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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 78

Mr SECKER (11:48 AM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, congratulations on your election to that position. Let me add my congratulations to the Speaker of the 39th Parliament of Australia. Having known the Speaker for some 20 years, it is indeed a personal pleasure to see him receive this honour. I know he will perform his duties with decorum and respect for this institution. Recently I was informed that the Speaker, like me, went to Urrbrae Agricultural High School, as did the former member for Kalgoorlie, Graeme Campbell. I now know that my alma mater must almost rate up there with Geelong Grammar for its ability to turn out members of parliament. The Speaker has served the electorate of Wakefield and the government of Australia well, and his honesty is respected by both sides of this parliament. His family is rightly proud of him, as are his friends throughout this country.

Today is an important day, as we are all well aware. Apart from being the 23rd anniversary of one of Australia's most defining moments in our political history, it is also the 80th anniversary of the ending of World War I where 61,000 people, our diggers, died for our country. It is an honour to speak for the first time in this House on this day.

I compliment the honourable member for Cowan—who I am sure has great feelings for today—not only for his war service but also for a successful maiden speech. May I also compliment the honourable members for Shortland and Charlton, whose first speeches I found very interesting, even if I found much to disagree with.

Mr Deputy Speaker, today I want to describe my background and how it has helped me form my Liberal philosophies. Hopefully it might explain what I might offer to good government in Australia. I was born 42 years ago in Happy Valley, which was then in the electorate of Barker. At that time, Archie Cameron, a former Speaker, had just ended his 22-year term as the member for Barker and the Hon. Jim Forbes was just starting his 19-year term as the member for Barker. Indeed, I can well remember handing out how-to-vote cards for Jim Forbes at the Happy Valley CFS shed when I was 16 years old.

Since that time, Barker has been well served by James Porter for 15 years and, more recently, by my predecessor, the Hon. Ian McLachlan, who served with distinction as the Minister for Defence. These are certainly very large shoes to fill, but I am committed to the Barker electorate and I look forward to the new challenges I will encounter.

I am also looking forward to working with the Prime Minister, John Howard. He, like the Speaker, is an honourable, decent human being and commands respect throughout this country.

I was the youngest of eight children, and I was extremely pleased that my 81-year-old mother was here to see me sworn in, together with my wife, Jayne, and two children, Will and Lottie. There has been no prouder moment in my life than to have my mother and family here to share this special occasion. Unfortunately, my father, Bill, was not well enough to attend, but I am sure that my upbringing in such a relatively large family has had an enormous impact on my thoughts, actions and deeds throughout my life.

My eldest sister, Helen, is a nun with the St Josephite Order, which was founded by Mary MacKillop, and having the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre in the Barker electorate has special meaning for me. Indeed, my sister was recognised in the Australian honours list last year for her work with mentally retarded people—due in part, I am sure, to another sister of mine having had Down syndrome.

One thing about being a member of such a large family is that when we sat around the kitchen table there was always something to talk about. And when there were 10 people vying for a chance to speak, you soon learnt to be quick in your thinking and to speak to the point, so that someone else also had a chance to speak.

I am a fourth generation farmer in Australia and, because of this, I am proud to say that I'm from the land, I'm on the land and I'm for the land. My great grandfather came to Australia in the mid-1800s and was the first licensee of the Grand Hotel in Millicent, which is in the electorate of Barker. He then went on to be the third licensee of the Somerset Hotel, also in Millicent. My great-grandfather was often heard to say that while some people died of thirst Australians were born with one, and that ensured his success as a publican.

He then bought a farming property at Lucindale in the Barker electorate called Ardune, which our relatives held until 1962 when, interestingly, it was sold to the father of the present member for Wannon, Mr David Hawker. My grandfather, T.R. Secker, grew up on Ardune, before eventually becoming the manager of the Mortlock properties in South Australia. Much of that land was eventually bequeathed to the state and was used for soldier settler farms and the famous Mortlock Library.

In 1933 my grandfather bought a farm at Cockaleechie on Eyre Peninsula. My father moved onto it immediately at the age of 16, and named the property `Maluka'. Maluka is an Aboriginal term for big white boss, which was fairly apt because my grandfather was six foot seven inches tall, or nearly two metres in the modern language. The term `Maluka' came from the book We of the Never Never by Mrs Aneas Gunn, and it was with great pleasure and feeling that my family visited the Maluka graves last year at Mataranka Station in the Northern Territory.

It might be coincidental, but my family has a special interest in the Alice Springs to Darwin railway because it will be known as the Maluka Railway Line. I am pleased to say that this government, the South Australian state government and the Northern Territory government have finally made a commitment to building this railway line, and future generations of Australians will reap the benefits of this visionary project. It will, of course, open up further export opportunities for the people of Barker. I liken it to the scale of the Snowy River Scheme and the Ord River Project, and I intend to be around at its completion.

Last week I was pleased to represent the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Robert Hill, at the opening of the Watervalley Weir on Tom Brinkworth's property in the upper south-east. The Watervalley Weir is part of the visionary Upper South East Integrated Catchment Program to which our government has provided a further $1.5 million this year to continue this fine scheme.

This is positive environmentalism of the best sort that is improving the farming lands by reducing salinity as well as making the magnificent wetlands at Mandina and Cortina stations healthy again. My father and I were planting trees over 30 years ago, before it became the trendy thing to do, and we were adopting minimum tillage practices at about the same time for our cropping programs. At present, our family, like many others, is adopting clay spreading practices that have revolutionised the dry non-wetting sands affecting some of our land. These types of projects do change the environment for the better, and we are all beneficiaries.

Like my father and two of my uncles I served with local government in South Australia, and I have taken great pleasure in meeting up with many of my former colleagues—and with people who are at present serving local government—during the opening of this 39th parliament. I served for 11 years at the Mount Barker Council as a councillor and Deputy Mayor.

Of course, Mount Barker, whilst not in my electorate now, was named after Captain Collet Barker, after whom the seat of Barker was named. Captain Barker was the explorer, sent by Charles Sturt, to solve the mystery of the mouth of the river Murray—that great lifeblood of Australia. On 30 April 1831, having reached the outlet to the sea, Captain Barker swam across, climbed a sandhill and disappeared. It was later learnt that he had been speared by Aborigines and his body thrown into the sea, which is one fate I do not wish to replicate.

One philosophy I have is that, wherever possible, local people should decide their own fates. For this reason, I am in favour of devolution of power back to state and local governments. I have been disturbed by the trend over recent years to centralise government in Canberra over the years. Further to this, I believe that individuals should have the right and responsibilities to decide their own fates.

It has been said that we lose a little more of our freedom every time the parliament sits and makes laws. Having studied economics and politics at Flinders University from 1990 to 1993 for my degree, I found a lot to agree with from the writings of J.S. Mill, Hayek and Milton Friedman.

The harm principle of J.S. Mill—which, paraphrased, says that individuals should be able to do as they please provided that no harm is done to another individual—is a strong basis for my philosophy. We can encourage people to take sensible actions, we can educate people to take sensible actions, but we should not force people to take sensible actions, because ultimately it is about freedom of choices. For this reason, I abhor compulsory voting or even compulsory attendance at polling booths at voting time. The right to vote also entails the right not to vote.

If I had to name a political hero in life, the name Bert Kelly would come immediately to mind. This country owes so much to the former member for Wakefield, whose tireless campaign against the inefficiencies caused by tariffs and the ultimate cost to consumers and exporters has influenced so many in this House.

Just three months ago, my predecessor, Ian McLachlan, surprised us with his sudden announcement to retire from federal politics. I wish Ian and his wife, Janet, and family a wonderful future. I do not think that we have seen the last of Ian McLachlan in public service to Australia. The morning after this announcement, many friends rang and encouraged me to stand for preselection and the rest is history. I am proud to be elected as the member for Barker.

The transition from being a humble farmer in Keith—I might say, before anybody else does, that some would say I have a lot to be humble about—to representing the electorate of Barker in Federal Parliament has been a rapid change. But I have had an enormous amount of support and advice from people in the electorate of Barker and to whom I will always be grateful.

Sue Charlton, my tireless campaign manager, and her husband, Peter, worked well and above the call of duty. Their enthusiasm and effort was fantastic. Scott Dixon and Steve Ronson were also an integral part of my campaign and I thank them sincerely for their dedication.

Several of my colleagues have also greatly encouraged me, and Senator Jeannie Ferris stands out for her friendship and advice in recent months. Senator Minchin, Senator Ferguson, Senator Chapman and the member for Mayo, the member for Boothby and the member for Wakefield have also been there when I needed support.

Several South Australian state MPs, including MLCs Angus Redford, Legh Davis, Caroline Schaeffer, John Dawkins and Peter Lewis, were also helpful, as was former MLC, the Hon. Ren Degaris. I thank them for their part in getting me elected as the member for Barker.

Special thanks must also go to the South Australian division of the Liberal Party, particularly to Jim Bonner, our state director, and Cory Bernardi, our state president.

The electorate of Barker is one of the richest and most beautiful parts of Australia. We produce world-class wine, rich dense forest and prime farming land. At 54,000 square kilometres there is a lot of area to cover, but it will always be a pleasure and a privilege.

Barker starts at the Victorian border and stretches from Port MacDonnell, below Mount Gambier, on the south coast, up to the edge of the Riverland. It then crosses the Murray River to take in Murray Bridge, much of Langhorne Creek and over to Aldinga Beach, as well as taking in the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, which is Australia's third largest island. Kangaroo Island is 150 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide. It has a permanent population of just over 4,000 people. It is also a very popular tourist destination because of its natural beauty.

Some 22 per cent of the population of Barker are directly employed in primary production, making it the third most rural seat in Australia. Whilst the electorate has only eight per cent of South Australia's population, it produces 40 per cent of the state's wealth—an amazing statistic.

Notwithstanding the time taken to travel the electorate, it is a wonderfully rich electorate. Some examples come to mind. In South Australia, Barker produces 73 per cent of its lucerne hay and nearly all of its lucerne seed. The upper south-east is the lucerne growing capital of Australia and probably the world, producing about 6,000 tonnes of lucerne seed a year—enough to pasture about 1.5 million hectares each year. Seventy per cent of that seed is exported to the Middle East, South America and the EC.

Barker produces 74 per cent of the state's pasture seed, 95 per cent of the sunflower seed, and 70 per cent of safflower. Some 95 per cent of the cultivated turf comes from Barker and 99.9 per cent of its vegetable seed. Seventy-one per cent of our potato seed is produced locally and so are 86 per cent of swedes and 66 per cent of sweetcorn.

Nearly 90 per cent of South Australia's pine forests are in Barker, as is most of the growing blue gum industry, with pine forests in South Australia producing nearly $2 billion worth of produce each year.

The premier grape growing areas of Langhorne Creek, the Coonawarra, Padthaway, Wrattonbully and the Limestone Coast are also in Barker. One of the pleasures people in Barker—and I am sure people in this chamber and throughout Australia—often have is the opportunity to sample the quality wine produced by this region. The south-east of South Australia has just won the national tourist award for the first time as the premier tourist region and I am privileged to live in it.

The upper south-east is rather unique in that its unemployment rate is only about two per cent. Would it not be wonderful if that could be mirrored all over Australia? This also brings a new challenge to provide housing for a rapidly growing labour force—an almost unique situation in Australia.

In conclusion, let me paraphrase a prayer we had in local government: give us the ability to listen carefully, speak wisely and make decisions in the best interest of this great country for we are the chosen few with great responsibilities to shoulder. I aim to listen carefully, I aim to speak wisely and I aim to make the right decisions because this is a great country that I am proud to serve as the member for Barker.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick) —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Sydney, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.