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Jane Prentice (Lib-Ryan) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech by Jane Prentice, the Liberal member for Ryan.

Prentice was elected at the 2010 federal election, replacing Michael Johnson in one of the Liberal Party’s safest seats in Queensland. She polled 57.16% of the two-party-preferred vote.

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Hansard transcript of first speech to the House of Representatives by Jane Prentice, Liberal member for Ryan.

Mrs PRENTICE (1:31 PM) —I start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet—the elders past and present. In this context, Mr Speaker, may I say how delighted I am to be joined on this side of the chamber by the new member for Hasluck.

I am proud to come to this parliament as the representative for the seat of Ryan, located in the heart of Brisbane and the great state of Queensland. It is a state that has sent to this place people of the calibre of the late Senator Neville Bonner and the late Jim Killen—old and dear friends. They both brought a natural sense of propriety and fair play, a sense of humour, and both made this parliament a better place for their presence and contribution. I also take inspiration from the constituents of Ryan—people like Dimity Dornan, Professor Ian Frazer and Kieren Perkins—all real achievers who lead by example. They teach us that within our own communities there are people who will change our lives and give us hope and inspiration for the future. With this inspiration I stand today in awe of the remarkable institution that is this, the Australian parliament—a place where, in Melbourne, over a 100 years ago, my great grandfather, Sir George Pearce, who was sworn in as a senator of the first parliament of Australia and who later served as minister for defence and as the first senator to be Acting Prime Minister. He also established the Royal Australian Air Force. Sir George remains the longest-serving member of the Australian Senate. In this current House, only my good friend the member for Berowra comes close.

I am humbled by the trust that almost 100,000 electors of Ryan have placed in me. The responsibility to represent the electors of Ryan is an honour and a challenge. I take it on enthusiastically, knowing that only by working closely with my electorate can I properly represent them. I am also humbled by the fact that I am the 1,085th member of this House since Federation—indeed, less than the number of students enrolled at Ferny Grove High School in Ryan. To be one of such a small number over that lengthy period is an honour—an honour that I can only repay by honest representation and hard work. To the people of Ryan I give that pledge. I will do my very best to represent their interests in this parliament. That does not mean that I must abandon my own judgment or become a slave to the latest poll. It does mean that I must exercise my judgment to best serve the people of Ryan and Australia.

I come to this parliament at a time of enormous challenge. I come to a parliament that confronts that rare occurrence of a House finely divided—a government without a clear mandate. I approach this challenge with a determination to act in the best interests of my constituents and our country. I approach it with a confidence in my Liberal heritage and the strength of the Liberal-National Party brand. I would not be here without the support of Bruce McIver and the LNP organisation, as well as so many friends and supporters—too numerous to name now.

Like so many Australians, my education has been framed by meeting the challenges that confront us all in life. Indeed, there is nothing like raising a family, as I have done in Ryan, to build community links—strong links that endure until this very day; strong links that have been built upon and strengthened through my role as a Brisbane city councillor. I have built my own business, which was based in Ryan. Out of all this, I have developed firm views as to decision making and representative politics. Whilst those views have been developed at the coalface of business, in the warmth, delight and challenge of raising a family and in city administration, they are the stronger for it. I have also had the benefit of working with two special leaders, whom I mention today—Sir John Carrick and Lord Mayor Campbell Newman. I recall Senator Carrick as a great mentor and a man of immeasurable compassion. He is still passionate about the importance of education. He said that, when considering new legislation, we must always be mindful of our responsibility to assist those in need. Campbell Newman campaigned with a vision, embracing actions not words. He constantly reminded our team that we must be prepared to take decisions for the long-term benefit, across election cycles, and not be limited by the term of government. His objective has always been to make a plan and get things done.

I am a passionate advocate of the view that it is the individual who stands front and centre as my ideological cornerstone and that it is by empowering the individual that we will unlock the real potential of our society. One only has to look at the contribution of Ryan volunteers of the calibre of Jutta Godwin, Sally Johannsen, Gwen Braga, Joan Redgrave, Richard Speechly, Helen Jones and Jocelyn Slater—all people who have enriched the community in Ryan through their dedication and hard work.

I strongly believe that government must provide the environment to give individuals the opportunities to create and succeed, but not to unreasonably interfere or to restrict the freedoms and rights of individuals. I believe in a hand up, not a handout. In this place we must stand up for what we believe. That is what people want and so they should. I do not say that in a confrontational way but rather to say that I know that my constituents, like all Australians, want to know where their representative stands. I welcome the opportunity to set out my views and concerns about our nation today.

I stand for the future of our cities. Growth in our cities is inevitable. Time itself teaches that lesson. Failure to properly plan for that growth is an abrogation of responsibility. That failure is what concerns people, not growth in itself. In council, as part of Campbell Newman’s leadership team, we faced a city neglected by Labor over many years. We faced a hostile Labor council more interested in politics than outcomes. For four years we had to negotiate the challenges of delivering good government without a majority on the floor of council, but we had a clear vision and a plan to deal with population growth, and we got on with the job.

In Brisbane, a city of almost two million people, we are now achieving great outcomes. Brisbane provides a balanced approach to resolving traffic congestion, not just through TransApex—a four-tunnel, one-bridge solution, and the largest road construction program in Australia—but also through record investment in public transport. This has resulted in record bus passenger growth from 48 million in 2004 to more than 77 million in 2009-10. In Brisbane we have also set new standards in environmental initiatives, not by imposing a great big new on-off and now on again tax but with practical action, not rhetoric—action by the whole community, house by house, street by street, suburb by suburb. The results speak for themselves and the council led by example. Brisbane is now the largest purchaser of offsets and green power of any level of government in Australia.

Cities need the capacity to plan their future over the long term. That means more than a three-year funding cycle. Labor state governments have failed our cities. National government has a responsibility and an opportunity to work with the councils in our major cities, the engine rooms of our states and territories, to provide a city driven infrastructure plan for the long term. Successive governments can claim a proud record of regional development, but governments must work to deliver good government services for all Australians, regardless of where they live. That means that, in the rush to look after our regional areas, we do not ignore the needs of our population centres, our cities. Because of their sheer size and infrastructure needs, cities require special attention and planning. As much as we need a minister for regional Australia we need a minister for cities.

Before I entered politics I ran an event management business. I know the challenges and pressures of small business. From running a range of major events I saw an opportunity for my company to specialise in the emerging technology sector. I worked closely with the telecommunications industry. I sat on the Queensland board of ATUG. I learned on the job and I took that passion and understanding to the Brisbane City Council, where I campaigned for an optic fibre ultra-high-speed broadband network to every premises in Brisbane to really entrench Brisbane as Australia’s new world city. The goal was to provide open access to all potential users on equal and equitable terms. We assessed the technical, financial and revenue risks as well as alternatives for implementation. The council came up with a robust case and financial model, followed by a successful trial. The plan was feasible, affordable and it did not cost government—and, indeed, taxpayers—tens of billions of dollars. It brought together the best in the business and provided clear demonstrations of what government and business can do together.

NBNCo did not want to know about it. Indeed, they threatened to build over what Brisbane planned. They were more interested in entrenching the monopoly of themselves and Telstra. Perhaps the best analogy is in the provision of road infrastructure by government for all road users, not just for one brand of motor vehicle. Just as roads connected communities and economies in the 20th century so will broadband connect them in this century. I support the rollout of a high-speed broadband for everyone but not the untested, uncosted charade that is NBNCo.

A significant challenge of our modern connected world is that, whilst the internet has opened the information highway, the social networking aspect of the web raises real questions about social isolation. A teenage girl may have hundreds of Facebook or Twitter ‘friends’ but how many of those can she play sport with, go out with for a cup of coffee, go to the beach with or share a hug with? This may be a new paradigm showing us the future of social interaction, but there is a real worry that social networking will lead to a generation whose only significant social life will be on the internet.

Social isolation is not a problem that relates just to the elderly but our ageing population also requires special consideration. At the Red Cross annual general meeting in Brisbane last week, Professor Laurie Buys spoke about social connectedness and active ageing. Just to put the potential impact into perspective, it is worth noting her statistics: by 2050, one in two voters will be aged over 50 and, by 2055, 78,000 Australians will be aged over 100. We need to acknowledge not only the cost but also the potential benefits of age. Australians aged 55 and over contribute an estimated $74.5 billion per annum through voluntary, unpaid and caring work. We must not dismiss their enormous contribution and potential. That is our challenge.

We enjoy a successful multicultural Australia. I have grown up as part of it. I have great friends who are committed to building a better multicultural nation. In particular, I want to pay tribute to those who actively work to make Australia a more inclusive society: Eddie Liu and Michael Chan of the Brisbane Chinese community; Nick Xynias and Serge Voloshenko of the Ethnic Communities Council; Fraser Power, Kerrin Benson and the dedicated team at the Multicultural Development Association; and people like Adele Rice at Milpera and President Jolly Karumathy of the Kerala Indian community, as well as Tom Polume, a former Consul General for Papua New Guinea and now a proud Australian. Without these great Australians, and so many others, our lives would not be enriched by the real contribution that other cultures bring to our society. Australia is the result of our immigration over generations. We are richer for it.

It is a natural move from the importance of our multicultural Australia to the importance of our neighbours. In our region we have a particular responsibility to assist our developing friends, not in a patronising way but with a genuine hand of friendship and support. The developed world has not found a successful form of providing aid to our neighbours in much the same way as we have much to learn in helping our own Indigenous Australians. In both cases we must persist, because if we fail we let our neighbours down and indeed our first Australians.

Papua New Guinea, our closest land neighbour, faces real challenges but is a vigorous democracy and a good friend. At the same time, I look with encouragement at the progress from war to peace in Bougainville. In Bougainville we have had a remarkably successful peace process, but we need to do much more to assist them in building capacity. Failing to build that capacity to govern will cast a real shadow over the forthcoming referendum on independence.

We must also help the Solomon Islands move on from the ethnic tension. RAMSI is doing a great job in supporting the government, but they cannot remain there forever. Indeed Solomon Islands appears to be the reverse of Bougainville—there has been substantial work on state building yet real work still needs to be done on peace building and conflict resolution. Australia has played a major role in both post-conflict situations. In both places we must provide the continuing support required to reach a successful conclusion. East Timor and Fiji need our assistance to allow them to work through the challenges of past conflicts. As always, open and frank discussion is critical.

Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera is in Ryan. It is the home of a number of units, including 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, which is just returning from operations in Afghanistan, having lost a number of soldiers on operations. I attended the memorial service and funerals for privates Tomas Dale and Grant Kirby, and Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney in the last few weeks. Let us never forget these brave Australians and all of our troops and veterans who have answered the call whenever their country has asked. Equally we must never forget that these courageous men and women have volunteered knowing that they put their lives at risk to ensure our safety. It is timely to remind the House of the coalition’s commitment to ensure that their entitlements reflect the contributions and sacrifices they have made through the indexation of the DFRDB and the DFRB.

Also, let me say this: if this nation fails to cloak our soldiers with the full protection of the law when they go into battle, we fail them all. The rules of engagement must be crystal clear and our support strong. If we put Australian troops into the heat of battle and expect them to take enormous risks on our behalf, we cannot expect them to be split-second lawyers as well. I must make it very clear that I am not commenting about any current matter because I do not have all the facts at my disposal. However, we must recognise that our troops go to war on the instructions of our government. They must be able to do their job in accordance with the rules of engagement without having to worry about whether those rules might be interpreted differently at a later time. I say this as an Australian but also as a mother of a serving member of the Defence Force.

While there are and always will be many issues and projects which divide us in this place, there are also those that have bipartisan support at all levels of government because we all recognise their long-term strategic benefit. One of those projects is the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project—known by its acronym, SKA—which is planned to be one of the great science projects of the 21st century. Australia is in the last stages of an international site selection process. The SKA offers what is likely to be a unique opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to host a research facility of global scale and significance. It will be a global facility with, amongst other things, a computing capacity so big and powerful that it will drive global research not just in the radio field but more generally in ICT. It will facilitate science of the highest quality for decades. This project can put Australia at the forefront of that research in astronomy and in a range of other fields. It will have a significant economic and social impact. It is worthy of support from all of us.

It is important that I say something about my family. From Sir George Pearce to Len Righetti, the Mayor of Malvern on three occasions; to my parents, Alan and Janet Righetti, who are here today; to my sister, Katie, and to Peter, Caroline and Robert; and of course to my husband, Ian, and our children, George and Caitlin: none of this would be possible without you. In so many ways your family makes you, strengthens you and at times challenges you. That is how it always is. Family life is so important to our social fabric and our communities.

I do not come to this place with a closed mind. I look forward to the input of my electors. For those of you who are cynical about our political system I say: get involved, join a political party and above all have your say. Successful political communication is not a one-way process. It works best when there is active and informed input from constituents to members and senators. I am honoured to be given this opportunity by the people of Ryan. I am passionate about my community and I am passionate about my country. I am determined to make a real contribution to Ryan and Australia.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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