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Vince Connelly (Lib-Stirling) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Vince Connelly, Liberal member for Stirling, Western Australia.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Vince Connelly, Liberal member for Stirling.

The SPEAKER (17:07): Before I call the honourable member for Stirling, 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 CONNELLY (Stirling) (17:07): While I was writing this speech, my wife, Peta, gave me the kind of wise and blunt advice which I have come to expect and to rely upon. She said, ‘Vinny, don’t try to be witty or charming or intellectual; just be yourself.’ It is quite good advice, and so, as usual, I decided that I would take it. I was also encouraged by the eloquence and courage that my fellow new parliamentarians have applied during their maiden speeches, sharing their personal stories and shedding a light on why they have fought to be here. They’ve all said in a variety of ways that they are here because of others and they are here for others. Friends have asked me, ‘Vince, why do you want to go into politics?’ My answer has been consistent and simple: it’s because this is my opportunity to do the most good that I can do.

The twin values I’m anchored in are service and teamwork. My first career was as an Army officer, and I’ve since worked in business, raised a family and volunteered in my local community. So today I’m going to share a few stories which I hope will illuminate the experiences that have shaped me and why I have fought so desperately to be here.

Growing up, there were six of us kids—a good Catholic family, as the saying goes. As you can imagine, it was a very busy household, and it was my first exposure to the importance—and the benefits—of teamwork. I remember what we used to call ‘Saturday morning jobs’, which our parents forced us to perform before we were off the hook to play. My brother Anthony emerged as a natural leader, delegating jobs to the rest of us. I always seemed to land toilet-cleaning duty! But we all pitched in for two or three hours and after that it was free time, which usually involved building a tree house or playing backyard cricket with the neighbours.

We constantly learn from behaviours that are modelled by those around us, and no modelling is more influential than that of parents to their children. My mother was a political activist. I was 10 years old and the state government had been elected on a promise of not placing a toll on the local motorway. However, after coming to power, this is precisely what they did. Naturally, the local community was extremely disappointed and some were even inclined to protest. This was the genesis of a group that became known as ‘Tollbusters’, led by my mother Suzelie. These Tollbusters went to the extent of setting up a campsite next to that motorway, which they staffed 24 hours a day, rain, hail or shine, for two full years. This was a committed team serving their local community.

There was even one occasion where my Mum led a black ops raid, the likes of which I’m sure my colleague the member for Canning would be proud! That night, Mum coordinated a team who snuck up and wrapped the toll booths in plastic and covered them with shaving cream, waving happy motorists through for free. Naturally, the local police kindly offered Mum a free ride back to the station. After six years of protest activity, the government finally removed those tolls. And 30 years later they’re still too scared to put them back on!

So apart from the excitement of being able to go to school and tell my mates my Mum got arrested, this episode and the Tollbuster campaign taught me two important lessons. Firstly, it taught me about the power of working together as a team towards a shared mission. Here in this place, our worldviews are no doubt as diverse as those amongst those Tollbusters. But we are all here to achieve a common mission: a stronger, more prosperous nation. We are all on ‘Team Australia’. Secondly, my mother’s example taught me about the critical importance of volunteers serving and leading within their local communities.

With these lessons in mind, straight out of school I enlisted into the Australian Defence Force Academy and went on to serve as an officer for nine years full-time and the last 15 years as a reservist. Whilst in the Army, I had the great privilege to deploy on operations as a platoon commander to East Timor and as a Company Second in Command at Australia’s first push into Solomon Islands. Through these deployments, I was a direct witness to the significant and positive role Australia plays internationally, especially within our own region.

I believe in extending compassion to those who need it. Australia truly is the lucky country; you only have to travel to any other country on earth to see clearly that our standard of living and our social cohesion, whilst not perfect, are the envy of the world. So I believe we have a responsibility and the resources to lend a hand to others. Our region of the world continues to face strategic challenges and we will also continue to face humanitarian disasters. I have seen firsthand the amazing outcomes achieved through the application of our Defence and other national resources in military and humanitarian operations, and I am thrilled now to be in a position to leverage my knowledge and experience to help contribute to the strategy which guides Australia’s important deployments. Once again, the door has been opened for me to do more good.

My second career was in the mining and oil and gas sectors, where I worked as a risk and crisis management specialist—skills that some have suggested may also come in handy in politics! The experience of having worked in business for the last decade and a half has helped me understand the challenges faced by businesses small and large. I understand that, with the right policy settings, benefits can be enjoyed by individual workers, employers and shareholders.

Recently, the minister for, and tireless advocate of, small and family businesses, Michaelia Cash, joined me in visiting small businesses in Stirling. This government backs small and family businesses because we recognise that they are the backbone of our economy. In Stirling, there are 19½ thousand small and medium businesses who are benefiting from the ongoing support of coalition policies. Just one great example is Adrian’s Balcatta Car Care Centre. Adrian proudly took Michaelia and I through his workshop, and he showed us hydraulic lifts that he had purchased using the instant asset write-off—a real business booster recently increased by this government. The most important benefit was for the safety of his workers. Moreover, these new lifts meant better productivity and better outcomes for customers, with their cars back on the road sooner.

At a personal level, I’ve seen, through my own participation and volunteering in sporting and community groups, the significant benefits that these organisations provide. In my time as the member for Stirling, I will be relentless in my support for our community organisations and the amazing work that they undertake.

Recently, this belief was punctuated by a moment where deeds, rather than words, were required. My wife, Peta, loves this website called Buy Nothing. It’s a little bit like eBay or Gumtree, but instead goods are traded for no fee. What’s more, the website is ultra local, with trading occurring within just one suburb—or, at most, two neighbouring suburbs.

Through a transaction involving a cupboard, my wife met a young mother who lived just a couple of streets away. The young mother, whose name I won’t use, called Peta at about 10 pm one night. It was a Saturday night, and we were watching a movie at home. She’d called Peta out of the blue because she had no other family or friends, and her home had become unsafe for her and her children. So, of course, we jumped straight in the car and headed over there. When we got there, we defused the immediate domestic situation and bundled the young lass, along with her baby and two toddlers, into our car and took them around to our place. We were very pleased to have them staying with us for a couple of days and nights. But then we really didn’t know what to do next. So my wife googled it, and she came across the Stirling Women’s Centre. When Peta called them, they said: ‘Bring the family in. We’ll take care of everything.’ And they did. The young mother and kids stayed there for about a week before being resettled in a safer environment.

Just a few weeks later, I visited the women’s centre, because the government had earlier provided the funding which enabled the outdoor area and playground to be renovated. And then, just this month on a Wednesday night, I was with the Lions Club of North Beach, also in my electorate, at their monthly meeting. The secretary was taking us through a PowerPoint presentation of all of the projects that they’ve helped in the last 12 months, and guess what? It was the Stirling Lions Club who had, with federal government funding, provided the labour to renovate the outdoor area used by that young mother and her children during their recent stay.

Funnily enough, the story doesn’t quite end there. The next PowerPoint slide that the Lions crew showed during that presentation was a picture of them cooking a barbecue breakfast for the local RSL Anzac Day commemoration, and that RSL club in North Beach is the same one that my wife and I had joined a few years earlier after an Anzac Day morning service and a wonderful breakfast cooked by those Lions clubs.

There is no substitute for locals choosing locals to represent them in parliament. Not one part of that story would have been possible if we had not joined the local RSL club, participated in our local community and offered a safe place to stay for a neighbour in need. This is a story about the interconnectedness of local communities. This story also shows that there is a very important role that government plays, a role that I now commit to play in helping to make Stirling an even better place to live, to work and to raise a family.

Whilst Stirling lays claim to some beautiful beaches, including Scarborough, Trigg and Watermans Bay, that is just one part of our character. It is actually our social character, our diversity, which is our key national offering. Stirling is the most ethnically diverse electorate in the country. Nearly half of the people in Stirling—46 per cent, to be exact—were born overseas. And a language other than English is spoken in one in every three homes.

I come to this parliament from the most diverse electorate at a time when the parliament itself is increasingly diverse. Last week we welcomed the first Chinese-born woman as an MP in this place. Recently we also celebrated the first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians. My children are also living in an age of unprecedented diversity, the age where we saw the first Australian female Prime Minister—a time when all sides of politics and the community can be thankful for this.

One example of celebrating diversity is that, in March this year, the inaugural Colours of Italy festival was held right in the middle of my electorate. Promoted locally by the community through social media channels, there were 20,000 visitors on that one day. I wish I could share with you here some of the sights, the smells, the sounds and the flavours of that wonderful day.

One of the most practical and effective ways for migrants to find a valuable place in our society is to secure employment. Under Mayor Mark Irwin’s leadership, the City of Stirling, in partnership with both the state and the federal government, is helping new skilled migrants to the City of Stirling to become job-ready through the Kaleidoscope Initiative. This program matches newcomers with mentors from similar backgrounds, helping break down barriers that they might face to employment. This nation-leading initiative has been recognised, with Kaleidoscope winning the Overall Award for Excellence at this year’s National Awards for Local Government.

As well as keeping our community groups strong, we have to keep them safe. The Mirrabooka mosque was successful in securing funding ahead of the election for security upgrades, thanks to the advocacy of their local member at the time and my predecessor, Michael Keenan. Michael served this place with distinction for 15 years, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to continue his excellent work. The Jewish community centre in Dianella and the aged-care facility nearby are also in need of upgrades to their capacity and their security, and I’m currently fighting for those projects. Government’s first priority is to keep our citizens safe.

I’m grateful that, on this side of the chamber, there is a strong sense that religious freedoms must also be respected and protected. Aussies just reckon that it’s right that we should have freedom of thought, of speech and of belief. As a soldier, I defended these values. As a businessman, I benefited from these values. And as the new member for Stirling, I commit to upholding these values.

My presence here is due to the amazing efforts of the team who supported me: first and foremost, my wife, Peta. Peta herself is a former Australian Army Intelligence Corps major. Peta served with Special Operations, both in Australia and overseas. I fell in love with Peta for two reasons: firstly, because she’s beautiful; secondly, because she is strong. I knew she was strong enough to be with me on a life journey which was not going to be normal, which has involved sacrifice—not just ours, but for our children as well. Baby, you live a life of sacrifice and of service more than I ever will.

To my amazing children, Tiggy, Tyler and Noah: sure, your mates gently teased you at school but your presence, along with their mates, in the blue Vince Connelly shirts on the campaign were absolutely awe inspiring! Now I hope that you can enjoy sharing with me and Mum this responsibility our whole family now has of contributing to our national democracy.

To Mum and Dad: as well as being amazing role models, you put your belief in me into action. You lived in our house during the campaign for two full months to make sure that, as a team, we were completely focussed on our single mission. I thank you so much. Thank you also to my siblings, Michelle, Anthony, Michael, Simon and Steven. It seems a long time since those Saturday morning jobs and building treehouses, but you were the first team I had the pleasure of belonging to.

To my campaign chair, Rob Paparde, and team leader, Chris Tan: thank you for skipping meals, showers, sleep and more to be with me during the battle. To the rest of my campaign team: you made the impossible possible. Thank you to Aiden Depiazzi; Ben Martin; Melinda Poor; Lara Chambers and clan; Georgina Fraser; Eleni Evangel; Jo Quinn; Maddi White; Damien Kelly; Trish Botha; Karlo Perkov; John Iacomella; Dave Martinich; Dee Tart; Chris Hatton; Louis Meyer; Taylor Watson and Anton Lukas. And thank you to our friends on this journey: Ben Wallis; Julian Ambrose and Em Nutbeen; Brent and Daniel; the Samuels; the Ogilvie family; Tony Brooks; George Naoum; Phil Paioff and Graham Hardie.

Thank you, Prime Minister, for your close support. When you came to launch the surf lifesaving carnival titles in Scarborough, you stayed for selfies with the kids—and with the big kids—who appreciated your passion for surf lifesaving. But they appreciated even more the fact that you were a just a down-to-earth Aussie. To our Treasurer: our Stirling Business Association are already booking you back in, and I know you’re keen to get back there again.

To Senator Reynolds, our Defence Minister: thank you for helping me navigate the strategic complexity of campaigning in local shopping centres, an important battleground of social connection. Thank you to Senators Cormann, Smith, Brockman and O’Sullivan for your advice and support. To WA Liberal HQ, state president Fay Duda and director Sam Calabrese: you and the team nailed it.

I now look forward to working with my amazing new office team, Claire Bradley, Scott Stirling, Anton Smit and Lachy Parish. Like my colleagues, I am still learning the ropes, but I’m bringing the values I’ve grown up with to meet this challenge. I bring my experience in teamwork and in selfless service from the family home, through Defence operations and into business and community volunteering. And I offer my service again.

This moment feels a little bit like a wedding. I’m talking about the love that I have and the commitment that I’ll make. So, without in any way diluting the first and most important vows, that I made to my beautiful wife, Peta, let me nonetheless end with another vow. And so, in the presence of friends, family, colleagues and the national media I commit to contributing to the ever-unfinished business of democracy; I commit to the intergenerational imperative to leave for our children a better world than was left for us; and I commit now and for every day ahead of me to do as I have always done—to provide selfless service as part of a team and to give my full measure of devotion to my fellow Australians, to doing the most good that I can do.

I thank the House.

Debate adjourned.

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