First Speech to Parliament
Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (16:52): Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you on your recent election to the high office which you hold.
I would like to commence by acknowledging and paying my respects to our first Australians, and their elders, past and present, on whose land we meet here today, just as I acknowledge our first Australians in my home on the Sunshine Coast. The lot of our Indigenous peoples has been racked with poverty, ill-health and lack of opportunity since European settlement. I would like to acknowledge my predecessor Mal Brough for the hard work he has performed in this place for our Indigenous peoples. But of course our work is far from done in achieving some semblance of equality. We can and we must do much better.
With humility and respect, I thank the people of Fisher for giving me this privilege to represent them in this great place, a place that is the cornerstone of one of the oldest democratic systems in the modern world. I commit myself and my hardworking small team to working tirelessly for the people of Fisher: the young and old, the black and white, the employed, the small-business person, the pensioner, the self-funded retiree, the unemployed and the under-employed. I hope and pray that, with the forbearance of the people of Fisher and the wisdom and discernment only afforded to me by my Lord Jesus Christ, I may fulfil the role as their federal member with integrity, honour and respect.
It is testament to our Australian egalitarian way of life that a once-carpenter and the son of a motor mechanic and fabric importer can come to serve the community in this place. In Australia, there are no class structures; there are no hereditary entitlements to sit in this place; there are business people, farmers, bankers, tradesmen, unionists and labourers, among many others, who are privileged to take their seats in this chamber. That is a privilege I hope I will never take for granted during the time that the people of Fisher trust me to represent them.
The importance of the family unit is paramount in our community. The concept of the family unit is one which continues to evolve. Whether one lives in what is known as a traditional family unit or something else, we all came from a family of some description. My extended family, all of whom are here today, formed the bedrock of my belief system.
I grew up in Melbourne, the son of Ian and Fay Wallace, the youngest of four children. My siblings, Mark, Lyn and Ian, together with my parents, formed a close-knit family unit, growing up between the fifties and the eighties with strong Catholic values. We learned from a very young age the importance of the love of our grandparents, Jerry and Kath Wallace, on whose farm at Red Hill we spent our weekends; and Norm and Ethel Williams, with whom we had such a loving and close relationship. Through our parents, our grandparents taught us many things, such as the importance of hard work and self-reliance; self-sacrifice in defence of our nation; a healthy suspicion of banks, insurance companies and anyone from the government purporting to offer help.
This nation owes a debt of gratitude to the generations of Australians who came before us. To those Australians of my parents’ vintage and those of my grandparents’ and older, I say thank you. Thank you for your service to our country in times of war. Thank you for your self-sacrifice in times of severe depression. Thank you for your grit and determination in times of adversity—that never-say-die, that ‘you wouldn’t be dead for quids’ approach to life has forged the Aussie spirit in ways that sometimes in our modern world appear to have gone the way of the box brownie camera.
I am also greatly blessed to have the unceasing love and support of my wife, Leonie, and our four daughters: Emma, Caroline, Rebecca and Sarah, all of whom have made the journey to Canberra today from far and wide. Over the past 27 years of marriage, as a family we have stuck together, through thick and thin, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
It is rare these days that I get the opportunity to have my girls as a captive audience, so I will seize this opportunity to remind them of their forebears’ courage, determination and selflessness. In fact, we all need reminding from time to time that the freedoms we enjoy today were hard-fought, forged not just on battlefields around the world over the past 115 years, but waged at ballot boxes and argued in courts around this great nation.
The greatest enemy of this nation today is not a sovereign state or a political ideology. Our greatest enemy is our own apathy. I fear that our positive yet relaxed she’ll-be-right-mate approach has descended into an apathetic approach of, ‘Who the hell cares! It’s not my problem.’ There is perhaps no greater example of this than our attitude to the nation’s finances. As our great nation travels further and further down the road to financial ruin, we in this place all owe it to our children and our children’s children to repair the nation’s economy.
Whilst we will all have differing views on how to rectify the economy, no one person and no one party has a restrictive licence on how best to achieve that rectification. In times of war, this country’s political representatives have proven that we can set aside our partisan political views and work for the betterment of our nation. In this 45th Commonwealth Parliament, we in this place must work together to ensure our future prosperity for our kids and our communities. Just as any family or business, from time to time, must pull in their belts, as a nation we must now do likewise, and we in this place must lead by example.
The privilege that has been bestowed upon me by the people of Fisher would not have been possible but for the support of the Liberal National Party and its members in Fisher. Upon winning preselection on 17 April, my team of tireless volunteers again swung into action. They swung into campaign mode only three weeks before the general election was called. It was a frantic time, but one that was very ably led by the professionalism and experience of my campaign manager, Elizabeth Worthington, who I should like to point out was bestowed with an honorary life membership of the LNP just last weekend. Thank you to all those who supported the campaign, many of whom have come down to Canberra today; others are watching this in my electorate office and in their homes back in Fisher. Our long days and sleepless nights were rewarded by the people of Fisher, and it is now up to me and my team to demonstrate that that faith was well founded.
I would like to thank the LNP candidates in the preselection process for their dignity and their professionalism. The people of Fisher, both within and outside of the LNP, have demonstrated to the rest of the country that preselection and general election campaigns can be fought as a battle of ideas and policies, not an outright affront on the person espousing them. To put it in a football context for all those concerned in the election for Fisher: all candidates played the ball not the person. That seemed to resonate with our community.
It would be remiss of me if I did not make mention of my parliamentary colleagues who assisted me in the campaign: the Prime Minister; the foreign minister; the Attorney-General; the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science; the Minister for Regional Development and then Minister for Rural Health; the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport; the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia; the then minister for tourism; the then Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science; and Senators Macdonald, O’Sullivan and Lindgren. I thank each of the honourable members and senators for their contributions.
This long list of senior government ministers, senators and members demonstrates just how greatly valued the seat of Fisher is to the coalition. I would like to acknowledge the members for Fairfax and Wide Bay and the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator McGrath. We worked together as a team during the campaign. We presented a united front to the people of the Sunshine Coast, who see this period as a time for regeneration and growth. We ought to ensure that with all decisions we make as a small group representing the needs of the Sunshine Coast that we always put the needs of our constituents ahead of our own. With everything we do, we should first ask ourselves this simple question: will the outcome of this decision lead to a stronger economy and the creation of jobs for people living on the Sunshine Coast? Without a strong economy, without meaningful employment, our standard of living will axiomatically deteriorate.
I would also like to acknowledge my state parliamentary LNP colleagues Andrew Powell, Mark McArdle, Jarrod Bleijie, Fiona Simpson and Steve Dickson, all of whom assisted me during the campaign. I am very excited to be working alongside them, together with our Sunshine Coast councillors.
The seat of Fisher is situated to the south of the magnificent Sunshine Coast. At its southern boundary lies the township of Beerburrum. It extends to my home town of Alexandra Headlands in the north and out west as far as Cambroon. By city standards, it is a large electorate, taking in some 1,170 square kilometres. By country standards, when compared to the electorate of my friend the member for Maranoa, it is but the size of a postage stamp!
When Leoni and I moved to the seat of Fisher 23 years ago with our then only daughter, Emma, we were moved by its natural beauty of clear, pristine waterways, its famous surf beaches, its beautiful bush and the magnificent Glass House Mountains. The Sunshine Coast has so much to offer the young and old alike. That is why it is Australia’s 10th-largest city. With that population, however, comes a responsibility to ensure that our environment is maintained and protected for future generations.
Fisher’s greatest asset is not, however, its landmarks, its surfing beaches or its picturesque towns up on the Blackall Range. Rather, it is the people who call it home. It is the volunteer lifesavers at the Alex surf club. It is the volunteers who serve meals on wheels out of the CCSA hall in Caloundra. It is the volunteers in the Neighbourhood Watch program in Kawana Waters and the women of the CWA in Maleny. It is the volunteers at the Glasshouse Country RSL Sub-branch, the swim clubs, the Little Athletics, the footy clubs and the bowls clubs throughout the entire electorate. Without these volunteers and many more like them, our community would be a cold, self-infatuated collection of individuals. I am proud to stand here as a member of the government that supports volunteers.
The Sunshine Coast is the small business capital of the nation. The entrepreneurial spirit of those who reside in Fisher is indefatigable. Without any single large form of industry on the Sunshine Coast, the people of Fisher have learned that there is no-one better to plan for their prosperity than themselves. Take, for example, Steve and Rhonda Budden from Australian Off Road. They started their business 16 years ago in Maleny in their carport, and today they employ over 80 locals constructing top-quality off-road caravans in Caloundra. They understand the importance of manufacturing to our local economy.
Fisher is growing and maturing as a region. Take, for example, the University of the Sunshine Coast, which plans to have 20,000 students enrolled by 2020. The University of the Sunshine Coast is leading the way amongst smaller regional universities successfully competing against their larger city counterparts. In addition, the single largest project to be undertaken in the seat of Fisher is the construction of the University of the Sunshine Coast public hospital, a greenfield site, at a cost of almost $2 billion. This tertiary public hospital, when it opens in April of 2017, will ultimately employ some 6,000 staff, one of whom will be my daughter Caroline, who is a graduating nurse. The Sunshine Coast is set to become the health hub of South-East Queensland, leading to many more thousands of health related jobs in the electorate.
This is the time for Fisher and the broader Sunshine Coast to flourish and grow to their full potential. With that growth, however, comes challenges. We are seeing unprecedented demand for residential and commercial land to be developed, with projects like the $7 billion Aura greenfield site, which will ultimately see a city the size of Gladstone housing 50,000 people just south of Caloundra. Palmview is another housing development to the north of the electorate. It will be home to an additional 17,000 people.
However, parts of the seat of Fisher are already buckling under their own weight. Its road networks are struggling, and this is impacting on the quality of life of all those who have to commute to work, particularly those who have to take the 100-kilometre journey to Brisbane, a journey that can be a five-hour return trip. On the Sunshine Coast, the Bruce Highway has, not so affectionately, been called the country’s largest car park. The people of Fisher, and of the Sunshine Coast more broadly, are rightly demanding better road and rail infrastructure.
If I can achieve one thing in this place, my No. 1 priority for the people of Fisher will be better road and rail infrastructure, whatever form that may take. I applaud the Prime Minister for his stance on the funding of public rail projects and for his desire to see the 30-minute city come to fruition. But that same principle must apply also to the regions, not just to those living in Melbourne and Sydney. The internal road networks in Fisher, particularly around Caloundra and Kawana, are, sadly, not faring much better than our main arterial roads. Traffic congestion is leading to low productivity rates and less time spent with family.
There are many other projects that I will seek to undertake during my first term as the federal member for Fisher. As a one-time subcontract carpenter then builder then construction barrister with 30 years experience in the building industry, I can inform the House that the health of our construction industry is dire. I applaud the Prime Minister for his tenacity in reintroducing the bill to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The building and construction industry is racked with corruption and self-interest. It is an industry that represents eight per cent of our GDP and that employs one in 10 Australians. We must clean up this industry for the sake of our country and the country’s economy. Australians should understand that every tax dollar that is overspent on government projects is a dollar that is not spent on more roads, hospitals and police stations.
I am also passionate about the protection of subcontractors’ security of payment. With eight separate forms of security-of-payment regime in this country, it is time that we moved toward the harmonisation of our laws which seek to protect the subcontractors in Fisher and throughout the nation.
Mental health remains a significant problem for many of our people, both young and old alike. Our defence veterans of all ages increasingly are suffering from PTSD and depression. Our young people are self-harming and dying at their own hands in ever-increasing numbers. I want to work with organisations like the Thompson Institute based in Kawana to help research the causes of these awful afflictions and the treatments for those suffering from them. It is reported that mental health is costing our national economy $60 billion per year. That represents four per cent of our GDP. My family, like many others, has been impacted by mental health issues, and we must, as a community, continue to remove the stigma associated with those suffering from them, just as we must research ways of preventing them in the first instance.
Being the father of a child with disabilities, I welcome the introduction of the NDIS on the Sunshine Coast— unfortunately, even if we have to wait another 3½ years before it is finally rolled out. In raising Sarah, Leonie and I and the girls have learned the old adage that it really does take a village to raise a child. We are indebted to all our friends and the broader community who have helped our family. Now that Sarah is doing so well, I see that my tenure in this place, no matter how short or how long that may be, is a form of giving back to our adopted home that has given us so much.
I will conclude with a prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.