This is Dan Tehan’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the Liberal member for Wannon.
An electorate in south-western Victoria, Wannon is a Federation seat that includes towns such as Warrnambool, Ararat, Hamilton, Maryborough, Portland and Terang.
Tehan won 57.29% of the two-party-preferred vote. He succeeded David Hawker, who held the seat since 1983. Hawker succeeded the former prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, who held Wannon from 1955 until 1983.
Tehan, 42, worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade between 1995 and 1998. He was diplomat between 1999 and 2001, before becoming an adviser to Minister for Trade and the Deputy Prime Minister. He was Chief of Staff to the Minister for Small Business and Tourism in 2006-07. He was Deputy State Director of the Victorian Liberal Party in 2008-09.
- Listen to Dan Tehan (27m)
Hansard transcript of Dan Tehan’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives as the Liberal member for Wannon.
Mr TEHAN (5:00 PM) —It is with great humility that I stand before you today in the 43rd Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia as the 14th member for Wannon. It is with great pride that I stand here as the son of the late Marie Tehan, my mother, who was a state parliamentarian. This is a first for the Commonwealth parliament. In Australian political history there has never been a member of this great chamber whose mother was also a parliamentarian. My late mother, Marie, was and remains a great inspiration to me. Not only was she before all else a wonderful loving mother but she was also an inspirational role model. She was a loving wife, devoted grandmother and brought up six children. It is fantastic to have my sister, Kathryn, and brothers, James and Dave, in the gallery today.
Mum firmly believed elected office was not an end in itself. It came with an obligation to work tirelessly to make your community a better place. She showed me the importance of having the courage to drive reform and how, if you needed to take tough decisions, you did not have countless reviews and put things to endless committees—you acted. As Victoria’s health minister she was personally responsible in 1992 for the most significant health reforms this country has ever seen. She drove the reform process in the most trying of economic circumstances with Victoria $22 billion in debt thanks to the gross waste and incompetence of the Cain-Kirner state Labor government. Not much changes.
My father, Jim, who is here today, was a great support to my mother, and she would not have achieved what she did without his help. I can also say without doubt that I would not be in this place today as the new member for Wannon if it were not for his guidance and support throughout my life. Like his father before him, Dad was a farmer who believed in not only working hard on the land but working hard through agripolitics for the land and for his fellow farmers. Like Mum he always found the time for his children, driving me countless miles every winter and summer so I could play country football and cricket. And all this, even though I had decided at age five, despite his urgings, to barrack for the mighty Richmond Tigers instead of his beloved Carlton Blues.
More than anything though, Dad taught me the value of hard work. At any opportunity he put us to work on the farm whether it was as a young boy driving the Land Rover while he fed sheep oats from the back, sweeping the woolshed board after school during shearing time or 5 am starts during summer holidays to help with dipping. We were always expected to put in. When we left school all of us returned to the farm to work for a year. This was a form of exchange. The farm had given us the opportunity to go to boarding school therefore we should give something back to the farm.
I do not think I could have been more blessed than growing up in a large, loving family in the country. It moulded my perspective on life and the beliefs which will always inspire and guide me. It taught me that above all else those who aspire and claim to govern in the national interest should encourage and reward those who are willing to be enterprising, work hard and have a go at life no matter where they live. It taught me that what was good for the country was good for the nation.
The electorate of Wannon is named after the river that runs through it. It is a Federation electorate and its last two members have been Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who saved our great nation from Gough Whitlam, and former Speaker David Hawker, to whom, along with his wife, Penny, I owe great debt of gratitude for their encouragement and support. As I stand here this evening there is not a more beautiful place in the world to live than the electorate of Wannon. Whether it be the yellow canola crops blending with the red gums, lakes and rivers, the majestic backdrop of the Grampians or the fields of rich green pasture running into the rugged coastal shoreline, its breathtaking scenery is superior to any other vista you could find across the world. It is little wonder that, after having travelled most of south-eastern Australia, so taken with it was the early explorer Thomas Mitchell that he called it Australia Felix; fortunate Australia.
The Wannon electorate is diverse and home to wonderful people with outstanding community spirit. Our largest town of Warrnambool is home to 32,000 residents and the famous May races, with the other 300 or more towns ranging in population from 12,000 to less than 10. The towns include many businesses servicing the mighty western district agricultural industry and a host of firms including education, financial, legal and tourism enterprises. They are surrounded by Australia’s largest dairy region, its largest wool growing region, ever-expanding cropping land and vineyards. This agriculture and services mix is supported by industry including mining, meat and dairy processing, timber and engineering for renewable infrastructure.
During my campaign for the seat I set out clearly what I hoped to achieve locally as the member for Wannon—greater federal funding for our crumbling road infrastructure; better health services, including the much-needed Medicare-funded MRI licence for south-west Victoria; employment rules which, instead of putting barriers in the way, encourage our young people to work; changes to the independent youth allowance so we can begin to address the alarming decline in country students accessing tertiary education; and real and practical action to support our local environment. I am deeply honoured and humbled that the electors of Wannon saw fit to make me their representative, their voice in the national parliament. With their help I now set about the task of honouring my commitment to fight for what Wannon needs and of ensuring that this government delivers services on a needs basis for all Australians, no matter where they live, highlighting that what is good for Wannon is good for the nation.
I would not be here today if it were not for the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is unique in that it relies on individuals volunteering their time and effort to create an organisation that will represent their views and the views of their community in the parliament. In Wannon the Liberal Party has more than 1,000 members, and one of the things that greatly inspired me as I campaigned across the electorate was witnessing how much our local members gave to and engaged with our local communities. I cannot place a value on how much this helped my campaign and inspired me personally, but I can say it was central to our success. In many ways, through their volunteer work they were living a life inspired by Robert Menzies, working for social justice and security, for national progress and for the full development of the individual citizen. It is as obvious to me as to anyone else however that, like many other volunteer organisations, our membership is ageing. If what sets us apart from all other political parties in Australia is our volunteer base, we are facing a looming and serious problem. As a party we are continually asking our ageing membership to give even more of themselves, when our collective vision should be to encourage more people, especially from my generation, to join so that they can give. In the end this will mean power ultimately and rightly will remain with our party membership, ensuring that we remain the party best connected to the community and, as a result, the best able to govern for all Australians, including country Australians.
My life experiences will play a large part in informing the way I represent my constituents. As a young boy working in our shearing shed I was taken aback by the fact that two of the shearers who had always been the best of friends were not talking to each other. Upon inquiring of the rouseabout as to why, I learned that one was in favour of using wide combs and the other was not. As it turned out, the friendship of the two shearers, who were both union members, never recovered. One shearer could not understand why the union would have them spending longer doing their backbreaking work and hence being less productive and earning less money per day. The other was of the view that the union bosses knew best: the Kiwis had to be kept out to protect union solidarity, and what did it matter if the comb was not a few centimetres wider? As it turned out, the first was vindicated. But as a young boy I could never understand why the dispute had happened. Why were the best of friends pitted against each other? Why did it take so long for common sense to prevail, for the union bosses to realise that better productivity for the shearers was in the shearers’ interests, country Australia’s interests and the nation’s interests?
Work Choices is dead. One of the most effective union propaganda campaigns ever seen, and Julia Gillard’s regulatory zeal, has seen to it. The regulatory zeal has had consequences however. Take the three-hour-minimum provision. When country kids in my electorate can no longer do their paper round before school, when dairy farmers can no longer get a break from their morning milking and when six kids get the sack from working after school in a hardware store because of this reregulation, something is wrong in Wannon and therefore in the nation, and there is a need to act. Julia Gillard told two young students in my electorate she would act. She said she would, and with one stroke of the pen through a ministerial directive to so-called Fair Work Australia she could have. But it seems the bosses of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union spoke, and two courageous young Australians, Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison, were left hung out to dry.
I want to take this opportunity to put to the Prime Minister three simple questions. Why are you siding with union bosses in supporting rules that mean young Australians in my electorate stay at home playing on their PlayStations rather than encouraging them to work? Why won’t you act in a way that allows all Australians, including country students, to work if they want to? Why can’t you see that what is good for country students in my electorate is good for the nation?
With Australia in the grip of a mining boom, employment flexibility has never been more vital to businesses directly competing with the mining sector for employment, and Australia’s young might never again have an opportunity like this to get the best start to their adult lives by getting a job. As the workforce was deregulated, youth unemployment over the period of the Howard government went from 28 per cent to 17.4 per cent and long-term unemployment went from 27 per cent to 15 per cent. What happens with these two key statistics in the future will be an important social justice indicator of Julia Gillard’s reregulation of the workplace.
Working as a diplomat I was fortunate enough to represent our great nation in Mexico, Central America and Cuba. On my first visit to Cuba I was given an extended briefing by the Cuban government on its health system. I was told that Cuba has more doctors per head of population than any country in the world, that the Cuban medical training school was regarded internationally and that Cuba exports its doctors to Third World countries such as Angola and Mozambique. Following this briefing I met the only foreign journalist permitted to live on the island. He was married to a Cuban woman and they had just had their first child in Havana Hospital. After I told him of my briefing, he told me of the birth of his first child. It was a simple story of the horrors of government intervention, of the misallocation of resources and of why no amount of spin can hide the fact that smaller government is better. He told me how he and his wife took to the birth of their first child at Havana Hospital toilet paper, bed linen and a light bulb.
When a government decides to legislate it always needs to make use of every available means to think through the consequences of its actions and to stop and think whether it should act at all. Nowhere is this more apparent today than in the way this government develops policy. Allowing state bureaucracies rather than school councils and principals to allocate BER resources and allowing a community group in my electorate, Peter’s Project, who want to build an Integrated Cancer Centre, only two months to put together a detailed and technical proposal for funding is, to me, Cuban-style decision making. Less stark, but equally relevant, is a policy that has left a large footprint in my electorate of Wannon. Managed Investment Schemes, or MISs, were primarily designed to provide incentive for investment in forestry. Unfortunately, the incentive that was provided was directed at the corporate tax break and not at sustaining production in timber. While initially providing a flow of investment, an MIS soon became an MIPS, a Managed Investment ‘Ponzi’ Scheme, leaving many in my local communities to ask why the long-term impacts of the scheme were not considered when it was developed. With MIS companies now insolvent, banks having no confidence to lend to the scheme, leading CEOs calling for it to be axed and timbered land in prime food and fibre production areas lying unproductively dormant, now is the time for us to act. An MIS, which unfairly pits small business, our family farmers, against large corporates and which gives the corporates a tax advantage when it comes to purchasing land is not what I consider good Liberal policy. It needs to go and an alternative found to encourage long-term investment in forestry.
Education is a key reason that I am standing here today. Nothing saddens me more than the growing gap between country students who access a tertiary education and their city cousins. The whole system of financial support that helps rural and regional students access a tertiary education needs to be reviewed. This growing gap needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency. As a country student I was lucky. I had a farm to work on for 12 months before I went to university and during school holidays. I was able to take a year off in the middle of my degree to work as a farmhand in Denmark. Even though I worked three nights a week in a bar, I had parents who could help support me when I did my Masters Degree in the United Kingdom. My international relations degree was insightful in two ways. The first is that, by studying international political theory, I was able to understand the philosophical antecedents of the parties in this place. The influence of Burke and Mill has been proudly and well documented on this side. But what of our dear friends opposite? They seem to have lost their way. We must never forget that they are born out of Marx even if they would try and have us forget. We should also remember they have done a deal with the Greens—the party that uses the environment as a guise; the party of Nietzsche, who want to trash modernity and religion in the hope that this will lead dangerously to a complete re-evaluation of our traditional values.
The second lesson I learnt is that globalisation will continue to impact on our society in ways which will continue to challenge us. How we respond to those challenges as Liberals will, in many ways, determine the economic future of our children. Over the long term, we cannot regulate or play defence against globalisation. The capital and labour markets of the world will eventually just pass us by to our detriment. If there was a lesson out of the global financial crisis, it was that the reform undertaken prior to the election of the Rudd Labor government saved us. It is why we have to continually look at ways to make all our businesses, large and small, more competitive. It is why, when country hotels still find it cheaper to buy their beer from the major supermarkets than the brewery, we should look beyond regulation to fix the problem. We should look to our tax system, including company tax, to help small business compete against such anti-competitive behaviour. It is why we should never buy into the concept of fair trade. You are either for trade liberalisation or for trade protectionism. Granted, we have to ensure that, when liberalising, it is done in a way that maximises our competitive advantage. That is not fair trade; that is negotiating cleverly. As a nation that is reliant on our trade in mineral resources, agriculture and services, we have far more to lose from trade protectionism than nearly any other country in the world. In dealing with globalisation, all our children, both country and city, will need the tools to compete. It is why I want to ensure that those country students who want to access tertiary studies can afford to do so. They should be able to access tertiary education—the great enabler.
I would not be standing here today if it were not for the help and support of a great many people. The Wannon preselection had 10 worthy candidates. I was encouraged to be one of them by Dr Denis Napthine, Michael Stewart, Jim and Ellen Dwyer, Leigh Allen, Alison McLeod and Simon Troeth. Jamie Briggs and Brad Williams and their charming wives, Estee and Meredith, as well as others also provided me with invaluable support during the process. My previous bosses—Mark Vaile, former Deputy Prime Minister; Fran Bailey, former Minister for Small Business and Tourism; and Peter Anderson, head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—provided me with the opportunity to improve myself and with excellent references—I will be forever grateful.
The seat of Wannon was contested by nine candidates. I thank from the bottom of my heart the hundreds of Liberal Party members and supporters who, from nonagenarian Kay Wiltshire to teenager Jamie Pepper, the third generation of Peppers to support the Liberal cause, contributed to what was an outstanding team effort. My campaign team of Lisa Robertson, Neil Gough, Evelyn Hunt, Sam Wilson, Geoff Cain, Anna Jamieson, Rob Lawrance, Pat Dalton, Graeme Sandlant, Hazel McKinnon and Matt Makin never wavered from our commitment to run a positive, locally focused campaign. Bill Phillpot, Nick Rule and Duncan Macgugan skilfully drove Wannon area finance. Tony Nutt and Damien Mantach from the state secretariat responded professionally and quickly to my every campaign need. Former Prime Minister John Howard and Australia’s longest serving Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, provided me with references. Former cabinet minister Peter Reith provided me with the soundest of advice. I am honoured.
My friends, many of whom are here in the gallery, did what friends do best. They kept me grounded and never allowed me to take myself too seriously. To Denys Batten and John Parlett, who both took a week off work to help drive me around the 33,000 square kilometres of the electorate, I say thanks. To Dad and Sue, and my brothers and sisters, who all helped on election day: thanks also. To Tony Abbott: we have both come a long way since Beaufort. To the eight members of the shadow ministry who visited: thanks for showing through your actions that you care about Wannon and rural Australia.
Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Sarah, and our children. Sarah and I met not long after we had both lost a parent extremely dear to us. We built through love and sheer hard work a family that brings me such joy words cannot describe. To our children, Oliver, Tim, Amelia, Maya and last but not least Eleanor: give us a wave! You have all had to make large sacrifices so I can be here today. Our soccer games are fewer and Harmony and Rhapsody, the fairies who live in the bottom of the garden, do not get visited as often. I want you to know that I am here because I believe in your future. We are judged rightly by the electorate at each election but, when you grow up, if you and your generation locally deem my time here a success I will have done my job.
My great great grandfather settled in Portland—which is in the electorate of Wannon—with his wife and nine children on two acres of land in 1852. It is possible that one or more of his children were taught by Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop, who was working there at the time. I said I thought I was blessed growing up in a large family in the country! My grandfather, who was the youngest of seven, was the last to leave the two acres. With both his parents deceased, after completing his schooling, he left to join the Postmaster-General before buying his first milk bar and later first country hotel and, importantly, steeplechaser.
His first daughter was my mother. In the well-known Australian sitcom Mother and Son Maggie always had to have the final word. In the parliamentary version, it should be no different. In her maiden speech, my mother had this to say about Labor in power:
That sense of pride and achievement in self, in work well done and in community effort is being eroded throughout this country and must be reinstated as a fundamental value in personal and civic life if we are again to stand tall as … a country. The best place to start to instil and activate this sense of pride is in the security of an accepting environment—the home, the small business, the small town or rural community.
I couldn’t have said it better except to add ‘in Wannon’.