House debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Bills

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

The nut stayed because we needed a core to hang it together, and there were not some of those Avon things that keep them—not Avon. You know, those longer life things that keep your avocado green?

An honourable member: Tupperware.

Tupperware—thank you, sir. It worked. It was the only time it has happened in this place, and I am thrilled that I was able to pull this off.

This is an arena, though, for political debate and differing policy ideas. It is a clearing house of people's thoughts about the future. It is a forum of accountability, but it is a hard place. That is why I admire everyone who enters into this place and all those who aspire to be here. The world is run by people who turn up. If you turn up, you can have an influence. If you turn up, someone can hear your thoughts. You might be able to shape things. Coming here is turning up big time—the work to get here is arduous and demanding, but it is incredibly rewarding.

But it does not happen on its own. The clerks, the Comcar team, the parliamentary officials, the service providers, the hundreds of political staff around here, the attendants and the security people—they are all great. They are people, and people make politics and the parliamentary democracy work. I say, 'Thank you,' for 20 years of great courtesy and constructive engagement over that journey.

I am surrounded by many friends. These are the visible faces of politics, colleagues and combatants, but all deserving respect, right across the chamber, because they are here, and that is something we should never forget. We have a shared purpose, the Libs and the Nats—that is our coalition. We think parties bring people together with shared ideas and values and views about what is good for the country. I accept others have different ideas about what is good for the country, but they all want good for our nation. I admire that courage.

I particularly want to acknowledge the class of '96. What a great bunch of humans they were. Joel wants me to mention him. He stopped me in the corridor before and he said, 'Hey, Billy, whatever you do, make sure you mention me.' It is done. Phil Barresi, Larry Anthony, Broughy, Teresa Gambaro, Russell, in his multiple comings, and Joe Hockey—they are great people and they are mates for life. More mates have come along: Sussan Ley, Craig Laundy—there are just too many. I am in trouble if I mention too many, but there is you, Mr Speaker. We did have a plot that your sons would marry my daughters—and I think you pointed out that I needed to be in a safer seat, though.

Scott Ryan, my twin brother—accused of being my twin—is 10 years younger than me, and that says a lot about his exercise regime. Mitch Fifield, Fiona Scott, Zed, Andrew Hastie—a good recent mate—Craig Kelly and Craig Laundy are just some, but everyone here is just lovely. My electoral neighbours are Peter Reith and Greg Hunt; we have to work together. It was great working together with Peter and Greg, but I will let you in on a bit of a story. To the north of me is pure tiger territory for the Libs. It is Bolshevik central from wall to wall, but I have enjoyed working with the late Greg Wilton. He came in with us, and we felt his pain.

Ann Corcoran and Anthony Byrne—I was going to mention Mark Dreyfus, but he is never there. Down in my part of the world, in the Riviera, we love tourists—even if they are the local member. It is a bit unkind. I enjoy working with Mark, but he is busy. Andrew Southcott—in 2010 we were both having yet another near death experience, electorally. I thought I was about 1,500 votes in front and someone put a 500 pile in the wrong one! You have to find a personal feng shui when you go from 1,500 up to just 500 up and you slip into the 'he's gone' column. It was not that way, but I shared that experience.

The media loves it, and I want to thank the media. I apologise for being completely unhelpful about off-the-record comments. It has annoyed many of them and it has probably hampered my opportunity to get column centimetres or nice things said about me by James Jeffrey. But the media are crucial; they are a voice and a medium through which what goes on in here goes out into the broader public. They are great to work with. Some are great athletes, many are good friends, and I will miss many of them.

But all politics is local. Tip O'Neill said that, and I think that is right, and that is why I got involved. I love the local scene and getting out and about, hearing people's concerns and understanding what their ambitions were and how we might be able to help. And we did help: Scoresby Freeway. I was honoured to be called Mr Scoresby by John Howard. I hope it was a term of endearment, but I do not think so. To be able to have any matter before the party room and then make it about Scoresby, I found that quite agile—if I could use a popular term! But he thought 'How could Billson make a bill about thin capitalisation at all relevant to a crucial piece of infrastructure?' I could do that, and even an administrative change and the tidying up of the law—there was never a missed opportunity! And we got there, and what a transformation that has made to our region. There was Peninsula Link and arguing for that crucial piece of infrastructure and being told by Premier Brumby that I knew nothing about the area and that no-one would ever use it. Now I am criticised that it is only four lanes and not six! Then saving the Monash University Peninsular campus and bringing occupational therapy, speech pathology and physiotherapy. It is still there now as a beacon to our local people that higher education is an opportunity that is there for them when they can make it their own. Yet our post-secondary education rates are still no better than Gippsland. Work to be done.

Then: Cube 37, the youth hub in Mornington; the renovations for the McClelland Sculpture Park & Gallery; the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery; and the new schools' policy and seeing great educational institutions like Flinders Christian Community College set up in my electorate and Bayside Christian College giving great education and guidance for young people. Arguing for years that we needed an Australian technical college, getting that commitment and then finding we lost the election. Then having to convince Labor that their idea of sprinkling tech fairy dust for a new oven or a new lift was never going to work, and then bringing it together in a consolidated, dedicated building. That is what Labor did, and I commend them for adjusting their strategy. I can claim that as the nearest and neatest correct outcome I was working for.

Also commemorating of our fallen at Frankston with a new memorial and the Mornington Memorial Park. I thought I would be the subject of an Auditor-General inquiry about that. Please do not tell anybody—lean in a bit because it is a secret—but I think I got about eight grants for that one site, commemorating all of the conflicts that our people have served in. Getting Ramsar listing for the Seaford Wetlands and coastal regeneration and being able to help co-author the Natural Heritage Trust policy before the 1996 election to say that there is a risk that our best environmental asset, our coastline, will be damaged by its pure popularity, and putting policy and programs in place to fix that. Then there is the Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve and letting people know that that is where our veterans came back to after fighting in the First World War because we needed to make sure that they had not brought back viruses. The basketball court at Mornington Secondary College; the stadium expansion at Frankston; the ring road at Seaford village, to stop people risking wiping themselves out just to visit that great coastal area—that ring road and the alfresco it has made possible; and the Mornington Rose Gardens. There are plenty more that I could go on with. It has been a busy time, and there has been much to do.

There is the mature-age employment advantage and telling people—and I did not realise this at the time—that once you reach 45 it is not over. I thought I had a few years to work on that, but I turned 50 on Australia Day and I certainly hope it is not over. There is job journey and talking to young people, and the help of Mark Skaife who said: 'I am a mechanic, but look what else I have done with my life. But this vocational qualification was a great platform.' To bring The Fauves and others down to talk to our young people about the stepping stones of a career, the job journey, where it starts and how you cannot stop. You have to learn for life. You have to keep expanding and renewing and remaking yourself. Getting Telstra off its tail—you know what that is like, Mr Speaker—in the outer metropolitan area and finally getting metro calls for our area and dedicated countrywide activities. It was all important, but nothing was more important than what it said to our young people.

I went to school at Monterey. You know when they have those accounts of the schools people went to and there is all that scoffing about how they went to exclusive schools? Well, I have never seen a column in that analysis that said, 'Public schools designated as disadvantaged'. That's where I want to school. I went there and I learnt so much, and I kept going back

I was school council president for one simple reason: to say to the young people of Australia, and my electorate particularly, 'Your postcode doesn't determine your potential. You can learn as well as anybody. You can achieve great things. You can fulfil your ambitions. Have ambitions and aspirations and draw in those who can help you on that journey.' That happened to me the other day at a fate at Monterey. A grandparent came up to me and said, 'Hey, Bruce, I hear you're going. We're sad about that. But you've taught our granddaughter that she can do anything, even if it's at a school that never ranks as superspunky or super well-off.'

It has been a long journey from the streets of Seaford, The Pines and Frankston to this place. I said that in my maiden speech. I made the point that I want to let others from my community know it is a road they too can travel. I hope I have done that. In my maiden speech I talked about how crucial small and microbusinesses are to our community. It is not by chance that I aimed to be, was and loved being evangelical for enterprising men and women, because that is our economy and that is where those livelihood opportunities come from.

But it did not happen just because that was something I wanted to do. The crew who have helped me along the way are remarkable. My dear mate, Greg Sugars—never has one person suffered so much in the political world! He is my campaign manager, confidant and inspiration and he is the guy who rings my wife when we are feeling like I have not been home for a long time. I want to thank: Bill Beaglelhole, electorate chairman and campaign manager; Robert and Linda Hicks; Harry and Margaret Dean; John Howard—there is a local version!; the late Geoff Hollings; Bob Garnett; Peter Rawlings; and Colin and Dawn Fisher. There are countless people. I had better stop there because I know that, if I go through a much longer list, I will forget people. I apologise for that, but I only found out that this was my opportunity a few hours ago and you can see that my preparation is incomplete.

There have been friends exploited. I want to thank John Catto-Smith, Stephen Sherack, David Ritter, Chris Warwick and the many mates who got involved in politics just because I was. I thank my family, who were devoted and continue to be. I thank my brother, who was here when I made my maiden speech and probably to this day still cannot work out why I am involved in politics. He is a company doctor—a very gifted chief financial officer. The business he helped run was owned by some Americans and they got very excited about this rumour that the CFO had a brother in 'congress'. He did not quite know what to make of that, so he told them I was his cousin! I thank my parents, who have wondered what brought me here. I think it was just prior to the 1998 election that they went to a public meeting and it was not pretty. It frightened them. It was politics in the raw in a marginal seat. It is probably inappropriate of me to thank the CFMEU for their great interest in my electorate over many years! It was not nice. My parents never came to another political event, but they wished me well every day. I thank my sweetheart, Kate. She so wanted to be here today but, only knowing a couple of hours ago that I would be doing this valedictory, there was nothing we could do to get her here. This letter is from her. She has been a superstar.

I thank my son, Alex. He was born into politics and knows nothing else. I am a bit worried; he seems to love it! He gives me commentary. He has been on the phone texting me while I am here. I am so proud of him. I hope he finds a pathway of great satisfaction in his life. I thank my oldest daughter Zoe. She is wired with intravenous chamomile tea—so chilled. Something spectacular will happen and she will come up to me and say, 'Good one, Dad.' On occasions when I am being smacked around in the media with headlines that you hope your kids will never see, she will say, 'It's okay, Dad.' I love the fact that she was always there for me. My microhumans are now not micro: Maddie is eight and Bella is six. Maddie loved Harry Jenkins. She will walk around the house saying, 'Order!' What kind of abuse of a child is that! She knew the standing orders before she knew some poems that kids are supposed to know. She is so proud that daddy goes to work every day trying to help other people. She loves that. She was a bit sad when I was no longer a minister. I thank her for her support and saying, It'll be okay. You've got more to give, Dad.' I am still the member for Dunkley, I told her. She said, 'Well, that's great, because we want you to do that forever.'

Bella, my six-year-old, has been here before. She is far too wise for her age. She just goes: 'So have you still got a job? Who's going to bring the dollars in, Daddy?' She got quite upset because she thought I was unemployed. Perhaps that is a premonition; I hope not. But I said to her, 'Would you actually like Daddy to be able to take you to school some days?' All was good after that, and that shows you the kind of life we lead.

I have had great staff. Some are here in the audience today. But, at the short notice, many who would love to be here cannot be here. Sandra Darby, Edmond Carew, Noelene Warwick, Mark Oswald, Justin Johnson, Jeremy Johnson—we went through a twins phase for a while—Susan Westlake, Melody Rewokowski, Raeleigh Speedie, Reece Turner, Kristy Spena, Mary Aldred, Hayley Najim, Tim Smith, Mary-Jo Reumer, Pam Roberts, Tom Hudson, Nathan Hersey, Melissa Ritter, Mason Sugars, Katie Wilkie, Chantal D'Argaville have all been absolute powers of strength, engagement and empathy in my electorate office. No-one rings your electorate office because they are happy. We are often the last, last line when people are frustrated. I said to them: 'Just come to work everyday, KYSOS—knock your socks off service. Let's see if we can achieve that.'

On my ministerial and executive career, I want to thank Vincent Sheehy—at his wedding, his mother comforted me and said, 'Thank you for being Vincent's longest relationship.' Thankfully, his wife has surpassed that. But: Vincent Sheehy, Cameron Hill, Sally Branson, Phil Connole, Kane Silom, Karen Browne, Judith Donnelly, Michael Xanthis, Shane Fairlie, James Sampson, Mary Aldred, Michael Keating, Kristie Lavery, Candice Lester, Daniel McCracken-Hewson, Ineke Redmond, Andy McClure, Cameron Hooke, Brice Pacey, Stefanee Lovett, Nanette Rogers, Philip Citowicki, Susan Warren, Emily Barnuevo, Anna Zeltzer, Josh Toohey, John Polack and Sarah Bland have been great in a very heavy, burdened, responsibility-laden office.

Hector Thompson, a brilliant man from Treasury, came over when I was a Treasury cabinet minister two days in and I was not quite sure what was going on. The DLOs, knitting the departments and the political wing together: Dan Heldon, who has never seen a smorgasbord he has not loved, Mary-Anne Mellor, Julie Bolton, David Steer, John Matheson, Rebecca Brooke, Nathan Barker, Wayne Fogarty and Bernice Vanguardia. They have been great.

The aides-de-camp that I got to work with: Lucy Casey and Wendy Jeffery. They put in so much, but there is one person who put in an awful lot—that is, my father-in-law. Arthur Ranken is totemic in his love of the Liberal Party. When I stood for preselection, there was a field of 15. He was one of them. My now father-in-law tried to knock me off back then! I got even. I married his daughter. He did live vicariously through me in his political life, but if ever you came to the Riviera of Melbourne, my electorate, in an election campaign, there is nowhere you could look where there was not my face. The director of visual merchandising—he was spectacular.

We still have work ahead of us. We need to prepare our young people for this delicious world of opportunity that is out there. But let us be frank: despite spending more on education, we are seeing our comparative academic performance falling behind other countries. We need to do something about that. But we also need to face up to the fact that not all people are wired to be academically gifted. But we have to understand they have other gifts, other great talents, other ways of thinking and of carving out a meaningful life for themselves and being able to make some of those delicious opportunities their own. But when a time is so dynamic and ambiguous as it is now, it can be hard for some people to flourish in that environment. We need to provide the pathways and the support and a purpose for those young people. I think this is a real challenge for us, because brilliant, agile, intellectually adept people will thrive in this environment. What if you are not wired that way? Surely, we can help renew and renourish their hopes, ambitions and capacity for the future. We have to do this.

Colleagues, we risk being the first generation to fail the great promise of this country, and that is that the next generation will have it better than us. We risk not being able to renew that promise. National income growth of 2.3 per cent a year for decades is not something that will land in our lap. We really need to work hard at that. We need to make our economy hum and support all of our people, whatever their age, whatever their calling, to be their best selves and to create the wealth and opportunity to renourish that great promise of our country.

I talked about that when I made my maiden speech. I said that the challenges facing Dunkley are only as big as the opportunities before us. That is still the case today, but it is our job to make those opportunities real and in reach for everybody, not just those that happen to have a cognitive capacity or an outlook on life that makes them ready and ripe to excel in this dynamic, ambiguous time that we live in.

I try to make every day worthwhile for the air I have sucked in. I think I have done that. I look to Chris Crewther, a gifted young individual—a little bit older than me when I started—to carry that forward. He is a great talent, and I hope we will work to see him succeed.

In closing, I just want to say I have loved these days. To my family, I will be home soon.

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