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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2937

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (19:29): I rise tonight to speak about a remarkable Australian, Charlie Francis from Forbes. Sadly, Charlie died last month and he is going to be terribly missed by his wonderful sister, Danie, her husband, Bob, and all of his family. Charlie farmed at Forbes and made a huge contribution to regional Australia. It is that contribution that I want to talk about.

I probably would not be here if it had not been for Charlie Francis. I met Charlie over 15 years ago when I first became involved with the National Party at an electorate council meeting in Forbes. At the time I was struck by this fellow and his brother, Jack, and their absolute passion for regional Australia and doing whatever they could to make sure they made regional Australia a better place. Charlie and I went on to become firm friends and he was a wonderful guide and mentor to me.

There was one occasion, probably over 10 years ago now, when I was the electorate council chairman for the Lachlan electorate council, at that stage the seat held by the Hon. Ian Armstrong. To cut a very long story short, I was unceremoniously rolled out of the position of chairman. I drove home thinking that I really should not bother with this politics game any more. I was very miffed that this had happened and thought that I might as well leave the party and disappear if that was the sort of thing that was going to happen. Charlie rang me up that night and said, 'Lass, we need to have lunch; we're going to the Grenfell pub.' I went to the Grenfell pub and had lunch with Charlie. He had a way of looking at you: he would fix you with this gaze and he did that to me. We were having a gin and tonic in the Grenfell pub and he fixed me with his gaze. Knowing how terribly hurt and upset I was at being rolled out of this position and that I was quite likely going to pack up my bat and ball in a fit of pique and disappear, he looked at me and said, 'Lass, you can roll over or you can stand up and fight.' That struck a chord with me and immediately I started thinking: why should I let them get the better of me and huff and puff and roll? By the time I drove home after lunch with Charlie at the Grenfell pub I had decided that it would be a much better idea not to roll over but to stand up and fight—which I did. I stuck to it and I stuck to the party. That was largely due to Charlie Francis.

Charlie always had an opinion and he was relentless. He spent his entire life involved in the community and involved in things that he thought would make regional Australia a better place. He had an opinion on everything and mostly that opinion was pretty much right. When Charlie was 80-something—I cannot remember exactly how old he was—he had a way of being able to cut right to the core, right to the quick of issues and making sure that the right idea was being put forward. He was really quite extraordinary. He never wasted a moment. He was always on the phone and whenever he had yet another issue he would say, 'Lass, I need to talk to you.' He was just tremendous.

Charlie was particularly passionate about water. He watched the changes that this Labor government made to water policy over the last few years. He was terribly, terribly worried about the future of regional Australia because of these changes to the water policy. While he certainly understood the need for infrastructure improvement, he quite rightly raised with me one day: 'But, Lass, what about all of those people out in the bush who have already, of their own volition, made changes? They have already, of their own volition, improved their water infrastructure. What benefit is there going to be for them?' I think it was a really good point that we should be recognising the improvements that have already been made by so many of our farmers and irrigators across the country.

Recently, Charlie had been talking about dams and the importance of dams. He was passionate about them. He appeared on the front page of the Forbes Advocate of 17 March this year, very recently:

"There is really only one solution, and that is more dams," Charlie Francis said this week after commenting on the future of the Lachlan Valley.

Mr Francis needs no introduction being a past Shire President and advocate of better farming practices for producers along the Lachlan River and the Forbes district.

…   …   …

"I don't want to be political, I just want a full hearing from the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

"There is a lifetime experience by the locals here, they know the river and that is why they should be listened to.

"We cannot be told there will be no more dams, this is enormously important to the future of towns along the Lachlan.

…   …   …

"I just feel it is crucially important, to the future of Forbes and to the future of our kids," Mr Francis said.

Charlie was passionate about water, and he was quite right in so many of the ideas he had for the future of water in this country. He was a man who understood how regional Australia works and how water works from generations of knowledge that had been passed down to him through his family and decades of his own understanding. He had the week before, on 29 March, a letter to the editor published in, again, the Forbes Advocate:

How many more times will producers and the communities that rely on them be forced to endure negative legislation imposed upon them by government?

There's been the Native Vegetation Act, the carbon tax, threat of beef imports, mulesing bans, and the consistent deregulation of our markets to name but a few—and all of this with little consultation with the people whose lives these decisions mostly affect.

But the most devastating policy threat to regional Australia's existence is the Murray Darling Basin plan—a plan driven by radical talk of climate change and born from the residue of a completely natural decade-long drought.

The single most important factor in the lives of all Australians is water, and the management of our water resources will determine the nation's population and the standard of living that future generations will enjoy.

Governments let everyone be aware that they have "consulted the experts" but I am deeply concerned about the influence extended by academics on our water management.

There is a seemingly endless stream of professors and scientists expressing opinions as absolute truths.

As well-meaning as they may be, they cannot possibly grasp the complexities of the cyclical weather patterns that exist in Australia.

There is, however, generations of experience living on our rivers right now and surely their input should be considered invaluable.

We have to throw away this plan and move to gauge the importance of the varying issues within each individual valley. Be it new dams, irrigation, flood control, pest control or the environment, the people must be consulted widely and not treated to ad hoc review committees and the usual government contempt.

And once resolved, the future management of our rivers should then be handed to the same people who live and work on it.

Governments ought to tread carefully from here—the water plan has already been burnt in the streets and any further progression towards legislation that ignores regional communities will warrant more than burning paper.

This issue can be resolved with country common sense.

I think that, if a few more people had the country common sense that Charlie Francis talked about, regional Australia would certainly be a better place. His country common sense served him very well for all of those years that he was out there batting for regional Australia. He was a great man, he was a great Australian and I was very fortunate to have known him. I shall miss him very much.