Maiden speech

13 May 2014

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 17:19 ): Deputy Speaker, parliamentary colleagues, friends and family in the galleries, it is a great honour to rise this afternoon to deliver my maiden speech in this parliament. Deputy Speaker, warm congratulations on your election to the chair of this house, an important job that I am sure you will deliver with impartiality and dignity.

As this is the Address in Reply, it is important to pay tribute to the service of His Excellency the Governor, who attended parliament yesterday and conducted himself with the usual dignity which he has become known for. As His Excellency is reaching the end of his term in that office, it is important for us to recognise his great service to this state. I believe that His Excellency has fulfilled his role with aplomb, and I have been particularly taken with his passion for helping the young people of South Australia. In my role as a national director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in Australia I regularly attend gold award ceremonies at Government House, and I have observed the authentic commitment of the Governor in his role as patron of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in South Australia. He will be greatly missed when he leaves that office.

Deputy Speaker, my hope is that I come to this role with humility and that I will be a strong advocate and dignified ambassador for all the people who live within Bright no matter who they chose to cast their vote for in the March 2014 election. My arrival in this parliament is the result of a great team effort, and I am the mere messenger boy for a ground swell of grassroots community action which has bubbled up across that electorate over the last 18 months and which has carried me into parliament as a spokesperson for a community that wants to be taken seriously, that wants to be listened to, and that wants to be involved. Genuine and ongoing engagement with my community will underpin everything I do while in this place, and I will never forget that first and foremost I am here to serve the people of Bright.

There are many people to thank. So many people got involved in this campaign. Most were not political, most had never been involved in politics before, most were campaign virgins not knowing what they were getting themselves in for, but they believed that things could be done differently in our local community and across South Australia, so they got on board and commenced a journey towards the election. In person, I want to thank Fran Southern, my tireless campaign manager and her husband Dennis, my always there campaign secretary Helen Dwyer whose endless energy and boundless optimism kept us going, my doorknocking companions, Jenny Burroughs, Ben Farmer, Annabel Morris, Aric Pierce, Jan Smith, Marco Wenzel and Stuart Sampson. We climbed the hills of Hallett Cove, got sunburnt (very easy to do with my skin), were chased by dogs, and even had an incredibly close encounter with a brown snake in Hallett Cove.

I need to thank my armies of letterboxers, who covered the electorate many times over, and the people who dodged traffic on Brighton Road to put up posters, always put up within council guidelines. Then, there are the hundreds who donned their aqua T-shirts and came out on election day with a youthful energy and 1,000 smiles that are so foreign to the way of doing politics in this state that we simply charmed the undecided voters into coming our way. At this point, I cannot help but mention the Mitchell family—Lorraine, Dave, Suzy, Jon, Lisa, Pete, Tim and Josh, who spent all day—yes, all day—on the Hallett Cove south booth and delivered me the biggest swing in the seat. They are here today in the gallery—thank you.

Within the Liberal Party I would like to thank our leader, the member the Dunstan, for his many visits to the electorate, our deputy leader, the member for Bragg, for her constant help with the public transport apocalypse which befell the innocent people of Bright, my neighbour to the north, the member for Morphett, and the Hon. Terry Stephens MLC for his unwavering support and encouragement. I also need to mention Penny Pratt who looked after me throughout the election campaign and who was an endless support. Also, to the Hon. Stephen Wade MLC and Senator Simon Birmingham for their ongoing support.

To the member for Mitchell, my eastern neighbour who joins me in this place, thank you for coordinating your campaign with mine and working with me across our shared communities. I look forward to our friendship and working relationship continuing for many years to come. I need to thank my co-councillor in coastal ward, Cheryl Connor, and the mayor of Marion, Felicity-ann Lewis, for their support and mentoring along the way. Cheryl's passion and knowledge of Hallett Cove taught me so much about my community during my three years representing it on Marion council.

Thanks also to my best mate Luke Ritchie, who has been there for me day in and day out since we started this crazy journey. Thank you to my parents-in-law, Trudy and Steve Brazil, and my sister-in-law, Gemma, who did not expect a politician to be sitting at their dining room table once a week. To Hannah, my darling wife, my lover, my encourager, my soul mate and best friend, who arranged our amazing wedding during an election year and has shuddered through more Liberal Party functions than anyone should be allowed to attend in a lifetime, who told me to get a grip when I wanted to pack it all in and who drove me across the winning line, I could not have done this without your down to earth caring support.

I pay tribute to my predecessor in the seat of Bright, the Hon. Chloe Fox, who served here for eight years. Perhaps it is the sea air and the sound of waves that keeps us mellow, but the election campaign in Bright was a good one. It was civilised and, unlike so many other campaigns in the recent state election, it did not get personal, it did not get dirty and it did not leave local people shaking their heads in disdain at the political class. All power to Chloe Fox for doing the right thing; I respect her for it. She was a thoroughly decent opponent.

I am biased, of course—and we have heard lots of this in maiden speeches—but I really do believe that the seat of Bright is the most beautiful of the Adelaide metropolitan seats. It is a series of individual coastal villages, each with its own distinct character, strong sense of community and specific needs. The electorate is divided in two, with a steep escarpment forming a topographical divide between the plains and the plateau. South of the escarpment we find Hallett Cove, our largest suburb, accounting for almost half of the electorate. Hallett Cove is lauded for its unique geological park, which draws tourists from across the world and school children from every corner of Adelaide. Locals love Hallett Cove's open space, its precious conservation park, sheep paddocks, Field River Valley and community parks around every corner.

Moving north, we have Marino scrambling across the hillside and Kingston Park, one of Adelaide's smallest suburbs, nestled in the cove by the beach. Here you will find the Tjilbruke monument and lookout commemorating one of Adelaide's most touching dreamtime stories. Across the road is Kingston House, built in 1840 by George Strickland Kingston, deputy surveyor-general to Colonel William Light. The house, which I can recommend for its excellent Sunday afternoon Devonshire teas, was also home to George's son Charles, who from 1893 to 1901 was a great reformist premier of South Australia.

Leaving Kingston Park and the rugged southern coastline behind, we move north onto the plains. Seacliff, Brighton, Hove and Somerton Park form a series of attractive beachside suburbs, each with a strong sense of community, an environmental bent and desire to preserve the heritage and lifestyle that draws so many people to the area. Surf life saving is a dominant community past-time. I would guess that there are more surf life savers living in Bright than in any other seat. We have three thriving surf clubs, which are lively hubs of community: Somerton has just celebrated reaching 1,000 members, making it the state's largest club; Brighton, my home club, is not far behind with 850 members; and Seacliff, smaller but no less important, with 500 members.

Surf life saving is a great way of life, combining community service with health and leisure, and I am sure it is a subject I will discuss more in future conversations in this place. In all my time in Australia I have only lived in Bright, and at this point in my life I cannot imagine wanting to live anywhere else—it is truly a great place to call home.

I was not born in Australia; that much is obvious every time I open my mouth, and I hope the good folks in Hansard are able to get used to this unusual lilt. It is an accent birthed in lowland Scotland hued by a Northern Irish mother and softened by a decade in Australia. Much as I have tried to fake it saying 'G'day' and 'She'll be alright' and other Australianisms, my accent is going nowhere. And anyway, why should Senator Doug Cameron in the left have a monopoly on Scottish accents in Australia's parliaments?

I think it is incredibly important to pay attention to one's heritage. I am Australian but I am Scottish too; Australia is my home, but so is there. Australia is a melting pot of peoples who largely get along with one another in this fine egalitarian culture where the concept of mateship defines us and where, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of hard work, you will do well. We come here and we should assimilate, but we should remember and pay tribute to our roots, our heritage, and acknowledge that our lives began elsewhere, and that elsewhere place will inevitably have left its imprint on us. Whether it is our accent, our skin colour, our festivals and customs or simply our gratitude just to be here, migrants have stories and they are usually worth sharing.

I hail from south-west Scotland, an isolated rural area known as Galloway, which arcs around the rugged Irish Sea coastline and is lush, fertile farming country. Galloway is well known for its lowland dairy herds and for its upland sheep and beef cattle farms which cover the region's rolling hills. The rugged landscape is dappled with villages and occasional towns. Castles—some ruined, some not—solemnly stand watch over most communities, and the people—good, hardy folk—spend most of their time avoiding the next shower of rain, for in Galloway, if it does not rain today, you will talk about it for the next two weeks.

I grew up on my grandparents' farm spending all my spare time out in the land. If there is one thing I miss about living in Scotland it is being away from a rural community, but I know that I have carried that upbringing with me to Australia, and my desire to build strong, cohesive communities where people help each other out, where folks wave to each other as cars pass in the street, where we know what football team our neighbours support—that is what I want to be part of creating here in South Australia.

My sense of community was shaped at primary school. I went to a school with only 40 pupils. In my year, there were two boys and two girls. We sat facing each other across the table: the boys on one side, the girls on the other. My teachers, Mrs Barbara McNeil and Mr Harold McCracken, had a profound impact on my life, and probably never expected to be mentioned in an Australian parliament. They are good people who chose to be teachers for the right reasons and left a remarkable legacy in that little Scottish community where they taught for decades in the same school.

In 1996 I found myself beginning secondary school at Stranraer Academy, a pretty tough public school where 'Survival of the fittest' could realistically have been our school motto. Six years later when I graduated, a teacher turned to me and said, 'David, if you survive Stranraer Academy you'll do well anywhere.' It was a forlorn place which I was never really fond of, but where I made friends for life and where my interest in politics was sparked and nurtured by Mrs Dutton, a passionate socialist who made politics interesting and brought it all to life for me.

Mrs Dutton's politics never interested me very much though. By the time I ended up in her classroom, the Tony Blair landslide of 1997 had swept every Scottish Conservative out of every constituency in the country, and I was very much a lonely figure in my defence of centre right politics. While Mrs Dutton railed against Maggie Thatcher, I argued that her reformist zeal had pulled the UK from the edge of oblivion. Yet, Mrs Dutton was one of these great people who could have completely different opinions from you but who would still encourage you to cement your views, fight for them and build them up. I pay tribute to her today as being the single most influential person in my early political life.

My life's journey took a dramatic change of direction in 2002 when, at the behest of my parents, I found myself uprooted and moved to the other side of the world. My mum, who is in the gallery today, can attest—and I am sure she will with a vigorous nod—that I was a nightmare when we moved here—on cue, a nod.

I didn't want to be here. All I knew of Australia was what I had gleaned from my years of watching Home and Away, a staple part of any Scottish child's cultural diet. While I liked Alf Stewart, Sally, Pippa and all those good-looking Summer Bay locals, I was quite sure I did not want to be here, but here I was and I had to make a very distinct choice early in my time here either to go back to Scotland or throw myself into life in South Australia. I chose the latter and I have not looked back.

Moving your children to the other side of the world in search of better opportunities is something only considered by an enterprising type of people who are willing to put everything on the line to attain a hazy dream which is inevitably laced with uncertainty. I am indebted to my parents who left our green Scottish pastures—because the pastures were actually greener on that side—to step into the great unknown and commence a new life here in Australia. They both left successful small businesses and their families and friends in Scotland—an unimaginable sacrifice.

My mum's optimism and continual hard work, her enterprising spirit and her persistence in the face of financial difficulties, family struggles and the tyranny of distance blow my mind every time I consider them. My mum is my biggest personal inspiration and I will be forever grateful for all she has done for me.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Mr SPEIRS: Moving here was not my choice, but South Australia has given me endless opportunities, and I believe that there are fewer places in the world where someone could go from angry teenage migrant to member of parliament in just over a decade. I believe that says far more about the society in which we are blessed to live than it does about my own personal ability.

I have been blessed with this position, yet I am acutely aware that to whom much is given much is expected. I have a duty to represent the electorate of Bright and to advocate constantly for the needs of the people who live and work there. Our campaign to win Bright was long and it had depth. We put engaging with the community in a genuine way at the heart of everything we did. Our big conversation with Bright lasted 18 months and sought the views of locals on the things they loved about the community and the things that they would change, and then we asked for suggestions as to how we could work together to make those changes happen. That is the key, in my opinion: work with the community, talk to them, listen to them, turn up, have their backs, but do it together.

After many months of surveying and meeting people face-to-face, we established a range of clear priorities that I have committed to concentrating on now that I am elected. These include fixing Brighton Road, supporting seniors, building strong communities, protecting our precious coastline, building a public transport system that we can be proud of, and supporting small business to survive and thrive. These priorities capture the mood of Bright in 2014. They give my role as a local representative structure and purpose. I aim to build expertise and understanding of each of these priorities and work in partnership with my community to develop new ideas and drive improvements across them.

As well as serving Bright, I believe that I have a duty to pitch ideas into the broader South Australian policy debate. South Australia has never needed new ideas more than it does now. Our state is out of sync with the rest of the nation. Why are we the last to benefit from economic booms and the first to slump into recession? While other states begin to emerge from the economic anguish of the global financial crisis, South Australia remains sluggish. Our economy is weary and declining. Let's not kid ourselves: things are difficult here. Overall unemployment is soaring, youth unemployment is unimaginably high, our economic base is too narrow, our debt and deficit are scary, and there appears to be no plan to take us towards economic recovery.

One of the first emails I received when I was elected came from Naomi, an 18-year-old school leaver from Marino. Naomi finished school at the end of 2013 and she is currently studying fashion at TAFE. She ended her email by asking:

Please tell me why I should stay in SA? I am thinking of returning to the UK to study further, but this is upheaval. I would rather not. SA seems to be stale, very cliquey and not a very progressive state.

Yesterday His Excellency the Governor outlined the government's agenda for the coming term. He painted a rosy picture of vibrancy and excitement gripping the state and a transformation of our economic outlook. I can tell members that 18-year-old Naomi and many of her peers around the state have not been recipients of the great renaissance the government tells us is transforming South Australia. Sadly, for many young people in the southern and northern suburbs, that renaissance is an unobtainable mirage. The time for a seismic shift in the state's economic policy is now. No more statements, charters, models and task forces espousing lofty goals. Let's stop telling people what we are going to do and actually do something. We need to look at our tax system, we need to grow our population, we need to completely re-look at the way this state is governed, and we need to identify the economic winners for this state and we need to back them.

I have been intrigued by the work of the Committee for Adelaide, which recently released its 'Agenda for Growth', a document which is refreshing to read because it canvasses some of the things that politicians too often shy away from, perhaps because of the four-year cycle and our belief that big ideas may not resonate in a conservative state (with a small C). The committee's 'Agenda for Growth' suggests that we should seek to resource the world, through energy, through food and through ideas. It identifies the things we are good at and it seeks to position them at the centre of our future growth.

There is so much to be said about growing South Australia's economy and fixing the way we govern this state, but most take a reformist passion and I have not seen that present in my time in South Australia, although I note that I moved to South Australia in November 2002 and I have never lived in this state under a Liberal government.

Some reforms that I believe need to be paid attention to include tax reform. In this state, we have to bite the bullet and use taxation policy as an instrument to increase our competitiveness. We have the highest business taxes in Australia and this is crippling our state. The development of new businesses and the growth of existing business is an incredibly exciting thing. It means enterprising people, often young people, putting their necks on the line to nurture and grow something new, something that will contribute to our economy and create jobs.

I believe that governments must clear away the hurdles from enterprising people, continually looking for ways to make it easier for businesses to get off the ground and grow. The most pressing reform on this front should be to ease the burden of payroll tax, but before we even do that we need to change its name. It should simply be called the 'jobs tax'. Payroll tax simply penalises businesses for creating jobs. Its perversity was not lost on a young woman who sat beside me at a meeting of the Hallett Cove Rotary Club a few weeks ago. She asked what I wanted to achieve if I got into parliament, and among the things I discussed was the need to make South Australia business-friendly. I mentioned the concept of payroll tax and she looked at me incredulously. 'A tax on jobs?' she questioned, 'That doesn't make sense'—and it doesn't.

We must look after our regions. The statistics show that our regions are the economic powerhouse of this state. I may represent a metropolitan electorate, but I know that this state does not end at Gepps Cross and that our farmers and producers in particular must be given the attention they deserve.

We need to radically reshape the way that this state does its governance, conducting political engagement in a way that acknowledges the people who have put us here and which genuinely respects their views and opinions, having an ongoing conversation with the community and embedding community engagement into our decision-making processes. We need our governments to acknowledge that community members who experience particular challenges day in and day out are best placed to suggest solutions to these, and we must listen and act upon their advice. This should be the norm rather than the exception.

Further governance reform is needed within local government in this state. As a former councillor and deputy mayor of the great City of Marion, I would be the first to advocate that this must happen. Local government has lost its way in South Australia, lacking capacity and focus. Strong, lean local authorities which are empowered and focused on growing the state's economy and building communities rather than getting in the way of progress are needed. During my time in the City of Marion, we trialled a model where we blended elected members with highly credentialed independent advisers. I would commend this model to the house.

These are just some of the things I believe our state should be actively pursuing. Admittedly, I am young and idealistic, but someone has to be. We must arrest the flight in this state; we have to stem the net interstate migration to keep our young, entrepreneurial, career-driven people here. When they leave, they take away their ideas, energy and capital. When I look at the current policy settings in the state government it seems that the government is taking on a Pied Piper role, willingly piping our young people away to other states. It is a tragedy.

These are difficult policy challenges but they have to be embraced and while this government distractedly dices and splices public service departments, churns out more bureaucratic red tape and burdens South Australia with new taxes and levies, another business is shutting its doors for the last time, another commuter gives up on our trains and another young person walks through the doors of Centrelink. South Australia is a great state; it is a brilliant place to live; it is a phenomenal place to bring up a family but people are leaving in droves. Let's arrest the flight and make South Australia a magnet for investment, entrepreneurial spirit and ideas.

For a moment I would like to turn my attention to an area which I believe is crying out for reform and that is the state's largest institution—our Public Service. Until January this year I spent five years working in the Public Service, most of that time spent within the cabinet office in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. The irony of my dual positions of endorsed Liberal candidate and Premier's department employee was not lost on me or my colleagues but it was not something that created a conflict. I always undertook my duties with the integrity that is expected of public servants.

But now I am on the outside and since my election most of the issues presented to me by locals have been matters which have required my interaction with the Public Service. People come seeking their local MP's assistance when navigating bureaucracy and getting solutions to problems which seem complex to an outsider but which should be relatively simple for someone who has the experience of the machinery and practices of government. Yet now I am on the outside I find myself almost as disempowered as my constituents are.

It is as if I am peering in through unwashed windows trying to find out how to navigate the bureaucracy, leaping over the hurdles put in my way and crawling through a maze of sticky red tape. Simple requests become like a military obstacle course; a simple phone call is like wading through a swamp; navigating government websites get you bogged down in a quagmire of confusion, while actually reaching a decision-maker who can help you is like jumping a barbed-wire clad wall.

In the few short weeks since my election, as I battled to get answers to relatively simple requests on transport, justice, housing and sporting issues, I have become increasingly frustrated at the way this sector operates.

My conclusion is that the Public Service in general lacks any sort of empathy for those who it is trying to assist. That is a terrible generalisation to make but it is my personal experience, both from sitting within the ivory tower and now being trapped on the outside, looking up and desperately seeking help; seeking a Rapunzel to let down her hair and get me inside. Sadly, there are no Rapunzels in the leadership of the Public Service in South Australia.

I know so many good people working in the service but I see them worn down, broken and beaten as they attempt to break through layer upon layer of bureaucracy, exhausted by processes usually put in place as a backside-covering mechanism. When I worked in the service I spent far more time telling people up the chain of command what I was going to do rather than actually getting on and doing something. Morale is at rock bottom. There is a perception that people cannot progress their careers unless they have a Labor Party membership. Merit selection is a rare thing and jobs for the boys and girls reigns. The good people either leave or stop being good. It is a tragedy for our Public Service and a tragedy for our state.

What can we do about this? There have been attempts to drive reform. We have had the government reform commission, the Public Sector Performance Commission, the High Performance Framework, the Better Together community engagement framework—which I wrote—the Change@South Australia values and projects. The list goes on and on but they are not worth the paper they are written on unless we have a commitment from the top to change.

Empathy. Values. Engagement. Real change. It must be embodied by leaders from the top and driven into the Public Service through a massive culture change. We need leadership not management. We need action not briefings, and we need to empower individual public servants to find solutions for the issues being raised with them by members of the community.

Until the Public Service becomes a team of empowered individuals it cannot get better. There is a role here for the Public Service's political masters. The government of the day must allow public servants the freedom to innovate, to be creative, to take risks and, ultimately, to make mistakes without fear of disproportionate retribution. This is also influenced by the horrendous politicisation of the service, in that people are employed through nepotism rather than merit.

I am hopeful that the new Minister for the Public Sector, who I believe I will have a good working relationship with and who, like me, has substantial Public Service experience, can drive an agenda which is more than just glossy reports and action groups, but which drives an entirely new generation of impartial, committed public servant leaders who are all about genuine engagement with the public they seek to serve. If we can achieve that, and if we can lead by example from within this parliament, we can transform the way that this state does its governance.

As I conclude, I would like to dwell for one moment on the ideas of faith in unseen things and of serving our community. These are fundamental tenets of Christianity, which transfers to the heritage of our nation and the foundation of this parliament.

I stand here today as a believing practising Christian in a Christian nation—not desiring to impose piety on this parliament, but instead pledging to conduct myself within the moral constraints of the Christian faith. I acknowledge the innate brokenness of humanity, and I know that I will not always get things right, but I hope that, through prayerful consideration and the support of my friends, family and colleagues, I can fulfil my calling to be in this place.

I believe that humanity is created for community, to develop community and to uphold community. I believe that the human race is made to build relationships and this means standing up for the most vulnerable in society, treating our neighbour as we would want to be treated and remembering that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.

In the book of Galatians, we are told that, as Christians, our love of others and, by extension, our desire for community is more important than anything else. The scriptures say that what matters most in life is not your achievements, not the wealth you accumulate, not your possessions but the love and support you demonstrate to humanity, the community you build and the service that you give.

On my journey from Hallett Cove Shopping Centre to Cove Sports and Community Club, from the Seaford train to the Brighton Surf Lifesaving Club, from the hills of Marino to the plains of Somerton Park, from the doorstep to the dinner table, I have come across a great many communities.

My role as their local member of parliament is to work hard to support, resource and back those communities, to strengthen that which I grew up with and learnt about in southern Scotland: that great sense of community. I hope that the sum of things that I do while in this house, whether my time here be long or short, when weighed up, will show that I used my role to nurture, to grow and to fasten that sense of community in Bright and in South Australia.

In 1994, the unifying British Labour leader and expected prime minister, John Smith, died suddenly of a heart attack, aged 55. On the evening before his death, he gave a keynote speech and concluded his address with a simple request uttered in his drab Scottish accent: 'The opportunity to serve our country—that is all we ask.'

May I paraphrase his words as I conclude my maiden speech. With the heartfelt gratefulness of someone who has been welcomed into a new country as if I had lived here all my life, I say: the opportunity to serve South Australia—that is all I ask.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.R. Kenyon.

Extracted from Hansard