Maiden Speech to the Senate

Mr President I am honoured to give my first speech in the Senate and I am honoured to have been elected by the Queensland people to represent them. I will do my best to serve their collective interests with courage, integrity and humility.

It is a privilege to follow a great friend of mine, Senator McGrath. 

I just want to put on record the vast majority of people in the galleries are here for James. I say good on you James for being able to get more people to attend a speech in the Senate than the Raiders are able to get to most of their home games! 

Mr President, in my time here I want try to make sure all Australians can choose their own job, buy their own home, start their own business or have their own family. For each small Australian to be big they must be free from big government, big banks, big unions and big corporations.

I believe that the best way we can give Australians that independence is to keep taxes low, make it easy to employ someone, promote property rights, protect the family and to continue to develop the “plains extended” of our vast continent.

I have been lucky to have two wonderful parents, Bryan and Maria, who are here tonight and my brother and sister, John and Emma, are here too.

I will never forget the hours upon hours playing cricket in our backyard in Logan, just south of Brisbane. My Dad built us a full-length, concrete cricket pitch. He boxed up the pitch and even started mixing the concrete himself in a wheelbarrow. A few yards into the full 22, however, he saw sense and ordered in the cement truck. 

I joke now that while my Dad is very proud that I have been elected a Senator there is still a tinge of disappointment that I did not reach my true calling to wear the baggy green for Australia! 

I have been even luckier to have met my beautiful wife, Andrea. I feel so blessed to have one person that I can share everything with: the ups and downs, the moves all around the countryside and most of all our three beautiful sons, William, Jack and Henry. We are expecting our fourth child very soon … just in case people are wondering the due date is not nine months from election night! 

I started talking about my family tonight because that is the reason I got involved in politics. I wanted to do something where my children could see the differences that I was making. So one day when I was sitting in front of a computer at the Productivity Commission, I cold called Tony Abbott's office and asked if they needed an economist. They didn't, but Barnaby did, so I ended up with him. 

I did not know Barnaby, but I met someone that I grew enormous respect for. You get to know people quickly in politics. A few months in we were in an election campaign, and one night we were sharing a particularly comfy room where the two single beds must have been just half a metre apart. We tucked ourselves in for the night, and then I remembered that I hadn’t called my wife, so I got out the phone and texted my wife “Hi babe, love you lots miss you.”

At least I thought it went to my wife. Instead I had been texting Barnaby so much it went to him by mistake.

But seriously, in the words of TE Lawrence, Barnaby is someone who "dreams with open eyes" and I feel lucky to have worked for him. 

One of our first trips together was to Cubbie Station and we were coming home late after a drink at the Dirranbandi Hotel. We got talking about climate change, the ETS and all that. 

I said that what I could not understand, while working at the Productivity Commission, was that the Renewable Energy Target had bipartisan support even though it was clearly the most costly policy because it made poor people pay rich people to invest in wind farms or put solar panels on their rooves. At this Barnaby riled up and said that it did not have the support of the Nationals Party, and of Ron Boswell in particular. That was my introduction to Bozzie. 

There is no one like Ron Boswell, and I certainly cannot replace him alone. It is up to us all in the Nationals Senate party room -- Nigel, Fiona, Wacka, Bridget and Barry -- to follow Ron’s example and take up the fight for the causes we believe in. 

I come into the Nationals Party room not as your typical Nationals Party Senator. I am not a farmer, I am not a small businessman. I am an economist who has spent most of my time working for the Productivity Commission.

We are lucky to have an organisation like the Productivity Commission. There are a very few independent organisations in the world that are set up by governments to criticise governments. In my time there, Gary Banks led the organisation with consummate skill, and it is great to see him here tonight. My first boss, Ian Gibbs, is also here, and I am sure he will return to me a copy of this first speech later with lots of corrections and red ink all over it.

It is an unusual path to travel from the Productivity Commission to the Nationals party. The predecessor bodies of the Commission fought famous battles against a great leader of the Country Party, John McEwen. 

But those battles about protectionism are well and truly behind us. John McEwen's underlying principles and values are what we should remember today. 

What drove John McEwen was not a desire to impose higher tariffs but to protect the wealth producing industries of our nation.

Once again our wealth producing industries need support. Our agricultural, mining, manufacturing and tourism industries face high taxes, over-regulation and, most of all, a complacency that they will keep producing wealth regardless of what we do in this place. 

While I was at the Productivity Commission, I was constantly reminded of how important it is to get the costs of business down. Australia spent 30 years removing tariffs to reduce business costs, we deregulated financial markets to reduce business costs and we reformed our energy sector to reduce business costs. 

It is now often forgotten how successful that was. From 1990 to the mid-2000s, electricity costs fell by 27 per cent in real terms for businesses.1

For the past decade we have adopted the opposite approach. We imposed a carbon tax and a renewable energy target that increased business costs and we have unwound many of the improvements in industrial relations that provided a way to link greater productivity to higher wages. 

We have gone from having some of the cheapest power prices in the world, to now be above average. Just 7 years ago businesses in Australia paid less than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity.2 Today many pay above 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. In the United States, their prices remain where ours were just a few years ago. 

We have very similar resources to the United States, abundant supplies of coal and gas, but we give up our natural advantage in wealth and job creation if we turn our back on them. 

I want to put on record my admiration and support for our fossil fuel industry and the thousands of jobs it supports – including my brother’s. Fossil fuels have made more contribution than almost any other product or invention towards humanity’s long ascent from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to ones of comparative luxury and leisure. 

The only form of energy that I want to promote is cheap energy, because we have a choice, we can have either cheap energy or we will get cheap wages. 

To get cheaper energy we need to rediscover that the whole point of providing infrastructure is for the users of infrastructure not the owners. We have made a mistake to put profits ahead of lower prices for the end consumers, businesses and families.

We need a new National Productivity Agenda to bring down the costs of doing business, to boost productivity and to create good, well-paying jobs Higher productivity is the only viable way to lift the standard of living over the long term. 

Mr President, while I am an economist, our national debate has been driven too much by economists. There is lots of truth in Adam Smith just as there is in Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Rousseau and Rawls. Just because something doesn't have a price does not mean it has no value. 

In the Nationals party we believe that small is beautiful. Small farms and small businesses allow more Australians to have a stake in their country, smaller towns provide greater community spirit and the smallest social unit of society, the family, is the most important one for us all. As Aristotle noted "the nature of every thing is best seen in his smallest portions."

A fundamental mistake of National Competition Policy was the view that you only needed "potential" competition, of a few big firms, to deliver the benefits of "actual" competition from many small firms.3

The lived experience of potential competition has not delivered the goods. Farmers struggle to achieve a return on assets of more than 2 per cent, while our major supermarkets and banks make returns of more than 10 per cent. It is not right that the people that produce our food make returns so much lower than the people who sell our food. 

Our competition laws are too focused on protecting against monopoly power but just as economically ruinous can be too much buying power or monopsony. It is probably a bigger issue for our economy given our relatively small size, highly concentrated markets and distance from potential overseas buyers. Apple growers in Stanthorpe rely heavily on the major supermarkets, sugar growers generally only have one mill to sell to and grain growers, despite selling all around the world, have limited means to transport that grain efficiently to market. 

Yet Australia’s seminal legal textbook on competition laws does not mention the word monopsony, or any concept relating to buying power, once. This is not a criticism of the authors; they are simply reflecting the state of our laws and jurisprudence.4

Too low prices can be just as detrimental as too high prices because they lead to lower supply and reduce incentives to invest in new technologies. To protect small businesses we need stronger competition laws like an effects test, low-cost arbitration processes and stronger penalties for dominant businesses that do the wrong thing. 

Mr President, we should encourage as many Australians as possible to own property. Owning property gives you both individual freedom and a collective stake in the defence of the nation and its rights. 

One of the greatest days of my life was the day my wife and I got the keys to our first home. We enjoyed pizza on the floor of our home with no furniture on our first night. We were monarchs in a room of our own, with rights that none could dispute. 

But home ownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for my generation.

Unreasonable restrictions on land release are part of the reason but these are largely state issues. At the Federal level we make it harder for young people by forcing them to put 9.5 per cent of their income into a savings account they may not be able to access until they are 65.

I wanted to own a home when I was 25 not 65. Why make people save for retirement before they can own their own home? We should free up the rules around superannuation so that young people can use their income and their savings to buy their first home. 

Property rights generally are under attack in Australia. The state should have the right to promote and protect public health, safety, welfare and morals but governments across Australia are abusing this right.

Farmers have had their rights to clear land taken from them, fisherman have had their right to fish restricted, local councils are enforcing draconian restrictions on what can be done in self-defined "green" zones and land owners have more ability to keep their mother-in-law off their property than a mining company. (By the way, “Hi Joan”, thanks for coming down!)

In all of these cases, the government is not acquiring property from landowners but the government is regulating its use to such an extent that it is effectively taken from private hands. 

Under our constitution, property owners only have compensation rights for the "acquisition of property" not for the "taking" of it by means of regulation.5

Our constitution differs from the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution in this regard.6 American courts have developed a detailed case law on "regulatory takings" that define when government decisions amount to a taking and therefore trigger a compensation claim. 

The private individual should not pay for the public good. If the public seeks greater protections then it should be willing to pay just compensation for them. We should look at providing the same protections as in the United States either through constitutional change or an Act of Parliament.

Mr President, property rights are important because they help protect the basic unit of our society, the family. Property delivers security and permanence and that encourages people to make the biggest investment decision of their lives, the decision to have children. 

I support a tax system that recognises the family. Family tax benefits are not welfare; they are due recognition that families face higher, unavoidable costs and therefore deserve taxation relief.

But not all families are treated equally under our tax system. Two Australian households, that earn the same amount of joint household income, can pay vastly different amounts of tax. 

Take a household of two children where both parents work full time and each earn $60,000 per year. Their total household income is $120,000 and they pay about $24,000 per year in tax. 

Compare that to a household, also with two children, where only one parent works and earns $120,000 per year. They have the same household income, yet this household pays about $34,000 in tax -- $10,000 more per year than the double income household.7 Putting it another way, a double income family could potentially earn up to $215,000 a year before they pay the same average tax rate as a single income family on just $120,000 per year. 

This is unfair. People with similar ways and means should pay similar amounts of tax.

Other countries, including the United States, Germany and France allow parents to split income for tax purposes. The Canadian Government has promised to introduce income splitting once their budget has returned to surplus. We too should have a goal of correcting the injustice for single income families when our budget returns to surplus under a Coalition government.

The great reform efforts in industrial relations over the past 200 years were all aimed at reducing the time we spend at work. It is a backward step that we now try to maximise the number of people in work. For most of us what we achieve in the home will far outweigh our achievements at work. 

My wife and I made a decision that she would stay home and look after our children while they are young. Even so, she feels the modern pressure to enter paid work because otherwise you are not "contributing". 

That view is rubbish. Whatever I achieve in my professional career, including in this place, won't matter a jot compared to the achievements and legacy of my wife. When we are 64, enjoying a bottle of wine, what we will reflect on is our children, and God willing our grandchildren. 

My wife will have a greater impact on that outcome because I spend too much time at work.

My son came home from school the other day with one of those posters of himself with his picture on it, and questions about what he likes and doesn't like. He said his favourite thing to do was to "tackle Daddy". Henry, I hope that I find the time in this job so that you can keep tackling me enough. And, Andrea if you want to tackle me from time to time ... that's ok too! 

Mr President, you would be aware of the hardships we Senators must face. Unlike our colleagues in the other place we must wait up to 10 months before taking our seats in Parliament.
But it is not all bad. I used some of my time to spend a few weeks working in a stock camp in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I went there to learn about cattle but I came away learning more about people. I learnt about the young Australians that get off their backsides and work hard in a place thousands of kilometres from their friends and family for very little money. I want to thank Brendan Menegazzo, Tony McCormack, John O’Kane, Tom and Tanya Arnold and Tess Cox for making this happen.

I hope that in my time here I can make decisions that do not make their lives any more difficult, because we want people to follow them and go to the frontiers of our nation, work hard and build something better. 

I want to make it easier for them to get to town on a Friday night on better roads. I want to let them pay tax that reflects the level of public services provided 100 kilometres from Normanton - which isn't very much. I want to let them enjoy the simple pleasures of living that life, which include fishing, rum and coke, pigging and, for some, cigarettes, without putting up taxes every year, or regulating every little risky enjoyment in life. 

Mr President, I am proud to have been elected as the 10th Liberal National Party Senator and the 52nd Nationals or Country Party Senator. I have been a member of both the Liberal and Nationals parties separately. In Queensland, we are a stronger unit for combining the great principles and people of these parties. 

I want to thank all the members of the LNP for the work they did to help me be here. I am always humbled to see so many people work for free to give me a well-paying job. Because getting elected to the Senate is a team effort, I also want to pay tribute to Ian Macdonald, James McGrath, David Goodwin, Theresa Craig and Amanda Stoker my running mates.

Many have travelled down to be here tonight but I want to particularly thank Bruce McIver, Brad Henderson and their hard working executive and office team.

I pray to God that He can help me meet the expectations I have set here. I pray that I can contribute to the Senate in ways that respect and build on its great legacy.

I pray that I can work with a government that returns Australia to the path of balanced budgets, returns Australia to a path where opportunity and security increases every year and most of all a place where all Australians find their own independence and freedom to live the lives they want to lead.

I look forward to working with every one of you for the benefit of all Queenslanders and all Australians. 

Thank you and God bless.


[1] Productivity Commission 2005, Review of National Competition Policy Reforms, Report no. 33, Canberra, pp. 57-58.

[2] Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism 2009, Energy in Australia 2009, Canberra, p. 29.

[3] Report by the Independent Committee of Inquiry 1993, National Competition Policy, Hilmer, F. (Chairman), Canberra, pp. 2-3.

[4] Clarke, P., Corones, S. and Clarke, J. 2011, Competition Law and Policy: cases and materials, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

[5] See s 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution: “The acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws.”

[6] See the 5th amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “ … nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

[7] Based on tax rates and family tax arrangements announced in the 2014-15 Budget. These estimates exclude payments available through the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate.

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