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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 51

Mr CAUSLEY (12:20 PM) —Mr Speaker, if the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry keeps interjecting, I might put him out under standing order 94(a)! I apologise as, from the beginning of my speech, I will be breaching standing order 76, under which members are required to address the question before the chair—the Quarantine Amendment (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 2007. But I think, in the circumstances, as an ageing member who has decided to retire, we are often given some privileges. I dare say that I will not take too many privileges but, certainly, I will range across a few issues.

As a young boy growing up on the Clarence River, I never envisaged that I would be involved in politics. I certainly did not come from a family that was actively involved in politics; I did not mix in circles that were actively involved in politics. I certainly did not belong to a trade union organisation to become involved in politics, but I was a trade unionist. I had earned a scholarship through my school to do a university degree. I gave that away and went cane cutting. Of course, one of the obligations in those days was to have a ticket before signing on. I can tell you that the union were quite smart because they used to renew the ticket in November, so they got two in the first year.

It gave me some grounding, I suppose, in the area that I love most—agriculture. I did become involved in the sugar industry and the politics of the sugar industry. I spent probably nearly 20 years in sugar industry politics before being convinced to stand as a member of the state parliament. The then leader of The Nationals in New South Wales, who was Mr Leon Punch—a fiery, gingery character—was begging me to enter politics for some time. I had a young family and I did not feel disposed to getting involved because I knew that the lifestyle was fairly onerous. Nevertheless, he insisted. I remember saying to him once, ‘Leon, if I ever go to the state parliament, you and I will clash,’ and he said to me, ‘Well, let’s try it.’ Eventually I did decide that I would put my name forward to stand for The Nationals for the seat of Clarence, which is a state seat in New South Wales. I was never the favoured son of The Nationals. I dare say that is understandable; I have always called a spade a spade and I have always been outspoken. Even at my preselection, the hierarchy of the party did not really favour me. Nevertheless, I had done the groundwork and I won the preselection. I was told by people around the electorate when I was doorknocking that if they had selected the other candidate they probably would not have won the seat. I took that as a compliment.

I have stood on several occasions for both state and federal seats, and I have won seven elections. The Australian Labor Party have fought me tooth and nail on every occasion, I can assure you. Nevertheless, they have never prevailed. I have never been defeated in an election, and I have to thank the people of Clarence and of Page, the people of that North Coast area, who have put their faith in me. I am not the usual politician. I certainly do not go out there to gain favours. I am not one of those populists who go out and say all the popular things. I certainly take the attitude—and I like to think that people who deal with me are the same—that, if I am up-front with someone, they may not agree with me but at least they respect my position. I have never wavered from that. I think that is one of the reasons I have always been elected. They may not like me but they certainly know where I stand. No-one will ever die wondering where I stand on certain issues. I think that is a very important point.

Bills before the House today, particularly the greenhouse bill, I think are very relevant to a number of portfolios I held in New South Wales. I was probably the longest serving Minister for Water Resources—that is the irrigation area, not city water. I was also the minister for forests, the minister for lands and western lands. I was the Chief Secretary (NSW). I did all the groundwork for the casino in Sydney—not that I supported it, but the Premier wanted it. So I did all the groundwork there. I was Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. I had a number of portfolios in New South Wales, and they really do relate to some of the issues and the bills being debated today, particularly the greenhouse bill. Forestry and water resources—those types of areas—are intimately tied to that debate and the legislation we are talking about at the present time.

A number of things in politics disappoint me, but one in particular, and it is to do not just with this chamber but with the way politics is debated around the countryside. In many ways I believe that our democracy has been taken over by the fact that the minority is always heard too much these days. The minority goes out there and controls the media with some hysterical headline. There is never the research done to see whether in fact that headline is correct, and often it is not. Often it is an exaggeration. Because of this country’s demography, where most of the politicians are going to come from the capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, the debate is controlled through the media by these minority groups and the effects are on the country. I do not think we look closely enough at the effects of some of our actions on the country itself. Let me go to some of it.

I am very proud of what I did in the irrigation industry in New South Wales. I think that is still respected in that state. It was a feudal system when I took it over in 1988. Growers were restricted to 80 acres. They were not allowed to grow what they wanted to grow. They were restricted to about 20 acres of grapes. We would never have this great wine industry we have in Australia if that regulation had not been broken down—and it had to be done. Mind you, the people involved did not agree with it at the time, but if you went back down there today I am sure they would say, ‘We do not want to go back to that.’

In the debate today on the Murray-Darling, I do not believe the true facts are being discussed. This is a very dry continent. If you go back through the European history, and prehistory if you want to go back and have a look at some of the research in universities, it has always been a very dry continent. There is evidence of 20-year droughts, which we have not seen in European settlement. We have to take into consideration those historic facts. When we start to talk about allocation of resources, I think the country has to come first; the citizens have to be considered. To say that the environment in these areas comes first is ignoring the history. There is plenty of evidence that the Murray dried up and there is plenty of evidence that the Darling dried up in the past, and when you have a situation like we have today, where we are in the middle of a 10-year drought, then the communities and the industries on those river systems have particularly to be taken into consideration. I do not think that is being done. There are many exaggerations. In fact, I am losing faith in the CSIRO. Quite frankly, I see some exaggerations there. I do not know whether it is because of ambit claims for resources, but I think they have gone away from their scientific base and they are not giving good advice. The area of land management relates to the forestry area and is more to do with the state than it is to do with the federal government, although I chaired the Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage of this parliament which went into the management of catchments—and forestry has a lot to do with the management of catchments.

Again, we are forgetting and ignoring the management and the history of management of these resources in Australia. Again, it is because of the exaggeration that we are hearing from the environmental movement. If you listen to them, the last tree is falling tomorrow morning. The greatest scar on the environment, if you want to talk about it, is Sydney. We never hear too much about that. But when we look at the resources around the country, because of the legislation that has gone through parliaments, we are now setting up for a disaster. We are not managing the common areas of this country. In the past we had a large forest industry that protected special areas—and I did a lot of work with the late Peter Cook when he was the minister for resources in the Hawke government. We set up a plan to manage forestry, to look after the special areas of forestry but also to maintain working forests. That is where people, through their governments, get the money to maintain those areas. At the present time, we are locking all the industries out of these areas, including the grazing industry that used to maintain many of the leases, and saying to taxpayers, ‘Somehow you’re going to have to find the money to manage these areas and we aren’t.’ Who was it that was foremost in opposing the agreement that Nick Greiner and Bob Hawke signed about the management of forests that Peter Cook and I put together? It was the ACF chairman, now the member for Kingsford Smith.

We have out of control fires that destroy flora and fauna because hot fires do. The Aborigines had more sense. They had fires for different reasons. They used fire for hunting and for their food resources but, over tens of thousands of years, they changed the species of this country and these species all rely on a slow fire. They kept fires burning most of the time across the landscape. We have ignored that and are saying, ‘Lock all these areas up.’ Then we get a build-up of fuel and, with lightning strikes, or in some cases arson, we have huge fires. They will destroy species—plants, animals, birds. Once you get a crown fire—it goes across the top of the forest; forget the koalas because they go up a tree to escape from fire—you destroy all of that. We have lost the plot in the management of the crown resources of this country. I hope that our grandchildren will one day realise what a mess we have made of this. I believe there are going to be some horrific stories in the future with this build-up of fuel, including around Sydney. We have seen bad fires in the past around Sydney and we will see them again if we do not get control of this fuel.

In 20 minutes you cannot roam over a lot of areas; I have got a lot to say. As I said, I was never the favoured son of The Nationals. I recall that when Wal Murray retired there was a ballot for the leadership in New South Wales. Several members—nine members of the party—came along to me. I was not putting my name forward as leader, but they came and said, ‘We want you to be the leader of the party in New South Wales.’ I said to them: ‘I’ll do that but you’ve got to understand I’ll make no promises. That’s not my way. I might have to make decisions as a leader that some of you mightn’t like from time to time and I won’t owe anyone anything.’ The hierarchy of the party did not like that too much. They spent a lot of time, I can tell you, trying to work out how to beat me. They knew that if we went the usual route for electing a leader—the simple method of preferential voting with several candidates—I only had to pick up two votes and I was the leader. So what did they do? They spent nights calculating how to beat this and even got to the stage where they asked the leader to change the rules at the meeting to have exhaustive preferential voting. So I finished up with four nines. I got nine, nine, nine, nine. It was quite interesting that that was the extent they went to.

I was not supposed to be a minister. I had been a shadow minister and did a lot of work with the irrigation industry. I spent hours negotiating with them and I always negotiated on any changes that we made. I was not supposed to be a minister because Nick Greiner decided he did not want me. Wal Murray was the leader and he had the right to say who would be a minister. It was Mattie Singleton, the member for Coffs Harbour, that reminded my leader that if I had not voted for him in the first place he would not be the leader. Nick Greiner wanted Robert Webster instead of me. Of course, Robert Webster was a Liberal in sheep’s clothing. Later on when he left the parliament he joined the religion, and so that was proven to be correct.

Once we lost government—it was a bittersweet pill to lose—I was going to retire; I was going to go back to my business, as I had plenty to do there. Paul Keating was the Prime Minister down here, and everyone was desperate to get rid of him. The leader of the party at that time, Tim Fischer, strongly encouraged me to come down to Canberra with my experience. He stood up in front of 200 people in Lismore and said, ‘Send this guy to Canberra and he’ll be a minister.’ Of course, that has long been forgotten—not even a parliamentary secretary. I think that that is probably indicative of what politics is about.

Over the period I have had some great support. I have to mention my wife because she has done as much in politics as I have. ‘You got two for the price of one’, I often said. When I was a minister, she went around the electorate looking after the traps. I am sure she is very highly respected in the electorate, and I know that she probably gained as many votes as I gained myself, so I thank her very much. My daughter Marcelle is sitting up there with my wife; thank you very much for the support.

I have had marvellous staff. I started off with Noela Powell. She was my only staff at that time. Bernadette started with me and is now working with me again—she has changed names; she got married. Debbie Newton also worked with me. I had several ministerial staff, as you would know. They were all very good staff; I was very pleased with the staff I had.

Of course, I now have a number of staff because we all have a lot more staff these days. I have Liz Cockle, Bernadette is back with me, Tink O’Keefe, Kerry, who fills in, and Graeme Orams, who worked for me for some time. I then became the Deputy Speaker of this place. I have worked with you, Mr Speaker, and I have worked with your predecessor. We have had a great relationship and I thank you for that. It is an honour to be the Deputy Speaker of this House, although I have to say that I would have preferred to be a minister. Nevertheless, it is a great honour. I have tried to uphold the chair. I think that sometimes my colleagues believe that I have been a bit too tough, but I had a compliment one day when the opposition said to me, ‘Well, we think you are fair because you are just as tough on them.’

I have a great deal of respect for this House. The institution itself is an extraordinary one. There is nothing in the world like the democracy we have in Australia and we need to fight for it. This is the members’ House; the government might have the numbers to control it but it is the members’ House. The members have a right to speak. I believe that the most important standing order is the one that grants the right to speak in silence. I have tried to enforce that order. I see that the Opposition Whip is in the chamber. I am pleased to say that I was the chairman of the selection committee that decided how private members’ business would be dealt with. We adopted an attitude very early on in my time that this was a house of free speech and we would not argue over subjects that we wanted to discuss. They might be sensitive at times and they might be hard, but this was a house of free speech and people had a right to put forward their views.

I also want to thank the clerks. They are, beyond doubt, some of the best anywhere—Ian Harris and Bernard in particular. I have worked very closely with Peter Mason in the selection committee. I have had a lot to do with Robyn Webber because she is the Clerk of Committees. I thank those people for all the support they have given me. I also thank the staff of the parliament. They are always very courteous.

You make some very good friends here—mostly on the other side, I might say. There is a lovely story about Maggie Thatcher that could be told about that. I will mention the honourable member for Reid because he and I went into the state parliament on the same day. His father was the Deputy Premier at the time.

Most importantly, I will mention my clerk—the inimitable Kim McInnes, the Deputy Speakers Clerk.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!

Mr CAUSLEY —Life is never dull when you are around Kim. She does a great job and I think that most members she has worked with in the parliament would accept that. And of course there is Sharon Davidson, who started with me—she was my press secretary at the time. Kim would dearly love to stay on. She is a bit angry with me for retiring, but we also have to win an election. The member for Lowe might disagree with the fact that we should continue in government. I know that Kim enjoys the job and she will miss it if the vagaries of politics mean that we both have to leave.

I thank all the members for their friendship over the years; I have really enjoyed it. It is a special club and I thank you very much.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!