Thursday, 10 February 2022
on indulgence—Firstly, I'd like to thank the House for its indulgence to allow me to make a valedictory speech. To the Deputy Prime Minister and to the ministers and shadow ministers, thank you for this opportunity. It only seems like yesterday that the 2016 election was held and we were summoned to Canberra for an induction for a couple of days. It was very interesting and it was an opportunity to meet all the new members from all over Australia from all the respective parties. While it has been six years, it certainly feels like it was only a few days ago.
I see today as an opportunity to thank the many people that help you as a member of parliament when you come to this place, and I want to thank the people that have enabled me to be the member for Murray and then the member for Nicholls. Firstly, there are my staff. My first office manager was Alison Foscholo. Then I had Claire Ewart-Kennedy and Lyndal Humphris. They have all been wonderful at managing the office and they've enabled me to concentrate on the job at hand of being the MP. My media adviser in the office is the wonderful and talented Luke Griffiths. I also have two incredible staffers who have been with me for the full six years: Mark Skilbeck, as my lead adviser, and Tessa Harris, who has managed the diary and been at the front of the office since day one. A big thank you to all of those staff. I also want to say a huge thank you to Di Andrews who is in the position of whip's clerk. It's a huge job, and Di has been wonderful in that role. I also need to thank Tory Mencshelyi, who has been a huge help, not just to myself but to the entire National Party team. As MPs we are all only as good as our staff, and I think all of us should, every now and again, take time to reflect on how good our staff are and how much work they actually do for us each and every day.
When I talk about the Nationals team, I really want to thank all of my team here today for all of your support and friendship. Sometimes this team has the capacity to turn an otherwise quiet and uneventful day into something a little bit more frenetic, complicated, and, may I say, a little bit amusing as a workplace. So my team can never be classified as being boring.
I love the Nationals and I genuinely believe in the movement that the Nationals stand for. For over 100 years, we've been putting regional issues at the front of the political debate—in politics, where the numbers rule in a ruthless fashion. We live in a country that has 43 per cent of its people living in two cities. I have, simply, a natural belief that if we go forward without a strong National Party we will also lose out on the contested issues to the parties that are centred around the capital cities. I know the Nats are far from perfect, but we know our people, we work hard for our people and we work hard to make sure that each of us gets better and better.
To that aim, I would like to thank Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack for their leadership, and I acknowledge the entire team for your leadership and your support. However, there are three individuals I would like to make a special mention of, and they are Darren Chester, Kevin Hogan and Pat Conaghan. These guys have that extra level of friendship, again. All the members in this House, from all parties, will understand exactly how important true friends are—people you can share anything with, people who are always there to support you and people who are always there to give you some hard truths every now and again. Therefore, I want to thank those people.
I would also like to thank the many members of the Liberal and Labor parties who have put party politics aside and have enabled friendship between us to grow. That's another thing people outside this House don't understand—that there are strong friendships that grow within the various parties and even across two opposition parties. I would also like to thank that little group that sits just over there to the right and normally gets the banter going whenever there is a division, because that's a very funny little group that sits over there!
I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank the parliamentary staff. We have the drivers who look after us, we have the clerks and we have the House staff; they're always more than happy to help every time we want any bit of assistance. We have this wonderful catering staff here in the House, and I'll just take this opportunity again to thank those people and to acknowledge how lucky we are to be treated so well.
Apart from this being a wonderful opportunity to thank people, it's also an opportunity to reflect on what my team has been able to achieve for the electorate of Murray and now Nicholls. It's very humbling to be able to stand up and announce big infrastructure projects like the Echuca Moama bridge, funding for the upgrade of the Shepparton rail line and funding for a new cancer centre at Goulburn Valley Health. To have millions of dollars spent in Yarrawonga, Echuca, Kyabram, Nagambie, Seymour and Shepparton gives you a sense of justification that the faith your constituents have placed in you has in some way been repaid. And if you want my summary of this job, it is: well, you go to Canberra and you get the money to come back and give us the things that we need in our electorate. That's effectively how I see this role.
But of all the projects that I've been able to deliver, the Murray-Darling school of medicine is possibly the one I am most proud of. In an area that is short of doctors, we are four years into a seven-year program that will see 30 doctors graduate each and every year from the University of Melbourne's Shepparton campus. This will have a lasting health benefit for the people of the Goulburn Valley well into the future.
Thinking about some of the more memorable moments, I can't go past this opportunity: leading into the last election, when the water debate was heating up, we called a public meeting, and I invited the then water minister, David Littleproud, and also Barnaby Joyce down to front a group of angry water advocates. They came from everywhere to meet us. And to say that these farmers were somewhat angry—we knew they would be combative, but it was taken to another level again. Most people thought I was mad to stage that opportunity—and maybe they were right. I put myself and my party leaders in front of an angry group of farmers. They knew we were trying to help them, but they were bitterly disappointed that we weren't able to get the security and the legislated changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that they desperately craved. We escaped with our physical wellbeing barely in check. I will never forget that public meeting at Goulburn Valley coolstores.
Communities up and down the Murray-Darling rivers have paid a huge price to comply with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I urge all political parties from all states to show some genuine compassion about the damage inflicted by the plan. I urge these political parties to take an empathetic view forward as we try and find the right balance between water for agriculture and livelihoods versus water for rivers, wetlands and lakes.
It's amazing how many other industries hang off the back of agriculture. In my electorate there would be more than 5,000 people who are employed directly in food processing. Then on top of that there are also the transport industries. Then on top of that there are also the packaging industries. Then there are the steel engineering industries. Then there are also the large parts of the professional sector. All of these industries are relying heavily on the outcomes of agriculture. When ag is struggling all those other associated businesses are also struggling.
The Goulburn Valley really is a food bowl that produces so much for our great country and, therefore, I think we all need to be aware of that. For those members who have been to my parliamentary office, you will see that it looks a little bit like a supermarket. I have a collection of produce from the Goulburn Valley that really does highlight the productivity of that region.
On reflection, I've also really enjoyed my time as a National Party whip. People often ask me: what's the story about the whip? What is that? My response is that it's just like being a team manager. You're working with other members, having them take you into their confidence, helping the leadership get things organised. It's a role that I have really enjoyed—hosting whips drinks also! I have also enjoyed working with the other party whips, with Chris and Jo; with Anne from the Labor Party; with Bert, Nicolle and Rowan from the Libs. It is a fantastic group—Kenny O'Dowd. It's a great group of people that are effectively just trying to make sure that the House operates as smoothly as it can.
I also think it's worth acknowledging the various councils that I work with across the Goulburn Valley: the Mitchell and Strathbogie shires in the south, the Moira and Campaspe shires in the north, the Greater Shepparton City Council. They've all been tremendous to work with. I start nearly every project with joint local and federal government buy-in—always start from a position of support. Very, very rarely would I ever oppose a local government and their projects.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers within a National Party, especially in Nicholls. There are too many to mention, but I would just like to thank Lindsay Dann, Don and Cheryl Kilgour and Peter Ryan. There are so many others and I will always be indebted to you for the support and the friendship that you have offered. I would also like to acknowledge the state team led by Tim Bull, assisted by Steph Ryan and Peter Walsh. They're a great bunch and I wish them well into the future.
I also want to acknowledge one of the great leaders of the Nats in Tim Fischer. He had a mantra that used to say: 'You've got to keep firmly in touch with at least 10 friends from outside of politics and you've got to work hard on those friendships.' Well, I am relatively lucky because I've got that number covered with my punters club group. These guys know a lot about horses, cricket, golf, footy and life in general. Unsurprisingly, they have some very strong opinions, but they too are great friends. I love catching up with those guys and I hope to catch up with them more into the future.
I would also like to acknowledge my siblings. I was very, very lucky to be born into the family that I was born into. We were very, very poor, but as you get older in life you realise how lucky you were. A big thank you to my five brothers and my one sister, and to all my nieces and nephews.
I would also like to thank my five children. They are just wonderful human beings. Wanting to spend more time with them has played a major role in this decision to step down and not contest at the next election. To Luke, Alyce, Gabby, Corey, Josh, Sally, Willow, Olive and Sonny, I am really looking forward to spending more time with you all and not feeling guilty about it, which happens to be the problem I have at the moment. Every time I'm with family I probably should be at some community event, and I get a case of the guilts.
As I said, I'm very proud of my kids. I am very proud of their work ethic. I am very proud of the adults that they've become. They're very resilient individuals, but they have great care for their friends. I also acknowledge that I have been very busy for most of my life, whether it was building sheds, coaching footy, state politics or this job here, and it's the kids who have often missed out. I've missed many barbecues and many birthdays. I have missed doing what normal families would take for granted. I'm sure most of you in this House know exactly what I'm talking about. The amount of sacrifice we in this House have so that we can do our job just needs to be pointed out, because this job certainly does become all-consuming.
I say thank you to my wonderful partner, Ros, and her family and extended family. Ros is in the gallery today with her great friends Bruce and Kerry Winzar, her son Sam and his girlfriend, Emma, which is fantastic. Putting your hand up for this job means making significant sacrifices—sacrificing your time and sacrificing your family. It's your partner, wife or husband who bears the brunt of that sacrifice. For me it's now time to put family first. Ros, thank you for enabling me to do this job. I thank you again for helping me better understand a few different points of view on a few different issues every now and again. You have simply been a wonderful partner over the last 15 years. I really am looking forward to having more time to do the things that we enjoy more so than the things we have to do. You're very understanding and compassionate. Ros has her own business helping people with disabilities. It's a big business that keeps her very busy. She is just the most wonderful partner.
It is great to look back and see what has been achieved. It has been an amazing ride. I've just loved the ride. I'm also keen to look ahead to the new chapter, even though I have no idea what the new chapter will look like. I will finish how I started. I thank you all for your indulgence to make a valedictory speech to thank those who have done so much to help me perform this role. Cheers.