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Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) — President, I am honoured to take my place in this chamber. I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of my electorate, the home of the Gunaikurnai and Bunurong people. I also wish to record my respect for those who have gone before me in recent times in this place. During my involvement in The Nationals I have been so impressed by the high calibre of our former MPs Peter Hall, Peter Ryan and Tom Wallace.
I congratulate my predecessor, the newly elected member for Gippsland South in the Legislative Assembly, Danny O'Brien, and look forward to working with him, my other fellow Nationals lower house colleagues Russell Northe and Tim Bull, the members for Morwell and Gippsland East, and my federal colleagues Darren Chester and Senator Bridget McKenzie, to deliver for our collective constituents. Together they have an impressive pedigree of political and life experience, and I would be remiss in not saluting the career of Jeanette Powell, who until recently was the only sitting woman MP in our party. Now we have three.
I pay tribute to a former member for Eastern Victoria Region, Peter Hall, who was an exemplary representative for his electorate for over 25 years. Peter was respected by his peers on both sides of the house, some of whom are in the chamber tonight. He was meticulous in his research and held the institution of Parliament in high regard — an example for us all. I also pay tribute to our former leader, Peter Ryan, whose passion and determination helped cultivate my interest in politics. Confident, emphatic, eternally optimistic and smart, Peter Ryan led our party for 15 years but, more importantly, he was a tireless worker for his constituents and the people of rural and regional Victoria for 22 years. Peter was always one step ahead of the pack. He had the question answered and the strategy in place before the question had even been posed.
I think it is fair to say that politics is in my blood. My great, great, great-grandfather, Richard Richardson, served as a conservative member for Creswick in the late 1800s. He was a former engineer and in one portfolio was minister for roads and bridges, still a most important item on our agenda today.
I carry six generations of Gippslanders in my DNA. My grandfather George Tatterson's forebears arrived from England by steamship and camped their first night on the banks of the Yarra River and followed the Princes Highway to Warragul. From there they became hoteliers, grocers and butchers to as far afield as Sale. My grandfather was a role model and inspiration to me; he was honest to the core and passionate to know about science, technology and history.
Pa led by example, never rhetoric. His life lessons were 'Always have a go', 'Do your very best whatever the result', 'Never die wondering', 'Don't be afraid to ask questions' and, although he wasn't religious, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. He commenced his working life as a third-generation butcher and concluded as a regional manager for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria with a degree in electrical engineering. His lessons are something that I continue to live by.
My home base is South Gippsland. I grew up in Fish Creek, the daughter of a dairy farmer whose family were pioneers of that area. My father, Stan Bath, was a gentleman in the true sense of the word, and he taught me the value of hard work. Dairying is all consuming, sometimes for little reward. I recall 18 per cent interest on the farm's Rural Finance loan.
My mother, Meree, passed on to me her high standards and sense of fair play. Throughout her life Meree has donated countless hours to public service — hall, school, football, netball, church, asthma and citizens advice bureau committees to name a few. Like so many men and women, her deeds are the glue by which country communities are bound.
My father, when marrying Mum, had two non-negotiables: one, she had to become a member of the Country Party; and two, she had to support the Essendon Football Club. Both those conditions have served our family well — although I understand I am breaking the mould a bit as both my parliamentary predecessors barrack for the Blues.
Politics often cropped up in our family conversations around the dinner table. Listening to my parents' passionate dialogues sparked an interest. This interest was further fanned at the tender age of 16. Picture this: a smiling debutante dressed in white taffeta descending the stairs of the Fish Creek Memorial Hall. My goal was to curtsy with perfection to the impeccably dressed new federal member for Gippsland, Mr Peter McGauran. He was attending his first debutante ball. The vision of this dashing young politician got me thinking about the world of politics.
Later on, when completing a science degree and a diploma in education at Melbourne University, I looked further into the principles and philosophies of The Nationals and became a member of the Young Nationals. The Nationals have always advocated for country Victorians. We pride ourselves on working to build stronger regional economies and secure communities, delivering prosperity for all regional Victorians and ensuring that country people are afforded the same opportunities as those in the city. These ideals align with my own. I have always believed in justice and fairness for all.
Part of the reason I have entered this profession is to advocate for people who may not be able to advocate for themselves. I am honoured to be able to serve the people of Eastern Victoria Region. There is no better place. It is my home, it holds many great childhood memories and it is where I chose to raise my two wonderful boys.
As a child, with my brother, Glenn, we often holidayed at beautiful Waratah Bay with the backdrop of the magnificent Wilsons Promontory in the distance. I do not believe I am being biased when I say that the eastern region boasts some of the state's best tourism attractions. My electorate covers over 44 000 square kilometres, extending from the Mornington Peninsula to the New South Wales border. It includes such gems as Ninety Mile Beach and the gorgeous Gippsland Lakes area. We have the high country, the snowfields, Tarra-Bulga National Park, known for its magnificent mountain ash, and the wonders of the Gippsland penguin parade, which is so popular with local and overseas tourists. As well as being attractions, these icons are also places of information and environmental education.
Small business and agriculture are the backbone of our region. These industries must be serviced with safe and adequate roads, the lifeblood of our transport system. In his 1988 inaugural speech Peter Hall identified the state of our roads as a major issue of concern for regional people. The coalition's $160 million country roads and bridges program contributed much to improving the state of our regional roads, but the work has not yet been completed and more needs to be done. It is vital that people who live in regional and rural communities are not forced to travel on dangerous roads and that maintenance and improvements are adequately funded.
My electorate is home to some of the most fertile farming land in our state. Gippsland is Australia's largest dairy region, producing over 20 per cent of the nation's milk, and it is supported by the Macalister irrigation district. As a dairy farmer's daughter, I know only too well the importance of this industry to our region and our local economy. It employs 6000 people on farm and in processing. In 2011–12 the region produced milk with an estimated farm gate value of $915 million and $2.5 billion as valued-added product.
The region also has a significant grazing and meat processing industry, representing 25 per cent of the total value of Victorian beef production, a significant amount of which is exported as high-value beef products. Our abundant waterways and fisheries support a strong seafood industry and some aquaculture. Gippsland's diverse soil types and climates enable a range of vegetables, nursery products, cut flowers and fruit to be produced. Producers range from very large vegetable growing enterprises to smaller intensive enterprises producing products for specialty markets. Each has its place, and it is important we support local agribusiness to ensure that it continues to drive economic activity in the region.
The Latrobe Valley in Gippsland produces most of the state's electricity. Its brown coal resources are estimated to be capable of powering Victoria for centuries at current usage levels. The brown coal mining and energy industry accounts for a significant proportion of economic activity and employment in the Latrobe Valley. While it is hard to predict exactly what the region's future might be, I support the development of innovative technologies for clean coal production and viable options for renewable energy sources. The oil and gas reserves of the Gippsland Basin in Bass Strait also deliver economic value to the region. For us to prosper in the future, local industries must be encouraged to grow, build, adapt and be innovative.
I believe education is the key to our future prosperity. Our students are our future workforce. We must pay attention to the youth of today and invest in their education to provide country students with the best possible educational opportunities. After many years working with youth, I have a good understanding of the issues and problems they face today, and I plan on working hard to address these.
Programs for early childhood literacy, better partnerships between schools and industry, and relevant high-quality tertiary courses are required for our young people to meet future job markets. We need to encourage stronger partnerships between TAFE institutes and universities to make it easier for students to access higher education in regional Victoria. The gap between country students and their city peers is still far too wide. More city students than those in regional areas go on to seek tertiary qualifications because there are simply fewer tertiary options available and more financial barriers for country students, including the cost of transport and of living away from home. As Victoria moves to a knowledge-driven, innovative economy, we need a workforce with higher levels of qualifications and skills. Country students must not be left behind in meeting a fast-moving and highly competitive job market. Your postcode should not dictate your potential.
The thoughts and views of our young people are important to me. I plan on engaging with the youth of our region to listen to their ideas and needs. Let me speak in my old role as a chemistry teacher. When you distil politics down to its pure essence, it is all about people — communicating, listening, advocating and leading the changes. As politicians, we are here to serve our communities, not ourselves. Active listening is the key, as is giving people time and respect on the issues that are important to them.
I am not afraid of rolling up my sleeves and working hard for the people of my electorate. My years of study, travel, owning and running my own small business, growing a family and educating young minds have given me the skills, determination and passion to direct my energy into the future prosperity of Eastern Victoria Region. I am determined to help build on The Nationals proud history of commitment to country Victorians, and I look forward to working with our new leader, Peter Walsh, and my upper house colleague Damian Drum to make that happen.
As the parents of Darcy and Lachlan O'Connor, Graeme and I are so very proud of our now young men. Darcy and Lachlan, you are the lights of my life. I am privileged to have a loving brother, Glenn, sister-in-law, Suzi, and five special nieces and nephews.
I thank my partner, Gary, for his continued love and support, and I treasure the friendship of Sarah and Tim. I thank my dear family and wonderful friends, some of whom are in the gallery tonight. I thank my electorate office staff and the staff here at Parliament House for their help and kindness. I pay tribute to the principal, Karen Lanyon, and staff of Mirboo North Secondary College.
Finally, I humbly pledge to support the people of Eastern Victoria Region, from the tiny villages to important centres, and to continue to make our area a state prosperity hub.