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Mr RIORDAN (Polwarth) — I am honoured to stand in this grand Victorian Parliament today as a representative of the good people of Polwarth, a people who for 126 years have shown great faith in their elected members to represent the solid values of strong communities, viable farms and businesses, and as a member who is one of them.
I wish to thank the people of Polwarth for supporting my candidacy in what was a strong by-election process, with eight candidates competing for their votes. I must also acknowledge and thank the dedicated and loyal support I received from the Liberal Party and its volunteer members and MPs, along with the many close and dear friends who supported me across the 12 500 square kilometres and 42 polling booths that comprise Polwarth. Speaker, I thank you also for the Queensland tan I now have, a result of four weeks of north-facing, shadeless early voting which my supporters and I endured. In particular I would like to thank my campaign team: Ian Pugh, Peter and Mary Hay, Joe McCracken, Bronwyn McKenzie, Gavin Brien, 'Snag' Smith, Bev McArthur and Norma Wells.
I wish to record the enormous support shown over many years by both my parents, Marg and Peter Riordan, who always knew that representing Polwarth was a dream of mine. Finally, but not least importantly, I must thank my incredibly patient wife, Catherine, who apart from having her own career is unquestionably manager of government business in the Riordan household. Catherine and I started this journey over 22 years ago, when we met at university at a Young Liberals event. In this year of our 20th wedding anniversary, having raised our four children, Alex, Edward, Millie and Lucy, and having been heavily involved in our community, we begin a new journey representing our community at a different but vitally important level.
I cannot begin to tell this 58th Parliament of the wonders and secrets of Polwarth without first acknowledging the significant contributions of my 12 predecessors over these past 126 years. Most significantly I wish to place on the record my gratitude to my immediate predecessor, the Honourable Terry Mulder. Terry has set a high benchmark, and I note that in 1999, when giving his maiden speech, Terry drew the house's attention to the significant challenge of a 7 per cent unemployment rate, which at that time was below the state average. After 16 years, with the last 4 in government, Terry's legacy is a 1.3 per cent unemployment rate. This low jobless rate is not only the lowest in Victoria but also Australia. It is a benchmark for which Terry and the people of Polwarth can be justly proud.
Like all my Polwarth predecessors, I come to this place today with a small business and a farming background. I come to this place having worked long and hard for 20 years in my own family business, employing locals and servicing the entire electorate. While I was born and bred and educated in Polwarth, I have also raised my own family in this vibrant rural community over the past 16 years. I have served my community on local hospital and catchment management boards under both Liberal and Labor governments. I have worked on a variety of school and sporting communities, and I have involved myself in local and regional issues. I can confidently say that I understand the daily pressures on small business and farmers, who are not only the backbone of a Polwarth economy but of our state as a whole. I also understand the need for accessible and quality health and educational opportunities.
State government affects all our lives: how we live through planning, the safety we expect from our law and order system and how we travel on roads and rail. It is the level of government that best deals with the real concerns of day-to-day living. Our schools, our hospitals, our land and our environment are all affected by the decisions we make in this house. It is the ability of state government to make a difference that has energised me to be in this place today.
Opportunity is the one word that best describes the Polwarth of the past and the Polwarth of the future. My own family's Polwarth stories are ones that have been repeated since the mid-1800s. They are stories of enterprise and risk-taking, wealth generation and thrift, times of plenty and times of struggle. The have-a-go mentality has prevailed, combined with a strong work ethic, while always endeavouring to leave a proud legacy for their children and grandchildren.
My father's maternal grandfather is an obvious example. As a young Englishman he came to Australia, and more specifically to Polwarth, for a new start and a better life. He established himself well and was actively involved in the community. Like his great-grandson 108 years later, W. T. Parker was involved in farming, education and the environment. He was by today's standards a man ahead of his time. The only difference was that when he stood for the seat of Polwarth in 1907 it was as a socialist for the Labor Party. He was unsuccessful. While we may not have agreed on ideas, such as nationalising assets and the need for a pork board, we can agree that as a father he must have excelled, as his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been industrious and successful throughout the Polwarth electorate.
The opportunity that exists in Polwarth is due to the stunning environment we have inherited. Over 5 million domestic and international visitors choose to visit my electorate every year. They come to Polwarth because they can start their drive along the Great Ocean Road, visiting such iconic places as Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne, Apollo Bay and the wonders of Port Campbell and Peterborough. The return trip to Melbourne can be had in a variety of ways: a rainforest journey through the Otways and its small towns, like Gellibrand, Forrest and Birregurra; or through Australia's most valuable dairy districts of Timboon, Cobden, Terang, Noorat, Camperdown and Colac. But that is not all. A visitor can travel north across the world's second-largest volcanic plain, with its lakes, craters and fertile soil providing wealth from grains and sheep and beef grazing.
Mount Elephant sits like a beacon across the Western District, leading travellers to and from Mortlake, Derrinallum, Lismore and Skipton, which was the home of our famous former Premier, Sir Henry Bolte. After passing through the attractive town of Inverleigh, the trip might end at Bannockburn, the old and growing town near Geelong.
Polwarth is also rich in enterprise and productivity. It is home to essential food and fibre industries, and its green grass produces much of Australia's ice-cream, yoghurt and milk.
The timber industry continues to provide the materials needed to build houses across Australia, with our largest operator, AKD Softwoods, winning local and national awards for excellence.
New value-added food industries have developed, like Irrewarra Bakery, along with niche agricultural innovators such as Total Livestock Genetics at Glenormiston. The Australian Lamb Company in Colac can process over 45 000 sheep a week for domestic and international customers and provides employment for over 400 people.
Needless to say, our growing tourism industry is driven by characters and risk-takers such as award-winning operators Dan Hunter at Brae and Kosta and Pam Talimanidis of Lorne and Aireys Inlet, all of whom have heavily invested in this coming summer season to provide a world's best experience for visitors and locals alike. It is all these varied industries that add to the diversification and employment pool we are so lucky to have in Polwarth.
Polwarth is an electorate of opportunity and hope. I want to grow the opportunities in conjunction with our innovative entrepreneurs, farmers and educators. Naturally I believe in the philosophy that the role of government should largely involve providing the infrastructure and services which the private sector cannot. It should set the framework for growth and enterprise, but should not pick winners, intervene unnecessarily, tax and regulate to a level that restricts productive activity, kills off incentive and stifles innovation.
Education policy is a vital tool in the opportunity stakes. How we fund education, how we provide world's best practice teaching, how we raise the bar for the majority and how we deliver innovative, cost-effective outcomes for the taxpayer and student alike are the issues we need to address.
Our rural communities cannot offer the choices and resources available to their city cousins, so we must do more to provide future generations with the resources to enable a skilled regional workforce that can advance society and the nation. How we do education now will not be what is required in the future.
Likewise transport and roads policy will require a visionary and imaginative approach. If we are ever to combat the infrastructure deficit, our focus needs to move from potholes and lower speed limits to the construction of infrastructure that can service larger and heavier vehicles transporting ever larger and heavier loads. It should be about how we can more efficiently and cost effectively move our goods, services, tourists and people around.
Increasing technology has many advantages for rural communities in health provision, but sadly many of the ailments our communities face today cannot be solved with technology alone. Issues around mental health, ice and dementia mean that rural communities must remain on guard to ensure that they have the capacity to service and care for their communities in their communities.
With an electorate as attractive as Polwarth, located so close to Melbourne, the dilemma of lifestyle versus the right to farm will become an ever more pressing issue. As city dwellers seek a change of lifestyle and farmers seek to be more intensive and productive, natural areas of conflict will arise. We must take care in this place to ensure that we do not prioritise city lifestyle expectations over the needs of hardworking, productive rural industries.
I acknowledge that industrial relations is a federal issue, but the state must ensure that its policies and programs do not impinge unnecessarily on small business and farmers, who are at the heart of the productive capacity of Polwarth. We have to remain focused on rewarding effort in the workplace and encouraging flexibility in order to fill the growing vacancies we have in our critical industries.
As a member of state Parliament, I support our three tiers of government. I am a federalist. I want the three levels of government to stay focused on their traditional roles. We will never change the whims of a federal Parliament, but we can assist local government in staying focused on what are its core responsibilities. I believe it is time for a review of local government. Ratepayers expect transparent and accountable local government that delivers value for money. Local government rates and charges should not be used by the state as a form of cost shift funding and an extra source of taxation.
To be the new member for Polwarth is a privilege. It is a great electorate; I have lived, breathed and loved it all my life. I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that it is an even greater electorate in the years to come.
Honourable members applauded.