The Hon.

Michael Keenan MP


Federal Member for Stirling

 

Standing up for Stirling

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Maiden Speech

November 14 2004

I second the motion. It is a great honour to second this motion for the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech on behalf of the parliament and the government. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the people of Stirling for entrusting to me the responsibility of representing them in this place. I am humbled by their endorsement and will endeavour to do my utmost to live up to their expectations.

I am the eighth member for Stirling, an electorate that was only created in 1955. This is an awesome reminder that we are all here at the pleasure of the people in our electorates and that we will always be held to account for our performance. Distinguished previous members of the electorate include Fraser government minister Ian Viner and radio personality Eoin Cameron. My immediate predecessor, Jann McFarlane, was a popular and hard-working local member. On behalf of the people of Stirling, I thank her for her service over the life of the last two parliaments.

The seat is named after Sir James Stirling, the first governor of Western Australia. From a good Scottish family, Stirling joined the Royal Navy at the age of 12 and had a distinguished career that ended in his retirement as a full admiral. He was tall and, by all accounts, had a dignified and commanding presence. After several tours with the Royal Navy, Stirling was sent to colonial New South Wales and, as part of his duties, sailed west to explore the land around the Swan River, on which Perth is now situated. Stirling was impressed by his discovery, and he pressed hard for a new settlement to be established despite the resistance of the British Colonial Office. Overcoming their objections, Stirling triumphed and proclaimed the new colony of Western Australia on 18 June 1829.

At that time, none of the country had been explored or surveyed. The coastal waters were virtually uncharted, and the support and succour offered by the British government was minimal. Literally thousands of kilometres away from civilisation, the new settlers led by Stirling faced untold hardships and were compelled to use their ingenuity just to survive. The fledgling settlement was often on the verge of starvation—farming was difficult due to the poor soil—and building weatherproof accommodation took enormous effort. Yet this did not prevent Stirling from insisting that guests dress formally for dinner, and the new settlers adopted the same pattern of recreation they had followed at home—hunting, musical evenings and picnicking.

Although James Stirling was proudly British, in many ways he was the first West Australian, and his spirit is still embedded in the culture of the state. His youth, his tenacity in overcoming hardship, his ability to see opportunity in adversity, and his enterprise are now the defining characteristics of the community he founded.

The seat of Stirling is a microcosm of Australia in its wide diversity. It contains people from all walks of life and different backgrounds. From the beachside suburbs of Trigg and North Beach to Mirrabooka and Nollamara, Stirling contains areas that greatly differ in socioeconomic status. It is the most ethnically diverse electorate in Western Australia, containing large Greek, Chinese, Italian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian and Indian communities. All the world's major religions are represented—Christians, Moslems, Jews and Buddhists, amongst others. It is also a relatively youthful electorate, the median age of residents being 35.

One of my first engagements as the new member was to attend a commemoration service at St Andrew's Grammar School, a school established and run by the Greek community in Western Australia. The ceremony commemorated the day the Greeks defied Mussolini and entered World War II. The pupils marked the anniversary through song and play acting in Greek and English. Yet it was obvious, while watching the students, that many of them were not of Greek descent but the children of recent immigrants from Asia, other parts of Europe and across the world. I can think of no better metaphor for modern Australia: an internationally diverse student body celebrating the history and culture of another nation, all under the Australian flag that proudly flies every day at the school.

No matter what our background, we are all Australians, and I believe that all the diverse communities in Stirling benefit equally by having a government that is prepared to make the tough decisions in the national interest. But I will still make it a priority to understand their differing needs as separate groups and to serve them all to the best of my abilities.

My own political journey started early and I have had a keen interest in politics from a young age. As I grew older and learned more, I began to appreciate just how important politics is to people's lives and their wellbeing. Nothing could have brought this home to me more clearly than when I left for Europe when I turned 18 and spent some months travelling through the former Soviet bloc in 1991. We should never forget that the Cold War was a battle between freedom and oppression, and this oppression, which was so deadening, lives on in people's lives in that region through the architecture and art produced during those years. This trip reaffirmed my belief in the primacy of the individual and the importance of freedom, and led me to join the Liberal Party.

The party, founded by ordinary Australians, united by the leadership of Sir Robert Menzies, has a proud tradition of government at both federal and state levels. Menzies created a party that represented what he termed `the forgotten people'. We might now call them the silent majority: Australians who did not spend a lot of time lobbying governments but who spent most of their lives working hard to provide for themselves and their families. Their legacy is still visible in our strong communities today. Sadly, it is too easy for these people to be forgotten in politics. The person who has the time to shout the loudest can often play a greater role in the political process. We in this place should never be fooled by listening only to the loudest and we should not give their views more prominence than they deserve.

We can learn much from Menzies and his fellow Liberals during this period—people like Paul Hasluck and Richard Casey, great Australians who gave years of dedicated service to their country. During the time these men governed, Australians did not expect as much of their government as we expect today. In fact, the responsibilities of government have grown so greatly since those times that the modern Commonwealth would be virtually unrecognisable to the men of that political generation. Some of this is to be welcomed, although some of it is not. It is wrong to assume that, no matter what the problem, government is necessarily the solution.

Australia is full of strong individuals and robust communities. In the main, these people are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. They do not need governments to lecture them or meddle in their lives unless it is absolutely necessary to fulfil a greater good. Our society should be free to evolve at its own pace without legislators using their considerable powers to try to remake it in their own image. We should never assume that parliament is the repository of all wisdom and we need to carefully consider how we can manage Australia's affairs so that people are given every chance to express their personal preferences, rather than existing in a straitjacket of ours.

I was raised in a family that relied on a small business for its livelihood. During that period, we lived through good and bad economic times, and our fortunes altered accordingly. The actions of government greatly affected the profitability of our business. We really just wanted government to leave us alone and allow us to get on with the job. Yet successive governments, state and federal, have steadily added to the administrative burden required to keep our doors open. We need to be mindful of the ultimate effect of every single piece of legislation we pass in this place.

I welcome His Excellency's announcements yesterday that will ensure that small business will finally be granted greater workplace flexibility and that unnecessary red tape will be eliminated under the Regulation Reduction Incentive Fund. These are two important initiatives of the fourth term agenda of the government that were outlined at the opening of parliament yesterday.

Listening to His Excellency's speech was a reminder to me of why the Australian people were again prepared to place their trust in the coalition to guide them for the next three years. Since 1996 Australia has enjoyed record economic prosperity. Low interest rates, high levels of employment and substantial increases in productivity are not the result of chance but of a determined effort to create a new era of national achievement. The Australian people have firmly expressed their view that they want this project to continue.

Despite record low unemployment, we need to redouble our efforts to give every Australian a job. Employment provides not just the means to sustain yourself but also the dignity that comes from contributing your efforts to advancing our community. The reality is that the goal of providing all Australians a job will be within reach when we implement the measures, as outlined by His Excellency yesterday, to reform workplace relations. Australians on welfare will be given the opportunities they need to move into the work force. Skills development and training remains a significant national challenge. The shortage of skills in certain areas is particularly acute in Western Australia. I am pleased that His Excellency said it was time that trades were valued as highly as a university education.

In 2004 we are living in an age of great interconnection within our global society. Under the Howard government, Australia is punching above its weight and pushing our nation into an unparalleled place of influence. This brings with it greater responsibilities. Pointless arguments about a regional or a global focus ignore the fact that international politics is not a zero sum game and one does not come at the expense of the other. Our global ties, especially with our traditional allies such as the United States and Britain, complement Australia's regional relationships, and I believe that this approach has provided Australia with far more policy success—evidenced by the signing of several bilateral free trade agreements with states in the region and beyond—than going to our neighbours on bended knee, begging to be included as one of the club.

The disappearance of traditional international barriers fuels the most serious challenge facing Australia or indeed the world: the war on terror. As with the Cold War, there is a tendency amongst some to underestimate the evil of the enemy. I was recently in Bali and visited the memorial to the victims of the bombing. To indiscriminately kill and maim is an act of unspeakable cowardice that needs to be met by resolve and a determination to triumph. We need to prosecute this war against an international menace wherever it threatens our freedom, and I welcome His Excellency's announcements yesterday confirming Australia's world-class counter-terrorism capability and the continued strengthening of the Australian Defence Force.

I began my speech by saying how humbled I have been by the vote of confidence given to me and the Liberal Party by the electors of Stirling. Winning the seat was an enormous enterprise that was borne of the efforts of hundreds of people. I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the key players and acknowledge the presence of some of them today. My patron senator, Sue Knowles, campaigned with me on a daily basis for months on end. When she was asked what her role was in the campaign, she often said she was my driver—and that was true, because she did drive me mad! She was an absolute rock during the campaign, and I am proud to now call her a colleague as well as a friend. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of the Minister for Ageing, Julie Bishop—and I am pleased to see her in the chamber today; the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison; the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone; and Senator Ross Lightfoot. Thanks are also due to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the ministry, who campaigned extensively in Stirling.

The Liberal Party of Western Australia was extremely well organised for the 2004 campaign and this was reflected in the results that we achieved on the day. The credit for this falls on the personal efforts of state director Paul Everingham, state president Danielle Blain and senior vice-president Mathias Cormann. Peter Collier and the Curtin division of the Liberal Party excelled themselves in providing resources and manpower. My own division of Stirling were the first to put their faith in me, and as their candidate I thank them for all their tireless efforts.

The Stirling campaign was staffed by an incredible group of people. We shared a brilliant experience that I will never forget. I would particularly like to acknowledge Fay Duda for the pivotal role she played in the campaign. Fay is a valued colleague and friend, and I am looking forward to working with her over the next three years to represent the hopes and aspirations of the people of Stirling. My greatest debt is reserved for my campaign chairman, John Franklyn. We formed a fantastic partnership and I learned a lot from him. He is an uncommonly gifted manager, was always wise counsel, and I am truly grateful for his efforts to secure the seat for the Liberal Party and thrilled that he and his wife, Kathy, could be here today.

To my own family—my father Peter, my mother Patricia, and my sisters Catherine and Jennifer, who are all here—I have been blessed by my relationship with you all and I thank you for the support you gave me in my current and previous endeavours. We are all reflections of our own background, and what my family has taught me is that in Australia you get lucky when you work hard. My father and his family arrived in country New South Wales from Britain and opened a small clothing store. My mother is the daughter of a tram mechanic and she left school at 15. Together they built a family and a small business and were able to afford their children opportunities they could never have imagined. If we in this place can create the same opportunities for all Australians and their families, then we will have done our jobs well. I am looking forward to the challenges of the next three years and to serving my community with all the vigour, tenacity and grace that I can muster.
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