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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6540

FRAN BAILEY (11:39 AM) —It is 20 years since I first entered this chamber as the member for McEwen. In doing so, I became the first woman to represent a rural electorate in the House of Representatives and the first Victorian Liberal woman to win a seat in this chamber. During these 20 years, I have had constant and unconditional support from my two daughters, Amanda and Abby. Amanda is here in the chamber today. She has always described herself as the non-political member of the family, but she has frequently in her own forthright manner been able to tell me if we as a party were connecting with the public on various issues. Abby is watching this broadcast on her computer in Brussels at 3 am, and although she has worked outside Australia for the past seven years she has always been up to date and on the mark with Australian political life. They are wonderful, intelligent, articulate, forthright, loving and caring young women—and I am not at all biased! I thank them for their support and understanding of a mum who was often late for school or social functions. They always had to buy the cakes I was supposed to make for the cake stalls!

Twenty years ago, with a slender margin and as the shadow minister for consumer affairs and secretary of Fightback with responsibility for selling the first version of the GST, I became known as ‘Mrs GST’. I was an easy target for negative campaigning and lost my seat in 1993 by a few hundred votes. While I felt at the time that this was my political baptism by fire, it actually taught me valuable lessons, the most important of which was to stand up for what I believe in but at the same time to ensure that the people whose support I am asking for through their vote clearly understand a policy and its impact at both the local and national levels.

It was a difficult decision to stand again and attempt to win back McEwen three years later. I acknowledge the late Worrall Jones, my first electorate chairman, for encouraging me to stand again. History records that I did win my seat in 1996 and have won it at every election since, albeit with very slim margins. Each election has been a real challenge because of the huge outer urban population growth with demographics unfavourable to my side of politics. However, the last election made political history with a recount and a High Count challenge that resulted in my increasing my margin to 31 votes out of 106,000.

From the 1996 election to the present day I have had the good fortune to have the same team as my federal electorate council. To express my appreciation of Peter McWilliam, my chairman and campaign manager for the past five elections, the word ‘thankyou’ is totally inadequate. Peter and his wife, Kerrie, have become firm family friends and are here in the chamber today, along with Barb and Craig Jones. Barb has managed polling booth rosters with over 800 volunteers and, at one election, managed 106 polling booths. My heartfelt thanks go also to Chris Thomas, John Lithgow, Heather Tivendale and the other members of our McEwen campaign team.

I have always described working in McEwen as like being on a high wire without a safety net, but the reality is that my branch members, the Liberal women’s groups and the Liberal Party membership at large have provided me with a safety net, and I thank them all. I still vividly remember the first time I entered this chamber. I was nervous, excited and almost overwhelmed by the soaring dimensions of the chamber. I was aware of the great parliamentarians who had occupied these benches, but I had a keen sense of responsibility to all those in my electorate who had sent me here. I have always tried to do my best for the people of McEwen, and I have loved every minute of having had the privilege of representing them.

Chairing the Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services was very rewarding, and I experienced how a group of politicians from both sides, with diverse expertise, could work together to produce recommendations covering issues ranging from biosecurity to fisheries management to trade, and I thank Dick Adams, the member for Lyons, who was deputy chair, not just for his spirit of cooperation but also for his culinary expertise at the completion of an inquiry. Like so many members, I would like to see the work of committees taken more seriously by government. I am aware that the Deputy Speaker is seeking to achieve greater recognition and better responses by government, and I wish her well.

My parliamentary career has largely been spent as a member of government, the majority of which was as a member of the executive of that government—a rare opportunity for a marginal seat holder. My time as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and as the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence was hugely rewarding. My responsibilities included defence estate, corporate services, infrastructure and personnel. And I had the privilege of working with both General Peter Cosgrove and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. I am particularly proud of being able to vastly improve the living conditions for defence families and single personnel and commend the work of the Defence Housing Authority. Running the defence cadets and establishing the first Indigenous defence cadets in both the Tiwi Islands and Wadeye was very challenging but also very rewarding.

I used to joke with people who asked me what I did in the defence portfolio that if I described what I did I would then have to shoot them. However, commercial and strategic sensitivities meant that I could say very little. But what I have always had is the ability to tell any and every audience that I had the greatest privilege to serve in this area of responsibility because I saw firsthand the extraordinary sacrifice, level of training and commitment of men and women who were prepared to put their hands up and wear the uniforms of our Defence Force in the service of our country. They perform an extraordinary job on our behalf.

I should explain that I did have a prior strong relationship with defence as I have Puckapunyal in my electorate, but that relationship almost floundered initially. As a new MP I was invited to visit Puckapunyal, my first ever visit to a defence base. I was taken on a tour of inspection, and at the time Australia had 42 Leopard tanks and they were all lined up for my inspection with members of the School of Armour in attendance. Naively I asked the brigadier in charge, ‘Why do we need so many tanks in peacetime?’ There was an audible gasp of horror, and I am sure they were thinking, ‘What on earth have we got here?’ However, Brigadier Gordon Jones quietly took me aside and invited me to lunch, where he instructed me—or, as he says, ‘guided my thinking’—about the use of armour. He was very persuasive because within a month I was on my feet in this chamber extolling the virtues of armour in peacetime to anyone who would listen.

I should also come clean to my leader and the member for Mackellar that I am the person who argued the case to move the School of Artillery from that very exclusive piece of real estate with the okay views, known as North Head, to Puckapunyal by portraying Puckapunyal as the Tuscany of the south. But I confess the ability to fire live ammunition was really the determining factor.

I was a member of the Small Business Association of Australia before entering parliament, and a strong advocate for reform for that sector. I was therefore thrilled when Prime Minister John Howard made me the Minister for Small Business and Tourism and enormously proud that we reformed the Trade Practices Act in favour of small business. Other highlights were reducing the compliance burden for small business by over $450 million by both harmonising and eliminating regulations, overhauling the franchise code of conduct, increasing transparency for franchisees and establishing a code of conduct for the smash repair industry, replacing a decade of infighting and disagreement.

I am proud that during my time as the minister for tourism the industry grew to an $87 billion industry, and that very cheeky advertising campaign ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ added $4.2 billion to the industry’s bottom line. While that advertising campaign certainly had its detractors here in Australia, it was designed for the international market and particularly the UK, US and European markets. Industry there loved it, and it was seen as typically Australian: friendly and inviting. There was, however, one negative response overseas, from the British advertising standards board. It controlled TV advertising and decided it would ban our ad. I was dispatched to London by the Prime Minister with instructions to ‘sort it out’. The media frenzy began as soon as I landed at 6 am and did not stop for three days. A certain Blair cabinet minister facing yet another sex scandal was eternally grateful as we pushed him off the front page of major newspapers. My thanks to our high commission staff and to Sir Alastair Goodlad, the former British High Commissioner to Australia, for their assistance.

British people, and no doubt many expat Australians, helped by ringing in to talkback shows and asking how an authority could allow shows like Little Britain to run in prime time but not our ad. Our campaign became the talk of the town, and we certainly could not have afforded to pay for all the free publicity we received. The end result was that the BASB, which had never in its history reversed a decision, did so and decided in our favour—a great result for our tourism industry.

My thanks to all my ministerial staff for being so dedicated to their jobs—never simply agreeing with me but always willing to push me—and to my former chief of staff, Dan Tehan, in particular, who hopefully will join my colleagues as the next member for Wannon.

To be the member for McEwen has been a personally fulfilling experience. The people, the 107 communities, their issues, their achievements and their hopes for the future have always inspired me to work harder. There have been many successes and challenges over the years, but there has been no bigger challenge, with more impact on individuals, than the Black Saturday bushfires that devastated so many of my communities. I would like to share with the House a description of bushfire:

From early morning the fire was accompanied by a hot wind, almost the strength of a hurricane and throughout the day, the surface of the country was exposed to the full power of its withering influence. Bushfires raged across hundreds of miles of country, sweeping along with almost the speed of lightning and destroying almost instantaneously, men, women, children, homes, fences, gardens, crops, animals.

That, however, was not a description of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009 but a description of Black Thursday of 1851, written in the Argus. People said then that such a fire could never happen again. The reality is that bushfire presents the greatest threat of disaster. Since 1851, when the number of deaths resulting from bushfire was first recorded, 815 people Australia wide have died—but, significantly, 561 of those deaths have occurred in Victoria and almost half of those Victorian deaths have occurred in my electorate.

When I spoke in this chamber on 24 February 2009, I nominated key issues that must be addressed if we are to prevent a disaster of the magnitude of Black Saturday, when those 173 people lost their lives, from ever happening again. The key issues I nominated were an efficient and sustained fuel reduction program, an early warning system, safe shelters and the use of early fire detection technology. Sixteen months on, we do not have one of these measures in place. To give credit where it is due, however, both the former Prime Minister and the Attorney-General listened to my presentation of the FireWatch early fire detection technology that I brought back from the German Aerospace Centre and have funded a pilot program that is currently being assessed by the CSIRO. This technology has reduced forest fire in Germany by 93 per cent—but, most importantly, it has saved lives. To install this system in fire risk areas will be expensive, but I say to the future government: consider partnering with the insurance industry to install this technology. It has recently paid out $1.2 billion just on homes that were destroyed in Victoria as a result of Black Saturday.

We have learnt a great deal from our recent experiences in Victoria, and I believe it is imperative that we as a nation learn from them. I strongly believe—after many months of working side by side with people, listening to them, attending meetings, sharing their frustrations and disillusionment, and researching—that the model for recovery that was implemented in Victoria and funded extensively by the Commonwealth is the wrong model. It is based on the command and control model, where decision making is centralised and hierarchical, is part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and has no decision-making power in its own right.

Of course governments at all levels through their agencies play a vital role. In the aftermath of Black Saturday, there were 12 federal government departments involved and they performed magnificently. However, research from around the world shows us that greater emphasis is placed on organised community action and control in determining the nature of the response to the disaster. It is local people who are best placed to coordinate and prioritise activities, use their local knowledge to advise government officials and be actively involved in decision making. All the research I have studied agrees that it is the local communities who provide the sense of continuity—the connection that people need. I have found that people look for and need the social and economic structures that existed before the disaster, and their priority is to regenerate those rather than having to create new ones.

Philip Berke, who is internationally recognised for his work in this area, says:

Effective response to recovery after disaster cannot be achieved through top down, inflexible approaches. Success is based on a process of bottom-up policy and organisational development.

I agree wholeheartedly. Whether the disaster is bushfire, flood or cyclone, there is a need for the Commonwealth as the major source of funding to take a leadership role in ensuring that disaster recovery models are community based, with a board independent of government, to ensure strategic targeting of funding for recovery. I encourage every member of this House to support this proposal. Disaster can occur anywhere with tragic results. The recovery process should never further traumatise affected people.

The past 16 months have been the most challenging ever for my staff and I place on record my thanks and appreciation to them. They have acted with compassion and commitment that has far exceeded any job description. I do have some regrets in leaving the parliament. I regret that in a country as affluent as ours we have not better looked after our disabled fellow Australians and their families, I regret that we do not have a Noel Pearson in this parliament and I regret that governments feel the need to spend vast amounts of money on spinning their message. Imagine the benefits for every Australian if that same funding was invested in medical research. Who in the next parliament will have the courage to cap the amount of funding government spends selling itself? Overwhelmingly, I leave this parliament with a great appreciation of what this parliament achieves and an enormous sense of appreciation for having the privilege of having served as the member for McEwen.

The SPEAKER —Order! To the member for McEwen: as the member for Scullin, I apologise that within partisan politics I may have caused her some headaches. But she has the solace that they were largely unsuccessful. Beyond partisan politics, I thank her for her cooperation in the fulfilment and pursuit of aspirations of those that we jointly represent in this place in the outer north-east of Melbourne. I wish her all the best for her voluntary retirement. In the preliminaries, before I call the member for Riverina, I understand it is the wish of the House that the member should not be interrupted by points of order.