First Speech


It is a tremendous honour to stand before parliament as the representative for the people of Canning and to speak for the first time in this chamber. I stand here today humbled by the occasion—humbled that, through a democratic process that I love and have defended, the people of Canning have been inspired by what I and my party stand for and have voted for me to be their representative. This responsibility does not sit lightly upon my shoulders, but I accept it with the same sense of duty I felt in making my oath as a member of the Australian Defence Force over a decade ago. I was sustained in my previous profession, through good and difficult times, by holding to the ideals and tradition of the Australian Commonwealth. My belief in the nobility of politics and the importance of the work conducted in this chamber will sustain me through the seasons of political life.

There is no one word that can accurately depict the electorate of Canning. One thing is clear: the geography is decisive in the formation of its culture and economic diversity. In a single day, you can traverse the electorate and find yourself on the beach in Mandurah, picking fruit in orchards up in Karragullen, strolling in a bustling shopping centre in suburban Armadale, saddling a horse at Coolup or enjoying a tree change in the hill country of Dwellingup. Canning is a thriving ecosystem with hardworking Australians who enjoy their freedom and lifestyles unique to each township. The people of Canning generally want to get about their business without undue interference from government. I seek to serve them in this way, while acknowledging that government has a vital role to play in improving their lives.

My personal journey is a typical Australian story. My forebears were migrants from Scotland, England and Ireland. They were mariners, businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals who came to Australia because they saw it as a land of opportunity and a new beginning. Years later, Australia is still the land of opportunity, and we have a responsibility to ensure it remains so. I believe that good things are easily destroyed but not easily created.

The most profound influence in my life has been my family. Family is central to a healthy society, and we must protect and cultivate that institution. Family gives people support when they falter and allows those who falter to recover themselves. I have grown up in a stable and loving environment, given to me by my parents, Peter and Sue. My father, from my earliest days, has taught me the importance of seeking the truth and living consistently with my convictions; to establish my principles and adhere to them. My grandfather on my father's side bequeathed to me the virtues of courage and love for my country. His example of bravery and devotion to duty under fire has always inspired me. He served as an officer with the Royal Australian Air Force and was severely wounded by gunfire when covering the air-sea rescue of two downed Australian airmen during the Pacific war. A United States medic aboard the Catalina aircraft, a Virginian by the name of Sergeant O Maberry, managed to stabilise him and an American surgeon at Morotai Island saved his life. For my family, Australia's relationship with the United States has personal significance. My grandfather, Flight Lieutenant Norman William Hastie, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions on that day.

I was born in regional Victoria in Wangaratta. My father started a church there from scratch in 1980 and in my early years I travelled around the vast parish that fell in the federal seat of Indi, connecting with people from all walks of life in homes and hospitals and on farms and fruit orchards. I have fond memories of those times with my father. My siblings—Sarah, Madeleine and David—and I grew up in a public setting. Both my parents were visible figures in their local community in Wangaratta, Victoria and later in Ashfield, Sydney. They exposed my siblings and me to people from all walks of life through their leadership and hospitality. My parents and grandparents instilled in me a sense of service from an early age. My mother was a primary school teacher, helping many, including those with special needs. She showed me the truth in the words of Winston Churchill:

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Growing up, I was also very close to my Grandmother Rose. She was a nurse her whole life and looked after my grandfather until he died.

I believe there is an unwritten contract between the dead, the living and the unborn. We are the product of those who have come before us and we should always seek to steward what we have for the next generation. It is the lessons and experiences of my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents that have shaped my upbringing. It is because of my formative experiences that I believe in service—not through a cold sense of duty and obligation, but rather service inspired by love and compassion for others. Through my parent's example, I have come to cherish the pursuit of truth, the value of human life and the soul, the power of the spoken and written word, and the importance of history. These have become passions of my own and they are foundational to what drives me as a person.

As a student of history, I have always held a very keen interest in the turning points of civilisation. A turning point in modern history and in my own life was the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September, 2001. I remember watching it unfold on television that night. That morning in New York, a 27-year-old Australian woman, Elisa Ferraina, perished on the 106th floor of the northern tower. Elisa was the daughter of the late Mrs Julia Ferraina, my second and third class teacher at Ashbury Public School. Terror had touched my life and entered my personal world. I had to respond. Interestingly, it was the bizarre reaction from some of my university colleagues the following day, where in a tutorial they mounted a moral equivalence argument against the United States and in support of the terrorists, that led me to make a decisive career choice. From then on, I knew my future lay with the Australian Defence Force.

My formative experiences as a leader have been with the Australian Army on operations. It has been a privilege and honour to command Australian troops and to forge lifelong friendships with people from backgrounds very different from my own. I have seen the best and worst of human nature in conflict and I have felt the heavy burden of command responsibility. I am now far more circumspect about the ability of military power to change people and societies and far more aware of how resilient culture can be in the face of nation-building at gunpoint. Politicians who contemplate sending young men and women into foreign lands would do well to reflect on this truth about war, especially in view of its extreme violence and long-term effects. We have a duty to treat our service personnel and their families with honour, respect and compassion. They pay a high price for our protection and as a society we have an ongoing duty to tend their wounds and heal their scars.

The Australian Defence Force has invested significant amounts of public money into my training as a leader. I have been taught how to build a team. I have been taught how to identify a problem, create a solution and then work closely with others to get things done. I have not been afraid to ruffle feathers when needed and I am no stranger to accepting responsibility. These are all things that I believe will benefit both the people of Canning and the nation.

Like many Australian students, I studied the history of the 20th century in high school. We studied the first and second world wars, with a particular focus on the rise and collapse of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. I was captivated by the political questions posed by this bloody epoch of history. What is the purpose of government? What are the best political and economic systems for the flourishing of society? How do we avoid the bloodshed of the last century as we stare into the unknown of the 21st?

These questions have remained at the forefront of my interest. I share Michael Novak's view, given in his 1994 Templeton Prize address, where he said of the twentieth century—the bloodiest century in human history:

Three great lessons have been learned from the last century, then, even if the cost of learning them was fearful beyond measure. First, truth matters. Second, for all its manifest faults, even absurdities, democracy is better for the protection of individuals and minorities than dictatorship. Third, for all its deficiencies, even gaping inadequacies, capitalism is better for the poor than either of its two great rivals, socialism and the traditional Third World economy.

Twenty-one years later, with war and disorder raging in Iraq and Syria and with vast numbers of refugees and people from the Middle East looking for safety and opportunity, these words still ring true—perhaps more than ever. The Australian government has acted at this critical juncture with generosity and goodwill by offering a home to 12,000 Syrian refugees. I am proud of this policy and it reinforces my belief that Australia has much good to offer on the world stage.

I believe that government is manifestly a search for order in our lives. It is at the foundation of Australian society: people freely associating and forming bonds of trust, accountability and obligation. We see this present in the family. We see it present in rotary clubs, schools and churches, in business and in the football clubs around Australia. These freely formed associations are the basis of Australian society and are the fullest expression of self-government.

At the centre of these associations is the idea of accountability. One idea that lies at the heart of Western civilisation is the idea of sacrifice. The primary acts of sacrifice at the human level, in the common Christian tradition, are those of confession and forgiveness. These acts go to the heart of individual and collective accountability. We confess when we have wronged others and, in doing so, we sacrifice our pride. We forgive others who have wronged us and, in doing so, we sacrifice our resentment. This is the basis of accountability in our relationships.

We do this with family but also in public settings. Public accountability is manifest in our Westminster system of government. Every voter has a free say at the ballot box. When you consider the rest of the world, this is a special kind of freedom that we enjoy in this country.

By contrast, when society is organised from the top down by heavy-handed government and faceless bureaucrats, accountability disappears. Remember the disarray when the USSR collapsed, or the chaos that ensued in the fall of Iraq, or, more recently, the power vacuum left by Gaddafi in Libya. Our institutions reflect a cultural heritage that promotes accountability, freedom and democracy.

But while we always need to be wary of creeping state power and big government, we must not forget that our system of government is made possible by a shared consensus across Australian society about basic values and morality. The Australian Liberal Party federal platform captures some of the core beliefs held by most if not all Australians—a belief in the innate worth of the individual; a belief in the basic freedoms of thought, worship, speech, association and choice; a belief in a just and humane society; and a belief in parliamentary democracy as the best system for the expression and fulfilment of the aspirations of a free people.

If Australian society coheres on basic questions of individuality, freedom, opportunity and justice, then there will be cohesion in the political and economic order. We can have a politics of compromise because we all hold the same basic beliefs about what makes Australia a great country.

Last year I had the pleasure of sharing a flight from Canberra to Perth with the member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh. We discussed many issues, and while we disagreed on quite a few of them we were able to reach points of consensus on an equal number, as political neighbours. I was heartened by the tenor of the conversation and it is in that spirit of compromise that I will seek to work with those opposite.

But the politics of compromise is possible only if we share a consensus of beliefs. The most immediate threat to this consensus is a culture of public relativism. We are told that there is no such thing as truth, that all opinions are equal and that our heritage is no more unique than any other cultural achievement. I reject this culture of relativism on both moral and intellectual grounds, for the threat it poses to our civic culture and because it is rationally, morally and practically unsustainable. In governing this country we need to be anchored by foundational beliefs—a shared vision of basic principles that are faithful to the Australian story. There has been too much cynicism in politics for too long. We need to get back to basics and do the right things for the right reasons. We need to restore people's faith in this country's institutions and in us, the nation's elected representatives.

In Australia, we have great prospects for political, economic and social opportunity. It is the government's role to turn that opportunity into a reality for our families. We are custodians. Our job is to work together for the common good. The people of Canning told me in no uncertain terms that they are tired of fickle and short-sighted politics. They want politicians to see things with clear eyes and to call a spade a spade. They want vision. They want us to get on with the job and work together for the common good.

To safeguard our freedom I believe that the first duty of the Australian federal government is to secure our nation and to provide a strong national defence against enemies both foreign and domestic. As Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1942, after reflecting on a lifetime of participation in war as a soldier and journalist:

I have seen much war in my lifetime and I hate it profoundly. But there are worse things than war, and all of them come with defeat.

For democracies, ill preparedness is not an option. I will always fight to ensure that the men and women who serve this country in our military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are well-resourced and supported and are given the right policy frameworks to keep the Australian people safe.

With security comes opportunity, and it is the role of the government to provide investment in infrastructure and create policy that leads to wealth creation, the growth of small business and entrepreneurial activity. It is the role of government to help people who cannot help themselves. Nowhere is this clearer than in the battle against ice in the community in Canning. I have pledged to take action alongside the incredibly hardworking community leaders, rehabilitators, medical practitioners, families, police and concerned citizens of Canning to create a safer community. I will seek to support those already in the fight with funding, coordination and leadership. Together with the people of Canning I seek to provide a way out of drug addiction for those in the grip of this terrible addiction.

The Canning by-election was a remarkable five weeks. Ben Morton, the outgoing Western Australian Liberal state director, commented that it was a fierce political apprenticeship for me. As a political rookie, I agree. I thank him for his support and also the many Liberal Party state parliamentary colleagues and volunteers who ignored the sideshow on social media and instead spent their waking hours doorknocking, greeting constituents, putting up signs, taking phone calls and being a genuine presence for good in Canning.

I am proud to be here as the 10th member for Canning. The late Don Randall was the longest serving member for Canning, and it is due to his untimely passing that I am here today. Don set a great example of parliamentary service in Canning. I encountered Don's legacy wherever I went on the campaign trail. I intend to build on it. Like Don, I will put the people of Canning first.

I would like to thank Senator Mathias Cormann, who set this train in motion. You took the first risk and backed me. I would also like to thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, David Johnston, Michael Keenan, Michaelia Cash, Bruce Billson, Michael Ronaldson, Ken Wyatt, John Howard, Tony Abbott and John Anderson for your generous support during the campaign.

I also want to pay a special tribute to two key influences during my military career. First, I want to thank Rear Admiral James Goldrick AO CSC RANR for his mentoring and leadership throughout the past 13 years. He gave me two pieces of advice for service in the military. The first was to build an interior intellectual life sustained by wide reading, writing and critical thinking. The second was that your first command is about proving yourself to yourself and that every subsequent command is about helping others prove themselves to themselves. This advice has and will continue to serve me well as I serve my community and help its people to strive to achieve their aspirations.

I also want to thank the men and women of the Special Air Service Regiment. The three-week selection course, which I completed in 2010, gives truth to the argument that Australia is indeed a meritocracy. The final phase, named 'lucky dip', is one of the most gruelling activities you can complete in the ADF. After days with no food and little sleep it does not matter what your colour, creed, gender, religion, background or level of education is. What matters is your character, your ability to persevere and your ability to keep your head about you and to see a job through to completion—all the while maintaining a larrikin sense of humour. My experience is that under those conditions some of the most unlikely leaders emerge to take charge of a situation. I thank the regiment for their support and for those officers and soldiers who have invested time in me to improve me both as a person and as a leader. You know who are. Who dares wins.

To my parents and siblings: your love and kindness through the years has made all the difference. And finally, to my wife, Ruth, and son, Jonathan: I would not be here without your help, encouragement and support. So thank you for the wonderful home and sanctuary you provide me as well as for your saintly patience and unconditional love.