This is the maiden speech by Senator Claire Chandler (Liberal-Tasmania).
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Senator Claire Chandler (Liberal-Tasmania).
The PRESIDENT (17:28): I will now call Senator Chandler to make her first speech, and again remind honourable senators that the usual courtesies be extended to her.
Senator CHANDLER (Tasmania) (17:28): First of all, I would like to congratulate you, Mr President, on your re-election to your position in the 46th Parliament. The chair in which you now sit it is one that has a proud history and, particularly, a recent history of being occupied by fellow Tasmanians. While you don’t quite fit that moniker, given that you hail from the great and neighbouring state of Victoria I suppose I can accept that’s the next best thing!
In making my first speech today, I wish to put on record what an honour and a privilege it is to be standing here in the Australian parliament as a senator for Tasmania. In coming to this place I intend to be a fierce advocate for my state, which has already provided me with so many opportunities in life. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t passionate about my state and my country, and today I hope to avail upon honourable senators just what drives and motivates me to create better outcomes for both Tasmanians and Australians.
Tasmania may only be a small island but it is certainly a diverse one, with more than 60 per cent of our population living outside the capital city of Hobart. To put this in perspective: Queensland is the only other state where more people live outside the capital city than in it, and even then it’s still a narrower split. Representing both of these regions—the city and the country—and, in doing so, ensuring that Tasmania as a whole becomes stronger, is a challenge that a Tasmanian senator must undertake with enthusiasm.
Standing here today, I must attest I feel well equipped to deal with this challenge because my parents, who are both here today, represent a harmonious pairing of both. My father, Robert, grew up in Hobart, where my grandfather worked as a stockbroker. The Chandler family has lived in and around Hobart for generations, ever since my great-great-great grandfather, William Chandler, planted the first garden at Tasmania’s Government House. Meanwhile, my mother, Michelle, was raised in Oatlands, in the heart of the agricultural Midlands, where her family owned a farm at Parattah. When it came time to start their own family, my parents chose to give my sister, Sophie, and me the best of the two worlds that they’d both experienced, settling at a hobby farm in the Huon Valley, a rural area only half an hour south of Hobart. Dad worked locally, at a regional office of the Tasmanian department of primary industries, as an animal health officer, eventually branching into aquacultural health as the local salmon industry boomed. Mum, on the other hand, was a midwife at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Growing up in the Huon, I learnt what it was like to live in a small but resilient community. That resilience was put to the test only a few months ago when the hills around the valley were alight with bushfire. I spent time in the Huon during this period, including with our Prime Minister, surveying relief efforts and speaking with locals about how they were coping in the face of tragedy. It was inspiring—although not surprising to me as a Huon girl—to see this community come together so positively at a time of adversity.
My upbringing wasn’t a particularly political one. Perhaps it was because both Mum and Dad were public servants and viewed impartiality as fundamental to their professional livelihood that, at the age of eleven, when I inquired with them who they’d voted for in the 2001 federal election, they responded that it wasn’t polite to ask such a question or even talk about politics too much. Clearly, I didn’t take their advice on that point.
What my parents did instil in me, however, was a sense that it’s important to know what’s going on in the world and to have perspectives on those issues. Dinnertime was spent watching the news across three different TV channels, talking about what was reported and, usually in my case, asking questions about what it all meant. I doubt there are many other 29-year-olds who remember as vividly as I do Paul Keating as Prime Minister or the republic referendum or the introduction of the GST.
Having a somewhat precocious awareness of current affairs was one thing, but it wasn’t until my year 6 Canberra trip that I become truly enchanted with the history of the great representative institution that is this place and the power of our Australian democracy. At my old school, St. Michael’s Collegiate, this visit to our nation’s parliament was an annual tradition, the culmination of many weeks of civics education, led by the wonderful Mrs Beth Darcy. We were taught about the House of Representatives and the Senate, and our lessons were even so technical as to explain the different voting systems used for each. It was undoubtedly quite a feat for Mrs Darcy to keep twelve-year-old girls interested in such a complex subject matter.
It might seem a little cliche to mention the profound impact a primary school excursion had on my political bearings, but I tell this story for a reason. In providing us a robust civics education, Mrs Darcy recognised the need to explain to my class that political parties exist, that at that point in time the Liberal Party was in government and that at other points in time the Labor Party had been in government, but never did she feel a need to impose upon us her own political views. In this country, I believe we’ve shied away from educating young people about our democracy because we’re afraid we won’t be able to teach them without being inherently political. My experience, however, is that it is absolutely possible to provide the next generation with a comprehensive civics education that maintains an appropriate level of impartiality. As a person who was inspired through my own education to learn more about our parliament and our democracy and who has eventually ended up elected to serve my state in this place, I think we owe it to the future success of our democracy to ensure children understand and value our political institutions.
While this history explains my interest in politics generally, it was the defeat of the Howard government in late 2007 that specifically drew me to the Liberal Party. So much of the spirit and vision of Howard and Costello resonated with me—a sense of pride in our country, the idea of reward for effort, responsible budget management, equality of opportunity, growth and prosperity. I remember feeling so disappointed to see that spirit and vision relegated to the history books, I thought, at least, before its time.
It wasn’t long after this, while studying law and political science at the University of Tasmania, that I first became involved in Liberal politics. I joined the local liberal students club in my very first week of university and the Young Liberals not long thereafter. I’m proud to stand here in this chamber today still just young enough to qualify as a member of my local Young Liberal branch. Through the Young Liberals, I was afforded countless opportunities to meet other like-minded people across the country, a number of whom are here observing this speech today, a couple of whom I now have the privilege of serving with in this chamber and many of whom I hope one day will join me as colleagues here or in another parliament.
It was in the Young Liberals that I made the political friendships that I know will last a lifetime. Through these friendships, I was eventually elected President of the Tasmanian Young Liberals at the age of 24, and President of the Federal Young Liberals at the age of 25.I cannot understate the profound impact the Young Liberals had on my political development, both in terms of exposing me to different ideas and perspectives grounded in our liberal and conservative philosophies, and also in terms of the support I was given and the confidence I found as I took on more senior roles within the party. The Young Liberal movement has an integral role to play as the philosophical conscience of our party, both supporting elected members but also keeping us true to our values. Having made the evolution from Young Liberal to Senator, I look forward to those tables now being turned!
Given my involvement in youth politics, it is perhaps not surprising to anyone in this chamber that my overwhelming motivation in running for the Senate was to fight for the best opportu nities for future generations— for all Australians, but particularly for young Tasmanians. On almost every key indicator, Tasmania is a stronger, more prosperous, and confident state since the election of federal Li beral governments in 2013, 2016 and now in 2019. These results were complemented, and outcomes for our state greatly enhanced, by the election of state Liberal governments led by Will Hodgman in 2014 and 2018. Despite these improveme nts, the unfortunate reality is each year we see too many young Tasmanians leaving our state to study or in the early st ages of their career. Sometimes they do so in order to broaden their horizons, and that’s certainly not something I think should be discouraged . But more often than not, they leave to pursue opportunities interstate which they can’t enjoy at home; and many, who would have had so much to offer Tasmania, don’t return.
I consider myself so fortunate to hav e lived in Tasmania all my life. After university, I commenced my career in the private sector at Deloitte in Hobart, where I was still working until my election to this place. I want all young Tasmanians to have the same chance I had to remai n on our island, build a career and stay close to those all-important familial and social connections. To do this, we need to embrace the industries in which we have a competitive advantage and grow these indu stries to provide more local employment opportunities. I am confident that our government has a strong plan to achieve this. For example, there is still significant room for growth in the Tasmanian agricultural sector, and I’m thrilled that our government has committed $100 million to invest in new irrigation schemes across the state. It’s often not appreciated by non-Tasmanians that many parts of our state often do and currently are experiencing drought conditions. Just like everywhere else in the country, new irrigation schemes off er greater security for farmers and will supp ort many to increase production or branch out into new crops. With Tasmanian produce highly regarded both nationally and internationally, this is a sensible, job-creating investment for our government to be making.
I am also a strong supporter of our tourism industry, particularly the opportunities it provides to regional parts of Tasmania. Even more exciting is seeing the significant number of young people setting up tourism ventures in our state. Again, our government is supporting tourism in regional Tasmania with significant investments in visitor infrastructure at Cradle Mountain and the Freycinet Peninsula— both critical assets for key tourism destinations on the North West and the East Coast respectively. We’re also expanding the potential of our offshore aquaculture industry with a $70 million investment in the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre, to be based in Launceston, and delivering a new forestry hub in northern and north-western Tasmania as part of our $12.5 million investment in nine hubs across the country. And for me, the most exciting prospect for investment and job-creation in Tasmania is the plan supported by this government to expand Tasmania’s lon g heritage in hydro engineering through the Battery of the Nation pumped hydro plans. This project has the potential to employ thousands of Tasmanians and create billions in investment, while also delivering lower power prices and enhanced energy security for the state and the nation.
Tasmania is truly the turn-around state. Our economy is growing, more people are in work, and Tasmania’s global reputation as a premium tourism destination and producer of fine food and wine has never been stronger. I am confident that with inc reasing investment in our state and governments that are supportive and encouraging of that investment, perhaps the next generat ion of Tasmanians after me and the generations after that will have the best of opportunities at home rather than having to move to the mainland.
However, it is of great concern to me that as soon as Tasmania begins to do well in any industry, there are forces from vocal minorities— usuall y, the Green-left of politics— that move in to shut down progress and chase awa y investment. We need more jobs but we have Green groups harassing tourism proponents who put forward plans for ne w developments and experiences. We need more housing; but the local council in our capital city consistently refuses to approve new housing and accommodation projects on the basis of aesthetics.
Even our traditional industries — the industries for which Tasmania has an internationally renowned reputation, which have supported hardworking families for decades —are not immune from this hyper vigilantism. Our aquaculture industry, which has contributed significant jobs and investment in the Huon Valley where I grew up, is constantly under attack by the green movement. Our forestry industry is still attempting to rebuild after being deliberately decimated by the former state and federal Labor-Green governments.
To top it off, earlier this month I picked up The Mercury newspaper to see an opinion piec e by Bob Brown, opposing a wind farm planned for Robbins Island in North West Tasmania. These supposed champions of renew able energy are opposed to wind farms, just like they were opposed to hydro dams, because there might be dollars and jobs in it for Tasmanians.
It seems that wherever there is opportunity and success in Tasmania, the anti-everything brigade are quickly on the scene, determined to stop progress at all costs. Ironically, it’s those that like to call themselves ‘progressive’ who are always at the forefront of these efforts to prevent progress. And their weapon of choice is always misinformation and hyperbole; for expressing my support for new tourism opportunities in our regions and wilderness areas, I am sure at some point in the near future I’ll be accused by the usual suspects of wanting to build casinos in national parks, turn Hobart into New York, and transform Freycinet into Majorca.
Growing up in the beautiful Huon Valley, nobody appreciates more than I do what makes Tasmania special and unique, and a great place to live. But it’s a completely false dichotomy to pretend that the only way to protect our lifestyle and our environment is to oppose all forms of development and progress. The quiet majority of Tasmanians understand that, and that’s what they have consistently voted for since 2013.
That is why it is so pleasing that for at least another three years — and I hope many more — we have Liberal governments, both in Canberra and Tasmania, who will stand up against these efforts to stop progress, and support sensible and necessary economic growth in Tasmania. I certainly look forward to doing my part to advocate to that effect, for my state, in this place.
Coming from Tasmania, where our educational outcomes have historically been the lowest of any Australian state, it is perhaps not surprising that education is a policy area particularly close to my heart. Ten years ago, less than half of our children were completing y ear 12 with a Tasmanian Certificate of Education. Fortunately, since the election of the Hodgman Liberal government in 2014, our state’s key educational indicators have improved substantially, not the least because that government has commenced extending every public high school to include y ear 11 and 12. This policy has corrected a historical anomaly in our education system which no doubt has contributed to many children over the years ceasing their education entirely when finishing high school at the end of y ear 10. Education is the foundation upon which we build our lives, and I believe every child, in Tasmania and across the country, should have the opportunity of a great education.
Beyond attainment rates, I believe the next challenge for our education system in Australia, and particularly in Tasmania, is ensuring that our education and training providers teach our young people the right skills to support them in gaining long-term employment. Education should be holistic, and not solely focused on the theoretical, but also the more practical skills that equip students for the workplace.
While the basics of literacy and numeracy are incredibly important, I worry that our next generation of educated job seekers will be capable of writing perfectly eloquent and rigorously researched essays but might struggle to solve the complex problems our society faces with a practical, human, common sense approach. I’m not saying a tertiary qualification is pointless; but I do believe government has a key role to play in ensuring our universities are providing a quality, practical education to our young people.
Another challenge that faces our educational sector, and particularly our universities, is the steady decline of academic freedom and diversity of thought on campus. When I was involved in campus politics while at university, I was acutely aware of the contrast my views presented to the majority of students, and indeed lecturers, around me. I recall in one political science tutorial, my lecturer expressed disbelief when I pointed out what I thought were the drawbacks to union power in collective workplace bargaining. Worse, perhaps, was the dismissive response I received from a fellow student, who rejected my persp ective on the basis that I was ‘ just a Young Liberal ‘ . Surely universities should encourage the consideration and debate of a range of views — not dismiss certain perspectives out of hand while endorsing other views without scrutiny.
I consider my experience as a conservative on campus was an intellectual challenge that only strengthened my beliefs in the liberal cause. Since my time at university, however, it appears that left-wing activism and groupthink has only increased at the expens e of genuine and free academic i nquiry. We are living in a country where univers ities are shutting down debate; for example , by charging exorbitant secur ity fees when certain speakers, generally with viewpoints that differ from pre dominantly left-wing academics, wish to shar e their perspectives on campus.
This progressive shut down of academic freedom, at least to my min d, is at best not in the spirit and at wor st in complete contravention of the Higher Education Support Act , which seeks to ‘ support a higher education system that promotes and protects free intellectual i nq uiry’. I ndeed, the act dictates that universities should imp lement policies to uphold such i nquiry. More must be done to ensure that our higher- education institutions are complying with these basic requirements, if only because no student’s views should ever be dismissed in class purely on the basis of their political affiliation.
It should be no surprise to honourable senators that I come to this place feeling so strongly about personal freedoms , because as a Liberal they form the fundamental tenets of our ideology. As a Liberal, I believe in the innate worth of the in dividual, reward based on merit and the encouragement of personal responsibility for one’s actions. I believe in s mall and responsible government that doesn’t overreach its influence in our everyday lives and that clearly defines its limits where it might infringe on the rights of its citizens, keeping in mind that such infringements should be few and far between. I believe in a federal system of government that decentralises its decisions to th e local level wherever possible and that distributes the economic benefits of government spending and employment throughout regional areas — something I would like to see more of in Tasmania. I strongly believe that every Australian should be free to voice their opinions and engage in the marketplace of ideas in a respectful manner, free from government interference.
I outline these beliefs here today not only because they are beliefs which will guide my decision-making in th is place but also because they are beliefs worth fighting for, right now mor e than ever. In the last decade we have seen example upon example of personal freedoms, and particularly free speech, being stifled in this country. Everyday Australians want to be free to live their lives without anyone , and particularly not government , policing them in terms of what they should think, say or believe.
True freedom of speech means the right to express your views and the rights of others to respond and say that they find your views ridiculous but not to run off to some authority and take action against you on the basis of disagreement . The vitality of our democracy and our success as a nation is contingent on maintaining a population that is free to ex press, to work and to achieve. If we as a government impede on tho se freedoms, we do so based on a fa lse premise that we know better or , worse , that we distrust the very electors who put us here. As elected representatives, we should never be so arrogant as to assume we are best placed to determine the direction of people’s lives. Our role, I believe, is to work wherever possible only to create the conditions where individuals can flourish for the betterment of our nation.
A s I’m sure my colle ague s enators would appreciate, the journe y to this place is neither easy nor straightforward and never possible without the support, friendship and encouragement of others. There are a number of people here today and back home who have all helped in some way towar ds my own personal journey here, and while I cannot possibly list them all, there ar e some I would like to mention.
I wouldn’t be in this place if it weren’t for the endorsement and encouragement I’ve received from the Tasmanian Division of the Liberal Party, and for that I am continually grateful. Thank you particularly to our party’s president , Geoff Page; treasurer , Rod Scurrah; and state director , Sam McQuestin . O ur organisation is stronger for your leadership. To the rest of the Tasmanian federal Liberal members and senators , our staff and pa rticularly my newly formed team: I look forward to working alongside you to achieve great things for our state.
To all those I’ve worked with at Deloitte in Hobart, and in particular to my amazing former boss , Elizabeth Lovett: thank you for the professional challenges and encouragement you’ve provided to me over the last five years. I’ve been so fortunate to have a number of mentors who have all helped and encouraged me in my political endeavours, and I would lik e to thank Premier Will Hodgman; the Member for Boothby , Nicolle Flint; Senator Jonno Duniam ; and Senator James Paterson for their invaluable advice and guidance.
I must also thank the many current and former Young Liberals who have been so integral in supporting me on my journey to this place—Simon Breheny, Mark Briers, Candice Burch MLA, Lauren Callahan, Josh Manuatu, Adam McKee, Evan Mulholland, Raylene Pearce, Alyssa Royters, Liam Staltari and Jocelyn Sutcliffe.
I would also like to make special mention of my two longest and greatest friends in the Liberal Party, Christian Street and Bec Dunham. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for you. To Katherine, Rhiannon, Victoria and Alex, thank you for keeping me grounded and giving me a taste of normality. I suspect I will be needing that in even stronger doses now.
To my family—my parents, Robert and Michelle, my sister Sophie and her husband Keaton, my grandmother Jan—and my extended family, the Chandlers, Bakers and Edwardses, thank you for listening to my political monologues at the dinner table and, more importantly, for challenging those monologues at the opportune time.
To my husband, Chris Edwards, there aren’t many couples who spend their first six months of marriage on the campaign trail. I’m so appreciative of your love and support.
To the people of Tasmania, who have elected me as their senator, I save the greatest gratitude for last. You have bestowed upon me an immense honour, one that I promise today that I will never take for granted.
In his Forgotten People speech Sir Robert Menzies said:
If the new world is to be a world of men, we must be not pallid and bloodless ghosts, but a community of people whose motto shall be, ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’
In the last six years Tasmania has flourished to become a state that I believe is truly emblematic of the motto. I look forward to promoting that sense of achievement and endeavour and proudly seeing Tasmania progress from strength to strength in this place. I thank the Senate.