It is with humility and a deep sense of appreciation to the electors of Cook that I rise to make my maiden speech in this House. Today I wish to pay tribute to those who have been instrumental in my journey and to share the values and vision that I intend to bring to this House. I begin by acknowledging the first Australians, in particular the Gweigal people of the Dharawal nation of southern Sydney, who were the first to encounter Lieutenant James Cook, the namesake of my electorate, at Kurnell almost 240 years ago. I also commence by expressing my sincere appreciation to the people and families of the Sutherland shire in my electorate of Cook for placing their trust in me on this first occasion.
The shire community is a strong one. It is free of pretension and deeply proud of our nation’s heritage. Like most Australians, we are a community knit together by our shared commitment to family, hard work and generosity. We share a deep passion for our local natural environment and embrace what Teddy Roosevelt called the vigorous life, especially in sports. It is also a place where the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit of small business has flourished, particularly in recent years. In short, the shire is a great place to live and raise a family. As the federal member for Cook, I want to keep it that way by ensuring that Australia remains true to the values that have made our nation great and by keeping our economy strong so that families and small business can plan for their future with confidence.
At a local level, families—in particular carers—will come under increasing pressure because of the inability of local services to meet the changing needs of an ageing population. The character of our local area is also threatened by a failure to deliver critical state infrastructure such as the F6 extension for our current population, let alone the population growth targets set by the state government for the future.
On the Kurnell peninsula, the modern birthplace of our nation, we must reverse 150 years of environmental neglect, most recently demonstrated by the construction of Labor’s desalination plant—a plant that New South Wales does not need and the shire community does not want.
We must also combat the negative influences on our young people that lead to depression, suicide, self-harm, abuse and antisocial behaviour that in turn threatens our community. We need to help our young people make positive choices for their lives and be there to help them get their lives back on track when they fall.
For the past nine years, the Hon. Bruce Baird has ably represented the Cook electorate. Bruce Baird is a man of achievement, integrity, faith and, above all, compassion. He has set a high standard. I thank him for his service, his personal guidance over many years and for being here today.
My colleagues and I would not be here without the support of the Liberal Party and the thousands of volunteers who believe in our cause. They provide the ultimate in political support—they show up. And, as we know, history is made by those who show up. I thank them all, especially in my electorate of Cook. I particularly thank my good friend Kevin Schreiber; my campaign team, led by Michael Douglas and Scott Chapman; our local Liberal shire councillors; and my local, state and federal parliamentary colleagues, especially those here today.
For almost five years I had the privilege to serve as the State Director of the Liberal Party of New South Wales. Then, as now, I was surrounded by people who walked the journey with me. I thank them all for their support, especially Chris McDiven, Rhondda Vanzella, the Hon. Shane Stone, Senator Bill Heffernan, David Gazard and the Hon. John Howard, the greatest Prime Minister since Sir Robert Menzies.
In addition to working in politics, the great bulk of my professional experience has been working with industry. I thank the many staff, colleagues and industry leaders I worked with during that time, in particular Peter Verwer and the Hon. Tim Fischer, who provided great guidance and support.
From my early days at the Property Council of Australia to my many roles in the tourism industry, I have developed a healthy respect for the passion and commitment of Australian businesspeople, especially those in small business. It is business that creates jobs and it is business that drives our economy. This is achieved through the initiative, enterprise and sacrifice of business owners and the hard work, skill and professionalism of the employees they lead.
In this parliament, let us make laws that encourage businesses and their employees to excel. Let us ensure that business is not unreasonably burdened by our efforts but, rather, empowered to grow and create more jobs, especially locally. Let us also make sure there are strong incentives, as well as protections, for all employees—not a one-size-fits-all approach—and ensure we preserve the right of the individual to negotiate their own conditions directly with their employer, should they wish to do so. Furthermore, let us acknowledge that we live in a highly competitive global economy and not deceive our constituents that we can tame these forces. Rather, let us protect our way of life by ensuring our economy is strong, equipped and positioned to perform.
I turn now to the most significant influences on my life—my family and my faith. Family is the stuff of life and there is nothing more precious. I thank my family members here in the gallery today for their support. It is my hope that all Australians could have the same caring and supportive environment that was provided to me by my parents, John and Marion Morrison, and my late grandparents, Mardie and Sandy Smith and Douglas and Noel Morrison, whom I honour in this place today. My parents laid the foundation for my life. Together with my brother, Alan, they demonstrated through their actions their Christian faith and the value they placed on public and community service. In our family, it has never been what you accumulate that matters but what you contribute. I thank them for their sacrifice, love and, above all, their example. To my wife, Jenny, on Valentine’s Day: words are not enough. She has loved and supported me in all things and made countless sacrifices, consistent with her generous, selfless and caring nature. However, above all, I thank her for her determination to never give up hope for us to have a child. After 14 years of bitter disappointments, God remembered her faithfulness and blessed us with our miracle child, Abbey Rose, on the seventh of the seventh of the seventh, to whom I dedicate this speech today in the hope of an even better future for her and her generation.
Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend Ray Green and pastors Brian Houston and Leigh Coleman. My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda. As Lincoln said, our task is not to claim whether God is on our side but to pray earnestly that we are on His. For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social—as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message. In recent times it has become fashionable to negatively stereotype those who profess their Christian faith in public life as ‘extreme’ and to suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country. This presents a significant challenge for those of us, like my colleague, who seek to follow the example of William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, to name just two. These leaders stood for the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith. They transformed their nations and, indeed, the world in the process. More importantly, by following the convictions of their faith, they established and reinforced the principles of our liberal democracy upon which our own nation is built.
Australia is not a secular country—it is a free country. This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society. As US Senator Joe Lieberman said, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not from religion. I believe the same is true in this country.
So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:
... I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:
... we expect Christians ... to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.
These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous: strong in our values and our freedoms, strong in our family and community life, strong in our sense of nationhood and in the institutions that protect and preserve our democracy; prosperous in our enterprise and the careful stewardship of our opportunities, our natural environment and our resources; and, above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice.
Australia is a strong nation. It is the product of more than 200 years of sacrifice—most significantly by those who have served in our defence forces, both here and overseas, and by those who have fallen, particularly those who have fallen most recently, and to whom I express my profound gratitude. But a strong country is also one that is at peace with its past. I do not share the armband view of history, black or otherwise. I like my history in high-definition, widescreen, full, vibrant colour. There is no doubt that our Indigenous population has been devastated by the inevitable clash of cultures that came with the arrival of the modern world in 1770 at Kurnell in my electorate. This situation is not the result of any one act but of more than 200 years of shared ignorance, failed policies and failed communities. And we are not alone: our experience is shared by every other modern nation that began this way. There is much for us all to be sorry for. Sadly, those who will be most sorry are the children growing up in Indigenous communities today, whose life chances are significantly less than the rest of us.
We can choose to sit in judgement on previous generations, thinking we would have done it differently. But would we? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nor can we compare the world we live in today with the world that framed the policies of previous generations. So let us not judge. Rather, having apologised for our past—as I was proud to do in this place yesterday—let us foster a reconciliation where true forgiveness can emerge and we work together to remove the disadvantage of our Indigenous communities, not out of a sense of guilt or recompense for past failures but because it is the humane and right thing to do. Having said this, we cannot allow a national obsession with our past failures to overwhelm our national appetite for celebrating our modern stories of nationhood. We must celebrate our achievements and acknowledge our failures at least in equal measure. We should never feel the need to deny our past to embrace our future.
On 29 April 1770 James Cook landed at Kurnell and so began the modern Australian story. James Cook was a man before his time. He embodied the true spirit of the Enlightenment age. Against a backdrop of brutality and ignorance, he displayed an amazing empathy and respect for his own crew and the people and lands he visited. He should be revered as one of the most significant figures in our national history. On 29 April 2020 we will mark the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Kurnell. This should be the most significant national celebration since our Bicentenary. This will require federal, state and local government to overcome decades of neglect of the Kurnell Peninsula and a failure to manage the site with the respect it deserves, particularly at the state level. The time has come to truly respect and rehabilitate our nation’s birthplace at Kurnell.
Australia is a prosperous country. Our prosperity has produced significant dividends—in particular, jobs for millions of Australians. The reason we have working families in Australia is that they have jobs. They have jobs today because of the strong economic management of the Howard government, which provided an environment for business to grow and prosper. After 11½ years of the Howard government the Australian economy is the strongest it has ever been—no ifs, no buts. I would like to honour today the member for Higgins, the Hon. Peter Costello, for his leadership of our economy over this time. He is our finest Treasurer ever and that position is in no present threat.
Yet the storm clouds are gathering. We must cast our eyes forward and embrace a new round of economic reforms. Of particular significance is the need to reform our federation. However, we must proceed carefully. The realignment of our federation, particularly in priority areas such as water, taxation and infrastructure, must be about delivering a better system of governance for our population and our economy. It should not be done to cover for the inability of state governments to do their jobs, especially in health and education. There is a remedy to the incompetence of state governments that requires no constitutional change—vote them out, especially in New South Wales. We must also give attention to local government and give them a direct voice in how our nation is governed. They should be given a clear and mandated role in service delivery and the means to do their job. Commonwealth, state and local government should operate like a three-legged stool, each supporting the other. At present it is more like a three-legged dog.
We are a prosperous people, but this prosperity is not solely for our own benefit; it comes with a responsibility to invest back into our communities. Our communities are held together by the selfless service of volunteers. We must work to value their service and encourage more of our community to join the volunteer ranks and assist local organisations engage and retain today’s volunteers, particularly from younger generations. We must also appreciate that our not-for-profit sector has the potential to play a far greater role in the delivery of community services than is currently recognised. As global citizens, we must also recognise that our freedom will always be diminished by the denial of those same freedoms elsewhere, whether in Australia or overseas.
Social entrepreneurs such as David Bussau, our Senior Australian of the Year, have shown the way forward. Our attention in this area cannot be limited only to areas of strategic self-interest. It must be pursued as the responsibility of our common humanity. In Africa, 6,500 people die every day from preventable and treatable diseases. Over just six weeks that is more than the 250,000 people estimated to have tragically died following the tsunami tragedy that evoked such a compassionate and generous response from Australians—and I commend them for that. Africa, though, is a humanitarian tragedy on an unimaginable scale. It is a true moral crisis that eclipses all others. The African tragedy is driven by war, poverty, disease, famine, corruption, injustice and an evil that is robbing generations of Africans, our fellow human beings, of their future. Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, said:
There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.
... when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for ... what we did—or did not do to put the fire out ...
We must engage as individuals and communities to confront these issues—not just as governments. We have all heard the call to make poverty history. Let us do this by first making poverty our own personal business.
The Howard government increased annual spending on foreign aid to $3.2 billion. The new government has committed to continue to increase this investment and I commend it for doing so. However, we still must go further. If we doubt the need, let us note that in 2007 the total world budget for global aid accounted for only one-third of basic global needs in areas such as education, general health, HIV-AIDS, water treatment and sanitation. This leaves a sizeable gap. The need is not diminishing, nor can our support. It is the Australian thing to do.
In conclusion, it says in the Book of Joel, ‘Your old men will dream dreams; your young men will see visions.’ Let us have in this place a vision of young men and women that realises the dreams of generations past—the dreaming of Dharawal elders of ancient times, the dreams of Cook and his era of discovery and enlightenment and the dreams of my grandparents’ generation, who fought wars, survived the Great Depression and gave birth to our great Liberal Party with the dream of a brighter day for those who came after them. May God bless and guide us all in this place as we serve those who have had the good grace to send us here on their behalf.
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