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Michael Sukkar MP – First Speech – 18-11-2013
Thank you, Madam Speaker. As I rise in this chamber for the first time today I want to say how honoured and privileged I am to be here representing the place I was born and raised, the electorate of Deakin. I am deeply conscious that many of the hopes and aspirations of my constituents will ultimately rely on the success of the government I am so proud to be a member of. I would therefore like to place on record my thanks to the people of Deakin for putting their trust in me and also to convey my sincere commitment to faithfully serve their best interests.
As I stand before the parliament, I must firstly acknowledge that I would not be here without the devotion and love my parents. Like many, my family background and upbringing is what shapes and informs my fundamental political values and ultimately my mission in this place. My father was a migrant who came to Australia at the age of 18 in 1966, from Bcharre, a small farming town in the Maronite Christian region of Lebanon. He arrived in Australia with little English but a great deal of drive, intellect and energy. At the age of 22 he established his first business, which has continued with the unfailing support of my mother.
Like all people in small business, my parents worked incredibly hard and, as a family, we experienced the joys and opportunities as well as the hardships of this life. My father often worked seven days a week and I still have vivid memories of waking up in the middle of the night to find my mother doing paperwork under the dim light of her desk lamp. I witnessed how hard my parents worked to provide me and my siblings with all the opportunities they had never received
From these experiences the concepts of individual responsibility, thrift, self-reliance and reward for effort became innately part of my own values.
Not only was my father a migrant to Australia but my mother also had a diverse background: her father a Norwegian migrant and her mother a fifth-generation Australian. This cultural diversity has given me an appreciation of Australia’s dual strengths as a nation. On the one hand, I keenly understand that our migrant history has contributed immeasurably to forming the cultural and economic foundations of Australia. On the other hand, our country’s countless migrant success stories could never have been achieved without the values and institutions that Australia was blessed to inherit from Britain: the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and our broader Judaeo-Christian values have been the sure foundations upon which our migrant nation has been given the opportunity to succeed.
More than 20 per cent of people in Deakin were born overseas, with their diverse cultures etched on the very foundation of our local community. Like my own family’s experiences, vibrant ethnic communities—be they Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Indian or Burmese—are flourishing and they enrich the cohesive yet distinctive Deakin community.
I stand in this place as the member for Deakin and my love of the Deakin electorate is derived from my deep roots and life experiences in the electorate. I was fortunate to grow up in Deakin, attend school in Deakin, get my first job in Deakin and most importantly meet my beautiful wife, Anna, in Deakin. My life is therefore indelibly intertwined in the fabric of Deakin and for that I consider myself blessed to be its ninth member since 1937. Encompassing suburbs as varied as Ringwood, Mitcham, Blackburn, Nunawading, Croydon and Vermont, the Deakin community is a strong one. It is free of pretension and deeply proud of our nation’s heritage. It is a community held together by our shared commitment to family, hard work and generosity. Deakin is also an incredibly active community. We have a wide variety and breadth of service organisations, church groups and sporting clubs, each with tireless volunteers who care deeply about improving our way of life.
Importantly, this strength in our local community is not achieved through government mandate, regulation or handouts but from the principles of looking after your neighbour and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. This was fostered by my Liberal Party predecessor, Phil Barresi, who served the people of Deakin for the 11 years of the Howard government. Phil was my local member during those years and his example as an active, energetic and strong local voice is one I will seek to emulate. In doing so, I am committed to being part of an Abbott-led government that by strengthening Australia also strengthens my own community. That is why I will continue working to deliver on our pre-election commitments to build the East-West Link, reduce cost-of-living pressures by repealing the carbon tax, and improve the economy and strengthen job security through the removal of unnecessary taxes and regulations.
I come here not only as a representative of the electors of Deakin but also as a member of the Liberal Party. I chose to join the Liberal Party because it stands for what innately makes sense to me: individual responsibility, reward for effort and a commitment to the values and institutions that have stood the test of time. My motivation for entering public life is clear. I want to help make Australia strong, prosperous and generous. I want us to be strong in our values and freedoms, strong in our family and community life, strong in our sense of nationhood and strong in the institutions that protect and preserve our democracy.
Being the member for Deakin it is poignant to note that the Liberal Party has always, through many twists and turns, traced its origins back to the namesake of my electorate, Alfred Deakin. Deakin’s view of liberalism is still relevant today for to Deakin, as to every other great leader of Australian liberalism, the sovereign idea which inspires our side of politics has always been the same: our belief that the paramount public value is the freedom of the individual.
In a speech in this place in 1912, this is what Deakin said in outlining a vision for Australia:
It means the full calling forth of all the powers, abilities, qualities, and characters of the people of Australia, not their suppression as citizens, not their dressing always in the same garb and being driven along the same road under the same whip.’ It means no such subjection. But, given fair conditions … within the means of Australia, each of its citizens living his or her own life, and doing the best for himself or herself …
As the federal member for Deakin I want to ensure that our Australia remains true to these Liberal values by keeping our economy strong so that individuals, families and businesses large and small can plan for their future with confidence and do the best for themselves. Our party understands that without a stronger economy our nation’s noble aims and aspirations become unattainable.
As an economic liberal my instincts are for open markets, free competition and small government. Thankfully, open markets and free competition are now largely accepted by both sides of politics and have driven Australia’s wealth creation of the past three decades. However, as I see it, the greatest challenge the Liberal Party today is battling is the ever-increasing size of government. Believers in big government, like the Labor Party and the Greens, think Canberra can and should solve every problem. I do not accept this. More often than not, governments create more problems than they aspire to fix. Government intervention should be limited to what is vital. Big government crowds out a capable private sector, which disproportionately impacts small businesses—businesses run by Australian mums and dads just like my own parents. We need to ensure that no regulation and no compliance burden is imposed on business unless it is absolutely necessary and the policy objective cannot be achieved in any other way. In my view—a view that has been formed by my years practising as a tax lawyer—every piece of legislation should be subject to rigorous impact analysis. We must never forget that the regulations we impose on industry invariably result in the imposition of compliance costs. The big-government, interventionist approach of the Labor Party saw an additional 21,000 new or amended regulations in just six years. Such intrusions into the economy act as a disincentive to innovation and creativity and make it more difficult to attract foreign investment. I hope that my experience in the business sector, including as a lawyer with Ashurst and before that with PricewaterhouseCoopers, will enable businesses that are the very engine room of our nation’s growth to become better understood as our parliament makes laws that affect them.
Big government also increases the opportunities for waste. After the last six years of Labor we know all too well how wasteful an unrestrained government can be. Therefore, by limiting the size of government we impose a discipline on future governments, which ensures careful consideration is given to all spending decisions, much like any private business. Imposing such discipline is critical, especially if one accepts that governments can rarely spend your money as wisely as you can.
Another ongoing challenge for modern Liberals is our never ending pursuit to end the culture of dependence. On this topic the father of American conservatism the great William F Buckley, whom I have long admired, once remarked:
There is an inverse relationship between reliance on the state and self-reliance.
Combating the culture of dependence is not merely an aspirational ambition; it is likely to be the greatest challenge to Australia’s ongoing fiscal strength.
Our welfare state commenced when fertility rates were higher, life expectancy was shorter, medical costs were lower and the percentage of the population over 65 was a small proportion of what it is today. This structure is increasingly unsustainable. All successful systems evolve with time and these systems must do so as well. Therefore, government has a duty to constantly encourage, and indeed insist on, all of its capable citizens to participate fully in our economy.
In an economy with historically low rates of unemployment it should concern all of us that significant industries, such as mining and agriculture, cannot often find sufficient men and women to fill well-paid jobs. While we are right to have a strong and generous social safety net, overdependence on welfare can become demoralising and dehumanising. It can also become a generational problem. It is, therefore, a sense of compassion which informs my ambition to combat an overreliance on government. The collateral benefits to this approach provide not only a public dividend but also a personal dividend that can come only through the dignity of employment.
Another area of great significance for our future will be reforming and simplifying our complex tax system. As a tax lawyer working on the front line against the carbon tax and mining tax, I have seen up close the devastating impact of expansionary and poorly implemented tax policy. I have also seen that in a world of global capital and competitive tax regimes, the threat of sovereign risk is highly damaging to our economy.
In contemplating these big issues, my own personal brand of politics combines liberal economic notions with strong conservative foundations. My conservatism has been informed by the two most significant influences on my life—my family and my faith. I have spoken of the influence of my family. While faith is a personal matter, my Catholic faith has been a great source of personal strength. It also lays the foundations for my desire to pursue justice for all those suffering injustice and compassion for those who are less fortunate. My many teachers and mentors from Aquinas College must be thanked for helping shape these values in me, as well as for their dedication to my education, including Paul Neeson, John Burke, the late Dave Mallia, John Jordan and my old school principal, Tony O’Byrne, who joins us in the gallery today.
As a conservative I also believe that families will always be the most important unit in our society. This basic premise requires governments to constantly consider the impact of all new laws on families. Failing to do so will have a public cost as well as a deeply felt private cost. It must, therefore, be an issue that we keenly consider.
Finally, in my view, our egalitarian principles of fairness and equality are built on Western foundations and traditions. It is, therefore, the duty of conservatives to protect those from the so called ‘progressive’ elements of our society, who so doggedly seek to undermine them.
I could never have imagined that by the age of 32 I would be standing here today serving in a government that I truly believe offers Australians the hope, reward and opportunity we all deserve. I have this extraordinary privilege because of the trust and hard work of so many people. It was not an individual effort but a team effort. There were literally hundreds of people who worked tirelessly to get me elected.
Firstly, to the members of the Liberal Party and, most importantly, my local members: thank you for your unwavering support. I always felt as though I had a battalion backing me up. I would also like to record my debt of gratitude to Sandra Mercer-Moore, who has believed in me from the beginning. You are a wonderful mentor and friend, and none of this could have been possible without you. Also to Jill Sand and Beverley Hourigan: I am so grateful for your love and encouragement.
To my campaign manager, Richard Dalla-Riva, and the members of my campaign team: I really cannot thank you enough. In particular I want to thank Barrie and Judy Milligan, Clyde Aitken, Beau Dreux, David Kitchen, Mitch Tanner, Gary Walker, Charles Hogarth and Matt Whiffin. We were a brilliant team. Also to my current team—Stephen Jury, Andrea Hoy and Kate Bruce-Rosser: thank you for your dedication during the campaign and for embarking on this new journey with me.
To my patron, Senator Helen Kroger, thank you for your selfless work in support of my election. To my other friends in this House and the other place—Josh Frydenberg, Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge, Senator Michael Ronaldson, Kelly O’Dwyer and Senator Scott Ryan: I appreciate all you have done for me. I also want to place on record my thanks to Sophie Mirabella for her personal support and commitment to our party and its cause. To the party’s state director, Damien Mantach, and all of his team, including Andrew Cox and Simon Frost: thank you for your friendship, perseverance and professionalism. Also to my state parliamentary colleagues: thank you. I look forward to working together cooperatively, as we did during the campaign.
Ultimately I would not be here without the courageous leadership of our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his vision for a stronger Australia. I want to thank him for his dedication to the Deakin electorate and for his tireless support of my election. I also would not be here today without the inspiring service to our nation of Kevin Andrews. Your example made me believe that conviction in politics still exists, and you continue to provide that example.
To my mother and father: thank you for your love and dedication as parents. In particular, to my father for taking that great step into the unknown when you came to Australia as an 18 year old and to my mother for her endless love and for being the glue that holds us all together. To my brothers and sisters—Sonia, Lisa, John and Paul and their partners, Justin, Steffany and Dan—you really are the best cheer squad and support crew anyone could ask for. That also applies to my wonderful parents-in-law, Phil and Carol, as well as Matt and Tess. Most importantly to my darling wife, Anna: your unwavering confidence in me, your steadfast support and your endless optimism really are a source of continued strength for me. You are my partner in life and love, and I could not imagine embarking on this service to our country without you by my side.
In conclusion, I want to reaffirm what an enormous honour it is to represent the people of Deakin in this parliament. My commitment to each of you is that I shall never forget, nor disregard, the faith you have placed in me, and I will do my best every single day to make Deakin and our country an even better place to live. Thank you.