Michael Ferguson (Bass-Lib) – First Speech

Michael Ferguson was the Liberal Party member for the Tasmanian electorate of Bass. He was first elected in 2004.

Ferguson defeated Labor’s Michelle O’Byrne who had held the seat for two terms. The seat returned to the ALP at the 2007 election when Ferguson was defeated by Jodie Campbell.

Hansard transcript of Michael Ferguson’s first speech to the House of Representatives.

FergusonMr MICHAEL FERGUSON (Bass) (4.14 p.m.)—Mr Deputy Speaker, it does me good to stand in this chamber today. Yesterday I took the oath of office and humbly accepted my new role as the 12th member of the House of Representatives for the people of Bass. I appreciate very keenly the sense of responsibility, honour and duty to serve that that brings. Bass has always been an electorate that commands the nation’s attention. A Federation seat, it remains one of the litmus seats to watch at each election. Bass stretches from Greater Launceston and the Tamar Valley to Tasmania’s north-east and the Furneaux Group of islands. Bass is regional Australia. With its urban and rural areas and people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, Bass boasts a diverse mix of industries, including textiles, boatbuilding, agriculture, forestry and value-added timber products, tourism, fishing and our local historic 1881 brewery, Boag’s, the makers of Australia’s best beer.

As I work I will daily draw on my background and past experiences to inform my work and keep my actions in tune with the needs of my community. I had the privilege to grow up in northern Tasmania, to go to school there, make friends there and find my place in the world right there.

My family’s love and support gave me self-esteem, a healthy start and the opportunity to choose my own future. My parents raised a family of seven children, and both worked hard to supply our family’s needs. I was educated at a low-fee Christian school, but I know for a fact that during my schooling in the 1980s when, under the previous government, interest rates were close to 20 per cent, times were tough for all mortgage-paying families, including mine.

I know that my family are proud of my achievements and are very pleased that one of their own is a member of parliament, in the federal parliament, and part of the government that presides instead over the lowest interest rates in three decades, record low inflation, record low unemployment and a robust economy that is giving all Australians the best opportunity in generations to succeed. My parents sacrificed many material pleasures to give their children the best start in life that they could. This is true today of so many parents in Bass who love their children so much and want the best for them. Having had these experiences as a boy, I will always know the importance of ensuring that governments manage the economy wisely so that crippling interest rates are never again visited upon Australian families.

People in northern Tasmania have a strong work ethic and pull their weight. I got my first job at the age of 12 and I have worked ever since, helping to pay my way through college and university. I have worked for $2 an hour at a nursery, $4.12 an hour as a kitchen hand, $2.50 per delivery for a pizza chain and $10 an hour at a jewellery store, until finally I entered the teaching profession and began earning a graduate salary. When I look back, I realise the importance of being enterprising and working to better myself through the various stages of my life. The value of work should not be lost on any of us, whatever our station in life. I know the value of work and how it can make my community grow stronger, improve living standards and open up opportunities.

The University of Tasmania’s Launceston campus is where I studied for my degrees in science and education. It is also the place where I became involved in student politics. As an Independent in a Labor dominated student union, I was elected twice as a delegate to the National Union of Students and also became general secretary of the Tasmanian branch because Labor’s warring factions could not agree on a candidate. In case anyone is surprised at my student union involvement, let me assure the House today that I was then and am now an unshakable proponent of voluntary student unionism. To my mind, a system that forces Australian students to be part of an organisation they do not support is indefensible, and I want to see the situation remedied.

As a graduate I worked as a temporary teacher within the Tasmanian government school system. Soon I was made permanent and was appointed to Kings Meadows High School. By my final year there I was head of the mathematics department and had my best and most satisfying year of teaching ever. Over my years of teaching I made plenty of mistakes but enjoyed many more successes. In fact, the number continues to grow every week as I bump into former students who tell me where they are in life and what they have achieved. As a former teacher this fills me with immense pride and reminds me of what I have known all along: that there may be other jobs that are just as good as teaching but few could be better and none are more important. I value education and have a passion to see us maintain a strong education system while always supporting parents’ choice. A good education sets a child up for a lifetime of opportunity, and every opportunity gives a person a choice about how they would like to live their lives.

With my first-hand experience as a teacher in Tasmanian public schools, I have formed the view that the Tasmanian government have failed to properly provide for the very schools that they own and run, despite the largesse of GST payments and specific purpose funding from the federal government. In doing so they fail the children entrusted to their care. I can testify that in one of my classes 43 children were crammed into an advanced mathematics class with the excuse that because they were smart they would be well behaved and so I would manage.

I shall carry that memory with me forever to serve as a constant reminder of how not to approach the critical duty to offer a quality education.

Since my high school days I have worked closely with community services such as community radio, my church and its youth and children’s work, my local Waterwatch group and a number of local charities. I was awarded Tasmanian Young Achiever of the Year for 2002 by the National Australia Day Council. With volunteer effort and community service being strong features of the communities that make up my electorate, I am keen to be a passionate advocate for volunteer organisations because I know the enormous value that they add to our society.

Being elected as a representative on my local council, Meander Valley Council, has instilled in me the discipline to stay close to local people and to be quick to respond to their concerns, their needs and their dreams for the future.

I look back on those times, some of them fairly humble, and value them. I invite young people from northern Tasmania to look at my life and, hopefully, see something of themselves. I ask them to envision what they too can achieve in this wonderful country that does provide opportunities for those who are prepared to take them and work to the best of their abilities. I will certainly engage with young people in northern Tasmania and do everything I can to inspire them to be their best and to join me in working for the good of our home region.

My electorate takes its name from the 18th century maritime explorer George Bass. In 1797 George Bass set out on a southwards expedition along the New South Wales coast from Port Jackson. Astoundingly, he travelled 1,930 kilometres over three months in a nine-metre whaleboat manned by six oarsmen. Bass constantly went ashore to explore the coast, recording the nature of the country and the flora and fauna he found. By journey’s end, Bass was convinced that he had discovered a strait separating Van Diemen’s Land from New South Wales. Bass’s journey with Matthew Flinders in 1798 circumnavigated the island later known as Tasmania in the 25-tonne sloop called the Norfolk. Of course, Bass Strait and Flinders Island were named in their lasting honour. Ask any Tasmanian whether or not they know that Tasmania is separated from the mainland, and I assure you that you will hear annoyance at the extra difficulty in getting across Bass Strait, but also some relief that at least our isolation affords something of a barricade to mainlanders wanting to get in!

For me, there is an extra layer of meaning in the story of Bass and Flinders. As a candidate for election, I put forward a bold, three-year plan to deliver important infrastructure, community projects and economic development initiatives. I am now setting about the task of implementing these promises in full. One of these projects will provide a long-term home for a perfectly built replica of the sloop the Norfolk. It was built by Richard Davis and volunteers in Tasmania using traditional methods. Many fine Tasmanian timbers have been used, including huon pine, celery-top pine and blackwood. In 1998, sailing identity Bern Cuthbertson and his crew re-enacted the epic voyage of Bass and Flinders almost to the day. Each day of this modern voyage was a re-enactment of the events of 200 years earlier. The Norfolk is an important piece of our Tasmanian heritage, and it was a delight for me to pledge Australian government funding that would see the Norfolk in a new museum in Bass, where locals, schoolchildren and tourists alike could admire the vessel in its full glory and learn more about our heritage.

Today, as the 12th federal member for Bass, I want to acknowledge the efforts of each of my 11 predecessors. In every case, their contribution was a commendable effort. However, in some cases the contribution was truly historic, and these achievements will always remind me of the standard of leadership that northern Tasmania deserves. Today I would like to acknowledge the efforts of David Storrer, who served from the first federal election until 1910; Jens Jensen, who served until 1919 and was Minister for the Navy and Minister for Trade and Customs; David Jackson, who served until 1929; Allan Guy, who served until 1934 and was Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs; Claude Barnard, who served until 1949; Bruce Kekwick, the first Liberal federal member for Bass, who served until 1954; and Lance Barnard, who served until 1975. He held a number of ministries and even rose to Deputy Prime Minister. Kevin Newman won the historic Bass by-election in 1975 which foretold the end of the Whitlam government. He served until 1984 and was responsible for seven ministries. Warwick Smith served his first term from 1984 to 1993 and his second term from 1996 to 1998 and was responsible for three ministries. Sylvia Smith served from 1993 to 1996, and Michelle O’Byrne served from 1998 until the recent election in October 2004. I acknowledge her efforts in this place and wish her and her family well. The previous Liberal member for Bass, Warwick Smith, went without acknowledgement in the speeches of the two members who followed him, so today I take pleasure in speaking for the people of Bass to record our admiration for him. He served with distinction, and his record of achievement for the electorate was quite remarkable. It was Warwick Smith who taught me to regard Launceston as the provincial capital of northern Tasmania, to be protective and parochial for my community and to not be afraid to think big.

I feel honoured because of the many northern Tasmanians who have elected me. Perhaps only members of the House who have experienced the rigours of an election campaign in a traditionally close seat will appreciate how such a clear-cut victory feels. In saying these things it is important to emphasise that, even though the seat I now occupy has only room for one, not much of this is really about Michael Ferguson. It is really about service—and honestly serving the good people of northern Tasmania.

Today I want my first thanks to go to the people of Bass for their support and for placing their confidence in me. In thanking them, I pledge today to work hard to the best of my ability and with integrity. During the campaign, I was quite open about my belief in Liberalism, my strong admiration for Prime Minister John Howard, my Christian faith, my family values and my devotion to my family. I do not think that a public person must lay bare every aspect of his or her life, but I have been open about these things because I know that people are dissatisfied with politicians who cannot say what they mean or mean what they say. I believe that convictions define a person’s true identity and motivation for life.

Naturally, like every other honourable member in this place, I represent a community of people who have differing views, priorities and values. It is only when we are prepared to respect those other views and show a preparedness to listen to them that effective representation becomes possible. I am not here to represent myself, but aim to be an effective representative for all the people of Bass, regardless of those individual views, priorities and values. That may seem impossible, but it is an ideal still worth striving for. I want to achieve outcomes that are in the best interests of the greater community.

Today I would like to thank my supporters, my volunteer team back home and those who have travelled to celebrate this time with me and who are present in the gallery today. Of course, many of my supporters have voted Liberal all their adult lives. Some were dedicated and loyal members of the Liberal Party. But others changed their voting habit and gave their support because they believed in me and the values I live by. Regardless of their backgrounds and motivation, I thank them all. I know how hard they worked. I know that many went many extra miles. I knew all along that I could never achieve this dream on my own, and I pay special tribute to them.

I cannot thank the Prime Minister enough for his personal support, commitment and hard work in helping to achieve this result. I am so proud to call him my leader, as are so many of my fellow Australians. He is a man of total integrity and principle. I say thank you also to the many ministers who visited Bass and, of course, to all of the Tasmanian Liberal senators who helped in our campaign.

I say thank you to my parents, Colin and Glenys, and to my extended family, who have never disappointed me and who have my love forever. I pay tribute to my darling wife, Julie. She has been and will be my partner in public life. She brings special qualities to our family and I know that anything I am able to achieve in the years ahead will be her achievement too. I also say thank you to my beautiful treasures, Eloise, Thomas and James. As our children these three have not had a say in our decision to pursue a political life but they will, of course, be subject to it. Being away from home will be difficult, but I will not forsake them. I know that in order for the people of Bass to have an effective local member I must first be a good husband and good father.

To all I have thanked, I pledge to keep faith with you as the people who helped me to achieve my goals in these early days. I will not allow the special privilege of serving as your local member of parliament fall into arrogance. Instead, I daily rededicate myself to the mission that we all pursued together, where I had the honour of being the face and the voice for that cause.

To provide the best representation for the people of Bass I will be guided by a number of principles. They are: to give my family priority and defend my marriage; to serve the people of Bass by working to improve living standards and opening up new opportunities; to lead by example in the service of my community and encourage others to fulfil their potential; to show resolve when I am convinced as to the wisest and most honest course of action, without fooling myself that on every issue I will be right; and to be a team player in this place without sacrificing the people who sent me here.

I am proud to represent the best electorate in Australia, with its natural beauty, its proud history and its spirited people. I will work to help provide economic opportunities for northern Tasmania. I am encouraged by the government’s agenda to provide better skills for our young people through a network of new Australian technical colleges, to strengthen families’ capacity to choose the best education for children and to provide them with the foundation for a happier and more successful life. I applaud the moves to encourage greater promotion of our region, its products and the skills and capacities of its people, and moves to provide better roads and infrastructure and celebrate our natural and historical heritage through the Norfolk Museum, the Trail of the Tin Dragon tourism project, and the ongoing work of the Australian School of Fine Furniture. I am also committed to fighting for better health infrastructure, aged care services and the availability of both GPs and specialists in northern Tasmania.

But, most importantly, I will work to support the most fundamental and important building block of our society: the family. I owe a great deal of my success to the love and support of my own family. I have seen first hand the pain caused when families break down. It hurts. It hurts those who are separating and it hurts those they love. Talking about this important subject may be almost taboo. But, however painful, the fact is that the economic hardship, emotional hurt and social devastation—especially for any children involved—mean that the trend towards higher rates of family breakdown since the Whitlam era must be recognised, addressed and reversed. I am heartened by the policies of the Howard government, which have done much to strengthen families. I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop more policies to protect and nurture this important social unit.

Plenty is written of George Bass. Among these accounts, including Matthew Flinders’s own work, is the testimony that Bass was a man of great courage and resourcefulness, impatient of inactivity and eminently qualified to undertake the remarkable work he carried out. He was a man who was not to be repressed by any obstacle or deterred by danger. I take inspiration from George Bass’s qualities and I will work hard for the people of bass and Australia like I have never worked before, in the hope that the same may honestly be said about me. I hope that after my time as a proud representative of the people of northern Tasmania the 12th member for Bass will be remembered as one who left things better than he found them. Thank you.

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