Maiden Speech

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

In a world weighed down with rules, regulations and red tape, it is an honour to move this motion and be part of these proceedings which rely on convention, tradition and precedent. This simple act reflects so much of what makes our nation great.

I move this motion today having sworn my allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen—testament to the stability provided by our constitutional monarchy and the Judeo-Christian principles and traditions that have made us one of the most respected, respectful and peaceful nations on earth. This process has been guided by convention. I move this motion as a new backbencher from the government. I pay tribute to the steadiness that the Liberal, National and Labor parties have provided to our parliament and governments over the past century. We, on this side at least, will work to see that return. And I move this motion in a place that stands as its own uniquely Australian version of the Westminster parliamentary tradition. In these uncertain times we should stick with the institutions and customs that have served us so well and have made us the stable, free and fair society that we are.

I appreciate that some of my colleagues may hold different views on several of these matters. But that is the great beauty of belonging to the broad church of the Liberal Party, where diversity of opinion is encouraged. In the spirit of our party's founder, Sir Robert Menzies, the conservative, classical liberal and moderate liberal strands of our party are equally celebrated and heard.

I am particularly honoured to be elected by the people of Boothby in what is a historic year for reasons of both public and personal anniversaries. My time in this place will see many more. It is two decades since my predecessor, Dr Andrew Southcott, was elected to this place, and I pay tribute to his service. Dr Southcott and his wife, Kate, provided great encouragement to me as a candidate.

2016 marks 35 years since another former Member for Boothby, Steele Hall, was elected to this place. Mr Hall, a former Premier of my state, and his wife, Joan Hall, a former minister, offered me tireless support. Indeed, I doubt there is another person in this place who had their campaign office vacuumed by a former Premier!

The electorate of Boothby stretches from the beautiful Mitcham Hills to Adelaide's best coastline. My connection with the area dates back a century, but it so very nearly did not. One hundred years ago this month, my great grandfather, then just 18, was a member of the 48th Battalion that narrowly survived action at Pozieres. It strikes me as somewhat a miracle that Private Roy Gambrell survived, as his battalion faced the heaviest artillery barrage Australian troops had ever experienced, in a place Charles Bean observed is 'more deeply sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth'.

In his address yesterday, His Excellency the Governor-General reminded us of more anniversaries of Australian sacrifice, as did the Prime Minister this morning. I will continue to commemorate the service of Australian service men and women to our nation with my friends at the Vietnam Veterans Federation at Warradale, the Blackwood and Colonel Light Gardens RSLs, and the Women's Memorial Playing Field Trust as we approach further centenaries of World War I, the 50th anniversaries of Coral-Balmoral in Vietnam and the 75th anniversary of the Bangka Strait massacre of Australian nurses during World War II.

We can also honour our service people in this place every day. It is a simple act to stand above this chamber on the grassed roof, look across to the War Memorial and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice so many made to protect the freedoms we enjoy. The greatest responsibility we have as representatives of the Australian people is to ensure our nation and our friends abroad remain safe and free. We owe this to generations past who gave their lives for our freedom. We owe this to each and every Australian living today. And we owe this to those Australians yet to be born.

To my mind at least, freedom is the simplest way to explain what it means to be a Liberal. During my campaign in Boothby I participated in a debate at Mercedes College where students asked us why they should vote for us. My campaign team had given me some very sound advice, outlining our agenda for jobs and growth, innovation and science, the defence industry and helping small business. I am sorry to say to my team, I went off script; excellent though my script was and proud though I am of our plan to restore economic certainty and security to our nation. Instead, I told those thoughtful young people that I would ask them to vote for me and for the Liberal Party for one simple reason: because we believe in freedom.

We want people to have the freedom to choose their path in life through education, enterprise and endeavour. We want them to succeed, not because of gender or skin colour, but because of merit. We want people to have the freedom to speak without fear and to defend their ideas and their ideals, not with violence or threats or court cases, but through robust and respectful debate. We want people to have the freedom to build a business or choose a job that gives them self-respect, and we want them to provide for their family, their community and those in need here and abroad.

Freedom is a key part of the story of my free-settled state of South Australia, which celebrates its 180th birthday this year. I am proud to say my mother's mother was a Kelly, not of the Ned Kelly colourful-criminal kind but of the staunch-Methodist honest-farmer Kelly kind who freely settled in South Australia in 1838 and produced one of our most important thinkers, reformers and effective public communicators, the 'Modest Member', Bert Kelly.

My mother's father, Alex Ling, and his identical twin brother, Roy, survived active service in the Second World War. They built their farm near Robe through sheer hard work and a bit of good luck. The Flints, also family farmers, arrived in South Australia a few years after the Kellys, in 1840; although, being Flints, we like to argue the specifics of this arrival.

What we do know is that we have been farming and active in the community around Kingston and Cape Jaffa since the late 1800s. So, when I promote and defend Australian family farmers and farming in this place at every opportunity, it is not just because my electorate of Boothby is home to one of the world's most important and prestigious agricultural research centres at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. It is because I come from generations of South Australian farmers who know what it is to run small businesses at the mercy of government, banks and markets, and that is before we even start on the weather—or for that matter the modern day scourge of environmental and animal activism, the product of a country so clever, fortunate and wealthy it does not know need or want, hunger or famine, pestilence or plague.

Those of us who grew up on farms know what it is to learn by doing. We know how to care for our environment, livestock and crops. We know the responsibility of feeding our nation. We also know from bitter experience the damage governments can do. If I was to nominate a single person who made me a Liberal it would not be my parents or John Howard or Robert Menzies or Margaret Thatcher. It would be Paul Keating.

In the early 1990s, when my parents were doing their best to run their business and provide for their four children, we had Paul Keating's 'recession we had to have'; record-high interest rates and—at that stage at least—record Labor debt. To top it all off, Labor abolished the floor price for wool without any transitional industry assistance. I learnt three things from this time: Labor can never be trusted to balance the books, they cannot be trusted to look after our farmers, and governments should not interfere in our markets. I fear that by allowing state-owned foreign investment in our nation, we are once again allowing this to occur.

I mentioned learning by doing. Formal learning and education is of course important to me and forms a significant part of my story in Boothby. My father, uncle and aunt attended local schools. My great-grandmother Evelyn Gambrell, and my grandmother Gwenyth—whose calisthenics medal I am wearing today—taught at the Colonel Light Gardens Primary School for a combined 22 years. I am proud to say my brother John, his wife Catherine, my sister Belinda, her husband Josh and my youngest brother Simon's wife Rachel are all teachers too. I am also proud to say I studied at Flinders University in the heart of Boothby.

I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to the Tonsley-Flinders link rail project. I fought for this project in order to improve public transport for students, staff and patients, people travelling not just to the university but also to South Australia's second major hospital, Flinders Medical Centre. This project will create additional jobs so desperately needed in our state.

While I graduated from Flinders University with a law degree and am a fully qualified solicitor—though please do not hold this against me—it was my arts degree that has formed the basis of my very interesting career.

I was privileged to study politics and public policy under professors Dean Jaensch, Andrew Parkin and my long-suffering supervisor, Haydon Manning, who is here today. They gave me the skills and the inspiration to pursue a career in politics and policymaking. I wish more academics today were as balanced and kind as these professionals, who I cannot recall ever allowing their classes to be coloured with their own political views.

Little did I know it was the other strand of my arts degree—my studies in English and Australian literature— that would one day make me a columnist. I pay tribute to my Australian literature tutor, Kate Deller-Evans, who tragically passed away recently, and whose brother, John Deller, is a friend to many of us here. It was in Kate's class that I first encountered author Tim Winton, the man who inspired me to write my first column. Mr Winton's depiction of women in his books so angered me I put pen to paper!

The arts have been a theme throughout my columns because it is our artists, authors, filmmakers and songwriters who show us who we are. From the chop fat in the bottom of the pan in Peter Carey's Sydney based The Tax Inspector to our soldiers in the film Gallipoli and our shearers in Sunday Too Far Away; from Fred Williams's landscapes to Jeffrey Smart's cityscapes; and to bands like Cold Chisel and The Waifs who sing about our country from the city to the sea, we need those who tell our Australian stories and we should celebrate them more.

I must thank those who allowed me to tell my stories: editors and journalists Tom Switzer, Sam Weir, Anthony Johnson, David Pougher, Andrew Bolt and Tony Wright. But it was Sushi Das at The Age who gave me my first column and my confidence. I still wonder how she managed to get me published each fortnight in The Age!

The member for Barker, sitting next to me, encouraged me to take key roles in the Liberal Party, without which I doubt I would be here today as the first South Australian Liberal woman elected to the House of Representatives in 20 years. We need women and men working together to improve the representation of Liberal women in this place—or any other, for that matter. The reasons this is necessary for my party are laid out in the paper Gender and politics I co-authored last year with the Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre, Nick Cater. I credit Nick with convincing me that it was time to act if we want to improve our party's impressive record of electoral and governance success since Federation. It is now my task to convince our party.

Those who call for mandatory quotas fatally misunderstand the culture of our people. Change needs to be organic, and it needs to be encouraged from the grassroots up. Change also needs to occur in how we conduct ourselves, in this place and outside, on the issue of nationwide reform. Where significant attempts have been made in recent times on both sides, they have too often failed—in part, to quote from a Guns'n'Roses song, because of 'failure to communicate'. But the problem is not one of communication alone. We need academics, the media and our industry associations, like the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where I once worked, to debate, discuss and support the case for change.

It is a great honour to be elected as the member for Boothby and as a member in the Prime Minister's government. I am conscious, however, that it carries a heavy responsibility. Advancing our national prosperity and justice is the task to which we apply ourselves in this parliament. While we may disagree with those opposite on how to achieve that, some things are certain. We will not advance prosperity by deferring hard economic decisions. We will not help business to prosper by dodging the challenge of increasing productivity. We will not provide justice to future generations by leaving a burden of high debt. We advance justice by encouraging less dependence on the state. To borrow from Sir Robert Menzies, a government should be remembered not so much by:

… a debate won or an electoral victory gained as of a nation advanced in prosperity and justice.

I will move from the great Sir Robert Menzies to quote a great band from Boothby, the Hilltop Hoods: 'This life'—and the past year—'turned out nothing like I had planned.' It is thanks to the incredible support from a range of people that I am here. Mr Speaker, you are one of those. I want to congratulate you on your re-election to the role that you conduct with humility and grace. We share similar trajectories to this place, and I am grateful for your advice, friendship and support. There is no greater relief to a new candidate than having colleagues offer support, as you did, Mr Speaker, and as did the members for Barker, Kooyong, Warringah, Flinders, Robertson, Canning and Tangney; our chief government whip, the member for Forrest; former members Dr Brendan Nelson and Ross Cameron; and Senators Bernardi, Fawcett, Seselja and Paterson.

I thank my state colleagues Stephan Knoll, Sam Duluk, David Speirs and Corey Wingard, and former members Stan Evans and his wife, Barb, and the Hon. Legh Davis. I cannot thank my campaign manager, Sam Duluk, enough for his efforts and for making me and my many volunteers work harder every single day. My state Liberal Party president and friend, Mr Steve Murray, the ultimate volunteer, was instrumental to the campaign and to my maintaining my sense of humour. I thank our state director, Sascha Meldrum, Brendan Clark and my now office manager, Jane Johnston.

I thank all my incredible volunteers, but especially those who were there with me from the start: Helen and Saffron Ronson, Alexander Hyde, Jack Newton, Erin Murray, Leighton McDonald-Stuart, Ben Newell and Ben Hall. Thank you to Michael van Dissel, Malcolm Post and the finance team. Special thanks to Dr Peter Hendy, Greg and Marguerite Evans—who were so good to me in my time at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—Matthew, Charmaine, Sue and the late Chris Binns, Tony and Vicky Franzon, Peter and Jenny Hurley and my friend Nick Cater. Finally, I thank the Clerk of the House, Mr David Elder, and Ms Robyn McClelland for their help in the lead-up to today.

I thank my family and friends here today, particularly my parents, Evan and Glenys, who have been great role models to me in terms of hard work in their business, community and eating well. As dad says, 'If you're going to do a job, do it properly.' My best friend, Jane, and her parents, Keith and Vicky McBride, are cut from the same cloth, as is my uncle, Tim Flint, whose Westminster School bible I have with me here today. I cannot thank them enough for their support over the years.

Most of all, I am indebted to the people of Boothby. I am blessed to have been so warmly welcomed by groups across the electorate that I have not yet mentioned, including the Seacliff, Somerton and Brighton surf lifesaving clubs, the Sturt CFS brigade, the many Rotary clubs—including my own at Blackwood—the Onkaparinga Northern Community Forum, the Bedford Park Residents Association and the Flagstaff Community Centre. St Jude's Anglican Church, the Uniting Church at Brighton and Trinity Inner South, as well as the Blackwood and Trinity Baptist churches, have been generous with their friendship and time. Small business owners are the economic backbone of our community in Boothby, and I thank them for everything they do.

I serve at the pleasure of the people of Boothby and I will try to do my best for them every day. As the fourth generation of my family to have lived, worked, studied and volunteered in the electorate since my greatgrandparents settled in Claire Street, Lower Mitcham, in a modest war service home in 1920, the people of Boothby can trust that I have their very best interests at heart, because they are my own. Our task in this place is to protect what Menzies described as a great and special freedom: the freedom to do our best and to make that best better.