Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

First Speech

Liddle, Senator Kerrynne

4:59 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to order, I now call Senator Liddle to make her first speech and ask honourable senators that the usual courtesies be extended to her. I call Senator Liddle.

5:00 pm

Kerrynne Liddle (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

LIDDLE () (): Thank you, President and fellow senators, of this 47th Parliament. In making my way as an elected member to this place I contested two Liberal Senate preselections and two federal election campaigns, one in 2016 and again in 2022. I have spoken with many hundreds of party members, listened to thousands of voters at shows, street corners and shopping centres across South Australia on the issues that matter to them most. At the 2022 election, with a marked level of concern, people spoke of the increasing cost of living; individual and national security and safety; health and mental health; housing for owning and renting; and the environment, and it was not all about climate change. The observation in a nutshell is there's a desire for relative certainty and looking forward to a better future, not looking back. What I learned from these interactions was the importance of listening, not to the loudest, not to the most resourced and not to the most organised but to all the voices.

With experience in executive management and leadership across some of our largest and most economically significant industries, much of my work has been in the true engine room that fuels our economy—the private sector. I've owned and operated several successful small businesses, worked and volunteered in not-for-profits, in health, the arts, tertiary education and more, focusing on governance and on social and economic participation. As a working parenting adult I earned undergraduate and postgraduate university and coveted industry qualifications, securing the tools that I've since known have served me well.

In life, education and work, success has not just been mine. I am here because of those who gave unwavering support in regular, reliable and sufficient measure and also, somewhat ironically, by those who did not. When the detractors, the hecklers and the naysayers told me my dreams were impossible, unachievable or simply unlikely my response was, quite quickly: 'Sit back; watch carefully. They are not.'

Standing six feet tall, 183 centimetres, I am used to references in relation to height, so it is with that that I acknowledge those who stood beside me, behind me and in front of me and whose shoulders I leaned on, almost cried on but most definitely stood on to get here.

To my grandparents, who have long since passed, who laboured to build vast pastoral empires on country to which they will forever belong: Corporal Harold Liddle enlisted to fight under the Australian flag and on behalf of that flag for what then was King and country. His sacrifice is rightly forever remembered. To my mum and dad, Geoff and Jean, watching from their home in Alice Springs—Arrernte country: I watched you show up, stand up, speak up time and again with courage and conviction. Together you've defied the narrative, the stereotypes, the statistics, holding sacred belief in individual responsibility, reward for hard work, a fair go and being the masters of your own destiny. From the stars up above and from the Senate gallery and across this country and the globe are the children and grandchildren who have benefited from observing those values. My older sister worked in education and administration before her potential for greater contribution was cut short by a despicable act of violence that killed her. My younger sister joined the South Australian police as a police officer, completed a science degree and an honours law degree and is now contributing to the area of justice to tackle injustice. Another younger sister completed a degree in agricultural science, then a PhD in environmental science, to further enhance her love, understanding and respect for traditional Aboriginal land management practice. The youngest of our clan, my brother—who's actually made it here—has possibly the highest level of responsibility. He's flown in the skies in a now 30-year career as a captain—in fact, as a training captain—for a major international airline.

My parents knew that structural, emotional and economic barriers and challenges were real for everyone but could be overcome by commitment to a very good plan and support from decent, good people. Indulge me as I thank my own family: my partner of 30 years and our children, who I have been asked not to name for fear of embarrassing them. I love you more than you could possibly imagine. I thank aunts, uncles, nannas, extended family, and dearest friends old and new, too numerous to name, many of whom have been on this long journey and have been forgiving and patient.

To the Liberal broad church: thank you for backing me to back enduring belief in freedom; to choose our way of life and living, subject, of course, to the rights of others; for backing individual initiative and enterprise, freedom of speech, religion and association. To the many volunteers who supported the campaign: this was simply not possible without you. I acknowledge especially the work of Liberal members and senators representing South Australia, who helped voters make the decision to deliver a sixth senator for the state. I acknowledge all senators who welcome me here and the work of parliamentary staff who settled me in. Fellow South Australians: now elected, I turn to the responsibility of representing you faithfully with clarity and confidence.

My South Australia is a state of more than 1.8 million people who live beside the mighty River Murray and the imposing Flinders Ranges, and on the shores of the Southern Ocean. We have the rolling hills of Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula, the stunning Kangaroo Island, and the city of Adelaide, once awarded one of the world's most livable cities. We're already known for our world-class food and wine regions, our rich and vibrant arts and cultural scene, our tourist attractions and our experiences. We're a place of imagination and invention. Think of the Hills Hoist clothesline, container deposit schemes, the stump-jump plough and David Unaipon's shearing handpiece.

It's people with confidence and capability, and the right legislation and policy levers, that will unleash the full capability of systems, processes, environments and infrastructure. Based on my personal story, my values and my political party, you will see me on my feet for a robust economy, not just for today but for tomorrow; stability and certainty for business; lower taxes and less red tape; good service delivery and accountability; data monitoring and outcomes; strong borders to protect our people, industry and native flora and fauna; safer streets, communities, homes and workplaces, no matter your postcode, culture or income; and a sensible, measured approach to addressing the issues around climate that considers diversity, and who and how people are affected differently and disproportionately.

More locally, my home South Australia is at the forefront of building Australia's sovereign defence capabilities, building what we need to help keep us safe. Critical to our security and prosperity is the coalition's belief that South Australia should lead the creation and delivery of our vital defence and associated industries. I will be a strong advocate for growing South Australia.

Our food, wine, wool, grain, meat and seafood industries and advanced manufacturing have unprecedented workforce vacancies that must be filled to reflect the diversity of South Australians.

Moving now from productivity to people: Australians have contacted me lamenting the devastation and chaos they know will revisit their lives with the intended removal of the cashless debit card. The card is an important part of a broader suite of solutions. It gives power and respite to the most vulnerable men, women and children and the elderly—yes, those who need it most—and it is those people, not the drinkers and drug users, not the abusers, who will suffer the most from its withdrawal. Indeed, in response to what is a philosophical objection to the card, residents living in areas from Queensland, Central Australia, the Kimberley, Ceduna and surrounds, despite raising their concerns, are not being heard on this matter. Instead, the people who are being heard are those screaming human rights. But I say: whose rights are they defending? Maybe you need to live in a town devastated by alcohol, drugs and violence and see it eroded from within. Not convinced yet? Keep walking in my shoes, having helped care for foster children—yes, wards of the state. That may help you come to a different conclusion.

I've looked after a child—hello, Joe—now a man who has who has fetal alcohol syndrome, never able to live with his parents. Yes, he's had some big hurdles, but he's recently graduated with a certificate IV and is still in work. I'm here to tell you, his family and the families who raised him couldn't be more proud of him. And yet, another child, again from a remote community who lost his mother to alcohol-fuelled dysfunction now lives forever with the consequences of that. So, rather than unleashing the rivers of alcohol and drugs, and with it more associated abuse and neglect, how about ridding the communities of the miscreants, pretenders, controllers and rescuers? Leave them nowhere to hide or thrive. You know who they are, the ones that are there for the ride, for the cultural immersion, or where their apathy and paralysis prevail.

Our regulators, our government officials need to do their jobs better and reward those people working hard to work against the tide of culture of mediocrity and keep only those people delivering outcomes who we know are there for the right reasons. So it was with frustration that I watched on, quarantined by COVID, as the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response) Bill passed this house. In relation to Aboriginal community controlled service delivery, I paraphrase subsection 2, clause (a), which does not require the governing board to have a majority of independent executive directors; (b) have at least one member of the governing body of the provider having experience in the provision of clinical care. Clinical care is assistance with mobility, communication, catheter care, wound management and more. It is one of eight aged-care quality standards for safe and quality care and service identified in the aged-care quality standards commission.

The passing of this legislation means Aboriginal community controlled organisations do not have to meet those requirements in the same way as everyone else. Despite caring for the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable, clients with multiple and complex chronic illness and lower life expectancy and in the most isolated regions, there is no expectation of even partial transition to a model that satisfies that standard. Go your hardest if you think that this pushback is racist, ill-conceived, ill-informed or unreasonable because I'll continue to call the double-standards, disturbing assumptions and what I call reverse racism. More broadly, I want our country to think different, act different, demand different, push away from the pressure of sameness, the rejection of discourse, the perils of groupthink, reject overpolicing of language, cancel culture and aggressive social media commentary. All that does is conjure ridicule, create fear and stifle our potential to do better.

I want this country to stop doing what doesn't or won't work, to have higher expectations, to be tolerant of mistakes and missteps, and to admit when we get it wrong and celebrate when we get it right. I get angry when others seek to define me firstly or only by race, and I know from experience it is getting worse. I was not an Indigenous news reporter, or an Indigenous businesswoman, or an Indigenous company board director. I had the same qualifications and experiences as everybody else. First and foremost, I am just me. I look forward to objecting loudly to navel-gazing, paternalism, box-ticking, quasi-consultation, silly reporting that returns little value, and ideas that fail to provide evidence of change.

I'm inspired by the words said in 1942 by Liberal Sir Robert Menzies, pushing back on government that seeks to control and limit freedom, one which seeks to nurse us, rear us, control us, maintain us, pension us and bury us. In short, give me the tools and information I need to make decisions and to prepare for my own future and help me only when I truly need it.

Senator Neville Bonner made history with his first speech 51 years ago this week on 8 September. A Liberal senator, he was the first Aboriginal person to enter federal parliament in a casual vacancy and later by popular vote. He believed the interests of Indigenous Australians would best be advanced by working within the existing political institutions, and he lamented the much too unwarranted focus on race: 'I am Bonner, proudly an Aborigine and a member of the Australian community. A token of no person.' I acknowledge his contribution and that of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander politicians of all political persuasions, both past and present. My identity is with Arrernte of Central Australia—the cultural group of both of my parents. With that, I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and their land, on which this House now lies, and pay respects to the ancestors and elders past and present.

I want to talk more about equity, because it is good for individuals. It's good for our nation, and it's good for our future. I think perhaps some of the most rewarding work I've done to date is in helping others into work. But from here I can encourage that on a much bigger scale. It is in everyday workplaces that sameness, the sharing of water coolers, meeting rooms or boardrooms and having the same qualifications and, yes, the same expectations destroy stereotypes based on disability, race, age, culture or religion. And all workforces and workplaces must be safe.

When I was Chief People and Performance Officer at Voyage's Ayers Rock Resort, with around a thousand employees, the target was also to employ 400 Indigenous Australians, around 40 per cent of the workforce at Santos—yes, Santos—a companywide functional oversight on matters related to Aboriginal affairs in employment and training, community investment and cultural heritage. The target was over 700 outcomes in the energy sector, and that was long ago. With opposition leader Peter Dutton, I recently visited Intract, an Aboriginal owned and operated company. It was Santos that gave Intract its first major project, which now employs 75 Aboriginal employees, making the workforce 90 per cent Indigenous. With a target of five per cent by 2030, it won't be the Public Service that will deliver these jobseekers work. Instead, look to the private sector, where they have already delivered well beyond single-digit outcomes.

In conclusion, we need to teach what it takes for bystanders to speak up and push back regardless of how inconvenient or uncomfortable. That's in our workplaces, in our individual lives, in everything we do—and we'll be better for it. Although our television, radio, newspapers and social media echo loudly the tales of panic, dread and doom, I am confident ordinary Australians—the battlers, the fighters—are ready for a sensible, measured conversation on tough matters of mutual and country interest. Having worked on projects to provide protection for vulnerable and threatened species, I too have great interest in the environment, but not in a way that supports hands glued to sidewalks to stop others going about their business or stands in the way of agreements struck with traditional owners under their right to negotiate legally, transparently, freely and with informed consent.

Common sense beats the emotional and the hysterical on every issue every time. Listen—you can already hear the click of the keyboards, the ping of the posting and the landslide of protest. I make a commitment to myself that when I start each new day, every day, my message to self is rightly quite simple. In opposition, I will relish working with colleagues to hold this government to account for its promises, legislation and policy in this chamber, in committees and in the public domain. I can't change yesterday, but today I might just help change tomorrow, and that's what I will stand for in this place.