Parliament

Danny's inaugural speech

MR O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) —

 

Today I rise to bring forward the grievances of the people of Gippsland South.

 

The first of course is that I am their elected member! Bad jokes aside, it is an honour and a privilege to stand here today and deliver my inaugural speech as the new Nationals member for Gippsland South.

 

It was only just over 12 months that I uttered similar words, but as the new Nationals member for Eastern Victoria Region in the other place.

 

Much has happened in that year, but fundamentally I have not changed as a person, so for those who sat through my first inaugural speech, I apologise in advance because there has been a fair bit of cutting and pasting.

 

Firstly, I want to thank the people who brought me here, the people of Gippsland South.

 

Make no mistake, the recent by - election was a hard - fought affair, and I am honoured and humbled to have been selected by the people of the electorate as their representative.

 

I appreciate the faith that has been placed in me, and I intend to ensure that faith is repaid in the next three and a half years.

 

Gippsland South is a wonderful electorate. In my totally unbiased opinion it is clearly the best and most beautiful in the state.

 

It is home to warm, welcoming and hardworking people.

It is the traditional land of the Gunaikurnai and Bunurong people.

 

My home town of Sale was one of the first European settlements in Gippsland and remains an important regional centre and home to most of the offshore oil and gas industry in Bass Strait.

 

The nearby Macalister irrigation district (MID), which I share with the member for Gippsland East, contributes $500 million to the local economy annually and supports hundreds of farms and hundreds of jobs off -farm.

 

It is important that we keep cofounding the MID 2030 project, which is upgrading the system to improve water use efficiency and delivering the savings back into production.

 

The upgrade of the MID would be great news for the Gippsland Lakes, a natural marvel and a great tourism attraction for our region.

 

Loch Sport, Golden and Paradise beaches, Seaspray and the

Ninety Mile Beach are likewise magnets for tourists.

 

Inland we have some of the best and most fertile farming land in the country.

 

Dairy and beef farms dominate the beautiful green rolling hills of South Gippsland, and high regular rainfall makes it a land of plenty and a good place for plantations in the Strzeleckis.

 

The farming zone is serviced by the regional service centres of Leongatha and Korumburra, homes to Murray Goulburn and Burra Foods respectively, two important dairy plants providing jobs in the region.

 

The Gippsland South electorate is also blessed by having within it many great small country towns which are home to both generations of local families and the many newcomers who have come to enjoy the views and the clean, green lifestyle that the region offers in places like Foster, Meeniyan, Mirboo North, Rosedale,

Toora, Welshpool, Yarram, Loch, the fabulously named Poowong, Fish Creek and Venus Bay, as well as hamlets like Nyora, Tarwin Lower, Gormandale, Koonwarra, Alberton, Dumbalk, Yanakie, Sandy Point, Walkerville, Waratah Bay and Woodside; and the ports, Welshpool, Albert and Franklin.

 

The jewel in the crown of our natural attractions is undoubtedly Wilsons Promontory.

 

I have camped and hiked at the Prom many times, and it is truly a special place, and one that makes it just that little bit more special to be the member for Gippsland South.

 

Then there is Corner Inlet, Waratah and Venus bays, Cape Liptrap, Agnes Falls, Tarra-Bulga National Park, the Ninety Mile Beach, the lakes which I have already mentioned, and the games reserves, making the Heart

Morass and Jack Smith Lake havens for wildlife and destinations for hunters from across the state and indeed around the world.

 

Our region has many great natural resources. It should be a wealthier place.
 

I believe we should develop our natural assets while protecting the local environment to ensure a strong local economy for the future.

 

On one issue, though, that of natural gas development, I am very supportive of a cautious and conservative approach.

 

There is no need to rush this, and the protection of our land and water resources must be paramount in any future decisions.

 

Fundamentally a seat in this place is about service of the people.

 

We are not here for our own self-aggrandisement but to serve our constituents to the best of their ability.

 

I will not always win, but the promise I make is that I will always have a go for my electorate.

 

My predecessor always had a go, and more often than not he won.

 

Peter Julian Ryan served as the member for Gippsland South for 22½ years, and he did it with distinction.

 

I have no doubt that my own by-election victory was built on the back of the vast reserves of goodwill that Peter accumulated over his years of service.

 

I do not need any more reminding that I have big shoes to fill.

 

I have to say that during the by-election campaign Peter was some thing like an expectant father, pacing up and down the hospital corridor.

 

His elation when the baby was born, so to speak, was palpable, and I think Peter and his wife Trish for their strong support.

 

The other reason I believe I was elected is the strong desire of country people to still be represented by a country-based party.

 

The by-election result bears this out.

 

There were seven other candidates, including a strong challenge from the Liberals and the Greens, plus four Independents, but nearly one in two people voted for the only party wholly and solely focused on country people.

 

The Nationals have long championed a simple premise: that country Victorians deserve their fair share.

 

I joined The Nationals because I have always felt that country people get a raw deal and are often taken for granted, or at best misunderstood by our city brethren.

 

It is a sense that I felt most acutely when previously serving as CEO of the National Irrigators Council at the height of the Murray-Darling Basin plan debate.

 

There was a sense then that the lives of  thousands of people were being dictated to by people with little or no connection to the land and the rivers themselves: bureaucrats, activists, scientists, economists and politicians with grand paternalistic plans for their home but with little care or thought of what the people most impacted by it might want.

 

It is a sense I continue to feel as city -based parties and activist groups try to inflict their view of the world on ou communities, most recently with calls to close Hazelwood power station in my neighbouring electorate and in past debates on forestry in Gippsland.

 

As part of a strong Nationals team I want to do my part to stand up for country people.

 

I stand here today as a proud and passionate Gippslander.

My family has Gippsland blood coursing through its veins. Mum’s ancestors came across into Gippsland from the Monaro at about the same time as John Batman set foot in Melbourne.

Dad’s great - grandparents settled Begowra Station at Swifts Creek in 1877.

 

I was born and raised in Traralgon, the youngest of seven children.

 

I said last year in my first speech that I am very confident that if ever there is the slightest whiff that I am getting too big for my boots, my siblings will bring me back to earth with a thud.

 

Having served a year with my Nationals party room colleagues, I have no doubt they would get to me before my family.

Indeed, they already do.

 

Mum was a schoolteacher and Dad a shearer and farmhand turned political activist.


Dad worked for the National Civic Council for many years and was a member of the DLP for some time.

 

He later joined the National Party and stood for the federal seat of McMillan in 1987 before standing for preselection in the Victorian seat of Gippsland Province, a preselection won by Peter Hall, whom I would replace 26 years later in a twist of familial fate.

 

I went to school in Traralgon before taking up a journalism cadetship at the Gippsland Times newspaper in Sale.

 

I spent time in TV news for Southern Cross and later WIN TV, notwithstanding the advice of some of my newspaper colleagues that they thought I had a good head for radio.

 

I never really had political ambitions, but politics was always a topic of conversation in our household.

 

I used to sit next to Dad as he watched the nightly news and railed at Communists or at Bob Hawke, John Cain, Norm Gallagher and — I am sorry to say for the member for Thomastown - John Halfpenny.

 

In year 10 a teacher, infuriated at some transgression of mine from the back row, called out, ‘Okay, O’Brien, you think you are so good, why don’t you tell us who the leader of the Polish Solidarity movement is’. I naturally replied, ‘Lec Walensa’.

 

Of all the 15-year-olds he could have asked and of all the questions he could have asked to try to embarrass me, that was not it! His enraged response was to kick me out.

I am surely the only student ever to be kicked out of class for getting a question right.

With that background and with a passion for country people, it was no surprise, I guess, that after my time as a journalist I went to work for Peter Ryan and The Nationals 15 years ago.

 

The injustice faced by our farmers in a distorted and subsidised global trading system led me to work for Mark Vaille when he was trade minister and later as a senior adviser when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

And for a brief period before coming to Parliament I was Barnaby Joyce’s chief of staff — and, yes, that was interesting.

 

I have learnt a lot from each of those leaders, but I am not Peter Ryan or Mark Vaille or Barnaby Joyce or Peter Walsh.

 

I am my own man with my own convictions and values. I believe in free enterprise, in governments getting out of the way of the private sector, in cutting red and green tape, and in the power of markets to deliver better standards of living.

 

But I also believe it is the role of government to step in where markets fail, and they often do when it comes to regional Australia.

 

I believe in the family as the core and fundamentally important unit of our society.


It provides the bedrock in its various forms and should be supported as best as possible by all of us here as lawmakers.

 

In my first year in Parliament I have learnt that so many of the social problems we face in our community can be traced back to children not having a loving family upbringing, of never knowing good role models, never seeing parents who go out to work each day, never really being loved, nurtured and encouraged.

 

There are horrific stories of abuse and neglect that traumatise little minds and make later life as solid adult citizens almost impossible.

 

My own upbringing in a large and happy family was perfect, and for that I have to think my mum and dad who unfortunately cannot be here today.

 

They taught me about respect, about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do and about the importance of personal responsibility.

 

Too often in recent times our society has demanded rights without any thought about responsibility.

 

I am concerned too at a growing tendency of our society to want governments to fix everything.

 

Of course governments should provide a social safety net for the vulnerable and address market failure where it occurs, but we cannot and should not expect government to fix everything.

 

Recently we had a few hazy days in Gippsland, as we do at this time of year when burn-offs occur.

 

This led to a call that was given airplay by local media for SMS message alerts to be sent to the community on days of poor air quality.

 

The reality is that anyone who looked or stepped outside on those days could clearly see that the air quality was not great, so why would we need a government department to tell us so? This nanny state mentality has to stop.

 

We have to be encouraged to think and act for ourselves, take responsibility for our own actions and work as best we can to solve our own problems.

 

I believe in the rule of law, in individual liberty and that communities are best placed to determine their futures, not politicians or bureaucrats in some distant capital.

 

I believe each and every person should be afforded the opportunity to make the best of themselves and their community through a good education and an honest day’s work.

 

I believe all Australian’s deserve a fair go and that rural Australians should have access to the same opportunities, services and standards of living as those in the city.

 

This is a fundamental tenet of my party and one that has served it well for many decades.

There are plenty of complaints about politicians, bureaucrats and our system of government generally, but for all its faults Australia’s system works pretty well.

 

I have lived and travelled extensively overseas and strongly believe we stack up well.

 

Our system has delivered a stable government, steady economic growth and a good standard of living.

 

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other form that has ever been tried.

 

Our system is a bit the same, so I say to Victorians and to my constituents, by all means come to me and complain — that is what I get paid for — but have a little perspective and remember how good we have it in this great land and great state.

 

At this point I must thank the many members and supporters of The Nationals who helped to get me elected.

 

Manning polling booths, stuffing envelopes and putting up corflutes is normally something they do only every few years, but for me they had to back up again in a matter of months and did a sterling job.

 

There are too many people to name individually, but I will single out one as an example of them all.

 

Fred Crook is a long-time Nat from Loch Sport and a great bloke.

 

Freddie is a pensioner, has some serious health issues and, by his own admission, will not be long for this place.

 

But after having let his membership lapse in protest at a price rise a few years back, Fred drove to Sale and paid his money, just so he could sign my nomination form.

 

Fred, I hope you are around for a few more elections yet.

This was emblematic of the sort of support I had from our membership base, and I cannot thank them enough.

 

I also need to thank our state director, Jenny Hammett; Katie, Clare and Tim at head office; my party room colleagues who all did their bit to help — and I thank you guys; my federal colleagues and friends, Darren Chester and Senator Bridget McKenzie; Ben Bulmer as my driver and right-hand man; and the wider family of The Nationals, including many staff who gave up their own time to come and help me campaign.

 

I thank my family, and particularly my parents, Anne and Pat, for giving me such a good upbringing, along with my brother, Leo, and sisters, Julie, Clare, Mary, Monica and Jacinta, and their families, for their love and support over the years and during the campaign.

 

Finally, to my beautiful wife, Vicki, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have put your career on hold for me, and after two elections in succession you probably deserve a sainthood.

 

You are my soulmate, my confidant and my best friend.

 

Our four-year-old twins, Harvey and Millie, do not quite understand why daddy always has to go to the office, but I hope for all of us I will be able to get the work-life balance right in this difficult job.

 

Sadly, our other little boys, Finn and Riley, will never grow up to see me in this place; but I know they will be keeping a watchful eye on us from above.

 

I am humbled to be an MP, and now to be a member of the Legislative Assembly.

 

It is an honour and a privilege bestowed on few, and I shall be ever mindful of the responsibility it brings.

 

I am passionate about Gippsland and Gippsland South, and I will do everything in my power to serve the people of the region fully and faithfully.

Together we can make a difference

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