Today marks ten years since I became a Senator for South Australia.
The time has passed so quickly that it almost seems like a blur. However, on reflection, there have been momentous events that have changed the nature of politics, and our nation, at almost every level.
Over the past ten years, Australia has experienced six Prime Ministers and five Treasurers. We have seen enduring budget surpluses replaced by seemingly perpetual deficits and our national accounts running up a debt that will be left to future generations to repay.
At every turn, I have sought to apply the founding principles of the Liberal Party in my response to the issues facing our nation. My instinct and my actions have always been to reduce government spending, reduce taxation, support small business, support families, defend our values and strengthen our community. At times it has seemed a very lonely path to tread - albeit an important one.
After ten years, my commitment to these principles is undiminished. I still firmly believe they are in the best interests of our nation and are the key to a sustainable future.
The past ten years have also seen me experience the vicissitudes of politics.
The highs and lows of public life are seldom fair but they can certainly be frustrating. I have held and lost frontbench roles. My critics have been vocal in their condemnation, but have rarely offered any conciliation when they eventually recognise the truth and, hypocritically, echo similar sentiments.
However, the journeymen and self-interested apparatchiks of politics have never mattered to me. I have always sought to represent the interests of the silent majority; sought always to be true to myself and proudly stand as being principled and consistent in my approach.
Looking back, I cannot help but be struck by the incredibly short-term nature of the political cycle. What was normal only a few years ago is considered an extremist view today. What previously was just weird and creepy is now supposedly the new normal. It’s also clear the mainstream public don’t buy these new orthodoxies but thanks to a pom-pom cheer squad in the media, the political class seems unwilling (or afraid) to challenge it.
Perhaps politics has always been thus – challenges to the status quo result in the abandonment of principle at the slightest criticism – but I would prefer to think that it hasn't.
As an outsider, I recall the battles of the Howard government. In a conversation with students in Parliament House this week, I spoke of the oft-heard phrase in respect to Prime Minister John Howard: “I don’t like him very much but…”
The ‘but’ was the most important word because irrespective of their personal opinion, the utterers believed that John Howard was truly acting in what he believed was the national interest. Now I am not naive enough to think that Howard didn't get the politics of circumstances but he was perceived to be governing in accordance with consistent principles and on behalf of all Australians.
As Benjamin Disraeli is reported to have said, “The secret of success is constancy of purpose”.
John Howard was perceived to be consistent in his approach and built the respect of the voters for having the courage of his convictions. In office, he wore a constant barrage of public criticism but in the near decade since, he is now revered as an inspiration to many more Australians.
I believe Australians once again hunger for that constancy of purpose. The application of principles and values in the decision making of today. There is also a yearning for stability and this is one reason the Turnbull government is ripe for re-election.
Since Howard, no Australian Prime Minister has managed to stay in office for even the tenure of their first term. We’ve had a revolving door of leaders that has seen the influence of self-interest trump the national interest. It’s not too long a bow to conclude that the public have 'changing PM fatigue' and that they want to give Malcolm Turnbull a chance to strut his stuff.
Our nation faces some very specific challenges. Some economic, some social and some cultural; but they are challenges we must eventually face up to.
After ten years of being the ‘canary in the political coalmine’, warning of what is to come, my commitment to the application of conservative principles in government is undiminished. Having been privileged to serve in the Senate for exactly a decade, with your support and on your behalf, I’ll still be fighting for you and the national interest for many years to come.
Thank you and God bless.