Former Nats’ leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro delivered his Valedictory speech to Parliament on Wednesday, November 24. This is what he had to say.
Who would have thought that after the events of the past 18 months, Andrew and I would be doing valedictory speeches on the same day and neither one of us is running for the seat of Eden-Monaro? After almost 11 years in Parliament as a member for Monaro, seven years as a Minister and almost five years as Deputy Premier, where do I start? I thought I would start at the start. A wide?eyed, naive chippie from Queanbeyan got elected after a very tough fight for the seat of Monaro against a very good Labor member, Mr Steve Whan. At the time in 2011 Labor was on its knees. Steve was seen as a shining light of the Labor Party and possibly a future leader. Who would have thought a chippie who went out doorknocking for 12 months in advance of the election was able to sneak up and win by 700 votes? That same wide-eyed, naïve individual got to this place and thought he was going to change the world. My inaugural speech had a lot in it.
Three months into his term that same naive new member for Monaro called on Brad Hazzard, who was the planning Minister at the time, to resign because he had not approved the very controversial Tralee development. Only last week I was at South Jerrabomberra, which is what the development is now called after we found a compromise. A new Jerrabomberra high school is being built as we speak. I am excited to see that from the first term of 2023 kids will be able to start their education journeys in Jerrabomberra at Jerrabomberra Public School and continue on at a local high school. No longer will 3,000-plus kids have to cross the border into Canberra each and every day for education. The cross-border anomalies that we have always seen mean that we surrender our responsibility as States, especially to border communities against a major centre like the Australian Capital Territory. I was at Jerrabomberra the other day to see where the exciting new industrial park, sports stadium and housing estate will be. It is a beautiful community and I am glad that I have fought for it from start to end.
Brad has never forgiven me. Over the past 11 years he has consistently raised the moments when I have called for his resignation. One of the most touching things that he has ever done happened in 2014 on the day that I was promoted to Minister. On day one he sent me a fake media release that called for my resignation. I will never forget that; it was a nice touch. Recently I did a write-up in one of the tabloid papers on Brad as health Minister over the past two years during the COVID crisis. I meant every word that I wrote. I have learned a lot from Brad Hazzard, who has been in government, out of government, in government, out of government and then back in government. He has been here longer than most and longer than the furniture. I took his wise counsel, which I know has shaped me into the person I am.
I went from being a backbencher to being promoted to Minister late in my first term. I held some significant portfolios and then became Deputy Premier. I took every step and saw every journey as an opportunity to learn more from my colleagues because none of us has all the answers. None of us can pretend that we are experts in all our fields. One thing I am proud of is how I have tapped into the public service. A Minister has their ministerial office staff, who are political appointments. They are there to make sure we get re?elected, but they are also there to push through policy. You have to build relationships, and from the outset I have been very proud of the relationships that I have built with my public servants, including Secretary of the Department of Regional NSW Gary Barnes. In the end, I believe I did not just have public servants working for the bush or for the regions, but I built a public service that was a warrior for the bush and that bought into the blueprint and the passion for the need to do more for regional and rural New South Wales.
I think back to the special activation precincts and the renewable energy zones, which the Matt Kean got absolutely right. I copped criticism for backing him because, as Nats, we are not meant to be green and look at renewables, but I saw an opportunity to transition. His energy plan was right, and I have always supported Matt. He gave me my final farewell gift today when he signed off on the draft Kosciuszko management plan for the brumbies so that it would become the management plan, which finds a balance between protecting the most precious parts of Kosciuszko National Park while recognising the heritage of those horses. Matt, thank you very much for everything that you have done in that space.
I also think back to the Regional Growth Fund. Today I came into the Chamber at the end of question time and heard a question on the Stronger Country Communities Fund, which gave me a bit of trauma for a second—question time has not changed! When we designed those funds they were meant to be fair and distributed across every area. The Stronger Country Communities Fund was the first time that we moved away from the big beauty prize of one fund that everyone applied to and often the major centres in the bush received the funding because they had the staff to put in decent proposals. We moved away from that so every local government area in regional and rural New South Wales would receive an allocation of funding, base funding, a loading for population and a loading for merged councils, which meant that every year they had a guaranteed fund or program to make sure they could invest in their communities.
That was not just in National Party or Liberal electorates. Barwon, which I think is made up of 13 local government areas, gets the largest chunk of the funding because it has the largest geographical footprint in the State. I am proud that we were able to do that. I know that Phil Donato in Orange, Roy Butler in Barwon and Helen Dalton in Murray are appreciative that the fund was designed in a fair way. I look back at the billions of dollars from the Regional Growth Fund for the regions. At lunchtime today, while he was cooking snags and smoking out level 12—as we normally do in The Nats party room—Chris Gulaptis said that we are playing catch?up. That is all we have done, we have only ever played catch-up in regional and rural New South Wales. That is why it was important that we put in place more than just programs, grants and Expenditure Review Committee submissions and bids but also laid the foundations for success for regional and rural New South Wales.
That is the Department of Regional NSW, where the vast majority of the public servants live, work and play in the regional and rural New South Wales communities that they, and we, represent so they are not forgotten. The best decisions for the bush are made from the bush, not from Macquarie Street. When we talk about legacy, that is something I am very proud of. Again, I acknowledge my secretary, Gary Barnes, who has led an army and has been able to deliver the roughly 2,500 projects that are currently on the go within the agency. I do not have time to name all the great people under him but I am so proud of them. When I announced that I was going to resign, I received messages from public servants and senior members of the executive of the public service also sent me text messages or rang me to thank me for my service and for giving them the passion that I had, which is something I am very proud of.
I think back to money for the future through the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund and the special activation precincts that will create new jobs for the regions as we transition from traditional jobs. Our 20-year economic blueprint for regional and rural New South Wales is an economic blueprint for success for regional and rural New South Wales in investment, population growth and guaranteed base services across the State. No matter where people live, changing the hiring method in the public service has meant that the regions come first. Unless a role has to be in a specific location, the first advert for a job should be posted in the regions because there is no reason the bush cannot share in more public sector, especially executive, jobs.
We redesigned the Resources for Regions program because we took into account what the communities were saying. As a result of that redesign, Singleton now rightly receives the largest chunk of the funding because it has the greatest number of employees in the mining sector. Previously the community had missed out on two rounds of funding. Even though those programs have been designed, they are always live and should be updated when they are not achieving what they were set up to do. I am very proud of that approach. The future of coal and gas is always controversial, but controversial issues always need to be tackled. For the first time, our statement on the future of coal and gas detailed a map of where in regional and rural New South Wales a mine can be started or where gas can be explored. Outside of those areas that is not possible. That map gave certainty to some communities. However, other communities were not happy because they remained on the map, which should be live.
As we transition from coalmining to renewables, our carbon footprint needs to continue to shrink, which is something that I am passionate about. The reality is that no-one is going to start a coalmine in this State because it will not be approved for seven to 10 years—and by then the world will have moved on. Our policy should reflect that, and I am proud of the work we have done in that space.
I am proud of the work I was tasked with by Premier Berejiklian on the COVID road map. I thank my crisis committee members, especially the first tranche of members such as Stuart Ayres, Victor Dominello and Dom Perrottet when he was Treasurer. We worked hard, along with Brad Hazzard and the Health team, to make decisions to enable businesses and communities to re-open. The pain and suffering that we have all endured during COVID will be felt by kids, parents and individuals for a long time. I am proud that I played a role under Premier Berejiklian, who led us through some of the tough times. I was asked to lead the State’s recovery as the recovery Minister, dealing with bushfires, COVID, drought, floods and the mouse plague. I feel like I spent the last term—or even the last two terms—always dealing with a crisis of some sort. Maybe I caused some of those crises! But the truth is I did it with passion.
Earlier I listened to Andrew Constance’s valedictory speech. I recall going down to his region after the fires to look at the recovery. I sat in rooms in council buildings and rescue centres with the community on the ground, and I visited people who lost their homes. We knew it was not going to be a quick or easy fix. I thank the Treasurer and Premier at the time, who gave me the ability to design a program to deal with the largest logistical clean-up in this State’s history, involving 5,000 homes and 10,000 properties. We did that in partnership with the Public Works Advisory and Laing O’Rourke. It was a very different model, where we shared the risk and we were able to deliver a very person-centred approach: cleaning up someone’s property but leaving the fireplace or the rose garden because it meant something to them; not going through with bulldozers but understanding what it meant. They were not just bricks and mortar and it was not just infrastructure; they were homes for people. They were memories. I thank those from the Department of Premier and Cabinet and across all the agencies, because it took a mighty effort to clean up—and that clean-up continues today.
I said that when I resigned, I wanted to finish as a local member. I can talk about events, funding, programs and upgrades to a lot of infrastructure, but the thing I am proudest of is what is happening in the education space in my electorate of Monaro. As I said earlier, brand-new schools such as Jerrabomberra High School, Bungendore High School, the Jindabyne education precinct and Googong Primary School are part of our growing community. Members can sit in this Chamber today and talk about a legacy. A legacy is not the plaque on the wall, the infrastructure, the bricks and mortar or the bitumen on the roads. The legacy is in the opportunity that comes off the back of that. When thinking about what a legacy is, I took the lyrics from the ending of the award-winning musicalHamilton, which state:
What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
It is not about the new schools. It is about the tens of thousands of kids who will go through those schools in the decades ahead, get an education, get on with life and become successful—and, in doing so, be able to stay in their community in regional and rural New South Wales. The friendships they make in primary school will continue in high school. We all have friends from school and they are something that we cherish. They are important to who we are and to our make-up as human beings.
The rollout of the Country Universities Centres was not my idea; I stole it from Western Australia. They were doing it and we saw it as an opportunity to make sure kids in regional and rural communities—in small towns—had access to tertiary education. We keep talking about moving to a digital platform. It is something we were forced to do over the past two years because of COVID, but we have probably had the ability to do it for 15 years. Every time we say “Let’s go digital”, people think it is a shortcut, a cheap approach or not appropriate. However, I say that it was and is appropriate. The Country Universities Centre model has been examined by upper House inquiries and reports and it is clear: It is succeeding and it is delivering for the people in the bush.
If we want to keep kids in the regions, we have got to give them the opportunity of education. If we want future politicians, business leaders and community leaders to remain in those communities then we want them to stay in those communities during their education. Yes, they should go and explore and enjoy the globe and learn, but they should come back to our communities. Otherwise, we will keep losing those people. Again, I can talk about all these projects, but the legacy I leave is about opportunity. It is about opportunities for our communities to continue to grow. I am proud of that.
However, you have got to be lucky. In 2008, in the very early days, I ran for council as an Independent. I was not a member of a political party at the time. I ran because I was running the local soccer club and wanted more sports fields. As a parent and a ratepayer I thought I had to do more in that space. I was elected to council at the same time as a guy called Tim Overall, who was elected mayor that year. It is funny how our journeys have coincided. I was on the council with him while he was our mayor. I became the State member for Monaro. I have worked with Tim Overall through that whole period. Only recently he announced he is retiring and will not contest this year’s Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council elections. I acknowledge him for the work he did with me. We proved that you can work together on behalf of the community. Queanbeyan has changed. It has become a better, more cosmopolitan, more vibrant community because of investment and vision. Sometimes we have had to do things that were difficult, when a loud minority was against us, but we stuck to it. I am proud that I always stuck to my commitments. I will continue to do that until the end.
I say to the people of the electorate of Monaro that I have learnt a lot. I grew up in Queanbeyan and I knew my little world, but when I became the member for Monaro I got to know a bigger world in my region. From Braidwood to Bungendore, Bombala to Jindabyne and Adaminaby to Cooma, I got to learn a lot from the people who I got to work with. Very early on I started the Monaro Service Awards. Over the years we have given out thousands of those awards to the people who are the true champions. They do not get the chance to stand at a dispatch box and give a valedictory speech where they talk about their legacy or what they have done for their communities, and I wanted to acknowledge them in one little way. To all those volunteers and community groups who received awards, I say thank you. I thank them for the opportunity to be their local member and for working with me in partnership to leave our community a better place.
I would not be here today without the National Party. At no point in my time did I think I was bigger or better than the party, that I could be an Independent or anything like that. It is the National Party that gave me the opportunity and I will forever be indebted to it in my heart. It is the party that allowed me to do what I do, which is to fight for the bush with the passion that I have. The day that we held an election for the new leader, I spoke to each and every one of my parliamentary colleagues. I have a personal story of or connection to each of them—those who came here in by-elections and those who came here in the class of 2011 or along the journey. I will never forget each and every one of those special people, who I call genuine friends. They are friends that I take with me from this place. Within the Liberal Party there are also so many friends, past and present. I recall the leaders, such as Barry O’Farrell and Andrew Stoner. I think after those comments about Brad Hazzard they thought, “Hooley dooley, what have you got here? We’re going to strap on for the rollercoaster called Barilaro.” But I had the support of leaders such as O’Farrell and Stoner, or Mike Baird and Troy Grant. I had the opportunity to work with Mike Baird for a very small period as his deputy.
However, I state this today: The best Premier of this State was Gladys Berejiklian. Over the past five years as Deputy Premier, I served 95 per cent of that time as her deputy. Gladys was someone who fought, who was absolutely honest and who was passionate about this State. I have never seen it before. She cared about the bush as much as the city. She was smart and articulate. She had it in her to be Premier and probably knew she would be Premier early in her political career. I am glad she had the opportunity to do that, and I am proud, humbled and honoured that I had the opportunity to serve with her as her deputy throughout. History can write a lot of things about a lot of people. However, I tell members that, regardless of some of the argy-bargy we had publicly or privately, I have never met someone more passionate, more willing to fight or more deserving to be Premier of this State than Gladys Berejiklian.
I acknowledge that I have always had lots of good people reach out from the other side of the House—people who have supported me right across the board. In the past there were people such as John Robertson and Nathan Rees. I am sorry that I missed Jodi McKay’s valedictory speech yesterday. I look at Jodi as someone who was part of a Labor Party that at the time was broken. She was pushed out the door, but she found herself and came back as the member for Strathfield. She climbed through and fought hard—I tell members, she fought hard—to get back and become leader of the Labor Party.
Yes, she was unlucky in Opposition and, yes, she was unlucky during COVID. It was the decision of the Labor Party to move on. We can see that Jodi represents the community of Strathfield and they will miss her because she is a true champion of the Labor Party. She bleeds red for the party and, more importantly, she is passionate about her community. I congratulate her on her journey and career—I absolutely acknowledge that. To the many others who have reached out to me including Yasmin Catley, Jenny Leong and Clayton Barr, I say thank you. The best part of politics is when we take the politics out and we meet the real people. I am proud to have been part of that.
To Kay Hull, Ross Caddell, Jocellin Jansson, George Lemon—my first campaign director when I got elected—and Emma Watts, I say thank you. You cannot do this job without staff. I thank my electorate office staff. I have had so many over the years and they have all been passionate. I thank my current staff: Ashley Myer Dilley, Michael Zakoski, Angus Webber. Sara Bannerman, Alyssia Smith and Rowan Carter, who are no longer in my office, they absolutely bought into my passion, drive and commitment. My electorate office staff, as Andrew Constance touched on, have become de facto members of Parliament. They know the issues, the people and the communities we fight for. I thank my ministerial staff. I was lucky to have three chiefs of staff including Fiona Dewar, who I thought was the best chief of staff you could possibly find. She was passionate and understood me. She was my ballast. Every time I thought I was going to jump off the ledge she would pull me back—God forbid if we both wanted to jump.
Mark Connell took us through the by-elections of Murray and Cootamundra. No-one thought that we could win but we did. I acknowledge his political smarts in that space. I thank Siobhan Hamblin, my last chief of staff, who is a passionate and fired-up Irish woman. I could not have gone on this journey without her, especially over the past 2½ years. My success as Deputy Premier is because of the success of Siobhan. She was a remarkable chief of staff, and I am indebted to her. I think I broke some of my staff along the way because we went 100 miles an hour every day until the end. I acknowledge Siobhan. My deputy chief of staff Jeff McCormack is here. In 2011 Jeff drove from Yass to Queanbeyan to pre-poll for me. It would take him about an hour, though I never knew it at the time. He was young then and had hair; he does not have hair today.
At the time I thought, “Who is this guy who is coming to hand out for me?” He went from being a volunteer to working in my ministerial office, to Mike Baird’s, to Barnaby Joyce’s and then back to me. He also worked with Melinda Pavey. This guy bleeds politics and everything that we are passionate about in the bush, in the regions and in The Nats. He is someone who I am proud to call a friend. He is a friend that I will have for life. He is someone who I can never thank enough. Georgina Kentwell, my media and comms director, has been with me on a journey. She was a Canberra girl who came up to Sydney. Without Georgina I could not have got the profile that I did. We all need an executive assistant [EA]. I have struggled over the past six weeks without Kristen, my EA. Kristen left Nicole Kidman to work for me. Some would say that was a good move; most will say that it was not.
The truth is that your EA looks after you. Kristen did not just look after my diary; she looked after me. I have had some ups and downs over the years; it is all documented. It is so important to have an EA who understands you. They clear your diary without asking you and they fill your diary without asking you; they know how you are travelling and they manage everything around the office. I thank Kristen as well as the rest of the team. I cannot name them all. I thank my two drivers, Brad and Steve, who I had for the whole period I was in office. To Ministers and future Ministers: your drivers become part of your family. You often entrust them with your family. Again I thank The Nats and Paul Toole. Mate, just keep fighting. Do not give up. We are The Nats. I am proud that we have a brand and we have a narrative. Keep Dom honest, keep Matt honest as Treasurer and keep fighting for us.
I heard you answering questions today and you are right: We fight for what is fair. It is not what others want to call it. We are about funding for the bush in a fair way, and we are just playing catch?up. To Dom Perrottet, my mate: One of my hardest decisions was not to continue on as the Perrottet?Barilaro Government. Dom and I spoke about it but I knew in my heart that I did not have the strength or the energy to go another 15 months as Deputy Premier, and I wanted to give the next leader a chance. Dom Perrottet was a great Treasurer and he is a great mate. I know a lot has been written about his faith and about who he is and what he stands for, but he stands for something. He is a politician with conviction. This bloke has never moved or changed his position on the issues that he has been criticised for because he believes in them.
I would rather back someone who has conviction and who stands for something than someone who does not stand for anything at all. He should not be judged on that. I call on the community of New South Wales to give this guy a go. If they get to know the Dom Perrottet that I know, he is a guy who would put his feet up on my coffee table while sinking a few beers. He is a normal bloke, a father and husband. He is a knockabout individual who loved coming to the bush and the regions. He could eat a steak sandwich—I do not know where puts it. He eats and I put on the weight. There is no-one better for this time of recovery, with the Treasury skills that he has and the team behind him. He has the smarts. I really wish Dom all the best for the campaign ahead. You deserve to be Premier and the State will be a better place with you as Premier. I hope they look to you in 2023. No disrespect to Chris Minns, but I will always fight this side of the fight. Dom is someone whose story has not been told.
Finally I will touch on my journey. Andrew Constance is right: Family pays the ultimate price. Last year I lost Dad and that really broke me. If you go back to my inaugural speech I said that my father was my superhero. He came to this country in the sixties to give us a better life. Who would have thought early on that one of his kids would make it to the Parliament of New South Wales and, furthermore, become a Minister and then Deputy Premier. That justified his and Mum’s courage to leave their country. They moved from Italy to Germany, where they worked for 12 years, before moving to Australia. Mum would always say that they felt like gypsies; they did not know where home was, but they found that Australia was their home. I am sure my father would have got into politics if his written and spoken English was better. But he encouraged and empowered me. Losing Dad last year was like losing some of the flame for the fight.
But families pay the price. To my family I say sorry for all of the birthdays I missed, not only my immediate family but also my broader family. I am sorry for all of the special moments that I missed. When you needed a hug, I was not there; when you were laughing and celebrating, I was not there. That is the job that I chose. You pay the ultimate price with family. My eldest girls, Alessia and Domenica, were in their early teens when I first started this journey and now they are grown women. They had to watch the journey play out in the media and they bore the brunt of that. To them I say: I am so proud of you for what you have achieved. But, more importantly, I am sorry for the pain I may have caused. I look forward to spending a lot more time with my little one, Sofia, coaching her and being in her life because that was not the case for the first six years.
Right throughout my time in politics I have seen the impact on family. This is not only my story; this is the story for every single member of this House. Families pay, and unfortunately that is the way it goes. I will finish on this note: Nichole Overall is the candidate for Monaro. I could not have picked someone better. She is passionate about her community and I believe she represents not only the values of the National Party but also the values of regional and rural New South Wales. Some people say to me that she is the wife of Tim Overall, the mayor—no, Tim Overall is the husband of Nichole Overall. She has success written across her life story. She is passionate and I look forward to campaigning with her. I finish by thanking the Parliament. I thank all of you for the debates and the argy-bargy. We call it the Bear Pit, but most of the time it is a place of respectful debate on good issues that make our communities better.
I have absolutely no regrets over the past 10½ years for having the ability, honour and privilege to serve the people of Monaro. I look forward to doing more in my community, not in this place but outside it. I will give you all one piece of advice: Be kind to each other. If we have learned anything over the past two years it is to be kind to each other. God bless.