Dugald Saunders, the NSW Nationals’ new Member for Dubbo, has given his inaugural speech in Parliament. Read the full text below:
Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker,
What a humbling and exciting day this is… to be here in one of the most historic buildings in the State, speaking for the first time, as a Member of the 57th Parliament of NSW.
I am the first of the new brigade to speak… so let’s hope I don’t muck it up! I want to start off by saying what an absolute privilege it is to be here representing the people of the Dubbo Electorate. It’s an incredible part of the State, and it’s a unique feeling to know that I’ll be the voice for people right across the region in this Parliament for the next four years.
I’ve spoken to literally thousands of people from all walks of life during my career as a radio presenter, but I don’t think there’ve been too many times where I’ve been quite this nervous or excited about speaking. I’d like to thank everyone who’s come along to support me in person today, or might be watching via the live stream.
I come to this role at a time when there’s quite a bit of expectation about what’s going to be delivered and when – and I think that’s got a bit to do with the fact that the last bloke achieved so much – more on him shortly…
But I heard a great quote just the other day about the fact that although Rome wasn’t built in a day, they were laying bricks and pavers pretty much every hour.
That’s what I’ll be doing… you may not see or hear every single thing I do, but I’ll be there, laying those bricks every hour, as we work towards a very bright future with this Government.
I would like to formally acknowledge the former member for the Dubbo Electorate, Mr Troy Grant, and wish he and his family all the best for the future.
I stand here now as the 14th representative for the state electorate of Dubbo, which was first proclaimed in 1894, and had its second incarnation from 1930. This is an honour, and it’s one that is certainly not lost on me.
The electorate of Dubbo now is completely different to what it was eight years ago – yes there has been a boundary change – but the prosperity and the belief in the region has changed completely since Troy was elected as part of a new Government back in 2011. I’ll now be working hard to continue that impact and influence as I take the baton forward.
I’m proud and excited to work with the leadership team of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro… both have been extremely welcoming and supportive – Thank you very much. I’d also like to thank every Minister who’s extended that support, and the MP’s who have made this new journey feel a bit more ‘normal’.
My fellow ‘new’ Nationals Member, the MP for Coffs Harbour, Gurmesh Singh, will deliver his inaugural speech following me – and I’d like to wish him all the best as we start this journey together. I know we’re both proud to have entered this Parliament, respectful of our Party’s immense history over the past 100 years, but also excited to join with our Nationals colleagues who’ve been returned to this House, as we look to make significant contributions to the future of The Nationals and to the future of NSW.
The Nationals is a great party that represents the people of regional NSW unashamedly. It also respects the right of MPs to present the views of the people they represent vigorously. It’s a party that’s not bound by political ideology or philosophy – as our leader John Barilaro regularly says – it’s all about geography. It’s about giving all the people who live outside our major metro areas a voice, and sticking up for them. Regional NSW is becoming far more diverse, and our Party is also reflecting that – it’s evolving and constantly renewing.
My electorate of Dubbo has a very bright future. From the capital of western NSW – Dubbo itself – to Trangie and Narromine, Wellington and surrounds, and across to Mudgee and Gulgong – this is a diverse and extraordinary slice of regional NSW which I have very firmly at the front of my mind. It’s been a nursery for many sporting champions, and I’ve got no doubt it will continue to deliver some of the best into the future. It’s home to innovative health, education and research programs, with so much potential to develop! It’s also home to Taronga Western Plains Zoo – a world leader in animal conservation, and a hallmark of tourism. There are world-class wineries and eateries at Mudgee, gold mining history at Gulgong and Stuart Town, and the Wellington Caves is one of the most significant mammal fossil sites in the world. Add to that the phenomenal output from agriculture, and my part of the State is pretty hard to beat… we just need to keep spreading the word and encouraging more people to be part of our remarkable region.
To be honest, it is still a bit surreal thinking of myself actually now working here, and being part of decisions that’ll be made in this Parliament – but one important thing I do recognise is that it’s not being here in Parliament that’s going to define me as an MP – it’s the work I do with my community right across the electorate that really counts.
I do have a lot of people to thank and acknowledge, and I will be doing that, but at the very start I want to thank my three girls… My wife Karen, and our two daughters Georgie and Charlie are here today – it’s fantastic to have them with me as I start this new journey. I love you girls and I’ll say a bit more later.
So why am I here? Where did I come from? And what are my areas of interest? I think everyone who takes this sort of step to represent wants to make a difference – and for me it’s probably been building for a while… but how and why do you actually take the step forward?
Up until mid-last year I’d been in media for 27 years including the last 10 years hosting breakfast and mornings on ABC local radio in Dubbo. I was lucky enough to speak to a wide range of people from right across the large Central West and Western regions… from Bourke and Walgett through to Mudgee and my old home town of Mendooran, I heard from people about the things that really matter in their lives and their communities. You get the good… the bad… the sad and the joyful… It’s been a really good way of getting the pulse of different towns and parts of the region, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing locals.
As part of that I guess I was always looking to connect problems with solutions… Why isn’t this happening? What are the possibilities? What’s the best solution? Who can help make it happen? When you’re able to take part in that sort of process by asking the right questions of the right people at the right time in the right way, it does feel like you are actually part of helping to create change – and that’s an amazing feeling.
From my perspective, that’s a really big part of my role now as an MP – with even more tangible links than I’ve ever had before, so I’m really looking forward to that. And from speaking to other MP’s, the ability to make a difference in people’s lives is something they get incredible joy from. I didn’t get involved in this ‘sphere’ because of a particular burning ideology or ethos. I do have ethics and standards, but I think I’d be described by most people I know as quite pragmatic. And yes – I’m sure there are plenty of other choice words you might be thinking of to describe me as well.
I like to deal with issues and ideas in a fairly straightforward way, based on practical solutions, rather than lots of theories that may not amount to much. But there is also a very strong reality that you can’t please everyone all the time. It is actually a bit hard to accept that – but it’s true – and it’s certainly become more apparent to me over the past seven or eight months.
For me the journey to get here started in earnest back in July 2018, when I first nominated to run for pre-selection for the NSW Nationals – the first time I’ve ever been part of a political party in any way, shape or form. The connection to the Nats was pretty easy: A love and desire to focus on rural and regional areas, and a series of very simple beliefs that line up with my way of thinking.
Although politics had been mentioned to me by a few people over the years, it really wasn’t seriously in my head space until right around the time Troy Grant decided to retire. Boy did that put the cat amongst the pigeons! In a very short space of time I had to decide whether this was actually something I wanted to do, and would be able to do… not just for the electorate, but for myself and my family. I remember having some very frank discussions over a few days about what the decision could mean.
Thanks to some very supportive friends and family, and despite a few sleepless nights and lots of second guessing, I did put my hand up…and I’m very glad I did! After a vigorous seven-month election campaign, I am here, and I am ready to serve!
I have been extremely lucky to have the absolute and unquestioned support of the retiring member Troy Grant. He’s been a mentor and a friend, and has made a huge difference. He’s provided unwavering and honest advice, and true friendship throughout this journey. So to you Troy: Thanks mate you’re a champion. It’s really nice to have you back here, and with your lovely and supportive wife Toni.
It’s a slightly odd feeling actually, because the last time the three of us were in this chamber, November 14 last year, Troy was giving his final speech, and I was sitting up in the gallery, hoping to be here now.
I was also lucky enough to have probably the State’s most highly regarded campaign director in my corner – Peter Bartley – who became like a second father…sorry Barts, I’m not trying to make you feel old!!! He’s been the other great rock I’ve relied on, and we worked extremely well together. Thanks also to his very supportive wife Kim! PB built a great team including a few he’s worked with before like Pauline McAllister, Peter Tremble, and Kevin Sinclair. It’s great to have Kevy and his daughter Helen here today – both outstanding helpers and supporters.
I’ve also had amazing support from the Nats branches and their chairs in Wellington – thanks to the gorgeous Pip Smith. Narromine via Geoff Smith. A couple of David’s – Dugan & Kinsey – who were absolute crackers at Trangie. The continued support of the Dubbo branch through Greg Matthews and Richard Mutton. The Mudgee branch through Sandy Walker, Marg Reid and Lloyd Coleman. And the overarching DEC through chair Mike Blake and his team. All of the branches and the members worked together, and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who came together to help.
Geoff Ballard also deserves a very special mention – he’s been like another right-hand for the past few months and was always there to help, no matter what was needed… and it included lots!! I owe you big time mate!
I’m going to be honest, to explain my family life as a youngster – and in general growing up – is a little bit hard… It’s complicated, so I’ll give a very abridged version today, but one that will provide a bit of insight.
I grew up on a few different properties around the Mendooran district, after my parents became ‘tree changers’ back in the mid 1970’s. In fact, when I think about it – we may well have been one of the very early tree-changing families! And to be honest I’m not sure that’s ever properly been recognised… so there you go – we were trend-setters!
My early life involved milking cows, rounding up sheep, playing with pigs, riding horses, time in the shearing shed, time in the tractor, feeding the chooks… and after moving back to the area from Sydney – I’ve been doing much of that for the past 13 years, along with radio… well up until this point anyway! For the most part, life was good when I was young – apart from the occasional locust plague, drought, or family disaster. But hey it wasn’t meant to be easy right!
My parents separated when I was around 11, and that changed everything for myself and my brother and sister, Cam & Tam. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad, but it did change and I found it very hard.
After a period, we ended up having an extended family which included another brother (and Dave’s here today which is great), and three more sisters (Jodes, Krissy and Dinks)… so seven kids! Brady Bunch here we come!
The memories we now share from those days are all pretty good, and it’s nice to reminisce… but it was tough, and it was hard for everyone. But I also have no doubt that my work ethic started from those times – basically having to contribute every day as part of a large extended family… And it’s great to have those brothers and sisters still in my life now.
I went to a few different schools over the years, but spent my last four years in Sydney at St Andrews Cathedral School. It was great to have a couple of long-lost friends come up to help in Dubbo on election-day – Thanks to Tim Kelly & Geoff Berkley, who’s here today. Funnily enough, I also re-connected with a former teacher yesterday. He’s now the secretary for the Governor – Michael Miller was my senior English and History teacher, and also Sports Master.
Sport has always been a great passion of mine, and in my younger days I played just about every sport you could think of – cricket, swimming, rugby league and union, and I had a long association with fencing .No, nothing to do with pliers – this was foil, epee and sabre, and in fact the whole family took part for a number of years. The love of sport also led me in that direction during my media career, and after a few years working in regional radio I went to 4BC in Brisbane, then 2UE here in Sydney to join the sports departments.
I was lucky enough to be part of some amazing teams, and was involved in coverage of a huge range of sports including rugby league, cricket, rugby union and the highlight – the 2000 Olympic Games… What a buzz that was!
But there was always something gnawing away in the back of my mind about being in regional NSW, and after our first daughter was a couple of years old, we started seriously looking at how we could make that happen. It’s been a really rewarding 13 years back in the region, full of great experiences, friendships and a few tough times – but we wouldn’t change a thing!
As a family and through my radio work, we’ve been involved in all sorts of sports and activities from pony club and swimming club to drama and music, and also some innovative and amazing programs like Moorambilla Voices. The Artistic Director Michelle Leonard is here today. She leads a brilliant team that delivers music and movement to children across my region in a way that changes lives and helps inspire… and I want to recognise that today.
I’ve been lucky enough to know Michelle and report on the difference the Moorambilla program has made to young people for the past 11 years… Including performances here at Parliament House and down the road at Government House. I’m hoping to see that continue well into the future. Moorambilla also has a great connection with Royal Far West – another group that helps improve the lives of people across my electorate and the greater west.
These are the types of organisations that are contributing to the health and wellbeing of our regional youth – our future! I’m really looking forward to working with our first ever NSW Minister for Regional Youth – to ensure we give our young people every chance to succeed, in whatever direction they’re heading.
This all ties in with Mental Health connections for young people across the region and is really important. It’s amazing how much your perspective on things changes when you’re involved personally, it matters and it needs attention!
I’m also a passionate believer in a focus on the early years – the first 2 thousand days of life – where so much good work can be done – or NOT. NSW Health now has a policy to outline the importance of that time from conception to age five, and what needs to be worked on to ensure all children have the best possible start in life. This is something I’ve had a fair bit of awareness of through my Mum, Barbara Wellesley. Mum was in charge of baby and community health centres throughout the Central West, but also set up and ran a children’s charity from Sydney for many years called Good Beginnings. She worked extremely hard to highlight the need for this type of focus.
These days I think there is a general recognition of how important this is – and I will now be there as a reminder of that need from a rural perspective. From a general perspective, I think people right across the electorate want to feel like they’re being listened to and represented by someone who cares and has their back… and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.
As I said I’ve had a fantastic chance to connect with people right across the region through radio over the past decade – but I’m now looking forward to providing a tangible link between problems and solutions, and providing help in a whole new way.
I reckon I’m a pretty normal sort of bloke and it’s interesting how many times I heard people saying that’s what they want leading up to the election. So what does that mean?
I think it’s about staying connected with the friends I have across the region, and also continuing to talk to as many people as I can about their lives and their community.
I’ve had good times and plenty of tough times. I’m not a career politician – I’m a realist. It is of course impossible to help everybody all the time, just like it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but if I can get pretty close, I’ll be happy!
I have been thinking about the top ‘needs’ and ‘expectations’ of the communities across my electorate – and the main thing each and every person wants to know is that we are NOT missing out by choosing to live in a regional area… and nor should we! It’s something I’ll be working on with the entire Nationals team – not just ensuring we aren’t missing out – but trying to make sure everyone in my region knows they aren’t missing out, and knows how to access what they want and need… It’s important. We need to do a better job of that.
Drought is continuing to ruin lives – and there will be lots of tough decisions made in coming months by families and businesses. There has been a stack of money set aside to help in certain circumstances, but there’s also the need to reconnect with many people and regain their confidence. I’m sure we can do that, and I know there will be some positive outcomes for the future.
I ran some community surveys over the past six months, and they clearly indicate the other top issues across the electorate. They are: Access to health and health services, better roads, and connectivity. We have a fantastic re-development happening at the Dubbo Base Hospital which is already making a difference… and will include a cancer centre in the next stage. There’s also a new hospital being built at Mudgee. But there needs to be more, and there will be more! Not just buildings, but also a focus on support services. Part of that involves new nurses and health workers for the region, and I’m really keen to see more of a focus on establishing a health and wellbeing precinct to bring together all the aspects of our region’s biggest employer: Health.
Investment in roads and rail is at an all-time high, which is great, and I’ll be pushing to make sure the regional roads and rail lines which carry locals, freight and tourists between our regional centres, are at the forefront as planning for the future occurs. We’ll be maintaining a whole new fleet of regional trains at the Dubbo Rail facility in coming years, with better timetables for travellers, and a skilled workforce at the centre of it, there really are some very exciting opportunities on the way.
There’s also now a huge focus on better data connectivity and less mobile black spots, it’s the emerging focus for many businesses, professionals and families looking to live in or move to our regional centres. There’s big money set aside from the State Government for this, and it could be a game-changer. The difference reliable internet could make to businesses including agricultural businesses in parts of the region like around Narromine is immense!
The good news is that the Dubbo electorate is recognised as a growth region, with lots of potential for the future… we just need to be able to drive that interest and drive the investment to make the most of what’s possible. We need to see new businesses start-up, but also current businesses scale up. With growth, we also need a skilled workforce. We need to train and retain skilled people locally, and of course attract new skilled workers to the region. But if we’ve learnt anything in the past few years – it’s that ‘times they are a changing’. There’s no guarantee an industry will remain viable forever, and all regions need to be thinking outside the square and looking for potential opportunities.
There’s no doubt there are more opportunities on the way – but one of the greatest challenges is to help encourage our children and grandchildren to live and work and raise their families in regional areas like mine. It’s part of the future-proofing of our regions.
There are so many people to thank and recognise, I’ve mentioned a few of them already – and many of them are here in the gallery today which is great. My family will continue to be the most important aspect of my life. My wife Karen is a big part of how I’ve managed to get here, and how I will continue to be able to work successfully as an MP. Our life has been a bit of a roller-coaster, but your passion and support will be so important over the next 4 years. Thanks darling I love you lots. My daughters: Georgie – who’s 17 – and Charlie – who’s 13 – have I think started to get some understanding of what this role might actually be… but the reality is it’s hard to really know until you’re in the middle of it. Georgie girl you are one of the most talented people I know – you have a light that shines and attracts people – and you will be a leader in one way or another – I love you. Charlie pops – your laugh is the most infectious I’ve heard, you have so much to give and I know you can do whatever you want to. I’m very proud of you and I love you. One thing’s for sure – our life as a family has changed completely – from how the girls get to and from school… who cooks what and when… who does what chores and, most importantly, how much ironing I now seem to have!!
Both Mum and Dad, (Barbara and Ian), and their respective partners John and Lorraine are here today which is great. They were also here yesterday as I was sworn in as an MP which was lovely. Thank you so much, your support has been incredible all the way through, along with your encouragement and understanding.
My sister Tamara, and brother Campbell have been awesome – they were a big part of the Mudgee team during the crunch time – and in fact were sending me very loving messages almost daily during pre-polling – they were enjoying it so much! Thank you!
Cam’s partner Rhonda and my nephew Jackson are here, along with my brother-in-law Col, and my step-brother Dave – they also both helped out on election day. And really nice to see all the Gottings here as well.
I haven’t got time to thank every single person who’s helped me get here today – it has been a LOT – so thank you, but when I started down this path, I was lucky enough to have some really good friends, who have also been with me along the journey, sometimes in the background, but always there and generous to a fault.
Thanks to Jen & Steve Cowley also Mark Horton, who have always had my back! It’s great to have you here today. Thanks to my great friends Craig and Cate Whiteley – Craig was one of the first people I talked to about this, and Cate was an incredible bundle of energy during the election campaign, and also Peter Turne, who’s renowned as the door knocking guru, and was always around to help! As was Shibli Chowdhury who’s a great helper and friend.
The Gulgong gang was headed up by Marg Reid and former MLC Lloyd Coleman who’s here, so generous and supportive – I owe you lots, literally! Thanks very much.
Thanks to Sandy Walker at Mudgee who was there bright and early every day during pre-poll, just like Kevvy was in Dubbo – and plenty of other times along the way – unbelievable helpers. Thanks also to the Simmos – Ian and Cate – absolute legends! Gus Diffey who was tireless and awesome as the corflute warrior during the campaign – thanks mate. Ryan Hunter went over and above, and helped out in a whole range of ways whenever he was asked. Mike Blake as Chair of the DEC was involved as much as possible and has always been supportive – a big thanks to you and Melva.
To Georgie & Charlie’s Godparents – Geoff and Bridget Mann, who are here today, and have been such loving and caring supporters over the years – thank you – and Happy Anniversary!! It’s great to have you here on this special day.
I’m very lucky to have dedicated and talented staff in the electorate office who bring a range of skills and abilities, and a couple are here today. To Jane Diffey – who’s now stepped up to a whole new level as the boss basically – my senior electorate officer – thank you for what you have done, and what you will do! To Ben Walker who’s still quite new in his role and has many more goals to kick – thanks mate – I know we’re going to work really well together. And to our newest member, Jennifer Hoar, who I know will be a great asset to the team.
I do feel like the State as a whole, and the Dubbo Electorate in particular, is on the crest of a wave – a wave of prosperity. I’m really excited about the possibilities, and I am honoured to be the voice for my region.
You know it’s funny – I’ve been told quite a few times in the past few weeks that now the ‘real’ work starts. I suppose that’s true, but it’s also worth recognising that there’s been a huge amount of work that’s gone into getting this far. And from somebody who’s never done anything like this before – you have no idea what’s required: financially, mentally and physically. It does take a big toll, and I just want to mention a few mates who did all that – and I was hoping would be here with me in this 57th Parliament – a shout out to Austin Curtin, Mackenna Powell, and my good mate Andrew Schier – thinking of you today.
The way I see it now – is – this is the start of making the ‘real’ difference! I’m looking forward to working with all of my new colleagues across the board, and helping ensure the people across my region continue to get what they need and deserve.
I talked earlier about making the decision to put my hand up for this – not an easy decision, but an important one.
And I want to finish with a quote from George Eliot which I feel pretty well sums things up for me: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”