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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2376

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (19:15): I rise tonight to raise with the House the issue of political and civil disenfranchisement and disengagement. It has been evident for some time that many in our community are despairing of the situation in politics and in many cases the state of our society. The essence of the disconnection is the manner of political and civil discourse and the feeling of irrelevance and disempowerment.

It is ironic, given the legislation that has been passed through the House and the legislative and policy debates we have in this place—many are extremely significant—that many Australians see us as no more than school children and this place as a schoolyard. The result is a sense of profound disaffection and disconnection. This is mirrored in people's dealings with bureaucracy and some businesses in the community. More and more of my constituents have become disaffected.

Additionally, in the outer suburbs, where governments constantly struggle to provide the social infrastructure that is needed, many are turning away from community and civic engagement. For example: how can one person make a difference; what is the point; my voice isn't being heard? These are recurrent reactions and key indicators of why we should be concerned. It is true that many people are closely watching events occurring in Europe, nervous that it portends another global financial crisis. It is also true that many people have seen headlines about job losses in manufacturing and financial services here in Australia, whilst many small businesses in my electorate are reporting recession-like conditions. It is natural during these uncertain and difficult times to turn inwards and disengage. But in reality we can only succeed as a community and as a civil society by engagement. The costs of disengagement are too evident.

At the same time, the trend in my area is exacerbated by media reporting that depicts suburbs in my electorate of Holt as some of the most unliveable in Melbourne, which is pretty interesting considering that I live in one of them. Compounding this is the focus on negative events that find their way onto the front pages of our papers down our way in suburbs such as Doveton, Hallam, Narre Warren and Cranbourne. But, when you have great stories about people such as a young boy in my electorate who raised $3,000 and shaved his head in order to raise money to provide treatment for a woman with leukaemia, and the contribution the community have put forward, they are very rarely reported in the national or local broader media.

There is a key national component about us, a key national characteristic, which is that we pull together in times of crisis. Whether it be flood, bushfires, hurricanes or drought, we always pull together for the common good. So, perhaps a way to encourage civil and political engagement is to look at examples within our local community of people who literally transform our community and transform the lives of those in our community. One of the best examples I could put forward in this place is a friend of mine named Stephen Hallett. Stephen has played an instrumental role in the establishment, management, development and maintenance of Frog Hollow Reserve in Endeavour Hills, and the Friends of Frog Hollow, which was established in late 2002. The Friends of Frog Hollow have a passionate interest in the management of this reserve and have done great work to improve the environment and to protect local frog species in the reserve.

The Friends of Frog Hollow started as a typical friends group, with a large number of members, but they wanted to be active. They wanted to contribute to the change and development of the landscape around them. Through Stephen Hallett's leadership the group has fundamentally transformed Frog Hollow Reserve, obtaining more than $50,000 in grants for the revegetation, which has seen the group plant more than 60,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses. The group has also excavated and laid more than 300 metres of crushed gravel walking paths around the wetland ponds. Apart from the basic activities of spreading mulch, which they also do, and planting native trees, Friends of Frog Hollow conduct many successful community events, including National Tree Day and Clean Up Australia Day, every year since their formation, and a spring planting festival with the City of Casey, which is one of only six major events in the state. I am looking forward to attending their next event this Sunday, which is Clean Up Australia Day, to help this important community area at Frog Hollow Reserve.

This group is literally transforming their community. A vision the group had for about eight years is to link the amazing Lysterfield Lake Park with Frog Hollow Reserve. If you could do that you could ride from Lysterfield Lake Park, or walk from Frog Hollow, to the bay.

It is amazing what a small group of people can do if they put their minds to it. As former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said:

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

Looking at the people from Frog Hollow Reserve, and Steven Hallett, that is what they literally are doing. They are transforming their community, bringing happiness to the community and they are coming together for the common good.