Address - WA Nationals' Conference, Esperance, WA

Saturday 12 August 2017

Introduction

Hello Nats!

I also acknowledge country and recognise the welcome given to us this morning by Gail Reynolds-Adamson.

As Australia’s Small Business Minister it was fantastic to hear Gail’s life story at President James Hayward’s function last night. To see firsthand Gail’s business, Brown Sugar Café, and her staff this morning at breakfast highlighted what can be done by entrepreneurs who are willing to have a go.

Like Shaun Mears of BlueMart, Lloyd Goddard of Got ‘em Group, and local supa-IGA owner Ron Chambers – all good up and about small businesspeople I have met who are keeping the small business alive and well here in Esperance.

As the camera panned and opened the first of thousands of frames in her three-part series A Country Road a few years ago, the ABC’s Heather Ewart started with this:

                “There is no party in the world quite like The Nationals.”

No Party in the world, she said.

This isn’t something cynical, nor a swipe at our eccentricities.

It’s a statement of affection, of admiration. Because The Nationals are people of aspiration.

We are – as the Federal President Larry Anthony said this morning – “hopeful people”.

Ours is a Party which embraces people. It embraces ideas and it embraces visions.

And ours is a vision which has stood the test of time.

So ours is a Party which gathers today – some 104 years since the Country Party of Western Australia’s foundation.

A story very few other Parties can tell.

So thank you, Mia Davies for the chance to address the WA Nationals on behalf of our Federal Leader, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, today.

To Deputy Leader Jacqui Boydell, to former leaders Terry Redman and Brendon Grylls. To the Parliamentary team.

To President James Hayward, to the executive – including retiring Young Nationals’ President Lachlan Hunter. Now Lachie is almost as important to a WA Nationals’ conference as our good mates, who galvanise people like no other! And from one Heather to another – the incoming President Heather York – and Vice President Siobhan Blake. There is no more important organisation, one could argue, than the Young Nats. So well done Heather and Siobhan and well done Lachie.

Friends, the Young Nats are our future and while we may not always agree with their ideas we do agree with their inspiration. Good luck to them. 

And most of all to you, the grassroots members of the WA Nationals – thank you.

While I am not a member of the WA Nationals per se, as an MP from New South Wales, I know the bond of our two parties is tied indelibly tight.

The role our parties play helping one another amid challenging elections – such as the Orange by-election in parts of my electorate and your recent State election – is a fondness and a friendship which is very strong.

And as someone who is becoming somewhat of a regular at your conferences, it’s great to share some words from Canberra and – most importantly – to hear what you would like on our agenda.

I always come away from conferences in WA inspired and invigorated by your passion and your ideas and I certainly look forward to that again this weekend.

GST

I know of most interest to you, hard-working West Australian tax-payers is the action the Federal Government is taking on the GST.

The Prime Minister spent the week in WA – in cities and towns across the state – and made it clear the deal for WA from the GST is simply not fair.

We are the first Commonwealth Government to take real action on GST allocation and we have asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry to determine how it can best work.

It’s a good start and it’s a timely start. Some of you might think it’s long overdue. I understand that and I appreciate that.

I know this is an issue on which Mark McGowan and the Labor Party will play politics.

Just like Bill Shorten and just like Pauline Hanson during your election campaign. But I am not coming here to play politics – I am coming to say the Productivity Commission is looking into it.

I say again, we are not here to play political games.

Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce and the team in Canberra are the first ones to really take action on this. Let’s see where this issue falls from the PC and let’s see in Canberra what we can do about it.

The WA Nationals’ difference

There’s no denying yours is a Party unlike any other in the world.

As far as The Nationals’ family, your state was the first.

Yours is a Party proud – you might say parochial, even – and most certainly passionate.

Yours is blood nose politics. 

Over the past few months, I have been on a nationwide small business roadshow to listen to as many small businesspeople as I can – like Gail, like Ron – to meet them in their operations and to hear their ideas.

We had a meeting of country Chambers of Commerce held by The Nats at Perth’s Parliament House.

Beforehand I spent some time with Mia and Terry, moving into their new offices and gearing up for the opening of Parliament the following week.

And it was clear the people you fight for haven’t changed.

It’s clear the policies you fight for haven’t changed.

And it’s clear the passion you fight with won’t change either. And it never will.

For what you’ve done in holding the new Labor Government’s city-centric approach to account is commendable.

Holding city-centric Government to account

Together we Nationals have invested in country communities around the state – you through Royalties for Regions and we through the Building Better Regions Fund.

We admire how you call out Mark McGowan and his flagrant disregard for our regions.

We admire the veracity of you standing up for the regions when they come under attack from Labor Governments which just don’t get it and what’s more they just don’t care.

And it’s pretty clear the State Government here doesn’t get it.

I think Mia is right when she says the Government looks to be city-centric and Royalties for Regions was first in its sights.

It’s also clear they don’t understand the importance of agricultural training and services, how that can spur local small business success and just how vital these services are to our communities.

Community Resource Centres, as Marty Aldridge tells me, are the backbone of so many country communities to provide a service where the Government often isn’t.

With services such as business support, with advocacy for smaller communities at its heart, theirs is a story unique as each of the communities they serve.

And like so many good things for the regions, they lay on the table of review from a city-centric Labor Government.

And today – as each of these services come under “review” – the need for The Nationals grows ever stronger.

I wish each of you well in this fight. We all know what it’s like to fight for communities when the ones who make the decisions simply do not understand.

But with your blood nose politics, country people have the right people in the fight.

State election – WA

There was no denying what The Nationals stood for at the last election here in WA.

In a time when people are looking for more from politicians and they want someone focused on local people and local communities, you were there.

Yours was a Government which I know did a lot of good for country people in the west.

It is a record of which you can all be very proud.

To Terry, Brendon and now Mia, the leadership was fierce. It was fair. It was right.

I can well recall my Shadow Minister in consumer affairs – Perth MP Tim Hammond – using the Federal Parliament as a soapbox for state issues. He’s actually a nice fellow, Tim. We get on well.

But the battlelines drawn by your opponents – even on the other side of the country – were clear.

It was a fight. It was a fight to which we gave our best shot.

To Brendon Grylls in particular, thank you. Yours is a spirit which I know will be long remembered and fondly remembered by country people not just in WA but across the country. We know there is fight in you yet, Brendon.

Like your party, you embody the future you want to see for rural and regional WA.

Together with people such as Terry Redman, another great leader. What I particularly like about Terry is that when I am having some bad days in Canberra, Terry often sends me a text. He often just says, “keep going; you’re right; you’re a good bloke”. And it’s that sort of support that you get across the Nullarbor which means so much. It truly does.

And now Mia who is taking up the Blood Nose Politics of which you all personify, I know the history and the people of this party means its best is well and truly yet to come.

I would also like to make particular mention of two of your candidates I spent a bit of time with on the campaign trail – Paul Brown and Tony Crook. Crooky – we miss you in Canberra! We really do. That you and Browny fought so hard in your seats with a positive plan for your region is something of which you should be very proud.

You’re in safe hands here with your upper and lower house members Peter Rundle and Colin De Grussa and new State Director Simon Glossop.

You are people by and of your community and I know you will have a very bright future.

Well done on taking the fight up to those whose ideas and whose vision stops at metropolitan boundaries, which stop at the 50km/h signs in Perth.

I look forward to seeing you take up the fight again.

The Nationals deliver in Government

Fights against city-centric ideas, unfortunately, don’t stop at Mark McGowan and the Labor Party.

It’s that inextricable bond of which I spoke earlier which brings people like us all together.

We are the ones who proudly stand on the side of the little guy.

We are the ones who believe they deserve a fair share.

We believe they deserve an equal chance in the bush.

And we are the ones who stand up and try to make things better.

While you do that so effectively against Labor’s city-centric Government here, in Canberra, we Federal Nationals stand against an insular Labor Party and the threats of winding back so many good things we have done in Government.

And – just like you do here – we know the work we’ve put in to date is delivering for country people are giving them the services and the investment they deserve.

I notice your new Regional Development Minister here, Alana MacTiernan, called projects from Royalties for Regions ‘beautification’. Let me tell you that cynicism for the country, that insular approach, it lives and breathes in Canberra too.

I am Australia’s Small Business Minister – the 17th in our history and the first from The Nationals.

But I am the first to call a country community home.

And this is why my main focus as the Small Business Minister has been for those Australians who don’t live in our capital cities.

The past year has been one of delivery for them, as it has been for every small business in Australia.

We cut the small business tax rate to 27.5 per cent – that’s the lowest it’s been since the Second World War.

We redefined “small business” to an annual turnover of $10 million – up from $2 million – so more small businesses pay less tax.

We extended the $20,0000 instant asset write-off program for a year and increased those eligible to a turnover of $10 million, meaning thousands more small businesses can purchase the new equipment they need and write it off immediately.

But this has all been done amid relentless opposition from the Labor Party.

We cut small business tax and Labor voted against it.

We redefined small business so more can grow and Labor voted against it.

And now Labor looks to small business for yet another tax grab – this time on trusts – to fund their reckless ideology.

Building better regions

There has never been a more pressing need for The Nationals to be strong in Canberra, just like you here.

It’s always frustrated me that the conversation about rural and regional Australia is often one mired in negativity.

There’s not the story of spirit and entrepreneurship which we all know looms large in the regions.

There’s the stories of community, of sacrifice, of sportsmanship which weave caring communities together.

And there’s rarely the conversation that regional Australia is a place of untapped potential, a font from which jobs and wages can be drawn and in which you can build a rich and fulfilling life.

But that, let me tell you, is what we are trying to do in The Nationals.

It starts with each and every one of us – in our branches, to our friends in our communities.

The Nationals share the passion of each of our communities because we live there.

Every region’s potential is equally entwined with our own.

If we want a region in which my kids will have as good a chance as I did to build a life, then we have to work to achieve it.

That’s what we’re doing with The Nationals delivering in Canberra. 

The Building Better Regions Fund underscores this approach. Redesigned by Fiona Nash, our Deputy Leader, this is a fund which is focused on rural and regional Australia.

It builds community capacity and it enriches lives.

It also means that across Australia, regions who back themselves and their potential are given a go.

Busselton Jetty - $3 million. Capel Civic Precint - $2.3 million. A new truck stop in the Shire of Collie - $74,000. An off-the-grid solar and water treatment plant for Aboriginal communities in Karratha - $545,000.

These are but a cherry-pick from a long list of the latest round and the latest investment.

And although there’s always projects which we would all like to see get up – believe me, as a local MP I could name a few in my own patch! – the investment from the Federal Government is thanks to The Nationals working as part of the team in Canberra.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Decentralisation

The Federal Nationals have put decentralisation well and truly on the agenda.

The Canberra Times may not like it much, but The Nationals believe rural and regional Australia deserve the same access to the public service investment dollar as Canberra does.

And so we are asking various agencies – including the Grains Research and Development Corporation to Northam here in WA – to move some of their operations to areas where it is suited to the agency’s role.

But it doesn’t just stop at the public service.

It is our ambition that corporate Australia joins The Nationals in creating jobs and opportunities in the regions too.

Recently I met Craig Schapiro in my electorate. Craig is a financial services expert – a big-end-of-town-boy and I don’t think he’d mind me calling him that. He is one of a growing number of city investors looking to regional Australia as a viable, profitable exercise.

He is CEO and co-founder of the Blue River Group which last year purchased the 94-year-old Wagga Wagga dairy company Riverina Fresh.

They have transformed the iconic company – automating it, looking for new markets and investing in new products – whilst keeping the same number of employees.

His is a fantastic corporate “decentralisation” story and we want to hear and see more of it.

Because our vision and our ambition is for vibrant country communities for many years and many decades to come. And corporate Australia must be our partner on that journey.

Fair funding for schools

I gather I am not alone here as someone whose school education was in rural and regional Australia.

Like you, I am proud of that.

Like you, I know a child’s postcode does not determine his or her potential.

And that is what the Federal Government recently delivered thanks to Gonski2.0. It was a record, $24 billion investment into our schools which embraced a needs-based model of funding.

Make no mistake, a needs-based model means a good deal for country kids.

It’s certainly true the original Gonski deals brokered by Julia Gillard has special handouts for some sectors, for some states, and it therefore had a disproportionate impact on others.

One of those states which did not get a good deal was WA.

This is why the Federal Government – working with the reform’s original architect David Gonski AC – went back to the drawing board and delivered a better deal.

As the National Party, it’s fair to say our communities are elated.

In my electorate alone, I have 128 schools and every single one of them is going to get a better deal thanks to the new Gonski arrangements.

For schools in rural, regional and remote Western Australia the story will be much the same and – thanks to the role The Nationals play in the team in Canberra – you can all be very proud.

We made the investment, we funded it properly, because it is the right thing to do.

And our communities – country communities – are the ones which will see the benefit.

Health investment

So too, our investment in health builds on what Australians need the most.

Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie, whose focus is rural health, knows this and argues it well. And I certainly acknowledge the role his daughter Issy played in the election over here.

Through investing in our healthcare system, we are protecting those who need it and ensuring Australia stays reliable and affordable for long term.

First, we are establishing the Medicare Guarantee Fund to protect the fairness of our health system – Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

We will end the freeze on the Medicare rebate indexation imposed by the previous Labor Government.

We will provide $7.7 billion to the States and Territories for public hospitals, $19.6 million for childhood vaccination and $65.9 million for medical research.

Our Budget invests $115 million in mental health, with the focus on rural telehealth services country communities so desperately need. This is supported by $33 million to help existing service providers grow the rural health workforce – something The Nationals have worked on for years.

Our other important choice of this Budget is to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In my first term of Parliament, it was with pride I was the first Federal MP from New South Wales who signed the pledge to make the NDIS dream a reality.

And our Budget made the choice to fully fund this $55.7 billion investment.

Cost-of-living

As I say, Budgets are about choices. They are the chance to build a vision and deliver an Australia that works for all of us.

While Australia’s economy has grown, we know cost-of-living remains a real issue for many Australians. The best thing we can do is listen and make it easier for Australians to get a job, pay their bills and pursue their dreams.

That’s why this Government has a plan to secure energy for Australians – Snowy Hydro 2.0, benefitting half a million homes on the east coast.

This is supported by choices to expand Tasmanian pumped hydro storage, securing domestic access to gas, an ACCC inquiry into the retail gas and electricity market, and a pipeline through the NorthernTerritory, South Australia and Western Australia for gas.

And just this week, for consumers and small businesses across the country – especially here in WA – the Prime Minister, together with Barnaby, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, called the heads of energy companies to Canberra to help keep power bills down.

We are also making one-off payments to pensioners to help with the cost of meeting their bills, as well as restoring the pensioner concession card.

In housing and childcare, we have also made choices to make it fairer and to improve security and opportunity for Australians.

Communications

I mentioned before that informative meeting I had with Chambers of Commerce from the country alongside Mia and Terry a few months ago.  I love forums where I can hear direct from small businesspeople their ideas and aspirations.

We chatted a lot that day about communications.

This is where The Nationals have kicked even more goals.

Just a few days before Parliament resumed, Fiona Nash – who is the dedicated Minister for Regional Communications – opened a mobile phone tower.

It numbered as one of more than 700 we have built since we came to Government.

And the Mobile Blackspot Program only exists because of The Nationals.

Our investment makes real differences in regional communities – especially here in the West – and it isn’t matched with a dollar from the Labor Party. Not a single dollar.

And we’ve built on that too.

SkyMuster has now doubled the ability to download because The Nationals – through people like Fiona Nash and I and through feedback from people like you – knew it was necessary.

This is connecting kids on the farm, small businesses in the paddock and families to the information, the markets and the services they deserve.

And it’s delivered sooner thanks to The Nationals.

Conclusion

We are here to get things done.

And in each and every one of these achievements for rural and regional Australia – from small business to schools, from GRDC to the GST, from tax cuts to regional development – your Nationals team is in there fighting.

We go in there and fight because good people like you give your weekend to develop policy.

You are the people who keep our voice and our vision strong.

So make no mistake, you are – as Heather Ewart said – part of a Party which is unlike any other in the world.

This is just one part of our vision for Australia’s future, for our children’s future.

And it’s a future which you can help shape this weekend.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honour to address you. Best wishes for the weekend.

ENDS

Dom Hopkinson