The Senate First Speech, Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (17:03):
Thank you, Mr President. In rising to give my first speech, I am deeply humbled and greatly honoured that Western Australian voters have elected me to the Senate—not once, but twice. It is a privilege and a heavy responsibility bestowed on very few Australians, and I extend my warmest congratulations to all other new senators. This new Senate, like all that have preceded us, presents significant challenges, but it is also a fresh opportunity to work together in the long- term national interest. While optimistic about the future of our federation, I am neither blind to the challenges confronting us, nor unwilling to tackle them. As is tradition in a first speech, I will share with you my story and how it will shape my approach as the 91st senator and the 16th woman from Western Australia.
First and foremost, I am both a passionate Western Australian and a proud Australian—two different, but not inconsistent identities. I have much to be thankful for: being born in Perth in the decade I was; for the close, supportive and loving family I have; for my partner and for the many friends who have supported me along the way. I am also grateful for my wise and generous mentors and for the opportunities they have encouraged me to pursue, both here and overseas —particularly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, countries I have close ties to and great affection for. I have much to pay forward.
I arrive in this place after diverse and rewarding careers in politics, in government, in our Army and in industry. I graduated from St Brigid’s College in the Perth Hills, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. But at 19 I enlisted in the Army Reserves, and no one was more surprised than my parents. I had found my first great passion in life. I am a very proud reservist, and 30 years of service has shaped me in innumerable ways. I would not change a day of it—even the toughest ones, when I arrived home, dirty, exhausted and tested beyond what I thought I could endure.
Like thousands of other reservists, I have quietly and seamlessly blended my military skills into civilian life. As young Army officers, we are taught critical- thinking skills; to analyse problems and recommend solutions. You never take a problem forward without having options to address it. The Army also taught me how to plan, manage and lead teams to deliver results. As I got older and more confident, I learnt how to lead as an individual, as me, and as a woman. These military skills served me well as a young electorate officer in Midland in the early 1990s, working for former federal parliamentarians Fred Chaney and Judi Moylan. Fred, it is wonderful to see you here today. Both Fred and Judi taught me much about politics, but most of all I learnt from them that politics is about people and about compassion.
Later, as chief of staff to Chris Ellison, the Minister for Justice and Customs during one of our most challenging times in government—9/11, the Bali bombings and the Tampa—I experienced the best and the worst of humanity. My resilience was tested throughout this time, and to the day I die I will never forget what I saw, what I heard and what I smelt. It was at the Bali hospital, where Australians were lying in the morgue, that I came to truly understand that those who desire to destroy democracy, do not respect our national compassion. Instead, they ruthlessly exploit it. I now know compassion has to be balanced by strength and by decisiveness.
Coming into the Senate on the 70th birthday of the Liberal Party, I have reflected on why I am a Liberal and the values that continue to shape me. I joined the Liberal Party at university in the late 1980s and, somewhere between letterbox dropping and doorknocking, I had found my philosophical roots and my second great passion in life. I also found lifelong friendships, some of whom are in the chamber today. Over time, I have found policy making becomes easier when you have clear philosophical and moral principles to guide you.
I am a product of a family that has always worked hard for their successes. As the granddaughter, daughter and sister of hardworking and enterprising West Australians, I have experienced what it takes to start, restart and grow businesses big and small. I understand, therefore, that governments do not generate national wealth; productive and competitive free markets do. I believe in enabling initiative, competition and productivity, not in killing it through protection, subsidies and red tape. I believe we must legislate sparingly and wisely so as not to impede the majority of hardworking Australians who are doing the right thing. I believe governments must provide equality of opportunities, not seek equality of outcomes. I believe in the principle of freedom through the law, but I also understand that in a democracy, freedoms are never fully free, so we must all be eternally vigilant to ensure their protections and limit their restrictions.
I bring to the Senate many different participatory roles in our democracy. I have experienced our system of government from many perspectives. In recent years, I have mentored political leaders from new and troubled democracies, including Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have been inspired and forever changed by their stories and their courage in fighting for what we take for granted. In contrast, our Federation was born out of talk, not war. Our nation is a testament to what can be achieved peacefully and with an enduring spirit of co-operation and compromise. The extensive deliberations and compromises of our own founding fathers delivered us an enduring and robust Federation, but not a perfect one. Having witnessed democracies overseas succeed and sometimes fail, I now understand that there is no perfect democracy or perfect constitution. It is up to all participants, and especially us in this place, to make the rules we have work and to find a way to come back together after conflict and division.
I was aghast but ultimately not surprised to read the 2012 Lowy poll which found that 40 per cent of all Australians and 60 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds did not believe democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. Think about that. This is a clear message to us all that, even in times of extended peace and prosperity, the health of any democracy, including our own, is neither self-evident nor self-sustaining, and we must never take it for granted.
For a healthy democracy, Australians must also have confidence in the integrity of our democratic institutions. Elections must be run professionally and cleanly so that, while some Australians, and even some in this place, may not like the outcome, they acceptit.TheWASenateelectionrerunshouldnever have happened, but it did. In the end, our democratic processes worked and we had a second election, but we do not yet have any guarantee the same problems will not happen again, and that should be of concern to us all.
To maintain and strengthen our own democracy, we must first truly understand it. President Franklin Roosevelt said:
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
I believe all Australians must leave school with a firm grasp of our democratic system so that they are prepared to engage as active and informed participants.
I do not believe this is the situation today. Therefore, it is imperative we reintroduce more comprehensive civics education to the national curriculum, and I will be fighting for this to occur. My good friends in Bhutan have a wonderful program called Democracy in our Place, which we can learn much from. Ironically, it has been developed with the support of the Australian Electoral Commission.
The realisation that I am only two generations away from colonial Australia and the reign of Queen Victoria has helped me put our own constitutional history in context and current political events into perspective. The challenges we face today in this place are far from unique. My grandfather, Alfred George Reynolds, a Gallipoli veteran, was born in the colony of Queensland in 1894. A hundred years ago this year, he enlisted in the AIF to serve king and country. Later in his life, he too decided to contribute further to his country as a member of the WA Legislative Assembly.
Democracy in my grandfather’s youth was not as we know it today. Not all adult Australians had the right to vote. They were far more self-reliant and had less exposure to politicians and far fewer expectations of government. The universal right to vote was not achieved until my parents’ generation, when the expectations of the role of government increased, as did the acceptance of more restrictions on individual freedoms.
Over my generation, the expectations of Australians, particularly in relation to welfare and entitlements, has continued to increase, while options on how we can pay for them have often become inconsequential afterthoughts. The truth is that for every government action, large or small, there is an opportunity cost— something to be foregone, a new tax or burdening future generations with our debt. So, before any of us in this place propose new spending programs, I believe it isbeholdenonusalltoalsoprovideoptionsonhowwe pay for it. When we do not or when we block reforms to reduce debt, we increase public cynicism and distrust in us all.
While the role of the Senate has evolved, it rightly remains a states House. The slogan ‘One People, One Destiny’ used by two of our founding fathers, Henry Parkes and Edmund Barton, resonated across the Australian colonies as it was a message of sovereign cooperation, not integration.
I believe it is time we celebrate and encourage the diversity of our states and territories, and approach our Federation with a new respect and maturity. It was the promise of collective and stronger Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, rail standardisation and the abolition of intercolonial duties and excises that got the colonies over the line to deliver Federation. Critically, the guarantees that a sufficient revenue funding base would be available for all states to meet their constitutional obligations got Western Australia over the line—just. It was also the prime motivation for the 1933 attempt to withdraw from the new nation.
At Federation, it was predicted that only 25 per cent of taxation revenue would be required by the new Commonwealth government. But as Sir Robert Menzies observed in the mid-1960s, this was ‘a starry-eyed expectation that the new Commonwealth Parliament and government would be cheap’. Sir Robert was right. Today, total revenue raised is split 75-25 per cent in the Commonwealth’s favour. The simple truth is that since Federation we have never provided a sufficient revenue base for the states and the Commonwealth to both meet the increasing levels of services expected by Australians. WA’s projected per capita share of GST will fall from 45 per cent last financial year to just 11 per cent in three years. Neither is this just, nor was it the intent of our founding fathers. The world does not stand still and neither can we. Long-term economic growth depends on all states doing better—not by slowing down the sectors of the economy that are doing well.
I support the concept of competitive federalism, as all states possess competitive advantages. There is simply no excuse for any state not to thrive, I believe, it is merely the lack of political leadership to innovate and transform. I welcome the Prime Minister’s white paper on Reform of the Federation and look forward to contributing to it, together with my colleagues from Western Australia.
On reflection, my own professional career, in one way or another, has always been about change. Change in any context, particularly in politics, is always challenging and never just happens, as we are all, by nature, comfortable with the status quo. Woodrow Wilson once said, ‘If you want to make enemies, propose change.’ Despite the difficulties, change since Federation has been continuous and profound, but it never just happens.
No modern institution can expect to meet the future needs of Australia if it does not fully realise and equally utilise the talents of both men and women. Over two years ago, I was a member of the Chief of Army’s advisory committee on gender diversity. I admired the leadership and honesty it took to identify and start addressing, previously unrecognised unconscious bias and barriers to women advancing in the military. These biases and barriers are now obvious to me in politics and in many other professions. I strongly believe that now is the time to evolve and mature our national approach and narrative on gender. I will be a very active participant in this important change process.
The Department of Defence is one of our original and great departments of state. I have experience of our defence forces like few others in this place today. While some may see me as a supporter of our men and women in uniform—and I am proud to say that I am—I am no apologist. History shows us that while our defence forces have maintained high public regard, unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of the department. Since 1902, the department has been subject to almost continuous criticism, review and reform as successive governments have expected them to do too much with too little.
Thousands of Australian service men and women have lost their lives and been wounded in the line of duty. Since 2002, 40 soldiers have lost their lives and 260 have been wounded on operations. For that, we all owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. But what we can do is ensure their families are always well supported. Today, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and senior members of the opposition attended the funeral of Lance Corporal Todd Chidgey, a brave and respected soldier. I know the thoughts of all of us today are with his family.
As the Army Adjutant General, I was responsible for assuring the safety and security processes for our service men and women and I came to more fully appreciate how the policies we consider in this place have a real-life impact. It is our responsibility to ensure that the department supporting our service personnel does so as efficiently and as compassionately as possible. Leading three large change projects in Army also showed me that public sector reform, while challenging, is possible. As a new member of the Defence Sub-Committee, I look forward to protecting the interests of our men and women in uniform. I will also passionately pursue genuine departmental reform to ensure we have a capable military force for the 21st century.
As a service woman and a granddaughter of a Gallipoli veteran, I am delighted that we are commemorating past and present military service through the Centenary of ANZAC program. I look forward to participating in many of these events in Western Australia, not just in Albany—where my grandfather embarked in the first convoy—but also in the many small country towns which lost a generation of their sons. The Centenary is also a wonderful opportunity for us all to learn more about our history, our system of government and our own individual roles within it.
None of us succeed in life on our own. My thanks to the people of Western Australia for the faith they have placed in me to represent them. There is nothing more important than your interests. I am deeply indebted to so many who have made it possible for me to serve in this place.
It is simply not possible to mention you all by name today, but that in no way diminishes my gratitude to each and every one of you.
On re-election night, when the result was too close to call, I said no member or supporter of our party should wonder if there was anything more we could have done because there was simply not.
As totally inadequate as it is, I say thank you to all Liberal Party members and supporters. You play a critical role in our democracy.
I especially acknowledge the contributions of all our wonderful Liberal women, who willingly rallied a second time to support the Senate team. A special thanks to my friends Heather, Danielle, Sally and Robyn.
Liberal women such as Carole, Sara and Anita from the Brand Division, who are here today—you are truly the heart and soul of our party.
To all my colleagues in Hasluck, your support and friendship mean a great deal. To my good friend Ken Wyatt, Anna and your extraordinary team I say thank you. You continue to show us all how it is done.
To my fellow re-elected Senate candidates, Senators David Johnston and Michaelia Cash, and my fellow candidate, Slade Brockman, thank you for your assistance and very generous support during a quite challenging time.
To our strong coalition partners, the Nationals, your support in the Senate re-election was invaluable.
To Ben Morton and Brian Loughnane, my heartfelt appreciation to you and your teams of hard working and talented professionals.
To my parents Laith and Jan, you have loved, supported and raised me and my brothers Andrew and Cameron with strong Christian values.
You have provided us with diverse and rich life experiences which prepared us well for life’s challenges. I hope to make you proud.
To my partner Robert, my brothers and my sisters-in- law, Shirene and Charlotte, I simply could not have done it without your support. Thank you.
And to my nieces Octavia and Anastasia, you bring light, happiness and love to my life, as do my God children.
To my friends, you have been there for me the whole way. I have always appreciated your support, wise counsel and the occasional reality check.
To all my coalition colleagues in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, I simply say thank you for everything you have done.
To my predecessor, Alan Eggleston, you leave this place with great respect and an enduring legacy. Alan, on behalf of us all, I thank you for your service and wish you well for the next chapter of your life.
I now have the privilege of serving on the advisory council of my old school, St Brigid’s College. I welcome Ayla Irvine-Thom and her father Russell here today. Ayla, I hope you can take a message back to our school that politics and what happens here do matter a great deal.
While I have worked in this building for many years, I only now understand just how different it is to serve in this chamber. My sincere thanks to you Mr President, to the Clerk of the Senate and to the Black Rod and your officers for your warm and generous induction.
Mr President, we are a great nation, capable of achieving truly amazing things, when we work together.
While there is no perfect system of government, it is our responsibility to work towards it.
Sir Charles Court said, ‘Whatever we want for Australia, we should look for in ourselves. We must all lead by example, as we cannot expect Australians to do what we are not willing to do ourselves.’
Australian voters have made a clear choice. Let us all in this place respect their decision. Let the elected government govern, and trust Australian voters to be the judge at the next election.
As my Indonesian friends wisely say, ‘Tak kenal, maka tak sayang’—if we do not know each other, then we will not care for each other.
I know we will find a way to work together to restore public confidence in our democracy and in this place.