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Maiden Speech

Cindy McLeish was first elected as the Member for Seymour following the 2010 Victorian State Election



9 February 2011


Ms McLEISH (Seymour) -- Congratulations, Deputy Speaker, on your election to your office. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge those who have suffered and are still suffering from the recent flood events in both Victoria and Queensland. I also acknowledge the emergency services personnel and the vast number of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to show their support by helping those who have suffered. Secondly, I would like to acknowledge those who were impacted on by the bushfires two years ago last Monday. The devastating fires have affected my electorate significantly in terms of the human and structural costs, and it will still take some time to effectively recover.


It is a great honour and privilege to address my fellow members of the house. I look forward to working with them as my colleagues on both sides of the house. The electorate of Seymour was formed in 1992, with the first member being the very capable and respected Liberal minister, the late Marie Tehan. As a newly elected member I follow in the footsteps of Ben Hardman and recognise his efforts over the last 11 years. I particularly appreciate his commitment during the challenging period following the 2009 bushfires. The electorate covers an area of just over 6000 square kilometres and takes in four municipalities, with Mitchell and Murrindindi shires being the largest. The electorate itself is characterised by diversity, both in geography and demography, making it one of the most beautiful and unique electorates. The key industries of tourism and agriculture are grounded in this uniqueness and driven by enterprising individuals operating a variety of small businesses.


Other than the defence force at Puckapunyal, there are no key dominant employers. Both tourism and agriculture within my electorate make a substantial contribution to the state's economy. I believe it is important that these sectors be secured and grown to continue to benefit both the electorate and the state.


Seymour and Healesville are the largest towns, each with populations upwards of 6000 people, with Wallan rapidly growing. There are many smaller towns, such as Kilmore, Yea, Alexandra and Yarra Glen, ranging in population between 1000 and 5000. There are a number of smaller rural communities which often feel forgotten, but they have triumphs and tribulations like the larger towns. It is important that small rural communities such as Buxton, Strathewen, Steels Creek, Tooborac and Toolangi are given the same respect and consideration as the larger, more prominent areas. The electorate is framed in the north by the Goulburn River, offering stunning views, farmland and good fishing, and with that comes tourism. Many small farming communities exist in the north-east and north-west, where they breed some of the best beef in the country and are the top in weaner sales. I am proud to say this, as the McLeish family has been involved in livestock production in and around Yea since 1842; there are almost 170 years of direct lineage to me. The south-eastern area of the electorate sees industry dominated by viticulture in the internationally recognised Yarra Valley -- another area that relies heavily on tourism and events. And, of course, near the grapes we have the acclaimed Healesville Sanctuary. There are vast areas of state forests encompassing Kinglake and Toolangi and extending to the Yarra Ranges and the Cathedral Ranges. It is two years since the devastating bushfires swept through these forests and their communities with catastrophic results.


The communities are on the road to recovery now but are well short of having recovered. Having worked as a psychologist I understand that the road to recovery is very much individual and is not completed within a definite period. I am delighted that the Liberal-Nationals coalition government respects and understands this, as is evidenced by the recent announcements and plans for ongoing support for these communities. They are not forgotten. I also know that communications systems failed during that time; they were inadequate and remain so, and they need to be fixed now. Adding to the diversity of the electorate are outer suburban developments, which are virtually an extension of Melbourne's northern suburbs. Young families looking for affordable homes within commuting distances to the city are moving to Wallan and Beveridge. This is the growth corridor.


However, as the population has grown in this area there has been a lack of corresponding growth in supporting infrastructure such as roads, footpaths, recreational areas for young people and access to health services. The services for these people have been neglected. It is essential that with the predicted future growth comes sensible, integrated longer term planning so that investment in adequate and reliable services is not an afterthought. Each town and area is unique, as are the challenges they face. One size will not necessarily fit all. It is important that I continue to be in touch with the community to listen and understand their issues andchallenges and to work with them to help make each area a better place. As I have emphasised, much of the electorate relies on tourism and the many small businesses and community organisations that support it or rely on it. In recent years tourism has taken a major hit with the global financial crisis, then fires and now floods. People have moved away, populations have decreased and businesses have not re-established, have closed or are closing. This has been further exacerbated by the decline in tourist numbers and the associated tourist dollars. The flow-on effect of this drop in tourism should not be underestimated. Not only have towns in the Yarra Valley such as Yarra Glen and Marysville suffered but also small towns beyond the Yarra Valley that relied on the daytrippers have suffered. Events that bring people to small towns should be encouraged.


For example, picnic race meetings or rural expos will benefit the relevant club in the first instance, but through the associated food, beverage, restaurant and accommodation sales the economy of the town is the overall winner. Too often events are looked at in isolation rather than in the context of the overall benefit to the community and surrounds. Initiatives need to be considered as part of a whole. At times they can extend to adjoining electorates, as a region does not stop at electoral boundaries. Despite the diversity and differences within the electorate, there are many common factors. Key elements that each town can claim, regardless of size, are a strong sense of community, a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. A sense of community does not just happen; it takes people to make it happen -- people taking ownership and volunteering their time and resources. Communities rely heavily on volunteers.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 34 per cent of Australians volunteer. Outside capital cities this figure increases to 38 per cent, as would be typical of the communities in my electorate. I sense, however, that the current levels of volunteerism are even greater due to the personal hardships suffered by many during the fires and the more recent floods. The spirit of a community relies on and is shaped by its volunteers -- those who coach or administer at the local sporting club, mums who sew costumes for the school play and those who work as part of a community group such as Rotary, Lions or the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to provide better services, facilities and opportunities within their community. I see these people every day in the electorate. Each town has committed individuals wanting to do better for the town's facilities, all working towards developing that sense of community and bringing about cohesiveness.


Emergency services volunteers are among the most valuable assets a community can have. State Emergency Service and CFA volunteers give up their time and risk their own safety to protect others. CFA volunteers are vital to Victoria's firefighting efforts and to protecting bushfire-prone communities. Having grown up in Yea I saw my father and his brothers go away to fight fires; they could be gone for days, at times even weeks. During that time they gave their hearts and souls voluntarily to help others. I recall an uncle fighting a fire elsewhere only to later hear of the loss of his own historic homestead. Stories such as this are not uncommon. These people are volunteers; they are not paid. They leave their businesses and their jobs to serve the community they so fiercely believe in. Country fire stations are manned by volunteers -- a fact that is often overlooked. I am immensely proud to be part of the Liberal-Nationals coalition government's commitment to reinstate the CFA volunteer charter.


I have been overwhelmed by the level of support that bushfire communities have provided to each other and within their own communities, and now I am further inspired by watching these people work to extend their levels of support and empathy to others who have suffered in the floods as they look to share their insights to help those currently suffering. The recent initiatives as part of the Kinglake Gives Back Appeal raised tens of thousands of dollars for flood victims. I believe initiatives arising from within communities should be praised and encouraged, not stifled.


I was fortunate to grow up in a stable, loving home, a home where I had the freedom to choose my own goals and direction and a home where I was encouraged to do my best and make the most of what Australia has to offer. My father, Campbell, is a returned serviceman who was proud to fight for his country and for the freedom of Australia that I have so enjoyed.


It is easy to take this freedom and the democracy we have for granted, but my father's war service reminds me that it had to be fought for. I was proud to swear on the actual bible my father carried with him during the war at my swearing in to Parliament in December last year. Having grown up in a family where both parents were self-employed -- my father had the farm and mum owned one of the local pubs, but being a good businesswoman she always made dad pay for his beer -- hard work, enterprise, commitment and integrity were second nature in our house. At 86 my father still works hard farming some 300 head of cattle. This is a background I am proud of. My parents worked hard to provide opportunities for my brother, Rod, and me. I bring these values to my own family, to my electorate and to Parliament.


I am fortunate in that I am well travelled. I understand that Australia is indeed the lucky country and that Victoria is a fabulous place to live. I am also fortunate that through my professional career I have been able to work across many sectors and industries and with many organisations spanning the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. With my consulting work at Right Management I specialised in working with businesses to develop their organisational capacity, and through customised solutions I helped them meet their needs. I worked with organisations struggling with leadership, engagement or change management initiatives.


This skill and understanding will be of great benefit to me as I tackle local and state issues, and these skills will also add benefit to this Parliament. A successful parliamentary campaign relies on the support and dedication of many others who so willingly give their time and resources to further the Liberal cause. I was fortunate to have a strong, cohesive team that rallied behind me so diligently to help me run a successful and concise local campaign. Our clear goal allowed us to overcome barriers and distractions. To the Seymour electorate conference and the many local Liberal Party branches, I thank you for your support, belief and commitment to me and to liberalism. There are many MPs who helped me in so many ways, and to them I say thank you. I also specifically thank Mike Dalmau, who as campaign manager provided a massive time commitment, as did Peter McWilliam, whose wisdom and counsel I truly value.


I thank my father and brother and so many wonderful family members and personal friends for their support. I was inspired by my cousin Debra, who refused to be ridden roughshod over, stood up for what she believed in and was arrested on her own property.


Finally, I would like to thank my partner, Jeff, and our daughter, Hannah, for their unwavering support during times of both certainty and uncertainty. They have been a huge source of happiness, much spirited debate and love. I am here because of my commitment to and passion for my electorate and Victoria. I see an electorate that has good access to services: health, roads and infrastructure. I see communities that have opportunities ahead of them, and I see children with improved educational opportunities and outcomes.


Outcomes for rural students could be better, as typically they do not perform as well as their city counterparts despite some excellent results scattered through the electorate. I see a state that leads other states, whether it is in innovation, service delivery, education, project management or planning -- a state with a big-picture plan and one with integrated and aligned services. I see a state that others look to and aspire to be like. I see a state and a government that is a role model to others. I aim to listen to communities and serve as a role model to children, especially girls growing up in rural areas. I look forward to supporting the Premier, the Deputy Premier and their team as they deliver on our commitments and bring about positive change in the state. I congratulate them on their victory.

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