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Thursday, 23 May 1996
Page: 1228

Mrs ELSON(10.52 a.m.) —It is a great privilege to be standing in this chamber as part of the class of 1996—a large class at that! It is very easy for a lot of us, when we see our name on the ballot paper, to assume that people are solely voting for us as individuals. By the end of a long campaign, when you have knocked on endless doors and you have met what seems to be more people than could possible be enrolled to vote, you start thinking, well they're actually voting for me.

After all the sacrifice and sheer hard work of the campaign, I guess it is natural that we indulge ourselves and imagine we are personally responsible for the swings we achieved in individual seats. But I am under no such delusion. Notwithstanding the strong, professional, hard-fought local campaign that my campaign team and I put in, I am entirely aware of why I am here and who the people of Forde voted for on 2 March. They voted for a coalition government and they voted for John Howard, the member for Bennelong, as Prime Minister.

I would like to place on record my thanks to the Prime Minister and his family for their commitment to the Liberal Party and to the people of Australia, particularly during the campaign. Time and time again, as I doorknocked and spoke with the people of the electorate, I heard expressions of respect, trust and admiration for the member for Bennelong. It is a huge testament to him that, despite the fact that politicians are held in such low regard by many Australians, he has managed to maintain trust with the public over such a long period.

As a Liberal Party member for over nine years and having stood as a candidate previously, I know that party leadership is crucial. It makes or breaks a campaign. For better or worse, it has become the wave upon which public opinion rides, which is why I know so many of us on this side of the House were delighted when the Labor Party adopted leadership as its campaign theme and slogan, for leadership is purely judged on achievements and outcomes. In that true sense, the Labor Party and its leaders over the past 13 years, particularly the former Prime Minister, failed miserably. They failed the Australian people and they failed the labour movement, as it once used to be.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why people voted the way they did on 2 March. It is true that many thousands of people voted for change. But I do not believe they voted for change for the sake of change. It has really amazed me how condescending members opposite have been over the past few weeks about the depth of the message sent to them on 2 March. They seem to regard the results as some sort of aberration. They close their eyes to the damage inflicted on so many individual Australians by their years of mismanagement.

In Forde, the largest swings, some 14 per cent, were achieved in what were traditionally considered Labor heartland areas, like Eagleby, Kingston and Marsden. These suburbs are made up of good, hardworking Australians, blue collar workers, decent Queenslanders. Mr Keating would have described them as true believers. But the fact is they stopped believing in the Labor Party a long time ago.

What angers me is that members opposite can still stand in this chamber and declare themselves the champions of the battlers. They believe they have some sort of monopoly on working class values. Well, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am proud to be able to stand on this side of the chamber, as other Liberals have before me, and outline my own working class origins.

I am one of nine children. I left school at 13 to work in a factory to help support the family when dad took ill. Through hard work and determination, I was able to complete my education later in my working life. Together, my husband, David, and I owned and ran a small business before hitting hard times under the Whitlam government. We also raised eight children.

The fact is we have had to work damned hard to achieve what we have and it really riles me when members opposite sit there smugly and say that we are a party that somehow inherited or bought our way into the world. Well, that old class warfare is absolute rubbish and the people of Australia told them so on 2 March. The reason that so many Labor voters found it easy to vote for the coalition is they did not feel they deserted the Labor Party because they knew the Labor Party had actually deserted them a long time ago.

I want to place on record my sincere thanks to the people of Forde. My family and I have lived in Forde for the past 18 years. I am honoured and regard it as a great privilege to be representing such a diverse and beautiful electorate. Forde is a fairly new seat, having been formed in 1984. The composition of the electorate changed dramatically in the 1994 redistribution. The boundary changes altered its nature from largely suburban-metropolitan to a semi-rural one. It stretches over 4,500 square kilometres.

Such is the diversity of my electorate that it contains Australia's premier tourist theme park, Movieworld, at Coomera; some of the most beautiful and pristine national park areas, in Lamington, Binna Burra and Kooralbyn; the scenic rural towns of Beaudesert, Boonah and Rathdowney; and some of the fastest growing residential areas of two of the most rapid growth local governments in Australia, Logan and Gold Coast city councils.

The historic sugarcane town of Beenleigh, with its rum distillery, is now a growing regional centre. It is poised to become well known as the gateway to the Gold Coast, with a multi-million dollar transit centre planned this year. Situated halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Beenleigh is ideally placed to capitalise on the huge growth that is taking place in the Gold Coast corridor.

Of course, with rapid growth comes special challenges for the government—challenges that unfortunately the previous Labor governments, both state and federal, failed to tackle. To the north of Beenleigh, at Loganlea, is the Logan Hospital. Like other public hospitals throughout Australia, patient waiting lists have grown to unreasonable proportions. Waiting times for public dental treatment are simply appalling. It is clear that the previous Labor government failed to match funding levels with the demands on this hospital. It has failed to recognise and plan for the rapid growth of this area.

This fact was abundantly obvious on a whole range of issues as I met and spoke with local residents in the 12 months leading up to the election.  Rapid growth has also brought added difficulties with crime and safety, and added pressure on our police force. An electorate wide survey which I conducted found that crime and safety was the No. 1 concern with over 90 per cent of my residents.

I know many of us in this place remember the time when doors were left unlocked, evening strolls were relaxed and enjoyable and news of violence and murder was rare and shocking. I am not an advocate of the good old days, nor do I have any desire to turn back the clock. But I feel sad that our children and grandchildren do not share the same sense of personal safety that we did.

I feel a very deep responsibility that we as the government have to try to stem the tide of rising crime. We cannot allow it to be left in the too-hard basket. We must take a long-term approach and address the underlying cause of crime—social breakdown. That means restoring the value of the family, giving parents more responsibility for their children and trying to foster and instil a sense of community citizenship.

There can be nothing more lacking in Australia today than a true uniting sense of community. It is a sad indictment of the Labor government's divide and rule mentality that we seem to be missing the true sense of national pride. I believe this is largely due to the fact that we had a Prime Minister who was ashamed of our history and was hell-bent on advocating his vision for the future—a vision which more than half of Australia did not share. Good government, honesty and true pride in a nation will be the foundations for helping mend the social damage done by the Labor government and will go a long way towards uniting our communities.

It seems a paradox that the one time I felt the Australian community grow more united was when we shared our grief over the tragedy in Port Arthur. If we could only maintain that sense of communion, of oneness, each day of the year, then individuals might not become so alienated and lost as to commit such massive destruction. If each of us could show the same concern today for all of our fellow Australians as we now extend to the families of those involved in the Port Arthur tragedy, then we could recognise and perhaps help those in our community who are in desperate need of help.

I want to place on record my complete support for the nationwide gun restriction measures that have been agreed to by all states. Further, I am very pleased that the government has indicated that it will closely examine the problems of violence in television and films. I defy anyone to explain the purpose that graphic violence serves. There is little doubt in my mind that this continual diet of violence is contributing to urban crime.

In Forde there are several areas where local residents have experienced what can only be described as urban terrorism. In Eagleby, just to the north-east of Beenleigh, youth street gangs have made local residents fearful of even stepping into their own backyards. A few weeks ago a local Eagleby man came into my office bleary-eyed because he had not slept all night. He was sick with worry about the gun shots and the cars speeding up and down his street constantly. This man broke down and cried, and told me how his wife had been forced to leave their home to go and live with her mother because it was not safe to stay there.

Regrettably, this is not an isolated case. I heard many similar stories from other local residents. This should not be happening in our suburbs, not in suburbs like Eagleby, where the residents are decent hardworking people as well as elderly retired people. Working closely with the new state government to deliver a safer community for all Forde residents, particularly those in Eagleby, is one of my top priorities. Sadly, there has also been an increase in youth crime in rural areas, which for years managed to remain insulated from many of the problems experienced in the city. As regional unemployment has grown and local jobs have become more and more scarce, many local rural children face an uncertain future.

In Beaudesert, which is just recovering from severe drought and the destruction of one of its oldest commercial buildings by fire, the recent announcement of the closure of the Australian Meat Holdings processing plant comes as a severe blow. This beautiful country town runs the risk of becoming a ghost town unless other industries can be attracted to the area. I want to assure the people of Beaudesert and surrounding areas that I will work very closely with their local government leaders to promote the area and to assist those who are left jobless by the closure.

The meatworks and feedlot have been part of the local economy for 44 years and employed up to 600 local residents. Last week's shutdown comes after a protracted industrial dispute—a dispute which I believe was drawn out due to the attitude of union bosses. I spoke with many local workers during the dispute who wanted to return to work. They did not want to hold out; they just wanted to get on with the job. Sadly, they no longer have a job to get on with. We cannot be sure that if the dispute had not occurred neither would the shutdown, but I am certain that it was a consideration when the company had to make a final decision.

I concur with what others have said in this debate: there is a rightful place for unions as workers' advocates but not as the controlling master of the government and not as blackmailers of employees. It is a travesty that during Labor's term in office the union movement received on average $14 million each year in the form of direct grants. In the decade preceding my election to parliament, I spent a great deal of time working with associations that assist disabled people—Multicap, the Queensland Spastic Welfare League and, most recently, the Handicapped Association. I can tell you that $14 million each year would have made a huge difference to those people struggling to lead normal lives and to the families who care for them.

Just imagine how many families would have benefited from respite care with $14 million. It would offer welcome relief to the woman who came to see me recently who is caring for her 14-year-old handicapped son. She receives only one day every five months in respite care. Disabled people—yet another group ignored by Labor—disabled youth, the frail and the elderly, and particularly their carers, need more government and community attention. I would like to place on record my utmost respect for the many employees of associations I have worked with, particularly the Handicapped Association, which is now known as the Horizon Foundation. Those employees are making a real difference in the lives of disabled people through offering support and relief for their families.

I have focused a great deal on some of the challenges and particular problems facing the nation and the people of Forde. Forde is also an electorate of growing business opportunities. The small business men and women of our regional and urban centres—those who are still there—have weathered the storm of Labor's recession. I want to congratulate the local chambers of commerce for the support and fellowship they have provided to small business operators and the contribution they have made to their local communities.

I can promise you one thing: Paul Keating was wrong. That wasn't as good as it gets. Indeed, the best is yet to come, under the Howard government. Already in the first few weeks of parliament the government has begun to deliver on its commitment to small business. The decrease in the provisional tax uplift factor and the establishment of a small business deregulation task force to halve red tape and regulation are solid examples of our understanding of the needs of small business.

I would like for one moment to take this opportunity to promote a local industry and to offer to all honourable members of this House a very helpful tip. You could not hope to find a more peaceful, relaxing place to escape to than the Gold Coast hinterland in my electorate—from the mountain resorts of Binna Burra and O'Reillys in the Lamington National Park, to the five-star luxury of Kooralbyn Resort, through to the many beautiful secluded bed and breakfasts on Tamborine Mountain.

Tamborine Mountain has a very special charm, with its thriving cottage craft industry. I highly recommend it as a great weekend escape, especially to my many Queensland colleagues. The beautiful and historic rural townships of Rathdowney, Mount Alford and Boonah shire also make lovely sight-seeing day trips. For the more adventurous, you can get wet and wild at the Coomera Waterslide Park of the same name or, as I mentioned earlier, visit our theme park Movie World.

I am indeed very privileged to be representing this part of the world. Once again, I thank the voters of Forde for the confidence they showed in me on 2 March. In return, I promise that I will constantly thrive to truly represent their hopes, desires and interests. As I said in my opening remarks, I have no delusions about being here. I was elected on the strength of the leadership of the honourable member for Bennelong, the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), and the progressive policies of the Liberal Party.

The party organisation is to be especially commended for the thoroughly professional campaign and the tremendous support provided to all candidates. I want to express my very deep gratitude to our Federal Director, Andrew Robb, and my personal thanks to his brilliant deputy, Lynton Crosby—whom we were very fortunate to have as a state director in Queensland for a time—and to all the team at the federal secretariat and the many who worked at the campaign headquarters during the five weeks of the campaign. In Queensland, our state director, Jim Barron, and our president, Bob Tucker, have excelled themselves by gaining state government during a federal campaign. As I said earlier, we ran a very tough, grassroots local campaign, and I had a first-class team behind me who kept me going for the long 12 months.

I could not have been more proud of how it all came together on election day. Unfortunately, there is not time today to mention everyone who helped, but I would like to thank a few key people who were absolutely crucial to our victory. I would like to thank my current FEC chairman, Bob Carroll, who was pivotal in ensuring we had the resources necessary to fight a professional campaign; our treasurer and all-round good guy, John Wallerstein; and local businessman, Brian Gassman. I want to convey my personal thanks to the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Bradford), who was very supportive, and his secretary, Margaret, who was also very helpful, and his FEC chairman, Peter Gallus.

I also want to thank those people who have supported me in my other campaigns over the past 15 years, as well as this one, particularly Jan and Allan Waite. As my personal secretary, Jan has also been tremendous over the past few months, together with my electorate officer Sheila Boreland, in helping to establish my office. I would also like to thank the powerhouse of the campaign, right from preselection through to election day—my eldest daughter, Selma, and her husband, Andrew Schuller. Andrew and Selma not only devised the campaign strategy but made everything happen. Andrew was part of the team in the campaign headquarters in Melbourne, and so many members would know just how helpful he is. I am very grateful that he managed to find the extra energy to help me out on his weekends and after hours.

A special thanks must go to all of my children: Selma, 27; Kellie, 26; David, 25; William, 24; Edward, 22; George, 20; Johllene, 18; and, Talena, 16½ going on 17. I am very fortunate to have my eldest and youngest daughters here with me today. Selma works in Canberra and Talena is a student. To all of my children who are sitting by their radios at work today—and I am proud to say that they all work—thank you very much. I am standing here today due to their many years of support, understanding, tolerance, respect and, especially, love. I am very proud of these eight very special Australians.

I would also like to mention their spouses and girlfriends, who were also a ready-made work force. I would like to thank John Smits, Tracey Thornbury, Samantha Jones, and Kristy Keevers. To my four absolutely beautiful grandchildren who provided me with the best relaxation therapy possible—Jasmine, Nicholas and Caitlyn Smits, and Jillian Schuller—I say hello.

Finally, I would like to thank my loving husband. No-one could wish for a more supportive and loving partner and friend. All through our 29 years of marriage we have shared our lives and our dreams. Our goals have been joint ones, and he has spurred me on on those rare occasions when I felt like giving up. Particularly over the last 12 months, he has kept the home fires burning and has been a constant support to the family. David, this is for you.

In conclusion, may I congratulate all of my colleagues who make up this large and enthusiastic class of 1996. I am sure that, like me, you feel very honoured and humble to be part of such a historic victory for our party. We must all continue to share the drive and determination personified by our Prime Minister and to carry through on the responsibility and the trust that are placed in us—to deliver fair and responsible government for all Australians, and for all of us.