House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Documents

Kelly, Hon. Dr Michael Joseph, AM; Presentation

11:08 am

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | Hansard source

As members are well aware, I received the resignation of the former member for Eden-Monaro and I have reported that to the House. The former member for Eden-Monaro didn't make a valedictory speech; he resigned prior to us sitting. But of course, even if he'd been able to, with the circumstances we face he wouldn't have had guests and all the rest. So what I'm going to do is present a document relaying the valedictory remarks of the Hon. Mike Kelly. I advise members that these remarks will be incorporated in the Hansard.

The document read as follows—

Farewell

I would like to firstly begin by recording my gratitude to you Mr Speaker for making it possible for me to register this valedictory speech in the circumstances, which have prevented me from doing so in the chamber. I was cautious about doing a valedictory as it seemed to me to be an act of vanity in times like these but I appreciate you making this option open to me, in a way that will not distract the House from its important work nor take any time away from the chamber. I also take this opportunity to say that I have the highest possible regard and respect for you Mr Speaker and I am confident in asserting that you have been one of the very best in this role that we have ever had.

No doubt by now most of you will be aware of the fact that I have been forced to resign as member for Eden Monaro due to increasingly problematic health issues. I would like to sincerely thank all of you here and the broader public, who have passed on so many messages of love and goodwill. That love is unconditionally reciprocated. This was the most gut wrenching decision I have had to make in my life, amongst countless tough decisions I have had to make over the last 36 years. Eden Monaro runs deep in my blood and heart, and it has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve this community and to be part of a proud family tradition in this respect.

In the 119 year history of Eden Monaro no member has ever given a valedictory speech until now. Only one member has not tasted defeat (Austin Chapman) and he died in the saddle. That leaves Allan Fraser as the only other person who has retired as a sitting member, which he did in 1972, having won back the seat after his 1966 loss. Allan has been the longest serving member (26 years) and was highly regarded in the community for his strong advocacy and independent thought. Notwithstanding a life of achievement for the region he nevertheless retired under a cloud of personal disappointment and later in life he bleakly remarked: 'To a very large extent, my career [in politics] has been futile'. This highlights the fact that Eden Monaro is without doubt the toughest seat in Australia and that a life in politics can be frustrating and soul destroying if you can't go in and come out with a good mental health strategy and realistic outlook.

The challenges of the seat stem from its unique combination of size, terrain, weather, scattered population, incredible diversity and long standing marginality, which no other seat can match. Those challenges also give it its great beauty and character, and it is these very qualities that I truly love about our region. I always understood also the realties of politics and so, while I have been frustrated and disappointed at not having been able to make the most use of my hard won experience, I understand that is an inherent risk in this endeavour. I am fortunate to be in a position to keep all of that in perspective having had a very rewarding career outside of politics and being buoyed by the things we have been able to achieve working together as a community.

To meet those challenges, however, you need to be physically and mentally up to the task. I have had to concede that I can no longer sustain the effort that our community demands and deserves. I have just gone through my tenth procedure for my renal condition in the last six months and there will be more in the months and years ahead. Each of these procedures results in weeks of limitations. In addition the Department of Veterans' Affairs has just classified me as 'permanently impaired' due to my deteriorating osteoarthritis. All of my health problems are due to my military service, with my osteoarthritis being steadily worsened due to the demands of working for Eden Monaro. Over 36 years of total commitment of body and soul to service has taken a heavy toll. I guess some things you never stop paying for but service is its own reward and I would not change a thing (except maybe better hydration!).

Essentially, continuing on at taxpayer expense, doing the job half pace and disappointing our community, is not something that I would be able to endure or tolerate.

Added to this my wife Shelly is also experiencing health issues and I must now be in a better position to support her. I have often heard politicians say that while they are volunteers for a political life their families are conscripts. To say that in my case would be an insult to Shelly and my son Ben. We always made decisions about my work together and they have made the huge sacrifices that they have willingly, knowing that they too in this way were rendering service to the nation. Having said that they have endured a great deal, particularly during my frequent deployments in the Army, when I was away for long periods, often out of communication and with no guarantee I would be coming back. It never got any easier at our partings, where you often felt a little piece of your heart break away. Politics also has not been easy for them but they were also highly motivated for this work. The time has now come, though, where I focus on their security and supporting them.

I must now move to a desk job where I can better manage the health issues of Shelly and I, but where I can also continue to make a difference within those limitations. In particular I want to continue to find ways to boost our local economy and provide the rewarding jobs of the future for our kids, to work towards solutions to our key issues in preventing and managing disasters and pandemics, and particularly in taking up the technological challenge of accelerating our renewable energy future. No region in Australia understands the importance of these things better than Eden Monaro.

I very much regret that I will be the cause of a by-election but I think the positive aspect of this is that it will put the current trauma of Eden Monaro in the national spot light and enable us to force a competition for the sort of support our community is crying out for. If I had been the member for a small urban seat I could probably have batted on but that is not possible in Eden Monaro. While we have been navigating this devastating COVID-19 situation, being restricted in my movements has not been so important, but with restrictions likely to begin easing soon, and certainly by the time a by-election is finalised, the new member will need to be back on the road and working closely with the community again. The timing is therefore right for this decision.

Our region has been transformed by the things we have done together. Key improvements to our road networks, including the Bega Bypass and getting the Barton Highway duplication on the agenda of all sides of politics, which will benefit the whole region. The improvements to our schools, including the Trade and Training Centres that were established in Eden, Bega, Bombala and Batlow. A substantial improvement to health support through investment in primary health care, building the new South East Regional Hospital and upgrades to Wagga Base Hospital that is so important to the Snowy Valleys area. This also included the new GP Super Clinics in Jindabyne and Queanbeyan and finally getting support for the new Tumut Hospital. I was particularly pleased to have helped save the Katungal Aboriginal Health Service which went through some tough times but has bounced back well, providing an essential service to our First Nation community.

Over $40m dollars in new and restored social housing. Wide investment in improved sports facilities and social infrastructure, such as the Sapphire Aquatic Centre, Bermagui SLSC, Campese Field 'White House', Freebody Cricket Pavillion, Bega Recreation Grounds, the Werri-Nina Community Centre and pool upgrades in Cooma and the many other sporting and community organisations we helped support through a myriad of grants that we worked on together.

Over the years we have been together on many occasions such as marching with you on ANZAC days, celebrating our many new citizens on Australia Day and other occasions and our many fantastic festivals and events. But we have also shared the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss policy and problems at over 400 hundred forums and town halls and I have been pleased to have sent out over 65,000 letters on behalf of constituents. The greatest satisfaction the team and I have had is when we have been able to resolve the many thousands of individual constituent problems. Although the times we have not been able to achieve solutions have been frustrating we nevertheless feel assured that we left no stone unturned in our endeavours for our community.

Important tourism support such as getting the wharf extension in Eden up and running. Our success in winning better support for the Timber industry in the Snowy Valleys region and our continuing fight for the inclusion of the Carbon Farming Initiative in an international trading regime to boost investment and income for our farmers and timber industry. I was particularly proud of supporting the Home in Queanbeyan project and working with the very special people who championed it, including Father Peter Day, Michael Cockayne and Anne Pratt. This project led the nation in innovating better support to our homeless suffering from mental health issues. This is a great model that should be taken up more widely across the nation in population centres which have the scale to support it.

I experienced great satisfaction out of working in support of initiatives for the economic future of the region such as making the most from the Snowy 2.0 project, our plantation timber industry and the technology park project in Queanbeyan.

In parliament I was fortunate to have had a varied experience and opportunity to contribute as a Parliamentary Secretary at various times in the Water, Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and Defence portfolios and as Minister for Defence Materiel. Since 2016 I have also served as Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence, on the Shadow National Security Committee of Cabinet and with great satisfaction on the bi-partisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). Of course I would have liked to have made a greater contribution as Defence Minister but as often happens in politics that opportunity never eventuated. I am nevertheless proud of having established the Australian Civil Military Centre (ACMC) which was born from my military experience in counter insurgency, peace operations and counter terrorism. The ACMC delivers a unique capability to government and civil-society partners, facilitating and improving the mobilisation of our national efforts to promote disaster resilience, peace, security and stability overseas in coordination with friends and neighbours. The ACMC was absolutely instrumental in helping us to win a seat on the UN Security Council in 2013 and I was delighted to have played a role in that effort. It was a particular thrill to have been the first Australian political representative to address the Council in 27 years. I also found it intensely rewarding to work with my good friend the member for Berowra in the Parliamentary Friends of the Prevention of Suicide, standing alongside some wonderful civil society groups and with the Health and Shadow Health Ministers in a wonderful bi-partisan spirit.

I was also pleased to have played a role in getting the Hawkei tactical vehicle project up and running, including seeing the inclusion of composite materials, from the Australian company Quickstep, for the first time in an Australian built military vehicle. I was pleased to have resolved issues related to the MRH90 project, to have administered our projects of concern process and to have helped win the battle for bi-partisan support for Australian construction of naval vessels. I am only sorry that we did not get the opportunity to implement our Future Submarines Industry and Skills Plan and see through our commitment to building new supply vessels in Australia. If that had have happened we would have avoided the so-called 'Valley of Death' in ship building jobs and been so much further advanced on submarines.

The electorate office team of Robbie Rynehart, Radmila Noveska, Brian Brown, Jo Riley-Fitzer and Luke Kenton among others over the years that I have been fortunate to have supporting me has been magnificent and, together with our volunteers, have ensured a powerful voice to our people, a tremendous record of help and compassion and historic achievements in breaking the bellwether, not once but twice!

I have also been fortunate to work with some thoroughly decent and responsible men and women in the union movement and business. It filled me with optimism that we can build a better industrial culture in this country.

Contrary to the old saying that if you want a friend in politics you should get a dog, I have been fortunate to have made many friends in my time in parliament, and on both sides of the chamber. I have always been happy to work with anyone who has the national interest at heart and who are fundamentally decent people, even if we may have deep differences on some aspects of policy issues. I wish all parliamentarians all the best in their endeavours as they continue to work together through the recovery from our current distress. Real people, living with real struggles desperately need a united political effort right now.

There are too many names to mention in the list of people I am proud to call friends but I would like to single out Chris Hayes who has been a tower of strength to me and a trusted brother through all the ups and downs of this experience. I couldn't have survived this far without his wise counsel, help and shoulder to cry on. He is one of the truly decent people in the parliament.

I want to reassure all those wonderful people in the community I have worked with shoulder to shoulder, such as the Clean Energy For Eternity team, that I will not be giving up the fight and will continue to strive in particular to see this nation embrace serious action on climate change. That is the single greatest long term threat to this region.

I will also continue to work towards building the new economy that our nation will need to recover from our setbacks, to keep our people safe from the scourge of terrorism, boost our defences against information warfare and cyber threats to our security and improve our general Defence capability. To leverage these solutions to provide us with the ability to prevent mega fires and manage disasters. To effectively integrate and manage our energy grid and resources, to strengthen Australian companies and their competitiveness, to achieve the better and more efficient delivery of services. To build Australian technological capacity and leverage international R&D and venture capital resources to support our innovators and build skills and expertise. To boost Australian tertiary research and ensure we are better placed to have Australian companies participate in Defence projects.

I would like to thank all the Labor leaders who have enabled me to contribute in various portfolio roles and the shadow National Security Committee of Cabinet and to my colleagues on the PJCIS in all the critical work we have tried to do over these last few challenging years. I believe I am the most senior former military officer to sit in a Labor caucus and I hope I am not the last as both sides of politics benefit from having a range of backgrounds in their midst.

My only regrets are that we were not able to see through the Labor policy agendas of 2013 and 2019. I believe the 2019 team would have made a very good government and set us up well to deal with all the challenges facing this nation. I hope we can move forward to a better standard of politics through our experience of dealing with the current crisis and will do all I can to encourage bi-partisan solutions to our biggest questions.

I pay tribute to all the wonderful colleagues and friends who I served with and who mentored me in my Army career. It was a great privilege to have known outstanding individuals like (excusing ranks and titles) Peter Arnison, Frank Hickling, Peter Cosgrove, Angus Houston, Mark Binskin, Tim Ford, Dave Hurley, Duncan Lewis, and particularly Peter Leahy who all shaped my growth as a soldier, person and my outlook on life. There are a myriad of friends who made that whole experience special and who I regard as the finest the nation can produce, including everyone from John Caligari and my SO2 brothers in Somalia and 1Div to the special crew at Battle Wing Canungra in Woody, Peeps, Tracker and Cowboy who gave me precious survival skills and a great perspective. I hope I haven't let you down. Most importantly I remember the very many friends and colleagues I lost on operations. They were far too precious for the world to lose and I have tried very hard to dedicate my work here to their memory so that their loss would mean something.

Finally I want to thank the amazing crew who work in this building, so many of whom I was privileged to call my constituents. They were always a great reality check and fun to talk with in a sometimes dour building. They reminded me always of my own roots and what we were here for, from the wonderful and hard pressed cleaners, to the good humored and professional security and chamber staff. I love you all and wish nothing but the best for you and your families.

In the wake of our ANZAC remembrance it is worth noting that while it is hard to see a path to a brighter future now, and it would be easy for us to give in to despair, that is not what Australians are about, it is not in our character or tradition. I believe we will come out of all this stronger, and we can use the challenges to forge new opportunities and correct the national deficiencies that have held us back. I hope we can also see a better standard of politics emerge from this current national effort after all the low lights of the last 13 years. I am excited to continue to be a part of our national endeavours, albeit driving a desk in future, but rest assured I will fight on.

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