Maiden Speech

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

It is with significant honour that I rise to make my first speech in the Australian Senate. Mr President, I commence my remarks by offering my congratulations to you on your election to the office of President of the Senate. Having watched my father, the Hon. George Cash, in his role as President of the Legislative Council of Western Australia and currently as Deputy President, I have a true appreciation of the roles and responsibilities that befall the President of the Senate and I wish you well.

I extend my congratulations to all senators elected at the 2007 election—in particular, those elected for the first time. I also extend my appreciation to the Clerk of the Senate and to his staff for their assistance and advice since my election.

As someone who believes in the principles of federalism and in houses of review, I am honoured to have been elected as a Liberal senator for Western Australia. There is no doubt that Western Australians recognise that a critical institutional safeguard for all Australians is a competent and properly functioning Senate—a Senate which scrutinises, criticises and passes judgement on legislation having regard to, in the case of the citizens of my state, the interests of Western Australia. This scrutiny ensures that a federal government located in Canberra, many thousands of kilometres in distance from Western Australia, is still held accountable for actions that affect the people of my state.

Although there is a long history of federalism and federalist thought, Australia’s federal system is one of the longest running of the world’s current federal systems. Of course, the establishment of the Australian federal system did not happen overnight. During the 1890s there was considerable debate between representatives of the various colonies considering the merits of establishing an Australian federation. It is well-documented that there was considerable reluctance on the part of Western Australia to join the federation.

It is also clear from the conference debates that when the Commonwealth was created in 1901 the states proposed to transfer only limited powers and intended to retain the maximum constitutional powers for themselves. One hundred and seven years later, it is fair to say that our founding fathers did not envisage that the passage of time, changing circumstances and the broad interpretation of Commonwealth powers by the High Court of Australia would see a profound encroachment by the Commonwealth on previously intended state areas of responsibility.

Whilst accepting the change in powers of the Commonwealth due to High Court interpretation, I believe that we, as senators, must always pay proper regard to the constitutional compact as it was originally conceived. Wherever it is consistent with good policy, we should seek to make decisions that, whilst reflecting the national interest, uphold and respect the interests of the states. As former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was heard to say after a fiery and contentious Premiers Conference, ‘Six state premiers send me up the wall, but I would not have it any other way because it is our insurance against dictatorship.’

Western Australia, apart from being the largest state having an area of almost one third of the Australian continent, is a very significant contributor to the national economy. Without question, my state has emerged over the last two decades as an economic powerhouse. Western Australia, with about 10 per cent of Australia’s population, has historically generated approximately 30 per cent of Australia’s export revenues. However, the recent commodities boom has pushed this figure to now exceed 40 per cent. My state generates more export income than New South Wales and Victoria—Australia’s two most populous states—combined.

Western Australia has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources. The state’s economy is primarily export driven with China, Japan, South Korea and India being key export destinations. Last year, Western Australia exported more than $55 billion worth of minerals and petroleum as a result of global demand for our natural resources. The continued rapid industrialisation of China and India is expected to significantly increase the demand for our mineral exports into the future.

Whilst Western Australia is abundant in mineral resources, it offers much more in its economic contribution to the nation. Agricultural exports make up the state’s second major export industry. The fishing industry is also important. We have a flourishing shipbuilding industry located at Kwinana, south of Perth, and many other industries of international repute.

The growth Western Australia is experiencing is providing great benefits and opportunities for our nation. To ensure that we take full advantage of this opportunity and maximise benefits to all Australians, we need a bold and coherent vision and long-range contextual planning to adequately address the infrastructure needs of Western Australia not just for today but into the future. As a senator I want to contribute to the development and implementation of policies that promote the building of infrastructure that is necessary to ensure that my state, and therefore the nation, enjoys continuing prosperity. Western Australia’s vast natural resources place it in an enviable position but much of its economic potential is still to be realised. One of the foremost opportunities will be the further development of the state’s mineral resources through increased downstream processing.

As government decisions can often impose unnecessary and sometimes unintended burdens on industry, we must make certain that decisions affecting Western Australia’s resources industry do not unwittingly affect the capacity of industry to flourish and grow for the benefit of the nation. There is no doubt, in my view, that a failure by the Commonwealth to properly recognise Western Australia’s unique needs would be detrimental to the national economy. This would ultimately impact on the capacity of government to deliver essential services and social dividends to all Australians.

I am a strong believer in recognising that the development of industry should not be fettered by unnecessary regulation. In my view—a view that has been fashioned by my years of legal practice—every piece of legislation should be subject to rigorous impact analysis. Ideally, this analysis should be published as a formal statement and tabled in parliament as part of the legislative procedure. Such an impact statement should include a considered analysis of the economic, social, environmental and practical impacts of a proposed law. We should never forget that the regulation we impose on industry invariably results in the imposition of compliance costs.

As a Liberal, I believe in minimal government interference and that the role of government is to create and maintain a regulatory and taxation environment conducive to allowing the private sector to get on with the job. We must therefore be cautious when considering new legislation and the consequences flowing from it, and we should not inhibit business with unnecessary red tape. There may well be merit in the argument that law-makers should only introduce a new regulation if at the same time they remove a redundant or superseded one.

Of course, it is imperative that in seizing the opportunities and benefits that flow from economic activity we recognise the social and environmental impact on local communities of actions taken by industry. The concept of the community licence to operate and the obligations flowing from this should be prevalent in decisions that we make affecting industry. We must work to cultivate a future that is not only economically and environmentally sustainable but also socially sustainable. As legislators, we should encourage industry to work with the local communities in which they operate to ensure that, in conjunction with government, important services such as health and education are provided and, where possible, that local and Indigenous employment is promoted.

On a recent visit to the iron ore town of Newman, I was pleased to note that BHP Billiton has established programs designed to support sustainable communities. I am also aware of similar programs being endorsed and implemented in Western Australia by Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and other mining companies. These companies should be commended for the work that they are doing. Government should encourage and enhance opportunities for industry support and participation in delivering services and benefits to local communities with special needs.

It is well recognised that the most fundamental responsibility of a government is the security of its nation and its people. After the nation’s security come the critical areas of health and education, followed by myriad other responsibilities which are demanded by the community and which are provided by both the government and the private sector. Financing these growing responsibilities demands efficient economic utilisation and management of both our human and natural resources. This requires the input of secure energy and water supplies along with transport infrastructure to enable access to both domestic and export markets.

It is clear to me that the two great challenges that will affect Australia’s future potential will be the production of competitively priced energy and water. In Western Australia it is the lack of competitively priced energy, in particular in the state’s north, which must be addressed so that optimum return on our resources may be achieved. Given the events of recent months in Western Australia, it is clear that we do not have a generation system that is capable of guaranteeing the energy security that is critical to our growing needs. There is a need in relation to Western Australia to focus our efforts in developing bold, visionary policies that provide the incentives for industry to produce competitively priced energy and an adequate supply of water to accommodate the vast opportunities that exist across the state.

A failure to adequately plan for long-term investment in these precious commodities will restrict the opportunities for growth in Western Australia and, as a consequence, will be detrimental to the national economy. Gas and oil located in the north-west of Western Australia, coal in the south-west and uranium deposits in the pastoral and remote regions can, with bipartisan support, be transformed into the energy chain. Currently our gas is exported to support the energy demands of other nations with whom we actually compete in our domestic and global markets. There is significant potential for greater downstream mineral processing within Western Australia at locations close to the natural resources.

The renewable energy options of solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal and biomass are all relevant to Western Australia. What we require to promote the development of these natural resources and downstream processing opportunities is a visionary strategy which is underpinned and supported by a national development plan. I have had the opportunity of travelling throughout our vast Kimberley region and I am convinced, given the huge coastal tidal movements, that tidal power represents a feasible energy option for the region. What is currently missing in the tidal energy option is the necessary start-up support at a national level—support which will be repaid many times over once tidal power is producing competitive energy.

Apart from energy, the other great challenge is water. Where there is water there can be food. There are many opportunities in our northern region to grow food and crops for domestic use and for export to the growing markets of nearby Asia. It should be remembered that the export destinations of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are geographically closer to Western Australia’s port towns of Broome and Derby than to Melbourne and Sydney. Those senators who know the Fitzroy Basin area will be aware that there is significant potential for agricultural and horticultural industries being developed in the Fitzroy Basin.

I am also very supportive of the need to move forward with the development of the Ord River stage 2 project, which has been bogged down by the bureaucracy at both state and national levels. It is imperative that the northern Australia task force, which was established by the previous Liberal government, acts with haste in its research studies into opportunities in the north-west of Western Australia. If we consult with and invest greater decision-making powers in the local people and in industry in the north-west, we will reap the economic and environmental rewards through industrial and agricultural sustainability, coupled with diverse employment opportunities.

Prior to the 1993 state election in Western Australia, the Hon. Richard Court outlined his vision. This included a gas pipeline to be built from Karratha to Kalgoorlie along a route that would provide users access to our natural gas supplies. Many at the time were sceptical, but within a short time after Richard Court was elected Premier the pipeline was built by private enterprise and it continues to be operated by private enterprise today. I foresee in the future a gas pipeline linking the Western Australian gas fields with the eastern states. With global oil prices now around US$117 per barrel, I also foresee the potential for clean coal technology and coal-to-liquids operations in Australia, although I acknowledge the first of these plants may be on the east coast.

Unlike some who see nothing but doom and gloom consequent upon the constant changes occurring in our global natural environment, I recognise that the elements that affect our global climatic conditions are complex and that over the millennia of time our global climate has changed and will continue to change. It is my view that for Australia to succeed in the challenges inherent in the issues relating to climate change, we must first recognise that it is a global problem and as such will need to be addressed at a global level. Whilst it may give some people a warm inner feeling for Australia to go it alone in its response to climate change, a unitary approach will not succeed and is likely to place Australia at significant economic disadvantage in comparison to its competitors in the global economic market. Given that Australia, with 0.32 per cent of the global population, contributes only about 1.43 per cent of total global carbon emissions, the most realistic and beneficial approach for Australia in seeking a global solution is to actively engage the major global polluters, such as China, India and the United States, to significantly reduce their own carbon emissions while at the same time focusing on developing clean fuel technologies which result in lower emissions and which can be exported worldwide.

In future years when I look back at my time in the Australian Senate, I hope to be able to say that I contributed to developing and implementing policy that has ensured that the state of Western Australia, and consequently the nation, is a stronger and more prosperous place than it was when I first commenced here. Responsible and ultimately successful societies methodically plan for and build strategic infrastructure for the long-term benefit of their citizens. My challenge, and indeed our challenge as representatives of the people of the states and territories of Australia, is to ensure that we have the courage to make the right decisions and where necessary the tough decisions not only for the short term but also for the long-term social, economic and environmental benefit of all Australians.

It was said by the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame in the United States:

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.

And this is so true of one of the greatest political contributors in my state’s history, former premier Sir Charles Court. A true visionary, Sir Charles was the person who laid the foundations for Western Australia’s resources boom, the benefits and rewards of which the nation is reaping today. In the 1950s, when Sir Charles Court entered Western Australian politics, we were a mendicant state with a small population. However, what we did have were huge repositories of natural resources. Sir Charles recognised the potential in these resources. Over the next two decades he made tough political decisions, decisions that he saw as being necessary if the state of Western Australia was to become the economic powerhouse that he envisaged it could, and indeed has, become.

Sir Charles was a man of action and did not let anything stand in his way, literally. His obituary in the Australian on Monday, 24 December 2007, stated:

When, as minister for industrial development, he led a group of Japanese industrialists to his office, only to find it locked, he smashed the glass door, and turned to his startled guests with the explanation: “We don’t let anything stand in our way in this state.”

And this is the optimism and sense of resolute purpose that is still required to this very day of the people’s representatives.

I am proud to reflect upon the fact that those attributes were hallmarks of my great grandfather Samuel John Cash, who is recognised in Western Australian history as a person who contributed in a significant way to the mining industry. He is a foundation inductee of the Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame located in Kalgoorlie. Sam Cash was a prospector whose own gold loaming methods earned him the title ‘The Prince of Loamers’. His contemporaries have credited him with discovering over 100 gold mines, with the pinnacle of his career being the discovery of the Barbara Mine on the Hampton Plains, south-east of Coolgardie, which he later sold to the then Western Mining Corporation. He is the author of Loaming for Gold, which has been read by many prospectors and has been responsible for the discovery of untold wealth by exponents of the loaming system.

There are so many supporters in Western Australia to whom I owe a debt of gratitude and thanks. I cannot mention them all but must acknowledge just a few. I thank the members of Western Australian Liberal Party for their encouragement and support. I thank those members of the party, as well as many other friends, who are here today in the gallery with me. I undertake to be an effective and tireless campaigner for the Liberal cause and your voice in Canberra, advocating the advancement of the interests of Western Australia and the regions which make up our great state.

To my home division, the Moore Division of the Liberal Party of Western Australia, in particular its president, Councillor Ian Goodenough, and his family: your support and friendship is valued and always appreciated. To my staff, who in the very busy first few months of work have performed above and beyond the call of duty: thank you. To Senator Mathias Cormann, my colleague and friend: the advice you have given me since my election has been invaluable and I thank you. To my parents, Ursula and George: I thank you for the support and guidance that you have given me during my life. You have, leading by example, instilled in your four children a strong work ethic. You taught us that life is not easy—to achieve, you must work hard; to achieve more, you must simply work harder. That lesson will serve me well in this place. Finally, to my amazing husband, Richard Price, my sisters Melinda and Joanna, my brother, Andrew, and my niece, Aleisha, who is here today in the gallery: your love and support have been my strength and motivation in my political pursuits over the years, and I record my gratitude to you. I am forever grateful that you are here today sharing this occasion with me.

Mr President, I would like to conclude with two quotations that I believe will be relevant to my role as a senator. The first is again from the Reverend Hesburgh. He said:

My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they are popular; you make them because they are right.

The second quote is a simple one from another reverend—the Reverend Jesse Jackson:

Never look down on anybody unless you are helping them up.

I thank honourable senators, and I thank you, Mr President.