'I'm here with a mission': Rocky MP's vision for the region
A NERVOUS and emotional Barry O'Rourke gave his maiden speech in Queensland Parliament as the new member for Rockhampton.
In a stirring 20-minute speech, Mr O'Rourke thanked his family and supporters, shared some interesting family history, and shared his back story and what makes him tick, before pledging to represent the interests of Rockhampton and to deliver on his ambitious plans for our region.
The speech was dotted by murmurs of "hear hear” and occasional laughter while Mr O'Rourke captured the parliament's attention.
"I'm here with a mission and that is, to well and truly serve the people of the Rockhampton electorate, who put their faith and trust in me and again I thank them for this most unique opportunity,” he said proudly.
Mr O'Rourke recounted a tale of how his Irish great grandfather, Florence O'Rourke, immigrated to Australia in the 1880s and coincidentally rubbed shoulders in the gold mines with Australia's future prime minister Andrew Fisher.
Growing up in a large family, Mr O'Rourke learnt plenty of life lessons including sharing, listening and standing up for his beliefs.
He also learnt the importance of a good education to improve people's life prospects and explained how important it was for people to be able to access services.
He said he had spent his working life helping provide government services to the less fortunate.
"I have seen some very sad situations that have impacted on my values and beliefs and led me to various policy positions which I hold today,” he said.
There were plenty of projects he looked forward to delivering to the region including developing a new manufacturing hub, ensuring JBS Meatworks could access rail transport for its cattle, revamping Browne Park, investing in transforming Rockhampton to be the junior sports capital of the state and backing in a Rockhampton motor sports precinct.
Read Mr O'Rourke's full speech below:
Mr Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge, today, is International Women's Day. I acknowledge the women of this Parliament and all Queensland women.
There are many people who have assisted me in the journey to this point in my life and to this place. I would like to thank the people of Rockhampton. I am humbled by the support they have given me, and I thank them for electing me to this Parliament. I will strive to represent the interests of all Rockhampton residents.
I would like to thank those who assisted me in my campaign. First and foremost, my beautiful wife Sue-Ann, my sons James and his partner Kelsey and Harry, my brothers and sisters, Brian, Tony and Lyndall, Cecily and Murray McLeod, and the other members of the O'Rourke clan.
I thank the members of the great Australian Labor Party in Rockhampton, among them former minister and member for Rockhampton, Robert Schwarten and his wife, Judy. Also Peter and Stephen Schwarten, Paul Hoolihan and the Member for Keppel, Brittany Lauga. I appreciate their support, wisdom and friendship.
My campaign team, Craig Marshall, Barry Thompson, Ann McDougall, Karen Horstman, and again my brother Brian who all provided great support. I am not sure that I would be here today without it.
I want to say a special thanks to Kez, for being the amazing lady she is. I would also like to thank Deb, Vince, Tom and Marree, Alan, Amanda, Leisa and Mick, Paul, Wayne, Annette, Damien and Michelle and all the other dedicated volunteers for their assistance. From handing out how to votes, putting corflutes on fences or one of the many other jobs involved in campaigns, my support team was amazing.
The journey to this point in my life begins at the home of my parents, John and Enid. I am the second youngest of 13 children. My dad was raised on a dairy farm and was a young man during the 1930's depression years, when he jumped trains and hitched lifts to travel around Queensland looking for work.
He worked for Hornibrooks on the Mackay wharves and after a stint in the Defence Force was pleased to get a government job where he worked his way up to the position of advisor in horticulture in the Department of Primary Industries. He met my mum, Enid Hardy, in Mackay at the local church dances. She gave up work when they married and, as dad would often joke, she never worked again - just staying at home, raising my seven brothers and five sisters.
You can imagine how much work was involved in feeding, clothing and caring for all the individuals in a household such as ours. We all learned to set the table, mash potatoes, do the dishes and get the kitchen swept and mopped. Some of us kids would help with washing clothes or getting wood for the wood stove and as we grew up we got age-appropriate jobs to help mum and dad around the house.
We had plenty of spirited discussions about fairness and degrees of effort but also recognised that you can achieve a lot more if you work together. I would like to thank my brothers and sisters for the loving support they have given so freely over the years.
My father was a working man who believed absolutely that family was at the centre of, and central to, our lives. He instilled a sense of community in us, and the need to work hard to achieve life's goals. He believed that education was the key to better opportunities.
My mother was the most gentle person you would ever meet. I recall coming into our kitchen after school on many occasions to find a young mum from the neighbourhood who would be seeking her quiet guidance about the challenges facing new families. I never knew the details of these discussions as I was dispatched to the back yard immediately.
Unfortunately, both my parents have now passed away but I know they would be extremely proud of me. I miss them dearly.
Everyone's family upbringing teaches them life lessons, even though they may not know it at the time. We were taught to share, to listen, to stand up for what we believe in, and to look after one another.
My wife Sue-Ann and I have two children and raising them has been hard work. I would not be here today without that upbringing from my parents and the support of Sue-Ann and our sons, James and Harry. They have all helped mould me to be the best person I can be. They keep my feet firmly on the ground and remind me where I have come from and the reason why I am here today. Thank you Sue-Ann, James and Harry.
It has taken over a hundred years for a family member to be elected to Parliament. My great grandfather, Florence O'Rourke, came from Ireland, via New Zealand arriving in Sydney in 1881. He travelled to the Traveston district in 1895 and started a sugar cane farm before changing over to dairy farming a few years later.
As well as being a successful farmer, he was involved with many facets of community life as a shareholder in the Murarrie Bacon Factory and the Caboolture Butter Factory. He was on the local Show Committee, a member of the Shire Valuation Board and Chairman of the local School committee. He was very active in the community and was President of the local branch of the Workers' Political Association, the political party which grew out of the emerging trade union movement and the pre-cursor to the Australian Labor Party.
Prior to farming, Florence tried his hand at gold mining in the Gympie area and at one time shared a two-man mining shift with Andrew Fisher who, as we know, went on to become Prime Minister of Australia for three terms between 1908 and 1915. Andrew and Florence became good mates and they regularly worked underground shifts together.
After Andrew Fisher became Prime Minister, Florence, who was a bit of a story-teller, shared a few yarns with his neighbours who were a little sceptical about this friendship. However, an incident occurred that gave Florence great joy and added credibility.
In those days, the Prime Minister had a special train in which he travelled around the country. This train was heading north from Brisbane and, as was customary with steam trains, had to stop at Cooran to replenish its water. Florence was standing on the railway platform waiting for the next passenger train to go north to Tandur where he had a property. He had his lunch in a sugar bag slung across his shoulders and was in rough working clothes.
When the Prime Minister's train came into view, those standing around Florence discussing the visit, chiacked him and queried if his old shift mate, Andrew, would know him now. When the train stopped, not only did the prime minister acknowledge Florence but he left the train and came over for a yarn.
When he learned that Florence was waiting for the next train following his, much to the delight of Florence's mates on the platform, he asked Florence to join him in his carriage. Fisher then made arrangements for the train to stop at a spot where it was close enough for him to get to his farm.
Roll on 100 years and here I am humbly making my first speech in this House.
Our family has experienced the decline in small farming and the continual drift of rural populations to regional cities and the South East of this State. New knowledge and skills are required as primary production has given way to other job opportunities in our increasingly diverse economy.
One thing that remains a priority throughout is education. Several of my aunts and uncles were teachers. A dozen or more of my siblings and cousins have worked, or are working, in that profession.
Over the last 100 or so years, education has seen my family like so many others, transition from farming and rural occupations to white collar workers and other professional careers.
My personal passion is helping people. I have spent all my working life assisting in the provision of government services to the less fortunate in our society, moving from file boy in Brisbane, to direct customer service delivery in Southport, Rockhampton, Mt Isa, Stone's Corner to finally, Regional Director in Housing and Homelessness Services in Rockhampton. Over many years I have seen some very sad situations that have impacted on my values and beliefs and led me to various policy positions which I hold today.
I have dealt with many, many individuals and families who find themselves without housing for all sorts of reasons. I recall a young lady who would take drugs to stay alert throughout the night to reduce her risk of being attacked. Can you imagine her fear that while she slept in an unsafe location she would be bashed awake as she was robbed or assaulted? I have dealt with the chronically homeless who are vastly over-represented in mental health, crime and assault figures.
To these people, sometimes jail is a safer place than a footpath, a doorway or under a bridge.
I have worked with people who have tried to commit suicide or who have sadly become a suicide statistic. I shared the despair of their families and friends.
(But) There are good stories too, such as the man who had been homeless for many, many years before acquiring adequate housing. One day, I dropped in to see how he was going. He was so thankful for the housing assistance, but was sleeping on the floor because he couldn't get used to a soft bed.
Sometimes homelessness can be the result of being involved in an accident, something as simple as tripping up a set of stairs and hitting your head, causing a brain injury. Job loss, relationship breakdown, Centrelink issues - no money and no support and you could easily be facing homelessness.
Without the support of many community organisations our most vulnerable residents would be further disadvantaged. I would also acknowledge the great work of our Health workers, Police and Emergency Service staff in Rockhampton for the support they provide.
This is what being a politician means to me. It is not only about the economy and jobs. It is also about the people. Our nation is wealthy enough to ensure that we have a society where people are able to access services to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
There is also a role for community organisations like Anglicare, Girls Time Out and Roseberry Community Services in Rockhampton that do a brilliant job of helping some of our most vulnerable residents. It's an area where governments can and should play a role. Good governments work to help those most in need. Education, health and housing are the way out of poverty.
Mr Speaker, I have always voted Labor and supported the Party while honouring the public service code of conduct to impartially serve the government of the day. I refrained from joining the Labor Party 20 years ago because of the obvious conflict of interest that may have arisen from having my local member as my minister. That, I believe, was the ethical thing to do.
When I saw my mates in the public service thrown on the scrap heap by Premier Newman; when I saw the return of a vindictive government in the form of the LNP; I saw that Rockhampton was being punished for daring to return one of only seven Labor MPs; I decided it was time to make a stand and exercise my citizen's right to actively pursue a political response to the excesses of that government. I joined the Labor Party and became active in my own free time and of my own free will because I knew that only Labor has delivered for the city where we choose to live and raise our family.
Time doesn't permit me to list all the projects delivered but suffice to say that from the hospital hill to the top of Mt Archer more than a billion dollars have been spent by successive Labor governments on capital works projects and I intend to keep this tradition going.
In the first term of this Palaszczuk Government in excess of a dozen projects have already been delivered via the Rockhampton Regional Council. On occasions, this government has not received the due credit for these projects as most people would think they were financed by the Council but the truth is without this Labor Government, projects like the Rockhampton Riverbank, Kershaw Gardens, Cedric Archer Park Water Play area and the flood mitigation projects that have benefited hundreds of residents would not have been delivered.
I want to assure the House that I will not be a politician who takes credit for projects funded by other levels of government and I expect that assurance to be reciprocated so the electors who put me here will know exactly what I have tried to do and what I have delivered.
On that point, I want to reinforce my commitments and those of this government to the people of Rockhampton. The ten million dollar commitment to develop a new manufacturing hub is something I am eager to get my teeth into.
Then there's the $4 million to ensure that JBs Meatworks can access rail transport for its cattle. This is a win for workers whether they work in the rail or in the abattoir. It also means that there is less road traffic, so a win there too.
While I acknowledge that as a new member I had little to do with these welcome announcements I nevertheless guarantee I will work 24/7 on their delivery.
There are three projects which I do claim as my own initiative. These are a result of local discussion in the short time I had, a matter of only weeks given the shock retirement of my predecessor, Bill Byrne, to listen, learn and persuade those in the top levels of this government to get these projects off the ground.
The first of these is the much needed revamp of the home of rugby league in Rockhampton, Browne Park. If ever there was an asset whose turn has come it's Browne Park. Now that the NRL has declared that there will be no NRL club in Central Queensland, the path is clear for making Rockhampton's rugby league ground come of age. Given my late entry into this job, this is my first tilt at getting such a worthwhile project off the ground. The $75 000 commitment I have obtained from this government will get the ball rolling. There's a lot to do beyond initial planning including an enormous public consultation process. I've made it very clear that I will work with all stakeholders but what I expect is transparency and respectful and meaningful consultation from all proponents of every project that attracts my support.
Again, I see huge benefits in the "walk to” stadium/entertainment venue that is being proposed and I am eager to get this money spent and deliver a proposal that can be properly assessed by government.
Secondly, junior sporting facilities. One of my great loves is sport and I've been fortunate to have sons who have not only been interested but also reasonably talented in this area. At the outset, let me say, thanks to Labor we have some of the best sporting facilities in the state.
Local facilities for tennis and swimming spring to mind but hockey, where we boast three Olympic stars - Knowles, Dwyer and Gohdes - is no slouch. Consider, also, other well-known sports stars who have links to Rockhampton, the Meares cycling sisters and Golf legend Jason Day.
Primary school cricket and rugby league are stand-outs in the state. I've always thought Rocky had a natural geographic advantage when it came to hosting junior sports events and I'm grateful to the Premier for her support to put $100 000 into making a case for Rockhampton to be the junior sports capital of the state.
The third project. Now, I confess I know nothing about motor sport but Craig Jervis is an expert; they say he was born with a spanner in his hand and drinks diesel for breakfast. He certainly made the case for me to fight to get another $100 000 for the business case so that Central Queensland Motorsports can rev up the Rockhampton Regional Council Supercar bid.
Mr Speaker, I am humbled, yet happy, to be here. My background as I said, is about people helping people, and I see that very much as a solid foundation of this job.
I'm here with a mission and that is, to well and truly serve the people of the Rockhampton electorate, who put their faith and trust in me and again I thank them for this most unique opportunity. Above all I want to restore the faith of those traditional Labor voters who have become disillusioned. I want to not only regain their trust but to prove to them that Labor has always been as loyal to Rockhampton as Rocky has been to us.
Having said that, I will be a member for all people regardless of how they vote. I have spent what seems like a lifetime implementing government policy, making suggestions for improvements which, at times, have been well accepted and acted upon. Consequently, I have an abiding respect for the Parliament and its members. Thank you.