House debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Governor-General's Speech


4:38 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Can I begin by saying that timetables have got a little disorderly today, but, nonetheless, I know that I am to be joined by one of my daughters and my granddaughter on the floor, which is a great privilege. My other daughter, when I was first sworn in in the Senate, in fact, was unable to attend because she was doing her German orals and on this occasion she cannot be with me because she is away on business. But, nonetheless, I have my daughter Angela and my granddaughter Amelia with me, and many friends and former employees as well as current employees, and I find it wonderful to have them around me on this occasion.

I set out on this journey when I was 17 years old. I decided that I wanted to be a member of parliament. The reason that I thought that this is what I wanted to be was that I had been studying history—studying history for the leaving certificate, as it was. Studying history taught me that individuals could make a difference, but that difference could be for good or for evil. Hitler was a strong, powerful leader for evil. Churchill was a strong, powerful leader for good. So I decided that I really wanted to have a say in what happened to my country. This is a country I love greatly, and the more I have served the greater I love it. I thought that, if I wanted to serve, what I needed to do was to be properly equipped. I thought that, if I wanted to make the laws of the land, it was probably a good idea if I understood them, so I decided to study law, which I did. I still hold a current practising certificate as a solicitor to this day.

I joined the Liberal Party because it was closest to the things in which I believed, including the principles of free enterprise, which are as immutable as the laws of gravity. They tell me that the business of government is to do those things which the private sector cannot or will not do and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. That is the business of government. But it goes hand in hand with the philosophy of individualism, in which I also believe. That is distinct from the concept of the collective, which is the other alternate philosophy. The philosophy of individualism says that every individual Australian should have the opportunity to reach their maximum potential—not just the brightest in the land but also somebody most ordinary, somebody who has a disability or somebody who is disadvantaged. Very often, people who try to dismiss this philosophy say it is selfish—'It's all about me.' No, it is not, because it imposes an obligation on each and every one of us to reach out our hand to our neighbour to ensure that that neighbour gets that opportunity. Collectivism, on the other hand, is all about ruling for the collective, and the individual can be sacrificed to the collective wish. And so it was those beliefs that I joined the Liberal Party, because, as I said, it was closest to the things that I believed in.

I joined the Young Liberals initially. That is, I guess, where Philip Ruddock and I first met. I was in Killara Young Liberals and he was in Pennant Hills Young Liberals. But, interestingly enough, the branch to which I belonged had a set of subrules that said that only a bloke could be the president. So I was a vice-president, but I set out to change those things. At that time, the number of women in this federal parliament was virtually nil. I think it is interesting to realise that we did not elect one woman to this parliament until 1943, the year after I was born. When I was elected to the Senate in 1987, I became the first woman from any political party to be elected to the Senate for New South Wales. It took 86 years. But in the interim I worked my way up through the party ranks, through branch president, conference president, convention chairman and vice-president, and one of the dirtiest fights I think I ever had to be in was the fight to become president of the party.

It was the ordinary people in the party who saw that I should be elected to president of the party. I set up an office in Parramatta because I really believed that the people of the west of Sydney were aspirational people. They were people who believed that they could achieve and had a lot to contribute. I set up an office of the Liberal Party in Parramatta because I had seen the practice over years of sending out some nice young person from the north or somewhere to be a candidate out there, with nothing to connect to the wishes and the hopes and the aspirations; it had to come from within. Those people supported me very strongly and I did, indeed, become president of the party and kept my office there. When I stood for the Senate and was duly endorsed, I always said that I would open my office in Parramatta, and I did that. I was the first senator to move out of the CBD, because I believed that is where we needed to be, with the people. I regarded the great area of western Sydney as my electorate—all one million people of them—because Liberals were very scarce on the ground. I still have an enormous affection for the people of western Sydney and I am so delighted to see, these days, that we have a member for Lindsay and other members in the west of Sydney. I opened Jackie Kelly's first campaign at St Marys Band Club, and I knew we were making progress because we had two Liberals on the board of the St Marys Band Club.

It was a long journey, but it was a most rewarding journey. I remember, when I finally moved to the House of Representatives and became the member for Mackellar, Laurie Oakes saying, 'One of the hardest things you will have to do is stop being an Eels supporter and become a Manly supporter.' And he was right! But one of the things that I did manage to do was bring them together to have lunch. These days I am a very strong supporter of the Sea Eagles, but I still have very fond memories of Peter Sterling—with hair—and I still listen to my good friend Denis Fitzgerald, who was on the radio this morning talking about the problem of Parramatta losing so many points.

Nonetheless, when I was serving in the Senate we did change things with regard to the way things worked, particularly estimates committees. I remember being told that I had to go onto an estimates committee, and I said, 'What on earth is that?' I went along, and we sat there, and people asked questions—it did not matter what the answers were; they kept asking the questions—and then we wrote a report that said: we came, we sat, we went. It seemed to me that we should do a little more. So I went to see Harry Evans and said, 'Harry, what can we do to make this more enlivened and relevant?' and he said, 'Well, first of all you can write a reservation.' He said, 'You have the opportunity of getting a snapshot across every aspect of government once a year, and then at supplementary estimates; use it.' So we did.

One of the things I remember most was the Midford Paramount case. I first picked up that something was wrong when I read a report in the paper that said that customs officers had been in Malaysia looking at a factory belonging to Australians. I followed it through and found that this firm, Midford Paramount, which made every kid's pyjamas, school shirts and uniforms, had had $1.8 million worth of products seized because of some allegation that it has not paid I think it was $83,000 of duty. It went on: they were prosecuted; four hundred people lost their jobs; the family and their customs agent were persecuted—and this seemed wrong to me.

We pursued it through estimates, and then I thought: this really needs to go to the joint standing committee of public accounts, where I also sat. But I had to get the agreement of the Senate to refer it—there was no way the government was going to refer it—so I had to do a deal with the Democrats and convince them. On the morning it was due to go to the Senate to be referred I saw some weak-kneed wobbling going on. I went in and saw a particular senator and said, 'Change anything you like in the wording of the motion—just vote for it.' We went in and we did vote for it, and the public accounts committee inquiry went ahead. That then gave me the opportunity to ask and cross-reference questions in the estimates and public accounts committees. It became the first electronically recorded evidence that was taken. At that stage we had been wheeling it around in truckloads because there was so much of it. The upshot of that case, which took four years—two parliaments—was that that family was awarded $25 million in compensation. It was a benchmark case, and it really did show that this parliament can really deliver for individuals.

Again and again in my office people would come to me, as they come to all of you, with a desperate case. You and I can pick up the telephone because we know where we can get an answer to the problem that they cannot. That is such an important aspect of all the work that we do—that understanding, that sort of knowledge and the contacts that I made through those estimates committees and the public servants who would come and give testimony. I heard that the tax office made a video to train people—I am not sure that it is not still around—on how to give evidence before an estimates committee. It spread. I even had inquiries from other countries in the Pacific about whether or not they could set up a similar checks and balances committee.

One of the things that was ironical was that at the time we had a boat bounty system. By doing our research we found that one of the people receiving a bounty was a New York Mafioso boss who was building a floating palace. We exposed this and then took it to A Current Affair with Jana Wendt, who somehow managed to get him to agree to be interviewed on the program. The interview was a fairly structured event, but afterwards all the sound equipment stayed live, and he actually made a confession or two. He thought the program had finished. We put it to air. So there were many ways in which you could bring about good outcomes for the country, so that these things did not get repeated.

There then came the time for me to look at the possibility of coming to this House. At that stage there was a lot of talk about my becoming the leader of the party and becoming the first female prime minister. Jim Carlton then announced that he would be retiring, and so I stood for preselection for Mackellar—that was in November 1993—and I was endorsed. I did not get a by-election until March, which meant I could not get in here until May. I do not think that Mr Keating or Dr Hewson much wanted me here at that stage.

I do remember one wonderful jibe with Paul Keating, who was quite an amusing man in many ways. I was opening something, and somebody bowled up and said: 'Paul Keating has just called you a firecracker, along with half of the other frontbench. What do you say about that? He called you a Catherine wheel. You roll and roll and roll.' 'Really,' I said, 'Perhaps all I can say is that Mr Keating reminds me of a sparkler. He is all froth and fire, and then he goes out—and all that is left is a thin, black stick.' There were many sparring moments and enjoyable moments in the past. Back in the Senate, I used to spar with John Button quite a lot. He sent me a card from China. He said: 'Attended a public hanging. Thinking of you!' So there were many moments—and I guess I sent him a few back.

But then I entered this chamber. I had been a shadow minister in the Senate when Andrew Peacock was the leader. Andrew Peacock had been a very fine friend for many, many years and I believe he would have made a very fine Prime Minister. It was interesting that I was minister for Commonwealth-state relations, local government and something else and we fought that 1990 campaign saying we were utterly opposed to the introduction of the assets test. Andrew won 51 per cent of the vote. We did not get a result for weeks. Finally, Bob Hawke was returned. But it was a very fine campaign that Andrew ran. As I said, in my view he would have made a very fine Prime Minister. But it was not to be. He subsequently left the parliament and was very successful in business.

In May 1994, John Hewson called a spill. I was up in the Northern Territory. Alexander Downer said he would run. I got off the plane and there was a galaxy of people asking me what I was going to do. I said I would back Downer and not run myself. Mistake. However, one does make mistakes in this place, and through life. We subsequently went on to see John Howard become leader of the party and become a fine Prime Minister and lead the country well. I had the honour of serving in his first ministry as Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel. As I have been cleaning out my office, I happened to find this defence industry strategic policy statement, which was the first defence industry policy that we made. I even found a copy of an old press release that said this was the first time we would see the defence industry as part of national security. I am so pleased to see the current white paper and the direction we are going in, because I introduced what were known as the Bishop rules for foreign firms doing business in Australia. They had to follow these rules in order to get contracts. I thought it was quite improper in our defence area that we could possibly deploy people and they would be unable to be supported from home. I thought we had a moral obligation to be able to supply our deployed troops at all times with kit, materiel, that we controlled.

And so the rules were these: any firm wanting to do business here had to have significant investment in facilities and plant; significant employment of Australian citizens; successful participation in major defence contracts demonstrating that the company was here for the long haul; a significant level of R&D investment and development in Australia; a demonstrated ability to penetrate their parent firm's market; and, lastly, no vertical integration—they had to be willing to take small Australian firms to be part of a contract. Those rules, because they were firm and believed, resulted in much investment coming into this country. The French put enormous amounts into this country. That was when they were still Thomson—before they became Thales. I remember Mr Fischer, who was the head of Raytheon, which was a very small outfit, making the statement that he would not have invested in this country if it were not for the rules. In defence we break every rule of competition—we are a monopsony purchaser, we collude, we talk with people overseas so that we can have interoperability. But we have to have a firm commitment to this country. It is a moral obligation, in my view.

That leads me to something of which I am quite proud, and that is the Bushmaster. The first thing I had to do was go and look at the three prototypes for the contract. There were three putting in: ADI; a consortium of people who were utilising the model that was used in the townships in South Africa; and British Aerospace. And so out I went with my ADC. We arrived. I got in one of these prototypes and drove around the track. I thought, 'That's terrific.' We came back and we had a conversation. I said, 'I presume these vehicles can withstand a mine blast'—to which my then ADC, who these days is a colonel, said, 'No Ma'am, they're just a taxi.' I said, 'That's ridiculous.' So we went back and I said, 'I think we'll change the specification'—and that is what we did. That is how the V-form was developed, and it saved countless lives. I know that the whip saw it in action in Afghanistan when she was there. It is a magnificent vehicle that has saved many, many lives. And we did one other thing: we took out the regular transmission and put in an automatic transmission because it is less wear and tear. It was a hugely successful vehicle. We then sold 40 of them and started exporting.

Those things I am very proud of. But something that gave me great sadness and will remain with me forever is the Black Hawk disaster, in which 18 people were killed in a night exercise out of Townsville where two helicopters collided—15 SAS and three from 5th Aviation Regiment. I had been at the Opera House. I had come out, and I had the message about what had happened. I knew I had to get a message out there because I believed in our people. They were putting their lives on the line in training just as much as they ever would when deployed. I did not want any criticism saying that they had erred and were to be criticised. I knew I had to have that story out. So all the way home I was thinking of my words of praise for these men and what they were doing at the cutting edge and what skills they had. I got home before midnight and I hit all the radio networks, because I knew that story would run every half-hour and, if we were still up at six o'clock, I knew that people would regard it the right way—and they did.

But the aftermath—of having to talk to the men, of having to talk to their families, of seeing the inadequacy of the compensation scheme, of seeing the profound difficulties that were thrown up—was something that determined me that we had to provide much better for widows and children as well as for partners of serving personnel. So I brought through a package which indeed gave extra money for widows and for children, for their education. That began the process of seeing a much better compensation scheme for our serving personnel, and that was taken on by ministers subsequent to me.

It was a wonderful experience to be the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, and it did have its amusing moments. I did get to fly an F111. When I went out to get my suit on, they said: 'Two things, Minister: no hairpins and no hairspray.' I said, 'Why is that?' They said, 'Hairspray is flammable, and pins, with G forces, can be damaging.' So off we went. We were up for an hour and a half. We broke the sound barrier, which is not all that exciting—really!—but we then went and did a mock bombing raid, which was lots of fun. We went in low—because the F111, of course, does low-terrain flying—dropped our payload and did a barrel roll, low-terrain flying. We came up, and the pilot said to me, 'Would you like have a go?' I said, 'Would I what!' So he let me take it. We went back and we came in for another raid. Pulling 4½ Gs, I did the barrel roll, and it was just fantastic. Then I got out and I must say I was determined I was not going to be sick, because somebody had told me that Kim Beazley had been. But I went back and I walked into morning tea and I felt very pleased with myself that I had kept a solid stomach.

Then I went on to be the first woman to go to sea—and I use this preposition advisedly—in a submarine. When I came back, I used a different preposition and said on national television that I had done something else. My press secretary said to me, 'Have you any idea what you just said on national television?' And I said, 'I will remember well and long the difference between the prepositions 'in' and 'on'!' Having done that, I then found that a young female engineer had wanted to go to sea for the sea trials and she had not been permitted to, but, after I had been to sea, she was allowed to go to sea. The reason I went to sea was that I had had all these letters telling me what was wrong with the boats, and I thought, 'The only way I'm going to know is if I go to sea and take a look myself.' And that is exactly what I did, and I did find problems. Many of those things had been true, and we had to set about fixing them. Not long after that, I made a decision which I think has been very important, and that was to send women submariners to sea, and we have that today. There were a few retired admirals who were not terribly pleased about that, but it worked. The other thing that I learnt very well was that women at sea in ships works, as long as the company is about 30 per cent. The critical mass matters, and then the whole company improves.

Having had the excitement of all that, and firing cannons and all sorts of things, we then had to get back out on the track to win the 1998 election and again sell the GST, and I became the Minister for Aged Care. It was also the International Year of Older Persons. I thought, 'We have to do a lot of work here,' so I commissioned Access Economics to do research about the importance of the older population and the ageing of the population, with its resources, where the wealth was. The concluding paragraph said, 'Silver goes platinum,' meaning that the so-called grey generation actually was holding the wealth of the nation, was very important financially, should be thought of in those terms and was too valuable to waste.

I raised all the questions of employment of older Australians, and, when I became shadow minister for seniors, we put a lot of that into policy work. It began there, but I thought, 'Also we need to honour them,' so I created the position of Senior Australian of the Year, which we now celebrate every year. The first one was Slim Dusty, and he was a fantastic advocate. The third one was very important—Graeme Clark, the inventor of the bionic ear. He was such an idol because he was a man who had been told by his peers that what he was trying to do was impossible. 'Don't listen to him,' they said. But he persevered and he succeeded. When somebody said to him, 'Are you thinking of retiring?' he said, 'Certainly not; I have far too much work to do,' and he still does—an amazing man.

There was the difficulty in the aged-care area in that the standards were appalling—not in every home but in too many. I remember visiting homes and I would walk in and almost faint from the smell. We had a commitment that we were going to change things. It fell to me to bring in accreditation. Originally people thought that might be a cup of tea and a chat and, 'We'll do things better.' But I thought, 'No, no, no; we are going to have strict standards that must be adhered to, and, if you cannot meet the standards, you're out.' My opening statement was that, as Minister for Aged Care, I would be here to look after residents, not to prop up poor providers. That did not give me a good ride with certain parts of the industry, but it was the core of what I believed in—those principles of free enterprise and individualism. It was the individuals where the policy had to focus, and that has always been my guide.

So we went through starting the process of recruiting people to do evaluations. I worked with the Democrats, because I knew that I would have to get their support to get the principles in place. I worked with Senator Lyn Allison every step of the way, kept her in the loop. The day I signed them off, I asked her over and we drank a glass of champagne, because she believed we were doing something good. Well, we got them through and we started the process—and then we had Riverside and the nurse who had been putting a capful of kerosene into the bath and then putting through resident after resident.

I determined then and there that this home had to close. It had never been done before. We engaged outside lawyers because I wanted someone who had expertise in the field because I knew they would take me to court because what they stood to lose was millions of dollars. The day we closed it and moved them, it was an awful, awful day. But, once it was closed—and they did take me to court and tried to get an interlocutory injunction, which they failed to do—once we had achieved that, then the industry knew that it was for real. Every home did get accredited, and I now see people who are proud to work in the industry instead of ashamed, because we not only got rid of Riverside; we got rid of 200 others as well who had no right to be there.

From there on, it was back to doing important committee work—the adoption report, where I formed a firm friendship with people who are working in the adoption field as much as I am. There were other reports that were important as well, which I perhaps do not have the time to speak about.

But I do have the time to speak about that time as the shadow minister for seniors and then becoming the Speaker of the House. I have to say that becoming the Speaker of the House was a very proud moment. Perhaps I can say slightly differently that, with the juggling when you are being taken up to the chair, perhaps the risk is not anymore, as it used to be back in the early centuries, that you might lose your head because the king would order it but because maybe it was an expense problem or two. But nonetheless it was a wonderful opportunity.

I just want to say that it is so much more than presiding. That is the public face of it. I see the same people getting chucked out, really, from time to time—recalcitrants, Mr Speaker, that I had and you had, but nonetheless I have come to know and quite like from time to time.


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