This is Wyatt Roy’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the Liberal National member for Longman.
Longman, a provincial electorate in the Moreton Bay area, was created in 1996 and held by Mal Brough until he was defeated by the ALP’s Jon Sullivan in 2007. Roy defeated Sullivan with a swing of 3.79%, securing 51.92% of the two-party-preferred vote.
Roy, 20, is the youngest person ever elected to an Australian Parliament. He broke the record set by Edwin Corboy in 1918. Corboy was 22 when he won the 1918 by-election for Swan. It was the last federal election to be held using first-past-the-post voting and Corboy was defeated on preferences at the 1919 federal election.
Prior to winning Longman, Roy worked as an electorate officer to a state member of parliament.
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Hansard transcript of Wyatt Roy’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the LNP member for Longman.
The SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the member for Longman, I remind honourable members that this is the member’s first speech. I therefore ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.
WYATT ROY (6:45 PM) —I am deeply humbled to stand here as a new member of the Australian House of Representatives, a house that is gradually becoming more representative of our diverse Australian community. My presence in this place was never perceived to be highly likely. Indeed, the path I took to this place was never the most likely course for an individual to take. However, I am immensely proud of the fact that I am a young person elected to this parliament. I am immensely proud of the fact that it was the Liberal National Party and the Liberal Party federally that has recognised that our parliament works more effectively, and better government is delivered, when we bring a diverse background of people to this place.
I am humbled and proud of the fact that here on the coalition benches I am joined by the member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt. I am proud to have found my political home in the Liberal National Party, not only the side of politics that is home for the member for Hasluck, the member for Solomon and me in this parliament but also the side of politics that provided the first federal woman MP, Dame Enid Lyons; the first woman to administer a department, Dame Annabelle Rankin; and her successor, representing Queensland in the Senate, the first Indigenous parliamentarian, Neville Bonner.
I am proud to come from the party which appointed the first minister for Aboriginal affairs and the first federal minister for the environment. And, of course, the first female ever elected to the parliament of Queensland also came from this side of politics. She was Irene Longman, and I am privileged to represent the seat named in her honour. These firsts represent real and practical outcomes that we have achieved based on the merit of the individual, not on an unfair quota system.
It is the Liberal side of politics that believes that liberalism is the path to greater fairness, that enforced equality never liberates. It is the Liberal side of politics that is the side of opportunity. We are the party based on encouragement, rather than subsidy; of a hand-up, not a handout; the party that has achieved practical outcomes through real action, not cheap political rhetoric. Some people say we are a conservative party, but which party was prepared to endorse a 19-year-old in a winnable seat and then support, mentor and guide that candidate through one of the most fiercely contested political campaigns this country has ever seen?
While I accept that my presence here was never perceived to be likely, I took a simple approach—an approach shared by my party; an approach which says that the political process is not something people should feel disenfranchised from. Our Australian democracy should be owned by all Australians. The easiest thing in life is to sit on the sidelines and complain. It is much harder to stand up for what you believe in. I could never have done that without the support and progressive thinking of the Liberal side of politics. While I am immensely proud to stand in this place as the youngest person ever elected to any parliament in Australia, I am first and foremost the member for Longman. In this vein, I take the view that I am not a young member of parliament; I am a member of parliament who happens to be young.
The electors of Longman have placed in me an enormous amount of trust, and it is my commitment to this great local community that I will work tenaciously in this place and in my community to repay that trust. Longman is an area not defined, in my mind, by its geographical borders but by the character of its people. They are a hardworking people bound by a common aspirational mindset. When Robert Menzies was laying the foundations of the modern Liberal Party, he said that there was an entire section of our society made up of forgotten people. John Howard called them ‘decent battlers’.
In Longman, there are many forgotten battlers. They do not define their success by how big their house is, but they do measure their success by the relationships they have with their families, friends and local communities. I found my political home in the Liberal National Party, in large part because we believe in supporting the individual and their enterprise. We believe in fair reward for hard work. We believe that common sense and a pragmatic approach is a far better guide for government than rigid ideology will ever be.
I see my own personal story as a Liberal story, a story of opportunity and enterprise. My father, who is here today, has taught me the importance of service, of compassion, of responsibility and of a quiet but steadfast pride in our country. He has taught me to be tenacious but to also have a sense of humour. My father started out his working life on a shovel. He took hold of the opportunities that presented themselves and worked hard to provide me, in turn, with my own opportunities and choices. Not only did my father teach me that I should take what I do seriously but also he taught me that I should never take myself too seriously.
Longman is one of the most picturesque electorates in Australia, ranging from scenic mountains to the beautiful Pumicestone Passage. But it also faces significant challenges into the future. We have faced, and will continue to face, significant pressure on our infrastructure and services based on unprecedented population growth. This population pressure is the source of all the great challenges that my local community faces into the future. It affects local health services, infrastructure and sustainable development. Rather than taking a bureaucratic approach to these challenges, our approach to government would have offered real solutions. For example, we took to the last election a great policy to establish local hospital boards. This would have given individuals who face health problems on a day-to-day basis a direct say in how health services are provided locally into the future. It would have empowered local communities.
In terms of sustainable development, a coalition government would have worked in partnership with local community groups at a grassroots level to establish a standing Green Army. These are just two examples of initiatives which would represent true people power, as opposed to a bureaucratic, top-down approach. Someone once said to me, ‘Governments don’t have any money of their own; they only have the people’s money, held in trust.’ Well, I can think of $8 billion of wasted taxpayers’ money which would have been very well directed to improve local health services.
As a young person, I hope that I can bring to this place a long-term perspective, an intergenerational perspective, to the significant policy challenges facing this nation into the future. I am acutely aware of the demographic challenges that face Australia. The Future Fund, which the previous Treasurer, the Hon. Peter Costello, had the vision to set up, is an important and practical response to this challenge. I know that my generation must take personal responsibility for our financial future, in particular for superannuation. Another significant challenge that this nation will face in the future is not only climate change but inevitably the inseparable issues of energy security and energy interdependence. These will all play an important role in how the Australian economy is restructured post the current mining boom.
We should take advantage of the opportunities we have now, as the previous coalition government did, for significant policy reform, such as the Higher Education Endowment Fund. This fund was established as a perpetual fund to guarantee funding for capital works and research facilities by the last coalition government and was abolished by its successor. And we introduced voluntary student unionism, following our consistent policy approach that freedom of association should also apply to those enrolled at university. It should not be a condition of pursuing academic study that people are made to join an organisation which is essentially political in nature. And it is ironic that, where all political parties in this place accept that there should be no closed shops in the workplace, there are still some people in this place who are happy to apply that compulsion to universities, even if they do that by stealth. These significant reforms were designed to utilise the opportunities we have now to plan for the future—showing vision rather than just catering for the short-term election cycle.
My upbringing influenced the political path I have taken. Those of us who come to this place have weighed up what each party stands for and what they offer. For me, it was an easy choice. I wanted to join the party of opportunity, the party based on encouragement rather than subsidy—as I said, of a hand up, not a handout.
Coming from a strawberry farm, one of the things that has always had a significant impact on me is the diversity of a seasonal workforce. We had a united nations of men and women on working holidays, earning money to make their way around Australia. I realise now that one of the particular benefits to me was to be reminded on a daily basis how lucky we are to live in this nation. We accept almost without question that our elections are free and fair. We accept that our judges make decisions based on law, and that they should not be subject to political influence. We accept that our Public Service is appointed on merit and serves the government of the day, regardless of its political colour. We accept that the courageous Australian Defence Force will carry out the policy of the government in a diligent and professional way. But above all we accept that there are many opportunities available to everyone, not defined by the economic or social circumstances of our background. That is not the case in many other countries. This openness, sense of equality and birthright to participate in the political processes of this nation is a constant reminder to me, at a personal level, of the privileges of being an Australian. It was a significant motivation for me to seek preselection for the seat of Longman.
I am the first elected representative younger than this building, home of our political traditions, and I am acutely aware of the trust placed in us by the people who elect us. One of the refreshing things that I am grateful for is the enthusiastic response and support I have received from young Australians across the country. I take this opportunity to thank them, and I take this opportunity to encourage all Australians to actively participate in the political processes of this country, whatever their political beliefs.
A little over 14 million people voted on 21 August and I remind the House that 2.6 million of them were young Australians aged 18 to 30. Many of these people are not so much disengaged from politics; they feel disenfranchised and excluded. The political parties of Australia—all political parties—have to offer more. They have to re-engage. Every decision we take, every vote that occurs here, affects someone. Politics should not be something that people avoid; it should be something that people own.
I am the third member for Longman, and I acknowledge my immediate predecessor and his service to this House. But in particular I acknowledge my political predecessor, the Hon. Mal Brough. I am sure members across the political divide will agree that Mal was a very substantial contributor to this House and will acknowledge the deep commitment and compassion that Mal took to his role as minister responsible for Indigenous affairs. In an area of public policy that has always been challenging, Mal Brough shook established orthodoxies and made us realise how much successive governments had failed in their duty. Politics is often about doing not what is popular but what is right. I believe that Mal Brough deserves lasting recognition for understanding that and taking a principled decision.
When we make the decision to stand for parliament, we all have some idea of the sort of Australia we want to see. For me, it is a country of high productivity, a modern, enterprise economy where barriers to opportunity are minimised; where small business is valued as much as big business; where taxpayers’ money is valued; where, as I said before, we have a system of government that recognises that governments do not have any money—they only have our money; and where there is a clear focus on productivity, job growth and sustainable development.
During the campaign, I developed close relationships with the local Indigenous community. I am deeply impressed by their concerns for the predicaments young Aboriginal men and women find themselves in. These Indigenous leaders are wonderful people who support not only their own communities, but the community at large. I look forward to working in partnership at a local grassroots level to find practical solutions to very real problems, solutions that bypass an often intrusive and often disruptive bureaucracy, perhaps guided by good intentions but unable to deliver effective policy outcomes.
I have enjoyed meeting many local healthcare professionals, youth workers, community organisations and other individuals who have dedicated themselves to serving their local community and finding practical solutions to problems we might otherwise easily overlook. These are the people who define the character of Longman.
I am enormously proud to be here as a member of the Liberal-National Party. It was this side of politics, the Menzies government, which ended the marriage bar in the public service. It was this side of politics, the Holt government, which brought forward the 1967 referendum to remove from our Constitution the awful discrimination against Indigenous Australians. It was this side of politics, the Gorton government, which moved to give federal protection to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. It was this side of politics, the Fraser government, which introduced the family allowance, and established the Institute of Multicultural Affairs and SBS. It was this side of politics, the Howard government, which brought in vital reforms to our taxation system, both for individual citizens and business, and, in the words of a former senior adviser to the leader of the Australian Democrats, did more for the environment than any other government since federation. And it was this side of politics, the previous coalition government, which established within our welfare system the concept of mutual obligation. Mutual obligation was introduced, eventually received bipartisan political support and has lifted hundreds of thousands of Australians from welfare dependence. As I said before: a hand up, not a hand out. These are all lasting achievements by coalition governments that have improved Australian society. These are some of the reasons I see myself as a Liberal.
I want to particularly thank those that have supported me in my role as a candidate and now as a member of parliament. Like all of us, I would not be standing in this House without the support of a great team. I sincerely thank my parliamentary colleagues for their help during the campaign. I also record my appreciation for the professional support I received from the executive and secretariat of the LNP.
My parents, family and friends know how much their support has meant to me. I also had my unofficial family: the Longman campaign team. They did an amazing job, often in the face of adversity. It is impossible for me to name everyone who lent their time, money, blood, sweat and tears to the team effort. However, there are two particular people who I must mention: my campaign chairperson, Mrs Beth Harris, who I am eternally grateful to, for her unwavering support and faith, not only in me but in our shared belief in the very principles we were fighting for. She is a Liberal through and through. To my political mentor, Mrs Carol Humphries, I say, ‘Thank you for being there to make me believe I could do it.’ I owe Beth and Carol, and the great volunteer campaign team, more than I can say.
In his first speech, on 28 February 1956, another young Queenslander, the new member for Moreton, Jim Killen, spoke words that particularly resonate with me today. He said:
In the deliberations of this assembly I cannot as yet be guided by experience. I can only be guided by plain good intentions.
This is not a bad first principle for any new member of parliament to follow. I thank the House.