Speech – 2021 Nationals Federal Conference
Anniversaries should be times of both celebration and reflection.
A 101-year anniversary is something else again – proof of resilience, of survival against the odds, and the ability to evolve through changing times.
Our party has an enormous amount to be proud of, and much of that has been discussed during this conference.
And yet this Federal Conference occurs at a time when our Parliament – the central democratic institution of our nation – has hit a pretty low ebb.
As someone who has been self-employed, employed a lot of people and have been in charge of divisions of companies, I’ve always described Parliament House as the strangest place I’ve ever worked in.
But that is not a reason for allowing things to remain the same.
We owe it to you, to our nation to do a lot better.
We cannot accept the unacceptable.
We have to work to a higher standard of personal responsibility than other places.
We have to change things for all the women and men who work there, and we have to show the way for the rest of the country.
And if we don’t change, it will be impossible to make the difficult decisions we have to make. Because we need the support of the Australian people. Without their respect and support, we can’t do the job we were elected to do.
So, in thinking about what I would say today,and being the engineer that I am, I decided that when all else fails, read the instructions.
Go back to the blueprint and reflect on what are the core values of our party.
Who we are, and what we do.
The Nationals are an unusual party in the Australian political system.
No, we are not like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, we don’t claim a religion in our name. And we welcome non-believers and believers alike.
But the Nationals are the only major party in Australia that has a pledge to Christian ethics and loyalty to the Crown written into our constitution.
At our core we are a party that is based on a set of values – democracy, liberty, incentive, individual enterprise, and the pursuit of excellence.
Our one key objective carved in stone in the party’s constitution is “the improvement of the well-being of all people” – the men and women of Australia and their families.
Our job as Nationals members is to look forward, how can we make our country better, to preserve what is great about Australia, but to do our best to plan for a better Australia and to make the decisions and implement the policies for that to happen.
Our job as Nationals is to do precisely that for the one third of Australians who live outside the big capital cities.
Over the decades our focus has changed from being a party that almost exclusively represented farmers, to a much wider demographic, but our core mission has not changed.
It is why all of you who are here today – work towards that core objective – the improvement of the well-being of all people. It is also why I chose to run for Parliament.
But, in reality, it also aligns with the personal aspirations of most Australian families – that is, saving up for a house, being able to take a couple weeks off to go on holiday down the coast, setting your kids’ futures up through a good education.
For young people starting out in life this is all predicated with getting a good job.
Just the other day I was standing in the freezing pre-dawn cold at a tradies barbecue in Mildura organised by Anne Webster. As I waited for my egg and bacon roll I chatted to a couple of young blokes who were boilermakers working on the grape harvest.
We didn’t talk politics or national affairs or policy, but we stood together in the cold for about an hour and I enjoyed talking to them because it took me back to my roots and reminded me,what it is we are actually fighting for in this job.
One of my parents’ greatest gifts to me was to teach me about the value of hard work. I believe that work, no matter what it is, gives your life dignity, meaning, and can be truly transformative.
I am particularly proud of the fact I’m one of only a few qualified tradies in the Federal Parliament.
A trade teaches you a lot. My parents taught me the value of hard work, but a trade taught me discipline and a particular, unique and valuable skills set that you get from being on the tools and being mentored and taught by others, with years of experience in their jobs and with it respect for that experience.
Skills are learned and passed on and perfected – that’s how apprenticeships work. One of the lessons I learnt from both home and work was never to look down on anyone.
Every job has its own particular skills and proficiencies that you can only get by actually doing the job day-in, day-out. It doesn’t matter what job you do, if you are on the job each day, you know how to do it right and do it best, even if it looks easy from the outside.
From the day I stepped into the Parliament I’ve been passionate about helping young Australians get the opportunities I’ve been privileged to have.
My first job at the age of 14 was packing ice at a local servo. I’ve also been a farmer and a businessman. I often say that I’m an electrician by trade and an engineer by profession and a farmer at heart.
While the other major parties are filled with law school graduates, unionists and ex-political staffers, my story isn’t so unique among The Nationals.
Our team is made up of farmers, policemen, a doctor and a vet, a carpenter, a football coach, an accountant, bouncer, small business people, people from commerce and finance, an economist, a university lecturer, a social worker, a bookkeeper, we have a barrister and for good measure we have three MPs who spent time as ex-journalists.
We in the Nationals view the world in a practical way.
But practical doesn’t necessarily have to mean small and it definitely doesn’t mean simple. The challenges we face as a nation are complex.
As an engineer you are taught to take very large and complex projects and break them down into smaller sequential problems and key decisions, sometimes into many thousands of smaller tasks, and hundreds of thousands of deliberations by teams of people. It is about thinking, planning, prioritising and delivering.
Regrettably, the great machinery of government seems sometimes as though it were designed to counter and slow progress rather than to facilitate it. In this country, Governments of all political persuasions are yoked to short terms, a 24-hour news cycle, and most recently are bamboozled by the emergence of social media’s absurdly short attention span. Worse, as we have seen in recent years, it is social media that is easily manipulated by those wishing our nation harm. These things make it harder for governments to actually plan, as we should do, years and decades ahead about our nation’s future. For example, one of my tasks is to build a low-level nuclear waste facility to house the by-products from cancer treatment. Ill-informed manipulation on social media has fractured decades of bipartisan support for such a vital national project. For that Labor should be ashamed.
But fortunately, another way that I’m a bit different to most people in politics is that I actually like having difficult things to deal with. I have come to my current role with responsibilities for managing our water, our resources sector and for the development the northern part of our nation, as a proud Queenslander and a proud member of the Nationals.
In reflecting on the party’s constitution, there was one area that I am increasingly having difficulty with, which is the devolutionary power objective.
Our party believes in pushing responsibility downward to the states and to local government. That is devolution is better than centralism.
However, that only works if the states do what they should be doing.
We can’t have a system where states such as Queensland constantly block every development.
So our great challenge now is to deliver.
For our people.
For our regions.
For our country.
To stand against activism.
To inspire our new regional residents, post-Covid, to stay.
To get them engaged politically if we want to survive and stay relevant.
And most importantly to be in government to deliver the policies and values of this party.
Fundamentally, it’s about our people, it’s about you.
And I am up for the fight, and in my view so are you.
So let’s get it done.
Let’s sort out our current challenges and get to it.