(Oxley) [7.30 p.m.] (Inaugural speech): Mr Speaker, honourable members of the Fifty-second Parliament of New South Wales: I am indeed honoured to stand in this place as the elected representative of the Oxley electorate. My success in the recent election cannot be claimed by any one individual, especially me. Consequently I must use this occasion to give thanks publicly, firstly to God, in whom I trust; secondly to my family, and especially my wife, Cathy, for without her support I would not have even entered the competition, let alone emerged victorious; and, thirdly, of course to my treasured children, Steve, Beau, Gemma, and Abbie.
I also thank my campaign director, Rod Dale and his lovely wife, Vivien; Brian and Kay Irvine; Michael and Cheryl Peek; Mrs National Party Mary Tarr; Micheal and Tara Martin; Andrew Bibb; Anthony Futia; Janine Reid, Betty Boland; Brian Curtin; National Party legends Glynn Tosh; Binks and Margaret Mack; Karl and Beryl Toole; Mark Vaile and Garry Nehl. All those people are worthy of special mention.
One of the great things about the National Party is its branch network, peopled by loyal and hard-working members. All the branches from Comboyne in the south to Urunga in the north supported me 110 per cent throughout my campaign. I was also assisted in the campaign by the fact that the seat of Oxley and the former seat of Raleigh have been held with distinction by National Party and Country Party members since time immemorial: by notable members like Bruce Jeffery, Jim Brown and Radford Gamack. The genuine care and concern shown by these members for their constituents over many years has ensured that any National Party candidate would do well in Oxley.
I thank you, Mr Acting-Speaker, for giving me leave to bring this Aussie icon, the Akubra hat, into the Chamber and to display in the Speaker’s Square products from my electorate. It was important for me to do this because I wanted to show members that the Oxley electorate is the source of some of the finest products in the world: Akubra hats, Nestlé, Milo and Quik, King Gee workwear, Cassegrain and Broken Bago wines, Norfolk punch, Hastings Co-operative award-winning products, MAJ Artworks pottery, Kempsey Timbers, Brandybrook Lavender Farm, the Honey Place at Urunga, Vickers fudge, fresh products like bananas, avocados, pecan nuts, macadamia nuts and tea tree oil products from the Good Oil Plantation north of Port Macquarie. These are but some of the nationally and internationally known products from the Oxley electorate.
Honourable members should acquaint themselves with the wonderful products I have displayed outside. Agricultural products feature prominently in this list because the district has a perfect climate for primary products, with generally warm temperatures and year-round rainfall. The region is recognised by the timber industry as one of the best growing areas in Australia. Multinail, a company based in my home town of Wauchope, exports roof truss systems around the world. The award-winning Express Coach Builders at Macksville supply high quality buses and coaches around Australia. Syd Howard’s fireworks company, based in Kempsey, is in demand for major events around the world.
Coastal centres in Oxley, like Crescent Head, South West Rocks and Nambucca Heads, would rank as some of the most beautiful in Australia and, indeed, the world. These and similar areas, historic rural towns such as Bowraville and Taylors Arm, and pristine forests in the hinterland are the foundation of a tourism industry with huge potential. The Government’s Labor colleagues Mick Clough and Bob Martin know the advantages of the electorate: recently they both entered the hospitality industry in Oxley. These world-class industries provide much employment in the electorate, and are proof positive that we have the resources, the facilities, the skills and the know-how on the mid North Coast to compete with the best in the world,
and to build a stronger and more vibrant local economy.
Yet I despair when the reality in Oxley is that we have the second highest unemployment rate in the State and one of the worst in the nation: 18.56 per cent according to the 1996 census, compared with a mere 3.37 per cent in Ku-ring-gai. Oxley also has the unfortunate distinction of having the largest number of low income families. In the same census 47.17 per cent of my constituents had a weekly income below $500, compared with only 9.3 per cent of people on the North Shore. We also have the lowest proportion, only 2.71 per cent, of families with a weekly income above $1,500, compared with 42.34 per cent on the North Shore.
Honourable members would understand that these factors have a strong causal link to social dysfunction, demonstrated by problems like domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and petty crime. Unfortunately, Oxley experiences more than its fair share of these scourges on society. The recent Drug Summit highlighted the fact that country areas like Oxley experience the full gamut of drug abuse problems, yet there is a dearth of resources for law enforcement, detoxification and rehabilitation programs.
On many occasions I have asked myself: Why, when the region has so many strengths and opportunities, do we have such endemic problems in Oxley? Part of the answer lies in the basis of the regional economy, which was built upon a foundation of agricultural industries, including timber, dairy, beef and various crops. In recent times these industries have been beset by profound changes, which have sapped their profitability, and no significant replacement industries have yet been found.
The timber industry, which once supported scores of mills and hundreds of workers, and contributed significantly to the regional economy, is now but a shadow of its former self. The huge increase in forests locked up by national parks and wilderness areas have rocked the towns and people that rely on this valuable industry. To add insult to injury, the Government’s recent forest agreement is sending scarce logs from Oxley’s forests to be processed in the Clarence electorate. I cannot for the life of me see the sense in locking up vast areas of forest that could be managed to preserve both conservation and economic values, while Australia imports hardwoods from countries that have no qualms about raping their forests for short-term gain. Unfortunately, once locked up as national parks or wilderness areas, these forests are actually at risk of neglect. They fill up with feral animals and undergrowth which increase the risk of bushfires. Meanwhile the endangered species - timber workers - is slowly vanishing across the electorate.
Other traditionally strong industries such as beef, bananas and dairy, have also suffered: beef as a result of international market forces driving the prices down, forcing out small farmers who cannot compete with large operations and multinationals. A similar fate has befallen the banana industry to some extent, although the price drop has been due more to supermarkets preferring the larger, but less flavoursome, Queensland banana. The dairy industry has been hit hard with the advent of deregulation, which initially resulted in a transfer of money from farmers’ pockets into supermarkets’ coffers.
The average dairy farm in Oxley copped a reduction in gross income of more than $10,000 per annum at a time when many farms were only barely breaking even. The next round of deregulation is likely to force the closure of many farms, with farmers being forced to relinquish their quotas for market and manufacturing milk. The end result is likely to be a large loss of income to dairy farms in New South Wales, and particularly in Oxley, with the consequent transfer of money to the Victorian dairy industry. I plead with the Government, on behalf of dairy farmers, to do all it can to ease the transition to the new arrangements.
Another factor that has helped to send many of Oxley’s farmers to the wall is the raft of environmental-based legislation introduced by this Government: wetlands, native vegetation, water charges, septic tanks, and riparian exclusion zones. Farmers have lost access to large portions of their own land, are faced with charges for rain captured by their own dams, and are forced to undertake a complex application process and even environmental impact statements before they can clear their own land. I am a conservationist and have studied ecologically sustainable development principles at university. However, what is happening on the North Coast goes way beyond reasonable conservation measures. The Government needs to heed two messages in this regard. Firstly, farmers are the original conservationists; it is in their interests to look after their land. They know a great deal more about local conditions than the bureaucrats who are telling them what they can and cannot do.
Secondly, applying strict blanket laws across the State is not equitable for areas in which the original problem is not differing geography and climate. It is like trying to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Is it any wonder that statistics
published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that nearly 22,000 farms closed in Australia between 1988 and 1996, with the North Coast being hardest hit. Another issue in the electorate concerns health services. The mid North Coast has some of the longest waiting lists in the State, due in part to the high proportion of elderly residents but also due to a persistent shortage of qualified medical staff. The Kempsey District Hospital, in particular, has experienced regular closure of the children’s ward and services such as orthopaedic surgery, as the area health service has been unable to recruit medical staff to replace those who have retired or left. South West Rocks is a growing town of 5,000 with a large retirement population and a much larger holiday population, yet it has no ambulance station. [Extension of time agreed to.
Enough of problems. I wish to focus on solutions. The Government holds in its hands the ability to overcome all these issues, to provide for the residents of Oxley a standard of life similar to that of those living in the city. There was a time when the Premier spoke of the problems associated with overurbanisation. I sincerely hope he has not given up on this issue. Decentralisation must be more than a buzz word. Policies that encourage the establishment of industry outside metropolitan areas must be actively pursued and properly resourced. Affirmative action is a term that springs to mind. The full range of services to citizens must be available and accessible to people living outside the city. With the technology that is available to government today, departments should be decentralised to the maximum extent possible, especially the areas of greatest need, such as Oxley, regardless of which party holds the seat.
Real incentives must be made available to encourage industry to establish in, or move to, country areas. The wonderfully successful companies I have showcased are clear proof that business can prosper outside metropolitan areas. Pay-roll tax exemptions for businesses employing people in country areas are an example of what I mean by "affirmative action" in this regard. I am pleased that the Minister for Health has introduced measures to encourage doctors to practise in country areas. I hope that he does not stop at overseas-trained doctor provisions, but continues to work with the Federal Government to implement other solutions to the problem. Additional ambulance officers and multipurpose hospital services are other measures that rural constituencies will welcome. The Government must also take heed of the population growth and demographics of the mid North Coast and fund health services accordingly.
To conclude, my electorate has an enormous potential which is not presently being fulfilled. Proactive policies and a fair and equitable distribution of resources will help Oxley to fulfil that potential and to secure a positive future for its residents. I urge the Government not to put rural problems in the too-hard basket, but to take a positive and bipartisan approach to delivering real solutions for the citizens of country New South Wales.
(Burrinjuck) [7:47 p.m.] (Inaugural speech): I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Chamber for the first time. It is a true privilege to be granted the opportunity of representing my electorate on the floor of the New South Wales Parliament. I have been elected to this Chamber by a majority of the 42,766 electors in the Burrinjuck electorate on behalf of the National Party. The Burrinjuck electorate is as diverse as it is beautiful. It seeps with history, from Australia’s oldest inland city, Goulburn, to Gundagai, where Captain Moonlight was tried in 1859; from the gold rush village of Tuena to Talbingo, the birthplace of Miles Franklin; and from the famous Wombeyan Caves to the home of both Banjo Paterson and the famous explorer Hamilton Hume, Yass, to the wonderful limestone caves at Yarrangobilly.
This seat was held by the great Sheahan dynasty from 1941 to 1988. In 1984 John Sharp contested the seat, unsettling the Sheahan hold so significantly that at the next election it went to the Coalition, where it has remained ever since. Now that the electorate of Burrinjuck has been redistributed to take in the former seat of Goulburn - a seat which was part of the Southern Highlands electorate from 1991 to 1999 - I would like to recognise those who held the seat of Goulburn from 1859 until 1991. I recognise particularly Ron Brewer, who held the seat for 19 years and who is in the gallery this evening, and also the Hon. Robert Webster. I would also like to recognise Mrs Alison O’Brien, the chairman of my electorate council throughout my campaign, who not only worked on Ron Brewer’s campaign in 1965 and successive campaigns, but also was still very active in my most recent campaign in 1999.
The electorate of Burrinjuck is almost 25,000 square kilometres. It is primarily an agricultural area. Its main produce includes apples and other orcharding, wheat, oats, wool, beef and lamb. The area is also establishing a reputation for its wineries and an increasing amount of olive-growing is taking place as people diversify their income lines.
Electricity generation is also a major industry within the electorate. I hope that many members of this House will join in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which are being held between now and the end of November.
Small business forms the backbone of all country towns. I am grateful for my 10 years small business experience in retailing all-Australian woollen products in country towns. Small business is a critical component in the Burrinjuck economy. Small business people typically work long hours for a very modest bottom line. Burdens on small business need to be eased. I commend the Government for the recent reduction in payroll tax which was brought about by the Federal Government’s budget. However, we still need to see the abolition of stamp duty on the intergenerational transfer of small businesses, and lower workers compensation costs.
Like many small business operators, I have been very disappointed by the withdrawal of Government services in country towns and, in particular, the loss of public service positions. The loss of these positions has a domino effect on country communities. If each job supports a family and each family requires the services of a chemist, a supermarket, a real estate agent and so on, the demand for these services disappears with the loss of each job. Each job in real terms can equate to the lives of five people in a community - a family. Small towns rely on every family in the town, and as any chamber of commerce would confirm, no town can afford "escape spending", let alone the contempt by governments withdrawing services in favour of larger areas.
With my experience in small business and property development, many people in the past have asked me why I joined the National Party rather than the Liberal Party. My answer has always been quite simple: Contrary to some images that members on the other side of the Chamber may try to evoke, the National Party is not a redneck organisation. It is a party made up for the most part by gentle country people who want the best for their local area and for their country. I was born in the country; I grew up in the country; I have spent most of my working life in the country; and I live in the country. The National Party is the only party that truly represents rural and regional Australia. Both sides of my family have lived for five generations in the Burrinjuck electorate. I feel very fortunate to have been accepted into the National Party fold and to be able to represent that party’s ideals within my electorate.
However, I respect very much the role that the Liberal Party has to play in Australian politics and recognise that Liberal Party members represent metropolitan areas very well. In fact, for the past two years I have worked for Senator the Hon. Nick Minchin in Parliament House, Canberra - one of the most intelligent and articulate people I have ever met. Senator Minchin trained me in some necessary principles, such as sticking by beliefs and never giving up, no matter how futile the situation seems. Take, for example, the Constitutional Convention, which all the critics said was doomed to failure, and the successful passage of the native title amendments, which Senator Minchin saw through successfully, despite the odds.
The largest city in the electorate of Burrinjuck is Goulburn - a city of approximately 20,000 people which lies very close to my heart. When my great-great-grandfather, Charles Rogers, one of the founding businessmen of the town of Goulburn, built and opened Rogers’ Department Store and The Towers, he did so because he had a great vision for the city. It is my ambition to follow in his footsteps with the same enthusiasm and belief as he had in Goulburn.
As I said earlier, Goulburn is steeped in history. It is in Goulburn that people will find some of the most spectacular architecture in Australia. It is, of course, also home to the New South Wales Police Academy and also to the Goulburn correctional facility. The police academy, which was formerly the teachers’ college, is the pride of Goulburn. I will be eager to ensure that the 2,110 additional recruits which were promised by the Carr Labor Government during the election campaign are actually enrolled in Goulburn because this regional area is relying on it.
Goulburn is a dynamic city with undoubtedly the best location in the State. It is centrally located between Sydney and Canberra on the Hume Highway and is very well serviced by both road and rail transport. Land and housing are very affordable and there is no shortage of skilled labour. Goulburn is also very well known for its railway workshops. It is disappointing that there has been a slashing of railway jobs in Goulburn over the past four years of the Carr Government. The latest news is that Freightcorp is about to slash another 25 jobs from Goulburn. During the election campaign I spent some time with Goulburn workers and each one had the same story: They were scared for their job security. This Labor Government cannot meet its job obligations in rural and regional Australia. I make this statement in the hope that this Government will prove me wrong - but I will believe it when I see it.
Goulburn has difficulty with its population trend and it is unfair that, after all the representations over the past few years from not only me and former local members but also from the citizens of Goulburn, this Labor Government still sees fit to deny Goulburn good public service positions. For example, last week the Minister for Local Government announced in this Chamber that the Department of Local Government is to be relocated to Nowra. Goulburn would have been the perfect location for such a department. It is centrally located in the State and would have been seen as a real bonus for this Government which is seen to favour coastal cities time and time again over inland cities.
Burrinjuck is the second electorate which I have sought to represent in the Legislative Assembly. The first was the electorate of Southern Highlands in the by-election which, some may remember, came about as a result of the resignation of John Fahey in 1996 and which was a fairly hotly contested three-cornered contest. I was a little surprised when I won the primary vote in the election and subsequently became a little disappointed when the Labor Party’s preferences ensured that I did not gain the seat.
The electorate of Burrinjuck is one in which I was born, educated, have worked and live. Goulburn has some of the most historic goldmining areas, rivers in which trout can be caught as soon as a line is dropped, great tourism opportunities such as the Hume and Hovell Walking Trail, and some of the most productive agriculture in the State, so I must ask: Why would anyone want to live anywhere else? Even with an idyllic lifestyle on the outside, there are still many needs within the electorate of Burrinjuck which are the responsibility of the State Government but which have not been addressed by this Labor Government. For example, everyone knows about the problems facing rural health at the moment - shortages of nursing staff and doctors, lack of facilities for rural hospitals, fear of further cuts, and the effect of Government underfunding creating enormous debts in rural area health services.
Another health area which is a serious problem is the restriction of crewing by ambulance officers. Rural ambulance services are suffering chronic underfunding and lack of resources. Staffing has been run down - in some cases to dangerous levels. While I am very pleased with the announcement of the Minister for Health in question time yesterday that there will be 108 new ambos for New South Wales, I must ask: When will these ambos take up their duties, and where? Another area of great concern to rural Burrinjuck has been the unworkable native vegetation laws. We need to see the Native Vegetation Conservation Act scrapped and those matters handled instead through an expanded Soil Conservation Act, which actually encourages conservation.
The amount of money available for native vegetation enhancement needs to be doubled from $15 million to $30 million. Regional vegetation management plans, which would ensure local input and allow for regional differences, should be established, using regional vegetation committees in their development. A conservation commissioner who has overall responsibility for native vegetation conservation and soil conservation should also be appointed so that practical native vegetation, land-clearing guidelines and codes of practice can be implemented where the management plans are not in place.
There needs to be a much more co-operative approach to native vegetation conservation rather than just having an Act which has been developed by Sydney bureaucrats who have no real knowledge of what it is like to live under such legislation. I cite as an example the Pettys of Yass. They suffered a bushfire after which they were not allowed to work their land owing to suspicion of the presence of the golden winged moth. Good, hardworking country people such as the Pettys do not deserve to be treated with contempt on their own property by this Government. They should be encouraged to stay on their land and be given assistance, not hindered in times of need.
A further issue affecting Burrinjuck residents has been the Labor Government’s knee-jerk reaction to Sydney’s water supply which has put the future of farming, the fast train, and virtually any other development in the Sydney catchment region at risk. The Government’s planning policy to protect Sydney’s water supply, known as State environmental planning policy 58, affects everyone living in the catchment that forms part of that water supply, including Goulburn, Crookwell and Taralga. In one instance, a couple who were replacing a toilet with a bath in a building at Taralga found themselves facing the prospect of completing a complex, expensive and full water management study.
A local farmer recently faced similar requirements because he wanted to plant 25 hectares of pines on his property. It is unbelievable that the Carr Government will not spend the money required for a proper filtration of Sydney’s water. The filtration should be first priority then a carefully
planned and properly researched and consulted clean-up of the catchment should have followed. Instead we have the introduction of unworkable and discriminatory rules which affect everyone in the Goulburn and Crookwell region with no consultation. [Extension of time agreed to
If the Government is after a model for such a filtration system, they could follow the example of the quite ingenious filtration plant at Marulan which was engineered and instituted by Mulwaree Shire Council. One of the larger towns in the electorate is the important softwood timber-milling centre of Tumut, adjacent to the Kosciuszko National Park and home to the Festival of the Falling Leaf. You will often hear the Premier talking about the development of the world’s first unbleached mini kraft pulp and paper mill by Visy Industries - a $450 million project which, together with a $40 million injection from the Federal Government, is to be a major boost to the Tumut district. No public announcement has yet been made by Visy regarding any commitment to the project and the State Government needs to provide the ratepayers of Tumut with a guarantee that this project will proceed.
Another pressing issue in the south of the electorate is a multipurpose service [MPS] for Batlow. This is a proposal which has the full support of the Greater Murray Health Service Network 5 Consumer Health Council and the Batlow Development League. We are all concerned that Batlow is not high on the priority list for an MPS and it is of great importance that an MPS for Batlow is approved in the near future. Another issue of great concern within the electorate is that of law and order and drugs. Our country police stations are chronically understaffed, and many country towns have to share the same police officer. As I mentioned earlier, I am very keen to ensure that the Labor Government keeps its promise of appointing 2,110 new police recruits and that our country areas receive a large proportion of the graduates.
In speaking with some drug unit officers during the week it was revealed to me that, due to the slackening of cannabis laws in South Australia, quite a trade is developing between that State and New South Wales. Traffickers from Adelaide bring cannabis to Sydney and then return with heroin and amphetamines. I note with some pride that the Yass highway patrol is earning a reputation for catching these drug-pushing criminals. Recently highway patrol officers pulled over a car with two occupants carrying $53,000 in cash. In fact, between July last year and April this year something in the vicinity of $815,000 has been found in cars on the highway in the Burrinjuck electorate. Police have also discovered 220 kilograms of cannabis, 1,500 LSD tablets, and many other drugs in motor vehicles on this stretch of road in this time span.
I understand how some members of the Drug Squad and police force can be frustrated by a lack of penalties for drug dealers, and feel that judges give out too many slaps on the wrists. The judiciary should give stiffer sentences to proven drug dealers and should have the courage to demand asset confiscation or forfeiture. If drug dealers go into gaol, far too often they know that when they are released their assets will still be there and they can resume their life of crime. Drug dealers do not deserve our sympathy. We cannot slip in our fight against drugs.
In relation to roads, while our major highways north and south of Goulburn have undergone vast improvement, this is largely thanks to the Bicentennial roads program instituted by Ralph Hunt, Ian Sinclair and the National Party in the Fraser-Anthony Government. There is still a lot to be done at regional road level. State funds have been siphoned off from the compulsory levy by Labor to pay for bicycle racks, cycleways and the like in Sydney. That money must be returned to our roads. I dare any member of this Government to travel from Crookwell to Boorowa in a four-cylinder vehicle at the recommended speed limit. There are more and more black spots appearing in the electorate of Burrinjuck since Labor came to office - many accidents and too many fatalities. Road safety is every citizen’s responsibility. However, at the end of the day, fatalities on State roads are the responsibility of the State Government.
Another issue that was often raised during the election campaign was education. I am fortunate to have been a lecturer for two years at both Yass and Queanbeyan colleges of TAFE. I instructed labour market programs which were courses to help the chronically unemployed into the work force in both retail and office skills. Joint Secondary Schools with TAFE, a program for year 11 and 12 high school students, enabled students to learn business and administrative skills at college. This teaching experience gave me a valuable insight into the problems of self-esteem and courage faced particularly by those who are unemployed. The tenacity and determination of many students is often understated. The great majority really do try. It is the function of government to enhance the work of the teachers, schools and parents. Government must do this by creating an environment in which schools, teachers and parents can maximise the school’s potential to progress the effectiveness and quality of the education process.
No politician would be in this room if it were not for the hard work of other people who helped members to be elected, and I am no exception. My sincere thanks go to my hard-working electorate council, my indefatigable campaign director Gerald Anderson, the hard-working John Knight, the inimitable Russ Neal, public relations guru Adriana Anderson - also Kel Harpley, Jo Hassan, Katherine Martin, Fiona Nixon, the Croker family, Helen and Ian Cathles, Roger Bain, Mike Hudson, Margaret Sedgwick, Cathy and Nick Cleary, Colin Ludford, Audrey McKenzie, Jack Shaw, Jan Granger, Mac and Marie Cusack, John Windsor, Lucy Pettit, the Brewer family, Will Zouch, Fiona Nash, John Davey, Libby Webster, Duncan, Katie, Anna and James Gay, Bill Preece, Tim Fischer, George Souris, Ian Armstrong, Ric Bull, the Saecks, the Walkers, the Merrimans, Rod Blume, the Young Nats, Paul Davey, Prue Phillips, Phil Orphin, Karen Cooke, all the journalists in the electorate, the National Party members of Parliament who visited the Burrinjuck electorate during the campaign, and the hundreds of volunteers who worked in the offices, helped with show stalls, manned the polling booths, door-knocked, and were always on call.
My thanks go to the hundreds of well-wishers who have written their congratulations over the past couple of months. I am also grateful to the many National Party and Liberal Party members not mentioned above who assisted me on election day. I would like to say a special thankyou to the people in the gallery tonight who have come to watch me make my maiden speech. I thank my parents, David and Rosemary, who I think deserve sainthood for putting up with me during the campaign, and my partner Jack Saeck, for whom nothing was too much trouble. I come to this Chamber to work for the people of Burrinjuck, to fight for them and to represent their communities. I speak in this Chamber tonight sincerely and I hope that I can achieve my vision of a bright future for the electorate of Burrinjuck.