First Speech: Mr Tim Wilson MP

Member for Goldstein, Victoria

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

 


It is a privilege to represent a division honouring a suffragette. Vida Goldstein was the first woman to seek political office in the British Empire. The 18 October 1913 edition of The Mail of Adelaide wrote of Goldstein that even those 'most strongly opposed to her expressed political views cannot fail to recognise that her efforts are based on sincerity and inspired by a very genuine humanitarianism'. That is the tradition I inherit from her and from my predecessors: Ian Macphee, David Kemp and Andrew Robb. There is no humility that can honour their legacies. They are intimidating, especially to somebody who seeks to follow in their footsteps.

Goldstein's status as a residential retreat with natural beauty, strong community, good schools, village shopping strips, and sporting and sailing clubs draws many. It is a community that embraces a forward-looking, modern liberalism that aspires for economic and social progress built on the preservation of our culture and institutions. I embrace Goldstein as my political home because I share its values: a culture of hard work and enterprise, and of people who want to contribute to make a better Australia. I am proud to say that that embrace has been reciprocated. The people of Goldstein deserve somebody who will represent them, who is prepared to sacrifice for their trust, and I give thanks for that trust today. But it is up to Goldstein's representative to live and honour that trust every day in service.

I have watched with frustration as small politics too often has stifled tackling the big challenges ahead of us. I do not love the game of politics. My interest is public policy and how we secure this country's promise for future generations, and it is time to have some honest conversations. The days of Australia being an island continent producing finished goods for domestic consumption are over. Australia is part of a global supply chain exporting goods and services to the world. We must continue our national mission of economic reform to build Australia's future. Sir Robert Menzies stopped nationalisation and preserved private enterprise. His legacy allowed Hawke, Keating, Howard and Costello to free enterprise for the 21st century, and the latter had the courage to start the shift towards a tax system for our times.

The legacy of my immediate past Goldstein predecessor was to open markets. The benefits of trade agreements begin with the signing of a pen but finish with new opportunity. Our task is to seize that opportunity, but we cannot do so if we are not competitive. Trade is not just about goods; it is about professional service exports too. We live in an age where capital is mobile, and so is talent. Too many of our skilled workers face barriers in foreign markets to practice their profession. Prosperity underpins the pathway to opportunity. We need to restructure industries to create the employers for tomorrow. We can start by driving reform to shift domestic sectors, like financial services and health, into outward-looking export industries.

Constructive reform of the health sector provides one of the greatest opportunities for this nation. It is a sector that is the perfect intersection of the budget, policy, human interest and outcomes, and technology. Technology is disrupting industries every day, and that is not set to change. We are producing more with less, securing efficiencies and displacing vested interests. But there is always a human cost. Those that survive best are those that incrementally adjust. If we do not start to have a sensible discussion around industrial relations, then workers' interests are being put second. Security is no longer achieved by legislation or regulation alone. Wherever the barriers are greatest come the incentive for technology to smash the status quo. Whether they accept it or not, those that argue for inflexible industrial relations are now the enemy of worker security.

The same is true of tax reform. We must stop fiddling at the margins. I have never understood why we tax people more than companies. It fosters perverse incentives for the wealthy to redirect energy to minimising tax, rather than growing profits. Australia has always been a net capital importer. To continue attracting capital, we must have a competitive and just tax system, and we have to move towards a simpler 20 per cent flat personal, company and consumption tax, which would ensure everybody pays—including multinationals on their phantom profits.

In any reform we should always be mindful our social fabric frays easily. When people lose jobs it is not just their hip pockets that suffer, it can be their confidence, security and their perception of opportunity too. At the heart of a just society is intergenerational equity. It recognises those that have passed have met their responsibility and that now we must do the same for those who follow. With an ageing population, many are lonely, isolated, and their closest friendship is a nearby radio. No government program can replace the strength of social bonds, but they can displace them. Society is not delivered by government from Canberra down; it comes from individuals coming together to form family, build community and, ultimately, country. The task of advancing our society now falls to us. We decide the agenda; we set the tone; now it is time for us to rise to the challenge.

Cynicism pervades modern political life, but the best way we can combat that cynicism is to act with integrity. Australians need to see their parliamentarians act with conviction. Politics necessitates compromise on policy, and integrity comes from preferring defeat with your principles than to win without them. But integrity also comes from knowing yourself. The story of finding myself dominated my teenage years. For six of them, I let fear decide and determine who I could be. It was not until I was 18 that I chose to confront that fear. It was a fear that took an energetic 12-year-old and hollowed his confidence to eventually doubt his legitimate place in the world. Yet it was within those depths that I found my deeper, inner strength. And as tormenting as that experience was, it is what has made me strong. I carry the confidence of knowing I have already conquered my worst bully. That is why I do not fear standing up, even when it is deeply unpopular. I am here to fight for the type of country we want to be.

We should never forget that government does not run this country—Australians do, through their everyday pursuits, just like my family. My maternal grandpa left behind the genocide of his people. I never met him—he died before I was born—but I still see him every day when I look into the mirror and into his dark and recessed Armenian eyes. After he married my grandma, together they ran a clothing factory on Gardenvale Road. They lived on Head Street and raised my mum and her sister, Sandra, and later, with grandma's second husband, Kevin. Yet Ronald and Winifred's relationship, despite its value, was defined by the lived prejudice of others toward the marriage of a man with dark olive skin to a woman of Anglo ancestry. And that is why I do not shy away from contemporary debate. It is not just for me. It is to honour the legacy of my grandma and grandpa too.

My dad's mum, Patricia, was a descendant of the Murrays of Athol. She died young in a tragic car accident. Grandad Charles then raised my dad and his siblings, Michael and Patricia, and was later re-married to Granny Yvonne. It is a reminder of what family is. It is not a rigid concept but the resilience that comes from the knitting of hearts. Grandad was awarded Cardinia's Citizen of the Year in 1998. He was earlier honoured Upper Beaconsfield's Citizen of the Year in 1984 for his service as the local GP in the community clinic after the Ash Wednesday bushfires. It earned him reverence, especially since he had lost his home and nearly his life. Outside of grandad's seeming love for a chainsaw—though he was a conservationist as well—and granny's support for her local church, it was their civic mindedness that instilled in me the value of community.

My mum, Linda, and my dad, Robert, met at the Central Hotel on Church Street, which is now known as the Half Moon. Both worked up from pulling beers to running pubs and owning small businesses. In response to my request for pocket money at the age of 11, mum got me a job delivering the Mornington Leader. Later, my sister, Carolyn, and I worked with her at a local reception centre. My brother, Simon, and I mowed lawns and carried timber around worksites for my dad's businesses in school holidays. My mum and dad worked for what they have, and instilled an ethic of work in their children. My family's liberal values are unremarkable. They evolved organically—so much so that Simon and I unknowingly joined the Liberal Party, completely independent of each other, shortly after finishing high school. We were taught to apply ourselves, to appreciate what we had, to stand up for what we believe in and to never judge others. Exactly the same values are held by my step-mum, Janet, and mum's husband, David, and later brought Ryan and I together too.

Everyone here is a reflection of the compounding influence of others. Sometimes others risk tying their own futures to ours, so on days like these they share our success. That is why I am eternally grateful to Michael Josem, David Davis, Alan Oxley, John Roskam, David Kemp, Rod Kemp, Shaun Levin, Cathy Baker, George Brandis, Mick Gooda, Jeannette and Mike Rawlinson, Hanife and John Bushby, and Brett Hogan. And sometimes we are aided by people when we have nothing to give. That is why I share the same sentiment towards Paul Young, Jenny and Allan Lawton, Mark Grogan, Christopher Montabello, Ita Buttrose, Paul Ritchie and the Ostroburski family, particularly my old friend Leo. To all my family—mum, dad, Janet, David, Simon, who I am very glad to see is here today, and my sister, Carolyn—to my friends, especially the large number here in the gallery today, my past and present colleagues, Bayside Forum supporters and Liberal Party members, activists, campaigners and stalwarts, I want you to close your eyes and know these words are for you: thank you. Most importantly, to my fiancee, Ryan: I know you have sacrificed so much for me to be here today, and we are only at the end of the beginning. For seven years a ring has sat on both of our left hands, and they are the answer to a question we still cannot ask. No matter what happens from here, we have already achieved more than many who come and go from this place because we have lived the change we seek in the world.

And that is why I am here—to lead change, to turn liberal values into liberal action. Conservatism teaches us the merit of glancing back to look for what we can learn and bring forward but not for nostalgia. Conservatism calls us to reject grand experiments to socially engineer. It also calls us to reject reactionary behaviour and hold back change to which society has already accommodated itself. Western civilisation is not a story of freedom delivered on a silver platter. It had to be fought for, and it calls people to sacrifice. It evolved out of a slow and incremental understanding that all people are equal in their dignity, that we divide power to stop government forsaking our freedom, that the Commonwealth serves states and is not a Canberra monopoly, that executives come from parliaments and are accountable to them, that people have a government and not the other way around.

And we owe an eternal honour to those who risked or sacrificed their lives to defend that freedom. Being the custodians of this powerful inherited legacy does not call for us to stagnate but to defend it and make our own contribution. As Edmund Burke argued, 'a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation'. We must realise the conservative ambition to encourage couples to sew the first stitch in our social fabric and enter commitments of mutual support to the benefits of the two—and all—and the liberal ambition to preserve the freedom of people to express unpopular and challenging views and ideas, which acts as a safety valve to preserve social cohesion and unity through common citizenship.

Advancing both ambitions may not be economic, or create jobs, but both speak to our cultural confidence as a nation—just like defending free association and religious liberty. And if we expect respect for these values from others, we must also expect them from new Australians too. If we are to preserve these traditions we cannot indulge in cultural relativism. Yet our cultural confidence should be sufficient that we are not threatened by the Indigenous history that preceded us. We are all part of the continuum of this continent's journey and story.

The most satisfying work I did as Australia's Human Rights Commissioner was to build bridges between cultures and work with Indigenous Australians to build the case for full respect of one of the most important inheritances of Western civilization—property rights. And that is what Sir Robert Menzies understood when he formed our great party for Australia: that conservatism is a virtue, not a vision. It can be an anchor, but liberalism will always be our compass. A smart young man, Callum Shaw, said recently that the Liberal Party is successful when it is seen to be 'bringing the future forward.' And we are liberals. Our interest is the future.

The triumph of identity politics is to turn people inward and see differences first, and not our unity. We must never play into the hands of our opponents who want us to abandon liberalism for a moniker that defines what we are against. If we do, we raise a white flag and allow the future to be defined by others, only to temper the speed at which they take us there. The Fabians always sought an anaesthetisation from liberal democracy to the socialist alternative, through incremental tax rises on the productive, and the permissiveness of welfare and dependence. The consequence of this dehumanizing path has never been more real. Today, they dismiss free choice as an irresponsible luxury in subservience to the rising costs they deliberately shoulder onto the state.

I will not accept that future. I was not elected to slow their success—because there is an alternative liberal vision for this country, and it speaks to our ambition for national unity, the pursuit of freedom, justice and responsibility and our optimism for tomorrow. It is a vision built on mutual respect for each other's humanity, individuality and freedom to pursue their life, family, opportunity and enterprise. That vision values family—irrespective of their sum, or their parts. It appeals to a human compassion, not motivated by pity but by firm heads and soft hearts. Liberalism creates an opportunity society, where social mobility for the next generation is preserved through equal opportunity, but which understands reward comes from taking risk and responsibility, and in which we favour work because of the autonomy, dignity and security it provides.

We know people sometimes fall down. That is why we respect the speed at which they seek to pick themselves back up. People cannot always do it alone, and that is why family and community are so important. They form the first support in a rebounding safety net, not a cosseting one. It is a rejection of the selfishness that comes with the needless dependence, because it burdens others and abrogates our responsibility to those who cannot stand on their own two feet—and it understands that everything the government touches, it taxes.

Our support for free markets is underpinned by the prosperity and efficiency they deliver, but our commitment comes from knowing that the task of climbing economic mountains reveals character and skill. Yet we know that markets must be just, deliver human outcomes and provide pathways that regulatory roads block. That acknowledges that, as imperfect as the showerhead of trickle-down economics may be, history shows its flow is more dispersed than the garden hose our opponents prefer, and invariably hydrates those closest to power.

It is an ethos that prioritises reason, technological progress and scientific endeavour, to drive and realise progress and care for the environment. It knows that science and the environment must serve humanity, not be the dictator of it, and that progress inspires a glint in our eye, reflecting our confidence that the future is going to be awesome. And if we want the vulnerable to see the opportunity of tomorrow, they must feel secure today. We know there is no 'new' or 'old' economy; just the opportunity of service and technology industries financed by wealth created by mining, agriculture and value-added manufacturing, where the next generation are not shackled by the debt of others—because, as the finance minister said recently, 'today's debts are tomorrow's taxes,' and the young will not be free to pursue their own destiny.

Ultimately, we support these principles because they are the first line of defence to preserve our economic, social and national security by creating an investment all Australians have in a shared future. The people of Goldstein know that Australia can have a better future if we take responsibility today. The best days are ahead, but they are earned, not given. Liberalism is always most successful when people can see their lives lived through our values, because it provides a pathway for individual achievement and we can move forward together. Thank you.

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