First Speech: Dr David Gillespie MP

Member for Lyne, New South Wales

20 November 2013

Dr GILLESPIE (Lyne) (17:01): It is with great honour and pride that I occupy this seat in the 44th Australian Parliament. The privilege and responsibility bestowed upon me and our government by the people of Lyne, where we have lived for the last 21 years, is foremost in my mind. This building and this national capital are by no means strange places to me, as I actually grew up across the border in Queanbeyan. I am one of seven children who grew up in an old house that had my father's busy general practice in the front two rooms. Patients would turn up at the door, so life as a child was pretty busy. Life in Australia and life in Queanbeyan was different then. It was very much a country town. As I grew up, our country's multicultural heritage was starting to blossom, with migrants from all nations descending on Queanbeyan. Many from the freshly completed Snowy Mountains scheme had arrived to build our nation's capital.

Also, like many generations of Australians, my parents worked damn hard to advance our family's interests and put us all through a stellar education. I grew up with a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a nurse and had a general practice in our front living room so it is not too surprising that I ended up in medicine. But as well as great parents, along the way I had some great teachers. I would like to acknowledge some of them. Brother Thomas Moore, my sixth class teacher, developed my interest in public affairs and history. The late Father Charles Frazer developed my exposure to classics and the early philosophers. During my medical student years I had some great teachers, including the late Dr Roman Judzeiwicz and after that Professor Ian Cook, David de Carle, Chris Vickers and many others. All of these teachers, my parents and friends taught me as much by example and deed as by words.

From my father, a vociferous and passionate follower and commentator on all things political, I must have inherited the political gene. After dabbling and being interested in student politics, the pressures and the commitments of an all-consuming medical career dragged me away from politics, but I have returned now after years of on-call, study and training to become a gastroenterologist.

My wife and I, like so many young families, migrated up the North Coast to a place called Port Macquarie on the banks of the Hastings River so I could practise my profession and raise a family. When we arrived in Port Macquarie by necessity I had to also become a small business man, because there was no endoscopy facility at all, even though they had employed me as an endoscopist and gastroenterologist. So I had to learn about business, finance, employment and all the things that occur with small business. We have been involved in the beef production industry personally and we have a long family heritage of trying to make a living out of the land. So I do not come here with a MBA but I come here with real-life experience in the front lines of medicine and with the responsibility of business and the weight of 14 pay packets on my mind for decades or more.

When politics becomes very dysfunctional politics starts to invade people's lives. Four or five years ago I thought that I could shout at the TV for the rest of my life and throw the paper in disgust or get involved in politics. I graduated from commentating on politics at dinner parties to actually being involved. That comment, 'They should do this,' is us, so we have a weighty responsibility upon us.

A government should encourage entrepreneurs. It should allow individuals to exercise their initiative, innovate and reap the rewards of their risk, their hard work and the finance that they put up rather than taxing the arse off them. In public administration my aspiration is to keep all levels of government as small and as efficient as possible, otherwise each level consumes another portion of our taxpayers' wealth.

Our defence capability defines us. It lets us trade with the world in peace and it is our nation's insurance. It should have size and reserves so that we can stand on our own if required. Whilst treaties and allies are central to our defence, we cannot scrimp on our responsibilities and subcontract them to our allies.

The key hallmarks of our system of liberal democracy which we have inherited from Britain should never be taken for granted. It seems trite to talk about the freedom of speech, the rule of law, the separation of powers, property rights and the primacy of the individual as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others, but really if property rights are being removed in part or in whole by the government—and governments can do that—they should offer compensation or they should return the property right. Freedom of speech should be protected and it should not be muffled or diluted by the passing fashions of perceived political correctness. The principle of free markets is to be encouraged, but in the extreme it can lead to a monopolised market, which is then no longer free or fair. That is only where government should intervene. Treaties with nations or other bodies should share common aspirations and goals, but we should not ever sign away our sovereign powers.

Henry Parkes and his colleagues did a sterling job with our Constitution, with the division of responsibilities and the definition of public administration between state and federal, but there are some things in our federation that I think need fixing. We should, firstly, complete it with appropriate recognition of our Indigenous peoples. Initially the roles of the Commonwealth and the states roughly matched their revenue. Roles and responsibilities were very clear, but now—due to changes in the taxing power that happened during the two world wars, the growth of a social welfare system that was nowhere to be seen in 1900, and the growth of bureaucracies at all three levels of government—there is a growing funding disparity and a blurring of responsibilities. There is increasing waste and duplication between the Commonwealth and the states. We seem to have a creeping and confused federalism, where the federal government is continuing to assume the responsibilities of the states and, on occasions, vice versa.

Another thing is the voting system for the Senate, a system that defines who gets into the other place. As we have just witnessed, the voting system that produces senators appears to be structurally flawed and it potentially could again deliver outcomes that seem inconsistent with the intention of the voters. I think it is time to re-evaluate.

There is another frustration that is expressed within the community—and I certainly heard about it as I doorknocked thousands of houses, clocking up 48,000 kilometres and two sets of shoes—that is, a frustration with so many elections. Also there is a frustration with the inability for any government to deliver their agenda within one term, and I suppose that is why we hardly ever see a one-term government anymore. But I think too much energy goes into electioneering rather than governing. One conclusion is that the three-year term for this House is too short to deliver that agenda. Some Australian states seem to survive democracy with four-year terms, we install senators for six years and our founding democratic system in Westminster has run with five-year terms for generations—again, we need to re-evaluate.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of five previous members of my electorate, and it is my intention to build on their achievements, not to disparage them. I would like to personally thank two previous members: one who is now deceased, the late Bruce Cowan, for his personal help, as well as former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile.

The Lyne electorate and its natural wonders remain one of our greatest assets. We have golden sands on many iconic beaches; we have Crescent Head in the north to Hallidays Point in the south. We have verdant coastal plains that are guarded by the sentinel Three Brothers mountain range on the coast. And it reaches west to the mountain ranges. We have mighty rivers running from the mountains down to the sea: the Macleay in the north, the Hastings and the Camden Haven in the middle, and the mighty Manning in the south. My electorate encompasses the ancestral home of the Daingatti, Biripai and Worimi people, who have lived there for millennia; it has been my family's home only for the past 21 years.

Lyne electorate's cities, towns and villages have all played a part in the history of Australia. John Oxley reached the Hastings River back in 1818, and Port Macquarie was the third penal settlement in the colony. Free enterprise settlers from the Australian Agricultural Company—AA Co.—reached the Manning in 1831. One of our pre-Federation state members was our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton. And now, decades later, we have major centres in Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Laurieton, Camden Haven, Taree Wingham and Gloucester. They are all great communities with happy people who work hard, who volunteer and try to get ahead.

Migration north out of the cities is a phenomenon the whole country has seen, but we have swelled with retirees and young families seeking cheap housing. We have many secondary industries that have grown up behind our initial primary industries of timber, fishing, beef and dairy: we have steel fabricators, coalminers, a large construction and housing industry, marine and boat builders and defence contractors. The service and professional economies have grown enormously: we have regional administration, banking and a large not-for-profit sector. We also have a huge age and healthcare centre and a large and growing sector of education providers and trainers. Tourism and hospitality have also become critical to our region.

On the surface it looks great, but underneath there are many challenges my electorate faces that mirror those of the nation. The previous wealth generators—timber and fishing and dairy—are being challenged by aggressive restriction of resources, particularly in timber and fishing. The dairy and beef industries suffer from low commodity prices. Aggressive market behaviour and poor bargaining powers made a bad situation worse. These and all the other industries need long-term security for their primary resources to allow new investment, and we need to reduce the cost of business so that they can attract new investment.

Many robust small businesses have weathered the changes in our economy, but unfortunately in my electorate 300 have gone by the wayside since 2009. The complexities and costs thrust upon them by red, green and industrial tape, and that aggressive market behaviour I referred to earlier, have created challenges that were too great for them.

The other problem in my electorate is that large sections of Lyne's communities rely in part or wholly on the government for their incomes because of poor educational outcomes, unemployment and family breakdown. The best thing a government can do is to deliver policies that build stronger families, effective early learning, subsequent completion of education and training and conditions so that businesses, not governments, can generate jobs.

Infrastructure is so important—our roads, our rail links, air and telecommunications form the arteries of commerce and tourism. They are all in need of a serious upgrade in our area. That is why it is so important that we do complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway to the Queensland border and our other regional transport links that we have committed to, like the Bucketts Way that will link the Manning Valley and Gloucester primary and secondary industries. I want to deliver the things I have campaigned on—Green Army projects, the tennis court upgrades in Port Macquarie and CCTV to make our streets, where there is a high incidence of crime, safer.

The North Coast rail system is a relic. It transports bulk freight along with tens of thousands of tourists. People talk about the 'very fast train', but in our part of the world on the North Coast we have to deal with the very slow train. I would like to achieve some upgrades of that in my time.

Our health system, which is the envy of many countries, is under strain. It is essentially underwritten by our federal government, whether it is direct grants to the states through Medicare or all the other bits in between. The taxpayer is being a giant self-insurer. We need to have an insurance system that removes the risk from the taxpayer by encouraging widely held health insurance. If it is widely held we get community rating principle and it becomes cheaper, not more expensive, and then it is affordable to the average family. It then protects our public health system and can be a second funding stream for it, like it used to be, and allow delivery of timely health care to the people of Australia. That is why it is so vital that in the long term we remain committed to it.

The ageing population will continue to place huge demands on Australian population. We have been living that for many years, because in Lyne we have double the aged population average of the country.

We talk about the northern food bowl and the potential there, but there is huge potential in our part of the country. The Lyne electorate's fertile valleys and those of the mid-North Coast could contribute extensively to food production—again, if upscaling of agriculture occurs and food processing is added into the value-adding chain.

In Taree we have a hidden jewel called the Manning River, but the potential for increased boat building, tourism, property development, marine services and many other industries lie dormant because the river mouth is unnavigable most of the time. Unfinished infrastructure at its mouth would be great to complete to allow those potentials to become realities.

I am very honoured to be entering this parliament as a member of The Nationals. Our party has a long and proud history in this place. I want to make sure that myself and our party have a long record of achievement for our electorates and the regions—both a voice at the cabinet table and through the other sections of executive government.

My journey here was not a solo voyage and I have so many people to thank. I would like to thank the party and my electorate for placing faith in me and I would like to thank all those parliamentarians and other party members who came to help me in the campaign, including your good self, Madam Speaker. I would like to think frontbenchers Barnaby Joyce, Nigel Scullion, Fiona Nash, Luke Hartsuyker, Bruce Billson, Julie Bishop, Michael Ronaldson, Michael Keenan, Darren Chester, Michael McCormack and 'Wacka' Williams.

I would particularly like to thank my great friend, confidant, adviser and mentor of many years—our good Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man whom I have known since childhood. He comes from a wonderful family, some of whom are up in the chamber and I have known them all for many years. He is a man of the highest integrity and I know he is already making a great Prime Minister and leader of our nation. PM, thank you so much for your help and support.

I would like to thank Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. Warren brings a wealth of experience and wisdom to the leadership of our government our nation—and he certainly got the frequent Flyer points up coming to our electorate.

I would like to thank the people in our party. I would like to thank New South Wales head office under the guidance of Ben Franklin and all the others in his team, including is people on the ground—Tom Aubert, Hugh O'Dwyer, Ross Cadell and Elissa Wynn.

I would like to thank people from my 2010 campaign—Georgie McDuling, Bill Yates, James Dunn, Rob Nardella and Peter Loveday—who were there for the long run. I would also like to think my mother and father and the late Daphne Filtness for their enduring love and instilling a sense of confidence in me. I would like to thank my brothers and sisters for their collective years of advice and help. I would also like to thank my electorate chairman, Jane Corcoran; my campaign manager Terry Sara; and the federal secretariat help and director, Christine Ferguson.

I cannot thank all of the 732 people who helped me in the campaign, but down in Gloucester I would like to mention Don Dunlop and his team; the Taree team headed up by Arthur Chapman, Warren Young and Craig Webster; and all those who helped over at Old Bar, including Jane Vincent.

Ladies and gentlemen, when we get into this House, so many of our decisions have so many ramifications for so many people. It is a great honour and a great privilege. I would like to tell the people in my electorate that I am so honoured and privileged to be your ombudsman both with all of us here and the executive government. As members of this House we are a voice for our electorates. We on this side of the chamber—admittedly we have gone over the edge—speak with a voice of common-sense, reason and real life experience, and we believe in the 'keep it simple' principle.

Ladies and gentlemen: I will work tirelessly for my electorate and I will work tirelessly for the nation so that we all reach our possibilities. We all have great potential and it is important that as Australians we make sure that all of us get a chance to shine, to take our risks, to bite the bullet and do it. Thank you very much.

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