Mr COLEMAN (Banks) (16:46): Madam Speaker, democracy and free markets are the two greatest forces for good in human history. You cannot have real political freedom without economic freedom; you cannot have real economic freedom without political freedom. I believe that we are here to provide strong national foundations so that every Australian can pursue their dreams. We should always remember, though, that, while government helps to secure the foundations of the nation, the people build the house.
Today I stand here for the first time as the member for Banks. Since it was created in 1949, the seat of Banks has had only four members. Most recently, Daryl Melham served the electorate for more than two decades. Mr Melham is a good and honourable man, and I wish him every success in the future. I am the first member of the Liberal Party to be elected in Banks.
A government member: And not the last!
Government members: Hear, hear!
Mr COLEMAN: The people of the electorate have placed great trust in me. They expect and deserve to be provided with a high standard of representation. They will be.
Everybody likes to expand their domain. It is only human to want to make your sphere of influence bigger. But it is critical that government understands what it does well, and what it does not. Clarity of thought leads to concentration of effort, and concentration of effort leads to success. The role of the federal government is clear. Firstly, it is to secure national defence. Without security, we have nothing. Over time, the nature of conflicts will change, but the forces that lead to them are timeless. There is no such thing as the end of history. At some point in our future, we are likely to face serious security challenges. We cannot be sure of what those challenges will be, but we can be sure of a few things. We can be sure that it is better to be prepared. We can be sure that it is better to have friends who share our values. And we can be sure that our military will do the job we ask, if we give them the resources they need.
In a secure nation, we are free to turn our thoughts to the future. We think about the amazing things that our kids are going to do one day. We think about the job we are going to get, the place we are going to visit and the people we are going to help. We think about our parents and how we will care for them as they age. We do not think much about economic issues for their own sake. But so much of what we care about is tied to our economic strength. After securing our national defence, the government must focus on the economic foundations of our nation. It is no accident, of course, that the nations of the world with the highest living standards are those that have embraced free political and economic systems.
We all have our dreams. Our dreams are best realised in a free society. When nations do not get the foundations right, good actions go unrewarded. The most innovative idea can be squashed by a too-keen bureaucracy; the most principled act can be thwarted by corruption. We are fortunate to have great natural resources in this country. These resources have contributed to our wealth. But our resources are much less important than the strength of our system.
Many countries around the world have vast natural resources, but without the right national foundations those resources are often squandered. Our laws and processes need to be transparent. Everyone must play by the same rules. Complex regulations which favour the well-advised should be avoided. Corruption should be non-existent. Government should focus much of its energy on these foundational issues. I do not believe that government should focus as much of its energy on making decisions within the economy itself.
Most of the time in business, you do not think about the government. Government does not help you to design better products. It does not help you to sell any better. It does not help you to hire the best people. And it does not give you helpful pointers on how to beat the competition. As the vast majority of your time in business is spent thinking about these things, you do not think about the government very much. You do think about the government when tax makes a new project uneconomic to pursue. You do think about the government when it imposes unworkable constraints on you. You do think about the government when you are filling out forms for it. You do not expect the government to solve all your problems, but you do expect it not to create new ones.
The fact is that the economy constantly changes in ways that no government can predict. A century ago, one in three working Australians were employed in agriculture. Now just one in 40 of us work in that field. Twenty years ago, virtually nobody had heard of the internet. Today, millions of Australians rely on it in their work every day.
I have spent the majority of my career in internet businesses, most recently as chairman of ninemsn. The internet's rise is a perfect example of the extraordinary power of free markets. Entrepreneurs have raced to create new businesses making it easier for people to shop, travel, and learn. Open, online platforms have made it easier for families to communicate and harder for dictators to dictate. The change brought about by the internet has hurt some traditional industries—newspapers being a prime example—but nobody would seriously argue that we would be better off without the digital world.
Change is hard. Once great industries can disappear. The dislocation caused by this is painful, and there is a role for government in softening the impact. But government cannot stop the change from occurring. In business nobody is really sure what's going to happen in their industry five or ten years down the track, and business leaders are much closer to markets than government. So, if business leaders don't really know how their industries will evolve, how can the government know? Government's line of sight in this area is very limited, and we should never pretend that it can see around corners.
Tax matters because it restrains economic activity. The more money that families keep, the more they have to spend. The more money that businesses keep, the more they invest. Over the years, I have worked on many business proposals—from multi-billion dollar transactions all the way down. Sometimes I have been the decision maker; sometimes I have been the one building the 10 megabyte spreadsheet. These analyses, no matter how big or small they are, all try to work out the same thing: is it viable to do this?
When you make the decision whether or not to proceed, tax is always on your mind. There are many projects that would go ahead but for the impact of tax. Most business ideas are not revolutionary, and you do not expect them to produce revolutionary returns. So the decision about whether or not to take the risk is often finely balanced. The impact of tax is frequently the thing that tips a proposal over the edge one way or the other. Less tax means more investment.
The best economic system is one with clear and transparent regulation, limited government intervention, low tax and low government debt. For governments, going into debt is always alluring but usually a bad idea. It is always possible to come up with plausible-sounding reasons about why a government should go into debt just this one time more, just for this project. But we know that most of the time, when something goes seriously wrong with the finances of a family, a business, or a nation, debt is involved. Debt acts as a dead hand suppressing our firepower and blunting our confidence. I saw up close the havoc that excessive debt can cause in the private sector when my employer, the Nine Network, was almost brought to its knees. In recent decades, once great economies have been made feeble by debt. We must never let that happen here.
A strong economy helps us in so many ways. For the government it means that revenue has a sound, sustainable base. Sustainable revenue means we can build the defence force we need; it means we can care for those who need care; it means we can better educate our kids. But a strong economy also allows us the freedom to pursue our personal goals. Maybe you want to send your son to a soccer camp, to help him follow his dream. Maybe you want to take that year off and drive around the country together, as you have been saying you will for decades. Maybe you want to volunteer at the local hospital. Whatever the goal, it is so much more achievable when the economy is strong.
I mention some examples of our goals because I think they demonstrate the sort of people that we are. We are not a materialistic nation. We do not stand on ceremony. We are not sure about grand solutions. We know that fashions come and go but the important things endure. We can spot a fake.
We have achieved so much. We are a member of the very small club of nations that has never wavered from democracy. We have generated much more than our fair share of world leaders in fields as diverse as science and the arts. We have dramatically increased our living standards, so that the children of today enjoy opportunities that were unheard of a few generations ago. Because we have largely embraced political and economic freedom, our nation has grown stronger over time. We live longer; we earn more; we fear less.
We have made our national foundations stronger by allowing more people to build upon them. My grandfather could not get the job he wanted because he was Catholic; now we have Catholics in the most senior roles in the nation. There was a time, of course, when Aborigines could not vote, married women could not work, and non-whites could not immigrate. In recent decades we have made many important changes to our laws to give people the freedom to better build on our national foundations. We should never legislate for outcomes, but we should always be open to removing constraints that stop people from pursuing their dreams. It is the people of Australia, not the government, who make us great. Our role is to provide the stable and secure foundations that allow every Australian to be their best.
In a remarkable speech, Calvin Coolidge once advised his parliamentary colleagues to have faith in Massachusetts. We should have faith in Australia. I believe that this faith in ourselves should extend to an Australian head of state. My daughter Caroline can aspire to be a great doctor, homemaker, police officer or teacher. But she cannot aspire to be the head of state. The notion that our head of state should be determined based on who one's parents are is, in my view, patently wrong. It is not a small matter. It is important. Imagine if you could only get a job at the local bank if your dad had worked there; or if you could only enter parliament if your mother had held the seat before you. I see no difference in relation to the head of state. This job should be opened to Australian applicants. I would like to think that one day someone from Banks could be our head of state.
The people of Banks embody modern Australia. Many are young families raising kids—people in their 30s and 40s who do so much of the heavy lifting in our society. Some families have lived in the same home for more than half a century; others arrived in recent times from overseas. Banks has the highest proportion of people of Chinese background of any Australian electorate and people who trace their ancestry to all parts of the world. People in Banks are defined not by race or religion but by values. All that matters in Banks is that you play by the rules of Australia. Wherever you were born, the responsibility of all of us is the same. That responsibility is to live within our laws and to embrace our values. That is what the people of Banks believe; that is what I believe.
Banks stretches from Carlton in Sydney's south east to Revesby in the west. The mighty Georges River defines much of the area. In Hurstville we have one of the most dynamic, energetic centres in Australia. In Oakley we have a suburban paradise that fortunately the rest of Sydney does not know about. While Banks is already a great place, there are local issues where government can help to improve the lives of residents. Our river could be cleaner; our streets could be safer; our roads could be better. I am proud of the commitments that we have already made to help address these critical local issues and I look forward to delivering on them.
Madam Speaker, I have received so much support from my friends in Banks. It goes without saying that I cannot do justice to that support in this speech. I am indebted to literally hundreds of people, many of whom are here today. My job in the months and years ahead is to honour the trust that they have placed in me. I do want to pay special tribute today, though, to the member for Oatley, Mark Coure, who led our campaign with great expertise.
I have talked today about the country I love and the role of government within it. As this is my introduction to this House, though, I should say a little about myself. I have lived a lucky life. To be born in the 1970s, in Australia, is to draw a tremendous hand from fate. Because of the greatness of people who fought their battles long before I was born, I have grown up in a proud democracy where ideas flourish. I was raised by a loving mother, with values which have equipped me well for the world. I have been fortunate to progress to senior levels in Australian business, learning from the best in the process. From David Gold I learnt about drive; from Ian Law I learnt about professionalism; from David Gyngell I learnt about leadership. I did not grow up with wealth, but I never felt that I needed it. Madam Speaker, I have no excuses.
In recent years, I have had the wonderful privilege of raising a family. 'Awe-inspiring' is one of those terms that we use from time to time, but I did not really know what it meant until I saw my wife Dotte care for our children. The incredible love and energy she puts into them literally inspires awe in me. In a sense, my life did not really begin until I was a father. My children Caroline and Joseph are the best thing that has ever happened to me. Other people could be the member for Banks, but only I can be their dad. I will always remember that.
Madam Speaker, I wasn't raised to vote for the Liberal Party, let alone join it, let alone represent it in parliament. I became a Liberal because my experience of life and my reading of history led me to a clear conclusion. Most of the time, when good things happen they happen because of the hard work of a small number of people. They do not happen because a committee talked about them or because somebody published a discussion paper. They happen because people made them happen. Government should harness that creative energy by letting it be free. We all see something in the distance. Trying to get there is what life is all about.
Our nation's history is one of progress. From humble beginnings, we have built the greatest nation on earth. Some of our governments have been better than others—considerably so—but in the long run we have always moved forward. We do best when the government focuses on providing secure national foundations and giving people the freedom to pursue their dreams. The Abbott government's agenda of measured, mature, unpretentious leadership is exactly what the nation needs and I look forward to playing my own small part in it.
Finally, to the people of Banks, thank you for the faith you have shown in me. You are my boss. In Banks, I will listen to you. In Canberra, I will work for you. I will not solve every problem because no government can do that, but I will use every ability I possess on your behalf and I will never give up. Together, I know that we can make our great country even greater.
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