Senator Glenn Lazarus has delivered his official first speech to the upper house.
Having spoken numerous times on legislation over the past month, each time stating that it wasn’t his first speech, the Queensland Palmer United Party senator joked at the outset that it “is now my first speech”.
Senator Lazarus was elected as a Queensland representative at last year’s federal election. His term began on July 1 this year and will expire on June 30, 2020. He is the Senate leader of the Palmer United Party.
Lazarus, 48, is best known as a professional rugby league footballer. He played with the Canberra Raiders, the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm, as well as representing Australia internationally and New South Wales in the State of Origin.
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Hansard transcript of Senator Glenn Lazarus’s maiden speech.
The PRESIDENT (17:01): Order! Before I call Senator Lazarus, I remind honourable senators that this is his first speech; therefore, I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.
Senator LAZARUS (Queensland—Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate) (17:01): Mr President, I would like to inform the chamber that this is my first speech. I am extremely humbled yet incredibly proud to be standing here today to deliver my first speech. I am deeply honoured and thankful to have been elected by the people of Queensland to represent them in the Senate of the Parliament of Australia. I promise the people of Queensland that I will embrace this responsibility with every ounce of energy I can muster, unwavering in my resolve to listen to the concerns of Queenslanders, fight for their rights, act on their needs and deliver outcomes and results which improve their quality of life, enrich and advance their communities, and provide greater opportunities.
Many people assisted me in my journey to this great institution of democracy and today I will endeavour to mention many of them during the course of my speech. They have played a fundamental role in helping me to be the best version of myself and in helping shape the person I am today.
While I now live in Queensland and while I raised my family and played many of my sporting years in Queensland, I am also extremely familiar with Parliament House and the city of Canberra and surrounding areas. I was born into a working-class family in the town of Queanbeyan, just over the border in New South Wales, and spent my younger years growing up and working in and around the area. As a youngster growing up in humble surrounds, my mother Judy, who is here in the gallery today, and my father Pat, who unfortunately has passed, worked hard to give me and my three brothers, Brett, David and Paul, a safe and fulfilling family environment which was supportive and encouraged us to embrace opportunity. Brett is here in the gallery today.
Our family home was modest: a small three-bedroom, one-bathroom brick home in Queanbeyan. My father Pat worked as a shearer on farms throughout country New South Wales and with the local council as a shiftworker. My mother Judy worked in a registry office during the day and yet managed to take care of the home—and in a house full of boys this was no easy task. She would put dinner on the table and get myself and my brothers to swimming training early in the morning and to football training late in the afternoons. On weekends, my mother would spend her days cutting up oranges, getting myself and my brothers to football games—often four different games every weekend—all located across different parts of Canberra and Queanbeyan. She always did her best to watch all four of us play football, cheering us on and encouraging us, mostly in the bitter icy cold through rain and wind. While small in stature, my mother Judy was big on discipline. She certainly knew how to keep us all in order and we definitely knew when we were in trouble.
Our life was simple and my brothers and I enjoyed a great childhood, often playing football across neighbours’ lawns, occasionally breaking windows and getting into trouble. We made our way to and from school and waited for mum to come home from work to cook dinner for us. Some weekends, I would travel with Dad to local farms where he would shear sheep and tail lambs. More often than not, we would go to Pat and Frank Morrison’s farm on the outskirts of Queanbeyan. While not experienced, I helped Dad out where I could. On many occasions Dad tried to show me how to shear a sheep, but I deliberately avoided learning the skill. I saw what shearing did to Dad. He would come home from shearing late at night tired, depleted and very sore from the physical work. I had no desire to follow in his footsteps. His shearing work showed me how tough it was to work as a shearer.
Dad had a reputation for being a hoarder. His trips to the tip were legendary. Often on Saturday mornings, Dad would load up the trailer and take things to the dump and come back with more stuff than he took away. Dad’s view was that nothing should be wasted, that there is always a purpose for something and, if there were not, he would find one. As a result, we were taught to be careful with money and to value what we had.
I enjoyed school but found it tedious at times. I still remember, to this day, my maths teacher in year 10 telling me that I would never amount to anything. Perhaps I was not the brightest child in his maths class, but what that teacher may not have realised is that, firstly, Australia is a country of opportunity and if you work hard you can achieve anything and, secondly, that people are influenced by the people they meet. I went on to meet many wonderful people in my life who encouraged, inspired, taught, mentored and supported me to grow and succeed. Despite the views of my teacher, I continued to play football on weekends with the Queanbeyan Blues and worked in various jobs.
In my early 20s I was lucky enough to be offered a contract with the Canberra Raiders. Here I met and was coached by Tim Sheens, who is here in the gallery today. Tim took me under his wing and showed a genuine interest in my development and wellbeing as both a player and a person. Tim was a young coach who related to the challenges of raising a young family and playing at an elite level
He was and still is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable on the game. Tim could talk forever about the game. If there were an Olympic event for talking about Rugby League, Tim would win the gold medal hands down. I am extremely grateful to Tim for his kindness, encouragement and support. Under Tim’s leadership at the Canberra Raiders I played in three Rugby League grand final, winning two of them back to back. I also forged great friendships with many people at the club, including CEO John McIntyre and his wife Anita, and teammate Kevin Walters, who are here today, and Ricky Stuart, who unfortunately cannot be here today due to coaching commitments.
While playing at the Canberra Raiders I also worked at Brian Pollock Motors in a customer liaison role. Here I met wonderful people, including Brian Pollock; one of my biggest supporters, Graeme Young, who sadly is no longer with us, and Ron and Jackie Butler, who are here today. The team at Brian Pollock Motors were incredibly supportive, never missing a Raiders home game. Very few cars were sold on Monday mornings, as the whole sales team took the opportunity to review the game, provide coaching tips and explain how the team could have performed better. It was also at Brian Pollock Motors that I forged a valued and long-term friendship with my good friend Ben Lemmon, who is here today.
Despite sustaining a serious sternum injury in 1991, I was lured to the Brisbane Broncos at the end of the season. This is where my love affair with the state of Queensland began. This is also where I further strengthened my relationship with Wayne Bennett and Kevin Walters. My move to Brisbane was the first time I had moved away from my home town, and I was both nervous and excited. My coach, Wayne Bennett, who is here in the gallery today, embraced my arrival to Brisbane and showed me incredible support. In fact, my young family and I moved into a home only a short distance away from Wayne and his family in Brisbane.
Over the course of time with the Brisbane Broncos I played in two grand finals, winning both of them back to back. Wayne was a calm leader who always provided honest and constructive feedback. He focused on the things that mattered and minimised the things that did not. I soon learned how to hone my determination and where to improve in order to excel as a player and a person. Wayne also respected and understood the need for players to be happy in all aspects of their life in order to perform well on the field and to be successful people in life. Wayne valued the role of family in the club, and the Brisbane Broncos became a very family-friendly environment. In fact, at training often the field was covered with the players’ kids, including my own, all running around and having a great time. Club assistant Springer would regularly take all the kids for joy-rides around the field in the trailer he attached to the back of his ride-on mower to keep the kids occupied while the dads tried to train and prepare for the weekend’s game. I took great delight in watching my children Michael and Lauren having fun while I trained.
Wayne fostered a culture of winning and a culture of teamwork. We played for the club, not ourselves. I enjoyed strong support at the Brisbane Broncos and built wonderful friendships with players, the board and the CEO, John Ribot, who unfortunately cannot be here today. It was here that I also forged a great friendship with Chris Johns, who is in the gallery today.
In 1997, while playing in a Super League World Club Challenge game in Wigan, England, I sustained a serious injury, breaking my ankle. In this same year, John Ribot, then Managing Director of the Melbourne Storm, and Chris Johns, then CEO, who had moved to Melbourne to establish the Melbourne Storm franchise, offered me the opportunity to continue my playing career as the Captain of the Melbourne Storm to establish and grow the new Rugby League club. I am grateful to John and Chris for showing so much faith in me, particularly given my injury. It was an opportunity I will forever hold dear.
I am very proud to have been involved in the establishment of the Melbourne Storm. I worked hard to assist the club and the code to grow the brand and the game across Victoria and forged many wonderful friendships while doing so. I experienced great success at the club, winning another grand final in only the club’s second year, as the inaugural captain of the club, an achievement I am very, very proud of. I am also deeply proud to have represented my country and to have taken part in State of Origin. It was also during my time with the code that I met Geoff Carr, CEO of the Australian Rugby League at the time. Geoff showed me incredible support and I am grateful to Geoff for his support and leadership over the years. The game is in a better place thanks to Geoff’s genuine concern for the players involved, and Geoff is here today.
Retirement from rugby league at the age of 34 was difficult. My heart and my brain desperately wanted to continue on as a player; however, my body did not. Many years of playing at elite level, sustaining serious as well as minor injuries, had taken its toll on my body. I loved every minute of my time with the game and was blessed to have achieved so much success in my playing years. I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful people who are still very dear friends today.
Rugby League truly is one of Australia’s greatest sports and epitomises the spirit of being Australian. Once retired, I did miss the team environment and the winning culture. I moved back to Brisbane via Canberra and enjoyed many years working in the media while still maintaining my involvement in Rugby League in different capacities. It was also during my brief period with Canberra coaching that my youngest son, Hayden, earned the nickname ‘the paver’ because he was not quite a brick yet, although if you have seen him he is now the size of a besser block! During my time working with the media I met and built one of my most cherished friendships with dear friend Mark Braybrook. Mark and his wife Amanda are here in the gallery today.
Rugby League has been wonderful to me and my family. The Rugby League fraternity is one of the most supportive and tight-knit communities. In fact, it was a member of the Rugby League community that brought Clive Palmer and I together. Rugby League legend Ron Coote recommended to Clive that I would be a good acquisition for the Palmer United Party.
Receiving a phone call from Clive Palmer in May 2013 inviting me to join him in building a new party was a surreal and life-changing moment. Clive made it clear that he would like to provide Australia with a real voice comprised of real Australians concerned about the direction in which our country is headed, with the will to make a difference and the courage to follow through for the betterment of all Australians, without the constraints of party policy, and that he would like me to join him. Those that know me know I do not make decisions lightly. I put time into decisions, I weight things up, I look at the pros and cons and, importantly, I consider whether I am able to fulfil what is needed of me, as I like to succeed and know that I am able to put everything into what I am committing to. But Clive was convincing, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only has Clive personally shown me the most extraordinary support, guidance and patience; he has also provided exemplary leadership and courage in the face of what has been one of the most tumultuous and significant periods of change in the history of Australian politics. I would like to thank Clive for his unwavering support and for the trust in me. Clive has welcomed me into his life and his family. Clive is here with us today.
I am also grateful to my staff; the entire team at Palmer United as well as my fellow PUP senators, Jacqui Lambie and Dio Wang; and the PUP Queensland federal candidates for their support and hard work. Many of the Palmer United team are here today.
Australia is a wonderful country personified by the spirit of the Anzacs. The Anzac spirit encapsulates the ideals of courage, endurance and mateship. The Anzacs knew and understood that under no circumstances would you ever leave a mate behind and that you take care of the sick and the injured. The fabric of this country was built on this very precedent. It is the Australian way to take care of the sick and needy, people who have fallen on hard times and people who through no fault of their own are doing it tough. I am deeply concerned that we are losing our way and forgetting the importance of the great sacrifices made by the Anzacs to provide safety, security and freedom to our great nation. We must fight hard every day to practise and live the principles of the Anzacs for this is the Australian way.
My friend and mentor, Wayne Bennett, once said: ‘You have a choice in life. You can sit back and criticise or you can try and make a difference.’ Today, drawing on all my life experience as an Australian and a family man who has raised children, worked in many industries, delivered milk to households in bottles as a young boy as part of my milk rout, tailed lambs with my dad to stop lambs being fly blown, delivered The Queanbeyan Age to the residents of Queanbeyan, worked as a service adviser in a car dealership, played sport at the elite level and represented my country, I will emulate the words of Wayne Bennett because I want to make a difference. I want to continue to represent my country and I want the best for Queensland.
Australia needs politicians who understand the real struggles and hardships of ordinary Australians. Australia needs people with the courage, will, desire and genuine commitment to speak up and act with integrity; who are in touch with the real Australians; and have the ability to put aside their fear of failure and ridicule in order to bring about changes regardless of the personal hardships or consequences this may bring on themselves. Nelson Mandela once said:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
And I am not afraid to tell you that I am scared—scared of the personal attacks and the ridicule that I will attract in my role, scared of the mistakes I may make in my efforts to be the best version of myself as a proudly elected senator for Queensland. But I am prepared to put this fear aside and say the things which must be said and to do the things which must be done if I am to help grow out great nation and reverse some of the wrongs of current and previous governments because Australians deserve better.
I understand success and that sacrifice is necessary to win. I played rugby league at the highest professional level for many years. While my sporting career included many highs, it also included many injuries—injuries which affect my mobility today. Sport and recreation has always been a big part of my life even though you would not think so looking at me! While respected for our love of sport, Australia is today ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. Integrated awareness, education and assistance campaigns are needed to support the community to change. Clearly, Australia needs tax incentives, concessions and other types of incentives to influence behaviour and consumption and to encourage participation in sport and recreational activities.
While travelling around Queensland during my campaign for the federal election in 2013, I visited every electorate in Queensland. Queensland, once the Sunshine State of Australia in weather, lifestyle and economic prosperity, today is a state on its knees, desperate for real leadership and solutions. Drought, natural disasters and increasing costs for farmers, producers and businesses such as from power, government fees, taxes, labour, insurance and other input costs are crippling our great state. Government red tape and slow, erratic and often questionable decision making is also affecting businesses and consumer confidence. We are losing farmers everywhere. Much of our state is in drought, and yet few people are really doing anything to help. Our farmers are being crippled by supermarket duopolies. Queensland has lost over 100 dairy farmers since Coles initiated the milk price war in 2011.
We should not be proud of this. As an Australian I am saddened that our country is treating our farmers this way. Food security is a national issue. We have the largest percentage of productive land of any country across the world, and we should be supporting our farmers and producers to feed our own country as well as expand our food export capabilities, not stand idly by and watch our farmers and growers decimated by inaction, weather, subpar infrastructure, poor economic conditions and ruthless corporate greed.
Sugar cane is a major industry for Queensland, and there are some 4,000 cane growers in Queensland, mostly Australian family owned businesses. Cane growers rely on mills to process their cane. There are 23 mills in Queensland, and only a handful are owned by Australian companies. The rest are foreign owned. Cane growers are now facing challenges dealing with the foreign owned mills which growers feel are crippling their businesses and the industry.
Is this the Australia that we want? Is this the Australia that our Anzacs fought and died for? The answer, I think, is no, and we must change things. I do not care if I am not politically correct. We spend so much time worrying about politically correct and saying the right thing that we lose sight of the real problems affecting our country, the challenges of real Australians on the land. We ignore the real issues because we are scared of saying the wrong thing.
Across Queensland and, indeed, the rest of the country, Australian businesses are being decimated by the importation of overseas products into our country which are being sold at much cheaper prices—prices which our businesses cannot compete with, because many overseas countries have much lower wage rates, lower levels of compliance, lower levels of safety and quality and cheaper costs of production. Hardworking Australians are hurting. Current food labelling does not fully support the promotion of Australian grown or produced food. A government advocacy agency for farmers, growers and producers needs to be established to identify what type of support is needed so it can be provided before more of our farmers are lost. The advocate also needs to be part of negotiations to ensure that our farmers are not crucified by ruthless and greedy corporate practices.
Some in rugby league circles believe that, if South Sydney, a foundation club with a massive fan base, is doing well, the game of rugby league is doing well. The same analogy, I believe, could be used for Australia. If rural and regional Australia is doing well, so is the rest of the country. Queensland has the largest area of agricultural land of any Australian state and the highest proportion dedicated to agriculture. Tens of thousands of businesses carry out agricultural activity in Queensland and the industry contributes more than $10 billion to the state’s economy each year.
More needs to be done to support Queensland businesses. In Queensland we are suffering from high unemployment levels. The real rate is much higher than many other states. Youth unemployment is extremely high—over 20 per cent in many parts of Queensland. Young people have lost hope and fear for their future. Queensland needs solutions. Australians are losing faith in politicians and want change. The Palmer United Party is delivering change and our support is growing. I have a lot to do in my role as a representative for the people of Queensland. While I have achieved much in my life, there is clearly much more to do—and I am up for the task.
In closing, I would like to thank my beautiful mum, Judy, who is here with her good friend Carmel Leary; my late father, Francis Patrick Lazarus; my brothers, Brett, David and Paul; my wonderful and incredibly supportive mother-in-law, Valerie Sanders; my wife and life partner, Tess; and our three gorgeous children, Michael, Lauren and Hayden, whom I love very, very much. I am extremely proud of my children and grateful to my family for their unconditional love and unrelenting support. Thank you.