Maiden Speech

20 December 2006

Mr BURGESS (Hastings) -- I would like to start by congratulating you, Speaker, on your recent appointment.

It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate on the address-in-reply, and it is an even greater pleasure to have been elected the member for Hastings. I would like to record my sincere thanks to the people of the Hastings electorate for placing their trust in me. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my predecessor, Rosalyn Buchanan, for the hard work she performed on behalf of the Hastings electorate.

Hastings is a mixed rural and urban fringe electorate located approximately 42 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It is roughly 600 square kilometres in area. BlueScope Steel and Inghams Enterprises are the two largest employers in the electorate.

The features of Hastings include the Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve, Boggy Creek and the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne. The HMAS Cerberus naval base, Watson and Kings creeks and Devilbend Reservoir are also wonderful assets of the area. It also encompasses such well-known localities as Balnarring, French Island, Crib Point, Somerville, Langwarrin, Devon Meadows and the coastal villages. But Hastings is much more than its geography; it is very much about the people who have chosen to make this magnificent area their home. Their needs are the needs of country people, manual workers, young families, business owners and retirees.

The electorate and people of Hastings draw together all the different threads of my life. My loving parents, Ron and Audrey Burgess , raised me, my six sisters and brother in the small country town of Tocumwal, where they owned and ran the Tocumwal Hotel. This was where the locals gathered after a hard day of work to relax, discuss their troubles and socialise. It taught me a lot about life. Being brought up in a small country town and in a very large family, I quickly developed a strong sense of community. I learnt that the family unit and a close community are two of the most important building blocks of happiness. These country values have never left me, and I see them throughout the Hastings electorate.

My first job was also in Tocumwal. I was the town postie by day and the telephone exchange operator by night. As the overnight operator it was my responsibility to ensure that the communication channels within the town and between the town and the rest of the world remained open.

I was also required to coordinate the essential services whenever there was an emergency -- fire, flood or car accident. This role highlighted to me the critical nature of the community's interdependence. It also taught me the vulnerability of the elderly to isolation. The experiences gained through these times instilled in me a passion for my community that renews itself every time I speak to somebody in the electorate of Hastings.

With its steelworks and port, Hastings is a working town full of working people. In my early jobs as conveyor belt operator in a flour mill, tractor driver on a potato farm and hay carter I learnt what it means to work hard and long. Having worked for Inghams Enterprises -- the second-largest employer in the electorate -- for five years, I developed a strong understanding of the challenges that face small and large businesses and the people who rely on them for their livelihoods.

However, without question my favourite job has been as father of Kate, Emma and Justen -- and just as I said that, Kate and Emma walked into the gallery.

There are many people without whom I would not be standing here today. I record my sincere thanks to my two daughters, Kate and Emma, and their wonderful mother, Shona, for their limitless love, understanding and patience; the federal member for Flinders and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt; Robert Breeschoten; Margaret Davis; Chris Watt; Peter Baulch; Rosemary Seeger; Frank and Angelo Lamattina; Jill Fletcher; Deborah and John Marton; Bill and Kathy Kettle; Vicki and Rod Bradshaw; Julie Owens; Don and Hilda Hodgins; and of course Mr Tim Mirabella of Mirabella's seafood, former proprietor of Hastings' oldest business. To the many others who gave their time and energy unselfishly, my sincere gratitude.

The community expects and deserves someone who will work with them in the streets as well as for them in Parliament, and someone who will roll up their sleeves and work side by side with their people, get their hands dirty and experience first hand their challenges. There is no greater advocate for people than someone who shares their pain.

It is my intention to continue to work side by side with the people of Hastings so that we can together make our community a better and safer place for our children to grow up in, our families to live in, our people to work in and our elderly to retire in.

The journey to this house has for many been long, with significant challenges and sacrifices along the way. Some of these sacrifices are made by choice, and others are unexpected and deeply regretted consequences of what it takes to represent your community.

Representing my community will always be something of which I am extremely proud. However, it is of paramount importance that we bear in mind that the true measurement of whether or not this journey was worthwhile or justified lies not in the successful arrival but in the level of good achieved whilst here. The good that each member wants to achieve has as many iterations as there are members, and it is both a cause and a consequence of our healthy democracy.

One of the 'goods' that I am truly passionate about is improving the circumstances of families and, consequently, of the children of those families. The family is a pillar of our society. The systemic breaking down of family is a breaking down of our community. It is often said that the health of a community can be measured by how it treats its children, but how many of its children must be treated well to make a society a healthy one? In my electorate, as is the case across large areas of our great state, there is a significant issue with what has been described as youth lawlessness.

A typical example of such a problem is the situation that became a regular occurrence at the BP service station in Langwarrin. Until it was forced to cease opening 24 hours a day, it was common to find up to 200 youths on the Langwarrin BP site in the early hours of the morning. A typical night would produce theft, intimidation and assault. On one occasion there was a stabbing. Police resources are stretched across my electorate so tightly that having officers able just to attend was a challenge in itself. Now that this service station shuts at night these young people have simply moved to another venue.

Langwarrin is not alone in experiencing these problems. This same situation is repeated in most communities across the state to a larger or lesser extent. Why does this happen? The link between dysfunctional families and wayward youths is unquestionable. One view is that our children need to have more to do and more to occupy themselves with. However, the majority of these issues occur in the early hours of the morning, and the participants are commonly aged between 10 and 14. I doubt that many would believe the problem is that a 10-year-old needs more to do at 2.00 a.m.

I believe the true problem is masked. Our lawless youths are simply the symptom of a problem within our community, not the problem itself.

Our community suffers from the symptoms and continually acts to address those while ignoring the true illness. The disease is in the homes of the youths we see running amok. The level of dysfunction in the homes of an area dictates the severity of the symptoms experienced by that community. If we continue to treat only the symptoms, it will be like putting a bandaid on a serious infection -- the problem may be hidden, but the damage will continue.

So what is the disease that infects the homes of an increasing number of our youths? What is it about these homes that makes them different from those with youths who do not become involved, in an ongoing sense, in serious antisocial behaviour? The point that must be made here, of course, is that these problems exist in a fairly low number of homes, but even a small number is too many. What solutions are there to this growing problem? What is available for our community to do?

While parenting education programs are a very worthwhile tool, they currently have an inherent limitation. Parents who have the desire and motivation to attend such a course are less likely to be in need of it. Parents who are interested enough to attend are at least interested in their children's development and lives. The parents less likely to attend parenting skills education are conversely, therefore, more likely to be the ones with the most to gain from it. Further, this means that the children with the most to gain from their parents receiving that training are unfortunately the least likely to receive that benefit.

Our children need us to provide skills to the parents within our community -- and yes, it is difficult to get the parents who are most in need to attend for those upgrades.

Therefore, while we must continue to provide as many opportunities as possible to existing parents to improve their parenting skills, we must ensure that these crucial skills are provided to the parents of tomorrow. How do we get to the parents of tomorrow? The parents of tomorrow are in our schools today.

There are few skills taught in schools that are more important to the future of our community than the skills that will, when the time comes, enable our children to raise healthy and productive members of our community. I am committed to working with my colleagues to answer these questions, to identify the causes of the problems we see developing within our families and to provide Victorians with the policies that will help address these issues.

In leaving this topic I think it is worth reflecting upon the readiness with which we now rightly use environment effects statements to consider the impact of our actions, including legislative action, upon the environment, yet we fail to impose the same level of scrutiny on the possible impact of our laws and actions on our families and children.

The lead for my actions as a member of this house will come from my community. The Hastings community has clearly identified the following important local issues. In the area of roads, they are fixing the Stony Point and Frankston-Flinders roads intersection, fixing the Baxter-Tooradin and Fultons roads intersection, and completing the duplication of the Western Port Highway. In health they are providing doctors for Baxter, Tooradin, Cannons Creek, Warneet and Blind Bight and additional doctors for Hastings, and providing additional aged care facilities in Hastings.

In education they are the completion of years 11 and 12 at the Somerville Secondary College, and an upgrade to the Elisabeth Murdoch College in Langwarrin.

In employment they are the completion of the Hastings submarine project, and the implementation of the Stony Point-Phillip Island car ferry. In security and the environment they are the provision of 24-hour police stations at Somerville and Langwarrin, with additional officers and resources, the attainment of the full contingent of officers at the Hastings police station, no bitumen plant for Crib Point, no freight train corridor through Pearcedale, Devon Meadows and Clyde, the protection of Boggy Creek, Watson Creek and Kings Creek, the provision of natural gas for townships including Tooradin, Blind Bight, Warneet, Cannons Creek, Devon Meadows and Cranbourne South, the closure of the Gunnamatta outfall by 2015, and the retention of all of Devilbend Reservoir.

On the other hand there are things that greatly concern my community. The port of Hastings plan is one of those issues. If the planning and implementation of this project are conducted sensibly and are sensitive to the needs and desires of the local community, it has the potential to deliver great benefits both locally and statewide in terms of jobs and other opportunities.

If, however, the planning is conducted with insufficient community input or if it proceeds without the acceptance of the locals, the port of Hastings expansion could do more harm to the local people and the environment than it can do good for the state. The planning process to date has been flawed, with community consultation being patchy at best, and it has left many locals feeling as though the process has been secretive and the community has been intentionally kept in the dark. I take this opportunity to strongly urge the Port of Hastings Corporation to revisit its community consultation process.

In conclusion then, the question is: what does representing my community mean to me? It is about giving the people of the Hastings electorate back their voice, it is about fulfilling the promise of what is possible, and it is about recognising the critical role that families play in our society and putting in place the strategies needed to support that role. But more than anything else, I want to help make the Hastings electorate and Victoria a better place for Kate and Emma and all Victorian children to grow up in and grow old in.