Governer General's Speech - Address in Reply

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:27): I want to thank his Excellency the Governor-General of Australia for the speech he delivered yesterday, which sets out a wonderful and exciting future for our country over the next three years. I congratulate the Prime Minister, the honourable Malcolm Turnbull, on his election as Prime Minister and on leading the coalition to victory at the election on 2 July. It was not the convincing victory we had hoped for but a victory is a victory and I congratulate the Prime Minister. I know that in the next three years he will lead Australia to bigger and better things.

I also thank the people of Queensland for returning me as a senator representing that state for the sixth time. I commit myself to work as hard as I can in their interests over the term of the next parliament. It is clear that, as the longest serving parliamentarian now, I am of an age where many people will say to me, 'You are now at an age where you should be thinking about retiring.' Of course, age of itself is not the criteria. I think that older people everywhere in Australia are undervalued. As long as older people can do the work, can commit to the goals they set and the achievements that they espouse, then age should not be a barrier. And for as long as I can continue to do the work that I have been doing for the last 26 years, I will do that with the help of my fellow Queenslanders and in their interests.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the new members of the Liberal-National Party of Queensland, the LNP, who have come to this chamber following the election. I specifically mention the new members for Groom, Maranoa, Brisbane, Fairfax, Fisher and Wide Bay. I should also mention in that election context the wonderful result achieved by the members for Petrie, Brisbane and Capricornia, all of whom, according to the commentariat, were going to lose their seats in the 2 July election. All of them did remarkably well. I add to that the member for Flynn, who, after being written off by the commentariat, had quite a comfortable win in his electorate.

I pay my highest regards and respect to Mr Wyatt Roy and Mr Ewen Jones who, at this stage, have lost their seats. Mr Wyatt Roy is a wonderful young person, and I am confident he will be back in public life in the future. As for my friend and colleague Ewen Jones in Herbert, I might say that this is still work in progress. I would hope to see a challenge to the Court of Disputed Returns as I am confident that it would lead to a return of Mr Jones to the other place. I also pay tribute to former senator Jo Lindgren, who, in the short time she was in this chamber, did a wonderful job and became a very close friend of mine. Again, she is the sort of person who has so much to contribute, and I am confident that she will return to public life at some time in the future. I must say that the election campaign and how it was discharged from the coalition's point of view was not as I would have hoped. There were a lot of problems with it, as I saw it, but I do acknowledge the difficulty that the LNP in Queensland had in running a campaign at the instruction of someone else while having to deal with particular local issues.

I highlight my pride at being a member of the coalition and being a member of the LNP, which is the second of the three parties which comprise the federal coalition. There are three parties in the federal coalition: the Liberal Party, which has 45 members in the lower house; the LNP, which has 21 members in the lower house; and the National Party, which has 10 members in the lower house—a total of 76 in the coalition. If you add to that 30 senators, you have a coalition of 106 members and senators of which 27 come from the LNP, making it clearly the second biggest party in the federal coalition. Compare this, of course, with my friends and colleagues from Victoria, who only have 22 senators and members in the coalition in this parliament. My congratulations go to Gary Spence and the executive of the LNP in Queensland on leading the party to quite a remarkable result—a result which, I might say, has been achieved in the last several elections, as the Queensland LNP always punches well above its weight when it comes to returning a coalition government.

The election that just passed was remarkable for a couple of reasons. The Mediscare campaign, which had a real impact in Queensland, was one of the most disgraceful campaigning programs that I have ever seen in my long involvement with politics. Southern unionists who were there supporting the Labor Party at the pre-polls at the two Townsville booths were actively telling lies, particularly to older people and more vulnerable people. They were saying to them, 'Medicare will disappear tomorrow'—a complete, abject and outright lie. But it was being promoted by members of the MUA, who were up there in Townsville supporting Glenn Lazarus's candidate in his campaign, would you believe? The MUA! They interspersed with the Labor candidate. One day they would be wearing a Lazarus shirt; the next day they would be wearing a Labor Party shirt. But they from the MUA joined with people from the CPSU and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union—all out-of-towners, I might say—in harassing people in the long queues that occurred in the pre-polls, particularly in Kirwan and Townsville City. That was a blight on democracy.

The Australian Electoral Commission have a difficult job, but I have to say—and I will be speaking a lot more about this as I put myself on the electoral matters standing committee for the review into the recent election—I have a very low regard for the professionalism of the AEC. As I said, I will elaborate on this at some later time when I have a bit more time to elaborate. Because of the close count in Herbert that I was involved in, I think, for 25 days solid from 9 am until 9 pm on Saturdays, Sundays and every other day, you actually look very closely at how the election was conducted. And because it was such an intense scrutiny, you become aware of many things which would make you uncomfortable as to the security of our electoral system. These matters, I hope, will be ventilated in the court at some later time. If not, they will certainly be ventilated in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It is a concern which normally would not matter, but, in an election as close as it was in Herbert, you want to understand and look at all of these voting irregularities that can make a difference. You only need to make a difference in three or four seats—at the last election—and you change the government of Australia, and very often it is a change that is not what is intended by the voters of Australia.

The other interesting thing—and it relates a bit to the previous speech—was the remarkably poor result achieved by the Australian Greens in Queensland at the last election. Senator Waters struggled to get a quota. Whilst there was a lot of talk about the Greens getting two quotas in the Senate, they barely were able to get one quota. Their result, particularly in the North, which is where I come from, was the worst I have seen for some time. Indeed, right throughout Queensland the result obtained by the Greens political party candidates in the lower house was, I think, towards some of the worst they have achieved.

I think that is not because of the leadership—and I quite like Senator Di Natale; I think he has rather a refreshing insight—but because people are waking up to the tactics of the radical green movement and their political representatives with regard to a lot of things which Queenslanders hold dear. They see the Greens, the Wilderness Society and the ACF continuing to try and stop what most Queenslanders support. I think that is eventually starting to come through. The rubbish that the Greens will give you on the Coral Sea—I mean, who is asking for anything to be done to the Coral Sea? Who uses the Coral Sea? No-one. And yet the Greens, for some reason, seem to want to lock it up, when it is hardly being used by anyone at all, and what use there is of the Coral Sea has very minimal impact on that pristine environment, which has always been pristine and which will stay pristine.

The count in Herbert, as I said, was long and exhausting. Hopefully, from my point of view—and I emphasise here that these are not decisions for me to make; they are entirely beyond any control I would have, but I personally hope—there will a challenge to the Court of Disputed Returns. I would then look forward to a new election in that seat.

Returning to the Governor-General's speech: it succinctly set out a wonderful program for the next three years, starting with tax cuts. My speech follows that of Senator Siewert. She is a lovely person, Senator Siewert—I admire her a lot—but she is the ultimate socialist, as are many of the people in the Greens political party. They have only got to look at history to see that socialism does not work. You have got to encourage people. You have got to look after those who cannot look after themselves; you have got to look after the disadvantaged; but you do that by having a progressive, wealthy country, and you increase wealth by encouraging people to work harder. I am delighted the Governor-General highlighted the tax cuts which will result from the coalition's election win.

I refer also to a matter of very great interest to me and others who live in the North, and that is the record expenditure on defence that this government has committed to. Over the next decade, something like $195 billion will be spent on defence capability. I am delighted also to note that, in the defence white paper, some $12.4 billion of the defence spending in the intermediate future will be spent in the North of Australia.

I note from the Governor-General's speech that the coalition is continuing with its exceedingly remarkable successes in the area of free trade agreements, which means jobs for Australians. It means greater exports for Australians and therefore jobs and wealth for our country. I am delighted that the government will be pursuing success in Japan, Korea, China and Singapore and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will be particularly important to the cattle and sugar industries in the North of Australia.

The NBN is being rolled out. In fact, it is almost at my home in Ayr, as I speak. Under the Conroy program for the NBN, I might have got NBN in five or six years, if I were still alive. But thanks to the administration of Senator Fifield and, before him, Mr Turnbull the NBN is knocking on my door.

There is $50 billion in investment in infrastructure to connect goods and markets, to connect rural people and industries to neighbouring regional cities, state capitals and international markets, to support local industries and to get us safely home. I have got to mention the enormous work being done on the Bruce Highway. Every time I drive from my home in Ayr to my office in Townsville, I get annoyed by the amount of roadworks on the Bruce Highway, where they are converting it into passing lanes. It is a wonderful effort. As well as that, there is the eastern rail corridor extension in Townsville, which will be so beneficial for all industries in the North. I give great credit to Mr Ewen Jones for his advocacy of that. The City Deals program is an innovative new program that will in Townsville's case—parochially, can I say—result in a new stadium there but as part of a wider arrangement on City Deals. Again all congratulations to Ewen Jones on that, and on the Smart Cities Plan, which Mr Jones was very much involved in.

During the election campaign, significant announcements were made in relation to water storage and management. It is 30 or 40 years since there has been a dam in Australia—there was one small one in Tasmania under the last coalition government—but we have now removed the word 'dam' from the swear list of public policy and we will be seeing new dams, water storage and weirs on rivers in the north. Of course, the Rookwood Weir near Rockhampton will be the first one off the starting blocks.

We will continue to care for the environment. The Great Barrier Reef has been well managed and cared for under successive coalition governments. I have to say for the benefit of Senator Siewert and Senator Waters that even conservation societies acknowledge that all positive forward-looking policies on protection of our natural marine assets come from coalition governments. There is more money for reform to research funding. I am delighted that the Northern Australian CRC will take off during the term of this next government. In health, the coalition has a proud story to tell, whereas all the Labor Party can tell are outright and abject lies about Medicare—a disgrace and a blot on the Australian Labor Party and our democracy.

In his speech, the Governor-General clearly indicated a path forward for a nation like Australia as we take the best of our natural assets and our people assets to build a better, happier and wealthier community for all. That, I think, will mean a very exciting time for all of us.

I urge members of the Labor Party, in particular, to think not of their own selfish, inward-looking personal political ambitions or egos but to think of Australia's interests in the way they address matters coming before this chamber. A lot of programs that are coming into this chamber are matters which the Labor Party called for and supported in the run-up to the election. I hope the Labor Party will allow those to be implemented to get the budget a little bit back on track, which is a goal of our government and a goal that is so essential for all Australians. I notice that at the Australian War Memorial the other day Mr Shorten made a call for his party and for all Australians—the government as well—to act in the national interest. I will be reminding Mr Shorten what he said as we debate in the next few weeks these initiatives which were set out by the Governor-General in his speech to the parliament. I commend the speech. (Time expired)

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