Speaker, it is an honour to rise to my feet for the first time in this place as the member for South-West Coast. Honourable members, it is a privilege to join you in this magnificent chamber as I seek to further my contribution to my region and to this great state in which we live.
I grew up in the south-west and married my husband, Glenn, who is smiling at me from the gallery today. We raised four beautiful children and began a dairy farming business 15 years ago. When Glenn and I started farming we were supported and embraced by the farming community. Through their encouragement I saw the potential that collectively our region could contribute far more than what we have. There is a great history of dairy farmers working together in the south-west. In 1834, one year before Melbourne was settled, the Henty brothers arrived in Portland with dairy cows. It was not long before many families were selling milk and cream, and the iconic Warrnambool Cheese and Butter company was established in 1888 — only about 30 years later than the first members met here in this great institution.
The commitment, drive and collaboration of the farming community inspired me to take an active and broader role as an advocate in the region. Agriculture is not the be-all and end-all by far, but it is the lifeblood of our region’s prosperity. My life as a dairy farmer and as a nurse presented me with opportunities that I have shared with my children and other young people in my community. There is untapped potential and opportunity, and in this role I will seek to foster it, encourage it and fight for it. Make no mistake, I will be a committed and passionate voice for the community of South-West Coast, and I look forward to broadening and fostering this further and ensuring that all sectors have my understanding and representation.
I would not be standing here today without the support of so many people. But first, I would not be standing here at all without the support of the Liberal Party. To thank all those who have encouraged and supported me would be impossible. Rather than trying to thank them, I will offer my most sincere commitment to work hard as my way of saying thank you.
The great contribution of volunteer organisations, in particular the Liberal Party, is to support representatives like me to promote our values and be the voice for delivering those values into policy outcomes for our region and for Victoria.
The first person I want to name is my husband, Glenn — always there for me as my steadying influence. And in hard times, Glenn, I know I can always rely on you. I thank my three sons and their wives and partners for their support and assistance, particularly during their youth. In a way, we all grew up on the farm. Yes, they were younger than me, but it was a business that we grew up with together. I thank my daughter, who is beyond her years and already a support and friend. I thank my sister Kate, my brothers, my mother and my father, Jim — and express thanks in memory of my deceased father, Tom, who probably started all this and who, I know, still has a great influence over me.
I have been fortunate in life to have been embraced by many families, as I call them — first the dairy family and then the Aboriginal community of Framlingham, then the Nuffield family and now the Liberal family. My Liberal Party members and supporters in South-West Coast are outstanding individuals who have got behind me and in every way possible assisted me. There is no greater humility than to be supported as I have been. I promise I will repay that support.
Can I particularly thank the former Premier and long-term member the Honourable Denis Napthine, who has been an outstanding representative for our region for more than one-quarter of a century. Denis has encouraged and supported me, and I will endeavour to do the job in a manner that respects and builds on his legacy.
There are many people I will thank in person, but before I do, can I acknowledge the Liberal Party volunteers who gave up their time for me. There is something amazing about the contribution of individuals with longstanding Liberal Party values who are prepared to give their time in support of Western democratic traditions. Today can I single out a few: Leigh Allen and his electorate committee, Hazel and Gordon McKinnon, Dan Tehan, David O’Connell, Jim Dwyer, Glenys and Bill Philpot, Paul Price, Kim Fitzgerald, Joy and Geoff Howley, Louise Staley, Peter Fisher, Ros Saunders, Anita Rank, Josh Morris and Margaret Couttie.
I have been believed in, and that has given me the courage to step up to roles that have challenged me, but I did not back down, because of the support around me. It is that same encouragement I have been given that I will bring to this region in my role. I will be the voice that believes in the people of the south-west to ensure that our region gets its share of support and resources to set foundations for the people of the south-west to grow upon.
My strong agricultural experience does not limit my understanding of the importance of the social, economic and community fabric of our towns and cities to the region. There is an intrinsic link between our towns and the country, and I get this. Our hospitals, schools and businesses in town all do well when the country is doing well.
In the south-west our natural environment is our greatest asset. Over the next 50 years the world has to grow more food than we have grown in the last 500 years. The challenge is enormous, and in western Victoria we can be a leader in producing quality value-added products, sought after by the burgeoning markets so close to our doorstep. Our towns in South-West Coast will need to grow to support this opportunity, and this is where we will need the infrastructure to support our growth. We will need more of our children job ready. Our educators will be integral to our success. Our products will need to get to market efficiently. We will need electricians, stainless steel welders, information technology experts, robotics specialists, accountants, agronomists and more.
This opportunity will pass us by if we do not grasp it. It will not land at our feet. We as a region need a policy framework to embrace it. Australia produces only 1 per cent of the world’s food needs. When you think of niche, think that is what we are — a niche producer on a county level. Niche is good, because quality is what we have and value-adding is our opportunity.
We are not alone in looking to seize this opportunity.
We will need innovation, education, collaboration, agility and strength of character to maximise the potential return, not just for us as farmers but for the entire community that can prosper from the incredible opportunity that is presented to us. There are plenty of young minds wanting to succeed, and I will be an advocate who ensures that South-West Coast people believe in themselves and have the right environment around them for their businesses to flourish.
My challenge will be to compete and collaborate with the metropolitan community.
Victoria is a global success story and has been for more than 150 years. Gold, agriculture, manufacturing, multiculturalism and innovation have defined our success. Our challenge is to build on our strengths and to be nimble to the opportunities, not to rest on our laurels but to be proud and embrace our history whilst pursuing the new potential and prosperity that the south-west of Victoria will be a leader in. Thank you.