First Speech: Luke Howarth MP

Member for Petrie, Queensland

11 December 2013

Mr HOWARTH (Petrie) (17:31): Madam Speaker, I rise today humbled by the responsibility placed in me by my community. I congratulate you on your election to the chair. When I first heard that you were to be nominated I thought that you would be an excellent choice and a fair Speaker, and that has proved an accurate prediction. Thank you for your help during my campaign.

To be elected the ninth member for Petrie is indeed an honour. I would like to acknowledge my predecessors, including the Hon. Yvette D'Ath and my colleague the Hon. Teresa Gambaro, now member for Brisbane and a great trailblazer for Liberal women. Teresa held Petrie for 11 years.

I acknowledge the Hon. Sir Alan Hulme, who was the very first member for Petrie and a former Minister for Supply and then Postmaster-General; and the Hon. John Hodges, who supported me during my campaign and represented this seat with distinction. These former members contributed to the rich history of the Petrie electorate.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House of the history behind the seat of Petrie. The division of Petrie was created in 1949 and was named after Andrew Petrie, a noted civil engineer, pioneer and explorer. Interestingly, the suburb of Petrie is not in the electorate of Petrie.

The Petrie electorate covers 152 square kilometres and extends from Cabbage Tree Creek in the south to Burpengary Creek in the north, and from the coastline of Deception Bay to Bramble Bay, located on the Redcliffe Peninsula.

Petrie is a diverse electorate with a vibrant culture and busy community centres. To all residents of Petrie: as your local member I say to you I have spent my life living in the local area and I am passionate about providing grassroots representation. I am your voice in Canberra.

Madam Speaker, I say to you and the people of Petrie: we have a bright future ahead. My constituents voted for change and I am immensely proud to be part of a government that has a positive plan to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia.

I have been listening to the people in my electorate and the number one issue that has been raised with me is the need to create jobs. At present, my electorate has an unemployment rate well above the national average. I will be working every day to address the issue of unemployment by consulting small businesses and providing job seekers with information about the skills they need to find a job.

In order to create more jobs we need to reduce red tape, reduce taxes and provide support to small- and medium-sized businesses. Petrie is a great place to invest and grow a small business. Not only does my electorate have some of the fastest-expanding residential areas in Australia, including Griffin, Mango Hill and North Lakes, but we also have a number of key infrastructure programs commencing.

The government has committed $1 billion towards the Gateway Motorway, which will see the widening of lanes to ease traffic congestion currently experienced by motorists. The government has also committed funding to build the Moreton Bay Rail Link.

Petrie is a great place to visit for a weekend away or an extended holiday. The Redcliffe Peninsula is just 20 minutes north of Brisbane airport and has a long history as a holiday destination. Redcliffe has wonderful beaches, restaurants, accommodation and tourist activities which operate all year round. On Sunday mornings the Redcliffe markets set up along the Esplanade, with the iconic Redcliffe Jetty and Moreton Bay as a backdrop. Visitors and locals can enjoy breakfast, grab a coffee at one of the many cafes and restaurants or stroll along the Esplanade and enjoy some leisurely shopping on the shore of our magnificent seaside.

If you prefer to spend time on the water then I can highly recommend the whale-watching tours on offer. For the more adventurous thrill-seekers, Redcliffe offers skydiving. Redcliffe is the closest place to Brisbane city to skydive.

I must not forget the other suburbs in my electorate—suburbs like Deception Bay, Burpengary, Rothwell and those aspirational hardworking suburbs located in the Brisbane City Council. All of these suburbs form part of our great community and have lots to offer, including great schools.

With three young sons at school, extracurricular activities and homework are fixtures in our household. I had the opportunity to visit a vast majority of schools within my electorate to see firsthand what a wonderful job principals, teachers, chaplains and support staff do with our children and young adults. I strongly believe it is the parents' responsibility to provide for their children and to give them the best possible start to life, and that includes education. We all know the significant role teachers play in our children's lives. Not only are they teachers; they are the people who spend the most time with our children during their school years. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the educators in our schools for the fantastic job you do.

In Australia we are privileged to have a world-class secondary education system that attracts international students from across the globe. Not only do these students obtain a top-class education; they contribute greatly towards our economy. I support the government's plan to foster international educational opportunities through the implementation of the Colombo Plan. The plan will see our brightest minds study overseas whilst at the same time providing opportunities for foreign students to come to Australia. I believe we are the lucky country, with open minds and compassionate hearts, and I hope our international students return home with good news about the wonderful country Australians call home. I am proud of the role we play in international education and knowledge sharing with today's youth. It is these youth who will grow into tomorrow's leaders.

Since my fellow members and I were sworn in at the beginning of this 44th Parliament I have had time to reflect on what motivated me to represent the seat. Whilst I was heading to Canberra this week I reflected on the journey I have travelled during my life. As my aircraft took off from Brisbane airport I saw the Petrie electorate from the air as we flew across Moreton Bay. I reminisced about the time I spent with my father when I was a child, fishing in the bay and camping on the banks of Saltwater Creek at Mango Hill during one of many mud-crabbing expeditions. Growing up in Bracken Ridge, I was fortunate to have a typical suburban upbringing in a stable family environment. My parents, Ron and Denise Howarth—who are in the gallery today—met on a Queensland dairy farm and were married in 1968. They did a wonderful job of raising me and my younger sister, Gemeah.

Mum was a steady hand who was always there to provide support, from helping with our homework to running us around for sporting events and disciplining us when we stepped out of line. Mothers are the silent heroes of our community, so I want to say a big thankyou to all the mothers in my electorate. I am proud to stand up and represent you in this place.

My Dad, who had a pretty ordinary upbringing, left school and moved away from home after completing grade 5. He is an inspiration and a great example to me, and he has taught me about the importance of possessing a strong work ethic. Dad owned his very first home outright and had started his first business by the time he was 21. With his drive and determination, and ability to satisfy a need in the community, he owned several small businesses, including a second-hand shop, a furniture removals business and then a business building greenhouses. This business he later swapped for a pest control company, which has been in our family for more than three decades.

My extended family have also provided me with a strong sense of history. Three of my grandparents served in World War II, which sparked my interest in the defence forces from a very early age. I will never forget Anzac days with my late grandfather, having a beer after the dawn service and remembering his mates who did not come home. We owe a debt of gratitude to the generation who fought for Australia, and we must never forget their legacy and sacrifice. We must also not forget those who have sacrificed their lives and those soldiers who have returned from theatres of war such as Iraq and Afghanistan with both physical and mental injuries. We need to make sure their sacrifices and their decisions to go willingly into a war zone do not go unnoticed. We need to ensure that our soldiers continue to receive the support they need both on and off the battlefield. That is why I am proud of the coalition's commitment to restore defence spending and to ensure that our military personnel are well trained and well equipped to effectively carry out operations in all theatres of war.

It is simply unacceptable that in the last six years Labor cut over $16 billion from our defence force budget and put our national security at risk. Speaking of budgets, before entering parliament I managed the family business. Running a small family business with a team of people really does give you a good understanding of the challenges SMEs deal with on a daily basis. During the years of the global financial crisis our family business performed well. We balanced the books and avoided debt, had good cash flow, and invested in our staff. After many years of spending, it is now time for the nation to balance its books. The former government approached the GFC by running huge deficits. I would like to ask this question: can a government take credit for good economic management when their plan to stimulate was to rack up billions in debt? I wondered at the time how former Treasurer Peter Costello would have handled that situation. I suspect it would have been quite different. After all, anyone can spend money they do not have. The good news is that at the last election the Australian people elected a coalition government, who are proven economic managers and have a vision to bring the budget back to surplus.

I feel it is important to inform the House and the Petrie electorate of how I came to be here today. It was back in 2009 that I spoke to my wife, Louise, about taking the boys on a journey around Australia to show them the vastness and diversity of our country, from the bustling cities to the wide open spaces of our remote outback. So in 2011 we rented out our home, hooked up our caravan and set off to explore. And explore we did. We saw the beauty of our vast coastlines, the mountains where the boys learnt to ski and the southern tips of Australia down in Tasmania. We visited cities and towns from the Great Ocean Road to the wineries in South Australia and across the Nullarbor before heading into Western Australia and onwards from there.

During the trip we really did all learn so much about our wonderful country. However, for me and my family, this trip will always hold a significant place in our family's history as it was during this trip that we made the decision that I would run for the federal seat of Petrie. The decisions the Labor government was making were hurting Australians. I was very concerned at the time that just three years on from the end of the Howard government much of the wisdom, statesmanship and great policy achievements of John Howard were being overturned. With my experience in small business, I was appalled that the level of Australian debt was increasing so fast that Australia had never witnessed such a turnaround in three short years. The strong border protection policies of the Pacific Solution that had been proven to work were overturned by Labor without any thought about the consequences.

Then, whilst in WA, as we headed north into cattle country, we saw for ourselves the devastation of the knee-jerk decision by the previous Labor government to ban live exports without any consultation. We saw communities that suddenly had their livelihoods taken away and family incomes destroyed overnight. As we headed south from Darwin we passed road trains with huge signs written across the back saying 'No carbon tax' and 'Call an election now'.

It was at this point that I decided to run and, by winning, I knew I would help deliver a coalition government. I am proud to be part of the Abbott government. At the beginning of the election campaign I remember sitting down with the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, at a coffee shop, and the words he spoke to me will never be forgotten. He said: 'Luke, this election is not about us. It's not about you becoming the local member or me becoming Prime Minister. It's about better government for all Australians.' The Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Abbott, is a man of integrity and a leader that truly cares about all Australians.

Whilst travelling around Australia, I was in awe of Australia's landscapes, which fuelled my love for the environment. During my campaign some of the most productive times I had were with the local environment groups. Together we planned activities that will truly benefit the environment. These green army proposals are a practical and positive part of our direct action plan—a plan that includes one million additional homes throughout the country installing solar panels over the next decade. I am pleased to say that almost 13,000 homes in the Petrie electorate have already made the switch to solar, which is helping the environment and reducing homeowners' cost of living.

Madam Speaker, as you would know, campaigning is tough and you cannot run a successful campaign without support from your volunteers, supporters, party members, family, friends and those members of the community who offer to help you along the way. I did not win this seat on my own, and whilst I cannot mention everyone here today, I do want to send a big thank you to everyone who was involved in my campaign. Their time, commitment and enthusiasm got me over the line, and for this I am eternally grateful.

To all the community volunteers I have met on my journey so far: I have enjoyed meeting you, and I look forward to supporting your activities during the next three years. I know we can work together to create an even better place. To my parents and parents-in-law: thank you for your tireless campaigning and the support you provided both to me and Louise and to my campaign. To the Petrie FDC members and executive: thank you for your support; I greatly appreciated it. Thank you to the Young LNP for flooding my seat with blue shirts. There was always such energy when you came to town. There was never a task too large or small for you. To the organisational wings of the Queensland Liberal National Party and the federal Liberal campaign team: thank you for providing a well-organised campaign and structure and our winning plan. To my state colleagues, the members for Sandgate, Murrumba and Aspley: thank you for your support. To Senator Ian Macdonald, James McGrath and the entire 2013 Queensland Senate team: thank you for helping the Petrie campaign. To my patron senator, Sue Boyce: thank you for your thoughtful and considered advice. During your time in the other place I know you have achieved great things, particularly in the areas of disability and small business.

I would like to thank some of my Queensland colleagues in this place: the member for Longman, Wyatt Roy, and the member for Bowman, Andrew Laming. Your enthusiasm and great campaigning ideas were much appreciated. To the 'big guns of politics' who threw some credibility behind my campaign events: I would like to thank the member for Groom, the Hon. Ian MacFarlane, and the member for Curtin, the Hon. Julie Bishop. Your encouragement was inspirational.

To the Hon. Greg Hunt, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, the Hon. Christopher Pyne and the member for North Sydney, the Hon. Joe Hockey: thank you for believing in me. And to all those ministers that travelled to my electorate: thank you. To the Hon. Tony Abbott and the Chief Whip, the Hon. Phillip Ruddock: thank you for your continued support and for taking the time to visit me in the electorate of Petrie. To my friend and colleague the member for Dickson, the Hon. Peter Dutton: Peter, you have been a great supporter of mine. Your experience, knowledge and mentoring before and during my campaigning really gave me the confidence to know that my campaign was on track and that I could win. Thank you. To the excellent staff at our family business: thank you for your patience and support and for running the show without me.

I have saved my last thanks for those most dear: my dear wife, Louise, and my three sons. Louise, you are a wonderful partner, and together we make a great team. You were the rock for our children while I was busy campaigning, and you continue to hold our family lives together. Your wisdom, support and organisational skills make it possible for me to be here today representing the electorate of Petrie. To my boys William, Thomas and Samuel: thank you for sharing your dad with the electorate of Petrie. I hope that through my work and the efforts of my parliamentary colleagues we are able to give you a prosperous future with endless opportunities. To the community of Petrie: my journey as your member of parliament may be bumpy at times, yet I can assure you I have the drive to ensure that you have a member interested in what you have to say. I affirm my pledge that I will work hard to ensure a brighter future for each one of you and the electorate of Petrie as a whole.

I wanted to end with a simple belief of mine, just four words: 'Life is about relationships.' I truly believe this. The most important relationships in my life are: (1) my relationship with God, as a man of strong faith, and (2) my relationship with those people around me—my friends, my family, my neighbours and my work colleagues in this place. At the end of the day, when everything else is gone, relationships are what count.

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