First Speech to Parliament
The 24th of November 2007 marks an important milestone both for Australia and for me personally. It is a source of mixed celebration and grief, for it was the coincidence of my election to parliament and the anniversary of my mother’s death from cancer when I was a 10-year-old boy. My mother was a teacher with a deep connection with special needs kids. She believed in caring for others and instilled the same values in my sister Lydia and me.
Each day we attended her lessons after school that she held especially for us. It felt like an unfair hardship when the other kids were outside playing cricket, but I now realise that there is no way I would be standing here today without the gifts of love, support and knowledge my mother freely gave us. I want to thank my father, Richard, who is here today in the gallery, for taking up the mantle of the responsibility as a single parent with diligence and care. Dad sacrificed a great deal for Lydia and me and we never went without, even though our new lives were more modest than they might have been.
My family is part of that great Australian story of post World War II migration. I pay tribute to my grandparents who worked so hard on their arrival from Greece in a new land. They succeeded in building a strong and extended family through difficult times. Today our family consists of small business proprietors, property owners and loving families. As a believer in the importance of the individual and as a person who has spent the odd occasion counting votes, I note that my grandma, Yaya, who is also here today in the gallery, has voted Labor at every election since her arrival in Australia in 1953. However, after my selection as a candidate, Yaya voted Liberal for the first time at the 2007 federal election.
Opposition members—Hear, hear!
Mr HAWKE—I hope to be able to reproduce that effect on others. I also recognise my uncles, aunties and cousins who have made the journey to be here today and whom I love greatly. Family is vitally important to me and it is also a fundamental mainstay of my community. I do not think it is an accident that Mitchell combines the highest level of couples with dependent children in Australia with a high rate of church attendance, charitable giving, income, property ownership and low levels of unemployment. The vibrant flavour of the Mitchell community, businesses and schools flows from the work, faith and family ethic of the place. It is a powerful combination. The self-reliant community of Mitchell is truly blessed, but there are many individuals, families and regions around Australia which are not as fortunate and sometimes rely on the government to make ends meet. I particularly note that the most rapid growth in government expenditure since Federation has been in human services and welfare payments, with governments taking up the slack of struggling families.
The loss of human dignity involved in ever-increasing reliance on the state is a trend I want to resist. We need to ensure that government in this country does not become our unwanted father, mother, brother or sister. We must do what we can to ensure we promote the family as the model of a free, self-reliant, hope-filled life even though, as in my own case, it may not always be achieved for good reasons. A loving marriage and a caring environment in which to raise the next generation of young Australians is, at least for me, an aspirational goal. I think it is sensible to resist attempts to redefine, relax and reinterpret such an important institution. When you give away this ground, you never get it back.
That was also a view strongly held by my predecessor, the Hon. Alan Cadman, who served the people of Mitchell for 33 years. Today I would like to acknowledge his extraordinary service in this place. Alan is widely respected amongst people in Mitchell, who appreciate the energetic service and representation that he gave in this place throughout his career.
Mitchell houses so much history from the early days of European settlement, with places such as Bella Vista Farm and Castle Hill Heritage Park to name just a few. It is home to the site of the first and only attempted rebellion by convicts against early colonial rule, at the Battle of Vinegar Hill. But the north-west of Sydney is also home to one of the most important events in Australian history, one that has sadly passed with inadequate recognition. In 1789 the young colony of Sydney was in a crisis. The government farms in my electorate at Castle Hill had failed to produce any crops. The people were starving. In desperation in 1791 a convict named James Ruse and his wife were to host what Governor Phillip described as an experiment. Governor Phillip granted the convict James Ruse a small uncleared piece of land and made him an offer. If Ruse could successfully farm the land, not only would he become a free man but also that land would be his. By 1791 what began as an experiment had demonstrated that the individual, his family and his enterprise could do something that the government with all of its power could not. James Ruse and his family were the first Australians to successfully run a farm and the first citizens to take themselves off the government store and sustain themselves without government support. I am especially proud to represent a region of Sydney that is home to the first free enterprise in our nation’s history.
Today Mitchell is home to an enduring legacy to the success of individuals and their enterprise. What began as a failed government farm today houses the Norwest Business Park, another vastly successful experiment. The Norwest Business Park hosts the headquarters of some 500 businesses. These range from the iconic Woolworths to the Australian start-up medical company ResMed, from the global multinational Wyeth to many medium and small enterprises. The park employs 20,000 people and in time this number will grow to 40,000. The Norwest Business Park covers almost the same amount of ground as the Parramatta CBD and is a shining beacon of private enterprise, innovation and investment.
While I want to see Australia produce more great global companies, I know that almost all of them began as a thriving small business. It is family owned and operated businesses that form the sparkling golden seam of Australian commerce and I am proud to represent a party that so strongly supports small business. From my time as a manager for a major retailer I know how difficult it can be to compete against the big players. Well-meaning bureaucracy must not carelessly add weight to the burdens of the risk-taking, job-creating entrepreneur. We must work to reduce regulation, reduce the compliance costs and reduce the amount of time lost in working for the government. Most importantly we must make it easier for a person or family to start their own business and get it off the ground. There is something perverse in our attitude to risk when it is so simple to pour your entire life savings down the throat of a poker machine yet it is so complex, costly and restrictive to start your own enterprise and get it up and running.
I was privileged to grow up in the suburbs in and around Mitchell. The citizens of those suburbs are at the top of the table for charitable donations. Baulkham Hills Shire has one of the highest birth rates in Sydney and one of the safest driving records. Crime is low. Voluntary organisations like Hills Community Aid Information Service and Hills Family Centre take on those who need extra help in our community and do a marvellous job. We have a high proportion of service clubs in a small geographical area. Some 11 Rotary clubs and six Lions clubs, the local SES, the Rural Fire Service and the wonderful 355 Committee Network are all well served by volunteers and a strong proportion of churchgoers and Christian people. One in every five people in Mitchell works as a volunteer. Our social fabric is strong not through government decree, legislation or handout but from the principles of looking after your neighbour and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. My own service as an officer in the Australian Army Reserve reinforced to me how important it is to serve some cause greater than self, and I want to acknowledge our famous local regiment, the 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, and the Royal Australian Armoured Corps for providing much-needed mobility and firepower to the battlefield.
Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General of New South Wales, after whom the electorate is named, was a great explorer and surveyor. If he were surveying Mitchell today he would note the inadequate and underdeveloped state of our infrastructure. He would note the poor state of many roads, the lack of a rail line, inadequate broadband and the overall failure of planning in one of the fastest-growing areas of Sydney. Successive governments have failed to deliver vital infrastructure. They have also failed to source other potential solutions, such as encouraging private capital to meet the enormous demands of growth. Urban fringe areas in so many of our major cities are suffering from governments who cannot or will not fund the infrastructure so sorely needed but will not allow the private sector to provide an alternative solution. This issue of Labor’s misguided attempts to plan for the future of Sydney by limiting growth affects almost all of the Mitchell electorate in one way or another. Central planning has produced policies that are denying young people and young families the opportunity to get ahead. By rationing land, they have caused land prices to skyrocket; by imposing high fees and regulatory imposts, they have caused long delays and extortionate costs; they have increased densities in suburbs against the wishes of existing residents and buyers; and dilapidated infrastructure, which was never designed for these sorts of densities, has become choked and overloaded. In short, it is not urban consolidation they have created but urban congestion. In and near my electorate, which covers some 12,900 hectares and is all within one hour’s drive of the Sydney CBD, there are thousands of hectares where minimum lot sizes remain between two and 40 hectares as a result of past archaic policies of urban consolidation. This is land which would be highly sought after for housing if not for the implementation of absurd policies that see minimum lot sizes as high as 100 acres within an hour’s drive of the Sydney city and only minutes away from other major town centres such as Castle Hill and the new Rouse Hill. Currently that land is sitting there doing nothing. It is too expensive for farming but it is much cheaper than the land right next door that is being sold for housing. It is an incredible waste of resources and a major contributor to Sydney’s unaffordable housing problem.
Affordable housing is part of the great Australian dream, and if states continue to fail so badly in the provision of this basic function there must be a role for the federal government. We have already seen the erosion of housing affordability that the first three decades of these types of policies have produced. Measures should be taken to lift the restrictions against housing on the urban fringe and slash the exorbitant levies and charges that are currently applied. Young Australians deserve better, and I will work in this place to ensure that Mitchell can be an affordable place to live for young Australians.
I have been fortunate to learn about strong advocacy. I joined the Liberal Party in 1995 when political correctness was at its height, after 12 years of Labor rule. I then went to work in the political sphere, gaining experience and insight into how to produce real outcomes from government. I want to acknowledge and thank those who gave me my political start: the Hon. Ross Cameron, Senator the Hon. Helen Coonan, the Hon. David Clarke and Ray Williams. I also thank those who have assisted me along the way: the Hon. Tony Abbott, the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, the Hon. Brendan Nelson, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells. Their support, friendship and service have given me the experience, inspiration and determination to be an effective representative. I owe a huge debt to the Mitchell FEC and its branches, to the New South Wales state executive and state council and to Nick Campbell, vice-president of the New South Wales division. I also want to thank my campaign managers and friends Andrew Jefferies, Matthew Connor, Mark Lewis and Dominic Perrottet. I also thank the New South Wales Young Liberal movement, the New South Wales Young Liberal executive and the Australian Liberal Students Federation.
The Liberal Party is the party of Menzies, of John Howard and of James Ruse. It is the party of the individual, the small business owner and the hardworking mums and dads of Mitchell. It is the party of the defining spirit of this country that proclaims that if you have a go then you will get a fair go in return. I am proud to represent such a great political party in this place. But my election was not without some small degree of controversy. Some Liberals think that the election of such a progressive younger person to this place is the thin end of the wedge. For example, one elderly Liberal matriarch declared that the election of Alex Hawke to the federal parliament would be the death of conservatism in the Liberal Party. I want to reassure honourable members who may be anxious about this matter that I bear no hostility to conservatism.
My brand of Liberalism is more interested in what we support than what we oppose. I want not just to resist those things that are harmful but to support those things that are good. I derive no satisfaction from opposing the growth of state sponsored welfare if I cannot fan the spark of family, enterprise, self-reliance and human dignity. I am more interested in arguing the merits of the high standards we have inherited than in obsessing about the failings of those who fall short—recognising, as I do, that all of us are but dust and clay. I am a big believer in the ideas of grace, forgiveness, redemption and a second chance—Christian values that have seasoned secular culture in a way that makes it more humane and our world more inhabitable.
We Liberals must accept the responsibility to make our political values relevant and persuasive. We must reach out to each successive generation. I am for sustainable environmentalism and practical reconciliation. I am for the US alliance. I am for the state of Israel. I am committed to the war on terror. I want to see Australia fulfil its proper role as a regional leader, especially in supporting our neighbours and friends in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Pacific. I am a supporter of democracy as a global language, of trade not aid, of the rule of law and the power of the individual.
Australia, thanks to the Howard era, is still a free and open society; a naturally egalitarian place not hidebound by rank or birth; a place where merit, work, character and tenacity are still the most important factors in determining a person’s success. There is more to be done and more that we can do for those who do not yet enjoy the benefits of modern Australia. This can and should be done through strong communities, by taking responsibility for one another and not by outsourcing the role to government. Two hundred and twenty years from our founding as a nation, life is much more complex than it once was. Understandably, government plays a broader role than it once did. But overreliance on the government is holding our nation back, eroding our enterprise, eroding our instinct to take responsibility for ourselves and for each other and, most of all, eroding voluntary association.
My commitment to the people of Mitchell is to stand up in this place for our community—for its great spirit of enterprise, its individualism, its spirit of volunteerism and its aspirational goals. It has become fashionable to dispense with aspirational goals, especially among the modern class of urbane, professional politicians. There is a species of leader whose achievement is to offend no-one, who stands for nothing. He or she has the great advantage of never being guilty of failure because they never advocated a standard that they might fail. I prefer the approach of Theodore Roosevelt, who said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows … the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
It is in that great spirit and in this great arena that I humbly devote myself to serving the people of Mitchell and the people of Australia for as long as I am fortunate enough to remain a member of this place.