Mr Deputy Speaker, there cannot be a greater privilege in life bestowed upon an individual than to be duly elected by the people to serve the people. I am deeply humbled to stand before you in this great place where I now commit to be the servant and representative of the people of La Trobe. The electorate of La Trobe was named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, who served from 1839 to 1851. He went on to become Lieutenant-Governor of the newly formed colony of Victoria. Charles La Trobe had a passion for nature and was instrumental in the establishment of the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. It seems fitting that this amazing and diverse electorate was named after a man with such vision and strong ties to the environment.
A unique chain of events has unfolded for this moment—me standing here today—to occur. My connection with La Trobe began early in life. I thank my parents, Bob and Jan, for their love and support and for deciding to build the family home in Ferny Creek over 30 years ago. I acknowledge their presence today. I am a local lad, educated at Ferny Creek Primary School and Ferntree Gully Technical School. I have, and always will have, a passion for the great outdoors. For my year 12 studies I completed an outdoor education and environmental course, which greatly contributed to my ongoing and current passion for protecting the environment. Upon completing my schooling I worked with youth, teaching outdoor skills including bushwalking, rock climbing and cross-country skiing.
Over the past 15 years I have been, and I continue to be, involved in weed eradication in the Dandenong Ranges National Park. The infestation of weeds in La Trobe is the No. 1 environmental issue, as they choke our native plants and trees, including the mighty mountain ash. Weeds clog our creeks and diminish the habitat for the platypus in areas like Clematis Creek in Belgrave. The removal of weeds is a long and slow process. What makes the task frustrating is that some weeds are sold in nurseries as plants and escape from private gardens into surrounding national and state parks. I strongly support a national approach to weed identification and eradication for the long-term survival of our native flora and fauna.
The Dandenong Ranges in La Trobe are truly a beautiful place. This beauty in summer, however, can often lead to terrifying wildfires. I still recall catching the bus home from school and seeing an enormous cloud of smoke rising above Belgrave South. Every local old enough to remember this terrifying sight knew it as the beginning of the Ash Wednesday bushfires on 16 February 1983.
Community service and voluntary organisations are instrumental in our lives and cannot be taken for granted, particularly in La Trobe. The Ash Wednesday bushfires saw a large number of volunteers serve with the local country fire authorities. These volunteers included six members from the Narre Warren crew, led by Captain John Minett. Two days earlier, Captain Minett had been named firefighter of the year. Like other CFA crews on the day, the Narre Warren and Panton Hill teams set out to save lives and protect property in the face of a perilous situation. Both crews were caught in a fatal firestorm. The bodies of the Narre Warren crew were found huddled under their burnt out truck a short distance away from the bodies of the Panton Hill crew. They paid the ultimate price for serving their local community and it is one that must not be forgotten. I acknowledge the significant and tireless contribution made in La Trobe by CFA members as well as all the voluntary organisations and sporting clubs. It is this community spirit, pride and dedication that make La Trobe a great place to live and work.
At the age of 19 I graduated from the Victoria Police Academy. I thank all my former colleagues for their support and I say: long live the brotherhood. To be a serving member of the police force is like having a front row seat to the greatest show on earth—that is, life itself. You witness the good, the bad and the ugly. There is a very dark side to humanity where there is no reason, no compassion and no commonsense and greed takes its toll. I cannot count the number of times I have attended violent domestics, fatal car collisions, rapes, homicides or drug overdoses. I would like to ensure that the victims of crime have a strong voice in federal parliament so that the weight of justice can be applied to those who prey on the innocent.
In 1997 I was promoted to the rank of sergeant. At the Melbourne East Police Station over a 12-month period 1,000 people were charged with drug related offences. From my experience, the majority of heroin users are young people who have fallen through the cracks of the education system. These young people have left school and, not having been able to find a job, have entered a world of crime, depression and drugs. I am a strong advocate for extra funding for special needs students, as every effort must be made to ensure they have the opportunity to improve their education, thereby increasing their prospect of employment.
The next in the chain of events leading to my representation of the people of La Trobe occurred in 2000 when I joined the Boronia/Dandenong Ranges branch of the Liberal Party. Special mention goes to local Liberals Peter Smith and Chris Ayres-Smith, who are both here today, and David Holmes for their unrelenting support and assistance in my journey to stand before you.
In 2003, I was promoted to the rank of senior sergeant in the counter-terrorism coordination unit. That same year I completed a master's in the field of innovation service management, specialising in counter-terrorism. The No. 1 priority for any government is the protection of its people. This is no easy task. I congratulate the Prime Minister for his strong stance against terrorism, his leadership and his courage in making the tough decisions—decisions that are best for Australia.
I make the following point with regard to the war in Iraq, particularly from a former police officer's point of view with a duty to serve and protect. I sincerely believe we have made the right decision to liberate the people of Iraq. Saddam and his evil sons needed to be removed from power. The biggest danger for mankind is to accept evil and turn a blind eye. Such evil needs to be stopped, and the dreams and aspirations of freedom, democracy and humanity preserved. `All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' These words were uttered over 200 years ago by Edmund Burke, Irish orator, philosopher and politician, and they still resonate ever so strongly today. Speaking of good men, I thank Mr Bob Charles, after his 14 years of service, for his personal support and his commitment to the people of La Trobe. Bob had a simple formula: listen to and respect the people and in return they will respect you. I wish Bob and his wife, Rosie, all the best in his retirement and especially in his garden.
October 2003 led to my preselection as the candidate for La Trobe. I thank the local branch members, my campaign team and the Liberal Party for their support. In life, you meet people whose efforts are priceless. These are some of those people.
The final link in the chain of events which has led to this auspicious day for me is the eight years of sound economic management and leadership by the Howard government. Thank you, Prime Minister, for your strong personal support, combined with that of the Treasurer, for keeping interest rates low.
No doubt this will assist the people of Narre Warren, Berwick, Officer and Beaconsfield. These suburbs are part of the second-fastest growth corridor in Australia. The growth is so great that the intake for year 7 students at Kambrya secondary college in Berwick for 2005 will be of over 350 students. The school is in desperate need of $100,000 in order to afford four new portable classrooms. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, of the government's commitment of $700 million towards additional funding in capital grants for schools.
I recognise that sound economic management has enabled a $10 million commitment to the building of the Bryn Mawr Bridge in Beaconsfield. I thank the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Mr Jim Lloyd, for his personal intervention in this project. I also acknowledge the excellent work of the Beaconsfield Progress Association and their commitment to the bridge and other local projects.
The residents of La Trobe will also benefit from the government's $800,000 election commitment towards Fernlea House palliative care hospice. I would like to recognise the vision, drive and dedication of the Fernlea House committee, which is led by Jan Lancaster. I thank the Minister for Health and Ageing, Mr Tony Abbott, for his personal support of Fernlea House.
I revert to the war on terrorism. An attack on home soil would have a huge impact on our economy, on social behaviour and, more importantly, on the sanctity of life. On 11 September 2001, four planes in America were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania plane was 15 minutes away from the White House. Since that time, terrorist attacks have been moving closer and closer to Australia. On 12 October 2002, the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, known as JI, bombed the Sari Club in Bali, killing 202 people. Eighty-eight of them were Australians. The most recent bombing was only months ago, on 9 September, outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
In the minds of the Australian people, terrorism has not taken front stage. The people of Spain were of a similar view, but this changed on 11 March 2004—days before government elections. A series of 10 explosions occurred during morning peak hour on four commuter trains, and 191 people were killed. Witnesses recalled to authorities that they saw people in ski masks enter train carriages and leave rucksacks behind them. As passengers were not educated to report such activity, no alarm was raised and the terrorists were able to plant their seeds of death and destruction. In recent elections in the United States and Indonesia, terrorism was front stage as both countries have suffered major terrorist attacks.
The first and most important aspect of fighting terrorism is public awareness. I totally support the government's campaign to be `alert but not alarmed'. During the Australian federal election campaign, I was astounded to see sections of the media attack the government for endeavouring to educate and inform Australians about the need to report suspicious activity. Future public awareness campaigns need to utilise the full spectrum of media. This means employing a greater range of communication mediums in public places including transport hubs, shopping centres and schools.
The danger of terrorism is the ready acceptance that it will never happen to us. The threat to Australians is very real. Our darkest hour may be yet to come. Within Australia and abroad, holiday destinations and places of public gathering are no longer beyond the realm of terrorist attack. A war against terrorism is a war against an enemy that has no boundaries, no rules and no morals and is prepared to unleash hell at any time and anywhere. They make no distinction between rich and poor, race, religion, man, woman or child. The Beslan massacre in Russia is evidence of this.
The spiritual leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, who is currently facing terrorism charges over the Bali and Marriott Hotel bombings, has strong terrorist links to Australia. And, in October 2003, French al-Qaeda trained terrorist suspect Willie Brigitte was captured in Sydney. His mission was to plan terrorist attacks within Australia. There have been a number of Australians who have been trained abroad in terrorist camps. These camps are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to train people how to kill and destroy.
Prior to Australia's involvement in East Timor, Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, referred to Australia as a `crusader', meaning an enemy of Muslims. This was prior to September 11 and the Bali bombings and dispels the false assumption that Australia became a target for terrorism only since our involvement in the Iraq war. World-leading al-Qaeda expert, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, publicly stated that terrorist groups will infiltrate schools, charities and religious and community groups in order to recruit followers to their cause. As Australians we need to ensure we do not ostracise our multicultural communities or our regional neighbours, as this will play right into the hands of Muslim extremists and terrorist groups.
Intelligence gathering is one of the primary means used to detect and monitor terrorist activities. A concern I have is the manner in which terrorists have effectively used legitimate training courses to commit atrocities. The terrorists involved in the September 11 hijackings had been trained in American flight training schools. In recent attacks in Saudi Arabi, terrorists received training as security guards and were later employed to protect international contractors, but instead they kidnapped and executed those whom they were supposed to protect.
In order to take intelligence efforts to the next level, I would recommend the establishment of a national database which would record details of people who have access to specific chemical, biological and radiological substances. Additionally, the database could record details of applicants applying for legitimate training courses or licences where the technical skills taught could be used by terrorists. Ideally, it would record the details of applicants for flight and underwater diving explosive training courses and people who hold licences for ammonium nitrate fertiliser under the newly proposed ammonium nitrate fertiliser legislation. The ability to determine potential links between terrorist suspects and to identify trends or patterns in suspicious activities, coupled with an ASIO check on these individuals, will serve to strengthen our intelligence efforts. This will go a long way in providing for a consistent and robust approach to fighting terrorism.
In conclusion, I again thank the people of La Trobe for entrusting me with their representation. I thank the Liberal Party, and I make special mention of Tony Barry and my good friend Stephen Hartney. I also thank my family, my friends and, particularly, my fiance, Aretta, who is here today. I continue my personal and professional journey to serve the community and to protect the Australian way of life.