Mr President, first of all, may I congratulate you on your re-election; it is great to once again see a Tasmanian in charge!
I’m sure as so many who have gone before me have found, it’s an incredibly difficult task to satisfactorily put into words the great honour and privilege it is to be elected to represent one’s fellow Australians in this place.
We’ve had a long election campaign and then a long wait for the result under the new Senate counting arrangements; I have to be honest that, like I imagine most Australians, it sometimes felt like this day would never come.
But that long campaign, and the endless hours on the road, knocking on doors and getting to know Tasmanians across the State gave me the opportunity to reflect on just why I am doing this and what this amazing and humbling honour actually means – to me.
Mr President, I come from a spectacular state. I come from a state of which there is much to be proud. As the sixth generation of Duniams living on the remarkable island of Tasmania I have a deep affection for my State and a strong commitment to doing what I can to ensure that its future is strong for the generations that follow us.
The Tasmanian people, much like the place itself, are a resilient people.
Our state, like many other parts of this country, has been dealt its fair share of bitter blows. But every time our community is dealt one of those blows, true of the Australian fighting spirit, the Tasmanian community, picks itself up and works hard to get back on track.
In my short life, I’ve seen it many times – where communities pitch together to help out those in need, where no one is left behind.
And we’ve faced particular challenges in Tasmania.
Be it the tragedy that unfolded at Port Arthur in 1996.
Or the 2013 bushfires which devastated the small community of Dunalley.
Or the sudden and destructive floods we saw across Tasmania during this year’s election campaign.
Or indeed – in my childhood home on the Northwest Coast of Tasmania where one after another major employers slowly left town. First the Tioxide pigment factory closed. Then the APPM paper mills were downsized and eventually closed. Each of these closures was bad in itself, taking hundreds of jobs out of our small community, but the direct consequences to so many other medium and small businesses which rely on big factories — saw thousands of jobs go.
But, every time, the people of my home state always come together, looking at ways to help those in need and ways to redefine themselves so that they can take the next set of challenges head on.
It is this resilience, this fighting spirit of my fellow Tasmanians that inspires me. From some of the most remote and disadvantaged communities to our cities, most people are willing to work hard and want the best for our state.
I want for my three children, now the seventh generation of my family living in Tasmania, and for all of their generation, a future they can look forward to.
A future where opportunities exist to do things that previous generations haven’t been able to. In employment, in education and in lifestyle. And a reason to make your life in Tasmania, rather than seek opportunity elsewhere.
Tasmania already has so much on offer.
Amazing natural wilderness, including some of the most spectacular forests and breathtaking coastlines.
World-class produce, like our fish, meat and dairy products, or our increasingly famous cool climate wines.
And its innovative people, through our multi-campus University, research centres and in small start-up businesses.
Tasmania already has the critical elements for a strong future and economic growth. The challenge is in harnessing those elements, maximising them and creating opportunities for the future.
Key to this, Mr President, as many in our home state would know, is, in my view, the need to tackle the endless departure of young people from our state to take up life elsewhere.
Indeed, we should also be doing what we can to entice those back who have left. And we need to let people from other places in on the secret – Tasmania is a great place to come and live, to work, to raise a family and to develop your potential.
As a father and as a young Tasmanian myself, I see this as one of these key challenges facing our state.
One only needs to look at the demography of the state of Tasmania to understand the need to tackle the problem I am talking about.
Tasmania has the greatest percentage of population over the age of 65 — of any state or territory in the country.
Indeed between 2000 and 2015, that percentage increased from 13.5% to 18.3%.
By comparison, the percentage of people in Tasmania between the ages of 24 and 35 years has dropped by 5.5% over the same period. This leaves this age group the most under-represented in our state by a long shot.
These are alarming statistics and only reinforce the need to address this issue.
If we work to a goal where a greater share of the population is at an age where they will be coming into the workforce and contributing to our economy, we will start seeing an improvement in Tasmania’s ability to provide essential services and, dare I say it, to help contribute more to the national economy.
As I have mentioned, since my endorsement, I have had the honour of meeting many compassionate, intelligent and hard-working Tasmanians who, in the course of their everyday lives, are doing their bit to enhance our state’s future for the next generation.
These people share my desire to see a Tasmania where more young people can and will choose to stay to find a job, to buy or build a home, to start a business or to raise a family.
As I have already said, Tasmanian produce is high quality and becoming world renowned; as a result the Tasmanian brand carries with it a premium that world is willing to pay for.
Agriculture to our nation is a vital industry and it is certainly no different in Tasmania.
Fundamentally it sustains and nourishes us.
Economically, it often is a major employer in rural and regional communities and is clearly a growth industry. An industry where there is employment and investment potential, particularly for our rural and regional communities which so often miss out.
But, like so many other primary industries, the real challenge is trying to find the next generation of people willing to take on the farm.
Mr President, the high cost just to purchase a farming operation is something that prohibits almost any aspirational young farmer from getting him or herself onto the land. The exception is of course if you’re already on the family farm.
During the campaign I had cause to meet with successful young Tasmanian Farmer and business innovator, James McShane, along with his wife Tahnee. James was the President of Rural Youth and is a strong advocate for the agriculture sector in our state.
James and his wife discussed with me at length the need to find ways to get younger people onto the land and confirmed that there was no shortage of young farmers wanting to make a start.
The key question was, how do we enable those younger people to get a foot in the door and overcome the hurdle of cost?
James’s suggestion revolved around the willingness and ability of young farmers to consider leasing a farming operation. This would enable young people to get onto the land, start a farming business work toward eventual ownership of a farm. Simple though it may sound, he also believes there is a need for government to assist and direct traffic and to provide safeguards around such an initiative.
I believe this idea has significant merit and would be a positive step in enabling a younger demographic to live and contribute to our rural and regional communities.
Mr President, I want to mention another sector of our economy, the manufacturing sector which across our nation has faced some serious challenges.
Competing in a global market is difficult against many low cost competitors from other parts of the world.
Tasmania, like many other parts of the country, has a strong history in manufacturing. Even to this day we still are home to some world leading and innovative manufacturing operations, from the boutique to larger operations with international markets, like Elphinstone Engineering.
However, like the rest of the country, we need to compete to survive.
I had the good fortune of spending some time with one fellow involved at a grassroots level in the local manufacturing scene in North West Tasmania, Brett Cleary. Brett indicated to me that he had observed over the years a pattern of local businesses importing components and items for the repair and maintenance of their operations from overseas.
This importing took place when items of an identical nature and quality were able to be manufactured right there on the north-west coast of Tasmania, and indeed at a far cheaper rate than the imports. As Brett explained to me, this happened simply because there was no knowledge of the local option and the smaller local manufacturers had limited means of promoting their wares against larger overseas suppliers.
He believed there was a need to somehow promote the fact that local manufacturing operations could supply what local consumers were after, right on their doorstep at a competitive price.
His suggestion was to facilitate a central point where local manufacturers can link up with local buyers. Of course, a local community is not going to be able to produce everything that is needed in that local community.
But if there is the chance that it can be done, then we should support that — and enable local Australian manufacturers to thrive and in turn, employ local people.
By enhancing the chances of local innovative manufacturing operations through simply connecting manufacturer with consumer, we are retaining jobs in our community, rather than needlessly sending them elsewhere.
These could provide new, and sustainable, jobs for younger people, jobs that might keep them in our communities.
Mr President, these are just two examples of suggestions made to me by other people. I’m not talking about things I’ve come up with, or ideas that I had.
No one here has a mortgage on good ideas. No one here has all the answers. And if I thought I had all the answers, I know I would be in for a rude shock.
This, Mr President, is an illustration of the importance of getting out; of staying in touch with our own community and understanding what will work to fix local problems.
I see the most important part of my role is to listen to my community and to work with them on suggestions and ideas they have for our future. That is the good thing about a strong community – people can work together, share ideas and reach a good outcome.
Additionally Mr President, good ideas and good policies don’t need to be complex.
In fact it is my belief that they shouldn’t be.
Simple, practical policies don’t have to involve large bureaucracies and mountains of paperwork to actually achieve results.
And the two examples of great ideas that came from actually getting out and listening to my community — they’re ideas that don’t require massive machines of government to make them work. Yet they’re ideas that will yield great benefits to the community.
I look forward to continuing to work with the people I’ve mentioned, and the Tasmanian community on trying to bring to life these and other positive ideas for a stronger future in my home state and other parts of the country.
Mr President, being able to do this – take up the ideas of my community in this place and within government is the benefit of our system of parliamentary democracy.
Every day we need to give thanks for the simple fact that we are blessed with free democratic government.
Australia is one of few countries in the world that, since our federation in 1901, has continuously enjoyed stable and fair democratic government.
It is easy for those of us who have known nothing else to take for granted the amazing benefits and freedoms we have living in a democracy.
We can have a say over the future of our country, it is entirely up to us, when at the ballot box we cast our vote on Election Day.
We can openly express dissent in the government.
We can form alternative political parties for a specific cause or community.
And we can do all of these things without fear of repercussions, punishment or persecution.
As is true of many Australian families, my family is no stranger to involvement in democratic institutions.
My late grandmother, Iris Graham OAM, was the first woman elected to the Burnie Council in 1953 and then almost 20 years later stood as a Labor Candidate in the Tasmanian Legislative Council seat of West Devon. Sadly, she was unsuccessful but then, perhaps having seen the light, subsequently ran as an Independent.
My own mother, Mary Duniam, is the current Deputy Mayor of the Waratah-Wynyard municipality, a force of nature in her own right, supported so wonderfully by my amazing father, Roy.
But for me, the true value of democracy really only became clear when I met my wife, Anisa, and her family.
Anisa’s family sought political asylum in Australia having come from Albania, a country that for approximately 46 years was brutally ruled by a communist dictatorship that oppressed its people in the worst of ways.
Over the 15 or so years that I have had the honour of knowing my parents-in-law, I’ve heard first hand just how evil that regime was and how lucky they feel to be here in Australia, enjoying all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of democracy. Just them saying that to me, and knowing how they cherish those rights, really brings it home.
Both of my parents-in-law came from families classified by the regime to be anti-communist and so, of course, the communist party not only viewed all the family members, including the children, with suspicion, but took any opportunity to punish them.
For instance, my wife’s maternal great-grandfather, Fran Mirakaj, was ordered to denounce his Catholic faith and instead pledge his faith in the dictator. His refusal to do so resulted in him being tortured to de