Inaugural Speech (Address in reply)

23 December 2014

23 December, 2014

MS RYAN (Euroa) — I am honoured to stand in this place as the first member to represent the beautiful electorate of Euroa. I am mindful of the enormity of the task before me and grateful for the faith that the people of Euroa have placed in me. I would like to take this opportunity, Speaker, to congratulate you on your appointment and to wish you all the very best in your new role. I also wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of my electorate, which is home to the Taungurung people, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Euroa has a very bright future — great natural beauty, a growing reputation for world-class produce and abundant water and land. At 11 634 square kilometres, the electorate's land mass is about five times greater than that of the Australian Capital Territory. My challenge lies in ensuring my communities are as well represented as those of city electorates, despite the distances that lie between them. The region is characterised by magnificent landscapes, from the dramatic panoramas and forests of the Great Dividing Range in the south to the rolling hills and fertile river flats of the north.

Water is and always has been the lifeblood of the region. The region has been built on the back of its rivers — the Goulburn, the Broken and the Campaspe. For generations those rivers and their tributaries have given life to industry and agriculture. Major industries in the region include tourism, manufacturing and education, but it is primary production that is the mainstay of the region's economy, from the wool and cropping regions around Benalla and Euroa to the dairy farms that surround Stanhope, Dhurringile and Girgarre. Further west, Heathcote's reputation as a wine-growing district is being noted throughout the world, while the rich volcanic soils of the Mount Camel Range around Colbinabbin and Corop continue to grow some of Australia's finest cereal crops. It is our role, I believe, to reduce the regulatory burden on these industries and to support their continued development and expansion through research and development and the search for new international and domestic markets.

The racing industry is also an important contributor to the electorate, providing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the local economy. The presence of world-renowned studs such as Darley and Swettenham have put towns like Nagambie and Seymour on the map. But the winds of change can also be felt. To the south of the electorate Melbourne is growing rapidly. The number of people commuting to Melbourne to work each day from towns including Seymour, Broadford, Kilmore, Wandong and Heathcote Junction is growing, and more people are seeking a lifestyle change. In the southern end of the electorate this rapidly growing population is placing additional pressure on infrastructure and services. Uncertainty lingers over the status of the Kilmore-Wallan bypass, on which the new government's position remains unclear, and additional public transport services are desperately needed. Under the coalition Kilmore's hospital underwent a $20 million capital redevelopment, but in coming years it will require additional recurrent funding to help it cope with the growing demand for health services. In Broadford the local Country Fire Authority brigade has outgrown its home, and more space is needed for local sporting clubs.

The northern end of the electorate faces the issue of an ageing population and the pressures associated with that, a challenge that is all too familiar in rural areas. Seymour, just over an hour north of Melbourne, is bordered by the Goulburn River and is located on both the Hume Freeway and the Melbourne–Sydney rail corridor, yet the town has ongoing challenges. In the past 30 years Seymour's population has changed very little, and it continues to face entrenched disadvantage, skill shortages and a lack of industry. The Nationals' plan for a dedicated industry and jobs fund for Seymour would have created new economic prosperity for the town and provided new employment opportunities. I respectfully urge the government to adopt it.

Similarly I ask the government to honour the coalition's commitment to invest $35 million to rebuild schools in Seymour and Benalla that are crumbling and beset by the presence of asbestos and mould. A bricks-and-mortar investment is needed in those schools to create a modern learning environment. If we want young people to care about their education and if we want to lift aspirations and educational attainment rates, we need to show them our commitment.

Health care too requires investment across the electorate. Despite the presence of Euroa Health, residents of the Strathbogie shire cannot currently access publicly funded hospital beds in their region. This inequality needs to be rectified. In Nagambie, a permanent ambulance presence is needed to address the growing demand for services, while Rushworth's hospital is outdated and exposed to potential bushfire threats. Addressing these needs will ensure that this wonderful region, which has so much potential, has the chance to grow and prosper.

But our biggest resource will always be the passionate and hardworking people who call the electorate home. Their stories — stories of courage, resilience and self-sacrifice — are woven throughout the landscape. Last week bushfires swept through the electorate, destroying homes, livestock and livelihoods and testing the resolve and strength of our community. It is not the first time we have faced fires, and it certainly will not be the last. Nevertheless it was a brutal reminder of the challenges that dominate the landscape in which we live.

In the midst of adversity the community has been buoyed by acts of kindness: like that of Azem and Jeihan, who closed their Shepparton kebab shop and relocated to Euroa for four days to cook 900 meals a day to make sure that the men and women fighting the fires on the front line were fed; like that of the team from Thales, who called an impromptu working bee to help one of their colleagues affected by the Stewarton fire; and like that of the members of the local fire brigades, who worked until they were exhausted, many for 18 to 24 hours at a time, defending their communities. Few of them will ever be on the front page of a newspaper, but these are the people whose dedication and selflessness bind our communities together.

My story, and that of my family, is like that of so many Victorians. In 1939 my father's mother migrated from Italy, having fled Mussolini's fascist regime. After nursing Allied troops during the war, she married my grandfather, and they established a dairy farm, first at Stanhope and then later at Murchison. Throughout the years my nonna has given much to the country that gave her a home. Her story and the stories of thousands just like her form part of the fabric of our communities and are an ever-present reminder of the value of tolerance and diversity.

My family is well acquainted with the challenges that come with life in regional Victoria. When I was young my father worked on his farm at Murchison through the day before doing night shift at the SPC cannery in Mooroopna to make ends meet. My teenage years were dominated by the presence of drought. I belong to a generation who aspired to follow in our parents' footsteps but who chose another path, one where our livelihoods were not tied to the vicissitudes of the weather.

In 2007, when our region was in the grip of the millennium drought, the then government announced its plan to build the north–south pipeline to take water from drought-stricken communities in northern Victoria to Melbourne. For me that decision was a critical turning point. As I watched my communities in the grip of that insidious and creeping drought, I was unable to understand how the government could break its promise never to take water over the Great Divide. It was The Nationals who stood up to fight for the rights of rural and regional communities through those long and difficult years. I am proud to stand here today as the Deputy Leader of The Nationals, committed to upholding those values upon which our party was founded 100 years ago — namely, a fair go for rural and regional Victoria.

I wish to pay tribute to the members of this house for whom I have had the great privilege of working in recent years, in particular Peter Ryan, Peter Walsh, Kim Wells and Ted Baillieu. From each I have learnt different things, but all have demonstrated the importance of integrity and honour and all have used their time here to make Victoria a better place.

My sincere thanks go to my campaign team for the long and gruelling hours they put in — Bill Sykes, Lauren Smith, Sharon Kent, Kerrie Facey, Rachel Tharrat, Simon Kelley, Frank Deane and John Tanner. I also acknowledge the efforts of The Nationals branch members who embraced me as their candidate and those the length and breadth of the electorate — people like Luke Vienet, Sue and Claire Baumber, and Beryl Cross — who gave of their own time to ensure that my campaign was a success. My thanks go to my amazing and loyal friends, who have stood with me through this journey and assisted me in more ways than they will ever know, in particular Lauren. I stand here in the knowledge that it is not through my efforts alone but also those of a greater collective dedicated to strong representation for rural and regional Victoria.

I also wish to pay tribute to the retired members who previously represented the electorate and made such a wonderful contribution in this place. I thank Jeanette Powell and her husband, Ian, who have for so many years devoted their lives to the service of their community. As the first woman to represent The Nationals in the Victorian Parliament, Jeanette broke the glass ceiling, and her work as Minister for Local Government and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs will long be remembered. I also thank the last member for Rodney, Paul Weller, who, along with Wendy Nolan, was first responsible for drawing me into The Nationals family. I learnt much from Paul. His knowledge of water policy is second to none, and it was through his involvement in these issues that my interest in The Nationals was first conceived. I thank Bill Sykes, whose tireless work in the electorate of Benalla has left me with very big shoes to fill. I have rarely seen someone so loved and so respected by his community. If there is one thing above all else that I admire about Bill, it is the fact that he treated everyone equally and to everyone gave his all.

I wish to thank my family, who are here today — my parents, Paul and Jenny, and my siblings, Luke, Tarsha and David. Their encouragement has kept me going, and I know it will be called upon again in the future. My father taught me always to question and to never be content with the status quo, and for that I will always thank him. My greatest thanks go to my mother, who gave up so much to ensure that I would have the opportunities she never had and whose enduring convictions and unspoken kindness I will always admire.

Love, like football, is beyond the realm of politics. I am and will always be eternally grateful for the love and support of my partner, Simon, whose patience and understanding know no bounds. My deep appreciation also goes to Philip, Liz, Tim, Nick, Lara, and of course Betty, for their ongoing support.

In closing, it is my hope that by the time I leave this place it will reflect the true diversity of the community — that those seeking to enter Parliament will no longer be pioneers simply because of gender, age, sexuality, race or religion. To stand in this chamber, where the history of our state has been forged, is an immense privilege, the weight of which rests heavily on my shoulders.

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