Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (20:28): I echo the condolences expressed by the member for Flinders about the death of an Australian expatriate, his high school friend, Greg McNicol. At the outset, I extend my condolences and deepest sympathies to Mr McNicol’s wife, Katie, his father, Graham, and his mother, Maureen, and to other family. From testaments and reports in the media, Mr McNicol was a driven, self-made businessman who leapt across the Pacific from his home in Mt Eliza, Victoria, to the United States of America. His death touched Australians back home with tributes flowing from his Mt Eliza community and in Detroit where he made many friends. He was a property developer setting out to start a dream and bring his skills and talents across to the United States. Embodied within Greg McNicol’s story are those national attributes we admire so much. Often we celebrate the efforts of other business people and sports people because it is natural to garner easy coverage for their endeavours. But Greg McNicol represented our country uniquely. I learnt a lot about his efforts, and the tragic circumstances that surrounded his final moments, through a thoughtful feature article that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald a few Saturdays ago, written by Nick Miller and Chris Johnston. He was, as the Herald article said, on a ‘journey from the Mornington Peninsula across the world to Los Angeles and then Detroit was a journey of self-discovery. He knew there was something out there for him; he just had to find it.’ His was not a journey necessarily anchored simply in self-advancement. He was trying to make a difference in the lives of people in tough neighbourhoods. Greg McNicol wanted them to savour hope for a more secure, comfortable future. He was doing incredible work, investing in properties he wished to rebuild. His most recent project involved renovating a rundown 10-unit apartment complex in Detroit, where his mind saw a vision for a better community, improving the quality of life for tenants while providing more affordable accommodation.
Representing the seat of Chifley, where I have had the great pleasure of attending the openings of many new social housing initiatives, Mr McNicol’s work spoke to me. It was something I could relate to. I have seen firsthand what a difference new, well-presented accommodation can make in the lives of people who never imagined they would be so fortunate to experience this, especially if they had been stuck on public housing queues for a decade or more. So, regardless of location, this fellow citizen of ours, Greg McNicol, was helping to offer others a brighter future, something our parliament should surely take the time to honour.
To describe Mr McNicol’s achievements, I quote the Herald article of 21 May:
His tradesman’s skills—roofing, plumbing, carpentry—were relics of his previous life; when he left school early he was an RAAF mechanic for seven years. After that he built his own wholesale nursery.
Then he moved to California and got into the building trade, earning US qualifications in plumbing, electrics, construction and building codes.
From what I have learned, Greg McNicol did not do things by halves. He moved into the properties he was renovating to make sure they were protected—and to apply the work ethic he was renowned for, as recounted by his sister Karen, when she said he was the ‘first there in the morning and the last to leave’. Through his industry and hard work he earned the respect of local residents in Detroit, who had nicknamed him the ‘Crocodile Hunter’. Residents cooked for him, fed him and offered him company and support. But as much as he offered a better future for some, Mr McNicol had to make tough calls about others, sometimes evicting tenants as part of his redevelopments. As a result of an argument he had had with some tenants he had sought to evict, Mr McNicol was shot at close range. To quote the Herald:
Neighbours, angry because they liked McNicol and knew he meant well, brought bandages. Some tended to him. But it was too late.
I understand the member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, has spoken to Foreign Minister Rudd to ensure that the Detroit police thoroughly investigate Mr McNicol’s death, and we have heard some of the other measures that he has followed through to ensure this is the case. Having read Mr Hunt’s letter to the Mayor of Detroit, David Bing, I understand Mr McNicol’s family and friends have vowed to see through his work, and I am sure many in this House extend to them every single encouragement with their efforts. As local Detroit resident and friend Flo Benson said:
There are people like Greg taking a chance in Detroit, who are not going to get stopped. This time next year this property will be thriving, the way he knew it would. His life won’t be in vain.
The member for Flinders, in his letter to the mayor, remarked: ‘Greg’s passion was to help some of the poorest neighbourhoods in America, one block at a time. The heart of that vision was the apartment complex at 4110 Beniteau Street.’ I note the letter by the member for Flinders extended a modest but important request, asking the city to consider acquiring the adjacent vacant block to help create a small park for residents, a park that might be named after Mr McNicol. To quote the member for Flinders, this would be ‘a small but profoundly meaningful gesture not only for Greg’s family but also for nearby residents’.
As I speak on this motion I think of my own communities in Chifley that have experienced their own trying times of late, where the community has come together to help those feeling the pain of loss. I look to my own area where the death of young Keisha Abrahams touched so many people. Our local newspaper, the Mt Druitt Standard, recently featured photos of a purple fence erected in her memory—purple being her favourite colour. Community members built the fence and Emerton Hardware donated the paint. Dozens of messages from passers-by have been left on the palings. The support and outpouring of emotion and concern have been constant over the course of the year.
In mid-August last year my wife, Bridget, and I visited the local temporary shrine dedicated to Keisha. As we left our flowers we were moved on that cold night by the warmth of others in their well-wishes for Keisha. I hope when the pain eases with the passing of time that a fitting memorial will be set up to remember Keisha, as a landmark testifying to the compassion and spirit of Mount Druitt’s communities.
But tonight we honour an Australian who has left. I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to Mr McNicol’s family, his wife and his friends. We in this parliament offer our condolences as we remember his life and extend thanks to the community for their valued support and hope that others who were so close to him find comfort in this time.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D’Ath ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.