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Page's final word to MPs - fund the rail trail and stop CSG

Retiring Ballina MP Don Page
Retiring Ballina MP Don Page

RETIRING Ballina MP Don Page has used his valedictory speech in NSW Parliament as a rallying cry to keep coal seam gas out of his electorate and to push for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail to get funding.

The Nationals stalwart, who was raised on a North Coast cattle property, will stand down from politics at the next election.

>>DON PAGE'S BIG ACHIEVEMENTS

>>FULL TEXT OF SPEECH

It brings to an end his 27-year career, after being re-elected seven times, and closes the door on a political dynasty that stretches back nearly a century to former Prime Minister and Cowper MP Sir Earle Page.

Mr Page's parting words urged Parliament to keep Ballina CSG-free and to ensure Dart Energy went ahead with its plan to relinquish a petroleum exploration licence which covers the electorate.

"On CSG, I can confidently say the great majority of people in my electorate, including me, do not see CSG as being compatible with the character of the electorate," he said.

"The Ballina electorate is all about tourism, the creative industries, agriculture and horticulture, appropriate development and protecting our clean, green sustainability focus, including renewable energy.

"I've also taken the view that CSG should not proceed if there is any environmental damage to land or water as a result, and I will always hold that view.

"There is no CSG in the Ballina electorate, however there is a PEL over it.

"When the owners of PEL 445 surrender 25% of their licence, the Government should not re-issue that part of it, thereby making the Ballina electorate CSG-free."

Mr Page said he dearly wanted to see the Northern Rivers Rail Trail built on the now-disused Casino to Murwillumbah rail line.

"The benefits to tourism and job creation across the region, not to mention better health outcomes, will be huge," he said.

Mr Page paid tribute to his family for their lifelong support and the Ballina voters who allowed him to build his career.

"As a boy who grew up on a North Coast cattle station and was raised on Country Party milk, I've always been very grateful for the opportunities I've had in life," he said.

"I've tried to live my life based on honesty, integrity, compassion and hard work.

"Many people have helped me, but I would make special reference to my parents, Helen and Don Page senior, who insisted all seven of their children received the best possible education.

"I will be forever grateful to the people of the Ballina electorate who have elected and re-elected me seven times without ever requiring me to go to preferences.

"Serving such a diverse electorate has at times been challenging, but my life is so much richer for having had contact with so many people who do such wonderful things to make our community a better place.

"I'm leaving on my own terms and there are no tears. I'm retiring from politics, but I'm not retiring from life."

Mr Page took the opportunity to cheekily suggest that one of the Nationals might one day rise to the post of NSW Premier.

"After all, it happened Federally when Arthur Fadden became PM," he said.

MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Prohibiting high-rise development along the NSW coastline and ensuring public access to beaches
  • In Opposition, convinced Labor to agree to compensate landholders who lost water allocations they bought "in the public interest"
  • Introduced laws requiring management plans to protect koalas where any new development occurred
  • Appointed the first Cross Border Commissioner to deal with "the multitude of cross-border issues"
  • Introduced laws meaning small businesses dealing with government must be paid within 30 days, or interest would be applied
  • Inviting every NSW mayor and councillor to round-table conference in 2011 to improve the state-local government relationship
  • Helped create subsidy for councils borrowing money which meant State Government covered about two-thirds of interest
  • Introduced "early intervention" laws to allow State Government to quickly correct dysfunctional councils
  • Stronger laws for management of dangerous dogs
  • Reduced "unacceptably" high levels euthanasia rates among cats and dogs
  • Changed swimming pool legislation to reduce preventable child drownings
  • Fought for Pacific Hwy upgrades
  • Four new schools built in his electorate
  • Sporting and community facility upgrades
  • 24-hour police stations at Ballina and Byron Bay
  • Helped secure $80 million for new Byron Central Hospital project
  • Obtained $10.5 million funding to build town centre bypass road for Byron Bay


STILL TO DO

  • Create "right to farm" legislation to protect food production in peri-urban areas
  • Introduce state subsidy on loan interest for regional businesses looking to expand or start-up and create jobs
  • Create specific borrowing authority for local governments, so they can make use of the State Government's Triple A credit rating and borrow at a 2% discount
  • Ensure Ballina electorate remains CSG free
  • Build the Northern Rivers Rail Trail

FULL TEXT OF SPEECH

AS a boy who grew up on a north coast cattle station and was raised on Country Party milk, I've always been very grateful for the opportunities I've had in life.

I've tried to live my life based on honesty, integrity, compassion and hard work.

Many people have helped me, but I would make special reference to my parents, Helen and Don Page senior, who insisted all seven of their children received the best possible education.

In the gallery tonight I would like to acknowledge and thank my wife, Lizzi, who is my strongest supporter and a wonderful help to me.

She has been a source of great encouragement, and continues to support me in every respect.

My eldest son, Nicholas and his wife, Ange are also here along with my sister, Helen and her daughter, Cilla. There are other friends in the gallery and I thank you all for coming.

I will be forever grateful to the people of the Ballina electorate who have elected and re-elected me seven times without ever requiring me to go to preferences.

Serving such a diverse electorate has at times been challenging but my life is so much richer for having had contact with so many people who do such wonderful things to make our community a better place.

It is an honour to serve the community, whether as the local MP or a Minister, I am fortunate because I've had the privilege of serving in both capacities.

When offered the opportunity to make my valedictory speech on Remembrance Day, I readily accepted because I wanted to pay tribute to all those Australian service men and women who have served our country, to protect our freedoms, our democracy, and our way of life. I include of course two former members of this House, Lieutenant-Colonel Braund and Sargent Ted Larkin, who gave their lives in World War I. I also think it is a timely reminder to all members in this place that the sacrifices we make in serving the public interest, whilst onerous on occasions, pale into insignificance when compared to the sacrifice made by Australians who have literally given their lives in the service of our wonderful country.

I have three family heroes.

The first is my great uncle, Captain Harold Page, who fought with great courage at Gallipoli and the Western Front in World War I and was awarded the Military Cross and the DSO.

He later became the Deputy Administrator of Papua New Guinea, and was in that role when the Japanese invaded in 1941.

No-one knows for sure what happened to him.

He was either executed when the Japanese arrived or was taken prisoner and later lost along with 1100 other Australian prisoners, both soldiers and civilians, on the Montevideo Maru, which was sunk by an American submarine.

Harold's son, Robert Page, my second family hero, was a Sydney University medical student in World War II when he volunteered to serve with Z Force, a commando unit which successfully carried out Operation Jaywick using the Krait, a former Japanese fishing boat, which sailed from Australia to Singapore before sinking seven Japanese ships right under their noses in Singapore Harbour.

It was during a similar second covert operation, known as Operation Rimau, where Captain Robert Page was captured and beheaded by the Japanese at the age of just 24, just a few weeks before the end of World War II. He like his father was awarded a D.S.O.

The courageous story of those commandos from Z Force in Operations Jaywick and Rimau is something all Australians should know about.

Their story has been told in several books and is the basis for at least one movie.

My third family hero is Dr Earle Page, my grandfather, who went to Sydney University when he was fourteen and graduated top of his year in medicine aged 21.

He was a pioneering surgeon who had a distinguished medical career before entering Federal Parliament in 1919.

He was instrumental in forming the Australian Country Party, was its Federal Leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia through the 1920s and 1930s excluding the Depression from 1929-32.

He became Australia's 11th Prime Minister when Joseph Lyons died in office in 1939.

He was also Australia's representative on the British War Cabinet under both UAP and Labor Governments during World War II and Federal Minister for Health in the Menzies Government from 1949 to 1956.

I understand he is the only Federal Minister to hold onto his Ministerial portfolio and remain as Australia's representative on the British War Cabinet when there was a change of Government in Australia - a sign of the respect with which he was held by both sides of politics.

I mention my three family heroes because they influenced and inspired me to always put the public interest first, work hard to assist others, and try to set a good example for those who follow.

In my political life I've sought to promote the needs of the regions who have struggled for attention and resources compared to their city cousins. In many ways the Nationals are a political party based on geography rather than ideology.

We don't have left and right factions.

We are for whatever is best for the regions.

I've always thought that ideology is there to serve mankind - not mankind serving an ideology.

Mostly problems in the regions have a practical solution, and it is that pragmatism and flexibility which enables our local champions in the Nationals to stand up for their local communities devoid of an ideological straight jacket.

The only thing that matters in the end is whether it's in the interests of the regions which we represent.

If it is, we'll support it, if it's not, we'll oppose it.

Madam Speaker, Any political career will be a combination of successes and failures, big things and small things and if you're very lucky - a happy ending!

I'm leaving on my own terms and there are no tears.

Having said that, it's better to leave when they want you to stay, than to stay when they want to leave!

I'm retiring from politics but I'm not retiring from life!

I never imagined when I was elected in March 1988, I would serve what will be twenty seven years by the next election.

I thought maybe two terms if I'm lucky. In my youthful enthusiasm I thought it would only take a few years to sort things out.

However, as we all know, effecting meaningful change is a challenging task in public life, which takes time. As it's turned out, it's been one year at the beginning and the end of my total term as a backbencher, six years as a Parliamentary Secretary or Assistant Minister (as we were called at one stage), sixteen long years as a Shadow Minister in Opposition and just over three years as a Minister - In total 12 portfolio areas.

Notwithstanding the truism that success has many fathers, I will briefly mention a few things where I feel I did make a difference.

As a coastal MP and being on the NSW Coastal Council for several years, I am especially proud of playing my part in developing and refining the NSW Coastal Policy.

This policy essentially prohibited high rise development along the NSW coast line, gave guaranteed public access to beaches, facilitated a scale of development that is sensitive to environmental and planning constraints, and protected the diversity of ecosystems.

Indeed, when we lost Government in 1995 and Craig Knowles became the Labor Planning Minister he asked his Director-General, at the time Gabrielle Kibble who was the MP on the Coastal Council.

She replied that I was, and Minister Knowles instructed that I stay on the Coastal Council despite the change of Government. That continued for about three years before some Labor backbenchers complained and I was politely asked to step down, which of course, I did.

When we went into Opposition in 1995 I became the Shadow Minister for Land and Water Conservation.

The Government had correctly decided that the 1912 Water Act needed to be rewritten.

Richard Amery was the Labor Minister.

The Government's initial White Paper expressly ruled out compensable water rights.

However, I strongly believed that since water users had paid for their water allocations they should be compensated if the Government took away those allocations in the public interest - for example to increase environmental flows.

Until that time this idea of compensable rights had only really applied to land not water.

To cut a long story short, Minister Amery, who I believe is the best Labor Minister there has been for Agriculture and Land and Water Conservation in my time in Parliament, ended up agreeing to compensable water rights and a few other important things I wanted in exchange for the Opposition's support in the Legislative Council.

The outcome was sensible legislation negotiated between the Government and Opposition, which was broadly accepted and generally remains in place to this day.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Planning in 1994 I was instrumental in delivering SEPP-44 which requires a Plan of Management to protect koalas where any new development is to occur.

In Opposition I also saw the need to appoint a Cross Border Commissioner to address the multitude of cross border issues.

After introducing legislation from Opposition in 2001, I'm very pleased we've had a Cross Border Commissioner for three years now.

Cutting red tape has been something of a passion of mine so it was natural to come up with a policy of requiring Government to remove two regulations for every new regulation put in place. I'm pleased to advise this Government is more than meeting that policy objective.

As Shadow Minister for Small Business I realised that the small business sector needed a strong advocate across all portfolios to highlight and resolve their many problems.

My suggestion was that such advocacy should come from a small business commissioner who, once again, I'm pleased to see has been put in place and is doing good work for the small business sector. Another initiative was to ensure small businesses who deal with Government agencies be paid within thirty days, otherwise interest would apply.

Again, that policy is in place and working.

I also wanted to see Right to Farm Legislation to help protect food production into the future, especially in peri-urban areas but alas I haven't been able to deliver that outcome to date. Others will have to take up that cause.

When I became the Minister for Local Government in the O'Farrell-Stoner Government, I quickly realised two key things.

First, the relationship between State and Local Governments was very antagonistic.

Given local government is an important player in achieving State objectives and because I prefer sensible communication where differences exist - the relationship needed to be fixed.

Second, a third of the 152 councils in New South Wales were financially weak which meant they could not address their infrastructure backlog properly and many were struggling to deliver the basic services their communities needed.

There was a requirement for serious reform to make local government sustainable, thereby delivering better outcomes for ratepayers and the State.

I set about repairing the State/Local Government relationship by inviting every mayor and general manager from all in New South Wales to a two day conference in Dubbo in August 2011.

All Councils were present for this unprecedented collaboration. Over two days, several workshops were held on the things we needed to do to make Local Government stronger and therefore better able to deliver for their communities and ratepayers.

Everyone, including me, stayed for the full duration and actively participated in the debates.

That Destination 2036 conference led to the development of an Action Plan which in turn led to the appointment of an Independent Panel tasked with making recommendations for reform in the areas of service delivery and efficiency, appropriate structures, better governance, economic sustainability and a better State/Local Government relationship.

Three experienced people were appointed. They consulted widely and subsequently made 62 recommendations to me.

Concurrently I appointed a Taskforce to specifically look at the reform of the Local Government Act itself.

Its key recommendation was to make integrated Planning and reporting the centrepiece of the Act.

It is important to remember that all this reform had to be done within the Government's policy of no forced amalgamations, which presented its own challenges.

From both the Panel's and the Taskforce's work I was able to put recommendations forward, which subsequently were broadly adopted in the Fit for the Future Policy released on 15th September by my Ministerial successor, the Hon. Paul Toole.

I'd like to thank the Premier in particular for his support for stronger financial incentives in the package being offered to the Local Government sector.

One of the programs we put in place was the Local Government Infrastructure Renewal Scheme or LIRS.

The basis of LIRS was that the State Government would provide a three or four per cent interest subsidy over 10 years to councils on their borrowings to address their infrastructure backlog.

This effectively meant the State Government were paying around two-thirds of councils' interest on borrowings.

When the third round of LIRS is finalised, for a State investment around $100million almost $1billion in local infrastructure will have been put on the ground by this very successful policy initiative.

I think a LIRS type scheme can have wider application in growing jobs in regional areas beyond the Local Government portfolio.

For example, if you want to create private sector jobs in regional areas, a business could take out its loan for expansion or start up, the Government provides an interest subsidy for a limited period, say five years.

The business wears the risk because the loan is in their name, not the Government's but the businesses get assistance with their cash flow for a limited five year period after which they are on their own.

Another initiative I always believed would deliver lasting benefits to local government is the creation of a specific borrowing authority which will save local government billions over time.

This authority will be able to take advantage of the State Governments Triple A credit rating which means in practical terms that councils will be able to borrow at around two percent less than they currently borrow.

At current interest rates, this will reduce their loan repayments by about one third which means councils will be able to spend those savings on service delivery, reducing their infrastructure backlog rather than paying the bank.

As Minister I was particularly keen on making much better use of ROCs or Joint Organisations.

We need to drive economic efficiencies through joint procurement, resource sharing, reduced duplication and red tape.

I would like to thank members of the Independent Panel, and the Taskforce for their good work and my CEO Ross Woodward, Steve Orr and Corrin Moffatt from the Office of Local Government for their support and enthusiasm for reform.

Together we laid the platform for much-needed and long lasting reform to local government which will be good for local communities and the State as a whole. Of course I strongly endorse the Government's Fit for the Future Program.

Other reforms to occur during my time as Local Government Minister was the signing of a new Intergovernmental Agreement between the State and Local Government sector: early intervention laws to enable the early correction of councils that are becoming dysfunctional; stronger laws for the management of dangerous dogs; measures to reduce the unacceptably high levels of euthanasia rates among dogs and cats, and changes to swimming pool legislation as recommended by the NSW Coroner to reduce the number of preventable child drownings.

Being the first Minister for the North Coast, ensuring the Pacific Highway was upgraded as quickly as possible has been a top priority.

This project is progressing well with over sixty percent of the road now being divided carriageway.

Dual carriageway throughout almost all of my electorate will be achieved next year, which has already and will continue to save many lives.

It's hard to summarise 26 ½ years as Local Member into a few minutes.

I would just say that helping constituents and community groups solve problems is a very enriching experience which I have enjoyed.

The only other thing I would say is I gave priority to putting new infrastructure on the ground.

This included four new schools (Ocean Shores, Southern Cross K-12, Wollongbar and Clunes), major upgrades to three other schools (Alstonville High, Mullumbimby High and Byron Primary), the redevelopment of Ballina and Byron Hospitals, numerous sporting and community facility upgrades and twenty four hour police stations at Ballina and Byron Bay.

After over a decade of planning and consultation it has been our current Government that has provided $80million in funding for the new Byron Central Hospital.

I sincerely thank the Minister for Health for her interest, commitment and enthusiasm for this project.

Construction has recently commenced on the site at Ewingsdale.

In Byron Bay traffic congestion has been a problem for many years.

We need a town centre bypass.

Even though it's a local government responsibility I could see it wouldn't ever happen unless the State Government funded most of the cost.

With the assistance of Duncan Gay who I regard as an excellent Roads Minister, our Government has allocated $10.5 million to this bypass.

This has been warmly received by the local people.

On CSG, I can confidently say the great majority of people in my electorate including me do not see CSG as being compatible with the character of the electorate.

The Ballina electorate is all about tourism, the creative industries, agriculture and horticulture, appropriate development, protecting our clean green sustainability focus including renewable energy.

I've also taken the view that CSG should not proceed if there is any environmental damage to land or water as a result and I will always hold that view.

There is no CSG in the Ballina electorate. When the owners of PEL 445 which covers all of the Ballina electorate surrender their 25%, the Government should not re-issue that part of it, thereby making it CSG free. I look forward to the Government's announcement on CSG in the near future.

Another project I dearly want to see come to fruition is a Rail Trail on the now disused Casino to Murwillumbah rail line following the removal of trains by the Labor Government ten years ago. An independent consultants report supported the establishment of a rail trail.

The benefits to tourism and job creation across the region, not to mention better health outcomes, will be huge.

There are several people I'd like to thank. Firstly, I'd like to again thank my wife, Lizzi, and again acknowledge her personal and political support.

I'd also like to thank my children, Nick, Tash, Lachie and Angus for attending so many functions over the years and for putting up with not having their father at home for long periods.

Politics, especially for regional MPs is tough on families and I'd like to also acknowledge, Morag Page, for her support and commitment in the earlier years.

My electorate officer, Toni Graham has been with me since I started in 1988.

I'm sure she knows me better than I know myself.

Thank you Toni for your loyalty and dedication over such a long period, not just to me, but to the electorate.

Thanks to Donna Cruz, my other electorate officer, for your unflinching support, sunny personality and commitment to the best outcomes.

To Annie Lewis for her bubbly and happy presence and efficient research and writing ability; and to Carol Donaghey who so capably fills in when either Toni or Donna are on leave.

I also thank Bree Price, who worked in my electorate office before coming to Sydney as Andrew Stoner's PA.

From my time in Opposition I especially thank Emma Watts who assisted me with the new Water Act in particular.

I'd also like to thank my Ministerial staff for their support, Policy Advisors Paul Terrett and Darren Bark who did an outstanding job in their roles, Namoi Dougal, my former chief of staff, my PA, Maria Hedley, Amanda Al-Zahab, , Katrina Carlon, Anne Rinaudo, Angeli Lee and Jonathan Porter.

In the National Party I'd like to especially thank my campaign manager for six campaigns, Jim Sneesby, Chris Lomax as manager in my first campaign, Grahame Gooding as Treasurer and strong supporter for well over a decade, Mike Wallace, Jim Armstrong, Andrew Sochacki, Sue Curtis and many other members too numerous to name. I'd also like to thank the Nationals Head Office staff, especially State Directors Jenny Gardiner, Michael Priebe and Ben Franklin.

I've worked with five National Party leaders, Wal Murray, Ian Armstrong, George Souris, my good friend whose life and career has many similarities with my own - we went to boarding school together, attended the same university, played rugby together, were elected to this place on the same day and are giving our Valedictory Speeches on the same night, and I acknowledge his wife Vassy in the Gallery tonight!

I'd also like to acknowledge the long and successful leadership of Andrew Stoner from 2003 until recently.

I had the pleasure of serving as his deputy from 2003 to 2007.

Andrew did a lot to modernise the party and he and Barry O'Farrell worked very hard both in opposition and in Government to put us in the strong position we are in today.

I believe our new Leader, Troy Grant, elected unopposed on the retirement of Andrew Stoner, has all the ingredients to be a very successful long-term leader of our party and I wish him well.

It is very comforting for me to look around at so many very capable members in our party representing regional NSW, knowing the future is in good hands.

I could be cheeky and suggest that because the political marriage in NSW is good, and we believe in equality within a marriage, at some stage in future, all Coalition MPs might get a say in who is the Coalition Leader.

The Nats might provide the Premier.

After all, it happened Federally when Arthur Fadden became PM!

I would also like to especially thank my neighbouring MPs, Thomas George, Chris Gulaptis and Geoff Provest.

We have many common issues in our electorates and it has been a pleasure to work so co-operatively with each of you as we seek to advance the best interests of the Northern Rivers region.

The Nationals are like one big family, but our members are from diverse backgrounds.

To all of my Nationals colleagues - thank you for your friendship and camaraderie.

I am one of very few members who can say I have worked with both a father and his son in this place.

I refer of course to Bruce and Mike Baird.

I was assistant Minister for Transport under Minister Bruce Baird.

Bruce was a very capable Minister and very supportive of me which I appreciated.

I recall one occasion when Bruce was preparing the ground for major reform of the rail system by highlighting that the State Rail Authority were losing $3 million every day.

He said here in answer to a Dorothy Dixer "in the time I've been on my feet answering this question the State Rail Authority has lost $30,000!"

A quick interjection came from the opposition "then why don't you sit down!"

So having served with Bruce it was somewhat surreal to find myself seated beside Mike Baird at our first Cabinet meeting in April 2011, some twenty years later!

I wish to congratulate Mike on his elevation to the Premiership.

He is doing a great job. I'd also like to acknowledge the contribution of former Premier Barry O'Farrell, together with former Treasurer Baird and all other Ministers for laying the foundations where it can honestly be said New South Wales is number one again!

I'd also like to thank all the staff who work here at Parliament House.

Apart from some of the behaviour in this Chamber, it's a good work place.

Special thanks to Hansard for making my speeches more comprehendible.

To all my Parliamentary colleagues on all sides, thank you for your friendship, some of you over many years.

I'm sure that many of the friendships I've made in my time here on all sides of politics will continue after I leave Parliament.

In the meantime I look forward to doing everything I can to help the people of my electorate for the remainder of my term and to help our excellent Nationals candidate for Ballina, Kris Beavis, get elected in March next year.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck.

Topics:  coal seam gas, csg, don page, northern rivers rail trail, rail trail




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