Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 2790


Mr ZIMMERMAN (North Sydney) (12:28): Mr Speaker, it is a humbling experience to rise in this place for the first time as the representative of the people of North Sydney. I do so knowing it is an extraordinary privilege to be given the trust of your community to serve in the Australian parliament. I will return that faith by playing my part in building a more prosperous, fairer and sustainable Australia.

I arrive in this parliament as the 10th member for North Sydney. I follow in the paths of merchants, mayors, war heroes, grocers and even a journalist. It is also one of the many electorates Billy Hughes served. I think he represented as many seats in this place as he did political parties, although I note, of course, never the Country Party. As he famously said, 'I have to draw the line somewhere.'

His predecessor, Sir Granville Ryrie, was a hero of both the Boer and First World Wars. On his return from World War I, it has been reported that over 200,000 Sydney-siders lined Circular Quay to welcome Sir Granville home. Thinking of that adulation somewhat overshadows the three people who waved farewell from their balcony as I departed Canberra for the first time. I was momentarily chuffed until I realised that they had confused me for someone else.

For the 19 years before my election, North Sydney was represented by my friend Joe Hockey. I pay tribute to his contribution to this parliament and the North Sydney community. Joe strode the national stage as an advocate for good Liberal government while at all times firmly rooted in the community that he loved. Few people have a heart as big as Joe's, and his family can be proud of his achievements and those yet to come as he continues his service to Australia.

I am privileged to represent a part of Sydney which combines incredible natural and man-made beauty with vibrant and diverse communities. North Sydney is bounded by harbours and rivers. It has a ringside seat overlooking what is indisputably the world's greatest city. For many thousands of years it was home to the Cammeraygal people and to the west the Wallumettagal people. They shared a saltwater culture and the harbour and its headlands bore enormous spiritual significance. White settlement was to have devastating consequences for those original inhabitants and today their culture is to be glimpsed in rock carvings and middens that survive on the foreshores and in our bushland. These are part of the shared heritage of Sydney's Aboriginal community.

The development of northern Sydney began slowly, hindered by its separation from the centre of the city by our great harbour. Transport has always been the key to its development—its great enabler. And it was the need for a harbour crossing that united early residents. Like many of Sydney's infrastructure projects, it took 50 years of agitation for that goal to be realised. Bradfield's vision was extraordinary and the great engineering feat of the Sydney Harbour Bridge remains a source of awe and inspiration.

Today North Sydney is one of the most densely populated electorates. It is home to two of Sydney's largest commercial centres—North Sydney and Chatswood—and its people reflect the diversity of modern Australia. Despite the pressures of urban development, it remains a place of great beauty. The foreshores of Sydney and Middle Harbour and the Lane Cove River are fringed by park and bushland. Its built heritage can be seen across the electorate, most famously in the 19th century homes of Hunters Hill, in federation suburbs like Willoughby and in the architecture of Burley Griffin in Castlecrag. And from various perspectives, Chatswood seems to emerge like a modern glittering citadel from an ancient forest.

It is therefore not surprising that residents have a long history of activism in defence of our local environment and our heritage. Across the electorate residents have always fought to protect the character of our area. For example, the women who led their famous 'battle for Kelly's Bush' in Hunters Hill established a precedent for protecting our built and natural environment that resonated across Sydney.

Following similar campaigns, one of the great legacies of the Howard government was the establishment of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which saved prime defence land from sale and redevelopment. I was proud to have had some small involvement in the trust's creation. I am even more excited to have been able to help secure more funding to support the transformation of the old submarine base, HMAS Platypus on Neutral Bay, into new parkland and openly accessible foreshore. Protecting the heritage of our suburbs, our harbour environment and bushland has always been a passion for me. It will remain so as a member of this parliament.

I am very conscious that my election to this parliament represents the first time an openly gay man or woman has entered the House of Representatives. I am proud to do so as a member of the Liberal Party. I am of course not the first in this parliament, and I pay tribute to those who have forged a path in the Senate before me. Some have said to me that this is not an issue I need reflect upon, particularly on an occasion such as this. Surely a person's sexuality is irrelevant in this day and age, they have said. We do live at a time and in a world where we can be proud of how far we have progressed in breaking down centuries of discrimination against gay and lesbian people. This weekend, hundreds of thousands—gay and straight—will join together to recognise diversity, acceptance and respect at the Sydney Mardi Gras. They will do so peacefully and in a spirit of celebration. It is emblematic of the change that has occurred and, in many respects, it is no surprise and so very Australian.

While we have made great strides, discrimination remains and too many people are prepared to peddle prejudice. Our laws still deny access to marriage, our society's ultimate expression of love and commitment. Young gay men and women are more likely to suffer depression and other mental health issues. They are more likely to be bullied at school. More are likely to attempt to take their own lives and, tragically, some will succeed. Coming out remains hard for many people—and believe me, I know what that is like. And while people feel the need to suppress their identity they will live in a life of fear and trepidation. They are denied the opportunity to love and be loved, to be full and flourishing members of our community, and to simply be themselves.

We will not have reached the end of the journey until no person feels compelled to live a life that is not their own and until we recognise that a person's sexuality is not a choice or a preference; it is as innate as the colour of their skin. We should regard intolerance in the same way modern Australia regards discrimination based on sex or race—no more and no less. But I hope that my election to this place will, in a small way, send a message of hope: that your sexuality should not and need not be a barrier, that you can be gay and even be a member of the Australian Parliament.

While, as a liberal, I believe that we have responsibility for our own destiny, we are undoubtedly shaped by our own life experience, the influence of men and women who inspire us and perhaps most importantly, the influence of our families. My own family history represents something of our migrant mix—of German, Scottish and Irish stock—and of the hard pioneering ethic that helped create modern Australia.

My grandfather, Ossie Zimmerman, was born in the Gold Coast hinterland at the turn of the 19th century. His early years were hard beyond measure. He left school at the age of 12 and as a teenager he survived by working in the timber industry, on dairy farms, clearing land and as a drover. He proudly would recount his involvement in one of Australia's last great transcontinental musters—moving 15,000 head of cattle from Lawn Hill Station in the Gulf Country to Muswellbrook in New South Wales. Like so many of his generation he was determined to provide a better future for his children. Supporting their education, at school and university, was his driving motivation and in this he succeeded.

My grandmother, Ivy Lamb, was a war widow, and she raised three incredible daughters largely on her own in Brisbane. I am thrilled that my aunt, Desley Clark, and my cousin, Jayne Keogh, are here from Brisbane in the gallery today. My grandmother was passionate about politics and was one of that generation who joined the Liberal Party in response to the election of the Whitlam government. Perhaps more than anyone she stoked my interest in politics. I still remember her waking me late at night as a nine-year-old to excitedly tell me that Mr Fraser had been convincingly returned at the 1977 election.

My own father was a teacher, initially at small country schools across Queensland. He finally settled in Warwick, where he met my mother, who was visiting on a Presbyterian church picnic. My parents, Roy and Brenda Zimmerman, moved to Sydney following my father's appointment as head of the junior school at Newington College. They were to remain there for three decades.

For most of my childhood, I watched my father and mother nurture and care for students at the school as if they were part of our own extended family. In my mind, dad was something of a Mr Chips. I will never forget being approached by a stranger, as I stood at a polling booth, who asked me if I was Roy Zimmerman's son. When I told him I was but that dad had passed away from cancer some years ago, he became emotional. He told me that he had entered school as a troubled child with little love from his own parents and that my dad had turned his life around; in fact, probably saved his life.

That commitment of my parents had a profound influence on me. It demonstrated the positive impact we can all have on the lives of others. I see in my sister, as she and her husband, Greg, raise their own children, Mackenzie and Zachary, the same nurturing hand passed from one generation to the next. I hope that in this parliament, I can play my own role in securing a bright future for Mackenzie and Zachary and all their generation. It is the legacy we leave for future Australians that is the most important measure of our success in this place.

Politics has always been my passion, inspired both by my belief and commitment to the ideals of liberalism and the enduring value of community service. It began as a year 10 student when, much to the bemusement of my parents, I chose to do my school work experience in the office of the then Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Nick Greiner. I may have been tasked with little more than newspaper clippings and Nick may have called me Troy for the two weeks I was there, but it did not stop me recognising that I was seeing a Premier in the making. His reforming zeal and mantra of providing government that was warm, dry and green is one that I share.

My values and motivation for joining the Liberal Party are founded firmly in the great traditions of liberalism. For me, liberalism, which places the individual and his or her freedoms at the heart of all we do, has been the great force in human progress. It is a view of the world that recognises that no one person, no group of people and no government should ever seek to tame the passions, ideals, beliefs and aspirations of another. The strength of human kind is found in allowing people to make their own way, explore their own ideas and to question and challenge the orthodoxy of others. From that foundation comes my support for what I believe are the essential tenets of good governance: our liberal democracy, respect for the right of individuals to lead their own lives, free enterprise and the rule of law equally applied but with the protection of the individual at its core.

Our goal should be to provide equality of opportunity rather than equality of disappointment. As a liberal, I regard economic freedoms as the inseparable twin of personal liberty. There are some who will stridently argue for the liberal economic reforms yet would have the government meddle in personal morality. Similarly, parties of the left are vocal in their support of personal freedoms but will be the first to argue for state intervention in the operation of our economy. There is an inconsistency in either approach which to me seems obvious and wrong.

We are a democracy, a nation, born of the ballot box. It is perhaps for this reason that Australia does not have or need a bill of rights. Our liberty was not won through violence and civil strife, which is so often the motivation for nations to adopt constitutional guarantees. However, that does make our obligations as parliamentarians even greater.

It falls to us in the main and not the courts to protect those rights and institutions that are an essential part of our liberal society. Doing so, often requires courage and determination. We live in an era when the demands of the media and the community often tempt us to knee-jerk decision making. It is hard to convince voters that inaction is occasionally better than action. At times, it would do us well to draw breath and properly consider whether new legislation or policy enhances or erodes freedoms, protections and our understanding of individual responsibility that have so often been so hard fought for.

I am by nature an optimistic and I am positive about the future of our great country. Australians are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities within our region and globally. This century, more than ever before, will be one in which human capital determines the success or failure of competing economies. Our excellent education system, our diversity, our inventiveness and our can-do culture will all serve Australia well. Success will, however, not happen unless we are willing to put in place the foundations for that future and address the challenges that, if unattended, will diminish our prospects.

For me, the great challenges for this parliament are how we maintain growth and improve economic productivity to ensure that we can preserve the living standards that set us apart from most of the world. We face the challenge of reforming the tax system to ensure that it remains internationally competitive in a global economy where capital and, increasingly, labour are so mobile. At the same time, governments will face the pressure of responding to community expectations for even better services in sectors like health and education at a time when costs are outpacing revenue. All of these issues require long-range planning yet democracy, perhaps by its nature, has a tendency to promote short-term decision making.

A structural issue we face in our federal system of governance is three-year parliamentary terms. This fact is widely accepted and understood. The normal cycle means perhaps two years of governance before the third becomes consumed with the posturing that is part of every election year. It is worth reflecting that that can mean that 33 years out of every century are potentially lost to good governance. It is for this reason that I believe it is time we moved to four-year parliamentary terms. It should be done and it should be done soon.

I come to this parliament representing an electorate that is a microcosm of modern Australia, its challenges and its opportunities. North Sydney residents are educated, tech savvy and entrepreneurial. It is home to many businesses that will play a growing role in our future economy, particularly in the service and innovation sectors. It is these sectors, along with agriculture, tourism and education, that will help provide our future prosperity.

Our innovation sectors offer the potential for Australia to be at the cutting edge of high-value industries and products that will support growth and employment for coming generations. My electorate is well placed to capitalise on these opportunities. Already the North Sydney CBD is fast becoming a centre for IT firms and industry. As one CEO put it to me: it is set to become Sydney's 'silicon alley'. St Leonards, home to the Royal North Shore Hospital and so many other health institutions, has even greater potential as a centre for medical innovation and research.

A priority for me will be to work with all three levels of government to promote our part of Sydney as a centre for innovation and ensure our businesses—large and small—can take advantage of the doors being opened by growth in the Asia-Pacific.

North Sydney faces the growing pains experienced by all our major cities—straining transport networks, planning that is often poorly integrated and the challenge of maintaining services for an expanding and changing population. Our cities are now the drivers of our economy, and their contribution to our prosperity will only continue to grow. We also know that inadequate infrastructure and the cost of congestion are major drags on productivity.

It is impossible to manage the needs of our national economy and improve productivity without a federal interest in our cities, and I am pleased that this is a focus for our government. The Commonwealth already financially supports major transport infrastructure projects. This role should grow, as there is no greater threat to the productivity and liveability of our cities than gridlock.

I am particularly pleased that the Turnbull government has adopted a mode-neutral view of the type of transport projects that will be funded. There is no logic to the federal government supporting urban roads but not urban public transport. We need both, but in many cases public transport is best placed to do the heavy lifting.

North Sydney residents, who are the second highest users of public transport in Australia, will be a major beneficiary of the Sydney Metro project, which will provide a second harbour rail crossing through the heart of my electorate. Projects like this are significant, but, as the potential for further asset leasing and sales declines, the federal government's support will be increasingly important. It should do so, but in a way that drives reform in how transport is funded and provided across Australia.

The Commonwealth should expect states to implement value capture funding as a part of major new projects. Such an approach is not new—indeed, the Sydney Harbour Bridge itself was partially funded from a betterment tax—but it is essential if we are to have the resources to meet future infrastructure demands. Similarly, we know that many of our government-run public transport systems could possibly better—and certainly more efficiently—provide the same service levels through greater private sector involvement. This should be an expectation of the federal government in return for its financial support.

My electorate also represents the success of multicultural Australia, which is surely one of Australia's greatest achievements. No other nation on earth has so harmoniously welcomed migrants from every corner of the planet. A non-discriminatory immigration program that meets both our economic needs and our humanitarian obligations has been the foundation of our ethnically-diverse and largely tolerant community.

North Sydney reflects the diversity of modern Australia. Over 19,000 residents claim Chinese heritage, and we are also home to large communities from Korea, Japan, India and Malaysia. We are the richer for it, and it makes us exceptionally well placed to take advantage of the expanding economic opportunities in Asia.

North Sydney is also home to perhaps the largest community of Australians of Armenian heritage, and they have a special place in our community. The Armenians are a people who have suffered great historical injustices. They are one of the few people against whom genocide has been attempted, and the awful legacy of those events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire is deeply felt in their community today.

We know such horrific events are best healed through reconciliation, recognition and atonement. I hope that we will see a day when Turkey—indeed, the global community through the United Nations—properly recognises the Armenian genocide. Only then will the stain of that dark chapter start to be removed for a people who live in its wake.

My arrival in this House has been on the shoulders of others. First and foremost, I want to thank the residents of North Sydney for giving me this incredible honour. On the night of the by-election I said that I would work hard for each and every resident, whether they voted for me or not, and I hope that I can fulfil that commitment. I have thanked my family already but do so again, as their love and particularly their patience over the last few months mean so much.

I am also grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the staff of the parliament for the assistance I have received since my election—although, perhaps, not the office, unless it comes with a six-year term! To all my new colleagues in this place: thank you for making me so welcome. I am proud to be a part of a party room that brings together such diverse and deep experience. It is truly representative of our great country.

I want to thank the branches of the Liberal Party in North Sydney both for selecting me as their candidate and for working so hard during the by-election. Led so ably by our conference president Rob Orrell, the campaign was joined by over 800 volunteers. To every one of them: I am so very, very grateful.

I particularly acknowledge my dearest friends who have been part of this journey—some for 30 years. This is a bit like one of those Oscar moments, where the music may come on, but I do want to thank Chris Muir, Don Harwin, Michael Photios, Catherine Cusack, Marise Payne, Gladys Berejiklian, Matt Kean, Andrew Kirk, Tanya Baini, James Wallace, Heitor da Silva, my best friend over all of those years, Shayne Mallard, from the other side of the world, Frederic Delsol, Matias Coronel, and all those who have been such incredible mentors: Jillian Skinner, Bruce Baird, Robert Hill, Chris Puplick and my good friend, the late Virginia Chadwick.

Finally, I pay tribute to you, Prime Minister. Your support during the by-election was magnificent. The people of North Sydney embraced your vision for our nation, as I am sure that all Australians will do at the next general election. There has never been a more exciting time to be the member for North Sydney!