The Hon. Ian Macdonald, Senator for Queensland
As one of only two of Queensland’s 12 senators resident in north Queensland, my role in the Senate will be to concentrate on north Queensland and on northern Australia. I am Australia’s northernmost Liberal representative and part of the area I represent adjoins the border of Papua New Guinea.
The future of our nation lies in north Queensland and northern Australia-an area of enormous diversity, from the cattle and cotton of Rockhampton and the Central Highlands region to the sheep, beef, minerals and oil of the west; from the canefields of Mackay, Proserpine, Ayr and Home Hill, Ingham, Tully, Cairns and Mossman to the tobacco of Mareeba and tea of Innisfail, from the mines of the Bowen Basin to the bauxite of Weipa and nickel of Greenvale; from the frontiers of the nation in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York and the heritage treasures of Charters Towers and Cooktown to the natural attributes which make the Whitsundays, the Mission Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas areas, the Atherton Tableland, the cape and gulf regions-without doubt the world’s leading tourist destinations of the future. Northern Australia is, after all, the area which, with only 6.5 per cent of Australia’s population, produces 45 per cent of Australia’s export income.
It is my honour to have been elected by the people of Queensland to serve their interests and the interests of Australians generally in the Parliament of this nation. It is my hope that I can discharge that honour and trust with the distinction of those senators who have preceded me to this chamber. My brief experience in the chamber and of the Senate has confirmed the important and real role which the Senate plays in the democratic processes of our nation and in the protection of citizens from the excesses of government.
May I at this stage, Mr President, publicly extend to you and to other senators my congratulations on your elections, and also my thanks to you all for your indulgence in permitting me to make this speech at this time. I am conscious of the responsibility that we as custodians of the nation have as we steer our land to the new century.
I have a vision for Australia: a nation continuing its unique style of Australian comradeship, its strength and purpose, its peace, stability and prosperity, while becoming a sophisticated, caring and intelligent leader in the part of the world in which we are geographically placed-an Australia whose basic strengths and endowments enable us to concentrate on social, humanitarian and environmental responsibilities into the next 100 years.
I am an Australian first. I was born here, as were my parents and grandparents, but I have no claim to any rights not enjoyed by all other Australians. As a lawyer, I understand and accept unquestionably the rule of the law, as without it we become a mindless rabble of competing interests where survival is of the fittest. There can be no group of Australians who have the right to defy the law, no matter how just they may believe their cause to be.
While an Australian first, it is as a Queenslander that I enter this Parliament. I am fortunate to have lived in many parts of Queensland as a child and I can say that there are few parts of the State to which my travels have not taken me. But it is north Queensland and northern Australia that is my home. The town of Ayr, the Burdekin district, has been my teacher, my provider since my school days.
I was happy to attempt to repay what the district had given me by serving for almost 12 years as an elected councillor on the Burdekin Shire Council and by helping the less fortunate of our area through my close involvement with Australia’s home-grown young man’s service club, Apex, for a 15-year span.
The Commonwealth’s involvement from the Fraser years in the construction of the Burdekin Dam has guaranteed water for, and the continuing prosperity of, the world’s premier sugar-growing area and has secured the small but increasingly important rice-growing and horticultural industries in the area. Water from the Burdekin will ensure that the industrial and commercial capital of the north, Townsville, can continue to expand without ever having to concern itself again with water in what is Australia’s dry-or, should I say, sunshine- tropics. The Burdekin delta will be the food bowl of Asia in the years ahead.
After the initial gold rushes of 100 years ago, it was the sugar industry that developed north Queensland-an industry whose history is as fascinating and instructive as its plans for the future. The establishment of Australia’s major raw sugar refinery in the Townsville-Burdekin region will bring with it new activity and expertise and a range of by-products and value-added goods to enhance Australia’s trading position in the world.
In addition to being the fastest growing regional centre in Australia, Cairns is rapidly becoming the international gateway to our nation. It is undoubtedly the tourist capital of Australia. With Australia’s mining capital in Mount Isa, joining Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton, the north already has the infrastructure to lead the way in our relationships with the Asia-Pacific region. Our trade with Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations has increased rapidly in recent years, and will continue to do so.
We have the natural resources, the infrastructure, the lifestyles, the peoples, the expertise and the acclimatisation to play an ever increasing part in the lives of the some 250 million people to our immediate north who are geographically closer to us in northern Australia than we are to the 16-odd million of our fellow Australians living south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Our education and unique scientific facilities in the north will be of enormous benefit to the Asia-Pacific region in the years ahead. James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation and the Institute of Tropical Rainforest Studies are all prominent in matters of real interest to our near northern neighbours.
The space base proposed for Cape York will propel Australia to the forefront of the world’s science, technology and learning in this futuristic field. It will bring unparalleled economic and social benefits not only to the area, Australia and the world, but also to the environment and wildlife, which will be absolutely protected, and to the peoples of the area, who will share in the wealth and benefits the space base will bring.
As the world focus turns to northern Australia and the Pacific, it will become more and more relevant to establish our front line defence forces in the north and to properly equip and maintain them. Let us not forget that the only threat ever of invasion to our shores was repelled by our military forces, and those of our allies, operating from bases in north Queensland.
Northern Australia is a great place simply to live in, but there are costs and hardships of living in the very far north and west-difficulties which were once recognised and compensated by a taxation zone allowance. I intend to work to make this equalisation for those pioneering our frontiers relevant again.
The environment is of particular significance to northern Australia. It is part of our lives; we feel it every day. Long after southern newspapers, politicians and pressure groups have ceased to cynically squeeze votes out of the issue, we will still be vitally concerned with the environment. That is why it is just so important that matters of the environment are dealt with in close consultation with the people of the area sensibly and with sensitivity. The flat earth policies espoused by some groups should not be allowed to capture the government of the day. If these groups had been in charge of things in the past, north Queensland would never have been settled. The hysteria and blatant politicism of some groups are repulsive to the many of us who work to protect the environment in which we live.
I think many Australians now appreciate the genuineness and sincerity of the Liberals’ proposals for the environment, as their childlike faith in the promises of the ALP and its lackeys at the last election are shattered daily. The Barrier Reef is north Queensland. Its future must never be put in jeopardy by the decisions of man. Land care and prevention of soil degradation, proper management of our rivers and river catchment systems, and sensible management of our tropical wet rainforests-these are the major environmental issues for northern Australia. Sensible guidelines must be established and adhered to so that those developing our nation know that once they have reached those goals their projects can proceed.
Mr President, it is my privilege to represent the Liberal Party in this Parliament: a party of great ideals, principles and philosophies; and a party which has shaped the destiny of this nation and will lead Australia into the next century. Often the Liberal Party is referred to as a conservative party. Do honourable senators know what `conservative’ means? The Oxford Dictionary defines `conservative’ as `opposed to change’. It was the Liberal Party in Australia that first introduced child endowment, provided the first assistance for aged persons homes, established the Great Barrier Reef marine park, and saved Fraser island. The Liberal Party was the choice of Australia’s first ever Aboriginal politician. It was the Liberal Party in Queensland, like its counterpart in South Australia some years before, which virtually voted itself out of office on a matter of principle so basic as accountability and honesty. It was the Liberal Party in Queensland which paid almost the supreme sacrifice for its ideals.
Some, often mischievously, confuse the word `traditional’ with the word `conservative’. We certainly are a very traditional party. We have a very traditional commitment to our flag, the family, freedom and democracy. But can a party that has been to the forefront of social, health, democratic and workplace reform be rightly referred to as conservative, as opposed to change? The dictionary definition of `liberal’ is, `forward thinking, democratic, broad-minded, committed to individual liberty’. That is why I reject absolutely the label of being a conservative. I am a Liberal. I have been for all my adult life and I always will be.
It is with pride that I take my seat in this chamber contemporaneously with a great Queensland Liberal who stood out as one of the principal players in the drama that unfolded at the time of those real trials of democracy and accountability in Queensland in 1983. It will be my privilege to continue to work with Senator John Herron for the betterment of our State and nation.
The Liberal Party in Queensland has had its ups and downs politically-more down than up in the last decade-but John Herron and I are part of a resurgence which will return Liberal governments for the good of Australia and Queensland in this decade. In an election result which so many so-called expert commentators labelled as a loss for the Liberals in Queensland, the Queensland Liberal Senate representation has doubled and, for the first time ever in Queensland’s history, the Liberal Party has four senators and, equally with another party, the largest single representation of Queensland senators in this Parliament.
Queensland is the only State in Australia where the coalition has two senators more than the total of the combined Australian Labor Party-Australian Democrats liaison. The Liberal vote in Queensland in the Senate rose from about 16 per cent to 29 per cent-in many electorates, particularly in North Queensland, exceeding the Liberal vote in the House of Representatives. It will continue to increase to the next election.
I pay tribute to my two colleagues, Senators MacGibbon and Parer, for their carrying of the Queensland Liberal flag in this chamber in the past 13 and six years respectively-at times a very lonely and sobering experience, but one which they have carried out with great distinction and courage. It is of some sadness to me to see today that neither of them could be here for very good
reasons. However, I congratulate them on the efforts they have made over the past years.
I should also like to mention some other dedicated Queensland Liberals such as the late Eric Robinson, Mr John Moore, MP, Sir William Knox and Mr Denver Beanland, MLA, whose loyalty and principle over a period has placed Queensland Liberals in a position where they will be, for the first time, the leading-in numbers-political party in the Sunshine State.
I also want to mention some of the previous Liberal senators whose footsteps I follow in this chamber. The late Dame Annabelle Rankin was a great Australian and Queenslander, a great Liberal and one who, long before it became fashionable, advanced the cause of women in politics. Former Senator Kathy Martin-Sullivan continues to serve the nation in this Parliament in another place. I refer also to former Senator Neville Bonner, who represented Queensland, the Liberal Party and his race with great distinction in this Parliament and whom I fondly recall welcoming to
my home often during his many trips through the Burdekin.
I also make special mention of former Senator Ian Wood, the last and, I believe, only other Liberal senator from North Queensland. Ian Woods was a legend in his own time, firstly as Mayor of Mackay for many years and then as a Queensland Liberal senator. He was always in the news fighting for his constituents, whether or not that suited the Party, most notably crossing the floor against the Government’s sales tax on motor vehicles legislation-an even more remarkable event when we remember that his only means of transport ever was a bicycle. Ian Woods assisted me in my campaign recently and often recounted the heady times when he stood alone in the cause of his constituents.
I do not presume that my time in the Senate will have the colour and excitement of Ian Woods. But his ability as a Liberal to cross the floor where the real interests of his constituents transcended his party loyalty is not lost on me. It is a right which few other political groupings tolerate, and I might say a right which has attracted me and many others to the Liberal Party over the years.
During our history, the Australian public has had flirtations with odd groups and individuals, with minor parties which, for a few years, have held some sway in the running of the country. But the intrinsic good sense of Australians has, over the years of our history, seen these parties fade and die as Australians realise that the good of the country demands a democratically elected government that is allowed to govern free of the dictates of grouping which represents such an odd part and view of our peoples.
The Liberal Party provides the opportunities for minorities and people with particular interests and concerns but who have an underlying belief in the individual and free enterprise, to join and play a part in ensuring that the views of all sections of Australia are implemented democratically by a caring government governing for the good of the nation.
Finally, I want to make some reference to my family and friends. Over the years my wife Lesley has shared my efforts, excitements and disappointments-in politics, my career, my activities, my life-with a special loyalty and commitment. The rewards have been our achievements, our ability to help others, and the friends we have made on the way. I publicly acknowledge the support of my brothers and sisters and their children and grandchildren, my tireless helpers in the Burdekin branch of the Liberal Party and my friends, some of whom have travelled long distances at great expense to be here today.
Canberra has been the source of some very sad memories for my family. My eldest brother Neil, an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, lost his life over Duntroon College in March 1957 while training in the defence of his country. I hope that my connection with the national capital will, for my family, give a happier but equally as proud memory. I know that my aged mother in the geriatric ward at the Ayr District Hospital is with me today in her prayers and will find a happiness of Canberra along with her sorrows of the past.
My late father would have loved to have been here today, and I guess he always thought this might happen. I fondly recall as a child sitting with my father listening to the parliamentary broadcasts on the wireless in the late 1940s, at the time of the bank nationalisation dramas.
My first blooding to politics came when I and my best mate from next door of Irish Catholic parentage fought often over the merits of Liberal and Labor when neither of us quite knew what the terms and names even meant and had no idea of the ramifications of confiscation of private property.
Mr President, my early ideas of politics crystallised somewhat more intelligently in my formative years, when I came to realise that even those who had no inherited wealth or position had the right and the opportunities to succeed in Australia-to be an individual, to do what they aspired to do. I have always considered it a privilege that I had the opportunity to work long hours for practically no pay during the day, whilst studying externally through the Queensland University at night to achieve my profession in life. My parents had no money but I had the opportunity, the health and the encouragement of a caring family.
Australia has been built by those who had the opportunity and seized it-not complaining about what others got or had given to them. It is only by giving the opportunity to succeed, by providing incentive and encouragement to work and produce, by ridding ourselves of the negativeness of high taxation and overgovernment, that we will return to the progress and comparative standards of living we enjoyed in the past. We must again become a nation of contributors rather than recipients.
I am committed to the individual and opportunity. I want to encourage Australians to succeed, to pursue excellence, for success enables us to provide for those whose disabilities deny that opportunity. I believe that Australia’s future is assured by encouraging people to attain their fullest aspirations, by seeking to reward effort, for in so doing we strengthen the country and provide a foundation to allow a compassionate and caring society.
So, Mr President, as I do from northern Australia humbly join you in this chamber, it is my hope that my time in the Senate will coincide with a new spirit and enthusiasm in Australia, such as that of our pioneers, and a realisation of our destiny in the Asia-Pacific region. If, in my term, I have made some contribution to that new-born spirit and understanding, I will have succeeded.