Kaya Wanju. Can I acknowledge the Ballardong people of the Noongar Nation and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and thank Deb Moody for her warm welcome to country.
Thank you to Shire President Chris Antonio for his welcome to the Shire of Northam. You really are a passionate advocate for your town but also the broader region of Avon Valley and it’s wonderful to have you welcome our delegates from all across Western Australia here today.
I’d like to acknowledge our Federal colleagues in their absence, obviously COVID prevents them from joining us in person. To Hon Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals and his team in Canberra, we had a great corporate day yesterday where they zoomed in to meet with some of our supporters and delegates that have come along today and we thank them for their continued support.
Welcome to our Corporate Observers. Your attendance is very important and is always appreciated, and we thank you for the value you add by engaging with our MPs through the year, coming along and being part of our Conference over a weekend with our members, and making sure that we remain connected to the businesses and efforts that you make to make our state a great place to live and work.
To State President Tony Crook and our State Executive members – I acknowledge the volunteer hours and effort that goes in behind the scenes and thank you for your commitment to our wonderful party. I’d also like to acknowledge our previous President Steve Blyth for his work and commitment to the Party.
Welcome to the WA delegates from all corners of the State. To Tay Allers and our Young Nationals, and President’s Advance Program participants – the future of our Party – it’s wonderful to have you here.
To Jack Mallick, supported by Emily Graham – you are keeping the wheels turning behind the scenes and working monumental hours. We are so very lucky to have professional, steady and stable leadership in our organisation. Thank you.
To our Life Members and Distinguished Service Medal recipients and to our former MPs and we’ve got quite a handful here today. Dr Hilda Turnbull, Hon Murray Criddle, Hon Hendy Cowan, Hon Bob Wiese and Hon Brendan Grylls. It’s wonderful to have such an esteemed alumni at our Conference today and we welcome you back to debate and be a part of our fellowship over the weekend, thank you for joining us.
To our State Parliamentary team. To Shane Love, our Deputy Leader. Shane does a power of work behind the scenes to support me and the broader team – his wise counsel and support is very much appreciated.
To Pete Rundle MLA, Vince Catania MLA, Hon Colin DeGrussa MLC, Hon Martin Aldridge MLC, Hon James Hayward MLC. I want to pay special tribute to this team. We all appreciate the privilege of being selected by the membership of this Party to be a Member of the State Parliament. I can genuinely say that each Member has stepped up and into the roles required of us to deliver a functioning and effective Opposition. In addition to managing geographically large electorates, they have taken on multiple Shadow portfolios and other duties to ensure the Parliament continues to operate and the functions of Opposition can be acquitted. Without overstating it – they are working bloody hard.
Before I talk about the electorate of Central Wheatbelt, could I also acknowledge the members we have in the room from Northampton, Kalbarri and communities that were impacted by TC Seroja earlier this year. You are never far from our thoughts – the destruction wrought on your community has been phenomenal and I know there’s still a long road to walk but we will continue to provide support wherever and whenever we can.
Can I extend a very special welcome to our Central Wheatbelt branch members who are here today in force. Our branch Presidents, our Central Wheatbelt Electorate Council President Lisa Logan and a very special mention to Bill Fraser and Brian Caporn, who are here from Quairading. It’s actually Quairading’s 100th agricultural show today so we have a number of members that are there, we’ve also got the Toodyay Show on as well but thank you to both of you for coming on what’s such an important day for Quairading, we really appreciate it.
It is a diverse electorate – underpinned by agriculture and it’s powered by a small business sector that is ever-expanding. It is also home to the State’s largest gold mine (Boddington eclipses even the Superpit), a number of iron ore mines, the largest known premium grade kaolin mine in the world in Wickepin, the State’s largest solar farm in Merredin, and there’s a granite rock shaped like a wave that enjoys more Instagram fame than Kim Kardashian.
Here in Northam, you can wander the streets and enjoy turn of the century architecture – you’ll find the highest number of federation style homes in the State outside of Fremantle. For the more avant-garde, a visit to the Town Library is recommended, it was designed by renowned architect Iwan Iwanoff. There’s also little wine bar on the banks of the Avon River, designed and built by the talented Brian Klopper, it’s up for sale. You can learn more about the oldest living culture in the world by visiting the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre and immersing yourself in language, stories and artifacts of the Ballardong-Whadjuk-Noongar people, or you visit the newly refurbished Farmer’s Home hotel or The Grand where we will meeting this evening for our Conference dinner.
We have six pubs, a worker’s club, the country club, Chinese, pizza, Indian and a couple of burger joints, two bakeries, cafes galore, a Bunnings, Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and I’m told that we will soon be graced by the presence of the man with the eyebrows and the Spud Shed. The new aquatic centre boasts three massive slides and a water playground for all ages, there’s a ripper skate park for the kids, and if you’re here during winter, you’ve seen what an amazing opportunity it is to jump into a balloon and test your limits with how brave you are on that front.
We do vintage cars, we do art and photography shows, we do markets, we do sport. Just 20 minutes down the road you are in York, the State’s oldest inland settlement and if you explore a bit further, you’ll find granite outcrops, wildflowers, festivals, pioneering history, and some of the best people you could hope to meet. It is truly a privilege to be the Member for Central Wheatbelt and it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to my electorate.
2021 has given new meaning to the saying ‘a lot can happen in a year’. Since we gathered for the 2020 State Conference in Albany, we have contested a State election like no other. I thank every person that pulled on the green and yellow to make a stand for regional Western Australia.
To our candidates who put their hands up knowing we faced the strongest of headwinds, you did a marvellous job. We owe you, your family and your support network gratitude and thanks for your hard work and drive to make a difference in your community and the broader state of WA. Those electorates would have been well-served by a Nationals candidate but the groundswell of support for Labor was simply too much to overcome. To Scott Bourne and Delma Baesjou – two of the class of 2021 – there are a number of others who put their hands up for this election, thank you. All our past candidates become part of a special alumni and your experience is
invaluable to the team as we go forward to 2025.
I also want to put on record my thanks and appreciation for the contribution of our outgoing Members of Parliament. Terry, a former Leader of our Party, Minister, and well-respected local member – served with integrity. His attention to detail, work ethic and capacity in our Party room and the Parliament was respected on both sides of the House. I thank Terry, Marie, their family and his hardworking staff for their contribution to the Party and the State for over 16 years. Likewise, Ian Blayney made a valiant effort in Geraldton – and as a result, our effort was stronger than ever – thanks to his reputation as a hard worker and the focus our team brought to the table.
Colin Holt made an exceptional contribution as State President, Member, and Minister, and was highly regarded across the political divide. He also deserves recognition as the creator of the President’s Advance Program and for the role he played in mentoring many of our members in the Party. Jacqui Boydell served as State Director, Parliamentary Executive Officer, on State Executive, on multiple Campaign Committees and as a Member of Parliament. We thank and acknowledge the contribution of all four Members to our Party and our State.
Now we find ourselves as the State’s official Opposition for the first time since 1947. It’s a situation that presents both challenges and opportunities. The numbers in this State Parliament are extraordinary and that means we need to be extraordinary. It’s not part of our DNA to avoid a challenge. Already, we have worked swiftly to formalise an Alliance with the Liberal Party. I pay tribute to The Nationals WA negotiating team, and to our colleagues in the Liberal Party for their willingness to work out a formal alliance. We have a strong working relationship between both Parties and we are committed to making the Alliance work.
Opposition is a test of discipline, collaboration, compromise and trust. We must remain focussed on the people of Western Australia, we must look outward to a new horizon and create a movement that encourages people to join and support our efforts. It is also a wonderful opportunity to bring regional issues to the fore and showcase our pragmatic brand of politics to a new and broader audience.
So what does come next? Just over a decade after one-vote-one-value threatened our very existence, we find ourselves at a crossroad once again. When faced with this back in 2006 we rose to the challenge and devised a strategy to inspire thousands to put ‘1’ next to The Nationals on election day, deliver us balance of power in the Parliament and install Royalties for Regions. In these pivotal moments, such as we find ourselves today, it’s healthy to challenge the status quo, to test what has worked in the past, and question what the future looks like. The most important of these questions must be “how do we deliver most effectively for the people we seek to
This is for the Party to decide, and the work we all need to before 2025 rolls around. They say Opposition is a necessary training ground for Government. Our Parliamentary team will be well and truly match-fit by the time we get to the end of this term. But we need to foster depth and range in our ranks and it will take more than just our Parliamentary team. We are nothing without the organisation that stands alongside us.
At every turn, we must avoid the McGowan model we see being played out every day, the ‘one person’, the ‘State Daddy’, because no political Party should be reliant on just one person to remain relevant. It will only be through the combined effort of our Parliamentary team, State Executive, State Council and every member of the Party that we will re-balance the ship for 2025. To borrow and bend a phrase, I’m asking you to “ask not what your Party can do for you, but what you can do for your Party”. What can we each do to extend the reach, influence and support of our Party to provide a credible, moderate political voice that is grounded and connected to all communities across this great State?
I urge you to take that question with you when you return to your corner of the State and make it the mission of your branch to grow, extend and gather new ideas and people to our ranks. When you’re gathering these people talk to them about the reason you are a member.
I am proud to be a member of the Nationals in Western Australia. I am proud that we hold true to fundamental values of community and family, individual freedoms and reward for hard work. I am proud that we believe we have a collective responsibility to support those that are disempowered and disconnected – people that need a hand up to realise their own best lives.
We believe having a job is fundamental to social and economic success, and that our economy needs strong foundations for businesses to grow and sustain these jobs. We reject the market-will-solve-all model, knowing it does not always serve our regions well. We believe in decentralised government and local decision making. We believe Government at all levels must work harder to accommodate the great diversity we have across the nation and State – what works in Halls Creek may not in Halls Head.
We believe Government has a role in diversifying the State’s economy – pulling out stops to encourage new industry and business to find their competitive advantage here in WA. We believe everyone has the right to a quality education and access to safe and efficient health care – no matter where you live. We believe the social and economic health and wealth of traditional owners and first nations people is intrinsically linked to the health and wealth of our broader nation, and we must do more to close the gap.
We are pro-development and recognise the value the private sector and their expertise bring to the table to create jobs, wealth and solve problems Government cannot tackle alone. We recognise small business as the engine room of our local economies and understand their value in creating vibrant, liveable communities – whether that be in Rockingham or here in Northam.
We believe in balance. We believe in the sustainable development and management of our natural resources. Locking up large tracts of land and preventing the sustainable use of water, fisheries and forest resources is lazy, populist, and short-sighted. We believe in climate change and the responsibility of Government, business and community to work together to create a framework to transition toward a net zero carbon economy – we cannot opt out of these difficult discussions.
Most importantly, we give our Members of Parliament the right to represent the wishes of their electorate and to vote accordingly on every issue presented to Parliament. We are pragmatic, grounded and not afraid of hard work. When Cyclone Serjoa devastated the Mid West – Vince Catania was on the tools helping with the clean-up, alongside residents and the response crew. Shane has spent hours crossing his electorate, meeting with individual farmers and households impacted by Seroja in the hinterland. Pete Rundle has been working with parents and bus contractors to get the Government to agree to review school buses and services in regional WA. James has rallied and supported the forestry workers and business impacted by Labor’s announcement to end native forestry. Col and Marty have been tireless in their advocacy for the State’s agricultural sector – a multi-billion dollar industry that has been all but abandoned by the Labor Government. Our Party and its people are why I am proud to be a member and whilst we are small in number we can always make a difference.
Can I turn now to the issue of COVID-19. There is no doubt the pandemic has changed our way of life and concept of what is ‘normal’, and this extends to the political realm. We have daily reporting on COVID cases, restrictions that separate us from our loved ones, borders that challenge our businesses and communities to secure key workers, and we are living in a ‘state of emergency’ 18 months after the pandemic was declared here in WA.
I’m not so biased that I won’t acknowledge the work that’s been done to keep COVID at bay in WA but this has required great sacrifice by many in our community. This sacrifice deserves a reward, even if that reward is as simple as a date where West Australians can be certain they will see their loved ones again. We need to know when our borders will re-open so everyone – not just the Premier – understands what is required for this to be achieved. There needs to be a renewed urgency to improve our vaccination rates, especially in regional WA – we are lagging behind every other State in Australia.
We need a plan. A timeline, appropriate quarantine facilities, what vaccination levels are required and who should be included in this number, we need to know our hospitals are prepared, and what restrictions we can expect when borders are relaxed for those that are vaccinated and those that aren’t. If we can facilitate the AFL grand final and consider pitching for the Commonwealth Games then we should certainly expect the Premier to outline the plan for us to re-join the rest of the nation.
Behind the daily posturing by the Premier on GST and COVID this is a Government failing on the basics. We have skills crisis. We are in the midst of a housing crisis. Our agricultural sector feels abandoned by their own Minister. Our tourism sector is stretched to the seams. They have failed to diversify our economy. The Attorney General has a cloud hanging over his head due to an ill-advised chopper ride. The Minister for Climate Change has declared war on regional communities that rely on native forestry. The Minister for Health has overseen a crisis in our health system at a time when it is more critical for it to be operating at optimum levels than ever before. All this and the Premier has $5.6 billion tucked in his back pocket.
It’s time for the Government to cut the spin and get on with the job. We need our health system fixed. We need housing. We need workers. With $5.6 billion in the kitty and a sky-high approval rating, the McGowan Government has the means and opportunity to do all these things if they had the will.
It is of deep concern that instead of focussing on this, the Labor Government has chosen to focus on silencing voices in regional WA in our State Parliament. This agenda will ultimately impact our whole State. The power Labor has in our Parliament wasn’t gifted to them by the people of Western Australia to embed total control for years to come – it is something that should be used judiciously and carefully. Unfortunately, they have made short work of failing this test.
Just like the recent decision to end native forestry, changes to our electoral system should have been put to the people of Western Australia so they could decide how important it was to their community and their future. Do you imagine the people of Warren-Blackwood would have been so generous in their support of Labor if their candidate had shared the Government’s intention to shut down forestry and silence regional voices in the Parliament before the election? The Premier denied the matter was on the agenda, again and again and again, both before and after the election. He lied. He has treated the public with contempt and disdain.
Their so-called expert Committee was a farce – a group of academics that were hand-selected because they were ardent and publicly published advocates for one-vote, one-value. And to nail it down, they were handed a terms of reference that could deliver nothing but one-vote-one-value. The Premier peddles the line that reform was needed because we elected the Daylight Saving Party to the Council with just a handful of votes. It is a dishonest and disingenuous argument. The issue could and should have been dealt with separately and it could have been done with bipartisan support.
The Nationals WA oppose Labor Government’s plan to slash regional representation in our Parliament. The Opposition in WA oppose Labor’s plan to slash regional representation in our Parliament. We oppose silencing regional West Australian voices. We oppose disenfranchising those that live, work and invest in the regions. We oppose sidelining vulnerable populations that are already eons away from the decision makers of our State.
We reject short-changing the businesses and industry that generate the wealth of this nation by removing representatives that understand what it takes to get a project up and running in a regional context. We don’t take this stand because we wish to preserve our own political fortunes – that is the Labor Party’s approach.
We oppose it because it will widen the city-country divide our Party spends every waking moment trying to bridge. Removing people that live and work and understand regional communities – who get what it’s like to educate your kids in the regions, access health services in the regions, run a business in the regions – will only make it harder to bridge this gap. Removing people that understand what it’s like to deliver services to remote aboriginal communities, live in these communities, grow these communities, will disadvantage some our most disadvantaged. We oppose it because it is an argument based on ideology instead of equity. We oppose it because the
Government has no mandate to make these changes and they should be put to a referendum or taken to an election.
The legislation that we will debate next week is only the beginning of this fight against injustice and we will take it up to Labor every single day between now and March 2025. We need your help to do it. We’ll do it armed with a healthy dose of pragmatism, fortified by the knowledge we are more than up to the task.
This Party has delivered and done so much for this state. I know there are more chapters to be written in the history and the workings of this organisation. With that, I thank you for joining us today for our State Conference! May there be many more to come.