Wednesday, 26 June 2013
I rise to make my final contribution to this parliament and do so in the presence of family and friends in the gallery and, in the main, friends within the chamber as well. There are a few things I would like to say. I do not have a written speech but there are a number of things that I would like to comment on.
Firstly I would like to thank my staff. I think most of us—all of us—know the work that our staff do. It is a job description that is indescribable and something you really cannot just pull off the shelf and put in place. I will go through the list of people who are on my staff. Leigh Tschirpig—who is a male—has been with me for 22 years, since the day that I started. I thank youLeigh; I presume you are listening. Sue O'Halloran, who started with me and has done part-time work over the years, has also been in the office or out of it from time to time for 22 years. My industrial relations record is not very good in terms of getting rid of people; they seem to want to stay. Melissa Penrose—and Melissais in the gallery; she is in the Tony Abbott blue—has kept me organised for 18 years. I thank all of the members of my staff, obviously, but I thank you, Melissa, for your contribution. GrahamNuttallwho is no relation to Gordon, the Queensland person—has been with us; he has been sentenced to 14 years. Thank you, Graham,for all your efforts and the fun we have had. Sandy York used to work for Senator Sandy Macdonald until I was elected into the federal parliament, I do not think Sandy will mind me telling the story. She was summoned on the Sunday after the Saturday and dismissed, the reason being that she was not political enough. I think that is exactly what we need in our electorate offices: people who are not political to service the community. So Senator Macdonald's loss was my gain. Sandy has been there 11 years. Bruce Clarke at Inverell, who was a cameraman here for some time with Channel 10, has been with us for five years. John Clements, who is sitting next to Graham over there, probably annoyed a few people, Minister! 'Constructively debated with people' would be the correct way of putting it, I think, John. Thank you very much. Particularly during a hung parliament everybody has worked extremely hard in a policy sense. Your contribution has been enormous and I appreciate it. Andra Milne has been on and off, working casually for four years, and Marcia Stapleton has also been there for four years. I would recognise a lady who worked with me in the original hung parliament and was employed because of a hung parliament, Angela Day, who has not been with me during my federal days.
I would also like to thank the Clerks. I am pleased Bernard and David are here, because they have been an extraordinary influence on me, and I am sure on all of us, in the way in which they are totally confidential—totally. It is an incredible trust that all of us have in relation to the way your office works, and I have appreciated that and I am sure many others have as well. Thank you.
To all of the attendants, to the security guys, the Comcar people: we have a unique place here. One of the unique things in this building, and I suspect, from having been in another building, the New South Wales parliament, for 10 years prior to this, and Minister Burke may well agree—Jay, I forgot you. I am terribly sorry, Jay. I have heard of Sid Sidebottom for Treasurer! No such luck! Thank you, Jay. Jay has been with us during the hung parliament and we have had an extraordinarily interesting time of it. To go back to where I was: Comcar drivers are great people. One of the things that this building still has—and I think Minister Burke and the member for Lyne might recognise this, having been in the New South Wales parliament—is that it is a real honour to be here, not just for us but for the people who work in the building. New South Wales used to have that, and I am not condemning the people there now. But one of the things it has lost is that real spirit. It was driven by cost-cutting, in a sense: tendering out this, tendering out that. That took away a lot of the atmosphere and the real feeling in the building. One comment I would like to make is: whoever is in government, whoever is a member of parliament, do not lose that, because it is very precious. It is a real pleasure to be in this building, to come here of a morning and to see the mix of people like the ladies who clean the Prime Minister's office—I run into them in the lift. You know who they are, and when the US President was here he made a beeline for them. They are extraordinary people that do an enormous amount of devoted work for us. We should all show our appreciation more often and make sure that we preserve that. If it costs a few extra dollars, I would vote for it, because it really adds value to the parliament.
To all of the attendants that service us in the building: thank you very much. The courtesy that you have shown over the years is extraordinary and greatly appreciated. To the people in Aussies—we are having a bit of a contest on the football tonight—what a great family of good people who work there and serve good coffee. We have breakfast there every morning, two bits of toast and two poached eggs. Dom still gives me that bit of green stuff that you have to throw away—he just will not listen! I have demanded that Tony censure him, and he does not seem to do that either. Thank you to all of those people.
To the committees that I have been on, the Standing Committee on Regional Australia and the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry, which I was on in the previous parliament: thank you to all of the committee secretariat and the people who have worked there. We have done some extraordinarily good things, particularly in this parliament: the Murray-Darling; the fly-in fly-out arrangements. The work of these committees impacts on the debate that is currently before the parliament: 457 visas at the moment. The issue is a much bigger one than that. It is about the effect of mobile workforces on stand-alone communities. This is something that policy has to address. The fly-in fly-out issue, 457 visas, work camps in communities all have not only an impact on the employer and the employee and, to some degree, the union movement and others but also a real potential impact on the towns themselves. For all of these issues—and I am not arguing against 457s—we have to make sure that locality is important.
I thank Simon Crean, the first Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, for the work of the regional Australia committee. I thank the Regional Australia Institute, Sue McCluskey and others doing valuable work. I thank you, Simon, for the work that we have done together as a group. It has been a pleasure working with you. From both sides of parliament, I think you are the one person who really does get regional development. It is so easy to politicise it, but you are in touch with it. That is very important, and I thank you for that.
To my colleague 'Buckshot': thank you. You are an extraordinary individual that I knew in the New South Wales parliament. In fact, he spoke against me one day, and I have never forgotten it! This is the moment of retribution! I really admire Rob for the work that he has done. He has taken this parliament seriously. It is not an easy parliament for anybody, and in a lot of ways a lot of very negative strategy has been used. But I think, Rob, you deserve the plaudits of the House and the community, because you have stuck to your guns, you have worked hard, and you have absorbed the vitriol of idiots like Ray Hadley and Alan Jones. You have done an extraordinary job, and it has been a real pleasure to work with you. We have had fun at various staff dinners and whatever. It has been really great. To your wife and family, particularly the Canterbury supporter: I wish you well and hopefully we can maintain contact into the future.
To the Prime Minister: I thank you. At the beginning of this process the Australian people had a nil-all draw or a fifty-fifty split, and we were asked to make a determination in relation to that. I had been involved in a hung parliament previously, in 1991. There was a 99-seat parliament and Nick Greiner and the Liberal-National Party had 49. They needed 50 to get there, and it was my vote that gave them the 50 and allowed Nick Greiner to form government. I saw the vagaries of a hung parliament, particularly with Nick Greiner, for whom I still have a great deal of respect, and the way it chewed him up in terms of the internal machinations going on within his party—the Liberal Party group, as it was known back then; Malcolm would know them, and there are still some of them around. Nick Greiner ended up resigning.
I remember Nick Greiner ringing me one night after the ICAC had found him guilty of corruption. He rang me on the Sunday night and said, 'Tony, I'm going to resign tomorrow.' I said to him: 'Nick, you have not exhausted the processes of the law. You have the right of appeal on these things.' He said: 'It doesn't matter; my mob have turned against me. I am resigning tomorrow.' I will always remember that he said to me—and you will appreciate this, Michael and Mark—'You know, Tony, the Nats were the ones who stuck with me.' Nick Greiner resigned, and 10 days later he was found not guilty on appeal. Among the complete badgering that has gone on in this place in relation to Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, when they have not fulfilled due process, I kept reflecting back to those days with Nick Greiner. All of us, irrespective of whether we are believed to be saints or sinners, and particularly in this place, should expect due process to take place. So I thank Nick Greiner.
I thank you, Prime Minister, because with that experience behind us the 17 days—and then the 17 minutes—was a very interesting time. I thought it was a valuable time. People have to bear in mind that at that time the election result had not even been called. Everybody thought—and Bob will remember a lot of this—that it was going to be a hung parliament, but not necessarily until the numbers were added up. During that period we negotiated with Tony Abbott and his team and with Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan and their people, and all of those negotiations were in good faith. It was not an easy decision to make, but we picked the right person, and I congratulate you for the way you have been able to withstand the vagaries of the hung parliament and the negative vibes that have been developed out in the community. In some ways they do not fully comprehend what a hung parliament is, and still look at it through the prism of the two-party system. It is not that. The prosecution of the various cases in here has been about the two parties—the issue of the so-called carbon tax lie, for instance.
I would have presumed, and I said this morning, that anybody in the major parties running for an election would assume that they would get a majority, and in the Labor Party's case, if they had gained a majority, they may well have moved to an ETS fairly quickly. But—I think Malcolm would agree with this, and I know former Prime Minister Howard had a similar process—to get your institutional framework in place for an emissions trading scheme you need to have a fixed price for a certain period. A fixed price in economic terms is a tax.
One of the issues I am proudest to be involved in is the climate change issue. I think it is absolutely disgraceful that we have picked that as a target. Here again, today in our parliament, we are still on about this problem. As a farmer I know that if we suffer climatic change that is detrimental—not necessarily less rain, but maybe more intense rainfall and longer dry periods—that has an incredible impact on our economy. Anybody who is trying to assess risk in any shape or form would have to look very seriously at the science and try to do something about it. And if you are going to try to do something about it then, regrettably, there is no cheaper way of doing it than putting a price on it. We can have our arguments about the global linkages et cetera, what all that means later on and what the fixed price is now. I know a little bit more about that which I will not be saying here. But I applaud the Prime Minister for doing it—for actually doing it, rather than just talking about it. I think the multiparty climate change process worked. Everybody did not get their own way, but it was a process where, in a minority government, you have to deal with others, and that process was conducted very well.
The other issue that I would raise in relation to the Prime Minister is that there has never been an occasion where I have felt—and I think I speak for Rob as well—that you have attempted to welsh on any deals. You have been very supportive of the initiatives that are out there. We knew you would be a good negotiator in terms of those issues. I respect the way that you and your staff—Jo Haylen and Cate Harrison, who we have had a lot of contact with, and all of your staff—have respected and regarded us and have not seen us as 'those interlopers' who come in from time to time.
So I do congratulate you on the way in which this difficult period has been negotiated. I will not get into the names, but I do not think anybody else could have done it. I do not think anyone else could have done it at a federal level. The community make decisions about future parliaments, and so they should, but I want to put on record my respect and regard for the Prime Minister—and you, too, Wayne—for the way in which our dealings have worked right through the process.
To Minister Burke: well done on the Murray-Darling. I think that was extraordinary. There was a problem for 100 years and through majorities and minorities—whoever—no-one would address that issue. That has happened in a hung parliament. At the start of this, a lot of people said, 'Nothing will happen; there will be a paralysis,' but a lot has happened. There have been significant issues—the Murray-Darling being one of them. The National Broadband Network will be extraordinary for regional Australia—and here we are having a debate on why it is bad! We can get into the business case and the cost-benefit analysis and all of that, but if we do anything short of that—and I am not being critical of you, Malcolm; I have great regard and respect for you—long term it will be insufficient and we will end up on a road that has blockages in it.
There have been other significant issues. I mentioned the climate change debate. We have the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Well done, Jenny, I think that is extraordinary—and to Bill Shorten, too, who raised that some years ago. I remember talking to Bill over here and he asked me: 'What are your views on this sort of stuff, Tony?' That was back in the previous government. A lot of people from both sides of the House have been very strong about trying to do something about those less fortunate than ourselves.
We have the so-called 'water trigger'. Thank you again, Prime Minister. I recognise that it probably did cause some consternation with a few, but it is the right thing to do. Objective science in terms of assessing groundwater systems is absolutely critical to some of these groundwater systems, whether they be extractive activities or other activities. I think we really need to have a very close look and get it right, particularly where water is concerned; otherwise the mistakes can be quite dramatic—because, as we all know, water runs down hill.
An honourable member: Not everyone.
Not everyone? Michael? You're in tin-hat corner! Simon, the regional Australia program is appreciated by regional Australians. I know that and I thank you for that and also for the work that you did in terms of the Murray-Darling and other regional issues.
Two of the things that I am proudest of, though, that came out of the arrangement in terms of the formation of government are the Health and Hospitals Fund and the Education Investment Fund. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition admitted during that 17-day period that regional Australia had essentially been ignored—to some degree; I am not saying totally. We argued that there could be a way of rectifying this, and 100 per cent of those two funds went to country areas. We have been criticised that this was all about pork-barrelling our particular seats, but nearly $2 billion came out of the Health and Hospitals Fund when you add some of the cancer clinics to it as well when there was a regional round. Nicola and Tanya, thank you for the work that you have done. Thanks also goes to Tony Abbott for the work that you did previously in terms of the university department of rural health, which led quite quickly to the University of New England developing a medical school. And there is a whole range of other things that are add-ons to that which go to the issue of country health. Those two funds were 100 per cent ring-fenced for country people. One hospital in my electorate got some money, 134 somewhere else got some money, and there are similar statistics in relation to the university and TAFE funding.
I thank the electorate for tolerating me and for the support that I have had over many, many years. I have been in parliament for 22 years now. I have been in two hung parliaments—and one with Bob Carr that had a majority of one; so that was virtually a hung parliament. So for 50 per cent of the time I have been an Independent in a so-called unique position. I have appreciated every one of those parliaments, both state and federal. But I think therein lies a message: if one individual can be in a balance of power situation, or very close to it, for 50 per cent of his political life, what can 30 per cent of the nation do in terms of country Australia? Country Australians really have a problem in a sense in that they think because they represent only 30 per cent of the population they have to accept through the democratic processes what the other 70 per cent bestow upon them.
But one needs to actually analyse the numbers. The reason that western Sydney, western Melbourne and Brisbane are important in most elections is that that is where the marginal seats are, and they normally determine the outcome. But if you analyse back to Federation, there has not been a parliament since Federation where a country member of that parliament has not held the balance of power. It is just that they have been married into city based, majority, democratically trading political parties—whether they be the Labor Party, the Liberal Party or the National Party.
One of the legacies of this parliament, I hope, is that country people actually look at this in a more strategic sense. You see the Greens—and I thank Adam for being here—with seven or eight per cent of the vote having significant influence, particularly in the Senate. Country people have got to be a bit more strategic about this. I take my hat off to the Western Australian National Party and Brendon Grylls in particular—he has had a similar strategy. In our political history, the two major management teams, not political parties, as I see them, are very similar and they create differences—a fight over climate change, for instance; a created difference; something to create the division, the divide. I think Brendon Grylls was in a hung parliament situation and, genuinely, looked at both sides rather than just heading for one. If you head for one, you will be taken for granted by both.
I thank you, Tony, for your attendance in this parliament. For the life of me—I know I have been critical of you—I just could not understand after what Brendon had done over there that you would come into this parliament and then join up with the minority group and not take advantage of the hung parliament for your people.
In the electorate there are a lot of things I am proud of, but what I am proudest of is where the people have driven things. In lots of cases they are the smaller things. Tingha, which is an Aboriginal community that has produced some great footballers over the years, had an old hospital. We have all seen it. It was to be pulled down, and they could travel somewhere else. There was another town somewhere else they could go to. They were not on the MPS list. I will never forget—he is still a bureaucrat down here—the night we had the meeting in the Tingha hall. I rang Lyall Munroe, who is not in the electorate but Peter Garrett would know him.
An honourable member interjecting—
You know him—everybody knows Lyall. I rang Lyall from Moree and I said: 'Lyall, I need your help. Can you come across to Tingha?' 'Yeah, mate, I'll be there.' We walked in with this bureaucrat—he was coming to tell them that they could not have an MPS because they were not on the list. This was not in the hung parliament; this is back in the Howard days. As we walked in the door, there were 500 people and I said, 'I look forward to listening to you tell them.' Anyway, they have a beautiful MPS, and that is community at work. I think that is what we are all on about.
Probably one of the most pleasing activities that I have been involved in was the saving of the Bundarra Grace Munro aged-care facility. Grace Munro was the founder of the CWA and lived in the Bundarra area. Ten beds—is Justine Elliot here; no—are uneconomic, apparently. The provider from Inverell said: 'We don't want to do it any more. They can all come to Inverell.' A little committee was formed. I was part of that, and we went through all the ramifications of what would happen, how we could make it economic. The departmental people, who were playing the departmental card at the start, became sympathetic. The minister, who was Justine Elliot, the member for Richmond, had a good look at it and the community found some money. A lot of people made a contribution to get it going and, since then—that is about five or six years ago now—it has made a profit every year. So don't let anybody tell you that 10 beds is too small and that you have to go to the next biggest feedlot to get service. That is not correct. Small communities can do enormous things if they get together .
Other things—there is a whole list, but I will mention a few. Chaffey Dam—Mike, you would be aware of that—and Barraba pipeline. In fact, if you had not been involved, and Minister Burke again, I do not think Barraba would have a pipeline today, and they have got about 10 kays to go. The financial contribution from the Commonwealth government essentially gave a lifeline to a small town for a very basic utility: water. Tamworth Base Hospital—there is an enormous expenditure package going on there. The University of New England has received quite large grants, particularly for agricultural research and agricultural extension. I would like to mention a fellow called Victor Minichiello, who has done an enormous amount of work in the medical school at the university and has good ideas. He is actually dealing with the Argentinians at the moment to try and create some relationships between our countries.
I am getting there; I do apologise. I remember one day, Prime Minister, you and I were here—it was in the paper quite recently again—and Greg Combet. I congratulate Greg for the work that he has done, an absolute believer in the climate change initiative. One of the things the Prime Minister would be aware of—and Greg, in particular—is that the abattoir at Inverell is going to be an extraordinary example that reverses all of the nonsense that we have heard. The unit cost of production will actually go down. Utility prices, whether it be gas, heat or electricity, will be controlled within an almost closed loop. The very thing that we are talking about: renewable energy, value-adding to agriculture—all of the stuff—and that is why you have not heard anything from the meat-processing industry. The smart money has moved. It is not only good for the climate, it is also good business, and they are doing that. There is nothing of the magnitude of the Bindaree Beef proposal at Inverell. And when it is up and going it will not only lead the game here, it will lead it internationally too in terms of closed loop systems and value adding to agriculture.
I was trying to get somewhere else with that. That is the trouble when you do not write a speech, Harry, isn't it? I have great regard—that is right, you and I were standing here and Greg Combet came along—he was quite rude, actually; he looked at what we were looking at. He thought it was a valuable document. Anyway, it was a cartoon from First Dog on the Moon. He does a great cartoon of you, and others. I was showing you this, and the next day in the Telegraph, in the editorial, there was something about this learned discussion going on. Little did they know that it was a cartoon! It probably says something about me more than anything else. I have great regard for First Dog. We get it daily. He has an incredible mind—
Mr Bandt interjecting—
Thank you, Adam! I would advise people that, if they do not do so already, they should too. First Dog on the Moon; a great man. I bow down to him in every respect. The other chap/journalist that I would like to pay credit to is David Rowe. I have never met David Rowe, but I have some of his cartoons and I think they are quite extraordinary. I thank the press gallery—packed! There are a lot of little people up there. Thank you for the work that you have done over the years.
I do have to reflect, just for a moment, on couple of things. Alby Schultz made a comment the other day about how, on the agriculture committee, there was a stacked deck with Martin Ferguson, myself and others and where, in a majority government, the Prime Minister's choice did not get up back in the Howard days. It was lovely to listen to Alby—well, firstly, it was good to see Alby back in the House, but it was also lovely to listen to him tell that story. I think it said a lot of things not just about Alby, but also about people on committees and how they get on together. In this case they stacked the meeting. The Prime Minister's choice went down seven to two—Alby had that bit wrong—and I had the great privilege of moving the motion that Alby be the chair. The poor old committee secretariat, they did not know how to handle it at all.
The other little bit of humour I would like to remember is the first time I met Bob Katter. I was in the New South Wales parliament and Bob, in his very quiet way, was berating everybody who moved, and particularly the National Party. I thought, 'That man's got some intelligence.' He was threatening to become an Independent. I thought: 'I'll go and see this bloke. I think he's just full of wind. I hear him threatening things and he doesn't follow through.' So off to Canberra—Grahame was with me when I came down. We found Bob's office, shook hands and went into his inner office and sat down. Bob gets up again, goes over to his cupboard and gets out a rope. He took this rope out of his cupboard and started—the office had those very big pot plants. He started wrapping the rope around the doorhandle and round and round this big pot plant. I was fearful for a while, but then I said, 'What are you doing that for?'