Thursday, 17 March 2016
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I remember the Prince and Princess of Denmark coming to our area, and Prime Minister Howard, with a smile on his face, said: 'This is Bruce Billson. He looks after tragedy when it happens overseas for our country.' I thought I can match you with that, and I went up to Prince Frederik and I said, 'Gee, we've got a lot in common.' He goes, 'Why is that?' And I said, 'Gee, we've both married well, haven't we?' It was not quite an awkward diplomatic moment, but Prime Minister Howard enjoyed it.
I have enjoyed a terrific working relationship with Prime Minister Turnbull. I sat beside Malcolm in the cabinet room. We used to joke that one of our predecessors sat in the same seat and they were invited to leave, and I facetiously said, 'I think I'm in the ejector seat.' It showed a little too much perspicacity, didn't it! Never mind.
Brendan Nelson: what a tough gig! I mean, who remembers the challenge when you lose an election? It is gut-wrenching. You put every ounce of your being into that, and, if the result doesn't turn out your way, it is one thing to lose the election but it is another thing to know that the whole opportunity to bring about change is gone. There are two things that happen in politics—you are either explaining or complaining—and it depends on what side of the place you are on. But no matter what the worst day in public life looks like in government it beats the hell out of the best day in opposition, because you can do things. To lose that opportunity was absolutely gut-wrenching.
But I have enjoyed the support of our leaders—Brendan, when he had me as shadow cabinet minister for communications and IT in the digital economy. Malcolm invited me to spend more time on something I deeply believe in, and that is that our cities can make a better contribution to our growth and our economic prospects. It led me into a parliamentary inquiry about that. And that is why this place is important. As the chair of a committee, you can start ideas moving. I instigated the sustainable cities 2020 inquiry, and now it is still referred to, about what we can do to get our cities run well. Colleagues from all sides of this parliament were full and generous in their contribution, and that is when the parliament is at its best. The NDIS committee that I chair now does crucial work, but again you see good will in every bit of that work—a genuine desire to do good. That is why I respect all members in this chamber and the Senate, whatever brand they carry. This is not a business for the faint-hearted, and to throw yourself into it, like all of us do, is quite special.
The parliament is an interesting place. I was only ever thrown out once in 20 years, because I thought, 'Can I explain my behaviour to my kids?' That was my benchmark. I was unfairly warned by Speaker Neil Andrew. I made the mistake of pointing out that he had got me confused with one of my colleagues, who was behaving like a peanut. He did not like me pointing that out, and he bounced me. I apologise to my electorate for being absent for an hour when I could have been in here making a contribution.
Con Sciacca is an interesting character. He and I double teamed; it was almost like a Starsky and Hutch moment, with better fitting clothes. We split a bill in the parliament. I think—and the clerks might correct me—that it is the only time in this parliament's history that we have been able to successfully split a bill and see it pass through this chamber. There was a half-convincing nod from the table there. It was on the human cloning and embryo stem cell research bill—a matter of great conscience. But how do you find a single conscience about two fundamentally different issues? I was dead against human cloning, but I wanted to see the possibilities from embryonic stem cell research. So what do I do? Do I vote against the whole bill, even though I like half of it? Or do I vote for the whole thing, when I find part of it abhorrent? We hatched a plan, and I said to Con, 'Leave it with me. I will sort this out.' This is before the term 'fixer' became popular. That was the effort. I said, 'I think I can split these bills like a succulent avocado, deal with each half discretely and then we can put it back together again and send it over to the other place.'