Maiden Speech

Tuesday 23rd December 2014

Deputy Speaker, my congratulations to you on your election to high office.

Winning Ripon took a large group of people a phenomenal effort over many months to achieve. I wish to thank members of the Liberal Party in Ripon, especially my electorate president, Graeme Sandlant; my treasurer Jim Cox; and my campaign manager, Neil Chamberlain. My thanks also to the oft-maligned team at 104, and those in the Ballarat office led by the state director, Damien Mantach, without whose professional efforts I would not be standing here today. My partner, Stephen Heard, has been magnificent. His common-sense response to whatever crisis unfolded never failed. His farmer practicality also saved the day numerous times on the campaign trail. Thank you for grounding me.

My journey to stand here as the member for Ripon has been some time in the making. It is no secret that I attempted preselection four times before finally securing it. It is no secret that I felt the calling of political life at an early age but struggled to attain it. My mother, Nancy Staley; late father, Bill; and sisters, Jane and Alexandra Staley, kept the faith for 30 years. I am so pleased you have been with me today to share this and so sorry Dad could not be. I know he would be as proud if not prouder than you are.
Beyond my birth family is the family of friends who have also been on this long journey with me. You have all believed in my potential, often when I no longer believed in it. And we have laughed and celebrated, cried and comforted each other through the triumphs and tribulations of our lives. For the Honourable David Davis and Margaret Fitzherbert in the other place, Joy Howley, Paul Price, John Roskam, Tony Snell, Marie Thornton and Daryl Williams, may there be much more to come.

Last, but by no means least, I thank and commit to the people of Ripon. To give me the honour of representing you, as the only Liberal to win a seat in 2014 that was formerly held by Labor, is without question the single greatest gift I have received. I promised you I would work for you, and here today as your representative I recommit to that promise. I know you will hold me to account, as is your right and duty.

The previous member for Ripon, the Honourable Joe Helper, described Ripon as ‘being the most fantastic group of people anybody has ever drawn an electoral boundary around’. I know Joe retains great affection for the people and the place he served for 15 years. And the boundaries of Ripon have changed substantially over the years; the seat has expanded, shrunk, been renamed, swallowed neighbours and been abolished and reinstated. From 1955 until 1972 the seat was renamed Hampden and held by Sir Henry Bolte, of whom I shall have somewhat more to say. The most recent redistribution concluded that ‘the essential character of Ripon was that it covered the old gold country of central western Victoria, and any changes to boundaries should not destroy this character’.

This month is the 160th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, a defining moment of Victorian history and a key to the essential development of Victorian democracy. The miners of Ballarat and the Ripon region faced what uprising leader Peter Lalor called a tyrannical government of unreasonable red tape, taxes and no political representation, and they demanded to be heard. After Eureka miners elected parliamentarians. They had local laws governing the goldfields, and the squattocracy began its inexorable and desirable decline. The lesson to government from Eureka is clear: individuals must have the right to go about their business without excessive tax or red-tape burdens.

We all bring personal credos to this place, and I have often thought I could do worse than to adopt Peter Lalor’s words as my motto: ‘If democracy means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical people or a tyrannical government, then I have ever been, I am still, and will ever remain, a democrat’.

Sixty-seven years ago almost to the day the then new MP for the seat of Hampden rose to his feet and began by saying, ‘I had no desire to make my maiden effort this side of Christmas, but on travelling in the country I find the fire danger is so great this year that those of us who represent country electorates must stress the importance of fire control and prevention’. I can only echo Sir Henry Bolte’s lament. Ripon is bone dry this year. The season has generally been poor, and in some parts has failed entirely. Farmers are carting water to stock, some daily, some weekly, at significant cost.

In Ripon, like other parts of rural Victoria, we are dependent on the Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers to fight the fires that come to a greater or lesser extent every year. The previous government opened 250 fire stations in four years, the largest single investment in rural fire brigades in Victoria’s history. During the election campaign I was fortunate to meet some of the dedicated volunteers at fire station openings. Some of these volunteers have clocked up 50 years of service—50 years of turnouts, fundraisers, burn-offs, meetings, training days away on strike teams, time away from family and farm business.

Volunteering is the heart of Victoria; it is our culture of individuals coming together in voluntary associations to undertake social, educational, religious and emergency services, as well as a myriad of other tasks that otherwise could not be done. Unnecessary regulation, certification and alienation of volunteers not only makes us economically poorer; it makes us culturally poorer by reducing the benefits of free association. I have long believed in the power of choirs, book clubs and churches to break down social, ethnic and political barriers. In these fraught times we need them more than ever.

Returning to Sir Henry’s then ‘maiden’ speech: he lamented that the chief limitation on the brigades was their lack of local control. I warn the new government about its plans to assert union control over the CFA. The effect of this will not be CFA fireys standing in polling booths in made-up costumes; it will be the quiet yet devastating resignation from the CFA of thousands of volunteers. As Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria said in advertisements on 26 November 2014, Labor policy ‘has the potential to destroy the CFA’. I call on the government to abandon this flawed attempt to pay off union mates.

I make this speech today as a new member of the opposition. This is the job the people of Victoria have given my party for four years. As a party, we will convince the people of Victoria that we are worthy of a different job in four years time—that of government. We must be bold in our thinking for Victoria. We must be forward-thinking and inclusive. We must, as Bolte said, ‘prove to the people of Australia that fewer controls will mean greater advancement’. It is not enough to believe; we must explain, persuade, prove. If we are to offer the people of Victoria the education, health care, environmental protection and infrastructure they need, we will need to both improve the taxation mix and challenge the role of government in service provision.

We need to think differently about regulation. Business models are transforming around us with profound disruptive potential and yet often the response is to protect existing operators through regulation, with recent fines of Uber drivers being an obvious example. Models such as Uber and Airbnb are today’s equivalent of Amazon or Foxtel. Regulators or parliamentarians will rarely, if ever, hear about the benefits consumers gain, but they will be bombarded by existing players highlighting potential risks, however small those risks might be. Many of those models are particularly suited to delivering new services into rural communities such as in Ripon. We never had a Borders bookstore. Airbnb opens up new tourism opportunities, and Foxtel significantly increased entertainment options. I will always stand with the consumer and will be at the forefront of urging my party to do so too.

Similarly we must be vigilant against business’s special pleadings for assistance. Every time government distorts markets through subsidy the losers are unsubsidised export-oriented businesses and consumers. Ripon is a major producer of both wool and grain. Farmers are totally exposed to global grain prices; yet they must pay domestic energy and other costs distorted by hidden subsidies.

I have talked about Bolte a lot, and that is because he represented much of today’s Ripon electorate. Ararat, where I live, was the centre of his electorate. However, there is another reason—a question of political style. As Barry Muir summed him up in Bolte from Bamganie:
“His attitude was that everything in politics was a test of strength, in one form or another. Bolte kept going. He met failure, but it did not defeat him. He took chances. If one idea failed, he tried another. He was not afraid to move. And everything he did was carried out with the knowledge that a large proportion of voters was opposed to everything he did or said.”

The people of Ripon have given me a job to do to represent them. The people of Victoria have made me part of the opposition for four years. My party has tasked me to carry its banner. I will take chances. If one idea fails, I will try another. I will keep going.