Leader of The Nationals – Speech – Address to The Nationals Federal Council
The Hon David Littleproud MP
Leader of The Nationals
Saturday 13 August 2022
Address to The Nationals Federal Council, Canberra
Check against delivery
Well thanks Jonno. Firstly, can I acknowledge Kay and the executive for all your support. And to you Jonno can I acknowledge you and your team as our federal director. To you and Jo on behalf of the federal parliamentary team, we say thank you. We wish you all the best. But know the legacy that you left behind in making sure that our party is stronger for what you’ve been able to do for us. It’s a testament to your professionalism and for what you’ve been able to achieve for this great organisation that you should be truly proud of. And we are truly proud of you.
Well to you the members can I say thank you. The courage of your own conviction not just to be here today, but to be there when we need you the most. That you were there when the chips were down and the halcyon days of everything in between.
That’s a movement that you have joined in, a joint commitment towards The Nationals, a regional and rural party that is pure in its purpose and its values, and what it wants to achieve for regional Australia. And so to you and what you’ve been able to achieve in this last election is something you should all be proud of.
Against the tide we held on, we held on because we held on to our values and principles as a party. But there are emerging threats we have to acknowledge them, and we have to acknowledge that we have to reengage with cohorts within our communities to rebuild that trust, particularly with women.
We have to be honest and we’ve had to be genuine in how we reengage. And to that extent, I give this commitment and the commitment from my leadership team and Perin and Bridget. That engagement will be genuine at the grassroots level and that it won’t be predicated on symbolism or quotas. It will be predicated on real policy outcomes.
They’ll shift the door for regional women right across this country. That goes to the heart of their aspirations and their challenges. Being real about that in a genuine way and as a Party we will do that collectively, right across the country to make sure we rebuild that trust.
Parliamentary colleagues. Congratulations. And to the famous five that joined us for the first time. You are now part of National Party history. You are part of a party room that is steeped in tradition and values. It’s one of the greatest honours this Party can ever bestow upon you.
It’s an honour you should never forget and understand who gave it to you. But it provides you with the opportunity, the platform to join a Party that can change and shape the lives of regional Australians right here in Canberra.
The Nationals bring common sense to Canberra. We’re the ones that make sure that the decisions that are made when we’re in Government are the ones that bring the practical application in a real sense to every Australian right across the country.
And our legacy, our legacy is one that we should not forget over the last nine years. And in respecting that I want to acknowledge our former leaders, Michael McCormack and Barnaby Joyce. History should treat them well and acknowledge the contribution that they made in ensuring that regional Australia had a seat at the table.
In some of the most trying times, this country has faced, the scale and variety of challenges that our government faced up to the last three years were some of the biggest any governments faced up to. But because of the leadership and the strength of Michael and Barnaby, we got our fair share.
Regional rural Australia was protected and we should be proud of the fact that our country, our legacy, is that our country is stronger today than what it was before we had COVID-19. That’s an astonishing, astonishing accomplishment. And that came because we stuck to the values and principles of centre right politics.
We spent a lot of your money. We kept you safe and we kept our economy safe. We had an unemployment rate with a three in front of it. It’s the envy of the world.
There is a lot of challenges ahead. We know that we have to come back downwards to slow the economy and make sure it doesn’t get overburdened. We were going to do that in a sensible and pragmatic way with the values and principles of our great party and that of the Liberal Party.
And now that challenge is bestowed upon the Labor Party. And that Budget will be one that we will be watching very closely, because the last time they faced up to a crisis in this country, an economic crisis for this country – they spent it on pink batts in school halls.
We spend more money on infrastructure and not just create jobs in building, but in operation. That’s the legacy that Michael McCormack and Barnaby Joyce left behind. That’s the legacy of building an economy in some of the hardest times that nations have felt.
Those are the values and principles that were kept at that cabinet table because of those two men. And we should be profoundly proud and proud of the fact that you also say we made sure that we didn’t ask you to put your arm out until we knew what you were putting in it.
You and the rest of the world was rushing to get vaccines out because they had to because their health systems were crumbling. We made sure we had the pragmatic steps up front and engaging the confidence to now be one of the highest vaccinated countries in the world.
Even The John Hopkins Institute rates us as number two in the world for preparedness through COVID-19 and the self-loathing that went on in this country does not acknowledge not just the government but Australians. Australians stood up in their name and stood behind their government and made sure that our country, Australia, is the best in the world.
We’ve also made sure that that legacy that we left behind in terms of Nationals was pragmatic about making sure we protected those that we represent the most. The Nationals stood tall around the decision to not challenge the decision around the live export. They were our people and they have gone through enough from end to end and to actually go prosecute that case in court was the wrong thing.
And The Nationals were the ones that made sure that our people were protected. And I know because I sat there with Michael McCormack and it was him, it was him that made sure that that principle was upheld and those people were protected the way they should be.
That’s something that The Nationals brought to Canberra that we should be proud of. And to you, Michael, those people in Northern Australia, owe you a damn lot because of your courage and conviction.
The Nationals will continue to hold this Government to account whether it’s the way they treated agriculture. Taking away already, not learning from their mistakes of banning live ex. But now they’re going to ban live sheep. 3,000 jobs in Western Australia, tossed aside the whim of ideology. The Minister says it’s over science. But let me tell you, the science says that our animal welfare standards are the absolute best in the world and ones we should be proud of, we shouldn’t export our own welfare standards to any of the countries that don’t follow what we have. But yet this government won’t do that, taking away the livelihoods of Western Australians and taking it away from this country.
We made sure that we worked collectively in putting an infrastructure spend of absolute, ultimate proportions that regional Australia has never seen before. $21 billion, $7 billion of that was for dams. Building the water infrastructure. And we’ve said to the states we’ve cut that cheque and they should burn some diesel and dig some holes and get on with the job because The Nationals have the courage of their convictions and know that if you put water into this country, you will grow this country. It’s a simple principle that The Nationals are bound by the results that we can actually point to in our own budget, because The Nationals made that the value and principle that we stood for.
Or whether it was the Ag Visa, understanding the necessity of having a secure workforce for Australian agriculture torn up straight away by this Government – taking away the access to new workers. A Pacific Scheme that we had in place, put a bow around around it and said that’s all Australian agriculture has access to. It’s not enough and it doesn’t have the capabilities that Australian agriculture is asking for. And so those are the vulnerabilities of this government left behind.
But we’ll be pragmatic. And when the opportunity came this week to go to this jobs summit, which I suspect is as hollow as Peter Dutton says and he is right, but we will go and prosecute our case.
The fact that this Government had nobody from regional Australia to voice their views, their concerns, their aspirations is testament to a government that is pointed only to metropolitan Australia. So the Nationals took a pragmatic view to make sure that we prosecute your case, that we were there for you to stay, no matter how hollow it might be, and to make sure that regional, rural Australians will be listened to. We can’t become the forgotten Australians under this Government and we’ll take every opportunity, no matter how hard you have to hold your nose, to be there to prosecute that case.
And we’ll be asking for pragmatic measures around extending the initiative that we’ve put in place around paying the HECS of graduates and whether they be doctors or practitioner nurses to other skills in regional Australia that be a pharmacist, whether that be a registered nurse in aged care or childcare.
We want to bring some practices that are about making sure that regional Australia isn’t for forgotten about this. Well if they want to can the Ag Visa well we want a regional visa that brings in not just agriculture but the skills that regional Australia needs.
And we want a pathway to permanent residency. We want a next generation of Australians who come here to drive regional Australia to be part of our community, not be transient, but to be part of our communities.
That is the common sense way The Nationals will bring to this debate. And we say to the Government, open up and listen, understand that regional Australia is unique and a cookie cutter approach might not work.
And we’ll continue to prosecute the case for pensioners and veterans to be at the forefront of being able to work more while protecting their payments.
Common sense to Canberra is what The Nationals will bring no matter the forum. There needs to be an investment in our young people. Generations of young people have left regional and rural Australia and it’s time to bring them home.
And we started that journey by cutting the course costs in agriculture and other industries that were going to keep regional kids in jobs and give them the opportunity to come to regional Australia.
We created regional university centres, letting kids be able to go university not in the capital cities but in their home towns.
Technology has taken us to a point where this provides an opportunity for the generations of the next to stay in regional Australia and grow regional Australia. A small investment with a big dividend. We’re investing with the States and holding the States to account for better infrastructure, for TAFE, so that we can have those skills that our kids need and they don’t have to travel away to do it.
This is the opportunity that this Government can work with us to make sure they achieve and if they don’t hold them to account. But we’ll be pragmatic as well and we were the first to lead as well.
One of the first actions I took as Leader was to write to our Prime Minister in the spirit of the new political construct that he wanted to achieve in asking for a national energy summit. We wanted to have a mature conversation about what our energy looks like in the future.
Renewables are coming, but there is firming power that’s required. And so the opportunities to have a conversation with the Australian people around what those firming options are, whether that be coal or gas and carbon capture storage, whether that be hydrogen which we will spend billions of dollars developing, or whether that be peaking over the Pacific and seeing what’s happening with the emerging technology of the small scale modular nuclear.
Why wouldn’t we run the ruler over this and bring the Australian people along with us and bring them into our trust, our faith, that they should make a decision on the emerging technologies that ensures we have cheap, reliable energy that reduces emissions.
That’s a sensible solution, one that I’m proud to say that The Nationals have now brought the Liberals along on that journey. I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to work constructively with Peter Dutton in understanding. This isn’t talking about a nuclear power plant at one point.
This is just saying there is a new emerging small scale nuclear is a possibility. That is an opportunity that we should adopt to adapt to Australian standards. If we take the Australian people into our trust and that’s the conversation that will continue to prosecute.
But can I say it is important for us to appreciate that our Coalition with the Liberal Party is imperative. We can’t do it alone and they can’t. And it’s endured solid, strong governments that have achieved so much over history. And it’s important that we as a political party are constructive within that.
But we hold true to our values and principles. And Peter and I have worked closely in understanding and appreciation of their values and principles and aims as one that will continue to ensure. But it’s one of the great ideas to secure an agreement, not only in terms of a shadow cabinet on this, but more importantly, the most important aspect to me in coming to this room in the history of our Party is to bring the trade portfolio home.
For the Black Jack McEwen and Doug Anthony to be looking down on us today and saying we finally brought trade home is something that we as a National Party should be profoundly proud of and never let go again.
Can I say in closing, it is a great honour to firstly be a Member of Parliament to sit into that chamber. There’s not a day that I don’t see that and touch that letter and think how lucky I am. On a day when that doesn’t happen anymore, it’s time for me to leave.
But it is a great honour that our party room and our members have, we are now custodians of this great organisation at a federal level, we have the honour and responsibility in preserving the legacy of those great men and women that have come before us.
Those great men and women that have chartered our history for over 100 years. Our responsibility is to chart another 100. Our responsibility is to make sure we bring common sense to Canberra, that we continue the purity and purpose that The Nationals bring, not compromising because we have city members, metropolitan members, but focusing solely on regional rural Australia.
So we commit to you as those next generation custodians of this great Party that will hold true and firm to those values and principles that had guided this Party for over 100 years and well beyond, and set the foundations for those who come after us.
So to each and every one of you, this is the greatest honour that I’ve ever been granted to lead this great Party. It’s a great Party that is more than a Party. It’s a movement. It’s a movement of regional, rural Australia we should all be proud of.