Maiden Speech

Maiden Speech

On Tuesday, June 2, 2020 the Hon. Nicola Centofanti gave her maiden speech in Parliament House of South Australia’s Legislative Council Chamber.

Thank you, Mr President.

I am delighted to rise today to deliver my maiden speech.

Firstly I wish to congratulate you on your recent election to the chair. I have no doubt that you will do an excellent job presiding over this Chamber as you bring integrity, humility and experience into the role.

Mr President, standing in this chamber I am acutely aware of the journey that others have made before me. We must always acknowledge and protect our forebear’s legacy.

At the end of World War Two, the government opened up land for war service settlers for fruit growing. In those days’ irrigation was by channels and furrows. After the 1956 flood irrigators needed to relocate to higher ground. It was during this period that three Riverland fruit growers and an engineer, teamed up to devise a workable system, beginning with the laying of galvanised pipe to concrete main lines, known as the Golden Heights Irrigation scheme.

This innovative concept of land utilization resulted in Waikerie horticulturalists having the infrastructure for more efficient water use and better crop production. The project spawned the establishment of household brands such as Berri, Nippy’s, Angoves and Angus Park. This efficient and progressive scheme has been duplicated all around the country.

Mr President, I tell you this for two reasons; Firstly, to illustrate that a good idea, collaborative effort and a strong work ethic can achieve results. Secondly, because two of those men were my grandfathers, Rex Coats and Jack Andrew, the third my great Uncle Rex Andrew and I am extremely proud of this. The engineer, Bill Pollitt, died in Waikerie in 2013 aged 100.

As Marcus Garvey once said, “A person without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.

I was born and bred in Berri, the second child to Stuart and Suzanne Andrew. I was named as such, not because my parents had premonitions that I would 28 years later marry a Centofanti, but because my father harboured a crush on the then famous actress Nicola Pagett.

My father is a man of conviction and decency. He is a voracious reader and ensures he does so widely.  He has served his community over many decades in his role as Chairman of the Riverland Regional Health Authority and Renmark Flying Group as well as his involvement as a member of Riverland Wine Grape Growers Board, the Wine Grape Council of South Australia, and more recently Citrus SA. Over my life, my father has taught me about the importance of one’s beliefs and that these shouldn’t be swayed by populist opinion.

My mother is a woman of strength and many talents. Those who know her well will have had the privilege of experiencing her cooking, catering for many large Liberal Party fundraisers. She has the ability to whip up a gourmet feast with a near-empty fridge, a skill passed down to her from her mother and my grandmother Nita Coats. Furthermore, my mother is an incredible artist and I admire her willingness to create, her practicality and her kindness. Most importantly she is always generous with her time, love and support.

Both my mother and my father started out with relatively little. My father worked as a delivery driver to put himself through Law School and my mother worked in a convenience store whilst attending Teachers College.

After their marriage in 1973, they moved up to the Riverland purchasing an old fruit block which has subsequently grown to 120 acres of citrus and wine grapes.

My father built up his law firm over the next 40 years now known as Andrew and Dale: Riverland Legal Chambers, before his retirement in 2017. My mother steadily advanced her career, whilst simultaneously raising my elder sister Joanna and I, and was a primary school principal for 22 years before her retirement in 2019. Whilst both retired from their professions they continue to manage the family orchards.

Their story is one of perseverance and ambition. My parents worked hard and applied themselves to their chosen trades in the hope that they could make available to my sister and I the greatest possible opportunity to follow our ambitions. I am forever grateful for my upbringing and I carry my parent’s teachings with me today. I believe that it is one of the greatest duties to work towards a state where our citizens have available the greatest opportunities to succeed. We must foster a South Australia which encourages and rewards perseverance.

I am incredibly fortunate to have both my mother and my father here in the gallery today. It is through their story and life experiences that led me to join the Liberal Party.

It is the party that believes in freedom of speech, individual responsibility, liberty and free enterprise. The party that believes in a representative government where people are plucked from shearing quarters, pruning ladders, classrooms, law firms, fishing boats, butcher shops, and veterinary clinics, not from the ranks of trade union officials or staffers.

My first introduction to Liberal Party Campaigning started with handing out how to vote cards as a teenager at the Croatian Association Hall in Winkie for my Uncle, former Member for Wakefield, the Hon Neil Andrew AO. I acknowledge my Uncle Neil and Auntie Carolyn who are both in the chamber today.

I was then fortunate to attend Uncle Neil’s swearing in as speaker of the House of Representatives on the 10th November 1998 at the age of 16. I distinctly remember the feeling of pride, and a sense of democracy and debate. That was the genesis of my interest in politics.  It was also a trip that I remember so vividly for all the adventures that followed. My father had flown a small group of us, including Neil’s daughter (and my cousin) Kate in a Cherokee (Bravo Oscar Whisky) from Renmark into Canberra via a quick stopover in Wagga Wagga. On the way home, we ran into a spot of bother with the weather conditions and had to make an emergency landing in Hay, New South Wales. Whilst I was pleased to be able to visit the Australian Shearers Hall of Fame, something every South Australian should do, I was less enthusiastic about the plague of Locus’ that were visiting my beef parmigiana during dinner that evening. Thank god for Mozz, the local barmaid at the Riverina Hotel in Hay, who supplied those of the group who were of the legal age with free-flowing beer and me with copious amounts of raspberry lemonade. She, and other locals, kindly feigning to believe us when stories were told of how we had dined at The Lodge less than 24 hours previous. Typically Mozz was not only the barmaid but operated a taxi business and was the wife of a local farmer. She had many roles in her community and, in doing so, Mozz made me acutely aware of the practical impacts that legislation had on her world. We must never forget how the decisions we make in these four walls impact those around us.

There is a long history of political involvement in my family. My late Grandfather Jack Andrew stood for the old seat of Ridley in 1962 (now known as Chaffey). He was narrowly defeated on preferences by the independent Tom Stott. Tom, who originally won the seat of Ridley in 1938, went on to hold the seat for its entire existence until it was abolished at the 1970 state election, making him the longest serving independent in Australian political history.

Some years later in 1993, my father’s cousin Uncle Kent Andrew won the seat of Chaffey allowing the Andrew family name to have a home within the walls of this Parliament.

My Uncle Neil, whom I have mentioned previously was the Member for Wakefield from 1983 until 2004 and was Speaker for his last 6 years of service. When people speak to me about Uncle Neil they use words such as committed, unwavering, true to his word and a gentleman, the latter two characteristics rarely used in the current political sphere. Mr President, I will strive every single day to earn that same respect whilst here in this chamber

Growing up in the Riverland, I attended the local high school in Glossop where I am grateful to my teachers who put up with my neurotic nature. I certainly wasn’t a naturally gifted student, but I was assiduous and worked hard and therefore found myself accepted into Veterinary Science at Murdoch University in Western Australia. After five years of study, I then chose to return to South Australia and began my career as a professional at the Riverland Veterinary Clinic under the mentorship of Dr John Hammond. I am grateful to have John in the gallery here today.  Being a part of a mixed veterinary practice in regional South Australia highlighted the important role of biosecurity within our State, which cannot be underestimated. Biosecurity underpins the success of South Australia’s exports in both agriculture and horticulture. Vets and Farmers underpin the success of biosecurity in agriculture. Dr Hammond’s commitment to animal health and his dedication to his patients as well as his staff has been an inspiration to me. He is also a committed Liberal and I will miss our political banter whilst attending to a TTA Surgery or a late night emergency thoracotomy.

Dr Hammond, like my husband David and I, also understands the difficulties and the triumphs of owning his own business.

Small businesses form the backbone of our economy and employ hundreds of thousands of South Australians.

Having owned our own hospitality business, David and I learnt quickly how to be productive and resilient. The responsibility of risking your own savings, working long hours, paying wages and supporting staff weighs heavily on all business owners. Yet there is also the joy of your first sale, a happy customer, upskilling a staff member or supporting the community; not to mention your first net profit! This is why small businesses are so important contributing $35 billion dollars to the state’s economy and employing more than a third of South Australian workers.

Mr President, I am proudly from the country and the River Murray is my home. Eckert’s creek is a mere stroll from my backdoor and I am one of 350 people who call the township of Winkie their home. As with many country towns around South Australia, our population is small, but our community spirit is abundant. This community spirit forms the backbone of our nation and is the reason that I have immersed myself into the Rural and Regional Council for the best part of the last decade.

Rural and Regional Council was originally known as the Primary Producers Committee on its formation in 1938 and was established to represent the views of the large proportion of Liberal Party members who derived their income from the land.

This committee has a longstanding reputation of advocating for grass roots policy and its members have worked hard to maintain close links with its parliamentary representatives and other agricultural industry bodies such as Grain Producers SA and the National Farmers Federation.

I was fortunate to chair this state committee from 2016 until 2019 and then went on to chair the Federal Regional and Rural Council from 2019 until my election to this chamber.

The importance of these platforms for both regional South Australia and the nation cannot be underestimated. Issues such as drought, energy, bushfires, trade and water are at the forefront of the minds of those that attend.

Drought and fire have been a significant and regular part of the Australian landscape and our recent summer was no exception. The fires that ravaged our State have had a devastating effect and continue to leave physical, emotional and economic scars. But what it has demonstrated is that our communities are proud and generous.

I believe we will need to address our native vegetation legislation. Research has found that doubling the fuel in a forest will double the rate of spread and quadruple the fire intensity. Fuel load reduction, as well as sensible and practical fire mitigation strategies, are critical to ensure our State’s prosperity and recovery. We cannot remain captive to the extreme elements of the hard-green left. To ensure the safety of many of our communities we must learn the lessons of the bushfire season and make practical changes now. Mr President, I cannot ignore the fact that I have arrived in this chamber at a time like no other. The virus has highlighted some fundamental problems that we as a State and a Nation must address. It is a bit like the old saying: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”.

We were once a very proud manufacturing State and I think we can be again. We need to secure what we now realise are essential products for a nation-state. We cannot be ignorant of the reasons why we lost Manufacturing in this great State to begin with. In doing so we must foster opportunity and be advocates of sensible and pragmatic reform.  We must continue to look to and support our small and medium businesses as they lead our economic recovery. We must also look to our regions during this time and recognise the important role that they will play as the economic drivers of this state. The notion that new industry need only be developed this side of Gepps Cross is a fallacy. Our regions have the space, the workforce and the commitment to take the lead. In doing so, we will be supporting people in their choice to live in our regional communities and ensure regional South Australia is prosperous.

Innovation leads to growth, however, we must have the infrastructure to support this growth otherwise any new industry will be short lived. Critical infrastructure such as reliable and affordable energy as well as water security. We must also reduce both red and green tape which is turgid, onerous and counter-productive.

We must concentrate on reliability as well as cost. One of the most significant things we can do to combat rising electricity prices is to reduce or better manage peak demand. We must do this by using all of the tools that are available to us – renewables, gas, and coal, whilst remaining open to new tools such as nuclear. After all, the South Australian Fuel Cycle Royal Commission determined that nuclear power as a future energy source should not be dismissed.

Our States water security is vital for our industry and, is a finite resource. Because of this, the Murray Darling Basin Plan is critical in striking the balance between delivering water to the communities and industries that rely on the river and ensuring the future health of the Basin environment.  South Australian irrigators are the most efficient water users in the country and we must continue as a State to advocate on their behalf to ensure river communities, like my own, continue to prosper.

Creating an attractive environment for the industry in our State extends beyond securing reliable and affordable resources. We must also carefully navigate the complex interrelations between employers and employees, trade unions, employer organisations and the state enabling the correct and sensible balance to ensure sustainability into the future.

Without these necessary reforms, our ambition to rebuild our manufacturing capabilities will remain just that – an ambition. The people of South Australia deserve that this becomes a reality.

At the very least Mr President, the recent circumstances we have found ourselves in, have given us a reason and the drive to have the conversation and debate about the future direction of our state.

 I hold a degree in Veterinary Science. Serious science should be respected but not revered. We must ensure that we teach our students  that scientific theories consist of hypotheses and that nature is complex.

I believe that the words of Andre Gide ring true when he said “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

Mr President, the plus of being a trainer and water runner at the Berri Football Club is that I am constantly reminding the lads that they are only as good as their volunteers and members. With that, I would like to thank the members of the Liberal Party of South Australia, State Councillors and the people of South Australia for the honour of representing them in this chamber.

I thank my family for their love, support and guidance.

To my mum and dad, thank you for giving me the experiences and opportunities growing up.

To my dear sister Jo who is here in the gallery today and my niece and nephew Alice and Jack. Jo – thank you for being my best friend, confidant and legal advisor! You are incredibly generous. You also provide me with consistent, sound wardrobe advice which I am always in need of and greatly appreciate.

To my husband David, who is also in the gallery today, our partnership spans over two decades and I couldn’t imagine being on this journey through life with anyone but you. Thank you for your patience, strength, love and honesty.

To my children Anna, Lucia and Angus. Your unconditional love is what drives my decision making every single day and I am here because I want you to have every opportunity to excel doing what makes you happy.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the Centofanti family especially my parents in law Mario and Lucy who are here in the gallery today, as well as Laurie and Lana, Andrew and Alex, Steven and Laura and their families for all of their love and support.  

I thank my State Parliamentary Colleagues who have assisted me on my journey, in particular Minister the Hon Stephan Knoll, Minister the Hon Tim Whetstone, Member for Waite Sam Duluk, Member for Davenport Steve Murray, Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick, the Hon John Dawkins and yourself Mr President.

I thank my Federal Parliamentary Colleagues who have also given me guidance in particular my local federal member and good friend Member for Barker Tony Pasin – Tony, thank you for unwavering support and guidance over the years. Thank you also to Minister the Hon Anne Ruston, Member for Boothby Nicolle Flint, Senator Alex Antic and my predecessor Senator Andrew McLachlan.

I would like to acknowledge the support I have received from my  Rural and Regional executive over the years. Their guidance and friendship has been invaluable to me. I thank John and Di Harvey, Lyn and John Nitschke, Senator David Fawcett, Caroline Rhodes, Courtney Stephens, Charlotte Edmunds, Courtney Nourse, Emma Godfrey, Lachlan Haynes, and Sam Telfer.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr John Hammond and the Riverland Veterinary Clinic for his guidance, support and mentoring over the last 15 years in general veterinary practice.

There are many close friends who have supported me in my journey here – too many to name but you know who you are and I thank you with all of my heart.

To my oldest dearest friend Dr Tessa Opie who is in the gallery today. Despite out political persuasions being somewhat different, you have always believed in me just as I believe in you and I am so lucky to have you here today. Thank you for your love and friendship.

As you can see Mr President, I am indebted to a large number of people for their unwavering support and this is something I do not take lightly. There are so many people I would have liked to have had here today but due to the circumstances were unable to. Being in a privileged place as this, one must stand up for those you seek to represent and be strong and steadfast in your beliefs. My Grandfather Jack delivered many a sermon for the Methodist church at Waikerie in addition to writing a number of reflection papers during his life.

On New Years Eve in 1984, when I was less than 2 years old, he wrote an article about the George Orwell novel “Nineteen Eighty Four”.

Orwell, whilst not a Christian, brought out Christian emphases in his writing – the vulnerability of human nature, its capacity to be easily lead and the value of the individual.

My Grandfather wrote about how he felt incredibly lucky to live in a democratic country with freedom of thought and speech and in doing so, I believe captured the essence of this chamber when he said:

“Democracy is a fragile gift, it is like a well balanced dingy, but it is so easy to overbalance it in the push for the best seats, or in seating demands that one person imposes on others because of race, sex, creed or position. Therefore let us work for the enriching of this gift to the Kingdom of Man from the hand of God.”

Thank you Mr President


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