In just over two months on a Sunday afternoon at about this time a driver will exit Forrest’s Elbow on Mount Panorama for the last time. They will hit 300 kilometres an hour going down Conrod Straight before going through the Chase and taking Murray’s Corner.
Seconds after that they will take the chequered flag of the Bathurst 1000. As they sit alone in the car crossing the line, soaking up their victory and achievement, this will be one of the greatest moments of their life. Their name will go on the Peter Brock Trophy. They will stand upon the top step of the podium and celebrate their victory.
But as they stand there they know that it is a team of people behind the scenes—the mechanics, the engineers, the apprentices, the trainers, the sponsors, the people that helped them out years ago in junior classes and many more—that they share the prize with.
The same stands for me today.
Even though it is my great privilege to have my name upon this desk and my office, to be known as Senator Cadell from the New South Wales Nationals, it is the love, support, help and so much more from the people in the gallery today and people watching from home that have got me here.
Most of all, most importantly today, know that you have given me your trust, and I will not let you down.
Today in my first speech in this place I would like to do two things: I would like to talk about how I arrived behind this desk and what I plan to do behind it.
Because we are limited in time, I am sorry to the dozens of people I will not name today, but know this: if you are here, you are valued; if you were invited, you are respected; and if you weren’t, I probably messed up.
When I look around this place I see military veterans, community activists, leaders, corporate achievers, union representatives and so many more high-performing people.
I have heard powerful speeches with firsthand experience of pain and misfortune delivered with such passion, and I find myself feeling somewhat of a pretender, like a charlatan, undeserving of really being here, because mine is a story with as many failures as successes and as many disappointments as celebrations. In the words of the Hunter, where I am from, I am a bit of a plodder.
But then I look at the people up there, I think of those friends who can’t be here and I know that I must have done some good, because they have stuck with me through all of that and lifted and propelled me to this day. So again, straight off the bat, thank you all.
To Mum and Dad, you ruined any chance of having me deliver a powerful speech about overcoming disadvantage and adversity by giving my sister, Jane, and I a wonderful, safe middle-class upbringing where I felt loved and supported my whole life.
Sure, it may have come with a love of a punt, a fondness for motorsport and firearms, a sense of humour that can best be described as strange, an addiction to State of Origin football and the Bathurst 1000 and too many trips into floodwaters on the farm in unsafe vessels that had an uncanny ability to attract snakes.
But you helped me in every way you could, in every way you can, at every time I asked. It is because of you that I am the very best version of a bogan I can be—and my sister, Jane, turned out okay as well.
Also here are my chips off the old bogan, Lachlan and Mitchell, and I am proud of the men they are becoming. I do need to apologise to them for passing on the same sense of humour that I was cursed with, but I know they are super proud of their dad and I want to make sure that in my time here I do some things that mean their lives are safer, longer and happier. We have a saying amongst the Cadell boys: it doesn’t matter how you go as long as you try your best. I will be doing that for you in this place.
To their mother, Simone: thank you for the gift of our wonderful boys. Thank you for the 20 years of your life you shared with me. I know you will continue to do amazing things with yours. Madam President and colleagues— this is a risky bit—I’m sorry for this, but my Star Wars fan kids feel I must do this. Lachlan and Mitchell: I am the Senate.
To my wife, Bethan: just when I thought my life was destined to wind down to an average footnote over the last few chapters, no longer worthy of love or success, just merely happy to still be here, you came along and ruined that. I’m once again finding myself living my best life as Rossco, loving you in our little beach shack with our kids and our kitty cats, thousands of miles from your home in Wales. Thank you for your love. Thank you for keeping me in line with your never-ending source of motivational tips, normally delivered with a slap or a loving Kermit face. My favourite still was upon pre-selection: ‘Don’t become an arsehole.’ Many even sitting around you today would say that’s only about 40 years too late.
To Anwen and Leo sitting at home: I’m lucky to have you both in my life. I know life gets confusing at times with our bigger family, but know that just means you have more people who love and care for you. Other family here today include my godfather, Uncle Stew; Aunty Effie; my cousin Alyssa; and others online, including Melissa and Fiona.
At high school, my life was going to be so simple: join the Royal Australian Air Force as a fighter pilot, let them tell me what to do for 40 years and then retire. A semi-dicky ticker and circumstances put an end to that after surviving the most brutal recruitment day I’ve ever seen at the old Sydney office that saw about 200 of us whittled down to half a dozen at the end of the day. I had done all I could to achieve this with no other thoughts.
I joined the Air Training Corps, the cadets, with 16 Flight at Blacksmiths and became a cadet underofficer. This was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. From that day right up to today, with Hatchy—now Wing Commander Hatch, about to become Group Captain Hatch—we still catch up with Humphrey, Big Dog, Arkin, Pete and Brommy to have a brew and tell some lies.
At school, I selected a lot of subjects I wasn’t actually good at and didn’t like to qualify, but, again, it wasn’t to be. So I was essentially lost. I worked at a bank. I played video games semi-professionally. I learnt to fly. I chose a uni degree to sign up to based on an American sitcom. I found that, unlike school and TAFE, unis have bars and proceeded to waste the next two years doing first-year commerce. Again, I met some great people: Pete; Galloway; Shane Fitzgerald, who is here today with my cousin Alyssa, who he ended up marrying; Pommy; Wizzo; Teddy Bear; Phil; Donna; Joorgen; and Reg. We even had a crack at politics with the People Like Us Shouldn’t be in Power Party. Oops!
During this time I found politics and somehow had an understanding of the campaign and the way it works. I enjoyed it and I wasn’t bad at it. I became a member of—dare I say it—the Young Liberals Bel-Air branch, which was named after a pub, not a TV show.
We worked with Marty Musgrave; Simon Westaway; Shane, again; Ian Benson; Jenny Palmer; and a great bunch of members. We had a great time working on policy, with the highlight being the performance incentive scheme for students. As good as the policy was, we very much preferred getting that acronym through the Liberal Party state council. Think about it.
During this time I had the great privilege of also being employed by Mr Greg Hansen, then country vice president of the Liberal Party, who is also here today. His learnings and knowledge still come in handy. The No. 1 lesson, he told me, in a political argument is: if you don’t have a big stick, make one. It hasn’t always worked out the way I planned but maybe sometimes I just make my sticks too big. We shared so many campaigns but ultimately fell short in the one that mattered the most. I am always sorry that didn’t work out; you would have done great things on the red leather of New South Wales. Thank you for being here.
It was also during this time I met so many people in this parliament and in the New South Wales Parliament, like Senator Marise Payne, Jason Falinksi, Alex Hawke, Gladys Berejiklian, John Brogden and, more importantly, the Hon. Ben Franklin MLC. We worked together on my regain the movement campaign for state president along with Tony Chappel and, again, Martin Musgrave.
Then in 1999 it was over. I was burnt out and over it. But history always catches up with you and it was in those times Ben ended up bringing me to the Nats. My parent’s property at Cliffy was in the City of Cessnock. One day, almost 10 years after my last political involvement, Ben reached out over Facebook looking for someone to work on the 2011 campaign. He wanted more mongrel in his campaigns and he didn’t know a bigger mongrel than me.
In the Nats I found a home for my views and for my fight for more for non-capital city Australia. I also found a place filled with friends from the Nats head office team over the years, with Ben, Greg Dezman, Nathan Quigley, Tom Aubert, Tony Sarks, Kathy Chalmers, Dominic Hopkinson, Will Coates, Issy Gillespie and later Brad Vermeer, Sam Pearn, Olivia Kerr, Stephen Mudd and, as is tradition for New South Wales Nationals, I have intentionally left out Douglas Martin. I also had the pleasure of serving under three chairs—the Hon Niall Blair, Mr Bede Bourke and Mr Andrew Fraser—and hand over the director’s role to Joe Lundy, all passionate Nats, all very different but again all dedicated to service the regions.
When it came to the preselection, so many in the gallery today, some of whom ironically don’t get on with each other, came behind me and helped me out. When I was down, my triple angels of Senator Nash, The Hon. Bronnie Taylor and Jocellin Jansson came to the fore. When I needed some extra advice I had Ben and the Tamworth crew of Bede Bourke, Barnaby Joyce, Russell Webb, Liz and Ian Coxhead—my family away from home. When I needed practise I had Sam Faraway, Nat Openshaw, Jeff McCormack and Jock Sowter. Despite all the dramas surrounding him at the moment, I need to thank John Barilaro. I enjoyed working with him on the 2019 campaign and I must thank him for his support in my career. And just like my real family, these people have always been there for me when I needed it. The New South Wales Nats are a family that can fight now and drink later, bag you today and lift you tomorrow. We occasionally muck up because we wear our hearts on our sleeves and sometimes lead with our chins. But when you care so much about what you do, that can sometimes happen.
That passion is exemplified in my office. With a group of people who have limited experience with government, we are all largely finding our way together, but with a hunger of living almost exclusively in safe Labor seats and at least wanting a shot at putting forward a different case. Andy, Nick and Ash, who have done the hard yards as young Nats have had their chance in the majors. Josh and Les have bought some government experience to the team and are nailing some policy work for us. And then there is Adz, Adrian Stewart Roach, my office manager. Have we not had a journey? We have worked together, travelled together, raced together, celebrated together and lost together. We joked about becoming a senator to get into a Vegas nightclub in 2014 and now we are here. Sorry you had to leave Porsche to come on board, Bob, but I couldn’t have done this without you, so let’s make good things happen.
So, here I am standing somewhere I thought I would never be, surrounded by people I admire and watched by people who put me here. What will I do with that chance? I want to fight the imbalance of power between the cities and the regions, between the have and the have-nots, between the loud and the silent. How is it fair that, in this place, the executive controls so much and those elected so little?
When my party, the Nats, advocates for decentralisation of government and departments, why not start here? Why not allocate some serious budget to each elected member to administer for federal expenses for constituents and not-for-profits, rather than having to go cap in hand to a minister and let them judge whether someone is worthy of dental on Medicare or extra NDIS or whether a club needs a new hall? Why not let a member be judged on their personal priorities as well as their party’s?
How is it fair that previous governments have taken away the power of farmers to collectively bargain with massive corporations for a fair price for produce, leaving them working 24/7 for a minimum wage? How is it fair that the regions are forced to pay the price for the never-ending consumption of the city, its hunger for energy and resources, with land restrictions and job losses that offset it?
Where I am from, we have given up any hope of government doing anything for us. We now just hope they don’t do anything to us. How is that a good thing?
How is it fair that we allow a formula called the cost-benefit ratio, generated by people in big, shiny city buildings, to dictate what we spend taxpayers’ money on, when it always favours the many over the few? CBRs measure benefit and not need. They prioritise thousands saving 10 minutes going to and from work over dozens having a safe, sealed road to ensure they come home to their families.
As Nats, we are used to the cries of rorts and favouritism when grants vary from the accountants’ choices. I am actually proud of that. I love that. I am excited that people from all sides stand up and say they want projects that have community merit more than projects from grant writers that have talent. If we, as elected officials, always do what we are told, why are we here? Are we the window dressing for the executive and the bureaucracy, or do we really want to make a difference and contribute?
During the pandemic, people decided what was important and they voted with their feet. When showing up to the office wasn’t a thing, they moved to the regions, they moved to the coast, they moved to the places that fed their soul and enriched their life. They did this in spite of poorer roads, lesser hospitals and fewer services. So let’s stop feeding the infrastructure of the cities, driving up house prices with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of attractions. Let’s put that money into the regions so that people can have the best of both worlds: a life and a community.
We saw a demonstration of this city-think in my last role at the Port of Newcastle. Sometime in 2013 or 2014, in the bowels of the New South Wales Department of Finance, someone had the idea of restricting competition for Port Botany for another $50 million to $100 million in privatisation income. What a great deal for the taxpayer! What they failed to give any thought to was the farmers in north-west New South Wales who have to pay an extra $20 a tonne to ship their grain or the Upper Hunter winemaker who pays an extra $1.50 a bottle to export their wine or the aluminium smelter five kilometres from the port that has to send their product 165 kilometres by road to export it.
Every single year a decision based on a CBR costs the community more than the extra money it raises for the state in total, but not a single person in government or opposition has the courage to admit the mistake and get it fixed. Why? It is because the bureaucracy is the ultimate too-big-to-fail corporation, and that is a disgrace. The people of the Hunter need a plan B. We are willing to make it happen ourselves, and I had Craig, Tanya and Briggsy fighting the hard fight with me. But, again, the decision-makers have decided we don’t deserve that right.
I respect this country, this parliament and this chamber very much, but I am here to be a right royal pain in the posterior to the status quo. All the people that I’ve mentioned here today got me here. All the people in the gallery today who have trusted me deserve no less, and they will get no less. As I have all my life, sometimes I will fail and sometimes I will succeed, but I will always try. I love my Australia, warts and all. We’re on an old land, but we’re a young nation. We can be better, but we also have unimaginable potential.
Thank you to the people in this chamber and the other place for making me feel as though I belong here, even though, as I have said, I have sometimes had my own doubts. I believe that within you and your offices lie the answers to so many of the problems we face as a nation, if we can find a way, as elected officials, to have a bigger voice. I look forward to working with my family, my party, my supporters and all of you so that together we can have a crack at finding that voice. Thank you.