By JOHN DOOLEY
IT was at times a very emotional Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, who delivered her ‘First Speech’ in the House of Representatives chamber in the national capital yesterday afternoon.
Dr Webster spoke of the array of circumstances that led to her establishing a life in the Mallee with her husband, Dr Philip Webster, who she described as the love of her life, and the person who inspires her every day.
Dr Webster recalled her first sighting of Mildura after a long journey from Melbourne, travelling along the Calder Highway, through the Mallee scrub.
“I remember asking my husband of two weeks, ‘Are you sure you know where you are going?’ Just out of Red Cliffs, we caught sight of undulating hectares of vineyards, heavily laden with beautiful ripe grapes. It was an oasis in the desert,” she said.
“Mr Speaker, I can tell you that the sight of the Mildura township brought relief to this young bride. That was the beginning of a one-year internship for my husband at the local hospital – the rest, as they say, is history.”
Dr Webster evoked the memory of Mildura’s founders, the Chaffey Brothers, and how they transformed the region into a thriving irrigation district.
She also spoke about the changes she had witnessed in agricultural practices and technology in the region over many years.
“Throughout Mallee today, innovation is alive and well, water drip systems have replaced flood irrigation and overhead sprays, and pipes have replaced open channels,” she said. “Agricultural practices use less water and produce more, due to developments such as ‘no til’ farming, and large-scale sowing and fertilising systems.”
Dr Webster acknowledged that the Mallee, like all regions, had a number of important issues to grapple with.
“We face many challenges, socially and economically, but the people of Mallee work together to address problems and create solutions,” she said. “I will strive to assist the hard-working and deserving people of Mallee in every way possible.”
Dr Webster said that she recognises our region’s farmers and industry need efficient transport mechanisms and systems to access domestic and export markets.
“Millions of tonnes of product are transported on road and rail each year, but both are in need of significant infrastructure expenditure Mr Speaker,” she said.
“Due to the hard work of the National Party, there will be more upgrades to the Calder and Western Highways in the next 12 months, and while the Mildura rail line has been upgraded to standard gauge through to the port of Melbourne, the Murray Basin Rail project lies in disarray.
“My farming friends in Murrayville cannot justify moving their product to market on rail at the current speeds of 15km/h. The Victorian State Labor government has failed the people of Mallee – they must complete this project in a timely manner.”
ROADS are another of Dr Webster’s priority items.
“As someone who travelled 30,000km on Mallee roads during the campaign, I can tell you that an efficient regional rail system would bring many social, safety and productivity benefits for everyone,” she said. “More trains means less B doubles and B Quads on the road,” she said.
“One of the key issues in my electorate during my campaign, Mr Speaker, was water. Our most precious national resource – it must be measured and managed responsibly and in the interest of all, if our regions are to thrive – water cannot be a political football.
“The Murray Darling Basin Plan is critical to the Mallee electorate. The people of this electorate rely on us getting this right.
“I will also strive to assist all businesses in the Mallee, including the 19,997 small and medium businesses – many family-owned, who are struggling to attract a workforce. Media has recently highlighted this as it relates to horticulture, but it is not an issue only found in the agricultural industry.”
Dr Webster also highlighted the need for more health resources in Mildura, the deficiency of which, she has had first-hand experience.
“Isolation is a key contributor to poor health outcomes and risks. We need more doctors, nurses, and allied health and mental health workers, we have reached crisis Mr Speaker,” she said.
“Our government is implementing some great initiatives to overcome some of the barriers to adequate healthcare that are specific to regional and rural areas, but more work is needed, and I will be a strong voice in this space.
“In the decades I have lived in Mildura, Mr Speaker, I have needed to rely on emergency services and specialist healthcare on many occasions.
“A five-year period of infertility meant many road trips to Melbourne to seek IVF assistance. The birth of my son at 27 weeks required a lifesaving flight with Air Ambulance to the Royal Women’s Hospital and then four months of neonatal intensive care in Melbourne for my son, while my husband had to continue working in Mildura.
“More recently, our first granddaughter, Emmeline, was the recipient of a liver transplant at the tender age of 14 months – I am proud to say she is here today.
“We are so grateful to her donor and their family for their gift of life. It is for this reason, Mr Speaker, that I am establishing the Parliamentary Friends group for Organ Donation, co-chaired by my colleague Dr Michael Freelander.”
DR WEBSTER also spoke of her family’s current experience with cancer, and what it means in a regional setting such as Mallee.
“My father has courageously battled cancer for the past two years. All of his surgery has been in Melbourne,” she said. “Again, we are grateful for the expert care he has received. But there are additional challenges when you have to travel to Melbourne for surgery, check-ups, tests and treatment.”
Dr Webster then spoke of her journey in becoming a Sociologist and Social Worker and how this helped her understand the cultural, political, social, and economic factors that impact individuals and their ability to thrive.
“It led me to one of my proudest career achievements to date, working with a small team in the creation of a not-for-profit organisation called Zoe Support,” she said. “Zoe Support has had extraordinary outcomes, impacting two generations and sometimes even three.
“Homelessness, mental health issues, drug and alcohol use and family violence have been significantly reduced through this essential service.”
“People have asked me what has brought me to this point of wanting to be a politician. I’m not sure I wanted to be a politician. What I want is to make the world a better place.”