Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Parliamentary Representation


3:35 pm

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to take this opportunity to thank the Senate and to express my gratitude in a number of areas over the last three years of my time in this place. As we all know, in June last year the Country Liberal Party exercised their democratic right and selected a new Senate candidate. There have been many hours and column centimetres to discuss the merits of this decision—or otherwise. But I would like to have a few other reflections.

In reflecting on my time in this place, I want to start by acknowledging those around me who have offered me tremendous support over an extended period of time. I made some initial mistakes in who I chose to receive advice from. I have acknowledged those mistakes, and they continue to follow me in this place. Personal staff, as we know, can make or break an elected member, and I've certainly experienced both.

I've taken the opportunity to bring my current staff to Canberra to witness the budget and see firsthand the parliament in action, which, unfortunately, they have been unable to do over most of my term. Let me start with some of the staff that I brought with me. Helen Bateman has been with the office from the onset and, more than most, has experienced the high and lows with me. Helen has seven decades of life experience, many of those in politics, and I am grateful for her tireless work in keeping me on schedule and for her genuine and sincere engagement with constituents.

Kylie Bonanni joined my office last year. Kylie swept into the office and brought with her substantial organisation skills, with her ability to connect to people and create from scratch programs and events for ministers and even the Prime Minister at short notice.

I'd like to acknowledge Lance Northey, who's not actually here today. He has been my long-suffering media adviser, and, given some of the media attention I have attracted, his has not been an easy task. He has filled the shoes with all of his many years of experience, as you would expect. To you, Hollie: I would thank you for bringing Lance to me.

Marianne St Clair was a personal friend before I entered politics. She gives me endless joy and laughter, mainly at her own expense, but she doesn't mind; she's a good sport. Marianne, thank you for working tirelessly for our constituents and being a thorn in the side of Telstra and the NBN.

Riley Schipp is a young Territorian who is studying here at ANU. Throughout COVID, he has, unfortunately, been quite estranged from us, but he contributes to our WhatsApp conversations and is outstanding at making mango daiquiris, a very important skill in a Territory office.

Kris Civitarese—Big Kris—joined my office after helping me fire a previous office manager. It's been a gift that keeps on giving. Sorry, Kris. You're like a boomerang: you keep coming back to us. Sometimes you don't know what you've been missing until you find it. Kris became a confidant of mine, and he steadied the office through the use of his own measured temperament and people skills.

I will mention Ashley Manicaros, who took over from Kris when Kris thought that he wanted to return to his home and wife in Tennant Creek. It turns out he was wrong; he came back to Darwin. Ashley was familiar to many in this place through a long career in politics. It seems some of you never appear to leave. He came back to Darwin, but, as he was familiar to many in this place through a long career in politics, it seemed some of you never appeared to leave. He left my office a few weeks ago to pursue other challenges, which I didn't understand, because I thought I was a pretty good challenge! But perhaps he meant he wanted less, not more.

To Wayne Nayda, my husband, who has been the reason I have been able to come to this place over the past three years without a tribe of, as Michaelia said this week, fur babies trailing behind me. It's often been expressed that we may like a Senate cattle dog, and I can assure you that you would have had several if I had not been able to leave them at home. He has also been incredibly supportive of me and my job, particularly over the last 12 months.

To all of my colleagues: I have and will forever appreciate your candour, your counsel and your friendship. And of course, particularly, my Nats Senate family: Matt, who is, unfortunately, not here; Susie; Perin; and our leader, Bridget. To all of you who have assisted my office by answering endless questions, taking time out of your busy days—and thank you very much to Holly, Keith Pitt and Bridget particularly for generously lending me your staff. I really, really appreciate the loaners. I'll just mention Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion, who have been absolute rocks to me during my time here. For those of you who know Barnaby well, he is a very kind and caring person. As a result of that kindness and caring attitude, he often tends to pick up stray people, and I kind of feel like I'm one of his strays that he just never managed to rehome.

On the opposition side, I wish to personally acknowledge Senator Don Farrell, who, despite his personal opposition to voluntary assisted dying, was prepared to offer his assistance in getting my Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill debated. His interactions with me were sincere, and his word was his word. I also want to say thank you for the kind words and often random calls and text messages from Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. She's obviously a Territory colleague and she has been a great friend and support. People think that, in the heat of political battle, we never work together, but of course those of us in this place know that that is not true. One of our greatest abilities in this place is the ability to work with each other. And of course, when we work together, the biggest winners from our point of view are Territorians.

I'd also like to mention—and I mentioned her in the condolence motion on Monday—Senator Kimberley Kitching. I spoke of my work with her and the joy that I had in sharing the joint standing committee with her.

I'd like to acknowledge all of my colleagues. Sorry if I've left some out; you're all special and important to me.

There has been much written about my resignation from my former party, the CLP, and speculation over why. My losing preselection was not connected to my resignation at all. A democratic decision was made. We can argue the merits of that another time, but it was a democratic decision, and they exercised their right to do that. I have no problem with that decision at all. My reason to resign was driven entirely by my former staff member, Jason Riley, who did abuse and terrorise my office, including myself, and the party's decision to place him into a position on their central council. To have to sit in meetings with such a person was a very stressful experience and one that has not been without me seeking out professional assistance to overcome the anxiety and PTSD it created.

The reported treatment of my fellow senator Kimberley Kitching—as I've just touched on Kimberley—by her Labor colleagues greatly saddens me. Whether or not it contributed to her death is a matter of speculation and it will likely never be determined. But that's really irrelevant. If it happened, it should not have happened and yet it seems that it may have—and so it does over and over again, unfortunately. We need to accept that poor behaviour can be part of our profession, and that part needs to be eliminated from our game. A great friend of mine once said, 'Politics is a nefarious business,' and he was right. My only hope is that we are learning and evolving, and that it won't always have to be this way.

This alleged behaviour towards Senator Kitching should not become a partisan football, for it is not constrained to any one particular side of politics. We on this side might laud ourselves over the recent response to claims of bullying and sexual harassment with the Jenkins report. And it was a very appropriate and good response. We will now find ourselves tempted to point to the other side with an attitude of 'look over there; see what they did'. We should refrain, for bullying, harassment and victim-blaming can still be occurring on all sides of politics. Just a few weeks ago I was the subject of a vicious display of victim-blaming in the media by a former senior staffer. This was in response to my revelation that I had resigned from the CLP due to inaction on my concerns for my personal safety. This public attack was female-on-female, as are the allegations surrounding Senator Kitching. It seems it's not a man thing, a faction thing or a party thing, but it certainly can be a political thing. I don't want this to become a finger-pointing or pointscoring exercise; I want it to be a learning one. I think of the premature death of my colleague Kimberley Kitching and one thing that haunts me is that it so easily could have been me. We can honour her memory by not making this a political issue but by fixing it so that politics is a better place, particularly for women.

I would now ask your indulgence to go over a few of the things that have been important to me during my time here. When I entered this place there was no COVID; the world seemed normal, and then the world came crashing down for the rest of my term. But I got stuck in and I wanted to achieve things. I didn't realise how short a time I would have in this place, so it is lucky that I got stuck in and tried to make Australia and, particularly, the Territory, a better place.

At this election, voters will get to elect two members for the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives. It is through the combined efforts of myself, working with my colleagues, and members opposite that we saved these two seats. I want to acknowledge the role of then Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormick, Barnaby Joyce, Llew O'Brien and Mathias Cormann, with Bridget McKenzie in this as well. Had we failed then we would be electing one person less to argue our case in Canberra.

In the agriculture space, we saw a modification and positive changes to ACIL 3.0 regulations. For that I thank my Nationals colleagues and Minister Littleproud for his open-minded approach as to the consequences for producers after they were abandoned by even the live exporters themselves. I am grateful that I had the support of my colleagues in the Nationals Senate team to convince the government not to appeal the live export decision of the Federal Court. We could easily have extended the pain, but common sense prevailed.

The introduction and development of an agricultural visa which now has Vietnam signed up to the bilateral agreement will assist the industry to address workforce shortages, as we did with the seasonal worker and other programs.

Mangoes are the second largest value agricultural industry in the Northern Territory and COVID nearly wiped this out with a lack of access to pickers. I think Minister Littleproud thought that I was haunting and stalking him because every time in the months leading up to a mango picking season there would be many phone calls. In the end, we managed to save about 80 per cent of the mango crop. And now with this ag. visa I am positive for the industry going forward.

I was also able to argue for the removal of the working hours cap for international students, which has eased the pressure when it comes to their ability to earn income on the back of COVID and provided the hospitality and tourism industries another source of valued workers.

But there are still policy battles to be had, starting with the NT's ability to make its own laws. The Andrews bill is almost a quarter of a century old and it needs to be removed. Every other state in Australia is allowed to at least debate voluntary assisted dying laws and yet we in the NT and the ACT are not. We are not second-class citizens so I ask that we not be treated this way. To quote a member opposite, 'We don't need voluntary assisted decision-making.'

The other fight at the moment in the Northern Territory—I know it happens as well in other jurisdictions—is that we are being mandated with COVID vaccinations. I'm not an antivaxxer. I'm a pro-vaxxer. I'm a scientist. I'm a vet. I'm fully vaccinated. I support vaccination. I support COVID vaccination. But that's my choice. I don't want to have to have it brought upon people that in order to work you have to undergo a medical procedure. There are also the powers that have been given to our Chief Health Officer, specifically in the Northern Territory. We should never shirk our responsibilities in parliament, but we are a democracy and we have seen the removal of rights, which makes me personally uncomfortable.

Moving forward, I also have concerns about the support for business and industry in the term ahead. Labor and their green partners are anti-energy, anti-industry and anti-agriculture. A Labor-Greens government is not what Australia needs right now.

I also have grave concerns for the ability of the NT government to expend the Commonwealth funds that we've committed in areas, particularly roads and infrastructure. We've delivered a very generous budget. The problem is the NT government's inability to roll that money out and spend it where it's needed.

Many people have asked about the future for me—what I'm passionate about and what I'm working on. I'll go to my maiden speech where I talked about nuclear energy and how we cannot continue to ignore it as part of our energy mix and our broader solution to reaching net zero emissions. My position is similar, if not stronger, than when I came to this place. The UK, the US, Canada and France all have around a 20 per cent nuclear mix in their energy plants and in their plans to achieve net zero. We can't be blind to this. We must explore every means available to mankind to address climate change concerns. We will do Australia a great injustice if we do not develop gas reserves and if we bury our head in the sand when it comes to nuclear energy.

In closing, let me say, on reflecting on what may lie ahead for me in the future, I have made no decisions at this stage about my immediate future, which may confuse some people. But I am a qualified veterinary surgeon. I was accepted into university as a 16-year-old, completed my degree the age of 20 and have worked in the industry ever since. I have the opportunity to return to a successful business or many other opportunities as my time in this place has taught me to take advantage of the skills and the things that I've learnt.

All of us grow into the role of senator over time. None of us slip into the role and become the most effective politician from day one. I know I wasn't when I first was elected. But, given more time in this place, my contributions would have been greater than the opportunity has afforded me.

I'm lucky my future is more secure than others who depart this place and than most others facing the next election. I leave clear of mind knowing I did the best job possible and with a list of achievements which will last well beyond my time here.

I thank you, Mr President, and I thank the Senate, the people of the Northern Territory and those within the CLP who supported me on my endeavours and expressed sorrow at my departure. My road was bumpy, but then living in and coming from the Northern Territory the roads are always bumpy. So, thank you, Mr President, and thank you to all members, senators and staff in this place.


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