Press "Enter" to skip to content

Sen. Matthew Canavan (Nats-Qld) – Maiden Speech

Senator Matthew Canavan has delivered his maiden speech to the Senate.


Canavan, a Nationals senator from Queensland, was elected at the 2013 federal election. His term began on July 1 and will expire on June 30, 2020.

Prior to the election, Canavan was Chief of Staff to then-Senator Barnaby Joyce. An economist, Canavan was formerly a Productivity Commission director and a senior executive at KPMG.

  • Listen to Canavan’s speech (22m)
  • Watch Canavan (26m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Matthew Canavan’s maiden speech.


Senator CANAVAN (Queensland) (17:21): I am honoured to give my first speech in the Senate and I am honoured to have been elected by the Queensland people to represent them. I will do my best to serve their collective interests with courage, integrity and humility. It is a privilege to follow a great friend of mine, Senator McGrath, and I just want to put on record at the start that there are lots of people here tonight, but most of them are here at his calling. They have come here for him, and I say, ‘Good on you, James, for being able to get more people to come along to the Senate to see a speech than go to the average Raiders game here in Canberra!’ Apologies, Zed.

In my time here I want to make sure that all Australians can choose their own job, buy their own home, start their own business or have their own family. For each small Australian to be big they must be free from big government, big banks, big unions and big corporations. I believe that the best way we can give Australians that independence is to keep taxes low, make it easy to employ someone, promote property rights, protect the family and continue to develop the ‘plains extended’ of our vast continent.

I have been lucky to have two wonderful parents, Bryan and Maria, who are here tonight; my brother and sister, John and Emma, who are also here; and my grandma Val Canavan. I will never forget the hours upon hours of playing cricket in our backyard in Logan, just south of Brisbane. My dad built us a full-length concrete cricket pitch. He boxed up the pitch himself and he even started mixing the concrete in a wheelbarrow. Very soon, a few yards into the full 22, he realised that was a bit silly and he ordered in a cement truck. I joke now that, while my dad is very proud that I have been elected a senator for Queensland, there is still a tinge of disappointment that I did not reach my true calling to wear the baggy green for Australia.

I have been lucky to meet my beautiful wife, Andrea, and I feel so blessed to have one person who I can share everything with—the ups and downs, the moves all around the countryside and most of all our three beautiful sons: William, Jack and Henry. We are expecting our fourth child very soon, and, just in case anyone is wondering, the due date is not nine months from election night.

I started talking about my family tonight because that is the reason I got involved in politics. I wanted to do something where my children could see the differences that I was making, so one day when I was sitting in front of a computer at the Productivity Commission I cold-called Tony Abbott’s office and asked if he needed an economist. His office did not, but Barnaby did, so I ended up with him.

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator CANAVAN: It was not meant to be a joke. I did not know Barnaby then, but I had met someone I very quickly grew to respect enormously. You get to know your bosses very quickly in politics. A few months in, we were working an election campaign and one night right in the middle of the campaign we were sharing a particularly comfy room together where the two single beds would have been at most half a metre apart. We tucked ourselves in for the night, and then I remembered that I had not called my wife. So I got out my phone and I texted my wife: ‘Hi, babe. Love you. Miss you lots.’ At least I thought that text went to my wife. Instead, I had been texting Barnaby so much that it went to him by mistake.


More seriously, in the words of TE Lawrence, Barnaby is someone who ‘dreams with open eyes’, and I want to thank him for the opportunity he gave me to work for him. One of our first trips together was to Cubbie Station. Late one night as we were coming home after a drink at the Dirranbandi Hotel we got talking about climate change, the ETS and all that. I said to him that what I could not understand while working at the Productivity Commission was why the renewable energy target had bipartisan support, even though it was clearly the most costly policy because it made poor people pay rich people to invest in wind farms or to put solar panels on their roofs. At this, Barnaby riled up and said that it was not the policy of the National Party, and of Ron Boswell, in particular. That was my introduction to Bozzie. There is no-one like Ron Boswell, and I certainly cannot replace him alone. It is up to all of us in the Nationals Senate party room—Nigel, Fiona, Wacka, Bridget and Barry—to follow Ron’s example and take up the fight for the causes we may not want to fight for and we may not think we can fight for, but we know we must.

I come into the Nationals party room not as your typical National Party senator. I am not a farmer and I am not a small businessman; I am an economist who has spent most of his time working for the Productivity Commission. We are lucky to have an organisation like the Productivity Commission. There are very few independent organisations in the world that are set up by governments to criticise governments. In my time there Gary Banks led the organisation with consummate skill, and I thank him for taking the time to come here tonight. My first boss, Ian Gibbs, is also here, and later tonight I am expecting to receive a copy of this speech back with lots of corrections and red ink all over it.

It is an unusual path to travel from the Productivity Commission to the National Party. The predecessor bodies of the commission fought famous battles against a great leader of the Country Party, John McEwen. Those battles about protectionism are well and truly behind us. John McEwen’s underlying principles and values are what we should remember today. What drove John McEwen was not a desire to impose higher tariffs but to protect the wealth-producing industries of our nation. Once again, our wealth-producing industries need support. Our agricultural, mining, manufacturing and tourism industries face high taxes, over-regulation and, most of all, a complacency that they will keep producing wealth regardless of what we do in this place.

While I was at the Productivity Commission, I was constantly reminded of how important it is to get the costs of business down. We spent 30 years in Australia removing tariffs to reduce business costs, deregulating financial markets to reduce business costs and reforming our energy sector to reduce business costs. It is now often forgotten how successful that was. From 1990 to the mid-2000s, electricity costs fell by 27 per cent in real terms for businesses. For the past half a decade we have followed the opposite approach. We have imposed a carbon tax and a renewable energy target that increased business costs, and we have unwound many of the improvements to industrial relations that provided a way to link greater productivity to higher wages. We have gone from having some of the cheapest power prices in the world to now being just above average. Just seven years ago businesses in Australia paid less than 10c per kilowatt hour for electricity. Today many pay more than 20c per kilowatt hour. In the United States, businesses pay the same prices that we did just a few years ago.

We have very similar resources to the United States—abundant supplies of coal and gas—but we give up our natural advantage in wealth and job creation when we turn our back on them. I want to put on the record my admiration and support for our fossil fuel industry and the thousands of jobs it supports, including my brother’s. Fossil fuels have made more contribution than almost any other product or invention towards humanity’s long ascent from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to ones of comparative luxury and leisure.

The only form of energy that I want to promote is cheap energy, because we have a choice: we can either have cheap energy or we will get cheap wages. To get cheaper energy, we need to rediscover that the whole point of providing infrastructure is for the users of infrastructure, not the owners. We have made a mistake in putting the profits of electricity and gas networks ahead of lower prices for end consumers, businesses and families. We need a new national productivity agenda to bring down the costs of doing business, to boost productivity and to create well-paying jobs. Higher productivity is the only viable way to lift our standard of living over the long term.

While I am an economist, our national debate is sometimes driven too much by economists. There are lots of truths in Adam Smith; there are also lots of truths in Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Rousseau and Rawls. Just because something does not have a price does not mean it has no value. In the National Party we believe that small is beautiful. Small farms and small businesses allow more Australians to have a stake in their country. Smaller towns provide for greater community spirit and the smallest social unit of society, the family, is the most important one for us all. As Aristotle noted, the nature of everything is best seen in its smallest portions.

The fundamental mistake of the National Competition Policy was the view you only needed the potential competition of a few big firms to deliver the benefits of actual competition from many small firms. The lived experience of potential competition has not delivered the goods. Farmers struggle to achieve a return on assets of more than two per cent, while our major supermarkets and banks make returns regularly of more than 10 per cent. It is not right that the people who produce and grow our food make returns so much lower than the people who sell our food. Our competition laws are too focused on protecting against monopoly power—but just as economically ruinous can be too much buying power, or monopsony.


It is probably a bigger issue, monopsony, for our economy because we are of a relatively small size, we have highly concentrated markets and we are a long way from potential overseas buyers. Apple growers in Stanthorpe rely heavily on the major supermarkets; sugar growers generally only have one mill to sell to; and grain growers, despite selling all around the world, have limited means to transport their product to market. Yet Australia’s seminal legal textbook on competition laws does not mention the word monopsony, or buying power, once. This is not a criticism of the authors; they are simply reflecting the state of our laws and our jurisprudence. Too-low prices can be just as detrimental as too-high prices because they lead to lower supply and reduce incentives to invest in new technologies. To protect small businesses we need stronger competition laws. We need an effects test in the Trade Practices Act. We need low-cost arbitration processes and stronger penalties for dominant businesses that do the wrong thing.

We should encourage as many Australians as possible to own property. Owning property gives you both individual freedom and a collective stake in the defence of our nation, its liberties and its rights. One of the greatest days of my life was the day my wife and I got the keys to our first home. I remember that night well—we had pizza on the floor of our home. We had no furniture in it yet, but we were monarchs in a room of our own with rights that no-one could dispute.

But homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for my generation. Unreasonable restrictions on land release are part of the reason, but these are largely state issues. At the federal level we make it harder for young people to buy their own home by forcing them to put 9.5 per cent of their income into a savings account they may not be able to access until they are 65. I wanted to own a home when I was 25, not 65. Why make people save for retirement before they can own their own home? We should free up the rules around superannuation so that young people can use their income and their savings to buy their first home.

Property rights generally are under attack in Australia. The states should have the right to promote and protect public health, safety, welfare and morals; but governments across Australia are abusing this right. Farmers have had their right to clear land taken from them. Fishermen have had their right to fish restricted. Local councils are enforcing draconian restrictions on what can be done in self-defined green zones and landowners have more ability to keep their mother-in-law off their property than a mining company. By the way—hi, Joan; thanks for coming down!

In all of these cases the government is not acquiring property from landowners but the government is regulating its use to such an extent that it is effectively taken from private hands. Under our Constitution, property owners only have compensation rights for the acquisition of property, not for the taking of it by means of regulation. Our Constitution differs from the fifth amendment to the US Constitution in this regard. American courts have developed a detailed case law on regulatory takings that defines when government decisions amount to a taking and therefore trigger a compensation claim.

The private individual should not pay for the public good. If the public seeks greater protections, then it should be willing to pay just compensation for them. We should look at providing the same protections as exist in the United States here, either through our own constitutional change or an act of parliament. Property rights are important because they help protect the basic unit of our society, the family. Property delivers security and permanence and that encourages people to make the biggest investment decision of their lives: the decision to have children. I support a tax system that recognises the family. Family tax benefits are not welfare—they are due recognition that families face higher unavoidable costs and therefore deserve taxation relief. But not all families are treated equally under our tax system. Two Australian households that earn the same amount of joint household income can pay vastly different amounts of tax.

Take a household of two children where both parents work full time and each earn $60,000 per year. Their total household income is $120,000 and they pay about $24,000 a year in tax. Compare that to a household, also with two children, where only one parent works and earns $120,000 per year. They have the same household income, yet this household pays about $34,000 per year in tax—$10,000 per year more than the double-income household. Putting it another way, a double-income family could potentially earn up to $215,000 a year before they pay the same average tax rate as a single-income family on just $120,000 year. This is unfair. People with similar ways and means should pay similar amounts of tax. Other countries, including the United States, Germany and France, allow parents to split income for tax purposes. The Canadian government has promised to introduce income splitting once their budget has returned to surplus. We too should have a goal of correcting the injustice for single-income families once our budget returns to surplus under a coalition government.

The great reform efforts in industrial relations over the past 200 years were all aimed at reducing the time we spend at work, and I recognise the efforts of the Labor Party in bringing many of these achievements about. But it is a backward step in modern times that we now try to maximise the number of people in work. For most of us, what we achieve in the home will far outweigh our achievements at work. My wife and I have made the decision that she would stay at home and look after our children while they were young. Even so, she too feels the modern pressure to enter paid work because, as it works now, unless you are in paid work you are not contributing. That view is rubbish. Whatever I achieve in my professional career, including in this place, will not matter a jot compared with to the achievements and legacy of my wife. When we are 64, enjoying a bottle of wine, what we will reflect on is our children and, God willing, our grandchildren. My wife will have a greater impact on that outcome, because I spend too much time at work.


My son came home from school the other day with one of those posters of himself with his picture on it and questions about what he likes and does not like. He said his favourite thing to do was to ‘tackle daddy’. Henry, I hope I find the time in this job so you can keep tackling me enough. Andrea, if you want to tackle me from time to time, that is okay, too.

Mr President, you would be aware of the hardships we senators face. Unlike our colleagues in the other place, we sometimes have to wait up to 10 months before taking our seat in parliament! But it is not all bad. I used some of my time to spend a few weeks working in a stock camp in the Gulf of Carpentaria. I went there to learn about cattle, but I came away learning more about people. I learnt about the young Australians that get off their backsides and work hard in a place thousands of kilometres from their friends and their family, often for not very much money.

I want to thank Brendan Menegazzo, Tony McCormack and John O’Kane for making this happen. I also want to thank Tom and Tanya Arnold, the property managers at Miranda, for their kindness and hospitality; and Tess Cox, the head stock woman, and her team for finding nice quiet horses for me to ride on, even if that did not stop me falling off.

I hope that in my time here I can make decisions that do not make their lives any more difficult, because we want people to follow them and go to the frontiers of our nation, work hard and build something better. I want to make it easier for them to get to town on a Friday night on decent roads. I want to let them pay tax that reflects the level of public services that exist 100 kilometres from Normanton—which isn’t very much. I want to let them enjoy the simple pleasures of living that life, which include fishing; rum and coke; pigging; and, for some, cigarettes, without putting up taxes every year, or regulating every little risky enjoyment in life.

I am proud to have been elected as the 10th Liberal National Party senator and the 52nd Nationals or Country Party senator. I have been a member of both the Liberal and National parties separately. In Queensland, we are a stronger unit for combining the great principles and people of these two great parties. I want to thank all the members of the LNP for the work they did to help me be here. I am always humbled to see so many people work for free to help me get a well-paying job. Getting elected to the Senate is a team effort. I want to thank, like James did, the great work that Senator Ian McDonald did in leading our team at last year’s election—and, of course, James as well for his work. But also most of all to our other candidates David Goodwin, Theresa Craig and Amanda Stoker who put in tireless amounts of work, travelling a big state to help us all be here.

Many from the LNP have travelled down to be here tonight, but I want to particularly thank Bruce McIver and hard work of his executive and office team. I also want to pay tribute to Brad Henderson, who could not be here tonight because they work so hard they have another election this Saturday and they are up in Brisbane.

I pray to God that He can help me meet the expectations I have set here. I pray that I can contribute to the Senate in ways that respect and build on its great legacy. I pray that I can work with a government that returns Australia to the path of balanced budgets; returns Australia to a path where opportunity and security increases every year; and, most of all, a place where all Australians find their own independence and freedom to live the lives they want to lead. I look forward to working with every one of you for the benefit of all Queenslanders and all Australians. Thank you and God bless.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024