First Speech: Melissa Price MP

Member for Durack, Western Australia

2 December 2013

 Ms PRICE (Durack) (16:12): Madam Speaker, I too wish to add my voice to the very long chorus of well-wishers regarding your elevation to the position of Speaker of the House. I am confident that your experience and knowledge, and not forgetting your grace and good humour, will bring dignity and humility to this House.

I am an ordinary person now with an extraordinary job. I have the job of representing the people of Durack. This is a huge responsibility and one that I do not take lightly. I am very humbled to have been entrusted by the people of Durack to be their representative. I intend to work hard so that I may serve them for many years. But no matter what happens I am determined to leave my mark by making Durack and Australia a better place to live.

I am a girl from Kalgoorlie—the gold mining town in the eastern goldfields of Western Australia. I left school at the age of 15. I did not think the nuns could teach me anything further. I was wrong, of course, and had to find out the hard way. I eventually returned to complete my education, qualifying as a lawyer at the age of 31. I am the youngest of four children, with two older brothers, Mark and Greg, and my sister, Lynda. My parents, Ray and Lyn Dellar, created a loving family and went without to give to us all a Catholic education. I give thanks to those educators—the nuns and lay teachers at St Mary's Catholic Primary School and Prendiville Ladies College, as it was then.

Growing up in the goldfields in the 1960s and 1970s was no picnic. The gold price was unpredictable so times were tough. But in those days people who worked on the mines worked regular hours, went home to their families at night and were able to contribute to the community more broadly. Growing up, my mother encouraged my siblings and me to 'just have a go', 'do your best, that's all that can be asked of you.' These words of encouragement have followed me through life and given me the belief that to be successful all you need is effort—the rewards will flow.

I am a fourth generation goldfielder. My grandad David Dellar entered the Western Australian state parliament as a Labor politician in 1963. My uncle, Stan Dellar, also Labor, was elected to the parliament and was famously knocked from his seat by my friend the Hon. Norman Moore MLC, in 1977, who retired only last year after a stellar career. My father also had aspirations of a political life but the opportunity did not present itself. He did work hard for the Labor Party and worked on many different campaigns.

As a child growing up I saw my parents' involvement in the Labor Party as really just a part of their social life—not as political activism—not unlike many people living in mining towns in that era. Mum and I both agree that if grandad Dellar were alive today he would probably be a Liberal. He was a hard worker, took good care of his own and was quite the entrepreneur with his various mining interests. I also pay tribute to my mother's parents, Norman and Olive Blurton, who raised to their eight children in Leonora and Wiluna, later moving to Useless Loop to work in the salt works.

Not unlike many people who have grown up in regional Australia, I did not always love living in the bush. I often thought I was missing out on things that people from the city just took for granted. However, Sherbet and Renee Geyer did come to Kalgoorlie, so it was not all that bad! What you do get, though, from living in a country town is a sense of belonging to a community. I have never lost that belief that people from the bush really know me and understand me, and, more importantly, that I know and understand them. That passion for and understanding of people from regional Western Australia will drive me to be a strong voice for Durack and to champion all that it is and all that it can be.

The federal electorate of Kalgoorlie was first proclaimed in 1901, with the change to the electoral boundary to create Durack not taking place until 2008. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of my predecessors of all political persuasions who have helped to create the powerhouse region that Durack is today. My first mention must, of course, go to Mr Barry Haase, who is here with us today. Thank you, Barry, for all the hard work that you have given to the electorate for 15 years. I would also like to thank and acknowledge other past members: Graeme Campbell, Mick Cotter and Fred Collard, to name but a few.

I have some 30-odd years of combined commercial and legal experience. The member for Curtin and the member for Pearce and I are the three members of the Clayton Utz Perth alumni here in Canberra. I am very grateful to my former colleagues from Clayton Utz for their tutelage and friendship, especially Adrienne Parker, Mary-Alice Paton and Stephen Boyle. Some would say I have had a colourful work history. I have enjoyed working in the hospitality and insurance industries, and also in management in the fast food industry, the grains industry and the mining industry, where I worked for Robe River Iron Associates at Wickham, and also the iron ore company Crosslands Resources. I was even an aerobics instructor at one point in my history. I think the House can probably judge for itself that I appear to have more in common with the fast food industry now than the fitness industry! More recently, I have been given the opportunity to work in more regionally focused industries. I had a legal and then a business development role at the CBH Group. This experience was very valuable for a girl from the goldfields. An appreciation and understanding of the farming industry is critical in a seat such as Durack, and, although I am no farmer, this experience taught me much about this important industry, including its passion for community and the challenges of running this type of a business.

My time working for Crosslands Resources, which is part of the Oakajee stable of companies, and is owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, was also very valuable. Wearing my business development hat I had the pleasure of travelling deep into the mid-west to assess possible mining acquisitions, near to towns like Yalgoo, Cue and Meekatharra. Regrettably, the Oakajee Port and Rail project is currently on the backburner, but I have no doubt that a solution will be found in the near future and we will all witness the unlocking of the value of the iron ore industry in the mid-west. In the meantime, Geraldton has displayed her resilience and has taken advantage of other opportunities as they have arisen.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the Durack family, who were pioneers and developers of the Kimberley, and whose namesake epitomises the progress of this great region. The electorate of Durack is quite simply like no other in Australia or the world. Its sheer size, of approximately 1.6 million square kilometres, or one-third of Australia's land mass, makes it not only Australia's largest electorate but also the second largest electorate in the world. Durack's future relies upon successful diversification of industry. To achieve this in a region that encompasses 46 shire councils and stretches from the mid-west and the wheat belt through to the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley will be no easy feat.

As a kid from the bush, I know the region has its problems, but I also know its potential. It is my hope that this current parliament is remembered not only for the economic benefits Durack makes to Australia's economy but also for the contributions this parliament gives back to the electorate. Ensuring that all families have access to affordable child care, supporting small businesses and making improvements to services such as aged care facilities, telecommunications and road and port infrastructure is what everyday Australians will thank us for.

People may step back from the Durack electorate and say, 'Boy, do you have it all!' We have a multi-billion dollar resources industry which has risen out of the red dirt of the Pilbara, and we have some of the most unique and interesting landscapes in the world, from the wonders of the Ningaloo Reef and Karijini National Park to the picturesque Kimberley region. To those people I would say, 'Yes, we do have it all!' It is a big region with a big economy, but also with big problems. The Durack electorate will face many obstacles, particularly over the next decade, to diversify and meet these challenges.

Madam Speaker, you may not be surprised to know that one of the biggest sectors suffering in Durack is the small business sector. What is good for small business is good for Australia—in particular, in regional communities. In Durack, yes, we have the resources industry, but not all have benefited from this economic activity. In short, it has not been the land of milk and honey for everyone. In mining towns in Durack the cost of housing is now starting to ease, but the reality is that if you are working in the service sector or running a small business in these communities you are still struggling. We also see small businesses in the wheat-belt towns fighting to keep their doors open. As we all know, these small businesses are often the glue that holds these communities together. Whether it is the pharmacy in Kellerberrin, the tour operator in Broome or the B&B in Kalbarri, the story is the same. We need to reduce red tape, get rid of unnecessary taxes—something that I am pleased to say that the Abbott-led government is well on its way to achieving—and restore confidence to the economy. Small business can then flourish and hire more people—jobs for our children, jobs for our grandchildren.

Getting rid of the carbon tax is a significant step forward to provide an injection of hope for these constituents. The establishment of a parliamentary committee for the development of Northern Australia, with the honourable Warren Entsch as its chair, is yet another example of this government's foresight into the need to plan for Australia's strategic growth. I hope to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the creation and the ultimate implementation of the white paper for Northern Australia.

Western Australia's resources industry, whose main contributors are the Pilbara and Kimberley regions in Durack, was the country's largest exporter in 2012, contributing 46 per cent or $114 billion to Australia's total merchandise exports. Big business has invested in this region and has reaped the benefits, but the ordinary person struggles with a higher-than-average cost of living, and we experience the same social issues as any other electorate. Madam Speaker, the Kimberley is one of Australia's hidden treasures, with spectacular gorges and waterfalls. The view from the Five Rivers Lookout in Wyndham is breathtaking, as is Cable Beach in Broome. But our tourism industry is under threat. The beauty of the canary-yellow canola fields and the light brown, healthy wheat hides the fact that there are still many farmers in the wheat belt who are struggling from previous poor harvests. The availability of the federal concessional farm loans scheme is important to these farm businesses. The arrangements between the Western Australian and federal governments must be finalised as quickly as possible.

Many cattle producers are still recovering from the effects of Labor's knee-jerk ban on live animal exports. This has highlighted how vulnerable this part of the industry is with so few markets; the sooner we can open up more markets, the better. Whilst the opponents of this industry are focused on animal welfare, I am focused on human welfare as we hear disturbing stories of cattle producers' families receiving threats, with too many taking their own lives. These are all issues that I know are important to my coalition colleagues. Our leadership team has already taken the first steps to ensure that the issues which affect the lives of everyday Australians are a first priority.

Madam Speaker, you did not need a crystal ball to predict the failure of the mining tax. Although it raised, relatively, no revenue, it still hung over the mining industry like a bad smell. From a regulatory point of view, it put a drain on the industry, whilst also discouraging investment and making Australia internationally uncompetitive. Whilst we have taken the first steps to rid Australia of the mining tax, it is worth reflecting on the positive impact that the resources industry has had, particularly at a local level. Our regional communities have benefited significantly from this industry in terms of infrastructure and employment opportunities, with one of the most valuable contributions being to Indigenous employment. The WA resources sector is the largest employer of Indigenous Australians, who comprise 4.2 per cent of its overall workforce. I believe that everyone in this House today would agree that there is a desperate need to improve the lives of Indigenous people in Australia. Although there has been some progress with government and community programs, we still have a long way to go. I applaud Prime Minister Abbott's decision to include Indigenous Affairs as part of his office, and I wish Warren Mundine the very best in his role as the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council, and with the creation of successful future policies for Indigenous Australians. Make no mistake: this is a tough job. It will take very strong leadership and courage to make the necessary changes. We need policies that will ensure that current and future generations of Aboriginal children are educated, have hope and opportunities, and remain healthy—so that they may aspire to contribute in their own ways to this great country. Durack has the third-highest proportion of Aboriginal residents. My plea is that history will show that this 44th Parliament showed the courage and the foresight to adopt policies that improved the lives of these Durack residents.

If you live in the city, your choices for post-secondary education are usually many; if you live in the bush, this is often not the case. Australia needs to promote and support the increase in post-secondary education service providers in rural and regional areas. Not everyone wants to study and live in the city, and our country cousins should be afforded the same opportunities as are available in the cities.

We still have a long way to go to improve health services in rural and regional areas. Just having a local doctor can make a huge difference to a community, but sadly that service is not always available. Part of the solution is to ensure that young people from regional areas are given the opportunity to study medicine. Providing rural and remote placements for student doctors should also be encouraged, so that these students gain a greater understanding of the health needs of regional Australia and, hopefully, return to take up practice.

I pause for a moment to reflect on the not-for-profit sector. This is an important part of our economic make-up; a sector that knows how to make a dollar go that bit further. Government funding of the not-for-profit sector should always be seen as a value-add. As a director of both the Cancer Council (WA) and BrightSpark Foundation, I have experienced firsthand the valuable contribution that this sector makes, especially in supporting cancer and child health research. I pay tribute to my friends and fellow board members who dedicate much of their unpaid time and expertise to ensuring the success of the not-for-profit sector, for the benefit of us all: in particular, Jenny Rogers, Professor Christobel Saunders, Pina Caffarelli, Graham Dowland, the Hon. Hendy Cowan, Andrew Thompson and Kim Pervan.

Government needs to be smaller, and more efficient; government departments more accountable, and more productive—with their performances measured to ensure that Australians are getting good value for money. Australia simply cannot afford not to make changes to the way in which we govern. A reduction in government employee numbers is a good start but, culturally, we have a long way to go. With the Abbott-led government now at the helm, we must strive for such changes. I look forward to being a part of the team that brings about the necessary cultural shift.

Like all new members of parliament, I did not arrive at this place without receiving a helping hand. My journey began during the Western Australian state election earlier in the year, when I was the candidate for the state seat of Kalgoorlie. I narrowly missed out on winning the seat. The experience did, however, sharpen my resolve to be a strong advocate for regional Western Australia, and it made me even more determined to win the seat of Durack so that I could be a strong voice in this House. I say a special thanks to Linda Crook, my campaign manager for the Kalgoorlie campaign, who believed in me then and has supported me ever since. Thanks also to the Kalgoorlie campaign team and all those at the Kalgoorlie Liberal branch, and to my family in Kalgoorlie: you have all played a part in my journey to Canberra.

My campaign to retain the seat of Durack was a very short, sharp, fast-paced six weeks. Although the seat was already held by the Liberal Party, success was not guaranteed. The campaign team therefore needed to be something very special to have any hope of holding the largest seat in Australia. I call this special group of people the 'Durack Dream Team'. I sincerely thank the members of this team who are as follows: Ben Morton, Ben Allen, David De Garis, Joey Armenti, Gordon Thomson, Ruth McLagon, Senator Alan Eggelston—thanks Eggy—and my dear friends Michelle Lewis and the Hon. Mark Lewis. A special mention and thank you goes also to Ian Blayney, the member for Geraldton, and Greg and Fran Weller, and all the Liberal branch members in the electorate.

I would also thank my electoral staff who have really helped me to hit the ground running. Many thanks to De-Arne, Leanne, Jackie, Louise, Shannen and Lorraine. I know that together we will achieve great things for Durack. For her hard work on election day, I thank Judy, who organised the booth workers and all the numerous volunteers, far too many to mention. Special mention must go to my mum, sister Lynda, Brian, Jessica, Hannah, Alistair, Sheena, Aunty Mandy and Patrick. Special thanks also to the Hon. Norman Moore and Lee Moore, the Hon. Ken Baston and Robin Baston, Senator Eggelston, Tammy Corby, the Hon. Mark Lewis and Barry Haase for their extra special efforts on the day. I really could not have done it without them.

Madam Speaker, I thank the following new and old friends that may not have always understood my journey but have supported me nonetheless: Hilary MacDonald, Hayley Lawrance, Karen McGougan, Bev Sinclair and John Blakemore, Nicki and Maurice, Amaryl and Aldo, Craig and Trish, Shorty and Kate and Gary Connell. Thank you to the Price family and the Bell family for accepting me into their families without question. To my adorable Brad, being the member for Durack would not be possible without your love and support. Finally thanks to Rhiannon: may she rest in peace and keep close watch over me—now my guardian angel.

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