From Barnaby Joyce’s office (my bold emphasis added) –
Senate Valedictory Statement
Wednesday, 26 June 2013
You will have to give me some latitude tonight because, on the other side of the building, we have what is obviously of momentous effect to our nation, in that we are about to go through the process of changing prime ministers again, we have the State of Origin on television, and I have just listened to a speech by Pliny the Elder. It reminds me very much of what the Grateful Dead said when they came on between The Who and Jimi Hendrix. They said they were the most forgettable act at Woodstock, and I think I will be too.
I have not written a speech, because there has been so much that should be in it that I could not really do it justice. But it has been a great honour to be a part of this collegiate atmosphere which is the Senate. It has been an incredible honour to represent Australia, to wear this pin—as I always have—in my lapel, and be one of 76 Australians who have the right to go beyond the bar and come into this chamber and vote. That honour comes with immense responsibilities—immense responsibilities, because it determines the texture and nature and culture of our nation. We are reflections of that nature and its diversity.
I would like to acknowledge, most importantly, my colleagues around the chamber and the work that they have done. Although you might not presume it, I hold you in the highest respect. There are people that I have worked with, and, without mentioning all, I just wanted to mention a few—not the ones you would suspect—for the certain things that they take to this chamber. As we go around, and in no particular order, I would always like to acknowledge the work that people such as Senator John Faulkner have done—the fact that he has always held this chamber in respect. He is a person of incredible decency, a person that I do not necessarily agree with on virtually anything, but you always knew that he took the job seriously, that he held the office with respect, that he added to the office and that he was the person you could trust.
I would like to thank the vitality that Senator Doug Cameron has, and the fact that he is always getting rolled on everything—but not tonight. Tonight, Dougie wins! I would like to thank—and I really mean this—the work rate that is shown by people such as Rachel Siewert. Senator Siewert and I started at the same time and I have always looked across and thought, ‘Now there is a person who is always doing their homework.’ They are always across it and not acknowledged in the form that they should be for the immense work they do. Behind me is Senator Nick Xenophon. When you are busting for a pizza and you need someone to go out with, someone to bounce a few ideas off, someone you can hold in your confidence, Nick Xenophon is the person that you recognise.
Obviously, I would have to go through my own team. Not only have I had the chance to be a senator, but I have had the chance to work with an incredible team, a team that for our own part, have never leaked—and that should be advice to some on the other side. It is not that we did not have our differences. At times we did. But we always worked together in a form of collegiate experience. It was a representation within the National Party that I had, and I loved it. There was me as a little old bush accountant, I had Fiona as a farmer, I had Wacka as an ex-shearer, I had Bozzie as a paint brush salesman and I had Nige—who is not here—who was a fisherman. We managed to work together in such a way as to do the job of the representation of the people of our respective states and, most specifically, the people of regional Australia. There is also Bridget McKenzie who has now climbed to the rank of wanting to be on every possible committee that has ever been devised in this building.
There are so many others of my Liberal party colleagues that I would like to acknowledge. I would like to acknowledge them all, but time does not permit. But I would like to make special mention of those with the courage to stand up on issues where they get derided, because I have had that experience myself. So I have great empathy for people such as Cory Bernardi. I have great empathy, as I have said, for the tenacity of Bill Heffernan. When he was not haunting me and trying to track me down, he was generally focused on something that was going to bring about a better outcome for regional Australia. It is my colleagues from Queensland, most importantly, Bretto—Brett Mason—because every day is fun if Brett Mason is there. Everything is always about looking to the better angels of the people that he is with. With Macka, it is his parochialism for North Queensland—not that North Queenslanders are parochial—and the representation of that. George has perfected the form of the erudite salesman for the coalition, and, with his work as the shadow Attorney-General, he will make a great Attorney-General of this nation.
These were people at the start, and I had a very peculiar start.
People talk about doing the James Bond act, and it has been done before when the National Party tried to win back the Senate seat. It was a time when nobody gave us a chance. It is so confronting when not one paper writes you up as having a prospect of winning back a Senate seat that had been previously lost. We were up against everybody from the Greens to Pauline Hanson, from the Labor Party to the Democrats, from One Nation—and because we had to stand on our own barrel—to John Howard. They were all campaigning for their turf, and into that environment we had to try to win. When we did win it was an amazing experience. From that I did carry a sense of combativeness, which I have probably expressed a range of times. If Senator Humphries was the trendsetter for crossing the floor, I can assure you I verge on Coco Chanel. It was the time to make sure, in that iteration, that the National Party never lost that position again. We made sure that we were relevant to the people who had elected us.
I would also like to reflect on the people who have supported me so well through that path. They are here tonight. It is incredibly humbling for me to see Lenore Johnson from Longreach. Lenore and I basically drove a bus around Queensland numerous times. We thought it was a huge hit if we got on a community radio station. We thought that was really cutting the mustard. Lenore has been my friend, guide and philosopher for so many years, with Bill Taylor, and with Denise Jacks, who is also here. These people are like gold. They are called branch members and they are like gold because they are the ones that carry you along. There are so many people’s names that I could go through. I can see Lou Edwards and Bruce McIver, President of the LNP. I call these people friends because we work together in a team as friends. We could always trust each other’s confidences as we went through the difficult times and the not-so-difficult times as we combined two different parties into one organisation with all the contentions that that involved.
During the election campaign of trying to reclaim this Senate seat, you had to make every item work on your behalf. I remember at one stage being in Paul Neville’ seat and I saw an opportunity. We were at an air show and I saw a camera crew filming a skydive which was about to happen, and I knew that I had to insert myself into play between that skydiver and that camera crew because that is how I would get coverage, so I did. I said to my colleagues, ‘Guys, I’m going to ask these people for their vote, and just watch this.’ So, I looked up and I saw two dots come out of the plane. As they got closer I noted that they had, obviously, lycra on and were coming down at a rate of knots and, as they were coming down, I thought, ‘This will work well.’ As they got closer I saw that it was mottled lycra of a pinkish colour. As they got even closer I noticed that one of the lycra-people had something that looked awfully like a penis—they were nude! They landed, and they did not particularly want to meet a politician. They most certainly did not want to meet a camera crew, and I do not think they ever voted for me. These are part and parcel experiences of being a senator.
During this time I have had some great staff. I have never asked my staff which way they vote. They vote whichever way they are inclined; it is their right. I have always believed absolutely in the liberty of the individual and their expression of how they vote. I do not know, but I think I have crossed the floor 19 times or something, and if you add up some others it gets into the high 20s. That is important because we are in a chamber that is supposed to express the nation’s freedom, and if we do not have it, then who does have it? Where does that freedom reside? This is no longer, to be honest, a states’ house, but it should be. I thought it would be a states’ house but it is not. It is a house made up of party bodies. If it were a states’ house we would sit as states and not as political parties, so there must be other virtues to this house. I think one of the important ones is that there must be the right of philosophical freedom, of your capacity to express your views, as ardent as they are, you should have the right to do it. If your argument is not sustainable, then you will be torn to pieces by right of argument but not by right of intimidation. That is what this place should provide.
I remember Karen Lee, who came to me from the Democrats, and was my chief of staff at one stage. I am pretty sure that if Karen had voted for me she would not have voted for my party. We had a good working relationship and she would always make me aware that you have to know how to step off your left and your right if you are going to make your way through. I have had some brilliant other staff members. I can see Matt Canavan who is going to be a senator for Queensland. He will be a great contributor to the debate in this chamber, and he has already earned himself laurels around this chamber. I have had Scottie Buchholz who obviously is a typical representative of the other chamber—oh, there he is! It has been a joy to be able to work with these people and see their careers progress. I would like to make special mention of the staff members who were there day after day. Alanna Brosnan who started with me from day 3 and is still with me today. Hayley Winks, who is now Haley Wildman, who left and came back, so we must be doing something right. She is a person who could get you in and out of purgatory or in and out of hell. She is the most incredible person who can organise someone’s life. They have all of my bank account details—the whole lot—so I will never sack them!
I want to acknowledge Raelene McVinish, Robyn Mills and Sam Muller. This is a great story. Sam Muller went for an interview with us when our plane landed at Toowoomba. She got on. I said, ‘The plane is taking off; you will have to come with me for the interview.’ By the time we got to Dalby her dog had just about given up trying to keep up with the plane! We got back to Toowoomba and I said, ‘You’ve got the job,’ and she’s been there ever since. These are the sorts of people I have in my office. There is Deborah Dennis and Jenny Swan. As you would note, the vast majority of my staff have been ladies. I am thankful for that because they take the harder edge off so much of what I say and do.
Some of the formative debates probably left people a little bit perplexed. I know I had a lot of friends on the right when we took on the ETS. We took on the ETS when the polling said only seven per cent of people agreed with our position. But with tenaciousness dedication and support from Senator Boswell and so many others we managed to change the position of the National Party and change the position of the coalition. And then we changed the position of the nation. That shows that every person in this chamber is given the keys to affect the nation, at times against impossible odds. If you wish to do it, you can, but you must have the fortitude to pursue that course. And that right should be yours, because it is vital for our nation that you have it.
The Birdsville amendment is something that I worked on with Frank Zumbo—a great guy—to try and reinvest in the liberty of the individual as expressed in small business, because small business is where you can be who you really wish to be, where you do not have to follow the corporate manual, where you can set up the time that you come to work and the time that you leave, where the sweat of your brow is reflected in your bank balance and you are not guided by others. Therefore it must be precious and something that we must always stand behind.
I acknowledge the corporate interests that come in here and say that that is not the case. They always try to cajole us into moving away from the protection of the rights of the individual. But we must stand behind those small businesses because they are the powerhouses that are the expression of the philosophies that we hold in this chamber. And I believe those philosophies are held, in many instances, by senators from both sides.
There is more room to move on that issue, and we must go into that space to battle for the things that I spoke about in my maiden speech—such as the over-centralisation of the retail market—and that we do not find excuses to remove ourselves from that battle. We need to step into that space and say, ‘Big business is great. It has a role—and congratulations to it!—but it must not compromise the rights of individuals in the expression of their freedom in that space.
The nation has to take the next step. I have been very lucky to have been part of the process of being deputy chair of the dams committee, as we move the nation into what is our new horizon—our new agenda. We have to make that next step because the world is changing around us. We say we live in the Asian century but we have to start understanding what it is that we are going to do in that area. If we are going to survive in the service industry it is going to be difficult, considering many of the people we will compete with—because the internet is ubiquitous—will not necessarily by in Sydney and Brisbane but will be in Singapore, Taipei and Shanghai. And those people will be on a lower wage structure than ours. And to be honest, their standard of education in many areas is now higher than ours. The standard of English in Singapore is better than our English, and we are supposed to speak English! And as well as English they speak Bahasa, Cantonese and Mandarin.
So we must read into this Asian century what it actually means. We must understand that other nations are more proximate to the major markets. And we must understand that in many instances they have developed trade agreements which give them greater access to the world they live in.
So, where do our strengths lie? We have been blessed in this nation with mineral wealth and agricultural potential, and we have to make sure that we do not lose sight of our strengths. Sure, the others will grow. They will grow in the tertiary sector. We acknowledge that. But we must not lose sight of our strengths because, as any accountant will tell you, you must not lose sight of your strengths.
I was instructed in my accountancy by another gentleman who is here today—Phil Maltby, who I started with. Through that form of accountancy I carried certain fears. I had two groups of people that I was always very aware of—the ones who were the roaring successes and the ones who were the unmitigated failures. The rest were kind of irrelevant. The roaring successes and the unmitigated failures had one thing in common—their capacity or the lack of capacity to manage money. That is why I am almost apoplectic about our nation’s debt. I have watched it and watched it because it concerns me deeply. If you do not manage debt, debt will manage you. It will become your master. The hardest task master you will ever have is trying to pay off debt.
I acknowledge the work of my parents who instructed me in that. Marie and Jim are here today. I can see my daughters there as well. My parents were not parsimonious but they were most definitely frugal. They made you respect the dollar. They made you account for what you did. They made you note that the money you spent was the sheep that you would have to shear, the steer that you could sell. And money can be saved by being completely diligent about how money is spent around the property. That stayed with me. So when I saw our nation going down a path where we were getting ourselves further and further into debt I remembered the experience of working under Phil Maltby and others, and how hard it is to pay it all back. That task will be before us in the future. It will be a massive task. I firmly believe that none of the people in this chamber—none of us—will be here by the time we have got on top of the debt we currently have. And I find that to be an incredible indictment and legacy for our nation.
On other issues, on sideline issues, I hope that in the way I have conducted myself I have brought a form of pragmatism into how we see things.
There is no such thing as a free trade agreement. There are things euphemistically called free trade agreements, but there is no such thing as a free trade agreement. The world works pragmatically. It is ruthless. It is governed by commerce. We have to also acknowledge where we are. We call BHP the big Australian . It is not; it is 60 per cent foreign owned. We say Rio is another Australian company. It is not; it is majority foreign owned. The biggest farm in Australia is foreign owned. If you look around the skyscrapers and look for the neon sign that is a reflection of the Australian owned international champion—what is it? Where does our success lie if all the international champions are someone else’s international champions? We must deal with them, and they will be part of an open marketplace.
But we must realise that it is not selfish to want to have one of our own. It is actually wise and diligent, if we want to be a strong nation—and we must be a strong nation—to have our own champions in our own country. I do not see that happening. I see us more and more becoming the servants of other people. We romanticise it, but we will be working predominantly for others. What we must do is create a culture to create our own champions. The latest iteration of that, obviously, is ADM and GrainCorp. We say we are going to live in the agricultural century. Well, where is our international agricultural champion? Which one is it going to be?
I just want to remind the people on my own side of three issues that they probably disagreed with me on. Much to the disgust of so many of my colleagues, I supported David Hicks getting a proper trial, I strongly believed, and I was guided by my mother, that a person deserves their day in court, that we cannot abscond from the legal process. It is for people to be proven guilty or innocent by the legal process, not by our beliefs. Obviously VSU got me lots of friends, but not on this side of the chamber. That was an issue about the provision of services to regional universities—that is how we saw it. We saw it as being about football fields and obviously, the other one was the West Papuan boat issue. We are the neighbours of West Papua, so when the West Papuans turn up here it is different to when other people decide to make their way here through myriad countries.
Why do I bring these issues up? It is to try, as I leave, to reinvigorate your beliefs as senators, no matter which side of the chamber you are on. If you have a belief that you strongly hold, that might not be the belief of the colleagues beside you, it is your right—in fact, it is your duty—to stand up and say something about it and to express your view. If you do not, you are letting yourself down and, worse than that, you are letting your nation down.
I have enjoyed my time here. My final thanks go to the most important group. I want to thank deeply, with the most conviction I can possibly muster, my wife, Natalie. Natalie is a person who shuns the public spotlight. She does not want to be the politician’s wife. She was dragged there, unfortunately, by a person who wanted to be a politician. She has been both mother and father to my children as they have been brought up. Everybody says what a good job we have done. We did not do much of a job at all—she did a very good job. I apologise to Natalie for all the times that I have spent away and for the times that, basically, I have been the absent father and the absent husband. I was reminded that, in the first six months of last year, I spend eight days in my own bed. Natalie would get to the end of the year and remind me how many days I had been home, and it would be 25 or 28. When I had a good year, it was 42. As I was out saving the planet, Nat was managing the house. I apologise to Natalie and also to my daughters, Bridgette, Julia, Caroline and Odette, for not being there as much as I should have been.
Likewise, you cannot do this job without a support crew. To see the Travis family here tonight is to see an incredible part of that support group. When you live in a country town, you can just go to someone and say, ‘We’re dropping our kids off.’ Sometimes we did not come back for weeks.
The final group is obviously my National Party colleagues, who are around me here. This is going to be, I believe, a momentous time. We are coming to an election. The Australian people, whatever choice they make, will make the right one, and then once more we will be servants of those people. I thank you all for your tolerance of me over so many years. If I am successful, if I do the right job and walk humbly with the people of New England, I may get the opportunity to represent this great nation in another place. But I will always hold in fondness and admiration my time here. I hope I have not disgraced you too much. All the best and God bless.