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Monday, 17 September 2007
Page: 88

Mrs ELSON (5:42 PM) —Tonight, I rise in support of the Quarantine Amendment (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 2007. The purpose of this bill is to enable a commission of inquiry into the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia to operate under the Quarantine Act 1908 but with powers under the Royal Commission Act 2002. A public inquiry into the outbreak of EI is obviously called for because of the serious effects of the current outbreak and the need to ensure that quarantine measures are being adequately undertaken and enforced. As this is my last speech in the House, in expressing my support for the bill I would like to reflect on my journey to this House and give thanks to those who took the ride with me.

It was a unique and interesting political journey that took this girl from Lota who left school at just 13 to the hallowed halls of the national parliament just over 11½ years ago. My story says a lot about the wonderful nature of our democracy here in Australia. It was a special honour to have chaired the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Training, having never attained a university degree myself. That says a lot about our egalitarian society. We value ability and judge people for who they are and not for the letters that they have after their name.

I gained preselection 12 years ago without the backing of any faction within my party, without the support of any special interest groups and without having to be indebted to anyone. I had absolutely no financial resources behind me. With a very large family, money was, understandably, always extremely tight. Forde is a lower socioeconomic area and our campaigns have always been run on a shoestring. They have always been about grassroots, community based campaigning. This is in stark contrast to the way politics is conducted in most countries around the world, where financial backing and huge budgets are crucial—just take a look at the current US elections. I am proud that it has never been about money; I am proud that it has never been about status or social standing. Again, that is something that is very uniquely Australian.

I stood in this place 11½ years ago and proudly explained my working-class origins as one of nine children, having left school early to help out my dad when he took sick. Like many of the Howard government’s class of ’96 I came to this place from the real world, from a real job raising funds for the disabled. I knew all about the challenges families face, having raised eight children through the tough times under Labor. Politics was never going to be my career but it was a way I could further serve my community. I am pleased to be able to stand in this place today and say that I have done my very best for my community over the past 11½ years. I also believe that as a member of the Howard government I have made a very significant contribution to the future of Australia.

The biggest change I have seen in my local area is among those in the lower socioeconomic areas. I have seen the way those who previously struggled to find work are now in well-paying jobs. I have seen the way this has translated to a pride in themselves and their communities and how they have been uplifted and strive to achieve even more. That is the proudest achievement, in a social sense, of this government.

The achievements of this government are many; it would take more time than we have today to list them all. We have brought some really positive programs to the political landscape like Work for the Dole, Green Corps, Volunteer Small Equipment Grants, reinstating the black spots program and recently the hugely successful Investing in Our Schools Program.

By paying back the $96 billion debt that Labor left behind we have delivered consistently lower interest rates. They have basically stayed between six and eight per cent for the past 10 years. I am well aware that the recent interest rate increases have impacted on family budgets. That is regrettable and I do understand that it is a concern for many people. But it is also important that we look at this in perspective. Interest rates have gone up by just one per cent since December 2003. That is one per cent in nearly four years. Under Labor, interest rates increased by 3.5 per cent in just one year and hit a massive 17 per cent. I remember it well because, like many other families, David and I took out a second mortgage to keep our home at that particular time. So I do have to say I find Kevin Rudd’s ‘mortgage stress’ concerns, and the hype and anxiety being whipped up at the moment, as just a bit rich. Interest rates will never stay the same but they will stay lower under a Howard government. Our track record has proven that.

I am proud of the fact that the Howard-Costello team have managed the economy in a way that has allowed people to own their own homes and businesses and to plan for the future with certainty. The quarter percent rises are certainly regrettable but I think they are a lot more manageable than what we experienced under Labor. Under Labor, interest rates did not increase in small increments; they went up by whole percentage points—in fact, by a whopping two per cent in one month. And there is plenty to suggest that Labor will put pressure on interest rates again. I am deeply concerned that the state Labor governments are going into debt again around the nation, at a time of prosperity. They are racking up debt; not just one or two—most of the Labor state governments are running deficits. It is clear evidence that Labor just cannot manage money. It is clear evidence that now is not the time to switch to a federal Labor government.

That said, I do not want to take up a huge part of my last speech in this House debating political issues or the outcome of the coming election. That is for the Australian people to decide. I do know that the Howard government still has the passion, the drive and the right vision for Australia. While several of my colleagues from the class of ’96 are also retiring, that simply gives us an opportunity to refresh and renew our ranks with new people and new ideas that will take us into the future.

In my own electorate of Forde I am pleased that my good friend Wendy Creighton has been selected to represent our party. I know that, with the support of the people of Forde, Wendy will make an enormous contribution to this place. She is a strong woman. She runs her own small business as well as being a driving force in our local community. She also has six boys, so she will have no problem dealing with the sometimes blokey nature of this place. I take this opportunity to wish Wendy well. She knows I am behind her 100 per cent and will always be here to offer help and guidance if she wants it. But I know she will make her own positive contribution. She is a strong lady with a determined nature. If there are ministers out there breathing a sigh of relief that I will no longer be persistently knocking on their doors, I want to assure them that Wendy is just as determined as I am. She will not take no for an answer when it comes to getting the right outcome for the people of Forde. That is the way it should be. That is what being a good member is all about.

Today is an opportunity for me to say thanks to the many people who have supported and encouraged me over the years. A few weeks ago I was honoured when a farewell community afternoon tea was hosted by my local FEC. I was joined by over 350 local residents. It was a superb afternoon, one I shall never forget. It reminded me of the reason we are all in this job: to make a difference and to support others who are working in our local community with the same aim. I have been very privileged to get to know some true community heroes over the past 11½ years—the voluntary workers who keep the wheels turning for all our local community and sporting organisations and charities. Once again there are far too many to list, and I would not want to leave anyone out. They know who they are and I thank each and every one of them today.

When this job finishes it will be a pleasure for me to join their ranks and to work in a voluntary capacity to help others and ensure our local communities continue to offer support, friendship and important services. One of the most positive things our government has done is support these local community groups through the Volunteer Small Equipment Grants. They really make a difference and they allow us to recognise the valuable contribution that is made by our volunteers at CWAs, Soroptimists, Rotary clubs, seniors citizens clubs, PCYC, Quota, chambers of commerce, Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, hospital auxiliaries, RSLs, P&Cs, rural fire brigades, Landcare, sporting clubs, community centres, Blue Care, the Salvation Army, St Vincent’s drought relief, arts centres, theatre groups, Lions clubs, progress associations, the RSPCA, WIRES, Bays, Lead On, the SES—and the list could go on and on. To all the wonderful people in these groups who give their time so generously, a big thankyou. It has been a privilege working with you. To those who go that extra mile in their chosen professions—the policemen, the business men and women, the veterans, the nurses, the teachers, the fire fighters, the ambos, the members of our Defence Force—and to all the good people who give a little more and who genuinely care, I say thanks on behalf of our community and our government.

There is a special group of people who give up their time to make a difference who have provided me with constant feedback, advice and hands-on support. I want to send a very warm thankyou to the local members of the Liberal Party in Forde. I have been very lucky to have had many terrific people with me from the very beginning, and some wonderful people came on board throughout the last 11½ years. There are a few people for whom I will take time to make special mention of today. Firstly, thanks to John Wallerstein. John was treasurer of my first campaign and he served many years in various positions on the FEC. John has always been passionate about his politics. He has been a terrific driving force of the local party and I know many branch members will join me in thanking him for his valuable contribution over the years. There are some others who were with me during that first campaign and each one since: Ken and Patricia Turnbull; Bert and Vivienne Bowman; Tom Plunkett; Joy and Ross McDougall; and my current FEC chairman, Lin Petterwood, and his wife, Barb. I know there are others and I apologise in advance to those I miss for not having the time here today to list them all.

I want to send an extra special thankyou to and to recognise a special group of Liberal Party members who have been fantastic volunteers in my office. Firstly, there is Shirley Bertoldo, who was with me in the very beginning and has helped wherever possible, including by sewing several hundred aprons for election days. Then there is my terrific trio, Barrie Smith, John Skeers and Jerry Nowakowski. Barrie has been with me from the early days, always ready to lend a hand. Despite significant health challenges, Barrie has been a constant in the Liberal Party for many years, including recently taking on the role of FEC secretary. Thanks a million, Barrie. John and Jerry are permanent volunteers in my office—ever dependable and crucial to the smooth running of the office. John is also the treasurer of the FEC and the most efficient money man you could ever find. These guys are a true godsend. These three extraordinary men have been gifted with wonderful wives, who also pitch in regularly and are a delight to be around. Barrie and Elaine, John and Gwendoline, Jerry and Claire—all six of you are beloved by my staff team and of course by David and me, and I thank you so much.

I know there have been many others who have volunteered over the years: Reg and Delaune Pollard, Brian Fletcher, Mark Boothman, Sylvia Seaton, Penny Lumley, Andrew and Phylis Hopkins, and Elizabeth Jobson. I send a very special thanks for and recognise in this place the inspirational Phil German, who passed away last year. Phil was a foundation and life member of the Liberal Party and the first person on deck whenever there were envelopes to be stuffed or a job to be done. We all miss him, and I want to acknowledge what an important member he was of our FEC.

And when it comes to my team, I have also had the greatest group of hardworking electorate office staff anyone could ever wish for. It was a special thrill for me when so many former staffers came along to my farewell and read out messages of support from my colleagues. To Margaret, Nikki, Megan, Aidan, Andrew, Bev, Desley and Alicia I say thank you for your help over the many years. To Cay McVeigh, who was a remarkable whips clerk for me and now does an incredible job as the chief whip’s clerk, I have a huge thankyou to say to you, Cay. To my current staff—Cherry Adams, Jasmine Smits, Lynette Skeers-Fulwood, Pam Hardgrave, Maureen Logan and Selma Schuller—I say I will always be immensely grateful for what you have done for me. Maureen has been with me for many years and her husband, David, and I were state candidates in adjoining electorates together back in 1992. I thank Maureen and David for their many years of support and service.

Selma has been with me every step of the way. In fact, she is the one who encouraged me to stand for preselection for Forde and has run my campaigns for preselection and for every election campaign since. She is a talented electorate office staffer who was in this business before I was elected, and she also happens to be my eldest daughter. Both Selma and her husband, Andrew, have been such a big part of my political career. Their advice, support and hard work are greatly appreciated. They are a fantastic political team together and I have been pleased to have them in my corner. They are a couple who are fiercely patriotic and, I have to say, committed to doing their duty for this country. They have taken the Treasurer’s advice to heart: in fact, they have had one child for Mum, one child for Dad and three for the country!

That neatly leads me into the one big team that I give greatest thanks to. That is my family: Selma and Andrew, Kellie and Stuart, Billy, Eddie and Samantha, George and Kristy, Davie, Johllene and Talena, and my wonderful 15 grandchildren—Jasmine, Jesse, Nicholas, Caitlyn, Jillian, Georgia, Clancy, Ryan, Edward, Alissa, Natalie, Emily, Jordyn, Haydon and Kaylee. I should point out that we have No. 16 due next month. I am very proud of that.

David and I count our blessings every day that we have such a large, close-knit and incredibly supportive family. We have faced some challenges together, particularly in recent years, but our love and commitment for each other has always helped us through the tough times and made our bond even stronger. They have all supported me every step of the way on my political journey. Some of them have a keen interest in politics; others don’t, but every one of them has worked for me at every election day since 1996 and has helped me before then.

While I am so proud to have represented my community in the federal parliament, my biggest achievement in life will always be my children and grandchildren. My best decision would have to have been marrying David and spending my life with this great man. No woman could ask for a more supportive, encouraging and loving husband. He has always been 100 per cent behind me every step of the way. He has a deep commitment to the Liberal Party, a fierce love of our great country and a strong sense of decency and of the family values that we hold so dear. He is a rock, and I am so glad he is my rock. I do look forward to what the next chapter of our life together holds for us. I take this opportunity to thank David from the bottom of my heart and to let him know that I never would have got to this place without his encouragement, his support and his love. It has been very much a team effort.

I would like to place on record my gratitude and thanks to Brian Gassman, Warren Morten, John Dyer, Tony and Gail Stevens, Peter and Marjorie, and Howard Lawrence for their support over many years. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a member of the federal parliament. I want to thank the men and women who work in this building and keep the wheels turning: the attendants, the clerks, the cleaners, and our special Linda and staff of the cafeteria. Special thanks for all their assistance especially go to Ian Harris and Bernard Wright, gentlemen in the true form.

I want to very quickly thank my colleagues in this place—I have made some very good friends here and shared some unique experiences—especially those on both sides of the House whom I have travelled on delegations and committees with. I do not want to single out people for fear of missing someone—there are many people I have lots of time for and respect greatly—but I do want to thank Jo Gash for her friendship over the years and I want to thank and acknowledge David Jull, who is also retiring at this election. He is an icon in Queensland. When David and I first joined the Liberal Party we were members of his branch. I want to thank Brendan Nelson, who I think has a wonderful future in our party. He has been a friend to many and has one of the most positive, compassionate and constructive attitudes of anyone in this place. And of course I want to thank and acknowledge our Prime Minister, John Howard, for his remarkable leadership. I am amazed by his stamina, his patience and his commitment. Having worked closely with him for the past 11½ years, I believe that he is the genuine article: he is totally committed to doing what is right for Australia and our country. I thank him for the time he has given me and the respect he has always shown me.

Finally, I thank the voters of Forde who have put their confidence in me and in the Howard government at the last four elections. I appreciate the opportunity I was given and I thoroughly enjoyed working with you all. I want to particularly thank my daughter Talena, who has come here tonight too. May the Forde electorate continue to grow and prosper, making our special part of Queensland an even better place to live in for our children and grandchildren.