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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 473


Mrs GRIGGS (4:30 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am absolutely humbled, honoured and grateful to be standing before you as the newly elected member for Solomon. I thank the electorate of Solomon for the opportunity to represent them in this place.

This 43rd Parliament celebrates a number of firsts, including the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, my friend Ken Wyatt, and the youngest member of parliament, Wyatt Roy. It seems strange to me that in 2010 the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives has just been elected, given that, living in Solomon and the Northern Territory, the influence of the first Australians and, in particular, the Larakia people is substantial. Being exposed to, understanding and accepting the cultural beliefs and needs means that we are much more accepting of the different multicultural make-up of the seat of Solomon and, indeed, the Northern Territory.

Mr Speaker, I stand before you as the first female member for Solomon and the first female member of the House of Representatives from the Northern Territory. In years to come, historians will marvel at the number of historical milestones achieved in this very interesting 43rd Parliament.

My electorate of Solomon is, in my mind, a true tropical paradise—and that is why we get colds when we come to Canberra. The electorate is named after Vaiben Louis Solomon, who has been described as one of the Northern Territory’s founding fathers of Federation. Solomon covers an area of approximately 337 square kilometres and includes the cities of Palmerston and Darwin. I said Palmerston first because I used to be the Deputy Mayor of Palmerston. I believe it is one of the most multicultural communities in Australia and a place that embraced multiculturalism well before it became an accepted feature of everyday Australia.

The key industries in my electorate include tourism, mining, horticulture and fishing. Coupled with this, we have a historical link with Defence that not only has helped shape our history in Solomon but also drives our economy on a daily basis. The men and women of the defence forces and their families who live and work on the various bases are important in the social fabric of Solomon. With a population of around 90,000 people, in some instances Darwin city and its surrounds still have that country town feel. This is one of the most endearing qualities of the electorate. It means we place a high value on human existence, our environment and the sense of community spirit. People can walk down the street of Solomon and share a smile with a complete stranger. I have been doing that here in Canberra, but I do not get the same reaction. All too often I hear the story of the person who came for two years and stayed for 20. My own parents are an example of this. They went to the Territory for six months in 1968 and 42 years later they are still there.

While there are so many positive attributes to the electorate, there are a number of key concerns that inhibit its potential. One such concern is housing, not only the cost of housing to rent or purchase but also the lack of houses available. In fact, we are experiencing the worst housing crisis in the Territory’s history. Currently, the median rental price in Solomon is $550 per week. Many families are finding it difficult to make ends meet. In fact, during the election campaign I became aware of people who in many cases had full-time jobs but had to resort to sleeping in their cars because they could not afford or find a home in Solomon.

I see a convergence of issues that have conspired to impact. However, the single underlying issue falls at the feet of the very people in the Northern Territory who are responsible for land release—that is, the Henderson Labor government. The Henderson Labor government has failed Territorians by being too slow in releasing land for development, and when it does it wants to cash in at the expense of the buyers. Put simply, when the Northern Territory government demands a premium over and above the value of the land and the developers’ profit, the unnecessarily inflated cost for house and land packages is driven beyond the reach of the average first home buyer. I need only look to my son Aaron and his fiancee Amy to see how great the challenge is for young Territorians to be a first time owner. I have no doubt the type of assistance and intervention my husband Paul and I provided is typical of the depths that families are going to in order to help their children move forward in their lives.

Homeownership should not be a pipedream. Australia is prosperous. It is prosperous enough for everyone to have the aspiration to own the dwelling they occupy, but we are seeing an imbalance between supply and demand and, despite the spin otherwise, I do not believe a median home price in Solomon of $555,000 is reasonable. The cost of housing, housing affordability and the general living costs associated with being in the Territory have a flow-on effect beyond homeownership. It impacts the ability of business to attract and retain staff and everyday Territorians to go about their day-to-day lives. Housing is a fundamental that intersects across a range of areas and it is an underlying problem in the Northern Territory and indeed the seat of Solomon.

This is why throughout my campaign I fought so strongly to save 395 houses owned by defence that were scheduled to be demolished because they were no longer needed. It does not make sense to me that in the middle of a housing crisis brought on by the inactions of our Henderson Labor government, consideration could even be given to demolishing these houses, especially given that in some cases these houses are only 10 years old or at least were renovated 10 years ago. Now fortunately, after much lobbying, those on the other side did listen and these houses are no longer scheduled to be demolished. However, nearly 150 of them remain vacant in the middle of our worst ever housing crisis. One important factor overlooked is that these houses are part of the community and while they sit there vacant it impacts on the local businesses and the local school. Ludmilla Primary School is a landmark on Bagot Road and will be affected by any non-use of these houses as 25 per cent of the school population is from defence families. I will, as the member for Solomon, maintain the pressure so that these houses can be kept and utilised for all Territorians. I am sorry, Member for Lingiari, but I am going to continue to push this. I do not accept that we should simply shrug our shoulders and view that this is all too hard.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mrs GRIGGS —He is a fellow Territorian! I call on the Gillard Labor government and the Henderson Territory government to start to exercise the most basic of common sense and make these houses available to Territorians now. I ask this place to support me in delivering more affordable housing in the seat of Solomon not only for the current crop of Territorians but for future generations. Over the coming months you will discover my deep desire to keep the issue at the forefront. The Rudd-Gillard government promised 1,200 affordable homes way back in 2007 and reannounced the same promise in 2010. To date there have been none delivered. Nothing is more affordable than talk.

The Darwin Harbour is a pivotal aspect of the seat of Solomon. It is a hub for industry, it is a hub for trade and it is a hub for recreation. Darwin Harbour is 2½ times the size of Sydney Harbour and it is an important cog in the environmental wheel. During the course of the federal election I promised to pursue $2 million for an engineering and implementation study to avoid further pollution of our harbour. We cannot allow it to be a dumping ground for pollution, including raw sewage, and we should do everything we can within our power to see that this harbour is protected. Darwin’s importance as a transport hub for sea, air, rail and road will grow due to the increased exploration of gas and petroleum in the nearby Timor Sea and also with Australia’s continued expansion in trade with Asia and the rest of the world. In his maiden speech in February 1976, then Northern Territory senator Bernie Kilgariff had this to say about industry in the Northern Territory:

We must make it attractive to overseas companies to come to Australia with their know how and equipment—companies which will put the necessary finance into such projects for the good of Australia, with Australian participation and control.

The vision remains the same some 30-plus years later but we cannot cut corners to deliver the workability and we should not cut our environmental responsibility in order to deliver that workability. There has to be a balance and there has to be a plan. There is a long-term need for a state-of-the-art sewage treatment and recycling facility in my electorate. Our proposed engineering and implementation study will assist in developing that map forward.

The wellbeing of Territorians can be linked to the environment within which the people of Solomon live, and during this term I will continue to make representation about the delivery of health services to my constituents. As one of the fastest growing capital cities in Australia we face major challenges in providing the necessary infrastructure, health and community services to attract and retain people and to continue to grow our local and national economy. The health of the people of Solomon is at the forefront of my concern. The new paradigm has delivered increased health funding for regional centres in return for parliamentary support. Now I live in a region, and so it is my intention as the member for Solomon to ensure that the Northern Territory, as a region, gets its fair share of the funding.

During the course of the election campaign the coalition promised a positron emission tomography scanner, or a PET scanner, in my electorate. I foreshadow that I will be pursuing funding for this very important scanner. Why is it in 2010 that the people of a city the size of Darwin should have to fly interstate to use such services? This is the type of healthcare need that has been neglected, sadly, by Labor. I share the level of frustration of some of the Independents and some of my other colleagues who have to fight for these services when other constituencies take them for granted.

Let me also indicate to this place that I am committed to the improvement of mental health services in not only the Northern Territory but Australia. I agree with Patrick McGorry that the coalition’s $1.5 billion mental health policy is outstanding. In the spirit of this parliament I want to see members embrace this policy for the good of all Australians. I announce today my own personal efforts in support of mental health services with a $3,000 annual scholarship from my electoral allowance to go to a student studying mental health in my electorate of Solomon. Let me foreshadow that during my time in this place I will be making the case for a major medical facility to service the growth of my electorate, the neighbouring rural suburbs, including the future city of Weddell, and the neighbouring electorate of Lingiari.

The Charles Darwin University is not only my alma mater, the institution in which I completed my undergraduate qualification, but also a key organisation within my electorate and a critical part of the future prosperity of the Northern Territory. The university is experiencing strong growth in both vocational education and training and higher education programs, with a vision to increase student numbers by almost 50 per cent over the next five years from its current level of 22,000 students. I look forward to the opening of the new health and medical teaching and research facilities at the university in the coming months. I believe that the university is in very safe hands under the strong leadership of Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover.

While on education, I will turn to Indigenous education. In 2008 the Australian Labor Party introduced a policy change that resulted in the loss of a significant amount of funding to Indigenous students. In the case of Kormilda College in my electorate it represented $600,000 worth of funding in 2010 that was specifically aimed at supporting Indigenous students to access and achieve success in secondary education. The loss of funding has resulted in the loss of four Indigenous support workers at Kormilda College but, worse still, has reduced the capacity of schools like Kormilda, who are fighting the real battles in Indigenous education, to support students who want to learn. In the closing stages of the recent election campaign the Gillard government released a press statement promising to resolve the issue by funding remote students at the remote rate regardless of where they attended school, but only if the Gillard government was returned to power. Even if it is with a minority, the Gillard government has been returned. I am advised that so far the minister has not responded to the representations from Kormilda College. So I join Kormilda College in asking the minister: when will this matter be corrected? Where is this money?

In the scheme of political campaigning, the Gillard government was active in Solomon, sandbagging a marginal seat. Two commitments in particular stand out. The first was to the Jingili BMX Club, who were promised $1 million to put a roof over the track at Marrara. I ask the government: when will you deliver the roof for the Jingili BMX Club? The second commitment was made by the Prime Minister herself, promising the Marrara Hockey Centre new turf. Hockey is one of the Territory’s greatest sporting success stories, and that is always good in an election campaign. We currently have two players in the Australian men’s team, Des Abbott and Joel Carroll, who won gold at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi, with a third, goalkeeper Leon Haywood, in the Australian development squad. I ask the Gillard government: when will you be delivering the new turf for the Marrara Hockey Centre?

Let me now move to the characteristics and values that drive and shape me. In my life I have been fortunate to meet a number of people who have defeated the odds with their can-do attitude and who have let nothing hold them back—and nor should it. I share now that I have been influenced specifically by two special people who have overcome the odds to achieve what I deem greatness. The first is Tahnee Afuhaamango. Probably not many of you would have heard about her. She is a world champion swimmer. I understand she is the first person in the world with Down syndrome to be included in an institute of sport program. She is currently in Taiwan defending her world title at the Down syndrome world championships. She inspires me with her tenacity and drive and I wish her all the very best of luck because she is a true champion and I am proud of her.

The second is Raymond Roach. I met Ray in 1992 through Riding for the Disabled. He was not supposed to live past the age of five. Last Friday he turned 35. He also recently won Darwin’s version of Dancing with the Stars. We call it ‘Dancing with the celebrities’, and it is a major fundraiser for Total Recreation, who support people with disabilities. When Raymond won ‘Dancing with the celebrities’ you would have thought he had won the lottery. He has been participating in this fundraising event for a number of years and every year he improves, he works harder and he learns more steps. His absolute determination and tenacity was rewarded by winning with his celebrity partner, Lisa Pellegrino.

In many respects Tahnee and Raymond represent my simple belief in a hand up, not a handout, and certainly my belief in working hard, in being tenacious, determined and courageous and in never giving up. I believe in being the best you can be and giving everyone a fair and equal chance at achieving their best. I certainly believe in the Northern Territory, my home of 41 years. I know I do not look that old! I believe in its potential and the opportunity to make it even better.

I believe there is nothing better than your family to bring you back down to earth. I am fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive family who have always been there for me no matter what the endeavour or the challenge. Some of my family are up there in the gallery, including my magnificent mother, Sandra. She will never, ever admit that I am her favourite daughter. It does not matter how many times I tell her; she will not admit it, particularly now that my sister is sitting up there as well! My mother has taught me that anything is possible. There is my gorgeous husband, Paul—the love of my life—who has always been there and is my rock. There is my youngest sister Nicole, who will probably wave her hand and always makes me smile. There is my favourite cousin, Ronnie, who has come from Deniliquin, and his darling wife, Glenys. Unfortunately the rest of my fabulous family—namely my dad, Ian; my son, Aaron; my brother, Andrew; my sister Sonja; my sister-in-law, Sandy; and my brother-in-law, Mark—could not be here. However, technology is such that I am sure they are watching over the net. Hi, guys!

During my nine-month campaign I was supported by such a wonderful, committed group of people. I am sorry that I will not be able to name them all, but they know that I am very grateful to them. But I would like to give special thanks to a few people. I thank my campaign director, Alison Penfold, who is also up there in the gallery and who campaigned with me for the nine months. She—like my leader, Tony Abbott—did not sleep much during the campaign. Alison is a true political tragic and a driven individual. I thank her for her support and her wisdom. To Senator Scullion over there: thank you to you and your team and thank you for being here. Daniel Gannon, who looked after my media, is another driven person who made it look easy, and I thank him. To the countless volunteers who drove campaign cars or joined me doorknocking, at the markets or at booths or handed out pamphlets and how-to-vote cards: I thank you. To the Country Liberals: I thank you for giving me your faith and support.

I must also thank the Leader of the Opposition in the Northern Territory, Terry Mills, and the members of his parliamentary team: Mr Dave Tollner, who was the first member for Solomon, Mr Peter Chandler and my local member, Ross Bohlin, John Elferink, Peter Styles and Willem Westra van Holthe. I thank the many federal shadow ministers who provided ongoing support during the campaign and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, who taught me about being focused and disciplined. I give a very special thankyou to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, for holding this cane toad during the election campaign. Who knew that the inventor of the glare could be made to blink! To the member for Mackellar, Mrs Bishop, who is helping around the hallways of Parliament House: I am honoured that you have agreed to be my mentor. To the former senator for the Northern Territory, Grant Tambling: you have contributed to the development of the Territory in a way I will strive to emulate.

Let me finish with some last commitments: I will never, ever take the voters or the seat of Solomon for granted. I promise to always keep a sense of humour, to work hard in the electorate, to listen to and act on behalf of the electorate, to look beyond this election cycle to deliver long-term benefits to the Territory, to stand up for the Territory’s interests in Canberra and to continue the fight for statehood so that Territorians will enjoy the same legislative rights as people in other jurisdictions. Thank you for indulging me, Mr Speaker.