I rise this evening for the first time in this place and, in doing so, wish to firstly remember those who have served our nation in conflict and in war. One hundred years ago just last month, we remembered the events of 11 November 1918, when four years of brutal conflict ended. Almost 62 000 Australians died fighting for our freedom and in service of our nation during the Great War. They were sent to battle by the leaders of our nation, who served and deliberated in this very chamber. Those brave men and women knew what sacrifice was. They left the comfort of their homes and the embrace of their families to fight for a greater good. May their spirit in some way inspire us and may their service resonate with us as we seek to serve the members of our community.
Sandringham District: the community that I love
The Sandringham community that I have the great fortune and privilege to represent in this place is a community built by volunteers, not by accident but rather through dedication and commitment. It is a community made up of people from every walk of life, with a rich tapestry of life experience. It is a community that nurtures those most in need, welcomes people from every corner of the globe and helps our most vulnerable. It is a community where the private sector have an opportunity to thrive and develop expertise to take on the world. And it is a community that I love and a place where my wife, Kate, and I have chosen to raise our daughter Abigail.
Yes, Sandringham is where I grew up, but it is now a community where I have chosen to live. I was born at the Sandringham Hospital and educated at Stella Maris Catholic Primary School in Beaumaris and at St Bede’s College in Mentone in the Lasallian tradition. I am proudly the product of the community I now represent. I am proudly a lifelong local.
The community that I love is defined by its tree-lined streets, its parks, its nature reserves and its magnificent coastline. From parts of Hampton, through Sandringham, Black Rock, Beaumaris and Mentone and into Cheltenham and Highett, the neighbourhood character and heritage of the Sandringham district is worth defending and fighting for.
Stewardship of our environment
The Heidelberg School recognised just how significant our area was in the late 1800s. Records held in the National Gallery of Victoria tell us that in the summer of 1886–87 Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin rented a cottage in Mentone. They chose the quieter Mentone and nearby Beaumaris as the site for their artists’ camp rather than Brighton, which became very crowded in the summer months. The artists first encountered 19-year-old Arthur Streeton sketching on the beach at Ricketts Point. Roberts recalled:
“He was standing out on the wet rocks, painting there, and I saw that his work was full of light and air. We asked him to join us and that was the beginning of a long and delightful association.”
Streeton later remembered the cottage on the cliffs above Beaumaris that the artists rented. He said:
“In spite of the heat … we had a great time here … On Sundays we took a billy and chops and tomatoes down to a beautiful little bay which was full of fossils, where we camped for the day. We returned home during the evening through groves of exquisite tea-trees. The sea serene, the cliffs of Sandringham flushed with the afterglow.”
Our community today are the custodians of our natural environment. We are charged with a significant responsibility to be thoughtful stewards of our natural resources. Custodianship, stewardship and conservation are at the heart of the Liberal Party. In my own electorate of Sandringham I am proud of the party’s local environmental record, achieved together with our local community.
Public service is a vocation
During the course of the last few months the question I have been asked most is perhaps, ‘Why would you want to be a politician?’ Indeed a fair question to ask. In my view, at its heart public service is a vocation not a job—a vocation that is underpinned by a deep desire to serve other people and to make our communities a better place, a vocation that seeks to treat others with dignity and respect and one that walks alongside individuals and families, encouraging them to be the very best they can be, because when individuals thrive families are stronger, and when families are stronger our entire community benefits.
Family is important to me. Family is the cornerstone of our nation’s future social stability. My late father, Leslie Thomas Rowswell, was born in the United Kingdom in 1920 and came to Australia at the age of five. He grew up in St Kilda during the Great Depression. He served Australia on the beaches and in the jungles of Papua New Guinea during World War II. He worked hard, and in every sense he was a generous man.
My mother, Josephine, was born in India in 1947, the year of independence. In her mid-20s she migrated to Australia, arriving at Essendon Airport. She worked four, sometimes five, jobs to sustain herself and provide for her family. She taught me hard work, selflessness and generosity.
Perhaps more important than anything, both of my parents shared with me the gift of faith.
Growing up in Beaumaris, my twin brother Brendan and I worked in local small businesses. At an early age we had the opportunity to learn what it was to work hard and earn a wage. We also learned the freedom that comes with that—the opportunity to pay for my first car and overseas trip with the savings that I had worked hard for. At an early age we understood the dignity of work and the opportunities that employment provides. The dignity of work is something that is often spoken about in an abstract way, but for those who truly know its value having a job is life-changing. It is the private sector and small business that generate jobs, not the public sector. For that reason governments have a responsibility to unshackle private enterprises from the unnecessary burdens that they experience.
Restoring the dignity of work: abolishing payroll tax in Victoria
Let me be clear: payroll tax is a tax on employment. It is a bad tax that prevents enterprising individuals from expanding their business horizons. It is a barrier to more people being employed. It should always be the aspiration of the Liberal Party, in opposition or government, for the payroll tax in this state to be zero. When Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party he did so in the belief that our party would be the party of enterprise and of the individual. There is no greater barrier to employment and the dignity of work than the burden of taxes and overregulation.
Legislating a Victorian debt ceiling
Just as families are expected to live within their means, so should government. That is why we must have a debt ceiling in Victoria to avoid ripping off future generations. The Parliament should set a limit on Victoria’s net debt of no more than 6 per cent of gross state product. This would help to preserve the state’s triple-A credit rating and ensure that intergenerational theft is significantly restrained. It is just not right to say that we pay some and our kids pay some. That is a reckless attitude, an irresponsible attitude, an arrogant attitude.
We must not be reckless with our spending. We must not mortgage my daughter’s and her children’s future. If there is no parliamentary oversight, governments will continue to spend taxpayer money as if there were no consequences for doing so.
Young people: leaders of today
It is true to say that our state’s future rests in the hands of its citizens—their individual aspirations, talents and endeavours—but I say our state’s future rests in the hands of young people. As the youngest member of the Liberal Party party room, I say to people my age and younger: you may hear people referring to you as the leaders of the future. I say to you: they are wrong. You are not tomorrow’s leaders; you are the leaders that we need today. If you have an idea, if you have a passion, even if you think it is beyond reach, seek counsel and pursue it. Engage in the contest of ideas. Debate, gain valuable life experience, critically think, be bold, be courageous and defend the values that you hold dear.
Taking politics out of school infrastructure
It is true that schools are much more than bricks and mortar, but when school buildings, such as those at Sandringham College and Mentone Girls Secondary College in my electorate, are riddled with asbestos and collapsing, something is seriously wrong. Similar to Infrastructure Victoria, we urgently need to establish School Infrastructure Victoria as an independent statutory authority which provides expert advice and guides decision-making on Victoria’s school infrastructure needs and priorities. The list of school infrastructure requirements needs to be proposed on a needs basis and subject to independent audit because the aspirations of students and school communities across our state are far too important for politics.
I wish to pay tribute to the former member for Sandringham, Murray Thompson, who served our community with dedication and distinction for 26 years. I also wish to acknowledge his wife, Theana, and his children for their steadfastness in supporting Murray during his years of service. In his valedictory speech Murray referred to Charles La Trobe, the first LieutenantGovernor of Victoria, extensively. As Murray mentioned in his speech, when La Trobe arrived in Melbourne in 1839, his address included the following words:
“… I pray God, to whom I look for strength and power … that I may be enabled through his grace to know my duty, and to do my duty, diligently, temperately and fearlessly.”
This evening I echo La Trobe’s invocation for my own service as the member for Sandringham.
I wish to acknowledge and thank my family: my wife, Kate, and our daughter, Abigail; my mother, Josephine; my brother, Brendan, and his wife, Sara; and my parents-in-law, Kevin and Noreen.
I thank those who have offered me personal and professional counsel, including the Honourable Rod Kemp, the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, the Honourable David Johnston, the Honourable Kevin Andrews, the Honourable Tony Abbott, Senator James Paterson, former Senator Helen Kroger, Brian Loughnane and Nick Demiris.
I thank my new party room colleagues for their warm and generous welcome. I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for the opportunity to serve in his first shadow ministry. As the shadow assistant minister for education, I look forward to supporting our deputy leader and shadow education minister, Ms McLeish.
I thank the teams I have worked with at St Bede’s College, Catholic Education Melbourne and Raytheon Australia.
I thank those local branch members and supporters, many of whom are in the gallery here this evening. I especially thank electorate chair Jennifer O’Brien and campaign operations manager John Matheson.
Finally, and most importantly, I thank the electors of the Sandringham district for the opportunity to serve them and advocate for them in this place. I say to them: I will relentlessly campaign for the investment and infrastructure needed in our community for the benefit of future generations.
Conclusion and the path ahead In the four years ahead
I look forward to working with all of my colleagues, and with the community, to develop key policies that reflect our core values: opportunity, reward for effort, the rule of law, environmental stewardship, a strong economy, a cohesive society, protecting the vulnerable and limited but effective government.