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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 15


Mrs ELLIOT (9:52 AM) —I feel so honoured and privileged that the people of Richmond have chosen me to represent them in the 41st Parliament. This is made even more special when you consider that I am one of only nine people that they have chosen to represent them in over 100 years. Three of those people were from the same family, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Anthony family for the 55-year contribution that they made to the people of Richmond. I am sure that all members will join me in wishing Larry Anthony and his family all the very best for the future.

Being elected to the federal parliament is indeed a very humbling experience. There are thousands of extraordinary people making an incredible contribution to our local community and I am so proud to represent all of them. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of meeting so many of these extraordinary people. These include young families who are struggling to balance the budget and still give their kids a good education and good health care; elderly people who have moved to the Tweed, away from the support base of their family; the home care nurses who, with minimal resources, visit them and help them retain their independence; the volunteers and community organisations; the young and mature-aged people who go out every day looking for work; the people who have been on dental care waiting lists for two years and are still waiting to have their teeth fixed; the many people who have battled illness and won, the families of those who have lost their fight, and those fighting still. It is for them and people like them that I stand here today.

Before becoming an MP, I worked as a juvenile justice conference convenor. This involved mediating conferences between young offenders and their victims. Not unlike this job, it had its challenges. I once asked one of the wonderful people who trained me why people become involved in this area of work. He told me, `We do this because we have fire in the belly. We want to help others and bring about a change for the better because we have that fire.'

There is no better place to use that fire than right here in federal parliament, representing the people of Richmond. I want to work with all levels of government and within the community to make sure their needs are met. I have always said that I will put the community first. Forget the buck-passing and politics—I am here to do a job, and that is to represent Richmond. So I look forward to working with anyone, in a bipartisan fashion, to find new opportunities and to deliver for the people of Richmond.

The electorate of Richmond is incredibly diverse. This is true not only of its geography but also of its communities. From the hinterland to the eastern seaboard we have a unique and beautiful area. I have not found another place where you can drive for less than an hour and meet so many people who have completely different ways of life—from the urban areas of Tweed Heads and Banora Point to the farming communities, the coastal villages, the many vibrant and artistic communities found throughout the electorate and right down to the world famous Byron Bay. The Bay has become a Mecca for people looking for an alternative, peaceful lifestyle—so much so, it is often less than peaceful, with over a million visitors every year.

I am very lucky to live in Fingal, a great little coastal village which lies just south of Tweed Heads between the Tweed River and the Pacific Ocean. It is a very small community which is rich with diverse characters and has a colourful history. It is a place where you know your neighbours. It is a place where everyone shares in your successes and commiserates with your losses and grief. This is something that is unique to small communities, and the people who live there would not have it any other way.

We often say, `It's just another day in paradise,' but, of course, paradise has its problems. Keeping our beaches free from the shadow of high-rise buildings is a battle that coastal communities are constantly fighting. Communities like mine are striving to protect their beautiful environments from the ever-increasing pressures of overdevelopment. This is a major issue from Tweed Heads right through to Lennox Head. Many coastal towns are under huge pressure from the region's vast population growth and the impact of rapid development. In Tweed Heads it really is a fight to stop the Gold Coast from spilling over the border. You will often hear the cry `We don't want to be like the Gold Coast'—and we don't. Our north coast is a place where families have come on holidays for generations. It is our unique environmental surrounds that attract people to our region. So believe us when we say we do not want to be like the Gold Coast, because we mean it.

As a community we must stand united in the ongoing fight to ensure we have appropriate development on our coastline and in our region. Our spectacular coastline is too important to waste on blocks of concrete. I also want to make sure that my grandchildren, and their children, have access to our public beaches. So I am determined to make sure that our coastline is protected. I want to preserve for families of the future the lifestyle that my family has been lucky enough to have.

Richmond reflects the challenges of an ageing population—20 per cent of people living in Richmond are aged 65 and over. This fact alone means there is enormous pressure on our health and social services. Health services and access to aged care facilities are vitally important to people living in Richmond. I will be making sure that our elderly people get what they need, including access to health care services; an after-hours GP clinic; a bed in a nursing home, if they need one; access to home care services, if they want to remain in their homes; and safe, affordable public transport—in particular, a long-term commitment must be made to the restoration of our XPT train. Many locals are very positive about federal Labor's long-term commitment to restoring the train.

So many couples retire to our region, away from their families and friends. Many people have told me that this can be an incredibly isolating experience. Volunteer organisations such as the Twin Towns Friends Group do a marvellous job of visiting elderly people in their homes to provide friendship and someone to have a chat with. We need to foster a sense of community pride in taking care of our older Australians. But this has to start here, in this place, by providing desperately needed health and ageing services and nurturing respect for the elderly.

This applies particularly to our veterans. A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of attending the Remembrance Day service in Murwillumbah. This day represents for me a time when, as a community, we reflect upon the past and hope for a peaceful future. I took time to remember my own family—my great-grandfather Don Williams, who fought in World War I in the 4th Light Horse Brigade at the Battle of Beersheba; my grandfather Victor Perkins, who fought in the 6th Division of the Australian Army in World War II in the Middle East; my grandfather Joe Borsellino, who was in the United States Marines and fought in the Pacific in World War II; and my great-uncle Harry Staples of the 8th Division of the Australian Army, who died in World War II as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway.

A few years ago I went to the railway in Kanchanaburi in Thailand and walked through Hellfire Pass. Visiting the war graves there highlighted for me how important it is that as individuals, families, communities and a nation we never forget the sacrifices that so many have made, and how important it is that we come together as a nation on Remembrance Day and Anzac Day to recognise those sacrifices. Those days are important, but I believe we should remember our veterans every day by providing adequate home care services and the other unique health and community services that they desperately need.

Remembering the needs of our young people is also vital for the growth of our community. In Richmond, the rate of youth unemployment is 27 per cent. That means more than one in four young people are jobless. That is appalling. The shortage of education and training opportunities is simply adding to the problem of youth unemployment. I am a proud product of the public school system. I believe our public schools should be well funded and well resourced. It is only then that we can make sure our kids have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is only by making sure that all our schools are fairly and equitably funded that parents will have real choice.

It should not stop there. People at any stage of life should be able to get further training or more education. I have spoken to many local families for whom sending their kids to university has become unaffordable. Increasing fees and the costs of living away from home have put university out of reach for them. Many people have told me that it is just not an option for their family. We have a great university campus in the Tweed but they have the resources to offer only a limited number of courses. That is why regional universities are so important. They give opportunities to people who would otherwise not be able to further their education. The same can be said of TAFEs in regional areas. That is why I want to see adequate funding of TAFEs like Wollongbar and Kingscliff. Without fair and equal access to further education and training, young people become caught on the downward spiral of unemployment.

I was fortunate enough to further my education at a time when it was a readily available option. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and history, I knew that what I wanted was a career that was community based and that would allow me to help people at a grassroots level. It is for those reasons that I joined the police force. For seven years I was a general duties police officer. During that time I saw the very worst and the very best in people. As a general duties officer, my time was spent attending jobs like domestics, fatal traffic accidents, break-ins and assaults. I saw some terrible and horrific things, but I also witnessed true bravery and dedication in individuals. Police across the country do a fantastic job in often stressful and difficult situations.

While I believe that every person is ultimately responsible for their actions, policing taught me that governments must provide the basics for individuals to flourish: access to health care, education and community support. In so many communities, crime and fear keep us behind locked doors. We need to address the causes of crime: poverty, lack of education and lack of access to services. As a community we need to nurture values that discourage crime and provide opportunities for everyone—but particularly the most disadvantaged.

I left policing for two main reasons: to return to university and to have our first child. Looking back, it seems crazy that I did both in a year, completing a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources and Industrial Relations and having our first child, Alexandra. Many families struggle every day with the balance of work and family. My family is the same. I am constantly asked how my young children will cope now that I am a member of parliament. In fact, there has been some local media interest in the fact that my husband, Craig, is the full-time carer for our children—Alexandra, who is six, and Joe, who is four and a half. Families make many choices about their individual situations and we should respect those individual choices. Instead of judgment, what families need is support, accessible and affordable child care and a family tax system that does not penalise them. Raising kids is indeed a challenge. Many people ask me why I am involved in politics when I have young children. That is the reason: for their future and for the future of all our children.

I would not be here today without the love and support of my family: in particular, that of my husband, Craig, whose optimism and enthusiasm has always inspired me; and that of our beautiful children, Alex and Joe, whose love of life always continues to amaze me. I thank the rest of my family for instilling in me so many important values. Thanks go to Polly, Tony, Bob and Jennie, and also to my grandparents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. I also thank my family members who have passed away: Grandpa, Chris, Larry and my younger sister, Jessica, who died so tragically 14 years ago at the very young age of 20.

The campaign was indeed a team effort, because so many people believed so strongly in the issues we were fighting for. I would like to thank every single branch member in Richmond and every supporter who worked so hard to get me here today. My thanks go to our campaign manager, Brian Flynn, for his unwavering belief, his dedication and his friendship. I would like to thank all the people at party office and all those in the labour movement who assisted us so very much. I would also like to thank everyone at EMILY's List. And to Mark Latham and all the shadow ministers who gave me so much support and advice during the campaign, thank you.

Finally, I want to again thank the people of Richmond for their faith and support. It is an honour to represent them. I stood for parliament because I have that fire in the belly. I want to make a difference. So I give the people of Richmond this pledge: your needs will always come first, my door will always be open and together we will make the North Coast an even better place to live.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!


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