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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1257

Mr CROOK (11:50 AM) —I thank the people of the electorate of O’Connor for the great honour they have given me. I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners, both past and present, of this great land that we now share. Indeed, it is a great honour to be standing before you today as the new member for O’Connor and, in doing so, I would like to formally acknowledge the contribution of the former member for O’Connor, the Hon. Wilson Tuckey. You do not spend 30 years in public life, being elected term after term, without doing something right. I wish him the very best for the future.

This 43rd parliament is, to say the least, an unusual one and it will be remembered for many reasons. I sincerely congratulate the member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt, on being the first Indigenous Australian in this House; the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, on being the first Greens member here; and Ed Husic on being the first of Muslim faith in this place. I congratulate the Class of 2010 and all others elected to this place. For me, I am the first member of the Nationals from Western Australia in 34 years.

I was born and raised in Merredin, the heart of the central wheat belt of Western Australia. I am the youngest of three sons of Joan and Paddy Crook, nee Giles. The Crook and Giles families are well-known pioneer farmers of the Merredin district and, more specifically, the now disappeared grain rail sidings of Nukarni and Nokaning. The first 10 years of my life were spent on a 1,500 hectare wheat and sheep property south of Merredin until my parents bought a farm closer to town where we lived in the township of Merredin.

I was educated at the North Merredin Primary School and Merredin Senior High School. My years 11 and 12 teachers will no doubt be scratching their heads about now, thinking that they must have missed something. My school reports always stated that ‘Tony could do better, if he only put as much time into his studies as he spent on the golf course’. On completion of school, when my desire and possibly my ability to be a professional golfer had waned, I moved to Woolibar Station, a 140,000 hectare pastoral lease 50 kilometres south of Kalgoorlie. Dad’s decision to buy a sheep station was a great move; although not knowing it at the time, the opportunities that come about from owning a sheep station in the middle of a major mining precinct can be numerous. There could have been no better environment to bring up our three daughters. I do not think the girls will ever forgive Karen and me for selling the place.

I cannot help but reflect on how I ended up in this place. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of three people—the first being my father, Paddy Crook. Dad’s interest in agripolitics, and politics in general, is renowned and respected at home. Dad thinks that Foxtel is sensational, as he can watch parliament whenever he is not playing golf or up at the Merredin Golf Club working on the course. I know that Dad spends more time in this House via the television than many of us do. He loves question time—yes, I know that is very sad! Dad’s wise counsel will always be welcome.

The second is in fact a former member of this House: Mick Cotter. Mick served as the federal member for Kalgoorlie between 1975 and 1980. In 1987, in his capacity as the President of the Eastern Goldfields Section Council of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Mick approached me to join the council. I am sure that at the time neither of us would have ever thought it would have come to this. I will come back to the Royal Flying Doctor Service later in my speech.

The third is Wendy Duncan, the immediate past-president of the Nationals WA and now a member of the Western Australian Legislative Council. At the time, about 2006, I was having a fair bit to say about the poor treatment that I felt the state government was giving the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Wendy came out to my shearing shed and said to me: ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’ I joined The Nationals WA. In 2007 I had a training run in the federal election as the lead candidate for the Nationals WA in the Senate. I came into the team again in the 2008 state election to run for the seat of Kalgoorlie and finished a very close second to my good friend, John Bowler. Now in 2010, Mr Speaker, I stand before you as the new Member for O’Connor.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been a major part of my life for the past 23 years. I served as Chairman of the RFDS Western Operations from 1999 to 2009 and was national president of the service from 1999 to 2002. This was a great challenge but most of all it was a privilege. Having been bestowed life membership in 2004, I feel very honoured and I will carry the legacy of my time with this great service forever. I know that the Royal Flying Doctor Service gave me far more than I gave it. In particular I would like to thank Peter Howe, Tim Shackleton, the late Gerry McDonald, Michael Long, Neville Bassett, Clive Kitchen and all the board members, councillors and staff who supported me over this time. Even more importantly I want to pay tribute to the wonderful staff of the Royal Flying Doctor Service who deliver this iconic medical service to those who live, work and travel in rural and remote Australia.

With the significant boundary changes that occurred in Western Australia at the last election we have seen the formation of the new electorate of Durack. The Durack name is legendary in Western Australian pioneer history and it is very appropriate that this new electorate be named after this iconic family. It does, however, remove Kalgoorlie as an electorate name, and that is disappointing to say the least, given the historic role that the Western Australian goldfields played in the formation of Federation all those years ago, back in 1901. So important was the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie region to the colony in the late 1890s that there was a threat to establish a stand-alone state around the area if the government in Perth did not call for a vote on the Federation. A referendum was subsequently held in 1900 and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. If that vote were to be held today, in 2010, one can only ponder the outcome. My guess is that it would be vastly different.

That said, it is very appropriate that Kalgoorlie is incorporated into the seat of O’Connor. CY O’Connor was undoubtedly one of the great engineers. In 1892, the same year that gold was found in Coolgardie, O’Connor commenced construction of the Fremantle Harbour, and in 1897 the first ship docked at the port. During these five years people were flocking in their droves to Coolgardie, following the discovery of gold by Bailey and Ford, and by 1894 the population was estimated at 15,000. Water, as it is today, was the most significant and limiting factor. Many perished en route and water nearly became as valuable as the precious metal they yearned.

O’Connor, with the backing of the Premier John Forrest, devised a plan to build Mundaring Weir in the hills east of Perth and construct a 530-kilometre pipeline and a series of pumping stations to deliver water to Kalgoorlie. Commissioned in 1896, and under intense political and public criticism that the gold would dry up and the state would be left with a massive debt, O’Connor took his own life in March, 1902. Water flowed into Kalgoorlie in January, 1903. Our geologists and miners are still finding not only gold but many other precious metals to this day in the goldfields and the greater Goldfields region, and that pipeline remains one of the key factors in their quest. This nation is forever indebted to CY O’Connor.

The new electorate of O’Connor is a mere 909,000 square kilometres. The south-west corner near Manjimup to the north-east corner in the Gibson Desert is over 1,700 kilometres apart—a fair day’s walk in any language! O’Connor is very diverse, with mining, fishing, agriculture, viticulture, forestry, to name but a few of the pursuits in this vast electorate.

The bulk of the wheat belt is currently in drought, and our wheat farmers and those industries and communities that support this sector are under enormous social and economic pressure. I applaud the federal and WA governments for their drought pilot program currently being trialled in Western Australia. Given time, this program could have enormous benefits for the long-term viability of our already innovative and resilient farmers. One thing is for certain in broad-acre agriculture in Australia: drought will and does happen. We need to look far broader in supporting this vital sector.

The Murray-Daring issue has been a hot topic in this place since resuming and rightly so. Not as topical but just as important is the salinity issue in Australia. Salinity continues to encroach on valuable arable land like the cancer that it is. Proactive and innovative measures must be taken—and soon, to stop and hopefully reverse this peril.

Politics, as we have unquestionably found out since the 21 August, is about numbers. In 2006, Brendon Grylls, the Leader of the Nationals WA and the then President of the Nationals WA, Wendy Duncan, took a major decision in what many said was a massive political risk for the Nationals WA. The Nationals WA, proudly a political party representing regional Western Australia, stepped away from the coalition. They were to be decimated by this stance. It was to be political suicide. They would achieve nothing. They would be targets of ridicule. They would undo the 97 years of history that was started in 1913, the birth place of the National Party. Mr Speaker, I am here today to tell you that none of that happened. What in fact did happen was that the Nationals WA are now arguably the most successful political party in Australia.

The Nationals WA now have a power-sharing arrangement with the Liberal Party providing sound, stable government to Western Australia and delivering a regional funding program that has been embraced by regional Western Australia. This regional funding program, called Royalties for Regions, ensures that 25 per cent of all mining and petroleum royalties goes back into regional projects that they want. This year a total of $860 million is available. Local government, regional development commissions and community groups across the state have applauded this initiative. The Nationals WA campaigned strongly on the platform to ask the federal government to match this program. We need to look at projects that will sustain us; we need to have a CY O’Connor view of the world. Water from the north should not be just a dream. The extension of the Dampier to Bunbury gas pipeline to Albany needs to proceed. A transport hub in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, to take the pressure off the Perth transport network and save millions of dollars and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, needs to happen.

Western Australia does not need a new mining tax but it does want a fairer share of what Western Australia delivers to the federal coffers. A mining tax will not just affect mining companies; it will seep through the economy at all levels.

When Australia was sold the GST we were told that all GST receipts would come back to the state of origin. We certainly now know that this is not the case. Western Australia only recently had a raise from 62c to 68c in the dollar, when other states receive a much higher return. I fully appreciate that Western Australia does not have the population of some other states but our needs, particularly in the area of infrastructure, are just as valid as those of the rest of the country. We all know that Western Australia is a resource-rich state and many of our needs focus around these resources and what helps deliver those resources for the benefit of all Australians.

We need to coax people back to the regions and encourage them to stay. People do not leave regional areas because the roads are no good; they leave because medical and education services are not what they should be. Many country shire councils in the electorate of O’Connor are doing a fantastic job finding doctors, providing houses and motor vehicles, supplying surgeries and supplementing their doctors’ salaries when, quite simply, they should not be doing so. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud these shires for wanting the very best for their communities. This is not the role of local government. Doctor and health services are the responsibility of this place and more needs to be done to help these communities. I do not know of one city council that provides a doctor.

The plight of our first Australians should continue to be of concern to us all. Indigenous health, particularly in remote communities, is simply not delivering the results that we all expect. A well-known and highly respected Kalgoorlie paediatrician, Professor Christine Jeffries-Stokes, who is married to Aboriginal elder Geoffrey Stokes, once said to me, ‘Tony, if we can get drugs and alcohol into these communities, surely we can get fresh fruit and vegetables.’ More must be done. Aboriginal people must take ownership of these health programs and demand positive outcomes from within their own communities.

The recent launch of the Western Desert Kidney Health Project in Kalgoorlie is one such program. A joint venture between government and private sponsorship and delivered by Indigenous health workers, this program will hopefully go a long way to addressing not only kidney and diabetic conditions but also the general wellbeing of the communities it will service.

There are many people I need to thank for helping me achieve this office. Mia Davies MLC is the master of the hung parliament. As campaign director in both the last state election and this federal election, Mia has overseen campaigns that have delivered in spades to the Nationals WA. Thank you, Mia. Marty Aldridge, the State Director of the Parliamentary Nationals WA at the time of the election and in the gallery today and now working for me, has simply been sensational. To Colin Holt MLC, the President of the Nationals WA, thank you. To Brendon Grylls and the State Parliamentary National Party, thank you and I look forward to working closely with you all to deliver better outcomes for O’Connor and regional Western Australia.

To my respective teams across the electorate—Dave Grills and John Bowler in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Shayne Flanagan in Esperance, marathon man Sam Harma in Albany, Allan Marshal and Alan Holmes in Lake Grace, Sue Muntz in Bruce Rock, Mary and Stuart Graham, Darren Moir, and Jill Sounness in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern—I sincerely thank you. A special mention to Jacky Abbott, who came all the way from the east to support me. Thanks to Clare Creegan, who is in the gallery today, and Jacqui Boydell for their reassurance when things got tough. Mia, Clare and Jacqui, I do not thank you for sending me out to the media to look like a rabbit in the spotlight.

To Lisa van Oyen, Cale Hill and the state secretariat, thank you. To all those people who worked on the 150 polling booths across the vast electorate of O’Connor, I sincerely thank you. Your dedication, whether you were standing in the cold and rain on the south-west coast or getting burnt in the Goldfields sun, and your commitment to my campaign and the Nationals WA are greatly appreciated. To my personal campaign director, my 20-year-old daughter, Jemma, who is in the gallery today, thank you for what turned out to be a great ride. Jem and I spent the last three weeks of the campaign on the road together and that final eight-hour drive on election eve from Albany home to Kalgoorlie-Boulder seemed like an eternity, but we made it. To my elder brothers Max and Brett and their wives Thelma and Linda, thanks for your advice—and I probably won’t be taking much of it! To my many friends and supporters watching and listening, I can only simply say thank you.

I would like to welcome to the House today my neighbours and friends for 30 years Brendon and Janie Jones. I sincerely thank them for making the effort to come all this way to listen to what I have to say. I think it is rather ironic that Brendon would want to be here today, given that we have spent more than a thousand hours side-by-side in a light aircraft aerial mustering his sheep and goats and we thought we had solved the nation’s and the world’s problems 10 times over. I think we have got a job to do yet, Brendon. Brendon and Janie, their family and their massive extended family have had a tough year. They will always remember 2010 as the year that they lost Janie’s brother, Craig Oliver, tragically killed, along with five of his mining colleagues, in the Sundance Resources aircraft crash in the Republic of Congo. I sincerely thank you for making the effort.

To my parents Joan and Paddy Crook, I can only say I love you and I thank you for everything. To Mum, who has just had a hip reconstruction in the last week: you have got a fortnight to get ready as I need you to caddie for me! To my wife Karen, whom I met on the first day of high school nearly 39 years ago, thank you is simply not enough. I have one last indulgence, Mr Speaker. This is a bit cryptic but this is from me to my three beautiful daughters. To Cassie, who is in London teaching, have I told you lately! To Jemma, campaign manager extraordinaire, World War I! And to Georgia at home and working as a vet nurse, nine million bicycles! Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gray) adjourned.