Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Mr President, I would like to acknowledge my colleagues in the chamber and special guests in the gallery who are here today. I would also like to thank the people of Queensland and the LNP for the faith they have placed in me to represent them over the next six years.
Self-belief is the conviction that leads to achievement. It is the optimism that inspires hard work, that turns adversity into opportunity and convict colonies into countries. From humble beginnings modern Australia has overcome immense challenges to become one of the world's great liberal democracies. Few countries epitomise the power of self-belief and the ethos of 'a fair go' better than Australia, a country that remains a beacon to those fleeing persecution and those who seek a better life for themselves and their children. Gratitude towards our forefathers who built this nation and in doing so gave us so many opportunities is what drives me to see this country continue to provide opportunities for our children. It is that aim that brings me here today.
Of all the issues faced by Australia, few are more damaging to our country than the fiscal imbalance and ambiguous responsibilities between state and federal governments. You've really got to ask why Australia, a country of 25 million people, has nine growing health bureaucracies while maternity wards are being closed in my home state of Queensland.
Our Constitution was designed to hold government to account by the people, yet 120 years of compromise has rendered it ineffective. It is time for COAG to hold a constitutional convention to clearly define and separate these responsibilities, with proposed changes put to a referendum. The blame game needs to end. Australians deserve accountability.
People pay taxes in return for essential services, not more regulation. They expect governments to build infrastructure, not sell it. Despite this, governments have privatised much of the infrastructure that delivers those services. At the same time, they have marched into the family home, the bedroom and the classroom, telling people how to live their lives, parents how to raise their children and owners how to run their businesses. The jackboot of bureaucracy is suffocating everyday choices, the very thing liberal democratic governments are meant to defend. Is it any wonder that people are cynical about governments when they walk away from providing services while imposing more regulation? Australians smell a rat when it comes to asset sales. At almost every opportunity, they have rejected it. Foreign owners, superannuation funds and corporations aren't elected, so how are they held accountable to the Australian people if they fail to provide essential services? They aren't. As such, privatisation undermines accountability, the bedrock of democracy.
The sale of critical assets to offshore entities also undermines our security and sovereignty. Just look at the Darwin Port, neoliberal economics at its finest. It seems ludicrous that Australian super funds invest $580 billion in offshore equities and bonds, yet critical national infrastructure has to rely on foreign capital for funding. This is a classic case of ideology gone mad. Our founding fathers Barton, Deacon, Isaacs and Higgins—all members of the Protectionist Party—would be turning in their graves. My forefathers left Ireland during the great famine, when powerful foreign landlords exported wheat rather than selling it to feed the starving population. National interest should always take precedence over vested interests.
Most infrastructure assets are monopolies that aren't subject to competitive market forces that drive efficient outcomes. Australia's high energy prices are one example of what happens when a market is artificially manipulated to achieve a predetermined aim. Only six per cent of superannuation is invested in infrastructure. This needs to increase.
Today, more than ever, governments need to build income-generating infrastructure such as dams, power stations, rail and ports. Just as Governor Macquarie funded an ambitious building program through the issue of the holey dollar, a government owned infrastructure bank should be created to do the same. Funding could come from infrastructure bonds and superannuation. These measures would provide essential services, employment and fixed income for retirees. It is a much better option than interest rate manipulation, which has only punished savers and prospective homebuyers. If dairy farmers can't set the price of milk to earn a fair return on their efforts, then why does the RBA, an unelected body, get to fix the price of money on behalf of the money markets? Why is there one rule for one industry and not the other?
Australia is endowed with vast natural wealth, yet until the last quarter it has run current account deficits for the best part of 50 years. In the last financial year, despite a trade surplus of $50 billion, Australia plunged further into debt, with a current account deficit of $12 billion due to capital profits paid to offshore entities. Because of the tax treaties, most of these profits are taxed at around 10 per cent or less, while profits retained in Australia are taxed at 30 per cent. Our own taxation system acts as a reverse tariff on entities domiciled here in Australia, sending profits and business offshore because of the regulatory and taxation burden placed on them. The solution to this is to ensure that the withholding tax rate on profits transferred offshore is the same as the tax rate on profits retained in Australia. Given there is $2.8 trillion in super, tax concessions for foreign investors need to stop. Australia has no shortage of capital. Increasing withholding tax revenue could fund cuts in both payroll tax and income tax. This would give workers more money in their pockets, increase business turnover and boost productivity. It's a win-win.
Ultimately, markets are a mechanism for buying and selling goods, not for producing them. The mechanism for that is the Australian people. When the convicts got off the boat, all they had was their will to survive. There were no financial instruments, regulations, scoping studies or subsidies in sight. Our prosperity has come from the hands of our carpenters and mechanics, the minds of our scientists and engineers, the hearts of our teachers and nurses and, most importantly, the persistence and innovation of small business owners. Yet today financial rewards go to the paper shufflers—bureaucrats who impose red tape, lawyers who argue semantics, fund managers who trade financial instruments and universities who sell degrees.
A true market economy is a system in which individuals own most of the resources and control their use through voluntary decisions. It is a system in which the government plays a small role as regulator. This is no longer the case in Australia, where combined government spending accounts for around 37 per cent of GDP. Our remaining GDP is becoming more concentrated between a handful of oligarchs and superannuation funds where there is very little competition or innovation. Australia will not continue to prosper while such a power imbalance continues. Innovation and productivity are driven from the ground up by individuals' hard work, not top-down by vested interests shuffling paper. As Adam Smith said:
The directors of … companies … being the managers … of other people's money … it cannot well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which … partners … watch over their own … Negligence … must always prevail …
While economic growth is important, it should not come at a cost to our quality of life. It is time immigration levels were reduced so communities can deal with infrastructure, the environment and skills shortages. Despite almost a doubling of the population in the last 30 years, state governments have built very few base-load power stations or dams. They need to address declining services to everyday Australians before the population increases any further.
The greatest threat to our environment is not carbon dioxide but unsustainable immigration. As the son of a farmer, I was taught from a young age about carrying capacity and never to overstock your paddocks. Yet immigration is doing just that, causing major city congestion and overdevelopment on our city fringes. Meanwhile, regional communities are struggling as opportunities, from the lack of infrastructure, go begging. While I agree with the government's wind-back of permanent visa places to 160,000 annually, the almost two million temporary visa holders living in Australia should also be reduced.
Skills based training through TAFE should take precedence over non-vocational university studies. Too many young people are graduating from university with massive debts but no employment prospects, while business import labour to fill skills shortages. The government's incentive payment schemes for apprenticeships are a step in the right direction. Sending everybody to university has not resulted in a well-educated population. It has resulted in worthless degrees, dumbed-down standards and vast amounts of student debt. It is a sad indictment of our education system that Australia, a First World country, has to import skilled labour, especially doctors, from developing countries.
There are over 600,000 foreign students studying in Australia, who use infrastructure funded by the taxpayer. They can also work up to 20 hours per week, competing with unemployed Australians looking for work. It is time universities, and not the taxpayer, funded the economic cost of hosting them. Universities should also underwrite student loans, which total over $60 billion. Why should the taxpayer underwrite this without a guarantee from universities that their graduates will get a job and repay their debts?
Almost 20 years ago, I finished a seven-year journey around the world that took me to most corners of the globe. The Elamite tells in Iran, and the Aleppo souk and Palmyra ruins in Syria were some of the more spectacular places I saw. It would be almost impossible for me to travel to those places today, which is a shame. As the birthplace of writing, irrigation, astronomy, algebra and our major religions, the Middle East is the cradle of our civilisation.
All war is a failure of diplomacy. The current military intervention in the Middle East has lasted almost as long as World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. It has gone on for too long and needs to end. Bin Laden is dead, Saddam is dead and there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. ISIS will only be defeated when the world calls out the Milo Minderbinder who is funding them. As Eisenhower said:
No nation's security and wellbeing can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations.
Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible. Twenty-first century foreign affairs have been characterised by belligerent rhetoric and an unwillingness to seek peace through diplomatic channels. This needs to change. Sound diplomacy and strength of position is the foundation of peace.
Of all the foreign policy achievements in my lifetime, none was more inspirational than Reagan and Gorbachev in ending the Cold War. Their willingness to work together is the example that world leaders should follow today. As Reagan said:
People want to raise their children in a world without fear and without war. They want to have some of the good things over and above bare subsistence that make life worth living. They want to work at some trade that gives them a sense of worth. Their common interests cross all borders.
Australia needs to continue the good work the government is doing by building alliances with our Indo-Pacific neighbours. We are only as strong as we are united and as weak as we are divided. We also need to strengthen our defences here in Australia, using superior technology that will protect Australians and not line the pockets of vested interests.
The undeniable truth I learnt from my travels is that we're all the same. We all want a roof over our head, food in our stomach and a better life for our children. What binds us together is much more than what drives us apart. We must promote a unified Australia, rather than ideologies that seek to divide us. To rephrase Reagan, our common interests cross all identities. Cicero once stated: 'Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.'
There are so many people I have to thank for being here today, but first I would like to acknowledge a special place—my home town of Chinchilla. As a small agricultural town of around 6,000 people on the Darling Downs, it has played a major role in the development of the gas export industry in Queensland. Despite this, there has been a gradual erosion of essential services to it and many other small towns in Queensland. Worst of all was the loss of its maternity ward. When I grew up, Chinchilla had at least three midwives, one of whom was my mother. Despite a much larger economy today, it has none. The people of Chinchilla deserve better.
A rural upbringing has given me a deep appreciation of the land, its people and the challenges they face. I will stand up for our regions to ensure that they receive their fair share of government funding and services. Their contribution to this country has been the foundation of our success.
I would not be standing here today if it wasn't for the support and hard work of the party members. The LNP, as a volunteer organisation, only survives thanks to the tremendous hard work of its grassroots members. When the media ask, 'Who is the "base" of the party?' the answer is simple. It is the members and volunteers, who give up so much time and effort to run election campaigns, organise meetings, write up the minutes and keep the books. Without volunteers, the party and our communities go nowhere. They represent the silent majority who are proud of their country and their way of life. Thank you for your support.
Special thanks to my fellow Senate candidates Paul Scarr, Susan McDonald, Amanda Camm and Nicole Tobin, and to my fellow LNP Queensland colleagues for their invaluable advice and support. I also acknowledge all the candidates who ran in the federal election for having a go. Our democracy is only as strong as the courage of the people who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in.
To my mates here today, thanks for taking the mick! God forbid we ever take ourselves too seriously!
To my elder siblings, Michelle, Jim and Caroline, thanks for guiding your little brother here today. I know mum would be proud of us all.
To my in-laws, Robyn and Darcy, thank you for all of your support and help over the years.
To Dad, you've been my political mentor throughout my life, and your values and views I will carry with me in this chamber.
To Mum, I wish you could be here. Your unconditional love has, without a doubt, made me the person that I am today.
Family and self-reliance are values I hold strong. The family unit is the foundation of a stable society. As a father of three, I believe in the saying, 'It is not what you do for your children, but rather what you teach them to do for themselves.' We need to teach our children that with self-belief comes self-reliance.
That same attitude is one all Australians should adopt. We should not take our success for granted. To remain self-reliant, Australian control of our infrastructure, defence and natural wealth is vital. How can we teach our children to be self-reliant when we've left them with nothing in the cupboard for them to rely on?
For the last four years, I have had the pleasure of staying home and raising my young children. So I know how important it is that parents are with their children at such a young age. There is no greater bond than that between the parent and the child, and it is one that governments should seek to preserve. There is no substitute for mum and dad.
This brings me to my two great loves, my wife and children. Lauren, you are a wonderful mother and a fantastic wife. I couldn't ask for anything more. To my children, Sean, James and Scarlett, staying home to help raise you for the last four years has been the greatest pleasure of my life. And, while I will miss you, always know that, just as I have found strength and support from my family and friends, you will too. We live in a great country that with self-belief and hard work will reward your efforts.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau:
… if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected … He will … pass an invisible boundary … solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty, nor weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
To that end, I look forward to serving the Australian people to help nurture their aspirations so they too can build their castles in the air. Thank you, Mr President.