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Inaugural Speech

Bridget Vallence MP, Member for Evelyn

19 December 2018


Thank you, Mr Speaker.


Today I rise in this chamber for the first time as the very humble yet proud Member for Evelyn. I would like to extend my gratitude to the people of Evelyn who have placed their trust in me to represent them. I will always honour that trust. To them I say this: I will always listen to you and work hard for you, locally in our community and here in Parliament. You deserve nothing less.


I am the 16th Member for Evelyn since it was first proclaimed as a district 159 years ago. I am also the 3rd woman to hold the seat. In fact, women have represented Evelyn for the last 19 years straight. It is a trend that I hope long continues!


I wish to pay tribute to, and thank, the former Member Christine Fyffe – a former Speaker of this House – for her fine contribution to public life and representing the people of Evelyn with distinction.


The Evelyn electorate is in a magnificent part of Victoria. The growing outer eastern suburbs of Mount Evelyn, Mooroolbark, Lilydale and Chirnside Park – where new homes are being built next to established ones – is home to commuters, tradies, small business owners and entrepreneurs, all who want to fulfil their dreams and provide the best for their children. In this area, over the forthcoming decade, we will see massive population growth, with around 10,000 new residents expected at just one location – the site of the Lilydale Quarry. This will present significant challenges to the existing infrastructure in the area, which is already struggling to keep pace with local congestion.


Further east is the famous Yarra Valley, and in the communities of Wandin, Silvan, Seville, Gruyere, Coldstream and Yering, family farming businesses have flourished for generations to produce some of Victoria’s - indeed the world’s - finest fruit, vegetables, flowers and wine. Agribusinesses in the Yarra Valley have diversified and innovated, with many running successful tourism enterprises contributing significantly to our local economy, creating jobs, and competing successfully in export markets.


More than anything, what binds the people in Evelyn, from the suburbs to the farmlands, and from generation to generation, is aspiration and a deep sense of community.


The Wurundjeri people were first here, and their strong cultural heritage still enriches our community today. European pioneering families established themselves in the Yarra Valley from the 1830s pursuing gold, carving out productive agricultural lands and developing industries. Today, its young families renting but desperate to own their own home, or have purchased or built their first home, motivated to provide the best opportunities for their children. Older residents who have worked hard and made sacrifices, wanting comfort and security in retirement. Farmers and small business owners who are being innovative, taking risks and creating jobs.


Evelyn people are hardworking, thrifty, self-reliant and relish opportunity. They are aspirational. They live Liberal values and the Liberal Party will always stand up for them.


Aspiration is manifest in a free economy that offers the best way of creating wealth and prosperity. Economic prosperity fosters harmonious and peaceful communities. In a time when governments seem to be bloating and seeking to centralise control, we should take a moment to remind ourselves there is a whole sphere of life outside government. Community organisations are the place of shared experience and voluntary commitment. Volunteerism is beyond government, it is personal responsibility, it is community.


It is the CFA Brigades, the SES, Scouts and Guides, Community Houses, opportunity shops, churches, homeless shelters, local sporting clubs in the canteens and the coaching boxes, school councils, arts societies, Rotary and Lions Clubs, the CWA, Landcare groups and RSLs. Organisations such as these epitomise the community and volunteer spirit essential to the future of outer suburban and rural communities like Evelyn.


And I will always defend the volunteer.


Economic individualism, and a strong community volunteer spirit, has enabled everyday residents of Evelyn seize opportunity and chase their dreams as they see fit.


However, opportunity and prosperity are at risk when governments extend themselves beyond their limits. In the early 1990s our country suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression. GDP sank, unemployment rose, revenue collapsed, and welfare payments surged. This was all felt particularly deeply in Victoria where a disproportionate share of the financial failure occurred: State institutions were on the brink of collapse and employment plummeted at a far greater rate than anywhere else in Australia.


I saw the collateral damage of this firsthand at home. My father was made redundant and my brother who had just completed his TAFE course was unable to find work at that time. And many Victorian families faced the same pressures. It was a stark example of governments that did not care about debt and while seeking to increase their control lost control altogether. The vulnerable in society, who they claimed they would care more about, were left more vulnerable.


I was 13 years old when the former Premier Jeffrey Kennett came into power in Victoria, and I observed the determination and ambition of his Government to set our State on a course of economic reform to reduce government debt and rejuvenate our economy. Listening and learning about all these issues through my teenage years was made all the easier because my Mum seemed to have the radio tuned to 3LO 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!


There are many strong women in my life. My mother and grandmothers were early inspirations for me. Still today I am in awe of both my grandmothers. Margaret Rosina and Mary who raised five and six children respectively without the luxuries of modern life – washing machines, disposable nappies, helping husbands. Rosie was just 17 when she had my Mum, Elizabeth. Mum, being the eldest of five children, is a hard worker, an avid learner and an independent thinker.


Through necessity and to help her parents, Mum had to leave school and enter the workforce aged 14. She’d head off to work after sorting out the cows, plucking the chooks, and helping to get her younger siblings in order. Not only did my Mum eventually go back to school in her twenties to complete Form 6 English, much later in life she completed tertiary qualifications in viticulture. Mum, together with Dad, instilled in my two brothers and I, the values of hard work, respect and love.


These values, together with the course of events in Victoria in the 1990s, ignited my interest in enterprise and politics.


I attended the University of Melbourne to study Commerce and Arts, but some say I attended just to join the Melbourne University Liberal Club – an institution steeped in a long and proud tradition of advancing the cause of Liberalism. Utterly discontent with being forced to pay a compulsory fee to the Student Union, unaffordable for most young people who are struggling to pay for transport costs, books, food and in many cases accommodation, I actively contributed to the campaign for Voluntary Student Unionism. University was where I fought my first battles for the contest of ideas with Labor and the extreme left. As Liberal students we fought for freedoms – a free economy, freedom of speech, freedom of association.


I became President of the Melbourne University Liberal Club being only the 4th woman to have done so at that time. Lifelong friendships were forged in the Liberal student movement, and I thank my friends for supporting me always: Leader of the Opposition the Honourable Michael O’Brien, President of the Senate Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan, the Honourable Kelly O’Dwyer, Jon Mant, Scott Pearce, John Snaden, Stewart Maiden QC, Brygyda Maiden and Andrew Bell.


Life changes quickly after University. I married Ben, started my career, got a mortgage and, more importantly than anything else, became a mum to two beautiful boys. Having children gave new perspective and a desire to be more active in our local community, and to help them fulfil their potential.


I come to this Parliament directly from industry, after having worked as a senior procurement professional in the automotive manufacturing and retail sectors for over 16 years in Australian, Asian and Global markets. It is why I am delighted to have been appointed to the Industry portfolio, as well as Shadow Cabinet Secretary, and look forward to supporting Victorian businesses to meet the challenges of today and the future, to be innovative and competitive domestically and internationally, and to help drive Victoria’s economic growth and jobs. I want to defend our free economy and help shape Victoria’s future, to leave it in a better condition than the way we find it today, for our children and for theirs.


And before I conclude, I pay tribute to trailblazing women of the Liberal tradition who were the first ever women in Australia and Victoria to be elected to public office. Just like Edith Cowan, who in 1921 was Australia’s first female parliamentarian, elected the Member for West Perth in the Parliament of Western Australia, I will focus on advancing the causes of women, children and the vulnerable, whilst having an unequivocal commitment to being responsible to my local electorate. And, Lady Millie Peacock, the first woman member elected to this Parliament as the Member for Allandale, demonstrating, as The Age newspaper wrote on 14 November 1933, “another step has been won in the woman’s fight for complete freedom and equality”.


In 2018, I reckon we’ve still got a fair way to go.


I am a Liberal woman who holds Liberal values dear. There are many other Victorian women who also live Liberal values and rightly demand the Liberal Party delivers diversity, contemporary representation and leadership in Parliament, and I will work hard and do all I can to ensure those women also feel represented and help enable them to pursue opportunities in public life.


Now, to be able to stand in this chamber can only be accomplished with the support of so many generous people. I particularly want to pay tribute to the truly awesome contribution and support of my Campaign Manager and friend, Byron Hodkinson. Also, I would like to make special note of Liberal volunteers and friends who went above and beyond – Ben Zerbe, Judy and Howard Carter, Paul Molluso, Geoff and Maggie Hawthorn, Carl and Mary Nolet, Peter Falconer, Warwick and Paulette Bisley, Aaron Violi, Rex McConachy and Gwen Corbett.


I thank the Electorate Conference Chairman Peter Manders and his Executive Committee for their wonderful support. To the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Honourable Tony Smith, I thank you for your friendship, advice and for always being there. And many who gave friendship and support along the way: former Candidate for Monbulk John Schurink, the Honourable Edward O’Donohue, the Honourable David Hodgett, Senator James Paterson, Fiona Ogilvy-O’Donnell, Sean Armistead, Annemarie Manders, Katherine Forrest, Rochelle Pattison and Scott Minehane.


And not least, I thank all of my family. Particularly my parents Elizabeth and Brian Penny, and parents-in-law Anne and Gerry Vallence, who give us love and immense support. My two gorgeous sons – also key campaign advisors – Rory and Emanuel, who are so very loving and understanding and I simply could not be without. And my fabulous husband, my best friend, Ben Vallence, I love you and thank you with all my heart.


I thank the chamber for its indulgence.

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