First Speech: Mr Phillip Thompson OAM, MP

Member for Herbert, Queensland

4 July 2019

 


It is a tremendous honour to stand before the 46th Parliament as a representative for the people of Herbert—Townsville—to speak for the first time in this chamber. I would like to start by acknowledging our current and former Defence Force members, our brothers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on operations in service to this nation and our many veterans who have succumbed to their war within back here on home soil.

I stand before you humbled and proud to be the elected member through a democratic process that I love and have defended. The people of Herbert have put their faith in me, and I'm determined not to let them down. That is my one-year-old baby girl, Astin. And I am happy she is making noise, because that's why we are in this place: because we want a better Australia for our future generations.

This responsibility and honour is the same sense of duty I felt as an infantry soldier in the Australian Defence Force. My core values are protecting the Australian way of life, freedom of speech, family and reward for effort—values that I do my best to live by every day.

The powerful electorate of Herbert—the heart of Townsville—is 941 square kilometres which incorporates the iconic Mount Stuart and Castle Hill and takes in the beautiful Magnetic Island. Any local will tell you it's a hidden gem we're lucky to have on our doorstep. An iconic part of Herbert is the Aboriginal community located on Great Palm Island. Palm Island is home to the traditional owners the Manbarra people and Bwgcolman people and their descendants. I would like to acknowledge those people in this place today. It is my commitment to ensure that Palm Island, which is a part of the electorate of Herbert, will have a strong voice here in Canberra.

Palm Island is close to my heart—the birthplace of my mother-in-law, Florence Burns. Flo; my wife, Jenna; and my beautiful daughter, Astin, are all Aboriginal women who are here in the gallery today. As I stand and look at these three remarkable humans, I have no doubt that, as three generations of Aboriginal women, their rights have improved dramatically over the decades. But we must not forget there is still a lot of work to be done in recognising and valuing our First Nations people and their culture. I'm honoured to be a member of the House Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs and I'll be working to make a meaningful and positive contribution.

I've had some extremely proud moments in my life, which include being the youngest member of this House of the 46th Parliament of Australia, being the 2018 Queensland Young Australian of the Year and serving our wonderful nation as an infantry soldier. However, no title or award compares or comes close to my greatest achievement: being called Dad. Whilst I acknowledge I will spend time away from my family to be in this House, it is because of the strength and support of my wife and my family that I stand before you representing the people of Herbert.

Herbert is, in my view, the best electorate in this nation. It has a heart like no other. We have the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef—the world's largest coral reef system—on our doorstep. I stand proudly in this House today as a member of a government which is making record investment in ensuring this incredible natural wonder remains healthy for generations to come.

Herbert also has both copper and zinc refineries, a strong fishing industry and a strong desire to grow its tourism offering. The port of Townsville is northern Australia's largest general cargo and container port, and a direct transport link to many important global markets. The port is Australia's leading exporter of zinc, lead, sugar, fertiliser and molasses. With upgrades and new builds underway, trade is expected to treble over the next 30 years. I commend the CEO, Ranee Crosby, on her incredible efforts in driving the success of the port over many years.

Townsville is proudly home to James Cook University, which is placed No. 1 in the world for marine biology, and is ranked in the top two per cent of universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Other leading institutions include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and our educational learning centres such as Reef HQ and the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Townsville is also the largest garrison city. I'd like to acknowledge the Royal Australian Air Force's presence at Garbutt and, of course—a place I know well—Lavarack Barracks. Townsville became my home in 2006 when I was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. I deployed to East Timor in 2007, and in 2009, at the age of 21, I deployed to Afghanistan.

Whilst deployed to Afghanistan, on 18 July 2009 a warrior was killed in action. His name is Ben Ranaudo, and I honour him in this House. My good friend Paul Warren lost his leg in the same blast, and, I honour his service and sacrifice in this House today. It's a day I'll never forget. It was a sickening feeling, hearing over the radio that an improvised explosive device had detonated and that an Australian was killed and another was critically wounded. After we sent our brother home via ramp ceremony in Tarin Kowt, we kept Ben in our hearts and Paul's recovery in our thoughts, but it was back to the patrol base, because our deployment was far from over.

Improvised explosive devices were the weapon of choice used by insurgents. We had many near misses, and only on limited occasions did we get to do our role: seek out and close with the enemy. On 19 October 2009, my life changed forever. Whilst on a combined Australian and Afghan National Army dismounted patrol, I was wounded in action by an improvised explosive device. As a result of the blast, I sustained severe injuries and was medically evacuated back to Australia. As well as the obvious physical injuries from the blast, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury and several other life-changing conditions.

On deployment to Afghanistan, I've had friends be killed in action, lose limbs and be critically injured. Many have also suffered from lifelong psychological invisible wounds from their deployment. I, like many others, went through a very dark and terrible place after war. My post-traumatic growth came from the strength of my wife, Jenna, who encouraged me to find meaningful engagement, which was then followed by employment. Having meaning and accountability changed how I thought and acted and gave purpose to a life which at that point had been written off.

Not all the brothers I served with came out the other side. Today is the anniversary of when I buried a close friend who died by suicide. His name was Jesse Bird, and I honour him in this place today. I have buried too many of my mates, mothers have buried too many of their sons, wives have buried too many of their husbands and fathers, and a nation has buried too many of its veterans. Mental illness and suicide prevention is our responsibility; we are all responsible. Suicide is not just a veteran issue and not just a Defence Force issue; it's a societal problem. We can and must do more. There is nothing more precious than life and living your life well. With difficult topics, there can be an 'out of mind, out of sight' mentality. I will ensure that in this place we will never forget that there is always more we can do to help.

As I stand before you, I confess: I'm no saint. I've made mistakes and done and said things in my past that I'm not proud of. The harsh lessons that I've learnt from those dark times equip me to better serve the people of Herbert.

I'm the eldest of three children raised by a single mother, who shaped the man I am today. I acknowledge and thank her in this House today. We did it tough growing up, which cemented my ethos that with hard work and determination we can achieve great things. This has echoed with my siblings—my sister, Stephanie Thompson, a nurse, and my brother, Timothy Thompson, a property consultant. We worked hard and fought for everything we achieved. I hope to be a role model for people who didn't have the best shoes growing up, who watched other families go on holidays, who learnt the hard way that we're not all born equal, not all the same. But it's my belief that with hard work, determination and a fighting spirit we can have equal opportunity. 'A fair go for those who have a go' couldn't be a more relevant statement to how we were raised. I work every day to be a better man than I was yesterday, and it is a spirit which I vow to bring with me to this place each and every day as I give the people of Herbert a voice.

Earlier this year, Townsville suffered a devastating natural disaster—a flood event like no other. Tens of thousands of people have been impacted. The night the text warnings started to come in about the release of water from the dam was truly terrifying. No-one knew what to expect, and there really was a feeling for many people that the world we knew was coming to an end. Whole suburbs went under water. Many people are still displaced. Others are living in damaged homes and are trying to battle on. Through the devastation I saw our community come together—the military, emergency services and hundreds of people on boats rescuing others from their flood engulfed streets; shopping centres doubling as recovery centres; and normal, everyday people opening up their homes to strangers who had lost everything. Tragic stories of people who had lost everything were quickly followed by selfless acts of the community supporting one another. Our tragedy has brought our community closer than ever. The resilience of our region is remarkable. The number of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others will never be forgotten. It makes me so proud to say I'm from Townsville.

Our city has done it tough, and we need to be at the forefront of projects and economic drivers. But we are a proud bunch: we don't want a handout; we want a hand up. I want to see the Herbert electorate prosper again, to be a region where there is opportunity and reward for effort and a city in which we can have great confidence in the future. Water security, affordable electricity and job creation are critical pieces of the economic puzzle and must be treated as such. Small and medium businesses are the engine room of the local economy, and I want Townsville businesses to have confidence to take risk, be rewarded and drive our local economy for years to come. Herbert has high unemployment, a topic often thrown around like a political football. The time is now, when we make strong leadership decisions and back projects that will create jobs for years to come.

I'm proud to say I back the resource sector. I'm from a part of the country where coal isn't a dirty word and we support opening up the Galilee Basin and welcome the jobs that will come with it. Our community will not be told what projects we can support, what jobs we can have and what industries we can work in by people lacking any sort of local knowledge and understanding.

I believe Townsville has the potential to be Australia's northern defence deep-maintenance, sustainment and logistics hub. There is enormous untapped potential in our region. Townsville is the key economic hub for Northern Australia and an industry powerhouse. Backing projects like the Townsville port widening project and the Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative, which create job opportunities and stimulate economic growth is what I will do every day.

Tourism has been on the backburner for far too long in Townsville. That's why I backed the Museum of Underwater Art, which is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. We're also funding a zip-line down Castle Hill and providing a NAIF loan for the upgrade of the Townsville airport, which will see more flights to Townsville and more people travelling to the beautiful north to experience the magnificent wonders of our region.

A strong north means a strong nation, and to have a strong north we must get back to nation-building projects that have clear long-term economic value. The coalition support of the Hells Gate Dam is a no-brainer. The large-scale agricultural development will have long-term benefits for our farmers, our exports and our industry more broadly.

To the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison: I thank you for your leadership, guidance and a helpful ear during the campaign. I also thank Mrs Morrison, who spent considerable time with my wife and daughter. We both appreciated it. I have had a lot of support from colleagues but extensive support from the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan. I appreciate the time they have invested in me. I would like to thank the LNP and its members, who have shown great faith in me.

On a more personal note, I have tremendous people in my life. First and foremost is the mother of my beautiful daughter, Jenna Thompson. She is a woman who, at the age of 21, nursed me back to health and literally saved my life. Jenna, you are an incredible woman who I love and adore and you are the driving force behind any success I have. My one-year-old daughter, Astin, can brighten up the most challenging days. Her first word was 'Dad', a moment that still brings a tear to my eye. Her laugh, cheeky smile and beautiful personality are what I look forward to at the end of a long day. Having my daughter here today fills my heart with pride and love.

On my campaign manager and close friend, Casie Scott, I would not be standing in this place without her help and guidance. Casie is a truly remarkable, selfless person. During a political campaign, there's often a saying that every campaign needs a 'blank'. In my case, everyone needs a Michael Brennan, an Anthony Meixner, a Dino da Bella, a Laura Sinclair and a Marie McMullen. These volunteers gave up hours upon hours of their time to help letterbox, doorknock, fundraise, man stalls, set up, pack down and just be involved. Our grassroots volunteers are why we were successful in Herbert. Regardless of what colour shirt you wear, everyone in this House is lucky to have people who are passionate enough about the future of our nation that they stump up for us time and time again.

I have had so much support through our country from all walks of life but especially from the defence and veteran community, and I cannot thank them enough. As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I'll continue to put a spotlight on veterans' issues in the hope of driving better outcomes.

In closing, my focus is to represent the people of Herbert with passion and integrity. I make this pledge to the people of Townsville: I will be your voice in Canberra every single day of the week. I will choose you, the people of Townsville, first. That means people before politics. I will back projects that create jobs and economic drivers for our region to ensure we have a bright and prosperous future for our children. I will listen to you, the people of Townsville, and will work hard to find solutions to your problems. I will never think I'm above you, the people who have put their faith and trust in me and given me the great privilege of standing in this House today. Integrity is everything, and I promise I will not forget that. Thank you.

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