Date: 18th October 2010
I was eight years old and we were travelling on our annual Christmas pilgrimage from my home town of Texas, in the south of Queensland, to my mother's home town of Broadford, in Victoria, and back. I am the middle of three boys. We sat along the bench seat of the HR Holden sedan while mum and dad sat up front, mum dutifully telling my father how fast he was travelling and dad, doing 65 miles an hour, driving with his knees, constantly lighting and smoking cigarettes. The car was fully fitted with 460 airconditioning-that is, four windows down and 60 miles an hour. We were forced to detour through Sydney, as floods had cut inland roads. In our family a stop for fuel was like a pit stop at Bathurst. Dad got out and spoke to the attendant as the car was filled and the windscreen cleaned. Mum made sandwiches or cut cake from the boot. Meanwhile the three boys were told to go to the toilet, as we would not be making any more stops until we needed more fuel.
On this day, on Parramatta Road, it was nearing 5pm and the service station was about to close-yes, there was a time when service stations closed! I took longer than the others, and when I came to the door I found that it was locked. My immediate thoughts were that my brothers, Graham and Stuart, were responsible, so I made the usual threats about taking revenge or telling dad and mum. There was no answer. I soon became desperate. I was truly locked in there and the service station had closed. Dad had bundled everyone into the car and took off into the Parramatta Road traffic. ‘Dad,' called my brother. ‘Hang on, mate, I'm driving here,' said my father. ‘Dad,' was the call from the back seat, repeated as my father's tone darkened at my brothers' constant refrain. ‘Dad, Ewen's not here.' I had been left behind at the service station. I was only there for a short time; my family returned before the owners had left the site. This story is now a play in five parts played by my family for all who visit us. But this event has affected me in ways I am only now coming to understand. It has been a driving force of my life and has helped me to find what I believe is important and helped me formulate the way I have lived my life. No-one will be left behind while I have the ability to help. I can only imagine what it is like for someone who has fallen completely through the cracks. I have the advantage here over others in that at all times during my life I have known that, above all else, my family loves me, no matter what.
I have always played team sports and believe in the team dynamic. From the four-stone-seven-pound Texas State School Rugby League side through to my last game as a 30-year-old for the mighty Westpac Rugby Club, I have made the team my highest priority. In a team, if the weakest player has a great game, you will win. It is not important that you have star players. Even Bradman had to have someone at the other end so he could score. A team is the sum, and in many cases greater than the sum, of all its parts. And every part matters. That, in essence, is what I bring to this House and what I hope to provide for my electorate of Herbert in the truly great city of Townsville, and to the whole of North Queensland. What I hope to do is provide a helping hand to those who need it. But a key belief of mine is that it is those very people who need the assistance who already have the answers for which we seek.
To the people of Townsville I say the biggest thank you. The people of Townsville walk with a straight back and look the world in the eye. They are proud, quiet people. They are a can-do people who get things done. Townsville people are innovative and hard working. They are prepared to have a go. The people of Townsville do not live in fear of the future because they know that they will play a major role in shaping that future. I promise Townsville that I will work for you and the betterment of all without fear or favour. I will do the right thing by my community. When I got to Townsville, we were two cities, divided by an act
of state parliament. We are now one combined city of some 180,000 people, and growing. We have a truly diversified economy and we are home to the Crocs NBL and Fire WNBL teams. We are home to the Fury in the A-League and we are home to the mighty North Queensland Cowboys NRL side.
We are proud of our university and we are a proud garrison city. Our university is an exciting place to be. We are producing great people and research. We have green energy projects which could transform our society and the way we deal with climate change in a positive and direct way. But my mission will not be complete if we do not secure the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine for all the people in the world who live and work in a tropical environment. We must ensure that this vital research facility, which will deal with drug-resistant tuberculosis and dengue fever along with issues of Indigenous health and food production, is placed in the most significant tropical university in the world-James Cook University. If North Queensland is not going to be left behind when it comes to development of our resources and the protection of our first Australians, this must happen.
Our men and women of the Australian Defence Force do our city proud. We have taken them into the heart of our culture and they have reciprocated by making us the preferred transfer option for just about every branch of the service. You should come to Townsville for Anzac Day. After you have done the dawn parade on Magnetic Island, it is back to the mainland. You will see half the city line our beautiful Strand as the other half marches past proudly. We as a city look forward to welcoming the men and women of 3RAR and the new LHD vessels in the very near future. But we must never take the ADF's presence in Townsville for granted. Townsville knows very well the inherent risks faced by our service men and women, whether they be on the battlefield in Afghanistan or when they drive through the gates at Lavarack Barracks and the RAAF base in Garbutt, because ours are the troops who are on constant alert, deployment trained and ready. And we must never assume that the men and women from the services are being looked after properly when they have retired. These people have served their nation with distinction and those who qualify for the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, or DFRDB, pension should have it applied to the same indices as other retirement pensions offered by the government. It is only right and fair that these brave men and women are not left behind.
Mr Speaker, I found the election campaign truly exciting. I found the effort to get elected the most engaging thing I have ever done professionally. On a day-to-day basis I came to realise that, although I had been a contributing member of my city for some 16 years, there were so many layers to our society, the work that really goes on, and the people who are doing a mighty job for us all. It is here where my belief that the answers are in front of us, in the community, took a key hold on my platform. From the team at North Queensland Community Transport to the residents of Palm Island, I came to see people who have the answers to what needs to be done but struggle with the red tape. There are people who want to develop business opportunities but need support with compliance and start-up capital. There are people like Randal Ross from Red Dust Healing who want to get people off welfare payments by helping them understand from where they have come so that they can find a starting point to get their lives back on track.
When I started this campaign I sought out Gracelyn Smallwood. Gracelyn is a midwife at the Townsville General Hospital. She is a lecturer at James Cook University. She is a PhD student. She is a mother, grandmother, and auntie to most of Townsville. She is an Aboriginal elder. I had never met her prior to my preselection. I said to her that I needed perspective. I have come from a family where my parents have always worked. I have always worked and my children have watched me get up, shave, and go to work every day of their lives. In our Indigenous communities, there are generations of people who have never seen a parent go to work. I said to Gracelyn, ‘How can I possibly know what it is like on the other side of that fence?' To her credit, we spoke, and we will continue to speak, and I will continue to learn from her and others in my community.
There is a belief in my community that there is enough money in the system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, that there is enough money in the system to house them and that there is enough money for the education of their children but it is just that it does not get through to the people who need it the most. My community is telling me that there is a consultant class of government and non-government people taking too much on the way through. They need two things: the opportunity to do it themselves and the understanding that some will fail. My community is no different to any other and I take it as my solemn pledge that I will not leave anyone behind. We are one team. If you spend time with the people on Palm Island or with the people of BARK, Brothers Act of Random Kindness, you will see a genuine belief that real outcomes are there to be had. They need a hand and they need us to give them the whip handle. We need to give Indigenous people opportunities to decide their own destinies. To that end, we must be supportive of their exploring of small business opportunities-not enterprises that are meaningless, but real businesses employing real people and providing real futures.
Again, as with all new businesses, there are dangers lurking, especially where inexperience plays a part. In my community, the North Queensland Small Business Development Centre offers a path to follow for all those who have as little as a good idea. They can help out with cash flow predictions, business plans and with banks and solicitors. But more than that, they can provide ongoing support with compliance and help to avoid other pitfalls that cause small businesses to fail everywhere.
The NQSBDC is proactive and entrepreneurial in its outlook and I will be doing everything I can to support its growth in my region. It is important that, if we are to be helpful, we are there for the long run. We must ensure that no-one gets left behind. I stand here and proclaim my support for small business. It is a cliche but it is true that small business is the engine room of our economy and it is what makes us a great nation. But we are strangling this sector.
From all levels of government, this sector is being abused as a cash cow and de facto tax collector. It must stop. Too many businesses have made the decision not to expand or simply cannot afford to expand because the cost of compliance and regulation is just too great. Good government should provide a simple format and rules under which all can prosper-not hobble them out of existence. During my campaign the people to whom I spoke in my community told me that if the amount of tax being paid is about right-and I do reiterate, if- then the collection must be simplified. We are too small a country to have small business paying tax to three levels of government. Where the accountant and solicitor should be real business partners giving guidance to the business owner toward growth and opportunity, they have had their roles reduced to that of compliance officers and tax collectors. We need a system that will allow small business to pay its fair share and then government should get out of its way so it can go about its business. Too often, opportunities have been missed to provide real reform for this most valuable section of our economy, and they must be supported. They will not be left behind.
We are facing difficult times in my community. We keep on hearing about how well we are going and how proud we should be. I am here to tell you that people in my community are feeling real pain. They are the reason I cannot support, and actively campaigned against, an emissions trading scheme. What the government would have you believe is that the big mining companies will be paying the tax. In truth, it is always those least able to afford it who will have to pay, as this is a great big tax on everything. It is not the big end of town, such as BHP, Rio Tinto, and Xstrata, that feels the pain of this great big tax on everything. It will be the owners of the engineering works who provide employment to boilermakers and fitters in my community. It will be the charter airlines who provide employment for ground and support staff in my community. It is the local real estate agent who provides employment to the property managers who look after the rent roll in my community. It will be the sole trader who drives the pie van up and down Enterprise Street at the Bohle who feels this tax. It will be ordinary families-working class families- who are already struggling now to make ends meet. At every turn my community is being asked to pay more tax, all the while being told how good they have it. I will hold the government to account for every measure that will damage the fabric of my community. No one and no small business will be left behind while I have a say.
We must look at ways to get the very best possible value for every public dollar. An example of this would be the positron emission tomography, or PET, scanner for Townsville. Both sides of this House promised this vital piece of equipment during the campaign, but it was in the delivery method that the difference lay. I was proud to campaign for a scanner to be placed at Queensland X-Ray's site in Hyde Park, some 10 minutes from the Townsville General Hospital. Here we have a private entity prepared to pay half the purchase cost of the scanner and all the installation cost of the scanner and bulk bill every public patient needing this treatment. They would be able to do 17 scans per day as opposed to Queensland Health's expectation of three per day. Currently, around 500 PET scans per year are done on people from North Queensland alone. These individuals are being flown to Brisbane and put up in accommodation 1,400 kilometres away from home and family while they wait for their turn. This is the time at which the need for family is at its highest. The cost of the government's plan is somewhere between $6 million and $9 million. The cost to the taxpayer under the Qld X-Ray plan is $2.5million. The government's plan was originally to install one at the Townsville General Hospital sometime after 2014. To their credit that has now been brought forward to the end of 2012. However, Qld X-Ray can have theirs up and running within six months of getting the go-ahead. So, if the government had chosen on 22 August to support this method, it would mean that this vital piece of equipment could have been operating by January 2011. So, with our program, we have lower cost to the taxpayer, better service and it will be operating sooner. With the government's program, we have higher cost to the taxpayer, less service delivery and it will be operational later. Which one would you choose?
I congratulate the government on following the coalition's commitment to the Copperstring Project. This vital project will see my city, my region, my state and my country tap into the most significant renewable energy development in our history. From solar to geothermal, from ethanol to wind and hydrogeneration, this project is capable of providing huge benefits to the whole country. We will also develop and maximise the return on arable land and mining projects. I urge all in this House to ensure that this project is given every chance of success.
Everyone who helped me since I was preselected has my deep personal thanks. I would like to make special mention of a few people. To Senator Ian Macdonald: I thank you for your unwavering support and your confidence in me as a candidate. To the retired member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay: the example you have shown in holding a marginal seat across five elections and retiring at a time of your choosing does not pass me without notice. To have had you as campaign director was of great benefit to me and the team. To Clayton Hinds: thank you for coming on board when you did. You made a crucial difference in the early days. To David Kippin, Max Tomlinson, Russell Bugler, John Hathaway, Matthew Crossley and Marty, I say: thank you for your support and all the work you did.
To the leadership of the LNP, particularly Bruce McIver and James McGrath, I say thank you. To the parliamentary leadership, especially Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey, Ian Macfarlane, Steve Ciobo, Peter Dutton, Greg Hunt, David Johnson and Nigel Scullion, I say, thank you so much. The effort you people put into my campaign with return visits and the interest you took in me personally will never be forgotten.
To the membership of Townsville's LNP branches, the Young LNP and all those volunteers, I say thank you. To my mate Frank Probert, who stood every day for me at pre-poll as well as at very information booth possible: you are a champion. To John Dwyer: I am working every day and one day hope to be half as good as you think I am. To Peg and Melinda, a special thank you. To my mates Richo, Pat, John, Russell, Pauly, PC, Bill, Luke, Jeff, Tim and Tony, I say: thank you for never allowing me the luxury of getting a big head. To my children-Emma, Abbie and Andrew-I love you very much. Your efforts for me will never be repaid -and good job, as I gave you the gift of life itself, so I win.
To my wife, Linda: I owe you so much. You have made me a happy person and you have had the courage and passion to push me to achieve. To Benny and Carmen and all my Italian connection, I say: thank you for welcoming my daughters and me into your family. To my parents, Allen and Hilary: thank you for all you have done for me all your life and will do into the future. Your example of doing without so that others can have, will stay with me always. To my brothers, Graeme and Stewart, and their families: I am a long way away from you living in Townsville, but I know that I have your love and support. I would also like to state for the Hansard that I am the best golfer in the family.
Mr Speaker, I stand here ready to do the right thing by my electorate, my city, my region, my state and my country. I am here for my people and my community, and I promise that no one will be left behind.