It is my great honour to speak on the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech on this opening day of the 59th Parliament. I love this country and this state, and I am here because I am passionate about making a difference to public policy, especially for the benefit of those who work hard and take responsibility for their own lives. I am also in a hurry. Life is glorious but short. Believe me, I know this only too well.
My journey to this place started at school. As the free-thinking only child of strong-willed parents, I could not readily accept the rules that were no doubt necessary to maintain discipline in an institutional setting. Consequently I was forced to write essays as to why I did not think religion should be mandatory. The backstory was that I did not like the compulsory taxation aspect of the Sunday service, where my pocket money was dispatched to the collection plate.
Far worse than the collection plate these days is the inescapable government stamp duty collector, who extracts enormous amounts from every home purchaser. As for the hypocrisy of the payroll tax collector, no wonder governments want to expand job opportunities—the more workers in employment, the more tax is collected by government.
Over four decades ago I was complaining about the regulatory burden on small business. ‘Join a political party’, I was told, ‘and speak up’. Well, I am here. Given my natural predisposition for liberty, enterprise, hard work and free speech, the Liberal Party was a logical fit. I was idealistic then, and I still am. That idealism, however, has been tempered with a dose of good old country realism.
I am proud to have been elected to represent the most beautiful, historic, productive, opportunity-rich but challenge-laden region of Victoria. I am especially grateful to the 137 755 Victorians who voted Liberal-National in Western Victoria Region. I also pay tribute to our 11 lower house candidates and members of Parliament who worked so hard to help achieve 29.92 per cent of the vote in that region.
Western Victoria Region covers 79 438 square kilometres and is a mixed urban and rural electorate with two major cities, Geelong and Ballarat. Its other major towns are Colac, Warrnambool, Portland, Hamilton, Ararat, Stawell, Horsham and Maryborough. It runs from Corio Bay to the South Australian border and up into the Mallee. It is home to the unique lakes, craters and volcanic plains area, the Grampians National Park and the Twelve Apostles. It is a place where farmers work hard to feed our cities and the world, a place where tourists flock and surfers test their skills against the elements, a place where students excel and businesses seek to innovate. It is a place where racehorses are made and the Geelong Cats win premierships, sometimes. And it is the place where I was born, where I raised our three children, where I buried one and where I live today.
For generations Victoria’s western region has been a land of opportunity. It is even more so today. Geelong has come of age post the unproductive tariff-protected era and is now open for business and new industries. It is the fastest growing city in Australia outside Melbourne. Ballarat, once the city of gold, is now the city of growth. The Great Ocean Road has more visitors than the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock combined. We export wool, grain, livestock, dairy products, meat, wine and much more. We provide the timber to build the houses in the cities and the towns. We boast amongst the lowest unemployment rates in Australia. We produce offshore gas, and we should produce onshore natural gas.
But these opportunities are not without their challenges. Although we enjoy unprecedented levels of investment through primary industry value-adding and the tourist sector, much more could be unlocked if not for obvious obstacles. Energy is a key issue. Dairy farms and engineering plants relying on diesel generators to operate is unacceptable. Excessive government regulation and compliance costs stifle progress. Questionable overlays designed to suit those on this side of the West Gate are not appreciated in the bush. Inadequate road, rail, port and electronic infrastructure is a costly barrier to investment. It costs more to transport grain to Asia through Melbourne than it does from Uzbekistan.
Roadside vegetation is out of control. Roads should be safe places, not conservation zones or wildlife corridors. Those feel-good ideas are not based on reality. Recent fires in my area have clearly demonstrated that uncontrolled roadside vegetation puts lives and property at risk and encourages roadkill of our precious native fauna.
While on the subject of bushfires I want to pay tribute to our CFA volunteers, who risk life and limb to keep us safe. All volunteers are to be lauded for their invaluable service to their communities and those in particular need.
In western Victoria there is a worker shortage, not a job shortage. There are thousands of jobs going begging throughout the region every day. There is no point in increasing Melbourne’s population by 100 000 per year when workers are needed outside Melbourne. Real decentralisation requires enabling infrastructure to help shift population and business from the city to the bush and not just to our dynamic regional cities.
I look forward to working closely with the business and farming community to deliver outcomes for my electorate, just as I do with the other tier of government, from which I have recently emerged. I greatly appreciated my time on the Corangamite Shire Council, and I am very pleased that the shire now has no debt, millions in reserve, the largest ever expenditure on roads and a new outcome-driven approach to spending precious ratepayer and taxpayer dollars.
Apart from arguing in this place for western Victoria’s rightful share of the infrastructure pie to enhance growth and prosperity, I will champion other causes. For me, taxpayers are king. I am not a fan of free. In the end somebody has to pay. Governments do not create wealth, individuals do. I certainly believe the taxpayer can always spend their money more wisely than government. The majority of growth in employment should be in the private sector, not the government sector. I believe the roles and responsibilities of the three levels of government need wholesale revision. The lines are blurred, with rampant cost shifting from state to local government and state to federal government.
The individual is paramount in my world. Government is obviously necessary to provide the services the individual and the private sector cannot deliver while supporting society’s most vulnerable, but government should not be the impediment to life and progress to the extent it is today. Government should be the enabler, not the roadblock. I agree with another Victorian, Sir Robert Menzies, who entered this place in 1928 and who, in his famous Forgotten People speech of May 1942, contended that it is the ‘lifters’ and not the ‘leaners’ we should be encouraging and rewarding for their efforts.
I will fight the dangerous march of thought police, who present a serious threat to individual freedom through political correctness. I want individuals to define their own destiny, not government. Individuals should be able to live their lives free of excessive government direction but with respect for the rule of law and the lives and lifestyles of others. Governments should not set the social agenda from birth to the grave. We should celebrate difference but not be subservient to it. We all make mistakes, but we should admit failure and move on. The risk-adverse approach benefits no-one.
Finally, I will fight any moves to limit or shut down agricultural production or country pursuits so important to the region I represent. As someone who grew up on a farm and lives on a farm, like all farmers I love animals as much or more than anyone. I also know how important the western Victorian food production industry is to the entire state and our national economy. I will work for its expansion, not its limitation. There will be no grinding of almonds to replace cow’s milk under my watch.
This journey has not been through my efforts alone. I pay tribute to many: firstly, my parents, who although long gone, worked hard as farmers to provide the best for my future. My father defied quadriplegia following a farming accident to walk, drive and live. My mother, while never having a drivers license, was stridently independent of mind.
The Liberal Party is responsible for bringing my husband and I together. But this was no match made across a crowded room under the soft glow of candlelight. Rather, it was cultivated in the battle rooms of party debate and election tension. Stewart was the federal member for Corangamite between 1984 and 2007. We both always stood up for what we believed in—and still do. I greatly respect Stewart’s lifelong dedication to public policy and this nation. I proudly took the oath of allegiance today using the same bible Stewart used when he was sworn in to the federal Parliament in 1984.
I am fortunate to have borne three children who were and are interesting, self-motivated, hardworking, ambitious, caring and thoughtful individuals. Sarah and her husband, Michael, and James are here today with Stewart. Sadly, Andrew is not with us. James’s identical twin worked for an investment bank until his tragic death in a cycling accident in Sydney on 27 March this year. That was and will remain the worst day of my life. But Andrew is with me now. ‘Be strong, Mother’, he would be saying, ‘Keep going’. Thank you, Stewart, Sarah and James, and Andrew in abseentia, for your love and support. I hope to repay you with a worthwhile service to my constituency, this state and the Liberal Party.
Of course I would not be here if not for the endorsement I have received from the Liberal Party. I will never forget that support because, like John Howard, I am a creature of the Liberal Party. With over 40 years continuous involvement in our party, I have been on a journey with many outstanding Liberals. I am indebted to them all.
I was recently honoured to be made the patron of the Young Liberal Movement, a rare honour at this stage in my political career, and I thank Alex Lisov, the president, and the Young Liberal Movement members who are here today. My recent predecessors from Western Victoria Region, Simon Ramsay and Josh Morris, are to be congratulated for their representation of the electorate and their party loyalty. I would like to acknowledge my two outstanding local MPs, Richard Riordan, the state member for Polwarth—it has been an honour to be Richard’s electorate chair— and Dan Tehan, cabinet minister and our highly effective and popular member for Wannon.
It is an extraordinary honour and privilege to be elected to this home of democracy. As I pass through the passageways to this chamber, I pay tribute to those who have sat in these crimson seats before me, one of whom was my father-in-law, Sir Gordon McArthur, who at the age of 21 lost his leg at Ypres on the Western Front in World War I. Sir Gordon went on to serve this state for 31 years as a minister in the Bolte government and as President of this Legislative Council between 1958 and 1965. Sir Gordon travelled by train to this place. He also left this place in a special train for a state funeral in Camperdown. Relax, I am not planning to stay around that long!
I cannot help but reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a nation where we can fight the battle of ideas in this house of free speech without resorting to violence at the end of a gun. I greatly look forward to robust and respectful debate in this chamber, working with not only my fellow Liberal and National colleagues but all who occupy this space. I am honoured to have the opportunity to serve this state, its people, my electorate of Western Victoria Region, and I will do so through the prism of traditional Liberal philosophy, which has stood the test of time in our Western democracy. Thank you.