I stand here in this chamber today in the knowledge that I am but one man among many who have been elected by their peers to serve their community and their nation. I stand here as but one man aware that many others have served the Dawson electorate before me. I wish to acknowledge the previous member, James Bidgood, as well as the previous two National Party members, De-Anne Kelly and Ray Braithwaite, both of whom assisted me in my campaign. I stand here as but one man very much aware of the political greats both past and present who have sat or who sit in this place. The thought of being a minnow in a very big pond does spring to mind. I stand here as but one man who feels the enormous responsibility of representing the 94,533 electors in the seat of Dawson.
The mighty electorate of Dawson stretches from the powerhouse city of Mackay; through the idyllic Whitsundays, the beachside of Bowen and the bountiful Burdekin, which is one of the finest sugar-growing areas in this nation; north to the southern suburbs of Townsville, including Wulguru, Oonoonba, Idalia and Annandale. The industries that make up this mighty electorate include sugar but also tourism, horticulture, fishing and, importantly, industries serving the Central Queensland mining sector. The Dawson electorate is also home to many serving Australian Defence Force personnel.
With all due respect to members present, the needs and concerns of the people of Dawson are very different to the needs and concerns of those in capital cities. Whether it be in Mackay, Townsville or any of the towns adjoining the Bruce Highway, the poor state of our road network is a major concern. In Mackay, there is a desperate need for action when it comes to roads. Firstly, we need a solid commitment from the government to the important Mackay ring-road project. During the election campaign, the Liberal-National coalition committed to kick-starting this project. But all the government has done is promise yet another study, this one at a cost of $10 million. The ring-road will not only alleviate the growing traffic congestion problems for north side residents but link the port of Mackay to the thriving industrial precinct of Paget and to the gateway to the Bowen Basin mines, the Peak Downs Highway.
As someone who served on the Mackay council for six years, I also want to put on record the need for greater funding for local roads by both state and federal governments. Councils and ratepayers in growing regional centres like Mackay are literally at breaking point trying to keep up with the skyrocketing costs associated with building new roads and effectively maintaining old ones. The federal government is the only level of government that can give these communities what they need: access to an ongoing revenue stream that recognises the growing pains that they are going through.
Along with the road network issues in Mackay, there is a dire need for increased funding for a range of problem areas on the Bruce Highway. From the need for a new Burdekin Bridge to a four-lane duplication of Vantassel Street to Flinders Highway in Townsville, increasing overtaking lanes and flood-proofing sections near Proserpine and Bowen, there is about $1 billion worth of immediate work needed on the Bruce Highway from St Lawrence north, most of which is not in the government’s planning.
Health is another key area where we are being let down badly by Labor. In Mackay, we have an appalling situation in which this government weakened our rural rating which attracts relocation funding for GPs and incentive payments for GPs and registrars. Since the middle of this year, Townsville, Cairns and Rockhampton have all been classified as more remote than Mackay. As a result, they attract greater funding for GPs. In fact, Mackay is now classified on the same footing as some Brisbane suburbs. Given Labor’s penchant for quick fixes, here is one that can be done very quickly: put Mackay’s rural rating back to three so we can effectively compete with other regional centres for new GPs without having one hand tied behind our back.
There is a gaping whole in Mackay’s health network which must be mentioned. I refer to the desperate need for a Headspace youth mental health facility in Mackay. Two years ago, we had a spate of youth suicides in Mackay. In one six-week period, five children committed suicide and several others attempted suicide. That problem has not gone away. I am told by front-line social workers and GPs in Mackay that every week there is a suicide attempt that someone has to be talked out of. It was a commitment of this Liberal-National coalition to deliver a Headspace centre for Mackay. But I say to the government that they need to put politics aside on this issue. We need a Headspace centre urgently.
Finally in terms of needs for Dawson, there is a noticeable lack of adequate community and social infrastructure for growing populations. Whether it be an upgrade for the Mackay Showgrounds, the sporting grounds of the Mackay and District Junior Soccer Club, the Whitsunday Moto Sports Club’s raceway or the Whitsunday Sports Park, there is a clear need for more social infrastructure. If we are to make our regions truly liveable, we must have social and community infrastructure in place that makes those locations attractive to families and young professionals.
Under the coalition, such infrastructure was to be funded through a new Better Regions Program. I note that the new Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has indicated that this type of funding will not be happening under his government as he considers it to be pork-barrelling. If it is all right for Western Sydney to get multimillion-dollar Labor promises for soccer centres and hockey centres during election campaigns, then it is only right that, through a proper process, we give regional areas that miss out time and again a fair go and a fair share. A fair go and a fair share is all regional Australia is asking for. Apart from that, government can get out of the way and let us manage our own futures.
The Dawson electorate, with its support services for the mining sector, with its major resource port of Abbot Point and with its resilient sugar industry, is the engine room of this nation’s economy. The onus is on the government, which reaps so much wealth from the efforts of the mineworkers, the farmers, the manufacturers, the businesses and the workers in the Dawson electorate, to give back a fair share in return for those efforts. I consider it my duty to hold the government to account on that front.
I am well aware that it is also my duty to serve in the national interest. That duty will be aided by the values that I bring to this House, values that were formed by the 32 years of my life thus far. My mother was an immigrant to this country. Her family came to this country with nothing but hope. Both my parents were disability pensioners during my childhood life and we lived very humbly compared to many others. All of that gave me a social justice conscience but tempered with a strong belief that living in abject poverty, or any form of poverty, does not necessarily lead one to poor academic performance, into further poverty or into crime. My father and mother strived to escape the welfare trap as much as they could. In the bad old days, my father—who is in the gallery today—fronted the CES looking for work. They told him, ‘No; you’re on the pension for life, mate.’ He did not accept that. He went on to become a taxi driver—the fastest in town, actually, because he also went on to become a professional drag car racer. My parents now own and run a successful small business, manufacturing and exporting motorsport car parts all over the world.
I was raised a Catholic, but family finances meant I never went to a private school. Of the state schools that I did attend, Walkerston State School lays claim to a former member of this House, the Rt Hon. Arthur Fadden, Leader of the Country Party and, famously, Prime Minister for 40 days and 40 nights. With some government support, I funded my own way through university, where I graduated with a degree in, of all things, journalism—yes, I am one of them! I attended Central Queensland University and was a proud residential student of Capricornia College. Amongst many other spirits, Capricornia College instilled in me a collegial spirit which I will have for life.
I had a great-uncle who ran for the Labor Party in the seat of Dawson in 1955. I had a grandfather of Irish stock who worked on the docks in Glasgow. My first job was on the floor of a printing factory and I myself have been a member of two different unions. So from all of this I understand and respect the needs and aspirations of blue-collar working men and women in the seat of Dawson. On the other side of the family, my grandparents were cane farmers and my father was a big Joh fan: ‘Don’t you worry about that!’
Over a decade ago, I joined the National Party, now the merged Liberal-National Party. And while in this parliament I sit with the parliamentary National Party, I now consider myself, first and foremost, a member of the Liberal-National Party, a unified grassroots conservative force. This grassroots conservative force came into being through the tenacious efforts of dedicated men and women, but I will single out for praise the father of the LNP, the Hon. Lawrence Springborg MP, party president Bruce McIver and deputy president Gary Spence, not forgetting the prior efforts of the member for Maranoa in his role as party president. I echo the words of the Leader of the Liberal-National coalition, who has written elsewhere that ‘there could be a strong case for a merged party at the national level’. He also said:
A merged party would be “liberal” in its instinctive support for individuals and community solutions over government ones and “national” in its determination that Australia should matter in the wider world.
I only hope that one day on a national level we can achieve that vision and unite the Liberal and National parties into a force that will be for the greater benefit of this nation. Because right now our nation groans under the weight of high taxation, government overspending, waste, debt and a political and media elite fostered culture of relativism and lack of responsibility that is often masked as tolerance and compassion. It is the conservative principles of those in the Liberal-National coalition that are needed to rectify this situation. It is the conservatism of those who sit on this side of the House—for now—that is the true philosophy in defence of individual rights. Conservatism, like libertarianism, seeks to defend individual choice and freedoms but it also points to the consequences of that choice and freedom, be it success or failure. One of my political heroes, former US President Ronald Reagan, declared as much when he said:
If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism … The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom …
On the other hand, Labor, like all leftist movements, likes to pretend it is the champion of individual rights. But, whether it be the mineworker, the cane grower, the small business owner or the mother in the working family, Labor is the party that has one hand picking their pockets while the other is boxing them in with regulation and red tape. Right now, a resident in the seat of Dawson could be subject to ambulance tax, land tax, stamp duties, local government rates, water rates, sewerage charges, waste levies, car registration fees, boat registration fees, cigarette excise, alcohol excise, fuel excise, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, superannuation tax, GST and, last but not least, personal income tax. To me, the most hated of these taxes is income tax and there are only a few things more detestable than someone mooching directly off your income, even if it is the state and it is supposedly for the common good. I believe income tax should go.
To paraphrase Lennon—John Lennon, John Lennon that is—I know I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. It is a big call, but I dream of the day where we can put more money into workers’ pockets by ending personal income tax. We are taxed to the hilt. And now Labor want to bring in two new taxes. The first is their mining tax that will put jobs and businesses throughout the Mackay region and North Queensland completely at risk. Those opposite may not know it but, when the global financial crisis first raised its ugly head, we felt it in Mackay. The mining industry hiccuped and people lost jobs, mining service businesses stopped getting orders and small businesses across the community felt the pinch in a very big way.
To us, it showed that the mining industry was not the unstoppable economic force we had thought it was and that obviously the government still thinks it is. But make no mistake: if the government rips billions out of the Central Queensland mining sector through its mining tax, it will have an impact. This is somewhat personal for me. My brother is coalminer. My sister is the wife of a coalminer. My two nephews and my niece rely on their dad’s coalmining income to live. If Labor causes the mining industry to hiccup, these are the kind of people who will feel it: miners, their wives, their husbands and their children—working families in Dawson, who have effectively been told by the Prime Minister that the only way Australia can move forward is by a great big new tax that will hold them back.
Then there is this carbon tax, the one that was twice denied during the election, the one that threatens to push up the price of everything, notably electricity, in the vain hope that we are going to cool the temperature of the globe. But whether you want income tax gone, or you just want tax in general lowered, here is the difference between the conservatives and the Labor socialists: we think that people should be able to make choices with their own money, while Labor dictates where they can spend it by taxing it and then giving back to you if you are performing an activity that falls into line with their particular world view. For instance, under Labor you could get some of your tax money back if you supposedly helped the environment by installing pink batts or foil insulation. We know how that ended up.
A better example: Labor gives generous subsidies to parents if their children are put into institutionalised child care. But what about choice? Shouldn’t parents, not governments, be the experts in deciding on the best day-to-day care for their children? Under Labor, childcare funding, along with paid parental leave, is more about promoting paid workforce participation than helping parents afford the care they really want for their children. Every family pays for child care by giving up or giving away income, in particular mothers who do their own childcare work unwaged. It is unfair that most Australian families miss out on childcare funding because they do not use day care or other outsourced care. I believe child care must be redefined to include parental and informal child care, which is preferred by most families and cheaper for taxpayers to fund. We need to put parents 100 per cent in control of the childcare budget, by phasing in a single childcare payment that parents can use for family based, as well as formal, child care.
But pinching people’s pockets and using and abusing tax dollars are not the only ways that socialists try to dictate people’s lives. We also have that other hand I talked about, the one boxing people in with red tape and regulation. In the electorate of Dawson, due to the actions of Queensland Labor, in concert with the Greens, we have a classic example of red tape and regulation strangling local cane farmers. You see, despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics finding that 97 per cent of farmers in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area were doing the right thing when it came to managing water run-off, state Labor brought in their draconian reef regulation rules. These rules require farmers to fill out piles and piles of paperwork, taking hours and hours each week—just to put some fertiliser on the paddock! It is typical of Labor. Despite knowing that farmers are already doing the right thing, they seem to think that through red tape and paperwork they can better protect the environment. Quite frankly, farmers are sick and tired of being portrayed as environmental vandals.
To the conservative, property rights are sacred. This is because the ownership of private property is so intrinsically linked to freedom for the individual, which I talked about earlier. So, as a conservative, I sympathise greatly with the plight of landholders who have had their property rights effectively stolen from them, without compensation, under the guise of native vegetation management legislation or the like. To even think that a farmer’s property rights have been restricted in the belief that locking up trees will keep the climate from changing is disgraceful.
But it is not the first disgraceful thing that has been done in the name of tackling so-called man-made climate change, and it will not be the last. Despite what the political and media elite tell us to think, the truth is the science on climate change is not settled. There are more than 700 scientists who have openly opposed the theory of man-made climate change in a report of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. One of those scientists is a resident in the seat of Dawson, the respected geophysicist Professor Bob Carter. It seems to me that, before we go down the track of removing people’s property rights or introducing carbon taxes in the name of stopping man-made climate change, we should really work out what the facts are. That is why I believe it is high time we had a royal commission to determine the scientific facts of the theory of man-made climate change.
But while liberty from taxation, liberty of choice and liberty from regulation are important, the liberty of life is fundamental to my conservatism. Whether it be the frail, the elderly, the terminally ill or the child in the womb, life matters. The left of politics promote welfarism of all varieties under the guise of compassion. Through days for this cause and that cause, and ribbons for this campaign and that campaign, the left champion this faux compassion between all and sundry, including complete strangers. But the relationship that exists between parents and children, or an adult child and dying parent, should be inherently compassionate by its nature. When we break that nexus, when we allow and encourage the removal of compassion from relationships that by their nature should be the most compassionate, then we are all the poorer for it. If we accept this as lawmakers, we accept a culture of death, and then we can no longer say we are a compassionate society.
I stand here as but one man, a conservative who is prepared to fight for the rights of the individual. I stand here as but one man ready to do his duty for his electorate. I stand here as but one man who knows that the task ahead of him is mammoth. And I stand here as but one man still feeling like a minnow in a big pond. But to quote my other political hero, the late, great BA Santamaria: ‘Even the minnow must do what he can.’
In closing, I would like to dedicate my speech to my family and loved ones, to my friends both here and departed, to coalition MPs and senators, to the LNP members and to all supporters who assisted me during the election campaign, and to most of all the people of Dawson who have put their faith in me.