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Monday, 18 February 2008
Page: 549

Ms COLLINS (5:03 PM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I begin by adding my congratulations to those of others on your elevation to office. Can I say what a pleasure it is to be in this place today giving my first speech. I am proud and honoured that the people of the wonderful electorate of Franklin have put their faith in me by giving me the privilege of representing them. Since 1903, the people of Franklin have elected only 12 members to represent them in this place. The members elected have been from both sides of politics. With an average term of almost 9½ years, it shows that the people in Franklin will reward hardworking members. I look forward to their judgement on my performance in three years time. Some of the former members include the late Ray Sherry—the father of current Labor senator and minister Nick Sherry—Bruce Goodluck, who was the member for almost 18 years and who became infamous for wearing that chicken suit; and the retiring member at the last election, Harry Quick. Harry is well known both in Tasmania and nationally for his outspoken views. He is well liked by the people in Franklin and he has worked hard to represent them over many years.

As it has been some time since a new member for Franklin has been elected, I seek the House’s indulgence to talk a little about the electorate. Franklin is a large outer metropolitan electorate in southern Tasmania. It comprises: most of the city of Clarence, colloquially known as Hobart’s ‘eastern shore’, bordering the beautiful Derwent River; the Kingborough and Huon municipalities to the south of Hobart, taking in the fast-growing areas of Kingston and Blackmans Bay, together with the Channel, Huon Valley and Bruny Island; part of the Brighton municipality, to the north of Hobart, with Bridgewater and Gagebrook suburbs.

Franklin also has some amazing wilderness and areas of natural beauty. It boasts Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour within the Southwest National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, the Hartz Mountains National Park and Recherche Bay, together with Macquarie Island. The electorate has some extremely diverse demographics. Statistically, it contains Tasmania’s poorest suburb but also the wealthiest. The majority of its population is urban based but it has some very remote communities. Its main industries include fruits—apples, which of course Tasmania has been famous for, pears, cherries and berries—aquaculture, with salmon farms and processing plants, forestry and timber milling, boat building and increasing tourism.

The people of Franklin are proud and strong. They have faced disasters in their recent history that have brought them together as a community. This February saw the 41st year since the 1967 Black Tuesday bushfires which devastated the Kingborough and Huon regions. Many small towns lost many buildings—like Snug, which lost 80 of its 120 buildings. Many families, including that of my own father, lost everything they owned. And I cannot forget that 62 Tasmanians died in those fires. It was a terrible time. Yet the efforts of the firefighters and the many untrained volunteers protected numerous properties and saved many lives. The experience has led to many improvements in emergency preparation and response.

Many residents of the city of Clarence will recall the fatal collapse of the Tasman Bridge on 5 January 1975. Its impact was immediately felt, with Hobart suddenly cut in two. With most hospitals, schools, businesses and government offices located on the western shore, residents on Hobart’s eastern shore were significantly compromised. Within an hour of the bridge collapse, a ferry service was up and running. It ran throughout the night. By the next day, three private ferries and a government vessel were already in operation. A temporary bridge—Bailey bridge, as it was known—was constructed before the end of that year and the Tasman Bridge was repaired and reopened by 1977. These people showed their resilience, their courage and their determination in those difficult times. These ordinary people were dealing with extraordinary circumstances and they achieved remarkable things. When facing adversity these people prevailed as a community that worked together.

During the election campaign last year, I spoke with many people on doorsteps and in shopping centres. The resounding message I heard was that people no longer trusted the Howard government; that they thought Kevin Rudd and the Labor team had something to offer. People were perplexed that the economic growth and the so-called ‘good times’ had not really made their lives all that much better. If it was all going so great then why were health and education still underfunded? Why couldn’t their aunt, uncle, sister or cousin get the operation that they needed to get better?  I am proud that this Labor government has already begun work to cut surgery waiting lists.

Another issue concerning the people in Franklin was the Work Choices legislation. During my visits around the electorate I met people directly affected by Work Choices. There was a man who had been working for a company for 15 years. He was told to sign an AWA or not have a job. He signed the AWA and was then retrenched a couple of months later, with no long service leave or redundancy payment. He was angry and hurt.

Many of those not directly affected by Work Choices held a real fear, not for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. They were worried that it would be more difficult to get a fair go, particularly if you were young and entering the workforce for the first time. The working families in Franklin were concerned about increasing rents and mortgages. Housing affordability is in decline, with Hobart being Australia’s third least affordable city, after Sydney and Perth. The people of Franklin seemed ready for a change of government, and I am so very pleased that they actually did vote for a change of government on polling day.

One of my first tasks, as a member of this government, is to help deliver all of Labor’s commitments to the electorate. During the election campaign, the Labor Party made many significant commitments to Franklin, including $15 million to fund the Kingston bypass on the Channel Highway, in conjunction with the state government; $12 million for the Huon Valley water scheme; $10.5 million for a water recycling and irrigation project on the eastern shore; a GP superclinic in Bellerive; $166,000 for a tourism environmental audit in the Huon Valley; $141,000 for the redevelopment of the Dennes Point Community Centre on Bruny Island; and several minor recreational and sporting facilities grants.

The Kingston bypass has been on the drawing board for many years, and there was a commitment by the state Labor government at the 2006 election to fund half the project. This infrastructure is vital to the local communities south of Hobart. It is a very fast growing area and it has recorded 35 per cent of Tasmania’s population growth in recent years. For the many people living south of Kingston and for the master planning currently underway in Kingston town, it is of the utmost importance that this project be completed as quickly as possible.

The two water infrastructure projects are significant and strategic. Both provide positive economic and environmental outcomes for their communities. In the Huon Valley, the water scheme will provide residents, who live only 40 minutes from Hobart, with tap water they can actually drink. Many of them are currently on ‘boil water’ alerts. There is also a critical time frame on the implementation of this project, as new aquaculture investments depend heavily on water and cannot proceed without this infrastructure. The project will also assist environmental flows in many small rivulets that are currently being run dry.

The other substantial water project is on Hobart’s eastern shore. It will increase the capacity of the Clarence recycled water scheme, which utilises treated effluent to assist in irrigation within the region. The water that will be reused is currently being released into the Derwent River estuary.

The electors of Franklin are pleased, for the first time in many elections, to have been provided with funding for vital, strategic and economically sustainable projects that will provide opportunities for community development. The reason I make special note of this is that many people in southern Tasmania have told me that they have felt for many years that the majority of infrastructure funding was being directed to the marginal seats of Northern Tasmania. I am looking forward to being able to make some announcements in the Franklin electorate very soon.

Another infrastructure project which will vastly improve services in Franklin is broadband. In the announcement by the Prime Minister and Telstra recently, I was pleased to see that an exchange in my electorate will be receiving an upgrade to ADSL2+. I have already received many calls from people currently not able to access broadband at all, let alone at a reasonable speed. They are all looking forward to Labor’s fast broadband.

These are just a few things which will make a difference in Franklin—things that are or will be different because Australia has a new government, a Labor government. It is a real privilege to be here as a new member of this first federal Labor government in 11 years.

My belief in the values that underpin the Labor Party and my desire to change the way in which the world works stem from my early experiences. My father died in tragic circumstances when I was five months old, leaving my mother a widow at just 19. We moved in with Mum’s parents. My mother, Anne Peters, was from a large family. She is one of 11 children. My nan and pop, Hazel and Fred Peters, lived in their nine-square, three-bedroom weatherboard housing commission home near the railway and the soccer and footy fields.

Pop was a railway worker and vice-president of the local footy club. He was well known and respected in his local community. He certainly fought hard to provide for his family and did all he could for them all his life. Even though he had very little, he sponsored two World Vision children from mum’s earliest memory until he died. He taught me a lot and was, to me, the main male role model in my childhood. I learned from him that life is not always fair; that luck of birth means we are not all equal. He taught me to be generous and compassionate and to see things from other people’s points of view. He was a very forgiving man who always saw the best in people, no matter their faults. He taught me tolerance—to be lenient when assessing others and their actions.

It was not long before my mother remarried, and I was adopted by her husband, Andrew Collins. We moved into the broadacre public housing estate of Bridgewater. While we were relatively poor, both parents worked, commuting into Hobart for their jobs, trying to save money to buy their own home. We were an ordinary working family, like many others in the area. Families like ours were determined to give their children every opportunity for a happy and secure future. They worked hard and forfeited many things to pursue this aim. I recall vividly some neighbours and friends who struggled to put food on the table, to clothe and educate their children and to pay for health costs. These decent people worked hard and sacrificed so much, and the inequality of it all remains with me today. When I was about 10, my parents purchased a home closer to town. But this was not to last. Within 12 months, difficult circumstances hit us again and the house was sold out from under us. So we moved back in with nan and pop.

My nan and pop, my mum and my adoptive father taught me the value of hard work. Hard work is a way to get ahead, although on its own it is not always enough. Without an education and without the skills to establish relationships, life is still tough. These four people formed my values of love and respect. They provided me with the freedom to make my own decisions, while setting clear boundaries to ensure my protection and security. Within these boundaries, I knew that I could do whatever I wanted and that they would love me, no matter what.

While living with my nan and pop, I attended the nearest high school, Cosgrove High School. It was during these years I got my first job, at 14 years of age, working on Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the local supermarket. In this job I joined a union for the first time. I have been a member of a union ever since. After completing year 10 at the age of 15 I enrolled in year 11 at the nearest college. At the orientation day it became obvious that I could not afford to stay at school. It was just going to cost too much. So after much prevarication I did what I had to do and reluctantly I gave up my education and went and got a full-time job. Looking back at my experiences I came to realise that access to education and information was just as big a barrier to equality as being poor was. As a member of this place I will work to ensure that all people have access to a quality education—that the barriers are removed and that quality education remains a right and not a privilege. These barriers are more than just economic. Access to different experiences is also vital, as is providing support services enabling families and children to have choices—real choices—about their own future.

The election of 1987 marked the end of an era in Tasmania. It saw the historic return of a Labor member from Tasmania to this place after a 12-year period of none. I remember it well because it was just after this election that I saw an advertisement from the local ALP seeking a trainee. I applied for the position and was surprised and excited to learn that I had been successful. It was in this job that I met my great friend Carol Brown. Carol and I got along well from the outset. We both came from good working-class stock, we both had empathy for people doing it tough and we quickly learnt that we had similar goals and values. And so began my involvement in the great Australian Labor Party. It has been, and I hope will continue to be, a great avenue by which to pursue the goal of equality. During my whole working life I have pursued this goal. Until recently it was from behind the scenes. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some very talented people, including two former senators, John Coates and Sue Mackay, and two former Premiers of Tasmania, Michael Field and the late Jim Bacon. All of these people have different talents and values. I have learnt a lot from them. I hope I have taken on board the best of their experiences and advice. It was also during this time that I had my three children and returned to part-time study to further my education.

While I have spent more than 20 years working in both the private sector and the public sector, it was when I was approached by the Tasmanian Labor Party to run as a candidate in the 2006 state election that I decided public life and representing people might be a better way by which I could further pursue the goal of equality. I had worked on every state and federal campaign since 1987 and I thought I had seen it all. But it was a very different experience as a candidate and it was during the 2006 state election that my faith in human beings was confirmed. The many conversations I had reinforced my strong belief that most people are inherently good, that they do care about others and that they will make decisions to support and assist others.

I am making history as I stand here today—as the first woman ever to be elected to represent the people of Franklin in federal parliament. And I am proud to be here today as part of a government that has a female Deputy Prime Minister. I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on her well-deserved position—as we know, women have traditionally been underrepresented in senior roles in both government and business. The recent election saw 42 new members elected to this place, 11 of whom are women—10 of us from this side of the House. More women are being preselected and elected but there is still some way to go. As an illustration of this, when out doorknocking during the campaign, I had many well-intentioned people ask me how I could possibly do the job as their elected representative while being a mother of three young children. I expect that if I was a man and a father of three then I would not have been asked the question at all. My response was always that I have been a working parent for 14 years and that it would be sad indeed to think that just because I was a parent who also happened to be a woman I could not be a member of federal parliament. I truly believe that parliament should be representative of the people, and it cannot be that without women, including mothers.

I would not be here today without the help and support of so many people. Whilst it is not possible to name them all, I do want to try and acknowledge a few. I want to thank my nan, who turns 93 next week; my mum, who did her best to provide for me in very difficult circumstances; and my brothers, Stewart and Wal, and my sister-in-law, Robyn, who have all helped and supported me. I also want to thank Carol Brown, my dear friend—as I mentioned before—for over 20 years now. I have learnt much from her in our long friendship. I want to thank David Price, the former state secretary of the Tasmanian ALP branch, for his advice and support and for listening to me; Lin Thorp, my campaign manager, who I thank for never losing patience with my ever-worsening case of candidate-itis; my friend Mary Massina for always being there if I needed a friend and also for her great sense of style; my wonderful and successful campaign team, Tom, Maggie, Stu, Julie D, Kacee, Mary Mc, Sharon, and Catryna Bilyk; and the unions and union members who assisted on my campaign. I thank them all most sincerely for their hard work. Their monumental effort of getting a campaign off the ground at breakneck speed was remarkable. I thank the army of door knockers and the volunteers. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the former candidate for Franklin, Kevin Harkins. Kevin made a very tough and brave decision to stand down as the Labor candidate. As a result, my candidature was quite sudden and unexpected. It was a very big decision in a short space of time that my family and I had to make. It was not taken lightly and I want to thank my husband, Ian, and my children, Georgie, Lochie and Andy, for supporting me throughout. My family have made many sacrifices due to my continuing role in public life. I expect they will make many more and I thank them sincerely for their belief in me and their understanding.

In closing, I want to assure the people of Franklin that I, as part of the Rudd Labor government, will not let them down. I will work hard to put their position to government. I will be accessible. I will listen to their concerns, their gripes, their needs and their advice. Men and women of Australia have placed a great trust in us all and we must work together to make life better for them. I want people to think back to 2007 as the year that things changed for the better. I want my children and the next generation to be proud of the role we have played in making this great country greater.

The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call Mr Coulton, I remind honourable members that this is his first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.