HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES HANSARD 11 FEBRUARY 2016

Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (13:54):  I acknowledge both the statement from the trade minister and his outstanding service to this parliament and elsewhere, but I will have a little more to say about him at a later date when he is not so much the friendly combatant still sitting in the cabinet. I would like to begin my contribution by dealing with speculation that I was given the privilege of talking about the Deputy Prime Minister because on my side I understand best how members of the National Party think. I totally reject that! I totally deny that! Rather, I sought the opportunity to speak for a number of reasons—amongst them, four. The first is that I respect him. The second is that I like him. The third is that, as a rural member myself, we share a passion for rural and regional policy. The fourth is that I think I am in the minority now—I am one of those people that have been around here for a couple of decades, which means I have served for not all but for most of the time he has been here.

The party Warren Truss leads is just shy of 100 years old—I think that is correct—and any member of this place and, indeed, the broader community has to respect a party which has enjoyed such longevity. Therefore, by definition, we should respect anyone who has had the opportunity or, indeed, will have the opportunity to lead such a party. The next leader is yet to be tested, but we will see how that runs after about 8 pm tonight. In Warren Truss's case, it goes without saying that he has been respected across the political divide here not just because he has led a political party but because he has earned that respect across the dispatch box and across the parties more generally.

Warren Truss is a good man who has always tried his very best to put good public policy on equal ranking with, if not ahead of, good politics, and that is something that is increasingly important in this place. It is something that has caused him to build significant trust and respect across the chamber. I think it is a good time for the Deputy Prime Minister to move on. He has had a good innings. He leaves at a good age—still young enough to do fun things, I have no doubt—and I hope and trust he leaves with good health and, therefore, an opportunity to spend many good years with his wife, Lyn, and the rest of the family.

I believe very genuinely—and this is not designed to be a political point, and I hope people do not take it as such—that it is true that we live in a fast-changing world, indeed, a world of rapid change. As times change, politics will also change, both economically and socially. That is particularly true in rural and regional Australia, which in my view plays catch up a little with our capital cities as they become more progressive. Expectations in rural and regional Australia are on the rise. They are expecting more from their politicians than transactional politics and the spin they too often hear, and that is a challenge not only for members of the National Party but for all of us who represent rural and regional seats. I am not saying for a moment that Warren Truss has not been capable of new and innovative thinking. He has. But this is certainly a challenging time when expectations are much higher and people are expecting a much higher standard of public debate. They want to see us working better together and thinking at a higher level, putting some of the transactional politics behind and developing good progressive policy and structural change—transformational politics rather than transactional politics.

Warren Truss did not lead the party of 'Black Jack' McEwen any more than the new leader will lead the party of Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair, John Anderson or people of that era. The new leader will have to be a different leader. The new leader will have to be a more progressive leader. With respect to the Deputy Prime Minister, who led at a different time, the new leader will have to take a far more open and progressive approach to some of the big structural issues that confront rural and regional Australia.

Again, the new leader will have to show some capacity to inspire people living in rural and regional Australia and show them that he or she understands that our society and our economy are changing and new responses are necessary.

So, in addition to wishing the Deputy Prime Minister well, I also wish well the person who will succeed him. He or she will have big challenges ahead of them—challenges which will be best met with new, higher level thinking and thinking that tackles the real structural changes we face in rural and regional Australia.

 


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