House debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016; Second Reading

4:41 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016. I support the bill. Actually, there is more!

I would like to make some valedictory remarks. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you might well recall we were not sitting far from here—we were sitting over there—and it is amazing how, over the course of 20 years, I have managed to move four metres. But I hope that is not the mark of what I have been able to achieve over those 20 years. It was a tough decision to not recontest the next election. I love the community I represent. I grew up there; it runs through my veins; I know its rhythms, and I know the people. It is a spectacular place. It is the Riviera of Melbourne! For anyone who doubts that, just come down and get a piece of it. I will talk more about the local scene shortly and reflect on some of the things that have happened in the course of seven elections in a marginal seat.

It is slightly an understatement to say that marginal seat elections are character building. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you, sir, know that. We are at the pointy end of the political process. I will reflect on the fact that we are the soft underbelly of politics. When people want to bring about change or press a case, it is always the marginal seat members that they go after. I will pay tribute to the marginal seat members. There should be, as a matter of course, a marginal seat members' hall of fame in this building, and those who are in safe seats should pay appropriate homage at least weekly!

Before getting into that, I want to reflect on the national scene. I came into this place not knowing how long I would have the great honour and privilege to be here. I knew that in a marginal seat the big risk was, having worked so hard to be elected, being a 'oncer'. You never wanted to be a oncer. Oncers are viewed in the political record as an aberration. So, once you are there, you work your tail off. You work hard and you try to make every moment worthwhile. You try to do useful things for the air you suck in because you know that the rare privilege of being a part of this chamber may be all too brief and there are all too few in our nation's history who have had this great honour and opportunity.

Not to waste the opportunity, I thought I would set about trying to do things. You might have picked up recently—in fact, yesterday—that some of that work has borne fruit. It has taken an awful lot of skin off me—it is not immediately apparent by my svelteness!—to make the case for competition law reform in this country. I cannot begin to tell you what a great thrill it was to see the Turnbull government embrace some of the key reforms that I have worked so hard for.

Whatever happens, you want to make a difference, and that has been a legacy that I will hold on to, but it is not the only thing that we have been able to achieve. We made our election commitment to a root-and-branch competition review in 2010. We were ridiculed for even daring to open the box of competition laws. I think the Labor line was that the laws were 'perfectly adequate'—that was the term used, if I recall. We knew that was not the case, but we knew it would be a battle. I start with this observation because that shows you why you need the three P's that have guided my public life: passion, positivity and an awful lot of persistence. You have to stay the course because nothing comes easy in this place. To know that this section 46 reform is on its way is fantastic. Collective bargaining and boycott reforms; reform of the cartel provisions; renovating the infrastructure access regime—these are all parts of a change in the competitive ecosystem that will be great for consumers, great for efficient businesses big and small, and great for our prospects as a nation.

Who can remember the small business budget package? Didn't that go well? We established $5½ billion of support for those enterprising men and women—a real game changer, not only for our economy but as a statement from this parliament to those people who mortgage their houses and, some tell me, their firstborn children to get finance to have an opportunity to create livelihoods for themselves and others. What a statement that was in our parliament that their enterprise matters and is valued and respected.

The grocery code reforms—there seems to be a pattern here. It seems to be me versus some of the biggest businesses in the country. There we got a result as well with the grocery code of conduct. There were the franchising reforms, the unfair contract terms protections, the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, the employee share scheme reforms that we got through and the crowdsourced equity funding framework. All of this meant, as I said in my National Press Club speech, that small business is the new black. Everyone wants to wear it and be a part of it and get engaged. Whatever happens in my time, I hope in this parliament we never pass a day without respecting and celebrating those enterprising men and women—or, as I say, doing all we can to energise enterprise.

Those reforms came about through a role in cabinet, a great honour and privilege that I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed. But, in earlier days, you might recall, before the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, there was the Howard government. What a great government that was. What a transformational government. What a time. It was almost a renaissance of opportunity and belief in ourselves as a nation and a people. There were more small business owners than union members. There were people prepared to say, 'You know, I'm going to have a go,' and make a go of it.

It was a great time and I was really honoured to be not a cabinet minister but a minister and a parliamentary secretary in that administration, working hard every day for our veterans. I will let you in on a bit of a secret. When the Prime Minister rang me and said, 'Look, Bruce, we'd like you to be a minister'—until recently I always said, 'Yes, Prime Minister,' but we will reflect on that later—I said, 'I'd like to do veterans affairs.' It is an incredibly challenging area. The community loves our veterans, the veterans understand that and we owe a particular debt and gratitude for their service. I wanted to serve in veterans affairs because I grew up in an era when a lot of my mates were the sons and daughters of Vietnam War veterans. I recalled my grandfather never coming back the same person from serving in Lae in Papua New Guinea, with the impact that had on his family, and on our family—it cascaded through. I thought, 'What I'd like to do is what I hope a government would do for my family,' and that is to be there when things are going well and to act when things are not—to secure the gold card and the white card and honour and fulfil our commitment to the reformation in veterans' health care I oversaw. We reformed the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service, to bring the family more into the frame, knowing that serving our nation in our military is a team and family effort. All are impacted. The need to move every few years, with the particular stressors of that, is something we have to respect. To learn that seven months after I was born something called the Battle of Long Tan happened and to think we had not quite done the right thing to be able to lead the 40-year commemoration of that—


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