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Paul's Blog: Maiden Speech
Today I gave my very first speech in the House of Representatives.
Being something of a traditionalist, I referred to it as my “Maiden Speech” even though this is now thought to be somewhat politically incorrect. Apparently the preferred term is the rather more prosaic “First Speech”.
I had some idea of what to expect, having yesterday witnessed my Parliamentary Colleague Kelly O’Dwyer give her first speech in Parliament. She did an excellent job, blending personal notes about her family and her connection with her electorate, with observations about public policy and the challenges facing Australia. Kelly and I were both elected to parliament on 5 December 2010 – she fought a by-election in Higgins following the resignation of former Treasurer Peter Costello, while I contested the Bradfield by-election. I was thrilled for Kelly that her speech was such a success – while somewhat apprehensive about whether I could match her standard.
My apprehension had been increased by the number of people around Parliament, from both major parties, who had stopped me to ask how I was going with my Maiden Speech. Their advice was pretty consistent: spend a lot of time on it, because people will refer to it for the whole time you are in Parliament. So make sure it is a statement of what drives you, and what you believe in.
I took the advice to heart and laboured over the speech for several weeks, writing several successive drafts as I worked to get the balance right. I also took care to rehearse it a few times – just to check that it was coming in at the right length. You have a time limit of twenty minutes for a speech in the House of Representatives. As a new member, you can be afforded some indulgence and go a bit over time if you really want to – but it is generally thought better to avoid that if possible.
Walking into the chamber to give the speech today, I was nervous. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of speeches. At school and university, debating was one of my principal extracurricular activities, and something I have thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve spoken to large groups on many occasions in my life. But with all of that experience, I still get nervous before giving a significant speech. I consoled myself with something that I know from experience to be true: unless you are feeling somewhat nervous before you start, it is not likely that you will give a good speech.
I was thrilled to see so many friends and supporters sitting in the visitors’ gallery waiting for me to start. With my office I had worked hard to organise a large group of people to come along – including personal friends, people I had worked with over the years, and of course many friends and supporters from the Liberal Party, particularly from Bradfield but also from other areas where I have been active in the party over the years. Today was a very significant day – it is wonderful that so many people came along to share in it, including people I have known since university and even high school days. Of course my wife Manuela was there, beaming proudly. Another important attendee was my immediate predecessor as Member for Bradfield – Dr Brendan Nelson.
Once I began speaking, as often happens, my nerves disappeared and I very much enjoyed the experience. The presence of my Liberal and National party colleagues – almost all of whom made the effort to attend – was greatly reassuring. Our leader, Tony Abbott, along with almost the entire front bench, attended to support me. Two good friends who sit in the Senate, Marise Payne and Helen Coonan, came across to the House of Representatives for the occasion. The speech was well received and even got a laugh in one or two places – as I had intended I hasten to add! All too quickly it was over – and my colleagues were generous in their congratulations and good wishes.
If you want to see what I said today, please click here.
After the speech was over, it was up to a function room in Parliament House where supporters and colleagues joined me for celebratory drinks, with some staying for dinner later in the evening. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event, and I was overwhelmed by the good wishes I received. I did however note one wise remark made by Tony Abbott at the celebratory function: thanking people for attending to support me on this day of ‘highs’, he asked them to offer similar support when the inevitable lows of politics come along. That, I thought to myself, is the voice of experience speaking.