This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by John McVeigh, LNP member for Groom.
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Hansard transcript of John McVeigh’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the LNP member for Groom.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Goodenough): Before I call the honourable member for Groom, I remind the House that it is the honourable member’s first speech. I ask that the House extend to him the usual courtesies.
Dr McVEIGH (Groom) (17:01): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and can I congratulate you on your role in this the 45th Parliament.
Today I rise as a very humbled and proud member of the Australian parliament. I am especially humbled to be the new member for Groom. At the outset I thank sincerely the people of Groom, who have done me the great honour of representing them here in this the federal parliament. Our electorate is 5½ thousand square kilometres on the Eastern Darling Downs in southern Queensland. It is based on the city of Toowoomba, the second largest inland city in Australia—second only to this our national capital, Canberra. Groom is made up of other towns and villages, such as Cambooya, Pittsworth, Brookstead, Mount Tyson, Bowenville, Jondaryan, Oakey, Quinalow, Goombungee and Highfields, just to mention a few.
Our economy is based on agribusiness, health services, education, resources, construction and, above all else, small business. Research, development and innovation are features of our region, with industry, the University of Southern Queensland and the department of agriculture all greatly assisted by a significant CSIRO presence. Our cluster of world-class boarding schools serving southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, which, together with the South-West Queensland TAFE, the university and excellent private and state schools, means that we have magnificent education facilities and teachers, including my wife, Anita, on the Darling Downs. I, along with many others, am a fortunate beneficiary of a Darling Downs education, starting school at Jondaryan State School and finishing at my beloved Downlands College before commencing my first degree at our own university.
We are among the most productive agricultural regions in the nation, featuring grain, cotton, horticulture, intensive livestock and food-processing facilities. We sit at the northern headwaters of the Murray-Darling system. Toowoomba is the home of the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland and the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture. We remain the agricultural innovation centre for Australia. Our region houses the Oakey Army Aviation Centre and the Borneo Barracks Army base at Cabarlah, and like the rest of the nation we regularly commemorate our region’s proud but sobering history of military bravery.
I am very proud of the fact that Groom enjoys an economic growth rate and employment levels that are the envy of much of the rest of our nation. Surveys confirm that we are among the most philanthropic regions in the country. Our sporting heritage is strong from original rugby league international Duncan Thompson to members of our Australian women’s rugby sevens side, who won gold in Rio just last month. Our cultural icons extend from Steele Rudd to Geoffrey Rush and from the Jondaryan Woolshed to the Empire Theatre, DownsSteam, Cobb & Co Museum and our annual Carnival of Flowers, which will start this coming weekend.
We have much to offer the nation’s economy, with the $1.6 billion second range crossing now finally under construction; a $500 million Grand Central retail development; a $50 million inner-city bypass; $100 million of Warrego Highway upgrades, and with more to come; inland rail developments; and our burgeoning new international airport—the first greenfield public airport built in Australia in 50 years, which took just 18 months to be operational and was totally privately funded and developed by the Wagner family.
From the arrival of Allan Cunningham in the early 1800s and the large pastoral runs established by the Leslie brothers and other pioneers to selectors, farmers, graziers, small business people and cultures from across the world that followed them and from Defiance Milling, established by the forebears of the member for Fairfax, KR Darling Downs Smallgoods and Southern Cross Windmills to Weis Frozen Foods, Wagners, FK Gardner & Sons, Russell Mineral Equipment, the whole resource sector, Easternwell and Heritage Bank, Toowoomba and the Darling Downs have always been about opportunity and enterprise.
Above all, we recognise the history and position of the traditional owners in our part of the world, including the Jarowair and Giabal peoples and Indigenous warriors at the time of the arrival of Europeans, such as Multuggerah of the Jagera people, who led his people in the Battle of One Tree Hill near Toowoomba exactly 143 years ago today.
Like any other region, though, we have our challenges. Support for some of our troubled youth, mental health sufferers, others in need and the scourge of drugs are coordinated by the likes of Toowoomba Clubhouse, Sunrise Way and traditional agencies such as Endeavour and Lifeline, among many others. But there is always more to do, and I am committed to supporting this vital work in our community. For example, we have those who are pleading for access to medicinal cannabis and we are working through NDIS implementation preparations. Many in our community continue to recover from both flood and drought. The continued economic pressures on small business, the lifeblood of our economy and our community, are ever present.
The Oakey community is working through the challenge of unintentional water contamination from firefighting foams previously used at the Army aviation base, and I am working with them to obtain answers and clarity for their futures with the defence minister’s office just as soon as possible. I say to the consultants, the scientists and the bureaucrats who research on this and other impacts in our region: time is of the essence. And please understand: my constituents are not simply ‘receptors’, as they are referred to in various reports. They are people whose concerns we must respect.
Now, our future is exciting. The government is considering the feasibility study into a recycled water project from Brisbane to the Darling Downs for sustainable irrigation purposes. FK Gardner & Sons have plans for a data hub facility that is attracting worldwide attention. Despite downturns, the resource sector still plays an important part in our local economy. Fantastic export opportunities are being facilitated by the national and international road, rail and air logistics hub that our region is becoming, and we have much more to do to bring this fully to fruition. We must complete the task of world-class telecommunications infrastructure in our regional area, and I am focused on pushing ahead to complete and then sustain that system as a priority. Ultimately, I am committed to seeing the benefits of this exciting future filter down through our whole community and our whole economy—entrepreneurs, small business, families and job seekers right across the region.
It is often said that we are shaped and influenced by community leaders around us, and I would like to mention just a few from Groom. My predecessor, the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, in his maiden speech to this House 18 years ago, spoke of government needing to engender industry growth and community spirit and to be a public participant in a constructive way, and of the community’s need to recognise their government not necessarily as the fixer of all things but as an entity to facilitate, to assist and to lead.
On his election as our mayor in 2012, His Worship, Paul Antonio, here in the chamber today, declared that the Toowoomba region was open for business, and I know he revels in the fact that we are a family-friendly city and a refugee welcome zone. But as he says, the freedom that we have as a nation was not gained for free and that all of us, whether we have been here for generations or are just newly arrived, need to recognise that sacrifice by our forebears and our diggers.
Our community is well served by many faith and business leaders: my own Bishop Robert McGuckin and other faith leaders in our Christian tradition; Prof Shajahan Khan and others from our Islamic community; the multifaith activities of the Venerables and Mr Haneef at the Pure Land Learning College; Chancellor John Dornbusch and Vice Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas from USQ; Chairman Shane Charles from the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Economic Development organisation, here in the gallery today, and the chambers of commerce across our region; our emergency services leaders; and my great friend and Indigenous elder Uncle Darby McCarthy. It is Uncle Darby who is often quoted in our community, when we meet to discuss incarceration levels and other Indigenous challenges, as having confidence in full reconciliation. To quote him, ‘We must continue to work to achieve it in the knowledge that if we can’t, our black babies and our white babies will’.
The current electorate of Groom was created following a redistribution in the 1980s at the time my father, the Hon Tom McVeigh, was the federal member. Whilst I commence my federal role here almost 30 years after Dad retired, I did observe firsthand his approach to public life: a passionate connection with the electorate, a reliance on common sense as the ultimate guide, a keenness to engage in robust debate in the true coalition tradition but, above all else, an overwhelming respect for all engaged in the argument.
Dad is one of the fittest people of his age that I know, but at present he is recovering, and recovering well, from a recent illness. Last week, unfortunately, he was advised by his doctors not to travel for many weeks. He told me today on the phone that he is heartbroken that he cannot be here today, and so am I. I will ask other members here in the House to say g’day to him when he visits the House later in the year. But please be warned: he is of the very firm view that there is no Parliament House anywhere near as good as the old one down the road here in which he served!
I should also put on the record that I appreciated Dad’s assistance in the campaign, but I remain concerned that he spent more time working on the campaign of his own local member, Trevor Evans, the very distinguished new member for Brisbane!
I come to this House as an LNP member from Queensland, a party that combines the heritage of the great Liberal and National parties in our state, and I am so proud to sit in the Liberal Party room in this coalition government as a regional member. In my limited political experience to date in the Toowoomba Regional Council, the Queensland state parliament, as a state cabinet minister and now in the federal parliament I have learned just a few things: it is not about we as individuals in these chambers, it is about our constituents and electorates. All of us come and go, but the people and regions we serve are the constant. Together we debate, form, implement and critique policy as a government and as a parliament, but the most meaningful, rewarding and effective work we do is back in our electorates—one-on-one with our individual constituents in ways that will inevitably remain private forever to them and us.
A thick skin and pragmatism are prerequisites, a view to the long-term future, regardless of daily debates and contemporary scrutiny, is necessary and we should recognise that the role of the media is essential in the imperfect world of communication. Above all else, a respect for the office, despite our political differences to those who may hold that office—be it leadership or individual representatives—is essential for our democratic system to work.
In terms of my own studies and 20-year career in agribusiness prior to politics—from tractor driving and abattoir floor work to postgraduate study and international trade missions—I learnt clearly that as Australians we must focus on the entire value chain in which our producers, processors, logisticians and marketers exist. Ultimately each member of the chain needs to share in the benefits of commerce if we are to successfully compete with the world and develop our own communities. This is a strong view and a message that I bring to this parliament, and I believe it applies to our entire economy.
Before I close, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and admiration for my campaign manager, Cynthia Hardy, and her husband, Ben, who are here in the chamber this afternoon. Other supporters with them in the gallery today include John and Roseanne Munns—and a little birdie has told me they happen to be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary! I thank our party president, Gary Spence, and regional vice-president, Cameron O’Neill—both boys from Toowoomba, like me—and many other campaign workers and supporters, including Peter Wilson, Jim Curtis, John Eacersal, Deidre Counsell and a lady I have known since I was a child, Mrs Joan Andersen, or, as I know her, Aunty Joan. I also acknowledge Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who resides in our city of Toowoomba, and my former state colleagues whose electorates overlap with Groom: Trevor Watts, Deb Frecklington, Pat Weir and, especially, David Janetzki, who has replaced me in Toowoomba South and will do a sterling job.
I am fortunate to have many lifelong friends who have supported me in my political pursuits, including Paul Dashwood and Jon Martlew, here today in the gallery. And I acknowledge my new electorate office team of Megan Brown, Chris Leslight and Rae Copeland. Thank you so much for your understanding and patience as we all settle into our new roles.
Few of us can achieve anything without mates and mentors in our lives, and I take this opportunity to mention some from my life to whom I am so grateful: Ted and Maureen Timperley, youth group leaders from Highfields; the late Dr Peter White, from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries; Peter Kenny, one of my teachers at St Joseph’s; Phil Jauncey, from Toowoomba; Professor Ray Collins, from the University of Queensland; Greg Windsor, from Fibreking, a private manufacturing business that I have been involved with for over 20 years; my mayor and great mate Paul Antonio; and my wife’s late uncle Bishop Michael Putney, from Townsville, one of the most ecumenical and compassionate people this country will ever know.
As a fourth generation Darling Downs resident, I often reflect on the pioneering efforts of my great grandparents Patrick and Hester McVeigh and how their descendants have spread across the nation—aided, no doubt, by the fact they had 13 children to start with! My maternal grandparents, James and Margaret Meara, were leading citizens of Clifton, on the Southern Darling Downs, with James being its longest serving shire chairman. My parents, Mary McVeigh, who is here today, and Tom McVeigh, together with my parents-in-law—Cel, who is also here today, and the late Kevin Phillips—have provided Anita and I with a wonderful example of community service, a genuine concern for others, strong family values and the importance of family farming and small business enterprise in regional Australia.
And I am greatly supported by my siblings, Margaret, Tom, Michael and Peter, whose families and successful careers in the arts, education, law, engineering and finance inspire me no end.
As I have said, I am humbled and proud to have been selected as the new member for Groom in this place. But my most important role in life is as a father and husband. Our children, Meghan, Kevin, Bridget, Annabelle, Marita and Tessa, as well as Bridget’s partner, Alec Noble, are all here today. I say to them—through you, Mr Speaker—that mum and I are so privileged to be surrounded by such creativity, gentleness, leadership, determination, resilience and love. It is the future of you and your generation that first drew me into public life, and it has motivated me ever since—from those original kindy committees right through to this place. The law, commerce, education, arts and health sciences futures that you have embarked upon, with our support and immense pride, I trust will sustain us into our old age—or at least I hope they do!
Above all else, I come into this house with the support and patience of someone who has already been a conscript to public life, as we so often say—rather than as a volunteer, as we all are that sit in this chamber—my wife, Anita. Our love sustains me through all of this. She is my best friend and my rock.
In conclusion, I applaud those who work their guts out, as business founders, owners or employees, who succeed in their businesses and their jobs such that they can then contribute in turn to their communities. I often regret that such Australians and their families can be seen by some as privileged, and their success as being unfair, when that is exactly the enterprise, self-reliance and community support that we need to encourage in our country—in line with the Liberal ideals of enterprise and social justice. It is, as our Prime Minister and Treasurer have stated, the moral challenge of our time to bring the national budget back into order for the sake of future generations—and that is as true in Groom as it is anywhere in our nation. The ongoing challenge of limited resources and competing interests, I believe, is best addressed by small government that backs rather than regulates individual enterprise and freedom. We must appreciate the very broad range of concerns and aspirations across the generations and world views that make up our nation—especially those who feel disenfranchised—but at the same time we must guard against extremism in any guise. Ongoing reform and change is difficult for any community, but it is up to us as representatives here, and our state and local colleagues right across the nation, to listen to our communities, to represent our communities, and to lead the change necessary for our nation’s future. On behalf of the people of Groom, whom I represent here in the federal parliament, I dedicate myself to that task.