National Press Club Address

Speech

MM002/2018

19 April 2018

National Press Club, Canberra

Thank you, Sabra (Lane, National Press Club President) for that introduction.

Thank you to everyone who is here today, including members of the media and my Nationals' and parliamentary colleagues, and good afternoon to those watching at home.

I want to share a little bit about myself and my vision for the Nationals. I want to talk about the future for regional Australia and, indeed, our nation.

And I also will provide an update on my portfolio of infrastructure and transport.

But it starts with the reason I am here.

It's about people. That's the reason I am here.

In my inaugural speech to Parliament in 2010, I said: “politics is not about power, it's about people—representing those people and speaking up for them, loudly, often, and passionately.”

Too often, we, as politicians and the media are distracted from this idea. The driving question that we should ask ourselves is: why are we here?

For journalists in this room, the answer is to present the news to your audience; and for me, to represent the people who trusted me to act on their behalf, indeed all constituents.

Both answers focus on people. Young and old, workers and job-seekers, individuals and families.

They are why we are here and their service should be our guiding ambition each and every day.

In forming an idea of who I am and why I'm here, much has been made about my profile.

The reports, some of which were accurate and some of which weren't—I must say I did enjoy reading the articles which labelled me as a beer-swilling partier, whilst others on the same day pegged me as a complete teetotaller.

The reason I'm here, the reason I'm a National, and the reason I first stood for Parliament is quite simple—it's about people and delivering on the things which matter to them.

Like making sure when they flick the switch, the lights come on.

Like making sure when the bills turn up, they can pay them.

Like making sure their children get an excellent education and that they are looked after if they get sick and, inevitably, when they get old.

That's why I ran for Parliament. It's why I stood for the leadership of The Nationals.

Why—both occasions—I said: I promise not to be silent when I ought to speak.

So, I stand here to cite the examples of a few country people who do this nation proud.

Each of them share the ambition the Nationals in Government want to unlock.

Each of them are who and what guides our Coalition Government each and everyday.

Sam and Katie Wallis own a company called Adaptapack. It's a Sydney based high-tech packaging machinery manufacturer.

Through our Regional Jobs and Investment Package, we are working with Sam and with Katie to move their business.

They recently chose to decentralise, to relocate from Sydney to Lismore, in Kevin Hogan's seat of Page. In the process they will work with TAFE and Southern Cross University to offer traineeships and intern opportunities, as well as tailored programs which better meet the jobs available today in high-tech and innovative industries.

This is providing 60 jobs during construction and an ongoing 50 jobs afterwards as well as a local multiplier effect on the Northern Rivers economy.

Sam and Katie are another reason why we have targeted small and family businesses in the regions by cutting taxes, by slashing red tape, by extending the popular instant asset write-off and generally just making it that bit easier to start and to run a business.

I'm also here to speak for Jeff and Renee Rice, third generation farmers from my Riverina electorate who run a 2,500 hectare farm south-east of Parkes.

The foundation which builds the economic success of so many communities—and Australia along with it—is agriculture.

As the son of a generational family farm, I know it is one of the most noble professions around and our farmers grow the best.

Jeff and Renee understand getting their products to market is vital to grow their business, but also to ensure that their customers get the highest quality product because it's delivered on time almost every time.

They see the benefits of Inland Rail, not just from an agricultural perspective, but for the whole region—indeed, the entire nation.

Inland Rail, our 1,700 kilometre corridor of commerce, will attract businesses to come over the Great Divide and indeed from around the world. Our foresight to build vital infrastructure and secure trade deals throughout the world will allow businesses such as Jeff and Renee's to grow, to create local jobs, including in the Riverina and Central West.

We're also here today to speak for people such as Ken Goodwin, a grain farmer from Sheep Hills in Victoria's Wimmera.

Ken's district every received a new mobile tower under round one of the Mobile Black Spots program.

Now, after the tower was built, Ken called his MP, Andrew Broad, from his tractor. You know why? Just because he could. Just because he could. And he let him know his business is now booming.

It's a basic need of business which the Liberals and Nationals are delivering after not a single cent from any Labor MP who claims falsely to speak for the bush.

It transforms country business opportunities and connects Ken and others just like him to the rest of the world, but it also improves safety for commuters, travellers, and truckies who spend long hours—many, many long hours—on country roads.

In each of these people about whom I have spoken today is a story about the things that matter. Little things, but they mean so much to the people they affect.

Each of them is a story of the people who make regional Australia such a place of opportunity and excitement.

Each of them is a challenge which we, their trusted representatives in government, must rise to.

And each of them remind me of why I am here: to get real outcomes for people—all people.

And that is the joy of leading The Nationals.

We have a team willing to stand up and fight for our constituents and to fight for the things which matter—both large and small.

And that's what makes The Nationals different.

No two country communities, however close or however far apart they might be, are the same. No two communities are the same. And nor are the representatives they send to Parliament.

Passion and commitment—even when colleagues disagree—are good things.

It's actually what Parliament was designed to deal with—to be robust—and what has sustained The Nationals for almost a century.

Local issues and local outcomes driven by a national voice and a team willing to work together to get the best possible outcomes for regional Australia.

So, I'm deeply honoured and humbled to be the 14th leader of The Nationals and a proud member of this passionate and dedicated team.

It's a tremendous responsibility and one which I do not take on lightly. Our previous leaders—Barnaby Joyce, Warren Truss, Mark Vaile, John Anderson, Tim Fischer, right back to good old William McWilliams, like me a former newspaper editor, what a noble profession.

Each brought their own style, each of those Nationals Leaders brought their own style.

Each of them are different, but each were leaders who stood up for the rights of rural, regional, and coastal areas, but also for our nation.

Each of them helped carve our country into what it is today and set the standard in delivering for regional Australia.

And it's that foundation on which each of us in The Nationals want to build.

We are a Government which is delivering mobile towers, tax cuts for small and medium businesses, in infrastructure projects, in health services—especially in mental health—in education, and certainly in defence spending.

I mention defence investment because my home town of Wagga Wagga is the only regional inland city with bases of all three arms of the Defence, including the Home of the Soldier—Blamey Barracks, Kapooka—and I can see its benefits in my community.

If you spend any given time in the Royal Australian Air Force, you end up at Forest Hill at Wagga Wagga. And, even though we are a long way from the nearest drop of sea water, we even have a Navy base there.

Darren Chester is ably leading our efforts in Veterans' Affairs, and as a former Minister for Veterans' Affairs and so close to Anzac Day, I want to praise the Defence Forces and the investment we are making, particularly in mental health of veterans, and to help them with their transition.

Now, as I say, Darren is very, very ably leading our efforts in this regard and I want to acknowledge Dr Brendan Nelson of the Australian War Memorial—a fine former politician, but more than that, to me, a fine and loyal friend—who is in the audience today.

You know, when I became the Veterans' Affairs Minister, the very first person who rang me was Dr Nelson. And when I became the leader of The Nationals, one of the very first people to ring me was Dr Nelson. And Brendan, I owe you a debt of gratitude and I will be forever grateful.

As minds turn to the next election, I want people to know there is one thing of which you can be sure: my Nationals colleagues and I will be delivering real outcomes to benefit our nation—the whole nation.

We will be doing it as a united team, in Government with the Liberal Party.

The Liberals and Nationals are separate parties—I need to stress that—but we've come together in a business relationship. A good, working, formidable business relationship.

It's a partnership, sure, but we proudly maintain an independent voice in Government to deliver for the people who live in our electorates and that, I believe, I know, is our strength.

Since World War II, this partnership has delivered good, sound governance and growth for our nation. Good government is achieved by ensuring that our national security and building our strong economy, and this is what Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, and our colleagues are focused on each and everyday.

Our coalition plan is working.

We have helped business deliver 1,100 jobs a day in the past 12 months and we are well on track to delivering our promise of creating, moreover helping, small and medium family enterprises creating a million jobs in five years.

This milestone confirms that our focus: jobs for today, jobs for the future, growing our economy, supporting our business, supporting farmers, supporting workers, supporting job seekers.

But we know there is always more work which can, which must, and which will be done.

Each weekend, whether I'm travelling the regions for work or getting a chance to catch up with my constituents at a local sporting event—and this Saturday I'm very much looking forward to attending my sons playing together for the first time.

They've always played in separate teams, but this Saturday they're playing together for Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes Goannas; they're taking on the Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong Lions.

A little bit of a shame—somebody on Twitter actually described Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong as the Ganmain-Grong Grong-Mating Lions. You can imagine how well that went down!

But anyway, when I go those sporting events and when I go to whatever event I'm attending on a weekend, or any other given day of the week, I hear from about the people for the hope they have for jobs for the future. And we understand that is easier said than done in some communities. So, investment from the private sector and jobs for local people should always, must always be encouraged.

And it's for these country people we can't believe, in The Nationals, that the Queensland Government has blocked the Carmichael mine's progression, especially given that more than 17 per cent of young Queenslanders are unemployed.

And I see Keith Pitt nodding. I see him nodding. That is why I'm proud to stand with my Queensland Nationals' colleagues, including George Christensen, Ken O'Dowd, Michelle Landry, Senators Matt Canavan, Barry O'Sullivan, Keith Pitt, to fight for coal jobs in regional Queensland and to call on the Queensland Government and the Labor Party to stop blocking this job-creating investment.

But from Labor we see again that regional Australia is an afterthought.

And for Bill Shorten it's an expendable afterthought.

How else do you explain his mealy mouthed statements on the Carmichael mine? When he says one thing to Geoff Cousins and the silvertail environmentalists and another to the battlers of Central Queensland so desperate for work.

People searching for a job know it is more than a number on a spreadsheet, they know it's more than an indicator of strength in an economy.

To the people it affects, it is so much more.

It is the confidence that someone trusts you to help build their business or operation.

It's the security that you can pay the bill when it comes in next.

And that's why our Government is doing everything we can to get more Australians into a job.

I'd now like to turn to my portfolio.

I want to acknowledge Keith Pitt, who is the Minister in the Infrastructure portfolio with me. He's a good guy!

I mentioned earlier the Inland Rail and I want to be very clear why we are building it.

This is the largest Commonwealth investment in a rail project in 100 years and it took a Liberal and Nationals Government to build it, to get it started, to make it happen.

We are building it because it is infrastructure that will underpin strong economic growth for business and agriculture alike by opening our regions to new domestic—indeed, international—markets.

It will attract new businesses to regional Australia and it will drive new investment by existing regional businesses, and in the process it will create local jobs.

I have heard the criticism that this is a project for regional people. Indeed it is, unashamedly. But anyone who wants to take part in this opportunity is welcome to join in.

But it will also bring enormous benefit to our capital cities: Melbourne and Sydney; Melbourne and Brisbane; Melbourne and Adelaide; Brisbane and Perth. I keep mentioning Melbourne and Brisbane because that's where it goes to and comes from, but certainly the Adelaides, the Perths, and all the other cities around our great nation, they're all going to benefit from Inland Rail.

Sixteen billion dollars of additional economic activity at a fair return on investment of $2.63 for each dollar we invest. That's a great return on investment.

I recently visited north western New South Wales with Mark Coulton and we met with small business people, with farmers, with agribusinesses, local residents along the rail line in Moree and Narrabri who understand the benefits it will bring their region.

Those people understand that over the next 20 years, the Australian freight task will double and if Inland Rail is not built, there will be an additional 200,000 trucks on our highways and byways by 2040.

Now, Inland Rail is exactly the type of logistics investment we need to make to safeguard our freight resilience and to help grow our economy, most importantly.

But it's not just Inland Rail.

This Government is delivering a major investment in passenger rail across Victoria. Last week, I joined the Prime Minister in announcing $5 billion for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Melbourne is on track to become our largest city, and the number of people looking to visit for tourism, for business, and, of course, to support the mighty Hawthorn Hawks.

For too long, the rail line has been talked about, but we want to make it a reality and we want to see it spur that growth beyond Melbourne's bright lights and Melbourne's suburbs.

And that's why we're also investing in the $1.7 billion Victorian Regional Rail Revival Program, upgrading lines into Geelong and Ballarat and Bendigo, and across the state into Wodonga and Gippsland and into the Mallee and Shepparton.

Now, my colleagues—Bridget McKenzie, my fantastic deputy; Damian Drum; Darren Chester; and Andrew Broad—are telling me how valuable and vital these upgrades are to their local communities.

Through programs such as Black Spots, Roads to Recovery, Roads of Strategic Importance, bridges renewal, heavy vehicle safety improvement—all championed by The Nationals—we are building safer and better roads in the regions and we're continuing to deliver on our commitment to fix the Bruce, the Warrego and the Pacific Highways.

All these measures go to the core of what this portfolio is designed to do—and I see Dr Steven Kennedy, the secretary there of the Department, also doing a fantastic job with his team. Thank you. This portfolio is about making the transportation of people and goods safer and more efficient.

We want to ease congestion and we want people to get to and from work, to and from home, faster and safer.

Much of this has been made possibly because we speak for the people who send us here.

Luke Hartsuyker and John “Wacka” Williams from New South Wales and Llew O'Brien from Queensland fight every day to improve road safety in the regions they represent and elsewhere.

Now, Luke and Llew—and I know Llew is here somewhere in the audience—wasted no time in putting forward the cases for upgrades to the Pacific Highway near Coffs Harbour and the Bruce near Cooroy to me when I became Minister. I actually asked Llew to make a special effort to push the case here. He made almost too special an effort and really put me on the notice!

It is advocacy from local MPs who champion these local issues which will ultimately get these projects delivered for their communities. When I talk about road safety, Llew O'Brien has really fighting the good fight and he's doing it because, as a former police officer, far too many times he did those late-night knocks on the door to deliver sad news to families, and that's why he's fighting for better road funding, for safer road funding.

Now, elsewhere, airlines and airports are delivering substantial new infrastructure, in Brisbane with the new parallel runway, as well as funding for remote airstrips.

Add to this the Western Sydney Airport, which the Government is developing with an injection of $5.3 billion. Now, I look forward to working with all parts of Australia's aviation industry on implementing real reforms, real reforms to drive productivity and enable the growth of this important sector.

Aviation, like heavy vehicles, like shipping, like motoring, like rail, they're all parts of the national transport network which underpins the growth of our national economy.

You cannot mention growth and infrastructure without mentioning water infrastructure, and specifically Rookwood Weir.

Now, recently I joined the Prime Minister and my Central Queensland Nationals colleagues, Michelle Landry and Ken O'Dowd, Matt Canavan and David Littleproud to announce the additional $46.1 million for the Rookwood Weir.

The Commonwealth has committed $176.1 million to the project and I welcome the Queensland Government's 50-50 construction funding commitment. Water infrastructure and security is vital—vital for the livelihoods of not only agriculture but people in so many regional communities.

It is vital to the success of our farmers, our small businesses, and for local jobs in the region. Water infrastructure is vital for drought-proofing communities and flood mitigation, and there's no greater example of this than Rockhampton and Rookwood.

Australia is home to the world's best farmers—the most innovative, practical and most resilient on our planet, and they are the best environmentalists.

Without water, our communities cannot grow the food and fibre that our nation needs and the world demands. Let me tell you, we grow the very best food, the very best fibre in the world—especially our irrigators.

We are also seizing the opportunities of Australia's north by delivering a major investment through the Northern Australian Beef Roads program.

While the advantages of building these roads are clear, what may have been missed is the benefits they will bring to Indigenous Australians. I want to praise the leader of The Nationals in the Senate and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion.

He has passionately led the push to increase Indigenous participation on projects, including the Northern Australia Beef Roads. Supporting Indigenous Australians with the new opportunities both for employment and for business development will go a long way to enhancing remote communities and also help to closing the gap.

And I acknowledge that today we are meeting on Ngunnawal land.

It is not just employment that needs to improve in rural, regional and remote communities—we also need better health services for all Australians.

It's simply not good enough that regional Australians should be made to suffer through doctor and nurse shortages or that they be forced to travel thousands of kilometres to see a healthcare provider.

The Prime Minister, Rural Health Minister, and Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie and I recently announced $84 million in funding for the iconic Royal Flying Doctor Service to extend essential health services for Australians in rural and especially remote areas. This funding will help ensure these essential services are available where and when people need them.

Australians living in rural and remote places also get better access to dental care services thanks to this funding, emergency air medical services, and for the very first time the Royal Flying Doctor Service is going to establish a mental health outreach clinic.

This comes on top of the $4.3 billion we have added to mental health funding to help the one-in-five Australians who suffer from poor mental health.

We know that aged care and the scourge of ice and amphetamines are major issues in country communities in particular, and this Government is investing heavily to help in that regard too.

The Liberals and Nationals Government is committed to e-Health programs and using technologies such as the Sky Muster satellites and NBN to connect regional patients with specialists based in the cities and throughout the country.

Dr David Gillespie, in his previous role as Assistant Health Minister, delivered a National Rural Health Commission and I applaud him for the work he did in that regard and for the work he continues to do in the ministry.

Now, the Commissioner is already working with rural and regional communities, industry, universities and training colleges and with the states to improve rural health policies and champion rural health, most importantly, outcomes.

This is a game-changer for rural and regional communities and elevates country communities' health needs to the place they belong in our Government.

Added to this, our rural health agenda is vast and we want to build on this.

While these programs will all contribute to improving rural health, the reality is the biggest problem facing regional health is the lack of local doctors.

The honest truth here is Australia is training more doctors than ever before, but there is a mal-distribution of where they are practising.

But we are not seeing as many as we need taking up the opportunities that regional Australia offers.

To this end, I am a big believer in rural medical schools which will address the mal-distribution of doctors by ensuring start-to-finish training in a country centre.

I hear from local doctors and specialists the passion they have for country medicine and the hope they have that one day someone who shares their passion might ultimately take over from them.

I know the benefits that long-term locals committed to long-term outcomes can bring to regional communities. And I think simply there must be a better way.

The Nationals have been committed to bringing more doctors to the bush for years and we'll continue to fight for it. I know Andrew Gee certainly will.

We know there isn't a magic wand to fix it immediately and we know that there are hurdles to pass to secure it, but issues like these are why we are Nationals.

Our policy of more medical students, primarily country students, trained in the bush has been around for quite a while.

And with local MPs, as the aforementioned Andrew Gee, continue to speak up for their communities, they will.

We're making progress. Our work is helping to solve country communities' needs with measured, with practical steps along the way.

But as The Nationals' Leader I believe that medical schools should happen.

It is something about which I remain passionate and committed.

That commitment and passion are what makes fairer education central in my policy priorities as well.

The real hope for regions is our children and as Nationals' leader, I want all children, those children in rural areas in particular to get the best start, and the best possible start is a happy home and a good education.

We are fortunate to live in a country where post code does not limit potential, but like doctors in the regions, this can always do with more work.

Research shows if you train someone locally, chances are their skills, be that as a teacher, an accountant, a cabinet-maker, you name it, will stay local.

So our solution to the need for more trades, for more doctors and all the skills we need in the regions should not always lie in the metropolitan cities.

This is another goal as Nationals leader.

That's why the Liberals and the Nationals are delivering a needs-based model of funding, because that is what we need in education and it means a fairer system for regional students.

Our message on education is clear: whether it's a degree or a trade, further education is good for everyone and a trade is every bit as good as a degree.

I've always believed a trade certificate and an apprenticeship, like the one my son, Nicholas, is working towards in cabinet-making, is worth every bit as much as the teaching and accountancy degrees that my other children, Georgina and Alexander, have.

It's my hope more kids like Nick will get a trade locally and go on to work in or perhaps even start their own local business to service country communities with tradespeople and encouraging future generations to do the same. And that is why I support the Commonwealth-led partnership with the states and territory which will add up to an extra 300,000 apprenticeships and traineeships over the next four years.

Now, recently Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Regional Development Minister John McVeigh, Dan Tehan, Bridget McKenzie and I noted the independent review into regional, rural and remote education.

The review found that rural and regional students face a number of challenges, including those who have to relocate for university.

Relocation often comes with a large expense for both the student and their family, putting an extra strain on household budgets.

This puts them at a distinct advantage, compared to students who do not have to relocate and can stay at home whilst they study.

This too is an area which needs more work and it's something I look forward to advancing alongside passionate and dedicated colleagues, especially my Deputy Bridget McKenzie.

One of the major dilemmas our nation faces today is congestion, in our capital cities, in particular. Particularly, especially, Sydney and Melbourne.

Another huge problem is the cost of housing, particularly in Sydney, particularly in Melbourne.

The two are interlinked. These wonderful cities—and they are international icons—they're busy, they're overcrowded, and as a nation we have to address this problem and we have to address it now.

The Nationals have decentralisation as a key plank of our policy platform. We always have, it's always been a goal for us, we'll continue to work and fight towards it.

And in recent times we have made positive moves in the decentralisation agenda.

We have moved the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation from Canberra to Wagga Wagga, along with 17 fulltime equivalent jobs.

While this might sound small, these are experts from everywhere who have made a great example of the positive impact such moves can make.

Indeed it now has a new name—it's called Agrifutures Australia and it's being chaired by my predecessor in the seat of Riverina, Kay Hull AM.

This has been a positive change, not least of which because it saved the Commonwealth more than a quarter of a million dollars a year in rent alone.

And you know what? I don't see much wheat being grown in Canberra!

Agrifutures Australia is now where it ought to be, in a country centre where the good people who work for that organisation can mix it with people at Charles Sturt University, people in the field, farmers, and get positive results, which is what we all want, ensuring that we get maximum bang for buck for taxpayers' dollars.

More than that, we have also moved the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority—the APVMA—to Armidale. Sure, not without controversy, I understand that. But ultimately, it is the right thing to do.

We have moved the Grains Research and Development Corporation out of Canberra and into places such as Dubbo, into places such as Toowoomba and Northam in Western Australia.

When we talk of decentralisation—and I appreciate public servants who work for those organisations have links and commitments in capital cities—imagine if we had adopted this idea, this principle and applied it to everything in the past, just imagine that for a moment.

The Taxation Office would never have been moved, would never have ended up in Albury.

Try now getting the 400 people who worked for the Tax Office in Albury—they have been there, mind you, since 1976, Kevin Mack, the mayor down there tells me—imagine telling those people that they have to pack up and move to Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra.

You could not prize them out with a pitchfork.

They love living in this regional capital and why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't they?

There are regional capitals such as Albury, Alice Springs, Bendigo, Cairns, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Launceston, Lismore, Mackay, Mildura—I visited there just two days ago—Mount Gambier, Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Toowoomba, Townsville, and Wagga Wagga, spotted across this great country, and I could go on.

In these and the ones I haven't mentioned are good, bustling, dynamic capitals; regional capitals crying out for people to move there. More families, more activity, more jobs, and these communities are ready and willing to take them.

You know what? One of the best things about these regional capitals and smaller towns as well is that they're big enough to find a good cup of coffee and they're small enough to care.

In these towns, you're ten minutes from anywhere in town, which is so important when it comes to getting to work and drop the kids off to school, or whatever you might be doing.

More than that, by moving some of the agencies or indeed some of the individual public servants to regional areas, we are helping to ease the congestion in large capital cities, boosting regional capitals and the towns and country areas around them and this has got to be a good thing.

There are those who suggested building new regional capitals, just building from scratch. Why not? Build it and they will come!

We have to have some blue-sky vision. We have to be brave, we have to be bold, we have to do something about congestion and overcrowding, and we have to do it now.

We have to seek the support of the private sector to invest in country communities too, and we have to encourage those country communities to get behind the new businesses, the new jobs which do.

We have to have for the sake of our nation and to help ease overcrowding and congestion in our larger cities, we have to have a vision which extends beyond the great divide.

The political will has to be there. The Nationals and the regional Liberals continue to champion this and as the Leader of The Nationals, I think it's a great idea.

I started my speech today by talking about people.

People who I represent, people who my Nationals and Liberal colleagues represent and all Australians.

In our unique classless and multicultural society, I want to make sure that we're helping you achieve and lower the cost of living.

I want to work with local businesses to increase wages and job opportunities and invest in our education and health systems together.

We can give our children and our grandchildren the best start in life and indeed a rewarding career.

These are the goals shared in the Nationals party room, they always have been.

These are the goals shared by the thousands of National Party members across the country.

For almost 100 years, our members have seen the opportunities regional areas offer to help build a stronger Australia, and I'm particularly pleased that there are so many young people now joining The Nationals, because they see a future in our party because we are there for regional areas.

So as we march towards our centenary—that's The Nationals' centenary—I will be looking forward to setting in place solid foundations for the next 100 years of representing people who choose to live away from the bright city lights.

Our centenary is going to be a great time but we're also looking forward and we have a vision and a plan for the next 100 years.

I want to build a better future with my colleagues for all regional Australians because I know that when the regions are strong, so too is our nation.

That's why I'm here and that's what I'll be fighting for each and every day.

In closing, I want to make special mention of my wife of 31 years, Catherine.

Together we have built a life and raised three healthy and happy children. I know that without the support of my family, I wouldn't have the opportunity to stand here today to be your Acting Prime Minister.

Catherine apologises that she's not here today, but as things go, we decided to book or she decided to book a holiday last year, which would have been, would you believe, our first overseas trip together in all of our years of marriage.

But Catherine is all good. She's taken her mum…

… my beloved mother-in-law, and I mean that in all sincerity, on holidays in my place and is probably quite frankly having a better time without me.

But seriously, I'm honoured and excited to be in this wonderful country of opportunity today. It is a country of opportunity.

Only in Australia can a boy from Marrar in southern New South Wales stand here and share a vision for our regions and our nation, and the job of building a bright future for the bush is a very exciting one indeed.

Thank you very much.