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Tuesday, 15 May 1990
Page: 539

Mr RONALDSON(8.00) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is with a great deal of pride that I rise to address the House in this, my maiden speech. I hope that honourable members will allow me to indulge in some nostalgia, given that my grandfather, Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken, was the Federal member for Ballarat between 1934 and 1937. I think it is fair to say that it is a widely held view that my grandfather's retirement from politics was the Federal Parliament's loss and Ballarat's gain. The service given to government, especially local government, by the Fisken family is, I believe, unparalleled in Victoria. It is my fervent hope that my time in this House will be remembered as affectionately as the contribution made by my grandfather to the Ballarat district.

The name Ronaldson Brothers and Tippett Engine Manufacturers is also a part of Ballarat history. There would be very few farmers, graziers or orchardists in rural Australia who have not at some stage owned a Ronaldson-Tippett stationary engine or wool press or, for a lucky few, a Ronaldson-Tippett tractor.

The City of Ballarat needs no introduction to honourable members as its history is an integral part of Australia's history. With the recent redistribution, however, honourable members may not be aware that Australia's premier electorate now takes in the wine growing area of Avoca, which I am sure would be of particular to some honourable members. It also takes in the major regional centres of Stawell, Creswick and Ballan as well as the well-known tourist township of Halls Gap. The boundaries of the Ballarat electorate include the electorates of Bendigo, Burke, Lalor, Corangamite, Wannon and Mallee.

If I may now quote from the Australian Encyclopaedia, which quite rightly states:

Ballarat is famous for its parks, gardens, and statutory, and for the fine examples of Victorian Architecture and iron-lacework evident in many of its buildings.

I might say that many of these buildings are listed by the National Trust and much of the central city is listed as a conservation area on the register of the National Estate. The pride now taken by the Ballarat community in its historical background has seen a transformation of the residential areas in recent years. I humbly urge all honourable members to take the opportunity to see the reborn Ballarat in the near future.

Ballarat is also unjustly infamous for its weather but its long list of State, national, Commonwealth and Olympic sporting champions bears testimony to the district's healthy climate. The name Ballarat itself was derived from two Aboriginal words meaning `leaning on elbow'. Until recently, Ballarat residents could not have been accused of leaning on their elbows. Unfortunately, however, there are now many forced to do so as Ballarat's profound economic decline continues.

I am extremely proud that the City of Stawell is now part of the Ballarat electorate. In the past 12 months I have had a great deal of contact with the Stawell community and the unqualified civic pride that is engendered locally should be praised in the highest terms.

I also praise in the highest terms those men and women from communities in my electorate who have formed land care groups. I am sure that honourable members in this House tonight who have similar land care groups in their electorates will share with me my congratulations which I extend to them. These men and women are the true conservationists of Australia and they are ably supported in their endeavours by the local Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers group which is also doing fabulous work in my electorate as I am sure is the case in other electorates. My electorate is also renowned for its potato, wool, beef and cropping districts which so directly contribute to the economy of the electorate and to the nation.

Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that the Ballarat electorate truly represents the Australian community would be a gross understatement. Indeed, the attitudes of the constituents of the Ballarat electorate I believe truly represent the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people. I believe that the problems confronting the Ballarat electorate mirror the problems we face as a nation. I humbly urge honourable members to use their best endeavours to rectify these problems. The City of Ballarat presently has an unemployment rate of between 12 and 16 per cent-that is a frightening figure-and the fact that we are unable to ascertain a precise figure is a matter that I will be taking up with the relevant Minister in due course.

It is of great sadness to me that there is a prevailing attitude in the present Federal Government, and especially in the Victorian Labor Government, that Australia stops at the end of the Melbourne tram tracks or the Sydney bus routes. This is evidenced by the fact that the most sought after service being provided by the once vibrant-I reiterate `once vibrant'-centre of Ballarat is social security assistance. I believe that it is a matter of national shame that this situation has been allowed to occur. The significant decline in the manufacturing sector in my electorate, which has been accelerated in recent years, is the direct result of a lack of regional support policies and this question must be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency.

Madam Deputy Speaker, the constituents of my electorate, and I believe the Australian people overall, quite rightly expect this House to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing the problems we face as a nation. There may be members of this House who believe that the direction this country is taking is the right one but I, for one, do not accept that premise and, as such, I will be using my full endeavours to ensure that the directions taken by the Government will provide support for the genuine needy and reduce the impediments presently faced by those who wish to have a go. I believe it is sad that those who seek reward for incentive are inhibited rather than encouraged. It is of further sadness to me that the goal of wealth generation has, in some quarters, acquired obscene philosophy status.

Let there be no doubt about my views in this regard, and I believe my Party's views. The realities are that if we wish to support the genuine needy and tackle those difficult conservation problems that lie ahead, we must have a strong economy and a government attitude that assists rather than impedes incentive.

Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not my intention in a maiden speech to deliver a lecture to members of the House who are considerably more experienced than I, but there is a majority of the electors of Ballarat, albeit at this stage a slender one, who have entrusted me with their hopes and aspirations for the future and that is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. I am the father of three young children and, without wishing to be melodramatic, I assure the members of this honourable House that I have great fears for their future economic and physical welfare. I believe that the Australian people have placed implicit trust in this House to ensure that responsible environmental policies and attitudes are engendered. Inherent in that trust that has been placed in us must be a responsibility to head down the path of sustainable development. It is simply not good enough to attempt to address the environmental question in isolation and, indeed, our economic development and environmental responsibilities must be addressed together. Hotchpotch environmental policies based on confrontation can only seek to divide the Australian people and the risk of that division, I believe, places even greater responsibility on this House.

Madam Deputy Speaker, with your leave and the leave of the House, I wish to address the question of the public perception of members of this House and our Senate colleagues. Without in any way wishing to detract from the amount of constituent contact more senior members of this House have, I believe it is fair to say that those of my colleagues on both sides of the House who have entered this Parliament for the first time are even more aware of the mood of the electorate. I do not believe the electorate is opposed to the major two-party system, but, rather, I believe that people are looking to the major parties for leadership and a commitment to both their personal future and that of the country. I fear that unless this commitment is made, there will continue to be those who are heavily influenced by political opportunists delivering a plethora of unrealistic promises or single-issue commitments.

I urge the Government of the day to develop a realistic and realisable policy for rural regional areas in Australia. Without the development of such a policy, and without the commitment of government, the financial drift from regional centres to the capital cities will continue unabated. Combined with this pressure on the communities of regional centres-again I am sure that members of this House from rural seats will agree-is the ever-increasing drift to regional centres by those no longer able to afford major city housing. Inherent in this community dislocation are the considerable extra strains being placed on emergency welfare providers in regional centres.

Unfortunately this is a classic catch 22 because, as the financial resources of regional centres diminish, the community becomes incapable of providing adequate support to emergency service providers. This group has been required to meet the demands of that ever-increasing number of people who for purely financial reasons have been forced to relocate. I believe that it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect regional communities to continue with this burden. The generosity of rural communities-and there is no-one in this House who would not agree that rural communities are generous-must have a saturation point and in times of economic difficulty that watertable tends to rise far quicker.

I now return to the electorate of Ballarat and address further matters of significance to my constituents. I have already alluded to the atrocious unemployment rate in the major centres, the significant decline in the electorate's manufacturing base and the excessive demands being placed on the community to support the outcome of government policy inactivity in regional Australia.

I now turn to the question of rural Australia's greatest asset, apart from its people-its road network. Under this present Government we have seen a deplorable and significant decline in real funding for roads. The parlous state of regional and rural Victoria's local road network is to the eternal shame of those concerned. I applaud the initiatives made by my Party prior to the last election whereby a firm and achievable commitment was made to direct substantial amounts of funding back into the local road network and the road network generally. Honourable members should be aware that, following the release of a detailed report by municipalities in the Ballarat area, it is now evident that unless there is a massive infusion of funds into the local road network 20 per cent of that network will be returned to gravel within five years. It is an absolute shame.

It is my humble opinion that the proposal by this Government to increase road funding by way of a new tax on luxury vehicles is a proposal that treats with contempt the disastrous situation now facing the people of rural Australia. It is simply not good enough that an infusion of desperately needed road funds is dependent upon the sale or otherwise of a luxury motor vehicle.

Two further areas of significant concern in the Ballarat electorate are in the areas of health and bush nursing hospitals and hostels. Ballarat is well served by two magnificent hospitals, the St John of God Hospital and the Ballarat Base Hospital, but there is significant pressure being applied to both those institutions. In the case of the Ballarat Base Hospital, a significant lack of funding and a deplorable lack of government concern for the health of the community have led to a waiting list estimated at between 1,100 and 1,200 people. This is a desperate situation which requires desperate measures.

Prior to my election I was inundated with calls from both patients and the families of patients who were unable to enter hospital to have either major or minor surgery. When waiting lists are extended to periods in excess of 12 months at any institution, the system is obviously not working and the lives of decent people are being placed at risk. The nuns at the St John of God Hospital have recently celebrated 75 years of caring and committed service. Yet while the Ballarat Base Hospital has long waiting lists, the St John of God Hospital, which is a fine institution, is grossly underutilised.

The constituents of my electorate are well served by bush nursing hospitals and hostels in Stawell, Avoca and Ballan and honourable members will not need reminding of the invaluable service that these institutions provide. In many cases, it is the only vehicle that provides the opportunity for long term rural residents to remain within their area. It is absolutely imperative that funding cuts or changes in government legislation do not dislocate this group of fragile citizens from friends and loved ones.

The Eureka uprising is well known to honourable members, but what is perhaps not as well known is the 1990 uprising held by the small business people of Ballarat and district immediately prior to the March election. This was attended by in excess of 8,000 people-not paid people, but 8,000 citizens of Ballarat. The city virtually closed when they attended this meeting. Comments were made by some that this was an event orchestrated by either myself or my Party. That was not so. It was a result of the culmination of fears, anxiety and pressures being felt by small business. I sincerely hope that the Government does not continue to pay lip service to the plight of small business because, if this country is going to be led from the path of economic decline, I have no hesitation in saying that the recovery will be generated by its small business operators.

May I also take this opportunity to recognise the assistance and community support provided by local government in my electorate. These councillors are not political animals but rather are genuine and caring people who in the main remain unthanked. May I also pay credit to the former member's family for their contribution to the Ballarat community over 10 years. I also wish to thank my campaign manager, Merv Collins, for his untiring support both before and during the campaign. I also take this opportunity to thank the members of my Party and the Ballarat people for their trust and confidence. Unlike some other lucky members here tonight, my wife, Cate, and our three young children, Joanna, Claire and John, who are all under five, could not be here this evening. From the bottom of my heart I sincerely thank Cate for her support and assistance to me.

I make a plea in this House that the House respect the rights and aspirations of the Australian people. They are sick of the economicspeak with its near incomprehensible language and they simply want to hear it as it is. I am committed to representing that quiet majority, the ordinary Australian who seems to be forgotten in the chase for votes and/or re-election.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate the Speaker on his re-election. I am sorry that he is not in the House and I ask you to pass on my congratulations. Again I thank the people of the Ballarat electorate for the honour they have bestowed upon me and my family.

Honourable members-Hear, hear!

Debate (on motion by Mr Snow) adjourned.