13:47, 5/02/2018: It’s a real honour to serve as the member for Bennelong. The last few months of 2017 were chaotic. I say thank you to everyone who supported me, backed our campaign and voted for me as Bennelong’s representative. Again I apologise to everyone for the inconvenience caused by this by-election. In the coming weeks I will have a lot to say about the people who helped us win this by-election; however, I start today, this new year of our parliament, with strong advice from the good people of Bennelong. They are concerned about the nature of political debate in this country. To use an analogy from my previous career, the Nadal-Federer rivalry has taken tennis to new heights. When Federer won the 2017 championship over Nadal, in one of their greatest matches, he lamented that the game of tennis was cruel and demands a loser. They speak of each other with great respect, despite being great rivals, and they play for great prizes, and together they have constructed a great following. The nature of their competition is productive. The major parties must take responsibility for our declining fortunes. We should replace destructive debate with constructive engagement. Ultimately, victory shouldn’t go to the greatest slanderer; it should go to the team that presents the best vision for Australia—not a competition of insults but a competition of ideas.
13:56, 12/02/2018: I would like to give part 2 of my serialised speech of thanks to everyone who helped out in the Bennelong by-election. As with all campaigns, we would never have been successful without our wonderful volunteers. I could never name all of you but I’d like to acknowledge just a small few who made a critical difference on the ground—firstly, Helen Russell. When Epping prepoll turned into an arms race for poll position on the doors of the booth, Helen stepped forward to do the graveyard shift, loyally turning up at, frankly, daft times every morning to ensure that we had the best spot. As a result, I got to talk to thousands of people. Thank you, Helen! The great Bob Lawrence: nothing was too hard for Bob, who turned out at every possible opportunity with volunteers, material, advice and a smile. Thank you, Bob. Your presence and your dependability kept many in in the campaign office nearly sane. And the inimitable Daryl McGuire, state member for Wagga Wagga: when the mercury hit 40, other parties melted in the shade, but not Daryl. Daryl, armed with an akubra and a pack of icy poles, rallied the troops to make sure that we did not wilt when the going got damn hot. I cannot thank you three enough. Of course, thank you to everyone who turned up during the campaign to make a difference.
19:28, 13/02/2018: In the time permitting, this could be the final in my series on the by-election of Bennelong. I have previously spoken about the tenor of the debate and some of the volunteers who stood out. However, there are many more people to thank, and I would like to try to name some more of them today.
As with all campaigns, we would never have been successful without volunteers. Over 700 people came out to help us in this by-election—from making phone calls, handing out leaflets at train stations and standing in the baking heat of the West Ryde pre-poll or the combustible footpath of the Epping pre-poll and, of course, on polling day itself. Our hundreds of volunteers made the difference. Some of these people have been with us for every election. Some have just joined the Bennelong family, but every one of them raised the bar of this campaign, giving their all and making the difference at the end of the day. I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to every one of you. It’s always dangerous to identify individuals as I will most certainly forget some people who deserve special praise. I have already called out Helen Russell, Bob Lawrence and Daryl Maguire MP, for they turned up every single day at the pre-poll and every night to make phone calls rain, hail or shine. Elizabeth Frias was a constant smiling presence at prepoll too, while local stalwart Kevin Pagadinimath was at every station and bus stop every morning.As with every year, the local Young Liberals were the difference. One silver lining of the national spotlight on this campaign was that Young Liberals came from all over the country. I was able to see that our young local volunteers are not unique in their impressive energy, commitment and intelligence. You all have brilliant futures ahead. Thank you to our Young Liberal dignitaries, including but no way limited to Cameron Dungar and Hugo Robinson. I will have more to say about other YL high flyers in the coming minutes.
As always, I’m hugely grateful to our local Liberal Party leaders. Thank you to our local party chair, Mr Peter Graham OAM. Apologies that in the chaos of the weeks preceding the by-election I wasn’t always in regular contact, as I should have been, but I look forward to working closely with you over the coming years. As for other executives, James Wallace, Michael Evangelidis, Brigit Meney and Sarkis Yedelian, you have all been great supporters and friends in the time I’ve been representing Bennelong. It is a great pleasure to work alongside you. I’m also lucky to be joined by many wonderful Liberals who represent the area in Bennelong. At the state level there are four loyal, dedicated, talented state MPs who are all making sure Bennelong remains a vibrant, strong community. It was great to share street stalls with Dr Geoff Lee in the west and Anthony Roberts in the east, talking to the locals, and Damien Tudehope in Epping, who was a vital asset to our pre-poll there. He spent so much time rallying the troops. Of course there is my good friend and political mentor and big brother, Victor Dominello, who was regularly with me fighting for the community we love and getting real wins, like the commitment to save Blenheim Park from developers or the announcement of the transport interchange at Macquarie Park.
Locally our Liberal team is an incredible unit. They were there for me during the campaign and are always there for the people of Bennelong. Councillors Jordan Lane, Trenton Brown and Chris Moujalli are all new to the council, but have already left their mark and have proved to be a great asset to our community. Sarkis, on the other hand, is a stalwart of the local community and council. His help and advice was useful this year as it has been in every election. Thank you all so much for everything you did to help. While I’m talking politically, I’d like to thank the many MPs, senators and ministers who made the effort to come to Bennelong and help out during the campaign.
There are too many of you to name individually; however, I would like to single out my neighbours, who put in multiple long shifts for the cause. The members for Berowra, Bradfield, North Sydney and Reid all played critical roles on the ground. Thank you Craig, Julian, Paul and Trent. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my office, who by the rules of this place were forced to be passive spectators in this ordeal. I know it was a tough time for you and especially tough time for some of you. So I would like to extend my thanks to Frances, Daniel, Ursula, Brendan and Jonathan for your patience during this frustrating time.
Some of the most important volunteers are the booth captains. They find people to help, keep them energised and ensure that all voters are met with a smile and have the information they need to vote. The following people provided this service—apologies for the list, but to give each of you the individual praise you deserve would take too long and still do you a disservice: Krishnamurthy Ekambaran, Ujith Galhena, Bob Lawrence, Holly Dorber, Peter Small, Bill Tyrell, Michael Brereton, Scott Gumley, Councillor Ben Barrack, Natalie Ward, Elizabeth Frias, Phil Crealy, Mel Brown—congratulations on your engagement—Damien Pace, John Smibert, Hugo Robinson, De Yi Wu, Harry Coates, Nat Smith, Tim Millar, Steve Sim, Suzanne Fairhall, Tony Chappel, Hassib Elias and Sam Harma. Thank you all for the hard work in making this result possible.
There were some other volunteers who went above and beyond and deserve special mention. Councillor Craig Chung, the ‘king’ of Eastwood, has been a part of the Bennelong family for many years and has once again achieved great feats at the Eastwood booth. This year the Labor Party threw absolutely everything they had at this most critical of booths, focusing huge numbers there throughout the campaign and peddling falsehoods that did them a disservice. Craig stood tall through this and claimed a historic victory every bit as impressive as the 12 per cent swing he achieved in 2016. John Bathgate, a former military man, is another committed local who threw his heart and soul into the campaign taking time off from his job in a minister’s office. The Leader of the House’s loss was my gain. No job was too difficult, and he was a huge help to everyone in the campaign. Tim Burney Gibson is another ace who was essential to the campaign. He was on Army Reserve training when the campaign was announced, and we were concerned that he would not be there to help with the campaign. When he did rejoin us, he appeared at every street stall, train station and polling place and was once again a great supporter and dear friend.
The movement of 700 volunteers and the management of a campaign being watched by the whole country needs some steady hands at the tiller. I was fortunate to have a dedicated gang, seconded from all corners of the party, operating at the top of my campaign. At the very top of this impressive tree sat one dedicated local, Chris Stone. As a local, he’s well aware of our achievements and well placed to lead the campaign. He was a committed and patient campaign director. Maintaining a five per cent margin was no mean feat and was only possible thanks to Chris’s intelligent and dependable leadership. At his side, managing practical matters from the enormous to the minute, was Stuart Smith. Without him, many of the day-to-day actions that made up this great campaign would not have gone so smoothly, and many would not have gone at all. This campaign was his last with the party before moving on to greener pastures. Stuart, I hope I had nothing to do with your decision to move on. Thank you again for everything.
Every resident of Bennelong knows this by-election was not short on materials, which were delivered, posted and handed out by people by the thousands. Each one of these had to be designed, of course, and that is where the team of Lee Hamilton and Jamie Seckold did their excellent work creating everything physical and digital, making them some of the most read authors in Bennelong. Matt Edwards was our social media guy, who did great work curating social media and demanding everyone video my every move. Thanks Matt for your hard work in bringing my campaign into the 21st century.
We set new records in phone calls this election. At the same time as apologising to locals who felt overwhelmed, I would like to congratulate Kieran Douglas, who made these incredible numbers work and—despite what people may believe—ensured that people didn’t get called multiple times a week. From federal headquarters we were lucky to pinch Luke Hughes. He made sure my life and diary were smoothly run throughout those chaotic weeks, but, more importantly, he never gave up smiling—an underrated trait when the going gets tough. Nick Westenberg gets points for frustrating the opposition the most with his infamous scratchie, which had the voters of Bennelong intrigued and impressed, while leaving the Labor candidate enraged and even litigious—a master stroke we will hopefully see in future campaigns. Thanks, Nick. Managing press was Ian Zakon, who was the first on the ground when the feathers started to fly back in November. Thank you for your guidance and patience in dealing with a self-confessed antipolitician. Those committed people ran the show from headquarters, but it was the leaders of my ground team, who spent most of the long days with me, that I am most in debt to. Luke Nayna ran a tight ship from West Ryde, ensuring our volunteers were spread evenly across the electorate—all on message, full of energy and well aware of the photos they were allowed to appear in. Thank you all for your hard work and long hours. Manning every polling place in the face of huge union numbers and ensuring we outnumbered them on every corner was an incredible job. The credit goes to John Harris, who I also stole from a very lucky colleague. Your humour kept everyone going, and we were all in awe of the results that you pulled off.
A real highlight of the campaign was to be reunited with my old colleague Molly Hughes, who ensured we had people at pre-poll every day despite heatwaves, overwhelming numbers and a corrosive atmosphere from our opponents at the booth. To get everyone to volunteer for that was an incredible effort. Ensuring that we were stocked to capacity every day was also remarkable. Easily the hardest working member of the campaign, bar none, was young Jacob Massina, who I first had the pleasure of encountering when he was a year 10 work experience student some years ago. It is impressive to see how you’ve grown, Jacob, and the energy with which you wrangled YLs, every activity under the sun, and kept running up to 15 hours a day. It was terrifying and inspiring. Thank you, Jacob.
Finally, thanks must go to the most patient and longest suffering member of my team, Alicia McCumstie. Alicia, you came to every event, every station, every stall—truly everything along the campaign trail. You were a constant pleasure to work with, at times my mother, my sister, my friend, and my singing partner in the car. Thank you, Alicia. Indeed, thank you to all my team and everyone who helped out in the campaign. I’ve been a part of a number of teams through my various careers, but the cohesion and tenacity of everyone involved formed this great team. I am grateful to you all.
Before I wrap up the list, there’s one more group I need to thank—my family. No politician can get far without the support of their family. To my daughters, to my partner Deb, I’m sorry for the intrusion into private lives and trespass on your property by some members of the press.
That is the end to my long list of thankyous for the campaign. Winning any election is never an individual effort. Without everyone who helped we wouldn’t have had the resulted we enjoyed. Thank you all.