Richie Williamson, our newly-elected Member for Clarence, has delivered his inaugural speech. This is what he had to say.
I nervously stand here today, full of hope and optimism. I will firstly admit the nerves are mine, but the hope and optimism are for the great people of the mighty Richmond and Clarence valleys which make up my electorate. I would like to firstly acknowledge the First Nations people of the Clarence electorate and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging of the Bundjalung, the Gumbayngirr and the Yaegl nations. I acknowledge Aboriginal culture as the longest living culture in the world.
I would not be standing here today without the love and support of my wife, Leonie; my mum and dad—mum is here, dad is on the farm—my sister, Kate, and brother-in-law, Ryan and their kids, Will and Isy; my brother, Bear, and his wife, Sheila; my mother-in-law, Sue, and father-in-law, Dave. Many have travelled here today to be with me in the gallery, and I thank you all very, very much. Also, there are a number of people who could not make it today, but I know they will be watching at home: Lesley Ross; Peter Johnstone; Sandra and Terry Brien; Allison Whaites; Julie and Matt McKee; Kodi Pracy; Col and Judy Humphreys; and many, many more. You have all encouraged me to aim for the stars while keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground.
I would like to acknowledge the members of the National Party of New South Wales who trusted me with our brand and our reputation to hold the seat of Clarence. To every member who put up a sign, letterboxed, doorknocked, spread the good word of The Nationals, stood on polling booths when it rained, in the stinking heat—you did it. Together we did it, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. A special acknowledgement to my campaign team—what can I say? You guys know elections and you know how to win. To Joe Lundy, Andrew Fraser and all of the HQ staff, you guys are rock stars. Our campaign in the Clarence was well-funded, it was disciplined and hit the mark. I can assure each and every person in our electorate of Clarence: You will never be taken for granted. We never have and we never will.
To my new parliamentary colleagues, thank you for your support in my campaign—in our campaign. I look forward to standing here in this place to stand up for regional New South Wales. Our story in the bush is vibrant and strong. Standing up for the bush is in our DNA. A special mention to my newly elected Nationals colleagues, the member for Myall Lakes and the Member for Oxley. Congratulations to you both. It is an honour to be standing here with you in this place. I would also like to acknowledge each and every National Party candidate who stood in the State election. As members well know, electioneering is hard. It is hard yakka. It is, at times, thankless and it is, at times, lonely. To each and every person who has not got the privilege to stand here today like I have, thank you, you did yourselves and our party proud.
To Chris Gulaptis—who strongly encouraged me to start with a song—thank you, for your tireless work. He even named the song, but I will not divulge it. Chris, your tireless work for our electorate has been acknowledged by many, but the work you did on my campaign was second to none. I thank you and Vicki. I hope that you have a long and healthy retirement from this place. To my electorate office staff, Debbie Newton, Janet Gould, Greg Bailey, Rod Gould, and my new staff member Chris Chevalley—welcome—thank you for the service you do for the people of the Clarence electorate. Your work does not go unnoticed by me nor does it go unnoticed by the people you serve every day. Sadly for me, Janet, Rod and Greg are moving on under the terms of retirement. You are great friends, and you are always welcome back for a chat and a cuppa.
To Premier Minns, your Ministers and your Government, I wish you well for this term. When all is said and done, we are all on team New South Wales. I will support the good. I will respectfully disagree and put an opposing view when the interests of my electorate are not being served well. After all, this place is the great melting pot of ideas. The responsibility and privilege of this job is not lost on me. There are over eight million people in the great State of New South Wales and only 93 have the great privilege of sitting here.
So how does a kid from a place called Coutts Crossing, 18 kilometres south of Grafton, come to be standing in the New South Wales Parliament? We all have a story to tell. As kids, we had a loving home. Mum and Dad worked hard to ensure we got a good education. We lived in a modest home in Coutts Crossing, with plenty of room to be kids and with the people I admired the most—my grandparents, Paul and Norma, Ozzie and Tup. Later in life Leonie’s Pop, Graham Hanson, was always nearby with some good advice and, I have to say, the occasional correctional guidance as required—size nine.
My first job was working for Dick and Sue Crabbe at the Coutts Crossing store on Saturday morning. Then, at the age of 16, Ron Bell gave a young bloke a start at Radio 2GF in Grafton. It was a job that I really loved and which I held for 32 years. I believe it deeply connected me to my community. I was fortunate to serve 16 and a bit years on Clarence Valley Council, eight of them as mayor. I have a real passion about where I was born and live, and I want to make sure that we can be the best we can possibly be. As a community we need support from governments of all persuasions so we can thrive. I accept that elections are about politicians; after all, you are guaranteed to get one after it, no doubt. But this place is not about politicians. This place is about people, the good citizens of the fine State of New South Wales and, closer to home for me, the great people of the Richmond and Clarence valleys that make up my electorate.
My electorate has a long and proud history. It was first proclaimed in 1859—the same year as Queensland. I wish I could say we have been beating them at football ever since, but I cannot. It was the home of one of the founding members of the Country Party, Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page—a giant of his time, a giant of our party and the godfather of the Coalition. In 1920, he dreamt up public infrastructure like the Nymboida hydro power station, which powered the entire North Coast. He opened it in 1924, when he was the Federal Treasurer. Sir Earle Page dreamt big and his fingerprints are still evident in my electorate today. The first member for Clarence was Mr Clark Irving. It was a seat that he held for just a few years, but it has since been held by some great names like Bill Weiley, Matt Singleton, Don Day, Ian Causley, Harry Woods, Steve Cansdell and, of course, Chris Gulaptis—some fine people who have set the bar high. But it is the people of the Clarence electorate who make us a community.
In the thriving community of Casino, Primex is being held this week. It brings thousands of visitors to town. That is closely followed up by Casino Beef Week from 20 May—10 days of all things beef and the country life. There will be some great community events: breakfast with the butchers, live music, crowning of the Beef Week Queen, the Beef Week Cups—both horse racing and greyhound racing, and what I believe is the most famous part of it all, the cow pat lotto. If anyone needs a better understanding of cow pat lotto, it involves a cow, a fair bit of feed, a grid on the ground with numbers on it and an unspecified amount of time. Nature will take its course.
My electorate includes the villages of Broadwater, Rappville, Coraki, Woodburn, Whiporie and the coastal paradise of Evans Head, home of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Heritage Aviation Museum. The heritage listed aerodrome was one of the largest Royal Australian Air Force training bases in World War II. My electorate extends to the sugarcane fields and the fishing grounds of the lower Clarence Valley, including Yamba, with its stunning beauty and beaches right on the mouth of the Clarence River. On the other side of the creek is Iluka, with its world-heritage listed rainforests, walks, great camping and family-friendly holidays. There is Maclean, the Scottish town in Australia, which is home to the Maclean Highland Gathering each Easter. Grafton, the Jacaranda City, is the home of the oldest floral festival in Australia—the Jacaranda Festival is a must each November—and to the Grafton Cup. Grafton was the first city on the North Coast and is, I believe, home to one of the most famous sporting rivalries in country New South Wales, the local football derby between the Grafton Ghosts and the South Grafton Rebels—or, if you are on the south side of the river, the South Grafton Rebels versus Grafton Ghosts game. Hernani, Cowper, Brushgrove, Ulmarra, Copmanhurst are among the many villages that make up the fabric of my electorate, which is some 13,500 square kilometres in size.
To the people of the Clarence electorate, I will be your advocate in this Parliament. I will bring us to Sydney and promise not to bring Sydney to you. Our area has been dealt some rough hands. If it was not the drought, it was the fires which destroyed hundreds of homes in my electorate, and if it was not the fires, it was the biblical sized floods that displaced thousands. Thousands were displaced and today hundreds are still without a home. All of this while coping with COVID 19. We will recover. We are strong and resilient up north—we have to be.
My electorate has some challenges before us. The 2022 floods have left a scar on my community that has not healed, but it is slowly healing. I have spoken with and listened to school children who still are not back in their schools following the floods. Moving the entire school to a short term location is a huge and commendable effort, but I and the communities want to see their students back at school. What a great shot in the arm that would be for those communities that have suffered greatly. I am not saying it is anyone’s fault, but it highlights the enormity of the job at hand following the floods. Mr Bob May, an 85 year old, was rescued from his home at Woodburn at 5.00 a.m. on the morning of the floods. He was wading through waist deep floodwaters. He was rescued by two complete strangers, now called “tinnie heroes”. To quote Bob, “Those blokes saved my life.” Mr May, at his age, wants to move to higher ground. Buybacks are the go for him. The progress is slow but is being made.
Rob and Jen Kelly’s farm and home are on the banks of the Richmond River. The river was running with such force that it eroded the riverbank to within three metres of the living room. The Kellys want to move some 35 40 metres away to a higher and safer location. Again, progress is slow but is being made. These two examples were amplified hundreds of times across the lower Richmond Valley. One thing I know is that floods have brought out the best in Australians—strangers helping strangers, examples of people feeding and helping others who were in total shock at what had happened.
The selfless deeds are like Fiona’s from the Riverside Butchery in Coraki. Their business lost $48,000 worth of equipment and $25,000 worth of stock, but they still gave and are giving today. They are cooking weekly hot meals for the community because some people in her community still do not have a kitchen to cook in. The butchery continues to donate meat at cost price—and can I say that now is the best time ever to buy local. Small businesses are hurting but I hope things will get better. The road ahead at times seems bumpy and impassable, but we will absolutely get the job done. I will stand beside each and every person, family and community along the way.
Investing in health care in the Clarence remains a priority for me. I will work with the community and the Government to ensure that we continue to get our fair share and build on the infrastructure we need—like the new ambulance stations in Iluka, Evans Head and Casino. I am ready to work with the health Minister and the Government on the redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital. But we need to look to the future, we need to dream big with the community. So we might need to start looking at what happens at Maclean and Casino hospitals. These hospitals are punching well above their weight.
I believe the Clarence electorate should be mining free. Our natural beauty, our pristine waterways, our prime farmland and national parks should not be put at risk, even if that risk is classified as minor. This is not a Greens campaign but one that is community led by local families, farmers, Aboriginal leaders, tourism managers and the general community who do not want to see mining in the upper reaches of the Clarence River. I agree: There is simply too much to lose.
The Clarence River prawning industry is on its knees, through no fault of its own. The livelihoods of 90 fishing families and 60 staff are at risk due to a control order for the movement of green prawns following the discovery of white spot in prawn farms. Overnight the livelihoods of these businesses and farms—many of them decades in the making—were taken away with zero compensation, or little or no compensation, from any government. I believe this place can do better, or I fear that the prawning on the Clarence might slowly disappear.
Housing remains a major issue, and I have heard that more than once here today. We need to do better on housing. Sometimes simply finding a roof to put over our heads is out of reach for many and varied reasons. I commend the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Commission that aims to find 10,000 blocks in the Northern Rivers for development. Let’s get innovative and find ways to ensure that affordable housing blocks remain affordable forever. I am sure there are schemes that we can use throughout New South Wales, but we need to get creative. I have now formed the view and the opinion that the short-term holiday rental market in residential zones is having a detrimental effect on the long-term residential housing market. The idea that was simply letting out a room to make a few extra bucks has quickly moved to an entire house, in turn taking that property off the long term rental market. More policymaking needs to be done in this area as a matter of urgency.
Every decision this place takes can make it easier or harder for the people of our great State, can make it more expensive or less expensive to live, can cut red tape or green tape or add to it. Every decision in this place counts for my electorate and the people of our great State. I am ready to serve my thriving community, and I stand with them in the good times and in the bad. But my message to each and every person is: Dream big. We need to build the public infrastructure a modern community needs and deserves. We need to invest in our people of this great State. I will finish where I started today. I stand here full of hope and optimism for the people of the Clarence electorate. I thank them for this great honour. I also thank my parliamentary colleagues and this House for their indulgence today.