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26 Feb 2020

Maiden Speech in the Senate

Senator McLachlan (South Australia) (17:01): Thank you, Mr President, and I wish to thank you for your kind welcome to the Senate. I also thank you for your wisdom and the counsel that you provided to me as the President of the Legislative Council of South Australia. Of all the members in this place, I'd like to think I'll be one of your better behaved, given I've also had the privilege of being a presiding officer. The only other President of the Legislative Council from South Australia to come to this place was the Senate's first President, Sir Richard Chaffey Baker, a committed advocate of the federation and of the authority of this chamber. Not even he managed to preside over the opening of the South Australian parliament in the same week as being elected by a joint sitting to this place. These were the events that preceded my joining you here during the last sitting week.

Some of my good friends in the state parliament have suggested, in a less than charitable manner, that the speed of my delivery to the porch of the Senate had less to do with making history and more to do with making sure I was out of the President's chair and not coming back to the state party room. Although I think it a little unfair, I had the reputation of being tough on certain members when in the chair and being vocal in the party room. I wish my successor to the presidency of the South Australian Legislative Council, my friend the Hon. Terry Stephens, every success in his new role. I would also like to acknowledge the service of Mr Cory Bernardi to the Senate, the remainder of whose term I will serve. I wish him and his family all the best for the future. I extend my thanks to the Clerk and the Usher of the Black Rod for their assistance, and I also thank all members of the Senate for their welcome. In particular, I thank the ministers from my state, Senator Simon Birmingham and Senator Anne Ruston, who guided me into the chamber for the first time and the Chief Government Whip, Senator Dean Smith, and his staff for all their assistance and support. I wish to express my appreciation to the Premier of South Australia—the member for Dunstan, Steven Marshall—for his support, as well as to all my former state colleagues.

When I first rose on 8 May 2014 as a newly elected member of parliament and delivered my first speech to the South Australian Legislative Council, I gave an account of my life journey and that of my family. I do not propose to do so again today at any length, for I wish to largely share with you some of my reflections since that first speech. In that contribution, I opened by saying:

I come to this place as a strong advocate of Liberal values. It is my belief that it is these values, which respect individual freedom and encourage free enterprise as well as the preservation of the environment, that are the best foundation for ensuring a strong, confident and compassionate society in this state. I have always been attracted to the Liberal belief in encouraging initiative and the taking of personal responsibility. In many ways, it could be said that these values underpin the experience of my family in these lands.

I come from a family that left the west coast of Scotland seeking a better life. They were full of hope and aspiration, with a fear of the unknown calmed by their strong Christian faith. Although, as the generations have passed and the family has adopted the ways and manners of the Sassenach, we still have kept faith. Our story is no different from those that come to Australia from all over the world today. As I provide support to new cultural communities in my state, I see in their eyes the drive and aspiration that would've been shining in the eyes of members of my own family when they left the shores of Alba. Therefore I consider it a privilege of public life to support and encourage new communities in my home state to maintain their culture, which enriches the life of the community that is South Australia.

As a South Australian, I come from a state whose people understand the importance of water to sustaining life and community. Much of our state is arid—stunningly beautiful but very dry. The River Murray is therefore sacred to us all. Its slow passage through our state, as it finds its way to the sea, makes a thread that binds us together. The health of the river is a unifying cause for all South Australians. The strength of its flow reflects the aspiration of the people that live on its banks. They are inextricably tied together. This is why we are committed to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its successful operation. We see it as an example of the real benefits that can accrue from Commonwealth and state cooperation. Perhaps it is because I read law in Scotland that I am innately attracted to what has been described by some legal academics as the ancient and magical doctrine of common interest. The water that flows in the Murray is a common interest to all that depend on the river for life. As a consequence, the common interest creates rights and obligations on all that rely on the river. This is the philosophical foundation stone of the plan.

In my youth I spent summers near the mouth of this beautiful river. It is a special place of natural beauty, an estuary of considerable drama as the freshwater meets the sea. In South Australia, we know only too well that an open and healthy river mouth can have a dramatic impact on the health of the river upstream. Likewise, activities along its winding bank impact the river's mouth. It's my intention to continue to dedicate myself to the plan's success and resist those naysayers, as I do not see at this time any viable alternative to ensuring environmental flows as well as maintaining sustainable farming.

When I look back on my professional career in law and finance, I suspect the seeds of public life were sewn whilst working as a young lawyer in the regional city of Port Augusta. I was raised in a small-business family that subscribed to the values that underpin the Liberal Party. Self-reliance and enterprise were encouraged. Individual freedom was respected. Institutions such as church and community groups were supported by volunteering. I was one of the few in my family to attend university, where I took a degree in law. Upon graduation, I accepted the first offer of employment that came my way. Not coming from a family of any legal lineage or connection to the profession, I did not realise that I had joined a labour law firm founded by a prominent communist! I confess my situation dawned on me rather slowly. It was the moment when I realised that all the firm's clients, largely, were officials of or members of the Australian Workers Union that all became apparent to me. I hope those on my side of the aisle can forgive me on the grounds of the innocence of youth. But I stayed at the firm because I had a strong commitment to assisting those in the community that needed advocacy.

Whilst I might have strongly disagreed with the firm's partners on the benefits of socialism, the values of assisting people in need were consistent with those that I had been taught in my home and my church. The firm encouraged me to work in the Port Augusta office. At that time the city was going through hard times, with the power station and the railway shedding staff. I grew up very quickly, both professionally and personally, as a criminal and family lawyer of only 25 years of age. I witnessed firsthand social decline, with the rise of unemployment; relationships breaking down under stress, with neither partner having any prospect of work; and children entering the criminal justice system, seemingly unable to break free of it.

My time in Port Augusta strengthened my belief in the values of my party, especially its strong commitment to building regional communities and encouraging them to transform and grow. The role of government in building regional communities by assisting with redevelopment is critical. You see this with the change that is taking place at this time in Whyalla. I will never forget the very real impacts of decisions taken far away in the east, including in this place. Making such decisions is difficult and can be necessary for the good of the whole nation. But we must never overlook the human cost, and we must exercise compassion by assisting those affected to seek new horizons.

My other learning was the immense and sometimes arbitrary power of the state. When you stand alongside the defendant or the respondent, you realise the extent of the resources available to the state and how little is provided to the individual. As a consequence, as a legislator, I have always been mindful in respecting the rights of the individual, which in turn supports the rule of law and the community's faith in and respect for its institutions.

Too often, legislation is drafted to make life easier for the agents of the state rather than taking full account of the burden that the heavy hand of bureaucracy can have on the individual. My starting point in reflecting on these matters, in the first instance, is that it is the state that should bear the burden to make its case, whatever the context, and that the administrative efficiency is not a god to be worshiped alone at the expense of the principles of fairness, decency and mercy.

My resolve to enter public life became fully formed as a consequence of two modest sojourns in Afghanistan as a member of the Army Reserve. You cannot help but to return home, valuing as never before our liberal democracy—especially the benefits of the rule of law and a free press. As a Liberal, I firmly believe that democracy and its supporting institutions underpin our prosperity. Further to that, prosperity brings opportunities and, in turn, strengthens communities, for whilst we Liberals support enterprise we do not believe it should be unchecked nor create poverty. It is easy, in our prosperous nation, to take our institutions for granted. My hope is that my experiences in conflict immunise me from this particular affliction.

Since those travels, I joined Legacy as a volunteer to assist families of veterans. In my work for Legacy, I know the challenges that face many veterans. I draw comfort not only from the government responses to the needs of veterans but also from the community commitment to those that have served. But there is always more work to do in response to the commitment to our country that so many young men and women have displayed when deploying overseas. We must continue to explore and evaluate preventative measures to reduce the rate of suicide amongst veterans.

South Australia is a great beneficiary of the Commonwealth strategic procurement in the defence sector. We know that it is a unique and special opportunity for us to develop and reshape our economy whilst contributing to industry capabilities that will serve our nation's sovereign interests. The state is confident that it can build upon this opportunity and lead the country in scientific research and innovation.

Together with the space industry, following the location of the Australian Space Agency in the state, I see a vibrant future for South Australians, especially our youth. The very real pathways for intellectual pursuits and the opportunities to work in industries that make a real contribution to the defence of our nation and the exploration of space is already inspiring our young and buoying confidence in all. For this reason, it is important to all South Australians that we are allowed to make the most of the opportunity with the commitment that South Australia is and will remain the defence state. We are grateful, but we are also very attentive so that the ensuing opportunities are not whittled away by others or squandered by ourselves.

On my long journey to this place, I have never shed the view, formed when young, that we must endeavour to be good stewards of the planet and its environment that sustains us. Perhaps it is because I have always tried to spend as much time as I could afford enjoying the Australian wilderness or maybe it was working in rural and regional communities that are so dependent on the seasons.

I also believe in the critical role of government in ensuring virtuous behaviours by individuals and companies towards the environment. Effective environmental protection regulation has always been essential. But these beliefs have not led me to the view that we should wilfully or recklessly destroy our economy. In doing so, we would only diminish the lives of those Australians that can least afford it, for they will bear much of the brunt of such a policy direction.

All the answers and pathways forward will not magically appear before us as if they were fully formed in the head of Zeus. As a nation we face a complex economic transition that requires us to ensure fairness and avert poverty. It is my view that the operation of a free market will be the most significant factor in achieving this transition.

One of the key roles of government is to assist in the management of such significant transitions and create conditions for innovation to thrive not just in our universities but in our towns and suburbs. My vision is that this country leads innovations that will gift us new technologies to lower not only our emissions but also the cost of energy. In turn, this will drive the prosperity of our nation into the future as we export our technology to the world.

There are communities in my state that are still recovering from the devastating effects of bushfire. I acknowledge that Australians all over the country have suffered. My thoughts are with all of those impacted and especially those who have lost family members. Last month I assisted the state member for Kavel, Dan Cregan, in responding to the impact of the fires on local residents. His electorate covers a large section of the Adelaide Hills region, which was burnt out. I pay tribute to his tireless dedication to the welfare of his community. Together we met men and women who have lost everything but are still taking the time to assist others or are volunteering for our emergency services. Their commitment to the welfare of their neighbours reaffirms my faith in the strength and resilience of our peoples.

The effects of these fires will be long-lasting. We must not let the new growth and the recent rains seduce us into believing that all who have suffered have healed. We know we must continue to support those impacted long after we have cleared away the debris, replaced the fencing and rebuilt the houses and after the green shoots push up from the blackened soil.

I pay tribute to all the volunteers that fought the fires and all those who supported this effort as well as the recovery afterwards. The many volunteer organisations that came to our aid have made an incredible and uplifting difference to those affected. I have a long association of service with St John Ambulance. It always lifts my spirits seeing our volunteers in action, caring for those fighting the fires and caring for community members in need. We should also be proud of our first responders. They continue to serve us day and night, more often than not dealing with difficult and tragic events. I acknowledge their dedication and the personal risks that they face. I strongly believe we should all be mindful of the effects that this service has on their health and commit to follow a similar path to support them, as we have with the veteran community.

It was only a few weeks ago I came to the Senate from the South Australian parliament. I come to this place carrying with me the aspirations of South Australia and its government. The South Australian government's agenda to transform the state's economy is as ambitious as it is necessary. I know it is very appreciative of the collaborative spirit of the federal government. I come here as an advocate for these endeavours. Success will come from the enterprise of talented South Australians.

It is not lost on me the great privilege it is to serve in the Senate. I thank the Liberal Party members that placed their faith in me to represent the state and to fight for their values. We believe it is the best path to advantage all Australians. I thank my mother, Janess, and my father, John, for all they have done for me. I thank my wife, Marcia, for her support of my decision to seek to represent the state in this place. Entering federal parliament comes at a cost, with less time for family. Our children, Hamish, William and Alasdair, are now of an age where they are finding their own way in the world, so we are ready for the change and the challenge that awaits us. I look forward to working alongside all of you for the benefit of our nation. I have no other offer to make except that I will serve the people faithfully.

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