First Speech: Sarah Henderson MP

Member for Corangamite, Victoria

13 November 2013

Ms HENDERSON (Corangamite) (13:08): I second the motion. Madam Speaker, I begin by congratulating you on achieving the high office of Speaker. After the past three years, I believe Australians are looking forward to a renewed dignity and order in this place. You will no doubt play a pivotal, or perhaps even formidable, role in restoring full public confidence in the Commonwealth parliament of this great nation.

I am honoured and proud to rise to speak for the first time as the 14th member for Corangamite. To the people of Corangamite: I am deeply conscious of the responsibility and trust you have placed in me; thank you. We live in an electorate which is vast and diverse and abounds with many of nature's gifts. Our coastline alone spans 188 kilometres, from the historic township of Queenscliff to Ocean Grove and the rolling surf of Torquay, all the way along the magnificent Great Ocean Road, past rugged limestone and sandstone cliffs, white beaches as far as the eye can see and vibrant coastal communities—places like Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay—to Cape Otway and beyond. This journey along the Great Ocean Road is made possible by the sweat and toil of the returned soldiers of the Great War who built this iconic road between 1919 and 1932. It is the world's largest war memorial.

Now one of our prized tourism destinations, 1.7 million tourists travel the Great Ocean Road each year, bringing $2.1 billion to the Australian economy. The Liberal Party's $25 million election commitment to upgrade this road, matched by another $25 million from the Victorian government, is an investment not just in tourism but in jobs, road safety and our regional economy. That is why building the roads of the 21st century is so important.

In my electorate, there is much wonder to be found inland. There are the soaring rainforests and old timber towns of the Otways and further on. There are rolling hills of beef and dairy cattle and sheep, and crops of wheat, barley and canola from Winchelsea to Colac and Cressy, and from Bannockburn to Smythesdale. There is a rich diversity of industry across the landscape—timber and lamb in Colac; goats cheese in Meredith; poultry and pigs in Lethbridge; and agroforestry and organic produce through the valleys of the Otways.

Our primary producers are so important to our nation. They run businesses which help to keep country communities vibrant and which put food on the table. They are sustained by hard work, by innovation and, at times—in the face of drought and financial hardship—by sheer resilience.

With Australian farmers exporting 60 per cent of what they grow and produce, we must do all we can to open new markets and finalise free trade agreements with the likes of China and South Korea. In my electorate, our predecessor's failure to make these agreements a priority—along with the carbon tax and a raft of regulatory burdens—has taken its toll.

Corangamite stretches into the southern suburbs of Geelong, which has a history rich in wool and manufacturing. It is now also a city of administration, education and innovation. Geelong is the home of Deakin University, the Transport Accident Commission and the mighty Geelong Cats Football Club. It will be the new headquarters of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In its Barwon trial stage, the NDIS is already providing so much hope to so many.

There are many great success stories, particularly in small businesses—the quiet heroes of our national economy—and we have much potential. Geelong has potential as a centre of educational excellence and in carbon fibre production, ecotourism, high-value manufacturing, food processing, the health sciences and innovation. But we also face challenges. As I stand here today, 299 Qantas workers from the heavy maintenance base in Avalon are coming to grips with losing their jobs. Under the previous federal government, Ford announced that it would cease manufacturing cars in Australia in 2016; Alcoa declared that it was reviewing the future of its Point Henry smelter—such an important employer for our region; Shell's North Geelong refinery was put up for sale.

At the 2013 federal election, the Australian people were looking for change. They were seeking stable and competent government. But with this comes great responsibility. As a government we know how important it is to get our policy settings right to build a strong and prosperous economy to drive investment and job creation. To do this we also need to harness the ideas and determination of the Australian people. That is because it is the enterprise, freedom and hard work of individuals which unleash our greatest potential. A nation which puts its people above its government is one which invests in its future. A nation which aspires to foster the best in its people is one which cares for those who need our help. These are the values of Liberalism which I hold so dear.

Today, I reiterate my solemn commitment that I will be the strong, local voice that the people of Corangamite so deserve. Sometimes this will require only a whisper; at other times a roar of determination. I am up for the challenge. I have spent most of my life speaking out and standing up for others—in journalism, in law and in small business. I am humbled to continue this work as a servant of the people.

I grew up in a family which believed that anything was possible. It is wonderful to see my sister, Jodie, with her three children, Angus, Marcus and Louis, and my brother, Andrew, in the gallery today. There are other special family members here also including my aunt, Virginia Hansen, who is a bit like my second mother, and her husband, Ian. At every turn we were encouraged to be the best that we could be and to follow our dreams. My late parents, Ann and Michael Henderson, built our first family home in Belmont near the Barwon River on the eastern edge of the Corangamite electorate. They shared a strong belief in the importance of family, education and enterprise. They worked hard to give us opportunities—Mum for the likes of Legacy, Do Care and the National Trust, and Dad as one of those caring country solicitors for whom nothing was too much trouble. Our life was full of fun and adventure and my parents were always there for us. Some of my most special memories were in the simple pleasures—our summers on the back beach of Queenscliff, pumpkin soup by the fire on a Sunday afternoon, and visits to the old steam train on Belmont Common.

Mum and Dad were deeply involved in their community and in politics. Dad was a local councillor and ran for the Victorian seat of Geelong West in the early eighties. He narrowly missed out, as did Mum when she contested the same seat, renamed Geelong, in 1988. But persistence is a hallmark in our family. Mum picked herself up again and she ran and was elected in 1992. I had a similar journey. After falling short in the 2010 federal election I cannot describe how proud my parents would be to see me here today, 21 years after Mum, as the member for Corangamite.

As an advocate Ann Henderson instilled in me the importance of compassion, integrity and common sense. The redevelopment of the Geelong waterfront, a sparkling jewel in our city's crown, was to be her lasting legacy. As housing minister she revolutionised waiting lists for public housing by giving priority to those most in need. The most vulnerable of families and those with a disability were no longer stuck at the back of the queue. In the best of Liberal traditions Mum understood that good government often required thinking outside the square and challenging convention. Perhaps her finest moment was in September 1997. As minister for Aboriginal affairs she led the way in apologising, on behalf of the people of Victoria, to the stolen generations.

I could not have wished for a better education, first at Sacred Heart College, Geelong, and then at Geelong College. I was later to complete an honours degree in law at Monash University. I learnt to speak Indonesian because, even back then, I figured it made sense to learn the language of such an important near neighbour. Our government's focus on the Asian century reflects our conviction in the untapped opportunities that Asia presents to this generation and to our children and grandchildren.

I started work at the age of 17 for Channel 7 in Melbourne. Life as a television journalist took me to all corners of this continent and around the world. I reported on stories of injustice and tragedy and human achievement. Yet no-one made more impact on me than a woman called Lynne, one of the survivors of the Port Arthur massacre. She told her story with such bravery and courage. I salute Prime Minister John Howard's decision to restrict gun ownership in the wake of this utterly tragic day. The mark of a great Prime Minister is one who can bring a nation with him or with her. John Howard did this on many issues, but perhaps none more so than gun control. Australians will discover that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has that same capacity for consistent and principled leadership exercised in the national interest. It is an honour to serve as part of his team.

Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman to take her place in the House of Representatives, spoke of the Australian character in her first speech in 1943. It was formed, she said, by a hatred of oppression, love of a fair go and a passion for justice. It is for these reasons that I decided to study and then practise law. That led to a wonderful opportunity to work in New York in the heady days of the dotcom boom and bust and to start my own business. And it is for these reasons that I stand here today.

Dame Enid made history, but she did not make gender of itself an issue. She knew that her success would rise and fall on her capacity for hard work, on her quest for new ideas and on her ability to empathise with the people she represented. Let us fight discrimination at every turn. Let us ensure that we are a country where equality knows no bounds. To lay false claim in the name of one's gender has never been the Australian way.

One of my most rewarding roles was with National Indigenous Television, which is now part of SBS television. I saw the joy that flows when we respect the stories and history of our First Australians. Yesterday, in the welcome to country ceremony on the occasion of the opening of this 44th Parliament, the Prime Minister spoke of his commitment to recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. Like the 1967 referendum, Mabo and the national apology, the recognition of our First Australians will help to heal and unify and better define who we are as a nation.

I look forward to working hard in representing the people of Corangamite on the issues I fought for during my 2013 election campaign: doctor shortages in Colac, better postal services, safer roads and investing in the infrastructure for the future, upgrading the Great Ocean Road and duplicating the Princes Highway from Waurn Ponds all the way to Colac. My No. 1 priority is and will remain jobs.

In the services that governments deliver and in the infrastructure they build, I believe there must be greater equity in regional Australia. The tyranny of distance is a constant challenge for all governments. In a continent as large as ours, our comparatively small population does not deliver sufficient revenue to do all things for all people. Tough choices need to be made, yet people living in small country towns and regional cities deserve their fair share of the pie. I will doggedly stand up for all communities in my electorate, big and small, on important issues like communications, better health services, better transport, child care and equal access to education.

In March this year, the small township of Dereel in the northern part of the electorate was hit by bushfire. Sixteen homes were lost in this notorious mobile phone black spot, which to date has not been remedied. With telephone lines down, there was no way of calling for help. I am extremely proud of our $100 million commitment to fix mobile phone black spots, which reflects a genuine care for country people. So I say to the people of Dereel and to communities like Gellibrand, Birregurra and Rokewood: we are listening. We are also listening on the rollout of fast broadband, which will be a priority in regional Australia. The Australia I want to see is one where we can better connect with each other and where families can prosper, no matter where we live. The Australia I want to see is one where businesses can flourish absent of unnecessary regulatory burden, which deadens the spirit of enterprise.

I wish to raise two important issues for the people living in Corangamite. Across what is known as our G21 region, there are more than 23,000 active businesses. More than 80 per cent of these are run by sole traders or have fewer than five employees. Small business is our lifeblood. They need to be supported by policies which allow them to thrive and grow and employ our next generation of Australians. In some sectors the market share of a couple of big players is crushing small business. Our commitment to conduct a root-and-branch review of competition law is one of the important steps we are taking to stand up for the engine room of our economy. I believe in free markets and in competition. That includes combating abuses of market power. I am proud to be part of a government which is not afraid to ask the hard questions.

I also want to highlight the importance of our natural environment. In such a beautiful part of the world, Corangamite residents feel very strongly about protecting one of our most important assets. The Liberal Party has a strong tradition of practical environmentalism. It was the coalition which established stage 1 of Kakadu National Park and ended whaling in Australia. It was the coalition which put the Great Barrier Reef on a sustainable footing a decade ago. We are now delivering a 15,000-strong Green Army and tackling climate change. I commit myself to being a passionate defender of our precious environment.

There are many people to thank who have helped me along my journey. First and foremost I thank local members of the Liberal Party who work so hard. Some are here in the gallery today. I particularly acknowledge Dean Bushell, Robert Hardie, Kerry Ridgeway and my campaign team: Jocelen Griffiths, Robyn Cox, Robert Charles, Ian Smith, David Harris, Simon Terpstra, Amanda McFarlane, Helene Bender and Aaron Lane. In this Federation seat, I acknowledge those who have served before me. They include Stewart McArthur and the former foreign minister Tony Street. Both were great defenders of our Liberal traditions. The Liberal Party is a great organisation. I thank the President of the Liberal Party, Tony Snell, state director, Damien Mantach, and federal director, Brian Loughnane, for all they have done. I wish to make special mention of Prime Minister Abbott, who has encouraged me at every step, along with his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. So many MPs helped my fight. At the risk of naming names, a special thank you to Julie Bishop, Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey, Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne, Helen Kroger, Josh Frydenberg, Alan Tudge, Dan Tehan and Greg Hunt, who was there for me when the chips were down. To Michael Ronaldson, my former patron senator, thank you.

There are many other friends and supporters who cannot be here today:Jeff Kennett, Robert Doyle, Frank Costa and Jim Cousins. There are some who are here: my dear friendsAlister Paterson, Anna Warne and Angela Pearman.

We all know that preselections can be tough. My battle was no different. But you can find love in the oddest of places. I met my partner, Simon Ramsay, now a Victorian member of parliament, during the 2010 Corangamite preselection. We are a great team and I thank Simon from the bottom of my heart for all his love, support and commitment.

And then there is my beautiful seven-year-old son, Jeremy. We say to each other all the time: 'I love you, all the way to infinity.' Thank you, Jem, for your understanding and support as we embark on this new phase of our lives.

I want to end with a pearl of wisdom from my mother, who was always there to inspire me, even as she battled cancer. In January 2000 she wrote:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.

In my service to the people of Corangamite, that is what I will be doing. Thank you.

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