Mr BROAD (Mallee) (16:13): It is with a great sense of honour that I now present to this House of Representatives and to the Australian people my maiden speech. I will endeavour at all times to speak common sense and to say words that build up and not tear down. On the very first day I took a seat in the 44th Parliament I wrote a note to myself. It read: 'We must lift our eyes in this place, for the people and the children of Australia are watching.'
On 7 October 1788, the HMAS Sirius left the Port Jackson colony with the hopes and prayers of a fledgling nation. White Australia was just 249 days old. Tragically, many Australian Aboriginal tribes were dying from European diseases, the crops had failed and the new colony was experiencing its first Australian style drought. The Sirius travelled down to the 40th parallel with the roaring forties winds in her sails. She circumnavigated the globe, stopping at Cape Town to get food and supplies for the journey, taking seven months. If that ship had sunk, Australia as we know it would have starved to death. Two hundred and twenty-five years later, our abundance is truly amazing. Australia has a population of over 21 million people, yet we produce and export enough food for 75 million people. We have one of the highest standards of living in the world and some of the longest life expectancy rates. This nation that we call Australia has prospered.
I stand here today proud to represent the people who live in the federal seat of Mallee. I am here because the people who live in the Wimmera, the Mallee and the Mildura regions want a strong voice. The major political parties ran a tough campaign against me, but it was the people of Mallee who put me here and it is them I will serve. I am a member of the Nationals because I am a patriot. The Nationals are a true democratic party: the only people who choose a candidate are the people who live in the electorate. If you can indulge me a little bit, my other parliamentary colleagues. In the short time I have been in this place I have become prouder of our team. They have got an immense intellect, a great deal of integrity and will endeavour to stand up for good policy.
The electorate of Mallee is 32 per cent of the land mass of Victoria. It has the Grampians in the south and the mighty Murray River in the north. It encompasses the Wimmera, the Mallee and the Mildura regions. All the food you could ever want and everything for your daily needs is grown in Mallee. Cereal, milk, toast, orange juice for breakfast—grown in Mallee. Fresh table grapes, almonds for morning tea—grown in Mallee. Mallee lamb, vegetables with a glass of red wine for lunch—grown in Mallee. If you are lucky, you might catch a murray cod—technically on the New South Wales border—and have some salad and white wine for dinner also grown in Mallee. In fact, the only food that is not grown in Mallee—and I have found is essential to this parliament—is coffee!
The federal seat of Mallee is a regional electorate. We are proud of our agriculture. We are proud of our small business, proud of our tourism, proud of our retail, our mining and our service industries. The people who live in the seat of Mallee are tolerant, fair minded Australians. They will tolerate floods; they will tolerate droughts; but they will not tolerate bulldust. And frankly they have heard enough at times coming out of this place. I, like them, do not think it is too much to ask for decent roads and telecommunications. It is not too much to ask for better health and educational opportunities for our kids. It is not too much to ask for a government that has a vision outside the capital cities and the coast. The people who live in my electorate do more for the Australian economy than most. Our wealth is built on their efforts, and a little of that wealth making its way back as infrastructure and services is fair. I want to remind other members of the parliament that, when our regions are strong, our whole country is strong.
I am here today because even my kelpie sheepdog, Duke, was getting sick of me complaining about the direction of our country. I had worked, after finishing high school, in shearing sheds and on farms and had saved some money towards a deposit for a farm. At the age of 22 I bought my first farm and, to my horror, every cent that I had saved was paid to the government as stamp duty. The government had taken four years of my labour as stamp duty, and I didn't even get to see the stamp!
I hear commentators talk about food security. The first imperative of food security is that we must get young people involved in agriculture. The second is that the person who grows the food must make a fair living doing so. I continued to farm and, at 26, after purchasing some more farm land, was hit by the drought of 2002. No income. My wife's total earnings would not even cover the interest payments. I have got to say I had some sleepless nights. I want to acknowledge my wife, who is in the gallery here today. My beautiful wife. She can give us a wave. I did pretty well for myself, didn't I? But she stuck through me through this unfolding journey.
I was encouraged to apply for drought support and I still remember I was working in a shearing shed the day I received a letter telling me I was not eligible for assistance, because I was considered unviable. What do you do? I got the old grinder spanner and an old rusty nail and I nailed that letter to the shearing shed and swore, 'I'll show you who is unviable.' I have now run a successful business for 15 years through drought, flood, hail, frost—and I am viable. Australia can throw a lot at you, but it has an amazing way of getting under your skin, and I have grown a deep love for this tough, great country. This is a great country.
I can pinch a line from the Prime Minister for a moment. This great country deserves a great government, and the first role of a great government is the security of its people. Threats to security come quickly and often unexpectedly, and history is there for us to learn from. Please take a note of these dates. On 7 December 1941, Japan entered the Second World War by bombing the American navy fleet in Pearl Harbor. On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell with the capture of 80,000 British and Australian troops—a tragic day for Australia. On 19 February 1942, Darwin was bombed for the first time. Do you know: from the entry of Japan in the Second World War to the bombing of Darwin and the defence of Australia was a period of only 10 weeks. The first role of a government is the security of its people, and a standing defence system, whilst expensive, is essential.
The second role of a great government is to set the economic framework for the country. Governments do not create wealth; governments take wealth and distribute it. We must always remember that it is the pursuits and endeavours of individual Australians that build the prosperity that Australia enjoys. If there is no incentive for people to work harder or take risks then they will not. Our economic settings must reward hard work and enterprise. If a person can work, they should work. Providing incentives to catch the first rung of the employment ladder is important in a developed economy. The best thing we can do is provide a person with an opportunity, but after that it is a matter of personal responsibility.
Our mining resources need to assist and diversify the Australian economy. The mineral resources belong to the Commonwealth—that is, the wealth of the common man. I believe preferential rather than world pricing for gas and other energy sources needs to be looked at so Australians can compete with other countries in producing goods, for we will never be competitive on the wage market alone.
I fear the costs of constructing major infrastructure are too high. Australians once built the railroads, roads, ports and bridges that we needed to develop the country. If we could build them once we can build them again. These are the pathways that were used to shift our product to the world and to help make our economy strong. Australia needs a proactive drought policy. If there is one thing I have learnt about Australia it is that, when it is dry, it will be wet again and, as sure as it is wet, it will be dry. Even after many seasonal cycles, we have still not learnt to fully prepare for the seasons ahead in this country.
Australian governments have paid lip service to Northern Australia, which absolutely should be developed, yet have progressively shut down the Murray-Darling Basin. Our governments developed a Murray-Darling Basin Plan but did not have the political stomach to build a dam or put engineering works in the Lower Lakes. The price of ownership of irrigation water became expensive, it robbed irrigators of confidence and then commentators called those irrigators willing sellers, bought their water and took it out of production. What I observed in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan meetings across the region were articulate bureaucrats who knew little about water management clash with farmers who, whilst not having fancy words, knew more about the environment and effective water management than most. But eventually those irrigators went home and kept farming because they had businesses to run, and this is what governments call consultation.
We have a standard of living that I fear is now based on the flogging off of natural resources and the purchasing of goods produced with cheap wages from the Asia-Pacific region. The biggest export out of the Port of Melbourne is empty shipping containers. I know we can do better. As an Australian Nuffield scholar, I have been blessed to study policy and trade in every continent in the world. I have met with policymakers and leaders in many places, such as Europe, South Africa, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, China, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil, just to name a few. I thank Nuffield for the many opportunities I have had to travel and experience global trade. I do not hold to the idea that the free market is always right. When it comes to trade, there is no level playing field. I believe in pragmatic policies that suit Australia's national interest. This is one of the reasons I admire Australia's 14th Prime Minister, John Joseph Curtin, the former member for Freemantle. As Prime Minister he broke convention and recalled Australia's troops from North Africa because it was in Australia's national interest. John Curtin put Australia's national interest first, and we as members of parliament but walk in the shadow of giants such as he.
Mr Conroy: Hear, hear!
Mr BROAD: One 'hear, hear' from the Labor Party! We must always remember that we live in the real world, not the ideal world. My conclusions from global observations are this: every country acts in its own self-interest first; the closer you are to the customer the more you control the price; in a true globalised world, the lowest cost producer has the competitive advantage; at times there is value in an interventionist currency policy; the world places more value on Australia's agricultural assets than we do ourselves; and Australian based boardrooms are more responsive to Australian social, environmental and political pressure than boardrooms based in other parts of the world.
This government, of which I am proud to be a part, has challenges ahead. We must walk the balance between living within our means and spending to invest. It will be the collective views of every member in this House, and of all political persuasions, that must steer Australia through the turbulent years that lie before us. A strong economy is the engine room. We must build a strong economy so we can build a great society, for it is only when we have the financial resources that we as a country can action the dreams and hopes we have for this great society. What is it that makes a great society? A great society values and supports those who cannot look after themselves: the unwell, the people living with severe disability, our senior Australians who require care. A great society invests in our children to expand their world view and give them an appetite to learn, to make great citizens instead of just graduates—citizens who know the difference between right and wrong and choose right. After all, it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, 'Educate a man in his mind and not in his morals and you create a monster.' And a great society invests in other countries through aid and agricultural information exchange to lift life expectancy and improve the standard of living for others.
The only thing that may stop Australia from being that great society is our level of indifference. Individual aspirations build community only if the individual is not indifferent to the needs and sufferings of others. Our pursuits of material wealth must be tempered by our generosity, for it is when we align the hearts of mankind with the compassionate heart of God that we truly build a great society.
The HMS Sirius returned to Port Jackson, saving the colony from starvation, and eventually that colony became part of the Commonwealth of Australia. In the history of the Australian Commonwealth, only 1,133 people have ever taken a seat in the House of Representatives. That is an immense responsibility for people in this chamber. I assume this role with humility and gravity, and want to assure the people of the Wimmera, the Mallee and the Mildura region that I will always do my best. We have now before us the responsibility and privilege to build on the 225 years of Australian history and the thousands of years of Aboriginal history. With hard work, God's blessing and good government; I believe our best years are ahead.
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