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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 17

Mr VASTA (10:00 AM) —Every journey begins with a single step, and the first step in a journey that led to me standing here now was taken 82 years ago when my grandfather, Salvatore Vasta, stepped off the boat that brought him from the old world and walked onto Australian soil to start a new life. Salvatore, like many others who over two centuries came to our shores, always had a fervent belief that his family could achieve anything in this wonderful new land of opportunity. But even he would perhaps be surprised—I hope, pleasantly—to see his grandson standing here in this chamber, humbled by the honour and responsibility bestowed upon him by the citizens of our democracy.

It is with humility that I stand here before you today as the first member for the newly created seat of Bonner. This seat was named after a great Queenslander who also happened to be a great Liberal, Senator Neville Bonner. Senator Bonner was the first Aboriginal Australian elected to the federal parliament. During his 12 years in the Senate he was a conscientious parliamentarian, respected by both sides of politics. In his 16 years after leaving the Senate he was a much esteemed elder statesman of Australian public life. It is only fitting that his life and contribution to this country has now been so formally recognised and his name given to Queensland's newest federal seat.

Neville Bonner's widow, Heather Bonner, passed away recently, only a few days after the October federal election. I am told that she followed the vote counting in the seat of Bonner with great interest and, when the result eventually became clear, she told her loved ones that she could now be at peace, knowing that the people of Brisbane's south-east had chosen a Liberal to represent them in the seat named after her late husband. It is an honour and a privilege to be entrusted by the people to be their voice and their representative in the federal parliament. I would like to thank them for choosing me to be that voice and that representative, and I promise that the voice of Bonner will be loud and clear, and the representation faithful and strong.

My family have been proud Australians for three generations. Always in that time they have worked hard, they have prayed hard and they have dreamed hard. And, as they built their futures in their new home, they also helped to build this country and make it the prosperous, decent, open and tolerant society it is today—a home to 20 million people, a dream home for millions more around the world, and for yet many more a beacon of hope and an example showing that people of all races, creeds and colours can live and work together and create a peaceful and successful future for their children.

My grandfathers and their families believed passionately in Australia, in the opportunities that Australia offered and the rewards she bestowed on those prepared to work hard, play fair and live right. They believed in the dream shared by all Australians—a better life and a better future for their children—and they lived that dream. My father's father worked hard for almost 30 years in the cane fields of Northern Queensland to see his three sons go to university. One became a doctor, one became an engineer and the other became a lawyer who later on would sit on the bench as a Supreme Court judge. My mum's dad arrived in Australia when he was 16 and, with sheer hard work and commitment, became a respected community leader and a well-known businessman in the Belmont district of Brisbane which I, his grandson, now have the honour of representing as part of the seat of Bonner.

My family always believed in the spirit of service and the importance of contributing back to the country what the country has given to us. My father, who has been in public life, faced a particularly difficult episode of undeserved adversity. He refused to be defeated by it and to this day continues his quest for justice for many of his fellow Queenslanders who often cannot afford it, including many Indigenous Australians. This public spirit also lives on amongst my brothers and sisters, whose work in the justice system, in the public service and in education contributes to making our country a safer and better place to live. I am proud to now follow in their footsteps.

It was through my work as a small business owner in Brisbane's south-eastern suburbs that I first became involved in public life. The issue was a simple but important one: speeding on the road outside my business was putting pedestrians in danger. I started a petition and, with many signatures collected, I went to see the local government representative for the area, Councillor Michael Caltabiano. With his assistance the issue was resolved quite satisfactorily, to the local community's benefit. This might not have been significant in the greater scheme of things, but it did show me that people matter and that with goodwill and people's support things can be achieved for the greater good. It also inspired me to do more for my local community.

I have a passionate love for this country. It was what motivated me to join the Liberal Party, it was what motivated me to become a candidate in the election and it is what will motivate me as I represent the people of Bonner in the federal parliament. The new electorate of Bonner is an amalgamation of parts of three existing federal seats in Brisbane's south-east suburbs: Moreton, Griffith and Bowman. The electorate stretches from Moreton Island and Wynnum in the north down through the suburbs of Tingalpa, Carindale, Holland Park West, Mount Gravatt and Wishart in the south. It is a part of Brisbane that has experienced massive growth in recent years. At present, more than 1,000 people are moving to south-east Queensland every week. Many of these people are choosing to live in Bonner.

This part of Brisbane has been my home for much of my life. As a local, I know the reasons more and more people are choosing to settle down and live there: it is a wonderful area for families, we have great local schools and community facilities, we have a thriving business sector and we are close to Brisbane's greatest natural asset, Moreton Bay. Some people label Bonner as a mortgage belt electorate; others call it the bible belt. But one thing is for certain—the people of Bonner are a true representation of Middle Australia.

In one of his most important speeches, the founding father of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, said that governments must not allow ordinary middle-class Australians to become forgotten people. These people are neither rich nor poor but they are the backbone of our great nation. They work quietly to pay off the family home and to send their children to a good school. They are the people who contribute the most in taxes but often get the least in return. Although I do not believe that we have social classes in Australia, I do believe that governments must govern for all Australians—not just for the unions, lobby groups and radical minorities.

I will work to ensure that my constituents do not become forgotten people, and my actions as the member for Bonner will be guided by my beliefs as a Liberal. I believe that the role of government is to remove obstacles so that people can be free to pursue their dreams and realise their potential. I believe that hard work and enterprise should be encouraged and rewarded. I believe that strong families make for strong communities and we must do everything possible to support them. I also believe that we should confront evil and encourage the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world. These are not some highly sophisticated ideological concepts that only academics can understand and find appealing. These are simple yet powerful propositions that resonate right across Australia, from the heart of the sunburnt country to the outer suburbs of Brisbane. They certainly resonate in suburbs of Bonner like Mansfield, Murarrie, Mackenzie and Manly.

My conviction throughout the election campaign never wavered because I had an unshakeable belief in the Liberal Party and its ideals. As it happened, the people of Australia and of Bonner in particular also shared that belief and, having considered the record of the Howard government and its clear vision for the future, they returned the government for a historic fourth term. But the election result was much more than just a victory for the government; it was a victory for Middle Australia. It was a victory for ordinary Australian families. It was a sign that Australians knew the Liberal Party was the only party they could trust to put them first and it was a sign that they knew the leadership team of Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello was the only team that could be trusted with their future and Australia's future.

The residents of Bonner supported the Liberal Party because they knew what we stand for and they have seen the government's record in office. They know the economy has grown to record levels, they know unemployment is at its lowest level in 27 years, they know the budget is in surplus and they know interest rates remain low. The people of Bonner also know that a strong economy is the basis for achieving all our national goals. It ensures higher living standards so that people can plan for the future with confidence. It allows us to help families with the cost of raising children. It allows us to invest more in schools, health, aged care and the environment. Most importantly, the residents of Bonner know that the strong position we are in as a nation did not occur by accident.

It is always an unenviable task to single out any group of people for special thanks, but I would like to acknowledge the dedicated group of supporters without whom I would not be standing in this place today. First, I want to thank my family. The support and encouragement of my family have made me the man I am today. I particularly want to acknowledge my father, Angelo, my mother, Raffaela, and my brother, Salvatore, who are present here today. While I cannot name them all individually, I would like to thank every Liberal Party branch member in the Bonner electorate for their tireless support during the campaign. I would particularly like to acknowledge the Upper Cavendish Road branch of the Liberal Party. It is not a big branch, but its members are some of the longest serving and most dedicated Liberals that I have ever met.

I would also like to pay special tribute to the late Arthur Scurr MBE, a much respected local community leader in Brisbane's south side. He was a true gentleman, and his open-mindedness to new ideas, his commitment to the community and his tireless work will be missed by us all. His dear wife, Ailsa, also provided me with encouragement and gave me heart through difficult times. I thank the core members of my campaign team, Russell, Adrian and Mae, for being by my side throughout a tough campaign. I thank the Queensland Liberal state director, Geoff Greene, and the state president, Councillor Michael Caltabiano.

I thank my parliamentary colleagues Senator Brett Mason, Senator George Brandis and the Hon. Gary Hardgrave for their words of advice and encouragement. I thank Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson and the Hon. Julie Bishop for taking the time to visit Bonner during the election campaign. I wish to warmly congratulate my new colleague the honourable member for Bowman, Mr Andrew Laming, for his outstanding election victory.

I would also like to acknowledge at this point the Hon. Con Sciacca, the former member for Bowman and the Labor candidate for Bonner at the recent election. Con was not only a worthy and respected opponent but also a person who supported my family through tough times in the past and whose decency and friendship we will never forget.

Most importantly, I thank the people of Bonner for placing their trust in me and electing me as the first member for this new seat. My commitment to you is strong and simple: I will work with diligence, commitment and enthusiasm to justify your trust in me. I spoke before of my grandfather, Salvatore Vasta, who took the first step on the road that led me to this chamber. But this is not the end of the journey, merely the beginning of another one. As I embark on this new journey I hope that—just as my ancestors have, through their hard work, contributed to building this great nation—I too will be able to help to make the electorate of Bonner and Australia an even better place to live.