Tuesday, 10 September 2019
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.
Mr President and fellow senators, I rise to celebrate my predecessors and colleagues by echoing all who have risen in this chamber to give their first speech, and say it is an honour to be elected to the Senate and to the 46th Parliament. My favourite saying in politics has always been 'the world is run by those who stand up'. So I can say that, after deciding it was my time to stand up for what I believe in, I'm thrilled to now stand in this place—an honour that I will not take for granted.
My aim today is to share a little bit about my background, but only a little, because I'd prefer to focus on what I see is a great challenge before us in this place, and that is to defend democracy. I see this as a challenge with five fundamental arguments underlining it. Firstly, democracy works. Although it does not entitle individuals to everything they want, it does entitle everyone to a voice. Secondly, governing is not easy. It is about making choices—some harder than others, but all to improve the lives of Australians. Thirdly, countries work better when people run their own lives. This means creating opportunities for all Australians, not telling them how to live their lives. Next is the concept that happy lives are based on the love of family and the dignity of work. Finally, good government means pragmatic decisions based on values. But I will come back to these points.
I am fortunate that I don't have a log cabin story. My childhood was ideal, and I wish all children had experienced the same childhood I had. I will work hard in this place to do what I can to make this a reality for more children. While my childhood was rich in love, it was by no means financially privileged. My parents, Allan and Pam, who are in the gallery today, had a small business which did eventually flourish. This instilled in me an admiration for hard work, discipline, resilience and the will to have a go. I hope that I have displayed those traits throughout my life and that I bring them to this place. It also ignited a passion for small business; I ran my own firm for 15 years prior to coming here. I understand the challenges that small businesses face, and I will work hard to get them a fairer go.
My life has always been full of the most wonderful women. My sisters, Kristine, Lisa and Madeleine, and my niece, Lucia, have given me so much joy, and I love them all. Speaking of wonderful women, I'd like to acknowledge the love and support of my life partner, Nerilee, and thank her for standing beside me on this new journey. She has made incredible sacrifices for us, and I want her to know how much I appreciate them and her. She is one of Australia's most talented corporate women and I admire how she has never let gender get in the way of her success, even whilst working in a traditionally male-dominated industry. While this place will call me away from home, I want her to know that, while we're apart, she's never out of my thoughts or my heart. I also welcome her parents, Colin and Donelle Rockman, here today.
Now to my earlier point about the challenge ahead. As a society we are able to happily disagree on many things—music, art, even football—without the divisiveness that political disagreement brings about. I am at a loss to understand why politics, of all things, divides us more than virtually anything else. I am a passionate Collingwood supporter, and even this doesn't produce the vitriol that politics seems to. I am sure all in this place will join with me when I say, 'Go Pies!'
Following the recent election, much has been written of the loss of faith in politics and politicians. It has even been suggested that democracy is failing. What a sad state of affairs it would be if that declaration were true. The death of democracy could only mean one of two scenarios: the rise of autocracy with a reincarnation of totalitarianism via the rebirth of socialism, or, I guess, a return to an oligarchy—but I am quite sure Her Majesty would have sent us a note first! Clearly, those decrying the death of democracy are pursuing an agenda—an agenda built off the politics of fear and envy. They base this prognosis on their view that not everyone is getting everything that they want, and, they argue, the extension of that is 'your vote doesn't count', and thus they propose that democracy is dead. This line of attack is as illogical as it is illegitimate.
Democracy does not owe anyone anything except a chance to have their say. Government can never give everyone everything they want. That doesn't mean either government or democracy is failing. As Sir Robert Menzies said:
… democracy's true glory is not the achievement of a uniform mediocrity or of a spirit of dependence upon Government, but the encouragement of talent and initiative, the elevation of the individual, the giving of opportunity to all who have the inherent quality to seize it.
It is up to those of us who believe in democracy to make the case for it and to fight to defend it. Fighting for democracy here in Australia is easy because the proof, the undeniable truth, that it works is everywhere around us, particularly in this place. The harder task is for us to explain how democracy works—and, although it provides a framework to help address problems, it can't fix every problem.
Democracy is given expression here in this place; it is what we call 'government'. It is why we parliamentarians are here: to govern. However, I don't think I am overstating things when I say that governing is not easy. Governing is about making choices. These choices are often complex, with multiple stakeholders, each with competing priorities and interests. Often there is no right answer, but an answer must be found nonetheless. The decisions we make in this place do affect people's lives, but hopefully for the better more often than for the lesser. But we can't resile from the fact that some decisions may have negative consequences for a few. It is a fine balance that involves making hard decisions. So I reiterate: governing is never easy.
If you only take your news and views from Facebook and Twitter, it seems impossible to see life other than simplistic and binary—that is, 'You're either with me or you're against me.' You see the politics of fear and favour. When someone sees a post that moves them emotionally, it is easy to take a false view that government is failing them. But solving every problem isn't the job of government, and it can never be the job of government. Our job is to look at the bigger picture on how Australians' lives can be improved as a nation. We create legislation, regulation, penalisation and incentivisation to provide citizens with a framework within which to conduct their lives.
Our role is not to run their lives for them, nor even to tell them how to do so. Our purpose is to create the best set of circumstances, given known resources and constraints, and to encourage people to do the best that they can within that framework. How we come to these decisions cannot come from knowing all the answers, because we simply don't have all the answers. We can ask questions, we can research, we can run inquiries and we can consult, but we are not all-knowing—even if the members in the other place may tell you different.
Our decisions have to come from deeper places than that, for these tough decisions need deeper guidance. That guidance can only come from the underpinning values we hold and believe in. For me, they are Liberal Party values, through and through. They are built on the fundamental principles of primacy of the individual, opportunity for all, reward for effort, but also, equally, the virtue of personal responsibility. I believe in free markets and freedom of speech but, most importantly, in my view, getting government out of people's lives.
I believe that the simplest way that government can improve people's lives is by creating the opportunity to work. I was fortunate enough to be in the gallery to hear my friend and now colleague Senator Paterson give his first speech, and he talked about the concept of 'the dignity of work' and the benefit it provides to people above and beyond simply a wage. It was a notion that really resonated with me because it reinforced my belief that a job is far more than just an economic transaction. A job provides far more than a salary; it gives people acknowledgment of their unique contribution to our great nation. With that comes a sense of belonging to something larger and a sense of pride. Also, in return, it makes Australia a more productive country, where each and every individual's contribution is valued and recognised beyond a cost-benefit analysis. That is the dignity of work.
Our government, especially our Prime Minister, has made it clear that 'the best form of welfare is a job'. This goes beyond a mere slogan; it has truth in meaning. The word 'welfare' itself has more than one meaning. Yes, It can mean a handout, and that rightly remains a responsibility of government for those who require that financial support. Providing a handout does not diminish the people who require it. We should not, and never will, leave these people behind. But the definition that is more important to Australians is that 'welfare' also means wellbeing, health, happiness, safety and security. That is why we believe that a job is indeed the best form of welfare, as it provides these things and is not merely a monetary contribution. Government must do as much as possible to ensure there are as few roadblocks as possible to people being able to work.
It is clear that good governments recognise that there is a direct correlation between good economic management and national wellbeing. It is inarguable that Australians are happier and healthier when their aspirations are allowed to flourish and they can put their innate productivity to good use. This must never be understated by governments and must never, ever be undermined.
I believe each and every individual has something to bring to the table in a fair and functioning society. Our role is to reflect their values. These 'quiet Australians', as aptly put by our Prime Minister on election night, are the bedrock of our society and have always been. In previous times they have also been known as Menzies's forgotten people and Howard's battlers. Governments can and must be doing more to recognise and support these people through good policy initiatives. The passing of our government's tax cut package during my first week in parliament is a tangible, responsive and responsible example of how the coalition government is helping to look after these quiet Australians and reward their hard work—by allowing them to keep more of what they earn.
Every generation has shaped the country as it stands today, and every generation has faced its own unique social, moral and economic challenges. Quiet Australians look to good government to address these challenges on their behalf.
It is my belief that good government is not born of values and beliefs alone, nor is it achieved by merely following the political manoeuvres of governments past. What inevitably defines a government's legacy is found in its ability to command a modern agenda, infused by values that meet the ever-changing needs of Australians. Good government is decisions born of values mixed with pragmatism.
As Liberals we often stand up and commend the legacies of successful past governments and of great leaders of history, including Prime Ministers Menzies and Howard, the fathers of our great party. However, what is often left out of their legacies was their commitment to political pragmatism over blindly adhering to the tenets of ideology. What made these governments successful was that they acted in the nation's interest, with flexibility and with vision, as social and political climates dictated.
Good governments must be flexible and open to adapting to the needs of a growing society while still holding true to the underpinning values that unite us. This ensures an unwavering consistency of our core values, despite changing times and social attitudes. It is also the reason that I stand on this side of the chamber with the Liberal Party—its fundamental faith in human nature and the individual. The rational individual's capacity to build a life of aspiration and betterment should be fostered and supported by governments, not controlled by it. It is also one of the many reasons the Liberal Party encompasses and accommodates the ideological differences of conservatives, classic liberals and libertarians—because what unites us is far more powerful than what divides us. It is the balance of these three political schools of thought that allows for a diversity of responses and ideas.
We historically, along with our coalition partners, are the party of good government. I say this proudly and biasedly, because we on this side get the balance right. In the face of radical reform without rationality, the electorate demonstrates a prevailing common sense. Reform may be bold but only when necessity calls for it. Reform for reform's sake is never good government. Being a conservative is not saying no to all change; it's saying yes to the right change at the right time for the right reasons. That timing and those reasons are only determined by the Australian people. Good governments do not seek to impose, to thrust, public policy on Australians in order to effect social change. Society shapes governments; governments should not shape society.
Mr President, as you well understand, democracy is utterly dependent on having parliament operate at its absolute best. That is not achieved when we fight amongst ourselves, as this is when people feel most that democracy is failing them. Whilst there is a necessary role for robust Senates to keep governments in check, they should not be used as a tool of obstruction. Overly hostile Senates have only proved themselves to be working against the principles of good government. I believe more can be achieved through tactful and prudent negotiation between senators. I look forward to working with all members of this chamber in order to ensure that the upper house remains the robust chamber of scrutiny while also staying true to the principles of state representation and advocacy. As my friend former senator Mitch Fifield said in his valedictory speech only a few weeks ago, 'My approach in this place has never been partisanship for the sake of partisanship.' I will honour his virtues here by taking a similar approach and seek to highlight important philosophical differences while not being gratuitously partisan.
In concluding, when I look to my admired political figures, I see a common theme that underpins their roles as elected officials—that is, their commitment to serve the public. I was chosen democratically to represent the values of the Liberal Party. I thank my preselectors for placing their trust in me, and I thank my Victorian parliamentary colleagues, led by the Hon. Josh Frydenberg. However, first and foremost, I'm a servant to the people. I was elected by the people of Victoria. My loyalty is thus first and foremost to them, and I thank them for electing me. I restate my commitment to represent all Victorians and all Australians, to listen to ideas from all sides of the political divide and to ensure that we're creating a vision of unity and aspiration for all members of society. Democracy demands nothing less, and my electors deserve nothing less. I thank the Senate for its indulgence.
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.