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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 333

Mr BILLSON (10:52 AM) —Congratulations to the new member for Maribyrnong, the previous speaker, and to all those who have joined this parliament as a result of the last election, particularly my colleagues on both sides of the House from Victoria. I look forward to a constructive working relationship with them all and wish them all the best for the future.

For me it is truly an honour to be representing the people of Dunkley again, to be rehired for a fifth term after the recent election. At a local level, there is no greater, no more humbling and no more demanding role than being the advocate for a community as diverse, as full of optimism and as rich in character—though not without its challenges—as the electorate of Dunkley. It is a community that I grew up in, that runs through my veins. As I listen to the first speeches of the new members, I reflect on my first speech nearly 12 years ago and think what an extraordinary journey it has been. A chance for a fifth term to make possible through action on the ground, supporting, collaborating and partnering with the local community and providing leadership, direction, optimism and hope for the future is what being rehired is all about. The people of Dunkley have again given me the opportunity to work with them and for them to make our region a better place—and I grab that opportunity with both hands.

It is important that I acknowledge a number of incredible people who have helped make that possible. Once again I have been blessed with an outstanding campaign team of tirelessly committed, community-minded and very gifted individuals. I sincerely thank my dear mate Greg Sugars, who was again volunteered by me to be campaign chairman at a time when his own business was demanding much of him and his family. I thank Virginia, Mason and Reilly for lending him to us once again. To Natalie Fairlie, Norm Branson, Bill Beaglehole, Arthur Rauken and all those in the campaign team: thank you for your dedicated efforts. And thank you to the many hundreds of people who volunteered—not only on election day. There is something character building about being at the Frankston railway station at 5 am and knowing that there are volunteers with you, so committed are they to our shared endeavours.

At a local level I must also acknowledge the team in the Dunkley electorate office as well as the staff in the ministerial office. They have been tireless in their efforts. I thank them most sincerely and value their friendship, their advice and their wise counsel. Noelene Warwick, Vincent Sheehy, Cameron Hill, Raeleigh Speedie, Judith Donnelly, Kristy Spena, James Sampson, Hayley Najim, Cameron Hooke, Claire Mackay, Brice Pacey and my former chief of staff Phil Connole are all remarkable individuals, and I wish them all the best for the future. To some of the new members and those in new offices: one of the character-building things of a change in government is that the team thins quite considerably in opposition. Thankfully all those people are doing quite worthwhile and meaningful things, and I wish them well for the future.

I would also on this Valentines Day like to pay a particular tribute to my sweetheart, Kate. As many in this House will know, spouses endure much in public life. Kate is certainly well known in our community and is often viewed as a nice segue in raising issues with me. Her contribution is tireless—it is immense—and her forbearance as we travel around the country and very regularly within our community is quite remarkable. I again want to place on the record my devotion to and admiration for her—and hopefully, through her, pay a tribute to all the spouses and families of members of parliament. It is a team effort, and they make an enormous contribution. I would also like to thank my children, Alex and Zoe. They are quite young. Alex is 10. I thought my election was exciting, but I acknowledge his election as vice-captain of Diamond house at Viewbank Primary School. He campaigned well and got a good result, and I congratulate him on that. He and Zoe were great supporters during the campaign, being co-drivers in the campaign bus, enthusiastically offering material to those who were interested. Their support and encouragement are very much valued. It is a reminder of why we come to this place.

I will not recount my journey here, but it is important to know that it has inspired an outlook that I carry with me every day: your postcode does not determine your potential. Right across this continent there are people in communities for whom success is perhaps less familiar, but we should never allow that to diminish people’s optimism about the future. The community that I represent is very diverse, and, for all those who are a part of it, their postcode is neither a roadblock nor a meal ticket to success. All of them have what it takes to live a successful life. I hope that through my campaign motto, which has survived many elections, of being positive, passionate and persistent we can embrace a positivity and optimism about the future and go about our work with vigour and enthusiasm but recognise that important things do not always come easily and that you need to stick at them. Hopefully through that work I can achieve the benchmark that I have set for myself of being handy to have around for the local community.

It is also important that we pause and remember that a vast number of people—millions of Australians—voted for the return of the former government. They had been touched and encouraged by the prosperity and the opportunity and the greater sharing of those opportunities across Australia. They recognised that many achievements of the Howard government era stand this nation in great stead and provide the foundation for future achievements. It will be important, certainly in the coming months as the new government seeks to position itself, to not allow what was a very good government to be vilified needlessly. You would expect me to say these things having been a member of that government and a minister, but one only needs to look at the very masterful and artful campaign of the Labor Party, where they sought to position themselves as closely as they could to the work, the policy agenda, the goals and the programs of the Howard government and then just differentiate on a few particular things. Clearly the strategists and the thinkers in the Labor Party thought that things were not all that bad and that the nation was on the right pathway.

For the community that I represent, that is evidenced in a number of ways. For the first time in most people’s living memory, our unemployment rate is either at or below the national average. For those in this House who are not familiar with the Mornington Peninsula, it is some 40-odd kilometres, through to many more kilometres, away from the Melbourne central business district. If the economy stumbles, we fall flat on our faces in our community. Employment can be very difficult when opportunities contract. For too long we were exporting our brightest, as they left the community to try and find opportunities elsewhere. Thankfully, with the change of government—that is, with the introduction of the Howard government—more and more local people could be a complete part of their local community. They not only could engage with their family and friends and their social activities, their sporting interests, their religious pursuits, their communities but also had a chance to actually work in the community. You see unemployment rates now that had only been dreamed of in the past. You see people who were previously denied the opportunity to work, perhaps because they did not offer the skills that some others may have had, also able to gain employment. They have a chance to show what they are capable of, perhaps after a long period of unemployment or of different priorities—raising a family or the like.

When we talk about employment we need to realise that it is a very personal thing. Labor has made much of employment relations and that is understood. The election has encouraged us all to recalibrate some of the industrial relations laws. That is recognised. But it is very important that people have a chance to be employed. We hear much about the role of unions. My role is to be the union for people who do not have a job, to try to make sure that policies and decisions in this parliament mean the environment is conducive to more employment and that there is more investment so that everybody has the chance to gain a job and shape their future destiny. We achieved that over the course of the Howard government. I hope we do not lose that, as we move forward. I hope that productivity is improved not by simply excluding the least productive from the labour market. That is no solution. We need to make sure everybody has the opportunity to be involved.

It was quite a masterful campaign by the ALP to align themselves so closely to the Howard government. In fact, we have heard it said that there was only a cigarette paper between the two parties. It was a very interesting campaign, yet we often hear now in this place that it was so different. It is interesting. We wonder and the nation will look to see just what kind of government the Rudd government offers, to see whether it lives up to those reassurances or whether the hubris that you have already seen in these early days sees a completely different agenda brought forward. I acknowledge the member for Kingsford Smith at the table. The areas that were very important to the community that I represent could be pursued not only at a national level through the enabling policies of a national government but also through the translation of those opportunities into particular initiatives for our community. Sadly, many of these will not move forward unless the new government recognises the importance of them to the Dunkley community. It is worrying because in 1996, when I was first elected, the Labor member I replaced acknowledged that our community had been forgotten about by the Hawke-Keating governments. I think that in part played into why there was a change of member. I hope, now that there is a Labor government back, my community is not forgotten again as the focus moves elsewhere. There are some worrying early signs. The member for Maribyrnong spoke eloquently about his journey and the importance of his community to him and in the context of the nation. I feel equally strongly but do not see the same investment in the west and the north-west of Melbourne as in the south and the south-east.

We remember how our community was punished with a tollway after being promised the road would not be one. The south-east and east of Melbourne are the only ones who pay to use an arterial ring road; the northern and western suburbs do not pay. One of the consequences of this tollway is an enormous increase in traffic congestion—25 per cent is the estimate—on an already clogged highway network that ends its journey at the corner of Cranbourne-Frankston Road, an intersection already choking under the traffic. During the election campaign no remedy was offered, except from the Howard government. It offered financial support for the Frankston bypass, a project so important not only to relieve and to address the current and forecast congestions but also to make sure that our community is not disconnected from the rest of Melbourne purely because of travel journeys. For those listening who know the peninsula well, imagine a 40-minute trip from Main Street, Mornington, to get to Thompson Road in Carrum Downs. This separation by time of our community from other parts of greater Melbourne is a worry. I hope the Rudd government recognises that the enormous commitment that was made by the Howard government, if it were re-elected, is something it needs to carry through on. Those funding commitments were important because they were about showing that research into the direction, the grade separation and the EES process was not purely an academic exercise but that some action would flow from it.

We also had the promise of an Australian technical college. Under the former Labor government, the Hawke-Keating government, you very rarely heard about skills. In fact the Australian public and young people were fed a diet that success was only achieved by a university pathway. We know that to be nonsense but we also know that there is a concerted effort required to re-engage people who are perhaps disconnected from their education and that Australian technical colleges were achieving that. The Australian technical college that was to be established in Frankston would have been an enormous boost for our community. Alas, that now looks like not being achievable either. I can assure the House I will persist. I am positive about this project and passionate about its need, and I will persist to see that that infrastructure is available.

Other election commitments are very important to our local community. They include the $2 million contribution towards the construction of an environmentally compatible sea wall to support the boating facilities in Frankston and the vision for our city. It is very important, but we had not a noise about that from the Labor candidate. The ongoing work to enhance community safety and security, the incredibly successful CCTV programs in Mornington and around the railway station in Frankston were going to be rolled out even further, as was mobile technology that would address the scourge that too many Australians are experiencing—that is, the scourge of the doof-doof hoon in a souped-up VL Commodore at the front of houses, terrifying neighbourhoods.

Mr Baldwin —Doof-doof!

Mr BILLSON —Thank you, Member for Paterson. That is the bass sound of the vehicle as it drops a burnout out the front of someone’s house. Speeding in local neighbourhoods is really affecting the humanity of those areas, but it is incredibly hard to police.

Mr Baldwin —It is a national disgrace.

Mr BILLSON —It is a national disgrace and it is a trend. When I look back on my Mazda 808 super deluxe coupe when I was of that vintage, it could not pull the skin off a custard, so underpowered was it. I still felt cool, although others had another view. Today those entry-level vehicles are high-powered vehicles. We see too many young people losing their lives, too many neighbourhoods compromised by bad driving behaviour, albeit in passing. It is a small minority, but it is enough to cause a real impact, to have a detrimental impact, on people’s quality of life and the quality of their neighbourhoods.

We had a commitment to fund movement activated CCTV systems which you could mount on a power pole or sit on the back parcel deck of a car to capture some of this conduct so that the vehicle confiscation laws would actually have some evidence to push off from. That was a very important initiative but one that we have heard nothing about.

Other initiatives included the revitalisation package for the Seaford RSL car park, the area around the foreshore and the lifesaving precinct, which would have provided a chance to enjoy the Seaford-Edithvale wetlands through all seasons, through the re-establishment of the pathways. These were important local projects, along with the Eric Bell Reserve redevelopment and upgrade project in Frankston North and support for the Langwarrin footy club and the community basketball stadium in Mornington. These were local issues that the local community, I felt, embraced.

The trend in voting patterns away from—dare I say—my kind was less obvious in my electorate. I think that was perhaps because these local projects mattered. Having said that, I also add that, for those like me who are advocates of Tip O’Neill’s motto ‘all politics is local’, Tip was away from my electorate during this election campaign. The national mood certainly was embraced by many of the local voters and that was evidenced by a very low-profile, almost stealth-like campaign by my Labor opponent. But, still, we persist and we work on.

I would like to add some further comments about the challenges ahead. We have heard much about a broadband agenda. We have seen little about the detail of it from the Labor Party. We saw yesterday a bill introduced into the House that will allow a stripping of the Communications Fund, the very future-proofing tool that regional and rural Australians are concerned about. We are going to see those taxpayer resources drawn away from where there is clearly an underservicing and a difficulty in providing commercially funded broadband services. They are to be made available for the metropolitan area, where there is no such problem. The logic of that astounds me, but this is what seems to be moving forward. I will talk more about that at another time.

I want to pay tribute to those that I had the good fortune of working with as a minister. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is a remarkable organisation. It carries an extraordinarily special duty to a very special group of Australians who have served our nation and given all that they have. It was an honour and a privilege to be the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, to work closely with Mark Sullivan and his department team and with the ex-service community, many of whom are often vilified by some characters that offer much in the way of commentary but very little in the way of constructive agendas for the future. I wish all those in Veterans’ Affairs the best future. Alan Griffin, the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, is already benefiting from the momentum that we created, but I hope that he also has a sense of the challenges that are ahead.

To the serving men and women of the Australian Defence Force: my role in assisting the humans in the ADF was a great honour and a privilege. Our people are our greatest capability. We can buy aircraft and ships and all the kit under the sun, but it is our people that make those items of technology, that implement doctrine, that use their creativity, their judgement and their personalities to bring about the military and strategic objectives that they are tasked to carry out. To Angus Houston and all of the service chiefs, to Nick Warner, to the defence enterprise—all of the civilians and uniformed personnel who work at Russell and at many installations across the country: I salute you. You are a remarkable bunch of people. I admire what you do, and it was an incredible honour to work closely with you.

To the people of Dunkley I pay my highest compliment and pass on my sincere thanks. To be rehired by you, a group of people I have grown up with, is an honour. Your challenges, ambitions, hopes for the future and moments of reflection run through my veins as well. I hope I honour the trust and support you have placed in me for a fifth time. I hope I represent you with vigour and advocate your interests well in this place.

I should apologise because it seems as though I will need to be here on a Friday. I do not shirk from that role; I am happy to be a contributor in parliament any time. But parliament ‘lite’, as it is proposed on a Friday, is a bad move. When I come here and talk about the grievances of my community, I expect the people who are in a position to remedy them to be here as well. Rostered days off, or Rudd days off, are not good for our parliament. Parliament is valued. It should be respected. If being removed from this place for one hour is an important sanction for bad behaviour and being removed for 24 hours is a bigger sanction, not being required to turn up at all is an insult. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the member for Charlton and Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.