House of Representatives on 14/09/2016
Maiden Speech - Trevor Evans MP
First of all, I am honoured to be joined by so many of my colleagues here in the chamber so late in the evening. I am sure it has more to do with the events of the last sitting week than any expectations that I will be eloquent or profound!
I first visited this parliament as a teenager on a family road trip. I remember my brothers running pretty much right across the roof of this place and rolling down the grassy slopes on the sides of the building in a way that security probably does not permit today. I don't remember being up there in the gallery, but my parents, who I am very proud to say are up there tonight, tell me that I was.
Between that visit and now, I have had many causes to reflect deeply on the achievements of our nation and our past governments. The sacrifice and the service of the men and women in this place have steered Australia through the challenges of 115 years of Federation, two world wars and countless moral trials and economic tribulations. I am humbled, but enthusiastic about having this opportunity to contribute my service to the betterment of our nation.
Australia is one of the longest continuously running democracies on earth. Our Federation was formed thoughtfully in peacetime and benefits from great foundations and traditions. We are a beacon of freedom, prosperity, diversity, justice and security in an often difficult world.
I see our nation, in some ways, as our sanctuary: an economic sanctuary, an environmental sanctuary and a sanctuary affording us safety from many of the events, illnesses and other miseries in the wider world. We should take very seriously the responsibility that comes with having the custodianship of both a nation and a continent.
I come to this place deeply connected to Australia's small business class. My family have been retailers and shopkeepers for generations, and also builders, farmers and sawmillers.
I was born in Tweed Heads in New South Wales. I was the first of my family to attend university. Before that, I am proud to have attended government schools in Mitcham, Victoria; in Elimbah near Caboolture; and in Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast.
I believe the last federal MP to be born in Tweed Heads was Neville Bonner, Australia's first Indigenous politician. He was a great Queensland politician and a constitutional conservative. I have admired his principled approach, along with how gracefully he represented the diversity of our country, as a proud Liberal. I hope to say more about Neville Bonner in the future. In the meantime, I hope I can emulate his style.
It is almost passe for me to cover some personal issues of diversity here tonight, because two fellow Liberals in this chamber have recently covered these issues so superbly. Yet I cannot help reflecting, just now, in this moment, that in about 10 other countries around the world someone like me would be defenestrated or sentenced to death, as a political or religious statement.
Medieval ideals and concentrated political power both share a common lack of respect for the fundamental value of a human life. Liberal democracy will continue to prove itself, the only consistent friend of those around the world who are women, gay, or ethnic or religious minorities.
To the extent our voices in this place make any difference in the wider world, let my voice say—loudly and defiantly—that my presence here is not symptomatic of a weakening Western world. Rather, I stand here speaking for the ongoing triumph of liberal democracy, with the willing support of those who understand the fundamental value of human life and the powerful potential of each individual.
My heritage is a story of successful immigration and enterprise. My family—like so many others—has sent relatives to conflicts around the world, to defend freedom and democracy. I pledge my ongoing support for our defence forces, to uphold the Anzac legacy, and I will 'never forget' that everything we have now is as a result of their sacrifice.
I also want to proudly declare my passion for conservation. Following the family road trips as a kid, my love of hiking, camping and fishing has taken me all over this sunburnt nation. I feel most alive, and most at peace, when I am alone with nature. Time will tell how I come to feel in this 'house of animals'!
From the wilds of Tasmania to the Red Centre, from the Daintree to the Nullarbor to the Pilbara, I have a deep love of our wilderness, our native flora and fauna. I also express my respect for the first peoples of our land. Our beautiful, dreaming continent is lucky to have the oldest continuing cultures on earth as custodians and storytellers. I pay special tribute to those who have had custodianship of the Brisbane area for thousands of generations—the Turrbal and Jagera people.
I would like to express my thanks—and my dedication—to the people of Brisbane. I am so honoured you have given me this opportunity to represent you. I will repay your vote of faith by working hard. I hope to deliver a style of representation that is visible, accessible, responsive and deeply thoughtful about the challenges we face.
Despite those many challenges, I will always be naturally optimistic. I have witnessed so many community groups, organisations, school communities and volunteers, all around Brisbane, doing such astonishing work. It truly is inspiring and gives me great faith and confidence in humankind. To the Brisbane researchers who found the world's first vaccines for cancers, helping save over a quarter of a million lives every year; to the innovative Brisbane art scene taking the world by storm; to the empires being built by the Brisbane coffee barons; to the Brisbane teachers and educators making international education our city's biggest export—you prove that there is so much to be optimistic about, and I will dedicate my efforts to helping you, and locals like you, to contribute to a better world.
I acknowledge my parents, Norm and Carol. Dad, you set a standard most could never meet, in terms of hard work and dedication to your family. Your sacrifices and your example fuel the fire in my belly. You taught me to grit my teeth and stay the course through tough times; to be undeterred by those who talk or criticise instead of acting; and to seek justice and be a voice for the little guy.
Mum, as well as unconditional love, you gave me a love of words, books and learning. If I am ever literate and comprehensible in this place, it is because you sat us down as kids and you read to us. To my partner, Roger, my best friend and source of unconditional understanding: your smile would shine through any darkness. I love you.
To my brothers, Wayne, Brendan and Daniel: thank you for your camaraderie. Your practical jokes and antics have already caused me some headlines. I almost look forward to more of those headlines, knowing how my brothers will always keep me so very grounded. And we just received the happy word this afternoon that I am to be an uncle again, for the eighth time.
To the rest of my family—including my grandmothers, Elma and Carol—you have taught me that nothing matters more than family. A strong, happy family is always the safety net of first resort.
I acknowledge and thank everyone who worked so hard on the Brisbane campaign. Almost 700 of you contributed in some way, and I cannot attempt to name you all in this speech, but you should be proud that your efforts made such a difference.
The preselection was relatively late and Brisbane has usually been won by our political opponents. Yet this result was a record win. I will work hard to make you proud for helping me become just the 12th member for Brisbane since Federation.
At the risk of singling out just a few extraordinary contributions, I would like to put on record the efforts of my campaign manager, Pete Coulson, and campaign executive members Dan Frost-Foster and Tony Gleeson. You put your lives on hold and sacrificed more than most to achieve victory.
I would also like to give my thanks to the executive staff of the LNP. The election results in Queensland speak for themselves. Thank you to the Prime Minister, other ministers and colleagues for their support through the campaign. Thanks especially to Minister Peter Dutton and Attorney-General George Brandis for their support. Thank you to the Queensland LNP leader, Tim Nicholls; to the Brisbane lord mayor; and to all seven local councillors whose wards overlap with the division of Brisbane. I look forward to working so constructively with you for the benefit of our great area.
I would like to pay tribute to the former member for Brisbane, the Hon. Teresa Gambaro. Teresa served this parliament for 18 years, first as the member for Petrie and then as the member for Brisbane. Teresa represented the strong contribution of the Italian community to the electorate of Brisbane, which is as strong now as ever. So many of our families' stories should remind us of the value of welcoming migration with open arms when migrants are attracted to the promise of this lucky country, the freedom and the opportunity and the space to work hard and make something of yourself.
I would like to acknowledge Mark Brodie, the chairman of the National Retail Association, as well as the board and the staff who have worked tirelessly and loyally for the benefit of our nation's retail and services sectors. I pledge to continue to work hard to support these industries which have sustained me and so many in my family for generations. There are roughly about 400,000 shopfronts, cafes, food outlets and stores around our country. About 10,000 of them are in my electorate of Brisbane. The majority of them are family owned small businesses. Collectively, they are the biggest source of jobs and opportunities for Australians. More than 1 in 10 Australians work in them. And if every shopfront could be encouraged to employ two more workers tomorrow, our unemployment rate would be zero. Zero. Meaning the majority of mature-aged Australians, Indigenous Australians and the disabled who are looking for work would find the dignity they want and deserve.
These industries already do more than any other sector to provide jobs, opportunities and prosperity for the young, for women, for the least-skilled. And we will be relying on them more than ever as some so-called fast lanes of the economy now slow. Yet there is not and there never has been a minister for retail or a department overseeing these industries, unlike every other major industry you could name. And while I am not for a moment suggesting that these businesses want or need a bureaucracy looking over their shoulders, they do need a strong voice.
If decision-makers do not properly comprehend the needs and the potential of small business, or if they think first and foremost of big business, big unions or big government when they make decisions then we fail small businesses, because, while small businesses are not usually directly regulated or licensed, they certainly do feel the cumulative burden of business red tape. Well-intentioned but ill-considered and sometimes poorly administered regulations are currently strangling these businesses—sometimes to death.
The evidence is already in if you know where to look for it. When the Fair Work Ombudsman audits small businesses in retail, fast food or hair and beauty, it regularly finds non-compliance rates of about 40 per cent. A long list of other regulators actually find similar rates of noncompliance in small business—around 40 per cent—in areas like health and safety and consumer law. This noncompliance is typically minor, technical and inadvertent in nature rather than serious or deliberate, but the point is we have so many areas of regulation now with the rules changing so frequently in so many of those areas that small businesses in Australia are already overwhelmed. Speaking frankly: they survive right now in a fraught purgatory of non-compliance and non-enforcement.
Our party was founded on the notion that the small-business middle class needs a strong voice. In Robert Menzies' most famous address, 'The forgotten people', he said that the rich and powerful 'are as a rule able to protect themselves.' He said he wanted to represent 'shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on.' Today, the small-business class is just as likely to include professional consultants, creative industry types, tradies and independent contractors.
I suggest some priorities for this government to better support small business. Firstly, wherever possible we need business regulations to be more around principles rather than based on prescriptions. Secondly, we need a change of culture within some of our regulators. They need to support principle based regulation by being more willing to give the equivalent of private rulings. Every time a government officer says, 'We don't give legal advice,' in response to a legitimate small-business query they are sacrificing goodwill between government and industry and failing to achieve better outcomes for Australian consumers. A culture change also requires regulators to abandon their preference for seeking scalps through media releases, court rulings and penalties. Imagine a world in which a regulator goes into a business, gets free and ready access to diligently audit the processes of the business in exchange for confidentiality in helping that business to overcome any problems that they unearthed. That style of collaboration would be less adversarial, cheaper and would likely result in much faster and better outcomes for consumers and the government.
Thirdly, I propose that this government works to introduce a new industrial relations award specifically to apply to start-ups and small business. In recognition of the fact that small businesses are already struggling with the cumulative burden of red tape, a new small-business award should aim to be less prescriptive and more principles based than the current industry awards. It must maintain the high base wage rates Australians deserve. I have always been proud that Australia has some of the highest wage levels in the world. I will always work hard to find every means possible to sustainably grow real wages for Australians.
A small-business award should also provide for penalty rates and overtime as set by the Fair Work Commission. These loadings should apply on public holidays and on any hours in a normal week outside of 40 core hours nominated by the small business. Such an award would do more than almost anything else to supercharge the small-business sector and encourage them to create the jobs we need.
Some believe the topic of industrial relations is off limits these days, yet Australians deserve to know the truth: that in industries like retail the penalty rate system is a sham and a lie and on the brink of breaking down. The system is a sham because the specified penalty rates will not actually be paid to most retail workers this weekend, or any other weekend. Not in small business, most of whom will shut or bring in family members to work, and not in big business, who use agreements with big unions to water down and avoid penalty rates. The lie at the heart of this system is that the so-called strongest defenders of penalty rates in the labour movement are complicit in the specified penalty rates not being paid to many workers.
And the system is at risk of breaking down as the Fair Work Commission is forced to confront the fact that big unions have signed off on agreements that make many workers worse off than under the awards. Such agreements are supposed to be prohibited. If they do get struck out, this ticking time bomb threatens the shifts and hours of thousands upon thousands of our most vulnerable workers. This government must be ready to act if that occurs.
On the topic of big business, there has been some recent public debate around the role that big business and their associations should play in elections and in shaping policy. The coalition went to this election with one of the strongest pro-growth platforms in living memory. Yet in the heat of the campaign, there was little third party support from certain organisations whose job it was to vigorously explain why the country so critically needs jobs and growth at this time. There are some organisations that do diligently prosecute the case for reform. Yet there are some in big business, it seems, who believe it may be possible to skirt the public contests about the tax they pay or the regulations they comply with. Those missing in action seem to believe that the biggest potential beneficiaries of economic reforms should be able to free ride on the efforts and work of smaller, less resourced businesses and groups. They should not assume such a political paradigm might continue.
We on this side of the House support enterprise and free markets. We want small businesses to grow into big businesses and create the jobs and opportunities Australians critically need. Yet, coming from small business—and as a former regulator and economist—I am naturally suspicious of concentrated power, whether that is found in the clumsy power of central government, the institutional influence of trade unions or the market power of big business. I believe the more powerful you are the more responsibility you have to wield your power in a way that is true to your origins, and benefits and protects the little guys coming from the same place where you started. Those who abandon the national debate should not be surprised to see that reform is predominantly targeted elsewhere, such as towards small businesses.
Finally, populism is on the march again around the world and, indeed, in Australia. Populism is shorthand for protectionism, the antithesis of trade. While our country is our sanctuary, we should never be isolationist or inward looking. Every sustainable gain in humankind's standard of living has come about from skills, specialisation and trade. Global forces that could barely be contained a century ago through protectionist policies certainly cannot be contained that way now in a digital and internet age.
Dusting off the old red megaphone of populism might give some grievances a good airing, but it is not a sincere solution. The answer lies with a government that can offer a comprehensive program: optimism; applying every effort to education, training and skills; understanding how free markets require good but light-handed regulation; and how skilled and compassionate migration relies on rules that can maintain the confidence of the people.
In dedicating my service to this 45th Parliament and to Brisbane, I want to quote former Prime Minister Sir George Reid. His words from 113 years ago beautifully express, my optimism and my themes here tonight:
Our policy has no fear of human progress, the tides of the world's commerce may rise, the triumphal march of human discoveries may bring nations more and more closely together, but these events have no terror for us. We have a policy of national not sectional ideals. The words liberty, equality and fraternity are not to us a mere phrase; we believe in their spirit being embodied in the legislative policy of a great, intelligent democracy, and say, in the words of Tennyson—
Ring out the slowly dying cause;
Ring out the feuds of rich and poor;
Ring out the old, ring in the new;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.