Senator Smith: First Speech

Dean Smith, Senator for Western Australia

First Speech - 18/06/2012

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (17:34): Thank you, Mr President. Let me begin by offering my sincere thanks to you, the Clerk of the Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod and others for the warm welcome I received when I first arrived at this distinguished place last month. It was a humbling moment. For all my dreaming and effort, and still after 48 days in the role, I occasionally pinch myself at being entrusted with the rarest of opportunities: to marry my heartfelt convictions for the values of the Liberal Party with an opportunity to represent Western Australia and its people in this place.

I regard the Senate as the first child of Federation and the most significant of our democratic institutions, and I challenge the view that its creation was a compromise. In prescribing how Australia's representative government would operate, our founding fathers took a deliberate and conscious step—our democratic style would consist of two separate and distinct mandates: one representing the people as a whole and one representing the people voting by their states. In every deliberation I will sanctify this historic fact.

Even though the First Fleet included 18 Smiths, with felonies as varied as stealing a handkerchief and committing highway robbery, even though Smiths were among the first soldiers to land at Gallipoli and despite the surname remaining one of Australia's most common, I was surprised to learn that I am only the second Smith to have served in this place. The first was Senator Miles Staniforth Cater Smith, who, having topped the Federation ballot on 29 March 1901 was elected as the first senator for Western Australia. When elected, he was a mere 31 years of age and the youngest senator at the time. Staniforth Smith, as he was known, was born 100 years before me and prior to entering the Senate was the mayor of Kalgoorlie. At the 1901 ballot he is said to have taken the electors by storm and secured just over 15,000 votes after a hurried four-week campaign that cost him £800—a considerable sum at the time. Staniforth Smith was defiantly Western Australian but always a strong federalist, a Protestant and an ardent free trader. By all accounts, he made a positive and well-regarded contribution to our nation's formative years. As a senator he was a champion of the underdog, speaking in favour of courts of appeal for workers with unfair wages, working conditions or insufficient leave. He promoted the cause of women and the principle of equal pay for equal work and believed that a nation's maturity could be measured only by the care it took of its old and frail citizens. I am pleased to add that he was quick to realise the costs to the states of Federation and would often speak of the need to be the vigilant against the duplication of effort between state and federal governments. It is a timely reminder that the more things change the more they stay the same.

As exciting as this opportunity is, I am fully aware that it has occurred against the backdrop of great sadness. I come to this place following the vacancy left by the death of Senator Judith Adams. Like many of you, I was lucky to know Judith. I also feel privileged to have witnessed a rare and unique event on my first day. Whilst listening to the many heartfelt tributes to Judith, I came to appreciate the collegiality of the Senate. Much has been said in tribute to Judith's dedication to the Senate—in particular, her work on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, her real and genuine compassion and authenticity as a person and her unassuming yet absolutely forceful personality. Doorknocking and a strong competitive streak in matters affecting the regional rivalries of the Liberal and National parties in Western Australia are well known hallmarks of Judith's political career.

To the many tributes already made, I would like to add mine and point to her political and personal courage. In nearly seven years as a senator from Western Australia, Judith was confident in using all the authority and opportunities available to her in her role as a senator. Without fear, Judith fought vigorously for the dismantling of Australia's monopolistic wheat marketing arrangements. She won the battle. At a difficult but critical time, Judith stood up for regional communities against her own party's plans to embrace an emissions trading scheme. Judith displayed real political courage—'real' because these were political moments that were not about her own personal goals but about the goals and aspirations of the many she represented.

Looking over her life, Judith was a person of great courage and rare dignity. We know only too well the personal courage she showed in her private battles with cancer. Judith Adams went beyond delivering on the vow she made in her first speech to represent Western Australians with 'honesty, sincerity and integrity'. Having travelled around Western Australia, I know there is nothing as destructive to community as the feeling that others do not understand or care about your unique problems. I will follow the example set by Judith and commit to giving regional Western Australians a strong voice in this place.

I stand here this evening not to provide you with a commentary on the state of contemporary politics. Instead, I will share with you what I believe in and what has driven me in life and in politics to get me to this moment today. My political beliefs are an extension of the simple values taught to me by my parents. These are the values of honest hard work, trust, integrity and genuine compassion for those who find themselves in difficult and unfortunate circumstances. I have no political lineage, nor was I appointed by the great and the good. My political activism, which began as a Young Liberal in the 1980s, had its origin in watching my parents and observing their deep and selfless civic mindedness.

My parents have always cared about and been active in the communities in which they have lived. The first was Port Hedland in Western Australia's north-west where my parents first took our family in the early 1970s as my father began his 35-year career as a policeman. After Port Hedland, my family moved to a modest suburb in the heart of Perth's northern suburbs. It was in Nollamara that I attended Mirrabooka Primary School and Mirrabooka Senior High School. My parents still live in their original home in Nollamara. My parents constantly gave up their time to volunteer to ensure their children and the children of their neighbours had the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms of youth. It did not matter what community activities my brother, sister and I enjoyed, my parents were there by our side, at various times running the local football club and swimming club, the Boy Scouts, and the primary school and high school parents and citizens association.

For 34 years my parents, Alan and Judy Smith, have been at the heart of a little community sporting club known as the Mirrabooka swimming club. While it has not yet produced any Olympic champions, it has made a solid and lasting contribution to the positive and healthy development of many children across Perth's northern suburbs. Over the last 34 years, the club has received just $1,000 of taxpayers' money to support its activities. As parliamentarians we can do more to acknowledge and support the voluntary contributions of ordinary Australians and their families in community and sporting clubs across our suburbs and towns.

I am confident that my grandparents—Edward Ward and Jessie Croxford, and Frank and Nancy Smith—are looking down on this moment proud of my parents. I am also proud of my parents and delighted that they are here to witness my first speech from the public gallery this evening. They are joined by my brother, sister and brother-in-law, Grant, Rachel and John, and my niece and nephew, Maddison and Seaton.

Watching my parents over many years has reinforced in me two salient political points. The first is that all politics is local. The second is that community participation is the all-important glue that binds our communities and towns and keeps them alive. So there it is—the virtues of personal and civic responsibility came to me first by observation and were easily believed and understood when I subsequently read them theorised by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. They were believed because I had seen them played out in my own life experience.

My formative political years coincided with a period of political transformation in Australia. At a time when my peers were engrossed in Countdown and were consumed by the euphoria of the America's Cup, I quickly distrusted and became angry at the hype that characterised the new Hawke government and its Western Australian counterpart, led by Brian Burke. While most were impressed by the glitter and the charm of the new, I looked around and saw ordinary families and small businesses being ignored by the political party that purported to represent them. I was appalled by Labor's cosy menage a trois of big government, big unions and big business, wilfully taking ordinary families like mine and those around us for granted. This political awakening drew me to explore political ideas and to accept that it was liberal democratic ideals that best supported families and communities like mine. I believe in smaller government, limited taxation and individual responsibility as being the building blocks of our prosperity. I believe it is cruel for government to suggest that it can cure every ill and a folly to suggest that legislation and regulation can remove every risk from our economic or social activity. The improvement in the human condition and our prosperity is the direct result of people having taken calculated risks, whether in medicine, science or economic enterprise. The temptation to make individuals and communities immune from risk only softens people's will and dampens their progress. I believe government should be ashamed when it promises people things it cannot afford to fund. I believe we should be more vigilant in challenging expectation when it seeks to overshadow and take the place of aspiration. Above all else, I believe that every individual should be free to always act as their conscience dictates. For me, this was a fundamental attraction to the Liberal Party.

In the broad church that is the modern Liberal Party, I sit comfortably on the conservative side of the aisle and I readily admit that I am a traditionalist. While many find it easy to dismiss and reject as relics of the past the enduring institutions of our country and the customs of our society, I see with clarity how these institutions have adapted over time. Being a conservative is not the same as being a reactionary. Being a conservative, respecting our traditions and institutions, is not about rejecting change. It is about recognising that cautious and considered change is more successful at delivering stability and continuity for our country.

This set of values is at the core of two of my greatest political passions. My first passion is Australian federalism. My home state is vast. Its people and priorities are broad and not easily understood by those living in faraway communities in very different circumstances. I believe in decentralised decision making, in diffuse political power, in allowing people to govern their own destinies. For Western Australia, so rich in people and natural resources yet so far from the centre of political power, this is a matter of political principle and practical necessity.

I acknowledge the modern Liberal Party has at times been a disappointing custodian of our federalism. It has been difficult for federalism to withstand the erosion from global forces, encroaching regionalisation and the poor performance of state governments. I will add my energies to correcting this blemish on the otherwise solid political traditions of my party. In this place I will not be a status quo federalist. We have at the moment a catalyst to drive real reform of the federation that could restore the authority of states and give Australians a greater involvement in the direction of their national affairs.

The fair and effective distribution of GST payments to the states is a critical national issue dear to the hearts of all Western Australians. Declining GST payments to Western Australia is the most damaging national issue for our state, and every Western Australian will feel the pain if the matter is not swiftly addressed. Western Australia's share of the GST will fall to 55 per cent this financial year and possibly to 25 per cent by 2016. Over the four years to 2016, WA will pay a $15.3 billion penalty for its economic success. Correcting this imbalance is at the core of reforms to revitalise our federation. It is critical that states are rewarded for economic success and that no state or territory is given a free lunch. This reform will take real political courage. The hopes of many Western Australians are resting on the shoulders of my party to deliver on this. I urge my party to rise to the challenge.

As a self-confessed traditionalist, my second great passion is for our constitutional monarchy, for which I hold a deep and abiding respect. I am proud to be making this speech in the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I will not add to the many powerful insights and observations already made over many years regarding the strength and durability of Australia's constitutional monarchy. Instead, I simply share my profound respect and reflective reverence for our sovereign, a sovereign who has become the most powerful symbol of duty and service beyond self:

Thy choicest gifts in store

On her be pleased to pour,

Long may she reign.

Today I recommit myself to standing shoulder to shoulder with the many, many other Australians who will forever defend the place of the Crown in our Constitution.

This evening I have shared with you some of the inspirations that have driven and encouraged me to stand up and be counted, both as an individual and now as a representative of my state. I aspire to one day also inspire others. It is my hope and ambition that my background and experiences will serve as a reminder that we should distrust the temptation to see the world through stereotypes. Every Australian has a personal story, experiences and values that inform their character, choices and political philosophy. As a boy from Mirrabooka High School, few would have imagined it possible that one day I would be a Western Australian Liberal Party senator. While it is easy to view each of us through the simplistic prism of stereotypes, this attitude only acts to diminish the unique and personal qualities and life experiences of all of us as individuals.

As a gay man from a conservative leaning party in a conservative state, I particularly pray that my simple journey so far may act as further encouragement to young Australians that our country is mature enough to look beyond the idea that race, gender, social standing and sexuality are the single determinants of an individual's social or political outlook. For the last 43 years I have lived my life authentically. I pray that God will continue to give me purity in every thought, conviction in the words I speak, courage in every action and a character marked by integrity and grace. There are many people who have been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout my life. First and foremost I thank my family for their unconditional love and trust. I am humbled to see in the gallery this evening friends and family from various parts of my life and to know that others are watching as well. These include my aunt, uncle and cousins; old schoolfriends from Mirrabooka Primary and Mirrabooka High School; friends from my first days in the WA Young Liberal movement; and many others who have supported me in this journey.

For the last 25 years I have been at home in the WA Liberal Party. The faith and trust that its state council has bestowed on me is at the forefront of all my considerations in this new role. I thank each and every one of them for the support they have given me over the years, particularly those who have supported me in the last six months. I reflect on the friendship and mentoring of Mark Heyward, Michael Ogden and Peter Wells, who are no longer with us but who I am confident are looking down with great pride and a sense of satisfaction this evening. Last and by no means least, I thank Kelli and Lee Orrell, Fay and Archie Duda, Kay and Jim Gilchrist, Richard Evans, Suzette Morris and Ross Field, who have never doubted that they would witness a day like today. Mr President, fellow senators: I am grateful for the courtesy you have extended to me this evening.

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