Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Mr President, thank you very much. Can I begin by saying that there's probably no-one in this entire chamber this evening who is listening to this who is more surprised than I am that I'm giving a first speech in the Australian Senate. The joke relating to a certain Australian skater has been done to death by some of my colleagues; it's been thrown at me from across the floor, but I do recognise a parallel. I listened to Senator Steele-John give his first speech a little while ago. He commented that he was the youngest appointed to this chamber. I am definitely not competing with him on that issue! I'm proud to be a member of the fastest growing demographic in this country.
I thought I would use this speech to introduce myself to the Senate. What happened last week makes that somewhat redundant as my background, character and motives have been stated, examined and questioned, both inside this chamber and in public, so I hope just to put certain things into context. Before I proceed, I would very much like to thank the coalition leadership team in the Senate for the support and comradeship they provided to me over the last week—especially Senator Marise Payne, the Minister for Defence, who is overseas at the moment, who defended me so passionately. In his valedictory speech, George Brandis claimed that there is a unique feeling of comradeship within the coalition in the Senate—indeed there is and I have certainly felt it. I particularly extend my appreciation to those that defended me in the other place and especially to the Prime Minister. My first week in this place certainly presented me with a reminder of the importance of ensuring that I cannot be misrepresented and that my message is always clear, as is my absolute commitment to the values of an inclusive and diverse Australian society.
I will never take for granted the privilege to speak in a democratic forum such as this. Democracy, in both concept and practice, has been a significant part of my career and my life, perhaps more so than for many Australians. As a soldier, amazingly enough I have accompanied five countries down their road to democracy. I spent 2½ half years maintaining security and backing up the police in Papua New Guinea at the start of PNG's democracy. I spent five years in two postings as a diplomat—on Jakarta's streets during the fall of Suharto and the establishment of democratic government in Indonesia; and with four of my embassy Defence staff in East Timor, unarmed, evacuating thousands in the weeks before Peter Cosgrove and his troops arrived, including negotiating with armed militia for the life of Bishop Belo. I commanded the force evacuating Australian citizens from the Solomon Islands, a young nation that had stumbled in its democratic progress. Finally, I spent a year as chief of operations in the senior headquarters of the coalition forces in Iraq over the second year of the Iraq war helping coordinate an allied army growing to 300,000 in vicious daily combat at the cost of 900 of our US soldiers' lives against those who would deny any form of democracy to Iraqis or to anyone else. These experiences have given me an innate respect for democracy and a particular realisation of what it may mean to be an Australian senator. They also explain my determined approach to assist real democratic reform within the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party.
My parents, Andy and Noni, were at least third-generation Australians, with our children the fourth generation. Working-class Australians, they gained a middle-class lifestyle after World War II via hard work and a realisation, especially on my mother's part, that education for their six children was the way to success in life. Our family story is not an uncommon Australian success story. It is also not a story that does or should only apply to the past. Anne and I have four adult children, all of whom have worked and studied hard in the best Australian tradition to receive the benefits available in this magnificent country. Of significance, two of them this year have achieved homeownership, one in rural Victoria and one even in Sydney, and a third is on the cusp of doing so in Melbourne.
Although I retired from the Army nine years ago, my 40 years as a soldier taught me a lot that seems applicable to parliamentary and wider social life. First, leadership is everything. Whenever we wanted to achieve real effects, even in this technology dominated world, we still turned to the best person. As chief of operations in Iraq, I was at the centre of the most technically advanced headquarters in the history of war, yet we consistently turned to people as people when we wanted to get things done. Human leadership in this age of technology has never been more important, be it in the military or in society.
Second, Australia brings its unique culture into its military. Blind obedience to orders or authority does not make good soldiers; nor does it make good citizens. We encourage our diggers to question every order for as long as possible because all of us are a lot smarter than any one of us. But, when the final decision is made by the boss, we expect support for that decision until the situation changes significantly. This ethos and duty, this understanding of loyalty and teamwork in a questioning environment, is something that I intend to personally carry into this house. I need to say that the only order I ever obeyed without question was 'Duck!'
Third, as a leader, once you find someone who knows what they are doing, get out of the way. This could be the military equivalent of the age-old principle of subsidiarity—only ever do what you do well—a principle of value in any organisation and one which reflects the Liberal principles of small and appropriate government to maximise freedom of the individual.
Fourth, stereotypes are invariably wrong. If you think that all a senior military leader has to do is give an order and everyone obeys, you have never had the joy of running a big military or interagency organisation. Modern military organisations that I was connected with were so diverse that most people did not have to acknowledge my authority over them. In Iraq, for example, subordinates had to be convinced that my plan was good, that my directions gave them a fair chance of not being killed, or that I was not directing them to go outside their remit or outside my authority. Consultation, influence and persuasion are required perhaps more in modern militaries because the consequences of failure are immediate: you can, too often, count the bodies.
Operation Sovereign Borders was my introduction to the coalition, and I must say I was mightily impressed. Scott Morrison was generous enough to call me the co-author of our effective border protection controls. To be a co-author is a great honour because our policy enabled one of the most successful and most humane approaches to a complex strategic law enforcement and humanitarian problem. With the focus now on winding down offshore centres on Manus and Nauru, many forget previous failed policies and the need to effectively and coherently manage them. If I am indeed a co-author, I am one of at least four co-authors, some of whom are present here today. Unless we're blinded by ideology, there are lessons in that policy for all of us. What really made Operation Sovereign Borders work was simply leadership and management 101—nothing more, nothing magical, nothing too complex. Australia had to consistently demonstrate national resolve in facing down the people smugglers and those in foreign bureaucracies and elsewhere that were corruptly furthering their efforts. Across all levels involved, this national will was, and remains, encapsulated in that three world goal: stop the boats. Those who criticised it as a three-word slogan missed the whole point, and many miss it to this day.
We turned that policy into a strategy which showed how the policy would be achieved. Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and I launched it in the media and the PMO turned it into a three-document election policy. That was really the easy part. Compared to having an effect in the real world of real people, policy is pretty easy. Policy is never an end in itself. The hard work is always implementation. Operation Sovereign Borders has been so successful because of the alignment which existed from the Prime Minister all the way down to the implementers, including the hands-on management by ministers. It dramatically restored my faith in how effective Australian governments could be. It remains effective to this very day. I am immensely proud of the team that put this together and the results it achieved—the lives it saved and the criminal activity it disrupted—and I am particularly proud of the government behind it all to this very day.
It's only fair to this house that I state what I hope to focus on as a senator for New South Wales. I will put the people of New South Wales and Australia first, to the best of my ability, in everything this house asks me to consider. I admit to still being in the learning phase of how I might do that, but that is the objective. I am very sensitive to the overwhelming support I have received from good Libs all over Australia, particularly those who supported me during my preselection in 2016—and the 10,100 people who amazingly voted for me below the line at No. 7 during the double-dissolution election—the superb, extraordinary democratic reformers in New South Wales. Also those who have wished me well I would like to thank as a senator, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was among the first to ring when there was an indication that my appointment might happen. Last week I received the most extraordinary support from a very wide cross-section of our society, either expressed directly to me, through my office or through the media—a level of support that I found absolutely humbling.
Whatever I find myself doing in this great institution, I will work for it to be ethical. Ethics is about consistently doing the right thing, about being secretly beholden to no-one, and, in a political and parliamentary sense, about working for the voters who elected us. In terms of the Liberal Party, it means representing the members of my party and voters rather than disguised narrow factional interests. I am of no faction and beholden to no individual or group. I am a New South Wales Liberal, and that is where my loyalty lies. Those journos that call me a member of the New South Wales hard Right have never met a member of the New South Wales hard Right. My conclusion is that the behaviour of such factions—Left, Centre or Right—is rarely in the interests of the party, its members or those who might consider voting for a right-of-centre party. I stand beside Walter Villatora, Tony Abbott, Angus Taylor and many other New South Wales Libs whilst still recognising the sterling qualities of those who opposed us.
Given my career expertise defence and wider national security are, of course, big issues for me. I always and publically acknowledge that the 2016 Defence white paperparticularly the accompanying funding, industry and technology links, the resultant force structure and, most recently, the defence export policy—is the best that Australia has had since the first defence white paper back in 1976. This is to the great credit of our coalition prime ministers and defence and defence industry ministers.
I also think that the Australian Defence Force itself is better than I have seen it since the end of the Vietnam War. That's a coalition achievement of the Howard, Abbott and Turnbull governments, and of defence leaders, and one achieved despite the extraordinary neglect of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period. But I look around the world at the impact of Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and Islamist extremism—what Americans call 'four nations and an ideology'—on the liberal world order, and particularly on strategic uncertainty and growing instability in our region.
I look at the relative decline of US military power from 16 years of war, eight years of President Obama and seven years of crippling sequestration. I have failed to see for many years, despite any special relationships with any of its allies, how the US can come to the aid of all or even most of its allies in any extreme situation. The US government and military now acknowledge this in their desire to refinance their military. Many US allies around the world, from the Baltic to the Sea of Japan, seem to have retreated into complacent dependency, based on the myth of infinite US power and resolve as a reason for underinvesting in their own defence self-reliance, and this affects all of us. The centre pole of Australia's defence policy tent, the US, may no longer stand as straight or as tall as we hoped.
My view is that we need to increase our self-reliance to manage strategic uncertainty through increased readiness, preparedness and all-round adaptability. Once before, in the decades up to 1941, Australia blindly put its security in the hands of an old friend, with a resulting situation that almost did not end well for us. As the foreign affairs white paper pointed out, an ascendant power, China, is challenging a status quo power, the US, in our region. War with China or involving China is not inevitable, and I've said this many, many times. We should welcome China's emergence as a world power, if for no other reason than it has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but we, Australia, should welcome China from a position of strength. I'm reminded by commentators that since the 1500s a status quo power has been overtaken by a rising power some 16 times, and war has resulted in 12 of those occasions. Twelve of 16 are not good odds and require prudent policy.
I have no expectations that governments immediately spend one more dollar on defence, but for years I've advocated that we must be more open about the strategic risks that are being taken in the name of the Australian people. We should all know how much defence we get for what we spend, but we should also know how much risk we take for the money we do not spend. I understand that we ask government to take risks in every single policy area. Defence is only different in that it's a classic public good: unlike many areas, such as health and education, the public cannot buy more defence from another source if they want less risk.
Defence is also the only major area of government that is wholly a federal government responsibility. But as I've written, as early as 2012, defence policies of all parties in all governments for decades have merely been a list of inputs to Defence—that is, ships, planes, tanks, people and dollars—whereas the most important part of any defence policy is the output: how Australia is going to deter the next war by being able to win it. Of course this requires governments to state what they consider the next war is going to be, and so define an output oriented defence policy. I reject the views of commentators and academics that it's too hard to determine this output. Such a specification of the next war can be done in a generic sense, and it must be done or the necessary logic in our defence policy is totally absent. The US and the UK did it for years in terms of the kinds of wars they could win, and only abandoned it when it became politically too sensitive because of the self-induced defence shortfalls we see in those nations today.
I totally reject that there is a security issue in telling the Australian public and the world how we, the government, intend to win the next war in a generic sense. The world needs to know this, because that is the essence of deterrence, and we all need to know it, because how else can the government know if it is succeeding in defence or, more importantly, how can the voters ever judge how well a government is meeting its defence responsibility?
For obvious reasons, control of our borders and immigration is important to me, as it is to most Australians. We now effectively control our borders in a way that few now trust the opposition to do. However, I am concerned that the level of legal migration now that we control our borders is in excess of the capacity of our cities to absorb, both culturally and in terms of infrastructure. We are approaching limits on this, if we have not already exceeded them. I don't have the answers, but I certainly have the concerns.
As a new New South Wales senator, New South Wales issues will be my priority. The first person that I called once I was confirmed was the Premier of New South Wales, the leader of the best state government in this country. This may be quaint to some, but I had no need, obligation or desire to call a faction leader. I will work tirelessly for the re-election of the coalition at the federal level, as I did during the double-D election, during the Bennelong by-election and at other elections, because a right-of-centre coalition government, even if we may have faults, will benefit the people of Australia more than anything else, and we are short of volunteering and donating party members. My wariness of a Labor-Greens government is due to the impact such a government would have on national defence, on our borders, on an already stretched deficit and on cultural issues, as we have all seen before.
My last focus is the catch-all of what I call national resilience. This is what we may have taken for granted in past years: the strength of our economy, community confidence in our culture, and the integrity and influence of our institutions. Of course, Australia has changed and will continue to change. As a Liberal from a conservative base, I'm not afraid of change. I'm a staunch conservative on international affairs, because the world out there is confused, disrupted and replete with nationalism, and it's getting a touch of militarism. The big bad world could not care less what Australia has achieved internally. Ironically, they may even see it as weakness. However, on every social issue that comes before this house, I will not be stereotyped and I will make up my mind issue by issue. Two of those issues are the attention we pay to the fastest growing demographic in this nation—people of my age—and the support we give to Defence Force veterans, many of whom are here today.
Someone once said that, if opponents don't speak against you, you probably are not standing up for enough. Anyone who's googled me—and that seems to be most of the Western world and all the media in the last week or so—knows that various opponents regularly speak against me because I have publicly voiced my views on issues. I was targeted because I criticised the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government over its neglect of its national defence responsibilities. Some single-issue polemicists wanted to take me to the International Criminal Court years ago as a supposed war criminal because I fought in Iraq, and that has echoed more recently. Those who failed to stop the boats or said it could not be done attacked me, and of course they attacked many others, because we did it. I was publicly attacked by apologists at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas because I was a board director, with a military background, of the then brilliant St James Ethics Centre. And, most recently, I was abused as a murderer at a function held in Redfern. If opponents don't speak against you, you are probably not standing up for enough.
One of my early US bosses in Iraq used to say a prayer at the start of our daily battle update. That prayer was Psalm 144 and is a particularly muscular part of Christianity. It's a good prayer for going into battle in Iraq or for use in general everyday life. I used it in the eulogy I was honoured to give for Captain Bryce Duffy, killed in 2011 in Afghanistan—may he rest in peace. And we are honoured to have Bryce's parents in the gallery today, Kim and Kerry Duffy. We are honoured to have you present with us today. Many of us may understand their loss, but none of us can ever fully repay them. Psalm 144 goes:
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge …
My view of our Judaeo-Christian culture is not one of victimhood or persecution. Instead, it's one that acknowledges centuries of success in overcoming challenges to produce the nation that is modern Australia and that will enable us to face similar challenges in the future. I acknowledge that our community may not yet have reached perfection, but we remain a lot closer than most nations or institutions, particularly those prone to criticising us. We are challenged almost daily as to our culture, but I have confidence in what we have and what we are. Being a Liberal never stops me from being progressive, the way Menzies thought of Liberals and the way John Howard delivered. If we know what is valuable in our magnificent society then we know what to defend from the assaults of the pessimists and the ideologues. All it takes is the kind of confidence embodied in Psalm 144.
I came here in such strange circumstances that my gratitude to others, I suspect, is different from most senators. I don't think it appropriate to thank the High Court, but in the spirit of coalition unity I would like to mention Fiona Nash and to acknowledge Hollie Hughes. We are indeed in strange times.
Some of my family, close and extended, are in the gallery, and of course I thank them, and they know my gratitude to them. My wife, Anne, is there, as are two of our adult children, Erin and Felicity, with our other children, Michael and Sarah, unable to be with us.
I mention many of the national leaders that I have had contact with over the years: John Howard, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton, Angus Taylor, Connie Fierravanti-Wells and especially Stuart Robert, who has been a particular friend, plus, of course, the two senators who escorted me into the Senate last week, Linda Reynolds and David Fawcett. I note my deep respect for one in particular, Scott Morrison. Because I've worked so closely with him, I recognise his particular leadership and competence. As Treasurer, he must now look back on the border protection era as halcyon days.
But, of course, we are not short of outstanding parliamentarians in the Liberal Party. I owe much to the stimulation I've received over the years from Peter Jennings, Steven Loosley, Simon Longstaff and Allan Behm. For special reasons, I would like to thank one comrade who often made me look good, and that's Ken Brownrigg. I have no election staff or campaign director to thank, but the closest is Scott Briggs who advised me years ago to have a go.
Let me finish with reference to the most important determinant of what I am, the Australian military. If I had a military mentor over the years, it is retired Lieutenant General Des Mueller, who launched the book that I wrote back in 2008, and I thank him for 25 years of wise counsel. Des was and is a brilliant blend of Sparta and Athens. My boss in Iraq was US General George Casey, who commanded the war in Iraq for three long years while I ran it for him for only the first of those years.
Too many to name are the Australian soldiers of all ranks who've worked for me, with me or above me over 40 years, because I've learnt so much from them while pretending to know much more than I ever actually did. Many of them have contacted me in the past week to express their support for me when the place of men and women in uniform in our society was challenged.
Napoleon said: if you want to learn a nation's interests, go to the graves of its soldiers. Many Australian dead have been brought back to Australia, but many still lie close to where they fell. Australia's interests lie across the face of this earth. We are an international nation with worldwide interests. I've visited many battlefields and played cameo parts on some. What strikes me is the consistent performance of Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen over more than 100 years and around the world. Today's soldiers are as good as, if not better than, any we have sent overseas, and much of that is due to our Australian culture and the leadership, training and equipment that accompany them. To me, they represent everything that is good about Australia because they are Australian. I dedicate my efforts in this house to them. Thank you.