Speech: National Rural Women's Coalition - Leadership and Politics

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Today I gave a speech to the National Rural Women's Coalition in Canberra today.

Please see below transcript:

It was a brutal 10-year battle with the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs to try and obtain proper medical treatment and secure all my defence force entitlements that led me to a crossroads.

End the suffering once and for all – or change it – for me and everyone who had suffered just as I had.

When the former didn’t work – you will have to buy my book next year to read the details - I seized my second chance and I set my course to help myself, and the thousands of veterans who would prefer to face the Taliban again than deal with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

I sold my house, I door knocked for months. In the end, it was Clive Palmer and around 1500 kind Tasmanian voters who gave me a chance.

It wasn’t easy – I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I had a goal and once I started chasing – no sprinting – after that goal, doors to opportunity opened before me.

And I learned along the way – from my mistakes mostly – but I am told that the path to success is littered with failure.

I learned that the Senate isn’t just the House of Review, but there are opportunities to introduce your own legislation called a Private Members Bill.

It didn’t take me long to jump on that opportunity, and I was able to get a pay rise for the Military when the government was planning to cut their wages and benefits.

I am working on a few other private member bills – including a bill that gives parents a right to help their drug-affected children.

As you know, my son is finishing up in a rehab due to an ice addiction – I don’t know if you have been exposed to ice, whether your friends or family members have abused ice – if you have, you know that once the drug takes over that person ceases to exist.

When my son was high, I would look into his eyes, and I knew I wasn’t talking to him anymore. I was talking to a drug. One hit can hook. One pill can kill.

I can imagine there aren’t many people who are relieved to hear the law has caught up with their children. But I was.

I was lucky to have a good lawyer, who convinced the court that my son needed rehab and not prison – many just go straight to prison.

Court-mandated rehab saved my son from the inevitable. I truly believe every other parent should have that right.

I have also learned how to use motions as an alternative way to deal with issues constituents and industry stakeholders raise with me.

This meant I was able to start an investigation into how 20,000 Indigenous Tasmanians missed out on hundreds of millions of Commonwealth funds; I was able to start an investigation into the dairy industry and the crisis that faces our farmers, and I was able to start an investigation into the alarming rates of veteran suicides.

I may only be one person, but I have achieved a lot in my short time in the Senate.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to fighting for a better deal for Australian farmers.

The backpacker tax legislation will be tabled in the Senate and I am prepared to walk into the chamber tomorrow and ask for a 0% tax, because you know better than I, that farmer’s need more seasonal labour than Australians can provide.

If the Senate cannot support a 0% tax, I am confident it will support my back up amendment of 10.5%.

Anything higher won’t help farmers to undo the damage the uncertainty has already rendered on the industry.

I was able to do this because I have an agile team, the quick thinking and effective work of my team meant I could fight for a better deal for Tasmanian farmers – and farmers all over Australia.

It is important to note at this stage, that being a leader isn’t about the headlines or the title, fostering a positive environment for my team to operate at their best, is an important – but often overlooked aspect of being a good leader.

Without a good team behind me, I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much as I have.

It also helps that I have a competitive streak.

When I was in the army, I would always jump in the ring and box with the boys – I couldn’t help myself – and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want an opportunity to land a punch?

This competitive streak became valuable when I decided to run for politics, where it translated to drive and sheer determination to make meaningful changes for Tasmania.

To survive in this industry – in any industry – I have learned the importance of staying true to yourself and your values, not only does it keep you sane and centred on your goals, but in my case it keeps other politicians on their toes!

I am proud that I have achieved that meaningful change I am striving for – without sacrificing my values.

A great example would be the $100,000 degrees.

In politics horse-trading is normal – politicians will trade votes for support regularly – that is the reality of working within Parliament.

But when I was told by the Liberal Government, UTAS, my state’s only university, will receive funding if I voted for $100,000 degrees – my heart sank.

UTAS needed that funding. But there was no way I could sign away the futures of students for generations to come.

If degrees cost $100,000 you can say goodbye to equal opportunity and hello to an Australia where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The decision came down to my vote in the end – talk about pressure! I voted against the $100,000 degrees and UTAS lost hundreds of millions in government funding. That is until recently, when the Liberal Government pledged $150 million to UTAS – without $100,000 degrees. Win-Win!

Maybe your career will take you to politics, maybe it will take you into the sciences, maybe it will take you into hospitality.

Whatever the case, I have found success follows if you stick close to your values, act with integrity, and find a cause you can commit to.

Act as a leader in everything you do, whether you are at the bottom of the professional hierarchy or the top, and you might find yourself in positions you have never been before, influencing people you never imagined you could.