There have been a few tears and plenty of laughs as Nationals Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis delivered his valedictory speech today. This is what he had to say.
I feel like I am about to give my own eulogy—but no, he’s still alive, so it is actually last rites and confession. My staff and friends in the gallery are all looking a bit sad and my colleagues in the Chamber are a bit downcast. My wife is wiping away a few tears, but members should not rush over with the tissues. She does not need consoling; they are tears of joy. She hates politics and, other than John Howard, she dislikes most politicians. I only make the cut because she likes my cooking. While she has been singing Queen’s song I Want to Break Free for the past few years, I feel like breaking out into Sinatra’s My Way. I have not been here a lifetime; it just feels that way. It is certainly a privilege to be elected to this place, but nonetheless it is a tough gig. Now I face the final curtain. But, unlike Frank, I did not do it all my way. What stands out to me more than anything else is that it has been a team effort.
I have been fortunate to be part of a premiership?winning team that has delivered a once?in?a?generation investment into regional New South Wales and, more specifically, my electorate. As much as we like to spruik in this place our achievements as local members, the team should be credited with the success. It was the team that was responsible for the Pacific Highway upgrade, the new Grafton bridge, the multimillion?dollar upgrade to the Casino saleyards and the multitude of other investments in my electorate. It is the team that has delivered health facilities and ambulance stations, and upgrades to roads, schools and sporting facilities. Quite frankly, it has delivered so much that I do not know where to start. What I can say, though, is that it is the team that has put regional New South Wales first for a change and changed the face of regional New South Wales. It is a fabulous team, which I have been privileged to be part of.
Like any premiership team, no single person is better than the team. It has a great coach in Andrew Fraser. I do not know if he is here today. Andrew is the epitome of what a local member should be. He helped, guided and mentored me through some really difficult times. I am truly proud to call him a friend. He was inspirational in my retirement because he has been here so long that I did not want to end up like him: old, cranky and senile. Sorry, Andrew. We do not often make friends in this place, but he is a lifelong friend. Over the past 11 years that I have been in this place, the team has had some terrific captains from Andrew Stoner to Tooley, who is carrying on the wonderful legacy that John Barilaro established for regional New South Wales. Barra put the regions first and fought tooth and nail so that we would get our fair share. He was a real champion of regional New South Wales. Unfortunately, the media and critics have a pseudonym for “fair share”. They call it “pork?barrelling”. If it was not for the pork?barrel, we in regional New South Wales would get zilch, nada, nothing—not a thing. We did not get anything for decades, but thanks to Barra and Tooley regional New South Wales has a voice.
Whilst I did say that no player is better than the team, every team has star players. We, too, have star players on our front bench. Surprise, surprise—some of them are even women! Bronnie Taylor, Sarah Mitchell and Steph Cook have performed incredibly well during some of the most challenging times the State has experienced. They are wonderful examples of the smart, dedicated and hardworking women we have in the regions. I am sure we will see more and more of them representing our party in the future. Like every team, we have a highly trained and capable support group, led by our State director, Joe Lundy. Joe and the support group provided us with the inspiration and administrative tools that we needed to be a premiership?winning team. That support group extends to my electorate staff. The support I have received from them is immeasurable. They carry the load and protect us and encourage us to be the best that we can be for the people who we serve. They are at the coalface every day and are our conduit to our community. They make us look good even when we are ordinary.
Like every premiership?winning team, we have a very loyal bunch of supporters, who work for us, cheer for us and believe in us. A premiership?winning team repays that loyalty by not only winning but playing the game for them and playing our hearts out for the core values that our supporters believe in. For me, winning does not mean winning an election for bragging rights. It means winning so we can deliver those essential services and facilities that every citizen in this State deserves, no matter where they live. For me, being a member of Parliament has never been about me but about being part of a team that can best deliver for the people I represent. All they want is a fair share. In politics, being part of a winning team can be painful. The leadership group can often have a different vision to the individual, whose team loyalty is questioned. But we must always show our loyalty to those who put their faith in us, like when the Government closed the Grafton jail in the first year after I was elected. I was thinking, “What is going on here?” I was supposed to be on the same team as the Government but here it was hanging me out to dry. It was tough on the picket line outside the Grafton jail, standing alongside members of the Prison Officers Union and just ordinary people worried about their future, but it was not as tough as losing one’s job, taking one’s family away and seeing despondency creep into one’s community. That is the reality of governments making tough decisions.
Apart from learning a few slogans on the picket line, I learned very quickly the drastic impact that decisions in Macquarie Street can have on a community 600 kilometres away. I learned very quickly which side I was on, and that was, is and always will be with the people who put their faith in me to represent them. My faith in the Government was restored not long after that when it collaborated with the private sector to build Australia’s largest jail in the Clarence Valley, creating 700 jobs.
Country life is very different to city life. It is simple and honest, and that is what I love about it. City people love country life as well, but their love is like a country and western song – I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. That certainly seemed to be the message when the Government decided to ban greyhound racing in New South Wales. Never mind that it is not the sport of kings, but the sport of the working class. Never mind that country people love their dogs, they love to socialise and they love to have a punt. Never mind that it went against the very fabric of country life. I found myself questioning whether I was on the right team again. I did not get it. What were they thinking? It was painfully obvious to me this was just out of whack with what ordinary country people believed.
I met with many greyhound owners. I saw how much they loved their dogs and the sport that brought them together, and I could not let them down. I had no choice. If I was to be true to them, I had to cross the floor. Crossing the floor did not sit easy with me; it was like falling out with one’s family. But I knew deep down it was the right thing to do. It proved to be the right decision because the Government gave the greyhound industry a reprieve and, as a consequence, the industry is stronger than ever with the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The lesson that never seems to be learned is pretty much what I said before: Life in the country is different to city life. Do not presume to know what is good for us. Do not try to force change on us. Do not try to make us into you.
We saw exactly that with the koala State environmental planning policy, a flawed policy based on a false premise—the false premise being that all rural landholders have complete disregard for koalas—and a policy with defective maps showing core koala habitat over the main roundabout in the centre of Grafton and in the pits at Mount Panorama. How could we support such—I will use the French word for it—crap? This sort of top-down policymaking infuriates country people because it is so fundamentally wrong. Most people on the land love nature and our native wildlife. That is why we find koalas in the country. I am so proud that our whole team objected to this—I will use the French word again—crappy policy.
As difficult as it was for Barra and our Ministers, it was the right decision. It was a clear demonstration of our support for our core constituency—the people who put their faith in us; the people who provide the food, the fibre, the construction materials and most of the other resources that city people need to survive because they have gobbled them all up with growth. Now they are telling us that we are doing it all wrong. I am puzzled. Who is doing it wrong? Over the past 11 years, no matter how often I walk through Hyde Park, the Domain and the botanic gardens, and no matter how hard I look, I have never seen a koala. I am flat out trying to find a eucalypt for that matter.
There we have it. Yes, there are significant differences between the city and the country. That is why the role of The Nationals is so important to the State Coalition Government. We are the voice of the regions. The regions rely on us to make sure they get their fair share and we have done that because we have a seat at the table. Our communities on the North Coast have been devastated by floods. It is incumbent on government to do everything possible to help people and communities recover. That has to be a priority of government and I will do everything possible to help them. We do not always see eye to eye with our Liberal colleagues—we do today because they are all here and I thank them for coming.
Our Coalition has strengthened over time. My admiration for the Premier has strengthened every time I have seen him visiting flooded communities on the North Coast. Dom has been visibly moved by individual stories and has shown compassion and commitment to assisting flood victims to rebuild their lives, and that is the mark of a true leader. As the 25 March election draws near, I feel that the Liberal Nationals Coalition is in a very strong position to win a fourth term—sorry to the Labor Opposition. I know that is exactly the result that country people want. I will certainly be supporting the Clarence candidate, Richie Williamson, who is in the gallery today. I thank him for coming down. Richie is a terrific candidate and a great friend, and I am very confident in saying he will be the next member for Clarence.
The problem for Chris Minns and the Opposition is that their perspective of politics is taken from Marx— not Karl, but Groucho. For them, politics is the art of looking for problems, finding them everywhere, diagnosing them incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. That is why they remind me of the Marx Brothers. I see Janelle, who reminds me of the Marx brother I like the most: Harpo. Anyone who has seenThe Big Store knows what I am talking about. It is organised chaos, but they have certainly given me a laugh, and I will be looking for a few more laughs next year. That is unlike The Greens, who have scared the crap out of me. They always come into this place with frightening stories of what is going to happen to Earth. They remind me of those disaster movies where an apocalyptic meteor is heading for Earth and they are all shepherding us on foot to Area 51, that safe haven in the Nevada desert. When we get there, the lights are on. The lights are kept on by a nuclear reactor, but don’t tell them that. God bless them for saving the world.
I love the Independents because they remind me ofHappy Days. Greg Piper is the cool one, Fonzie. Alex is Richie Cunningham, the eager beaver, happy, always trying to help someone. And Joe is the sensible Al, in charge of the drive-in. They solve some incredible problems, such as whether Chachi should take Joanie to the junior prom. I am just kidding. I love those guys. They made my time here very special. I will never forget the Shooters, who are not here, except for Roy. They remind me of a posse in the Wild West. They ride into town, shooting at everything—shooting at bad guys and good guys, even shooting at each other. I love a good Western, which is probably why I am wearing the bolo tie today.
To my Nationals colleagues, it has been an incredible experience to be part of a family who shares the same basic ideals I do. No matter whether you are a freshy or a salty, it was never about politics but just about getting a fair share for our communities. Together we have achieved an incredible transformation in regional New South Wales, something we will never see again and made possible only because we were a premiership winning team. Like every family, we have had highs and lows. We have laughed and cried. We have been angry and frustrated. But we have always stayed true to our values, which we share with our communities. I will treasure the memories forever.
To my sidekick, Geoff, thanks for making me feel like a schoolkid again and making me enjoy this place, which we know can be brutal at times. Even after I have gone, do not be surprised to find me on your balcony, smoking a cigar, with the barbecue sizzling and the smell of onions wafting through the building. It has been an absolute pleasure, mate. You will be pleased to know that your Welsh mates Euryn and Menir are in the gallery. Give them a wave. To all the ministerial staff members who keep the wheels of government turning, thank you for all your help. To all the parliamentary staff members—attendants, special constables, caterers, cleaners, groundskeepers—thank you for making life easy for us when Parliament sits. To all the scribes, media critics and social media hacks who started off altruistic and ended up as scarred cynics, there is a road to redemption, and I forgive you.
To The Nationals in my State electorate council who preselected me back in 2011, thank you for the faith you showed in me and for giving me the privilege to represent you in this place. I can only hope that I served you well and met your expectations. Your values and my values are shared by the regional people of New South Wales. To the people of Clarence, it has been an honour and privilege to serve you in this place, the oldest Parliament in the country. I have always put you first and you are the last thing on my mind when I go to bed. I will always be indebted to you and I hope I did not let you down. To my staff who have been with me for the whole journey, I cannot thank you enough for keeping me off the front pages of the paper.
Debbie Newton, who is in the gallery, has been an electorate office staffer for over 34 years. Her experience, work ethic and connection with our community has been invaluable to me. She knows the ins and outs of politics after 34 years in it—of course she would. She has connections with ministerial staff and knows all the movers and shakers who make the wheels turn. She is the type of person that no electorate office can do without. Thank you. Like Debbie, Janet Gould is also here today. She has a lifetime of experience in her role. She handles the phones and the prickly constituents, manages the office finances and gives me sage advice when it is most needed. Most importantly, she has kept the ATO at bay. Thank you, Janet. Everyone needs someone like her in their office.
Greg Bailey is not here today, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Greg is that he is one of the most decent and caring people I know. Anyone who has contacted my office has loved dealing with him. He is a terrific bloke. Every office needs someone like Greg. Murray Lees has been part of my political journey since 2007. He has worked on my campaigns, he has done media for me, he has given me advice and he has been a true friend the whole time. Thanks, Muz. It has been an absolute pleasure. My good friends Margaret and Graham Dobbin, who travelled down from Maclean, are in the gallery today. Thank you for your friendship and support for decades. You have been there for both Vicki and me through good times and bad times. I cannot thank you enough. You are very dear friends. Vicki’s cousin, Peter Brown, and his wife, Carolyn Brown, are here today, as is their son, James, who works for the President. He is a terrific young bloke. He would be an asset to any Minister or member. If you are looking for another job, James, I have just given you a plug.
Finally, I recognise my family. My sons Leon and Jarrad have lived away for most of the time that I have been in this place. Like most young people, they have their own views on politics, but they have always been there for me and deep down they share the same values as Vicki and me. I look forward to spending more time with them and my granddaughter, Olivia, when I leave this place. As for Vicki, it has been a roller-coaster ride. Spouses do not sign up for the job when members get elected, and often they end up with the rough end of the pineapple. But as rough as it has been, she has stuck with me through the good times and the bad. We have laughed, we have cried and we have argued, but we have always loved each other—not just over the past 11 years, but for the past 41 years that we have been married, which is quite a long time. I think it might be longer than the Leader of the Opposition has been alive.
Mr Gurmesh Singh: And the Premier.
Mr CHRISTOPHER GULAPTIS: And the Premier. Well, 41 years for me and 41 years for Vicki is longer than both of them have been alive. I look forward to spending quality time with you, Vicki. I love that quality time so much—cleaning the shower, hanging out the washing, ironing, doing the cooking and all of those other things on the list. And as Maxwell Smart would say, “And loving it.” And I do love you—yes, I do. I have made light of some of my colleagues in this place but, in the words of that famous Australian pugilist, “I love youse all.” Finally, in the words of that famous Californian Governor, “Hasta la vista, baby.”