Michael Kemp, the newly-elected Nationals MP for Oxley, has delivered his inaugural speech. This is what he had to say:
According to the 2021 Census, over 80,000 people live in the Oxley electorate on the mid North Coast. It is a wonderfully varied population, with 9.1 per cent identifying as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Interestingly, it has the highest rate of personal care workers, in both paid and unpaid work, in the State. I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and all of the Birpai, Dunghutti and Gambaynggir nations, who are the custodians of the land on which we walk and where we live. I acknowledge the Elders of the past, the present and those that will emerge. Welcome to everyone here in the Chamber today, to my friends and family in the Speaker’s gallery and to those joining us online from the mid North Coast and further afield.
Oxley is a stunning region that stretches along the eastern coast of New South Wales. The region boasts incredible landscapes, from the rugged shorelines and sweeping beaches of the Pacific Ocean to the tranquil rivers, lakes and rainforests that are spread within the hinterland. It is a breathtakingly beautiful region. In and amongst this natural wonderland is the most vibrant array of differing communities. Oxley encompasses four magnificent valleys: the Hastings, the Macleay, the Nambucca and the Bellinger. It is famous for its beauty, its flora, its fauna and its farming. It is home to small plateau towns like Comboyne and Dorrigo, where it drops five degrees as soon as you get to the escarpment. It is where quiet streets wind amongst the hills, and avocado and cattle farmers abound. It is the quiet, laid?back atmosphere that draws you to these solid country people.
It includes coastal villages like Crescent Head, South West Rocks, Nambucca Heads, Urunga and Valla—villages that cater for the tourist, the retiree and the thrill seeker all at once. These communities have people and businesses that continue to work all year round—importantly, serving locals throughout winter to be able to provide for the tourists during the peak of summer. There are upriver communities like Long Flat, Willawarrin, Bowraville and Thora that sit on the banks of creeks and rivers, with rolling hills, significant wooded areas and the sounds of gurgling water. The farmers and inhabitants are loyal, hardworking and trustworthy men and women who go about their lives, just getting it done.
There are the rural town bases of Wauchope, Kempsey, Macksville and Bellingen that are surrounded by beautiful open farmland. They house small businesses that keep the area running smoothly. This area, that provides food, minor manufacturing, tourism and a relaxed way of life, is our home. It is our passion. It is our everything. On top of the people here and the small businesses that house our hardworking people, we also have the home of the Akubra—made in Australia. We are the birthplace of MILO—how many scoops do you do?
The people of Oxley are unpretentious farmers and tradies. They are artists, artisans, creatives and innovators. They are carers, teachers, healthcare professionals, police and emergency service folk. They assist and serve visitors out of the big smoke. They volunteer and they collaborate, spending hours of their own lives helping others. It is high time we recognise and acknowledge the important contribution our country folk make to the fabric of New South Wales. In short, they are a microcosm of the bigger world, just in one region—our region. And all these people I serve with humility and pride.
Today I stand amongst my esteemed colleagues, within this venerated institution, committing to the region and people of Oxley that they will always be at the centre of every decision I make. As I progress through this term, I will call on the current Government to reduce any city?centric policies, to maintain the necessary levels of infrastructure, and to improve and expand upon the current healthcare facilities, as well as increase the numbers of police and healthcare professionals. I recognise that it is difficult to police vast areas and that rural people have to travel for acutely specialised care. I will rally to work with the Government to deliver the resources Oxley needs in these two critical areas. In fact, I have requested meetings with both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Police and Counter?terrorism already, because access to health care and feeling safe are significant priorities for our electorate.
To the people of Oxley, who have faced years of drought, the Black Summer bushfires in 2019 and 2020, and the devastating floods of 2021 and 2022—not to mention COVID—I know you are looking for someone who will speak their mind, keep true to their values and word, and someone who has the strength of character to represent your interests. I pledge to uphold your expectations with my behaviour and through the example I set. That level of behaviour is held already by so many people in our electorate, from the teachers educating our kids to the nurses looking after our families, and the surf lifesaving clubs and emergency services making us feel safe.
One example of that type of person is Richard Swan. “Tiny” is his nickname. I will not be giving any rewards for guessing his dimensions. It is the typical Aussie reverse humour. Suffice to say that Tiny is a larger?than-life guy who has done deployment after deployment with the Rural Fire Service. This was highlighted when he spent 53 days straight fighting the fires in 2019 and 2020. He also did back-to-back missions up to Lismore with us to help clean up after its devastating flood experience. I cannot tell you the total number of deployments he has done, but Tiny epitomises giving to others in the community. He is a shining light for resilience.
Another example of resilience is the way in which our four mayors and general managers have dealt with the repeated disasters our families have endured over the past few seasons. It has been a difficult time, and our society has fought, every step of the way. That was under the leadership of our councils. To have the support from our local community means the world to me, and I will be making it my goal, for as long as I am in this place, to ensure that the Oxley electorate is known for its people, not just its landscape.
My story is one of not quite getting it right early, and making mistakes. I am thankful that my environment allowed me to learn from those mistakes. It is a story of finally accepting the support of a couple of mentors after many before them had tried. It is one of working hard and making the most of the opportunities within our culture and our society. Finally, it is one of work ethic and attitude providing the opportunity, where in other countries I might not have had so many second chances.
There are so many people to thank, and so many moments in my life that have led to this point of being sworn into this place as a member of Parliament. I am unable to thank you all, and I want you to know that I value all who supported me at each crossroads in my life. I ask that you all realise I carry with me that support in many different ways. I can describe but a few here today. The first group of people are the voters of Oxley: those that went out and voted for me as their preference, those that could not support me as first preference but put me in their priority list, and also those that did not support me. Thank you for being a part of one of the most democratic processes in the world.
I thank The Nationals’ head office and members in the gallery—those awesome people who decided to preselect me and jumped at an opportunity to get behind me in the campaign, such as down?to?earth people like Jim Kerr, who is sitting in the gallery. Jim put down what he was doing for a few months to get me over the line. He committed fully and is a great mate. Janine Reed, the campaign director, was consistently putting in the hard work behind the scenes. Thank you. On the campaign trail I nearly sidelined the longest serving, most loyal and service-oriented person I know. You see, I was Brian Irvine’s treating clinician for a cardiac condition. I was concerned he would have a heart attack with any increased stress when putting up signs or standing out in the sun. He must have listened to my treatment because he is in the gallery after being the consistent glue that kept a team of people working towards success. Mate, it will take much more than a campaign to stop your heart.
That Nationals family includes all the members and people who got out in the rain and heat to have chats with others and hand out for me on pre-poll and election day. It was a great campaign that brought local issues to the fore. It is something I am very passionate about. I am certain I can learn a lot about campaigning from the people in this Chamber, but I for one was taken aback that more than 250 local Oxley people would want to give up their time to meet with me, to help guide me on each and every one of those particular issues facing their valleys, and then to follow through on hand-out roles despite their busy lives. I thank them.
Tragically, we lost Paul Welsh quite unexpectedly during the campaign. Paul and his wife, Sylvia—who is also part of that Nationals family—were two of the first people to invest in me as a politician. I have chosen to dedicate this moment to them. Sylvia is a vibrant, caring superwoman who connected immediately with me, particularly due to her genuine, curious and, most of all, compassionate nature. My heart goes out to you, Sylvia, and to your extended family.
I sincerely thank my staff and the patients of Keystone Health. As an employer in a small town, I have always thought about making myself available, about listening and about giving time for people to speak. I have always thought that was the best way to connect. When considering politics, I realised that I would have to give my all to the families in Oxley and that I would be unavailable to the staff and patients. I asked Sara Hollis-Watts and Chris “Bear” Gray, “How about running my clinics? How would you feel about managing someone else’s business?” I gave them one week’s notice. I can tell you that both of those employees and my wider staff have absolutely stepped up and are coping with great composure. Their attitude and application have allowed me to focus wholly on getting elected and representing the down-to-earth families in Oxley, without conflicting priorities.
Speaking of the families in Oxley, I will characterise their struggles and continue to ensure the local people—yes, you, the people living on the mid North Coast—are provided for on a level playing field by the New South Wales Government. To my family and friends, thank you. I will need the support of all of you. There were many nights during the election when sleep was difficult to fit into the 24 hours. My incredible boys, Ashton, Pierson and Lleyton, put in many extra hours during the campaign and coped with Dad being away more than normal. They got up early, went to functions, handed out and really took it in their stride. Thank you, boys. You are amazing.
The support I received from my extended family was invaluable. I will forever remember and cherish the respect I have for all of you. I cannot name you all, but to Brigitte’s mum, Marian, and Marian’s husband, David, who time and again help out wherever needed in our lives, I say thank you and tell the following story. When I needed a couple of extra volunteers I thought I had it sorted because they were coming up from Canberra. I thought, “Excellent. I’ve got two more on the booth”. When David got there, he flat-out refused and told me that there was no way he was handing out unless he was wearing a red shirt. He went on to explain that he was a staunch Labor supporter and could not bring himself to hand out for the Nats, not even for me. Despite my despair, David then smiled and volunteered for the longest, most boring and difficult job on the day: looking after me. Despite the way he votes and his conviction to do so, we cherish the support we feel from Marian and David’s selfless attitude. Thank you both so much.
The support networks made up of friends and acquaintances were immense. I am sure I will be saying thank you for the next four years. To my wonderful wife, Brigitte, you own half of this speech. I wish the rules were different and you could be right here, holding my hand, revelling in the knowledge that you caused this, as much as anyone. For those that have not heard it, I was asked to consider running by my predecessor, Melinda Pavey—more on her later. To Mel’s suggestion that I might consider running, I said, “I’m not sure that I’m the right person.” Let me tell you that when I told Brigitte what Mel said, she immediately responded, “No, you should do it. You will fight for what is right. You won’t be swayed by temptation. It’s what makes you tick.” I can tell you; I immediately knew that with that level of support I had to run. I had to make her proud. Brigitte’s support is unwavering. I am sure many members in this Parliament have a partner who is unwavering—someone who ensures that the sum output of both of you is way more than what you or I could ever imagine. So, babe, thanks for putting up with me and giving me to the community at your expense. I could not do it without you.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill”—Melinda Pavey, if I have heard this once, I have heard it 1,000 times. Mel told a story during her valedictory speech of the aunty in Menindee Lakes saying, “Missus, I know why you were shy about taking your shoes off. Look at the size of your feet.” Importantly, not only does Mel have large feet, but she also has much larger respect from the wider community, and I will be doing very well if I can fill some of the void she has left. The high level of respect from our community shows just how valuable a spokesperson you have been. We saw investment in the regions occur in the last few terms of the former Government, all under your guidance. I ask the current Government to continue providing strong support for our regions. The level of assistance I have received from Melinda has been amazing. Her anecdotes, her knowledge and her professionalism in this environment are second to none. Melinda, I will strive to continue the immense legacy that you have created in Oxley. Some of you may not know it, but Mel is long-term supporter and volunteer of many organisations across Oxley, especially surf lifesaving. To Melinda, Warren, Jack and Emily, thank you for your contribution of over 20 years to the people of New South Wales.
For those who remember my early days in the Macleay Valley, it is safe to say that I might not have got it all right in my teens. However, I am pleased to say that my parents instilled in me the work ethic to try to improve—to try to excel. And I did do well in one area—sport. By the age of 15, despite having a few difficulties, I had two mentors from football who had more impact on shaping me than they ever knew. I never told them. To Paul Feain and Tony Kellerman, thank you for making the effort to continually work towards guiding me into being a better person. I may not have said it—and you may never have seen it—but, boy, did it make a difference. I ask all of us to keep mentoring and giving adolescents a second chance. That chance may lead to a chance to excel.
Following that time, I joined the military at the age of 20. During my time in the forces I found the final pieces of the puzzle in teaching me the discipline and reliability that I was missing. I took to the regimented way quickly. After all, there was excitement and structure. Imagine a young fellow who gets to fire big guns and lob “grenades” at imaginary targets. It was a lot of fun, and I was sold! The time I spent in the air force and, prior to that, in the army reserve, was instrumental in making me the man I am today. To anyone thinking about joining the military, investigate it—ask questions—as our Australian military provides you with a wide range of employment options. It is a very noble and respectable career in keeping our country safe. It may even lead to a life of service to community, as it did for me. To this day, I still miss the camaraderie, mateship and structure, and I salute all members of our military who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, have served or are serving today. Lest we forget.
From the time I left the military, my determination and relentless drive to serve saw me attend the University of Newcastle. I pursued a physiotherapy degree that taught me to look critically at the evidence available and to always listen to the other side of a conversation or decision. You cannot have robust, open and fair debate without the pure act of listening to those who have a different opinion. A cool head is required when making decisions that affect our wider community, and I hope that skill in itself has set me up to be a much better representative of our people. I pledge that I will listen to the Government and crossbench, and work with them and my colleagues to better represent our families and the diverse community of Oxley.
The vision for Oxley that I hold is one of respect, of parity and of practicality. I would like to see the city and major towns acknowledging the importance of the regions and all the small villages in between. I would like to envisage a world where all parties acknowledge and respect the contribution of our rural folk, rather than keeping the cupboard down to the bare essentials. I went to the election looking for funding for Valla Industrial Estate, which is a crucial release of land halfway between Sydney and Brisbane that would bring much-needed economic stimulus. I asked for funding for the Wauchope Sporting Precinct, a critical project for an overcrowded town that is lacking in sports facilities like no other I have seen. I sought funding for the Bellingen and Wauchope hospital upgrades that are beyond necessary. Both buildings need upgrades that I will be requesting the Government to fund during this term.
I also requested funding for more child care in Kempsey through a building to be built on the Kempsey District Hospital grounds, which would allow critical skilled mothers and fathers to return to essential work. There was a host of other measures that were brought up after travelling throughout the electorate as far and wide as I could. Some of the service provision measures were more police, more healthcare workers and enticements to recruit and retain our quality healthcare staff, teachers and emergency workers, as well as more funding and capability to improve our roads. Those projects will remain my focus for the next four years, as well as ensuring that we have sufficient housing, both affordable and available, and better planning rules to ensure that zombie development applications are dissolved.
By the way, as the Oxley electorate sits between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, it is important to have great ties with our neighbouring areas, and I look forward to working closely with Gurmesh and Leslie. Of course, it would be remiss if I did not mention Adam, who sits up on the tablelands. I look forward to working closely with him as well. It is also important that I acknowledge the Federal representatives in my region—Pat Conaghan and David Gillespie, two great mentors who have provided some fantastic advice and are amazing local members for their regions.
It has been a pleasure to talk with you today, and I look forward to joining those here in the Chamber for a few drinks and a bite to eat after the speeches. We will all be celebrating together as soon I can make it home to catch up with the people who are watching online. In summary, I am very driven, and I would like to end with a commitment to my colleagues and the electorate of Oxley: I will live up to the responsibility of office and represent you with true, local, grounded and practical views, and a transparency that our constituents expect. Each decision I take will involve my values of fairness, openness, genuine warmth and empathy for those involved, and the decisions will be guided by accountability and transparency.
I invite all constituents to look into my voting decisions and, if you disagree, spend time asking why. These values are the ones that resonate within me. They remain the driver for my need to be reliable, consistent and fiercely accountable to the people of Oxley, because those hardworking people, those reliable people, those happy people—they are Oxley people. It is high time we acknowledge the regions and have uniform mindsets in this place for all of New South Wales.