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Gavin Pearce (Lib-Braddon) – Maiden Speech

This is the maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Gavin Pearce, the Liberal member for Braddon, Tasmania.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Gavin Pearce, Liberal member for Braddon.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas): Before I call the honourable member for Pearce, I remind the House that this is the honourable member’s first speech. Therefore I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.

Mr PEARCE (Braddon) (17:26): Thanks, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I begin by congratulating our Speaker on his re-election. His position is one of honour and he does it justice. Indeed, to everyone in this place, congratulations. We’re all here today because of the faith our constituents have placed in us, and I wish everyone right across the chamber all the very best for the 46th Parliament.

I acknowledge the appointment of His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC as our 27th Governor-General of Australia, and I congratulate him. Furthermore, I note the exemplary work of his predecessor, General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC. It was during my 20 years service within the Australian Regular Army that I had the privilege of serving under both these distinguished senior officers. I know I’m just one of the many who have benefited from the guidance and the leadership of both generals and that they delivered this to a nation through our Defence Force. In fact, I served under General Cosgrove during Operation INTERFET in East Timor, where my electronic warfare squadron was deployed to the border between Indonesia and East Timor. I have many enduring memories of his leadership, but one stands out. I recall one day General Cosgrove addressing a meeting of senior officers and staff, which ended up with him banging his hand on the table. He said, in desperation, ‘I’m sick of you people telling me why I can’t do things. I need you to start telling me how I can.’ I received that message loud and clear, and I think that’s a message that will stand me in good stead as I represent the electorate of Braddon in this role.

I reflect on my service in the Army and I feel many emotions. Above all, I am privileged to have drawn inspiration from many fine leaders. I have had the enormous privilege of serving alongside literally thousands of Australia’s most remarkable young men and women. As a sergeant major of my unit, I was responsible for the welfare of the diggers. That was my job. I knew those soldiers like I knew my own family. I knew their partners, I knew their kids and I knew their dreams. I was the keeper of the standards, the enforcer of the military discipline system, the guardian of the customs and traditions of the military. But for me, and most importantly, I was there to represent the soldiers, to stand in front of them, to stick up for them and to protect them, and I can pride myself on doing just that. I’ve always stuck up for my diggers. The sergeant major of any unit is also responsible for the conduct of our military funerals and for ensuring that our soldiers who pay the supreme sacrifice are given a funeral steeped in the customs and traditions of the ancient ceremony that befits our soldiers’ service and their life. And I’ve seen too many of them. I’ve seen too many funerals, many as a result of suicide, and what makes this all the more difficult for me is the fact that, rightly or wrongly, you tend to feel responsible. After all, I was the one who was meant to look after them. I still today agonise over the notion that maybe I should have seen it coming. I should have picked up on the signs. I should have stopped this. These are memories and thoughts that I live with every day and that I live with every night.

I applaud our government’s commitment to the mental health of our veterans and indeed all Australians, and I pledge today, in the presence of my fellow veterans also elected to this place, that I will continue to stick up for the diggers and our veterans. I want to make sure that they are reconnected to a family, to a new job, to a new way of life. I want all business owners and all employers right across the nation to know that employing a veteran is good for your business.

Service means a lot to me. Today I continue to serve, as I represent the good people of Braddon in this place. This is a daunting place, particularly for a beef farmer and small business operator from a small town called Lapoinya, in Tasmania. But what gives me strength and reassurance—what strengthens my resolve today—is the realisation that I don’t stand here alone. Standing alongside me today is an electorate of more than a hundred thousand of the best people you’d ever see.

Braddon is an electorate like no other. We are unashamedly honest, we are boisterous in our celebrations, we bind tightly when we feel threatened, we are scathing when we are wronged, and we can spot a phoney before they even speak a word—although down home we’ve got a different word for that! But, above all, the people of Braddon are caring, and they’re generous beyond measure. I’ve always said that the further you get away from the big capital cities the stronger the sense of community, and none is stronger than mine, my community of Braddon. This community protected me during the devastating loss of my wife to cancer. My little boy and I were nurtured by that community as they gathered around us. I couldn’t have done it without them.

And they are a wonderful family of farmers. Braddon’s farming families are amongst the best in the world at what they do. These are the farmers that got up at four o’clock this morning to milk the cows, who worked through the night to get the crops in the head of the rain. Despite all that Mother Nature throws at them, they still roll their sleeves up and simply get on with it. My patch is home to Australia’s largest dairy, milking around 18,200 cows who, together with Tasmania’s other dairies, produce almost 11 per cent of our nation’s total milk production. Of course, it’s not just in the dairy industry that we punch well above our weight. There is our internationally sought-after seafood, like our salmon, our crayfish, our abalone; and, as I speak, families right across the nation are tucking into our veggies—our spuds, carrots, onions, broccoli, peas, beans, cauliflower. And if they aren’t then they should be!

Our farmers are the best, but they’re not boastful and they aren’t whingers. These are the quiet achievers. They contribute equally to their local communities and our nation’s economy, and they do so without fuss or fanfare. They are the nation’s true environmentalists. They care for their land, they care for their animals and they are continually investing in adopting world’s best practice. They deal with every challenge before them. But what they shouldn’t have to deal with is extremist protesters who invade their farms and endanger their workers and their families and their livelihoods, and I welcome our government’s strong stance with the introduction of the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill, which will make it an offence to encourage others to trespass, damage property or commit theft on agricultural land. I look forward to support from both sides as we pass this important legislation through this place.

In my electorate is the town of Burnie. Burnie is home to our Makers’ Workshop. It’s an interactive cultural hub celebrating Braddon’s makers, innovators and artists. It’s where you’ll find Australia’s largest hand paper mill. Right across our region, our makers are busy. They’re manufacturing mining equipment at Elphinstone, undertaking defence industry contracts at Direct Edge and Penguin Composites. The Heritage is producing specialty cheeses; and award-winning whisky is made at Hellyers Road Distillery, gin at Southern Wild Distillery, and vodka at Cape Grim on our far north-west coast. We like a drink in Tassie!

Braddon is home to around 9½ thousand small businesses that are driving our local economy forward. As a small business owner myself, I understand the enormous sense of pride associated with waking every morning and being in total control of your own destiny. I also understand the challenges and the risks that this stoic section of our community bears each and every single day. I understand what it’s like to borrow too much money to take on that extra employee even though it means going without yourself in order to do so. Look, I get the burden of compliance and the levels of bureaucracy placed upon our small businesses. I’m all about small business: sole traders, partnerships, family trusts—some call them the mum-and-dad businesses. But when mum or dad is taken away from that business to deal with red or green tape, that means half that business has stopped being productive. It’s not good enough. We need to give business the room to grow, to expand, to flourish, to employ more people and to create more jobs. This is the right way and this is the Liberal-National way.

Tasmania’s potential as Australia’s renewable energy powerhouse is now recognised right across the nation. We have what the rest of the nation really needs—low-cost, reliable, clean energy—and the state is ticking all the boxes towards being 100 per cent self-sufficient in renewable or clean energy by the year 2022. We have plans to deliver that energy to the rest of Australia through our second Bass Strait interconnector, Project Marinus. This will allow Tasmania to expand the amount of renewable energy provided to our national grid and enhance greater investment in other renewable technologies, such as our $250 million Granville Harbour wind development, which is currently under construction on our west coast. Once complete, Granville will deliver one-third of our state’s increase in wind power. I thank the Prime Minister and the energy minister, Angus Taylor, for their commitment of $56 million to fast-track Project Marinus, as well as their commitment to work with the Tasmanian government to underwrite the first phase of Tasmania’s Battery of the Nationproject.

Braddon is indeed blessed with many natural wonders, among which is our unique freshwater lakes system. Our first hydro power station was built more than a century ago, and hydroindustrialisation has attracted industry, development and jobs across our region ever since. Today, leveraging off the vision of our forefathers, the federal government is providing $2½ million to support Hydro Tasmania in identifying a suitable Battery of the Nation project site. This represents the single biggest economic opportunity for our state and, importantly for those living on the north and north-west coasts, the three short-listed sites are in our backyard. By the end of next year we should know the final site, and the hope is to progress to being shovel ready by the year 2021. This represents a multimillion-dollar injection into our region, as well as thousands of jobs. The opportunities for Braddon are fantastic, and I look forward to doing my part to drive that project forward on behalf of the people of Braddon, ensuring that the benefits are maximised within the communities right across the length and the breadth of our region.

Braddon is truly blessed, but I know that not everyone in my region is sharing in the good fortunes of our state. My region has its challenges. We’re a rural electorate. We’re made up of hundreds of small communities scattered across eight local government regions. We are an ageing population—and I know that! Sadly, there are not enough opportunities in our region for those currently looking for jobs, and our education and health outcomes are not yet what they need to be. There is work to be done, and to this end there are people in my electorate that work hard and tirelessly every day, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to every dedicated frontline service provider in my region—our educators, our health personnel, our first responders and our retail staff. They care so much and they do it day in, day out.

Although there’s no simple quick fix to the issue, I firmly believe that having access to the right type of education is important. It’s important when you need it most. And I know, because I left school at 15 to become a farmer. It wasn’t until many years later that I went back and finished my education. My dream for the people of Braddon—in fact, all Australians—is that, regardless of whether you live in a city or the bush, if you have an aspiration, if you have a dream, then all that’s placed in front of you is opportunities. This is true regardless of whether you are 10, 20, 50 or 90. My commitment is to be a loud, strong voice and representative for our region and to ensure that our government fulfils its role in this regard.

When it comes to election campaigns, there are always more people to thank than there is time. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge those who have gone before me. I acknowledge my predecessor, Justine Keay, and the contribution she made to this position. To my Liberal colleagues who served as members of Braddon in recent times—and they all got behind me: Brett Whiteley; Mark Baker; Chris Miles, who was a member of the opposition shadow ministry in the late eighties and early nineties and parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Howard in the late 1990s; and the Hon. Ray Groom AO, a minister in the Fraser government and, subsequently, Premier of Tasmania. Each represented Braddon with distinction. I’ve got big boots to fill but I’m going to work hard in doing just that.

I acknowledge the support I receive also from my military family, especially Jim Molan AO, DSC, Doc Watson and Phillip De Bomford. I thank you for being here today. To our Prime Minister: I have no doubt that I’m here because of your leadership and the genuine interest that both you and Mrs Morrison showed to the wonderful people of Braddon. It was obvious to me from the start that you both cared. I could tell that straightaway. But, more importantly, the people of Braddon could tell that also. You and Mrs Morrison were a perfect fit. They got you and you got them, and so it went. Your interest in Braddon hasn’t stopped now that the election has been run and won. It was just a couple of weeks ago that you were back visiting our Psychology CAFFE in Latrobe, listening to the psychologists, watching the parents and their beautiful kids as they sought treatment. Our government has committed to making the mental health of Australians a priority, and you have demonstrated to my electorate that you were good to your word. Down our way, that’s important.

I recognise and thank our national director, Andrew Hirst. He was the general of the campaign. I was in awe of his capacities. He’s a damn good human, and he’s another bloke that just gets it. Thanks to the Tasmanian Senate Team: to Richard Colbeck and his staff for taking me under their wing; to Jonno Duniam, Wendy Askew and Claire Chandler for their camaraderie and support throughout the campaign; and, finally, a special thanks to Senator Eric Abetz. It was you, Eric, who first convinced me to enter politics. Your faith in me and your ongoing support, I will never forget. So thank you. To the member for Bass, and my good mate, Bridget: I look forward to your company during the journey that’s ahead of us both, and to working together to do great things for our regions and Tasmania.

To my state Liberal colleagues, ably led by Premier Will Hodgman: once again, thank you for your wonderful support; and a special mention to the office of Minister Guy Barnett, Tasmania’s Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. He’s got a bit on, this bloke, but he’s helped me out, no end, over the last few months. To our state president, Geoff Page, state director, Sam McQuestin, and his team at CHQ: thank you. To former state president Ian Chalk and his lovely wife, Jenny: thanks for being here today. I greatly valued your wise council, and I respect you more than I have words.

To Leon Perry, Felix Ellis, Rod Bramich, Tony ‘Toenails’ Hine, Julie Thompson, Pat Darbyshire, Gary, Geoff and Nelson and all the rest of the cast and crew who turned up in the rain, hail and shine—they put themselves out; they worked tirelessly—we did it together, and I can’t thank you enough.

To Megan’s mum, Betty: you won’t be getting any more mother-in-law jokes out of me. You were awesome during the campaign, and I thank you so much. To my own mother, Beth: thanks, Mum. You’ve always been there for us. Your advice is always grounded, carefully thought out and given with love, and I’m pleased that you are here today. To my sister Lynette, who unfortunately can’t be here: I am so proud of you and the tireless contribution that you make to the mental health sector over a lifetime in Tasmania. Thank you to my brothers, David and Phillip.

To my fiancee, Megan: thank you. You’ve been my saviour. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I was in a very dark place when we first met, and it takes a very special person to work through that. You are a remarkable person. Back then I didn’t realise that you were also the best campaign manager that Australia has! No-one did more on the campaign than you. With no campaign experience, you were unmatched in your drive, your determination, your professionalism. You understand the electorate. Even more dramatic, you understand me! You are a natural. As everyone knows in this place, election campaigns take their toll on your personal life. All our plans were put on hold, but it’s now time that we reinstate our plans, Megan. I love you and I can’t wait to continue our future together.

To Hamish, my son: Mate, I love you more than I have words. You and I have been through a lot together. You were just eight when we lost mum, my beautiful Amanda-Jane. I held you then and I stood with you at her funeral, and we’ve stood together ever since. Mates do that—and we’ll always be mates. I’m so very proud of the fine young man that you’ve become, and I know Mum’s up there today looking down on us both. I know she’s proud. Hamish, you can be whatever you choose. You’re already a leader in your own right. You’re bright, you’re enthusiastic, you’re talented, but, most of all, you’re kind, you’re compassionate and you care. You understand what it’s like to be knocked down but, mate, you understand what it’s like to get back up again, and sometimes you need mates to do that, because that’s the Australian way. I love you, Hamish.

Finally, there’s my little princess Isla. When you were born, you represented a new chapter in our lives. You have the sweetest soul, and I want you to know that, even though Dad seems busy most of the time, you’re always in my heart and I’ll always make time for you.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I will conclude where I began, and those words of advice from—correction: Mr Speaker!

The SPEAKER: It’s all okay!

Mr PEARCE: I pumped your tyres up before you arrived! Mr Speaker, I will conclude where I began, and those words of advice from General Cosgrove. As I spend time visiting the hundreds of local communities right across my electorate, listening to the constituents, I want them to know me not as a member who represents a bureaucracy, not as a person who tells them what they can’t do, not as a member who puts up roadblocks or makes excuses. I want them to know me as their member who is telling them and showing them that they can achieve great things for themselves and they can achieve great things for their families, their communities and, indeed, the entire electorate of Braddon. May it please the House.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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