Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Parliamentary service is a privilege. I will have served 31 years and 118 days when my term expires on 30 June. Hansard notes that I have made over 1,100 contributions. Now is the time to dismount and hand over the reins. I have enjoyed my time in parliament, every minute of it. I have enjoyed the friendships I have made on both sides of the House.
Everyone comes into this place with the very best of intentions to do their best for this nation. To be part of this great Australian institution, the federal Parliament of Australia, is an absolute privilege and honour—to represent Australians from all walks of life. While it is a privilege, it is also a great responsibility.
I have always tried to represent the people who have elected me. In my first speech on 25 May 1983, I committed to being a voice for small business, primary industry and family values. I believe I have kept my promise and stood by those commitments. It is important to have these views heard loud and clear in this parliament.
I have faced the people seven times, running on a separate ticket, going for that third and last conservative position. It was only the last time I ran that I had the luxury of a joint Senate ticket. Having to pick up that third conservative seat focuses the mind on representing your constituents and delivering for them.
Small business is the heart and soul of Australia's have-a-go, egalitarian society. Farming and fishing are small businesses, too, even though they have some extra, unpredictable factors like weather and world prices thrown in.
I understand small business. I believe this has stood me in good stead throughout my parliamentary career. I was an agent representing manufacturers from the southern states. My original contact with the parliamentary process came when deregulation of trading hours was being debated in Queensland in the early eighties.
I was asked by 16 retail peak bodies—pharmacies, butchers, grocers and others—to take a deputation to the Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to oppose the deregulation of trading hours. We told the Premier that deregulating trading hours would destroy small business, would destroy country towns and would destroy family life.
To make my point, I said: 'Premier, if you un-restrict trading hours, these people will have to work on Saturdays and Sundays. They won't have a family life, and they won't be able to go to church on Sunday.' His reply was clear: 'That would be a desecration of Sunday.' He said it would never happen while he was Premier, and it never did.
After that delegation, I was the contact point for small business, representing them at a state level. That deputation of 16 retailers eventually led me into successfully running for the Senate in 1983.
I do not have a formal degree, but there can be no better qualification for serving in parliament than actually having run your own business. The microbusiness of R Boswell & Co employed nine and taught me how a business must run, to keep control of spending, the interaction between staff, good times, hard times, making sales—because that keeps your staff in jobs. It was a great training ground.
Because I understood it so well, I joined many fights in this place and battles on behalf of small business. Labor Senator Chris Schacht and I successfully amended the Trade Practices Act so you could not substantially lessen competition in a substantial market. That amendment changed the face of business in Australia. It was a big win for small business.
There is much more work to be done on the competition policy. The coalition has established a review with wide terms of reference. Small business will be making strong submissions, as will the dairy industry and other primary industries.
Recently, Woolworths were reported to be trying to pass costs on to fruit and vegetable growers to fund Woolworths' Jamie Oliver TV advertising campaign. This is the sort of thing the ACCC should have the power to investigate. It is wrong for Woolworths to demand growers pay Woolworths' advertising bills. The ACCC must be given the legislative teeth to balance market power and assess the claims made by food processors, farmers and other contractors. It must be given the teeth to take court action under section 46, on the abuse of market power—something it has never had. Also, we must have an 'effects test': that is, based on the effect of anticompetitive behaviour, rather than trying to prove intent. I wish I was going to be here to drive that debate.
I know that Bruce Billson, the Minister for Small Business, is going to receive a buffeting on these issues from big business and their friends—but he has to stay strong, stay the course, and continue to stand up for the rights of small business, and I am confident he will do so.
Just last month, the major chain stores were pressing on with their everlasting quest to further deregulate trading hours, this time under the pretext of helping the federal government reduce red tape. I told the party room that trading hours are a state issue, nothing but tears for us and to keep well and truly out of it.
A strong voice in the party room is so important. This is the advice I always give new parliamentarians. You must speak up in support of your cause in the party room. Drive the debate in the party room.
One of the hardest battles I ever successfully fought was to maintain pharmacies as standalone businesses—owned and operated by pharmacists—and not incorporated into supermarkets. Recently I had to remind my Liberal colleagues in the joint party room of the statement of their founder, Sir Robert Menzies, in 1970. He said:
Australian Liberals are not the exponents of an open go, for if we are all to have an open go each for himself and the devil take the hindmost, anarchy will result and both security and progress disappear.
Just keep remembering it. These are prophetic words. The Liberal Party founder was saying that deregulation is not the answer to all problems and the free market will not always produce the best outcomes.
Let me talk a little bit about primary producers, the backbone of the National Party and people of whom I am so fond. They include farmers and fishermen and others who represent the very best in Australian character, physically courageous, battling the elements and the unforgiving environment and prepared to work hard in remote locations to create wealth for the country. These people reflect the true Australian spirit of taking a risk, having a go and persevering when times are tough. Working with my colleagues, we have had some great wins for regional and rural Australia. I think of telecommunications, Roads to Recovery, sensible management of marine parks, work on behalf of the sugar, banana, ginger, pineapple and tobacco growers and helping beef producers retain control of sustainability issues.
A highlight of my career—and something that benefits everyone living in rural and remote areas—was bringing modern telephone, email and internet services to the bush, services on a par with those in the city. I was reminded recently of the importance of telecommunications in the bush. Sadly, someone I knew was killed in a car accident on a remote stretch of road in Queensland. However, the other occupants of the vehicle, some of whom were hurt, were able to telephone for help. Getting a telephone signal would have been impossible in that part of Queensland 15 years ago.
On marine parks, a major achievement recently for the coalition was to reverse Labor's and the Greens' planned bans on fishing in 2.3 million square kilometres of water in 40 new marine parks right round Australia. This was a huge win that saved literally thousands of jobs. Under their plan, from 1 July, just a couple of weeks from now, not only professional fishermen, and some are in the gallery, would have lost their livelihoods but also charter-boat operators, tackle shops, seafood processors, wholesalers, ship's chandlers, repair facilities, and other suppliers of goods and services. Prior to the September election, I worked closely with professional and recreational fishing groups, especially the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and its CEO, Allan Hansard. Guided also by my colleague Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal-National coalition developed a policy to keep the marine parks but remove the fishing bans till scientists could take a sensible look at how these parks should be managed. In government, we kept our promise and have removed the fishing bans. I am enormously proud of that achievement.
I have always opposed the destructive behaviour of powerful, well-funded local and international environmental activists. They make their living by frightening people into believing that the environment is being threatened one way or another by the activities of our farmers, fishermen, miners or even Aboriginal communities. I am proud to say I have given the 'big environment' groups a bloody nose on more than one occasion. This includes maintaining Aboriginal access to minerals and other resources in Cape York by standing side-by-side with people like Noel and Gerhardt Pearson and Richie Ahmat to stop World Heritage and Wild Rivers legislation on Cape York. I share their aspirations to see a strong future for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Far North Queensland, on their own land, and not force them to be welfare-dependent. I am enormously pleased and proud that this very morning the Federal Court of Australia found the Wild Rivers declarations for the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers were invalid. This is a magnificent victory for the Aboriginal people of Cape York. This process began in 2009 and 2010 with questions on notice and a Senate inquiry that exposed the lack of due process by the then Labor government in Queensland, and provided material for the successful court action. It is a great demonstration of the effectiveness of the Senate system. I worked closely on this issue with Terry Piper from Balkanu. I welcome Terry and Richard Aiken, Chairman of the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, to the gallery on what has been such a wonderful day for them and all the Aboriginal people of Cape York.
I am also proud of having helped keep the beef industry out of the clutches of World Wildlife Fund and other environmental activists. Don't have any doubt: the World Wildlife Fund wants to ultimately control how seafood, timber, beef and every other primary product is marketed in Australia and round the world. I have detailed their schemes before and won't repeat them now. My Queensland colleague Senator Barry O'Sullivan shares my deep concern about the activities of WWF. Together, we were able to drive debate on this issue, engage the rural media and alert cattle producers to the threat they faced. It gives me enormous satisfaction to have seen beef producers get together on 23 May and begin to develop their own industry-driven program to verify sustainability of Australian beef. This will mean our red meat customers won't have to go to organisations controlled by the WWF to verify sustainability. This is a major achievement and a very important win for primary industry.
I have always been a voice for traditional family values and a defender of the unborn. I have stood up for these values in debates on issues such as abortion, RU-486, stem cell research, pornography and euthanasia. Politics is an honourable calling but will remain so only if politicians have the courage of their convictions. In 1988, I tackled the League of Rights, a far-right-wing, anti-Semitic organisation I saw as trying to exert influence over the churches and other areas of society
For me, this was a defining moment: to be taken seriously, you have to stand for something. In the fight of my life, against Pauline Hanson, I risked everything to stand up against her aggressive, narrow view of Australia. Defeating Pauline Hanson and One Nation in 2001 has been my greatest political achievement.
I will now say something about the National Party. The Nationals are as important as ever in representing rural and regional Australia and small business at a time when primary industry is playing a vital role in sustaining the Australian economy and jobs. I have been a proud member of the National Party since 1970. I have been loyal to them and they have been loyal to me. Loyalty is a hallmark of the National Party. It comes from that time-honoured tradition of helping your neighbour when things are tough—and its spirit carries through to today. It was the National Party that the farmers, fishermen and miners called on last month, when the diesel fuel rebate was under threat, in preparation for the federal budget—and under threat it was; believe me, there was no subterfuge about it. The rallying call went out to the National Party from the mining industry, the farming industry and the fishing industry—and the diesel fuel rebate stayed.
While there have been great achievements in the past three decades, there is always more to do. Each of us in this place steps in, and out, on one page of a continuing history; it is for others to write the future. There is still much to achieve; the job is never-ending. For example, we have to ensure that independently owned post offices receive enough income to maintain the vital community service they provide. We must abolish the carbon tax and the renewable energy targets. I was the first member of the coalition to speak out against the carbon tax. I believe also that RETs are costing Australian jobs; you cannot have a manufacturing sector if you have high energy costs.
I am handing over the reins to Senator Barry O'Sullivan and Senator-elect Matthew Canavan, who is in the gallery, to carry on. I am confident they will represent the enduring principles espoused by The Nationals for more than 100 years. I know they will provide a strong voice in the party room and in parliament. They have big shoes to fill—Earle Page, Doug Anthony, Flo Bjelke-Petersen, "Black Jack" McEwen and many others—but I believe they are up to the job. The party has been written-off more than once but it endures because it is needed. I have tried to mentor new members in the Senate and prospective candidates because, good or bad, there is no teacher like experience. On reflection, one of the things that has given me the greatest pleasure is seeing Barnaby Joyce emerge as a statesman, a fine minister, a future Leader of the National Party and a future Deputy Prime Minister.
One of the great joys of being in this place has been working with my fellow members of parliament. There are too many colleagues, past and present, to mention them all. However, it has been a special privilege to work with former leader John Anderson, with whom I remain great mates, and with our current leader, Warren Truss. Warren shouldered the burden of leadership at a very difficult time for this party and has done a wonderful job. It is a feature of Warren's leadership that he allows vigorous party room debates, another tradition in the National Party, and he has the total loyalty and respect of everyone in the party room.
I must single out John Howard. In delivering gun control, he took the most courageous action I have seen in my time in politics. Every time I hear about another gun massacre in America, I know that bringing in those gun control laws was the right thing to do and I give thanks for his courage and leadership. He also understood small business and the ethos of the bush. John Howard was the best Prime Minister the Nationals ever had.
I have also enjoyed working with senators on the other side of the chamber—people like John Button, Peter Walsh and Chris Schacht—and, on the crossbench, Brian Harradine, John Madigan and Nick Xenophon. For 18 years, I had the privilege of being Leader of the Nationals in the Senate. This position gave me enormous leverage to achieve things for regional and rural Australia. The role is now being ably filled by Nigel Scullion. Nigel has a real feeling for his role as Minister for Indigenous Affairs and is doing a wonderful job.
Parliament has been like a second home to me. We spend approximately five months of the year here, and the parliament has been made more hospitable and homely by the officers and staff. Whether they be Comcar drivers, library staff, clerks, committee staff, Hansard reporters, attendants or dining room staff, they all give their very best to make our life as easy as possible.
I also want to pay tribute to another group of people who play an essential role in parliament and, in fact, an essential role in the protection of a transparent and vigorous democracy, and that is the media. I have known many journalists in my three decades in parliament and they have been thoroughly professional. At this time, when some of the icons have left and others are approaching retirement, I say to those journalists coming through that they have a great tradition to uphold.
No parliamentarian is ever successful without personal staff who are completely dedicated and committed to the cause. I have been particularly fortunate in the people that have worked with me over the years. Joanne Newbery started with me in the first year and remained for 23 years. She was a great speechwriter, tactician and friend. In fact, she did the work on the Wild Rivers. Prue Regan was another one who started with me when I began. She was a solicitor, she was able to interpret legislation, and did some spectacular work. Prue's maiden name was Page. Her grandfather was Sir Earle Page, the first leader of the Country Party. The National Party is in her DNA. My present staff are here in the advisers' box. They are all great people who have worked really hard because they believe that, through parliament, changes can be made. I thank Lisa Gambaro, Yvonne Tran, Martin Bowerman, Geoff Harrison and Peter Newbery for the wonderful friendship and hard toil they have put in.
I want to give particular acknowledgement to Mike and Pam Tyquin in the gallery. Mike helped me establish
my own manufacturer's agency business all those many years ago, and he helped me again in a tight campaign with those famous roadside signs: 'Ron Boswell. He's not pretty … but he's pretty effective.' I would never have got here without Michael.
I also want to acknowledge David Goodwin, Isaac Moody and Damien Tessman. They are all here tonight with their families. I believe their time will come and they too will represent the people of Australia in this parliament.
I especially want to acknowledge my gratitude to Lady Flo and the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, both great Queenslanders. Sir Joh did so much for Queensland, including building up the mining industry and getting rid of death duties. They both displayed complete support, loyalty and friendship to me throughout my political career.
My wife, Leita; my daughter, Cathy, and her husband, Kent; and my grandchildren Sophie and Will are all here tonight. Cathy, Kent, Sophie, Will and my other grandson, Tom, are the delight of our lives. Thank you, Leita, for the wonderful support you have given me. You were always there to encourage me, to lift me up when things went wrong. I always looked forward to coming back to a peaceful, tranquil home after weeks in parliament, travelling or campaigning. I could never have got to the Senate, nor remained here as long as I have, without you.
Someone who is not here tonight is our son, Stephen. He passed away when Leita and I were on a parliamentary trip to Taiwan. He was proud of me being a senator and we miss him every day. We wish he could be here now.
In the Senate, I have always sought guidance and help from my God, and I acknowledge He has always had a guiding hand on my career. In the parliament of Australia, in the assembly of His people, I have always received constant help, and I offer my thanks.
Ultimately, politics is about the power to endure. I go from this place undefeated, at a time of my own choosing, the sixth longest-serving member of the Senate.
I will end with these words of Saint Paul: 'My time of departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight. I have run the race. I have kept the faith.' Thank you very much. God bless and goodbye.