Maiden Speech to the Parliament of Victoria

In my contribution to the debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech, I would like to congratulate you, Deputy Speaker, on your election and the Speaker on his rise to office.

Before I talk about the electorate of South Barwon and provide a snapshot of its history, I would like to thank the 48 761 electors who call it home and who have placed their trust in me as their state Parliament representative.

Importantly I will engage and consult with the entire community, and I am prepared to listen and make representations on behalf of all constituents and not just those who voted for me. There will certainly be no repeats of the Barwon Heads bridge fiasco under my watch.

South Barwon has one of the largest numbers of electors across Victoria. The number of constituents is ranked 7th among the 88 seats that comprise this place. Situated south of Geelong, the South Barwon electorate encompasses the suburbs of Belmont, Grovedale, Waurn Ponds and part of Highton, where I live. They are all serviced with local shopping and community facilities providing a diversity of housing options and a wide range of affordability.

The new suburb of Armstrong Creek, a master-planned community, will become a major growth area within the electorate and will have an estimated population of more than 55 000 people in the next 25 years.

The electorate also includes the coastal towns of Torquay, Jan Juc, Bellbrae, Breamlea and Barwon Heads, providing a sea-change lifestyle and some of Victoria’s best surf beaches all approximately 25 minutes from the Geelong CBD. Mount Duneed, Moriac, Freshwater Creek, Connewarre, Modewarre, Gnarwarre and Ceres are also picturesque rural townships located in the electorate.

South Barwon is also home to the Waurn Ponds campus of Deakin University. The campus is a major educational centre and is the hub of Geelong’s information and technology industries as well as a research and development precinct. Major industries in the electorate also include tourism, fishing, as I well know, and agriculture.

South Barwon is a relatively new electorate, having been established in 1976. There have been only four members for South Barwon before me.

I would like to recognise the immediate past member, Michael Crutchfield, for his contribution to the community. The first member was Aurel Smith, who held the seat until 1982. Aurel was a founding Liberal Party member. He was a junior wool classer in a family business where he became general manager. Harley Dickinson followed between 1982 and 1992. Prior to entering Parliament he was a public servant and an Anglican registrar. Alister Paterson then followed from 1992 to 2002, and he was formerly a journalist, newsreader and radio announcer.

I was born in June 1970 in Baxter House, like so many others in Geelong have been. At the end of 1971 my family moved to West Belmont, where my parents still live today. I grew up in Belmont, which incidentally means ‘beautiful hill’, and I am the last of five brothers. Nick was born 1957, Peter in 1958, Chris in 1959 and Philip in 1960.

Both my parents are Greek and came from the same village of Dragano, situated on the island of Lefkada, which is one of the jewels of the Ionian Sea. My father Angelo arrived in Australia from Greece in 1949 at the age of 18, seeking freedom and opportunity. Greece was in ruins after World War II. There were over 400 000 civilian deaths and casualties, and 90 000 soldiers had been killed or were missing. There was then three years of civil war between 1946 and 1949 where the US-backed nationalists thankfully defeated the communists.

My father came to Geelong, where his two uncles had migrated before World War II. His uncles owned the fish shop in McCann Street, which is now in the heart of the Market Square shopping centre. Dad at first worked for them but then purchased his own fish and chip shop in Pakington Street, Geelong West. Dad used to come to Melbourne and buy his fish at the old Melbourne Fish Market on the corner of Spencer and Flinders streets. He built up a good relationship with Jack Ash from Ash Brothers, who had a stall at the market. Jack Ash suggested to my father that as no-one wholesaled fresh fish in Geelong, he should give it a go. Dad took his advice and established a fish wholesaling business in Bellarine Street in 1955. When scallops began to be harvested in Port Philip Bay in the 1960s he expanded into fishing vessels, processing and exporting. My mother Sophia Mellas arrived in Australia in 1956 and my parents were married on 26 February of that year. Although my mother was never involved in the business, she certainly had her hands full raising five boys.

I have been married for 10 1/2 years to my beautiful wife, Vicki, and we have been blessed with four beautiful boys: Zachary, Evann, Christian and Jack.

I am proud to have been educated entirely within the electorate of South Barwon. I did not attend kindergarten as a child; I started school at the age of four and a half at Belmont Primary School and then attended Belmont High School, where I completed my Victorian certificate of education. I undertook a bachelor of commerce at Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, between 1988 and 1990 and majored in accounting and commercial law. I graduated in 1991 during the recession ‘we had to have’, which meant I could not get work as an accountant, so I went into the family business.

My father has been involved in small business his whole life and has had a strong sense of customer service ethos, which he has instilled in me. One of the most important customer service skills you can develop is the ability to understand and effectively respond to the customer’s needs and concerns. These skills will undoubtedly enable me to provide proper representation for the people of South Barwon.

My livelihood, however, was threatened by one of the previous Labor government’s policies when health fees were increased by over 1000 per cent, with no additional benefit to my business. As a small business owner I decided to take action, and that is when I joined the Liberal Party in 2004. The Liberal Party of course believes businesses and individuals, not government, are the true creators of wealth and employment. Other beliefs that I hold dear are a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives and maximises individual and private sector initiatives; a government that nurtures and encourages its citizens through incentives, rather than putting limits on people through the punishing disincentives of burdensome taxes; and the most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy — the freedom of thought, the freedom of worship, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association.

I would like to thank my family, my wife, Vicki, and my children.

As all members in this place are fully aware, the strains and stresses of campaigning as a candidate are very demanding. Vicki supported me 100 per cent. I say thanks to my parents, Angelo and Sophia, and to my brothers, Philip, Peter and Nick — thank you for manning the fort at the business while I was campaigning. I also thank my business partner, Stephen Peters; my parents-in-law, Chris and Irene; my brothers-in-law, Jim, Dennis and John; and my sister in-law, Jenny.

I would like to thank my previous council colleagues and in particular Stretch Kontelj, Eddy Kontelj, Barbara Abley, John Mitchell, Jan Farrell and Bruce Harwood. I would also like to thank my electorate chair, Angelo Kakouros, as well as Dean Bushell, Simon Price, Rod Nockles, Ian Smith, Ken Drysdale, the Geelong 500 Club and all branch members within the electorate.

I would like to thank my new parliamentary colleagues but in particular those who provided guidance and assistance during the South Barwon campaign. These included the member for Hawthorn; Legislative Council members David Koch, Matthew Guy and Wendy Lovell; the member for Nepean; Senator Michael Ronaldson; Senator Julian McGauran; and the members for Warrandyte, Ferntree Gully, Swan Hill, Doncaster and Polwarth.

My vision for South Barwon is for the region to become a first-class lifestyle and tourist destination for the state of Victoria. A convention centre is at the heart of this vision. A preferred site must be named, and we must get moving. I believe that the realisation of a convention centre for Geelong can result in an iconic building, a tourist drawcard and an economic driver. Our challenge is to facilitate all levels of government, working together with the private and tourism sectors to realise this vision.

The state can assist to facilitate this process, but it is ultimately up to private enterprise to deliver the convention centre.

The city also needs a critical mass of people to regenerate the city centre in a similar way to the way the waterfront was reinvigorated under the Kennett government’s redevelopment in the 1990s. Deakin University, which is also situated on the waterfront, provides a wonderful opportunity for further partnerships with government. More student activity and accommodation in the city centre is one of the


solutions to reviving the CBD. The city centre must be able to attract a new population from all walks of life so they can provide the proper economic stimulus that businesses sorely require. If people are there, businesses will come, invest and prosper. We must also improve housing affordability in Geelong, and particularly in South Barwon, by making land in growth areas such as Armstrong Creek available for housing development in a timely manner.

I am looking forward to building a stronger South Barwon, and I have already been in regular contact with relevant ministers to ensure that commitments made prior to the election will be met as soon as possible. Some of the key infrastructure projects will include an $85 million investment in a new public hospital at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus and an $80 million investment in Geelong Hospital. We are committed to investing in a new secondary college at Torquay to service the rapidly growing Surf Coast region and give parents the choice to educate their children locally.

Residents in the southern suburbs of Geelong will benefit from a new police station and State Emergency Service complex in Waurn Ponds, which reinforces the Baillieu government’s commitment to more front-line police.

A new railway station at Grovedale will be constructed to serve Geelong’s rapidly expanding southern suburbs, and the coalition will provide funds to widen Pioneer Road between Waurn Ponds Creek and the Princes Highway. That particular intersection has been a bottleneck for years, and the coalition government is determined to fix it. The coalition will also invest $3.5 million in kindergartens in Grovedale, Barwon Heads and Torquay. We will provide $15 million for the redevelopment of the Geelong library and heritage centre and important funding for noise barriers for stage 3 of the Geelong Ring Road in Wandana Heights, which had previously been neglected.

Importantly we have also committed $1.8 million for grassroots local sporting and surf lifesaving clubs and made a commitment to review planning arrangements for stage 4C of the Geelong Ring Road, which is already under way.

We will deliver on our commitments and make up for 11 years of Labor complacency and neglect. The people of South Barwon and Victoria deserve no less. I would like to further thank the people of South Barwon for giving me the privilege of representing them. I pledge to work tirelessly and fairly for my community and for the benefit of the entire Geelong region.