australians recognise sentimentally—that is Anzac Day. Anzac Day is when we recall our pride in our nation and our pride in our forebears—our pride in Australia. Australia Day, on the other hand, is about what we are doing now and what we will do in the future, and it is when we remember that we are not just a collection of states, a collection of disparate groups. It is very easy to forget just how stable and fortunate we are. When we have a government we do not want, we do not start a revolution. When we do not get the economic situation that we personally want, most of us do not look for a radical solution. We do not go on hunger strikes when we do not get our own way, nor do we use our children as weapons to achieve our aims. We buckle down and work harder—or harass the nearest politician.

Australians need to remember that, unless we allow it, these values will not change—and they must not change. Our electorate is over one-third of the most populous and productive state in the nation. It is rich in agriculture, mining and tourism and offers a wealth of opportunities and natural wonders. As the intersection of the nation's transport route, it plays a huge role in industry and travel. It has a rich history and indigenous heritage and provides a very colourful background and a hugely varied population.

I come to this parliament as a person without any higher education or tertiary degrees. But I do bring to it experience in life and in representing country people and perhaps, more importantly, in surviving as a small businessman. Small business is our country's barometer for its economic climate and community morale. In short, it is its heart and soul—it certainly is in the seat of Parkes. My profession is a farmer. By and large farmers are regarded as people from a physical environment, and they certainly have a reputation for being blunt.

I am told it is common on this occasion to talk about the people you have admired and whom you see as examples for public life. The first people I ever wanted to emulate were probably Lew Hoad and Norm O'Neil—and in terms of lifestyle that still sounds pretty good. But in public life, as in business or social life, we have to be doers, and the people that I have always really wanted to emulate were doers. Doug Anthony was a doer, and so was Black Jack. The most successful businessman that I know in our electorate—very much a self-made man—has a saying that we should all heed: there is no such word as `can't'; there is only `won't'. The most frustrating thing that we strike as individuals, as lobbyists, as representatives, as business people—and I suspect as members of parliament—is that process seems to be more important than outcome. I suspect that leaving this place known as a person who is outcome oriented is probably as good as it gets.

Our community in the Parkes electorate has a larger proportion of Aboriginal people than most other electorates. I am not standing here to say that I know the answers to their social and health problems. In the coming months I want to work with Aboriginal communities to determine which programs are working and which ones we have to change. The circumstances under which the worst affected Aboriginal families live in terms of health and housing are totally unacceptable. But the amount of money that has been spent, with all the best intentions, is not acceptable in terms of the results that have generally been achieved. Very recently I attended the reburial of a person who probably died 400 to 500 years ago and whose remains were found on a farm. The farmer was understandably terrified that, if word got out, he could lose control of part or all of his farm. But that did not happen mainly because he went and talked directly to the local community. That raises a point: where people of goodwill do talk directly, generally there is not much of a problem. We have to accept that on both sides of any equation there has to be goodwill and good intention. It is like giving up smoking. Unless you really want to quit, you will not.

The people of my electorate, along with many other country Australians, are suffering the consequences of the biggest rip-off in Australia—the environmental correctness forced on country people and farming families by extreme groups and governments purporting to act on the community's behalf. Country people practise sustainable development and conservation. We believe in it; we need it. The current virtual ban on sustainable development is devastating farm families' primary assets and selling the community short in terms of jobs, aspirations, and regional prosperity. This is conservation being practised on behalf of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, in their image but being paid for by us.

The New South Wales government claims to be unable to afford to pay for its environmental correctness. So, if the whole community cannot afford to pay, how can a few thousand farmers and the country people who depend upon them as their major industry afford to? For any government to ask agriculture to bear the total cost of conservation on behalf of the people of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane is untenable. Without urgent serious compensation, this outrage to country communities will continue.

Quality education is, of course, a priority, as is parents' right to choices as provided by the private system. In the same way, aged care facilities and carers are also a priority, partly because of the unique budgetary circumstances that some have in areas where personal assets do not match the values people bring out of the city.

In the past few years the telecommunications revolution that has happened in my region has been just absolutely incredible. However, communications in the Parkes electorate and elsewhere in country areas should set the standard and not just forever play catch-up to what is happening for communications in the major areas. The real truth is that vital country services will never be profitable and like with health, education and defence the federal government must always underwrite that shortfall.

Parkes suffers badly from a shortage of health professionals. A number of very promising short-term measures have been introduced but the only long-term solution—and it is happening—is to train our own young kids to become doctors and nurses. The health education system became elitist, and the elite have failed us. Under federal pressure some universities are addressing the trend, but the clear and only answer is an enormous increase in the intake of country students into medical schools and an increase in the number of country facilities. The scholarships and grants introduced by this government are incredible steps forward, but once again the current education procedures for registered nurses discriminate very badly against country students.

Transport is the lifeblood of my electorate, whether it be by road, rail or air. I have to applaud the Hon. John Anderson and this government for the Roads to Recovery program, which has put $37 million into my electorate. Sending it straight to local government for immediate use was a godsend. But it has reawakened local communities to the incredible need and it has also reawakened them to the state neglect. We need to go beyond the four-year program to adequately address what is a unanimous issue in my electorate. Fuel pricing—and the lack of competition in a region that is unable to avoid high fuel usage—and a total lack of public transport still remain ours to resolve.

On the social front, drug abuse is the silent scourge in the region despite the best efforts of everyone. While heroin remains a silent scourge, less notorious substances like cannabis continue to affect youth suicide. A related state responsibility that cannot be ignored in my region is law and order. However, I do not think of it as law and order; I think of it as the desire of individuals to feel safe and their desire that their families also feel safe. We deserve that in this country. Our federal responsibility is to build on the successes of the Tough on Drugs strategy to deal with drug and social problems at the source, but I think it is also our federal responsibility to make law and order a national issue if the states continually prove to be unable to deal with it.

I have two cities in my electorate 800 kilometres apart. One of them, Broken Hill, is probably the most famous city in regional Australia. It is a city that was an Australian and world leader in mining, a city that lost 811 lives in the development of this country. It is a city that, like the merino sheep, has been responsible for the standard of living that we have achieved today. But it has a decline in mining activity; therefore, its community has a huge task in reworking its economic base. There is an awful lot being done by and for the Broken Hill community to enhance those prospects.

At the other end of the electorate we have the city of Dubbo, which is without doubt the most progressive, most modern and most capable regional city in Australia. It stands in readiness, along with its sister towns in the electorate and the new towns in the south of the electorate, to go full bore into development and to carry the load and provide the resources that Australia will always require of its inland. The problem is that we have so many man-made barriers to sustainable development, whether they be in mining, agriculture, tourism or simply in developing the potential of the citizens out there. But first we need the resources and the capital to do two things. The first is to fully realise the potential that the population of country Australia possesses, and the second is to continue to provide the resources that Australia and many parts of the world require of us.

I find it difficult to believe those who say Australia has reached or surpassed its population limit. There is a long way to go—millions—especially in country Australia. And holding back will not just do our legacy an incredible disservice; we will be condemning our kids to an ordinary future. We have to look at people who want to come into Australia, who have resources and ideas and who have already proved themselves and want to do it here. Without this resource, in terms of capital and in terms of human investment, we are not going to realise that potential. As we have been forced to look beyond Australia for doctors for country areas so, short term, we will be forced to look beyond Australia for investment for country Australia.

When I travel country Australia—and I have, quite a lot—all I see is the ability and the need to develop sustainably. But the fact is that we have had governments around Australia, and in New South Wales in particular, who have thrived on environmental and political correctness and the creation of committees to avoid decision making—in short, they desire to focus on process rather than outcome. Let us show them federal leadership that uses commonsense and direction and encourages private investment. The government has given a lot of leadership but we still have a long way to go.

Development does not mean, and should not mean, a wearing down of resources, taking advantage of people, overlooking their needs or creating any wastelands—rather, the reverse. Let us never say that it is too hard, too risky or that we cannot afford it. Let us work together and turn country Australia into the powerhouse that it has been, that it will be and, in many areas, is now.

We need to be backed, not hindered. We need resources, not reasons to let opportunities pass by. I believe the electorate of Parkes offers the greatest example of what country Australia has been, and what it will be.