First Speech: Mr Ben Morton MP

Member for Tangney, Western Australia

12 October 2016

 


It is a great honour that I stand in this place as the seventh member for Tangney having sworn an oath to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. I will repay the faith of the people of Tangney by working hard, by being honest and up-front and by representing my community to the very best of my ability. Not everyone will always agree with the positions I take in this place, but they will always be considered based on my values and in our national interests.

The strange thing about maiden speeches is that they are more often read as you leave this place than when you enter. So, with this in mind, I will set out the basis of how I would like to be judged when I leave this place. I want people to be in no doubt about why I am here. I am here for the hardworking, aspirational Australians who want to apply their own effort and succeed. I am here to help build an Australia that empowers people—an Australia that rewards individual and community effort. I am here to create an Australia where young people, regardless of their financial and social situation, can work hard and reach their full potential—whatever that might be. Sadly, in many parts of our country, the most significant limitation on an individual's success is their ability to aspire and to believe that they can create their own future, and I am determined to change this.

I am the son of two very hardworking Australians, Trevor and Linda Morton. They applied their efforts to own and operate their businesses, and the businesses of others, to accept risk and to employ people. My family's history is in farming, in building, in transport and in care. My dad's family were primary producers in the Dooralong Valley, just outside Wyong, on the New South Wales Central Coast. They moved through the industries of the time: pulpwood, citrus and dairy. I pay tribute and thanks to my grandmother, Daphne, a strong woman who instilled in her children values of self-reliance and determination, but who, after many years with dementia, sadly passed away, just over a fortnight ago, aged 94.

My mum immigrated from England as a ten-pound Pom with her then husband and my two brothers. The billboards posted in England at the time said, 'The call of the stars to British men and women,' 'the southern cross,' 'the stars which shine over Australia,' and 'the land of opportunity'. Full of enthusiasm for her new life in Australia, Mum worked hard, raised her family and embraced our Australian values while still remaining true to her northern English heritage.

I grew up around Wyong, attending Wyong Public School and Wyong High School. I certainly was not the most academic kid, but, on my first day of high school, something was said to me that really stuck with me: 'It doesn't matter where you're from or how smart you are, at high school all that matters is how hard you try.' What an amazing revelation—that your success can be determined by yourself, by your energy and by your commitment.

I was actually one of those strange kids at high school. I always wanted to revolutionise things. I looked for problems and I campaigned for solutions. In my first weeks of high school I set my sights on reforming the student council as it had no representation in the year 7 classes. After a mini campaign, democracy was restored and I was one of those elected. But in 1997 I learnt about the responsibility that comes with being a representative. I was in year 11 and instead of a long bell ringing for lunchtime three short bells, instead, told us that there was an emergency assembly in the quadrangle.

As I walked down the stairs, a year 8 kid said to his mate: 'I wonder who's killed themselves now. I wonder how they did it.' As shocking as those words were, I understood because in the past weeks assemblies had been called for that very reason. On this occasion there was no reporting of another suicide. Instead it was an assembly to discuss rumours of a suicide pact by young people in our community. That afternoon the Wyong Youth Advisory Council met and, if there was ever a time that something should be said and something should be done, this was it.

From that meeting, and by speaking on behalf of the people I represented, we held a youth forum on suicide. The posters and flyers for the forum were blunt: 'We're killing ourselves. Why? Let's talk about it.' Over 200 young people attended that night—a remarkable number for a town like Wyong. They came out to have their say and to acknowledge that they were not alone. The forum broke the wall of silence on this issue and the report from that forum was used to argue the case for those regional young people.

Earlier this year I gave a copy of that report to my very good friend the member for Canning. His regional WA community is very similar to the Central Coast, in New South Wales, and is dealing with the same issues today. I was really pleased to help but sad there was still a need to do so these decades later. Suicide breaks all of our hearts and it should drive us as representatives in this place to do everything we can to help people who feel they are beyond help and to empower them.

Through the application of my effort, and with the support of my family and teachers, I was one of only a handful of students from my school, and the first ever in my family, to go to university. I studied here in Canberra at the Australian National University. One teacher in particular, Bruce Willott, would have been most surprised but was also most responsible. Rather than the usual uni job of pulling pints, I decided to get a job in the transport industry. I trained as a bus driver, not far from this place, in Queanbeyan and I passed my test with flying colours. I got my licence to drive a bus and I was ready to start my first run, but there was one more step, and that was to apply for my authority to carry passengers. To my shock and horror, but to the amusement of my family and particularly my dad, my application for my authority to carry passengers was knocked back—not because I did not pass the required course but because I was too young. I had applied my effort, I had invested in and increased my skills and I was licensed to drive a bus, but there was not much demand for bus drivers who could not carry passengers. So if there is ever any question of where my anger at needless complication and red tape comes from, please keep this example in mind.

I hate waste and mismanagement and I hate needless complexity and regulation because the more complex something is the more expensive it is to administer. Few policy areas are more complex than social welfare. There are currently some 20 different types of welfare payments and more than 50 supplements to those payments. The legislation dealing with our welfare system covers five different acts filling over 5,000 pages. I am a compassionate conservative and I am proud that Australia has a safety net to support those in need but, sadly, our welfare system fails many. In too many cases taxpayer funded programs trap people who are otherwise able and willing to work. In too many cases the safety net becomes a hammock. Dame Dorothy Tangney said in her maiden speech, 'Social security is the right of every Australian,' and I could not disagree more. Taxpayer funded social security is not a right; it is a privilege. It is a privilege that is afforded to those in genuine need by others who work hard and pay their taxes. It is a privilege we offer as a nation that we can very be proud of. But with the receipt of that privilege comes responsibility and obligation.

The concept of mutual obligation must underpin any taxpayer funded welfare system. It is a concept in which I firmly believe. Working-age welfare should not be compensation for the situation someone finds themselves in. Rather, it must be an investment in where they can go. The success of our welfare system should not be assessed on how much money we spend. Success should be measured by the reduction of welfare dependency in our community. I commend the work of the Minister for Social Services and the Minister for Human Services. By using data, we will determine the real effectiveness of our welfare system and assess whether it is actually making lives better or making lives worse.

I as a new MP have come to learn that so many of our problems can be solved by getting outside of our policy silos and that one problem plus another problem could well equal a solution. One example is the issue of young carers. I pay tribute to the care that these young people give to their family members and loved ones. However, recent data released by the ministers shows that young carers are expected to be on income support for 43 years over their future lifetimes, yet health care and social assistance will make the largest contribution to employment growth, with some 250,000 new jobs needing to be filled, by 2020. Sixteen per cent of young carers will be on welfare for life. While not all carers will want a career in caring, I hope that people who would otherwise be destined for lifelong welfare would find inspiration, meaning and fulfilment from a career in the caring jobs we need, born out of compassion for their loved ones.

I am not someone who believes that governments and parliaments have all the answers. The government's new Try, Test and Learn Fund accepts the answers are best sourced from the community. This fund will help identify solutions to move people from the dependency of welfare to meaningful and rewarding employment, tax paying and productive engagement in our community. I know the coalition is committed to achieving this, not to save money but to make lives better and communities stronger.

There is a war being waged in our communities right across Australia. Illegal drug use is stretching the fabric of our society, and I fear that, with newer, more harmful and immediately addictive drugs, that fabric is close to tearing. Ice is like no other drug we have known before. Proportionately, Australians use more methamphetamines than any other nation. There are over 200,000 dependent users in Australia, and each user's family, friends and colleagues are affected by this scourge. Just last week I met with a mother whose daughter is extremely lucky to be on the road to recovery. But her stories of immediate addiction, crime, dealing, vulnerability, rape and attempted suicide would shock anyone.

The final report from the National Ice Taskforce sets out 38 recommendations. While I am pleased that the government has responded immediately, with an investment of almost $300 million to improve treatment, after care, education and prevention, more still needs to be done. But this problem is complex and covers multiple departments and ministers.

Recommendation 32 concerning direct ministerial responsibility across portfolios is, for me, a most critical foundation stone and one on which the coalition has a proud track record. We should replicate the successful models used for border protection and implement a single ministerial authority, responsibility and accountability for tackling drugs in our community so that together we can start winning some battles in this war.

I have seen firsthand how drugs burn even the closest bonds, and I have seen the intersection of welfare and drugs in our community. During my high school years, my parents took full-time care of my nieces, who were then aged around five and six. My nieces were living in a drug fuelled, abusive environment with their mother. My parents, like so many other parents and grandparents, did absolutely the right thing. My nieces' mother and her friends would laugh at my parents as if they were mugs. Their attitude was, 'Why would you work for money when the government gives it out for free?' I cannot emphasise enough the impact these events have had on the development of who I am.

I want to be clear at this point: my nieces' mother and her friends are not representative of the vast majority of people on welfare. I am disgusted and dismayed by those who do not respond to our investment in them by investing in themselves and becoming part of our nation's success. My parents were no mugs. They were decent, hardworking Australians. They expected their taxes to be invested in making Australia even better, not simply redistributed to those who will not apply their own effort to improve their lives.

I am pleased that the federal government passed legislation last year to trial a cashless healthy welfare card. The card cannot be used to purchase drugs and alcohol. Trials in the East Kimberley and in Ceduna are proving successful. These communities realise that the lazy application of cash can reduce quality of life, not improve it. I see no reason why the card cannot be rolled out more extensively in our community to, again, make lives better. By listening to experts and to those who have firsthand experience and by using data, we can have pragmatic programs which help people wanting to improve their lot in life.

In his inaugural Sir Robert Menzies Lecture in Western Australia in 1970, Menzies talked about pragmatism, making the point that the term is often misunderstood or seen in a negative context, particularly by those who rely on the 'doctrinaire' approach of socialism. Pragmatism is not a weakness but a strength to adapt to what is needed and to use the resources available to us to make things better. This does not mean we abandon our ideals; rather, we plant the seeds for future success and achieve what can be attained now. Ultimately every political problem is also a human one with a pragmatic solution.

I learnt this early when at 20 I was preselected as the state Liberal candidate for Wyong. While I was not elected, I was still able to make a difference. I worked with a small organisation called the Wyong Child Abuse Prevention Service. Funding had dried up and the service was set to close. We ran a countdown-to-closure campaign that gave a voice to those people who were not being heard by government. The pressure applied by that campaign resulted in the then Premier visiting that organisation and committing funding to it. It was such a proud moment for me as a young candidate—applying advocacy skills and enthusiasm, and making a positive difference for my community.

My journey to this place has taken its path through the professional wing of the Liberal Party—a journey that may not have happened if it were not for the convincing nature of the then state director of the New South Wales Liberal Party, now my parliamentary colleague, the Treasurer of Australia. Like so many others, I moved across the Nullarbor for work. I became state director of the WA Liberal Party. I am proud of what the WA Liberals achieved during my seven-plus years in that role. Of particular pride is that I was able to draw on the teachings of my parents and apply them to the management of the Liberal Party, one of WA's largest membership organisations, as a business.

To the possible disappointment of the then federal director, Brian Loughnane, who on more than one occasion declared very loudly that I had 'gone native', my wife Asta and I decided some years ago to call WA home—permanently. Asta and I are in awe of WA's entrepreneurial spirit, courage, self-reliance and determination to succeed. My family and I have made our home in the area I now have the privilege to represent. Located just south of the Perth CBD, Tangney is vibrant and cosmopolitan. Tangney is graced by the beauty of the Swan and Canning rivers as its northern boundary and is also shaped by a thriving local community with a great number of organisations and service clubs dedicated to helping others. Tangney boasts a wide range of the industries and businesses that define Australia's entrepreneurial spirit—light industrial and trade supplies in Myaree, specialist medical and retail in Booragoon, an educational and medical heart with Murdoch University and Fiona Stanley Hospital, and some of WA's premier schools right across the electorate.

I have the privilege to stand before you because of the support of so many. There are some people from the very start of my journey from the Central Coast that I would like to recognise: Ron and Lorraine Stevens, Bev Hemers, Peter Richardson, Mike and Judy Gallacher, and George and Julie Caruana. Professionally, I have worked with some great Liberals from whom I have learnt a lot, and there are others who have worked with me in the battle for good government. Many of those people are here today, in the gallery, or watching online. Thank you. I thank the WA Liberal Party for the faith they placed in me as a young man in his 20s—particularly the organisational leaders I worked closely with, including Barry Court, Geoff Prosser, Norman Moore, Kim Keogh, Danielle Blain and Andrew Cox. It has been a great honour to work closely with Premier Colin Barnett, and I thank him especially for that endearing paternal approach he takes to our friendship.

Australia's success is built on individuals and enterprise, and prior to entering this place I worked as a senior manager for one of Western Australia's greatest companies, BGC. I know of the need to reinstate the ABCC and to pass the registered organisations legislation, not because I have read a report or because of blind ideology but because I have been there on building sites talking directly to the workers who just want to get on, do their job and be productive. I have met with subbies who have told me explicitly that they quote much higher prices on union jobs due to poor productivity. Productivity is not another name for profit; productivity is about getting more done. While there is a place for unions in our society, sadly their actions in many ways stifle productivity. They prevent more people being employed. They hinder infrastructure being built for our community. I value greatly the mentorship and friendship at BGC from Julian Ambrose and Kelvin Ryan.

I am honoured to be the candidate chosen by the people of Tangney to represent them. I want to thank the 500 or so volunteers that worked on my campaign. I want to recognise key members of my campaign executive: Richard Newton, Phil Turtle, Robert Reid, Anthony Spagnolo, Godfrey Lowe, Ben Kunze, Monika Dunnet, Allan Brown and Ross Hughes. I recognise in the gallery the former member for Tangney Peter Shack.

The WA federal parliamentary contingent is a formidable force, led by the foreign minister, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Employment. I have worked closely with each and every one of the WA Liberal members and senators. They are all passionate advocates for their communities and they have inspired me; their dedication is immeasurable and their friendship is heartfelt. Senator Cormann, Hayley Cormann, Isabelle and Charlotte: thank you for your friendship and your support for my family and me—particularly as we adjust to this new FIFO job! Thank you to my office team of Richard, Helen, Annemi, Jordan and Tom. Good luck; you are going to need it.

I want to thank some personal friends: Leah Sales and my very special cousin Carissa Daniel; Jane and Kristian Galanti; Peter Murdoch and Carmel Tobin; Andrew and Jane Partington; and Tony George. To my brothers, Shaun and Lea; my sister, Shelley; and all of my nieces and nephews: I love you. As a 17-year-old moving away from home to study, my mates from Burgmann College, ANU are truly lifelong friends, and I acknowledge their contribution to who I am. To Michael, Anna, Lara, SLW, Swifty, Sally, Rowena, Stu and Randy G: thank you.

Since my mum passed away from cancer in December last year, I have thought so much about Mum and Dad and I have reflected on the greatest impact they have had on who I am. I know Dad wishes Mum could be here, sitting with him, looking down on me delivering this speech. But Mum is watching from a place much higher up than the public gallery, and every day she is keeping a watchful eye on us, encouraging us to work hard, stay strong and do what is right. I have one regret with my relationship with my mum, and I will work very hard not to make that same mistake again. Love of family and friends is a gift to all of us but so easily taken for granted. I know Mum was very proud of the responsibilities I took on at a young age, but I regret that more often than not I thought I was too busy to take that call or just listen. I think that can be a lesson for all of us.

By 6 pm on election night, my sore throat had developed into laryngitis, and I was unable to speak.

Putting aside the irony of being elected an MP and instantly at that point losing my ability to give my own victory speech, there was no-one I would have wanted more than you, Asta, to step in and speak on my behalf. Asta, I do not know how you do it. Even I would not put up with myself sometimes, but you do. Thank you so much. Thank you for keeping it real; thank you for mocking me—constantly; thank you for sharing the responsibility of our commitment to represent Tangney in our federal parliament.

To Harrison and Madeline, my two beautiful children, this is where I work. All of my workmates come here to try and make our country even better for you. We are going to disagree a bit across the chamber, but your future is worth fighting for.

I want not only to be a great representative for the families and businesses in Tangney and in Australia but also to make a significant contribution to our nation. So, if you are a hardworking, aspirational Australian, I am here for you. If you want to apply your maximum effort to make your life better, I am here for you. If you want to volunteer to make your community better, I am here for you. If you loathe waste and mismanagement and you want your taxes spent responsibly, I am here for you. If you share our common Australian values, whether your heritage is from over the seas or you are an Indigenous Australian, if you look forward not backwards and if you make a contribution to our nation's future, I am here for you. And, if you want the very best for Australia, I am here for you.

With all Australians striving to be the very best they can be, with all Australians applying their effort to improve their lot in life, with all Australians sharing our common values and working together, the future of our country should be very bright.

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