Well, this is cool. There are lot of people shaking their head back in Longman and Kallangur, where I was brought up, particularly a couple of high-school teachers! Thank you all for giving up your time to listen to my maiden speech. No-one has proofread this. Many people offered to assist—many much more qualified than I—but I believe a parliamentarian's first speech should be theirs and theirs alone. I will be accountable for every word spoken. As a believer in personal responsibility, I assure you that these words are all mine.
My decision to enter the political arena was borne out of a desire for one thing: to be involved in making positive changes to improve the lives of the people of Longman and the people of Australia. The first election I was involved in wasn't a victory; it was a loss. This was of course when I ran for preselection for the seat of Longman in the 2018 by-election, where I was defeated by Trevor Ruthenberg. Losing is not a bad thing; in fact, it has been my experience that I learn more from my losses in life than from my victories.
My small, hardworking campaign team were a true representation of the Longman electorate. They were headed up by a four-foot 10-inch pocket-rocket retiree, Beth, and her husband, Peter. The core team of Tony, John, James, Brett, Peter, Harvey, Margie, Lou and Andrew managed our very limited—and I mean very limited—campaign funds to ensure we extracted great value for every dollar. We were often outnumbered two to one on pre-poll and polling booths by Labor but, to their credit, my team of volunteers were not deterred. I thank them and the numerous volunteers I have not mentioned by name for their unwavering commitment to our party's cause and to me personally.
My thanks go out to our campaign team, led by Andrew Hirst and Lincoln Folo, for their great strategising, and to the Prime Minister for making time in his busy schedule to drop into the Caboolture Sports Soccer Club for a visit and to charm some of the locals two days out from the election. To say you cannot win an election by yourself would be the greatest understatement of all time!
I speak to you today not as a member of parliament but as an everyday Australian. I'm a year 10 state-school-educated man from Queensland, as were most boys who left school in the early 1980s. Attending Dakabin State High School in the Longman electorate in just its third year of operation, the school oval hadn't even been constructed and the dairy farmer across the road kindly removed his cattle each weekend from one of the paddocks so we had a school oval to use during the week. Some may say we were hard done by, but a school oval with an electric fence and fresh cow patties was a teenage boy's version of heaven!
My mum and dad were typical middle-class Australians, both brought up on dairy farms—dad at Youngs Crossing in Petrie, where our family settled in 1873, and mum in various places, like Beaudesert, Morayfield and Beachmere. My mum, Rita, was a public school teacher for over 40 years and my dad, Jim, started off as a ringer in Boulia and ended up as a newspaper journalist for the Sunday Sun and Telegraph newspapers before owning his own local paper and eventually a magazine.
There is no doubt that these were simpler, and sometimes tougher, times, but I have no regrets. My childhood, which I remember fondly, was spent playing sport—mainly cricket, soccer and rugby league, with a little tennis thrown in—all in bare feet of course, as much to our delight we didn't have to wear shoes until high school. I grew up with two younger brothers, Steve and Ron. Between us and all our mates, living in what was then the far outskirts of Brisbane in the suburb of Kallangur, there were always enough of us for a great game of cricket. In fact, two of my best mates from school, Ginny and Guesty, are here today.
Dad was not around at home a lot, as he worked hard. These days, we would probably have been labelled a dysfunctional family. Yet I remember my childhood with much fondness. Regardless of the fact that he was not around much, like most boys, my dad was, and still is, my hero. In my eyes, he was the best fighter, the best cricketer, the best driver and the best everything. Nothing made me feel better than hearing his voice on the sideline saying, 'Shot!' as a cover drive went for four, or getting in the car after soccer and going through the great things I'd done on the field. Never can I recall a negative conversation. Fortunately for me, my dad is an encourager.
Mum was, and still is, a saint. She's here today too! Many cuts, bruises, black eyes and trips to doctors—the inevitable stitches and plaster casts that active boys inflict upon themselves—were lovingly attended to by Mum. Her greatest attribute is her wisdom; she still continues to impart wisdom to me to this day.
I was first married at 21, and at 23 had four kids and a vasectomy—for obvious reasons! Unfortunately, that marriage failed and at 28 years old I was divorced. To the credit of my first wife, Dee, she and her now husband, Shane, and my second wife, Alex, and I have put the welfare of the most innocent parties in the divorce, the children, ahead of any differences we may have had. I'm pleased to say that, as a result, Kirsty, 34; Andrew, 30; and Kelly, 28 are all doing okay on this journey we call life. My boy is here today—hey buddy! It is one of my greatest joys—watching them develop into fine adults with the bonus of blessing us with five grandchildren, whom I adore.
My second wife, Alex, and I have an 11-year-old daughter, Jess, who, when I asked her if she'd like to come and hear my maiden speech replied 'I've got a busy week with assignments at school, Dad, so I'd better not.' I don't know whether to be proud or hurt, but I guess it was a bit of both! I'm incredibly proud of all my kids and I love them dearly. My beautiful wife, Alexandra, is my greatest strength. Whenever I start to wander off course, she gently corrects me—and if that doesn't work she uses a frypan! Not really—it's okay! I believe in strong marriages, and when I was elected she was elected too. There is not a topic I don't talk to her about to gain the wisdom that only a woman can sometimes provide. This is displayed in no greater way than by our Prime Minister and his wife, Scott and Jenny Morrison, who set the benchmark as a team.
I believe I represent everyday Australians, as I consider myself an everyday Australian. As I mentioned, I left school at 15 with a high school certificate to try and fulfil my lifelong dream of being a motor mechanic. My first job was as a garage attendant—or a petrol pumper, as they were affectionately known back then—at the Ampol service station opposite the Redcliffe Hospital, back when someone filled up your car, cleaned your windscreen and ran over with your cash to pay for your fuel and ran back with your change. You didn't have to get out of your car. I quickly discovered this vocation wasn't for me.
I started a career in retail, first as a store person for a company that sold power tools and machinery and then moving up to sales assistant after a period of time. In those days there wasn't much OH&S. I can remember my boss used to import equipment such as drill compressors, wood lathes and the like. I can remember getting a 40-foot container of bandsaws delivered. After unloading a hundred of these by hand in the lovely, cool Queensland month of February, I duly assembled one, only to discover our friends in Taiwan had made them to run backwards. My boss at the time showed me, the 16-year-old employee unqualified to play with electricity, how to reverse the polarity of a motor. You plug it in and check that it's in reverse. If it is, simply unplug it, remove the cover, get a pair of steel pointy-nose pliers, remove a nut, reverse the two wires, replace the nut and the cover, and Bob's your uncle—and then move on to the next one. I started this task, and, after about the sixth motor, I forgot the very important step of unplugging the motor before putting the steel pointy-nose pliers on the live nut. After being thrown about 10 feet, I turned the motor off and continued on. The pain was a reminder for about another eight motors until another shocking reminder—sorry about that!—was again received. In my estimation I probably received about a dozen hits before completing the task. I used to be white!
From that day I moved into the electrical appliance industry, working for Errol Stewarts and Chandlers, starting again at the bottom of the ladder as a store person and working my way up to sales assistant, to assistant manager and, finally, to getting my first store manager position at the tender age of 23 in the Caboolture Park Shopping Centre in my electorate of Longman in 1991. In 2001 I opened my own Good Guys franchise in Morayfield, also in the electorate that I now serve. After selling this business I combined my love of golf and retail, and I currently retain ownership in two Drummond Golf franchises.
I truly believe retail is the best training ground for politics. You learn how to communicate with people from all walks of life. You learn how to problem solve. You understand the value of teamwork. You learn the value of keeping your word and delivering what you promise. It's no good promising a family that their new fridge will be there Wednesday and delivering it Thursday; the groceries they buy in anticipation of you keeping your word will be off. Most importantly, you spend your day finding out other people's needs and then meeting those needs.
It was an honour to be the person who the people of Longman elected to represent them in this great House. The electorate of Longman, I would argue, is the most diverse in Australia. To the east we have the retirees on Bribie Island, where self-funded retirees and pensioners abound. To the west we have the rural and farming communities of Woodford, Wamuran and Mount Mee, to name a few. Down the middle we have the average, hardworking middle-class Australians of Narangba and Burpengary, and the battlers in Morayfield and Caboolture. We truly have every demographic covered.
We have no big corporates in Longman, and no multinational head offices. Instead our electorate is made up of over 12,000 small businesses, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It is the absence of big business that gives us our sense of community—that rural feel of helping out your mates. Whether I'm at The Surf Club Bribie Island, the Stanley Rivers Wolves Rugby League Club or the Narangba Crows Aussie rules club, there's that great sense of community that inner city precincts often lack.
Traditionally, Longman has always had a higher unemployment rate than the national average. This is one tradition I intend to break. Our small-business owners like Akron Civil, Phelans Bakery or Cutters Rest Cafe are all hardworking locals, employing locals and spending their money locally. Unfortunately the onset of online businesses and multinationals has made the life of the local business owner that much more difficult. Sadly, we have started to see the decline of sponsorship for community groups and sporting clubs from local small businesses as they find their margins squeezed. These lower margins and profits, along with restrictive IR laws, also mean that these small businesses are being forced to casualise their workforces, bringing about underemployment, which is preventing many Australians from achieving that great Australian dream of owning their own home. This needs to change.
As a small-business owner for 18 years I understand more than most the challenges facing small business, because I've lived them. I can tell you that, when I speak to small-business owners in the Longman community, we all have the same desires. We want to employ more Aussies full-time, but we are hamstrung by draconian IR laws for full-time employees. Not one employer I've spoken to has ever wanted to terminate an employee that added value to their business. No, quite the opposite—most will continue to work with employees to keep them.
Unfortunately, these IR laws I speak of, meant to protect full-time employees, are actually reducing the number of full-time employees. As an example, I recently spoke to a business owner who had an employee in his Victorian branch who, during business hours, drove a sign-written company vehicle with her kayak on the roof for an afternoon paddle—as you do! When removing the kayak from the company car, she dropped it on a neighbouring car and damaged that car. The owner of the other car took a photo of the damage and, a few days later, contacted the business asking for the damage to be repaired. Of course the business owner was unaware of the incident. After finding out the details of the incident, the owner—since the character of the employee was undesirable, since she had effectively stolen from him as she was kayaking on company time that she was being paid for and she had been dishonest by not owning up to her error—made the decision to terminate her employment. Naturally, she took him for unfair dismissal! I mean, who wouldn't! A short time later, out of pocket $18,000, can you understand why this employer would not want to refill this position with a full-time employee? Surely any reasonable person would say, 'This is ridiculous.'
The other thing about Longman is that it has many people that are commonly known as the silent majority. I've always maintained that they are not silent; they just whisper. To hear them, you just need to be quiet and listen to them. These everyday, hardworking Aussies have always had the same dreams. We want a future for ourselves and our kids. We don't want charity when things are tough. We want to be treated fairly by governments and employers alike. And we want to feel safe.
As an everyday Australian myself, I can say: we want our children to go to school and be able to hear all points of view presented to them and make up their own minds. The greatest gift human beings have is the gift of free choice. Indoctrination of any type robs our children of this gift. That also has to change. We want our children and grandchildren to hear the theories of evolution and creation, different religions, climate change advocates and climate change sceptics. I can say: what we don't want for us and our kids is to be brainwashed with extreme left or right ideologies.
When I hear a school principal stand up at school assembly and say, 'If this government doesn't do anything about climate change, the world will end in 2030,' I get angry, because we should not indoctrinate our kids with fearmongering. They need to be taught personal responsibility and what their part is in looking after our planet.
In contrast, I love the fact that, as conservatives, we have always used the same two-word phrase: 'environmental protection'. We simply believe that we need to look after this magnificent planet because it's the right thing to do, not because a scientist or an extremist scares us into it. A classic example of this is: during the election campaign, my wife and I had a couple of friends over for a meal, and the inevitable conversation arose about politics and how the right of politics didn't care about the planet and climate change, yada yada yada. I sat silently as the barrage continued for some time, and, after they left, my wife commented, 'You were remarkably silent during that conversation,' to which I replied, 'I'm still bemused by the fact that all of these people have financial means, probably more than we do'—and we all have two cars in our families—'yet we are the only ones who have a hybrid or electric car'—in fact, we are on our third hybrid—'and we are the only ones of the three couples who have solar panels on their roof.' This is a typical example of a conservative in Australia. While others talk about protecting the environment, we get on with doing our bit and actually contributing to protecting our planet. Actions speak louder than words. There are greater two-word phrases than 'global warming', 'climate change' or 'climate emergency', and those two-word phrases are 'environmental stewardship', 'personal responsibility' and 'common sense'.
I love being a conservative, and I love being part of a conservative government. I love the fact that we don't yell or scream what we believe. Our voters don't glue themselves to city streets. Instead, we go about our business quietly and efficiently. I love that we don't talk about getting things done; we just get things done.
I love the fact that we understand that people sometimes fall into a hole in life, like when someone loses a job, and, rather than make it more comfortable to stay in that hole that they're in, we provide help for them to climb out of the hole they're in—practical help, like providing incentives to employers and employment agencies to get people working again—because studies tell us: when people are working, all of society benefits. When people work, crime rates go down; drug use drops; domestic violence, mental health issues and suicide rates fall. The individual who was unemployed, once employed, has more self-esteem and becomes a better citizen. The benefits are almost endless. Any future government financial assistance for the unemployed must go towards getting people working again. This is the only sane strategy.
I also love being part of this particular government under the leadership of Scott Morrison. He is indeed a breath of fresh air and, I believe, exactly what Australia needs. The thing that struck me about Scott is the first time I met him, unlike every other person I had met up until that point, he didn't ask me how I was going to win my seat; he asked: 'How are you? Tell me about yourself. Are you a family man? What do you do?' This shows he genuinely cares for people, not what people can do for him. He had my commitment from that moment on.
To the people of Longman, who elected me: I just want to say, 'I get you.' Many of battles in life you have faced and are facing now, I have faced. I know what it is like to work for a minimum wage and try to make ends meet. I have married a single mum and had the privilege of loving a child who wasn't mine biologically. I have had to deal with a daughter in an abusive relationship and the agony of watching my own child battle a scourge of our society: drug abuse. I can still remember the pain of divorce and dealing with the issues of a blended family. I get the challenges you face, because I have been there.
I have been to the funeral of mates who in their 30s died of cancer or took their own lives. We faced the drain of IVF for six years, so, to those who can't conceive—I understand you. The scourge of cancer has also made its mark on me. My wife in the past five years has suffered two lots of surgery—one to remove a melanoma on her back, along with two lymph nodes. After recovering from this, Alex went through three separate surgeries to try to prevent early stage breast cancer. Unfortunately, a safe margin could not be achieved, so a mastectomy was performed. My wife's strength, grit and guts through this incredibly difficult time only magnified my admiration for her. I love you, babe. I remember the pain of my son Matthew dying in my arms from SIDS at just six weeks of age, 28 years ago, which will never leave me, because parents shouldn't bury their children. To those who have lost a child: I am with you.
Even though I have endured these battles, I believe that it is not the knocks we receive in life that define us but the response to these knocks that define us. As Jesus said, 'In the world you will have tribulation'—he didn't say, 'In the world you may have tribulation'—and ain't that the truth. Every time we face adversity we have a choice as an individual, as a government and as a nation on how we deal with that adversity. We can run, bury it under the carpet or put it in the too-hard basket, or we can roll up our sleeves and deal with it. I am proud to be part of a government that faces all challenges that arise and quietly goes about the business of finding solutions and implementing those solutions.
Finally, to the men and women, young and old, of Longman and Australia: if a boy from Kallangur, whose grandfather was a South Sea Island slave, commonly known as a Kanaka, in the late 1800s; who came from simple beginnings; and who left school with just a junior certificate can end up in this great House, anything is possible, so you go for it. I am a living example of, 'If you have a go, you'll get a go.' You live in the country where the only limits to what you can achieve are the limits of your own dreams and aspirations. Don't listen to the knockers who say that you can't because you're not from the right neighbourhood or the right school, you're not educated enough, you're the wrong colour, the wrong sex or the wrong age. I encourage you to dream big and I commit to support you in those dreams, whatever they may be. To the people of Longman, who entrusted me to represent them: I won't promise you perfection, but I promise you that will get 100 per cent of me. I will fight for you with every breath. My team and I have a vision to make Longman the best place in Australia to live, and we are determined to make that happen. Thank you for your time.