House debates

Thursday, 24 June 2021


University of Newcastle

4:45 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier this month I, and many of my colleagues on both sides of this chamber who represent the Hunter region, welcomed the appointment of the Hon. Mark Vaile AO as the new Chancellor of the University of Newcastle. The university council voted unanimously for this appointment, and rightly so. Amongst his many contributions to Australia, Mark Vaile served in this place with great distinction for over 15 years as the member for Lyne and as a senior minister in the Howard government. This included 2½ years as leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile was instrumental in securing funding for regional education initiatives, including the regional loading that regional universities receive in their funding. He also secured the delivery of federal funding for the University of Newcastle's strong presence in the Lyne electorate, including the Manning Education Centre and student accommodation, which caters for students studying medicine and nursing in Taree. Mark also secured funding for the University of Newcastle campus in Port Macquarie, which delivers education in nursing, business, arts and IT degrees. He also delivered a major funding injection into the universities' rural clinical schools and departments of rural health, a great initiative that has created pipelines of medical, nursing and other allied health professionals around Australia. And as trade minister, he opened up new export markets through several FTAs. Post politics, Mark has continued to serve in a broad range of diplomatic, corporate, community and philanthropic initiatives which have further advanced the cause of our nation, particularly in regional Australia.

One would think that all this involvement with universities, the fact that he's the director of a renewable energy company, CBD Energy, and that he's also on the board of Palisade Investment Partners, which has a billion dollars worth of investment in renewables, might assuage the venom that was thrust at him by the cancel culture apparatchiks inside the very university that had just appointed him. It is absolutely indefensible. Cancel culture in Australia is the ruination of our nation. It shuns or boycotts individuals, businesses or enterprises, thrusting businesses or people out of their business or social and professional circles for some perceived contradiction with the popular zeitgeist. At the moment, that is that anything associated with the coal industry is bad. People in Newcastle should realise that the Hunter Valley, New South Wales and Australia, as an industrial nation, happened because of the coal industry. It powered the nation in its post-World War II reconstruction and industrialisation.

We know that there's an energy transition; Mark has worked in many energy companies and is aware of that. He would have been a fantastic chancellor for the University of Newcastle. I know that many on the board are very disappointed that he has decided to step down. But, as I mentioned, this cancel culture is a toxin and a poison to good community life and to a strong culture and society. We on this side believe in freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of association, but I see things creeping into Australia that are rather like the cousins of cancel culture: the thoughtspeak, doublespeak and thought crimes. People are being victimised for what they think, say, do and practice, or for whatever industry they work in.

That's not the Australia I grew up in, and people on this side have had it up to their limit—and so many people in my electorate think likewise. You couldn't imagine what Newcastle or Australia would be like without electricity running through the grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We wouldn't be able to have cities. We wouldn't be able to have the built environment—the concrete, the steel. We wouldn't have cloud computing. We wouldn't have computing at all! We wouldn't have cars. We wouldn't have batteries. We wouldn't have them because they are all made, they are constructed, with energy. Energy is like water is to farming. It's an existential requirement for Australia and the industrial world to flourish. This cancel culture has to stop.