Maiden Speech of Russell Matheson MP Federal Member for Macarthur delivered on 20th October 2010.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your re-election to high office in this chamber. I would like to pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people, the original custodians of the land on which we now stand. I am humbled and honoured to represent the people of Macarthur in this the 43rd Parliament.
I am deeply passionate and committed to serving the public. I have strong community values and believe that we should support those who are in need. Most importantly, I am a believer in providing opportunities to each and every Australian through high quality health care and disability support services, safe and stable employment, affordable home ownership, the best education possible and the best opportunities and small business support. Our laws should protect these principles. They should be available regardless of a person’s socioeconomic background or place of residence. As an elected representative, I will strive to ensure that every person in Macarthur is given these opportunities to build a life for themselves and their families. There can be no greater honour bestowed upon a person than to serve the community and nation they are proud to call home. I am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead for me as the member for Macarthur.
I would like to take this opportunity today to reflect upon the service commitments that others have made to our wonderful country and on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. As the son of a returned serviceman, the significant personal contributions that others have made have inspired me to want to help others. I want to continue my father’s legacy of proudly serving our community. As a member of our nation’s armed forces, my father fought gallantly in the Battle of Long Tan, which was one of the biggest and most important conflicts in the Vietnam War involving Australian troops. It was one of the most successful campaigns Australia has been involved in, yet at the same time it is so symbolic of a heartbreaking period of history.
On the afternoon of 18 August 1966, 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment D Company faced an enemy force of over 2½ thousand. The 103 Field Battery, of which my father was a member, played a pivotal role in this historic battle. The 103 Field Battery pounded the enemy with over 1,000 rounds of artillery—a round every 10 seconds—creating a wall of steel around the embattled men of D Company.
Non-military personnel at the base formed ad hoc teams of labourers and worked through the night in the pouring rain to keep up the supply of ammunition to the guns. The 103rd Field Battery had to be resupplied by helicopter, making the guns a prime target for enemy fire. The 103rd Field Battery struggled through torrential rain, which made aiming the guns almost impossible, leaving gunners to rely on their own intuition to ensure that they fired on the enemy on not on the men of D Company. To make a bad situation worse, poisonous cordite fumes from the artillery fire built up a toxic haze around the guns. Despite hardly being able to breathe or even see through the haze, the brave men of the 103rd and 105th field batteries kept up the artillery fire all through the night and into the morning in delivering victory to the Australians.
The men involved in the Battle of Long Tan demonstrated courage, bravery and determination in spite of the next-to-impossible conditions. Their actions set a standard for the rest of us in how we should conduct ourselves in every aspect of our lives. I am immensely proud of my father for his courageous actions on that dreadful day. We can only imagine what it was like to be there.
While the success of the Battle of Long Tan will be remembered by generations of Australians to come, what most people forget to consider is the effect of the war on a person, a family and their community. The Vietnam War was especially cruel to the minds and bodies of returned servicemen because of the strong political antiwar sentiments that were rife at the time. There are few who will endure the haunting realities of war. We should not take these soldiers’ personal sacrifice for granted. Their actions set a standard for future generations and I am immensely proud of my father Reg for his courageous actions on that historic day. I would like to take this opportunity to honour and pay tribute to him.
Vietnam veterans are often referred to as ordinary boys who became extraordinary men. Similarly, my beginnings were that of an ordinary boy. While I cannot profess to be an extraordinary man, my father’s commitment to serving our country inspired me to want to make a difference and to continue my family’s history of proudly serving our community.
My desire to serve saw me join the New South Wales Police Force in October 1985, graduating from class 216. For the past 25 years I have proudly served my community as a police officer, reaching the rank of sergeant. My career in the Police Force was very rewarding, but as an office I had to deal with many personally challenging and confronting situations. I will never forget my first autopsy, my first deceased person or the first fatal motor vehicle accident that I attended. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my colleagues in the Police Force. It takes a person of great integrity and character to carry on through the many tragic and heartbreaking situations that they encounter. I hope that one day society will understand and respect the great undertaking that is required to serve as a police officer and give these great men and women the respect and honour that they deserve.
Outside of the Police Force, I have had the opportunity to serve my community as a councillor on Campbelltown City Council for the past 17 years. My opportunity to serve in this capacity arose from my humble beginnings. I came into the public domain on the back of a sporting achievement. As captain-coach of the Campbelltown Australian Rules football side the Monarch Blues, I proudly led my team to four successive grand finals from 1986 to 1989, supported by club president Jim Little and my best mate, Bob Prenter, who have both since passed away. They are always in my thoughts. I am sure that they are looking down today having a bit of a chuckle that a flatfoot and a footballer is now in parliament.
My success in the sporting arena became a catalyst for my political career. I was approached by councillor Jim Kremmer, who became a good friend and mentor. Thanks for being here today, Jim. I went from leading a football team to becoming a leader in my community. What I considered to be a daunting task at the time became a wonderful relationship with my community of Campbelltown and the broader Macarthur area. I was honoured to serve as Mayor of the City of Campbelltown on five occasions. The work that I was able to undertake with that community, the issues which I helped solve and the advocacy role that I was able to undertake have been privileges and honours. I look forward to continuing to serve my community with great pride.
I believe that my extensive life experience holds me in good stead to represent the people of Macarthur. My public responsibilities have given me a solid understanding of the needs of the community that I have proudly been part of for over 30 years. One such need is for infrastructure. South-western Sydney is one of the fastest growing areas of urban sprawl in Australia. Of primary importance to the people of Macarthur is a need to ensure that any population growth in the region is supported by appropriate infrastructure and community services. The population of the Macarthur region is predicted to almost double in the next 20 years. If these predictions are correct, it is essential that appropriate transport, health, education and recreational infrastructure is provided. Currently, there are still areas in Campbelltown and Wollondilly that do not have access to Sydney’ sewerage system. Our major motorways are already over-congested and peak hour commuter services are at capacity. Infrastructure should precede population to ensure that growing communities are not neglected.
The election campaign brought to light many issues facing the people of Macarthur. These included the cost of living, soaring electricity prices—and who knows where they are going to go under a Labor government—traffic congestion, air quality and high housing prices. Labor promised cheaper child care, but it increased in cost. There are insufficient health services and insufficient services for those with special needs. And in my community there was anger surrounding the bungled BER, insulation and solar schemes, and with the wasteful spending and a growing national debt. While much of this pain can be attributed to the failure of the Labor government, all levels of government must now work together to correct these wrongs and better plan for the future.
With continued development it is important to create effective policies to make growth in Macarthur sustainable. It is important that more resources be dedicated to infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and educational facilities in the Macarthur region. The Macarthur region is a shining example of the positive effects small business brings to a local economy. It provides opportunities for growth and employment. Macarthur draws its name from John and Elizabeth Macarthur, who demonstrated their entrepreneurial spirit when they pioneered the merino wool industry in Australia.
Rural Macarthur continues to make a significant contribution to the community, due to a large percentage of Sydney’s fresh milk and produce supplies. We need to ensure we continue to support local farmers and our agricultural industry by finding a good balance between local industry and urban development. Whilst Macarthur still boasts a sizeable agricultural industry, it is also home to a growing number of small and medium sized businesses, with 80 per cent of these businesses employing fewer than 10 people. These businesses range from retail, commercial, hospitality, mining, manufacturing, building and construction.
For working families in Macarthur, stable and sustainable employment is a key issue of concern, and I am a strong believer in implementing good policy which seeks to generate jobs and raise living standards. One of the fundamental keys to encouraging employment is supporting an accessible education and training system that helps upskill people for apprenticeships, skills training and professional development so that people have the opportunity to enhance their skills and abilities, particularly those who are unemployed, have a disability or who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. The people of Macarthur also rely on good governance to keep interest rates manageable and unemployment levels low. As a mortgage holder myself, and having felt the pain of high interest rates when I was starting a family, I know how these pressures affect people financially and emotionally. The Macarthur region has given many families the opportunity to realise their dream of home ownership. I do not want the dream of home ownership to slip away for future generations in Macarthur.
The provision of health services is essential in regions like Macarthur. Air pollution is one of the biggest health issues facing many families in Macarthur, as the Macarthur region has one of the highest rates of asthma related hospital admissions in New South Wales. At the 2007 election one of the major local issues was the approval of a twin turbine gas-fired power station in our backyard. The Asthma Foundation of New South Wales were very concerned about the state government’s proposal to construct the Leaf Gully power station in the Campbelltown area.
They were not even consulted in relation to issues raised about the air quality and the health and wellbeing of the people of Macarthur. Those concerns were ignored. This is not a case of ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome. There were good and valid reasons why this power station should not have been approved. With the assistance of the mayors of the region: Paul Lake, Michael Banasik and Chris Patterson, along with the Liberal candidate for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, I will continue fighting the battle to ensure that this power station remains only as a peak power station, not a baseload power station.
There is one particular issue that I am very passionate about—that is, children with special needs. Many families and their children are faced with insufficient support services due to a lack of resources and funding. Fortunately, Macarthur has a strong sense of community. I am very honoured to assist people who go beyond their normal civic duties to help those around them. One community based group that operates in Macarthur is the Right Start Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, founded by Glenda Grabin, with the support of a handful of parents who have children with Down syndrome. Whilst only a year into its establishment the organisation has achieved so much, providing support, friendship and community services for families who would otherwise feel so isolated in their needs. They are currently raising funds to build a centre in Macarthur for people with Down syndrome. They currently receive no funding from the government whatsoever, but imagine all that they could achieve if they did.
Not-for-profit groups like the Right Start Foundation, Mater Dei, Beverly Park and Mary Brooksbank special needs schools play an integral part of delivering disability support services to the Macarthur region. These groups work tirelessly to make our society a better place. I believe that the federal government should share in the responsibility for children in need and ensure that it facilitates and coordinates adequate services across government and non-government agencies so that all our children can enjoy the quality of life they deserve, no matter what circumstances may confront them.
There are many other not-for-profit community organisations, such as registered or licensed clubs, that also contribute to the Macarthur region. These organisations provide a forum for people to come together to promote and pursue a common interest, ranging from sport, service in our armed forces, religion or occupation. There are 15 of these clubs in Macarthur. They employ a total of 827 full-time, part-time and casual staff and rely on the help of 676 volunteers. Last year these clubs gave over $23.5 million worth of support to local charities and recreational groups. Clubs in Macarthur have over 131,000 memberships and receive close to 4.5 million visits from members and guests each year and play a significant part in creating a closer, more socially involved community.
Mr Speaker, I now take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all those individuals who assisted me during the election campaign. It is only through the hard work, effort and an enormous amount of support from these people that I stand here today in this magnificent chamber. To my good friend and campaign director Jai Rowell, I am forever grateful for your support and wisdom. You, along with my campaign team, Michael Shaw and Benn Banasik, put your lives on hold for six weeks. Without your hard work and dedication I would not be here today. Thanks, guys.
To my tireless volunteers: Reece White, Karina Ralston, Kathryn Steinweiss, Michael Banasik, Jarred Hilleard, David Gavin, Jeff and Janet Gray, Paul Hillbrick, Paul Hawker, George Grace, Eleni Petinos, Jason Bosketti-Zanotti, Toese Faapito, Anna-Grace Millard, Jean Newton, Chris Paterson, Tanya Harris, Jim Riley, Debbie Dewberry, Belinda Rowell, Brett Mcgrath, the Elliot family, the Hon. Charlie Lynn and the Hon. Mathew Mason Cox: I cannot thank you enough for all the hard work and hours you put into my campaign. To all the people who gave up their Saturday to man the polling booths—there are too many of you to name—I am grateful to you all. It is now up to me to provide Macarthur with the representation it deserves.
To my many good friends, some of them in the gallery today, words cannot express the gratitude that my family and I have for all your support and friendship over the years. Thanks to Dash, Johnny Mac, Sam, Dave, Lakey and Tosi, who are all here today. I am fortunate to have wonderful and supportive women in my life. To my mother Shirley, my sister Kerry and my wife Sharon, who is here in the gallery supporting me today, I am forever grateful for your unconditional love and support, which has allowed me to live my dream. To my beautiful daughters, Alana and Jess, who are also here in the gallery today, you have been my inspiration. I will always strive to make this world a better place for you both.
To the people of Macarthur, thank you for this great honour you have bestowed upon me. I give a solid commitment that I will serve my community and country to the very best of my ability. My door will always be open and I will give my very best to ensure that the standard of living in Macarthur is as high as anywhere in the world and that Macarthur is a place you can proudly call home, just as I do.
In finishing it would be remiss of me not to thank the Leader of the coalition, the Hon. Tony Abbott; the Deputy Leader, the Hon. Julie Bishop; the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop; the Hon. Dr Sharman Stone; Mr Scott Morrison; Mrs Sophie Mirabella; Mr. Alby Schultz; and Senators Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Marise Payne for their contribution and support to my campaign. I also take this opportunity to thank the Liberal Party for the honour of allowing me to represent my community. I thank members of the chamber for their indulgence today.