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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 93

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (1:05 PM) —At the beginning of my first speech, I would like to record my thanks to the electors of Casey for their faith and confidence in electing me to this House as the seventh member for Casey and as part of the third Howard government. It is an honour and a privilege to be a member in both. I would like to record my sincere thanks to three former Liberal members for the electorate of Casey: my immediate predecessor, the former health minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge; the former Speaker and current Ambassador to Ireland and Ambassador to the Holy See, Bob Halverson—who served between 1984 and 1996; and Mr Peter Falconer, who held the seat between 1975 and 1983. In their own ways and at different times, each has provided invaluable help, advice and assistance to me. Each represented the people of Casey with honour, distinction and vigour, and following in their footsteps will indeed be a great challenge.

I also thank the Liberal Party membership in Casey and my many friends who worked so hard on my behalf during the election campaign. As well, I thank the current Treasurer and member for Higgins for his friendship and for the opportunity to work with and learn so much from him over many enjoyable, humorous and eye-opening years. I also thank my former colleagues and friends in his office. Of course, most of all I thank my family. I thank my parents, Alan and Noel—who are here today—for the support they have always given me and, most importantly of all, I thank my wife and best friend, Pam, for her unstinting support and encouragement, without which I would not be speaking here today. My only regret is that none of my grandparents are alive to be here. All four had a major impact on my life and all lived long enough to see my developing interest in parliamentary and political affairs. If they were alive, they would very proudly be here and it would be a truly special day for them.

The electorate of Casey bears the name of a distinguished Australian: Richard Casey, a servant and builder of our great nation all his adult life. Born in 1890, at the very time the founding fathers were striving to create a new nation, Casey lived a life that literally saw him at the scene of every key defining moment and event that shaped the Australia that we now know and live in. As a soldier, he fought in the great battles of the Great War—at Gallipoli and on the Western Front—torturous battles that maimed yet also strengthened our nation.

As a diplomat, he served in London in the critical period between the wars and, with the outbreak of World War II, served as our first representative in the United States, helping to give birth to a new relationship and alliance with that great democracy. After a short time he was then appointed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the British war cabinet, as the United Kingdom's Minister of State in Cairo.

In between diplomatic duties, Casey had a distinguished political and parliamentary career, first entering this House as the member for Corio in the 13th Parliament in February 1932 and later representing the electorate of La Trobe between 1949 and 1960. He held a variety of ministerial posts, including Treasurer in the Lyons government and Minister for External Affairs in the Menzies government. Following his retirement from this House, he of course served as our Governor-General.

In each of Casey's ministerial posts, he showed himself to be ahead of his time. As external affairs minister, he advocated a closer relationship with Asia to complement our long relationship with Britain and our then new relationship with the United States. As Treasurer, he was a sceptic on the value of high tariff protection, arguing the cost and harm to consumers at a time when the prevailing view favoured an ever increasing escalation of tariffs. The argument over tariffs is as old as our Federation itself but, for my part as a new member of this House, I am glad that the argument is now no longer about how high tariffs should be, but rather how soon they can be phased out. It is often said that there is no higher service than public service. Irrespective of our differing philosophies, beliefs and backgrounds, the one thing that ought to unite all members of parliament is that we have come to this place with a burning desire to work on behalf of the people of Australia for their best interests and to help to continue to build the best Australia possible. Richard Casey was the epitome of this—working for a better Australia at every opportunity and every level.

Many members of this House have a variety of backgrounds, and it is this variety that makes for such a rich and vibrant people's chamber. In my case, I come to this House not totally unfamiliar with its workings and functions. For the last decade I have worked as a member's and, more recently, minister's adviser. I consciously chose to follow that path because I wanted to make a contribution to public policy and give a professional commitment to the things which I believed might make Australia an even better place. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in a government that, over the last six years, has done so much to improve the lives of Australians and that has been prepared to take difficult political decisions in order to bring about far-reaching reforms in the national interest. Many people have the opportunity to work in senior roles for ministers and governments both here in Canberra and in the states, but few have the opportunity to do so for a reforming government that has the courage of its convictions and the determination to do what is right rather than what is easy or popular but ultimately irresponsible. Governments like these do not come along very often; they are rare, and the Howard government is one of them. I am glad and grateful to have had that experience which I believe will be of great assistance to me in my endeavours to be a forceful representative for the people of Casey.

I stand here today on this side of the House not because I was born into my political party. I was not introduced to the Liberal Party through family or friends, and when I did join I was the first member of my immediate or extended family to ever join a political party. It was only after reflection and thought that I believe that the philosophies, beliefs and approaches on this side of the House provided the best ingredients for progress in Australia. I stand here because a long time ago I decided that only this side of the House best represented the views and aspirations of the vast silent majority of Australians which were so often not heard over the clatter and rattle of loud minority groups. I stand here because I saw how the extreme Left happily and without hesitation trashed the rights of individuals. While working my way through university I saw this every day on campus and then I saw it every night at my place of work. I stand on this side of the House because this side of the House believes every Australian has a fundamental right to choose whether or not they wish to belong to a union. I stand here because I believe that no Australian should be forced to forfeit that right and be conscripted into a union just so they can get a job to support themselves and their family.

The electorate of Casey comprises 411 square kilometres of fast developing outer eastern suburbs and Yarra Valley heartland which are bound together by an uplifting community spirit. The rural areas from Seville, to Silvan, to Monbulk and to Coldstream are at the forefront of agribusiness in the country, producing some of the best flowers, juices, fruit and wine for domestic consumption but, importantly and increasingly, also for export. These businesses, many of them family businesses which settled in the area generations ago, have worked through the good times and the bad without asking for or receiving government assistance other than the expectation that the government of the day worked to create the best economic conditions possible for them to compete, create jobs and make a living.

The urban areas contain rapidly growing and expanding new suburbs where young families have come to build their dreams and their future. These new houses, and indeed new suburbs, sit alongside older houses and more established suburban areas built by the postwar generation, who made the same trek for the same reason: to build a better life and provide better prospects for their children in their future. It is a living example of a coming together of the Menzies and Howard home building sprawls. I mention this because there has been a tendency by many political and social commentators to label those pursuing the recent suburban dream as `aspirational voters' as if either they are some new phenomenon in political life or no previous generation ever aspired to a better life. In my view, the fact that some commentators view aspirational voters as a confounding new phenomenon is a worrying sign in itself. Far from being new, these Australians are proudly marching in the footsteps of their parents, who went to new frontier suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s to build a better future.

Such has been the growth of outer suburbs that the 1949 boundaries of Casey's electorate of La Trobe then stretched from Wattle Park in the now electorate of Chisholm right through today's electorates of Deakin, Casey and La Trobe, as well as parts of Menzies and McEwen. The so-called new phenomenon is in fact a historic phenomenon which has run through the veins of our nation since the days of the free settlers. Menzies simply called them the forgotten people. Far from having new demands, their concerns and expectations of government are the same as those of all who passed before them. They want reward for effort and initiative, as well as a fair go for those in genuine need. They want stable and sensible economic management by the government of the day and recognise that that is the guardian of continuing low home mortgage interest rates and growing job opportunities. They want to know that we have a strong defence force to protect our democratic freedoms and those of like-minded nations. They support Australia's strong and successful immigration program, which in many cases has included them, their parents or their grandparents, and they just as strongly believe that the future integrity of immigration relies on strong and adequate border protection.

At a local level, they want to see government provide the best services possible in areas of community need, while maintaining low income taxes. They care about their local environment. They live in Casey because they like the natural beauty of the area as well as the pleasant and safe surroundings for them and their children. They want choice in education: the choice of quality government schools as well as the chance— and the right—to send their children to a private school if they see fit. They want a strong health system, and they believe that this strength comes from having government support for both Medicare and private health insurance, not one or the other. The more than 6,000 small businesses, many of them family businesses, want the right to go about their daily work without interference and intimidation from militant unions. Importantly, they want to control the destiny of their own lives with government assistance—but not an overbearing government interference that limits their choices. As their representative, I will do all in my power to represent their views and give voice to their goals.

Because Casey straddles both urban and rural Victoria, it also has some unique needs. As in the electorates of La Trobe and McEwen, the speed of suburban development has run far ahead of the provision of services and infrastructure by all levels of government. This is to be expected, but it is also expected that it will be rectified. The encroachment of new suburbs into rural areas has meant that, in many cases, because of their new found proximity to urban Australia these rural areas do not qualify for the same rural assistance as other areas. For its part, this government has taken steps to correct the situation and, with the help of representatives like me and the members for La Trobe and McEwen, I am confident it will continue along this path. The state Labor government in Victoria needs to meet its end of the bargain.

While unemployment levels are the lowest they have been for a long period of time, there remain difficulties with middle-age male unemployment. Many in this situation have years of experience and understanding but have fallen out of work because of the last recession or because their skills are no longer in demand in the industries in which they once worked. In my view, employers need to reassess their attitude to the middle-age unemployed. Rather than seeing them as too old or incapable of adapting to modern systems, employers need to realise that these people have years of practical experience of interacting with other businesses and customers, and have a valuable contribution to make not just to their businesses but to the wider community.

In the remaining time available, I would like to address my remarks to an area that is often overlooked in contemporary debate, and that area is the role of government and the limitations of that role. Too often there is pressure for government to have a role in areas where it cannot provide the solution and all too often this pressure is put on government itself, thinking with good intentions that somehow, by the mere bureaucratic process of devoting funds to an issue or a problem, it will automatically have the intended positive effect. The easiest thing for governments to do is to think and promise that they can solve every problem, but when government succumbs to the temptation to try and solve problems it cannot solve, fix things it cannot fix or do things that are better done by other organisations, far from serving the nation, government harms the nation, desponds the electorate and deludes itself.

To me, the first principle of government should be a recognition and essential honesty about its true capacity and its limitations. This does not mean that governments do not always have a role; sometimes it is just important to recognise that government does not always possess the only solution to every problem. Governments can provide assistance and support to families and communities—and they should—but this does not mean that governments hold the solution to their every problem or difficulty. Families and local communities will always have a greater capacity to affect their own future than any government alone.

Governments can provide assistance to business, but they cannot help business managers show commonsense or good judgment, or make good decisions for them; nor should they attempt to do so. Recognising this requires a fundamental understanding that, while governments have roles and responsibilities, so too do citizens, families, businesses and communities. After all, it is easily forgotten that Australians created their governments to help them live their lives, not so that they could abdicate their lives to them or have governments live their lives for them.

As we meet here in the 40th Parliament, Australians can be proud of the country we and our forebears have created since the first House met in Melbourne 101 years ago. We have so much to be proud of and so much to look forward to. We face challenges, but we always will. Whereas previous generations defended our free and democratic way of life in wars and battles between nations, today we must continue the defence of our democratic ideals against international terrorists who are joined and bonded not by national borders but by fanatical beliefs. We will always face domestic challenges because we will always be striving to do better. We will always be seeking to provide better opportunities, better standards of living and increasing opportunities for all Australians to reach their full potential and live the life they want to lead, no matter what their circumstances are.

We will have differences about the best means to tackle the inevitable problems which all parliaments confront, but we should have no difference at all on the proposition that, in our short history, Australians have created a truly special nation that is the envy of the world. It is an honour and a privilege for me to represent the people of Casey in this representative House of theirs. Thank you very much.