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Thursday, 21 February 2008
Page: 1098

Mr NEUMANN (10:15 AM) —Mr Speaker, it is an honour to stand here today and speak in this chamber as the first ever Labor member for Blair. I am keenly aware of the trust, duty and obligation bestowed upon me by the people of Blair. They voted decisively for change on 24 November, delivering a 10.2 per cent swing to Labor. With emphatic purpose they chose a better way. They voted not for fear and pessimism but for hope and optimism. They voted not for the past but for the future.

All of us elected to this parliament have brought with us our own stories. We have been influenced by genetics, geography and our life experiences—some that we have enjoyed and some that we have had to endure. My story begins in the heart of Blair, as a young boy growing up in Ipswich. As a boy I went to Ipswich East State Primary School and completed my high schooling at Bundamba State Secondary College. This was a pretty big achievement in my family because high school was an educational opportunity denied to both of my parents and their parents before them.

I started my working life as a part-time cleaner at Dinmore Meatworks. I studied arts and law at the University of Queensland, an opportunity afforded me by a Labor government—the Whitlam government—for which I will always be grateful. 

My father was a meatworker and my mother was a shop assistant. On my father’s side my ancestors were farmers from the Lockyer Valley and on my mother’s side railway workers from Ipswich. I was born and raised in Ipswich and, as far as Ipswich is concerned, I am a local through and through, having lived there all my life. In my childhood, I was exposed to the twin evils of addiction to alcohol and gambling. I lived through the poverty caused thereby and the pain of the divorce which followed.

After university, at the age of 26, I entered the business world, practising law as a partner in my own firm. Along with my business partner, Matthew Turnour, the brother of the new Labor member for Leichhardt, we built Neumann and Turnour Lawyers, a small to medium-sized law firm in the heart of the Brisbane CBD. I thank Matthew for his support over many years and the friendship we have shared since university.

Having practised in most areas of law, I became an accredited family law specialist in 1996. I have conducted thousands of cases, many of them involving complex property settlement disputes, and matters involving dreadful domestic violence and shocking child abuse. This has led me to hold a deep belief that the rights of children should be protected and that the law should allow women to control their lives and destinies both physically and financially.

I bring to my new elected role 24 years as a practising lawyer, 21 years of business experience, towards a decade as a health community councillor and 14 years as a Queensland Baptist Care board member—an organisation associated with three aged-care facilities, a drop-in centre and a community centre, all in the Blair electorate. 

Twelve years ago I was an ordinary branch member of the ALP in Ipswich. The catalyst for my increased political involvement, both organisationally and in campaigning, was the election of Pauline Hanson as my federal member in March 1996. I lived in Oxley at the time, Blair having not yet been created. For some, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party was something to be sneered at from afar. For me it was local and it was personal. I witnessed firsthand the destructive impact of One Nation, with its intolerance, bigotry and economic irresponsibility. I witnessed families and friends torn apart by the rise of Hansonism. I saw former Prime Minister John Howard dog-whistling and engaging in wedge politics for his own political advantage.

That’s why I resolved to do something about it. I became the Labor Party’s campaign director in the state seat of Ipswich and, along with many others, we turned the tide locally. In the late 1990s in Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley, Labor’s main political opponent was One Nation. In fact, my predecessor in Blair was first elected on Labor preferences to prevent Pauline Hanson winning Blair. Today, in a curious twist of fate, I am now Pauline Hanson’s federal member of parliament. 

On 1 March 1962, in his maiden speech, Bill Hayden, whose then Oxley electorate bears a striking resemblance to Blair today, said of his election to represent Ipswich and its surrounding rural areas: 

This is truly a great privilege, but the greatest of all honours is to be here as a member of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party is the only political party in Australia today which can claim to be truly national in character and outlook.

As always, I concur with Bill.

I thank former Ipswich mayor Des Freeman and his wife, Colleen, the former Ipswich state MP and Queensland Treasurer David Hamill, and former opposition leader, federal Treasurer and Governor-General Bill Hayden for the influence they had upon, and their support for, this working-class boy from Ipswich. As a child, I learnt that the union made us strong and that Labor gave us hope. I am proud to have gone into two election campaigns as a candidate with a Labor Party membership card in one hand and a union ticket in the other. I am proud to be a member of the Australian Services Union.

I am a Christian. To paraphrase the Prime Minister: my faith is the compass which grounds my life. I have been deeply affected by leaders whose concerns were not just for the spiritual wellbeing but for the material improvement of humankind. I reject utterly the notion that God is a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party. Having said all this, I respect those who hold views which may differ from my own, and I hold firmly—in a good Baptist tradition—to the separation of church and state.

What do I believe? I believe in reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples. I believe in a republic with an Australian head of state. I believe in multiculturalism. I believe in equal rights for women. I believe in civil liberties. I believe that the rights of the Australian people should be protected by a bill of rights. I believe the law must be utilitarian. I believe the law must help, not hurt. I believe that law and justice must not meet furtively, illicitly and occasionally. They must be married. They must be one and they must be never rendered asunder. I believe there must be better access to justice in Australia. Access to justice must not depend upon one’s economic resources. The real decline in legal aid funding in this country is a national disgrace. As a lawyer, I have witnessed many people compelled to settle cases or not pursue their rights for reasons of cost alone.

In this country we have too much law and not enough justice. Many acts of parliament could be measured by weight not words. Exhibit 1: the Family Law Act and its rules and regulations. Exhibit 2: the legislation governing child support, its assessment and collection. These acts need overhaul and simplification. The acts governing these areas now resemble the Income Tax Assessment Act in all its complexity. And these are the laws which, more than any, affect hundreds of thousands of Australian adults and the children who find themselves in the difficult circumstances of separation.

We need greater transparency in the appointment of those who deliberate in these jurisdictions. Judges and federal magistrates are all too often appointed with little transparency, sometimes without proper consultation, occasionally without possessing the necessary qualifications and legal experience, and every now and again without the sympathy required to deal with people at their most vulnerable. I am pleased with the federal Attorney-General’s recent announcements that the Rudd Labor government will appoint an independent selection panel to improve transparency in judicial appointments.

I believe society needs a strong safety net. I believe that how we treat the poor, the aged, the weak and the disadvantaged says much about us as a nation. I believe that the market can and does create wealth, but it does not have all the answers. I believe the Australian experience shows that economic development, social progress and equality of opportunity come not just from the liberty of the individual but by the active participation of government also.

I believe in a pragmatic, progressive Labor Party dedicated to practical policies to help people and not longing for some utopian New Jerusalem. I believe in a Labor Party that brings both labour and capital together. A Labor Party which unites, not divides. At the last election, many people voted Labor for the first time in their lives. Placing their trust in Kevin Rudd and Labor, they chose a better way—and we did here, just over a week ago, when we faced our past, apologised for what was done and looked to the future.

I acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and of the lands of Blair—the Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul peoples—and I thank them for their care of the land, for the pride of their culture and for the enduring strength of their people. I hope and pray that the apology tendered by this parliament and the historic Indigenous Land Use Agreement signed with the Ipswich City Council on 30 January 2008 will assist to heal the hurt and build a common future in Blair.

Blair is a regional seat, taking in the shires of Gatton, Laidley and Boonah and about two-thirds of the city of Ipswich. It is named after local Aboriginal singer and one-time Labor candidate Harold Blair. Since its creation in 1998, the electorate of Blair has moved further across Ipswich. In the last redistribution, the AEC excised the rural areas north-west of Ipswich and included to the south rural Boonah, stretching down to the New South Wales border.

Boonah’s main industries are beef cattle, farming and tourism. I am proud to have sponsored the very popular arts festival run by the Boonah Arts Collective, and I will do so in the future. The Lockyer Valley adds $450 million per annum to the Queensland economy through its horticultural industry. With future railway electrification, the building of a new prison, the expansion of the University of Queensland campus at Gatton, the delivery of the western corridor recycled water pipeline to the Lockyer, and new housing estates, this is a fast-growing region. I am pleased that the Rudd Labor government will inject $408 million into the delivery of the water grid and pipeline by the Queensland government.

My home town of Ipswich could and should have been the capital of Queensland. Ipswich is one of the oldest yet fastest-growing cities in Queensland. ‘Big enough to make a difference but small enough to care’ is the oft used local slogan. Ipswich is growing. It has taken Ipswich 150 years to reach a population of 150,000, but in the next 15 years it is projected that another 150,000 will be added. The Ipswich of yesteryear struggled as its traditional industries of coalmining, railway workshops and woollen mills declined. But Ipswich has fought back. It now boasts two universities, a thriving high-tech aerospace industry, an ever-expanding RAAF base at Amberley and many industrial parks. It has a world-class water treatment plant at Bundamba and a gas-fired power station at Swanbank. Its railway museum in North Ipswich is legendary, and its art gallery is the most visited regional art gallery in Australia. Three days after the election, on 27 November, Ipswich was awarded the international title of ‘the world’s most liveable city’ for its size—although I do not think that had much to do with me being elected three days before.

Nevertheless, for many years now, the missing link for Ipswich and its surrounds has been federal funding. The most obvious example of the financial neglect by the previous coalition government has been the Ipswich Motorway, linking Ipswich with Brisbane. This four-lane national highway is at its capacity, with up to 100,000 vehicles using it per day. For 11 years, the coalition government steadfastly refused to fully upgrade the road. The Ipswich Motorway is not just congested; it is unsafe, and it has held back the economic development of the region.

People talk of ‘parking’ on the Ipswich Motorway—they put stickers on their cars about having parked there. It is the bane of their lives. It is the source of frustration for tens of thousands of Ipswichians who commute every day to jobs in Brisbane—and I was one of them. Inexplicably, my Liberal predecessor opposed the full upgrade of the motorway from Ipswich to Brisbane, instead wasting years by running interference on this vital issue. We will fix the Ipswich Motorway. We will fully upgrade the Ipswich Motorway to six lanes and build a network of service roads to take intersuburban traffic off the motorway.

I wish to pay tribute to the member for Oxley, Bernie Ripoll, for his years of campaigning on this issue and for his support in the Blair campaign. I look forward to working with him in the years ahead as a neighbour. For me, fixing the Ipswich Motorway and achieving much needed improvements to other federal roads in Blair are high priorities. Locally, I am enthusiastic about the Rudd government’s promises, including the redevelopment of the Ipswich CBD, the redevelopment of the Ipswich Tennis Centre and Ipswich Basketball Stadium, the Cabanda Aged Care project in Rosewood, the Ipswich Business Enterprise Centre, a GP super clinic, a Defence Families Health Care Clinic, and three years of ongoing funding for the Ipswich After Hours Clinic. These last three commitments concerning health are particularly important for Ipswich, as our area has a ratio of one GP for every 1,609 people.

I welcome the Rudd government’s ‘education revolution’, the determination to tackle the challenges of climate change, the efforts to confront the cost of living pressures experienced by Blair families and the will to tackle the problem of homelessness. Since the election I have visited numerous homes and services provided by dedicated local people seeking to help dispossessed individuals and families. This has had a profound effect upon me. Talking to people such as staff at Hannah’s House, which provides short- and medium-term accommodation for young girls in difficult circumstances, and Booval Community Centre, which provides practical assistance and accommodation at numerous locations in the Ipswich area for families who have fallen on hard times, it is hard not to feel emotional about the plight of these fellow Australians and anger at the failure of the previous government to acknowledge the crisis and do something about it.

Undoubtedly, the biggest issue in Blair in the recent election was Work Choices. This unfair, extremist agenda was rejected by the people of Blair comprehensively. No matter how long I am in this place, my proudest day will be the day I finally see the back of Work Choices and have it replaced by Labor’s simple, fair and flexible system. Never again must one group of Australians be placed in a position to exploit another group just because a government pursues its ideological obsessions. It demeans us as a nation and it is offensive to our belief in a fair go for all.

I would now like to thank the many people who helped me in the campaign—although, regrettably, time does not permit me to name every one. I would like to thank Jim Nilon, the Coordinator for Blair of the Your Rights At Work campaign; Local Convenor, Gordon Abbott; and all the local activists who worked so hard. I express my appreciation to the unions in the broader labour movement for their support, including the ASU, NUW and BLF. Thanks to Dave Smith, Senator elect Mark Furner and Dave Hanna for their many years of personal support. I thank my ALP organiser, Dani Shanahan, whose political skills were so evident. I express my gratitude to all local elected ALP politicians, including the Mayor of Ipswich, Paul Pisasale, and state MPs Wayne Wendt and Jo-Ann Miller. I thank my good friend Senator Claire Moore for her help, particularly in the country areas of Blair.

To the hundreds of party and union members and supporters who worked on the campaign and who stood at polling booths, many all day in the pouring rain, on election day, I say thanks. I am here because of you. I thank my Campaign Director, Ipswich state MP Rachel Nolan, for her guidance in the campaign and the partnership we have shared. It has been my privilege to have served as Campaign Director for her on three occasions and for her to reciprocate for me this time. I thank my friend Lyn Saunders and her husband, David, for their tireless efforts, friendship and support over so many years. To my mate John Staines, who drove with me the length and breadth of Blair on so many occasions, across two campaigns, and all the blokes who put up and pulled down signs, I say thanks. To the fabulous Labor women of Blair who staffed the campaign office and helped out with the postal vote campaign: thanks. I had the curious experience of having women as all the key personnel in the Blair campaign. Many was there a time when I was the only male in campaign committee meetings. The Blair campaign was fraternal, feminine and familial.

Thanks to my family, many of whom are here in the gallery. Thanks to my father, Al Neumann, my mother, Joy Butler, and her husband Rob, for their love, loyalty and commitment towards me and in the campaign. I thank my parents for instilling in me what I consider to be true Labor values of social justice, equality of opportunity and compassion for others. I have always believed Labor values are family values. To my best mates, my brothers Regan and Darrin, thanks for your encouragement, dedication and help over so many years. To my wife, Carolyn, who has shared more than half of my life, I say thanks for your love, faith and hope in me. To my dearest daughters—Alex, 18 years, and Jacqui, 16 years—thanks for your love and tolerance for my many absences. And, Alex—thanks for your vote.

Finally, I wish to say I do not know how long I am going to be in this place, whether it will be three years or many more, but I know this: I have not come here merely to make up the numbers. That is not my style, as anyone from Queensland knows. Nor have I come here for a sabbatical from legal practice. I have come here to work. I have come here to make a difference. I have come here to make change. I have come here to advocate for the causes in which I believe. I have come here to represent my local community. I have come here to deliver for the people of Blair. I have come here to serve and honour the greatest political institution in this land: the Australian Labor Party.