Long-serving National Niall Blair made his farewell to Parliament on Tuesday night, thanking those who had helped him throughout the years.
Mr Blair not only served as a State Chairman of the NSW Nationals from 2012-2014, he was also a Deputy Leader of the Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, Minister for Primary Industries, Regional Water, Trade and Industry, and Lands and Water.
Below are excerpts from his valedictory speech. You can read the full transcript here.
It is an absolute honour to give my last speech in this place.
Some of the most truly rewarding things I have done during my time here have been on projects like Nimmie-Caira in the space of Aboriginal fishing, working with land councils in my time as Minister for Crown Lands and also on the Bowraville inquiry.
To talk about my journey to this point, I have had many roles. It has been quite a journey. I came into this place as an MLC. I was quickly put into the role of chair of the Standing Committee on Social Issues. I was Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, Minister in a number of different portfolios, Deputy Leader of The Nats in this place, Deputy Leader of the Government in this place, Leader of The Nats in this place, chair of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Temporary Chair of Committees and, Mr President, I also presided over a question time while you were away the other day.
The majority of those roles were dedicated to this House. I know how important the Legislative Council is to the people of New South Wales. In many aspects it is the saviour for the people of New South Wales. It is the House of review. It is why I stood. I wanted to be a member of this House. Some people may know that I was approached a number of times to run for at least two Lower House seats. On both occasions I thought about it but realised that I fitted in here.
This is where I have seen the best of what we can do in our roles as Parliamentarians. That is a term I like to use a lot. That is when I have seen this House at its best, when we act as Parliamentarians, we respect the traditions of the House, its roles and its responsibilities, and we work together for the outcomes. I probably have not been the best at politics over the times, but I like to think that I leave this place regarded as a Parliamentarian. I thank all of my colleagues, fellow Parliamentarians, for their friendship and their dedication to this House.
The House and what happens in here is only part of the role and what has been so important to me during my time as a member of the Legislative Council. By far I think the most valuable and rewarding part has been our work on committees. That is because the committees give members the time and resources to look at the issue. It is also the best time to hear from the community. It is the one time when the community and the stakeholders can come in and tell us what is right or wrong with the issue that we are looking at.
I have learnt during my time here to listen to my mentors and to look for sounding boards. I have had the honour to serve under some truly inspirational people who have all contributed to my success and I have tried to take a little bit of their style and how they operate and give it my own flavour. The person who got me into this has always been a constant support for me and that is Adrian Piccoli—I should say Professor Adrian Piccoli. Not only will we continue to go fly-fishing and ride bikes now but we will also be able to talk about professor stuff together.
I always got sound advice from Fiona Nash and I am looking forward to continuing to work with her at Charles Sturt University. I also learnt from some of the greats—some of those who went through that long, cold winter to get us into Government – and I am really glad that George Souris is here tonight and his wife, Vassy. I learnt from people like Rick Bull and Don Page – we all walk in their footsteps – but it was also a real honour for me to follow in the footsteps of Duncan Gay. In fact, it was an honour to be called Duncan 2.0 or Duncan Lite. Both of us are from a similar area, we got into this place around a similar age, both spent time as Chairmen of our Party and both went on to be Leaders in this place and Ministers. Thank you, Duncan, for all your support.
I have served under several Premiers – O’Farrell, Baird and the first woman to be elected Premier by the people of New South Wales, my friend Gladys Berejiklian, and what an honour it has been to have worked with her. I have also worked under a number of party leaders – Andrew Stoner, Troy Grant and John Barilaro. I am glad that two of those are here tonight. Troy Grant is a man of immense integrity and he gave me the opportunity to serve as a Minister. I was in my running gear about to go for a jog when I was summonsed to his office; I thought it was a joke at first. But he became and continues to be a true friend, a great leader and a wonderful supporter – he always backed me in. Thank you, Troy. Barra and I understand each other’s strengths and worked out very quickly how to work really well together.
I also acknowledge leaders in the Legislative Council. To my colleague Sarah Mitchell: we started school on the first day together and it is now a real honour to come out with you as my leader, and also Duncan Gay, but also Ministers I have served with in this House. I also want to mention a sounding board. Over the last eight years I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what was happening and bouncing ideas off Trevor Khan – the ultimate example of do as I say and not as I do.
He sits at the back of this place, squawking all day, interjecting on everything, and as soon as he gets into that chair, Mr President, he calls everyone to order. But it was always good, Trev, to talk through complex issues with you, usually at Five Ways over two pizzas and at least two bottles of pinot noir. You have a great mind and I have always said if we could only take those powers and use them for good and not evil. Just joking, because the issues that you have been successful on, Trev, are issues that are important to people in regional New South Wales and to people who support the National Party. So thank you for your great work. And that is another important thing – you have got to know where you have come from, who got you there, and do not forget it, and for me that is the National Party.
On the weekend we celebrated 100 years from the Country Party to the National Party, and I am proud to have been a representative of that Party and its Members in this place and to have also spent time as its Chairman. We are a really diverse Party because we represent a very diverse part of New South Wales. We are brought together by geography and an objective to represent the people of regional New South Wales. It is a Party made up of dedicated, passionate Members who would do anything to make sure that we continue to have that voice in Parliament and to last another 100 years.
It has been an absolute pleasure to be able to sit in this place on behalf of our Members and I was honoured to have been the beneficiary of their hard work, manning booths, raising money, attending conferences and developing policy, supported by our governing body, our Central Council, and Chairmen like Bede Burke, supported by his wife, Narelle; former Chairman Christine Ferguson and her husband, Colin; and also great staff. During my time as Chairman I worked with Ben Franklin, who became a colleague in here and a great friend.
Some of the highs are really the people. I have met some amazing people in some outstanding industries and some good businesses, a lot of them farmers. I have had wins for New South Wales at the COAG level. I have been able to travel and represent New South Wales internationally. I have met Prime Ministers, Sheikhs, Ministers from other countries—they were amazing opportunities to represent the people of New South Wales. But also there were some tough times, and when things get tough in a game like this, they get really tough. Unfortunately, there were times when I had to deal with information or situations that were really tough and uncomfortable and, at times, needed further action. I am glad that he is here now but I remember Adrian Piccoli said to me one time, “You will always be judged about what you do about a piece of information or a situation. It is what you do with it or what you do not do with it that you will be judged on.” I am very confident that at the times I have been challenged, when information has been presented or a situation has unfolded, I did the right thing. I reported when I needed to report. I reviewed when I needed to review. I decided when I needed to decide. I can stand here confidently and say that for none of the actions that I took or the decisions that I made I have ever had to stand up and answer through any form of inquiry. I am proud of that.
The most important thing that I learned as a Minister is that you have got to turn up, even when that is really difficult. Again I can stand here and say that I am proud that I have turned up to some areas where others did not and at times when others did not. And that probably again was at times to my detriment but I never want to leave this job being criticised for not turning up. So turn up.
I am mixed about leaving. I am really excited about what I am going to do but there is also a lot that I am going to miss. I will miss the people. When I thought about it, it is the funny things. It is coming into this building early in the morning, usually on a Monday, and watching Brad meticulously trying to get that last leaf out of the courtyard, knowing that the Roosters had won on the weekend and being able to have a bit of banter with him before anyone else arrives. I will miss that. I will miss having a crack at Layne, the special constable, because it seems every time I walk past he is sitting down. I will miss the banter with the special constables. I love the interaction I have had with them.
I will miss the scientists and the hardworking professionals in the departments. I will miss the media. I will miss the farmers in particular. I have had a great relationship working with our farmers. I will miss the free advice. I got plenty of that during my time. I will miss the messages of support, particularly when they came at the right time. I will miss the stakeholders. I will miss listening to Santiago’s talks about him sailing a ship from somewhere to somewhere, when he is supposed to be doing a cleaning job in the building. I will miss the people. What is next? I get to continue to work in the food space. I will continue to work with agritech, trying to help reduce food waste and support our farmers to do more with less. I am really looking forward to that challenge.
In my maiden speech I cited two things from Hawkesbury Agricultural College. One was written on the sundial. It says: “Use well the present moments as they fly”. I think I have done that because they have flown. The second was the sportsman’s creed. It says: “When one great scorer comes to write against your name, they write not whether you won or lost but how you played the game.” That is what I wanted to do. It is not a game but I wanted to make sure that I was fair and honest and worked hard. I think I have done that but that is for you and everyone else to judge.
Finally, as I have said to many members over the time, everyone expects us to talk for a living. That is what we do but the most powerful thing all of us can do is to know when not to speak. Sometimes by not speaking we can get across a better message than if we had opened our mouth. So I will take my own advice and I will stop speaking now. Thank you one and all. See you later.