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Monday, 18 February 2008
Page: 491


Mrs D’ATH (12:55 PM) —Mr Speaker, I rise to speak for the first time in this chamber. I do so extremely proud of the fact that the people of Petrie have chosen to put their faith in me to represent their interests. I am also humbled by the people who have come before me into this chamber wanting to serve their community and their country. I would like to extend my congratulations to the Speaker and his deputies on their election to the most esteemed positions in this parliament. I also congratulate all of the government’s new ministers and parliamentary secretaries on their important roles; I intend to have much interaction with them during my term of office to ensure the utmost local input from my community to the most important decision makers of this country. I would like to also acknowledge on this important occasion of my first speech my gratitude to the Prime Minister for the formal apology to the Indigenous communities of Australia on 13 February 2008. This will be a day forever remembered in the hearts and minds of those who suffered in the past and will forever form part of tomorrow’s history. My local Indigenous communities, along with many other people in the community, welcomed the apology.

Petrie is a vibrant electorate and one of the fastest-growing areas in south-east Queensland. The electorate stretches from the outer metropolitan northern Brisbane suburbs of Stafford Heights and Everton Park to the Redcliffe Peninsula. The peninsula runs along beautiful Moreton Bay. Through the redistribution in 2006, North Lakes moved into the seat of Longman, and areas of Everton Park, McDowall and Aspley moved into Petrie. I welcome all of those new constituents into the area and look forward to the opportunity to represent them over the coming years. The electorate stretches over six state electorates and three councils, including parts of Brisbane City Council and Pine Rivers Shire Council and the whole of the Redcliffe City Council. With the amalgamation of councils in Queensland, we will now see the northern end of the electorate become part of the new Moreton Bay Regional Council, the result of the Pine Rivers Shire Council, the Redcliffe City Council and the Caboolture Shire Council being amalgamated.

With a new council—which will bring a new mayor and new councillors, in addition to those that make up the Brisbane City Council wards—six state members and me as a new federal member, there is much need for cooperation between the three levels of government locally. I look forward to taking a lead role in this cooperative working relationship by inviting all representatives after the council elections to hold regular meetings each year to discuss the long-term plans for managing the future growth of our communities.

I would like to acknowledge the service of the previous member for Petrie, Teresa Gambaro. Ms Gambaro gave 11 years of service to the electorate as an MP. I wish her and her family the very best for the future. In 2007, the people of Petrie made a choice for change. I am grateful for the opportunity provided to me by the community. I intend, through my passion, enthusiasm, commitment and dedication, to show the people that I am their local voice, their local advocate, and that I will work for a better future for the whole community.

My path here has been from a simple home life where politics was never discussed. My father was a carpenter and my mother was a secretary. Many years were spent moving between rental properties. I watched as my parents, never complaining, worked to put food on the table and a roof over our heads for me and my brother and sister. I left school and went into the full-time workforce when I was 15 years old. I have cleaned tables; I have worked as a receptionist; I have worked in a bearing company, spending many long nights doing stocktakes of O-rings. It was in my early 20s that I realised the importance of an education; so, while continuing to work full time, I commenced my education at night school. I continued to study for the next 14 years, finishing as a qualified lawyer.

Aside from my decision to further my education, the path that my life has taken has been directed by certain events that I consider turning points in my life. The first was meeting my husband, George, who once again is here today to support me. George encouraged and supported me through all of my career choices, studies and political involvement. Most of all, he has been not just a supportive husband but also, as a father, the most dedicated parent I know. We have two beautiful children: my son, Cameron, who is five, and my daughter, Emma, who is seven. George’s commitment in supporting me has not altered the fact that he himself has contributed significantly to society through his work as a police officer.

Having said that my personal support came from my family, I will say that my inspiration and passion has blossomed from other events. In 1989 I commenced work at the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, as a typist in the typing pool. In 1992 I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work as an associate to then Commissioner Deirdre Swan. I have much to thank the now Deputy President for. Deputy President Swan gave me a chance. She treated me more like a peer than an employee. I am truly grateful for the knowledge that she imparted to me and feel privileged to have worked with her.

Working within the commission fuelled my interest and enthusiasm for ensuring that there is fairness in Australia’s workplaces. However, the significant change in my career came when I went to work for the Australian Workers Union. The AWU is the external force through which my true passion to help people and my belief in social justice were discovered and nurtured. Opportunities to continually expand my knowledge and experience were invaluable, and the support and encouragement provided to me by the likes of Bill Ludwig, Joe Ludwig and Bill Shorten have been, and will always be, appreciated in whichever course my future takes. I would like to thank each of those people for their friendship, support and encouragement. I would also like to thank Paul Howes, the new National Secretary of the AWU, and his wife, Lucy, for their support and friendship. A special thank you also goes to all AWU members, who work every day to improve their working conditions and support their fellow workers.

In 1996 I chose to join the Labor Party. Through this great party, I broadened my experience beyond just workplace relations and was able to contribute to many policy debates.

I spent over 13 years working for a union that chose to put workers first. It was an organisation that was pragmatic about its objectives and its broader social responsibility, always recognising that growth in business means growth in jobs and opportunities for workers. The AWU has always sought to balance obligations to job security and improved wages with the sometimes conflicting need to see that businesses and the economy remain strong. These philosophies were instilled in me during this time and continue with me today in my new role. I have had the opportunity to work with employees and employers from small businesses through to multinationals; and from retail, health and hospitality through to construction and local government all over Queensland and across Australia. Few people get the opportunity to have such diverse interaction with so many people in so many industries across such a large geographic area. Having the ability to listen and negotiate with such diverse interests gave me a greater understanding of working with people and a willingness not to judge people but to be forgiving, tolerant and accepting.

As part of my journey of development, I was given the privilege of participating in an exchange program with the United Steelworkers. This occurred in late 2005, when my family and I travelled to Canada and the United States to work for three months. America is a great country; it has many ordinary, everyday people who do extraordinary things for their fellow Americans. But it also has many things that, as a nation, Australia should not seek to replicate, for it is not the future that we should seek. Unfortunately, in 2005 that appeared to be exactly what we were doing with our health system, our welfare system and our labour laws. We were following a path that would lead only to placing a burden on the people of Australia. It was about governing for some, not for all. It was about destroying what Australia knew to be Australian values of fairness and equity.

It was at this time that Work Choices was introduced. These laws went against all the basic values of fairness in the workplace and in society. The future implications for people’s living standards and the social fabric of our society were under threat. This was not just a theory but what I had witnessed in the United States and what I saw as Australia’s future. This experience permanently moved me to want to make a bigger contribution, a personal contribution, by fighting for a change in the direction of our country’s policies through a change of government. I knew that, as a Labor candidate, I could help make this change.

I have also been given great hope and inspiration, great strength and energy over the past 18 months. That momentum has come about through the amazing efforts of businesses, community groups and individuals whom I met while campaigning. They make my heart swell with pride and with an overwhelming desire to work not for the people of Petrie but with them. While we go about our business as local members of parliament, the people throughout the communities go about their business, helping, healing, educating, training, employing and conserving. During 2006, 18,091 people volunteered their time to help others across the electorate of Petrie. These people neither ask for recognition nor expect thanks, but are certainly deserving of it. To ensure that I am their voice in government and that they are being listened to, we as a government must forever educate ourselves and inform ourselves, as their local representatives, about the needs of the communities we serve. We need to genuinely listen.

As a 37-year-old mother, as a wife and as a working woman, I am proud of what I have achieved so far in my life. It gives me pride to know that what I have achieved may give others inspiration to follow their dreams and goals in life. That is why it is a pleasure now to be representing an electorate that includes my old high school, Redcliffe State High. I hope that my contribution in the future, both in the electorate and in the parliament, will inspire future school students and my own children to achieve their goals. Having children has changed my life. They give me another dimension, which provides me with a much better understanding of working parents—those seeking to juggle life’s commitments and striving to achieve a work and family balance. I want for my children what many parents want: to instil in our children an understanding of the differences in cultures, beliefs and opportunities across countries and within countries; and to teach them values and the importance of tolerance, acceptance and empathy. Our children are the future, and there is nothing more important than looking after that future for the greater good of this nation.

Of course, on a much more basic level, what parents like me and many others I have met throughout the community of Petrie want is a good quality of life, good health, opportunities for ourselves and our children, and to ensure that we leave behind a better future for all. Now that I have been fortunate enough to have the faith of the electorate placed in me, my job is to ensure that ‘fairness’ is not just a term thrown around from time to time, but something that we all strive to achieve in the way we treat others and the way we wish to be treated in our daily lives. My concern is that this fairness has been eroding over recent years.

It is important that we focus on the future prosperity of the country as a whole, not just on sectors of the community. My role and our government’s vision cannot be short term. Our communities and our country deserve more. We need to be looking to the future, planning long term for our economy, our environment, our education and our infrastructure to deal with the growth in population. The ideas, desires, abilities and potential are already in the people of Petrie, young and old. I have seen much ingenuity and entrepreneurship occurring on a daily basis. I have seen a lot of determination and commitment to providing necessary community services, which have been able to prevail despite rising costs, regulation and demand. My responsibility is to help bring inclusiveness and collectivism to our levels of government and to have a genuine working relationship with all levels of government and with the broader community. This is essential, because there are a lot of practical measures that need to be taken to ensure that, as a government, we are ensuring long-term prosperity for our society.

My aim through government is to ensure that children are given the best education, irrespective of whether they attend government, non-government, independent, religious or secular schools. Our youth and adults should have access to training opportunities to advance their educational qualifications and gain skills that lead to fulfilling employment. We need to ensure that training opportunities are available locally and that long-term, secure employment is also available locally. This will take commitment from the business community, training organisations and education and parliamentary representatives. I see the future of our economy, our communities and our families being driven by education and training.

These areas obviously need to be supported with necessary infrastructure and social support, but for a community to be strong and provide opportunities we must get back to the basics. We must re-educate our youth, teachers, parents and adults who want a better future for themselves that education and training is paramount. Whether you are a cleaner, a child carer, a plumber, a chef, a teacher, a lawyer or a doctor, training is important. I look forward to the opportunity of working with my local schools to implement our education revolution, of watching our young children thrive on early childhood education, to seeing our national literacy and numeracy programs provide much needed support for future learning and to seeing our trade training centres provide young people with opportunities outside of university studies to gain self-esteem and confidence and to have a career path by the time they leave secondary education.

We once again need to have pride in obtaining a trade. From an employer perspective they will have the opportunity to have workers who have already shown commitment to training of a trade, who have shown competency in the field, who have completed their schooling education and who have shown ability in time management. These are the types of workers that businesses of today are looking for in the future. Our obligation is to deliver this workforce for the betterment of the local communities and the economy.

We also need to ensure that those on dental and hospital waiting lists in Petrie are provided with the necessary medical treatment within the recommended treatment times. With a 20 per cent decline in bulk-billing services over the past 10 years, and a waiting list for the Redcliffe and Caboolture district alone of 7,000 people for dental treatment, these services cannot be addressed quickly enough. The establishment of a new GP superclinic in Redcliffe is a positive move forward in improving our health services in the area. With more than 28,000 people in the electorate over the age of 65 the areas of health, dental treatment and housing affordability are crucial. It is equally important that we do more as a society to recognise the contribution that our older Australians have made and continue to make in so many areas of their lives. That is why I am excited about Labor’s plans for addressing the needs of Australia’s ageing population. I know that my community will benefit from this important policy.

Many people on the Redcliffe Peninsula have to wait six or seven years for public housing and this is not uncommon in other areas of the electorate as well. There is, of course, also limited public housing for those people with disabilities. On the issue of rental strain, approximately 30 per cent of our pensioners in north Brisbane are in the rental market. These people have limited ability to supplement their income when rental prices increase. At the other end of the scale we have only two youth shelters, with a total capacity of six beds each, which are currently not used to capacity because of budget restrictions.

With rental and house prices rising faster than household income, the issue of housing affordability, including rental, home ownership, emergency shelter and public housing, is one that cannot be pushed into the background any longer. I have already commenced discussions with local groups about the demand in the area for emergency shelter, and during the campaign I participated in a workshop organised by local housing groups where we discussed different ideas to address the problem. I also conducted a forum with the then shadow minister, Tanya Plibersek, on housing affordability to ensure that this issue is at the forefront of the community strategy for long-term solutions. When a caravan park closes in the area—which has been occurring—approximately 60 people can need urgent low-cost rental or emergency accommodation, neither of which is readily available.

Although these are all national issues, there is nothing more local than not being able to get access to a local GP or getting your teeth fixed or worrying whether your children are going to get the best education depending on the school you choose or wondering whether you can go to work without the fear of being sacked without any recourse. Older Australians are expressing concerns not just about the impact of increasing cost of living pressure for themselves but also about whether their children and grandchildren will ever be able to afford a home. These are the things that concern my local community and are being played out in people’s homes and workplaces on a day-to-day basis.

Aside from the important issues that I have highlighted, there is of course the global problem that is impacting locally—and that is climate change. The environment and climate change are very much on the minds of the people in my community. Having an electorate with such beauty brings with it a responsibility to ensure the ecosystem around the bay and in the bay is protected. It also takes in the responsibilities of the river systems. The electorate has very devoted groups and initiatives to educate and protect our local area. The Mountain to Mangroves Festival is a wonderful initiative that runs each year. The various catchment groups, the Redcliffe and District Wildlife Rescue, the Dugongs, the Redcliffe Environmental Forum and the Australian Conservation Foundation are just some of the groups that I have got to know over the past 1½ years. These and many more are amongst the wonderful groups that already perform exceptional work in the community. However, at a local level there is more to be done between the local, state and federal representatives in conjunction with the local environmental groups. Through the ideas of these groups and the support of the governments, improvements can be made. I look forward to the opportunity of working closely with these groups. I also believe that we must continue the work already started in our schools to educate our children on the issue of the environment and climate change, as we need to ensure not only that they understand the issue’s importance but that they get to contribute to the future of the community and country in which they will be growing up and raising their families.

There is, of course, one further issue that the people of Petrie not only expect but demand be addressed by the federal Labor government and for me to advocate on their behalf. This is, of course, the abolition of the Work Choices laws. The government now has the opportunity to deliver a balanced industrial relations system for the 21st century and beyond. I personally saw and heard during the campaign many heartbreaking stories of the effects of these laws. I am enthusiastic at the opportunity to be part of a government that will bring fairness back into the workplace.

Of course, I have many people to thank for Labor’s success in Petrie. On a personal note I would like to thank my family: George, Emma and Cameron. Thank you, George, for your words of wisdom and for being a great sounding board even when I did not make any sense. To my children, thank you for all the handmade notes, signs, flags and chants that you created during the campaign to support me. It just goes to show that the simplest things, having come from the heart, do truly inspire and encourage you to go on. To my broader family, Anna and Mike, my father Bob, my sister Cherie and brother Brett, their partners and my nieces and nephews, thank you—even though at times you did not necessarily understand why I would want to take on such a challenge. To my mother, who passed away two years ago, there is so much that I have missed sharing with you. I can only hope that you would have been proud of my achievements. To my friends, thank you for the brief relief of laughter and enjoyment with our families that reminded me of the importance of good friends around you in life.

To the AWU, thank you for all the support you have shown me. I also thank the other unions who have supported me and whom I have worked beside over many years. To the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and all Labor members, thank you for your support and encouragement during the campaign. Watching your efforts and commitment during the past year has been an inspiration.

Specifically to the Hon. Wayne Swan—who not only will be a great Treasurer for this nation but is also an amazing local member for the seat of Lilley, a neighbouring seat to Petrie—I thank you and Kim for your support. I have had the benefit of observing Wayne’s commitment locally over the years and have aimed to live up to his standards during the campaign and beyond. I look forward to continuing our close working relationship for the seats of Lilley and Petrie.

To Tim Gartrell, Milton Dick, Anthony Chisholm and all other staff at the ALP both nationally and in Queensland, thank you. To my campaign manager Jimmy Sullivan, Laura Gowdie, Dave Mortleman and family, and to all of the Labor state members and councillors across Petrie, thank you for your support. I look forward to us working together in the future.

Of course, the campaign would not have achieved the result that it did without the commitment and dedication of branch members and volunteers. A special mention must also go to Troy Fernandez, Bradley Heilbronn, Gavin Brady, Rosemary Hume, Winston Harris, Terry Sullivan, Phil Hay and Mick Carey. Thank you all for your support.

Time does not allow me to convey all that I wish to achieve for my local community. Many other issues need to be addressed by government and many other wonderful ideas need to be supported and encouraged. This I give a commitment to do. The issues I have spoken about today are not insurmountable but are nonetheless a monumental task ahead for us all to tackle over the coming years. As a member of the new Rudd Labor government, I embrace the task ahead and welcome this opportunity.