Senator Zhenya Wang (PUP-WA) – Maiden Speech

Zhenya Wang, the Palmer United Party senator from Western Australia, has delivered his first speech to the Senate.

Wang

Wang, 33, was chosen at the re-run Senate election in April, after the original poll at the federal election of September 7, 2013 was declared void.

His term began on July 1, 2014 and will expire on June 30, 2020.

An engineer, Wang was born in Nanjing, China. Before his election, he worked as an engineer, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Australasian Resources, a company 70% owned by Clive Palmer.

  • Listen to Wang’s speech (22m – transcript below)
  • Watch Wang (25m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Zhenya Wang’s maiden speech.

The PRESIDENT (17:05): Order! Pursuant to order, we are moving to a first speech—and it is probably a much-needed reprieve. I remind honourable senators that this is Senator Wang’s first speech and I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.

Wang

Senator WANG (Western Australia—Palmer United Party Whip in the Senate) (17:06): I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we live and work on, and pay my respect to the elders both past and present. It is with great honour and pleasure that I am here today in this chamber to share with the Senate about who I am and what I believe in.

I was born to a humble family in Nanjing, China, three years after the beginning of Chinese economic reform. I was born at the dawn of the brightest era in recent Chinese history. Mum and Dad were not so lucky. They did not finish high school. They both started working in a forklift factory since they were 16 years of age. As a very young child, my earliest memory of the economic reform was a leap in our living standards when Mum and Dad were able to bring home money four or five times the base salary because the factory started to pay bonuses to individuals according to their productivity. Mum and Dad not only worked hard but also had to work innovatively. They were clearly motivated by the financial incentives and brought in some pretty smart ideas to expedite their production process. Right there were my first two political lessons. One, incentivised people produce better results. Two, always keep an open mind—even capitalism has some good elements.

Being a single child, I was no doubt spoiled, to say the least. Life was tough on Mum and Dad, but my childhood was always a smooth sailing because they were my ship, my wind, my ocean and my guiding star. I have been and will always be frustrated, for there is no word in the world to describe how grateful I am to them for their unconditional love.

Nanjing had been the capital city of six dynasties. It first became a capital city in the year 229, during the Three Kingdoms period when powers battled each other for nearly 100 years in a bid to become the final ruler of a reunited China. ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’. It was a truly fascinating period in Chinese history, where politics were played to the extreme. I do not recommend you to study it though because I believe the less we know about politics the better for the country!

The same as many other historical cities around the world, Nanjing has seen both most glorious and darkest moments. Perhaps one of my favourite glories was landmarked by the Porcelain Tower. Built with white porcelain bricks in the early 15th century, this nine-storey or 80-metre beauty stood gleaming, overlooking the city for more than 400 years, until its unfortunate destruction by war in 1856. In his 1665 book, an ambassador from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, the Dutch author and traveller Johan Nieuhof was clearly more than impressed. He wrote:

“In the middle of the Plain stands a high steeple or Tower made of purceline, which far exceeds all other Workmanship of the Chinese on cost and skill, by which the Chinese have declared to the world, the rare ingenuity of their Artists in former Ages.”

The worst of all the darkest moments took place from 13 December 1937 till late January 1938; a six-week-long massacre, a six-week-long nightmare, and a six-week-long living hell. For China, it may be the longest six weeks in its entire history. But for the Imperial Japanese Army, it was never too short to torture, to rape, to murder 300,000 innocent men, women and children. Three hundred thousand lives were taken by indescribable brutality. Three hundred thousand souls were taken by unspeakable evil.

Robert Wilson, an American physician who was working at Nanjing Hospital at the time, wrote the following on Saturday 18 December 1937 in a family letter:

“Today marks the sixth day of the modern Dante’s Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rape by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and atavism of the brutes.”

My colleagues, maybe Australia received a better bunch of imperial Japanese invaders that some could even suggest they were ‘honourable’. But I believe the right word should not be ‘honourable’, it has to be ‘horrible’. What Nanjing witnessed in those six weeks was three hundred thousand times worse than horrible.

No matter what Nanjing had suffered in history, it always managed to rise up from the ashes. Nanjing is always resilient. Having endured many ups and downs, Nanjing learnt to be always calm. Waves of people came for prosperities and went during devastations. Nanjing is always welcoming and forgiving. Having survived one of the most barbaric humanitarian crises in World War II, Nanjing understands to the fullest extent how precious peace is. This is the city where I lived for 22 years. I do not claim I have all the virtues it holds, but all those 22 years no doubt helped in shaping my personality.

After earning a bachelor degree in civil engineering, I came to Australia to study urban planning at the University of Melbourne. Having just spent four years learning how to design buildings, bridges and roads, I was eager to see the bigger picture. I chose urban planning so I could understand more about how structures interact with each other, and I chose Australia so my world was no longer just China or the northern hemisphere. It is where I met my future wife Josephine, who was coincidentally also a civil engineer studying urban planning at Melbourne University. Look for the bigger picture we did, each other we saw. By the way, my wife is pretty slick. I thank my parents-in-law for bringing up my better half and I thank heavens for bringing her to me.

Wang

Melbourne was neither too crowded nor too quiet. The three years that we spent there served as a smooth transition for both of us who came from bigger cities with larger population. We quickly fell in love with Melbourne and indeed Australia for the clean air, beautiful oceans, easy lifestyle and many other wonderful things she has to offer. It became an easy and obvious choice, so we decided to stay after graduation and I soon found a job in Western Australia.

Western Australia was enjoying a mining boom but coming with the boom were a lot of problems. Rapid population growth coupled with poor housing affordability and lack of spending on public infrastructure and services—enough to give any government more than just a headache. On top of that, over the past years Western Australia has been receiving less and less proportion of GST revenue

Make no mistake: it is in our spirit that we must help others. We have been helping other states and territories and we want to do more. With huge potential in mining, agriculture, tourism and so on yet to be exploited, we could contribute even more if there were enough funding to facilitate further economic growth in Western Australia.

Inevitably there will always be some businesses that cannot last very long, but it is a different matter when ill-designed government policies force them to fail. Our responsibility, as politicians, is to help them grow so they provide more jobs, rather than putting a clamp on their prosperity by creating uncertainty or excessive taxation, or quite simply by inaction. Businesses employ people; governments look after people. When businesses diminish, demand for social welfare will go higher. When more people have jobs, fewer will be dependent on government handouts. Either we take money from businesses to pay for increased welfare or we leave money with them so they can grow and pay salaries to more people. Just as Yin and Yang, everything needs to be balanced.

In recent years, Western Australia has seen many small resource and mining companies shutting doors, farmers losing land. We are not doing enough to help them. Proven by recent mergers and acquisitions, demand for our high-quality agricultural products is clearly growing, especially in Asian countries. Yet our farmers are doing it tough. We need to do something about it so we can tap into new markets and we have to make sure our farmers do not lose out.

Wang

The 21st century is the Asian century. If Australia does well, we will enjoy a century-long prosperity. If we plan well, wealth accumulated during this century can be carried over into future centuries. In fact we cannot afford not to do well as many other countries are eagerly waiting to ride the tide. Australia has to be one of the first to ride this tide. We are ready except for one problem. While the glass ceiling is yet to be fully broken, we need to tear down the ‘bamboo ceiling’ as well. Despite the fact that one in 10 Australians have Asian ancestry, Diversity Council Australia found that only less than two per cent of executives in the ASX 200 companies have Asian cultural origins. The bamboo ceiling is not only a cap on the achievements of individual Asian Australians but also a cap on Australia’s future. We are a diverse country where people from all cultural backgrounds cherish our freedom and democracy. Let us build a country even more equal so that every individual’s potential can be unlocked, therefore unlocking our country’s potential.

Wang

I would like to sincerely thank Clive Palmer for setting up Palmer United Party to let everyone have a fair go. I thank Clive for his continuous support over the years in both the corporate world and the political arena so I can have a crack at the bamboo ceiling. I thank all our supporters, volunteers, workers and 2013 election candidates for their tireless work and their trust in us. We all want a strong, wealthy and equal country, and that is what we are committed to.

I would also like to thank my fellow parliamentarians Penny Wong, Lisa Singh and my fellow Western Australian Ian Goodenough for their inspiration to other Asian Australians and indeed to all Australians to participate in politics. Penny, Lisa and Ian truly are the can-do spirit.

Mr President, no matter how can-do we think we are, no matter how capable we think we will be, at various points of our lives, everyone has to accept that there is just something that he or she will never be good at. Take me, for example. It did not take me very long at all to realise that it would be literally suicidal if I ever wanted to be a rugby player when I discovered that in Queensland there is a brick, which not only has a name, but eyes too.

While I agree that efforts should be made to improve our weaknesses, I also believe we should put more effort into working on our strengths. Proudly, Australians not only have sound bodies through which we achieved so much in sports; we also have beautiful brains. We have won 12 Nobel prizes: one in literature, one in economics, one in chemistry, two in physics, seven in physiology or medicine, all from such a small population. By merely pointing out these facts, I already feel smarter.

I cannot help, though, but to point out another fact by using my favourite line, which was often used to conclude my theses as a university student—’more research needs to be done’. I confess that sometimes it was questionable whether I should be using that line, as my motive, possibly, was to avoid making a definitive conclusion, either to be too prudent or to cover up the fact that not enough time was spent on studying the subject. But when it comes to Australia or any other country, no-one should question the benefits of doing research or having the know-how and know-why.

Those who can do a specific job will often end up doing the job all the time; those who cannot, often end up in management. In that case, judging by where I am now, I am probably an engineer who cannot fail any further. But even as a failed engineer, I understand the important role that scientific and technological research plays in shaping any nation’s future. Indeed, more research needs to be done.

In a time when labour and energy costs are so high, we need new technologies to reduce our production costs. In a time when farmers are struggling, we need new technologies to overcome difficulties caused by nature and of course by politicians. In a time when we promote environmental sustainability, we need new technologies to make renewable energy even cheaper and more readily available so there would be no need for legislative favour. In a time when we buy weapons from other countries and to a certain degree rely on others for our own national defence, we need new technologies so that one day our nation can protect her land, her waters and her citizens all by herself.

Let’s set up a national agriculture investment fund, which not only coordinates research projects but also lends money to farmers who struggle to get funds from banks, which are often too profit-driven.

Let’s set up a national medical research fund, which is definitely not funded by those who are sick more often. Let’s set up a national defence research fund, where every dollar we put into foreign arms dealers’ pockets has to be matched by a dollar going into the fund.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We need to invest our hard-earned money wisely. Every dollar counts. Every decision in this chamber counts.

We need smart politicians to make wise decisions. Having survived election campaigns and still managing to survive media scrutiny, we have some pretty smart people in this chamber. Don’t congratulate yourself too early, though, not until you have heard my definition of ‘smart’.

Let me begin with a quote from a wise man. Confucius said, ‘When I walk along with two others, from at least one I will be able to learn’. I know I am being extremely fussy here, because this great philosopher did not mean to exclude the other person. But, Mr President, I seek leave to move an amendment. I believe if we observe carefully and reflect deeply, anyone, including ourselves, must have something we can learn from.

Whether or not a person is smart has nothing to do with his or her IQ. The only definition I have is that a real dumb person thinks others are dumber; a real wise person considers others are wiser. The fundamental difference here is the attitude towards other persons’ views and opinions.

‘Listen to both sides, we will be enlightened; heed only one side, we will be benighted.’ Even though I have recently experienced a great deal of confusion by listening to both sides on a particular bill, as one side was telling me that hundreds of jobs would be lost if I voted for the bill and the other side told me the same job loss would occur if I voted against the bill, I still firmly believe in the virtue of being humble. As politicians it is crucial that we humbly listen to all sides before any decision is made.

Wang

To conclude, I would like to dedicate this speech to my child, Joanna. The very moment you were born I suddenly realised a reality that had never seemed so real before: I won’t be around forever. The world would be forever grey to me without you. But my responsibility is to make sure your world is as colourful as colourful can be without me. I give you fish, I will teach you how to fish, but more importantly I need to make sure that there will be plenty of fish for you to catch. This is what politicians need to do.

Your daddy is a politician now. I know at the moment you think it is a ‘silly’ job, for I am away so much. But trust me, I take that as a compliment knowing that when you are older you will possibly end up saying something like ‘My old man’s a polly, yuck’. I won’t blame you, because being a politician is indeed a tough job.

Although all politicians have very good intentions, it is extremely difficult to please everyone, no matter how hard we try. Therefore there is always criticism—not to mention that sometimes we are criticised for no better reason than so that our political opponents can score some points, or even so that a newspaper can sell a few more copies.

For mankind, Judgement Day may come only once, but for us it comes every three years. Ideally, our job should be to set the country on the right path through visionary long-term policies. Practically, we are very often compelled to give up long-term gain so voters will not feel much short-term pain. The ugly truth is that whatever grand vision it might have, a political party may have to stay long enough in office to be able to see the day when their policies could actually bear any fruit. Therefore, surviving the next election and the ones after usually prevail. Watered-down legislation does not mean our hearts are only half warm but rather, simply, political reality can sometimes be cold. Politics, indeed, is a fine art of compromise.

Sweetheart, being a politician might be silly. But please remember, daddy is doing it for you and every other child who all together hold the future of our nation. There is absolutely no compromise on this.

I don’t have Phar Lap’s mighty heart, and I don’t have Ned Kelly’s thick armour. But I have you. You and your peers are Australia’s future. For as long as I am in this chamber, every day means another 24 hours of my devotion, to build a better country for you: a country so strong that she can protect every one of her citizens; a country so wealthy that everyone has easy access to solid education and employment; a country so fair that everyone can have a fair go. Honourable Senators, let’s do this.

Wang

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