Making an impression: Far from his home in WA, Liberal MP Christian Porter delivers his maiden speech. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
"On 23 November 1956, a painfully angular 19-year-old Brisbane boy, with a physique the cross between a praying mantis and a wire coat hanger, jumped for his country on the first day of the Melbourne Olympic Games. That boy was my father. His sole possessions totalled an ill-fitting Australian team tracksuit and a pair of Buddy Holly-style horn-rimmed glasses. He competed in what was then and what remains to this day the longest and most engrossing field event in Olympic history.''
That is a strong way to open your first speech in Federal Parliament. These words were spoken at 3.28pm on Monday by the standout of the generation of politicians which has just come into Federal Parliament. I will be surprised if he does not become prime minister one day.
His name is Christian Porter. In 2010, having just turned 40, he was both the treasurer and attorney-general of Western Australia and heir-apparent to Colin Barnett as Premier. Last year, Porter turned away from state stardom and sought Liberal Party pre-selection for the federal seat of Pearce. It was a contest whose outcome was far from certain. But he brought a formidable resume, is a former national debating champion, and is extremely funny. It's a rare gift in politics.
As Porter delivered his maiden speech the press gallery was empty apart from myself and the duty AAP reporter. In 2009, I had attended the Perth Writers Festival and been impressed by the young attorney-general who opened the festival and had the audience laughing. I'd never heard of him. We have stayed in touch ever since.
Anyone who reads his maiden speech will find the quality of the opening never flags as it moves from the personal - ''unfortunately, I inherited little of the athletic ability of my father and 100 per cent of the chicken legs'' - to the political: ''The Asian convergence … is the single greatest economic event since the industrial revolution … That 60 per cent of the world's population will in our lifetime converge rapidly towards our own standard of living will have deep implications for the entire world … Australia faces the economic opportunity of its life …
''As with all times of opportunity … too many poor decisions and our opportunities will be lost, and Australia will face a not-too-gradual decline. The one certainty will be that some gentle, happy equilibrium of our national prospects will not be the order of the day …''
He is alarmed by the drift towards structural debt and deficit: ''The swift return to robust surplus is an absolutely critical, but not sufficient, condition to growing our economy … If we are to exist and thrive with Asian tigers, we would be well advised to remain a formidable economic creature in our own right.
''One area ripe for economic reform is the federal system … The federal government is the complicated child of five state parents; it is not the product of immaculate conception, although sometimes it has thought itself infallible … It now accounts for just over half of all government expenditure, with 80 per cent of the revenue base. The states roughly account for the rest, but with only 15 per cent of the direct revenue base. These figures reveal great fiscal imbalance, a major problem that is in dire need of reform … the [GST] system is too extreme, highly inequitable and propagates enormous inefficiency.''
By now his allotted time was coming to an end. He looked up to the public gallery, to his wife, and his voice quavered: ''Jennifer, if I were told that it were within my power to go back to the 1970s to watch Dennis Lillee bowl again at the WACA, that I could take all my friends, that Sir Isaiah Berlin and Han Solo would be special guests, and that James Reyne would do an acoustic set during the lunch break, but that … you could not attend with me, then I would not bother … Jennifer, all the good things are nothing special without you.''
With that Porter ended his speech. His wife was crying. Later, at dinner, she presented him with an inscribed compass, to help steer him home, now that he has arrived on the big stage, far from the west.