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Ken O’Dowd (LNP-Flynn) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech of Ken O’Dowd, the Liberal National Party member for Flynn.

O’Dowd won the Queensland seat at the 2010 federal election, defeating the ALP’s Chris Trevor, who had held the seat since it was created in 2007.

Flynn is based around Gladstone and O’Dowd will sit with the Nationals in Canberra. He secured a swing of 5.82% to win the seat with 53.58% of the two-party-preferred vote.

O’Dowd, 60, has been a self-employed business owner since 1978. He has operated a fuel distributorship, a timber and hardware business, and been a publican and company director.

  • Listen to Ken O’Dowd (22m)

Hansard transcript of Ken O’Dowd’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the LNP member for Flynn.

Mr O’DOWD (6:23 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise for the first time in this chamber. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the people of Flynn, who have chosen to put their faith in me to represent their interests. So far it has been a sharp learning curve. I am excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to the wellbeing of my electorate and by the thought that my work in this place will be meaningful and will enable the residents of Flynn to enjoy the quality of life that they richly deserve.

I was born in Gladstone Hospital and raised on my parent’s dairy farm at Bracewell, Mount Larcom. We grew small crops of beans, peas, peanuts and grain to support our farm income on three 80-acre blocks, known in those days as ‘soldier settlement blocks’. My parents worked hard to provide for their children, and as kids my brother, Bob, and sisters, Lorraine, Bernice and Maureen, and I worked on the farm before and after school. At an early age, my brother and sisters and I worked on farms outside our own farm to pay for our education.

I attended Bracewell State School, then Mount Larcom high school and then Rocky Grammar, where I was school captain. By the age of 17 I had worked as a contract milker and I had picked beans on our neighbours’ farms, worked on the railways as a fettler and on flying gangs and then worked on construction to build a new railway line from Gladstone to Moura.

On leaving school I worked at QAL Gladstone in administration as a payroll clerk. In 1970 I went to New Guinea to work on construction at the Bougainville Copper mine. I returned to Australia in 1978 to work in the fuel industry at Gladstone at the seaport terminal before entering into my own business at Emerald in 1981 as a fuel distributor for Mobil. I sold that business in 1988 and became a partner in the Shell distributorship that covered an area from Rockhampton to Gladstone, Bundaberg and south to Maryborough. That business was sold back to Shell in 1998. I bought and renovated an old pub in Rockhampton, renaming it O’Dowd’s Irish Pub, which was sold in 2004. My current business is Busteed Building Supplies, which I have operated since 1998. I would like to thank Bernie, Ernie and Julie for keeping the business running while I have been away.

Each of the two above categories of business was sold to make way for the entry in these areas by Coles and Woolworths to the fuel and alcohol and gaming businesses. Now my current business is under threat by the entry of Coles and Woolworths, again, into the hardware business.

In my early years I enjoyed playing cricket at home in Australia and in PNG. I have played rugby league and squash. I still enjoy a game of golf and I have been the President of the Calliope Country Club for over 20 years. My real passion is horse racing, and I have dabbled in most aspects of the game: owner, breeder, bookmaker, and punter, win or lose. Currently I am on the Capricornia Country Racing Association board, and we face a continuing uphill battle to keep the game alive in the bush. If Queensland Racing had its way, there would only be racing in the south-east corner and two or three centres along the Queensland coast. I have led three veteran cricket teams, called the ‘Gladstone Muddies’, to New Zealand, England and South Africa.

The electorate of Flynn is a very large electorate. It covers over 133,000 square kilometres, extending from Taroom in the south-west to Anakie, Rubyvale and the Gemfields, to the agricultural and mining centres of Emerald, Springsure, Rolleston, and Capella and through to the mining towns of Blackwater, Tieri, Moura and Theodore. Biloela, with its connection to agriculture and mining, opens out to Thangool, Monto, and Eidsvold, extending down to the citrus fields of Gayndah and Mundubbera. My electorate takes in the towns of Biggenden and Mount Perry, Gin Gin, Wondai and Proston and includes an area north of Bundaberg—Paul’s territory—with the beachside towns of Moore Park and Agnes Water and the hinterland towns of Rosedale, Avondale and Miriam Vale.

The city of Gladstone, with its wonderful harbour, and the coastal communities of Tannum Sands and Boyne Island are the industrial hub of Queensland, providing much of the nation’s wealth through mining exports and industries including aluminium, cement and soon the new LNG industry. To the north and north-west the electorate takes in the growing communities of Gracemere and Mount Morgan. Gracemere has been in five different electorates in the past 15 years. No wonder little has been done to benefit this deserving community. Let us leave it where it is, and I will do my best to make sure it is never neglected again.

The electorate of Flynn contributes to the growth of the Australian economy through the production of aluminium, cement, coal, light metals, chemicals, a range of quarry products and gemstones. We grow sugar cane, citrus fruit, nuts, grain, grapes, beef, pork and fruit.

The fishing industry is vitally important to our coastal communities, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that this industry is not damaged any further by irresponsible closures. Do you agree, Ron Boswell? The fishing industry already has one arm tied behind its back competing with the low cost of production in South-East Asia. Our fishermen are paying 90c a litre for fuel compared with 22c a litre in Asia. Inferior imports that come from countries that have less than acceptable health standards should never be promoted over our freshly caught, locally produced seafood.

Tourism is important to Central Queensland, and we need to do more to help the various tourism boards across Flynn. The three coal fired power stations in Gladstone, Callide and Stanwell supply Central Queensland and the rest of Queensland with their power. There are those in this place who would like to see the demise of these three coal fired power stations, without offering any real solution. I know of many projects in Central Queensland that are on hold until the uncertainty surrounding the MRRT and the ETS is resolved. Last week I was informed that a $10 million accommodation expansion program in Emerald was on hold pending resolution of the mining tax and ETS issues.

Regional Australia and in particular Central Queensland have suffered through lack of investment in infrastructure. Our roads are a national disgrace. The National Highway between Gin Gin and Rockhampton is in need of a complete makeover. It is too narrow and too rough for the number of vehicles that use it. It is not only the Bruce Highway but the roads west to Emerald and Biloela that are also in urgent need of improvement. Our highways are the workplace of transport workers and yet we give them substandard conditions in which to perform. It is a testament to their skill that we do not have more accidents involving heavy vehicles.

For almost a decade our regional health system has deteriorated at an alarming rate. Contrary to what the government says, GP superclinics are not the answer for regional cities or towns. They will only duplicate what the private practices are already delivering, whilst at the same time competing with those practices for doctors, nurses and patients. Haus sik emi bugga-up tru. That is pidgin English for, ‘Our hospitals are in a mess.’ I have cleaned that up a bit too!

Gladstone, the nation’s industrial hub, does not have adequate facilities to handle emergencies involving multiple injuries. People in Gladstone have to travel up to three times per week, over 100 kilometres, to Rockhampton for dialysis because Gladstone does not have the equipment or the manpower to provide this necessary service. Emerald has over 600 births per year. Over 300 of them have to be performed in Rockhampton or other centres because the Emerald birthing centre can only handle low-risk births. This places strain on the fathers and families, who have to fend for themselves while the mother is away for sometimes up to three weeks in another town. This same situation is played out in many towns throughout Flynn. A better solution would be to reinstate these hospitals to fully functioning hospitals with a range of specialist services. For example, Gladstone, Emerald and Biloela hospitals should become ‘hubs’, with Gladstone specialising in emergency response and outpatients. Emerald and Biloela hospitals should be rural training hospitals, providing specialist support services.

The government’s spin doctors are good at telling Central Queenslanders that we are in boom times, that things have never been so good. But our regional towns and cities are in decline; they are dying. They are dying because of Labor’s centralist policies. Money being earned in Central Queensland is being used to build infrastructure in the south-east corner of Queensland. The railway has stopped running to towns like Gayndah, Mundubbera, Eidsvold and Monto. Industries like logging and dairy have been stopped around Monto. Five years ago there were 51 piggeries in Central Queensland; now there are five. Pork imports from America, Denmark and Canada, which are heavily subsidised by their governments, account for about 80 per cent of all packaged pork products sold in Australia.

What is it about Labor and its preoccupation with destroying regional Australia? What does Labor say to these families? These families are fed up with the spin. All we get in Central Queensland are a few crumbs from the rich man’s table. Show us the money and we will show you how our regional towns and cities can become vibrant again. We will show you the energy and resilience of our regional communities. Let us in the regional areas manage our money. Let us employ local contractors and people and let us source the materials from local suppliers and we will show you how the can-do attitude of Central Queenslanders will get better value for our important tax dollars.

I was in Eidsvold two weeks ago and I met with a group of 15 people who were concerned about their town and how they have been forgotten by the Queensland government. Aged care is at the top of their priority list. They desperately need a 30-bed aged-care facility now. Such a facility will not only provide necessary care for ageing residents but allow them the dignity of remaining in care in an environment that is conducive to a quality way of life. No-one wants to spend their retirement years in a hospital bed if all they need is good quality accommodation in the company of their friends.

A 30-bed aged-care facility in Eidsvold would also provide a wide range of employment opportunities in health care, food preparation, cleaning and gardening for the young people of the town. Cut out the middleman. Let the people take control of these community projects.

In Eidsvold I met a 15-year-old girl called Lucy who posed the following question to me: ‘Mr O’Dowd, congratulations on your election as the Member for Flynn. Could you ask the Minister for Sport, Mark Arbib, if he is able to provide assistance for rural communities to develop a strategy for youth sports development?’ The kids in our community are proud to live in regional centres. Why should they be deprived of sporting facilities because they do not live in the populated areas?

The electorate of Flynn was named in honour of the late Reverend John Flynn, ‘Flynn of the Outback’. Several names for the new electorate were suggested, but it was the submission from long-time Central Queensland resident and friend of mine, Greg McCann, that won the day. In his submission, Greg pointed out that John Flynn had lived in the outback for most of his life, setting up hostels and bush hospitals for pastoralists, miners, road workers, railwaymen and other settlers. He witnessed the daily struggle of these pioneers, living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost two million square kilometres. It is appropriate that the electorate of Flynn is named after a visionary pioneer who struggled to establish a credible medical service for regional Australians, just like the people of Flynn are continuing to do today.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the road to this place is long and arduous. A first-time candidate and now first-time member of parliament, I rely on the support of many people and I would like to acknowledge the support of my family, friends and supporters. My mother is here today and obviously her influence on my life has played a part in my life. She helped out during the campaign by attending functions and of course by offering support to me at all times. My dad, Andrew Desmond O’Dowd, passed away in 1985. He instilled in me the value of hard work.

I have had the love and support of my son, Ben, and daughter, Amber, Ben’s wife, Liz, and Amber’s husband, Jason. I have five beautiful grandkids and I love them all. I say hi to Phillip, Nicholas, Garreth, Rye and Rainey. My sister Bernice and her husband, John; my brother, Bobby, and his wife, Joyce; along with my sister Maureen and her husband, Kevin; sister Lorraine and her husband, George, all supported me beyond the call of duty. My partner, Shirley, who is up in the gallery, has given me enormous support and encouragement, and without her the whole adventure would have been all the more difficult. My good mate Kim—the publican next door in Rockhampton—and his wife, Dianne, are here today and I thank them for their friendship and support. It’s a different story now, mate!

I think I had the most incredible campaign committee. They did what most thought could not be done. Despite an incredible ‘sandbagging’ exercise by the incumbent, my team focused on the real issues, presented them to the electorate, and the people of Flynn did the rest. I would like to personally mention the efforts of Don Holt, Greg McCann, Wendy Hatfield, Leanne Ruge, Graham Hartley, Gus Stedman, Os Blacker, Ken Crooke, Tony Goodwin, Kim Mobbs, Hec Kilah, Bob McCosker, Russell Schroder and Graham McVean. These people worked tirelessly from our campaign headquarters, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Flynn covers 133,000 square kilometres and the people that looked after my campaign in the South Burnett, the Central Highlands and out around Rolleston, Springsure and Taroom include John Engwicht, Mike Burns and Gail Nixon, and Barry Masters at Agnes Water. To the many people who worked on my booths and to the team that helped with scrutineering, I say thank you.

I would like to acknowledge the skill and professionalism of Bruce McIvor and Brad Henderson and their LNP team. The decision to form the LNP in Queensland certainly proved to be a wise decision. During the campaign I was grateful for the assistance of Senators Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell, Ian Macdonald, Connie Fierravanti-Wells, George Brandis, Russell Trood, Brett Mason and Nigel Scullion. The guidance and wisdom of National Party Leader, Warren Truss, was very valuable to me during the campaign, and I thank him for visiting Flynn with me on three separate occasions.

Many thanks go to Joe Hockey, Ian Macfarlane and Paul Neville, and Queensland Opposition Leader, John-Paul Langbroek. Finally, I am grateful to our leader, Tony Abbott, for taking the time to meet with the people of Flynn just before the election. It was a mighty effort from everyone and I am honoured to have worked with you all.

Some people refer to me as ‘the bulldog at the gate’. Some people have unkindly said that I look like a bulldog! I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when I have an issue that needs to be followed though on for my electorate, I will be an absolute ‘bulldog at the gate’ with sharp teeth and a loud bark, making sure that the Prime Minister honours the promises made to Flynn in the days immediately prior to the election.

Here are a few of them: $155 million for the Calliope Crossroads upgrade; $50 million for the Yeppen Bridge and roundabout upgrade at Rockhampton; $20 million for the southern approach to Gin Gin; $70 million for stages 2 and 3 of the Gladstone Ports development road; the Gary Larson football oval in Miriam Vale; a sporting complex in Emerald; and $1 million to outfit the Banana training centre. But wait, there’s more! Labor promised to fix our health system and they promised to build sporting facilities for our regional towns. I want it all started, and started in this term of parliament. Labor has been talking about the Calliope Crossroads for the past three years—same with the Yeppen upgrade and the southern approach to Gin Gin. Stop the talk—start the work.

I promise the people of Flynn that I will be the ‘bulldog at the gate’ and I will work in this place for the restoration of our regional towns and cities. I thank the people of Flynn for their vote of confidence and, Mr Speaker, I thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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