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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 43


Mr LAMING (11:53 AM) —Small things, by quiet people at forgotten times ... diverse acts of courage and belief by which human history is shaped.

I begin with three life events that for me have been high-water marks. The first was in the highlands of Papua New Guinea as a child, where my parents made an unusual career choice. It is also an unusual place to begin this speech. My dad planned expeditions into the remote parts of that land to build a platform for independence. I stayed at home doing correspondence classes with my mum and my sisters, Susie and Julie, whose unconditional love continues to this day.

In 1992, when clearing landmines in Afghanistan, I lost my two great friends, Tim Goggs and Julian Gregson in a landmine accident in Kare Samir. In that village today those two fine, courageous men are remembered with a small plaque written in English and in Farsi. That inscription reminds us that in peace, as well as in war, we make the ultimate sacrifice sometimes to build and preserve what Australia has never lost: free and fair elections and democracy.

Forward then to where Australia took centre stage in the reconstruction of Timor L'orosae. In rebuilding that shattered health system, I learnt that if there is one thing greater than opportunity it is removing the barriers to opportunity for others. That country today is still a free and peaceful land.

Each of these three stories reminds me that human endeavour, however infinitely small, forever lays a platform for the acts that come after. It is no different in Bowman, because today marks the first time that the Redlands area has a dedicated seat in this parliament. There is in that place a unique identity that you can perhaps trace back to 1842, when for the first time the squatters tried to cut Brisbane out of the loop and export their produce directly through the port of Cleveland. They hoped that it would one day become the capital of Queensland. Obviously, as history records it, Governor George Gipps sailed into Moreton Bay and unfortunately his arrival was at low tide. As he stepped out of the boat and into thigh-deep mud—or `deep nastiness' as it was recorded—the fate of Cleveland was sealed. The port, and ultimately the honour of being the capital of Queensland, fell to Brisbane.

But that bitter disappointment is tempered somewhat after 160 years. We now know we have a fantastic, unique identity and a wonderful bayside foreshore. As you drive from Brisbane over those somewhat soporific undulations of Bonner—my apologies to the new member, but congratulations on your election—and you arrive at the bayside where that bay breeze greets you, you know you are in a very special community. Of those pioneer families we still have the memories of the Sherrins, the Benfers, the Biggs and the Balfours. Before them are the Quandamooka and Noonuccal, whose people there recall a different time. As Oodgeroo Noonuccal almost laments to her ancestors:

What if you came back nowTo our new world, the city roaringThere on the old peaceful camping placeOf your red fires along the quiet water,How you would wonderAt towering stone gunyas high in airImmense, incredible;Planes in the sky over, swarms of carsLike things frantic in flight.

I have said that to represent Bowman is in some way to represent Australia. No-one here could feel out of place there—be they small business workers, an aspirational young family or retirees. There is a very strong environmental culture, a social sector and strong philanthropy. In the main street you might well meet our mayor, Don Seccombe, a 1964 state cricketer, or perhaps local councillors of the calibre of Alan Beard from Alexandra Hills or Peter Dowling from Victoria Point. Or you might meet local identities: Bill Benson, Merv Genrich, Paul Satler, Al Benfer, Leo Hielscher, the Richards brothers, Alan Lucas, Sheldon College's Lyn Bishop, Norm and Alison Dean or Ernie Harrison from the Over 50s Leisure Centre.

Bowman's place in south-east Queensland is not dissimilar to Australia's position in South-East Asia. We remain a relatively untouched bayside foreshore with a touch of tradition or, dare I say, parochialism. Obviously we are surrounded by that 200-kilometre city that stretches from Noosa all the way to the Tweed, but which somehow swerves around Redlands. Those very natural endowments now attract many people to this area. We are the No. 1 location for migration from within Queensland, although we are that little bit less well known to southern states. Once we too were the salad bowl for south-east Queensland, although now we have diversified to industry and to services. Farms have given way to families, the old drive-ins to drive-throughs and the old timber industry now to tourism. There are no highways running through Bowman to remind you of people in a rush to get to other places, nor are there stadiums, universities or grand esplanades.

In the last 55 years, Bowman is one of those few seats that has been as many years in the hands of Labor as in the hands of the coalition, and that for me is very humbling. I also remember that for 18½ of the last 21 years it has been in the hands of the Labor Party. For that I must acknowledge, in large part, Con Sciacca, a fine man, well regarded on both sides of this House and in my electorate. I wish him well in his future.

A generation in opposition hands explains in some way the grit and determination of many loyal Bowman workers, including Wynnum's Gordon Voltz, Audrey and John Dickey, `General' Bob Harper, Shane Goodwin, Courtney Dore, Norma Curtis, Scott and Terri Lewis—Scott, you still have a wonderful sidestep at the age of 40, particularly when there is doorknocking to be done—Lorna Hourigan, Michael Davenport and Mat Tapsall. It is on behalf of those I have named that I thank everyone in Bowman—from the shopping centres to the community centres—for the faith that they have put in us. Thank you also to the ministers who visited Bowman: Kay Patterson, my former boss, and Ministers Abbott, Hockey, Nelson, Macfarlane and Vanstone. I also thank Christopher Pyne—who came twice.

I should also acknowledge the exemplary performance of the Queensland Liberals in the last election. It was absolutely superb. I congratulate President Michael Caltobiano, Geoffrey Greene and every elected member in both houses, from as far north as Senator Ian Macdonald right down to the border, and particularly Senate colleagues Brett Mason and George Brandis, with whom I attended university 21 years ago.

I have moved from the public service of medicine to that of politics because I love working with populations as much as with patients. This parliament offers the opportunity to turn great Australian ideas into reality; to temper the will of the powerful; to bring together disparate ideas, without ever discounting tomorrow. My story is no better told than by acknowledging those people who may never become politicians but whose work I will continue in this chamber: Fred Hollows and Frank Flynn, fathers of Indigenous health, whose ideas came to us a generation early for white Australia but a century late for Indigenous Australia—a constant reminder that, never having lived it, we can never claim to know better; Bessie Dixon, senior Lajamanu Aboriginal health worker, for whom the health of her Walpiri people has been a lifetime cause; Professors Hugh Taylor, Bart Currie and John Mathews, who mix scientific discipline and public health with compassion, and who introduced me to a world of remote teachers, nurses and researchers in Indigenous Australia; Chris Rogers, Frank Martin and Ralph Higgins—three exceptional eye surgeons who made room for an odd-fitting aspirant; and my two great teachers, Abram Chayes from the Harvard Law School and Vittorio Falsina—an ordained Xaverian priest from Brescia in Italy—from the Harvard Divinity School, who both, tragically, taught me in their final year of life. Your intellectual energy reoriented my views on international conflict, development and social ethics.

I acknowledge the other family that one has in a mobile career when you are not near your own: Mavis Burke, my babysitter in Hobart; Ruth and the late Mo Hansen at Churchie; Jack and Sweetpea Hutchinson; David and Sophie Holford in Goondiwindi; Bob and Gay Macdonald in Gundagai; and Greg and Christine Neave in Darwin.

I am very proud to be a Liberal. Some may not be aware that my grandfather Charles ran for the Victorian state seat of Oakleigh in 1950. My father, Bruce, who is here today, was Queensland's member for Mooloolah throughout the 1990s and Deputy Speaker in the Queensland parliament. My parents, Bruce and Estelle, are absolutely devoted to the cause of Liberalism in Queensland—and they have to accept some responsibility for the result in Bowman.

I believe there are few better role models in public life than fellow medico Brendan Nelson, who has made an undertaking in public life to always focus on policy and never attack the person or their private life.

I am a Liberal because I share with many my own age the language of my generation: of downsizing, redundancies, bankruptcies and lay-offs in the early nineties. Clearly, these are very good times today—and I am glad that the notion that this government is merely occupying the crease on a batter's paradise is slowly being unravelled both in the general community and by the OECD in their reports. As a Liberal with an eye on social sector policy, I will also work to remove that sense that there is only one side of politics which truly cares about the needy, the sick and the vulnerable, that perhaps only one side of politics truly has the social sector at heart. I passionately believe that our schools, as with our universities and our health system, are best served by a private-public blended model that allows people choice. That model offers internal contestation, vibrancy, accountability and responsiveness. When it is all said and done, only one side of politics has really fought for and put itself on the line for that model—and for that I stand here today.

My Bowman priorities are a fairly simple interlocking cycle of eight objectives. I guess many wonder whether a person is going to say something that is slightly controversial in their first speech. My answer is that I hope that some of the things that I am proposing do one day become regarded as fairly normal. My first objective is to have a unified approach in our schools—in starting ages, curriculum, testing, accountability and ultimately even tertiary entrance. We must have the finest university sector, both in academic and technical graduates, because ultimately we will be judged on the world stage and our standard of living will be determined by the sorts of graduates we produce and the skills that we embed within them.

For families to be able to make long-term decisions, there must be a low interest rate environment where there is some certainty and security for the future. I cannot believe that, as recently as 10 years ago, 1,000 Bowman teenagers left high school for the dole queue—rather than for jobs as they do today. My commitment is to them. With certainty comes a willingness to enter into new enterprises, to start new businesses and to plan for the future. I would also love to work towards a simplified tax system that further cuts out the black market, the loopholes and the overly burdensome state regulation. I would like to see a tax system that allows us to continue to reduce our takings in tax as a proportion of GDP. With that sort of system we can truly afford the health and education systems that we all aspire to.

My No. 1 health priority in Bowman will be the work force. Any first-year economist will tell you that the only way to improve bulk-billing and reduce out-of-pocket costs is to increase the number of doctors we have and to have them working in the right locations. We have a Medicare safety net, a PBS safety net and also probably the greatest piece of health policy to emerge for the last couple of decades: the private health insurance rebate, which has moved large segments of Australia off the public hospital waiting lists and has, at the same time, injected billions of dollars into the health care sector.

I would like to see more aged care places for Bowman. Sometimes the allocation formulas are not as user friendly as we would like—particularly for areas like Bowman where there is a large degree of population mobility.

Lastly, I want to engage young Australians. Our young Australians out there still do not have the faith in this parliament that I would love to see. How do I convince those young Australians that this political process is one in which they can have faith? How can I convince them that the issues that they want to talk about are ones where we can really make a difference? In Bowman, the No. 1 issue is the environment—as we boast one of those great bayside ecologies. The environment must no longer be considered as something that crowds out economic growth but rather as something that is complementary.

I am grounded by the humility of my limited knowledge. I hope I am guided, but never coloured, by my life experiences. I tell my story not to hammer some ideological stake in the ground but to celebrate the diversity of experiences that are here. Different backgrounds add to the breadth of this parliament, but where that Green Valley experience begins to colour the way you approach this place—where it colours your perceptions and becomes a way of distinguishing friend from foe—I believe that diminishes this great process.

My international experiences have been very formative. Having worked with the World Bank, the great challenge I see for the next generation will be sequencing: how we transition war-ravaged and ailing economies through the development process and to the democracy and peace that we enjoy. Where tyranny prevails, where entire economies are expropriated, where property rights, private enterprise and free elections are completely denied and where free speech and a free press are eliminated, how can we ignore the moral legitimacy to act and give these places just one shot at democracy? It has been vindicated in Timor L'orosae and in Afghanistan. I have lived in both. I have worked on the Iraqi border. I am really committed to a forward-leaning approach in international affairs and nation building.

Perhaps our great foreign policy challenge will be China, but we now have an urgent appointment with the Islamic world. With one hand, we must refuse to allow terrorism to foment trouble undisturbed in any corner of the planet; with the other hand, we must be building those economic opportunities which will, in the end, stem the flow of the disempowered who turn to fundamentalism.

I want to finish by acknowledging a couple of other people who played key roles in Bowman and also by noting that, above and beyond the last redistribution, a really great swing has been achieved in that area, with a lot of people putting their faith in us for the first time. We achieved Queensland's largest swing in 2004, and also the largest margin without the benefit of incumbency. So I take my place in this part of the chamber, flanked by traditional coalition seats, because you were absolutely unrelenting in your expectations.

I close, as I opened, with Robert F Kennedy:

Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope ... these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

While there are no mighty walls to sweep down in Bowman, there are plenty of opportunities for ripples of hope—opportunities to enrich a beloved community, to preserve our Redland character and to provide choice and opportunity for those whose faith has put me here.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.