This is the maiden speech by Senator Andrew Bragg, Liberal, New South Wales.
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Hansard transcript of maiden speech by Senator Andrew Bragg, Liberal, New South Wales.
The PRESIDENT (16:59): It is approaching 5 pm and, pursuant to order, I will now call Senator Bragg to make his first speech. I ask senators that the usual courtesies be extended to him.
Senator BRAGG (New South Wales) (16:59): Mr President, I have a confession to make. I first discovered my love of Australia in Victoria. My upbringing in regional Victoria featured football, fishing and work in orchards, a cannery and a dairy. My interest in politics arose from growing up in a world where tax, trade, foreign investment and water policies all impacted people’s lives. Later came tertiary study, work and—sometimes boring—research, which imbued the notion in me that Australia must be competitive to succeed.
Thanks to the Australian opportunity, my family is one of many that have enjoyed better lives than would have been possible on the other side of the world. My only Australian-born grandparent, James Paton, served his country in World War II. Thanks to him and the greatest generation, and a loving and stable environment at home, I always felt the opportunities were boundless.
My hometown of Shepparton remains one of Australia’s great post-war experiments: a melting pot full of migrants from across the globe. Whilst Shepparton might be famous for the Furphy water cart, it ought to be famous for settling so many people harmoniously. In 2015, a debate to build a mosque in nearby Bendigo arose. There were already four mosques in Shepparton; the first built in 1960.
I am proud of the Australian opportunity, our freedoms and our institutions. I am proud of this house. I have come to this place to make a contribution to our country. I have come into the Australian Senate to represent the people of New South Wales, my adopted state and beloved home. It is a great honour to represent this state—the premier state, the largest state and home to the city where anyone from anywhere can make it.
The philosophy I will apply could be best described as ‘Menzian liberalism’. The first federal platform of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1946 was simple, clear and enduring. It read:
… an intelligent, free and liberal Australian democracy shall be maintained by:
(a) Parliament controlling the Executive and the Law controlling all;
… … …
(c) Freedom of speech, religion and association;
(d) Freedom of citizens to choose their own way of living and of life, subject to the rights of others;
(e) Protecting the people against exploitation;
(f) Looking primarily to the encouragement of individual initiative and enterprise as the dynamic force of progress;
The shorter version is: a strong economy underpinned by markets and the rule of law paves the way for a fair society.
If the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that centrally planned economies do not work. Socialism must be dead for all time in this nation. This was Menzies’ view at the Canberra conference of 1944, which led to the creation of the Liberal Party. Menzies said of the great Australian Liberal revival: ‘Governments do not provide enterprise; they provide controls. No sensible person can doubt that the revival of private enterprise is essential to post-war recovery and progress.’
Nothing has changed. Yet in recent times, there has been some deliberate confusion about the constituency of the Liberal Party. We do not stand for any business or any vested interest. As Menzies himself said, we stand for the ‘Forgotten People’, the great Australian middle class. They were, in his words, the:
… salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, …
We support enterprise. We believe in markets. And we believe in some regulation of industry. We believe markets must serve the public interest. Central planning and fixing in the age of the internet is laughable, and should remind this house of the folly of indulging trade union demands to re-regulate our economy.
Our sister party in the United States has had an ongoing internal debate about the nature of regulation. During the coal strike of 1902, Theodore Roosevelt sensationally intervened not on the side of labour or capital but in the interest of the public. ‘The national government represents … the interests of the public as a whole,’ Roosevelt said. Just as Abraham Lincoln had seen himself as the ‘steward of the people’, Roosevelt established the ‘square deal’—a new era of governance in the capitalist system. Roosevelt explained to a friend after the strike:
Now I believe in rich people who act squarely, and in labor unions which are managed with wisdom and justice; but when either employee or employer, laboring man or capitalist, goes wrong, I have to clinch him, and that is all there is to it.
Forty years later, Menzies was clear that vested interests would not dominate the Liberal Party, as had occurred in the prior United Australia Party. Menzies rightly pursued policies which angered the business groups of the day, such as the Chamber of Manufacturers, which hated his groundbreaking commerce agreement with Japan.
Of his guiding philosophy, Menzies embraced fairness. He said:
We have greatly aided social justice. … We have encouraged free enterprise … But we have insisted upon the performance of social and industrial obligations; we have shown that industrial progress is not to be based upon the poverty or despair of those who cannot compete.
This means we Liberals simultaneously support enterprise and state underwritten medical, health and social services, all financed by taxpaying Australians. We are not owned by anyone, unlike the Labor Party, whom the trade union movement literally own.
Vested interests can damage a nation if their agendas become the national agenda. Today’s Labor trade union agenda is wrong for Australia. It opposes trade deals, tax cuts, flexibility for small business, and institutions designed to uphold the rule of law. This is a recipe for Australian isolationism. It may suit the trade unions, but it would undermine our living standards.
In coming years I want to spend my energies on two principal economic issues: taxation and superannuation. I believe in lower taxes. I want people to keep the money they’ve earned. The government has no money of its own. There is no public money; there is only taxpayers’ money. The duty of government is to maintain the nation’s obligations on social services, defence and so on through efficient tax collection and expenditure. I don’t believe in class warfare. This recent election was a generational win for the nation’s direction, as Australians endorsed aspiration and lower taxes, and rejected the class war.
The Morrison government campaigned for lower taxes. It was the centrepiece of our national effort. In New South Wales, this agenda was supported in seats we won or held—Lindsay in Sydney’s outer west, Reid in Sydney’s inner west and Wentworth in Sydney’s east. I am proud to be one of 28 new coalition members and senators that have come into this place under the outstanding leadership of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The class of 2019 is dynamic, youthful and diverse. It is another revival of Australian liberalism.
The Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Finance have maintained our great party’s fidelity to the Menzies platform of 1946. Structurally addressing bracket creep is a wonderful step forward for the forgotten people’s grandchildren—the quiet Australians.
A baby having begun crying in the gallery—
Senator BRAGG: Not my son, obviously! Our reform means that people earning between $40,000 and $200,000 will keep the money they earn for working an extra shift. After all, it is their money, not Canberra’s.
Taxation policy can make or break investment choices in an increasingly global race for people and capital. The tax system must encourage work, promote innovation and attract know how. Complacency has become a national problem. We Australians are experiencing something new and unique. No nation has ever experienced 28 years of economic growth on a consecutive basis. Australia’s direct taxes on people and companies are still too high by international standards. We ought to look again at reducing the direct tax burden on workers and enterprise. Inevitably, we must talk to the states about achieving a meaningful tax-mix switch that boosts efficiency and competitiveness whilst maintaining fairness.
I am in no doubt that Australia needs the world more than the world needs Australia. We have relied upon foreign money and foreign people since the First Fleet. Foreign investment in private enterprise is often the only game in many Australian towns. Look at Whyalla in South Australia and look at Northern Tasmania. Foreign investment has kept those communities alive. Yet, foreign investment is often discussed in the negative. It has always been controversial. First the British, then the Americans, then the Japanese and now the Chinese. Our tax system and broader policy settings must encourage foreign investment on a non-discriminatory basis. This nation will never have enough domestic capital to meet our high ambitions. The argument that we should close down foreign investment is akin to raising the tariff walls. We cannot close ourselves off from the world, and we cannot have our own facts.
Almost one-quarter of our economy is exports, around double the United States. We simply cannot afford to take protectionist risks that may be available to our great friend across the Pacific Ocean. We must maintain a liberal approach to trade and foreign investment whilst ensuring we do all the appropriate due diligence, and reserve the right to legislate to protect Australia’s security, economic and social interests. This parliament will always be sovereign. Former trade minister and National Farmers Federation head Andrew Robb has regularly reminded me: ‘Andrew, I’ve never once seen a farm lift off and fly away from Australia.’
Let me now turn to superannuation. After working as an internal auditor at Ernst & Young, I spent almost eight years working in and around superannuation. This has made me a dinner party invitee of choice! Superannuation has made the unions, banks and insurers richer than ever. According to the Grattan Institute, Australians spend $23 billion on energy costs each year, but we spend $30 billion on super fees. Super is a classic case of vested interests triumphing over the national interest. The fees are too high, there is not enough competition and there is insufficient transparency.
Compulsory superannuation is almost 30 years old. Super is now almost twice the size of the economy and the capitalisation of the securities exchange. We have the fourth-largest private pension pool in the world with only 25 million people. It remains a strange but huge experiment. The Centre for Independent Studies says one of the preconditions necessary to justify forced saving is that ‘undersaving for retirement will result in serious harm, including serious levels of old age poverty’. Super fails at the first gate as the age pension underwrites Australians against old age poverty. Grattan Institute modelling shows super tax breaks will not pay for reduced pension outlays until the 22nd century, if at all!
So what does this money do? Most of the funds invest in the same index-hugging way. The super industry contains layer upon layer of intermediation, with the same request from government: higher and higher mandatory contributions. As lawmakers, our duty is to focus on the public interest. I do not believe this system is working for Australians. Certainly the case has not been made for ever bigger super. I would change direction. Super should be made voluntary for Australians earning under $50,000. Taxpayers could simply tick a box to get a refund when filing an annual tax return. I commissioned modelling from Rice Warner actuaries, which estimates a saving to government of $1.8 billion in the first year alone.
Super is making home ownership so much harder for lower income Australians. The CIS found that the average deposit for a first home has doubled between 2000 and 2015. Since super started in 1992, every single age group has experienced lower levels of home ownership. Two answers must be provided, in my view, if we are to keep super as it is today: (1) will more super reduce future pension costs to government and, if so, by how much; and (2) how much better would retirement standards be if we had more super? The last Intergenerational Report showed around 80 per cent of people would take a public pension in 2055. That is not good enough after 70 years of compulsory superannuation. Unless the next edition favourably answers these questions, I would be inclined to make the whole scheme voluntary.
The down payment from a strong economy should be a fair society. In 2017, I took on a most polarising issue in my party—same-sex marriage—as national director of the Liberals and Nationals for Yes. I suspected this four-month assignment would be defining: either I’d be one of many people who delivered more fairness and more freedom, or I’d be a hopeless campaigner who picked a toxic issue inside my party. In the end, 71 of 76 coalition seats voted yes.
I am honoured to now stand in the Australian Senate, where my friend Senator Dean Smith introduced his Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Working to give people more rights in the marriage campaign has made me more proud than anything else I have done. Being thanked by total strangers is an amazing feeling. Being thanked by my own sister is an amazing feeling. Same-sex marriage was about people’s lives and their rights. It was also about the type of country we want to live in. Long may we remember the credo ‘live and let live’.
I am worried that our country has not been able to reconcile with Indigenous Australians. As Noel Pearson has reminded me: ‘Andrew, this is my country too’. It is time for us to complete this task. Pearson offers a way of thinking about Australia that I love. His declaration of recognition presents Australia as a unified nation drawing on three great heritages: the Indigenous as First Peoples, the British as creators of the institutions which underpin the nation and the multicultural gift that has enriched us all. The Constitution does a great job of securing these institutions. That’s why I’m a constitutional conservative. I regard the Constitution as an incredibly successful document. But I am also a supporter of constitutional recognition.
The latest chapter in this long journey is the Uluru statement. It offers a challenge to our country. The Uluru statement says, ‘We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.’ It imagines a Constitution where Indigenous Australians are guaranteed a say on laws made under the races and territories powers which affect them. Uluru asks legislators to consult Indigenous people on the laws which are relevant to them. This is a good idea. This is a fair idea.
But I would not support constitutional recognition at any price. I offer five principles if we are to succeed. Any proposal must (1) capture broad support of the Indigenous community; (2) focus on community level improvements; (3) maintain the supremacy of parliament; (4) maintain the value of equality; and (5) strengthen national unity. I know my colleagues share strong feelings about this. Constitutional recognition is both desirable and achievable if the design work reflects these principles.
A workable framework was outlined by John Howard’s chief justice Murray Gleeson in a recent address for Uphold & Recognise—the brainchild of the brilliant Damien Freeman and my colleague Julian Leeser MP. In Gleeson’s words:
What is proposed is a voice to Parliament, not a voice in Parliament.
… … …
It has the merit that it is substantive, and not merely ornamental.
Recognition should also be a bottom-up process. As the Governor-General said in the opening of this parliament, we should ‘develop ground-up governance models for enhanced, inclusive and local decision-making on issues impacting the lives of Indigenous Australians’. This must be a unifying project, because the Constitution belongs to all Australians. It must also be a bipartisan project, and I acknowledge the critical role non-government Indigenous senators will play in the years ahead. The first Indigenous person to serve as Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said just a few weeks ago: ‘Indigenous Australians want to be recognised on the birth certificate of our nation because we weren’t there when it was written but we were ensconced in it in two sections, 51(xxvi) and 127.’ I will walk with Indigenous Australians on this journey.
A First Nations voice would not be a third chamber. It would not have the standing, scope or power of the Senate or the House of Representatives. Further, the campaign that ‘race has no place’ in the Constitution may sound good, but it is a campaign that should have been run in the 1890s as we crossed that Rubicon in 1901. Yes, our Constitution already contains race in several places. It has a history which has been both good and bad. Today, the race power provides the constitutional authority for the Native Title Act. Although some would extend native title rights and others would wind them back, everyone agrees that this parliament should retain this authority and power.
The issue of proper recognition in the Constitution will not go away—and it shouldn’t. If recognition fails, more radical concepts could be proposed, such as reserved seats for First Peoples, as already exist in New Zealand and the US state of Maine, or we could face a bill of rights, which would be a terrible transfer of power from elected persons to unelected judges.
We want all Australians to be proud of our great nation. All Australians will always be equal, but we cannot have Indigenous people feel estranged in the land of their ancestors. Almost every comparable nation has landed some form of legal recognition of First Peoples. We should not wait any longer.
The Liberal Party is used to opening the batting on difficult issues. We made the first moves to abolish White Australia, we opened trade with Japan in 1957 and we delivered the Indigenous referendum in 1967. We are the party of Senator Neville Bonner.
We Liberals are good at big changes because we can take the forgotten people or the quiet Australians on the journey. As one of my political heroes, John Howard, said:
Australian Liberalism has always been evolving and developing. It always will be. We are constantly relating Liberalism’s enduring values to the circumstances of our own time enduring values such as the commitment to enhance freedom, choice and competition, to encourage personal achievement, and to promote fairness and a genuine sense of community in Australian society.
I look forward to writing the next chapter in the rich history of Australian Liberalism.
I want to thank a group of people who have sustained me—and I’m sure this has been a difficult mission at times. I thank my parents, Colin and Ann Bragg, for making every opportunity possible. I thank my wonderful and brilliant wife, Melanie, and our children, Sophia and James. We all do this for our children. I thank my extended family, represented by Hamish and Anna Bragg, and good friends and colleagues, including my best man, David Bold.
I thank the Liberal Party for this opportunity. I owe the party a great debt. There are so many people in the New South Wales division who believed in me. I thank you all.
Most importantly, I thank the people of New South Wales for their trust and confidence. I am certain that this place can work harder and better for the people that put us here. I pledge to work with my fellow patriots for all Australians. Thank you.