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Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Page: 858

Mr RAMSEY (11:03 AM) —Mr Speaker, I acknowledge and congratulate you on your appointment. I stand before you today as the proud and humble representative of the people of Grey. I am the 11th member in over 100 years and just the third Liberal to hold the seat.

Grey was named for Sir George Grey, who served as Governor of South Australia from 1841 to 1845. It seemed like some kind of message to me when, in May last year, I walked into the basement of St Pauls Cathedral, London, and looked at the floor and realised I was standing on the resting place of Sir George Grey, also a former Governor and Premier of New Zealand, Governor of Cape Colony in South Africa and an explorer in Western Australia. I had a quiet word with him and told him I intended to keep an eye on his patch, if I were chosen as its new member.

I was raised as one of four children on the family farm at Buckleboo, where I still live. My three sisters all pursued professional careers, producing a teacher, a pharmacist and a doctor. One of them, Janet, a long-term resident of Canberra, is here in the gallery today.

I would like to thank my parents, Eric and Dora, for instilling in me a sense of social obligation and a Christian compassion for all.

My mother, a genteel lady with a great singing voice, is the author of my compassion for those in society who struggle. My father is a unique individual of high intelligence and great stamina. At the age of 80, he was still driving a truck at harvest time. At about that time, he rode a pushbike 115 kilometres from Arno Bay to Port Lincoln to raise money for cancer research. When he got there, he realised he had left his companions behind. All of them were much younger than him. Never a patient man, my father; he rode back almost 10 kilometres to escort them in. To him, I owe my energy and passion for life.

To my campaign team, thank you. I make special mention of my campaign manager, Heather Baldock, and her husband, Graeme, and friends, neighbours and fervent supporters here in the gallery today. To my home branch of Kimba, the other 30 Liberal Party branches spread across Grey and the more than 1,000 volunteers out there on election day, thank you and well done. Special thanks to a number of federal and state colleagues, in particular Senators Ferguson and Bernardi, and Graham Gunn. I am given strength by those in my community who have great faith in me. I dearly thank the Buckleboo crew, also here today, who have a round trip of a thousand kilometres just to catch the plane in Adelaide to be with us today.

I am inordinately proud of my three children, all in the gallery. My eldest daughter, Alexandra, is a chemical engineer and currently working out of Darwin. My second daughter, Courtney, has just completed first class honours in science, and Lachlan is a second-year civil engineering student. Purposeful and self motivated, they are already making a success of life. Families provide loving, caring, stable and trusting environments for children. They are the building blocks of our nation; their failure threatens our future. It is our responsibility as parliamentary representatives to do all we can to support them.

To my wonderful wife, Teresa, who supports me, gives me strength and has committed to sharing this life on the road: thank you. I do not think I could overemphasise how difficult it would be in an electorate the size of Grey to retain a working marriage if one partner did not make the type of commitment she has made to me.

I have a long involvement with leadership in community affairs. Sporting clubs, Apex, hospital boards, agricultural research, farming organisations and the Liberal Party have all given me the opportunity to contribute. I am incredibly privileged to now take that community commitment to a national level.

The population of my home town of Kimba is just 1,200; it has, though, made a significant political contribution. It is remarkable that I am the fourth person from Kimba to be elected to parliament in the last 40 years—three of us, I think, inspired by the first, Arthur Whyte, who established the Liberal Party branch in Kimba and went on to become the President of the Legislative Council in South Australia. Arthur has been followed by his daughter Caroline Schaefer, who is currently a legislative councillor, and my predecessor, Barry Wakelin, who served this place and the electorate of Grey with distinction for almost 15 years. Barry was a man of the people who the electorate increasingly warmed to the longer he was in office. I must also acknowledge his wife, Tina, who was the other half of ‘Team Wakelin’. A former staffer said to me, ‘Great value—we got two for the price of one.’ Those of you who know Tina would appreciate that comment.

I am often asked what it is about Kimba and leadership. It is a good question. I think it has something to do with being on the edge economically, geographically and socially—the attitude that, if you are not prepared to help yourself, why should you expect someone else to help? My local football club, Buckleboo, in 1984 built what is even by today’s standards a magnificent clubroom 35 kilometres from town, surrounded by trees and paddocks—hence the name ‘the club in the scrub’. Built at a cost of nearly $300,000, today’s value would be around $2 million. There was no public funding—just 40 families determined to help themselves. Local guarantors were paid off in three short years. It is a testimony to the power of positive attitude: if you want something done, get off your backside and make it happen. Sadly, it is an Australian attitude we are fast losing. We are a much poorer society for losing it.

That leads me to my frustration with what I see as our collective lack of individual accountability. Whenever things go wrong in our society, we start to search for someone to blame. If we trip over, it is because someone else left a rock on the footpath. Surely we have some level of personal responsibility. Nurses in hospitals spend more time filling out records than providing nursing care so they can prove that, should anything go wrong, it was not their fault. In the end, these impediments lead to a weakening of the decision-making process. People avoid making decisions in case they get it wrong.

It has often been said that our diggers built an unparalleled reputation for their ability to respond in an independent fashion, to take charge in the event that they lost their leadership, to make decisions under pressure. It is what made them the best soldiers in the world. The independent spirit on which Australia was built is being strangled. I am attracted to the Liberal Party ideal that those who can, should take charge of their own lives. Many of the reforms of the last decade have been aimed at just that outcome: encouragement to take out private health cover, to contribute to your own retirement plan, to utilise independent options for your children’s education—in short, taking care of your own business but still believing there must be quality public options for those who cannot or choose not to take this path.

This world is not awash with democracy; we are extremely fortunate and privileged to live here. I have news for the many who believe that this is such a great country in spite of our politicians and our system: we have such a great country because of those things. We employ a government to run the country, then we employ an opposition to examine every move they make, to highlight poor policy, bad practice and corruption. Should they find any of those things, we have the opportunity to vote and change the government with no bloodshed and little disruption.

As a stable, mature and wealthy democracy, Australia has a role in the world far beyond what one might expect from a country of this size. Our ability to engineer the liberalisation of world trade, whilst being in our interest, is of far greater value to those developing nations around the world. The globalisation of the world economy that sees production shift to low-cost economies spreads the wealth of the world. Poverty is the illegitimate bedfellow of conflict and it should be core business for Australia to be well engaged in this area.

The electorate of Grey, the third biggest in the nation at almost 905,000 square kilometres, is by any standards vast. It stretches from the borders of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales to Marion Bay on the Yorke Peninsula and Eudunda in the south. It has 27 councils, 137 schools and 36 hospitals, which serve an enormous number of individual communities. It can present some challenges for a local member. I noticed in his maiden address to this House the member for Wentworth remarked he could paddle a surf ski the length of his electorate in an hour. We are a bit short on water in parts of Grey, so the surf ski might be a bit of a stretch; to put it in context, it takes me an hour and a half in a jumbo jet to get across Grey.

My electorate is often seen as the big rural seat in South Australia when in fact half of the population live in the industrial cities of Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta—great examples of multicultural Australia. Whyalla, for example, is home to over 90 different nationalities—friendly, cooperative, tolerant and all with an allegiance to Australia. It is an electorate of incredible contrasts, from some of the driest deserts in Australia, with rainfall of less than 100 millimetres a year, to some of the most fertile farmlands on the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas. There are dramatic visual icons like the ancient sentinels of the Flinders Ranges; huge salt lakes, including Lake Eyre; the feast or famine of Australia’s inland rivers; and a stunning coastline from the Great Australian Bight to the pristine white sandy beaches of the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas. There is dramatic history, such as the opening of inland Australia. The names, places and icons roll off the tongue: the Overland Telegraph Line; the Afghan camel drivers and their rail replacement, the Ghan; the Birdsville, Oodnadatta and Strzelecki tracks. These are great slabs of Australian folklore.

The economy of the electorate is currently enjoying the benefits of the mining boom, which is helping revitalise the industrial cities. Unemployment rates in these centres, while still above the national averages, have declined markedly in the past 10 years and are a testimony to the excellent economic management of the previous government. We are incredibly energy rich and have new-age energy. Already the world’s pre-eminent supplier of uranium, a greenhouse friendly fuel, it seems we are almost daily discovering new deposits of hot rocks; we have many of the best sites in southern Australia for wind farms; and we are blessed—even though some say cursed—with huge areas that enjoy more than abundant sunlight for the production of solar electricity.

Both sides of politics are committed to a carbon trading scheme, as we must be, to curb the effects of global warming. The Cooper Basin has been a major supplier of Australia’s oil and gas, and this will continue but production has peaked. It will have a new economic life because of its unique position to become the country’s major storage area for carbon dioxide.

Not only are we rich with energy but already BHP’s Olympic Dam is one of the great copper mines of the world, with a proposed expansion set to more than triple its size. Major developments at Prominent Hill, world-class mineral sands deposits in the west, the expansion of iron ore near Whyalla, along with a number of new deposits on Eyre Peninsula and in the far north, are all adding to a heady mix.

It is my goal to assist local communities in retaining a fair slice of the benefits in our electorate, to keep workers living in their regional towns and cities, to get governments to reinvest a fair share of the dividend in the areas it came from and not use it just as a cash cow. Balancing the promotion of this dynamic sector will present a lot of challenges, and it is a task that I do not take lightly. I will hope to focus decisions that will enable us not only to create jobs but also to pass on a legacy of good management to our children. We cannot live in this world without making some impact on the natural environment, but neither can we have an exploit-at-all-costs mentality.

With more than 70 per cent of South Australia’s coastline, Grey is the major player in our fishing and aquaculture industries. Port Lincoln is the home of the great southern bluefin tuna industry, resuscitated by the pioneering of farmed tuna. As the world’s wild-stock fisheries are reaching their limits, aquaculture is providing the promise of tomorrow. Already we are farming abalone, oysters, kingfish and mussels, and we are on the verge of closing the breeding cycle of tuna.

Visionary investment in the infrastructure area will be needed for the region to reach its full potential. Roads, rail, ports, air facilities, electrical interconnectors and water generation will all need investment. I welcome the government’s commitment to skills training and urge them to support the very successful Australian technical college established on the three campuses in the upper Spencer Gulf. This is a great educational model. It is strongly supported by industry, by schools and by the public.

This parliament and this generation must have a significant effect on the welfare of Indigenous Australia. The electorate has over 9,000 of Aboriginal descent, many living in some of the most remote parts of our nation in settlements of a similar nature to the type targeted in the intervention in the Northern Territory. I welcome the apology to the Aboriginal peoples. I fervently hope that this will provide comfort to those who were adversely affected by policies, attitudes and actions of the past. We will now be measured by what the nation does in a practical sense to achieve real changes to the outcomes of many in this part of our community. We must not return to an ideology that sees Aboriginal Australia as just victims, who deserve welfare. Long-term welfare robs people of dignity and purpose.

If no economic basis exists for a community, it will eventually cease to exist. There is nothing more assured to destroy any human soul than the uselessness of perpetual unemployment. If it is important that these people stay on their traditional lands, it is imperative they be opened up to development partnerships. Tourism, mining and more traditional agricultural activities can provide the economic base for these inland communities to flourish.

The government has supported the intervention. I urge it to stand by this commitment. We can no longer accept a second Australia in these remote communities. For that reason, I call upon the government to reconsider its move to reinstate the permit system. A situation where parts of our country and parts of our population are hidden and allowed to be measured by a different, inferior standard cannot continue. Might I pause here to commiserate with Mal Brough, who had the strength to begin the task. The contribution he has made, and was about to make, to the Indigenous future of Australia cannot be overstated. This parliament has lost a great champion of the cause—a man who truly made a difference.

I have behind me a 30-year career in agriculture—an industry I count myself very fortunate to have been involved with. Modern agriculture is a dynamic industry. To survive, Australian farmers have had to embrace innovation. We have seen incredible technological changes, and today’s methods of farming are so different from those my father used. Precision farming, modern marketing techniques, complex soils and crop analysis mean that today’s farmer is extremely multiskilled. I have had a long involvement in cutting-edge dryland farming research, firstly as a member and then as Chair of the Eyre Peninsula Agricultural Research Foundation. I am strongly aware of the important role that a well-funded research and development capacity plays not just in agriculture but in all industries. It is disturbing to note that, as a first line of business, the new government has slashed $10 million that was put in place to support agricultural research at a time of deficiencies in levy income caused by the drought.

There is plenty of debate about whether this drought is a result of climate change or whether it is just a good old-fashioned drought, albeit at the very extremes of our recorded experiences. I think it is probably both. As a farmer living in some of the driest cropping country in the world, I am acutely aware of the challenges of climate change. If southern Australia is to suffer a reduction in rainfall, it stands to reason we will be the first to feel its bite. But, whatever the cause, the results are very real. Inland towns with no alternative economies are losing a generation of young people, their skilled tradespeople, their young families and, unless we decide otherwise, government services. There are limits on what governments can do, but we should not be the catalyst that causes services to disappear. The closure of a school, a hospital or even a school bus run can have devastating knock-on effects for a small community. We should, however, remain optimistic about the future of agriculture. With a world population pushing toward seven billion, the booming economies of Asia will increase the demand for Western diets and energy, and we are in the box seat to provide what they need.

Living in rural Australia is a great privilege but, unfortunately, it can come at cost. Inequality with urban Australia in the key areas of health, education and communication are contributing to the country-city drift. Downgrading of rural health services to where many are little more than first aid centres has resulted in a continual deskilling of our professional staff, leading to job dissatisfaction and the inability to respond to emergency situations. Doctors will not serve in rural areas where there are no or inadequate hospitals. Individual efficiencies do not always compensate for the worth of the total package. Withdrawal of services can have complex, far-reaching implications for the whole community. It is worth noting that the South Australian government is currently moving nearly 260 country based jobs, many of them in the health industry, to Adelaide, in the name of efficiency.

Quality education can become a huge financial burden to parents. I do not normally support non-means-tested allowances, but in this case, where students are required to live away from home to access subjects of their choice, including tertiary, they should receive assistance. Parents choose where they live, but, in this case, it can be the children who wear the cost.

One must seriously doubt the viability of the government’s plan to roll out a fibre to the node network to 98 per cent of Australia. This plan spends the $2 billion telecommunication fund put in place to provide for the very demographic I represent. I strongly urge the government to revisit their technology mix to ensure that rural people receive a fast, modern service and are not left behind when the cash runs out. Rural and regional business needs the same kinds of access to telecommunication as the rest of the community.

Our cities provide great diversity and opportunities in what is otherwise a rural landscape. They are the centres that provide higher levels of medical, aged and educational services, industry training and a face to the arts. The greatest threat to their continued growth is certainty of water supply. The cities of the Upper Spencer Gulf and their industries are 100 per cent reliant on the Murray. My electorate and the rest of Australia can no longer stand delays in implementing national control of the Murray.

There is no greater curse to a nation than that of high unemployment. We are currently enjoying the lowest rates in more than 35 years. Full credit for this must go to the previous government. Significant inroads have been made into the long-term unemployed. Small business, the backbone of our economy, determines the kind of employment numbers that we ultimately end up with. It has been encouraged by changes in the industrial system to expand and to take on extra staff. The next few years are now uncertain, and I urge the government to take great care with their changes to industrial relations lest they sour the well of jobs growth.

Programs such as the Welfare to Work reforms are not about savings to the national economy; they are about individuals taking control of their lives. We know that people who are employed have much better outcomes in all areas of their lives. The Australians we can get into the workforce have better health, better education, stronger families and better lives.

But there are some groups in our society who will never be able to take control of their own lives in this fashion. The permanently severely disabled are just one. Things have improved, but we have further to go. Australia is a wealthy country, and people who, through no fault of their own, find life a daily struggle, should not have to. Parents and relatives burdened with the terrible worry of what will happen when they can no longer cope need a more certain future. As with so many of these service type issues, the problems get worse the further you get from capital cities.

The opportunities for those of us elected to parliament are enormous. We have the task of identifying the difficulties, the injustices and the great opportunities for progress in our society, and we are given a chance to make a real difference. After all, isn’t that why we all came here? I give the people of Grey my pledge that my door is always open. I take on your issues as my own, and may we together have many triumphs continuing to build Grey as a great place to live and work.

Debate (on motion by Mr John Cobb) adjourned.