Thursday, 17 March 2016
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise to speak to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016. I welcome this piece of legislation, and I thank the minister for the incredible work that he has done in this bill and the cost savings that it will provide.
As this is one of my last opportunities to speak in this House, I would like to take the time to reflect on my 18 years in federal parliament. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as the member for Brisbane over the past six years and also as the member for Petrie from 1996 to 2007. Over the last 18 years, I have had the privilege of serving under three Liberal prime ministers: John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Each of them has provided me with support and encouragement, and I thank them all.
It is very special to me that I am only one of a handful of people who has had the immense privilege of representing two electorates in this place. After being defeated at the 2007 federal election with so many of my dear friends, I returned to the world of small business for a short time before making the bold decision to run for the LNP in the seat of Brisbane, where my family had lived all their lives.
We had had a fish and chip shop at Petrie Terrace that grew—and I am so incredibly proud of my family—to be the largest wholesaler, exporter and retailer, and one of the most famous seafood restaurants, in our state. I was particularly proud when my family became the official supplier of seafood at the Commonwealth Games. My family had achieved many firsts. We had the first IGA supermarket at New Farm. The recent reforms of section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 have made me, indeed, a very happy person over the last few days. I thank the minister who is sitting beside me for the incredible work that she has done. My family worked hard and they contributed to the community of Brisbane. I grew up in Brisbane, and I went to school in Brisbane. I love Brisbane! I am an honorary ambassador for Brisbane. It was one of my proudest moments when the Lord Mayor made me honorary ambassador.
We wrested the seat from Labor after 30 years. The people of Brisbane have sent only two Liberals to represent them in Canberra in 115 years—me and Peter Johnson. I am proud to be the first woman to have ever represented this beautiful electorate in this place and the first woman of Italian origin to enter the federal parliament. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the people of Brisbane for their support over the last six years. It has been an absolute honour and a privilege to represent such a growing, diverse and vibrant place and, I think, the most innovative city in Australia in this federal parliament. I can honestly say that, growing up and not speaking English at home, I would never have imagined that I would have made it to the federal parliament of this great country.
My parents taught me the values of hard work and integrity. They said it was only through hard work that success would come along. I know I was not a perfect child. I became a fugitive when I was three; I ran away from the Petrie Terrace kindergarten regularly, and the local police would bring me back to the fish shop. We can laugh about it now, but I do not think my parents found it very funny at the time. I worked from the age of nine in my parents' corner store, where I would spruik the specials—I will always remember the No. 9 Steggles frozen chickens for the rest of my life. So I blame my parents for my career in politics because they gave me a microphone at such a very young age.
I thank my family immensely for the opportunities that they gave me through my education. I thank the Sisters of Mercy; they instilled in me a great sense of social justice. My parents sent me to Holy Spirit School and, later, the leading Catholic girls school in Brisbane—All Hallows' School. The sense of social justice that the Sisters of Mercy instilled in me was a foundation for what would in the future become my political career.
My entry into politics was not a conventional one by any means. I was speaking at Lynette Palmen AM's Women's Network Australia. I had entered in a state-wide public speaking competition the year before and I did not do very well. In fact, I did not get a place. I was very dejected. Lynette encouraged me to enter again. So, the following year, not only did I win the Queensland award in the public speaking competition but I also took out the People's Choice Award. But little did I know that sitting in that audience on that particular day was the then Chairman of the Women's Council of the Liberal Party, the late Cassie Solomon. She was sitting in that audience and she tried everything she could to recruit me. I was a businesswoman. She asked me to join the party, and later I was asked by the Liberal Party to run in the federal seat of Petrie. Terry Barlow was then the Regional Chairman of the Petrie Federal Divisional Council and he urged me to run for the seat. I was a bit naive. I did not really understand all this political culture stuff. I want to thank Loris Barlow, his wife, and Bill Richardson, Max Mathers and Shirley Lehman, who had such faith in me then.
I can honestly say that the hardest bit was telling my father that I was going into politics . My father had a restaurant that was apolitical and he had been apolitical. Members of the trade union movement, the Labor Party, the National Party and the Liberal Party would go into my family's restaurant. So the hardest thing was telling him. I had been previously approached by the Liberal Party to run in a state seat and I had declined that offer; however, I was being given an opportunity to run for a federal seat, and federal politics was too alluring. It was not an easy feat. I had a very worthy opponent in Labor's Special Minister of State at the time, Gary Johns . I was a sole parent with two children and at the time I was working three part - time jobs.
I bravely walked into my father's restaurant office t o tell him that I would be running for preselection two nights later. My father , in his typically protective manner , told me that politics was a dirty business and that no daughter of his was going into politics and that he would not be supporting me. It did not quite go the way I thought it would. So I told him that, w ith or without his support , I was determined to run and win the seat for the Liberal Party and to see the end of the Keating Labor g overnment and the election of John Howard as Prime Minister. John Howard was then , as he is today , a political inspiration to me. He is one of the finest people I have ever met, if not the finest . I thank him for his counsel and I sin cerely thank him for his friendship for more than two decades.
F ollowing my successful preselection, I then began an 18 - month - long campaign . A fter a few months of my father not talking to me, I knew I had won him over when he started to give me advice on what to put in my speeches. I went on to win the seat of Petrie for the Liberal Party in 1996 . A historic group of women came into that party at that time. I was really proud. I am sitting here with some of those women. Sharman Stone came in at that time. I am looking around; there are not many of us left. Entschie came in—there are a lot of 96ers in Brisbane.
Mr Entsch interjecting —
But you are not a woman, Entschie. I am just doing the woman thing now.
My family were so incredibly proud of me , and my father's friends said that my father had grown six inches taller the night of the election with his pride for me. I distinctly remember my first day on the job. I had no idea what to do. I walked into this empty office that had a few paperclips left in a drawer. There was no documentation—there was nothing. Talk about a baptism of fire: on the first day, the Commonwealth Bank had shut down and I had 250 angry constituents at a meeting at Scarborough to attend . Then that night I had to open up a caf e in Redcliffe. I went to get out to my car—I could not believe it; I thought it was like something out of a movie—and there were two guys having a punch- up beside my car . I was frozen with fear. I did not know whether to get out, as I would be part of the altercation. Anyway, the police soon arrived and chased them down the street, and order was restored.
I was starting to have doubts about this whole politic al thing and wondered what I h ad got myself into. So I was absolutely delighted to see the current m ember for Petrie , Luke Howarth , win the seat for the LNP at the 2013 election. I learnt very quickly and I had some wonderful staff and supporters and friends along the way . I en joyed representing th is beautiful seat . It is tough. I have the utmost regard for people on both sides of the House who hold marginal seats. It takes a certain type of person to hold a marginal seat and to look after their constituents. I doorknocked the business community and made sure that I had regular listening posts. I was so proud to be re-elected in that very difficult election in 1998 and, again, in 2001 and 2004.
Following my re-election in 2004, I received one of the best phone calls that you could ever get. It is when the Prime Minister rings you and asks you to serve in the Liberal ministry. I got that call from John Howard. I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and later the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. I have been absolutely honoured and delighted to have worked with some of Australia's finest Defence men and women. The work that they do in protecting Australia's national interests abroad and close to home is so important, and I salute them. I will always be one of their loyal advocates.
I had the pleasure of working with the then Minister for Defence, the Hon. Robert Hill, at a historic time for Defence, and I am delighted to be leaving with the current Minister for Defence, Marise Payne, handing down a significant white paper. It was not an easy portfolio. I used to say that Senator Robert Hill had all the sexy things—the Tiger helicopters and all that stuff—and I had the rest. The rest was IT, legal, Defence housing, reserves, infrastructure. I used to be woken up at 5 am in the morning by the ABC whenever it was decided that a piece of Defence land or a Defence base had to be sold. It absolutely drove me insane, so I put in place an effective Defence property register.
I am very proud that I was able to use my business skills. All the work that I had done in the food and restaurant business came in very handy. I was able to work on providing food and provisions for our Defence men and women and making sure that they had the right type of food in the mess. I am very proud of all of my defence work, particularly in ensuring that reserve policy looked after Defence men and women, particularly in the health area. I fought very, very hard to ensure that health benefits were extended to them. I also worked hard to ensure that the cadets had everything that they needed, including bringing in a new cadet system—CadetNet.
When I served in the Howard ministry I was able to use all of those skills and make some very prudent decisions on behalf of the Commonwealth that allowed Peter Costello to use some of that money in other portfolio areas. I also learnt pretty quickly that everyone is very protective of Defence land, particularly if they had been walking their dog there for the last 20 years. Even if it was a disused military base, no-one wanted to part with it.
I was proud of the work that I did in many other areas, particularly in international development, settlement services and foreign aid. I enjoyed, as I said, working on the business side of Defence, particularly Defence Industries. We have an incredible opportunity right now to work with some of the most innovative and dynamic people in this area to enhance our domestic and export industry. I want to thank the many NGOs that I have met in this place. Some of them do the most incredible work in the Indo-Pacific area. I also had the incredible privilege of working with two foreign ministers—the Hon. Alexander Downer and the Hon. Julie Bishop. I was really pleased to play a significant role in the work that we did as a government in empowering women and alleviating poverty—and not just the incredible work that was done on this side of the House but the work that many members on the opposite side have done with us to make sure that we alleviate poverty.
I particularly enjoyed working to deliver the Smart Traveller program. It was such a complicated program to get onto and very user unfriendly. So we did a lot of research and found out why people travelled to exotic destinations. One of the things that used to dishearten me was when people would do crazy things like decide to do the Kokoda Track when they were very unfit and had never done such things before. There were many times that I had to arrange for people to be evacuated, usually to Townsville Hospital. So, please, do not go and climb mountains if you have not practised before going overseas. The Smart Traveller program continues to evolve, and it is a terrific program. I always make sure that my children and their friends—and my friends—register when they go overseas. I think I have become almost evangelical about it.
I have helped citizens with consular problems and issues when they have been overseas. Most people go on a holiday and it goes really well, but sometimes they are caught in a war zone, natural disasters happen or, God forbid, they do not come back from holiday and personal tragedy prevails. I have had the enormous privilege of working with families in times of terrible hardship. I particularly remember the Lebanese conflict, when the port, the airport, every form of transport node, had been bombed. I remember the wonderful work that DFAT did to ensure we got our residents and many thousands of Lebanese-Australians and other travellers who were stuck in Lebanon at the time. That was probably some of the most rewarding work that I did. I think my husband said to me that he could not make any sense out of me for about 30 or 40 days while it was on, because I was always on the phone, doing countless media interviews and updating people on what they needed to do. I thank the DFAT staff. They do some incredible work. The situation got rather heated in that particular disaster.
I was also really proud to work with settlement service providers in the multicultural sector. As the daughter of immigrants, I know only too well how hard it is to come to this country and not have the necessary language skills. I have enjoyed working with refugee settlement services, but we have to do more to make sure that refugees work in the business sector. We need to have more defined pathways to employment and we need to get the business sector involved. I have had the opportunity of having many refugees work for my family, and it has been a rewarding and enriching experience for me. They want what we all want—they want a stable future for their children; they want the very best for their families. I very much welcomed our government's decision to increase the intake by 12,000 refugees in the Syrian crisis. Australia has a very important role to play in making sure these people are settled and contribute to the future of our country.
Now for some reflection on a not-so-nice period. In 2007 I lost my seat—or, as I say, I was involuntarily retired—at the Kevin 07 election. I must say it was a very good marketing campaign. As someone who has had a very strong marketing background, the swing in Queensland was way too much. There was a swing of 10 per cent, affecting me and many members—some of whom are sitting in this chamber right now. I had a swing of nine per cent. It was too much to withstand. They call them bloodshed moments in politics. They happen sometimes. It was a sad time for me, but I left knowing that I had done everything that I could to serve my electorate. So I returned and worked in a family business with my two sisters and I went back to QUT, where I had taught before, to the school of marketing and international business, and worked with some local charities.
I thought my life was going along pretty well until I kept getting phone calls from former Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull, encouraging me to return. I said: 'No, no. Eleven years is enough. I have done my public service.' But my husband, Robert, and I, as we always do, did a pros and a cons list—and I can safely say that Robert's cons list was much lengthier than my pro list. With the support of my husband and my family and lots of LNP members, I decided to run for the federal seat of Brisbane. It would have been much easier to run for the federal seat of Petrie. But, no, I love a challenge. I felt that I had a connection to Brisbane, as my family had been there for over 60 years. It was a tough campaign and a seat that Labor had taken for granted for a little while. It was very much their heartland, and I knew that was going to be really difficult—a bit like climbing Mount Everest. But the seat had changed and people were hungry for a change, and my team and I campaigned hard. We ignored the detractors who said that we did not have a chance. Under the leadership of Tony Abbott, our campaign was well received. It was a torturous time after the election. There were 14 days of scrutineering—I think I must have dealt with every barrister that was in the Liberal Party—and 14 sleepless nights. We won Brisbane by 1,831 votes, and it meant so much to the many volunteers and the dedicated LNP branch members, who had worked tirelessly.
I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Hon. Arch Bevis, who had been a popular local member for a very, very long time. I thank the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for appointing me to the shadow ministry as the shadow parliamentary secretary for international development assistance and the shadow parliamentary secretary for citizenship and settlement—two parly sec roles that kept me very, very busy, and I enjoyed every moment. In these roles I championed the need for the private sector to play a very valuable role in helping us deliver aid effectiveness. I pushed for more involvement with the private sector and I was absolutely delighted to see our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, create an innovation exchange for foreign aid. I welcome the great work that has been done by the department to work with stakeholders to deliver more effective aid.
I enjoyed the incredible work that I did with the many medical research institutes—particularly to make sure that medical research was a pillar of our foreign aid program, because many of the medical practices that occur in developing countries are antiquated, and we need to make sure that we have very vital data. It is great to see that Bloomberg have teamed up with the federal government to make sure that we get some of that very important data—particularly on births and deaths and the prevalence of diseases—because only then can we roll out effective medical treatments in our region. I was absolutely delighted to see that $30 million was allocated by the foreign minister to set up a special medical research section in foreign aid.
It is really difficult being in opposition, and I feel for my colleagues on the opposite side of the House. When you prepare for estimates it is a very interesting time. Mr Google comes in very handy. I enjoyed providing many questions for my Senate colleagues, particularly in the foreign aid sector—particularly trying to work out the many millions that were spent on foreign aid, and I know that we went very hard on you in terms of the cost of that security council seat, and I played a small part in that I am proud to say.
I am really proud to represent Brisbane in this place. It is a vibrant, diverse, exciting and entrepreneurial city, and it is growing every day. As I look out of my office window on most days, there are seven cranes on the horizon. I found myself the only Liberal in this place to hold a state capital CBD seat. I have represented 30,000 businesses and the many community groups who work so hard. The electorate of Brisbane is dynamic and eclectic, and I have loved every single moment of being their member. Brisbane is an economic powerhouse.
I want to just record some of the achievements that I am so proud to have delivered. There was $125,000 to OzHarvest for a new van to deliver a quarter of a million more meals for Queenslanders affected by homelessness, and also to help to reduce landfill from wasted food. OzHarvest pick up foods from cafes and restaurants and they deliver them to services that provide food for the homeless and socially disadvantaged. Only last week I was really proud to participate in the CEO cook-off for OzHarvest with the Macquarie investments team and chef Ben Williamson from Gerard's restaurant. We cooked an entree, a main course and dessert, and we fed 350 homeless people. And the Brisbane and Sydney events raised $1.4 million, which is just an incredible effort. I want to thank Ronni Kahn. She is an amazing woman and I am so pleased I met her several years ago.
There was $5 million for the Brisbane Broncos for their new training and community development project. I want to thank them for all the work they do in Indigenous development. Without some of that great work, and the Deadly Choices campaign, there would be many disadvantaged communities, and I thank them most sincerely.
There was also $750,00 for the Brisbane Inner North Sporting Community for facility upgrades, $55 million for ferry terminal upgrades after the devastating effects of the floods, and $16 million for local road upgrades and hotspots, and the many, many millions that I fought to deliver to diverse groups to help the many disadvantaged people in our electorate. We have delivered so much, and I know the Turnbull government will continue investing in Brisbane.
I have had the immense privilege of chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I remember that, when I first became a member in this place, I was told I must not put my name down on this committee and it was very balloted and highly contested and I would never get a spot on it. So to find myself, some years later, a chair was truly a privilege. It is the largest committee in the parliament. I want to thank my co-chair, Nick Champion. I cannot say—it is like he has a split personality. In the chamber, he turns into this completely different person. As my co-chair on the joint standing committee, he is the most amenable, cooperative and supportive deputy chair that you could ever have. It is like having this Jekyll-and-Hyde character in many ways. I thank him and I think the many other wonderful members of the committee. I see David Feeney from the other side is here, and so is Melissa Parke. Thank you for all the great work that you have done with our side of politics on this incredible committee. Sometimes the nastiness of politics is left aside when we do this incredibly wonderful work. I want to thank Sharman, who is sitting in front of me, and Dr Jensen, who is also here. There are a lot of members on that committee and I want to thank them so much.
We have engaged with the Defence Force, members of the diplomatic community, the many NGOs and those who work in foreign aid and the academic sector. It is an important committee because it is a conduit to the very many visiting dignitaries and also international delegations. The committee has done a huge volume of work. I am not going to name all its reports. I want to thank all of the past chairs—and I see Philip Ruddock is here as well—for their work on human rights, foreign affairs, aid and trade. I thank Bruce Scott for his wonderful work in the Middle East. I also thank Maria Vamvakinou. So much wonderful work has been done over a long time on defence, foreign affairs, trade and human rights. I am particularly proud of the work that we did in helping to secure the release of Peter Greste. As a committee we worked formidably together. Sadly we were not successful in stopping the executions of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, but we as a committee did everything possible. That was a very sad day for all of us.
I am proud of my other work as the Co-convenor of Parliamentary Friends of Dementia, along with Shayne Neumann, the member for Blair, and I welcome our government's $200 million allocation for research in this area. I see Tony Zappia is here. He also has a very keen interest in this. There are 353,800 Australians with dementia and this figure is expected to increase to almost 900,000 by 2050.
There is another silent problem holding back productivity in this country, and I want to talk briefly about it. It is the difficulty people have in the work place with literacy and numeracy. Recently a report from the Australian Industry Group's Innes Willox found that 44 per cent of people in Australian workplaces have literacy and numeracy problems. Much more work needs to be done here, and I have spoken to my colleagues about this on a few occasions. I think we need to do much more with the business community. This is holding back the productivity of this nation. We really need to work hard on it.
One of the saddest things I saw as an employer was when I gave an instruction on one of our very busy Christmas trading days to a young man. I went to serve customers and two hours later I went into the kitchen and he was still reading the one-page document. It broke my heart. I do not want anyone who works in any workplace in Australia to be hampered because of lack of literacy and numeracy. The opposition will hopefully work with us as well to ensure we have some programs in the future to address this issue.
I am particularly proud of the work I have done on PTSD with our Defence men and women in raising awareness of this issue in the parliament. I believe more needs to be done. I believe we need to tailor specific work programs to help our fine ADF members to transition back into community life, as some of them find it hard to go straight from military life into work life, and then help them to transition back into civilian life. I thank the many researchers and groups, including Mates4Mates in my electorate, who are doing a fantastic job with our service men and women. I also think the many service organisations that work in this space.
I would like to see more women in this parliament. It is absolutely vital that our party organisation preselects more fine women to represent their communities in the federal parliament. It has been a pleasure to work with the Menzies research institute and in particular Senator Linda Reynolds and Minister Michaelia Cash in this space.
It has been a privilege to be co-convener of the Parliamentary Friends of Women and Work along with Senator Moore and Senator Waters. It is absolutely imperative that the issue of pay equity and the number of women on boards be addressed. I was delighted last week to hear Minister Cash lay out our government's target to push for 50 per cent of women on government boards. I cannot understand why, in this day and age, two law graduates, one male and one female, starting at the same firm from the same university can start with different salaries. This is why there is a gender pay gap and women never catch up. It affects their superannuation and their quality of life in later years. I hope that in the future there will be more women elected to this place and that, one day, we will not have to talk about quotas and targets and this parliament will be truly representative of all Australia's population.
I had some wonderful mentors in Senator John Herron, the late Senator Warwick Perrer and the late David Jull. When I first came into this place, they gave me a solid foundation. I thank them for taking the time to provide that guidance to a rookie MP. I thank my parliamentary colleagues. I will be sad to leave. I will miss good members from both sides of the House. I thank the class of '96. It was a very special class. Phil Barresi is finally married—we are all very happy about that—and I caught up with him at his wedding recently. I thank Mal Brough, Bruce Billson, Phil Barresi, Gary Nairn, Ricky Johnson, Bob Baldwin, Sharman Stone, Warren Entsch—how could I forget you, Entschy!—and the many members of the class of '96 who are in this House.
A government member: Andrew Southcott.
And Andrew Southcott—thank you so much, Andrew. There are only a few left. Russell Broadbent is another. He came back to the House a second time. I want to thank my many dear friends in this place, including Kelly O'Dwyer and Sussan Ley. Also, the first person I saw was you, Joel. Joel Fitzgibbon was the first person I saw when I arrived in Canberra. I have never been the same since! You are now a neighbour across the chamber. You and Anthony Albanese were very kind to me and I thank you for that.
An honourable member: Oh, rubbish!
He was—he was very nice to me.
There is not a day when I do not think of the late Don Randall. I miss him terribly. I want to acknowledge him. I thank you, Warren Entsch. I thank my good friends Andrew Southcott, Bruce Billson, Sharman Stone, Louise Markus, Nola Marino, Mal Brough, Ian Macfarlane, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, Jane Prentice and Michaelia Cash. There are many others. I cannot name them all. You are all very special to me. I thank you for your support and your friendship. I thank Scotty Buchholz, too, for his work as the whip. I mentioned Nola. It is a tough gig and I thank you for the support that both of you have given to members in this House.
I want to thank the member for Griffith, Terri Butler, and say what a pleasure it was to work with her and my dear friend the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, on the cross-party Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. Marriage equality is long overdue in this country and I do regret that we have been unable to get that important piece of legislation through the parliament. Despite a plebiscite not being my preferred course of action, I support the decision of my party and I look forward to campaigning for a 'yes' vote at the national plebiscite after the next election. I also thank the members for Melbourne, Indi, Dennison and Werriwa for their work on the bill.
I thank the many LNP branch members across Brisbane for the wonderful opportunity they have provided me to represent the electorate of Brisbane. To my campaign directors, Mark Wood and Chris Kelly, thank you for all you did to make sure that I got elected. I also thank Robert Lambert. In particular, I must mention Geoff Esdale, Hellen Zappala, Denise Shellback, Louise Baker, Mary Caroline van Paasen, Raewyn Bailey and our local state members and councillors who have worked alongside me in this time. I want to thank the LNP organisation and I wish the new state director, Lincoln Folo, and president, Gary Spence, all the best. I will do whatever I can to ensure that Brisbane remains blue, whoever my successor is.
To the clerks of this wonderful parliament, particularly the Clerk of the House, David Elder, Robyn—who is sitting at the desk—and the many clerks, thank you for your kindness. To the transport department—Greg and his team—and the fantastic staff in the Serjeant-at-Arms Office, thank you for all your assistance over the years. To the wonderful security staff, the cleaners, the parliamentary attendants, the ever-smiling Tim and the wonderful staff in the dining room, thank you for making it such a joy to be in this beautiful building.
I want to take the time to put on the record my thanks to my wonderful staff—some of whom are sitting in the dispatch box today—past and present. My outstanding office manager Luke Barnes's dedication, commitment and loyalty to me, the LNP and to Brisbane is so inspiring. Luke really is one of the best political minds I have ever worked with. Thank you for all that you have done for meR