Mr VIOLI (Casey) (19:01): There is no greater honour, privilege or responsibility than representing your community and your family’s home in federal parliament. Casey has been my family’s home since 1953, when Antonino and Grazia Violi and their six children travelled halfway around the world, leaving behind their family and the safety of the known in search of a better life in Australia. They settled in the small country town of Silvan and established a farm to support their family. I often reflect on my grandparents’ story and try to imagine the courage and sacrifice it would have taken to make that journey and the hardships that they endured. It is a perspective that inspires me when I face challenges and reminds me not only to be grateful for my life but of the responsibility that I have to improve the lives of future generations—for my children, Lewis and Georgie, and now for Casey and the nation.
I do not believe Nonno and Nonna could have imagined a world in which their grandson would be the federal member of parliament representing their new home. It is an example of the extraordinary democracy we have in Australia that anyone, regardless of background, can become a member of parliament. My family’s stories have shaped the person that I am today and the deep love and connection that I have to the seat of Casey. I have been blessed to grow up in Yarra Glen and buy our family home in Lilydale, surrounded by a community that supported me.
When my parents separated, money was tight. While, financially, we went without, we were not short of love and support from our extended family and community. I still remember fondly receiving Sunday afternoon bread donations organised through our local church and the anticipation of whether that delivery would include sweet rolls. When they did, I do not think that a treat has ever tasted better. Spending time during the campaign packing hampers with local charity the Philanthropic Collective served as a potent reminder of the responsibility I hold now as the member for Casey to support our local charity and community organisations who support those in need.
Being a teenager is challenging at the best of times. Navigating my parents’ divorce and a challenging financial situation left me carrying wounds that took me years to realise I had and to heal. Looking back, I do not know where I would be today if not for the safe place I found through sport at the Healesville Cricket Club and the Mooroolbark Soccer Club. They were my refuge, where I could feel secure and find myself. In many of the communities of Casey, our sporting clubs are the heart of the town, providing a safe place and refuge for young men and women. It has been heartwarming to visit so many clubs, to see that strong community spirit and to have clubs actively driving mental health and wellness programs within their membership. There are too many stories to share here in this place about the amazing and special communities of Casey. It is these experiences that drive me every day to make sure I am a strong voice working for our community. Serving our community is the heart of my responsibility as an MP, and it is a responsibility I will hold in the esteem it deserves.
If sport was my sanctuary, then education was the foundation to create a life for myself and my family. I was fortunate that Mum sacrificed so I could receive a great education at Mount Lilydale Mercy College. That education provided me with the opportunity to study at university and was the pathway to starting my career at Yarra Valley Snack Foods. That experience underpins my belief that the crucial element in order to lift people out of poverty and build a better life for themselves and their communities is a strong education system—a system focused on delivering tangible education outcomes for students to set them up for long-term success and to provide parents with choice in their children’s education. Over the last 20 years, governments have invested billions in education, with results going backwards. This is unacceptable, not only on a societal level but, most importantly, at the individual level. A robust education system focused on educational outcomes and opportunities is the foundation of our society and of the individual. It needs to be the priority of government policy on education.
My primary responsibility in this House is to make sure we are making the right decisions for the future so that the communities of Casey and the nation continue to thrive and support each other. My belief, born out of my lived experience, is that a strong economy underpins a strong society. With both these elements, anything is possible.
A secure economy is not just about delivering a balanced budget or economic growth—although these things are very important. It is also about creating safety and opportunity for all. It allows governments to invest in the services that support Australians: child care, health, education, defence, aged care and many other needs for the betterment and protection of society. A secure economy will play a vital role in our journey to net zero, and we must protect society’s most vulnerable by ensuring that our energy system is secure, reliable and affordable. To sustainably deliver these programs, we need to acknowledge that the economy faces significant structural fiscal challenges that we cannot, as leaders, pass on to future generations. We need to undertake genuine, comprehensive and systematic reviews of both our tax system and our federation. These reviews need to ensure that we are driving efficiency in our spending and government responsibilities while minimising the tax burden on Australians. These reviews cannot rule anything out before they start. They will need to form the basis of a national conversation on our direction as a country and how we tackle the challenges we face.
There are moments in your life that define the person you become. For me, that moment was 7 February 2009, Black Saturday. It was the moment I went from being a carefree young man, living as if I would live forever, to understanding that the most precious gifts we have are life and time. The difference between Rachel and me being here today and being victims 174 and 175 was a matter of seconds and metres. Our story of Black Saturday is a story thousands of people who survived that day would understand. Why did we survive and not others? Words cannot do justice to how your view of the world changes when at 24 you stare death in the face and believe your life is over. You realise what is important: time with our loved ones, time to make a difference, time to make an impact. By putting my hand up to serve the communities of Casey and the nation, I am trading time with my loved ones. This knowledge drives me every day in this role to take the tough decisions required to ensure that as a nation and in Casey we prosper, now and into the future.
At this point, I want to acknowledge and thank the most important people in my life: my wife, Rachel, and my children, Lewis and Georgie. Rachel, I know I would not be here today without you. You are the love of my life and my best friend. Your kind heart and care for others never cease to amaze me. You inspire me to be better every day. Thank you for supporting me to chase this dream. I couldn’t do this journey called life without you. Lewis and Georgie, I love you both more than you can know. I will carry you both, and your generation, in this House to ensure that we make the right decisions to allow you and your generation to flourish and chase the Australian dream like so many generations before you.
From one of the darkest days in our community came anguish, despair and heartache. It created wounds that have never healed and will never heal. However, from this darkness rose a community spirit of love and generosity that is often found at the fabric of our nation. Not only locals but the entire country rallied around our communities in Casey and Victoria impacted by the fires. I had the privilege of being part of this community spirit as we rallied to support each other in the days, months and years afterwards. This community spirit was called upon again in June 2021 when storms devastated the Dandenongs and large parts of Casey. While we were fortunate that no lives were lost, the storms destroyed many homes that have still not been rebuilt, and they left residents without power and communications for weeks and months. The recovery from the storms continues, and I stand with our community as we rebuild.
In Casey, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to be prepared for these disasters when they come again. We have started this process through our partnership with Yarra Ranges Council to deliver the resilience project. However, we can and must do more. This includes communications resilience—so vital in an emergency and in everyday living. In the 21st century, reliable communications are an essential service and must be treated as such. As we undergo a digital revolution, new technologies such as satellite communications open up the possibility that every Australian, regardless of location, can access phone and internet. We must invest in technology to provide reliable access, for the safety of our citizens. A working phone line can be the difference between life and death.
Investment in satellite technology for regional and rural communities can also play a vital role in delivering productivity gains to the economy as the digital economy continues to grow and flourish. Having worked for the last three years in the digital economy, I understand the exciting opportunities that can be unlocked as we continue to embrace new technology. The digital economy creates new industries and jobs in its own right. But the true benefit of our transformation is the productivity gains that flow for all industries in the economy. It will allow tradies to more efficiently quote and invoice work. It will allow a farmer to monitor their crops with drones.These technologies not only unlock productivity growth but enable workers and small-business owners to chase their dream and, importantly, spend more time with their families.
While there are exciting opportunities as we transform into a digital economy, it creates significant risk for us as a nation—a risk that lawmakers have an obligation to mitigate through investing in our cybersecurity capabilities.
This will be a challenge for all of government, as the pace of change in technology is not in sync with traditional government decision-making. We need to be agile and flexible.
Having spent my career working in and with small business, I want to provide a voice in this place for small business. They truly are the engine room of the economy. Small business makes up 97 per cent of all businesses in Australia and employs 4.7 million people. Every large business was once a small business driving innovation, creating new products, unlocking new markets and new jobs. Small business creates opportunity and freedom for those prepared to risk their financial security to chase a dream.
We must acknowledge and recognise that big business will naturally support regulation and red tape which stifles small business, to the detriment of competition. As a Liberal I instinctively support free markets and the benefits they bring to the economy and the nation. However, we must acknowledge the risk of dominant players in a market, which is detrimental to all Australians. For Australia to continue to prosper as a nation, we need to ensure our legislation supports the growth of small businesses and the digital economy.
The reality is that I would not be standing here today without the support of so many people. Mum, one of my biggest regrets in life is that, until I became a father, I did not appreciate what you did for us. Thank you for your strength over so many years. I love you. I also thank my stepdad, Gordon, for the support you’ve provided to mum and to our family over so many years. I thank and acknowledge my brothers and sisters James, Emile, Michaela and Matthew, and their partners, and my stepbrothers and stepsisters David, Sarah and Jess, and their partners. To my uncle, Sam Violi, the man responsible for my love of the Collingwood Football Club—
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr VIOLI: Sorry, too late! He taught me what being a practical Liberal is all about. To my Aunty Vicki and cousins Anthony, Vicki, Dom, Teresa, Maree, Francis and Mus, thank you for your ongoing support. To my favourite mother-in-law, Cheryl, thank you for always being there for us and supporting us through this journey.
And to my aunt and uncle, Kerri and Barry, you’re not only aunt and uncle to Rachel but fantastic campaign people as well. I also acknowledge my friend and mentor who is no longer with us, Fiona Ogilvey O’Donnell.
I’ve been fortunate as a lifelong resident of Casey and a volunteer with the Liberal Party to have a great example to follow in my friend and predecessor, Tony Smith. Not only does Tony leave behind an incredible legacy as the member for Casey but his time as Speaker is also a towering example of the integrity required and expected of a member of parliament. The example set by Tony both in Casey and in this House is one I am proud to follow and determined to match. To the Casey FEC, led by my campaign chair, Alister Osborn, thank you for trusting me to represent you and for supporting me during the campaign. I thank Bryan and Maria McCarthy, also from the campaign team, for their support not only during the campaign but also in all my time in the Liberal Party—I’m so glad you’re here today. To Ben Zerbe, Paul Molluso, Michael McKinell, Gareth Ward, Florence Lindhouse, Tom Sterium and Rocky Pitasi, thank you for your support during the campaign. I give thanks to my state colleagues Catherine Burnett Wake; Bridget Vallence and her husband, Ben; Cindy McLeish; and David Hodgett. I also thank my friends Frank Greenstein, Holly Byrne, Sean Armistead, Nick Thodos, Senator Jane Hume, Senator James Paterson and Josh Frydenberg for their support.
Thank you to my colleagues for the warm welcome, and to those ministers at the time who came and supported me during the campaign. To my friends and new Victorian colleagues Zoe McKenzie and Keith Wolahan, it is a unique journey stepping into the shoes of such well respected and long-serving Liberal members, as we did. I was honoured to be able to share the campaign with you both, and I look forward to our next chapter in this House together.
As a nation, we face significant challenges, but what nation throughout history has not? As a nation, we like all nations have significant opportunities. The question for us is: will we let circumstances define our future or will we define our future? When my time representing the people of Casey ends I hope to be remembered as a member who stayed connected to and delivered for his community, someone who recognised the central challenges we have as a nation and who played a constructive role in solving them for current and future generations. I want to be a member who pursues his convictions without wavering while adjusting course when circumstances dictate. I want to be a leader who trusts individuals to make choices in their own lives. I want to be a member who upholds the dignity and honour of the role I am so privileged to hold.
Mr Speaker and members of the House, I thank you for your indulgence. In finishing, I take the instructions of Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who 2,000 years ago confided to his personal diary: ‘Waste no more time talking about what a good politician should do. Just be one.’
The SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member for Goldstein, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech and I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.