If there is one thing that is more humbling than coming to this place for the first time and making a first speech, it is returning here again. It has been just over three years since I last spoke in this parliament and, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am incredibly honoured to stand before you to deliver my first speech in this the 43rd Parliament. Most importantly, I am honoured to once again be representing the people of Bonner and I thank them most sincerely for the faith they have shown in me to be their representative, their advocate and their voice on the national scene.
As the members of this parliament are no doubt aware, the electorate of Bonner was named after a great Queenslander who also happened to be a great Liberal, former senator Neville Bonner. In 1971 Senator Bonner was the first Indigenous Australian elected to the federal parliament. During his 12 years in the Senate he was a hardworking and diligent parliamentarian, respected by both sides of politics. In his 16 years after leaving the Senate, he was a much esteemed elder statesman of Australian public life. I know that he would be immensely pleased that the Liberal Party of Australia and the parliament have now also welcomed the first Indigenous Australian to the House of Representatives, the member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt.
I am very proud to have served as a member of the Howard government in my first term as the member for Bonner from 2004 to 2007. While I accepted the verdict of the electorate in the 2007 election when I was not re-elected, I cannot deny the incredible personal disappointment I felt at the time because of what I still wanted to contribute and deliver for the people of Bonner. I believe that the last three years have served as somewhat of a sabbatical for me from public service. I have used that opportunity to broaden my experience in the private sector and, at the same time, contemplate my future. However, over the last three years I could not help but continue my involvement with members of the community of Bonner and through those connections I maintained an ongoing dialogue with many residents. It was obvious to me during the past three years away from federal politics that my passion lies in representing and serving my community and I sought to regain the trust of the residents of Bonner. I believe that I have continued to learn and grow during my absence from this parliament and all of those experiences will assist me to be a better and more effective representative of my community’s views in Canberra.
In my first speech in 2004, I said that the electorate of Bonner was a snapshot of middle Australia. This is still true in 2010, but not because time has stood still-quite the opposite. Over the past six years, Australia has experienced enormous change, and so has the electorate of Bonner. As I look at both the statistics and the experience of residents on the ground, I continue to be amazed by the ever-changing demographic in Bonner and how this has taken place over such a relatively short period of time, creating great opportunities as well as great challenges. Bonner represents a way of life that is attractive to young professionals, given its proximity to the Brisbane CBD. It is also attractive to a growing number of families given the exceptional standard of education facilities within the electorate that include both public and private primary and secondary schools as well as Griffith University’s Mitchell campus. Bonner is also, not surprisingly, attractive to a higher than average number of retired or semiretired people, given the relaxed and tranquil paradise along the beautiful Bayside.
I am particularly mindful of the aspirations of all Queenslanders in the electorate of Bonner and not least because Queensland and Australia’s economic situation was very different when I last stood in this chamber. I am very conscious of the impact of budget deficits and government debt on taxpayers in Bonner and how this has translated into cost-of-living pressures alongside higher mortgage repayments. I am committed to being part of a coalition that demands fiscal restraint and responsibility, and I will hold this government to account for every dollar of taxpayers’ money it spends and, sadly in so many cases, wastes. This is my firm commitment to the residents of Bonner in order to ensure that their experience, their values and their aspirations are represented in Canberra.
As a changing and growing electorate, Bonner is in need of investment in new infrastructure and services. This was obvious to me during my first term, particularly in relation to health and community support. As part of that effort, I delivered a much needed Medicare office and Australian Hearing Centre in Wynnum, as well as a family relationship centre in Mount Gravatt. I was also successful in securing a commitment from the Howard government to invest $700 million to upgrade the vital Port of Brisbane motorway, but I am disappointed that this commitment was not acted upon by the Rudd government. I want to build on this past track record in successfully delivering new services. I will continue to work throughout this term towards delivering improvements in transport and road safety, health services, communications and community support.
A key issue for local residents is the availability of access to broadband services throughout the electorate. Throughout the election campaign-and since I was elected-so many local residents have told me that they are not particularly interested in accessing superfast download speeds of 100 megabits per second being proposed under this National Broadband Network. They just want access to the current 25 gigabit per second broadband services, but to be able to do it throughout the whole of the electorate, reliably and at a reasonable price.
This issue is particularly relevant for a family that recently moved from Central Queensland to the suburb of Wakerley in my electorate. While the move was associated with employment, this family also hoped that it would provide opportunities for them to have better access to specialists for their youngest daughter, who is autistic. While living in a remote area, this family found that access to the internet not only provided additional support networks for them but also provided their daughter with learning and development opportunities through interactive media and self-paced learning. They had access to ADSL broadband and had assumed that continuing a similar service would not be a special consideration in their move to Wakerley, which is within 20 kilometres of the Brisbane CBD. However, now living in Wakerley, this family can only access a very expensive six-gigabyte per month wireless service. Very frustratingly for many, this inner-city suburb is significantly lacking in infrastructure and is not even up to regional and remote community standards.
While this example serves to highlight the need for better broadband infrastructure, the government’s NBN cannot be the answer when under this proposal local residents in Wakerley have been told that they will be waiting up to eight years to gain access to any broadband, let alone faster broadband. This is rightly unacceptable to the residents of Wakerley and other residents throughout Bonner, in particular those in Carindale, Mackenzie and the Wynnum-Manly area. I am committed to working on reducing this absurd time frame and ensuring that this investment in communications infrastructure is made as soon as possible, but also with a reasonable price tag.
I am encouraged that the Lord Mayor of Brisbane and the Brisbane City Council are working with private enterprise to offer an alternative to the government’s NBN. This project is in its infancy but I am looking forward to working with the Lord Mayor, as well as Councillors Adrian Schrinner and Krista Adams, to ensure that this exciting alternative proposal is given all the support it deserves.
When considering adequate services to my community in Bonner, health also continues to be an area of particular interest to me. During the election campaign, the government promised $15 million for a GP superclinic in the Wynnum-Manly area. Given that this commitment was made during the election campaign to support a marginal seat, neither the community nor I are yet across the detail of the government’s proposal. I believe that a process like this must be done following thorough consultation with the community involved and my constituents expect nothing less, not least those involved in all aspects of health services. It is imperative that the local community is involved and has ownership of the project to ensure that it delivers improved primary health care that utilises the wealth of expertise and knowledge in the existing infrastructure of health services. The Wynnum-Manly area is unique and therefore a unique solution is needed that will ensure no existing GPs or health providers will be adversely impacted but residents will have improved access to primary health care.
My constituents constantly remind me that this is taxpayers’ money, not the government’s money, and therefore the community must be involved in the process of deciding what they need. They are, of course, absolutely correct and the government should listen to and respect that view. To that end I have written to the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, seeking information about the government’s proposal and I look forward to working with her and my constituents during this parliament to deliver a unique solution for primary health care in Bonner.
Bonner is a growing electorate with growing needs. I mentioned previously the number of families attracted to the area because of the lifestyle offered by Brisbane’s eastern suburbs. This means that education is truly on the minds of my constituents. Everyone aspires to give their children a better future in life, and there is no better way to do that than through a quality education. This is an exciting time for education in Bonner. While a number of state schools have been consolidated under the Queensland government’s State Schools of Tomorrow program, the opportunity has arisen for those schools and students to move to exciting new premises that better suit their needs. The Catholic and independent school sector continues to grow and go from strength to strength in Bonner, providing local parents with plenty of choice-a principle very much supported by the Coalition.
There has been a significant amount of investment in schools in Bonner but I remain committed to ensuring that all schools receive value for money for the school halls and libraries that have been imposed on them under the Building the Education Revolution program. It pains me to see that this program has resulted in an increased divide between the government and non-government school sectors. While Catholic and independent schools have been able to manage their own projects and thus obtain great value for money, the projects at state schools have been centrally arranged by the state education bureaucracy. Sadly, all the evidence so far, both anecdotal evidence from concerned parents as well as official evidence presented to various federal and state inquires and reviews, suggests that billions of dollars have been wasted by state governments around Australia on increased costs, inflated fees and general mismanagement. The end result is that the children in state schools have by and large not received good value for money-certainly not as good as their non-government school counterparts. This has been one of the largest infrastructure programs in Australia’s history and this government has once again proved that it cannot be trusted to properly manage taxpayers’ money to achieve good outcomes for everyone.
I am proud to serve in an Abbott-led Coalition team and I believe Tony is a true role model of determination and strength of character for all of us. Winning the seat of Bonner was the result of team work. It is always a tremendously difficult task to single out individuals for special thanks, but I would like to acknowledge the dedicated group of supporters without whom I would not be standing in this chamber today.
Firstly, I want to thank my family. In my first speech to this parliament in 2004, I outlined my journey to becoming the first representative for the then newly created seat of Bonner. The incredible encouragement and support of my family has continued steadfast on this journey and I would not be here without them. I particularly want to thank my parents, along with my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins. I would also like to acknowledge my grandmother for her undying love and support.
While I cannot name them all individually, I would like to thank every Liberal-National Party member in the Bonner electorate for their tireless support during what was a lengthy and onerous campaign. Each of you is a stakeholder in this victory and I am indebted to you. I will not let you down.
I would like to pay tribute to my campaign director and now office manager, Nina Schrinner, who with her husband, Councillor Adrian Schrinner, were the people in whom I placed my complete trust and who were my strength and support throughout the campaign. I also thank the core members of my campaign team-Russ, Liam, Steve, Kev, Arthur, Saxon, Cheryl, Col, Ryan and Alana-for all your hard work and special mention must also be made of Frankie, Brett, Nathan, Ally, Mario, Warren and Neil-you guys are tremendous.
I would like to thank my parliamentary colleagues Senator Brett Mason and Senator George Brandis for their long-term support, guidance and advice without which this victory would truly not be possible-I salute you. I thank Senator Eric Abetz, Joe Hockey, Dr Sharman Stone and Peter Dutton, who made key visits and provided invaluable support to Bonner throughout the campaign period. Special mention must be made of Julie Bishop, who took time out of what was an extraordinarily busy schedule to support me in my fight to win Bonner-Julie, you are truly a wonderful person and a great asset to this team.
I thank the Queensland Liberal National State President, Bruce McIver, and the wonderful team at LNP headquarters: Michael O’Dwyer, James McGrath, James McKay, Kepa Andrews and their teams. It is testament to the LNP state organisation that this newly merged party has been successful in winning an additional nine seats in Queensland. This result makes us either the largest or equal largest state represented in the coalition party room.