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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23340

Mr JOHNSON (4:55 PM) —It is now a little over two years since the people of Australia returned the Howard government to office at the federal election on 10 November 2001. The emphatic result in the ballot to decide which party would serve the people of Australia demonstrated the people's confidence in the Prime Minister and his team to be strong and govern in the national interest for all Australians. It was a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister's skills, experience and judgment. It was a vote of confidence in a government that would be united and would consist of ministers with ability and competence. It was a vote in the full knowledge that a Howard Liberal government would be better placed than a Beazley Labor government to make the tough decisions that national governments need to make from time to time. That is the essence of leadership when in government. As the last 12 months have proved, global politics and national affairs alike have required this government to make the tough decisions. Australians have therefore been very well served by the Howard government.

For my part, the re-election of the Howard government at the November 2001 federal election also saw my election by the people of Ryan to represent them in our national parliament. It was the first time that a Liberal candidate had won back the seat of Ryan from a sitting Labor member. Let this be a reminder to both sides of politics that there is no such thing as a so-called safe seat, and taking voters for granted will be punished by the people. Let it also stand as a clear reminder that being a member of parliament is an absolute privilege that should not be treated as a right of inheritance. Indeed, in my maiden speech, I stated that I could not think of a greater honour to be bestowed upon an Australian than a seat in the parliament of Australia. I also said that I would perform my duties with enthusiasm, energy, integrity and diligence and that, consistent with having been a Ryan resident for over 20 years, I would support community activities, worthy charities and local businesses. I meant every one of those words, and I believe that the Ryan electorate will judge that I have been true to that sentiment in spirit and deed.

I might take this opportunity to report to the people of Ryan on just some of the many activities that have kept me exceptionally busy as well as some of the initiatives that I have implemented and that I think have made a difference to the local community. Indeed, I am pleased to report that the response to these initiatives from the Ryan electorate indicate that they are tremendously well received. One of the areas I am passionate about is small business. We all know that small business lies at the heart of many communities and many local economies, not to mention its place and role in the national economy. With small business responsible for employing well over three million people and accounting for approximately 30 per cent of Australia's GDP, it is a vital area of our economy. It also contributes to the record low levels of unemployment that Australia experiences today—some 5.8 per cent, which is the lowest it has been in more than 20 years.

I have no hesitation in saying that the interests of small business owners and operators must be the highest priority of all governments, state and federal. They certainly are with the Howard government, where the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Joe Hockey, ensures that the issue of small business is constantly raised in the parliament. Having grown up in the world of small business and having seen the challenges and issues confronting small business, I made a commitment to the Ryan small business community and the electorate at large that I would give small business a very high priority as the local member.

I will now elaborate on some of the very popular and, indeed, unprecedented initiatives for small business that I have activated in my first year as the member for Ryan. One of the significant initiatives that I believe has been witnessed in the Ryan community is the Ryan Small Business and Employment Advisory Committee, which was launched in August 2002 to give local business operators a way of effectively communicating their concerns directly to members of parliament.

I chair this committee, which meets quarterly. It consists of small business owners throughout the Ryan electorate—people who know small business and know the issues that are important to making their small businesses run and profit successfully. These are Australians who are at the coalface of giving people jobs, who pay their taxes and who, at the end of the day, make the Australian economy tick in a very significant way.

There are 16 members of the Ryan small business committee from all parts of the Ryan electorate, from the self-employed Karen Penrose of Mt Ommaney and Kate McFerran of Taringa, both of whom own their own public relations companies, to Mr Walter Wood, the owner of a newsagency in Riverhills, and a small business owner by the name of Keith Hamilton, who runs a very successful patio extension company in the Centenary suburbs and employs 20 Australians. Another small business owner from the Gap is Terry Mendies, whose business Stormshield employs 50 of our fellow Australians and whose warehouse was opened by the foreign minister, in his capacity as Minister for Trade, in July 2002. I take this opportunity to place on record my personal thanks to all committee members for their dedication and diligence in serving on the Ryan Small Business and Employment Advisory Committee.

Another very popular initiative is the Ryan small business networking functions that I have implemented. I regularly host gatherings in the electorate. In coming up with this idea, I felt it was critically important that there be a forum in the Ryan electorate where small business men and women alike could come together in an informal and relaxed manner to network, to build contacts with other small business people in nearby suburbs and to be motivated by guest speakers who have achieved significant accomplishments in small businesses and overcome great challenges to be successful. These guest speakers very generously impart their knowledge and experience to other small business men and women in Ryan. Amongst those people I have had as guest speakers are Sarina Russo, a very successful Brisbane entrepreneur, and Mr Nick Smits, the head of Austrade in Queensland. He was able to speak eloquently on some of the ways in which Austrade could help Ryan businesses which want to export to the world.

One of my favourite initiatives is my Ryan small business visits program. This gives me the opportunity to experience some of the real problems, challenges and opportunities that small businesses confront daily in the running of their operations. This has been a delightful experience. I have had the opportunity of going to a host of different kinds of small businesses and speaking not only to the owners and managers of the businesses but also to their customers and clients.

In the 2001 election I campaigned strongly on my belief that I could make a big impact upon the area of youth in the Ryan community. Since then, I have been very active and have delivered on my campaign theme of promoting youth interests and making a difference to a variety of young people who have very different interests and who want to contribute to the local community. One way I have been able to do that is through the implementation of the Ryan youth awards. That is one initiative that I am pleased to say promotes and recognises the activities and the community contribution of the young people in the Ryan electorate—young people who, with some guidance and support, can make a very important difference to charities and organisations that serve the broader community. Like other award recipients, these young people are applauded in an annual awards ceremony. Among the audience are significant community groups and community leaders, as well as, of course, ordinary Ryan residents who are invited to the gathering. I will be hosting the second of these awards ceremonies this Friday at Cornerstone in the centenary suburbs.

Recently I was able to organise some support for two young students from the western suburbs, Bruno Bouchet and Mr Boxun, both of whom received support to come to Canberra and take part in the youth parliament project. That was a very rewarding opportunity for these two outstanding young men, who will have benefited tremendously from the opportunity to engage in debate and discussion with their peers from across Queensland. Other students I have sponsored include Ruth Forrest from Brookfield, who attended the 2002 young leaders forum in Brisbane, and Brendan Hall from the Gap State High School, who was selected to represent Australia at a United Nations young leaders forum in the Hague earlier this year.

With education being of very real importance to me, to this government and to this country, one of the initiatives for which I have a great deal of affection is my invitation to all the Ryan school principals to accept an offer of commissioning two very special and prestigious awards. I am pleased to report back to the people of Ryan and to the community at large, and especially to the parents of high school aged children, that almost every school in the Ryan electorate—bar one—was very receptive to this idea, from Kenmore State High School to the Gap State High School and my old college, St Peters Lutheran College. All the principals were warmly receptive to the offer and praised the initiative of these two awards, which commend two outstanding students from each school for their contribution through either leadership or academic excellence.

Being the federal member for Ryan is a great privilege. I want to say to the community of Ryan that I am working hard and making sure that representation to the government is being conveyed very strongly. It is a great privilege to represent Australians from all walks of life in the Ryan community. (Time expired)