First Speech – 41st Parliament
Every journey begins with a single step, and the first step in a journey that led to me standing here now was taken 82 years ago when my grandfather, Salvatore Vasta, stepped off the boat that brought him from the old world and walked onto Australian soil to start a new life. Salvatore, like many others who over two centuries came to our shores, always had a fervent belief that his family could achieve anything in this wonderful new land of opportunity. But even he would perhaps be surprised—I hope, pleasantly—to see his grandson standing here in this chamber, humbled by the honour and responsibility bestowed upon him by the citizens of our democracy.
It is with humility that I stand here before you today as the first member for the newly created seat of Bonner. This seat was named after a great Queenslander who also happened to be a great Liberal, Senator Neville Bonner. Senator Bonner was the first Aboriginal Australian elected to the federal parliament. During his 12 years in the Senate he was a conscientious 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. It is only fitting that his life and contribution to this country has now been so formally recognised and his name given to Queensland's newest federal seat.
Neville Bonner's widow, Heather Bonner, passed away recently, only a few days after the October federal election. I am told that she followed the vote counting in the seat of Bonner with great interest and, when the result eventually became clear, she told her loved ones that she could now be at peace, knowing that the people of Brisbane's south-east had chosen a Liberal to represent them in the seat named after her late husband. It is an honour and a privilege to be entrusted by the people to be their voice and their representative in the federal parliament. I would like to thank them for choosing me to be that voice and that representative, and I promise that the voice of Bonner will be loud and clear, and the representation faithful and strong.
My family have been proud Australians for three generations. Always in that time they have worked hard, they have prayed hard and they have dreamed hard. And, as they built their futures in their new home, they also helped to build this country and make it the prosperous, decent, open and tolerant society it is today—a home to 20 million people, a dream home for millions more around the world, and for yet many more a beacon of hope and an example showing that people of all races, creeds and colours can live and work together and create a peaceful and successful future for their children.
My grandfathers and their families believed passionately in Australia, in the opportunities that Australia offered and the rewards she bestowed on those prepared to work hard, play fair and live right. They believed in the dream shared by all Australians—a better life and a better future for their children—and they lived that dream. My father's father worked hard for almost 30 years in the cane fields of Northern Queensland to see his three sons go to university. One became a doctor, one became an engineer and the other became a lawyer who later on would sit on the bench as a Supreme Court judge. My mum's dad arrived in Australia when he was 16 and, with sheer hard work and commitment, became a respected community leader and a well-known businessman in the Belmont district of Brisbane which I, his grandson, now have the honour of representing as part of the seat of Bonner.
My family always believed in the spirit of service and the importance of contributing back to the country what the country has given to us. My father, who has been in public life, faced a particularly difficult episode of undeserved adversity. He refused to be defeated by it and to this day continues his quest for justice for many of his fellow Queenslanders who often cannot afford it, including many Indigenous Australians. This public spirit also lives on amongst my brothers and sisters, whose work in the justice system, in the public service and in education contributes to making our country a safer and better place to live. I am proud to now follow in their footsteps.
It is through my work as a small business owner in Brisbane's south-eastern suburbs that I first became involved in public life. The issue was a simple but an important one: speeding on the road outside my business was putting pedestrians in danger. I started a petition and, with many signatures collected, I went to see the local government representative for the area, Councillor Michael Caltabiano. With his assistance the issue was resolved quite satisfactorily, to the local community's benefit. This might not have been significant in the greater scheme of things, but it did show me that people matter and that with goodwill and people's support things can be achieved for the greater good. It also inspired me to do more for my local community.
I have a passionate love for this country. It is what motivated me to join the Liberal Party, it was what motivated me to become a candidate in the election and it is what will motivate me as I represent the people of Bonner in the federal parliament. The new electorate of Bonner is an amalgamation of parts of three existing federal seats in Brisbane's south-east suburbs: Moreton, Griffith and Bowman. The electorate stretches from Moreton Island and Wynnum in the north down through the suburbs of Tingalpa, Carindale, Holland Park West, Mount Gravatt and Wishart in the south. It is a part of Brisbane that has experienced massive growth in recent years. At present, more than 1,000 people are moving to south-east Queensland every week. Many of these people are choosing to live in Bonner.
This part of Brisbane has been my home for much of my life. As a local, I know the reasons more and more people are choosing to settle down and live there: it is a wonderful area for families, we have great local schools and community facilities, we have a thriving business sector and we are close to Brisbane's greatest natural asset, Moreton Bay. Some people label Bonner as a mortgage belt electorate; others call it the bible belt. But one thing is for certain—the people of Bonner are a true representation of Middle Australia.
In one of his most important speeches, the founding father of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, said that governments must not allow ordinary middle-class Australians to become forgotten people. These people are neither rich nor poor but they are the backbone of our great nation. They work quietly to pay off the family home and to send their children to a good school. They are the people who contribute the most in taxes but often get the least in return. Although I do not believe that we have social classes in Australia, I do believe that governments must govern for all Australians—not just for the unions, lobby groups and radical minorities.
I will work to ensure that my constituents do not become forgotten people, and my actions as the member for Bonner will be guided by my beliefs as a Liberal. I believe that the role of government is to remove obstacles so that people can be free to pursue their dreams and realise their potential. I believe that hard work and enterprise should be encouraged and rewarded. I believe that strong families make for strong communities and we must do everything possible to support them. I also believe that we should confront evil and encourage the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world. These are not some highly sophisticated ideological concepts that only academics can understand and find appealing. These are simple yet powerful propositions that resonate right across Australia, from the heart of the sunburnt country to the outer suburbs of Brisbane. They certainly resonate in suburbs of Bonner like Mansfield, Murarrie, Mackenzie and Manly.
My conviction throughout the election campaign never wavered because I had an unshakeable belief in the Liberal Party and its ideals. As it happened, the people of Australia and of Bonner in particular also shared that belief and, having considered the record of the Howard government and its clear vision for the future, they returned the government for a historic fourth term. But the election result was much more than just a victory for the government; it was a victory for Middle Australia. It was a victory for ordinary Australian families. It was a sign that Australians knew the Liberal Party was the only party they could trust to put them first and it was a sign that they knew the leadership team of Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello was the only team that could be trusted with their future and Australia's future.
The residents of Bonner supported the Liberal Party because they knew what we stand for and they have seen the government's record in office. They know the economy has grown to record levels, they know unemployment is at its lowest level in 27 years, they know the budget is in surplus and they know interest rates remain low. The people of Bonner also know that a strong economy is the basis for achieving all our national goals. It ensures higher living standards so that people can plan for the future with confidence. It allows us to help families with the cost of raising children. It allows us to invest more in schools, health, aged care and the environment. Most importantly, the residents of Bonner know that the strong position we are in as a nation did not occur by accident.
It is always an unenviable task to single out any group of people for special thanks, but I would like to acknowledge the dedicated group of supporters without whom I would not be standing in this place today. First, I want to thank my family. The support and encouragement of my family have made me the man I am today. I particularly want to acknowledge my father, Angelo, my mother, Raffaela, and my brother, Salvatore, who are present here today. While I cannot name them all individually, I would like to thank every Liberal Party branch member in the Bonner electorate for their tireless support during the campaign. I would particularly like to acknowledge the Upper Cavendish Road branch of the Liberal Party. It is not a big branch, but its members are some of the longest serving and most dedicated Liberals that I have ever met.
I would also like to pay special tribute to the late Arthur Scurr MBE, a much respected local community leader in Brisbane's south side. He was a true gentleman, and his open-mindedness to new ideas, his commitment to the community and his tireless work will be missed by us all. His dear wife, Ailsa, also provided me with encouragement and gave me heart through difficult times. I thank the core members of my campaign team, Russell, Adrian and Mae, for being by my side throughout a tough campaign. I thank the Queensland Liberal state director, Geoff Greene, and the state president, Councillor Michael Caltabiano.
I thank my parliamentary colleagues Senator Brett Mason, Senator George Brandis and the Hon. Gary Hardgrave for their words of advice and encouragement. I thank Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson and the Hon. Julie Bishop for taking the time to visit Bonner during the election campaign. I wish to warmly congratulate my new colleague the honourable member for Bowman, Mr Andrew Laming, for his outstanding election victory.
I would also like to acknowledge at this point the Hon. Con Sciacca, the former member for Bowman and the Labor candidate for Bonner at the recent election. Con was not only a worthy and respected opponent but also a person who supported my family through tough times in the past and whose decency and friendship we will never forget.
Most importantly, I thank the people of Bonner for placing their trust in me and electing me as the first member for this new seat. My commitment to you is strong and simple: I will work with diligence, commitment and enthusiasm to justify your trust in me. I spoke before of my grandfather, Salvatore Vasta, who took the first step on the road that led me to this chamber. But this is not the end of the journey, merely the beginning of another one. As I embark on this new journey I hope, just as my ancestors have, through their hard work, contributed to building this great nation, that I too will be able to help to make the electorate of Bonner and Australia an even better place to live.
First Speech – 43rd Parliament
Mr (Deputy) Speaker, if there is one thing that’s 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 3 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.
Mr (Deputy) Speaker, as you and 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.
Senator Bonner was the first Indigenous Australian elected to the Federal Parliament in 1971. During his 12 years in the Senate he was a hard-working 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 and the Parliament have now also welcomed the first Indigenous Australian to the House of Representatives, the Member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt.
Mr (Deputy) Speaker, I am very proud to have served as a member of the Howard Government in my first term as the Member for Bonner from 2004-2007. While I accept the verdict of the electorate in 2007 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 has served as somewhat of a sabbatical for me from public service. I have used the 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 the 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 these past six years Australia has experienced enormous change, and so did 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 both 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 semi-retired people given the relaxed and tranquil paradise alongside 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 will hold this Government to account for every dollar of taxpayer’s 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, and will continue to work throughout this term towards delivering improvements in terms of 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 election campaign and since I was elected, so many local residents have told me that they are not particularly interested in accessing the super-fast download speeds of 100 megabits per second being proposed under the National Broadband Network – they just want to access the current 25 gigabit per second broadband services, but 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 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 20km of the Brisbane CBD.
However, now living in Wakerley, this family can only access a very expensive 6 gigabit per month wireless service. Very frustratingly for many, this inner-city Brisbane suburb is significantly lacking in infrastructure that 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 8 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 timeframe and ensuring that this investment in communications infrastructure is made as soon as possible – but also with a reasonable price tag.
I am more encouraged, Mr Speaker, that the Lord Mayor of Brisbane and the Brisbane City Council is working with the private sector 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 local 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 Super Clinic 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 local community is involved and has ownership of the project to ensure that it delivers improved primary healthcare 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 taxpayer’s 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, 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 healthcare in Bonner.
Bonner is a growing electorate with growing needs. I mentioned previously the number of families attracted to the lifestyle offered by Brisbane’s eastern suburbs. This means that education is truly on my constituents’ mind.
Everyone aspires to give their children a better future in life, and there is no better way to do it than through 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 Schools for Tomorrow program, the opportunity has arisen for those schools and students to move to exciting new premises that better suit their needs. And the Catholic and Independent school sector continues to grow and go from strength to strength in Bonner, providing local parents with plenty of choice – the 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 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.
Mr (Deputy) Speaker, I am very 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 maiden 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 Cr 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 want 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 an 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.
There are other members of this Parliament that have lost their seat and have been fortunate enough to win them back, some as representatives for a different seat – I commend them all. I wish to particularly acknowledge Teresa Gambaro who proves that hard work and dedication does pay off and also Jane Prentice, who I know will work just as hard as the Federal Member for Ryan as she did when she was a Councillor for Walter Taylor Ward. Sincere congratulations to Wyatt Roy who I am quite confident, has a big future ahead of him. Finally to Warren Entsch – you just can’t keep a good man down.
I want to thank all Parliament House Staff – Chamber Staff, Security Guards, Committee Staff, staff in the cafeteria and at Aussies – all those people that make our great parliament function every day. You have made me feel so welcome on my return.
I also want to acknowledge the former member for Bonner, Kerry Rae. Politics is a tough business and I know from personal experience the pain of losing. I want wish Kerry and her family all the best in her future endeavours.
Finally, to the residents of Bonner, I say this: former Senator Neville Bonner embodied perseverance and a commitment to all Australians. In the spirit of perseverance and a commitment to my community, I am truly humbled that you saw fit to return me as your elected representative. I thank you for the trust you have placed in me and I will serve you faithfully and tirelessly.