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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 312


Mr BILLSON (DunkleyMinister for Small Business) (13:11): I congratulate the previous speaker and, in fact, all the new members that have shared their ambitions and aspirations for the important role and responsibility they carry as a member of this House. Admittedly I might not agree with all of the sentiments but I respect the fact that within all of us there is a sparkle in our eye and a fire in our belly to do some good for our community, our country, and the more of that the better. So, congratulations and welcome to all the new members.

I did have cause to reflect on my first speech—this is not it—which was some 17½ years ago, some seven elections ago. I was reminded of the Australian cricket team where each newbie to the team gets given a number to reflect their selection. Apparently I am No. 892 in terms of my election to this House. It does remind all of us that it is a rare privilege and an extraordinary honour and opportunity to be a part of this legislature. I would imagine there is probably not more than 1,100 members that have been elected to this chamber since Federation, and it reminds us all of the hallowed place we are in and of our duty to do good and worthwhile things whilst we are afforded that opportunity.

I have been reafforded that opportunity by the good folks of Dunkley in choosing to have me again as their elected representative. I am not mistaking that as some adulation of the Liberal candidate. My community would not be characterised as a Liberal community. I see it is as a renewal of my contract, a belief that I am handy to have around, and to work effectively and collaboratively with the community. I have been given the opportunity by thankfully a few more votes than the last election, when it was a close-run thing, to be returned to this place. It did remind me, though, of what brought me here and the passion and the drive that led me to choose the calling of public life. I look back on what I said as some of my goals and reflected on my journey to this place 17½ years ago. There are not too many boys who went to school in the Pines that ended up in the nation's parliament.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr BILLSON: Yes, thank you, my friend, the member for Kooyong, for making a useful contribution there. Thankfully he was not suggesting that I was too short to be a hood or a roughnut and had to do something else with my life, but here I am. What inspired my effort was to try to communicate to all in the community I represent that your postcode does not determine your potential. We all have the capacity to learn, to grow and to gain insight and wisdom to succeed in this country. What drove me to offer myself as a candidate was that that belief needed to be more broadly shared. There are large sections of the community I represent that would not count themselves as being on the good fortune side of the street. Life can be tough, resources are not abundant. Good gifted people, with the right support, the right encouragement and the opportunity to succeed, will make a good go of their life. What we need to do is encourage all of our citizens to reach for the ambition and the delicious possibilities that our country offers, and then support them to make those possibilities their own.

It was in that spirit that I was thrilled to be part of the team that offered the restoration of hope, reward and opportunity as our guiding light for this campaign. It was important because hope is precious. Hope is something that drives people to achieve worthwhile things—to get them out of bed in the morning; to believe that things will be better for the future and that they will play their part and benefit from those improved prospects; and to believe that reward is something that recognises effort and enterprise, and that it is a just and deserved response to application and effect. That is a good way to motivate people. The reward might not be financial; it may well be a meaningful, fulfilling life; it might be the chance to help others. I know that is the kind of fulfilment that I and I am sure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, derive from work in this place.

Opportunity is important as well. There has to be a genuine belief that there is a chance to get ahead in life, to make more and to improve the prospects of your existence for those you love, those around you and your community. That hope, reward and opportunity drove the coalition, the Abbott team. It had been diminishing, and you could sense that. You could see that in my community, where unemployment figures were trending up and not down, where businesses were closing and not being opened, where people were wondering about how to protect what they had and not how to apply what we could perhaps bring to the table to open up new possibilities.

In that spirit of optimism and that things can be better, I am pleased that the electorate chose to support, in a majority sense, my re-election; that we together could work to build a stronger and more prosperous economy, not just nationally but in our own community. It is a wonderful electorate that I represent. It offers wonderful living standards—a place to live and raise a family, which was widely and consistently recognised as a strong point for the Dunkley electorate—matched by the prospects of a livelihood in our own community. We do not want to export our most productive citizens as they go elsewhere to earn a livelihood and to pursue their economic goals; we want to see more of that happening within our community.

We have the second great city in the metropolis that is Melbourne—the first being Melbourne—and we are the coastal city. We are Dunkley by the bay. It is a great place with great prospects for the future, and I am glad that the electorate responded so positively to that message and our plan to make those potentials ours, to turn them into reality.

It was interesting; the campaign was strange. I, as the somewhat weathered and long-term member, was the only candidate putting forward a local plan.

Mr Danby: Weathered?

Mr BILLSON: Yes, weathered—weathered by those dawn railway station visits at Seaford, where you get a natural exfoliation as the rain comes in sideways! Ironically, the Labor Party went around as if it were their turn—'Well, he's been there for a while. How about our turn?' It was quite ironic that the campaign slogan that Labor ran under was: 'Time for a fresh face.' The response from so many people was: 'What's wrong with this face?' It was not about my face; it was not about my appearance. This election was about our plans for the future; our vigorous advocacy; a belief in the community and in me—that when representation is required or when leadership would be of benefit, I will be there with them. That is what the election was about. It was quite ironic that, in facing the seventh campaign that I have faced in Dunkley, there was no other local plan. There was no criticism of my advocacy, no suggestion that my representation had been poor, and no contest or challenge to the proposals that I was putting forward in an invitation to the electorate of 'Come join me in implementing this plan to pursue the destiny of opportunity that we see for our community.' There was none of that; just something about my face. I might not be the prettiest person in this place, but the passion, positivity and belief that you need to persevere in your work will drive me, not the extent to which Nivea might have been useful on my face many years ago.

Mr Frydenberg: Hey, I use Nivea!

Mr BILLSON: You use Nivea. So that was an interesting contest. As we look through that election contest, the plan that resonated so positively with the local electorate was about restoring hope, reward and opportunity. It was not only about the national strategy that is so important to the small businesses and family enterprises that represent the economy. They are the economy in the community that I represent—a point I reflected upon in my maiden speech some 17½ years ago, which I will come back to shortly.

In terms of local plans, there is the redevelopment of the Frankston foreshore—a $1.25 million commitment to finish the lifesaving club, the cafe, the meeting precinct and the function venue; the way in which the foreshore interacts with the water; the host venue for so many national and international sailing championships. Frankston is, according to the lifesaving association, the most visited beach in Victoria. We need to recognise that, just as I mentioned earlier, we are the city by the bay. Port Phillip Bay is our greatest attribute. We need to re-engage and connect more with that wonderful body of water that offers so much in the way of economic, recreational and leisure opportunities. What drove my parents to move from Albury around 1970 and choose where to live was the idea of living by the beach. We need to celebrate that and invest in its success and in its contribution to our community and our economy. That is what our plan is committed to doing—to creating a youth hub in Mornington so that the northern area of the Mornington Peninsula shire has a focal point for our young people, where community organisations, councils, community service providers, church groups and those of goodwill wanting to help shape and contribute to the development of our young people can come together; a place of collaboration, where the driving motive is to support our young people be all they can be, to support them in grasping those delicious possibilities and making them for themselves, and in some cases helping to map a pathway, because too many choices can be overwhelming for some. We need this youth hub to bring together our best game as a community to support our young people at a time of great change and with the challenges that many face.

We will continue the Dunkley Community Safety Plan, at a cost of $759,000, that I have developed, implemented, refined and expanded over a number of electoral cycles, to ensure people can enjoy our community and peacefully go about their work—visiting, recreating, promenading down the main street of Mornington, if that is their choice. We need more CCTV and better lighting in Frankston, Seaford, Langwarrin, The Pines, Mount Eliza and Mornington, tackling some of the areas of graffiti that cause people to be unsettled about what is happening in their local amenity and local environment.

We will make an important investment in the Frankston Hospital, where incredibly dedicated clinicians and administrators work, a hospital that has got growing demands on it with a growing population. It is a hospital facility that is expected to respond to a greater number of more complex medical conditions. We see the need for the oncology day-treatment centre to be expanded and enhanced, and I am pleased that we made that commitment. We will establish a new community in men's shed in Langwarrin, supporting that community hub function that is so important and which is a focal point for our volunteer organisations and community service agencies. There are people just wanting to do things for the Langwarrin community, working alongside the men's shed where mainly mature age men can share their skills and wisdom—even in what I call the 'greatest tonic in health care' and that is silly talk. When people get together and show an interest in each other and talk about the topics of the day it can be very wellness giving. That is why the men's shed is so important as an antidote for many who are feeling great isolation and loneliness, as well as a chance to apply skills and share those with younger people.

We need to actually complete the Frankston Park Function Centre so that we can host the kind of expos and the symposiums and those major functions and events that can make use of the arts centre but which are looking for an exhibition space. We are keen to see that work finished and also the resurfacing of the Ballam Park Little Athletics track. We also need tourist directional signage. Many in this place would know of my many years of campaigning for the Scoresby Freeway, which led former Prime Minister Howard to call me 'Mr Scoresby.' It was an important campaign of economic infrastructure which was vital for the east and south-east of Melbourne and it needed to go further with the Frankston Bypass so that we could integrate those freeway assets to provide a seamless movement of our people between their livelihood choices—their education and leisure activities—and for people wanting to live on the peninsula but needing to find economic opportunities elsewhere. We got there after Labor put up all resistance at every point along the way until finally agreeing that this issue was important.

The only thing that is missing now is some decent tourist and location and direction signage. The poor folk of Baxter, whom I am very proud to represent, are the Bermuda Triangle community of the peninsula. The freeway runs through their community, but you would not even know. They are not mentioned on any access or entry points. Those great tourist assets are important for our visitor industry, to guide the many hundreds of thousands of people who visit the peninsula over any sunny weekend. To get them to their destinations needs proper signage and the government have also committed to that work.

We need a Frankston memorial to ensure those who have served are properly respected. We have a highly visible memorial at present, which is great for day-to-day awareness of people who are going past the civic chambers. But on commemoration day those whom we seek to commemorate can barely be accommodated at that venue. We need somewhere that is appropriate to not only support the Centenary of the Anzac landing but, as my friend and colleague the member for Fisher, Mal Brough, said, commemorate the 50th anniversary of us first deploying our military capability into Vietnam. We have committed funding for that.

The Green Army project is very important but time will not allow me to get too far into all of that. The dedicated Aged and Carer counter at Frankston Centrelink is very important in terms of service, dignity and capacity to respond to the needs of that very important group within our community.

I was curious to read that one Labor councillor was having a bit of a go at some grants that Labor had announced prior to the federal election. The previous government was not able to actually follow through with putting contractual arrangements in place. The Labor councillor was saying, 'Not only should you honour your own election commitments; you should honour Labor's as well.' There is a novel campaign strategy! Labor not only wanted me to honour my commitments, which I will in full; they wanted me to honour theirs as well. That is an odd strategy.

Did Labor apply that strategy itself, in 2007, when the Howard government left office, regarding the funded election commitment that I made as part of the coalition's campaign for re-election for an Australian technical college? I did not hear any of the Labor councillors then saying, 'The Howard government hasn't been re-elected, but let's make sure the incoming government gives what the region needs and that is an Australian technical college.' I did not hear any of that. I did not hear any of the Labor councillors then saying, 'Gee, we really should honour that seawall commitment that the Howard government made to the Dunkley electorate, to build the public infrastructure needed for a safe boat harbour on that magnificent bay, which is the strongest asset of our community.' I did not hear any of that but, apparently, when Labor loses office federally the incoming coalition government has to honour Labor election commitments. That is not how it operates.

If the projects have merit, I am happy to consider them. But a Facebook entry of the member for Isaacs, standing with a Labor councillor, with a cheesy grin, the only documented evidence of the project, does not amount to sound public administration in my eyes. So it is a bit rich for the Labor councillors to be—

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr BILLSON: I do not know what it is. Members of the Labor Party think there is a bit of pub talk, they come up with a project and it ends up on Facebook and they think that that somehow represents due process and good value for taxpayers' money. That is not the way it operates. Labor were interested in projects but were too indifferent to actually follow through with them. Let us have a look at the projects. It is sad that community groups have been caught up in this cynical Labor electioneering campaign.

In the few minutes that are available to me, I do want to touch on the small business portfolio that I have the extraordinary honour to carry as a cabinet minister. Small business men and women are the horsepower of our economy. We know their businesses are the engine room, but the people behind them are the ones who make those tough calls about mortgaging their houses to pursue an opportunity, to pay themselves last while ensuring the staff are paid and to be worried about the cash flow of their business. Even though revenue might be up and down, they are the ones who still pay the bills. I have been there; I know what that is like—the pillow talk of cash flow. Most people would like to be discussing something else with their sweetheart, but that is what the life of small business can be like. It is a vital contributor to our economy. Small business lost 412,000 jobs under Labor. Its share of the private sector workforce contracted from 53 per cent to 43 per cent.

Since the election of Labor and the end of the Howard government, through to the election of the Abbott coalition government, there are 3,000 fewer small businesses employing people. The contraction in the small business economy has to stop. We have to arrest that decline, because, for communities like mine, small businesses and family enterprises are the economy. We do not have a mine; we do not have a tower of bank workers. We have got courageous small business men and women who deserve the support of a government that respects them and understands the challenges and difficult decisions that they have to face day in, day out. We have to remove some of the headwinds and the red-tape barriers that are there that just mean even more time on the weekends is spent doing things the government requires them to do, without actually putting that time into the growth of their businesses.

In the minute that is left, I have to say some thankyous. I want to say thank you to Tony Abbott. What an outstanding statesman! There is nothing more character building in public life than being Leader of the Opposition, against the mass, the resources and the advantages of incumbency, and to lead a cohesive, coordinated and incredibly disciplined team with the shared purpose of giving the nation the government that is needed to restore that hope, reward and opportunity I spoke of.

Thank you to our campaign team: to Robert and Linda Hicks; to Arthur Ranken, my father-in-law and director of visual signage; to Colin and Dawn Fisher; to Bob Garnett; to the more than 350 volunteers; to the fed sec 104; to my dedicated office team; to the ministry team that are now helping me with my role; and particularly to my family. Thank you to Alex, Zoe, Maddie and Bella. You suffer much because of the vocation of your father. Thank you to my sweetheart, Kate. I could not ask for a better ally and a better and more devoted partner. I love her dearly and I thank her. (Time expired)