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Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Page: 1453

Mr CHEESEMAN (10:29 AM) —I stand before you on Ngunawal land with great pride, the first Labor member for Corangamite to make a first speech in the national parliament in 28,470 days, or 76 years. The last time a Labor member for Corangamite was elected, things were a little different. Thomas Edison had just died, aeroplanes were Kittyhawks and Charles Kingsford Smith had just become the first man to fly solo from London to Australia. It is really great to be here.

First, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of the former member for Corangamite, Stewart McArthur. Though our backgrounds and views of the world differ, I have always admired Stewart’s willingness to be honest about his views, even when he knew they were not popular.

Winning Corangamite took a massive effort by many, many people. I acknowledge all those people who worked on my campaign. I cannot name them all; there were hundreds and hundreds of people who campaigned to see Labor win Corangamite and government. I must acknowledge Richard Morrow, Joe Taylor, Nathan Oakes, Mike Atkinson, Annette Downie, Liz Day, Gavin Ryan, Matt Hammond, Judy and Peter Loney, Chris Reilly, Kosmos Samaras, Clancy Dobin, Brett Collett, John Sawyer and Sonia Kociski. I also thank Young Labor, my federal parliamentary colleague Gavin Marshall and my state parliamentary colleagues Gayle Tierney, Jaala Pulford and Michael Crutchfield. I would also like to thank all of my local Labor Party branches; my former employer, the Community and Public Sector Union; and, in particular, Karen Batt and Jim Walton for their friendship and support. I want to thank the union members who helped me via the ALP Your Rights at Work campaign.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge my family: my wife, Kirsty, who was so strong and supportive despite the trials of being pregnant for all of the campaign; my mum, Ondria, who is a hard-working charge nurse; and my father, Leicester, who recently retired as a technical officer with the University of Melbourne’s school of forestry. Thank you all so much.

It is daunting to be elected as only the third Labor member for Corangamite since Federation. Previously, the voters of Corangamite have turned to Labor during momentous events. Corangamite voters first turned to Labor in the lead-up to the Great War, when James Scullin was elected. It happened again in the Great Depression, when Richard Crouch took office. Of course, I have been elected during another very significant period: 2007 and the years preceding it saw the great cultural war—the coalition’s war on fairness and the great struggle to retain the central Australian cultural value of the fair go. To have Labor standing on this side today is a great victory for the Australian fair go.

Corangamite has been a safe Liberal seat for decades. It has received little attention and many members may not know a great deal about it, so I will give you a brief travelogue. I would like to use the journey to describe the character of these communities and the challenges they face and to make my commitments to them. Firstly, Corangamite is the country of the Wathaurong, Gadubanud and Gulidjan people. I acknowledge their ongoing attachment to country and the contribution they make to our region today.

If we are to pick a geographic point to start to describe Corangamite now, we should begin at Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff. Here Victoria’s colonial history and the great change began. You can look across to the Port Phillip Bay heads and the Rip. Through this gap the first wooden ships sailed and dropped anchor. William Buckley passed here in his remarkable 30-year solo odyssey as the first whitefella to visit the region. His survival, due to the generosity and compassion of the local indigenous people, was the genesis of the great Australian phrase ‘Buckley’s chance’. Buckley’s chance, by the way, was a phrase often applied to my own campaign. Winning this seat is evidence of the wisdom of another great Australian phrase—that is, ‘Have a go, mate!’ We then travel in a westerly direction to Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. These towns, of course, now define in legend Australia’s sea-change phenomenon. Who could forget the quintessential Australian characters of Diver Dan and Laura Gibson? Dan was laconic, rugged, cynical and hiding his vulnerability. Laura was game, feisty, passionate, introspective and honest.

To my mind, the success of these characters said something about Australians. It said something about what we aspire to as Australians. I want to talk about these values. We heard a lot about the aspirationals, the sea changers and the tree changers in the recent election. They certainly played a big part in Corangamite. We, as politicians, appealed to the aspirationals. We courted them; we cajoled them; at times I begged them. But, to me, the pitch often appeared to be about the material things and gaining a higher status. There was the expectation that you should be leaving the old values behind for a new, classier life. I think we are missing a fundamental point: aspirational Australians are also aspiring to better values as a community and as individuals.

The aspirationals are searching for those great Australian values of openness, friendliness and a close community. That was the appeal of the SeaChange show. I believe that as politicians we have a responsibility to display and inspire those great values. Until recently, these were the values for which Australians were known. These values are what I was taught as a boy: to treat people as equals, to engage with people, to be encouraging, to be understanding and to be a reliable friend. My pledge to all of you here today, including those on the other side, is to always strive for these values—the values Australians know as common decency. To my electors, I pledge the same: to always be available, to be accountable, to support you and to be there for you.

The Great Ocean Road is the next stop in Corangamite, with the coastal towns of Torquay, Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne and Apollo Bay. These are rapidly growing towns and communities. The Great Ocean Road is Australia’s largest monument, built by 3,000 Australian ex-servicemen as a tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. If you have not been to the Great Ocean Road, you have seriously missed out on both the history and the view.

However, these towns, the Great Ocean Road, the Surf Coast and the whole of the Bellarine Peninsula face daunting challenges. Climate change and rising sea levels are a deadset frightening scenario, with predictions that much of the Bellarine Peninsula will be inundated. We will lose major industry, houses, and recreational and community facilities. The Great Ocean Road, the engine room of the tourism economy, will be breached in place after place. Local towns will be become local islands.

Sustainability is a massive challenge for all Victorians. In our region and in Australia we have to learn to provide water, power, housing, sewerage and transport services to these growth communities sustainably. Per head, we come from the worst offending state in a nation that is one of the worst contributors to greenhouse gases. There is no greater challenge for us. We have to work with business, all levels of government and everyone in the community to stabilise the planet’s climate. What a breath of fresh air it was to see Labor make a start and sign Kyoto. Labor’s future initiatives on carbon trading, greenhouse gas targets and other climate change measures are also so important. I pledge to my electorate to support these changes and to push hard for pre-emptive action at local, regional, national and international levels on climate change.

There is another great sustainability challenge our society faces—that is the challenge of sustaining affordable housing. It is a simple fact that most kids in the Surf Coast and many other areas in my electorate will never be able to buy where they grew up. How did we get to a situation where, according to the latest figures, the average Australian family has to pay up to 50 per cent of their net income on mortgage repayments? Labor has pledged to implement some important initiatives on housing affordability. I will push every council, every developer and all governments for affordable housing in every new housing development, every chance I get.

So, we follow my electorate from the Surf Coast into the hinterland, on to Colac and Winchelsea and the many small inland farming communities, including Birregurra, Lavers Hill, Gellibrand and other small towns within the Otway Range. These people are fiercely proud of their towns. They are loyal to them. The people of Colac and Winchelsea have been through a lot over recent times. They have suffered with major transition in primary production—in particular, in the timber, livestock grazing and dairying industries. Many of these small rural areas are still drought affected, doing it tough—farmers every day working long hours so that we can have meat, milk and grains on our table. These are strong, supportive communities with resilient characters, who are rapidly adapting. In 2007, Colac voters put their trust in Labor. Many logging and farming families in the region have given Labor a go for the first time. My pledge to the people of Colac, the Otways and the surrounding region is that I will do my level best not to let you down.

Corangamite stretches up from Colac to just south of Ballarat. It then cuts across to Rokewood, Dereel, Linton and Smythesdale—all strong farming townships, all with a strong sense of community. From here we travel to Bannockburn and then the south-west suburbs of Geelong and the rest of the Bellarine Peninsula. Within this area is another huge growth corridor, home to tens of thousands of young families working towards owning their own homes, looking for job security and a healthy and safe life for their kids. The needs of these families have been ignored over the last decade. They need support to make them feel a part of their community.

I have the task of representing one of the most diverse, dynamic and beautiful regions in Australia. Corangamite has it all: friendly, spirited people; a wide range of industry; world-class coastline; superb bays and beaches; and fantastic forest and farming areas. We have great sporting clubs, cultural organisations and terrific volunteer groups, making up a great community. In the next three years we have a great opportunity to build even stronger communities. To me, that is what Labor is about.

Over the last 11 years, those great Australian values I talked about earlier were, I believe, degraded. We were encouraged to turn our back on our fellow workers. We were encouraged to blame the disadvantaged for their disadvantage. We were encouraged to fear and distrust cultural difference. We learnt how to spread fear with coded words and coded acts. The Australia I want is not this Australia—that is just not Australian! We need to remember what we were and then build on it. We were one of the architects of the UN declaration of human rights. We led the world in workers’ rights. We led the post-Cold War Western world into China and Asia through trade and culture exchange. We welcomed refugees from war-torn neighbours. We were known for our inventiveness. We were known for our compassion and plain speak. That is the Australia I want.

For way too long there have been almost no community-building initiatives in Corangamite. Where they have happened, they have been fragmented and disjointed. I am on about smart community building, where taxpayers’ dollars get maximum value. It is about coming up with a range of ideas that fit together as a whole, where one bit of infrastructure complements another. I believe we should not cream off tax dollars from working families as an unfettered right. We are entrusted with tax money—working people’s money. We are given it and we are expected to use it wisely, because the vast majority of Australians believe we are not all just little individual islands. Most Australians know we are part of a community and that we have to keep working on developing our community. We are given tax dollars to use efficiently to help build vibrant, healthy local communities where everyone benefits and those in need or at a disadvantage are given extra support.

I am pleased to say that, during the election campaign, we were very successful in winning support for some fantastic community-building projects. But, most importantly, all of those projects go together to make a whole. It is a matrix of projects that will make a real difference to our community. In the Surf Coast and the southern Geelong suburbs, for example, we have funded brand new sports, community and recreational precincts. Going with this is a major water saving and recycling plant which will feed the sports fields and at the same time be available for industry and parks.

In this same region, we are building a whole new road transport system that will make access to the region much easier and travel to and within it more efficient. These roads will also open up new growth corridors for affordable housing, new businesses and new jobs. The same road system will provide better access to a major driver of the regional economy, the Great Ocean Road. We are also making funds available to improve the environment and facilities available on the Great Ocean Road. This is an integrated community-building vision. We have created the vision by bringing together people with local knowledge and ideas, by looking at a creative way to fit projects together and then by going out and strongly advocating for it.

I want to say a few words about issues that were decisive in the election: workplace laws and a fair go. The Labor Party and the Australian society were founded on a fair go. The fair go now has broader application but, originally, it was born out of union workplace campaigns from over 100 years ago. The culture created by Work Choices and its Trojan Horse, AWAs, was and is appalling. It was totally un-Australian. Australia will be an infinitely better place for the fact that these laws will be overturned. My pledge to the people of Corangamite is to always support workplace laws that are fair and balanced.

In winding up I want to say that, just over two weeks ago, my first child was born. Isaac is only a couple of weeks old now. I look into his eyes and a sense of wonder and a deep well of love takes over. I feel an absolute duty of care. I just want Isaac to grow up in a world that is kind, where he will be safe, where he will have opportunities and where no one will bully or stand over him. I do not want him to be an adult in a world where human-induced climate change is causing dislocations to communities and whole nations. I do not want him to go to work being afraid express a different opinion from that of his employer. I want him to grow up in a community where he walks down the street and instinctively exchanges a ‘G’day mate’ to a passer-by. I want him to teach his children, my grandchildren, that Sunday is the day they bring a cup of tea to mum and dad in bed.

We are part of an exciting nation—an Australian society that overall is amongst the most free, innovative and successful in the world. We got here not by some magic ideology; we got here by sticking to the values of tolerance, a fair go and decency—and that is exactly what I will be fighting for in this place. Thank you.