Wednesday, 13 February 2019
I suspect valedictory speeches are a bit like arguing with your wife: you feel it's important to have the last word! There is also the humbling thought that, if you don't sing your own praises, nobody else will. I've already given three speeches setting out what I regard as my achievements in this place. It's not a short list and I don't plan to go over it again. However, I do want to mention two that I'm particularly proud of. One is saving the Malabar rifle range in Sydney for shooters. At the time I was elected, the government had lost two court battles in its efforts to kick the shooters off but was nonetheless engaging in a war of attrition intended to force them off. I convinced the shooters that they should agree to leave if they were provided with somewhere to go of equivalent standard. I informed Senator Cormann that the shooters would sign a lease containing that provision. I also made the point that the land could be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars if the government so decided. It helped that Senator Cormann is a very decent guy. But he is also committed to bringing the budget under control and paying off Labor's debt, so I got his attention. But the poor chap never got to first base when it came to selling the land. There were just too many big government statists on his own side. Nonetheless, he worked with me to ensure the shooters got a secure lease, which includes a provision under which the shooters will leave if they are provided with somewhere to go. So, if we ever do have a government that doesn't think owning highly valuable waterfront land is good government policy, it has a way out. From my point of view, the deal secured the future of the shooting sports in the Sydney Basin for the next 50 years. I'm very proud of that.
The second was forcing the government to limit the childcare subsidy to those earning less than $350,000 a year. The government was proposing to leave it open-ended so even those earning a million dollars a year could receive a subsidy. In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that I got Senator Hinch involved, too; one vote was not enough. The debate was interesting. The government, Labor and my new best friend, Senator Hanson-Young of the Greens, all spoke against the amendment. Senator Hanson-Young said it was 'galling' for a middle-aged white bloke to be deciding whether women should get child care. But the amendment went through on the voices. Nobody wanted to go on the record as voting in favour of such an egregious example of middle-class welfare. As proof that there's more work to do, I note that I pushed a more ambitious amendment as well to reduce the childcare subsidy for those earning more than $250,000 a year, but this amendment was widely opposed. Middle-class welfare remains a huge problem in this country.
I gave my first speech in this place on 9 July 2014. I was the first of the new crossbench to do so, and since Nick Xenophon's resignation I have been the only one of that crossbench of eight still here. In that speech, I declared that I would never vote for a reduction in liberty or an increase in taxes. I am pleased to say I have stuck to that promise. When bills involve more spending, I don't spend time thinking about them; I simply vote against them. I do the same with bills that increase taxes. If it is to reduce spending, my support is never in doubt; and, if it involves any reduction in our rights and freedoms, count me out.
I have been told many times by people in this place—fellow senators, staffers and media—'At least we know where you stand.' George Brandis referred to me in his valedictory speech as showing 'crystal-clear consistency'. I confess I was at first a bit perplexed by the fact that adhering to clear principles was such a novelty. For some reason—naively, perhaps—I assumed everyone had principles and that's why they were here. It took a while for me to discover that what people believe and what they do in this place are quite different. In fact, I now realise I am rather unusual. But I'm not totally unique. Former senator Lee Rhiannon had clear principles and kept to them. I note that her principles were substantially different from mine, but the fact is we both consistently stuck to our principles. She understood that too. In fact, we had a very cordial chat about it before she resigned last year. It saddens me that people regularly tell me privately how much they agree with me but then vote for something completely contradictory. I am so glad I haven't had to abandon my beliefs in order to retain my seat and salary. I wonder what the outcome would be if there were more like me.
But there is something else I had in common with Lee Rhiannon. While we were never friends, we got on at a personal level. The reason is that both of us play the ball rather than the man. That's something her fellow Greens could well do to emulate, as could a number of other senators. Nick Xenophon played the ball too, though he didn't think of it in those terms. I used to explain to him that, just because he was wrong about practically everything, it didn't mean he was a bad person or that I didn't like him! There are people in this place who go for the person rather than the issue, and they are bad people.
But I would like to return to the matter of principles. When I came into this place, my mission was to convince my fellow Australians and their political representatives that our governments should forgo their over-governing, overtaxing and overriding ways. I am a libertarian. I support John Stuart Mill's view that the only purpose for which power can ever be rightfully exercised over another member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. I believe governments should limit themselves to what John Locke advised so wisely more than 300 years ago: the protection of life, liberty and private property. But it's been a challenge. When I was elected, Tony Abbott was Prime Minister; then came Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. I kept hoping there might be changes in approach. It's true the rhetoric changed a bit and there was a bit of a difference in emphasis, but in reality there's been no deviation from the big-spending, big-taxing approach to government—the idea that government can fix pretty much everything by more regulation and spending other people's money. I've had plenty to disagree with. Notwithstanding the reduction in personal income tax and the attempt to reduce company taxes, both of which I strongly supported, there have been increases in taxes. There was the GST on low-value imports, which will cost more to collect than it will raise, the increase in superannuation taxes, the major bank levy, the diverted profits tax, the huge tobacco tax increases, the reintroduction of fuel tax indexation and the increase in the passenger movement charge—all under a Liberal government.
There have also been monstrosities such as the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, which assumes public servants know better than the banks how they should be run. There has been a flood of national security bills which make us all less free and no more safe, give access to our metadata to snoops and, most recently, the absurd idea that somehow Australia can force software companies to allow access to encrypted messages. In each case, of course, there were those arguing it was necessary, but as William Pitt the Younger observed:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
There are some other points I'd like to make in this, my final speech in this place. I am not leaving politics, at least that's not the plan. I still think I have a useful contribution to make at beating back the nanny state, but I want to do it in my home state of New South Wales. In the previous parliament I chaired an inquiry into the nanny state. In this parliament I chaired an inquiry into red tape. Over and over we would make recommendations for change that could only be made at the state level for things like occupational licensing, vaping and smoking, gambling, lockouts, assisted suicide, cannabis, motorbikes, fishing, bicycle helmets and traffic issues, and there are many more.
My aim is to use the skills I have developed in this place to achieve changes to state law from the crossbench of the New South Wales Legislative Council. Those skills obviously include leveraging my vote. On the crossbench, we all long for the occasions when the government needs our vote on an issue and we could vote either way, but also negotiation based on reason, common sense and evidence. Strange as it sometimes seems in this place, once in a while I have found these to be persuasive. As to my mission, I am satisfied that I have now made Australians aware that there is no need to take for granted the idea that the government is the solution to every problem. A growing number of people even agree with me that government is more often the problem itself. And I am no longer told my political philosophy is confused. While I'm regularly labelled as right wing, that's mostly by people who don't know what it means. My support for same-sex marriage, for assisted suicide, for cannabis legalisation, for civil rights does not fit very well with the right-wing label. That's because libertarianism is about the freedom of the individual, not merely liberalism within certain parameters. In fact, we libertarians have a little saying: libertarians are plotting to take over the world and leave everyone alone.
I can't say I have enjoyed being a crossbench senator all that much. I care about the work a great deal, and it's never boring, but the sheer volume of work is horrendous, the pace ridiculous and the frustrations endless. I know I'm not Robinson Crusoe; I acknowledge the workload of senators beyond the crossbench, where unsung committee work can be gruelling. And I have got to know some very nice people here. The Senate staff, of course, are highly professional and courteous. Committee secretariat staff are very high quality. There's Parliament House security, some of whom are sporting shooters and who support me. There's Annie in the canteen, and the Comcar people. I've also developed friendly relationships with some fellow senators—not just a good number of crossbench senators, but senators on the government side such as Senators Cormann, Scullion, Cash, Canavan, Hume, Ruston and Macdonald, plus senators on Labor's side like Senators Marshall, McAllister, Moore, Farrell and Wong. In fact, I feel guilty leaving out people because, in reality, there are very few with whom I am not on friendly terms, and they're probably not here now anyway. I am placing my political future in the hands of the voters of New South Wales. If they want me to maintain the fight for libertarian values, they will elect me. If not, I'll return to the private sector and my business. I'll accept either outcome.
Finally, I would like to thank those who've worked alongside me over the last five years: Duncan Spender and Max Rheese, my loyal and hardworking senior advisers, who have been on this journey with me the entire time, plus my other four loyal and diligent staff. It's a matter of some pride that, unlike most of my crossbench colleagues, I have never dismissed any of my staff. I'm also pretty sure that all of them will still vote for me. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wife of 35 years, Amanda. She loves what I do, misses me when I'm away in Canberra but is hoping like hell I get elected in New South Wales so I don't spend too much time at home. Politics is not easy. Thank you.