Wednesday, 3 April 2019
How do you judge the contribution that you have made in this place? It is not by numerical standards, such as the number of speeches, or by the rank you attain or, indeed, whether you table the world's largest petition or deliver the first speech in sign language—both of which I have done. Nor is it by column inches, by the power you accrue, by the power that you or your faction attains or, indeed, the success of your political party. All of these things may be achieved, but real results can only be measured by their impact on people and on our nation, and, may I say, are best judged by others.
First, let me acknowledge the honour and responsibility the electors of Ryan granted me. From a national population of now more than 25 million, they elected me to be one of only 150 Australian citizens entrusted to serve in the House of Representatives. As the 31st female coalition member elected to the House of Representatives from Queensland, and only the sixth Queensland female coalition government minister since Federation, some 118 years ago, I feel immense pride in having served my constituents and my nation.
Almost nine years ago I stood in this place, although on the other side of the chamber, next to my friend and colleague the member for Bennelong, as I do today, to deliver my maiden speech. My principles and beliefs have not changed since I first joined the Liberal Party as a junior member in 1968. I believe in the individual and that by empowering the individual we will unlock the potential of our society. I believe in maximising individual rights and minimising government intervention in the marketplace. That is why I sought election in the first place, to serve the people of Ryan.
With election comes enormous responsibility: a responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of all Australians and our nation. It sounds dramatic, doesn't it? And so it is. At a time when people are disillusioned with mainstream politics and are tempted by demagogues and at a time when people, particularly younger Australians, are no longer joining political parties, it is important that they know that we do seek to govern in their best interests—that we do not regard politics as a winner-takes-all contest, with the winner being a major party and not the people of Australia.
I came to this place from years of real experience: raising a family, building one of Queensland's largest event management companies and, then, spending 10 years as a Brisbane City councillor. My business experience taught me the importance of a strong economy, that you are only as good as your staff and that our economy depends on successful businesses. I digress briefly to congratulate the government for delivering an outstanding budget for all Australians last night. As the Treasurer said, small businesses are integral to every local community. My experience also taught me that individuals are the cornerstone of our economy, be they staff or employers.
So, what does this mean to my role as a member? It means that I cannot be a mere delegate for my party. I must exercise my judgement in this place, in my party room and in my community. My time as a councillor on the Brisbane City Council reinforced the importance of people in communities when it comes to achieving outcomes. While I can lay claim to significant achievements, there is nothing quite as rewarding as helping an individual, a family or a community group. As I have said many times in this place, we are so fortunate in Ryan to benefit from the invaluable contribution of so many dedicated volunteers.
Federal government is an unwieldy beast and frustratingly slow when it comes to getting things done. I reflect on the many cases where I, and others alike, have raised the need for change. Years later, we are still working our way through committees, reviews and consultants. We must do better. We must, as a parliament, recognise that delays in this place ultimately limit the ability of ordinary Australians to conduct their daily lives and achieve their aspirations. Every day, as the member for Ryan I have fought to deliver local projects as well as funding for medical and other research at the University of Queensland. UQ has delivered world leaders in Professor Ian Frazer with his human papillomavirus vaccine, Mark Kendall and the Nanopatch, and, most recently, Katie Schroder and her research into a cure for Parkinson's disease, to name just a few. Indeed, the University of Queensland is in the top 10 in the world for commercialisation—the only university in Australia.
There are a number of issues that have occupied my time in federal parliament. Of all portfolios, the area of disability services highlights our responsibility to help the most vulnerable in our community. I thank Malcolm Turnbull for his trust and confidence in appointing me as Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to deliver, but it is crucial that we get it right sooner rather than later. The reason the NDIS is needed is the very reason it is so difficult to deliver: everyone is different and requires complex support services. Time-consuming and challenging, it is also a remarkable example of what a bipartisan approach can bring to our political discourse. However, it is still a work in progress and a massive task, with much to be done. The potential rewards are life-changing for Australia's most vulnerable, who are least able to support themselves. I am disappointed that I did not get to finish the job, but I appreciated the opportunity to meet so many amazing people with challenges in their lives far greater than I hope to ever face. It does put things into perspective at times.
In my first speech, I spoke about defence. I did so from a background of my great-grandfather, Sir George Pearce, Australia's longest serving defence minister; my late father, Alan Righetti, a World War II fighter pilot and a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III; and my son, a serving soldier. I thank former senator the late Russell Trood for his advice and encouragement to participate in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. As a result, I have been privileged to join the dedicated service men and women of our ADF every year on a variety of activities and exercises—from Talisman Sabre to Pitch Black to high altitude training on Black Hawks in PNG to RIMPAC in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and most recently with the 1st Signal Regiment at Gallipoli Barracks. My visit to Afghanistan was both confronting and rewarding. It provided me with a firsthand insight into the numerous challenges facing our troops. These observations, whether in peace or war, could never be achieved with even the most detailed briefings or white papers. I strongly recommend the ADF Parliamentary Program to all my colleagues. In an increasingly challenging region where international law is sometimes ignored, the importance of our Defence Force cannot be underestimated.
As I have said before, we must not take our Pacific neighbours for granted. We must work with them to strengthen our region. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, the member for Curtin bolstered ties and directed our aid to focus on support for the empowerment of women and girls, and for health and education. And I congratulate the Prime Minister and Senator Payne on the announcement of the $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. But we cannot rest; there is still so much more needed. And we must work smarter. There are, for example, outstanding NGOs such as the remarkable YWAM and the community ranger program organised by the wife of the member for Leichhardt. Other NGOs should take a leaf out of their books—practical, hands-on services where they are most needed. I am often torn when I hear and see the inconsistency of approaches in the Pacific by some well-meaning NGOs. This is not to say that their intentions are flawed, but we could achieve so much more by everyone working together. Australia's role in the Pacific has long been a beacon, a friend, and a neighbour who can be called upon at any time. The clear message to our Pacific neighbours is: we have your back.
But as a friend our relationship can also be strengthened through the provision of accurate and timely reporting of current affairs that affect our region. This in turn leads me to call for the reinstatement of the DFAT Australia Network contract for the ABC's Asia-Pacific broadcasting services. The ABC has a charter obligation to provide international services. This is best achieved by having in situ correspondents in our region to report and engage directly. Sean Dorney was a quintessential ABC correspondent who worked for decades to inform Australians. Whilst Brexit and President Trump have dominated our headlines every morning for more than a year, Australians are genuinely interested in our near neighbours. It is of the utmost importance that honest reporting and news services are afforded to the people of the Pacific. We need to replicate Sean's inspiring independent journalism.
As part of the Asia-Pacific family, we are always ready to support our neighbours through the tough times. But we also need to speak up when our friends do the wrong thing. We cannot continue to ignore the human rights abuses in West Papua—indeed, what history will regard as genocide on our very doorstep. As President Obama said so well when he addressed a joint parliamentary session in this chamber:
As two global partners, we stand up for the security and dignity of people around the world.
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We stand for an international order in which the rights and responsibilities of all nations and people are upheld.
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Every nation will chart its own course.
Yet it is also true that certain rights are universal …
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… as two great democracies, we speak up for these freedoms when they are threatened.
We partner with emerging democracies, like Indonesia, to help strengthen the institutions upon which good governance depends.
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This is the future we seek in the Asia Pacific—security, prosperity and dignity for all.
As with our politics, our nation is built on a remarkable history—history not always well recorded. In 2010, the great promoter of the Dig Tree, Dr Denver Beanland of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, encouraged me to take an interest in the National Archives. I have been honoured to represent the coalition on their advisory council for the last eight years and have served with some remarkable colleagues from all over Australia who are committed to preserving the history and records of our country. Whilst we trust and rely on the National Archives to store the memory of our nation, we must support and fund them in the new digital age. The digitisation of World War II records is in great demand. But it doesn't happen by magic, and there are many other records urgently requiring restoration before we lose them forever. The National Archives, a foundation institution, must be supported.
Clearly, I am disappointed to be leaving in this way. Contrary to misleading stories at the time, there was no deal. Impatient ambition, treachery and lies are now more than ever part of our political fabric. For the only response to be, 'Oh, come on, that's politics,' is actually very sad. It is also sad that we are increasingly seeing candidates and elected members whose primary focus is not a desire to serve their communities but to serve themselves. Personal ambition seems to be replacing an ambition for our nation. As Jimi Hendrix, of all people, said, 'We won't start to do better until we turn the love of power into the power of love.' We need members who understand what it is to start and run a business—representatives like the member for Forrest and the member for Hinkler, who know what it is to put their livelihoods on the line. As the Treasurer said last night, like so many small-business owners, they know what it is to start early and finish late—people who manage the front desk and the back office, people who pay their workers first and their wages last. We need members who understand small-business owners, whose families also go without. And the coalition last night delivered for these people in the budget.
We need members who understand that every new piece of legislation invariably introduces yet more regulation and red tape that strangles and chokes enterprise and entrepreneurship. Good government is not about politicians; it is about the people we represent. When government fails, the most vulnerable in our society suffer. There is a growing distrust and cynicism in our community when it comes to politics, a frustration made worse by internal division. There is a yearning for the clarity and unity of John Howard's broad church. In this place we should not be constrained by short-term political necessity. It is, in essence, the responsibility of this place to govern for the longer-term betterment of Australia.
There are so many people I wish to thank—people who inspired me, people whose wise counsel was so necessary when my heart would overrule common sense and people who, by necessity, were so often the interface between me and my electors. I recognise my colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place. While we often take a swipe at one another and interject across the chamber, we remain committed to our constituencies. Our views, policy and political beliefs are often at odds with one another, but we do find similarities in our equally important commitment to doing the right thing.
Let me not forget my appreciation for the work of the press gallery, which includes many friends.
Every member in this place is supported by a range of both personal and parliamentary staff. As I said previously, a member is only as good as the team that supports them. I want to place on record my appreciation to the many dedicated workers in this building, who ensure everything runs smoothly and who support our many demands and idiosyncrasies. I thank the Clerk and the Serjeant-at-Arms and their officers and, indeed, all the parliamentary staff.
Most importantly, I want to pay tribute to my staff. I would like to recognise the contributions of all those who have worked in the many capacities, both paid and voluntary, needed to facilitate my time as both the Member for Ryan and the Assistant Minister for Disability Services. To all my staff past and present: thank you. Your support and guidance, even when I wandered off track on occasion, was invaluable. We had many robust discussions and disagreements, but your input was essential. There are too many to mention individually today, but I will single out those here in the chamber—my first staffer, the forensic Luke Barnes; the ever tolerant Tristan Bick; and my long-serving manager, Christine Cahill, who has been an integral part of my office. I also thank my ministerial staff for their tremendous support in a challenging portfolio—David, Tony, Annabel, Michael, Ruth and Rohan. And I give a special call out to Max.
I believe I have done my best for my constituents and for my nation. I must thank my constituents and the wider Ryan community for their trust and support through these past nine years. To those who have reached out since my preselection: thank you for your kind words of support.
And, finally, my family: in a job that involves the complex life of a public figure, in this case a member of parliament, family is both support network and a haven from the slings and arrows of outrageous social media fortunes. Like all families, we've had our challenges during these years. I have lost my father and my mother-in-law. My sister survived a life-threatening health challenge. On the upside, I have gained a wonderful daughter-in-law, two fabulous grandchildren and, in keeping with the idiom of 'if you want a friend in politics', two fur family members of the kelpie variety—Rocky and Nyssa.
Ian, Mum, Caitlin, George and Eboney, Katy and Peter: thank you for your unconditional love and for the backup. Zara and William: Nonna hopes that you will continue to believe that your Parliament House is a very special place and that one day you might carry on the tradition of service, gifted to you by five generations of your family, beginning with the very first parliament of our nation.