Melinda Pavey has delivered her valedictory speech as the Member for Oxley. This is what she had to say.
I thank the House for its courtesy in indulging me to present my final speech. I start by referring to Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken. If my 9 year old self had been heading off on school holidays this year to Wilcannia with my brother and parents for a spot of fox shooting, I would not be standing here. When our family did exactly that in 1977, a big east coast low brought rain and floods everywhere. When we could not get through via the impassable Cobb Highway, we turned east to the mid North Coast instead for a life changing holiday at Grassy Head. This year my pledge, as roads Minister, to have that road sealed was fulfilled. If that road had been sealed in 1977, we would not have taken the other road. Some 37 years later I became the member for Oxley, which encompasses Grassy Head, one of the prettiest places on the planet.
How do I condense 20 years into 20 minutes? Do I spend one minute on each year? How can I possibly thank all those who have been part of my incredible journey? First, I must thank the grassroots members of The Nationals for the extraordinary opportunities they have afforded me. The party first touched my life when I was in a pram on Federal election day at the Merrigum town hall booth, when Black Jack McEwan spoke to my parents. I also thank Rod Gilett and his family, who are in the gallery today. Rod’s parents’ farm at Stanhope shared a boundary with Black Jack’s soldier settlement farm. It simply got in the blood.
As I said in my inaugural speech in the other place in 2002, so often we are the product of our upbringing. My parents, who are present in the gallery today—no silver spoon, they were definitely stainless steel—as share farmers who became farm owners, constantly told me and my brother, Kenton, who is watching from a boat somewhere in Queensland, that our success was up to us. Mum and Dad were always Country Party people and it rubbed off. We are the party of small business, farmers and nurses with a great tradition and history. If we continue to take our direction from our local communities, our future will continue to be assured.
In recent weeks many of my colleagues across all sides of politics have been asking me, “Who have you lined up to replace you, Mel?” Whilst I was encouraged to run for the upper House by our former great leaders Wal Murray and Ian Armstrong, and former party chairman Patrick Maher, who joins us today, I had to get the support of the delegates to Central Council. That was up to me. Similarly, it was up to the candidates who stood for Oxley to convince the delegates. Fortunately, that is how The Nationals—and our preselection process—works at its best. For politics across the country, that is how it needs to be: no factions, no deals, no back scratching but reward for intelligence, hard work and commitment. I did encourage several local women to consider nomination, Unfortunately, I could not get any of them to the line. As Jamie Parker spoke about last week, I too hope in the future that we can use the technology that we adopted during the COVID 19 crisis to spend more time in our electorates and participate in this place at the same time.
In the end it came down to two candidates: Les Wells, who was born and raised in the Hastings Valley and is a friend who has been an important part of my team and still has a very big future in our party, and Michael Kemp, a sixth generation Kempsey local, who is a farmer and physiotherapist, served our nation in the air force on active tours of duty and can still run 5 kilometres in a rather tidy 20 minutes. I encouraged him to join the party because I liked him, and he did join. But the decision was for the almost 100 members of our branches that packed the Macksville RSL Club, as it was for me in 2015. Those fiercely intelligent and sensible locals take no truck with intervention from any outsiders. Given Michael’s hard work, I expect the people of Oxley will endorse his candidature so that he can join the new generation of very talented Nationals MPs, like the member for Upper Hunter, the member for Monaro, and our candidates for the electorates of Myall Lakes, Clarence, Barwon and Murray. I am sad to say that Mark Taylor, the member for Seven Hills, will no longer be the tallest man in this Chamber.
Many of my party stalwarts are here today: my friend of more than 30 years Janine Reed and her husband, Barry; the Ramkes; the Irvines; the Butlers; the Ushers; the Hurrels; Peg Parberry; David Scott; the Leans; Heather Connell; Norma Daley; the Doyles; John and Noeline Simons; Noel Atkins. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Over the past 20 years, being the member for Oxley has been my favourite job. The people of Oxley are the most down to earth, honest and hardworking people one could ever meet. My electorate team—Jodie Griffiths, Susan Ramke, Benn Farrawell, Holly Gaddes, Alice Burnet and David Dawson—has assisted and aided the four valleys on my behalf. It has been a pretty brutal four years with drought, fire, flood and COVID. But, in the end, it is because this Government has managed well—we have been part of an incredible team over the past 12 years—that our region has grown and prospered over the past decade, despite those natural disasters.
Former member for Oxley, The Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner deserves much acknowledgement for his help in fixing the State’s books, which has flowed through to all country electorates. Those opposite like to call it pork-barrelling; we just call it catching up—new hospitals at Macksville and Kempsey, and massive investments in sporting facilities and all our showgrounds, town halls, libraries, roads and bridges. I give a special shout-out to my four local councils and to the mayors, especially Liz Campbell, who I served with for many years; Rhonda Hoban, one of the most sensible, down-to-earth and honest mayors anyone will come across; Peta Pinson, who is doing an incredible job; and the newly elected Steve Allan. I made it my business to work closely with our councils. We have much to learn and do to improve, and we can work together to do that.
One project I raise today, which is still to be completed in Oxley and we are just about to go out to tender, has a $6.5 million Federal contribution. After listening to the community and people like Mark Morrison, who is in the Chamber today, our most vulnerable kids need a safe haven, with a kitchen that is accessible 24 hours. That is what we will build with that Federal funding, and it will also need State support. I know I have Natasha’s support, Natalie’s support and Bronnie’s support. We need somewhere where kids can go to get a feed and be safe. I also thank Mark Morrison for his insistence that we need safe long-term accommodation for the mums still attending school—and we have also achieved that. I add that Mick Cassel, my CEO of the Land and Housing Corporation, demanded that I sign a stat dec that I did not know the developer of the units that we bought. That was fine because that is all appropriate and proper. We now have seven young women at school and their families across the road at Macleay Vocational College.
David Gillespie is in the Chamber today, and it has been an absolute pleasure working alongside him on the North Coast, along with Federal member for Cowper Pat Conaghan. We fought hard to bring the benefits of the alignment of our governments to pay dividends to the people of the mid North Coast. I leave this place knowing there are challenges and opportunities within the electorate. We must expedite the approval process of the Oven Mountain pumped hydro project in the Macleay Valley. Adam Marshall and I are joined at the hip on that project. It will bring enormous dividends as part of the renewable energy zone and also the benefit of a better road between Kempsey and Armidale.
I am immensely proud of the work I did for rural and regional health as Parliamentary Secretary for four years, alongside Jillian Skinner, who is also in the Chamber today. We developed a blueprint for country health delivery that is being acted on. I thank Tom Callachor, who just happens to now be my nephew-in-law, and Shane Kruger for being part of that journey. We needed a Minister for Regional Health to push that agenda, and I thank the Hon. Bronnie Taylor for being at the forefront for pharmacists to pick up the slack because we do not have the medical professionals that we need to live in our communities. Working alongside the likes of Lindsay Cane from Royal Far West, we ensured multimillion-dollar investment in the waterfront property at Manly to ensure that kids get intensive treatment as well as support for their families. We also put services back out into the bush with the development of the Healthy Kids Bus Stop and telehealth, taking care directly to the bush where medical professionals at times simply do not exist.
I also know that the work I did in opposition as shadow Minister for Emergency Services with Mike Gallagher was important because we have doubled the amount of hazard reduction since we came to government. But I have to say that there is still more to do on that front. I will always be grateful to John Barilaro, who gave me the opportunity to serve for five years in the New South Wales ministry. It was the most challenging yet rewarding professional experience of my life. I thank the respected public servants I worked with—some of whom will be watching. They know who they are, and for fear of diminishing their careers, I will not name them. I can mention Ken Kanofski and Jim Bentley, because they are outside the service now.
There has always been tension about the bureaucracy’s agenda and the Minister’s agenda, but we were always more successful when I used the real and lived experiences of my constituents. I recall the first piece of advice I ignored from a certain deputy secretary, who is no longer in the service, who suggested that I fold my ministerial advisory committees—committees that work directly alongside business, unions and industry all together at the table. Bringing subject experts together with the public service is the most effective way of making good and timely decisions. Our team was able to push through so much work as we brought all parties together to simply do good.
What are the highlights? One is the dual carriageway on the Pacific Highway. The Nationals have been fighting for that for over 30 years. It has been delivered in our term of Government. A billion dollars of funding was given to local councils to help replace timber bridges and roads. A record amount of social and affordable housing was constructed. Thank you, Premier Dom Perrottet, for the COVID stimulus funding. There was the rezoning and planned rebuilding of the Tolland Estate in Wagga Wagga, Albury and Coffs Harbour, reimagining public housing estates. Anthony Roberts is doing well continuing that work.
There was the kickstarting of Aboriginal land use agreements, thanks to the leadership of Anne Dennis, Chair of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. All claims in the community of the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council and Orange City Council were settled. That ensured that the sporting fields could be constructed, and there is at least 80 hectares of valuable land now in the ownership of the land council. That is the way it has to be done into the future. I also pushed for Aboriginal tenants to buy their homes. In coastal harvesting, we ensured that farmers on the eastern side of the divide could get a fair share of the rainfall as it fell. We were able to achieve all of these really important things working together.
One of my most favourite days in the job was this time last year at Menindee. We were not welcome in Menindee a couple of years back. We went to talk to the local community to tell them that New South Wales would not follow the orders of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, because they did not want the projects the authority was pushing. My friend Senator Davey, who is also here, and the member for Albury joined me on the tour. It was quite the turnaround in community sentiment. We spent a lot of time talking with the locals, like Graham McNabb. I was yarning with some of the aunties and they said, “Why don’t you take your boots off, Minister, and take a walk in the lake?”, which was absolutely full to brimming. I hesitated, but I did it. Then one of the aunties said, “No wonder you were a bit shy about it. Look at the size of your feet!” I explained that that is the joy of warming your feet in cow manure when I was a kid on the dairy farm. It is the world’s best fertilizer.
On a trip to Israel to learn more about recycling and desalination, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli Government. My secretary, Jim Bentley, inquired why the Israeli Government was building six desalination units. Without missing a beat, the Israeli Minister for water said that they need to keep the Red Sea topped up just in case Jesus comes back. The past week has seen a 13.3-metre record of floodwaters going through Forbes. There are enormous fears that that record will be broken over coming days, with 253 gigalitres ferociously flowing over Warragamba Dam in the past 24 hours—a record.
Three years ago I took the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to task for irresponsibly releasing 22 gigalitres of water from the same dam, leaving only 10 per cent at the start of summer, with no break in the drought expected. Climate change is going to make our weather less predictable. Raising Wyangala Dam could have saved some of the stress and flooding in recent months and given greater water security as we head towards the next inevitable drought. The situation is similar with Tamworth and Dungowan Dam. We need to get on with these projects, in the face of climate change as it is, to give our communities strength and security. We need this infrastructure desperately. In October 2020 I received this text:
Dr Pashen is being granted an exemption to leave Melbourne. He will fly to Armidale this afternoon around 5pm so I will take our girls up to Armidale in our truck where Rob will set up his lab and commence flushing them to retrieve the embryos—about a seven hour procedure.
None of this would have happened without your assistance—we would have lost all the embryos—this is something I will never forget.
Of course, we are talking about cattle—some of the best cattle in Australia and this ensured that, for the first time in the history of the Angus breed, it was the highest value mating ever. Who do we really have to thank? Thank you, Brad Hazzard. During everything you were going through, you saved those heifers. But I recall Brad texting me to check they were not my cattle. I absolutely assured him the only animal I have is Jasper, the Lakeland terrier, who is definitely neutered. I cannot believe I got my favourite child into my valedictory speech—because he has not left home.
On a more sombre note, I was contacted by a local Bellingen family, who needed to travel to Western Australia to say goodbye to their beautiful daughter, who had had a fatal medical episode and was on life support. I was able to contact the Government, the Opposition and the media in Western Australia with a simple plea: Let the family be beside her to say goodbye. Incidentally, that girl attended the same high school—Coffs Jetty—as Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan. On 29 October last year I received this text:
I saw the TV story last night and it made a big difference. All the family will get to be with Madison today as they turn the life support off. Truly grateful from all the family.
That is the power of our office and being a strong, accessible local MP. My team in my office did a particularly great job during COVID. We kept our office open. Alice Burnet, a former medical professional, ensured that everyone on the Mid North Coast got timely and accurate information through my Facebook account—in fact, people stop me today and thank me for our COVID information during that time. But COVID has also created on a large scale the greatest opportunity for our regional communities: the ability to use technology and live and work from where we want to. The uplift in opportunity to live your best life in our country and coastal towns, free from big city pressures, is well and truly being realised. That is a fundamental core belief of The Nationals. We must, and we will, work through those challenges in terms of housing supply. But if there is an uplift, it is the opportunity to live your best life in the best locations.
I would like to acknowledge the committee staff of the Parliament whom I have worked across both Chambers with and appreciate how our committee system can improve public policy outcomes. It creates a strong alignment for our citizens and organisations to interact directly with members of Parliament and to create better understanding, consensus and solutions. They are a very undervalued cog in the wheel of our democracy. In fact, I have served on 20 committees, but the one that was most illuminating was the Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels. It was a real comfort to the women on the committee—wasn’t it, girls?—when we were told by a brothel owner that we would go all right if things did not work out in politics, especially with the juxtaposition of seeing Jo Haylen, who had just had a baby, breastfeeding in a brothel in Darlinghurst. I have to call out the member for Ku-ring-gai for turning up to Melbourne at St Kilda brothels in a trench coat—it is something I will never forget! But I have to say that the most confronting sight was walking into that St Kilda brothel and seeing Mike Baird—on Sky television.
To all our parliamentary staff, the Clerks I have worked with—John Evans, Lynn Lovelock, David Blunt, Russel Grove and Helen Minnican—thank you for your stewardship of this the most wonderful, oldest and most brilliant Parliament in Australia, and to everyone who works within it—Hansard, catering. I love catering; I would love to get behind that coffee machine. But we also have two special people here I want to acknowledge. They were attendants when I was in the other place—my very good friend Bundjalung man John Ferguson and now Lucy Smith, originally of Macksville but who has now retired. You were always there to help my mother and baby Emily in those first few months—thank you.
There are a few fun bits here. Lynda Voltz, your organising skills are beyond compare. Herding cats is much easier than organising pollies for netball games across the world. Emily, thank you for coming along for the ride—for a basketballer, you make a brilliant netballer. Sport does make strange bedfellows. I know this will be hard to believe but the member for Murray and I played very well together—on the court anyway! To Keiran Reicke, Alan Blake and Lawrie McNally, thanks for the Sunday morning chats heard across the State on the 2SMFishing Show from the only contributor who does not fish but who certainly likes to eat them. To our Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving, Adam Crouch and Yasmin Catley, it has been a privilege. I acknowledge that there are a lot of inflatable rescue boats out there in western New South Wales helping freshwater people to get to school, to get food et cetera. And to those who worked on the Spring Ball Committee, it has been incredible and a lot of fun. We raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities right across Australia.
To my team throughout the past 20 years, you have been simply incredible warriors for good country people and for this State. For the most part, they will always be part of team Pavey: Emma Watts, Rowena Gilbertson, Verity Lomax, Sean O’Connell and Ann Lewis in the upper House. The ministerial crew, led by two loyal chiefs of staff—Ed Martin and Doug Walther, along with Polly Bennett, Alisha Salvestro, Les Wells, Angus Mackie and Jaidyn Waites—gave the best policy advice and ensured the voice of common sense and country people were in every brief and recommendation. The media crew—Jessica Cole, Imogen Posa, Lance Northey and David Eccleston—never had it easy between droughts and then floods, dam building, horror road crashes, a record infrastructure spend and a boss who thought she knew as much about the media as they did.
To Dianne Pavey, my friend who also happens to be my sister-in-law, thank you for your kindness and company over the past 20 years. To be able to leave this place for a second home has been a godsend. Likewise, thank you to Heidi and Jason for our regular home cooked meals—another home away from home. To my sister from another mother, Margy Osmond, you helped dress me in a style I could not afford. Our lifelong friendship and connection through our greatest mentor, Bryce, will continue. You have moved on to Zimmermann, but Carla will always be my favourite. Even in the best of times it is hard to find a close confidant in this place, never mind during the dark days of Opposition. Geoff Provest, I will always call you a mate. It was such a joy when you helped swell our ranks in 2007—100 per cent it was. My friendships with Catherine Cusack and Andrew Constance were cemented in those days of Opposition, as we fought to win government. Their help in Port Macquarie and Monaro were essential to our victory in 2012. Whilst we do not always see eye to eye, we were always joined in our ambition for good government and respect for the taxpayer.
As I reflect on my contribution, there is no greater legacy than our children. Jack and Emily, I am so proud of you and the directions you are taking in your life, and what great kids you have always been. Jack, you are serving our country in uncertain times, heading to Townsville to head up your 30 member platoon as part of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, thanks to the daily guiding hand of your father, the love and support of your grandparents and aunties and uncles. I could not have done what I have done without the unswerving, loyal support of Warren. You are my rock, my confidant, my stabiliser and my truth serum. You have always put us before you. I look forward to our next chapter, which will mean more time for us and you.
The decision to leave has not been easy, but there is a fork in the road and this new direction, which will not be to Macquarie Street, will be shaped by all I have learnt and experienced in this building over the past 20 years. I will be forever grateful for the things I have been able to do and the opportunities you have given me and the people we have brought to the table to make change. What an honour it has been to serve the people of New South Wales and Oxley from this magnificent Parliament. I thank you for the privilege, especially you, Tom Chesson—look at you up there. We have been working now together for 30 or so years. It has been an honour and a privilege. Be assured, my intention is that this road not yet travelled will be sealed, will be straight, will be pothole free and very, very long, with many more opportunities to contribute to come.