I thank Her Excellency the Governor for the speech with which she opened this parliament. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the dedication, the enthusiasm and the accomplishment with which Her Excellency is discharging her functions as a representative of Her Majesty the Queen. Throughout her public life Her Excellency’s achievements have been widely applauded by all sections of the community. As someone who shares her love of sport and who has been involved in sport all my life, I have to admit it is her sporting achievements to which I relate most strongly.
I did not reach the heights of success that she did, but from a very young age I have always been involved in a number of sports. I am passionate about Australian Rules Football, basketball, cricket and soccer. Indeed, I have to say that there are very few sports that I do not enjoy and I certainly admire all those who participate at any level of their chosen sport. Sport instils positive self-esteem and gives us all-important social attributes such as commitment, discipline and self-sacrifice and it builds character. Those who learn to set goals, apply themselves and strive for excellence in their chosen sport often apply those skills and values throughout their professional and social lives. I believe that sport is a great medium for teaching our children appropriate morals, principles and disciplines. As a parent I have tried to share my love of sport with my own children, and so far being actively involved in keeping them busy has paid great dividends.
Mr President, may I also offer my congratulations to you on your election to high office and wish you a long and rewarding term as President of this council. I take this opportunity to congratulate the other newly elected members of this council. For me it is a great honour to be elected to represent the people of South Australia in this chamber, and I am proud to be part of the Liberal Party team in this parliament. I know that we will be a hardworking effective opposition. I will be concerned about where our economy is going and how that impacts on the community at large but, in particular, how it affects the small business sector.
I share with both the present and past state governments the intention to have the best possible education, health and police services for our communities, but, at the end of the day, we have to be able to fund these services. It is futile having the best intentions if you cannot bring those intentions to fruition. Along with the other 21 members of this council, I am charged with ensuring that those intentions are realised right across this state. As a Legislative Councillor, I am proud to have the whole state as my electorate.
All members bring with them their own particular background, expertise and interests. I am proud to say that I come from Whyalla. I was born and bred in Whyalla and lived there for over 37 years. Coming from a regional area, I feel I have some knowledge of the circumstances of those who live outside the Adelaide metropolitan area. I believe I come to this chamber with real life experience. I am indeed honoured to have been preselected and then elected as part of the Liberal Party Legislative Council team, and I reflect today on why I became a Liberal. My dream is very much for everyone to aspire to and be able to gain satisfying employment, thereby achieving their potential and living the lifestyle they wish.
When the State Bank collapse happened in the early 1990s, my first concern as a small businessman was for my future and the future of those who worked with me. As an employer I have always felt great responsibilities towards my co-workers and I am acutely aware that any future success is only as a result of a team approach. As a businessman at that time I was concerned about the economic direction in which both the federal and state governments were taking us. Interest rates of 18 per cent were a reality and I, like many others, feared for the long-term sustainability of our businesses. I felt that, rather than whingeing and whining, I should be proactive and to try to bring about change.
I felt that the most effective way in which I could do that was to stand as a candidate in the seat of Giles. I decided to throw my hat into the ring. This is not the occasion to rake over the coals of the State Bank collapse, but sufficient to say I was supportive of the Liberal Party’s plan to restore the South Australian economy: to rebuild jobs, reduce debt, to return to standards of excellence in community services such as health and education and to restore confidence in the institutions of government. Each of these commitments was and still is vital to the well-being of our state, particularly the last commitment.
A lot has been said about restoring confidence in politicians and the political process. All I can say is that my aim is to conduct myself with the appropriate proper dignity and exercise my duties to the best of my ability. I aim to be constructive and effective and represent the views in particular of the small business community and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that goes with it, which is what I believe makes this country great.
I would like to say a few words about my time as a candidate for the seat of Giles. The Liberal Party gave me full support to stand in the 1993 and 1997 elections. I came from a labour background and was running in a state electorate that has been Labor since 1941. It is a humbling experience to think of the lengths people will go to support you in a virtually unwinnable seat.
In hindsight, I would always encourage people to stand in difficult seats because it is so very important that we give the South Australian voting community the choice, even when the odds of winning that seat are so minimal. It is the many Liberal Party members who, election after election, give up their time to support candidates such as me in these very unwinnable seats who, I believe, are the real heroes of the electoral process. It is not easy, and the fact that they continue to find enthusiasm and the drive to fulfil those roles is inspiring to say the least.
I particularly thank all who assisted me in Giles during those two campaigns. They certainly had a hand in my ultimate preselection as a Liberal candidate for the Legislative Council. I wish to share my electoral success with them and I hope that I can repay those who believed in me with my performance in this council. I hope Whyalla always claims me as their own; and they feel they have a Liberal representative in the South Australian parliament who they can turn to and who will represent their views and issues.
Expertise-wise I feel I bring to this chamber my skills as a small businessman. Small business is very much the engine room which drives the economy and which, in turn, funds the important social justice programs about which I spoke earlier. I believe that the revival of the South Australian economy is largely due to the success of our small business community. It is undeniable that this state has had a particularly hard time over the past decade. This has been turned around by the sheer hard work and the persistence of South Australians and the businesses they run. They have been well supported by the past Liberal government.
Today, especially in rural and regional South Australia, there is much to be positive about. Agriculture, tourism, wine, mining and aquaculture industries, to name a few, are booming. All are well supported by entrepreneurs and business in the regional centres seeking to value add and to reach export markets. I personally have a keen interest in the fishing industry. I have friends in the fishing industry and I have a small commercial interest in aquaculture. I am pleased to say that South Australia is now Australia’s leading aquaculture producing state. In the past 10 years, exports in the aquaculture sector have grown from $2.5 million in 1990 to achieve $260 million in 2001.
The aquaculture industry is projected to bring immense wealth and employment opportunities to the state. It is crucial to South Australia’s wealth and further job opportunities and better living standards that the government continue our commitment to the sustainable development of our natural resources and to the growth of the business sectors. While I hope very much to represent the views of small businessmen and women in this chamber, I would like to flag today that I intend to be a strong supporter of both the hotel and racing industries. This is not to wave the red flag at my esteemed colleague the Hon. Mr Xenophon.
Of course, excesses occur in these establishments which cannot be tolerated. However, as I said, the roles that these types of industries provide in our society need to be fully appreciated and the positives that these two industries bring need to be put into a balanced perspective. Both the hotel and racing industries provide entertainment and recreational outlets for thousands of South Australians. They are places of social interaction in which to enjoy life and meet people; and they are also important for their role in South Australia’s tourism industry. Most people do not appreciate how important the racing industry and the hotel industry are to South Australia.
The hotel industry in particular tends to be much maligned in the public arena. We have 630 hotels that directly employ 23 500 people with an undefinable number of jobs and supporting roles. Each year retail sales to the public in hotels exceed $1.5 billion. Hotels pay over $650 million in taxes to the state government and give $9 million to sporting and charity groups.
The racing industry also makes a significant contribution to South Australia’s economy and employment, with an economic turnover estimated at $550 million, creating the equivalent of over 3 500 full-time jobs. I have been involved first-hand in the industry, being employed in my early life as a part-time bookmaker’s clerk, and recently realising a long-held ambition to part own and race a horse.
I would like to take this opportunity to reinforce the point as to why the previous Liberal government actually sold the TAB. The major beneficiary of the TAB sale was the racing industry, with an $11.5 million up-front payment and a guaranteed $41 million per year, indexed for three years, and other financial guarantees after that. The sale of the TAB was about securing the long-term viability of this important industry. It was definitely not about the dollars and cents that the government or its budget could gain. So, I place on record that, when it comes to the racing and hotel industry, I intend to support commonsense decisions that fit with the overall state agenda.
I hope to bring sense and sensibility when it comes to my vote in parliament, particularly on the many controversial issues that we will face in this chamber. Already, since becoming a Legislative Councillor, I have become wary of being pigeonholed into supporting one view or another. Yes, I am very proud of my Catholic faith, and I do my best to lead an honourable Christian life. I also enjoy life and all that it brings, but I do not have ironclad views on many topical issues, such as euthanasia, prostitution reform or stem cell research.
Finally, one other group in which I will continue to take a keen interest is the nursing fraternity. My wife was a nurse for more than 10 years, and I have been very fortunate to meet many of her colleagues over the years. As a result, I have the utmost respect and enormous admiration for the work that they do. I particularly want to use my time as a Legislative Councillor to support any action, within reason, to advance their cause when it comes to nurses being able to provide for better patient care, which I know is their ultimate goal.
I would like to place on record my thanks to the many organisations and individuals who have given me the opportunity to gain a wide range of life experiences, and to my political mentors, most importantly Caroline Schaefer, who absolutely guided me as a raw candidate for Giles through two state elections and who has become and remains a good friend, and also her husband Roy. To my campaigning partner and good friend David Ridgway, thank you for your support, and I look forward to working with you. Rob Lucas has also had an enormous influence on my becoming a Legislative Councillor and has given me significant encouragement, which I intend to repay with my performance.
I thank certain people in business life who have helped, guided, coached and tutored me in acquiring business and life skills. In particular, I pay a tribute to my original business partner and close friend Trevor Robertson. He introduced me into the small business world, and we eventually worked together on business interests, which grew substantially. Trevor taught me the value of positive thinking—that there are positives to be found in almost every situation. I am not saying that this is always easy to do. Another man who had a huge influence on my life was Kevan Taylor, the General Manager of Nacos Credit Union, where I worked for six years. Kevan was very much a mentor and, through my association with him, I learnt the importance of encouraging all people to fulfil their potential, be it in business, on the sportsfield or in realising individual talents. I also learnt through him the value of good employer/staff relationships. Today, I take great care to foster mutual respect and support with co-workers in my own business. I look forward to replicating that supportive relationship with those I will be working with in the parliament.
Three further people I want to mention have also been great friends and terrific role models and teachers in the business world: Harry Perks, my accountant and one of Adelaide’s leading property syndicators; Rod Fairclough, one of my business mentors as a young man and a very loyal friend; and John Muscio, a high achiever in his chosen field and also a long time friend. I have a huge amount of respect for each of them. People in life I admire most are people such as John Muscio—someone who came to Australia as an Italian migrant with very limited English and financial resources—who have made great progress and worked hard to establish themselves and have become great contributors to the community and to their country. John now employs over 50 people in his steel fabrication enterprise in Whyalla. When I speak of John, I know I am also speaking of the many migrants who came to my home town of Whyalla and also made similar contributions in their new community.
I am very proud and feel blessed to have come from such a culturally diverse city as Whyalla. The original migrants formed many cultural and sporting social clubs, which then and now embrace the youth of Whyalla. These hardworking volunteers and organisers continue to provide good active lifestyle and give positive guidance to the many young families and children in those communities. One club in particular, the South Whyalla Football Club, was my life for some 35 years. I was always treated as a son and brother, and I am proud to say that my parents and I are life members of this club. I would especially like to thank the South Whyalla Football Club for many positive influences on my life. Great names of the football club spring to mind: Ryan, Berryman, Taylor, Dahlin, Sampson, Jenkins, Travers. They were all magnificent contributors and selfless volunteers. Another club I make mention of is the Whyalla Croatia Soccer and Social Club, of which I was patron for many years, and a more hospitable group of people I have never encountered. I am grateful for my association with the many sporting and community clubs in Whyalla. They have each enriched my life and provided me with many friends for life.
Someone who I would dearly like to pay tribute to tragically is no longer with us, but he remains in my heart—my cousin Mark Wright. Mark was like a brother to me and was a great sounding board on all matters—personal, business and political. Politics was probably the only thing that we did not agree on, and yet he gave me unconditional support. The legacy he leaves is the beautiful relationship my family continue to have with his wife Tracy, and the countless treasured memories. To great friends such as Graham Taylor, Stephen Buckman, Steve and Deb Glacken, Lyall and Vicki Hancock, Bern and Steve Abraham, Mick Michael, Peter Raison, Greg and Kate Flanegan, who often put the question to me `Why politics?’ but also gave me their unwavering support, I say thank you.
I also pay tribute to the encouragement and unquestioned support of my family without which I would not be standing here today. To my parents Bill and Melva and sister Pauline, I say thank you. My father worked for 44 years for BHP and colleagues across the chamber would delight in knowing that my father was a Labor man for most of his life. I am very proud of his record as a hardworking loyal employee of BHP. I hope, as a Legislative Councillor, to match and maintain my father’s humility and his ability for hard work. I also know that he is proud of my representing the Liberal Party today.
To my wonderful wife Donna, I could not be doing any of this without her. She is the one who has had to make so many sacrifices with regard to my new political career. She has genuinely supported me, for which I am very thankful. Without her encouragement, I would not have been able to pursue a seat in this parliament. It will be difficult being away, from time to time, from my two children, Courtney and Riley, who I treasure more than anything. So, perhaps the greatest acknowledgment that I can give my wife is that she is an incredible mother to our two children, and I know that she will be there to fill any void in my absence. Donna is my best friend, soul mate and my wife for the past 19 years. My life with her is one I am always grateful for.
In closing, I seek to serve the people of this state to the best of my ability. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in this chamber for the betterment of all South Australians.