A couple of years ago I travelled up to Ayr to speak to a throng of angry cane farmers facing an unfair negotiating position against the multinational sugar refiner, Wilmar.
We were in the federal seat of Dawson, held by George Christensen. The farmers wanted us, as federal government representatives, to regulate so they would have a more balanced negotiating position. The Queensland government had previously regulated the space until the Beattie government had deregulated the
The Queensland government could reregulate, and there were only limited powers the Commonwealth had to act. It seemed an impossible task for us to convince a federal government to respond to what was a North Queensland issue, well within the power of the Queensland government to fix.
But George Christensen did not check the odds before deciding to fight for his constituents. He went back to Canberra, refused to budge and in a government with a one seat majority turned almost the entire focus of the government for a week on to the plight of North Queensland cane farmers.
Public servants in the Treasury department spent long nights working with the proposed Sugar Code that he and I had developed. We got our sugar code thanks to George, but George’s intransigence did not make him friends in Canberra.
George Christensen is loved in North Queensland because he has always put his career on the line for his voters. George was a true conviction politician. He had a clear view about what he stood for and he was never afraid to express it or fight for his values.
Our politics will be less colourful given George’s decision to retire at the next election. We need more people like George who are willing to remain true to themselves even after a ton of pressure is applied in Canberra to do otherwise.
George was the best minister this Coalition government never had. While he was never sworn into the Executive Council by the Governor-General, he made more of a difference than many who are. He would have made an excellent minister because he would not have just taken instructions from public servants,
he would have thoughtfully challenged their assumptions and advice, leading to better decisions.
We need more ministers like this. Look at the difference that Peter Dutton is making in Defence.
George’s convictions didn’t just come from his heart, they were forged in his head. He is one of the most well read Members of Parliament. In his office, you would find books by GK Chesterton, papal encyclicals and the latest books discussing identity politics or cancel culture.
He is one of the hardest workers too. George would normally fight for three or four issues every party room meeting - everything from assistance to his local tourist operators to the rising threat of the Chinese Communist Party. It was through his hard work and determination that he delivered so much for his electorate like the Mackay Ring Road and the Adani mine.
He delivered all of these things because his convictions were matched by courage and commitment.
George said on announcing his retirement that politics is broken. That might be so, but we are going to need more like him to fix it.