First Speech: Tony Pasin MP

Member for Barker, South Australia

21 November 2013

Mr PASIN (Barker) (09:02): Madam Speaker, in addressing this place for the first time, I add my voice to the chorus of congratulations on your election to the Speakership. I am proud to have voted to elect you as the first conservative female speaker—based on your merits and achievements, as all appointments should be. I am certain that in the discharge of your duties you will act with fairness and decorum, and ensure that my colleagues and I maintain our respect for this place and each other.

In this you can have no better role model than the 26th Speaker of the House of Representatives, Neil Andrew, a man who I have long admired, a man who, through this incredible journey of mine, I have had the privilege to come to know, and a man who I regard as a friend and mentor.

I also acknowledge and thank the member for Berowra for his wise counsel and pastoral care over recent weeks.

Mr Ruddock: Thank you.

Mr PASIN: I am honoured that I will forever be able to boast that I was a member of this place during the tenure of the current Clerk of the House of Representatives, albeit briefly. His legacy will be recorded not just in the pages of House of RepresentativesPractice but also in the actions of his staff. Never have I had the pleasure of dealing with such pleasant professional, helpful and committed men and women. They are a testament to his leadership.

'Fra dira et du fare, chidi menso et mare' is an Italian phrase which translates loosely as 'between words and deeds exists the ocean'. In essence, talk is cheap. I am honoured to be a member of a team led by a man of principle, who says what he means and does what he says. He is a Prime Minister who will lead a government of honesty and integrity, a government focusing on matching words with deeds.

There is no more important deed for this government than creating a strong and prosperous economy, where lower taxes and less regulation will deliver greater business productivity and ensure that more Australians experience the dignity of employment.

My family's home in Barker is located near a property called Dingley Dell. Dingley Dell was purchased in 1864 by one of Australia's first poets, Adam Lindsay Gordon. Whilst living there Gordon became a member of the South Australian state parliament, where he was renowned for two things: the first, I hope not to replicate—that is that his speeches, whilst entertaining, were largely irrelevant. The second I cannot hope to replicate, for Adam Lindsay Gordon was considered dashing and handsome whereas, unlike others in this chamber and in the other place, I lend weight to the claim that politics is show business for ugly people!

I am proud that like the first four members for Barker, John Langdon Bonython, John Livingston and the Camerons—Malcolm and Archie—I am a son of immigrants. I am a parochial Australian, immensely proud of my Italian heritage. I honour the rich contribution that immigrants have made to my home state of South Australia and the nation.

My father, Luigi, the only child of Giuseppe and Angela Pasin, arrived in Australia as an 18-year-old seeking opportunity and adventure. My mother, Giuseppina, was the eldest daughter of Antonio and Immaculata Peppi. For both of them, World War II had been indirectly formative. My paternal grandfather died in 1948 as a consequence of tuberculosis, acquired whilst making the dangerous trek at night from Germany to northern Italy—an ordeal lasting 12 months. After spending two days at home he was hospitalised for two years before succumbing to the disease. Nothing I do in this place will ever be as hard as his journey home.

As a consequence of his sacrifice, my father was given a privileged education that ignited his passion for adventure. My maternal grandfather, after whom I take my name, served in Africa before being taken prisoner. As a prisoner he was treated with kindness and respect, and came to learn English. At the conclusion of the war he too returned to Italy, but armed with his newly acquired language skills he sought out for his family the opportunity a better life in Australia could provide.

Opportunity is so often the driving force of the migrant story. As Nick Cater, himself an immigrant, states in The Lucky Culture:

No-one comes to Australia for an easy time, they come here for a future. They do not seek deliverance, they seek the opportunity to deliver.

I am proud to be part of a government that is working to ensure that once again those who come to our great nation to share in its opportunities and to add to its prosperity do so in a safe and orderly manner, respectful of proper processes.

My parents met and married in Mount Gambier. Their entrepreneurialism saw them establish and operate many successful businesses. My father returned ultimately to his rural roots, farming land at Yahl, OB Flat and Kalangadoo. My mother operated a retail fashion and lingerie store in Mount Gambier for 46 years. It became a meeting place for the ladies of Mount Gambier. Shortly following its opening, my mother took the decision to display intimate apparel on mannequins in the shop window—an action which at the time was regarded by many, including community leaders, as provocative. When I inevitably say things that challenge both sides of this place, you will know where my inspiration came from!

The shop and the farm taught me much about life—hardly surprising, given that if I was not at school the choice was either the shop or the farm. To give you a sense of it, Madam Speaker, in my early years my morning and afternoon naps took place in a suitcase under the shop's counter and my weekends and school holidays were spent at the farm or in the packing shed. You might say I was exposed firsthand at an early age to the hard reality of running small businesses. Indeed, as a young child I once guided a friend and good customer of my mother's to the most expensive item in the store—it was a full-length mink coat—and insisted that she purchase it. When the customer inquired why, much to the embarrassment of my mother I said, 'Cause things are tight.' The kindness of the customer saw her offer my mother a loan, which made it all the more embarrassing. I also watched as unnecessary government intervention ended my father's desire to continue growing, packing and exporting onions to the world.

Without my knowing it, these real-life experiences and others formed the genesis of my ideological beliefs. As a Liberal I know that our national interest is best served by a free citizenry empowered by personal responsibility and supported by a government that knows its place. It was Philip McBride, a senior Menzies government minister, a federal Liberal president and whose descendants I count amongst my constituents and friends, who defined the Liberal Party's historic mission as the preservation of individual freedom and a determination to restrain the powers of government. To this end, we have not always succeeded. We must have the courage to do better and ensure that we strive for the discipline that small government demands. We must at the same time respect and protect our traditional values and institutions. They are the bedrock on which our nation was built. Their conservation is essential to ensure the continued peace, order and good governance of this country.

Like this place that draws its foundation from several sources, I acknowledge that so too does the Liberal Party. Where our Constitution adopted elements from two great democracies, Britain and the United States of America, the Liberal Party was informed by two great traditions, both liberal and conservative. Where our Constitution founders created a uniquely Australian Federation to unite a diverse and geographically dispersed young nation, Robert Menzies created a uniquely Australian party to represent the interests of all Australians, not just the sectional interests of a few. I, like our former Prime Minister John Howard, consider my guiding philosophy to be a fusion of economic liberalism and social conservatism. I believe that our party is at its best when we remain true to our core ideologies and use them to inform and implement pragmatic policies.

Throughout my professional career I have honed my skills as an advocate. I am proud that for much of it, whilst operating my own legal practice, I have spoken for those whose voice, by reason of means or capacity, would have otherwise fallen silent. I intend to use my skills not only for the betterment of my electorate but for the cause of rural and regional Australia at large. It is easy to complain that things are tough for rural and regional Australia and to outline the challenges we face. It is harder to suggest and implement solutions to meet these challenges because so often they involve standing strong in the face of populist opinion. Here I draw inspiration from the 'Modest Member', South Australia's Bert Kelly, who, despite almost universal opposition, never wavered in his fight to rid Australia of the scourge of protectionism. It was said by the seventh member for Barker, Ian McLachlan, that Kelly, for his efforts, should have earned five knighthoods.

I also draw guidance from McLachlan himself, who spearheaded some of the most important workplace relations reforms in the history of the agricultural sector. These reforms occurred when, as he later recounted to the HR Nicholls Society, conciliation and compromise were the norm, when unions were dominant, and government and big business were compliant. It was individual farmers, not big business or government, who had the courage to force this change, to stand up for what was right, which of course was right for the nation.

Madam Speaker, as you know, the Liberal Party boasts a strong heritage of rural representation, especially in seats like Barker. I hope to add to this rich pedigree in a way that will earn the respect of my political mentors and honour the memory of my political heroes. Since its establishment following the redistribution of the former division of South Australia on 2 October 1903, eight members have served as the member for Barker. I pay my respects to each of them: John Bonython, John Livingston, Malcolm Cameron, Archie Cameron, Jim Forbes, James Porter, Ian McLachlan and Patrick Secker. Each of them were strong advocates for rural Australia, connected deeply, as I am, to the land. I wish to particularly acknowledge the service of my immediate predecessor, Patrick Secker. I am grateful for the manner with which he conducted himself during the period of transition in Barker. I wish Patrick and his wife, Sharon, every happiness for the future.

I come to this place without political antecedents. I am what in my former professional life I would have referred to as 'a cleanskin'. The use of that phrase, coincidentally, was responsible for the fourth member for Barker, Archie Cameron, earning unenviable distinction as the first minister ever named and expelled from this chamber. He also during a party room debate famously lost his temper and 'further harangued the meeting before hurling his boots at the wall'. Whilst I have no personal connection to Archie Cameron and, indeed, no inclination to imitate his antics, I am proud to have had a strong personal connection to many of the men who have served in this role before me, including Malcolm Cameron, who occupied the post from 1922 to 1934. On my political journey I have always had the support of Malcolm's grandson, Neville Lamont, who is present with us today. Indeed, I have brought to the chamber this morning Malcolm Cameron's first-class rail passage, issued on the occasion of the establishment of the seat of government in Canberra in May 1927.

Barker is my home. It is where I was born, raised and spent my formative years. It was where I took my first steps and watched my daughter do the same. In this way, I count myself truly fortunate. Barker is an electorate that has delivered so much to the nation and sought so little in return. It is an electorate whose economic strength is matched only by its diversity. It is the engine room of regional South Australia endowed with natural resources perfectly suited to the pursuit of agricultural production. It is a place of natural beauty, from the volcanic region of the south to the river oasis of the north, from the rolling hills of the Barossa to the picturesque plains of the Murray lands and Mallee. It is a place that boasts leading, world-class production of grain, vegetables, fruit, timber and livestock for meat and dairy. These commodities link wine grape growers at Angaston, Waikerie and Penola, croppers at Karoonda and Loxton, plus livestock farmers at Lucindale, Menindee and Lameroo. These common industries unite Barker and make it a truly strong and interwoven community.

Barker's strong communities are a product of its warm-spirited, resilient and innovative people. That warmth of spirit, resilience and innovation are best personified by the story of Saint Mary of the Cross McKillop. As a Catholic, I regard myself as blessed to serve an electorate so intrinsically linked to the life of our nation's only saint. After all, it was in Barker that a young Mary McKillop met Father Julian Tenison Woods, who inspired her journey in faith. Father Woods's parish at the time covered 56,000 square kilometres of bushland; Barker covers an area of 64,000 square kilometres. Woods serviced his parish by horse and cart; I by modern motor vehicle. As I travel past the very red gums under which he prepared his sermons and celebrated mass, may I be inspired by the commitment he showed to his people and his faith.

An entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in Barker through the efforts not only of the primary production sector but also the manufacturers who add value to the region's primary products and who, it should be said, form the second largest group of employers after primary producers in the electorate. I speak here of businesses such as Naracoorte's MiniJumbuk, Mount Gambier's NF McDonnell & Sons, the Riverland's Nippy's Fruit Juice, Bordertown's Blue Lake Milling and Murray Bridge's Thomas Foods International.

Manufacturing does, however, face many challenges as the recent closure of the potato processing plant in Penola demonstrates. If we wish to capitalise on our competitive agricultural advantages and reap the benefits of the Asian century, we must combat the strong headwinds facing the sector. As a Liberal I know that government must incentivise business by creating a climate in which business can seek out and seize opportunities. Amongst other things in Barker, this means creating certainty for irrigators, whether that irrigation water is drawn from the River Murray or the aquifers of the south-east. It means taking action to lower import costs, undertaking labour market and taxation reform, increasing access to international markets and more appropriately balancing the needs of the environment with the right to farm.

We must encourage investment in the best of science and technology to improve our productivity, grow our economy and feed the world. The future of agricultural enterprise is not, as the South Australian state Labor government seems to insist, to be found exclusively in the domain of premium produce but rather in a balance between bespoke production of low-volume, high-value offerings and the large-scale production of commodities.

We must continue to embrace the novel and the new and seek ideas from abroad. The second member for Barker, John Livingston, inspired by his overseas travels, encouraged the planting of pine forests in the south-east. Thanks to his vision, the softwood forests in Barker now cover over 100,000 hectares. Livingston also pioneered the freezing and shipment of prime lambs to Britain, an early example followed today by not only the three world-class export abattoirs in Barker but also live exporters. Livingston's legacy, as impressive as it is, serves more importantly as a guide for the future. If we are to follow Livingston's lead, rural and regional Australia needs access to improved infrastructure, and I welcome our government's commitment, as do the residents of Barker, to deliver the roads of the 21st century.

Rural and regional Australia also needs access to the best digital technologies, technologies that have within their ambit the potential to deliver enhanced health, education and business connectivity to bridge the urban-rural divide. This divide exists as much now as it did when upon the foundation of the Liberal Party, Menzies sought to create a country where both farmers and city residents enjoyed stability and the amenities of life.

I come to this place determined to strive to ensure that my actions will contribute to the restoration of the Australian people's regard for this place and those that sit within it. I thank the people of Barker for the honour they have bestowed upon me and acknowledge that a heavy responsibility accompanies that privilege. I must say that I am acutely aware of the weight of their expectation. To them I give this solemn pledge: I will be at all times your best advocate. I will steadfastly protect your interests and ardently champion your causes. In return I ask the people of Barker to heed the guidance of Edmund Burke and trust me to apply my own intelligence, industry and judgement to their concerns.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. To those giants that have made it possible for me to hold this office, I say thank you. To the Liberal Party's federal and South Australian secretariats, thank you. To my campaign manager, Dale Howard, and the hardworking and dedicated members of my campaign team, thank you. To the wider membership of the Liberal Party in Barker, thank you. For the wise counsel of Nick Minchin, Alan Ferguson, Joan Hall and the late Dale Baker, thank you. To my state parliamentary colleagues for your cooperation and support particularly Adrian Pederick, Ivan Venning, Tim Whetstone, Mitch Williams, and Legislative Councillors John Dawkins, Terry Stephens and David Ridgway, Thank you.

To my staff for all you have done and in anticipation of all that you will do, thank you. To Senator Bernardi for your encouragement, friendship and guidance over many years, thank you. To my sister, Angela, who taught me the art of argument and the importance of persistence, thank you. To my parents, Luigi and Josefina, for your unconditional love and support and for equipping me to face the challenges of life, thank you. To my gorgeous wife, Fiona, and beautiful daughter, Bella, for allowing me to follow my passion, for sharing me with the people of Barker and for your constant reminder of what is truly important in life, thank you. To my brother, Giuseppe, I miss you.

In closing, I reflect on the words of the handsome and dashing Adam Lindsay Gordon and I hope they might be guide to me and perhaps others in this place:

Life is mainly froth and bubble,

Two things stand like stone,

Kindness in another's troubles,

Courage in your own.

In her address on the occasion of the opening of the first session of the 44th Parliament, Her Excellency the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia said:

With a new parliament a page is turned. A new page in our country's history is about to be written.

I hope that in adding my words that page I will be remembered as a man of kindness whose courageous actions honour his family, his party, his country and his God.

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