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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 63

Mr HARTSUYKER (10:45 AM) —I am standing in this chamber, by the grace of the electors of Cowper, as I wish to make a contribution to the future of my electorate and our nation. I want to see a continued improvement in the quality of life of all Australians, and I want to help this country reach its full potential as a leading force in Asia and on the world stage. I am privileged to join this parliament as a member of the governing majority and the third term of the Liberal-National coalition, a government that has put this country steadfastly on the right track for economic prosperity, reformed industrial relations, created record export growth, reduced government debt by $55 billion, helped reduce unemployment levels and given everyday Australians a sense of belonging and participation through government policy reflecting their needs and aspirations.

To be a part of the governing majority of this parliament under the esteemed leadership of Prime Minister John Howard and my National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, is a true honour. Prime Minister, your integrity—the courage to do what is right by this country, not necessarily what is popular—has ensured our country has weathered the world economic downturn, recording economic growth when others falter. My leader, John Anderson, your support has been inspirational, your passion for the needs of coastal and country Australia has been relentless and your support for the institution of family through your own personal actions acts as a beacon in public life.

It is a humbling experience to be in this chamber as the National Party representative for the seat of Cowper. It is a reflection of the egalitarian nature of our country and the opportunity available to anyone wishing to participate in our democracy that an ordinary Australian who went to a state primary and high school and a regional university has had the opportunity to come to federal parliament and become a member. This country has been made on the principle of having a fair go, and we as Australians believe that by working hard and making sacrifices you can make a better life for you and your family.

The sacrifices of previous generations have made our nation what it is today. I am the son of a Dutch migrant who came to this country alone at the age of 17 in 1951 with £25 in his pocket, an old guitar and all his other possessions in a toolbox. It is a story common to many who have succeeded through self-reliance and hard work. Half a century later, he is sitting with my mother, a fourth-generation Australian, in the gallery as I present this speech to the House. There are few countries around the world that would provide the same types of opportunities. It does concern me that with our improved quality of life perhaps we are becoming more focused on entitlement rather than self-reliance. Perhaps we are developing a soft underbelly. We must never lose a sense of our past and of the sacrifices our parents and grandparents have made to create the nation we enjoy today.

The marketing trademark of the Coffs Coast Region, which is within the electorate of Cowper, is `Discover Our Green, Gold and Blue'. It is a statement that is befitting the entire electorate: the green of the lush valleys, magnificent mountain tops and world heritage rain forests, the gold of our expansive, uncrowded beaches—the nation's finest—and the blue of our mighty rivers and pristine ocean waters. The electorate of Cowper typifies all that is great about our country. It is one of the original seats of Federation, and I am the eighth member to represent Cowper, following in the proud tradition of former members such as retired Deputy Speaker Garry Nehl, the Hon. Ian Robinson, and former Country Party leader Sir Earl Page. I would like to take this opportunity to place on record my best wishes to Garry and his delightful wife, Suzanne, and to thank them for the contribution they have made to the people of Cowper and our nation.

I could be accused of being parochial in suggesting that I represent the most magnificent region in Australia—but I do not think so. Garry Nehl always said that he was the `Member for Paradise', and I am more than happy to carry that mantle. The electorate of Cowper has enjoyed growth over many years as Australians flock to our subtropical climate, a climate which the CSIRO describes as the most temperate in Australia. Countless Australians have moved to the centres of Yamba, Bellingen, Sawtell, Trial Bay and to numerous coastal villages to discover their own personal sea change. As a result, the electorate has enjoyed an influx of talented Australians from all over the continent. Our wealth of human talent includes residents such as Russell Crowe, Jack Thompson, David Helfgott, George Negus and Kay Cottee, as well as many other everyday Australians all with their own important stories to tell and contributions to make to the electorate and the nation.

Paradise is not without its challenges, and as the new member for Cowper my priorities are to encourage strong economic growth through a commitment to regional development and the needs of small business; to maintain delivery of improved infrastructure for our growing region through continued funding of the Pacific Highway and through continued upgrading of telecommunications services—so vital in regional Australia—to continue the development of education facilities as a service to the nation and as an export industry for our region. I commend the government on its policy of offering choice in education to families in Cowper. I will be working to ensure that our older Australians continue to receive the care they rightfully deserve, and I will continue the government's commitment in the area of veterans' affairs, to ensure their contribution is adequately recognised and their needs are met in civilian life. I commend the government on the establishment of the independent committee to review veterans' entitlements, as promised during the election campaign.

I will continue to address the needs of rural health, specifically encouraging doctors to practise in our smaller communities. I am a great advocate of decentralisation. We must formulate policy and provide the infrastructure to encourage the private sector and government departments to take advantage of the abundant resources of regional and rural Australia, most notably its people. In regional Australia we do not ask for welfare but we demand equality of opportunity. Technology enables regional Australia to provide a wide range of services. We need to reverse the city mindset so that companies focus on the many positive things there are in regional Australia to help them run their businesses. We could create a healthier, happier and wealthier work force whilst at the same time taking pressure off our capital cities.

Through the rapid advances in technology, distance is not the tyranny it once was. Many types of manufacturing, research or development can be performed in regional Australia with sensible economic, logistical and social benefits. We need to facilitate that change of mindset. The government and private sector must understand there are economic and social benefits to moving their work forces to country and regional Australia. The government can play a leading role in relocating government business units to regional areas. Already in Cowper, Centrelink has a 150-person call centre servicing the needs of the nation. We must continue this program which can potentially provide cost savings to government and economic injections to regional areas.

In Cowper, we have many exciting firms leading the way in their fields—such as WE Smith Engineering, Lindsay Brothers, Faircloth and Reynolds, Thermal Electrics, Coffs Harbour education campus, Janison Solutions, Express Coaches, Planet Lighting and Blueberry Farms Australia. WE Smith located to Coffs Harbour from Sydney in 1968, bringing 25 families. They have built heat exchanges for power generation facilities, oil refineries and steelworks. This company, now known as WE Smith Hudson, is exporting to the world. Planet Lighting at Bellingen constructed lights for the refurbishment of the Bank of China building in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Janison Solutions, started by a former technology teacher with the NSW TAFE system, builds software to facilitate learning and teaching, with contracts across Australia and across the world.

I will work to ensure that the federal and state governments continue to support the Coffs Harbour Education Campus, which is an Australian leader in delivering higher education covering university, TAFE and senior high school education. It provides tailor-made courses to meet the local job market. The tourism course, for example, is an Australian leader with one of the highest graduate-to-job ratios. Tourism is a vital industry to our electorate. Our tourism product is world class by virtue of the unique qualities of our pristine natural environment and the superb built environment. It is an area in which the electorate enjoys substantial competitive advantage over other regions. The development of the tourism industry in the electorate has provided a diverse range of employment opportunities from fine dining to adventure tourism and provides a wealth of experiences for visitors to our region. The Marine Science Centre, funded through the Centenary of Federation trust and a tribute to the hard work of the former member Garry Nehl, takes its first students this semester.

Whilst Cowper is an evolving electorate, farming will always play a significant part in our local economy. There are many exciting ventures afoot including aquaculture, native flower propagation, and evolving horticulture in areas such as macadamia nuts, pecan nuts, olives, and native bush foods. All these industries have enormous export potential which is starting to be realised. Australian farmers are world leaders in efficient production.

Small business is the lifeblood of the Australian economy and it is vital to the nation's prosperity. As a small business person, I understand the enormous changes and upheavals which we have endured during our involvement in the tax reform process. Small business is constantly looking to improve productivity and efficiency, not only to improve the bottom line but also just to survive. Countless small business owners now work longer and harder under great stress to provide the services that we as a community expect and demand. Therefore, we as a government must not only help provide a strong economic environment for business to prosper but also be alert to other reforms which would help small business. Areas such as public liability insurance are of great concern to small business operators due to escalating premiums. This burden affects not only small business but also the wider community, with the cancellation of countless community and sporting events. I applaud the attention to this problem by my leader, John Anderson, who recently met with tourism operators in Cowper. I applaud the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Joe Hockey, and the Minister for Revenue, Helen Coonan, who is convening a round table discussion with state leaders to help find a solution to this growing problem. I also applaud the member for Riverina, Kay Hull, who had the foresight to address this problem very early in the piece.

The issue of public liability insurance is not only affecting business but also tearing at the fabric of our society. The Coutts Crossing Sports Day, an event involving people from my electorate, after running for 100 years was forced to cancel because it could not afford the $10,000 public liability insurance premium. Last year the same sports day raised $6,000 for the local rescue helicopter service. Many of the legislative changes required for reform are the domain of the state government, but the Commonwealth government can lead the way for reform through consultation with the states.

As I have stated, the natural environment is growing and will continue to grow as a drawcard for tourists in my electorate. Yet, we must be careful to ensure our timber and our fishing industries are supported into the future. Their survival is becoming more and more marginal, due in part to continued pressure from extreme lobby groups. We must continue to strive to find a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. Decisions on land use and approvals must be scientifically based and not decided by the loudest, most aggressive arguments. Our local landcare groups, through funding through the Natural Heritage Trust, are making real improvements. Yet there is much to be done, for example in the Bellinger Valley controlling the proliferation of camphor laurel trees.

Our road system is our lifeblood, and the Howard-Anderson government's commitment to improving our road network is commendable. In particular, funding to build local roads was well received by our local councils and communities. I consider this a vital initiative as every item exported from regional Australia commences its journey on a local or a regional road. In many cases the government has brought forward work that was unable to be budgeted for for at least another 10 years. In the past decade improvements to the Pacific Highway have been enormous, thanks in no small part to the effort by my predecessor, Mr Pacific Highway, the former member for Cowper, Mr Garry Nehl, and the state member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser. Yet, there is much more to be done and I will work to see urgent priorities, such as the Macksville bypass and the continued duplication of the Pacific Highway, proceed as a matter of urgency. I will work in cooperation with my state colleagues Mr Andrew Stoner and Mr Andrew Fraser to see continued funding at state and federal levels.

Since coming to government the coalition has improved opportunities for older Australians to either stay in their own homes or go into care. There are now more than 300 community aged care packages in Cowper; before the coalition came to government in 1996 there were none. Societies are judged by the manner in which they care for their aged, and I am committed to ensuring that our senior Australians continue to receive the care they rightfully deserve. Whilst the coalition has done much to improve the number of doctors in regional and rural areas, there is more to be done. As has been reported nationally, our community of Dorrigo is currently without a full-time GP. During the election campaign I was able to announce funding for accommodation in the Bellinger Valley for doctors wanting to train outside the cities. Bonded medical places across Australia's universities is another positive way to overcome the shortage of doctors outside our cities. These are commonsense solutions that will have an eventual impact on our local communities and the number of doctors practising in rural and regional areas. It is an urgent problem. For example, in the Coffs Harbour community many doctors have closed their books, full to capacity with their current number of patients.

The issue of quality of life of our indigenous population is of great concern to the National Party, as we represent areas with a large percentage of the Aboriginal population. We need to work cooperatively with our Aboriginal people to further improve their quality of life, health and employment opportunities. I commend the government on its pursuit of practical reconciliation matters. I will work with my local Aboriginal peoples to continue to improve the situation in our electorate.

As a government, we need to focus on the needs of the community and not just the economy. I believe that the people of regional and rural Australia share a stronger sense of community than those of metropolitan Australia—I have lived in both. Many of the symbols and traditions for which our country is famous have their genesis in regional and rural Australia. Much of that for which this nation is famous has been developed from our periods of isolation and the dependency in times of trouble on your neighbours and your mates. The SES and the rural fire service that perform so well in times of need, as we have seen most recently, epitomise this spirit in regional areas. We need to help invigorate that sense of community, especially with our younger members. Service clubs and community groups are finding it harder and harder to attract members. We need to have a focus not only on efficiency but on preserving communities and their way of life.

I joined the National Party some seven years ago, because I felt, as a grassroots organisation, it could help make a difference to those Australians living in rural and regional Australia. Too many of our fellow citizens feel disillusioned and powerless with what is happening around them. I implore them to get involved, to understand what is happening and to articulate their view if they are not getting a fair go.

I am under no illusion that, if it were not for the support of my party, the National Party, I would not be standing here as the representative for Cowper in this House. I have much to thank the party for at all levels. We have the most democratic principles of all the political parties and our grassroots membership are our strength, rock and pillar. To all our members and supporters in Cowper who manned polling booths and worked in the campaign office, your efforts and contributions were magnificent. To those that worked tirelessly on the campaign over many months, including my campaign manager, Glynn Tosh, who has worked for many years for the National Party, and the member for Coffs Harbour, Mr Andrew Fraser, and his wife, Kerrie Fraser, whose support was above and beyond the call of duty, my greatest thanks. Michelle and Barry Greenwood, John Sercombe, Peter and Christine Lubans, Harry Green, Anne Garrett, Tony Walsh— this is quite a long list—Stuart and Joy Hull-Moody, Ian Hodges, Brian Doak, Phil and KC Tinkler, the financial genius Tony Stenhouse and Liz Stenhouse, Rob and Aileen Mutton, Alan Martin, Yolanda and Lionel Herring, Scott Mitchell, Warren and Melinda Pavey, I thank you all.

To Michael Priebe at the National Party head office and Julie Dale and Gaye White at the federal secretariat, your support was vital. My parliamentary colleagues—my leader and member for Gwydir, John Anderson; the Deputy Leader of the National Party and member for Lyne, Mark Vaile; the member for Page, and we are delighted he is now also the Deputy Speaker, Ian Causley; the member for Richmond, Larry Anthony; the member for Riverina, Kay Hull; the member for Wide Bay, Warren Truss; the member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott; and many more— thank you for your help and guidance. The list is endless. Let me again mention the retired member for Cowper and former Deputy Speaker of the House, Garry Nehl—a booming voice all too familiar to longstanding members of this House. His assistance and experience was invaluable.

And of course my family: to my wife, Irene, and sons, Ben and Paul; my parents, Tom and Rita, who are here today; my brother, John, and his wife, Sally, if it were not for your strength and support it would not be possible. I think all members of this House all too well realise that family are an important aspect of success in this House. I am passionate about representing the needs of my electors in Cowper. As a small businessman, as a family man, as an ordinary everyday Australian, I believe I can make a valuable contribution on behalf of the people of Cowper in the federal parliament.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! Before I call Ms Grierson, I remind honourable members that this is her first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to her.