House debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Parliamentary Representation


4:55 pm

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I think you are one of them, are you? We all got on well, and it was a pleasure to note that some have gone to greater heights and others, like me, have stayed put. Coming to this place as a novice was, to borrow from my friend Judi Moylan, 'a great leap'. I did not always land in the target zone, but there were always many friends around to pick me up and point me in the right direction. I particularly welcomed the parties permitting conscience votes, enabling the lifting of the sometimes onerous shackles of party discipline so that members were free to express their individual opinions. Let us hope that this remains a cornerstone of free speech and expression as we contend with the greater need to balance ideals and individual opinion against the realities of political life.

I use this occasion to reflect also on the extension of my previous career as a prescribing doctor in a place where the Hippocratic oath I made as a general practitioner changed to the Samaritan oath as the House medical practitioner. That means I do not get paid, so you do not have to worry! Wine is always readily acceptable! I was in this role, and I rapidly came to know firsthand how the rigours, the intellectual toll and the sheer physical demands of being a representative of the people of Australia affected the lives and health of us all here. These stresses and anxieties take a terrible toll on some of us. Our working hours remain a serious challenge not only to our health and wellbeing but also to our productivity. I sincerely hope all future parliaments look at streamlining the hours for the sake of the health of the people who serve in it. Remember also it is the staff of this House and not just us to whom we have a responsibility.

As a medical practitioner here I feel humbled yet grateful for the many confidences shared, the trust shown and the friendships that have grown around the privilege of assisting and treating many of my parliamentary colleagues and staff members. I thank you for that.

I have endeavoured also throughout my time in this place to make a real difference not just to my colleagues but also to my constituents. I am particularly proud of the work I have been privileged to undertake in advancing the rights of women, both here and internationally, through my membership of the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development. We cannot have environmental sustainability without global population sustainability. We need to ensure that women throughout the world have equality, that they have the right to choose when and how many children they have and that they do not die in unwanted childbirth. We must continue to challenge the social, religious and other barriers to women's rights around the world. Achieving most of the millennium development goals depends on this.

I would like to think that my experience as a general practitioner has also been a assistance in advancing health policy in many areas. Being able to serve as a member of the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group founded by the Hon. Judi Moylan has been a great honour, particularly with the Kids in the House. I think Judi loved that.

Throughout my time here I have been a firm proponent of stem cell research, and it is my earnest hope that scientific endeavours in this area will one day deliver the cures we so desperately need for the cruellest of the diseases affecting mankind. In America a week or so ago they did perfect somatic stem cell nuclear transfer. That is a great breakthrough. I pressed hard also for fewer barriers to accessing innovative medicines on the PBS and proper funding for all avenues of medical research. Perhaps my retirement from the House may reduce the usage of the PBS.

One of the causes I have been most passionate about is the issue of the use of illicit drugs and its treatment as a criminal offence. Whilst the popular refrain 'tough on drugs' is an easy phrase, the issues are much more complex and need sensitive consideration in line with mental health and social welfare issues. As chair of the Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform I have lobbied governments and oppositions around the country to change the laws. We have also lobbied to have a reference to the Productivity Commission to consider the true cost to the Australian community of the current policies on the use of illicit drugs, thus enabling us to compare the cost of law enforcement versus harm reduction and prevention.

The use of some illicit drugs needs to be decriminalised. The use of some should change. We are losing too many of our young people because they are seen as criminals and, as a result, do not seek medical help. They are convicted of drug crimes rather than being helped with underlying causes. This impacts on their future options to be fully participating members of our society. I have been particularly concerned with the high rate of incarceration of Indigenous users, who are not helped but damaged by our current policies.

In my time here I have had the privilege of serving on many joint parliamentary committees and have chaired or participated in a number, including the Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts Committee—the name of this committee keeps getting longer—the Industry, Science and Resources Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, to name a few.

There can be nothing more important than identifying work towards the measures that are going to protect our planet for the generations to come. I have seen firsthand the reality of the effect of climate change on this country and its biodiversity. Visiting every state and territory, the members of the committee on this have witnessed coastal erosion and forest degradation with potentially devastating effects. Leadership by this parliament and its successors in the creation of a sustainable future is a critical and growing priority for all Australians.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues with whom I have served on all these committees for the productive, selfless and non-partisan devotion they have shown in the interests of Australians. Many of us are retiring on a voluntary basis at the end of this term. But I say to those who may be retiring involuntarily: stand tall and count yourself proud that you have been part of history serving in these hallowed halls. I will miss some of the fun I have had being a parliamentarian.

Like all of you present, I understand the art of doorknocking and the thrill of the first encounter of the dog. I like dogs though. My experience of larger dogs is that I have become an instant expert at the high-speed escape down the driveway in the absence of someone to answer the flaming door. Another skill we developed in the electorate was something we stole from John Major and Bill Clinton—the life-size cut-out cardboard person. In the two elections following my introduction to parliament, I used life-size stand-up cut-out cardboard models of yours truly dressed up in the booths. They worked really well, especially for my older aged patients with failing vision who are prone to having a lengthy conversation with them before they realise they may have been had. These models are also appreciated by the local dogs, keen to mark them as part of their territory.

After the election, the electorate of Moore had a number of visits from party leaders, including John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello. The function we ran with Peter Costello, who was a good Treasurer but who also could be the victim of the odd practical joke, proved it when he remarked on the brightness in the West of the big harvest full moon we sometimes get. He found it incredible. I explained to Peter the difference was due to the fact that he was looking at the face of it instead of the rear end of it.

On this note I must remind members that, despite views randomly expressed to the contrary, I consider myself to be one of the better behaved members of the House of Representatives. Even though I have unavoidably missed several divisions in almost 15 years, I have, surprisingly, yet to be removed from the chamber—and I am not looking to change that. Michael Ronaldson, who was the whip at the time when I was first here, experienced me missing the first division. If you want a disaster, this was a disaster. He was really proud of me.

I came downstairs from a committee at 1.55. The technology in this place is not that good. Rather than returning to my room—I am on the outer fringes—I entered the chamber in readiness for question time. I noticed on my desk I had question No. 1 to John Howard, the Prime Minister. Members were entering the chamber early, and I thought they were very responsible. Disregarding this, I went out the door to go get question 1. Because, of course, I was in the vicinity of the chamber, the pager did not work and did not tell me of an impending division. So I went out and collected the question. They shut the doors and had a division, and Michael was unimpressed. I was treated to what is diplomatically called an 'expletive deleted' from Michael when he became aware I was not in my seat. That means there were some words I cannot use, and they were not four-letter words like 'icon'!

Another occasion that comes to mind is one of the last sittings at Christmas a few years ago. Labor members Graham Edwards and Kim Wilkie conned me into wearing reindeer horns at the end of question time after they had struck a deal with The West Australian newspaper that we would raise money for Anglicare. Brown paper bags containing the reindeer horns were taken to the chamber at 2 pm by each of us. As question time finished, Kim grabbed Graham in his wheelchair and whizzed him around to my side of the chamber, and all three of us donned these reindeer horns. The speaker of the day, Neil Andrew, tried unsuccessfully to call to order; unfortunately, order disintegrated rapidly. Kim Wilkie then decided to exit the scene with alacrity and grabbed Graham's wheelchair, whisking him out of this chamber and leaving burn marks on the carpet here. That left yours truly alone to suffer the wrath of Neil Andrew. Regardless, we managed to raise $2,000 for Anglicare, so it was worth it. And he didn't throw me out!

I would like to close by thanking those who have made my contribution to this parliament possible. Without them, it would not have happened. Thanks to my party, the crossbench friends and the staff of this Parliament House. I would like to pay tribute to Ian Macfarlane, who was my neighbour in the early days and always a good friend and companion. When he got promoted to the front bench he gave support to my campaigns in the west, and I appreciate him continuing his friendship. To all my dear and valued friends in this place: I thank you all for your support and friendship. I also record my thanks and delight in being able to serve on the population development group with Senator Claire Moore, who proudly chairs the group. Others I want to thank are Ian Goodenough, the endorsed Liberal candidate for Moore and former president of the Moore division; his mother and father, Mary and Reg; and my good friends and electoral supporters Monika Dunnet and Alan Brown.

One thing I have learned over the years is the value of loyal and devoted staff. I would like to thank my personal staff at the Joondalup electoral office for their care and concern in dealing patiently with the various inquiries from my constituents; my office staff Jodie, Noelene, Dalma, Penny and Sue; Tim in the members' dining room, who tolerates Julie's complaining about the food all the time; the Comcar people; security staff; and everyone.

I would especially like to thank Gloria, my long-suffering, loyal and devoted PA—although I think the suffering is reciprocated by me sometimes! We have worked together for 35 years. It has sort of been a love-hate relationship. I have tried to get her certified, but her doctors are too frightened to support me doing it! She was known as 'Dragon Lady'. Kevin, you will be proud to know they tattooed 'Kevin 07' on her—I think she told you the story—when they had her as a victim under anaesthetic. Which she thoroughly deserved and couldn't get off for some time! A special and heartfelt vote of thanks to you, Gloria. I think I accurately predicted to you that this journey into public life would never be boring.

Last but by no means least, a particularly big and special thanks to my wife, Nola, and my kids for their support and understanding over the years.

I cannot think of one person I have met in this long journey I would not regard as a friend. I will miss all of you equally, and I wish you the best for your future endeavours. Thank you.


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