This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Bridget Archer, the Liberal member for the Tasmanian electorate of Bass.
Bass is located in north-eastern Tasmania. It is centred on Launceston and includes Dorset, George Town, West Tamar and Flinders Island.
Archer secured 42.33% of the primary vote, an increase of 3.14%. She won 50.41% of the two-party-preferred vote, a swing of 5.83%. She defeated the one-term ALP member Ross Hart. Bass has now changed parties at five of the last six elections.
Archer, 44, was previously the Mayor of George Town Council.
Watch Archer’s speech (21m):
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Bridget Archer, Liberal member for Bass.
Mrs ARCHER (Bass) (09:56): I second the motion.
The SPEAKER: I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech, and I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.
Mrs ARCHER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Prime Minister for the privilege of participating in the address-in-reply here today, and I commend the member for Herbert on his very moving first speech. I also acknowledge that the very first duty of our new Governor-General was the opening of this 46th Parliament of Australia. I wish General and Mrs Hurley the very best as they embark on their official duties. I also congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election to the chair. The commentary from both sides of this chamber reflects the high regard in which you are held.
Like all members elected to this place, I am tremendously humbled by the faith shown in me by the people of my electorate of Bass, and I will do my utmost as their member of parliament to repay the trust that they have shown. I hope that my address today will highlight the many reasons why I wish to serve as a genuine and authentic representative for the community of Northern Tasmania. If there was one disappointment in my election to the nation’s parliament, it is that I had to relinquish my role as mayor of the municipality of George Town and as a member of that council. Many members on all sides of this chamber first had the experience of being elected to local government and, in many ways, it is the tier of government that is closest to the people. I believe it provides valuable experience to those who go on to other elected office.
Among the highlights of George Town, the town centre of the municipality, is the Bass and Flinders Centre. It is a remarkable interpretive centre and very popular with visitors. The centre jointly honours the remarkable lives of Matthew Flinders and George Bass and includes a replica of their sloop, the Norfolk, which they used to circumnavigate what was then Van Diemen’s Land in 1798. George Bass, for whom the electorate was named, was a naval surgeon and amateur botanist. It was his study of the plants in Tasmania that convinced him it was separated from the mainland. After the Norfolk crew proved that to be the case and returned to Sydney, Flinders successfully petitioned Governor Hunter that the passage of water be named Bass Strait.
I am proud to be the first Liberal woman to represent the electorate of Bass. I am only the second Liberal woman to represent a House of Representatives seat in Tasmania, after the remarkable Dame Enid Lyons, who was, of course, the first ever woman elected to this House. May I say it is appropriate, too, that George Bass was a surgeon, because I believe that will serve as a reminder to me of how vital the provision of health services are in Northern Tasmania. Bass, like the rest of Tasmania, is facing the enormous challenges of a rapidly ageing population and the pressure that inevitably brings to health professionals and providers. I am in awe of the contribution that the staff of the Launceston General Hospital make every day—and 24 hours of every day—as do their colleagues at the private hospitals in Launceston, St Vincent’s and St Luke’s, and the nursing homes, noting that I have a particular affinity with the excellent work that staff do for the residents at Ainslie House at Low Head near George Town.
The Launceston General Hospital has built up a strong reputation over more than a century. One of the developments over the last 20 years or so has been the advent of the Clifford Craig medical research foundation at the hospital. It has been strongly supported by Northern Tasmanians and has supported groundbreaking research, especially in areas of aged care and age related disease such as dementia. It will be my hope as the member for Bass to work hand in hand with the Tasmanian Liberal government and the new state health minister, Sarah Courtney, who is also a state member for Bass, to fully support those who work in the health sector. Tackling the challenges of an ageing demographic is one area of priority.
Another area of priority is the exciting prospect of the development of the Inveresk campus of the University of Tasmania. This is one of the most significant public infrastructure developments Launceston has seen in decades and heralds exciting possibilities in linking town and gown. Whilst it has taken some time to reach this stage, it is so important to get this project right for the future. We all know that universities are vital places for learning and allowing people to attain qualifications and skills, but what is often underestimated is just how significant a university campus can be to the economy of a regional centre. My colleagues from Armidale and Townsville and other places will know exactly what I mean. I see very positive signs from the university’s plans, coupled with the city deal that the federal government has initiated, for new and sustainable long-term jobs in Northern Tasmania.
When my predecessor, Ross Hart, spoke about the outcome of the election on 18 May, he ruefully said that he had become one of what he called a long line of distinguished members for Bass who have served only one term. It is certainly true that Bass has been somewhat volatile in the last 20 or so years. In fact, the last members for Bass to have any longevity were Kevin Newman, a minister in the Fraser government, and his immediate predecessor, Lance Barnard, the Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government, and of course more recently Warwick Smith, a minister in John Howard’s government. The most recent Liberal member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic, was a strong representative for Bass and the first in my view to fight seriously for funds to improve the Tamar River. He worked hard on the issue with the then environment minister, the member for Flinders, and I look forward to continuing that work because, whilst there has been improvement, there is still much to be done. Without care of our waterways, as we all know, we significantly degrade our local environment, limit our agricultural growth capacity and ignore the opportunities for tourism and recreation.
The recent changes in the electoral boundaries of Bass brought both sides of the Tamar River into the one electoral division, and I would like to commend the Australian Electoral Commission for making this change, because it more properly reflects the communities of interest of the Tamar Valley. The other facet of this change is that it will allow me in this place to promote the burgeoning tourism attractions of the entire Tamar Valley. Many honourable members will be aware of the many excellent vineyards on both sides of the river and the north-east hinterlands, but fewer may know of initiatives such as the annual Tamar Valley Writers Festival, which has quickly become one of the largest writers festivals outside any Australian capital city, attracting world-famous authors and booksellers and book lovers and encouraging people to read and enjoy the world of literature.
Northern Tasmania is a fantastic place to live, and I am excited by the opportunity to grow the population as more and more people discover our enviable lifestyle. We have important manufacturing and forest industries, established farming areas, a growing food and wine scene and an expanding tourism industry spurred on by arts, sports and adventure tourism experiences like the world-famous mountain biking trails of Derby. Increasingly, Northern Tasmania is becoming a centre for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Launceston is being transformed as the city embraces its heritage and future alike, with the Launceston City Deal driving that transformation. Our community has witnessed a re-imagining of the waterfront through the North Bank and seaport precincts, urban development and pedestrian and cycle pathways. If I were to borrow a now familiar phrase, ‘How good is Northern Tasmania?’
I am so proud to be standing here as the voice for northern Tasmanians. I worked very hard to make sure that my campaign for election was about understanding the needs, ambitions and aspirations of our community in Launceston and right out into the regional heartland of Bass—from Winnaleah to Whitemark, Riverside to Ringarooma and everywhere in between. I am proud of my record of standing up for the Tasmanian way of life, and I’m so motivated by the opportunities that lay before us. As a government we want to create stronger employment opportunities for our region, expanding quality infrastructure and securing more investment in health and education.
Those who know me will attest that I am far more interested in hearing other people’s stories than in telling my own. I think, in large part, it is because I find my own childhood story painful and difficult to tell—and never more so than today in this place. I am reminded, though, that my presence here is not about me and my story; it is about hearing and reflecting the stories of the people in my electorate.
I come from humble beginnings, like many who have stood here before me, growing up in a working-class suburb of Launceston, and many of my childhood memories are not so happy. Like many other Australians, I have faced the challenges of living with childhood trauma, and that is a priority for me to address in my time in this place. Childhood trauma has far-reaching consequences for individuals and for our society, including significant mental health challenges. In recent years, with the help of some wonderful doctors and support services, I have finally found better ways to cope, to build resilience and strength—obviously!
I share a small part of this deeply personal story today because I believe we must do more as a society to keep our children and families safe. I am proud to stand as a member of this government that has committed to do more to address the scourge of family, domestic and sexual violence. Further, I commend the Prime Minister for his leadership and determination to prioritise mental health care for all Australians. I will do my utmost to prioritise and support those aims.
As an adult, I have struggled at times to find my way in the world and, indeed, my place in it. I worked in a variety of mostly casual administrative and hospitality jobs for many years before returning to university study. It was there, at the University of Tasmania, that I first discovered an interest in politics, attaining a Bachelor of Arts with majors in English and political science, and later a Graduate Certificate in International Politics. Not too long after that I met my now husband, Winston, and moved from Launceston to join him on his family farm just outside George Town, where we live now with our five children and a few beef cattle and sheep.
Shortly after moving to George Town, away from my friends and in an unfamiliar town, my husband suggested that I might consider standing as a candidate in the next council elections as a way of getting to know some new people! It was, indeed, a great way to meet people, and I was fortunate to be elected to the position of councillor in 2009, deputy mayor in 2011 and mayor in both 2014 and 2018.
During those years, the council underwent some very challenging times and has seen some significant change, but I am confident that I leave the council in good stead—financially sustainable and with improved governance and workplace culture. The area has a very bright future ahead and I look forward to continuing to contribute, albeit in a different capacity. Importantly, I think local government provides accessibility and, consequently, accountability to those we represent, and I intend to continue to have that relationship with my constituents in Bass.
It’s very interesting to reflect on some of the election results in the seat of Bass. There is no doubt that I entered the campaign very much as the underdog. But as the campaign progressed it became evident that there was a disconnect between what we were seeing and hearing in the media and what constituents were telling us on the ground. Some of the biggest swings towards the Liberal Party were in polling booth in Launceston’s northern and eastern suburbs, areas where Labor has traditionally polled strongly. Rocherlea, for example, had a greater than 15 per cent swing against Labor after preferences, and there were strong swings in Waverley and Ravenswood as well. Much has been said about Labor losing touch with their traditional base. That is a matter for others to decide, but the strong message for me is that the Liberal Party has reconnected with our own base—the everyday, quiet Australians making their way in the world, taking personal responsibility, working hard, raising families, aspiring to live their best lives.
I want to reflect on the role that the Prime Minister played in supporting our campaign in Bass, which I think is reflective of the leadership style that has united our party and resonated with those quiet Australians. The Prime Minister visited Bass many times during the campaign and, along with Mrs Morrison, spent much time simply talking with people, listening to their stories and engaging with genuine warmth and sincerity. He was equally as comfortable with business and community leaders as he was enjoying a game of pool and a parmie at the Sporties Hotel and, most memorably, at a visit to the Bridgenorth football club that was the home of the Parrots—
Mr Morrison: And J Rod.
Mrs ARCHER: And J Rod. Elections being what they are, we were there to announce a funding commitment for the upgrade of facilities, but the evening turned into so much more than that. Some national commentators called it the turning point of the campaign as it entered the final few days to 18 May. There was a wonderful energy at the club that night, and the Prime Minister and Mrs Morrison were generous with both their time and enthusiasm—indeed, right up until election day, with a surprise visit to Bass on the morning of the polls, which, as it happened, was also my birthday. I take this opportunity to thank the Morrisons for all of their support. It was an attitude displayed by all of the ministers who visited Bass throughout the campaign—genuine, authentic and engaged with the local issues. I thank all of my colleagues in this place for their support and encouragement and for the very warm welcome you have shown me as well.
I would like to acknowledge publicly the work of my predecessor, Ross Hart. Ross is a decent man, a caring and hardworking person with a strong history of community service. Despite the unenviable position of serving his electorate in opposition, I know he worked very hard in his time in office and advocated strongly for his constituents, and I wish Ross every success and happiness in his future endeavours.
Marginal seats speak for the nation and ensure elected members aren’t complacent or take their communities for granted. I understand the importance of always listening, finding out exactly what concerns the people of Bass and taking those issues up with ministers and into our party room.
Finally today, I wish to pay tribute to all of those who have helped me on my journey to this place. There are so many people who contributed to the campaign, and it is not possible to thank them all by name here today. But to the Liberal Party state president, Geoff Page, and the members for putting their faith in me, for the fundraisers and the signs and the manning of polling booths, letterboxing and waving signs on the side of the road, I am so grateful for all of your support. For my campaign team, solidly led by state director Sam McQuestin, I am forever in your debt for the support and care you showed me throughout the campaign and for believing in me. A special mention to Ben Jacobson, who is here today, who stood on pre-poll every single day with such good-natured spirit. To Nick Pedley and Nick Carswell, who were always there to help, and Alastair Pullen for his willingness to letterbox in all weather. To Charles Headlam, Jorden Gunton and Simon Wood, who worked tirelessly every day and can always make me laugh, and Bec and Pete De Jong for the help and for the comfy shoes. A special mention to my little friend, Clancy Lilywhite; you are a shining star. My deepest thanks must also go to Tim Robertson, who has understood me from the start and who always has my back.
I would like to make special mention of Liberal stalwart Dorothy Dehays, who has given me the great compliment of travelling to Canberra for my first speech. Dorothy has been a constant source of advice and encouragement, with her many years of campaign experience from the days of Warwick Smith and all of the campaigns since. She is a tireless worker, and I have valued her input enormously.
Thank you to the entire Tasmanian Senate team for their unwavering support and encouragement, and a particular thank you to my fellow northern Tasmanian, Senator Askew. Of course to my friend and colleague, the newest member for Braddon, I look forward to continuing to work closely with you all for the benefit of Tasmania. Likewise, to the Tasmanian state Liberal team: thank you all for your support, encouragement and well wishes. My special thanks to ministers Peter Gutwin, Michael Ferguson, Guy Barnett and to Premier Will Hodgman for your extra campaign efforts and your friendship.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my family—my mother, Marion, sister, Jessica, and brother, Gerald—my extended family and friends, and especially my dear, lifelong friends Sarah Lillywhite and Evelyn Archer. Most importantly of all, I thank my incredible husband, Winston, who always loves and supports me no matter what. To my darling children, Luke, Lauren, Edith, Molly and James: you are my whole world. I love you very much. Thank you.