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Thursday, 31 March 2022
Page: 1365


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (09:34): The American poet Robert Frost was renowned for his work The Road Not Taken, which centres on a choice between two paths. 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood', it begins, with the poet noting that he could not travel both and be one traveller. So, despite eyeing off one path, he:

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

When I came to this place, someone told me about two paths that lay ahead: the path of the poodle and the path of the mongrel. They said that the poodles in politics do what they're told, get the accolades and end up sniffing the ministerial leather right up close. But nothing changes if it's left up to the poodles. That's where the mongrels come in. Political mongrels might be mangy; they might growl when they're grumpy, and they might soil the carpet every so often, but they bark when needed and aren't afraid to nip issues in the bud when needed as well. They keep the poodles in the ministerial leather that they're accustomed to but are pretty much put in the 'never to be promoted' column. It doesn't need to be said that I took the path of the political mongrel.

George Bernard Shaw's comparison of the reasonable man with the unreasonable man comes to mind when talking about political poodles and mongrels:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Political mongrels bring about change. Political mongrels get things done. For my electorate and my people I've proudly been a political mongrel. As a result we've seen some big things delivered for Dawson. The Mackay Ring Road, at nearly half a billion dollars, is the biggest public infrastructure project built in the Mackay region. We've also secured funding for stage 2 of that road, which is the Mackay port access road. Up in the Burdekin the Haughton River bridge has been fixed, and we're flood-proofing that section of the Bruce Highway, with half a billion dollars. Mackay's northern entrance is being upgraded right now, and the Walkerston bypass is about to get going to the west of Mackay. We've seen the Sandy Gully bridge upgraded on the Bruce Highway near Bowen, the upgrade of the southern approaches to Townsville, and overtaking lanes and pavement improvement between Kuttabul and Calen and also near Bloomsbury, between Proserpine and Bowen, just north of Brandon and near Alligator Creek. That's just a fraction of the $2.5 billion worth of projects that has been or is being spent on the Bruce Highway in Dawson.

We've also seen Urannah Dam funded and about to be constructed, and now Hells Gates Dam is also funded. Local roads and community facilities have also gotten a slice of the action. The new Proserpine entertainment centre has just been built. The Whitsunday Sports Park has been redeveloped and given a new clubhouse. There are new Shute Harbour facilities. We've got a headspace for Mackay and now one in Proserpine, too. There's the Mackay Aquatic and Recreation Centre, the redevelopment and extension of the CQ rescue helicopter service hangar and headquarters, the Great Barrier Reef cricket arena being built at Harrup Park Country Club, the Home Hill State High School's multipurpose hall, the new Burdekin basketball courts, and upgrades at Townsville's Brolga Park and at the Townsville Turf Club. I could go on and on listing numerous community groups, sporting clubs and schools that have received new facilities, upgrades and extensions, courtesy of funding that I fought for—not to mention outcomes for industry sectors like agriculture, mining and tourism—but I won't, because we'd be here all day and the parliament has other business to attend to.

But I will dwell for a moment on the bigger achievements that, while benefiting Dawson, are broader than just my electorate. The sugar industry code of conduct is a key example of this. When cane farmers came to me with serious complaints of foreign owned multinational monopoly milling companies trying to offer 'take it or leave it' contracts that cut farmers out of having a say in the pricing of their product, I knew something had to be done. I do not want to see farmers or anyone else in this country basically becoming serfs to a foreign landlord. So I fought, alongside others, for a sugar industry code of conduct which set out the rules for fair agreements between farmers and the monopoly millers and established an umpire—an arbitration system—for disputes around those agreements.

Likewise with insurance premiums in North Queensland going up year after year after year, in some cases by 1,000 per cent over a five-year period: I knew there had to be government intervention. That's why I fought hard to get a northern Australian reinsurance pool established to offset the rising re-insurance burden of cyclones and related flooding and, ultimately, substantially bringing down insurance costs for North Queenslanders.

Mr Katter: One of the greatest achievements.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Thank you, Member for Kennedy. I've spoken a bit about the local deliverables in this regard. I led the charge on a 'Fix the Bruce' campaign in 2013, and it resulted in $10 billion being set aside by the then Abbott-Truss government for Bruce Highway projects.

Against the extreme green network, the Labor Party, GetUp, and many left-wing media outlets, I fought for the Adani Carmichael mine, now operating under the name of Bravus. We fought against desperate but well-funded attempts to stop that mine, attempts that falsely tried to tout different entities as potential victims of that mine: the Great Barrier Reef; the fishing industry; the local Indigenous people, who actually supported the mine; the black-throated finch; the ornamental snake; and the yakka skink. We were told that the mine wouldn't happen, that it was uneconomical, that it was going to be completely automated, and all the rest of it. Yet, last week, I travelled out to the mine site, where they're digging and exporting coal and employing miners, truck drivers and operators. The Great Barrier Reef is still here, as are the fish, the finches, the snakes and the skinks. And the local Indigenous community are getting jobs and contracts associated with the mine and the port.

I need to mention the royal commission into the banks. Award-winning reporter Sharri Markson wrote about the then Prime Minister:

… facing a backbench revolt led by Nationals MP George Christensen over the issue at a time when the Coalition's numbers in Parliament were down as a result of a dual citizenship crisis.

And veteran reporter Michelle Grattan noted:

… the Government was forced to drop its resistance when Nationals rebels threatened to revolt.

Take a bow, Queensland Nationals backbenchers Barry O'Sullivan, George Christensen and Llew O'Brien. You did everyone a service.

Because I had been approached by many small businesses, farmers and homeowners in my electorate who had been done over by banks and insurers, I knew that the royal commission into the financial services sector needed to happen. You only get a few shots at going against your own side on an issue like this, so I didn't want to waste my vote on a do-nothing motion but rather wait until a substantive bill came forward that could force the hand of the executive—and coming it was; former senator Barry O'Sullivan, former senator John 'Wacka' Williams, the member for Wide Bay, the member for Kennedy and myself were making sure of it. So they buckled, and the rest is history—or at least it should be.

Sadly, legacy issues remain for banking victims. I am still, even today, dealing with new victims of banking misconduct. The widespread misconduct of the banks meant that less than two per cent of submissions to the royal commission got to be heard. So the government announced that submitters could have their case heard by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, AFCA. But the problem was is that they will only hear cases from within the last six years. Many victims fall outside that time frame. The sad reality is that a bank can decide, still, that they don't want a customer on their books anymore and call the loan in, with no warning, despite the customer not missing a single repayment. Many customers in regional areas face this. When the CBA bought out Bankwest and when ANZ bought out Landmark, family businesses and family farms were destroyed overnight after surviving good times and bad times for decades and generations. There was no warning, just a message from the top to the business bankers: 'Raise their interest rates, call them in, do whatever you need to get them off the books.' Was this process criminal? Perhaps. We may yet find out. The banks shouldn't breathe the proverbial sigh of relief just yet. But is the practice still continuing? I've sadly got to say, yes, it is.

Up until very recently, the likes of Macquarie Bank would not acknowledge or accept that this had in fact happened to their business customers, like one of my constituents, a longstanding small-business woman with a very good reputation in her local area. Macquarie decided they wanted her off the books. As a result, she, like many others I know, faced bullying and intimidation from their local business banker. Interest rates were raised on the loan to tighten cash flow. They were pressured into signing blank discharge forms or agreeing to unfavourable terms as they were being threatened that this was the only way out. The harassment was constant and unrelenting and brought a strong woman, like my constituent, to consider ending her life. Would Macquarie acknowledge this behaviour? Not on your life. The harassment and lies were often face to face—or over the phone so that Macquarie were comfortable they could withstand a legal challenge.

When will the banks just do what is right? How many Australians have to have their lives destroyed just because a bank can get away with it. The harassment and unconscionable behaviour of the banks has to stop. The royal commission just ripped the bandaid off the wound that is our current banking system. We need to keep the pressure on the banks to ensure the protection of families, retirees, farmers and small businesses continues and goes further still. The government needs to strengthen the power of the watchdogs, ASIC and APRA. It needs to ensure that AFCA is truly independent and not just the rubber stamp of the banks that it currently is. The government also needs to establish the compensation scheme of last resort as soon as possible, and it needs to have broad coverage if it's going to have any effect—that is, it must cover all products and services that fall in AFCA's jurisdiction.

Many of you have asked why I am leaving. My answer is varied. Firstly, there's family. Some of you know that my wife, April, and I now have a beautiful 20-month-old daughter by the name of Margaret Anne. Full of beans, she is, and she wakes up mum every morning that I'm down here asking 'Daddy?' so April can videocall me to talk to her. I've become a forced fan of CoComelon, Super Simple Songs and Frozen, because of my little Graget, as she calls herself. What you might not know, though, are the circumstances of her birth.

In early 2020 April was overseas, staying with family, while I was off seeing Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, in London, and busy with about four weeks of parliamentary sittings, a couple of weeks of internal electorate travel and parliamentary committee work. We were supposed to meet up again in April, and then the borders slammed shut. Like many others we became victims of pandemic policy, albeit policy that I supported at the time because it seemed like the commonsense thing to do. We thought the borders would only be shut a while, but it went on and on and on.

To cut a long story short, my daughter was born overseas in July 2020 without me there for it. Worse still, there were complications for my wife, who had to have a caesarean and then suffered severe internal bleeding. At about 4 am, the surgeon attending to my wife phoned me to say the situation was very serious, and, if there were things that I had to tell my wife, now was the time to do so. You don't get a clearer, more sobering message from a doctor than that. She was then rushed into emergency surgery. That morning I had to front a meeting of local farmers and then a press conference, all the while not knowing whether my wife was alive or not. Thankfully she was, and the surgeons there saved her life. On that note I am thankful to Senator Marise Payne for what she did to get info via our embassy to the hospital and vice versa. In the proceeding months, as April was recuperating, without me pulling rank—it would have been in the papers if I'd tried to do so—thankfully, we were reunited. So there's that.

Then—here comes the hard bit, guys—there's this place. I actually don't like coming to Canberra anymore. The parliamentary processes to me seem so stale and staged. Question time's a farce, where government backbenchers ask pointless questions written by someone else and opposition members ask pointless 'gotcha' questions that never get answers. And the public hate the vitriol and the behaviour displayed during question time. I'm guilty; I stand condemned for being part of that behaviour. The matter of public importance is nothing more than a sop to those who want to relive their high-school or university debating club years, and votes and proceedings could simply be dialled in; they're that predictable. We say something in favour of a government bill, the opposition say something against it and we all vote for it or against it, depending on what the party says. In the Labor Party you get expelled for doing anything else. On our side you just get ostracised.

What happened to individuality in this place? What happened to critical thinking? What happened to true representation? As a nation we bemoan the fact that most politicians are white-bread, cookie-cutter replicas of one another, but, on the other hand, we decry a spark of individuality as chaos, destabilisation and disunity—or at least the media does. We can't have it both ways. There needs to be greater room in this place for backbenchers to say what they really think, publicly, in this chamber, and to vote accordingly. The notion of party discipline needs to give way to representation, just like it does in many other legislatures around the world, otherwise we run the risk of Parliament House degenerating into a sheltered workshop for people who can't think for themselves. So there's that.

Then there's COVID. You've heard it before. We've blown up freedoms, bodily autonomy, medical privacy, human rights, community cohesion and many businesses and jobs, all for a virus with a 0.27 per cent infection fatality rate. It should never have happened, and yet some of it is still happening. We here could have and should have at least stopped the discrimination from happening by putting rules around access to the Australian Immunisation Register data—rules that said, 'You can't use that data for the purposes of terminating someone's employment or discriminating against them in supplying a service.' We didn't. It is not the only thing that I have disagreed with the government on. There is the net zero policy, which I vehemently disagree with on the basis that it is ultimately going to cost jobs—and probably jobs in my region.

There is a digital identity bill we are crafting that is being pushed by the elite globalist World Economic Forum. No-one has ever approached me as a member of parliament and said they want the nation to adopt a digital identity system. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum has called for it but we don't answer to them. Our democracy is one that should be from the ground up, the people up, not from the globalists down. I am not sure whether I've departed from the values of my party in government or the other way around—perhaps it's a bit of both—so continuing on as the member for Dawson, for the LNP or otherwise, when my values more and more differed from the government I was part of, weighed heavily on me. I'm very fond of the reading the meditations—

Mr Katter interjectin g

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I know you do, Member for Kennedy. I'm very fond of reading the meditations of the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He wrote:

At some point you have to recognise what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don't use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.

So I'm freeing myself, knowing this is no longer the world I belong to. But as I take my leave I want to share with my colleagues a list of things that matter to conservatives and patriots according to me—strap yourself in! Some of these may be unpopular, not in keeping with the times or the way of the world, but, to quote one of my favourite saints, Saint Athanasius, 'If the world is against the truth then I'm against the world.'

I begin with the most important matter of them all—life. The right to life is the most fundamental liberty of them all, and we should be acting to defend it. Freedom of speech is paramount for any democracy, including the speech we don't like. Efforts to ban free speech with political buzzwords like 'hate speech', 'vilification', 'disinformation' and 'misinformation' are harmful to democracy. Likewise, foreign owned big-tech oligarchies should not be allowed to censor political and philosophical discourse in this country. The legacy media is biased and has become a cheer squad for big government and wokeism. We should call it out, where it is privately owned, and never seek to have government interfere with it, but taxpayers should not be funding a biased fake news media outlet; the ABC must be reformed.

People should not be forced into any medical procedure under threat of losing their jobs, losing payments or any other form of restriction, coercion or duress. As I said, our federal government should have acted on this. We should never sacrifice people's livelihoods, people's jobs, people's businesses and farms, our regions or our nation on the altar of the political religion that is man-made climate change. Net zero emissions will mean net zero jobs. The World Economic Forum, the United Nations and other globalist bodies should not dictate to Australia what laws we have. Democracy in this country is from the bottom up, not the top down.

Australian citizens should not be locked up in foreign jail cells for breaking politically motivated laws in other countries that they didn't even set foot in, no matter how powerful that country is. We should pull out all stops to bring home Australians who are political prisoners, like Julian Assange and Cheng Lei. We should ban communist China, its state owned enterprises and state linked enterprises from owning anything of strategic value in this country. That includes ports, farms, agribusiness, power and water utilities, the telecommunication sector, the resources sector, and defence and defence-related industries.

We need a strong Defence Force and we should support our veterans who have served this nation. We should make it a national policy to maintain and even subsidise a strong and resilient manufacturing sector and farming sector so that we are self-sufficient and economically sovereign.

We should let kids be kids and not push woke trends and ideologies on them. Parents who undertake their own child care should be compensated to the same extent as those who use childcare services. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse; it should be outlawed. Every child deserves a relationship with their mother and father, and the family law system should recognise this. Domestic violence is reprehensible, but masculinity is not toxic and most men are not violent.

We don't need to be welcomed to our own country and we should maintain a system whereby public services are not provided according to your race. Taxation is theft. The more money we allow working Australians to keep in their pockets, the better. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, corporate Australia has gone woke, if you hadn't noticed it. By and large, they are no friend of conservatives and we owe them no favours.

If my list of political ponderables seems dangerous to you, beware: I'm about to go through a list of thank yous, which is always rife with danger due to the risk of leaving people out. If I leave people out, I am very, very sorry.

Firstly, thank you to my wife, April; my baby daughter, Margaret; my dad and my late mother; my sister, Kathleen; and brother, Antony; all of my wider supportive relatives in the Mackay region; my cousin Peter Christensen; and relatives elsewhere who have had my back; and to close friends AJ Stehbens; Matt and Larissa Loveday and their children, James and Ashalea; Matt and Casey Fitzpatrick and their lovely family.

To my good friend who is not here, Senator Matt Canavan, for all the support he's given me through our journey together. To the Deputy Prime Minister, a good mate even before I came to this place. To the member for Wide Bay, who has become a very good mate. To the member for Hinkler, who has certainly helped me out a fair bit in my electorate and who has been a bit of a sounding board. To the member for Wright—where are you, Member for Wright? Good on you! Buchho, you'll always be a mate. To the Minister for Regional Health, who has delivered over and over again for us and is always a good sounding board. To the member for Riverina: we spent so much time together on those benches over there, causing trouble. Despite all the water that's gone under the bridge, I consider you a very good friend. To Senator McMahon and Senator McDonald—good friends all. To the member for Leichhardt, who fought hard on that insurance issue. To the member for Capricornia and the member for Herbert; as neighbours we've assisted each other on various different issues. To the Minister for Home Affairs—he's back in his office doing hard work—who has also been a good bloke to talk to. To Senator McKenzie for all of her support. I should name the Assistant Treasurer as well for getting that insurance thing across the line.

To Senator Rennick and Senator Antic, who have been buddies in fighting against the vaccine mandates. I also want to thank the member for Hughes, the member for Clark, the member for Mayo, the member for Kennedy, Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts. Some of you might think it's a bit weird to thank people in other parties, from the Nationals to, particularly, these independents we worry about or the minor parties we worry about. But I've always got on well with all of them. As Bob says—this is my homage to you, Bob; I do a good impression—'May a thousand blossoms bloom!'

To state MPs Dale Last, Amanda Camm, Steve Andrew and Shane Knuth: thank you. I want to acknowledge Tony Abbott, Warren Truss, De-Anne Kelly, the late Roger Kelly, Ray and Mavis Braithwaite, Ron Boswell, former senator Nigel Scullion, Barry O'Sullivan, Peta Credlin, Rosemary and Ray Menkens, Ian Macfarlane, Peter Slipper, Ewan Jones, Cory Bernardi, John 'Wacka' Williams, Ian and Lesley Macdonald, Peter Lindsay, Ted Malone and Karen. A shout-out to former senator Bob Brown for his contribution at the last federal election!

They say in this job you are only as good as your staff, and I have some bloody good staff who have had to put up with a lot. So thank you to you to Shelley Argent, Megan Kerr, Dave Westman, Lauren Ballard, Bec Reid and Alissia Carroll, who were with me to the very end. Also thanks to Lynnis Bonanno, Dennis O'Riely, James Moyes, Belinda Niemann, Brett Leach, Shannon Mapley, Sue Breen, Wendy Cumming, Danielle Neilson, Nicole Batzloff, Ross Waraker, Dianne Hatfield, Cody Vella, Damian Tessman, Tamara Candy, Dominic McCarthy, Jess Dawes, Kathleen Agnew, Margie McLean, Mary Conelius, Matt Derlagen, Max Tomlinson, Rae Lloyd-Jones and Rebecca Chandler. Your work has been very much appreciated.

Dawn Klibbe, her son and my late friend Martin Klibbe, Dawn's daughters Alana and Anita; Jolyon and Enid Forsyth; Paul and Leanne Fordyce; Michael Jones; Geoff Baguley; Ken and Joyce Kelly; Doug and Kaye Petersen; Chris Bonnano; Graeme Cumming; Simon Vigiliante; Jennifer Azzopardi; Geoff Cox; Dave Cox; Sophie and Lawson Camm; Shane Newell; Ari Oliver; Andrew Cripps; Stan and Merewyn Wright; Jewell and late Jim Gist; Joe Moore; Laurie Nielsen; Bob Smith; Robyn Halls; Colin Hoffmeier; Col Glover; Laurie Pinder; Joe and Jan Scibberas; Pam and Mike Farrell; Judy Davies; Richard Bonato; Jack McLean; Ian and Rhonda Braithwaite; Peg and her daughter, Melinda Holborn; John Goldston; Charlie and Jacqui Camilleri; Dr Paul Joice and his wife, Leni; Gaye Gillies and her late husband; John, Ken and Joyce Kelly; Jason and Tracie Newitt; Tony Perna and his late wife, Josie; Allan and Ethel Millington; Peter Ware and Trish Mahlberg, who are pilots of mine; Bob and Helen Baker; Tony Large; Bruce and Halina Hedditch from the Bowen pub, the Larrikin; Ian Shield; Bob Smith; Bob Harris; John and Kylie Smith and daughter Natalie; Frosty and Heather McLean; Bill and Margaret McLean; Les and Nadine Durnsford; Bob Morton; Barney Mezies; Tom and Jan Callow; Neville and Elvie Dickinsen; Brian and Len Martin; Ciara Ross; John and Bev Honeycombe; Pam and Neil Pratt; Peter and Lorraine Henderson; Don and Liz Hick; Mitch Clarke; Peter Hall and the Hall family; Gary Spence; Larry Anthony; Ben Hindmarsh; Jeff McCormack; Lincoln Folo; Paul Darrouzet; Alan Gascoyne; Terry Dennis; Gina Rinehart; and all the Liberal-National Party and Team Dawson members and supporters along the way. That wasn't the full membership list, by the way, but I want to thank each and every one of them and all of the others that I have failed to mention. I'm sorry if I have failed to mention them. They've been a great help, and I will always be thankful for them.

To industry and community stalwarts Paul Schembri, Kerry Latter, Alan Parker, Max and Margaret Menzel, Sharon Smallwood, Annie Judd, Toni Randall, Dr Peter Ridd, David Caracciolo, Greg Chappell, Keith Payne VC and wife Flo, Peter Shaw and Jason Sharam, Christine Keys and the Freedom Australia Mackay team, Margaret Shaw, Berenice and Peter Wright, Ian Rowan, Mike and Pam Farrell, Vic and Evelyn Vassallo, Dale Smith, Bruce Smith and the wider Smith family, Bil Brewer and Col Mang: thank you very much for all your support.

To dearly departed supporters, and the families of those supporters, the late Jeff Walker, the late Jim Wort, the late Professor Bob Carter, the late Ursula Murray, the late Bill and Eileen Deicke and the late Jack Long: thank you. To Teeshan Johnson, David Goodwin, David Pellowe, Warwick Marsh, Kurt Mahlberg, Dan Flynn and Wendy Francis: thank you. To my local mayors Greg Williamson, Lynn McLaughlin, Jenny Hill and Andrew Wilcox, and all the mayors past and councillors past and present: thank you for your support. And for spiritual support along the way I want to particularly thank Reverend John McKim, Father Richard Martin, Father Mark Withoos, Father Bill Myer, Bishop Keith Joseph, Bishop John Ford, Bishop Ian Woodman, Bishop David Chislett and our unsung parliamentary chaplains Reverend Eric Burton, Reverend Peter Rose, Gordon Matton-Johnson and Lynn Thow.

That point brings me to the one I want to thank the most: my God. A lot of people have verballed me about my faith. It's there and it's strong. But I acknowledge, always, that I have not lived up to its standards, and that is the point of Christianity. None of us can live up to the standard set by the perfect man, Jesus Christ. We can aim to and we can aspire to. When we fall, we seek forgiveness, we get up and we get on with it. I'm not a saint—far from it. I'm a miserable sinner. The prayer I have prayed the most, apart from the Lord's Prayer, is what's called the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Despite being a miserable sinner, I give all of the glory of the past 11-plus years of federal parliamentary work, the six-plus years of local government work, totalling less than a month shy of 18 years of service in elected office, to my Lord God and saviour Jesus Christ. In doing so I'm reminded of the verse from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that has been emblazoned on the bronze paperweight that has sat on my desk in my Parliament House office. 'Stand firm', it says, in bold letters, and underneath: 'Be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.' From knowing this, I know the path that I've taken, the path of the mongrel, has been worth it.

Robert Frost finished his poem The Road Not Taken with these words, with which I finish my parliamentary contribution:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. Take care, and God bless.