Keynote address: NSW Nationals conference 2019 Inverell NSW, 28 June 2019
Congratulations to Wacka and Fiona – two finer representatives of our Party you would not find. Our hearts go out to them. Our congratulations go out to them, and we know they are going to continue to play a big part, not only in The Nationals’ future but indeed in the future of regional Australia. So to Wacka and Fiona, two great friends, two great colleagues, thank you and well done. (Applause)
Look, they said we couldn’t, they said we shouldn’t, they said we wouldn’t: They all said that we were absolutely no hope at all – but do you know what: We did it. We did it In March and again in May we did it. (Applause).
The Federal Nationals did it. We did it together and now we will govern together for all the people in regional NSW and for all the people in regional Australia, all regional Australians. You handed out, you people in this room. You helped, you assisted, you supported and for that I say: Thank you. I know John Barilaro says thank you. We are indebted to you for your support, for your loyal dedication, for your commitment, for your perspiration, for your determination.
But we have 100 years of history, and the future looks even brighter.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I do start by acknowledging the traditional owners. I also acknowledge any veterans in the room – thank you too for your service to our nation.
A hundred years ago a group of farmers came together to fight for their interests. They knew that farmers deserved better, much better. They knew that country families deserved better. They were determined to do something about it. From that meeting, 100 years ago – only a short time ago really in the scheme of things but a long time ago in other ways – they sowed the seeds that we all see in this country community and others today: Country people who are proud of their history, their regions; country people proud of their industries; and country people passionate about their futures.
Our political Party, unlike any other – 100 years ago we wanted to make change, to progress regional Australia. That ambition has never changed. It’s never wavered. So as we meet together in Government at State and Federal level, well after the pundits and the pollsters and so many others had predicted the demise of our fighting for our future in regional Australia, we can be proud that we as Nationals have achieved this now. Indeed we’ve achieved it for 100 years: 100 long years. 100 short years. But 100 years.
From the nation’s first radio broadcast licence in 1923 to the establishment of the University of New England – not far from here – in 1954, these are projects and plans around this nation that stand testament to the simple and guiding philosophy: Putting locals first. We are a Party of progression, of protection and of promotion of everything that makes regional Australia what it is today, what makes regional Australia indeed a very special place. It’s the very best place in which to live.
We want regional Australia to be a place in which you want to work, to live, to invest; a place where you want to raise a family; to start a small business; to take over the family farm and take it into a new generation.
We’ve always been there. We always will be. That’s why there is no federal political Party which has spent more time on the Government benches than The Nationals. No Party. None whatsoever. We’ve done that. For 100 years we’ve focused on the things that really matter. For 100 years we’ve got the little things right. For 100 years, regional Australians have known that they can depend on us. Regional people and their communities have given their faith, have trusted us to do the job for them, to be their champions.
Party historian Paul Davey describes The Nationals as the most democratic, non-factionalised and stable political Party in Australia, proud of its independent identity and offering equal opportunity to all. Now Paul has written many many words about The Nationals. The good thing is, he’s got a few more words to write in future, indeed about his own daughter. I’ll come to that a little bit later.
What Paul says was true 100 years ago and it still rings true today. We gather here today with humility, honoured that the people of regional Australia entrusted us to do the job for them – to continue to deliver in Government, compassionate about the futures of the places we call home no matter their size or location. From the smallest villages, from the farming districts to those big regional capitals – they all matter to you, they matter to us.
This is an historic opportunity for regional Australia with The Nationals re-elected for a third term: A third term in State and Federal Government. It’s a privilege to work together as State and Federal Governments, as Nationals, to get the job done.
In January this year I wrote an opinion piece for a newspaper about what I think are the roles that The Nationals in Government play, and why it’s important that country and coastal people keep a dedicated voice at the Cabinet table. It’s something I’ve always believed. It’s something my parents always told me. And let me tell you – it’s something that’s correct: That if you get the little things right, the big things take care of themselves.
Together, our team at the last election set about doing just that. You deserve to make a phone call – a phone call that works and doesn’t drop out; one that connects families and friends; one that keeps emergency contact within reach; and importantly one that means farmers and families can do business from their places of business. Indeed, if they’re sitting on their tractor, pulling a Boss Engineering seeder from here in Inverell – they want to be able to make a phone call, to be able to on-sell their product, to be able to buy, to be able to trade, be able to do business. That’s what farmers need. They need connectivity. Thanks to the Federal Nationals in Government, we are delivering more than a thousand mobile towers around this nation. We’re doing it with the help of the State Government. We’re doing it with help from the telcos. But we’re doing it for you. We’re doing it for regional people because we think of the future and we need to make sure that we’re delivering – for you, and for those people who want to call regional Australia home.
We know everyone wants their community to grow and to prosper with more young people, more young families either staying in town or choosing to move to the regions. But to make that work, we need to make sure that young people in regional Australia have a job, have an opportunity, have a future, right in regional Australia.
That’s why we back regional small businesses. They are already paying the lowest tax rate they’ve had since 1940.We’ve extended the instant asset write-off to $30,000 per piece of capital equipment to make sure we give them that assistance, that help. And we’ve invested in apprenticeship wage subsidies – something I like to call our bush wage – giving more country kids a start in more regional areas, to start as an apprentice. Those apprentices often go on to start their own small businesses, and we want them to be able to do that. We want them to be able to not only have a job and a future for themselves but to create other jobs, other futures for more apprentices just like themselves. I have always believed that a TAFE certificate is worth every bit as much as a tertiary degree – every bit as much – and we want to make sure that that continues so that more people can do a traineeship, can do a cadetship, can do an apprenticeship. That’s why we are investing heavily in those young people.
With The Nationals in Government, they will always have our backing. They always have, they always will.
We’re investing record amounts in regional health and regional education – something that makes a total mockery of the lies that Labor told at the last election that we were not doing that. In fact we were and we will continue to do it because they are ourpeople. We’re always going to back our people with better health services in rural, remote, country and coastal Australia and NSW, and we will certainly do it for education – all the services that matter.
The Federal Nationals in Government are investing a record $100 billion in transport infrastructure, right around the country, to make it a reality. What we’re doing is a 25 per cent boost for every single local government in Australia to fix and maintain local roads. That is so important, so that local councils can make local decisions at a local level for local people: 25 per cent increase for every one of the more than 500 councils around our country, to make sure that they can invest in their own road projects. And that’s not money with any strings from Canberra. It’s a simple investment from us to get those little things right.And when we fund it, we the Federal Nationals, we fund it to the tune of 80 per cent – 80 per cent of it comes from the Commonwealth. So it’s a big investment, a worthy investment in better roads – not to the larger highways but thanks to The Nationals, regional roads are getting the investment they so richly deserve.
A duplicated Pacific Highway is getting even closer. It’s something that Labor left languishing because State and Federal Labor Governments could not agree on who should pay. We are getting ready to bypass Coffs Harbour. We’re getting ready to bypass Coffs Harbour, we’re getting it right here with tunnels, with Pat Conaghan. Where’s Gurmesh Singh? They want tunnels, we’re going to give them tunnels! The Broadwater bridge near Wardell is more than 90 per cent completed.
Elsewhere in the State it’s The Nationals who are investing in making sure that the Newell Highway is going to be flood-proof. It’s The Nationals who are putting half a billion dollars into a safer Princes Highway, and I note Katrina Hodgkinson lobbied hard, brought it to the attention of everybody who needed to listen, and that money, even though she didn’t win the seat of Gilmore, she can be proud of the fact that she helped that cause.
It’s The Nationals who are doing it through the specific funding program for freight roads in regional Australia called the Roads of Strategic Importance. You could argue that every road is strategically important, indeed it is. But we’re getting on with building those roads which are not necessarily just the national highways but indeed they’re the important linkage roads. They’re the byways that need funding to get product from paddock to plate, from paddock to port, from paddock to those markets where we’re investing in making sure that we’ve got the free trade arrangements in place to build better regional communities. No matter where you live, we’re building better roads.
To make regional Australia even better we have to tackle the issues which have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket for too long, and that starts with water. Melinda Pavey, that’s your signal to go ‘Hear Hear’!
Water infrastructure, water storage – The Nationals have a bold plan to take the politics out of water. Now like the people who live in our communities, we’re sick of hearing why we cannot capture water when it does rain, to store for times when it does not. Now I’m not endorsing just the last motion we went to – I know it’s important and I know it got up, well done to Bruce – to making sure we continue to lobby and to advocate for more water storage. The drought is biting hard in all of our communities. We know that. We understand it, we live it, we experience it. More than $7 billion, much of which is being spent in NSW in drought support, is there to help, is there to support – but we want to invest now for when droughts occur in the future in Australia.
The Future Drought Fund, something which shamefully Labor, Greens and the Independents voted against, is something that is going to make sure that we can future drought-proof our nation. And we’re doing more than just that. My priority for the moment is establishing the National Water Grid. I announced it during the election campaign. It’s going to be a game-changer. It certainly is. My priority for the term is shovels in the ground, bulldozers on the site and water flowing to our communities.
We’ve heard John Barilaro say it today: We want to make sure that we work with willing State partners to get dams built, to make sure that we put down more pipelines, to heighten, to lengthen, to strengthen weirs where we can. The time for talk is over. The time for action is now and we will do it. (Applause).
We know the key to unlocking our regional communities, growing agriculture from a $60 billion industry to a $100 billion sector is: Just add water. The Nationals Water Grid will look at how large-scale water diversion projects could be established to deliver reliable and cost-effective water to farmers and to regional communities, to make sure that we have that water security.
I want to bring together the world’s best scientists to harvest and harness water in the best way possible, but to make sure we do it with local input; to make sure we do it with local stakeholder engagement. We need decisions based on water and water infrastructure by State and Federal Government on the best available science, not on politics.
The Water Grid will provide the pipeline to establish current and future water infrastructure projects and then identify the missing links and get on and build the dam things – and we need that dam with an ‘n’ – to make sure we build the damn dams, because we need to stop talking about it and get on with it. We need the States to come along with us on this journey. I know that John Barilaro spoke passionately about it this morning. I welcome that interest. I welcome that enthusiasm – and as Nationals we are just going to get on and do it. And we need to make sure we get on and do it because we are crying out for water security.
That’s why The Nationals in Government will seek agreement from States and Territories to co-invest in this project, in this authority, through the COAG process, the Council of Australian Governments, to make this a national initiative based on common sense.
In the election we announced $100 million to better understand water resources and to start investigation and delivery of water diversion projects. We have the will, we have the way, and by working together we’ll have the water. This is exactly what we mean when we say that The Nationals believe in getting the little things right.
As we head back to Parliament next week we are still the Party that has spent more time on Government benches than any other. We’ll have a team of energised and inspired local champions ready to take this vision and this ambition to the next level. It’s a team of committed country and coastal people, a team with real life experience and with regional know-how and with regional commonsense. It’s a team with a few new faces and the team I wanted to lead and serve with as we deliver for regional people and their communities.
Joining the team is Pat Conaghan. Kempsey boy. Local. Small business (applause). How good is Pat! From the moment I met Pat I knew he would be a great pick for our Party. I knew how he cared for his community, his people, its ideas, its aspirations, and I knew he’d be the person to take on Luke Hartsuyker’s legacy and finish the Pacific Highway. And whether it’s a tidal pool for Port, a basketball stadium for Coffs or tunnels – did I mention we are going to build tunnels on the Pacific Highway – there’s not a community or an issue in Cowper which Pat does not care about. He’s helping deliver already decentralisation – 50 jobs through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. As a local dad he’s passionate about local schools and getting the investment they deserve to help them in growth of the North Coast. In fact he’s one person who made sure that Rob Oakeshott, who many thought would take Cowper in a canter, got less votes than he did last time – how good is that! (Applause).
It wasn’t just Rob who didn’t want Pat in the seat; there was also some person who was wearing a banana suit during the campaign who kept bobbing up at all our press conferences. I’m sure she didn’t vote for Pat but I tell you what, a lot of people, a lot of people in Coffs and Port did! Well done Pat!
Pat will be joined by someone who is well known to us all: Senator-elect Perin Davey! (Applause). Small business, water, agriculture, families, outback arts – these are the things that the common sense champion Perin Davey believes in – believes in, supports, advocates for, campaigns for – will deliver, is delivering and has delivered. She’s also Paul’s daughter. And so that new chapter in Paul’s next book is going to be totally about Perin and how she won that spot when so many people said she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, she shouldn’t – she did. She did. Well done Perin. She’s passionate about country life, attracting more people to live in regional Australia, because she is a farmer too. She is a small business person too. Her experience in the water industry, in water policy, in irrigation is going to be invaluable as we go through and we see what we can do to make sure that we’ve got the right water policy; to make sure that we implement the National Water Grid.
Pat and Perin join a remarkable team of local champions, a team with three times as many women as the last Parliament. Three times as many women – how good is that! A team of people for whom the success at this election was not just another interview in a city TV studio or a conversation in a national paper but one that was done at a regional level: street by street, district by district, farm by farm. We got out there. We told our story. We had a good narrative to tell. We told it, we sold it and people liked what they heard, liked what they saw, and now expect us to deliver – and deliver, ladies and gentlemen, we will.
Mark Coulton is a former country mayor who is now our Local Government Minister. It was the Prime Minister learning to shear a sheep – the Prime Minister had a go – it was great. That was near Gilgandra, near a family farm in Mark’s electorate when Mark, David Littleproud and I announced that more drought support would be occurring but perhaps even just as importantly, a program to help educate city kids about where their food comes from, where their fibre comes from – that was a really important initiative in the election and it was made possible because of Mark Coulton and his advocacy. He’s going to do a great job in his new very broad portfolio which takes in regional communications, regional health, regional education, local government, decentralisation – I’m almost getting exhausted, running out of breath talking about his portfolio! He’s going to do a fantastic job.
Andrew Gee is doing a great job as my Assistant Minister; he’s taking the safer crossing of the Macquarie River at Dixons Long Point - now we were there the other day; it was actually raining which was fantastic and I went up to one lady and I said: How long have you actually waited for the Dixons Long Point Crossing to occur?’ and she said, 160 years. I didn’t think she looked that old. But the fact is it’s getting done and because of Andrew Gee – well done Andrew! (Applause).
David Gillespie is the man with the plan to make Bucketts Way safer, and the Nationals have in the Budget the money to pay for it. Again this is a road which for too long has been put in the too hard basket, and together with our friends in the NSW Government, in the NSW Nationals, we have the plan, we have the money, we have the idea, the vision and we will fix it. We will make sure that Bucketts Way actually occurs. So well done David for fighting for that. Yes, put your hands together; he’s a great bloke (Applause).
Kevin Hogan also put his hand up to say he’d fix the Pacific Highway and he’s doing that; for the people and the communities on the North Coast this is more than just the safer road they deserve, it’s more than just the corridor of commerce to connect local industries like timber and tourism and reduce costs for freight; it’s also a project that creates local jobs and Kevin has been their champion on that. The Woolgoolga to Ballina section has almost 3,000 jobs – jobs saving lives for local people; jobs helping apprentices train and get the skills they need locally; jobs building our future.
For Barnaby Joyce, the local Member here, it’s a plan that shows The Nationals know the power and potential of decentralisation. He really pushed that. He started that and is continuing that; it’s an outstanding policy and we’re going to continue to push it. Last year I made Bridget McKenzie, my great Deputy, Australia’s first ever Minister for decentralisation because it’s a core part of the plan that we’re pushing and something that we’re very very proud of.
Inverell is Wacka country. So much has been said of Wacka’s time in Parliament because his contribution to this nation has been so valued. We heard earlier that 300 people turned up for his valedictory. Now for many of those people in that audience – perhaps the bankers just wanted to make sure he was leaving the Parliament – but there are family farms in business today because Wacka Williams cared. There are bank executives gone because Wacka Williams asked questions, the tough questions. There are banking laws forever changed because Wacka Williams made sure they were, because they had to be, they needed to be and he made sure they were changed. I saw it for myself with farming families – a little family from Coolamon had trouble with the bank and Wacka and I went in to bat for them; we made sure they got justice.
Nancy Capel, a Young Nats Life Member and a proud country newspaper editor – what a noble profession! Put your hands together for all the newspaper editors in the room! (Applause).
Who starts their political career with just four people and then they stay with them for their entire political careers? That is amazing – for a whole decade the four people who Wacka employed right at the very start were with him right at the very end. That’s loyalty; that’s dedication, but that’s also a very very good boss. (Applause).
The people who Wacka stood up for, the battlers, the little people, Mr and Mrs Average - they are the people and the communities who founded this great Party; they are the people that we believe in. They are the people we fight for, that we champion. They are the people we care about, and they knew in Wacka they had a champion. And we’re here 100 years later, still fighting for these people, still with locals who believe in the future of regional Australia – and so I say thank you to Wacka.
I also again commend the great job that Fiona Nash has done in the past and is now continuing to do at Charles Sturt University, making lives better for people.
Their contribution to our nation will not be forgotten and nor should it.
Together, The Nationals are determined to get things done, and nothing about that will change over the next few years. Scott Morrison and I want to make things easier for you and your family. Income tax cuts take the pressure off families. It’s small business tax cuts and fewer pieces of red tape that make running a small business easier. It’s the more than $7 billion - seven thousand million dollars – in drought support that shows we stand shoulder to shoulder with farming families during this prolonged and dreadful drought. It’s also a million dollars for councils including this one in drought-affected communities: in Inverell it’s helping programs such as the Choose Inverell Shop Local program. It helps small local businesses and keep money flowing through the town. It keeps jobs generating, something that really impacts on the local economy and something that we should all support this weekend – so go and make sure you support Inverell’s shops and make sure you support the local economy.
John Barilaro and I want to make sure that building water infrastructure is made easier. We’ve waited too long to build water infrastructure. Paperwork has got in the way of people and it’s got in the way of pipelines. As I said before, we’re going to get on and do it.
And here’s my promise to you, now that your Nationals teams are back in Canberra and back in Macquarie Street and back in Government: Using the Federal Government’s existing one stop shop arrangements for environmental approvals, we want to bring some common sense back to building water infrastructure. Just last week Melinda, Bara and I sat down and started a conversation. We’ve got the will to get it done. That’s why Adam Marshall and I are going to look at the Malpas pipeline here in this region this weekend; it’s why our Budget has invested money, indeed half a billion dollars, to water infrastructure. It’s why having your Nationals team in Canberra, in Macquarie Street, will make a difference.
We’re going to build dams. We’re going to build more mobile phone towers, and we’re going to do it together.
But with such an honoured history behind us and a road map for busting black spots, whether it’s road or whether it’s telecommunications, making our roads safer, building dams hospitals and schools in regional Australia over the next few years – this one fact holds true: None of us would be here without you, without the grass roots members of our Party, without the branches. We owe it to you. We’re just the front people, we’re just at the front line but you people are getting in there behind the scenes and standing at pre-poll for three weeks, standing in the cold, standing in the heat, standing on the hard cement and trying to convince people to make sure that they vote Nationals.
Our branches are the heartbeat of our Party. You are the volunteers who get together and fight for things because you want to build a better NSW. You want to build a better Australia. You are women and men with enormous integrity, enormous character, and I say thank you. Each and every Member of Parliament says thank you to you. You have helped build the most successful political Party in Australia’s history. Make no mistake – The Nationals are just that and it’s because of you people in this room and others before you. You have helped build and shape a modern, diverse regional Australia into what it is today and it’s a region that we proudly call home.
That’s why I’ve made it a priority to meet with as many branches as I can as I’ve travelled around Australia. In recent weeks I’ve certainly seen again the decency, the integrity, the optimism indeed of our branches as we’ve celebrated the return of every single Lower House Member in the Federal Parliament for The Nationals. It’s a celebration as – would you believe - we were the only major political Party to increase our primary vote at the last election. At the May 18 election The Nationals were the only Party to do just that. How good is that! (Applause).
We also offer congratulations to those candidates who were not successful this time. Their campaigns - having every single polling booth – having Perin’s and Sam Farraway’s faces on corflutes at those polling booths made sure the Nationals had a presence in not just the seats that we thought and hoped and expected to win but indeed in many of those seats where it was always going to be a challenge for us. But indeed we stood up, we carried the day, we flew the flag and the green and gold was prominent – I know that Perin is in the Senate because of just that.
Since the election I’ve visited branches from Deniliquin to Orange, in Page and Cowper, across the Riverina and Central West as well as throughout regional Queensland and regional Victoria. I’ve seen the grass roots – how proud, how fiercely proud it is, how independent it is, how successful it is.
I want to also pay tribute to our outgoing Chairman Bede Burke. Over the past five years Bede, and Narelle too, have led our Party’s administration as it has overseen renewal in that organisation. It’s been tough. There have been elections; there have been by-elections; there have been a few Leaders, Bede, as you mentioned this morning, and some of those times were very difficult. But Bede kept his form, he kept his humour and he led our Party and for that we are always indebted to you Bede, and to Narelle. So thank you for that. (Applause).
We also welcome our new Chairman Andrew Fraser who will carry on that legacy and that optimism of country people as we turn the page of our very first Century, one of many, in our Party’s history. Andrew made such a difference for Gurmesh and certainly for Pat, standing at pre-poll and almost bullying people into voting for The Nationals as only Andrew could; he knew every single person who came through when I was there, and he made a real difference. I know that he is going to help mentor our new Members there in Coffs and Port; but he’s going to be such a great leader following in the great footsteps of Bede.
So as we turn 100 years old this year and we reflect on the wonderful journey which brings us together, a Century after they said it would never work: Now is not the time for hubris. Now is not the time for boasting; it’s the time for work. It’s the time for getting things done.
The best way we can honour the people who formed our Party, who kept it together for 100 years, those people who have sustained us and those who are passionate about its future, is to do what we have always done as Nationals and that is to put locals first.
Thank you very much.