Chris Crewther (Lib-Dunkley) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by the new Liberal member for Dunkley, Chris Crewther.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Chris Crewther, Liberal member for Dunkley.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Dunkley, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.

Mr CREWTHER (Dunkley) (15:20): I am privileged and humbled to stand here today as the new member for Dunkley. My role is to serve the people of Dunkley, and I thank them for placing their trust in me. I have a great example of service to live up to. A giant in personality, positivity, passion and persistence, I acknowledge and thank the honourable Bruce Billson, who achieved great things for Dunkley, small business and veterans’ affairs. I will work hard carrying on this tradition with my dedication to being capable, compassionate and committed.

You have heard this many times before: Dunkley is the Riviera of Melbourne. From a breathtaking coastline to forest reserves, from wetlands to winding creeks, from cosmopolitan cafes to sculptures and wineries, and from fantastic schools to innovative businesses: Dunkley has the best of the city, the country and the coast. Like many locals, my wife, Grace, my daughter, Yasmin, and I have made it our home. We have a wonderful future ahead of us. We have the highest economic growth of any Victorian electorate. We are the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula. We are a transport, health and education hub. We will continue going forward by investing in the local economy, community and environment.

Dunkley is also incredibly diverse for only 140 square kilometres. Great disparities and differences exist in the environment, demographics and socioeconomics, bringing both challenges and opportunities. I am up for that challenge because my family’s story is also that of Dunkley’s people. It is a story of the city and the country, one of struggle and disadvantage but also one of hard work creating opportunity for future generations. Ours is a story that shaped my Liberal beliefs, which I will outline today.

I am a Liberal because I believe in equality of opportunity and reward for effort. All people deserve a fair go to achieve their best irrespective of background. I say this as my own family comes from humble beginnings. My dad, Barry, was born in Mildura to Les and Dawn. Grandma Dawn was a country girl from a farm in Carwarp while Grandpa Les was from the city. Tragically, Dawn died at 23 when Dad was just three. He was sent to live with relatives in Croydon. His baby sister Glenda, having a brain injury, was sent to Kew Cottages and Saint Nicholas, dying at 14. Grandpa remarried and Dad moved home at seven, settling in Bayswater. Dad went to Bayswater High and at 16 started in the Army at Balcombe, following on from Grandpa, who served at HMAS Cerberus, both on the Mornington Peninsula.

My mum, Debbie, was born in Jeparit, birthplace of the Liberal Party founder, Sir Robert Menzies, to Bob and Pat. Grandpa Bob was from the country while Nanna Pat was from the city. Mum lived at the farm in Ellam. Following their divorce, at four Mum moved with Nanna and her siblings to the city. When Nanna later remarried, Mum moved to Bayswater. Like Dad, Mum also went to Bayswater High, through which they met.

Mum and Dad bought their first home in Kilsyth. They worked hard. Mum was a legal secretary and a ballet teacher. Dad first worked as a mechanic in Ringwood, then a courier, a workshop foreman and a vacuum cleaner salesman. Then I was born at Mitcham hospital, soon joined by my sister Sara. Dad then worked in real estate as a mechanic, a cleaner and in insurance and investment while also completing his HSC. We moved to Horsham when I was four, when Dad started his career as a financial planner, where my siblings Katrina and Lee were born. Dad eventually set up his own business and, while the early years were tough, he worked hard to achieve success to give us a chance.

Like my family, Dunkley locals are hardworking and aspirational, wanting the best for themselves and their families. That is why I believe in equality of opportunity. Education is one path to opportunity. On the upside, deferred tertiary fees mean a person can enter a course irrespective of cost. However, a child’s circumstances still largely govern their chance of school or tertiary success. Statistically, in Dunkley there are great extremes, with disadvantaged areas having the lowest levels of childhood literacy and numeracy and advantaged areas the opposite. For families struggling to survive, books are often unaffordable. When these children start primary school, they are already behind, particularly with cognitive development peaking between zero to five. Return on investment in preschool education is greater than all other stages, with estimates of 162 per cent Australian GDP growth just by bringing lower performing primary schools up to average. In Dunkley, 123Read2Me is tackling this issue by delivering free books to those who need them. They are joined by other local organisations such as That’s The Thing About Fishing, Rotary, Lions and Legacy in creating opportunities. Disadvantage also continues in schools, with state-level zoning distorting house prices, government school choice due to housing affordability, reducing school competition and lowering social mobility.

I am also a Liberal because I believe we should govern for the outer suburbs and the country, not just the inner city. These communities often face problems with transport infrastructure, health, education and other services. Lack of transport investment has resulted in smaller towns declining and industries shifting to urban centres. I experienced this growing up in Horsham and Murtoa such as when the local passenger train service was closed. Outer metro and regional health outcomes are also often lower, for example, due to limited specialist health services. Furthermore, with less local tertiary options, many young people do not have the same opportunities to study as their inner-city counterparts due to distance from home, housing costs or inadequate transport.

As a country lad myself, I strive to create opportunities, working as a paperboy from 11, cleaning the swimming pool, working at a servo and the local supermarket. I studied hard to get into university and moved three hours away to attend Melbourne university, studying a double degree in science and commerce. I then transferred to Canberra, doing an honours law degree and two masters degrees in international law and diplomacy at Canberra uni and the ANU, working back on local farms on breaks to help pay for living costs. Many from the country never have this chance.

Bringing infrastructure and services to the country and outer suburbs can reverse this trend. That is why I am proud to have helped secure $4 million for the Dunkley rail plan. This plans the electrification and duplication of the Frankston-Baxter rail line to enable metro rail services to stations at Frankston Hospital; Monash University, Peninsula campus; Langwarrin and Baxter. It also plans a third track between Frankston and Melbourne for express rail. This investment will attract industry, create jobs, connect communities and increase local education and health access. It will mean people are more likely to live, study, work and build relationships in Dunkley. Six million dollars secured for full public access to MRI at Frankston Hospital will also improve Dunkley’s health hub status.

Locally, we should also develop the Port of Hastings, build a major airport, consider interhub rail connections between Frankston, Cranbourne and Dandenong, investigate bayside ferry services to the CBD and build a convention centre. More broadly, we must invest in freight and passenger rail to all key outer metro and regional centres, whether it be Baxter or Mildura, easing pressure on inner suburbs by creating a polycentric Melbourne and a state of cities.

I am a Liberal because I believe in parliamentary democracy, the best system developed for a free people. Paraphrasing Sir Winston Churchill: democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest. Strong democracy must be nurtured and enhanced, as Australia did with reforms such as secret ballots at elections. I support further democratic reforms such as: introducing full optional preferential voting for the House; eliminating above-the-line voting in the Senate, combined with full optional preferential voting; introducing a ‘none of the above’ voting option; changing the Constitution to allow for maximum four-year terms; considering electronic voting at elections and in parliament; and considering a secret ballot in parliament.

Democracy also requires an informed, educated and engaged constituency, checks and balances, and trust. On this point I will start off with a dose of reality: Australians are fed up with politics and politicians. Public faith is diminished by cross-chamber squabbling; petty arguments; opposing for the sake of opposing; winning at all costs; disconnection from the grass roots; the perceived influence of lobbyists, unions and big business interests; and political rhetoric instead of plain-speaking truth. People are tired of instability. This last decade has not helped. Australians want solutions, decisions and results under stable government. They want representatives who are principled and visionary but pragmatic to achieve outcomes. They want those whose primary interest is making their community and Australia the best it can be. This is the basis on which I will conduct myself.

As the youngest member of the House—although Wyatt Roy still calls me ‘grandpa’—I will seek to encourage young people to get involved in politics and in their communities. My own interest in politics was sparked at school through the YMCA’s youth parliament at Camp Manyung in Dunkley. What excited me was the youthful exuberance and passion and the idea that young people could make a difference. Activating young people is why I have supported sporting investment in Dunkley, such as Mornington Little Aths and Frankston Dolphins Junior Football Club.

My own passion has led me to the country, the city, interstate and overseas. I have worked in Canberra as a magistrate’s associate, a private practice lawyer, a project manager and in legal work at the Department of Agriculture. In Canberra I met Grace. We married at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where this parliament commenced. I then worked as an international lawyer through the UN at the Kosovo Property Agency, resolving property claims for people who lost possession of their properties due to the war. In this rare opportunity, working in a post-conflict country, it was inspiring to see the youthful optimism, new ideas and a democracy that clearly was not taken for granted.

I am a Liberal because I believe in small government. Government’s minimal role is to govern interactions between people, minimising harm that would otherwise arise. Like referees at a footy match, governments should allow open play within a fair, rules-based structure. Government goes too far when creating overcomplicated rules that hinder play or when trying to be a player itself—for example, providing public services that could be profitably, efficiently and fairly provided by the private sector. We must, therefore, ensure that regulations are smart and efficient.

Small businesses are particularly disadvantaged by over-regulation, with bigger businesses usually having more resources to cope. This reduces competition by impeding small business and start-ups, resulting in market domination. Small businesses, including the 16,000 in Dunkley, must be consulted when updating regulations, tax, IR and competition law. For taxation, complexity could be reduced by hastening simplification of the tax acts, implementing a proportional income tax and encouraging states to abolish inefficient stamp duty and payroll tax. Even better, by encouraging a future digital-only currency market, we can consider lower, more efficient forms of taxation, such as a point of payment low-rate, broad-based transaction tax to replace less efficient taxation methods.

I am a Liberal because I support freedom and liberty, including freedom of thought, religion, worship, speech and association. This is the essence of liberalism. John Stuart Mill said:

… the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

The argument is often over what constitutes harm as against offence. Causing offence should not fall within the bounds of legal action. Accordingly, I believe that current anti-discrimination laws in Australia limit freedom of speech. I believe that we are gradually becoming an illiberal society, with people increasingly afraid to express their views or to critique other faiths for fear of public ostracism, being silenced through ad hominem attacks or being caught by such laws. This needs to stop. This is detrimental to democracy, preventing contrary views being aired and challenged publicly. Sending such views underground only strengthens them. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said when noting Voltaire’s beliefs:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

That said, we should not shrink from denouncing in unambiguous terms statements driven by cruelty or prejudice. The greater the diversity of people, views and ideas, the better the solutions and decisions. As Sir Robert Menzies said:

Stagnant waters are level, and in them the scum rises. Active waters are never level: they toss and tumble and … purify themselves in a few hundred yards.

Our veterans fought for this freedom of speech. Without our Korean War veterans, my wife, Grace, and daughter, Yasmin, would not be here. Grace was from South Korea, migrating to Australia with her family at three. Her dad’s family only just made it across from the North Korean side, and they have not seen their relatives in North Korea since. The communists killed her mum’s grandparents by throwing them alive into a well. The freedom of speech and many other liberties we take for granted are not guaranteed in our Constitution; only freedom of religion and freedom of political communication are protected, so basic freedoms can be whittled away by a simple parliamentary majority, as we have seen with anti-discrimination legislation. I do believe, therefore, that there is some merit in considering charter protection of our freedoms and liberties.

I am a Liberal because I believe in Australia being a secular liberal democracy, not imposing or restricting the practice of religion. The word ‘secular’ is occasionally construed to mean atheism. This is incorrect. Section 116 of our Constitution, which is mostly based on the US First Amendment, states:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion … or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion …

A true secular state should not impose any religion or world view, such as Christianity, Islam or atheism. Nor should a state restrict the practice of any religion or world view. It should allow freedom of religion, including freedom to express one’s views, critique and criticise.

The contemporary debate on either retaining or expanding the government definition of marriage illustrates this dichotomy. In my view, both are big-government perspectives and neither are truly secular, given both impose a government-sanctioned definition of marriage. Ideally, governments should get out of the business of defining marriage. Government’s only role should be to legislate as contractual relationships, leaving the definition of sanctioning of marriage to marriage-solemnising bodies and individuals. This is a small-government approach under Liberal principles, creating equality under the law while also better ensuring freedom of religion. It allows people to freely express their own views on marriage and to solemnise marriage in line with these views.

Liberal Enlightenment principles must be advocated consistently at home and with other states in not imposing or restricting religion. As Maximilian II said:

God alone rules the consciences of men: man only rules man.

For example, we should oppose laws forcing women to wear the veil and, equally, oppose women being restricted by law from wearing the burqini, as long as it is their own choice. Such laws are contrary to true secular liberal democracy.

I am a Liberal because I support economic growth and the creation of wealth. Wealth and prosperity come by producing more of something others want. Optimising the three Ps—population, participation and productivity—is key to encouraging economic growth. We must ensure an optimal working-age population to support the young, the elderly, the disabled and others who cannot support themselves. But the ratio of the working-age population compared with the young and the elderly continues to fall. After 2050, five per cent, or nearly two million Australians, will be 85 and over. The proportion of those aged 65 and over will also double. With a fertility rate sitting at about 1.9 below the replacement rate of 2.1, maintaining an optimal working-age population requires either a higher birth rate and/or immigration. This optimal population structure, combined with productivity improvements and increased workforce participation will help guarantee Australia’s continued prosperity.

Lastly, I am a Liberal because I believe Australia should play a constructive role in the pursuit and maintenance of international peace. We are part of an interconnected and complex world, where Australia’s actions impact locally and overseas. Internationally, we must encourage free trade and, over time, greater freedom of movement, thus creating wealth and reducing global poverty. With a growing middle class in Asia looking for high-quality goods and services, Australia stands to benefit—particularly in growth areas like tourism, international education, gas, wealth management and agribusiness. Through my experiences as CEO of Mildura Development Corporation, responsible for economic development of 48,000 square kilometres with three billion gross regional products, and running my own small business, I am a firm believer that our quality, clean, green agricultural exports will both feed Australia’s prosperity and the world’s population.

We must also assist migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into Australia. As a new Australian, having emigrated from South Korea, Grace and her family settled in Blacktown. Her parents worked hard to provide for the family, with Grace and her sister, Cathy, having now both achieved success. Integration, though, is a two-way street. It is important that people can retain elements of their own cultures while we also develop a shared Australian culture by being mutually open, interacting, adapting and taking each other’s best ideas.

We must also avoid ethnocentrism, cultural relativism and extreme political correctness. For example, some people will say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. I understand the sincerity of such beliefs held by the majority of law-binding Muslims, for whom Islamist terrorist attacks are un-Islamic and therefore committed by people they do not see as real Muslims. But this argument is problematic. The fact is that Islamist terrorists see themselves as Muslim, relying on their own extreme interpretations of Islam to justify their actions—much as the Crusaders justified their actions on extreme interpretations of Christianity. These terrorists see those Muslims who do not share their convictions as not real Muslims and as targets to be killed. Their own incorrect understanding of Islam must therefore be tackled within the prism of Islam—particularly through early intervention.

Australia must also do its part to assist the 65 million refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers—more now than after World War II—for instance, by resettlement and conflict prevention. Public trust in Australia’s immigration, asylum seeker and refugee programs is critical to resettlement. Strong borders and a well-regulated system are critical. The coalition’s work through successive immigration ministers has resulted in stopping the drownings at sea in our region, limiting the people-smuggling trade, ensuring that those coming by irregular means do not supplant those coming through regular means and reducing numbers in offshore detention.

Adding to this, I believe there are diplomatic means to strengthen our borders even further, and enable border patrol cost savings. If Malaysia and Indonesia sign the Refugee Convention and implement effective protection, a natural further border could be created around Australia. By utilising safe third-country provisions, asylum seekers travelling from those countries to Australia could be sent or flown back, even if they reach our shores, as they would already enjoy effective protection. In exchange, Australia could take a negotiated additional number of asylum seekers each year from those all ready on Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s territories. This helps Indonesia and Malaysia by reducing asylum seeker numbers on their soil, as well as reducing asylum seeker numbers travelling to those countries in the first place.

To assist prevention, state and nonstate actors must engage in conflicts only in accordance with international humanitarian law. For, as justice breeds justice, injustice breeds injustice. This means continually using techniques and weaponry that largely ensure that only combatants are targeted, avoiding inadvertently killing civilians. If civilians are killed and there is no avenue to achieve justice, this only helps feed the ranks of our enemy.

Federalism between and within states can also help avoid conflict, whether one looks to Australia, the US, Germany or elsewhere. But union should come voluntarily, under self-determination, being ideally democratic, promoting subsidiarity and enabling uniformity but not centrality. These are some of the key principles why I am a Liberal, which will guide my decisions for Dunkley and Australia.

I would like to end by thanking all those who helped in my campaign. To Barrie Macmillan: thank you for believing in me from the beginning. To the local, federal and state MPs who helped—in particular, Neale Burgess, Greg Hunt and David Morris—thank you. To the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, my former boss, thank you for your mentorship and support. To the ministers and parliamentarians from across Australia who helped—in particular, Sussan Ley, John Dawkins and so many others who supported me in preselection and during the campaign—thank you. To the Prime Minister and leadership team: I look forward to working with you.

To the campaign team led by Darrel Taylor, the ‘A’ team led by Robin Amos, Dunkley FEC members led by Robert Hicks, the Young Liberals led by Jess Wilson and all volunteers: we could not have done it without you. Of these volunteers, there are too many to single out, but I would particularly like to thank those people who were out with me nearly every day, through cold and rain, in good times and hard times, including those who are here today. You know who you are.

Thank you to all the office staff. I look forward to working with you for Dunkley. To state president Michael Kroger, director Simon Frost, ‘104’ staff such as Rowan, Laura and Jackson, and all admin committee members who helped, including Peter McWilliam, Marcus Bastiaan, Caroline Elliott, Greg Hannan, Amanda Millar, Paul Mitchell and many others: thank you.

Thank you to all my Mallee team, including Adrian and Veronica Kidd, Bill Dolence, Kevin Coogan, Gino Salvo, John Freimanis, Aunty Marlene and, of note, Fred Garratt, who passed away just after winning Dunkley. This victory is yours. And I am honoured to share this day with you, Greta.

I acknowledge my grandparents Bob, Verna and June and my grandparents who are no longer with us. Nanna Pat, you passed away last year but election day fell on your birthday. Your spirit lives on. Nanna was proud of being the daughter of a Sherrin—the inventors of the football and co-founders of Collingwood. Our daughter carries ‘Patricia’ as her middle name, and I will make sure that she too barracks for the Pies!

Thank you to all my extended family, friends and teachers who helped on election day and supported me from Melbourne, Mildura, Horsham and elsewhere. In particular, to Christian Mitchell in Frankston: you helped me beyond measure. To Geoff, Coll, John, Kaye, Kim, Leonie, Ali, Ben, James, Rob Smith, Professor William Maley and many other: thank you.

To Grace’s family, Justin and Sarah, Cathy and Jai, and Grace’s grandparents and relatives in Korea: Song won hae ju sho so, kam sa ham ni da. To my parents, Barry and Debbie, my siblings Sara, Katrina and Lee and their partners, who have been supportive ever since I was born: thank you.

To my wonderful wife, Grace, and my daughter, Yasmin: you are my rock and sacrificed so much to achieve this dream. Thank you.

Finally, thank you to God for your continuous guidance over my life.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Lindsay, I remind honourable members that this is her first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to her.

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