Senator Slade Brockman has delivered his maiden speech to the Senate.
Brockman, a Liberal from Western Australia, was appointed by the Parliament of Western Australia on August 16, 2017 to fill the casual vacancy created by the retirement of Senator Chris Back.
- Listen to Brockman’s speech (24m)
- Watch Brockman’s speech (28m)
Hansard transcript of Senator Slade Brockman’s maiden speech.
Senator BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (17:01): At the risk of commencing with a groan from some of my colleagues, I stand here today as a proud citizen of the great state of Western Australia—yes, another one. I stand humbled by the honour bestowed upon me by the State Council of the Liberal Party and the parliament of WA to represent the people of our state in this magnificent Federation.
I stand here as the extremely proud father of three wonderful children: Jonathan, Eleanor and Felicity—Eleanor is the one who has been making a bit of noise. Whilst nothing I do in this role reflects upon you, everything I do is through the lens of future generations.
As I stand here, it is a privilege to fill the casual Senate vacancy left by Chris Back. I thank Chris for his years of outstanding service to the nation. I got a departing gift from Chris. In his car stereo was a Dolly Parton CD. Chris, you can claim it back at any time, particularly as my children are now requesting it on high rotation! I follow in Chris’s footsteps—not so much in his musical taste—as we do share a lot in common in our areas of policy interest.
Politics is the hope for a better future for the next generation. I am profoundly and fundamentally committed to Liberal values as the best way to deliver that future. Modern Western market democracies are cleaner, more peaceful, provide greater longevity, more opportunities and greater freedoms than any other society in the history of humanity, something that is easy to forget as we confront genuine problems and challenges. In a changing world, what will give most people the chance of a good life, I believe, is that combination of classical Liberal economic principles with a strong belief in protecting the institutions and values that have underpinned our successes.
Coming from a farming family, it is not surprising that Liberal values found fertile ground. Farmers work hard, seek to be economically self-sufficient and see their family as their top priority. Farmers seemingly also have way too much time to think and talk about politics. The Brockman family started farming in the new colony of Western Australia in 1830 and politics was not far behind. William Locke and Anne Francis Brockman arrived in the new colony with a prefabricated house and some livestock, including three rams and 46 merino ewes.
On his death in 1872, the obituary for William Locke read:
He was termed the Father of the Swan, and was distinguished as being one of the most energetic, persevering, and active of settlers. He took a lead in agricultural and pastoral interests. While many of the early settlers were discussing and talking about the capabilities of the soil, and the products most likely to succeed, he was actively engaged in testing them; and was, we believe, the first person in the colony to sow wheat.
William Locke also sat in the first parliament of Western Australia. One of William and Anne’s 10 children went south to Pemberton, tall timber country, to carve out a farm for himself. This became Warren House on the banks of the Warren River, which remains in our family to this day.
Farming and politics get into the blood. I learned my politics around the kitchen table. My father and mother instilled in me values and principles that were inherently Liberal—individual responsibility, respect for others, self-reliance, family. People from the bush tend to be conservative but they are not frightened of change. On the Brockman farm in Pemberton, my family have raised horses for the British Army, cattle for meat and dairy, sheep for prime lamb and wool, cropping and horticulture. Farmers believe in keeping what works and moving on when it ceases to. This approach breeds self-reliance and an enduring commitment to the family as the central institution of life.
The most profound influence on me was, without doubt, my father, also a William Locke. Dad was a political tragic. He saw politics as the venue where the contest of ideas could profoundly affect people’s lives for good and bad. Dad’s life bore witness to massive change in society. Dad rode a horse to school. His father, my grandfather, died when he was young. Dad took over the farm with the help of family at a young age. As a young man, Dad was mustering cattle on the large coastal leases that stretched from the farm to the ocean, living out of a saddlebag and camping rough with Aboriginal stockmen. Life was tough at times. With the end of the 99-year coastal leases in the 1960s, the original Brockman freehold looked very small by comparison; what was farmed had to change and did. Dad and Mum hung on to the farm through sheer hard work, sacrifice and willpower. Following Dad’s serious illness in the 1970s, they moved to Perth to start their own businesses and to educate their four children, but the farm stayed in the family and was always home.
My enduring memory of my father is of him teaching me practical skills at the farm, telling stories and talking on the phone. Dad could easily talk for an hour or more then deny emphatically that he had been on the call for any more than 15 minutes. The first and last 10 minutes were business. But the bit in between was invariably politics and farming. Dad was not uncritical in his political assessments, but when he had finished castigating the Liberal Party for some error he would invariably go on to say why the other side was so much worse.
Dad ran for state parliament in the 1960s in what was then a safe Labor seat. A growing family and the demands of business meant he did not put his hand up again. I think it was one of his big regrets. But I often think of the last line of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ when I think of Dad—’But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy of the Overflow.’ I do wonder, if he’d made it to parliament, whether or not he would have got fed up with the whole process. Unfortunately, we never got to know. Mum was as engaged in politics though perhaps not quite the tragic Dad was.
My mum, Susan, who is with us today, was the other anchor in our lives. Mum was always very independent and in control. Whilst I would not dare to mention her age, of course, Mum continues to work today. Mum was always very strongly focused on the importance of education and particularly reading. My sisters Chris and Kate, my brother, Russell, and I all have a love of stories and the telling of tales, a gift from Mum and Dad. Growing up between the farm and our bush block in Perth, my siblings and I had a rich and varied upbringing. We were able to get dirty, ride motorbikes, shoot, fish but also get access to high-quality education and university, something not all country kids have. It was a wonderful family life we all shared. To Mum, Chris, Kate and Russ and, of course, Dad, I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for me over the years. Without you, I could not and would not be here today.
My political philosophy has been directly shaped by my rural experiences. My family were fine wool producers in 1991 when the reserve price scheme collapsed, leaving a wool stockpile, depressed prices for years and driving producers out of the industry. Australia once rode on the sheep’s back. The reserve price scheme was terrible policy that nearly killed off a wonderful industry. I was 21 at the time, living down on the farm off and on since graduating high school. I directly experienced the negative impact on our farm business.
Unfortunately, though, the temptation to interfere with markets, to try to control prices and to see agriculture as somehow different or special, has led what is a great industry down rabbit holes again and again. I was able to see this again firsthand when I became policy director at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, fighting for deregulation of the wheat industry. The PGA grains committee was a lone voice who argued that Australia should no longer have a legislated export monopoly for wheat. The grains committee, under the remarkable leadership of the late Leon Bradley, brought an end to that monopoly.
I wish to dwell for a moment upon Leon. He was one out of the box: a profound thinker, a clever user of the media, a wonderful balance of pragmatic politics and philosophical consistency. Agriculture lost one of its great unsung heroes when he passed away earlier this year. Leon was a mentor and a good friend, and he is missed.
The Pastoralists and Graziers is full of highly professional, dedicated, successful people. With Leon Bradley, Gary McGill and Rick Wilson, I first encountered this place, walking the halls, occasionally getting lost, talking industry reform and meeting everyone from John Howard to Kevin Rudd. I grew to appreciate the science, art and occasional brutality of politics. We achieved what we set out to achieve: the deregulation of the wheat industry. The ‘wheat for weapons’ scandal allowed AWB’s monopoly to be challenged and eventually ended. However, it also damaged the reputation of what was a profoundly good government and a great prime minister in John Howard. It also allowed a relatively unknown opposition MP from Queensland, who was apparently ‘here to help’, to rise to prominence. These are the slings and arrows of political fortune.
I join in the parliament my good friend in the deregulation trenches Rick Wilson, the member for O’Connor. I have been privileged to be part of Rick’s long journey to parliament and he a part of mine. Working at the senior level in the O’Connor division for a decade also put me into contact with a number of people who have become good friends: Tom and Victoria Brown, Dom and Evette Della Vedova, Alana Lacy, and Steve and Deb Martin and Kate Wilson. Steve and Alana—and Alana is here today—in particular have been instrumental in helping me to reach this point, and I am eternally grateful for your ongoing friendship and support.
Whilst the PGA and the O’Connor division were my apprenticeship in politics, my masterclass came from my good friend Mathias Cormann. It is hard to believe today, but, back when I started with Mathias, he was a humble backbencher—or so he said, anyway! I was never entirely convinced by the ‘humble’ bit. I thought I would stay for a couple of years, but Mathias was soon shadow parliamentary secretary, then a shadow minister and then finance minister. And in the blink of an eye seven years passed.
Mathias gave me the best piece of advice that anyone ever has, and I’m pretty sure it was on my first day working for him. He said: ‘Make sure you talk to the Parliamentary Library a lot. They are very good.’ I took that advice on board. One particularly stressful day in the office, internal mail arrived from the library with a briefing note—and a chocolate frog. Now, Mathias had a habit of glancing through the mail tray when coming back to the office. He walked in and dropped it on my desk with a smile and the words, ‘Slade, is there anything I should know?’ Well, Mathias was prescient, as the person who sent the frog was later to become my wife—but more on Rebecca later.
Mathias has had a very loyal and hardworking team around him. I wish to acknowledge Natasha Lobo and Sue Chown, who made my role in Mathias’s office so much easier. I also worked with outstanding electorate staff Micheal Prosser, Cam Sinclair, Josh Dolgoy, Mat French and Stephanie Munro. In government I had the privilege of working with many remarkable people. I would like to acknowledge in particular Belinda Pola, Mathias’s current chief of staff, Simon Atkinson and Philippa Campbell. I give my profound thanks for the opportunity Mathias gave me back in 2008 and for his ongoing support and friendship since.
Coming to Canberra on a regular basis from WA was made so much easier by the presence of Dad’s two sisters, Julia and Ann, and his brother, David. And Julia and Ann are here today. It was an absolute pleasure being able to spend time with them and my cousins, who were sometimes in and about Canberra over those years, some of whom it is also lovely to see here today. As my travel to Canberra started soon after my father’s death, it was also a wonderful opportunity to connect to those three people who had shared so much with Dad, good and bad, growing up together on the farm in Pemberton.
In Canberra for this new career I join a strong Senate team from WA, all of whom I know and respect. Michaelia Cash, Dean Smith and Linda Reynolds are remarkable individuals who bring different skills and life experiences to their roles. I thank you all for your ongoing kindness and friendship as I find my new feet. I also thank my lower house colleagues from WA, some of whom have ventured over to this place today. I have been warmly welcomed to this place by all senators, and I wish to particularly thank the other recent arrivals, who have made me feel very much at home.
In preparing for today, it is unsurprising that I return to the words of our party’s founder. Robert Menzies was not one to mince words. In the famous ‘Forgotten People’ speech, he said:
The great vice of democracy … is that for a generation we have been busy getting ourselves on to the list of beneficiaries and removing ourselves from the list of contributors, as if somewhere there was … somebody else’s effort on which we could thrive.
It remains democracy’s great vice, and it has been going on for much more than a generation. However, it should never be forgotten that Menzies’s vision of what it meant to thrive went far beyond the mere accumulation of wealth. He also said:
A man may be a tough, concentrated, successful money-maker and never contribute to his country anything more than a horrible example.
We advocate for small, less-intrusive government, free markets and free individuals not merely to facilitate the accumulation of wealth but because a free, open, prosperous society allows people to improve their lot in life, to enjoy the beauty that this world has to offer in so many ways and to craft a better world for their families and their children. Life for the vast majority of human beings that have lived on this planet was nasty, brutish and short. What was the income gap when one absolute monarch or dictator controlled everything in society? What was the measure of social mobility if you were a subsistence farmer toiling just to keep your family from starvation? If we neglect the source of our improvement in humanity’s lot—economic growth, technological development, a belief in individuals and family, innovation and enterprise—then we will be doomed to live poorer, shorter, dirtier lives.
I come to this place with a background that has encompassed business, industry associations and politics. But if I can say now what I would like to achieve in this place, it is to gaze beyond population centres and look to the regions. A policy area I would like to actively pursue is to look at new ways of driving private sector investment into the regions. Leveraging limited government funds to bring private equity will become even more essential as costs increase. We need the billions of dollars in Australian superannuation accounts to look beyond the cities and invest in rural and regional opportunities. Cutting-edge farming enterprises, like those of Brad Jones from Tammin, bring the best of technology to improving productivity and expanding opportunities. Brad is, amongst many other things, developing precision seeding technology that is being looked at by international industry giants. I met Brad as one of the board members of Australian Grains Champion. The regions are full of people like Brad doing remarkable things. Government must not crush this enterprise but remove barriers to innovation and provide fundamental infrastructure.
We often hear about roads and dams. I think the area that holds most businesses back in the bush is telecommunications. Good mobile and internet access, in particular, is a necessity if rural and regional businesses are to maximise their potential. In a rapidly changing world, it is not enough that we employ the biggest and best equipment. Our farmers must have access to the agricultural revolution fuelled by biotechnology. GM technology has been demonised by some as dangerous and unproven. Yet GM crops have been demonstrated to be safe for human consumption and good for the environment. Australia can and should lead the world in this field. We have the expertise. We have the funding. We must bend our collective will to ensure the fear campaign is not allowed to overwhelm the possibilities inherent in this technology.
Parliamentarians should act upon evidence and be willing to change their minds in the face of good evidence. However, we must always remember that not all evidence is good. If a study cannot be repeated, it cannot be trusted. I would like to see a percentage of research dollars across all fields spent on reproducing existing studies, with a focus on areas where such studies are driving public expenditure. Scientists in all fields would welcome such an approach, because we should never do experiments merely to publish a paper. We must do experiments to get somewhere closer to the truth. Only if studies can be and are reproduced can they ever take us further along that road.
Good governments—good parliaments—tackle hard issues. GST-sharing arrangements are one such issue. The Productivity Commission’s draft report into the GST found that the current system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is holding our economy back. We need to encourage all states to develop their natural resources and we must embrace competitive federalism rather than rewarding underperformance. In light of this report, everyone in this place and in all state governments must now look seriously at how we can make sensible changes that address the gross anomalies in the system. WA was the canary in the coalmine. It took our GST share dropping towards 30c to reveal the flaws in the system. But every Australian is suffering if we are not maximising the economic development of our nation. I congratulate my colleagues who advocated for the review, and I thank Treasurer Morrison for undertaking it. Clearly, there’s much more to be done, and I commit to working with all my colleagues to help find a workable solution in the best interests of WA and the nation.
As a party that wants to win and hold government to advance Liberal values, there will always be disappointments. We cannot win every battle we fight. But at our core we know what good governments, like those of Menzies and Howard, can deliver for Australia. I am proud to be a small part of another good government under Prime Minister Turnbull, delivering for all Australians.
We are all here thanks to the work of so many. I have already mentioned some throughout my speech, but I cannot leave here today without singling out a few others. This is not an exhaustive list, but as your patience is not limitless, I will apologise to the many friends and supporters whom I will not name but who are also very deserving of my heartfelt thanks.
The Liberal Party is blessed with many tireless workers, but none more so than our senior vice president, Fay Duda, who has provided wise counsel to me over many years. I also acknowledge and thank my good friends on the state executive: Anthony Spagnolo, Chris Tan, Aiden Depiazzi, Liam Staltari, Victoria Jackson, Mihael McCoy and Phil Turtle. I thank the recently-appointed state director, Sam Calabrese, for his ongoing support.
To my state colleagues, including Mike Nathan, Lisa Harvey, Peter Collier, Nick Goiran and all the team: I thank you for continuing to fight the good fight from opposition. I make special mention of Jim Chown, who got me involved on the O’Connor executive, and Peter Katsambanis, who was unfailing in his encouragement of me to seek a Senate position. To my staff Grace Tan, Sonya Shanahan, Maddi White, Jess Wright and Michael Heydon: thanks in advance. You will earn those thanks as we learn when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
To Rebecca’s family: thank you for the support you give to her and to our children. It is wonderful that Rolanda, Rebecca’s mum, her sister-in-law, Jeanette, and Leah and Eli are here today. To John, Brett and Will, and Esther, Nathan and Elsie: we wish you were here and look forward to catching up soon.
To my friends outside of politics, Peta, Kylie, Seth, Tanya, Craig, Adrian, Emily, Matt, Lucy, Aaron, Nic, Dom and Peter: thank you for you friendship over many years. I was recently reminded that we lost one of our good high-school friends, Jeff Green, almost 30 years ago to the day. It is a sobering reminder of the preciousness of friendship and the fragility of life.
I also acknowledge the service of Scott Ludlam, who was also a friend from high school. I thought I might one day have served in the Senate with Scott, albeit on different sides of the chamber. I wish you well, Scott, whatever your future holds.
I thank the many wonderful staff in parliament, who are unfailingly courteous, competent and dedicated. My son Jonathan was visiting the roof one frosty Canberra day when he decided that throwing his beanie over the wall onto the skylight of the Senate was a fun game. Later that day I happened to be chatting to a guard about what had happened and his immediate response was, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ He later returned the beanie to me. He made one little boy very happy.
As you can see, this building holds special memories for me. As hinted at earlier, it was in this building that I met my wife, a senior researcher at the Parliamentary Library. I think I can safely say that no politician or staffer has gained more intelligence or wisdom from the Parliamentary Library than I have! And, luckily, she was born in WA!
Rebecca, we both know that this is a job that does demand more than most from our family. The absences are long, I can occasionally be a little distracted and my phone seems to become an extension of my arm. But this is a road we travel together, you and I, with Jonathan, Eleanor and Felicity. The contribution you make to our children’s lives will outstrip in importance anything I achieve in this place. I thank you for all that you have done, all that you will do. When I am away, I carry your heart with me. To Jonathan, Eleanor and Felicity, my wonderful children, I promise that the moon ants will keep having adventures in Canberra for as long as Dad does, or until you get sick of those stories.
In closing, it is an honour to serve the people of Australia in the Senate. The future of our nation is as bright as the faces of all those children up in the gallery today, full of opportunities and promise. The problems and challenges that we confront can and will be overcome. Australia is a truly special nation, and we must nurture those values—of enterprise, reward for effort, family and freedom—that make it great. Thank you.