James' First Speech

Legislative Assembly of the Parliament of Victoria.
Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (19:18):

A few short weeks ago the Labor Party was resoundingly re-elected. As a Liberal Member in this place I am part of a party that now only holds one quarter of the seats in this chamber, a Party that has only been in government for one quarter of the last 20 years.

The Liberal Party should be under no illusion: on Election Day the electorate delivered the strongest possible message. I say to the electorate directly tonight: I have heard you.

They will not accept anything but a clear vision for this great state, and Liberal-leaning voters who cast their severe judgement at the ballot box determined that the Liberal Party needs to reset and modernise. We must reconnect with the community and become a stronger voice for mainstream Victorians again.

I joined the Liberal Party almost 20 years ago. When I joined Jeff Kennett was Premier and John Howard was Prime Minister. Both leaders had clear plans for our nation’s future. Their plans were based on strong Liberal values that delivered prosperity to our nation. They sought to empower people by enshrining freedom of choice. They sought to ensure that people who worked hard were rewarded and they embedded an ethos that encouraged enterprise.

I joined the Liberal Party because I identified with those values. In essence my journey over the last 20 years has been one guided by and advocating for those values.

I am 40 years old. I am married to Suzanne, who has shared most of this journey with me, and she is here this evening. Suzanne and I are blessed with two beautiful daughters. Although my daughters are hopefully tucked up in bed, I want them to know that I am in this place to make sure that Parliament delivers them and our community a better future.

Suzanne and her family migrated to Australia from Ecuador. They came to Australia with the dream of starting a small business, working hard and providing what we as parents all aspire to: giving our children a better life. My father and mother-in-law started their small business and found success. Australia offered them the opportunity to realise their dreams.

My family have built small businesses too. My grandfathers were both small businessmen, one a dentist, as is my own father. Both opened sole practitioner practices and worked hard to provide for their families. Suzanne and I have settled our family near Church Street in the heart of my electorate.

Professionally, I have worked in both the private sector and the public sector. In the private sector I worked at the board level in the financial services industry as a group company secretary. I worked for the peak body representing financial institutions on credit-related matters. I think having business-based skills is essential because it teaches you that the private sector knows how to innovate if government gets out of its way.

In the public sector I have worked at the highest levels of State and Federal Government. That experience has reinforced my view that the state Parliament’s job is to be more than middle management. We are not simply service administrators. As parliamentarians we must be brave enough to have ideas and strong enough to debate them.

As a Liberal parliamentarian I am committed to offering ideas and generating debate. Despite the Liberal Party needing reform I strongly believe that at its best my party has delivered for Australians better than any other party. We owe it to Victorians to rebuild the party into one that offers a vision for the future that our community connects with, a vision that caters for the growth of one new person in this state every 3½ minutes.

Victoria is growing faster than anywhere else in Australia. Within about 10 years Melbourne will have outgrown Sydney and will be the most populous capital city in Australia.

A forward thinking Liberal Party has the right philosophical framework to steward Victoria’s growth but only if the party reconnects with the community and offers policy that has depth and consistency and is contemporary. Today’s Liberal Party must use its voice to answer the policy challenges of tomorrow.

My generation does not have the same capacity to accumulate asset wealth as the generations before us. For some the dream of home ownership is now only a dream, and many are finding economic independence out of reach. Labor has recognised these changes in economic demographics but Labor has mistakenly sought to solve them with interventionist wealth-redistributing policy and pork-barrelling, not creating the economy of the 21st century.

Unless the Liberal Party recognises this economic challenge and becomes a voice for this generation, aspirational Victorians may be swayed by Labor’s hip pocket promises. My fear is that, left unaddressed, aspirational Australians may become focused on what governments can give them rather than what they can create for themselves, and unfortunately we have seen a growing tendency of voters to turf out governments that are prudent budget managers.

To avoid this our party must remember that sound economic management must always take place for the benefit of people. The danger is that Labor’s policy approach is predicated upon interventionist government that is overly reliant on increasing tax receipts even when there are signs that the economy will not remain rosy forever.

Labor’s profligate spending, which only creates a debt burden for our children, is one of the reasons they will always have the broadest possible migration policy and encourage unchecked property development—because both grow the tax base.

To counter this approach the Liberal Party must develop policy that shifts the goalposts. We must unashamedly release policy that rewards hard work and we must reassess previously released policies like the federal superannuation reforms, which have not only done the opposite but have broken the trust of Liberal voters.

There are almost 600,000 small businesses in this state. They are the human face of our economy—the shopkeepers, the tradespeople, the healthcare workers, the farmers and all those other people who have taken a risk and are looking for government to create an environment that rewards their hard work.

The Liberal Party has historically been the voice of Australian small business, because we understand that when policy rewards enterprise, businesses, the economy and, most importantly, the community flourish. We understand that regulation needs to be smarter, whilst those on the other side of the chamber are predisposed to overregulate.

We are steadfast in our belief that taxes should always be lower and fairer, whilst the first instinct of those opposite is to put their hand in your pocket. And we as Liberals have been at the forefront of workplace reform, because we know that an employee and employer are best placed to agree upon their workplace arrangements.

Over recent years we have had a softer voice in representing small business. The Liberal Party owes it to the families that are behind these businesses to find our voice again, which is why I was so heartened to see our new leader take responsibility for this important portfolio. I know that he will be a strong voice for the small business constituency. I also thank him for the opportunity he has given me, as a new Member, in appointing me as a shadow assistant minister.

Labor have unprecedented power, and this assistant ministry will play a role in holding the government to account. For our party to reset, we must not only look to the economy but we must also be a voice for issues that are of concern to our broad-minded community.

One of the ways for the Liberal Party to modernise is for it to accept that modem Victoria has a growing conscience for community and the natural environment. Despite decreasing rates of community participation, Victorians are more community-minded than ever before. The Liberal Party has an opportunity to show leadership by devolving decision-making back to a community level, because residents know their local communities best.

In my community when a 12-hectare golf course closed at Elsternwick Park North I spoke out and advocated for the space to be converted into an environmental wetland of regional significance, a place for the community, a place for wildlife and a place that will help mitigate the risk of flooding in Elwood. The community was deeply engaged in the decision and overwhelmingly supported the conversion.

The protection of our natural environment must also extend to animal welfare. For three months each year duck hunters, who represent half of 1 per cent of Victorians, kill and bag up to 10 ducks per day. Though hunters are required to carry out ducks killed, hundreds of birds, including endangered species supposedly protected from being shot, are found dead during the season. Victoria’s natural environment and wildlife are unique parts of this state’s identity and a modern Liberal Party must speak out on behalf of the promotion and preservation of them.

A vibrant and growing Victoria will have many other challenges—challenges like ensuring that infrastructure, services, fresh air and water keep pace with our growth. A number of those issues will be complicated by the ageing population and managing the cohesiveness of an increasingly diverse community.

I love my community of Brighton, Brighton East, Elwood and Hampton. I felt that when our former Member announced her intention to retire Brighton deserved a new Member with an equally strong voice. Brighton is one of only three electorates to have existed continuously since 1856, and it is the only one to have never been held by the Labor Party.

I am proud to have been elected as a Liberal Member and to continue that unbroken tradition, though election night did set a few pulses racing, including that of former Premier Bracks, who giddily declared that Labor had won the seat and a little prematurely offered the Labor candidate advice on how to get re-elected in four years’ time.

In the last 160 years Brighton has been represented by some of our finest Victorians. Weston Bate, in his A History of Brighton, noted that ‘Few towns can have had such distinguished representation’ as Brighton has had. It has delivered a Speaker and two Premiers. One of those Premiers was the colourful Tommy Bent, who set pulses racing when he defeated George Higginbotham in what some described as an accident. In fact at the declaration of the polls the local newspaper editor described ‘the almost incredulous look of surprise which took possession of the crowd’. I will let you in on a little secret: there was an incredulous look of surprise on the faces of the Brighton crowd on 24 November too.

More recently Brighton has been served by Alan Stockdale, arguably the best modern-day Treasurer our state has had. I also want to pay tribute to my dear friend, a former deputy leader and the outgoing Member for Brighton, Louise Asher. I often feel that we are kindred spirits and we share similar values and characteristics. In her achievements both in Parliament and in the Liberal Party Louise is a giant. Louise has taught me, more than anything else, that a Member of Parliament’s role is to be a voice for their constituency.

By electing us, our community has chosen us to speak out and advocate on their behalf. It is a sacred trust they have placed upon each of us, and by supporting their Liberal candidate they have put in Parliament a representative who will be a standard-bearer for the values of the party they voted for.

One of the biggest issues that my community has asked me to raise in this place is that the services and infrastructure are out of date and need attention. In one school the bathroom facilities are so bad that the younger children are too scared to use them, and sadly, though the coalition committed to installing a proper pedestrian crossing on Glen Huntly Road to keep Elwood schoolchildren safe, the Government is going to install speed sign. Our children also lack the futureproofed infrastructure they need, with a number of schools waiting for funding to redevelop outdated infrastructure or build facilities that can cope with the ever-growing school population.

Futureproofing is one of the reasons the coalition committed to invest in new netball facilities in Bayside that could be accessed by children from surrounding municipalities who are currently locked out. Again, sadly, Labor did not match that commitment. At one of our train stations the gap to step into the train is so high that users have fallen and gashed their legs, and near to that same station one resident has spent six months trying to have graffiti removed while the Government and the private train operator handball the problem between them.

Since my preselection I have also been very vocal on inappropriate development. It is not that I am against development, but I am against inappropriate development in my community. One of the solutions is to introduce mandatory height limits so that developers, council and the community know where the goal posts are. Over the next four years we will see the result of Labor’s planning free-for-all. The Government has targeted Hampton as a hotspot for densification, developers are eyeing off the once-quiet streets of Brighton and Elwood is overwhelmed with planning applications aiming to build apartment blocks on every square inch of space. If we keep going down this path, our communities will lose their village feel.

I stand before you a product of my family, and I am only here because of my community and the Liberal Party. I thank them all, especially my second family, the Brighton Liberal Party. I note that my dear friend Jean Hawkins is here with my mother tonight. Few know how many people are part of the journey that brings us into this place. I am excited about the future of this great state, with our best days in front of us. I am humbled to be in this place—a voice for my community—and I am humbled to be the 14th person to have been elected by the Brighton community since 1856. I intend to be a strong voice in this Parliament. Thank you.