ADDRESS TO THE NATIONALS’ FEDERAL COUNCIL, Canberra, 14 September 2019
Thank you very much Perin (Davey).
It is fantastic to be here. There is a great vibe in the room. You can feel it.
Federal President Larry Anthony, Federal Director Ben Hindmarsh – both of whom did so much, so much to get us across the line on 18 May; Federal Council members; MPs, Senators; friends all:
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people. I also acknowledge any former servicemen or servicewomen, current veterans, current serving people – I acknowledge and thank you for your contribution to our nation.
We mark with deepest sadness today the passing of our wonderful veteran, our former Leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, the boy from Boree Creek, Tim Fischer AC.
As I said as Acting Prime Minister at the time of Tim’s passing – Tim has been a giant of our Party, a giant of Australia – but more than that, a champion for regional and rural, remote, country, coastal communities. In our Leader Tim we saw the very best human qualities of loyalty, empathy, of courage, kindness and humility.
He was his own social media presence before any social media was thought of.
Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers continue to be with Judy, Harrison and Dominic, and with Tony (Fischer) who will be with us tonight. If ever you ring Tony and you don’t get him, you get his answering machine, it’s Tim all over. Those two were very very close and anyone who had the benefit of being in Albury for the memorial service, anybody who watched it livestreamed and heard Tony’s heartfelt tribute to his brother and the log cabin stories about their childhood together – it was hard not to sit there and to not have a tear in your eye.
May they be comforted as they see the outpouring of emotion, of gratitude across Australia and indeed across the Parliament, because Tim was loved by all.
He worked to build a better Australia, and that is indeed our focus here today as we debate motions, as we talk to one another, as we strive to build a better Australia.
I also recognise Warren Truss, for whom yesterday was a very very special day. Warren, another former great Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, received his AC. It’s the highest honour that anyone in this country can receive, and I believe, I understand, I may be corrected but he was the first boy from regional Queensland to get such an honour. I know his wife Lyn also did a power of good for our Party, for Queensland in particular and our nation in general.
For 100 years the vision of The National Party, the Country Party before it, was to build a better Australia. As Paul Davey – who is with us today, Perin’s dad - wrote a decade ago in ‘Ninety Not Out’:
“The Party’s Parliamentarians have always been determined people, who bring a deep knowledge of the diverse issues and concerns of the people they represent. Their priorities are different from those of organisations whose representatives straddle the city-country divide.”
All this experience, all this understanding, creates one vision – to build a better regional Australia.
That’s why each and every one of you is here today. That’s why each and every one of you do what you do, each and every day.
As we enter our next 100 years - how good is it to be entering our next century - I want all Australians to be crystal clear: Regional Australia has enormous potential. It ain’t broke, despite what people sometimes say and sometimes think, regional Australia is strong. It’s vibrant. It’s determined, and drought notwithstanding – we will get through that – there are huge opportunities, huge opportunities in rural and regional Australia.
The task ahead, what I want to see happening quickly across regional Australia, is:
- Fill job vacancies we have now, and create even more jobs in country areas
- Strengthen the finances of households and businesses
- Build the infrastructure, especially dams; and
- Deliver better, more easily available and accessible services in the bush, from mental health in particular to higher education and the TAFE system.
We will deliver for regional Australians.
We’re the Party that will protect farmers’ interests - always.
If people want to invade a farmer’s home, well they’ll be confronting us – and they’ll spend time in jail. We will back farmers in, each and every time.
We will not stand by while anyone tries to tell farmers they are not doing the right thing. Mark this: Our farmers are our world’s best environmentalists. They’re the greatest carers of country in our nation today. They don’t have to cop someone saying what they can farm, where they can farm, how they can farm, why they can farm – we will always back them up.
Small businesses are the regions’ economic backbone. We all know that.
Small business needs a friend. They deserve a friend. And they’ve got a friend in The Nationals.
We’re the Party that will protect our great miners. I commend the work that Matthew Canavan is doing to do just that.
If you want to try being destructive as so many people, so many city-based people are; if you want to be professional whingers like we saw in Central Queensland - expect the Nationals to be alongside our resources sector, our miners.
We’re working each and every day to back them in every way we can, just like Matt, Ken, Michelle and George did during the election. And as for Bob Brown – come again. Come again, preferably next October when Queensland are going to the polls and I know Deb Frecklington will be our next Queensland Premier.
We want to make sure that destructive and selfish groups are stripped of their tax deductibility status. We’ve heard it this morning from Melina Bath who called them agri-terrorists. She’s right of course. We all know that.
We want to make sure that we’re backing farmers. We want people to know we’re backing farmers, we’re backing rural people. And we say this to regional Australians: Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not doing a good job. They are – for each and every one of us.
If they want to try to tell you that, well they will have a fight with us.
Face the facts. Our regions power our cities. They supply the food. They provide the fibre, the materials for manufacturing. Our regions deliver export dollars that go back into paying for public health, for public schools. And our regions are home to tens of thousands of jobs for Australians.
The regions have backed us in, and we as a Party will always back them in.
Make no mistake.
There are already 8.8 million people who call regional Australia home. The regions create jobs for one in three working Australians and already contribute about one third of our national economic output. They’re big numbers. We punch well above our weight.
The Nationals are working to make a difference for the better when the household’s accounts are spread over the kitchen table; or when the local transport contractor or café owner opens up their books with their accountant. We want regional people to look around their communities and say: ‘Well that’s improving. That’s getting better’.
Our central task – our task always – is to honour the faith which regional Australians have placed in us. They placed it in us at the May 18 election and in NSW in March. We have to be considered but fierce in fighting for their best interests – it’s what we’re doing, and what I will ensure we continue to do.
In May, regional Australians trusted us to get the job done. Reflect for just a moment on the result: Each and every one of our Lower House Members re-elected, emphatically; narrow margins converted in some cases to double figures; seats that were very marginal now are being held very solidly by National Party Members.
The Nationals with our Liberal partners were re-elected to a third term, with a clear majority.
In May the National Party trebled its female representation in our Party Room. Joining our tireless Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie and dynamic Assistant Minister for Children and Families, the fabulous Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry are: our new Senator Perin Davey in NSW – don’t ever tell Perin something is insurmountable!!; Queensland’s hard-working and very highly effective Senator Susan McDonald; the Northern Territory’s wonderful new Senator Sam McMahon - 30 years owning and operating her own veterinary practices across the Northern Territory; and of course Dr Anne Webster in the Mallee, with her passion, her track record for empowering regional communities, and women in particular.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to put your hands together for those fabulous (…inaudible).
The blokes in the Party aren’t too bad, either.
We withstood challenges from all sorts of quarters – from leftie activists groups to Labor, Greens, GetUp sometimes wearing all sorts of guises – and we despatched each and every one of those challenges, because regional Australians saw our platform, saw our vision, saw our plan and they said ‘yes’. Heartiest congratulations in particular to Pat Conaghan in Cowper!
Sixteen Lower House seats leading up to the May 18 election, and every one of them returned; every one of those seats still in National Party hands.
The National Party has formed a Party base in Tasmania for the first time in many decades. Thank you in particular to Steve Martin and to Christine Ferguson. I know how keen Steve is to build on the firm foundation he helped to lay before the election. Our State Party structures are strong. We will get Tasmania up; we will certainly continue to back our first Senator for Tasmania in the Party Room; we have not lost the faith there in any way, shape or form.
We look forward in particular to the people of Queensland and Northern Territory having their say at the ballot box next year. We desperately need to change those underperforming Labor Governments – although I apologise for my grammar: ‘Underperforming Labor’, that is tautology.
Ladies and gentlemen, we move into the next 100 years with a Parliamentary base that represents so much of the diverse interests of country people – so much.
Above all, we will repay their trust of the people by doing what we have said we will do.
We are already delivering on our third term commitments. And with Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, I have to say this does not feel like a third term Government – it more feels as though we’ve hit the ‘reset’ button, that we are a first Government, with a vision, with a plan.
The April 2 Budget was indeed a great blueprint, an economic plan for the future, and people have endorsed it. They have endorsed us.
When people are in need, we act.
As the Government announced yesterday, bushfire victims in Queensland and New South Wales now have access to income assistance for up to 13 weeks. Thank you David (Littleproud) for your work in that respect. That’s additional to the joint disaster relief arrangements with the States which delivered emergency grants, freight subsidies and low interest loans. In the hour of need – we’re there, shoulder to shoulder, as always.
Ladies and gentlemen, our economy is being reset to better withstand global headwinds – and they are there, we acknowledge that. We are coming back into Budget surplus in 2019-2020.
Already, 70 per cent of taxpayers are receiving tax rebates up to $1080. We want people to keep more of the money that they make, that they earn, to have it to spend. Why not. It’s their money.
And as they lodge their 2018-19 tax return, they can know that’s there largely because of us.
It’s cash in hand.
It’s a $14 billion instant boost to the economy – instant indeed, with more than $3 billion of the tax cuts having already reached bank accounts before the end of July.
And by 2024-25, 94 per cent of Australians will pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar personal income tax.
That only happens because of a Coalition Government.
Small business tax rates are at their lowest since 1940. Imagine that, since 1940. It’s a long long time age. They are legislated to fall further, to 25 percent in 2021-22. This particularly helps regional small business.
Interest rates remain low, while superannuation returns continue to average better than five per cent per year.
Our vision for regional Australians extends well beyond getting their taxes down and financial sector reform.
We understand the reality that regional Australia will face economic headwinds, particularly as it affects us the most, market fluctuations.
As a farmer, Black Jack McEwen lived through the butter price crash of the mid-1920s. This may not sound overly severe – until we recognise that Britain was a long way away, Australia’s dominant export market and butter was a prime commodity. Sir John recounted that around 1925: (quote) –
‘When I first bought a herd of dairy cows the price of butter fat was as high as two shillings nine pence a pound. It fell to one and three a pound, then to six pence or seven pence.’
A century ago Britain was a financial lifeline for Australian farmers, but as transport links improved and global living standards rose, we have diversified our markets. But it seems as though we’ve come the full circle. In 2019 we have opened negotiations on a bilateral trade deal with….Britain!
Black Jack would be proud.
Our new era trade arrangements are a crucial buffer against global economic headwinds – diversifying our markets, making sure it’s an investment in our future, against the worst of trade shocks in the future – we’re buffering against that.
Just last week we found Australia is enjoying our first Current Account surplus in 44 years – 44 years, imagine that - in the June quarter, driven in good part by exports of iron ore and coal. Again I say thank you Matt for what you are doing in that regard; thank you Mark Coulton for what you are doing in the trade portfolio.
Yes, rural exports are affected by this tough drought, we all know that, but with strong demand for minerals we have delivered that trade surplus, 44 years on – and the drought will end, we know that; it will rain.
Budget, trade – let’s get used to using the word “surplus”! It would not happen under a Labor Government. They haven’t produced a Budget surplus - seriously - since 1989. There’s one Senator, at least one, who was born after that, and she’s on our side.
A strong export performance helps drive living standards for all Australians. At the same time, we are working to keep downwards pressure on costs for households and businesses – costs such as electricity.
Just this week, the Australian Energy Update 2019 has shown that energy productivity has improved by 20 per cent over the past decade as the emissions intensity of the economy continues to fall, while electricity prices fell in the June Quarter 2019 to their lowest level since September 2017. There’s more to do, obviously, but it’s a good start. It is encouraging.
The Update shows coal, oil and natural gas continue to provide 94 per cent of Australia’s primary energy needs. Development of renewable energy sources is important but once again we have a reality check – Labor’s irresponsible renewable energy targets would only mean more uncertainty and less reliability. And now you have Joel Fitzgibbon wanting to reintroduce a carbon tax. I’ll sort him out.
Friends, the new vision for regional Australia revolves heavily around infrastructure – the right infrastructure that keeps pace with the needs of today and tomorrow.
It’s a vision for getting people home sooner and safer. It’s a vision for getting product to market quicker, more efficiently, at less cost. This can be done - it is being done - it will be done.
Inland Rail is a standout element of our record-setting $100 billion investment pipeline in infrastructure. Mark (Coulton) and I recently stood at the site near Parkes of the North-West Connection which now links Inland Rail to the interstate east-west line from Sydney to Perth providing a vital connection for the freight industry.
As we speak, freight trains are preparing to run on this new line. The Inland Rail will be capable of moving freight up and down that 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce at a rate of saving of $76 per tonne. The Inland Rail was predicated on a saving of $10 per tonne. So imagine the savings for reginal businesses, for regional farmers, when it’s going to be $76 per tonne as assessed by the independent CSIRO.
As with Inland Rail, as with Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird) Airport – we have the chance, indeed the mandate, to cut through decades of talk and inactivity. We’re acting. That’s what we’re doing. That’s because we’re Nationals. That’s because we’re LNP. That’s because we get on with the job.
A $10 billion injection will transform the Bruce Highway. I know how important that is for our Queensland friends, to cut that road toll.
Duplication of the Pacific Highway, not that long ago something of a pipe dream, is nearing completion as Pat Conaghan presses the case for the long-awaited Coffs Harbour bypass and Kevin Hogan delivers with the Government on 155 kilometres of new roadway between Woolgoolga and Ballina. The Pacific Highway duplication will stretch 657 kilometres, completed next year. By then, the roadway will cut the travel time between Sydney and Brisbane by two and a half hours!
Regional airports are coming of age. By boosting regional airport investment by up to $100 million, and I know Sharpie will appreciate this, we are making sure regional people and their communities get the infrastructure and services they deserve for business, leisure, health and education needs.
During the campaign we announced $2 million for an instrument landing system in Mildura. In the scheme of things it doesn’t sound like a lot of money; it isn’t a lot of money, but Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence called the investment
“…probably the biggest investment in Mildura’s future there has ever been”.
Well done, Anne. I tried to tell her you don’t need it, it won’t be necessary, but she kept pestering me because that is what a good advocate for something that is vital infrastructure does. Again I say well done Dr Webster.
Regional communities have the right to quality, reliable communications infrastructure. Connectivity is a key to business growth. Good communications mean our regional small businesses can compete on domestic and international markets; good communications connect people, they connect communities across Australia. Indeed they save lives.
We’ve invested heavily to tackle mobile phone black spots. I know this was started probably under Fiona Nash; I appreciate Bridget (McKenzie) kept the kettle boiling and Mark Coulton is now – along with so many other things – doing great work in this, rolling out vital connectivity: More than 1,000 mobile phone towers already either promised or installed. There’s more to do. We’re doing just that.
Ladies and gentlemen, as with visionary works such as Inland Rail and Western Sydney Airport, water resources have long been debated – but now, now is action time.
As I highlighted in the election campaign, the Government is establishing a National Water Grid Authority – to take out the politics out of the debate and to insert the science, to break through talk and to begin serious water security for a growing Australia in the 21st Century.
Labor blocked our $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund when it came to Parliament last year. Yes, they blocked it. This Government has taken the Fund back into Parliament post-election; it’s been tough but we’ve done it. It is good policy. It will build it into a $5 billion Fund yielding $100 million a year in perpetuity to make sure that we have the drought resilience and the preparedness.
And we have David Littleproud as a Minister sitting around the Cabinet table specifically talking about drought, all the time. I acknowledge the work that Barnaby (Joyce) has done for drought and recognise the fact that his electorate like so many others is really crippled by this ongoing prolonged dry spell.
Last year we injected a further $500 million into the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, taking it way beyond a billion dollars.
And now the National Water Grid - our commitment during this year’s election campaign - will open up a brave and bold new era.
Today I am proud to officially announce the new National Water Grid Authority will start on 1 October.
This is ground-breaking. Literally!
It’ll bring together world-class scientists, water experts and most importantly take on board local engagement, local input, to take the petty-politics out of building dams, out of building water infrastructure, I say it again and again: It’s been far too long wince we’ve built a major dam in this country. Perhaps it goes way back in 1987, Split Rock near Tamworth.
Subject to necessary approvals, and we are fast-tracking those, This Government will put a shovel in the ground before Christmas on a new dam. We’ll be digging holes on Emu Swamp Dam in Queensland’s Granite Belt very soon. I look forward to going there with David (Littleproud) to do just that.
Anybody else who wants to come along, bring a shovel: We’ll get the thing done, David. We’re not here to muck around. We are not. The farmers out there are hurting. They are struggling. They are carting water to survive.
This National Water Grid Authority will make sure that in the future there will be water available for when the going gets tough again.
We know drought is a sadly part of Australian life.
This is about security.
Doctor Bradfield knew that 81 years ago. In 1938, he designed what we today know as the Bradfield Scheme – an ambitious water infrastructure plan using a system of hydraulic dams, pumps and pipes. We are developing our plan for the 21st Century.
This is what the National Water Grid is all about.
Emu Swamp Dam is a prime example of action underway, having reached agreement with the Queensland Government – it means 700 new full-time jobs with 135 during construction, and injecting $67.8 million into the local economy – a superb return on an investment of $24 million by local farmers. Consider that: local farmers backed themselves, took the risk, took the plunge to put $24 million into a dam for themselves. I mean, that’s taking a risk; that’s backing yourself; and if they are prepared to do that that is why we have put up $42 million for the dam and another $5 million for the enabling roads.
Emu Swamp Dam is a 12,000 megalitre rock-fill clay core dam near Stanthorpe in the granite belt of Queensland. I commend Brent Finlay and all the others who have backed this project: locals, good locals, good people who are getting there thanks to the LNP and The Nationals.
We’re backing them. Emu Swamp dam will increase water availability in the region by 40 per cent, providing 3,900 megalitres of high reliability water for irrigators. The irrigators are very committed to this project and we’re backing them all the way.
And of course we have work underway on Central Queensland’s much-needed Rookwood Weir - just in case you didn’t think I was going to mention it, Michelle - before this year is out.
But we must – all of us, federal, states and territories – we must get serious about replicating this type of action across the nation. The National Water Grid will open up our huge national infrastructure funding effort to deliver real results. So whether it’s the west or whether it’s the east, we’re going to build dams. Our generation will be seen as the one which kicked in and which delivered!
I intend to be known as the Nationals’ Leader who builds dams.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have the chance to make a great Australia greater still.
Like so many in this room, I recall growing up in a society rich with memories of vibrant rural industry, of good schooling with dedicated teachers, of a wide range of local businesses and services, and a society where people stood by each other. You know, in rural Australia we still have that. It’s still very vibrant. It’s still a good place to do business. And there’s great hope, there’s great opportunity in our country areas. We know that. And that’s why we want to make that even greater still.
I want to see more people in work, more job vacancies filled, so we maximise our economic and social wellbeing across the regions. I know Bridget wants to go on that journey with me as well. We and our National Party team – we want to make sure that our regions are the best that they can be. We want to maximise that potential in the country areas. – because our people want it, they expect it, they demand it and you know what, they jolly well deserve it.
It’s another reason why the current Budget invests more than half a billion dollars into skills development, to ensure that those young people - if they want an apprenticeship, if they want a trade - then we are backing them all the way. I’ve always said a TAFE Certificate, an apprenticeship, is worth every bit as much as a tertiary degree, and we are a Government that is going to make sure we back those young people all the way.
It’s the kind of practical work by this Government to help secure our nation’s future.
I want us to work to build a regional Australia which upholds traditional Australian values of a right to work, a right to farm, a right to own a home, a right to run a business and a right to live comfortably in their community.
That’s why we’re delivering decentralisation and immigration to specifically fill community needs – all while ensuring Australia’s border security rules remain strong and effective, which is no easy task after the chaotic years of Labor.
Effective rural health services are a fundamental right, particularly a full range of mental health initiatives including Headspace, reaching into our communities and offering crucial back-up and support.
The Murray Darling Medical School - a $95 million investment including $74 million of Australian Government funding - is making sure that we get that end-to-end training for doctors who will then – as the statistics prove – stay in the bush, because they will fall in love with somebody from the bush, they will fall in love with bush communities, because they will know there is not only a need out there, there’s also a dollar to be made.
It’s not just Government - movements such as the Rural Doctors’ Network are making huge advances, for example in ensuring their own health professionals are well equipped to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
The Liberal and Nationals Government is not frightened of breaking new ground. People on the Cashless Debit Card in current trial sites are receiving 20 per cent of their welfare payment in their usual bank account and 80 per cent of their welfare payment on the card which cannot be used to withdraw cash, gamble or purchase alcohol or drugs.
This is a bit controversial. We know that. But the Cashless Debit Card is not punitive. The trial is testing whether reducing the amount of cash available in a community will reduce the overall harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug misuse while at the same time encouraging personal responsibility and financial management.
Now the evidence is there for all to see. The Member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, reports that trials in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay show the youth unemployment dropped in 12 months up to May this year from 28 per cent to 18.1 per cent. That’s the youth jobless; the overall jobless rate by almost 10 per cent in a 12-month period. Now that is actually getting things done. That is good outcomes. It’s positive.
If you are going to build a future, the central ask is building the right infrastructure.
As I said, we’ve got $100 billion of infrastructure that we’re rolling out right across the nation.
And infrastructure is crucial for cutting the road toll. We all know somebody who has either been permanently hurt or indeed has lost their life in a road accident. We want to make sure that this is prevented. We of course are always working towards zero.
I want to commend the work that Llew O’Brien is doing, a former police officer who far too many times had to do that awful death knock. I know he has campaigned for more funding for the Bruce; I know he has delivered Section D, Cooroy to Curra. I know how much that meant to him. He’s also heading up a new Parliamentary Committee to make sure that we address the road toll and that that is linked in very much with our infrastructure spend.
We have the Bruce Highway, we have many other highways which need to be funded, and we’re doing just that.
Under Labor, Commonwealth infrastructure spending averaged $6 billion a year. Today, well, it’s more than $10 billion a year.
And our efforts are already showing - 280 major projects under construction or development. The Toowoomba Bypass: What a great and phenomenal project that was. It opened just last Sunday. That’s what the National Party does: We fight for better services for the bush and we deliver.
Our work alongside the Liberal Party is a powerful force for good. And I make this clear: Scott Morrison is a Prime Minister who gets it and is delivering - not just for now but for the long term. I said during the election campaign that given the opportunity he can and will be one of the great Prime Ministers of the modern-day era – and he’s already showing just that.
Of course The Nationals are fiercely independent. We’re two Parties, Liberals and The Nationals, but we have a united vision for a better nation, just like it was in Black Jack and Artie Fadden’s day, just as we stood our ground in the most recent campaign on the issues of preferences – not easy, quite controversial: We stood our ground; we saw what we thought was right for our Party; we stood up; we did it; we acted and the results speak for themselves.
We have some amazing opportunities ahead of us around the Cabinet table.
As Nationals’ Leader I am constantly moving around the States and the Territories, sometimes multiple States in a day. All of us in the National Party Room are hearing people’s needs, what they want, what they deserve, what they expect, and we’re acting accordingly.
That’s why no-one should be surprised at the depth of support for the vision and the agenda we have laid down. The pre-election naysayers, the pollsters, the lefties, Twitter – well, they all got it wrong.
We don’t listen to the noisy bubble. We are governing for the silent majority, those quiet Australians; we’re getting it done because we know that’s the right and responsible thing to do.
It’s why we will pursue this vision to:
- Fill job vacancies we have now, and create more jobs in country areas in future
- Strengthen the finances of households and businesses and farmers
- Build the infrastructure, particularly water storage infrastructure whether it’s pipes, weirs, and most particularly dams; and
- Deliver better, more easily accessible services in the bush, from mental health to higher education.
The Nationals are dependable, we’re tough, we’re consistent, and that’s what you have to be to deliver 100 years of service to our nation.
And we’re just getting started. A hundred years and the next hundred and the next hundred after that, we will be there to fight for regional Australians. We will be there to fight for those legacies of our great people.
We will be there because people like Tim Fischer – they stood up when it was necessary to be counted and they delivered.
We have a great track record, and we are going to build on that.
Finally, on indulgence, I just wanted to thank my wife Catherine and family for all the support they have given me.