This is quite a moment. It is a great honour to be here in this Chamber to give my first speech in front of my new parliamentary colleagues, my campaign team and my dear friends and family. Today on 9 June 2021 in our New South Wales State Parliament, which is the oldest Parliament in Australia, I stand here and I soak up the enormity of this occasion. A faith has been beholden on me by the people of the Upper Hunter. They have given me their trust and I feel the weight of this commission on my shoulders, but it is a weight I know everyone around here shares with me. I walk into this historic place in the same footsteps as many great people; in particular, the Hon. George Souris and his wife, Vassy. Together they have spent their lives working and representing the people of the Upper Hunter. They are both forces of nature. Through their mentorship, they have given me great energy and focus. They are an awesome team.
I start by acknowledging my parents, Jim, and Mary Layzell. I thank them both for their constant support and love. Both have taught me the importance of hard work, honesty, and integrity. My mother, Mary, came to Australia from Scotland and worked as a nurse. My father, from Wales, worked as an engineer. Both were here on working holidays nearly 50 years ago and, luckily for me, they met, married, and settled down on the Mid North Coast. Like many migrants to this country, they fully embraced the Australian way of life. My brothers and I remember the sacrifice they made for their children. We are so proud of them. We have always been told that Australia is the lucky country. They taught us that the sky is the limit and we were given every opportunity to reach our dreams. I have a deep sense of respect for the institutions built by generations before us. My parents have ensured that the lives of their children are now ensuring that the lives of their grandchildren are full of promise, love, and enjoyment. They have successfully passed down those values and a sense of family.
These lessons in life are bestowed from one generation to the next. I still feel the presence of my Papa when I use the sharpening steel as he did when I was a kid. I still feel the presence of my Grandad when I am using my hammer to drive down those nails. Somehow their love and connection is still with me today. I see it in my own children when we are working in the cattle yards and my father-in-law and good friend Robert Gowing takes a moment to teach my daughter a new lesson. These are the special family moments that last forever. My parents believed in a great education. I was lucky enough to attend The Armidale School. There I found a world of different experiences. The boarders soon took me out into their world of remote and regional New South Wales, along creeks and back paddocks, running tractors in dusty cattle yards, hectic shearing sheds, sleeping in swags underneath the clear night skies. I discovered Banjo Paterson’s romantic sense of the bush. But it was an education that no classroom can provide. It broadened my world to see what a hard life, yet a really rewarding life, it can be for those people who toil on the land.
That was just the start of my love of agriculture and farming and, most importantly, the people who live in regional New South Wales. After school, I attended the University of New South Wales and the residential hall of Baxter College, a place that was full of young men and women from all over regional New South Wales. It was a formative time. The bonds between us all are strong. We have a group of friends that have lasted the test of time. I acknowledge my long-time friends Jimmy and Lucy Hamill, who join me here today. During that time both Jimmy and I entered the fray of university politics. I am not sure it prepared me to come into the Parliament today, but it certainly prepared me for life in the community. It was during those early college days that a woman turned my world upside down. I was captivated. My wife, Rachel, this independent, strong?willed woman from Muswellbrook, entered my life, and together we have taken on many of life’s adventures.
I still remember clearly the day I knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. We were working in the United Kingdom and it was in a Cambridge bookshop. We decided to start planning a trip across Africa. Within a month we had bought a Land Rover, we had a plan and about 20 years ago, during those scary months just after September 11, we took off, headed for Cape Town from London. We saw firsthand many of the beautiful cultures in Africa, particularly in Ghana, where we worked for a couple of years. That has given us a lifetime of stories, and it was such a special time that we shared together. That was a journey that was life-changing, a journey where we got married and a journey where we started our family. It led us into the greatest adventure of our lives, having our four wonderful daughters, Emily, Mia, Ashley, and Indi.
Rachel has been the rock in our family and to her I give every credit for the young women we are introducing to the world. Everything she does is to remind us about the importance of family, and I can only hope that my actions today and in the future remind them that I love them all dearly and provide inspiration for them to serve their community, because our community is like a family. I have spent a long time reflecting on what it means to represent a community as large and diverse as the Upper Hunter and, more importantly, how I can best serve those people. For it may be diverse and wide, but it really consists of a network of small communities all with their own different cultures, identities, shared interests, and similar challenges. Of course, the tasks that bring people together in the Upper Hunter are challenging, but they are most definitely achievable. A community champion who has pulled us together for the past 31 years is our own ABC Upper Hunter radio presenter Mike Pritchard, who retired just last Friday. They say there is a lot in common between journalism and politics, so I am sure there is a lesson to be learned from someone who finishes their career with a reputation as a gentleman. He is the gold standard and I wish him well in the future.
Let me describe to you all a bit about the Upper Hunter. Up in the eastern part of our Upper Hunter, we have the beautiful agricultural area around Gloucester. From that region we are joined today by Graham Forbes, who is a passionate advocate of the dairy industry—an industry we need to support and grow to ensure it survives into the future after what has been a very tough time for dairy farmers. Joining us from that region is Councillor Karen Hutchinson from the historic town of Stroud. I invited her today as one of the great role models in my life. She is the definition of a community champion. She is truly inspirational in the way that she leads and works with her local community. I thank Karen for her service.
Also in the east is my hometown of Clarence Town and the surrounding Dungog, Vacy, Paterson, and Gresford. We are all situated in the rolling foothills of the Barrington Tops. It is a beautiful place to live, work, and play. I feel so blessed to call that area my home. In the centre of the electorate are the industrial hubs of Singleton and Muswellbrook. These regions are the backbone of the coal mining industry in New South Wales. These mining towns carry a proud, hardworking tradition in the region. As we venture further north, we have Scone with its agricultural heritage and the thoroughbred horse breeding industry. It is second only to Kentucky in the United States. This industry goes from strength to strength. I intend to support that growth. Joining us here today from Scone is Duncan Macintyre, a local champion who is well known for stepping up to almost every committee in the community. Thank you, Duncan.
In the north and west of the electorate are the strong agricultural areas of Quirindi and Merriwa. Both areas make a huge contribution to our agricultural sector and are the backbone of the export industry that protects our standard of living. I also pay tribute to the many towns that sit in between. They form a web of communities all through our electorate. My vision for the Upper Hunter is for it to be the economic powerhouse of New South Wales. Our industries are the backbone of economic development in the State and support so many businesses. I believe that small business is the most important layer in our economy. Whether you operate as a printer, a tradie, a butcher, a farmer, or a welder, your small businesses are the real job creators. Small businesses are truly deserving of our support because they in turn support our regional communities. Small business will remain a policy focus during my time in the Chamber.
It is the people in the region who make it special. They form those communities that give us such a bright future—and our future is bright. The pandemic has changed us forever. More than ever we are seeing a resurgence in regional New South Wales. People can work in all types of industries; they are working from home; they are starting businesses. Most importantly, they are moving to the Upper Hunter. There has been never been a better time to decentralise government departments into regional New South Wales. We should make the most of that opportunity. To ensure we have strong communities, the formula is simple. We need to have jobs and the social structures to ensure our families are well supported. We need to make sure the sporting clubs, the progress associations and the various other committees are supported. These volunteer organisations make a real and lasting difference in our communities. They are the social structures that enrich the lives of our families.
The Upper Hunter is a diverse electorate of many different industries. While much was written during the by?election of the challenge of land use management, it is a challenge that we have been managing for 100 years. To succeed, we need to make sure that everyone continues to act as good neighbours. It is a simple philosophy: Succeed in this challenge and life in the Upper Hunter will continue to be as good tomorrow as it is today. My working career has been in construction and building community infrastructure like hospitals. It has been an incredibly rewarding career. The construction industry is full of hardworking people who bring large groups together to create something tangible. Sometimes it is pretty tough but, on the whole, when you have a great team you can achieve. I acknowledge Jim Stavropoulos, who is in the gallery today, and thank him for our years working together, which have now sadly ended. We achieved a lot over the years and no one I know has a better work ethic than Jim. He has taught me a great deal about people.
Building the bricks and mortar of community infrastructure is just the start. The New South Wales State Government needs to be all about delivering services. This is where the rubber hits the road. Government policy needs to make sure that services are maintained in regional areas. It is far too easy for services to be drained from small towns to those urban areas under the name of economics. We need to remember that we need police stations to make communities feel safe, not just to fight crime. We need strong regional hospitals because help should be close to home when we really need it. These services are critical for strong communities to thrive. It is too easy to forget the tyranny of distance that hinders service delivery in regional New South Wales.
I know I share this goal with the National Party. So at this point, I wish to acknowledge our National Party parliamentarians, who all work hard for their electorates and in their roles representing the regions. They have all worked so hard to ensure that I can join you here today. I especially wish to thank the leader of our party, the Deputy Premier, John Barilaro. He has led this party with distinction. He is a passionate and fearless team leader and he has a great team. More than anything, I thank him for being a friend to me and my family and to the whole of regional New South Wales. We are a better state as a result of his efforts, and I applaud him for it.
To our great Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, let me speak on behalf of the people of New South Wales to thank you for your service. You are truly loved in our region, not to mention the fact that you managed to turn the Scone Cup day from the biggest day in the Upper Hunter to the biggest day in the State. Please come again next year. On behalf of my family, I thank you for your support, especially during this campaign. To the Treasurer, Dom Perrottet, who by tag-teaming with the Deputy Premier at our industry roundtables showed how a Government that listens and engages can deliver benefits for all. And to our Coalition partners in the Liberal Party, may our shared values and common purpose achieve good things for the good people of New South Wales for many years to come. I thank you and I look forward to working with you all in the future.
I would like to acknowledge my friends in the Upper Hunter who have worked so hard to support my campaign. There were hundreds of volunteers, and I wish I could thank them all. In particular, I highlight the tireless work performed by Brett Wild, Andy and Emily Lane, and Allan Lane. Thanks also go to Brett Sprague and Jocellin Jansson, who both gave me such solid advice throughout this journey. I would like to acknowledge the campaign team, who worked almost around the clock to keep the campaign moving at a cracking pace. I thank Jock Sowter, who performed a huge job keeping the team together as my campaign manager; Lachlan Barnsley for being so focused and professional; Bec Treloar for her policy advice; Sam Farraway for his strategic thinking; Bronnie Taylor for being the wife whisperer; and the many others in the background who also helped.
I lastly acknowledge the National Party itself, led by current chair Andrew Fraser. His leadership kept the campaign in smooth waters, strongly supported by State director Joe Lundy and the good people in our head office. The National Party is truly a family. It is a party of vision and values—of a commonsense approach to life’s challenges. It is a party of individuals but with a shared set of basic beliefs, a party that is built on geography much more than fixed ideologies. I thank the National Party, its members, its volunteers, and its supporters. The Nationals and the Liberals came together with such focus and purpose. I can think of no better memory to keep from my whole campaign, and I am really proud to call myself a member of this team.
The role of a parliamentarian is to seek to build trust in our communities and to create a better tomorrow for our children. We are here to represent the community and we need to represent the whole community, those who support us and those who do not. Our job is to speak out on issues that affect our patch. It is to seek the commonsense solutions that improve the lives of many. We should never forget the special privilege that is bestowed upon us here to represent the people of our State. It always needs to be about the good people and about our communities. It is on this basis, as God is my witness, that I take the oath to be the member for the people of the Upper Hunter first and foremost. Thank you and God bless.