Thursday, 25 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I have to say to the previous speaker, the member for Cowan, that I do enjoy her addresses.
My dear friend Barry Jones has a dear friend. I recall hearing his dear friend Phillip Adams say on his 'little wireless program' some time ago that he's very nervous when he hears a politician talk of the national interest, because it usually means the politician's interest. I would not like to alarm Mr Adams, but I want to refer obliquely to the national interest as I see it in this place, and I quote former leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who said: 'I firmly believe that any man in public life, or woman, who thinks that politics to him or her is just a job that will provide him with an income is making the most gross of all errors. The truth is that we must be servants of the people, but, in order to be servants of the people, we are not to be servile. We are not to look at every problem and then say, "Will this be popular or will this not be popular?" Because if that is the kind of leadership you're going to get, it will lead the country to disaster. It is not a matter of saying, "Will this please somebody," it is a matter of saying, "Is this the right thing to do if Australia is going to grow, if the country is going to become richer and or more powerful, if employment is to rise, if living standards are to rise," and, sir, that presents a problem which is a great challenge to many a man of character, honesty and imagination.'
When we come to a proposition like this—'in the national interest'—I say the decisions that we make in this House, the decisions the executive make and the decisions that we make as individuals can sometimes be very difficult. We test those often against the will of the people who elect us to the parliament, the people who actually put their pencils on pieces of paper to say, 'I want this person to represent me in this house.' This is crucially important to our national wellbeing. That's why I've always been a very strong supporter of compulsory voting, because everybody—everybody!—goes into that booth and has a go and says: 'This is who I want to support me. And if I can't get that one to support me, I get two or three other chances by ticking the other boxes.' It's a very, very good system to decide who represents—and what did they do at the last election? The whole nation came and voted, and they were within one seat or two seats of who held the majority in this House.
The people of Australia made their decision, and they expect us to not only represent them and their interests; they expect us to represent our parties that clearly put us here and they expect us to make decisions at a national level having regard to what is said in our party rooms, what is said in our caucus, and to bravely then make a decision. As a woman said to me one day, 'We didn't put you in there to be a yes-man; we put you in there to make decisions on our behalf.' Throughout my many years in this place—although I've been thrown out more times than anybody else in the history of the parliament and am still here—
An honourable member: Welcome back.
Thank you very much. I have had 21 years and I've seen very good people in this place wrestle with their conscience. There is a difference between the opposition—and I'm not talking about the Independents—and the Liberal Party. When Andrew Fisher formed the Labor Party and put the coalition together he said, 'If you vote against us, you leave.' Menzies said the opposite. He said, 'You can disagree with us and still stay within the confines of the party,' although that could be very uncomfortable at times. Many members have come into this House and spoken with heartfelt determination and confidence on behalf of the people that they represent. We respect them taking the opportunity to do that. It is an absolute privilege to serve in this House. I hope for all of us our first focus is the national interest.