Maiden Speech on 10 September 1996
Mr ACTING SPEAKER
Order! Before I call the honourable member for North Sydney, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.
Mr HOCKEY (North Sydney) (4.55 p.m.)
I am in Canberra today because I want to make a contribution to the future of Australia. This passion for the future comes about from the personal contact that I have with the past.
It all happened around 80 years ago. On 31 October in 1917. One hour before sunset. Above the sounds of heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, you could hear the steady rhythm of horses hooves–800 tired and thirsty horses, ridden by 800 tired and thirsty men. This was the 4th Light Horse Regiment, hurtling through the smoke and dust towards the Turkish stronghold of Beersheba.
Logic, instinct, and every hint of self-preservation would have suggested that this was madness. Armed only with single-shot rifles, bayonets and knives, 800 boys on horses were no match for a heavily fortified town armed with cannons and machine-guns. Our leader, General Harry Chauvel, must have had this same thought. However, he had no choice but to infuse these young men with the belief that the future of the free world lay in their hands.
You know the rest of the story.
Against impossible odds, 800 young Australians helped change the course of the First World War. Their charge was more than courage. It was more than defiance against oppression. It was an act of pure faith in the future–and perhaps our finest illustration of that quality that we call the Australian spirit. The former Australian Prime Minister, George Reid, aptly described that spirit in this House in 1909 when he said:
“There is no country in the world where the people are less paralysed byreverence to the past. There are no people in the world who have fewer fears for the future.”
One might ask what relevance that charge on Beersheba has on the Australians of today. I feel proud to be able to stand here and tell you that its spirit can still be touched by every Australian. I feel proud to think that future generations can have that same defiant spirit surging through their veins.
And I am proud to be able to tell you that my grandfather recognised that spirit too. You see, he was in Beersheba not as an Australian, not even as a soldier, but as the deputy district commissioner rebuilding the town after the Turks had been driven out.
In many ways, Beersheba defines what it is like to be an Australian. To believe in yourself, to believe in the seemingly insurmountable, and to challenge the future.
Mr Acting Speaker, that future is all around us. The new millennium is approaching at a blinding pace and change is occurring exponentially. I suppose it is understandable for many that this change might be accompanied by growing uncertainty and angst.
After all, family life is under increasing social pressure. Long accepted practices and traditions are constantly being questioned. And the tools we use in our everyday lives are becoming more complex.
When you see toddlers playing hide and seek not in their backyards but on an Apple Mac and five-year-old schoolchildren with their feet swinging off the ground thumping away at the keyboard communicating with their friends by the Internet, you realise that things are no longer what they used to be.
Perhaps many of us have forgotten the lesson of Beersheba. That is why I come to this parliament with the inherent belief that the answers to the challenges of the future lie in modern liberalism.
In an age where closely held beliefs and political ideology are frequently scoffed at, I wish to place on record the principles of modern liberalism that I hold dear. These include, firstly, the recognition of the inalienable rights of the individual; secondly, a belief in parliamentary democracy; thirdly, a commitment to improve our society through reform; and, finally, equality of opportunity for all of our citizens.
The first principle which recognises the rights of the individual was expressed in 1689 by the father of liberalism, John Locke. He wrote that the very substance of government should be the protection of individual rights, including specifically the rights of life, liberty and property. The government’s role was to be the custodian for those rights and to protect the individuals in our community.
This right to individual growth manifests itself today in our free market economy and in our community’s respect for individual attitudes. For example, as a nation we encourage the creation of wealth and we respect free speech, freedom of expression and association.
However, along with these individual rights come some community responsibilities.
Despite the work of liberal and social philosophers such as Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Jean Jacques Rousseau, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the concept of social justice was introduced by John Dewey. He wrote that liberty is that secure release and fulfilment of personal potentialities which take place only in wide and manifold association with others.
As part of the privilege of enjoying our individual rights, we have an obligation to protect and enhance our community. That includes helping the disadvantaged, caring for the sick, speaking for the voiceless and protecting the weak.
The second principle of modern liberalism is a belief in parliamentary democracy. Although historically liberalism and democracy were never close bedfellows, modern liberals do have a genuine commitment to the parliamentary systems.
We believe in the Westminster system and all that comes with it, including making the executive more accountable to this parliament. A very good example of this is one of the first decisions of the Prime Minister (Mr Howard): that he, along with all other ministers, should attend every question time in this House. No more part-time responsibility; that is modern liberalism at work.
The third principle of modern liberalism is our belief in reform. Liberalism has traditionally steered a course between the extremism of the far Left and the reactionary conservatism of the far Right.
Liberalism is most comfortable when it is developing new ideas and setting new goals. It encourages us to nurture expression in areas like the theatre, music, dance and cinema. It encourages us to excel in sport through better training techniques and improved fitness. It encourages us to succeed in business with better work practices and innovative products.
Liberalism has a reformist zeal: to reach higher, to move faster and to grow stronger. This will deliver a society that the greatest Australian Liberal, Sir Robert Menzies, described as a community of lifters and not leaners.
The final finger on the hand of modern liberalism is the classic doctrine of equality of opportunity. In our society status consideration should be irrelevant in determining how successful an individual can be.
As political historian Professor Mark Hagopian wrote, in a liberal society achievement criteria such as talent, industry and creativity rather than the ascriptive criteria such as birth should mainly determine one’s social position.
In an Australian context this is a formula that is as important a motivation for our workplace reform legislation as it is for us to deny a privilege based on birth right.
I reject any born to rule mentality, because it flies in the face of one of our country’s most sacrosanct beliefs that we as a people must determine our own future and that we as individuals must shape our own destiny.
We cannot afford in our modern and complicated world to tie the hands of our children before they are born, because discrimination from the cradle will lead to discrimination until the grave. Equality of opportunity is a part of modern liberalism that will be most aggressively defended by my Liberal Party. It is the reason why so many of my colleagues in the class of 1996 are here from all parts of Australia. That is what I believe in; that is modern liberalism.
A true Liberal was described by Sir John Carrick in 1967 as someone who was always concerned about the welfare of the individual, for the creation of opportunities, for the preservation of human dignity and the development of human personality.
I have no doubt that these modern Liberal principles will benefit all Australians in the days ahead. Most particularly, I want to ensure that the electorate of North Sydney has a prominent role in defining that future.
When the First Fleet landed across the harbour, it shattered the peace of the local Cameraigal tribe. In the days ahead, the thickly wooded shores of my electorate were slowly transformed by whaling, agriculture, industry and transport.
Today North Sydney’s 32 suburbs thrive in a bustling 42 square kilometres of Sydney Harbour foreshore. Old Neutral Bay whalers cottages, sturdy 1920s bungalows, federation homes, Victorian terraces and modern units all compete for harbour views.
North Sydney people are creative. May Gibbs, Henry Lawson, Brett Whitely, Conrad Martens, D.H. Lawrence, Lloyd Rees and Paul Wilson are just a few of the creative and wild souls who have chosen to live or spend time on our beautiful shores.
North Sydney people are peace loving. They supported in their thousands this government’s leadership in the call for tougher national gun control laws. North Sydney people are enterprising. They live in the dappled shadows of Australia’s third largest business district.
North Sydney people are diverse. By the year 2000, 15 per cent of my electorate will be of Chinese origin, and it currently has the highest population of Armenians in the country–a community I am very proud to say I have a special relationship with.
With Australia’s highest number of working women and highest number of people with qualifications, and with a deceptive unemployment rate and a large number of people living alone at home, the electorate of North Sydney really is diverse.
North Sydney people are passionate about their community. They have the greatest rugby league club in the world, the mighty North Sydney Bears; two of the great Australian rugby clubs, Gordon and Northern Suburbs; the home ground of one of the greatest Australian cricketers, Victor Trumper; as well as some of the most successful netball, sailing, lawn bowls, squash and tennis clubs in the nation.
We also have strong Rotary, Apex, Lions and ex-servicemen’s clubs that make a contribution not only to our local community but also to the broader Sydney community.
However, the thing that the people of North Sydney are most passionate about is Australia’s future. They are prepared to answer the challenges for our nation. One of these challenges is in the way our community continues to treat women.
We should abandon the politically correct platitudes about equality, and honestly acknowledge that there remain entrenched societal and institutional impediments to women’s equal and active participation in either or both the home or work communities. For example, three times more women than men are setting up their own small businesses.
This is as much a reflection on the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of women as it is on the fact that they are now finally fed up with trying to break through the ceiling in medium and larger businesses.
Another challenge that the people of North Sydney are passionate about is our environment. Our reefs and waterways in particular are under threat, and our near shore reefs are being degraded by tourism, recreation and land run-off. Associated fish life is increasingly threatened by sometimes uncontrolled fishing.
One of our future environmental priorities must be to improve our waterways, and the Natural Heritage Trust is a significant step in the right direction
Finally, the people of North Sydney appreciate that one of the most significant challenges to Australia’s future is rebuilding the nation’s accounts.
The 1996 budget–and I compliment the Minister for Finance (Mr Fahey), who is here–makes significant inroads into paring back government expenditure. However, I will support even further savings through increased use of co-payments, commercialisation and the contracting and market testing of more government services.
From a revenue perspective, I join the growing cry of support for taxation reform. Our fairest taxes are the broadest based taxes. Yet over the last 30 years, a plethora of tax changes have made paying tax more of a burden than the tax itself.
Perhaps the most significant reform can occur in Commonwealth-state relations. Apart from the many flaws associated with specific purpose payments, areas of overlap–such as education, health care, environmental management and community and family services–suffer from gross duplication, confused goals and poorly monitored outcomes. Modern liberal values borne by a courageous Howard government can combine to address these issues.
Each person lives their life in the shadows of others, and I would not be here without the support of some very special people. My greatest thankyou is to my wife, Melissa. She will walk with me through the highs and lows of this life, and she will continue to be my daily source of inspiration. Melissa is my enthusiasm, my soul and my confidante, and I thank her for all the contributions she has made and the sacrifices she will make in the future.
My parents, Richard and Beverley, are very special people. No language can truly describe my feelings for them. They have given me their values, their spirit and, despite some tough times, many opportunities for which I am forever grateful. To my brothers, sister, sister-in-law and their families, to the Babbage family and the many friends I have, I thank you.
My extended family is also extraordinary–most of whom are here. To Barbara Elliott, Sirenne Gould, Erica Wylie, Bill Tafe, Moir Alexander, my campaign director Robert Orrell, Dick White, and all the other many, many community Liberals in North Sydney who have worked tirelessly and kept the flame alive during some tough times, I thank you. There are others, including Tony Nutt and John Burston, Jacquie, Meriana and Rox, Hamish and Tim, who have lent their expertise and energy. Their talent and dedication is inspiring.
I also want to thank all the people of North Sydney, for they have bestowed on me a very great honour. They have asked me to carry the torch for a magnificent electorate that has made a significant contribution to this House since Federation. For I follow in the steps of eight other members, including Billy Hughes, the legendary Silent Billy Jack, Bruce Graham and John Spender.
My predecessor, Ted Mack, made a lasting contribution to our local community, particularly in local government. Ted voiced his opinion with vigour and determination. He has left his footprint on our electorate.
I would also like to acknowledge the Prime Minister, who for most of his career represented the Lane Cove region in my electorate. Every constituent seems to cite the Prime Minister as a family friend through local schools, the local neighbourhood or as an avid cricket fan–and I can tell you, they keep me on the straight and narrow. He remains a revered figure in my local community.
There have been others who have helped me to learn and develop as an individual. My now deceased mentors Bevan Bradbury and Bob Falkingham taught me some salient lessons in life. The Jesuits have taught me the value of community service and the spirit of giving.
My previous employers Nick Greiner, George Souris, Peter Collins, and my colleague and good friend the Minister for Finance, John Fahey, have given me the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of policy reform in New South Wales during the great Australian public sector reform period. And my friends and legal colleagues at Corrs Chambers Westgarth have taught me the lessons of professionalism, intellectual discipline and sheer hard work.
I am very excited about Australia’s future. I feel passionately about my country and its rightful place in the order of the world. I am also very humble about my obligations as a representative of the people in this House. Over the days of my career I am sure that the principles I hold dear–such as integrity, honesty and loyalty–will at times be sorely tested. But, at those times, I will recall the deeds of the men of Beersheba. I will recall their courage and their fortitude. I will recall the sacrifices that they made for our nation. And I will recall that great Australian fighting spirit.
Together with the support and encouragement of my colleagues and the inspiration and direction of modern liberalism, we will all begin our journey. We will charge our Beershebas and we will rebuild them–and this we will do for our children and for the generations of Australians ahead.
Honourable members–Hear, hear!