This is the maiden speech by Senator Duncan Spender, Liberal Democratic Party, New South Wales.
Spender was appointed by the NSW Parliament on March 20, 2019, to fill the casual vacancy created by the resignation of Senator David Leyonhjelm.
Spender was sworn in on April 2. He gave a brief statement of condolence for the Christchuch shooting victims on April 2. This is his first speech the next day. He spoke again later on the Budget. The Senate then adjourned and an election was subsequently held on May 18.
Spender was not re-elected. His Senate term lasted for three months and ten days.
David Leyonhjelm, who resigned to contest the election for the NSW Legislative Council on March 23, failed to be elected.
Listen to Spender’s speech (24m)
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Hansard transcript of the first speech by Senator Duncan Spender, Liberal Democratic Party, NSW.
The PRESIDENT (17:25): Order! I remind senators this is the first speech of Senator Spender, and I ask them to maintain the normal courtesies.
Senator SPENDER (New South Wales) (17:25): Thank you, senators, for indulging me with this opportunity, at the busy time that it is, to deliver my maiden speech. Like many of you, I will be facing the electorate in a matter of weeks. So, if I don’t win, this speech will double as a maiden speech and a valedictory speech, which might be a first, so I might even get into Odgers, which is great.
In perhaps another first for a maiden speech, I will be promoting some policies that I know are unpopular. But that’s because the Liberal Democrats craft policies intentionally not to maximise popularity but out of empathy for all people affected, including those people who are often dismissed or ignored in Australian politics.
By way of introduction, I admit to being a policy wonk. In 2001, when I was in the federal treasury department, a colleague, John Humphreys, and I created this libertarian party that we sneakily called the Liberal Democrats. It wasn’t actually us being sneaky. We just read a lot of books about liberal democracy and we thought it was a good idea—honest. I’ve devoted all my adult life to studying and working in government, learning its many failings and trying to restrict it. For the past five years I’ve been former senator David Leyonhjelm’s right-hand man, so I’ll take credit for all the things that he said and did that you liked, and for everything else I’ll leave the blame with David!
I’m a libertarian, which I think means we think about others when we think about policy. I’m a man, so I’ll never need an abortion, but I think they should be legal. I’ll never need breastfeeding aids, but I think they should be GST-free, just like water, milk and medical devices. And I’ll never choose to carry pepper spray, but if others want to take up that option, they should be free to do so to defend themselves against vile thugs. I’m not really a drinker, but I think you should be free to drink at all hours. I’ve never been addicted to nicotine, but I think you should be able to vape instead of smoke cigarettes. I’m not a regular shooter, but I think shooting is a great pastime and sport that is constantly subject to unthought-out policy change. I’m more at home in front of a book than in the great outdoors, but I think that enthusiasts of four-wheel driving and other outdoor pursuits should be able to access public lands and waterways. And—unlike David Leyonhjelm—you’ll never catch me on a motorbike, but if you and your mates like jumping on a motorbike, I will not declare you to be an outlaw bikie gang. This is typical of all libertarians. It’s a live and let live philosophy. I’m not pretending that politicians from the Liberal Democrats are the only politicians that can show empathy; it’s just that our political party is so naive that we let our politicians show their empathy even when it is politically suicidal to do so.
I acknowledge the Ngunawal people, whose ancestors owned this land. To me, land rights continues to represent a fantastic opportunity for self-determination, prosperity and security. I think our governments can do even better on land rights than what we’ve done in the past. We can avoid imposing conditions on land rights and we can remove the conditions that we’ve imposed in the past. If the Indigenous owners of Uluru want to stop people climbing Uluru, they should be free to do so. I believe that land rights should always be provided as freehold so that Indigenous owners have the security to make long-term investments. And I believe that land rights should be alienable so that Indigenous owners can borrow against the land and, if they choose, even sell land. And I believe that governments should assist with converting large land-holding bodies into smaller, separate land-holding bodies if Indigenous members wish for that.
I support a First Nations voice enshrined in our Constitution. The First Nations voice proposal is a modest proposal. It is a body that could be routinely ignored, and tasked with nothing, so it would be hardly a new ATSIC and it would be hardly a third chamber of parliament. Think about the Indigenous voices we most often hear. They are often associated with the delivery of existing government policies and have a vested interest in the continuation of those particular policies. If we had Indigenous leaders directly elected by Indigenous Australians, they could end up being the same people, in which case we would have gained nothing and lost nothing. But they could end up being different, in which case they could help us move on from the current failing status quo of policy.
Let me also just raise an alternative to having a standalone Indigenous body. We could provide those who identify as Indigenous Australians with the option at federal elections of voting in an Indigenous electorate rather than their local electorate, as New Zealand provides. This would conform with the important principle of one vote one value and it would also mean that Indigenous leaders elected by Indigenous Australians would be in the parliament, in the main game. Again, there is the risk that we would have uninspiring parliamentarians just asking for more taxpayer funds for existing Indigenous programs. But there is a chance that we could end up with leaders who are more inspirational and visionary than that.
The Liberal Democrats base their policies on empathy, but a political philosophy based on empathy is not a recipe for popularity because most policies have two sides. If your policies recognise that, they end up being based on tolerance and compromise rather than trying to attract the extreme. Think of the issue of environmental protection. Like many others, I believe that land clearing should stop, that habitats should be protected and that land should be reforested. But people who share these views invariably do not own the land that we are concerned about. It is lazy and inconsiderate to just wipe out the rights of landowners. Instead, concerned Australians should put their money where their mouths are and pay for the preservation and reforestation of land themselves. If we did this, Australia could be covered with conservation covenants, which are agreements where landholders are paid by concerned Australians to preserve and reforest their land. If we did this, the amount of land that would be protected would depend on how much we truly care about the environment.
Another way to assist in environmental protection would be to slow population growth. Unfortunately, the current population debate is mired in the immigration debate. But if we are serious about slowing population growth, we need to consider home-grown population growth. It might not be popular to say so but we need to think how we assist those with children. Australians should be free to have as many kids as they wish, but governments should not encourage people to have children, which they currently do by providing family payments of up to $10,000 per year per child. This is on top of parenting payments designed to keep low-income families out of poverty.
I propose that per-child family payments should continue for families with children and for those about to have children, but they should be phased out for those in the future who have children. This would only make a small contribution to slowing population growth, because it would be rare for financial assistance to contribute to determine how many children to have. But the contribution would be important and warranted. This approach would have regard to Australians without children, including those Australians who desperately want to have children but can’t—those Australians who are paying money, through their taxes, to fortunate people like me who have received the gift of children. Unfortunately, in Australian politics Australians without children are forgotten. They are invisible.
Political parties also tend to fail to empathise with taxpayers in general, because parties get benefits from big-spending policy announcements where the costs are spread out across all taxpayers, and the taxes are hidden. But the Liberal Democrats will fight new spending proposals anyway.
A highly concerning new area of government spending is the millions of dollars of corporate welfare going to the private defence export industry. This is our very own grubby and creepy attempt to have our own military industrial complex. Right now, Australian taxpayers are subsidising companies to provide materiel, including remote weapons systems, to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—those repressive dictatorships that favour torture over freedom and human rights. It is absolutely galling that taxpayers are forced to support this putrid dealing with the devil.
Closer to home, a less extreme form of taxpayer abuse is the provision of age pensions to families and households that own million-dollar houses. This is the major parties buying votes by extending a payment intended for those who need it to those who don’t. Another form of taxpayer abuse is the various policies to attempt to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, particularly the coalition’s direct action plan, which involves paying emitters who promise, hand on heart, to emit at a level less than some arbitrary level.
I’m not pretending that the Liberal Democrats will be able to determine energy and greenhouse policy in Australia, but if the Liberal Democrats are re-elected to this crossbench and the coalition is re-elected to the government benches, the Liberal Democrats will vote against all extensions of the direct action plan to waste taxpayers’ funds. And if Labor forms government, we will vote under their scheme that any money from emissions-intensive generators, like coal-fired generators, doesn’t end up in the pockets of less emissions-intensive generators, like wind farms, but instead ends up in the pockets of Australians through income tax cuts and lower fuel taxes.
And any deal that we strike will involve the abolition of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and will involve the legalisation and regulation of nuclear power, the safest form of power there is.
The Liberal Democrats’ concern for households facing high electricity prices and high income taxes and fuel taxes also extends to households facing stamp duties.
Stamp duties are oppressive. They keep renters out of the housing market. In Sydney you need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the state government, for nothing in return, to buy a house
If we abolished stamp duties, we would help renters without hurting existing homeowners, and existing homeowners would be helped, because they could move houses when they change jobs, rather than live their life in commuting hell.
The only way we could get of stamp duties is through Commonwealth leadership, because the states are addicted to stamp duty revenues.
I used to own my own house, and it was fantastic to do so. I could put up pictures on my own walls and I could dig up my backyard to my heart’s content. More Australians should have this opportunity, but it will take leadership in this place to achieve it.
As well as dealing with the First World problem of getting Australians into their own homes, we should confront the reality that there are millions of refugees who would love to call Australia their home.
And we need to confront the reality that there are millions of Australians who don’t want one more refugee in this country.
How do we deal with those two realities? How do we show empathy for refugees and empathy for those Australians who don’t want a bar of them?
We need to reinvigorate the policy where concerned Australians, rather than taxpayer funded government agencies, fund, support and house refugees.
Think of all the cars emblazoned with the bumper sticker ‘say yes to refugees’. Imagine if all those car owners said yes to housing in their own home and covering the expenses of, for as long as required, a refugee or refugee family.
We need to be the change we want to see in the world.
In my last few minutes let me speak about liberal democracy, this system of Western civilisation based on empathy; where our friends have freedom of speech, religion, association, assembly and movement, and—more importantly—our enemies have freedom of speech, religion, assembly, association and movement; where laws apply to all equally regardless of colour and creed, where laws are made by elected officials, where laws apply from the moment they are enacted and not before and where laws do not seize property without just compensation; where you cannot be searched, you cannot be arrested and your property cannot be seized without probable cause; where you cannot be imprisoned unless your criminal act and your guilty mind are proved beyond reasonable doubt in a single trial not based on self-incrimination but based on evidence that you can criticise and scrutinise; and where contracts are routinely respected because of mutual trust, but, where disputes arise, contracts are enforceable by courts.
This is our liberal democracy, and it is often referred to as Western civilisation, even though there are great liberal democracies in the East. Some amongst us say they support Western civilisation but say that Western civilisation is under threat from external forces and that we need to compromise Western civilisation in order to save it. On each count they are wrong. Liberal democracy and Western civilisation is thriving. It is winning and it has been winning for decades. Those who seem to doubt this don’t seem to realise how intoxicating liberal democracy is. People come from far and wide to liberal democracies and immediately love the tenets of liberal democracy and defend it. They become the staunchest defenders of liberal democracy.
Some decades ago Pauline Hanson, whom I wish a speedy recovery, said that we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Well, the Asians came and it was an absolute triumph. It was possibly the best decision Australia ever made. Australians of Asian descent are marching in our streets demanding action on climate change, and Australians of Asian descent are in our police forces supervising those protests. Australians of Asian descent are prosecuting criminals in our courts, and they’re defending them as well. Australians of Asian descent are working in our businesses, and owning them as well. And, in a couple of weeks time, Australians of Asian descent will be manning our polling booths, sometimes in shirts of blue and sometimes in shirts of red. Liberal democracy won and keeps on winning.
More recently, Senator Hanson said that we were in danger of being swamped by Muslims and suggested that we ban immigration from certain Muslim majority countries. But the overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants are already converts to liberal democracy, not radical Islam. In fact, many of them are fleeing radical Islam. We have well-resourced security agencies to pre-empt and detect attacks from radical Islam, but the absolute strongest defence we have is the overwhelming support in our communities for the opposing philosophy, liberal democracy. Those who fear radical Islam sometimes suggest that we should do away with tenets of liberal democracy, like non-discriminatory immigration, freedom of association and freedom from arbitrary detention. But, out of fear of radical Islam, they are providing a lifeline to radical Islam. Instead, we should support our liberal democracy because liberal democracy will always beat the unattractive weakling that is radical Islam.
Mr President, I, hopefully, have conveyed to you how the Liberal Democrats stand for liberal values and how, no matter who the Liberal Democrat politician is, we all share the same principles. We are a force for stability where other parties are subject to the whims of focus groups and changing leaders. The Liberal Democrats will always fight for free speech, a lower tax burden, the end of the nanny state, the end of the police state and the end of the war on drugs. We will fight for power so we can leave you alone.
Unlike other maiden speeches, I won’t be thanking a list of people who have helped me in my achievements, simply because I’m a casual appointee and I haven’t achieved anything to date. I will just again thank the senators for indulging me with this opportunity, and I wish the best of luck to those senators who are facing re-election. Thank you.