Polite applause is the convention in Canberra when a newly minted parliamentarian rises to speak for the first time. Truth be told, good manners are essential at those moments because most maiden speeches are nothing special. Queensland Senator James McGrath (left), who delivered his maiden speech on July 16, has proven the exception. Below, the text of that address — republished in full because, while some of his allegedly conservative colleagues shrink from repealing Section 18C or live in fear that a wind-power lobbyist might speak ill of them, it is good to know that at least one member of the political class remains wedded to the belief that principle must always trump politics:
Freedom and liberty, 100 years ago this month, were under threat as the gods of war awoke. Armies of empires stretching back before the Middle Ages were slowly moving to Armageddon—a world war with deaths of millions, the end of four royal houses and the beginning of wicked new orders of communist and fascist cruelty. This war ended realms of geography but brought in dominions of political terror imprisoning generations under dictatorship, ending hope, freedom and liberty for many until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the war that began in 1914 with the invasion of Belgium was the second ‘Hundred Years War’, the war against tyranny, continuing from the Armistice, pausing in 1989, and resuming in 2001 in New York.
The ‘Hundred Years War against Tyranny’ continues today on three fronts: first of all Islamist fundamentalism intent on caliphates destroying Western civilisation, especially religious freedom; secondly, democratic governments restricting freedom of speech and association, betraying hundreds of years of liberty; and, finally, leftists delegitimising all views other than their own, especially in media and education.
Freedom and liberty are not abstract concepts. You either have freedom or you are not free. Whether I serve here for 16 days or 16 years, I shall always judge myself on how I have battled against tyranny and fought for the axis of enlightenment—that is, liberty of the individual, a free market, small government and low taxes. I will let others badge and brand and box me, as, in my great broad church that is the Liberal Party, my pew is a moveable feast. I have campaigned against dictator-loving Islamist fundamentalists in the Maldives; Sinn Fein- and PLO-supporting Labour candidates in London; and godless rebranded communists in Mongolia—not to mention the Queensland branch of the Australian Labor Party!
My life has not been about the pursuit or gain of power but to confiscate power back from government to free people. My story is not special or unique. I come from the great blancmange that is the Australian middle class. Families are modest and shy. They are joiners and doers, workers and strivers, not shirkers. Our homes are not big and flash, and cars often second-hand. The biggest investment is never super, bricks or shares, but education. My mob are farmers, saddlers, soldiers, gardeners, small business owners, nurses, teachers, doctors and, shamefully, the odd lawyer. One side is stridently Labor and unionist, the other cheerfully Liberal National and Tory.
The first McGrath was a convict, rightly punished by a sensible judge and sent down to Australia. Family folklore has it was for stealing a sheep. On my mother’s side are the Schneiders and Doughertys. The first to arrive was German, illegitimate, with barely a word of English. He moved to western Queensland in the 1870s. His son, my great-grandfather, patented the Schneider saddle, and his store stood on George Street in Brisbane until the 1970s. Schneiders would become guests of the emperor, caught in the fall of Singapore, on the way to fight the Nazis.
Like many, my journey started young. I worked on my first Liberal campaign in the 1989 Queensland state election. I started the Capitalist Club at Toowoomba State High School a year later. When 17, continuing my quest to become the most popular kid at school, I led the campaign to save the school principal when the new Queensland Labor government engaged in some restructuring. Our school community was the only one to actively campaign for their principal’s retention. Our school community was the only one whose principal was eventually made redundant. I learned early on that you can be right in life but still lose in politics.
Politics is not about the pursuit of power as an end in itself. Those who seek power for the sake of power will always fail. Politics is about seeking power though democratic means in order to take power away from the elites, whether bureaucratic or corporate, and return power to the people. I have been lucky in politics. I do not think I am that good at politics but I do learn from my mistakes, personal and political, and I have made a few—some spectacular. And I have learned from some wise mentors as, along my journey, I have been fortunate to work with some erudite people here in Australia and overseas.
I believe there are 11 principles of politics and power that should guide me as I work for Queensland, and all principles were taught to me or learnt from my own mistakes. I start with the greatest ever peacetime leader, Margaret Thatcher. I never met Mrs Thatcher, but I get her. I get that someone from a corner store in a small market town could be so strong to rise so high, not just in making decisions but holding fast to her underlying values—because she had to fight for everything, and she said, ‘You might have to fight a battle more than once to win it.’
Likewise, the moral courage of my friend Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives, taught me the power of forgiveness. A former political prisoner and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, he forgave those who jailed and tortured him. I fail this principle. As much as I try, I cannot forgive and I will never forget how communist and fascist regimes incarcerated generations through political terror. Che Guevara, Castro and Chavez are not freedom fighters. They are murderers, common thugs and torturers, destroyers of hope.
I do have a confession to make. While working for the British Tories, I fell in love—and I am big enough to admit it—with a man called Eric: Eric Pickles, a Tory MP, former Conservative Party chairman and now British cabinet minister. He is one of those rotund, Rubenesque, larger-than-life Yorkshiremen, whose method of elucidating his garbled tongue was to shout at me and call me ‘Skippy’. Eric, as a consummate MP and grassroots councillor, taught me that all politics is local and timing matters. With local council elections in the UK around spring, Eric would always ensure that the spring bulbs and flowers would be in full glory in the weeks leading up to polling day, to present his council at its best.
Another Tory minister, Francis Maude, whose father, incidentally, was editor of TheSydney Morning Herald, before serving Mrs Thatcher in her cabinet—it wouldn’t happen nowadays, would it, Fairfax?—taught to me to pick your fights and parties should never be afraid to change or stand up for a fight.
I have worked on a few campaigns with the greatest campaign duo going, Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby. Their main focus is: always be honest and stand for your beliefs and stick to them as you communicate with voters, as message matters. Likewise, former Northern Territory Chief Minister Shane Stone taught me to be humble and constantly deliver on my promises. ‘It is what people hear, not what you say’ was drummed into me by the Tory Party when I was a pretty average media adviser—especially by my good friend Gavin Megaw, who is always appalled when I speak to the media as it normally never ends well for me!
James Dillon was an inconsequential Irish politician of the mid-20th century. His inconsequence came about because of his statement of the principle that ‘democracy, freedom and liberty must always be defended’. A third-generation Irish Parliamentarian Nationalist, his view was that the Irish Free State should put aside disputes with Britain and support her against the Nazis. In 1942 he was the only Irish MP to do so, and he was expelled by his own party and pilloried by the Irish Free State.
My old boss Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, one of the great wordsmiths of the modern political age, is living proof that you should not ‘dumb down’ to voters. The man who twice won the largest direct election in western Europe outside of France—thanks to a bit of Australian help—uses poetry, the classics and an oversized vocabulary to speak to Londoners.
After I was elected I went and saw Campbell Newman and asked him how I could help him and Queensland. Instead of a detailed discussion on taxes, federalism and federal budgets, he just said, ‘Be good, and do good.’ And finally from Lord Ashcroft: ‘I will always trust the people and treat issues seriously but never take myself seriously.’ I will use these principles to deliver on a better deal for Queensland—and this starts with the Federation.
The Federation of Australia is slowly creaking towards political death. Successive governments have taken power and decisions from the states. The best government is in a federation where power is split between different levels of government. Taking power from the states and away from local communities must be stopped. To bring about competitive or market federalism between the states, we need to sort out the tax system and bring in taxes that do not punish ambition and productivity or continue to centralise power in Canberra—a low tax structure that is simple, clear and transparent.
Taxes on jobs and productivity, such as the payroll tax and company tax, must be abolished and reduced respectively. To cover the states for the loss of income from payroll tax the GST should be broadened to cover everything—and it should also be increased to 15 per cent. Of course there should be compensation for the less well-off and income tax cuts. Tied grants should be abolished, with states to decide the priorities. A proportion of income taxes should be allocated to each state, with those states that push growth to be doubly rewarded with more jobs and more revenue.
The ying to the yang of low tax is small government—government that trusts people to make their own decisions. In Australia today the growth and centralisation of government at a federal level is a clear and present danger to our Federation and to the individual. We have a federal health department with thousands of staff but they do not manage a single hospital or treat a single patient. The federal education department also has thousands of staff but they do not look after a single school or teach a single student. Bureaucracies have become more bloated, more process driven and more out of touch. The states run the hospitals and schools, so why does the Commonwealth need to be involved? I am calling for the abolition of the federal departments of health and education, with universities also to be run at a state level. Each year, I will be compiling my own red-tape report to keep my government and my party on the Hayek road—away from serfdom and towards lower regulation, lower taxes and smaller government.
As someone who grew up in regional Queensland, I grew up with the ABC. But the ABC has left people like me and my constituents behind. I want to support the ABC. I like the ABC. But while it continues to represent only inner-city leftist views, funded by our taxes, it is in danger of losing its social licence to operate. I am calling for a review of the ABC’s charter. And if they fail to make inroads to restore balance, then the ABC should be sold and replaced by a regional and rural broadcasting service. In the meantime, Triple J, because of its demographic dominance and clear ability to stand on its own, should be immediately sold.
In February this year I laid a wreath at the Brisbane Cenotaph to commemorate the fall of Singapore. With only six former prisoners of war of the Japanese left in Queensland, we should always honour and help those who did so much to defend our liberty in this hundred-year war against tyranny. I ask Labor and the minor parties and cross benchers to work with me to bring forward a covenant, based on the British model, between Australia and the Defence Forces and their families. The ongoing commitment of the men and women who have served or are serving in the Defence Force, along with the sacrifices of their families, is worthy of formal recognition by way of a covenant that supports their families.
Like many on this side of the chamber, I am a graduate of the greatest political training school in the country—namely, the Young Liberal Movement and the Australian Liberal Students Federation, both strong voices for freedom of association and liberty of thought. Compulsory student unionism, or SSAF as it is now called, is an attack on the fundamental freedom of association. Students, like anyone, should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether they join a student body or union. I give notice that I will be moving a private member’s bill to abolish the SSAF and bring back true voluntary student unionism—and I hope all freedom lovers will join me in supporting the bill.
Likewise, freedom of speech should never be restricted by government, because when speech is regulated in any manner, it is no longer free. People will say hurtful and bigoted and stupid and dumb things. People will make racist and sexist and homophobic comments. Those views are wrong, but the right to express them is not. If you believe in democracy, you cannot cleanse it of the views you disagree with. The true test of a democratic nation is not how we treat those with whom we agree but how we treat the rights of those with whom we disagree. The best way to deal with those with whom you disagree is not to force them into the dark shadows but to let the sun shine, to let the disinfectant of light and public scrutiny judge those offensive views.
From the dockyards of Kronstat to the editorial desk of The Age, the Left always want to control and brutalise. By restricting freedom of speech, they are building Australian gulags for words and thoughts. The Australian people are a pretty sensible bunch. They always make the right decisions when it comes to elections. They elected everyone is this chamber. Rather than calling in the thought police, I trust them always to make the correct judgement and response.
Each day, when I wake, I give thanks. I know that I am here because, over the years, a lot of people have done a lot to help me. I give thanks to the voters of Queensland—I will be a humble but strong advocate for my home state. I give thanks for being raised with my sister Emma—and I thank her and her husband, Anthony—by parents who while short of money were never short of honesty, goodness or encouragement. I wish a happy birthday to my Nana, the last of her line—a daughter, wife and mother to farmers, and a farmer herself—who turns a sprightly 97 today.
I give thanks for having friends, whether from uni to the Young Liberals to the Marquis of Granby, a great pub in London, here or overseas, who put up with me being grumpy and the worst friend in replying to texts, emails and phone calls and my love and sometime overindulgence of Bundy rum. I give thanks to all my friends for helping me—especially Rebecca Smith for her support in helping organise today. To Toby, Tess and Rosie and their parents Gavin and Helen: thank you for keeping it real. It’s been 10 years since I was best man at their wedding and forgot the rings and the speech!
To Bruce McIver, Gary Spence and the state executive and state council of the LNP: thank you for your support. And to Brad Henderson and all the LNP staff and volunteers at headquarters: thank you for helping me. To Estee and Jamie Briggs, Scott Ryan, Simon Birmingham and Tony Barry: thank you for helping me. And to Wyatt Roy and Joe and Carol Humphries: thank you for taking me to the Palmwoods Pub and twisting my arm to convince me to run for the Senate. I give thanks for the Liberal Party and the Liberal National Party in Queensland and the thousands of party members and supporters who helped in my election.
There are too many members and friends from here and overseas in the gallery this afternoon to thank by name, but thank you all for coming down. I look forward to having some cheerios and a Bundy or three with you later.
I give thanks to the Young LNP in Queensland for being not just roadside warriors, letterbox stuffers and student union victors but true bearers of the flame of liberty and freedom.
I give thanks to those whom I follow. In my own political memory I wear the shoes of Sue Boyce, Santo Santoro, and John Herron, all unique and strong contributors to public life in Australia, and I hope I live up to their political inheritance. I also acknowledge Ron Boswell and Russell Trood in the gallery.
I thank all my fellow Queensland LNP Senate candidates led by Senator Macdonald, who entered this chamber when I was still in high school and who advised me other day to do as he says but not as he does! Ian, thank you for your support and Senator Canavan for your friendship—and good luck in a few minutes. To Senators Brandis and Mason: thank you for your guidance. And to Senator O’Sullivan: Irish eyes are smiling at the two of us here together. And I would like to acknowledge Amanda Stoker, Theresa Craig and David Goodwin for their candidature during the 2012 and 2013 campaign.
Mr President, I congratulate you on your election and thank you, the Clerk of the Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod and everyone in this building for helping me and my team settle into the Senate.
I started my speech in 1914 and I will conclude in the 1940s over the skies of Nazi occupied France. The Royal Air Force dropped to the French a poem called Liberte by Paul Eluard—a poet not of my politics, I confess. I will end as I close with its final stanzas:
On passionless absence
On naked solitude
On the marches of death
I write your name
On health that’s regained
On danger that’s past
On hope without memories
I write your name
By the power of the word
I regain my life
I was born to know you
And to name you