Thursday, 4 April 2019
Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the chagrin of a few and the joy of many, maybe even some in this place, I'm retiring from the Australian parliament. On 28 April 1992, I was preselected for Sturt. The opening lines of my speech were: 'In 1966, after 17 years, Sir Keith Wilson handed Sturt over to his son Ian. Now, 26 years later, it's time to change again.' Of course, I went on to win that preselection. After almost 27 years, it's time for renewal in Sturt again.
I'd like to thank the Liberal Party in South Australia and in Sturt for giving me the opportunity to carry the Liberal banner in this seat for nine elections, for over a quarter of a century. They're a wonderful group of people. The Liberal Party in South Australia and nationally can be a rambunctious group of people at times, but I believe in the party and I always will. Like the member for Grayndler, I'm a team man. I just happened to go for the team that is the election-winning machine!
I'd also like to thank the electors of Sturt: thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you and the privilege of representing you. I'm confident that I leave my seat and the great state of South Australia in good shape. I'm sure that the Liberal Party's candidate—and my good friend—James Stephens will retain Sturt at the coming election, and I have every confidence that the Prime Minister will lead the coalition to victory in the election in May.
I would also like to thank my dozen of staff over the years. We all know in this place that they are like a second family to us. They allow us to shine and they help pick up the pieces when we crumble a little. I'd also like to thank my family—my wife, Carolyn, and my children, Eleanor, Barnaby, Felix and Aurelia—as well as my extended family. We are a tight-knit group. My family have been with me every step of my political career. I volunteered but they were conscripted, yet they supported me willingly and graciously.
Since 1993 I have been a backbencher for 10 years and a frontbencher for 16, in cabinet for six years and in the leadership group for 10, in government for 17 and in opposition for nine—which is a good balance! That places me as the longest-serving non-Labor member of the House of Representatives for South Australia since Federation. Four prime ministers have appointed me to their executives, and prime ministers Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison chose me to be their Leader of the House. I am going to miss the stage of the dispatch box, which gives you some amateur thespianism. Some of my favourites include: 'a bloodied dagger masquerading as a speech' from the member for Grayndler'; 'I'd back the member for Corio in a fast-moving butterknife fight anytime'—I assume he won that butterknife fight; and 'I fixed it'. I thank Skye for giving me a moniker that I have not been able to shake!
As Minister for Defence and Minister for Defence Industry, I have been responsible for delivering the $200 billion build-up of Australia's military capability, the largest in Australia's peace time history, which, at the same time, we have used to fundamentally reshape our strategic industrial base. These are the largest Navy, Air Force, Army and cyberprojects in 75 years. And, with the other members of the National Security Committee, I created the Pacific step-up to support Australia's strategic position in the South Pacific. Whomever follows me in this role will be the luckiest person in the government. To be a Minister for Defence in the Defence portfolio is to see Australians at their best. Our Australian Defence Force, and all who enable them to use their capability, are one of the greatest attributes of our country's history and our national character.
Beyond the Defence portfolio, I am proud to have delivered the National Innovation and Science Agenda, to have reformed the national curriculum, to have introduced compulsory literacy and numeracy testing for Australian teaching graduates and to have expanded phonics teaching in remote schools in northern Australia with Noel Pearson. But I am particularly grateful that the youth mental health initiative that I created in 2006, headspace, has gone on to thrive and become a fixture in the mental health sector.
In a few weeks my political career comes to an end. Franklin Roosevelt said a long time ago:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
I have tried to keep that creed as my lodestar throughout my career because I have had a fortunate life. I don't have a log-cabin story like so many people in this place—although I did once have to get my own lemon for a gin and tonic! That may or may not qualify, Mr Speaker! As the psalms say: of those to whom much is given, much is expected. I have always believed that those who have had great opportunities have a responsibility to work to give others the same opportunities.
Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues on all sides of the House. I once described the House of Representatives as being my natural habitat; you are all my fellow species in this unnatural place! This place brings out the best in us and it brings out the worst in us. I have seen some truly dreadful people come through here over the last quarter of a century. But I have seen some many more outstanding people, including my current colleagues. Something drives us all to get here. In most cases, it is a fierce competition internally within our parties and then in the campaign. But we are driven on nonetheless because, my friends, we know, each one of us, that to get the chance to influence the society in which we live, to make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens, is worth the sacrifices. To be part of politics is to be part of history, and no-one can take that away from any one of us.
For decades I have carried a little card around in my wallet that has written on it these lines that Plutarch once wrote about Pericles and the lives of the Athenians:
Virtue in action immediately takes such hold of a man that he no sooner admires a deed than he sets out to follow in the steps of the doer.
We've all followed in the footsteps of great deed doers, men and women who have assisted Australians to build a great nation. As the member for Warringah is fond of saying, you win the lottery of life when you are born in Australia and everyone around the world knows it. That didn't happen by accident; it happened because of good governments and good men and women trying to do their best. I've relished the opportunity to attempt great deeds in the one forum that in our democracy allows every Australian the chance to do so, the House of Representatives. Thank you; goodbye and good luck.