Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

First Speech

5:06 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Mr President, let me paint you a picture. The year is 1990—nearly 30 years ago. We are in the middle of a federal election campaign. Bob Hawke is Prime Minister. Andrew Peacock is the opposition leader. And I'm in the Queensland Young Liberals, manning an information booth on the outskirts of Brisbane.

It was tough going. Whether due to my lack of political sales-craft or otherwise, the Colt from Kooyong was not resonating with the punters. Very few people had taken my material. But I had received many helpful suggestions regarding alternative uses for my brochures, some of which would have been biologically challenging to implement!

Then I see this fellow making a beeline directly towards me. He has a determined look on his face. He is dressed all in black. He's rolling a cigarette in his left hand. I'm not sure what to expect. All of a sudden his face breaks into a magnificent smile and he thrusts his hand out and says: 'Great to see you campaigning out here.' I shake his hand and listen to his story. He had owned a smash repair shop that employed five people. His business was destroyed by catastrophically high interest rates. He lost the lot. Under the financial stress, his marriage broke up. And he was living in a one-bedroom flat trying to rebuild his life.

I cannot remember his name, but I will never forget his story, and I will never forget the lesson I took away that day and which I now bring to this place. The decisions we make here have an impact on people's lives. The decisions we make here matter.

In making those decisions, I will bring my own values and convictions. Seventy years ago, in 1949, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies voiced the perfect articulation of my values. I cannot better it. At the height of an election campaign which would determine this country's future, whether it would go down the path of socialism or the path of liberalism, Menzies said:

The real freedoms are to worship, to think, to speak, to choose, to be ambitious, to be independent, to be industrious, to acquire skill, to seek reward. These are the real freedoms, for these are of the essence of the nature of man.

Those words are just as relevant today as they were in 1949. Speaking them now inspires me just as much as when I first read them.

There are people in the gallery here today who came to this country to escape persecution for their beliefs, religion or ethnicity. One is a survivor of genocide. Another lost close schoolfriends when his place of worship was attacked in his country of birth. My friends came to this country so that they could enjoy those great freedoms of the individual—freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

I believe that each individual has a private domain of belief and thought where the state has no right to intrude. As Menzies said, it goes to the very essence of what it means to be a freethinking individual—an individual who is sovereign over their own thoughts, beliefs and conscience. But today, from a cultural perspective, there is a growing level of intolerance to the expression of certain opinions, beliefs and thoughts.

Sometimes it reminds me of a story told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his searing indictment of the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago. There is a regional meeting of the Communist Party. A party official pays homage to Stalin, and the attendees all stand and start applauding in furious acclamation. Very soon, they start to tire, but then the question becomes: who will be the first to stop clapping? They start to look anxiously at each other. What are they to do, for now the commissars are watching and waiting? One brave, independent soul stops clapping and sits down. The balance of the audience give a collective sigh of relief and collapse into their chairs. Sure enough, the first to stop clapping is hauled out by the commissars, never to be seen again.

There must always be a place in our society for the first to stop clapping, for the person who decides not to clap at all, for the iconoclast, for the sceptic and for the courageous one who, in a crowd of conformity, points their finger and shouts, 'The emperor has no clothes.' Whether it is the maintenance of free speech on our university campuses or respecting the conscience of medical practitioners with deep religious faith, I will always be a fierce defender of the right of the individual to express their views, to hear other people's opinions and to be sovereign over their own beliefs, thoughts and conscience.

There is a link between the freedoms of the individual and economic freedom. You cannot have one without the other. In 2015 the Liberal National Party debated its values. One contribution I made was adopted: we should strive for a society which provides opportunity for all and support for those in need. The freedoms which Menzies referred to in 1949—to be ambitious, to be independent, to be industrious, to acquire skill and to seek reward—are about opportunity: the opportunity to seek reward for effort. Through that process, the resources are generated to enable society to support those in need.

When I say 'society', I do not just mean government. I do not believe that raising taxes and greater bureaucracy are the way to support those in need. Sometimes, even the best intended policies hurt those they seek to help. Good intentions alone do not make good policy. The best support ever known to humankind for each and every one of us is a loving and stable family unit. The government can never replace the family, nor should it. Our society is at its best when we all come together—families, charities, community groups, churches and all levels of government all coming together to support those in need. We saw it when north-west Queensland and Townsville were hit by devastating floods. We're seeing it now as people in my home state battle bushfires and deal with the aftermath. As Australians, we reach out to our mates and help them. That is who we are. I do not see our country as a power struggle between the haves and the have-nots. I do not see life as a zero-sum game where one person's achievement must come at another person's expense. The ideology of class warfare is a dismal and desolate one. It does not accord with my lived experience.

There is no greater force to lift people out of poverty than free enterprise. I've seen this firsthand in my own working life. Prior to entering politics, I served for 12 years as a general counsel in a mid-tier copper- and gold-mining company called PanAust. Many of my old workmates are here tonight. Last year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Phu Kham copper-gold mine in Laos. The anniversary was a cause for reflection. The benefits of the Phu Kham mine were many: thousands of people were lifted out of poverty; world-leading apprenticeship training was provided to young people, giving them skills they will have for the rest of their lives; microfinance programs enabled villagers, particularly women, to establish cottage industries so they could bring their children in from the fields and send them to school; and the Lao government received millions of dollars of royalties and tax revenues to provide services to its people.

How did this Australian company build a mine to the highest safety, environmental and operating standards in one of the poorest countries in the world? The government did not do it; the private sector did it. Thousands of shareholders invested their capital through the Australian stock market. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested. Only after employees and suppliers were paid, and only after the government received royalties and taxes, did the shareholders receive a return. That creative and entrepreneurial process operating across international borders lifted thousands of people out of poverty and provided them with the skills for the rest of their lives. This is no trickle-down theory. This is the power of free enterprise. It is time for the capitalists to rise up and defend capitalism. Free enterprise lifts people out of poverty.

One of the driving reasons I sought election to this place was to make it easier, not harder, for Australians to pursue opportunity and create wealth through their own initiative, their own enterprise and their own spirit. In that regard, the decisions we make here matter. Whenever legislation comes before the Senate, I will ask: Will it make it easier or harder for one of the over 430,000 small businesses in Queensland to hire an extra young person? Will it make it easier or harder for our primary producers to work the land and access the water they need at an affordable price? Will it make it easier or harder for our refineries in Townsville and smelters in Gladstone to compete on the international market? Will it decrease their electricity and gas prices or make it impossible for them to stay open? Will it make it easier or harder for the people in regional Queensland to access the same opportunities as those living in the big cities?

We should never forget that the most important people in any development decision, be it a dam, a mine or a road, are members of the local community. Whether it is an Indigenous community on the Cape, a coalmining town like Moranbah in Central Queensland, or Stanthorpe, on the Granite Belt—where they're doing it mighty tough at the moment—the most important people to consider are the locals, not the NGOs who are funded from New York or London and not the activists who seek to impose their will on communities hundreds of miles from where the activists live. Whether it is a village in Laos or a town in Queensland, it is the local communities who matter. Their futures, the future of their towns, their communities and their children, should not be held to ransom.

I applaud the referral to the Productivity Commission by the federal Treasurer of the process to approve major projects in this country. It should not take 10 years to approve a major project, whether it be the Roy Hill mine in Western Australia or the Carmichael mine in Queensland. We are better than that. We must be better than that.

In pursuing the opportunities we have, we must always have an outward-looking perspective. We are a trading nation. My career prior to politics took me all over the world. It has given me a perspective of Australia's place in the world. After I graduated from the University of Queensland, I worked for a law firm called Allens. Many former colleagues are here tonight. Working at the firm gave me the opportunity to live and work in Papua New Guinea between 1999 and 2001. When many of my friends were going to work in London, Hong Kong or Singapore, I thought there had to be something in going to work somewhere totally different. I was right.

I have lots of memories of my time in PNG which will stay with me always, but the most abiding memory is how close Papua New Guineans feel to Australia. It is a special bond. Yet so many Australians know so little about this country of over eight million people—our closest neighbour, with its more than 800 languages. The government's Pacific Step Up initiative and the Comprehensive Strategic Economic Partnership with PNG will take Australia's relationship with PNG to the level it deserves. It is visionary.

The decisions we make here matter, not just to us but also to our Pacific family. When dealing with our Pacific family it is not just the decisions that matter but also the implementation. I applaud the goodwill extended by our Prime Minister in hosting the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea as the first guest of government in this term of parliament. The goodwill generated by that decision cannot be underestimated. It is an unequivocal expression of the importance of the partnership. And we should remember that it is a partnership, a partnership between two sovereign nations which are both parliamentary democracies with independent judiciaries and governed by the rule of law.

Our children need to learn more about PNG. Why does it barely rate a mention in our school curricula? Consider PNG's fascinating history, the cultures of its multiplicity of ethnic groups, the history of colonisation, the passing of administrative control to Australia after World War I, the bonds forged between our two peoples on the Kokoda Track during World War II and then the journey to independence in 1975. Our children should learn this story and come to feel as close to PNG as Papua New Guineans feel to Australia.

Cairns has a key role to play in the partnership. In some respects, it is almost like a southern suburb of Port Moresby. More than 10,000 Papua New Guineans live in the Cairns region, along with many Australians who have a connection with PNG. From health and education to promoting business links and trade, Cairns is perfectly placed to support our Pacific Step Up and partnership with PNG. It would provide an ideal location for the Office of the Pacific to administer Australia's Pacific Engagement Strategy.

Cairns could also be a key partner in the introduction of a Papua New Guinea team to the National Rugby League. Those who are not fans of the greatest game of all and those who have not lived in PNG will find it hard to imagine how much Papua New Guineans love their rugby league. I can remember my first State of Origin series in Port Moresby, with all the small buses, the PMVs, transporting people around Moresby dressed in their Maroons or Blues colours. I would ask my PNG mates, 'How did you come to support one side or the other?' and they would give me this passionate explanation as to the origin of their loyalty. I was thrilled to be at Lang Park last year to see the PNG Hunters win the Queensland Cup. It was a storming, Queensland-like State of Origin last-minute finish. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see a PNG team in an NRL grand final—except, perhaps, seeing that grand final played in Brisbane. Sport brings people together, and Papua New Guineans and Australians love their sport. It is part of our bond.

I only have the opportunity to give this speech because of the support and encouragement I've received from countless people. To the Queensland voters who elected me and those who had a different view, it will always be about you and never about me. To all of the members of the LNP, thank you for your tremendous support and commitment. You seek nothing more than a better Australia. It is your values that I'll fight for every day. To Senator Susan McDonald, Senator Gerard Rennick, Amanda Camm and Nicole Tobin, you are not just fellow candidates; you became friends. To Barry O'Sullivan and Ian Macdonald, whose terms as Queensland senators expired on 30 June, I acknowledge and pay tribute to your service. To Olivia Roberts, Clinton Pattison, Robert Shearman, Russel Bauer and Frank Beveridge, who stood in Queensland seats where the going was tough for both sides, you are the heroes of the Australian democracy. You are the ones who put your hands up to make sure that people have choice. To Brad Carswell, who served as a Senate candidate prior to being called to higher duty in the seat of Lilley, how could I forget you! Brad, you never cease to put a smile on my face. To my fellow Queensland LNP senators and MPs, thanks for your support. In particular, thanks to Senator Matt Canavan for the outstanding leadership you showed during the campaign in regional Queensland. In fact, to all the senators here today, and the Clerk and the staff, thanks for making me feel welcome. To the campaign team, under Lincoln Folo, and all the other LNP headquarters staff, under the leadership of Michael O'Dwyer, you are outstanding.

To my father, David Scarr, and my mother, Diane Berry, thank you for your values and for your love and support, especially when I needed it most. I also remember your parents, my beloved grandparents. Mum cannot be here today due to ill health, but I know Mum is watching, surrounded by the love of her husband, Graham, my Aunty Janice and cousins Cherry and Cathie Northam. To my sister, Karen Radford, you are the kindest person I know. Thanks to my nephew, Harrison, for helping on election day. Mate, I'm going to give you a harder booth next time. My parents made many sacrifices so that I could attend Ipswich Grammar School—a fine institution. There were a number of teachers who had a major influence on me, including Ted Ryan, Bruce Prasser, Jim Crichton and Igor Lapa, a man who came to this country at the age of 12, a refugee from Stalin's Soviet Union. He could not speak a word of English and he served that school for over 40 years. He was as much a part of that school as the very bricks and mortar. To my beautiful wife, Louise, what can I say to pay justice to what you mean to me? I could not have undertaken this journey but for your unconditional love, wise counsel and support. Anything positive I contribute in this place is as much Louise's achievement as it is mine.

When I look up at the gallery, I see many people from every part of my life. I see a previous leader of the government in the Senate, the Hon. George Brandis. I see the best man from my wedding, Michael Lee, who worked side by side with me on election day. I see Louise's sister, Genevieve Mortiss. I never tire of bragging that I have a sister-in-law with a PhD in pure mathematics. Thanks also to Peter and Don Mortiss for their encouragement. I see Nat Hutton, my scrutineer in my preselection. There is nothing like acting as a scrutineer in a preselection to nail your political colours to the mast. Thanks, mate. I see people who have provided encouragement, support and inspiration to me along the journey to this place. There are too many to name, but please know how much you mean to me.

Mr President, let us reflect on what is truly special about Australia. We have the richness of 60,000 years of living history and culture. One of my boyhood heroes was Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous representative to sit in this parliament, as a Queensland Liberal senator. In 2003, I wrote a submission to the Australian Electoral Commission calling for a seat to be named in his honour. It was. Now, in 2019, we have our first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians. We have come a long way, and we should reflect on that as we continue walking our path together.

Let us reflect on the fact that leading the government and the opposition in this chamber today are two Australians who were born overseas and have risen to two of the highest leadership positions in this land. Where else in the world could this happen? I am truly blessed that my experiences have brought into my life people from different backgrounds and cultures. In the gallery today are friends who have come to Australia from all over the world—the United Kingdom, Greece, Rwanda, South Sudan, China, India, Pakistan and Samoa—together with friends whose families have been here in Australia for generation after generation, all coming together in this beautiful, unique country we call home.

Let me close with the words of the great Australian poet and bush balladeer Banjo Patterson, written in honour of the Anzacs in 1915:

And with Australia's flag shall fly

A spray of wattle bough

To symbolise our unity

We are all Australians now.

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