The Mallee

I feel like I was born for this job and for this seat. My father was from Pyramid Hill and my mother taught at Lalbert Primary School before my parents moved to Western Australia to work with Aboriginal communities in Norseman, Carnarvon and Onslow. Whilst my parents returned to farming when I was very young, I was brought up with stories of indigenous culture which has continued to be a part of my life well into adulthood.

At school I did a lot of youth work but when I finished school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was accepted into University which I immediately deferred. Instead I started an agricultural apprenticeship and when I was eighteen I worked as a roustabout in a shearing shed about 300km north of Broken Hill, which meant time at the Milparinka Pub! My first experience of Mildura, where I now work, was being stranded there in an XF Falcon with a busted transmission. A couple of years later, while I was working as an apprentice farmer and playing guitar in a band, I managed to convince the bank to loan me a heap of money and I bought my first farm, so by the time I was in my early twenties I was a self-employed farmer with a big debt and an even bigger learning curve ahead of me.

I was brought up with stories of indigenous culture which has continued to be a part of my life well into adulthood.

I married a girl from the town of Donald, right in the heart of the Mallee. I kept my farm going and bought some more land to establish a share farming business. Eventually I became Vice President and then President of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF). This coincided with the Black Saturday bushfires and the Victorian floods of late 2010 and early 2011. My role with the VFF during that time gave me a new skill set and the ability to oversee a CEO, manage a Board, and work with government agencies, all of which has been a great apprenticeship to be the Nationals member for the Mallee electorate.

I start every day of my political life guided by the premise that regional Australians deserve recognition for their contribution to the country. The people I represent are no-nonsense. You can’t bulldust them. They don’t want a lot but they do want fairness; they want to drive on a decent road, they want to be able to make a mobile phone call and they want to know that when they need medical support there is going to be a doctor available and the service will be as good as anywhere else in Australia. They need for their children to have as much opportunity as any other Australian child. Those things might sound basic but it takes a lot of work to make it happen.

These days, business in the Mallee is overwhelming outward looking. As margins in a tightly held domestic market have shrunk, local producers have had to develop export markets in order to survive. Thanks largely to former Trade Minister Andrew Robb we have Free Trade Agreements (FTA) in place with South Korea, China and Japan. With the FTA’s in place we then play to our competitive advantages and one of the competitive advantages we have in the Mallee is in counter-seasonal horticulture. As the middle class in Asia gets wealthier they want to go to the supermarket like we do in Australia and buy oranges and grapes all year round. These products can be produced in California and they can be produced in Australia, but at different times of the year. The counter-seasonal nature of these markets gives us an advantage that can never be taken away!

I start every day of my political life guided by the premise that regional Australians deserve recognition for their contribution to the country.

From a government perspective, we support small businesses in taking advantage of export markets through a number of initiatives. We have reinvested in previously neglected water infrastructure. We’ve created tax incentives so producers will invest in themselves and their businesses. We’ve opened markets with FTA’s and we’re working to ensure they have reliable telecommunications via the National Broadband Network and through mobile phone coverage. We enable small businesses in regional Australia to get their product from the farm gate to the port in a reliable and safe way through improving road and rail investment. My focus as a politician is not so much the individual policies but rather it’s on the cumulative impact of these policies which gives people confidence to invest.

In many senses these are local issues but I also take time to consider the bigger question of what it is that defines us as Australians. We’re a country that rewards endeavour. Those who are going to work hard need to reap the reward for that work and you need that dynamic to create upward momentum in society. However, it is also important that people are encouraged to care for others and demonstrate a spirit of generosity. I believe that this is where the country has gone a little bit wrong. We’ve tipped too much toward rewarding endeavour but we haven’t always inspired generosity! How I position myself in Parliament, whether it be on family violence, my work with UNICEF or my support for Foreign Aid, has really been about trying to encourage a charitable spirit and to do what’s right. I see myself as a conviction politician; I’m not everyone’s mate in Canberra. I trust my judgement and I take positions that reflect a servanthood attitude. The irony of parliament is that while you have your face on the posters on election day, this is actually counter to the Australian ethos which is all about helping others.

A prosperous nation can sometimes be in tension with a generous society, and that’s a tension we have to manage. Because if we can set in place a country that is flourishing because of our hard work, but that is also unselfish at home and abroad, then we get a great Australia.