Senator Jonathon Duniam (Lib-Tas) – Maiden Speech

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Jonathon Duniam delivered his maiden speech today.

Duniam

Duniam, 33, won election after former senator and minister Richard Colbeck was relegated to a difficult position on the Liberal Party’s Senate ticket.

He previously worked as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman.

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

Hansard transcript of Senator Jonathon Duniam’s maiden speech.

The PRESIDENT (17:25): Order! Before I call Senator Duniam to make his first speech, I ask that honourable senators observe the same courtesies extended to Senator Dodson during his speech, and not interrupt the senator.

Duniam

Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (17:25): Mr President, I start by congratulating you on your re-election. I have to say it is terribly gratifying to have a Tasmanian in charge!

I am sure that so many who have gone before me have found it is an incredibly difficult task to put satisfactorily into words the great honour and privilege it is to be elected to represent one’s fellow Australians in this place.

We have had a long election campaign and then a long wait for the results, under the new Senate counting rules. I have to be honest and say that it sometimes felt, as I imagine it did for most Australians, like this day would never come. But that long campaign—the endless hours on the road, knocking on doors and getting to know Tasmanians right across the state—gave me the opportunity to reflect on just why I am doing this and what this amazing and humbling honour actually means to me.

I come from a spectacular state. I come from a state of which there is much to be proud. As the sixth generation of Duniams living on the remarkable island of Tasmania I have a deep affection for that place and a strong commitment to doing what I can to ensure that its future is strong for the generations that follow us.

The Tasmanian people, much like the place itself, are a resilient people.Our state, like many other parts of this country, has been dealt its fair share of bitter blows. But, every time our community is dealt one of those blows, true of the Australian fighting spirit the Tasmanian community picks itself up and works hard to get back on track. In my short life, I have seen it many times—where communities pitch in together to help out those in need, where no-one is left behind.

And we have faced particular challenges in Tasmania, be it the tragedy that unfolded at Port Arthur in 1996; the 2013 bushfires which devastated the small community of Dunalley; the sudden and destructive floods we saw across Tasmania during this year’s election campaign; or, indeed, in my childhood home on the north-west coast of Tasmania where, one after another, major employers slowly left town. First the Tioxide pigment factory closed. Then the APPM paper mills were downsized and eventually closed. Each of these closures was bad in itself, taking hundreds of jobs out of our small community, but the direct consequences for so many other medium and small businesses which rely on big factories saw thousands of jobs go.

But, every time, the people of my home state always come together, looking at ways to help those in need and ways to redefine themselves so they can take the next set of challenges head-on. It is this resilience, this fighting spirit, of my fellow Tasmanians that inspires me. From some of the most remote and disadvantaged communities to our cities, most people are willing to work hard, and want the best for our state.

I want for my three children, now the seventh generation of my family living in Tasmania, and for all of their generation, a future they can look forward to—a future where opportunities exist to do things that previous generations have not been able to in employment, in education and in lifestyle—and a reason to make your life in Tasmania, rather than seek opportunity elsewhere.

Tasmania already has so much on offer: amazing natural wilderness, including some of the most spectacular forests and breathtaking coastlines; world-class produce, like our fish, meat and dairy products, or our increasingly famous cool-climate wines; and its innovative people, throughout our multi-campus university, research centres and small start-up businesses. Tasmania already has the critical elements for a strong future and economic growth. The challenge is in harnessing those elements, maximising them and creating opportunities for the future.

The key to this—as many in our home state would know—is, in my view, the need to tackle the endless departure of young people from our state to take up life elsewhere. Indeed, we should also be doing what we can to entice back those who have left, and we need to let people from other parts of the world in on the secret. Tasmania is a great place to come and live, to work, to raise a family and to develop your potential.

Duniam

As a father and as a young Tasmanian myself, I see this as one of the key challenges facing our state. One only needs to look at the demography of our state to understand the need to tackle the problem I am talking about. Tasmania has the greatest percentage of people over the age of 65 of any state or territory in the country. Indeed, between the years 2000 and 2015, that percentage increased from 13.5 per cent to 18.3 per cent. By comparison, the percentage of people in Tasmania aged between 24 and 35 dropped by 5.5 per cent over the same period. This leaves that age group the most under-represented in our state by a long shot. These are alarming statistics and only reinforce the need to address this issue.

If we work to a goal where a greater share of the population is at an age where they will be coming into the workforce and contributing to our economy, we will start seeing an improvement in Tasmania’s ability to provide essential services and—dare I say it, for the benefit of my Western Australian colleagues—help contribute more to the national economy.

As I have mentioned, since my endorsement I have had the honour of meeting many compassionate, intelligent and hardworking Tasmanians who, in the course of their everyday lives, are doing their bit to enhance our state’s future for the next generation. These people share my desire to see a Tasmania where more young people can and will choose to stay, to find a job, to buy or build a home, to start a business or to raise a family.

As I have already said, Tasmanian produce is high quality and becoming world renowned. As a result, the Tasmanian brand carries with it a premium that the world is willing to pay for. Agriculture to our nation is a vital industry, and it is certainly no different in Tasmania. Fundamentally, it sustains and nourishes us. Economically, it is often a major employer in rural and regional communities. It is an industry where there is employment and investment potential, particularly for our more remote communities, which so often miss out.

But like so many other primary industries, the real challenge is in trying to find the next generation of people able to take on the farm. The high cost just to purchase a farming operation is something that prohibits almost any aspirational young farmer from getting him or herself onto the land. The exception, of course, is if you are already on the family farm.

During the campaign, I had cause to meet with successful young Tasmanian farmer and business innovator James McShane, along with his wife, Tahnee. James was the President of the Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania and is a strong advocate for the agriculture sector in our state. James and his wife discussed with me at length the need to find ways to get younger people onto the land, and they confirmed that there was no shortage of young farmers wanting to make a start. The key question was: how do we enable these younger people to get a foot in the door and overcome the hurdle of cost?

James’s suggestion revolved around the willingness and ability of young farmers to consider leasing a farming operation. This would enable young people to get onto the land, start a farming business and work toward eventual ownership of the farm. Simple though it may sound, he also believes there is a need for the government to assist in directing traffic and providing safeguards around such an initiative. I believe this idea has significant merit and would be a positive step in enabling a younger demographic to live in, and contribute to, our rural and regional communities.

I want to mention another sector of the economy: the manufacturing sector, which across our nation has faced some serious challenges. Competing in global markets is difficult against many low-cost competitors from other parts of the world. Tasmania, like many other parts of the country, has had a strong history in manufacturing. Even to this day, we are still home to some world-leading and innovative manufacturing operations, from the boutique to larger operations with international markets. However, like the rest of the country, we need to compete to survive.

Duniam

I had the good fortune of spending some time with one fellow involved at a grassroots level in the local manufacturing scene in north-west Tasmania. His name was Brett Cleary. Brett indicated to me that he had observed over the years a pattern of local businesses importing components and items for the repair and maintenance of their operations from overseas. This importing took place when items of an identical nature and quality were able to be manufactured right there on the north-west coast and, indeed, at a far cheaper rate than the imports. As Brett explained to me, this happened simply because there was no knowledge of the local option. These smaller local manufacturers had limited means of promoting their wares against larger overseas suppliers. He believed there was a need to somehow promote the fact that local manufacturing options could supply what local consumers were after—right there, on the doorstep, at a competitive price. His suggestion was to facilitate a central point where local manufacturers can link up with local buyers.

Of course, a local community is not going to be able to produce everything it needs within that local community, but if there is a chance that it can be done then we should support that and enable local manufacturers to thrive and, in turn, employ local people. By enhancing the chances of local innovative manufacturing operations through simply connecting manufacturers with consumers, we are retaining jobs in our community rather than needlessly sending them elsewhere. This could provide new and sustainable jobs for younger people—jobs that might just keep them in our communities.

These are just two examples of suggestions made by other people to me during the election. I am not talking about things that I have come up with or ideas that I have had. I know no-one here has a mortgage on good ideas; no-one has all the answers. If I thought I had all the answers, I am pretty sure I would be told very soon that I was wrong. This is an illustration of the importance of getting out, staying in touch with our community and understanding what will work to fix local problems. I see the most important part of my role is to listen to my community and to work with them on suggestions and ideas they may have for our future. This is the good thing about a strong community: people can work together, share ideas and reach a good outcome. Additionally, good ideas and good policies do not need to be complex. In fact, it is my belief that they should not be. Simple, practical policies do not have to involve large bureaucracies and mountains of paperwork to actually achieve results. The two examples of great ideas that came from listening to my community are ideas that do not require massive machinery of government to make them work, yet they are ideas I believe will yield great benefits for the community. I look forward to continuing to work with the people I have mentioned and the Tasmanian community on trying to bring to life these and other positive ideas for a stronger future in my home state and other parts of the country.

Being able to do this, to take up the ideas of my community in this place and within government, is the benefit of our system of parliamentary democracy. Every day we need to give thanks for the simple fact that we are blessed with free democratic government. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that, since our Federation in 1901, has continuously enjoyed stable and fair democratic government.It is easy for those of us who have known nothing else to take for granted the amazing benefits and freedoms we have living in a democracy.We can have a say over the future of our country. Indeed, it is entirely up to us when we at the ballot box cast our vote on election day.We can openly express dissent in the government.We can form alternative political parties for a specific cause or community.And we can do all of these things without fear of repercussions, punishment or persecution.

Duniam

As is true of many Australian families, my family is no stranger to involvement in democratic institutions. My late grandmother, Iris Graham OAM, was the first woman elected to the Burnie Council in 1953 and then almost 20 years later stood as a Labor candidate in the Tasmanian Legislative Council seat of West Devon. Sadly, she was unsuccessful but then, perhaps having seen the light, subsequently ran again as an Independent.My own mother, Mary Duniam, is currentlythe deputy mayor of the Waratah-Wynyard municipality—a force of nature in her own right, supported so wonderfully by my amazing father, Roy.

But, for me, the true value of democracy really only became clear when I met my wife, Anisa, and her family.Anisa’s family sought political asylum in Australia having come from Albania, a country that for approximately 46 years was brutally ruled by a communist dictatorship that oppressed its people in the worst of ways. Over the 15 or so years that I have had the honour of knowing my parents-in-law, I have heard firsthand just how evil that regime was and how lucky they feel to be here in Australia, enjoying all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of democracy.Just them saying that to me, and knowing how they cherish those rights, really brings it home.

Both of my parents-in-law came from families classified by the regime to be anti-communist and so, of course, the Communist Party not only viewed all the family members, including the children, with suspicion, but also took any opportunity to punish them.For instance, my wife’s maternal great-grandfather, Fran Mirakaj, was ordered to denounce his Catholic faith and instead pledge his faith in the dictator. His refusal to do so resulted in him being tortured to death in ways that do not bear explaining.In April this year, this man, who was killed for simply standing up for his beliefs, was among the Albanian martyrs beatified by Pope Francis.

Then there is the story of Sute Bashar, my wife’s great-aunt who, because of her anti-communist ties, was imprisoned with her three young sons for over 25 years. While Sute eventually was released from political prison, sadly only one of her children joined her in freedom. The other two, too young to express an opinion in any way, never survived the ordeal.

I could go on, but the point I want to make is that I draw a true appreciation of democracy from the experience of my wife’s family. They fought hard and sacrificed a lot for what we have and, sadly, what we take for granted. This is also a key reason that I identify as a Liberal: the protection of freedoms in our society.

Underpinning our strong democracy is a need for respect—respect for one another’s views and indeed respect for the outcome of a democratic process. I hope that, with the significant and sensitive debates we have coming up, we can all show respect for one another and our individual views.

The values, the views and the priorities I bring to this place have been built around what I have learnt in my life so far. A thoughtful man once said that the seven crimes of modern society were these: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; and, perhaps above all, politics without principle.My own guiding principles come from my own hardworking parents, from the experiences relayed to me by my parents-in-law and from my own personal beliefs and life experiences to date.It is those things that will inform the decisions I make—nothing else and no-one else.

No election is possible without the help of many. Across Tasmania and across the nation thousands of volunteers, because of their firm beliefs in the Liberal cause, went out en masse and campaigned for a Liberal victory. I will never forget the support our party membership in Tasmania has shown to me.I am honoured also that some of those volunteers have flown from Tasmania to join me today, including Jim and Judy Bowler, who first helped me out shortly after I moved to Hobart for university by renting me a house. I have to say that I must have made a good impression, because they ended up renting their house to five very unruly university students, yet they are still here supporting me today! So thank you. Some of my dearest friends are also here: Nick, Jane and Dan, to name a few. Thank you so much for your unending support.

Duniam

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many amazing and committed people: Brad Stansfield, Don Morris, Kate Raggatt and Sandy Wittison, among scores of others I cannot even begin to name today.Their commitment and loyalty to the cause cannot be questioned. These people will remain friends I will have for life, and to them I say: your invaluable advice and guidance will always be appreciated.

I want also to pay tribute to the professionals of the Tasmanian division: our state president, Geoff Page, for his admirable and commonsense leadership of our party in Tasmania, supported by Sam McQuestin, who did an amazing job in tough circumstances.I would also like to thank those who have taken a chance on me over the years, including your predecessor, Mr President, Paul Calvert; Eric Abetz; you, Mr President; and the Premier of Tasmania, Will Hodgman. Thank you for the opportunities I have been given. Also, to the Speaker of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, Elise Archer, who has done me the honour of being here today: thank you, Elise, for your and Dale’s support.To my fellow first-time Tasmanian candidates who sadly did not make it here—Amanda-Sue Markham, Marcus Allan and John Tucker: thank you for working with me through the campaign.

To my parents-in-law, Zekri and Tina: thank you for welcoming me into your family and for supporting Anisa and me as you have done so unconditionally.To my parents, Mary and Roy: you have always encouraged my ideas and my goals. Your commitment to family and hard work in life was not lost on me. The example you provided has set me up for life. I know how hard you both worked to provide for our family and I truly thank you.To my brother, Matthew, and his partner, Sarka, and my sister Paula and her husband, Brett: thank you for being so supportive on this journey.

My late grandfather, Tasman Duniam, once gave me a homemade box in which he wrote, maybe whimsically, that one day I might become a Tasmanian senator. So we can all blame him for putting the idea into my head!

Finally, to my family, my three wonderful sons, Hugo, Henry and Spencer: I know there will be times when we will not see a lot of each other, but I hope in time you understand why we decided to do this.

And,finally, to my partner in crime—the ever-understanding Anisa, my wife, who has supported me from day one: I know I will be thanking you for the rest of my life.

Mr President, my late grandmother Iris Graham had a lifelong motto: ‘Deeds, not words.’ What I say here today about what I want to achieve, while important, is one thing. Acting on words and hopes is quite another. I look forward to working hard to implement what I believe is right for my state and for this country.I thank the Senate.

Duniam

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