First Speech: Ann Sudmalis MP

Member for Gilmore, New South Wales

10 December 2013

Ms SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (16:14): Over 50 years ago, John F Kennedy in his inaugural speech made one of the most famous statements in modern democracy, inspiring a nation to participate rather than commentate. He said: 'Ask not what your country can do for you but, rather, what you can do for your country'. Today we commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela, who not only did something for his country but is iconic for developing community self-belief. For some of us the idea of doing something for our country is too broad, a little too big, a concept meant for others, something grand perhaps only for heroes, perhaps something to do with pilots, sailors or soldiers. But humans live in groups each best described as a community, so for us as Australians our question is to ask not what we can do for our country but rather what can we do for our community. We have been beguiled by the marketing of such things as my choice, my store, my school, my rights and my opinion, but we are not a collection of selfish individuals, we are a society. I am tired of this 'I, me and mine' dominating the media and seeping into the mindset of our children and our youth. It is overdone and overdue. We need a change back to the Aussie way. We are famous for a 'we, ours and us' way of looking at the world. So if each one of us does something for our community we will make life just a little better and our whole country will benefit. It is this ideal of making things better, of giving back to the community, that has brought me here as a member of parliament.

I was born in Milton, a village on the South Coast of New South Wales. My dad was a young man, Norrie Hardinge as he was known in the village, and my mum was his British immigrant bride, Valerie. Dad was a manual arts teacher, Mum was his wife. Back in the day that was a full-time role and few people undervalued how important being a mum really was. My dad was also a freelance photographer at the local paper. During a photographic accident, something to do with a light bulb blowing up, he sustained a severe eye injury, ultimately swapping it for a glass one that was not quite a colour match.

Soon after we moved to Sydney to live with my grandmother. These three people fashioned the core of my character. My mother, constantly baking and sewing for school fetes and other community groups, established an ethic of community service as part of my childhood. She also sang and wrote stories, much as she does to this day, which inspired my love of language and performance arts. My father taught me bushcraft, the love of woodworking, stone building, how to use hammers, chisels and drills and the absolute joy of the Australian bush. He taught me about billy tea and jaffles, red-bellied black snakes and the scent of the boronia bush—memories that we all share.

My much-loved gran, who loved me unconditionally,—what grandmother doesn't?—as a baby was left on a church doorstep as a foundling child, called Norma after Norman, the minister who discovered her, and they hoped to find her mother, so she was named Norma Hope. She taught me generosity of spirit, that we are all equal in God's eyes, that your actions will always come back to you like a boomerang, so make sure whatever you do is done without ill will, and to have faith in the greater good of everyone. My childhood was shared with my brother, Stuart. We have always been very close, for at times I was his mini mum. We share a deep regard and friendship that continues to this day.

My education, like many Australian children, was not completed in a single primary school nor followed by a single high school. I was in fact blessed, although I did not see it that way at the time, by moving frequently and having to make new friends along the way, and learning to accept all the different experiences. After completing my science degree, during which time I also gained a wedding ring and two beautiful sons, Rodney and Barry, and all the additional learning that you do as a young mother, I began a career as a high school science teacher. Ten years passed in this most honoured yet undervalued profession, that of educating, facilitating, nurturing and developing young adults towards their full potential. One of my greatest wishes is that we renew our respect for teachers and their vital role in creating and maintaining the fabric of our society, that we value them and that we have values in education as a mainspring for the future of our nation. Many people do not value teachers and they do not, in general, value education, often using it as an expedient political football because it has so many emotional hooks, going for big-picture changes rather than asking the teachers on the job about their vision for improvement.

It was during my time as a teacher that the importance of basic skills, literacy and social responsibility became very significant. I co-developed literacy based learning in my classes and was lucky enough to be selected as an exchange teacher to share these ideas in New York. In addition to establishing lifelong friendships, such as those I share with the Costin family,—Chris and Warwick have seen me through many life adventures and still we share the odd pizza and coffee—the years teaching were very rewarding. My beautiful daughter, Kimberly, was born during this time. It was a busy time of community involvement with playgroups, cubs, little athletics, swim classes, music and gym classes, as well as all the other life-spinning activities that many parents grapple with and try to keep in life balance.

After the exchange teaching opportunity our family moved to Kiama on the South Coast to explore the great adventures, the financial roller-coaster and the challenge of owning our own business. So the experienced economic research officer, my then husband, and me, the science teacher, embarked on the journey of making fudge. It was during this time I learned the immense contribution that small business makes to local economies in terms of direct employment and local spend-dollars by the employees, creating hubs of activity, building with expansion and donating to local groups, apart from paying taxes. I calculate that my company, via the taxes we paid, could have built two preschools over 20 years. When moving from teaching to being a business owner, many friends laughed and said, 'Making money from fudge in a small coastal town—impossible!' But it wasn't. We changed a small cottage industry with just three employees to a business with over 40 staff, exporting to six international destinations. I am sure there will also be looks of astonishment today, just as there were back then. However, it goes to show that if you apply yourself, work hard and listen to the people you serve, you can be successful.

I was also elected to Kiama Council during this time. When you grow a business, you often confront ridiculous red tape. After challenging the local council on building changes, in the following election I was invited to run as a candidate. So, Neville Fredericks, and your beautiful wife Jill, your encouragement and confidence at that time were the catalysts for the pathway that has brought me here, the member for Gilmore.

After 17 years as part of a successful, dynamic and very intense business it was time for me to give back to the wider community. There followed a very special period of volunteer work in India, living in a rural village in Tamil Nadu. This period reinforced my love of teaching, and I returned to Australia to complete my Master of Education. I later used this qualification to tutor at the University of Wollongong in the diploma of education program.

Giving back to the community has always been important to me. Being a youth leader—mentoring young women's leadership programs, youth forums and business start-ups—was a way of making things better. Over the six-year period of the last government, I did not see my beloved Australia getting better. Rather, I saw many more families struggling to make ends meet, struggling to stay employed and struggling to make sense of the way things were being done in their community and in their country.

I saw with horror the students retained at school until they were 17 as they destroyed real learning for those who wished to be there. I watched their loss of self-esteem as they struggled to keep up with work that was completely beyond them. I saw the frustration on the faces of the teachers as they noted the complexities of demands that this policy change caused—because, when this country introduced a policy which directed all students towards university education, we set in place a pathway for many to fail. There are other, far more relevant avenues—which lead to much better outcomes, richer self-esteem and, above all, the essential skills that we need—than university study for all students.

I saw wasted educational investment because some schools were unable to choose where to spend their grants. I saw houses left empty; yet there were broken families, victims of domestic violence and people suffering from mental illness living in cars because there was 'no accommodation available'. I saw photographic evidence of pink batts being brought to a person's house but then being left rolled up in the roof cavity. I saw subsidies and special bonuses being misspent and misallocated. I saw effective programs being cut and others where the submissions for funding sat on a desk for several months while the government of the day changed ministers in the merry-go-round of leadership challenges. In all these things I did not see a true application of making things 'a little better'.

Gilmore has been well represented by Joanna Gash. A friend and significant mentor, she has always put the community first, and she continues to do so in her capacity as Mayor of the Shoalhaven City Council. There was a strong advocate in this woman. She established the Shoalhaven campus of the University of Wollongong, got millions of dollars in small and large grants for innovative industry and community groups, presided over the just-about-completed Main Road 92 and gained millions of dollars for roads and infrastructure. It is my intention to maintain such advocacy.

Gilmore, with its amazing beaches, hinterland, rivers and wetland areas, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas in Australia. Although every member here believes that they represent the best, I know I have that honour. At the same time, Gilmore has some of the most significant social complexities to deal with: a low manufacturing base, struggling dairy farms, intermittent transport options, high unemployment and an ageing demographic. The greatest employment growth sectors are hospitality and aged care, which are both traditionally low-end income streams. There are simply not enough services for the needs of many in Gilmore, especially those with mental illness or disability.

'I have a dream' is an iconic statement. But I do have a dream. I see my community with better transport options, increased infrastructure investment, more employment options and education choices and—above all—a community that believes in itself as a group of achievers with hope for their futures and reward for their endeavours. I see the potential for growth in the Shoalhaven university campus. I see a vibrant and self-confident community. It will not happen straight away, but it will happen. By working together at all levels, we will actually achieve. If each of us believes in our small contribution to our community—by joining a local service club or volunteering in one of the community groups, such as surf lifesaving, Rural Fire Service, state emergency service or St John's ambulance—and give our time, we will make a difference. We will make things better, and then we will be doing something for our community.

There are a number of people who have motivated the person who now stands before you. Joanna Gash, previous member for Gilmore, whose help, guidance and gentle suggestion—now those who really know Jo are laughing; perhaps I am understating!—has assisted me to come to parliament and follow my dream of making my country better. I also mention my children, who encouraged me from a distance, as two of them now live in Cairns. There is my daughter, Kimberly, who spoke words of humour and practicality during the tough days and who has simply been my best friend. There is Barry, who, when I first suggested that I might run for parliament, said, 'Mum, better to have lived and tried than to have lived with regret.' His constant support over many years has been a mainstay, and, on Monday—with his lovely wife, Romee—he will bring my granddaughter into the world. There is Rodney, who unstintingly dropped all his activities and came down in the final months to doorknock, to letterbox, and to pre-poll constantly, despite never having done any of it before.

I thank my 'adopted son', Brad Stait, and my 'adopted daughter', Bonnie Marshall, who have been my campaign companions since April 2012. There are simply not enough doughnuts and hot chocolates to say thank you. They were the connection to the Young Liberals, who, under the stewardship of Dean Carlson and Alyson Richards, came in the worst of weather to help in the difficult areas with letterboxing. I thank my local Young Liberals—especially Jackson Calverly, who was the youngest booth captain of them all. I thank also Larissa Mallinson, who assisted in Gilmore before deciding to run as a candidate in Throsby.

There is always a number of very close associates who help in a campaign, and they stand with you through thick and thin. I thank the following people: John Bennett, chair of my FEC, for his unending and straightforward advice; Pat Davis for her constant wisdom and for organising the village visits; Bruce, who often did the last-minute deliveries; Richard and Maxine Warner for the hundreds of A-frames and the handing out at the train and bus stations; Dorothy Barker, one of the most amazing door-knockers of all time, who never hesitated at any door, any gate or any driveway; Pam Coles for coordinating the files and the maps as well as for being a major support; Jan Hancock, whose compassionate and beautiful voice convinced so many to become part of the 1,000-strong team—men and women—to man the booths; the Marshall family for the famous blue trailer; Bill Carter and Danielle, who drove the old bus around; Ellie and Geoff Rose, who looked after the old bus; Kellie Marsh and her son Nathan, the best northern campaigners; John and Kath Le Bas, staunch supporters throughout—even from the beginning way back in 2006; Patricia and Gary White, the southern campaigners; Kay McNiven and Gavin McClure, whose assistance in so many ways was wonderful; David and Sandy Smith, whose ability to make me believe in myself was so very evident and who were always there to help; and Eve Craddock, who was thrown completely into the deep end and saved us all from campaign stress with her organising and her holding the team together—not to mention her scones and cookies.

I thank my state colleagues Gareth Ward, Member for Kiama, and the Hon. Shelley Hancock, Speaker of the House in the NSW Legislative Assembly, member for South Coast—especially Shelley for her understanding during the campaign. Thank you to the team at HQ, Michelle Moffatt, and Mark Neeham in particular, as my point of official connection, and to Sanjay and John D for always being available. I thank the many members of the Liberal Party branches in Gilmore who have worked on fundraisers and booths, coming to shadow ministers events, participating in auctions and games, buying endless tickets for items they really did not want, but it was all for a good cause.

I thank my supporters here today, many having made quite a journey to still show support. Some are not even party members, but believed I had potential, at least in part, to fill the shoes of Joanna Gash, for I was constantly told, 'You have big shoes to fill.' I do unfortunately have fairly small feet, so I will just have to run to make up the difference. Not only did my local community remind me, often, that this would be an issue, but so did many of my colleagues now sitting here and working with me.

I was of course blessed during the campaign, by two Bishops, an Abbott, several religious leaders and many shadow ministers. Apart from the intended pun, I was indeed supported in so many ways by the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, now in the Speaker's chair, an elegant and eloquent person who has inspired so many women in politics on this side of the House, for which I personally am very grateful. Madam Speaker, you have been a stalwart support for me over many years, and I thank you.

I was also supported by Julie Bishop, Phillip Ruddock, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, John Cobb, Bob Baldwin, Greg Hunt, Senators Marise Payne, Bill Heffernan and Connie Fierravanti-Wells, each adding colour, flare and knowledge to the campaign, and not least our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who came and conquered in the carbon tax forum, making sure the Gilmore community understood the dreadful impact this badly thought-out policy had on local employment. The carbon tax affects local industry, local families and local employment. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

More recently I have had the support of the Liberal Womens Council, and my colleagues now sitting on the benches with me, as we made friends, the day we stood before the cameras for the corflutes. Oh, my goodness that day in May in 2012 seems so far away! Karen McNamara, Fiona Scott, Lucy Wicks, Craig Laundy, Peter Hendy and Angus Taylor have all been great sources of support on our common journey, and I look forward to working hard alongside them. Although at times we may compete for funding to be allocated to our electorates, we already share a great bond.

I thank the teachers who have appeared in my life at different times and have given lessons when I least expected. For some unknown reason ,many have the name of Linda. Linda A taught me that you never put your head in an oven with a lighted match just to see whether or not the first ignition attempt worked. Singed eyebrows and eyelashes are really not becoming. Linda C taught me the power of the paint brush and Linda D gave me the craft of pencil and charcoal. Linda W taught me to look out for myself, in all things legal and financial. Finally, Linda M who reminded me of my connection to God, and taught me the power of prayer.

There have of course been other teachers in my life. Dr John Nicholas, who taught our Dip Ed class the holistic view of the environment, making us look beyond the limits of flora, fauna and natural habitat, to the interaction of people, the necessity of the built environment and all its demands on the social and survival fabric of human existence, and that effectively our environment sits in balance between the tripod of these three aspects: natural, human and built. I thank these teachers for all they have taught me, and I thank all those who I have taught, for those experiences are amongst the ones I cherish the most.

I take this opportunity to also thank those descendants of Australia's first people who have shared their love of country and their techniques in painting, and others who taught me to listen to wisdom in the silence amongst the rocks of Kata Tjuta. I thank the elders in my community—Melissa, Auntie Ruth, Auntie Grace and Uncle Gerry—whose welcome to country gathers up the strings of disunity every time they speak, to weave them into a design of reconciliation, understanding and a will to work together. I thank Noel Lonsdale for sharing the possum cloak in a recent unveiling at Boat Harbour, showing the symbolism of our unity.

I remind all in this House of Auntie Matilda's words of Canberra being the womb of Australia. This is the time for renewal and rebirth. The strategies of the recent political path have reflected only division, deception and disloyalty. The result has been chaos for those who sit opposite, but worse still for the families who have been impacted by 'unintended consequences' of bad policy decisions. Whilst political bluster may suffice for some, the reality is that our government bank account is in a mess. The players—balance and fiscal responsibility—have effectively taken their bat and ball, and even the stumps, and gone home.

Everyone in this chamber is here to represent their community to the best of their ability, but it is Tony Abbott in the Prime Minister's chair, and it is this side of the House that is in government. l am proud to be part of the team that works to reward individual endeavour, to help people to their feet and allow them the independence of their own choices. There is hope for our nation in this strategy.

I deeply honour those in Gilmore who decided to put their faith in me to help change the government for Australia. I also respect those who did not, for we have a robust democracy in this nation. Now we must work together to achieve great things. I am determined to make sure the trust and honour granted to me is not misplaced. Gilmore has extraordinary human capacity and amazing potential. It is time that we in our region believe this, to lift our community, and its self-respect, to begin the process of achievement and hope, rather than denial of individual merit. We who are leaders—whether community leaders, elected leaders or opinion makers—have a responsibility to increase the social value in our community's own eyes, despite our own political bias. It is time to go beyond the facade of perception and look at the true worth of our community. We in Gilmore are generous beyond many others, giving well above the average for such groups as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. I should know: I have door-knocked for both. The network of service clubs, leisure clubs, sports clubs and over 90 church congregations provide assistance locally and internationally whenever they are called upon.

We deserve the infrastructure and community investment that will enable us to reach our potential. I look forward to working with the Tony Abbott government to deliver all the projects committed to and now confirmed, especially the Shoalhaven Bridge project phase 2 and the funding for the Dunn & Lewis Bali Memorial Centre, so that the youth of Ulladulla have a facility that commemorates their friends lost in the bombing and yet also allows training and workplace opportunities, as well as becoming a community activity hub.

We know we have double the national average unemployment statistics and we recognise this as a multilayered problem. We need all sectors in our community to think outside the square when unusual opportunities come along. Instead of being negative or sceptical, let us encourage the potential.

In the words of Robert Kennedy:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

I am inspired by the school students of Gilmore, some of whom are here today—Gemma and Jake, assisted by Laura—for their energy is contagious, and they too share the dream of making a difference.

The electorate team—Janelle Brown, Kimberley Wadey, Nikkie Macey and Adam Straney—are all working on the vision for Gilmore. Finally, Dad, as you are unable to see, I am wearing blue and white, and metaphorically, Dad, the sailboat has finally left the shore, although there might be a few barnacles on the hull and there might be a few patches on the sails. And, Mum, you are the wind in the sails. Rodney, Barry and Kim, you are the invisible hands that draw up the anchor, set the sails and hold the tiller, for the journey has begun.

Yes, indeed, it seriously is time to ask: what can we do for our community? From the innocence of childhood to the cynicism of adulthood, it is time for a change for the better. It is time for 'we will'. The responsibility is ours. It is absolutely up to us to make things better and make a difference. Thank you.

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