House debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Parliamentary Representation


12:01 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you to all those who have joined us here in the chamber today. I am going to commence my final contribution to this place in the same way I began my first one, in acknowledging the Gweagal people of the Dharawal nation of southern Sydney—a very special people, because they were the first to engage with Lieutenant James Cook on 29 April 1770. That place in Kurnell is a very special place. We speak a lot about reconciliation in this place, as we should, and my experience of that place as each and every year we gather in a ceremony of reconciliation, I think, speaks to the best spirit of that. I also spoke about that place in my maiden speech in this place. I said that it was important that we recognise this site, and I am so pleased that over the time that I have been here, we were able to achieve that.

On that site now, there is—artists call it an installation, others would call it a monument, and some might call it a statue—call it whatever you like, but I know what it means. There is the totem of the Dharawal people, the whale, and it's beautiful. There are many other installations around the shore, but the one which is most striking, as the tide comes in, laps on it and recedes, is the skeleton of a whale, but it is also the skeleton of a ship like the Endeavour. On each of the rings of that skeleton is inscribed the journals of Lieutenant James Cook. If you haven't been there, go there. It is a wonderful place to reflect on how two stories become one. For me that's what reconciliation with Indigenous people has always been about. We weave together the individual strands of individual Australians of so many different backgrounds and experiences, from our Indigenous peoples to the most recent citizens. Each strand unique, but together weaved as one. For me that site will always mean that, and it's wonderful to acknowledge it here today, as well as the artists and the so many who made that possible.

As was my practice as Prime Minister, always, when acknowledging Indigenous Australians, I would also in the same breath acknowledge those men and women who served Australia in our defence forces, both those who served in the past and those who serve now, for the simple reason that they are the providers of our freedom. Everything we have in this country we owe to them. In one of my early days—the member for Blaxland is here—we trekked Kokoda together in the spirit of bipartisanship. He was a little quicker than me and still is. We trekked Sandakan, we trekked the Black Cat Track up there in northern Papua New Guinea and we also went on to Gallipoli. At the end of those treks we would stand together with the young people who were with us—whether it was at the Bomana cemetery or in Lae or Sandakan or elsewhere—and we would hold hands, look at those tombstones, thank them and commit ourselves to living lives that would be worthy of their sacrifice. It was incredibly moving. And we would say, 'They gave their tomorrows for our today.' So it is easy for us all in that spirit to acknowledge our defence forces, those who serve in them—and serve in them today, far from here and nearby—and simply say thank you for your service.

Today is not an opportunity to run through a bullet point list of things. It is, importantly, an opportunity for me to simply express my thanks and appreciation and admiration for those who have made my service here in this place possible and to pass on what I hope are some helpful reflections from my time here that may assist those who continue to serve. Let me begin with my thankyous.

Firstly and importantly, to my constituents in Cook: it has been my great privilege to have served you as your local member in this parliament for these past more than 16 years, where you have been kind enough to elect me on six separate—six successive—occasions. I thank you for the tremendous and steadfast support you've provided to me and my family, who join me here today, during this time. Whatever was going on at the time, whether it be success, failure and everything in between, when I returned to the electorate—and those who know the area will know what I'm talking about—and particularly as I went up the rise of the Captain Cook Bridge and descended into God's country itself, the shire, I would feel a great sense of belonging. I would feel a great sense of reassurance and peace. All of us who live there know this. This is as much, though, about the people as it is the place. It is home and always will be.

Mine is a community that is unashamedly proud of our country, that deeply values family life and what it takes to live a life that keeps families together, that works hard. They take responsibility for themselves. They appreciate and respect both their own and others' good fortune, and they are generous to those around them, celebrating their successes or providing a hand up whenever and wherever it is needed. It is also a community that enthusiastically shares and supports and maintains the important community and social infrastructure that preserves our way of life. It is a community that does not leave it to others, including the government. Mine is a community that does not look for what it is owed but what it can contribute, for how it can make a contribution, not take one, both nationally and locally. They are a community of patriots, and I am pleased to describe them as such in this place.

In both my local and my national roles, including as Prime Minister, I have always been guided by the strong local values of my community—family, community, small business—and what I describe as the fair go for those who have a go. This is what makes the shire and southern Sydney such a great place to live and raise a family. And there are plenty of quiet Australians who understand that as well. Ever since I was first elected, I have always seen it as my job to try and keep it that way, and I believe I have honoured that commitment.

I particularly thank the myriad of community organisations, sporting clubs, school communities, volunteers, small businesses, church and charitable groups that make our local community, as they do all of our communities, so great and so resilient, including my beloved Sharks. These groups and organisations are the heart of our community, and I've always enjoyed the role I have played to support and enable them in their efforts, and I'm proud of what we have been able to achieve altogether in our community over this time.

I also want to thank my many local Liberal Party supporters and members, in particular Mike Douglas; Louise De Domenico, who was also on my staff; and my conference chairman and great friend, Scott Briggs, for always keeping the local show on the road. A special thank you also to our neighbours and friends in Lilli Pilli, Port Hacking and Dolans Bay. You had to put up with more than most—cameras, security, traffic, the odd protest and home invader. To Jamie and Anna and to Joe, Chrissie and Stan, I look forward to continuing return the favour of mowing your lawns for years to come. It will be quite some time before I settle that debt! A big thank you also—I'm sure Jenny would agree—to Rob and everyone up at D'lish.

As politicians we know that we are the tip end of the spear. Yet, behind us, there are so many people who we are supported by. They are incredible, dedicated, professional, intelligent, loyal, good humoured, sacrificial and amazing people who, for reasons that I suspect will never cease to amaze all of us—and it certainly humbles us—choose to commit themselves to the causes that we have identified and we seek to champion as members of this place and, when we have the opportunity, in government. They become a family. They support one another. They form close and lasting relationships, together embarking on one of the great seasons of our lives.

I have been blessed in this area more than I could ever deserve. From my local office team in the shire, especially to Julie Adams; to the incredible professionals who headed up and worked in my prime ministerial and ministerial offices, especially Dr John Kunkel, Phil Gaetjens and Anne Duffield; and to my longstanding original staff Latisha Wenlock and Julian Leembruggen, who is here today: the journey would simply have been impossible without you all, all of those you ably led and all who worked together in these causes, so many of whom are here today—and I thank them for being here. There are too many of you to mention all by name, and nor do I wish to injure your reputations by doing so! But I hope you all feel the full partnership of our service together and what we were able to achieve and contribute. Thank you.

I also wish to thank all those who cared for me and my family over the years when I was Prime Minister, as the Prime Minister now would know. To our household staff at the Lodge and at Kirribilli, led by the beautiful Trina Barrie and the incomparable Adam Thomas: you provided a space for Jen, Abbey, Lily, Buddy, Charlie and I to be a family. Thank you.

To the members of my close protection team at the AFP over the years, who continue to look after us even on the odd occasion these days: thank you. I want to specially mention Travis Ford and Jen McRae, who were terribly injured in the line of duty, protecting me in a terrible car accident in Tasmania. I will always be grateful for your sacrifice. When their colleagues rushed to them at the scene, their first words—not knowing what had occurred—were: 'Is the boss okay?' Thank you. To Mick: I'll be in touch about that fishing trip we talked about, as we promised each other on the road on so many occasions.

To my parliamentary, ministerial and cabinet colleagues with whom I served over the years, some gone from this place now and many still here: I want to thank you for your support and your dedication. As your leader, you gave me your best in some of Australia's most difficult times. I asked you to follow and you did, and together we achieved an election victory that none thought possible, and we kept steady hands on the tiller during the greatest set of challenges that have confronted our nation since the Second World War. Thank you for your service.

For the opportunities afforded to me by my party leaders over this time—to Brendon Nelson, to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: thank you.

To my now party leader, Peter Dutton, with whom I served in cabinet through all the years of the coalition government: thank you for your respect, your loyalty, your support and your consideration, especially that which you've shown me as a ministerial colleague, as Prime Minister and as an ex-PM in your party room. Jen and I both appreciate the kindness and generosity you and Kirilly have shown to both of us and our family.

For the great friendship and encouragement afforded to me by some very special friends as colleagues, to Big Mac, my Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack; and Catherine: thank you. To Josh Frydenberg, who I was speaking with this morning, and my deputy leader and Treasurer: thank you, Josh. To Marise Payne, to Greg Hunt, to Michaelia Cash, to good old Benny Morton and to Alex Hawke, who sits with me here today and who keeps me entertained each question time still—there's plenty to entertain us: thank you. And to those who've gone from here—to Steve Irons and Stuart Robert, who I flatted with for many years; to Lucy Wicks and the incomparable Bill Heffernan, who I flatted with for the first six years and survived; and Louise Markus—thank you. To the broader Liberal Party members and our supporters led by Andrew Hirst, John Olsen and Nick Greiner, thank you.

To those who supported me from the Public Service as a minister, Treasurer and Prime Minister, thank you, especially for your service during the pandemic, which I extend to everyone in the Public Service, who showed the true spirit of what public service was with sacrifice and dedication. Thank you to Phil Gaetjens, who was the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but, particularly, thank you also to Professor Brendan Murphy and Professor Paul Kelly, who became well-known figures. To General JJ Frewen, thank you. To General Angus Campbell and Greg Moriarty, thank you for all you did to help me secure AUKUS. When I left the job after the last election, when we lost, I remember saying to them, 'Now, please don't stuff it up,' which they are not, together with the Minister for Defence.

To the Prime Minister, to the Deputy Prime Minister, to the members of your government and to Bill Shorten, we have contested fiercely in this place. I've had my wins and I've had my losses, but I wish you all well in your service of the national interest. Too often in this place we confuse differences of policy with judgements about peoples' intent and motives. This is not good for our polity. We may disagree but we need to honour the good intentions of all of us. I wish you well in your service, as I've said, and I especially want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for the special kindness and respect that you've shown to me in this place since the last election and here again today.

To the Prime Minister and your now new fiancee, Jodie, congratulations on your engagement. Jen and I wish you all the very best for your life together. At some point, this all ends and, while there are no hard feelings, I'll obviously be supporting my colleagues and Peter Dutton to ensure that that day hastens sooner rather than later. But, when it does, you will look around and Jodie will be there, and I can assure you—as Jen has been to me—it makes a world of difference.

When I first entered politics, the former member for Parramatta, Julie Owens, who many of us remember well, gave new members some good advice at our orientation about making sure you do not neglect the friendships you had before you came. I took this advice very seriously. I'm even more pleased that my friends and family did. Thank you to our wonderful friends that are here today—to Karen and Adrian Harrington; to David Gazard, the 'Gaza man'; to Arthur and Ingrid Ilias; to Bill and Anne Knock; to Peter Verwer; to Scott Briggs, who couldn't be here today; and to Lynelle Stewart—we love you very much and appreciate you.

To my Christian pastors, Brad and Alison Bonhomme, to Mike and Val Murphy, to Joel and Julia A'bell, to Jock Cameron and to my brothers in Christ, Andrew Scipione, John Anderson and Lloyd Thomas, who's here with his wife Fi today, thank you for your prayers, your counsel and your encouragement. I also especially want to thank Bishop Antoine Tarabay and all of our Maronite brothers and sisters—I've become an honorary Maronite, I think, in the years past—and especially our dear friends Danny and Leila Abdallah, Bridget Sakr and Craig McKenzie, who have taught us all what faith is really all about.

As most people know, subject only to God, my family is the centre of my life, and at the very centre of our family is Jen. I cannot imagine life without her. I love you, Jen, and always will—that is the cross you have to bear. Your love has been my stay and strength. You are the other half of our joined soul, who, by the grace of God, brought Abbey and Lily—our miracle girls—into our lives, who we celebrate and love. I thank Abbey and Lily for their own sacrifices as they have grown, necessitated by having a father in public life. They are beautiful girls in every way, as you can see, and I could not be more proud of them as a father. They are our joy and our delight, and I am so pleased that we can now have the time that was necessarily denied us for so long.

In preparing for this day, Abbey and Lily suggested that I should play a type of Taylor Swift bingo, and I'm wearing the bracelet, by the way—it has 'ScoMo' on it. They said to try to work the names of every single Taylor Swift album into my remarks. Well, what's a dad to do? Here I go!

It is true that my political opponents have often made me see red. When subjected to the tortured poets who would rise to attack my reputation, in response I have always thought it important to be fearless and speak now or forever hold my silence and allow those attacks to become folklore. Ever since leaving university—in 1989!—this has always been my approach. My great consolation has always been my lover Jen, who has always been there for me whenever I need her, from dawn and beyond the many midnights we have shared together. See, I'm actually a true new romantic after all. I can assure you there is no bad blood, as I've always been someone who's been able to shake it off!

Anything for my daughters.

I also want to thank, of course, Jen's mum, Beth, who is looking after the cat and the dog today, and Jen's late father, Roy, an amazing human being, for always being on my side; as well as Jen's siblings, Gary and Cecily, and all their families.

Finally, I thank my mum, Marion, who is here with my late father, John, today together. I also want to thank my brother, Alan, of whom I am extremely proud. My family, growing up, were the dominant example for my life. They taught me that life is about what you contribute, not what you accumulate. They taught me about the duty and dignity of public service, but, beyond this, I would never have known God and my saviour, Jesus Christ, if it was not for them. I can think of no greater gift.

Okay, that's the emotional stuff done! You're not used to seeing that side of me. Having said my thankyous and expressed my appreciation, I would now like to reflect on just three things I have learned along the way that may help those dealing with the challenges of the future who continue in this place. The first of these is that, without a strong economy, you cannot achieve your goals as a nation. All good government must start with nurturing a strong, innovative, dynamic, entrepreneurial, market based economy. In the 1980s we threw off the shackles of the federation institutions that Paul Kelly, who is here today, wrote about in The End of Certainty as holding our economy back. This led my generation into 30 years of economic change that, despite some missteps along the way, including a recession we had to have, produced the longest period of continuing economic growth that any nation in the modern world has known. There have been strong contributions made to this achievement by both sides of politics, which I acknowledge—always, though, with Liberal and National support.

As we entered the pandemic, I was pleased that, after almost six years of painstaking fiscal effort, we had restored our budget to balance and maintained our AAA credit rating. This was achieved by focusing on economic growth and containing growth in public spending. At the time, our government had the lowest rate of growth in public spending of any Australian government for decades. This would prove vital in the years that followed. Having saved for a rainy day, it was now raining. It was pouring, and we had to respond. Australia would emerge with one of the lowest fatality rates from COVID in the developed world. When compared to the average fatality rates of OECD countries, Australia's response saved more than 30,000 lives. We were described as the gold standard of COVID responses by Bill Gates at the Munich security conference and the second-most COVID prepared nation by the Johns Hopkins Institute. This will always be to Greg Hunt's great credit and that of all those he worked with—his eternal credit.

It is also true that, during the pandemic, the rate of death by suicide actually fell and remained down in 2021. This was nothing short of an answer to prayer and the extraordinary efforts of our mental health workers, professionals and services, and I want to acknowledge Professor Pat McGorry and Christine Morgan, who were incredible supports to me during that time.

Our plan was not just about saving lives but about saving livelihoods as well. This was achieved with Australia emerging with one of the strongest economies through COVID. Our historic economic response kept 700,000 businesses in business, it kept more than a million Australians in work and, despite these unpredicted outlays, Australia was one of just nine countries to retain a AAA credit rating. Our response was timely, it was targeted and it was temporary. We responsibly retired measures as soon as it was prudent to do so, leading to a historic reduction in the actual budget deficit, with the budget even moving into structural surplus during COVID. As Josh asked me to remind everyone this morning, the unemployment rate had a '3' in front of it when we left. JobKeeper and the myriad of economic supports—designed by Josh and me, with Mathias Cormann and later Simon Birmingham and the whole team at Treasury and the ATO—would have been fanciful had we not entered into this crisis with a tank that was full.

We cannot take our economy for granted. Employers and businesses creating jobs is how you run a strong economy and put a budget into structural balance and keep it there. During my time in this place I observed that many of the old partisan differences on economic policy have, regrettably, re-emerged. In 2019 we fought an election on this and we prevailed in our miracle election win. Looking forward, we must be careful not to reinstitutionalise our economy. Such an approach will only negate the capacity we have as a nation to deliver on the essentials that Australians rely on; it will crush entrepreneurial spirit and that wonderful spirit of small business, and leave us vulnerable in the face of new threats to our sovereignty.

That brings me to my second point. Those threats are there and they're real. During my time in this place, and especially as Prime Minister, we have seen an end to the post-Cold War period of globalisation and the emergence of a new era of strategic competition, where our global rules based order is being challenged by a new arc of autocracy. This arc of autocracy, which I referred to as Prime Minister, ranges from Pyongyang to Beijing to Tehran and Moscow—a chord of would-be regional hegemons who would prefer power to freedom and care little for the price their own citizens pay to achieve their ends. For this reason our government stood firm against the bullying and coercion of an aggressive Chinese Communist Party government in Beijing who thought we would shrink when pressed. Indeed, we not only stood firm but worked with our allies, our partners and those in our region who wished to protect their own sovereignty to counter this threat to regional peace, prosperity and stability. AUKUS, the Quad, new trading and defence relationships, the first ever comprehensive strategic partnership of any nation with ASEAN and others including PNG, and the Pacific Step-up—all designed to protect our sovereignty and stand up for a global rules based order that favours freedom, especially here in our own region in the Indo-Pacific. In this respect, I pay tribute to the work of Marise Payne and Dan Tehan, as well as Simon Birmingham. I thank the Trump and Biden administrations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, my good friends Boris Johnson, James Marape, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Robert O'Brien. I pay tribute to late and great Shinzo Abe and his successors, prime ministers Yoshi Suga and Fumio Kishida.

The 2022 election may have provided an opportunity for Beijing to step back from their failed attempts at coercion, but we must not be deluded: tactics change but their strategy remains the same. We are not alone in waking up to this threat. Investors are now, rightly, pricing the risk of their investments in an authoritative communist China, while consumer advocates are waking up to human rights abuses and the environmental degradation that infects these supply chains. This requires continued vigilance and the connection between all spheres of policy to create and protect supply chains and integrate and align our strategic and military capabilities so we can protect our sovereignty and counter the threat that is real and building.

In Tehran, we find the funders, trainers and apologists for terrorists, seeking to acquire the most deadly defence technology imaginable: nuclear weapons. Their green light for the Hamas terrorist attacks on innocents in Israel, on 7 October, is unforgiveable. In response to such overt attacks there can be no equivocation on where we stand as a representative democracy when another, who has been such a great friend of Australia, is under attack. There also can be no equivocation in calling out the anti-Semitism that has now occurred in this country, to our shame, and in other places across the Western Hemisphere in the wake of 7 October. To that end I am pleased to acknowledge the presence today of the Israeli ambassador, Amir Maimon, in the chamber today. Am Yisrael Chai. In Ukraine, fighting continues to rage two years after Russia's illegal invasion. I'm proud of our swift response to support Ukraine. This must continue and is utilising every resource and capability we can reasonably provide. Ukraine may be a long way from Australia, but the implications of a Russian victory will reverberate just as quickly in our own hemisphere, emboldening again those who seek to challenge our region.

My third point is: how do we stand and on what ground? We stand on the very same ground that established our western civilisation and that inspired and enabled the modern, pluralist representative democracy we now enjoy. We stand on the values that build a successful, free society, like individual liberty, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, responsible citizenship, morality and liberty of speech, thought, religion and association. All of these stem from the core principle of respect for individual human dignity. So do representative democracy and even market based capitalism. This is a unique Judaeo-Christian principle. It is about respecting each other's human dignity through our creation by God's hand, in God's image, for God's glory, where each human life is eternally valued, unique, worthy, loved and capable. This is the very basis for our modern understanding of human rights.

With the advance of secularism in western society, we may wish to overlook these connections or even denounce them. But the truth remains. Human rights abuses were once called crimes against God, not just against humanity. They are, and they remain so. These truths are not self-evident, as some claim, as history and nature tells a very different story, though divinely inspired. You don't need to share my Christian faith to appreciate the virtue of human rights. I'm not suggesting you do. But, equally, we should be careful about diminishing the influence and the voice of Judaeo-Christian faith in our western society, as doing so risks our society drifting into a valueless void. In that world, there is nothing to stand on, there is nothing to hold on to, and the authoritarians and autocrats win. In the increasing western embrace of secularism, let us be careful not to disconnect ourselves from what I would argue is our greatest gift and the most effective protector of our freedoms—the Judaeo-Christian values upon which our liberty in society was founded. Even if you may not believe, it would be wise to continue to understand, respect and appreciate this important link and foundation.

To conclude, you'll be pleased to note a warning about politics, where I've spent most of my professional life, as most of us here have. I know that all political philosophies and ideologies, including my own, are imperfect and regularly confounded by events outside our control. I experienced this firsthand leading Australia through the global pandemic. In my experience, the practice of politics is largely about contesting which approaches are less imperfect than others—in my view, those are the approaches of the Liberal Party—and then trying to humbly appreciate and compensate for their imperfections. It's like Winston Churchill's famous line, and I paraphrase: 'Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.'

While a noble calling, politics can only take you so far, and government can only do so much. You can say the same thing about the market. You won't find all the answers there, either, and you won't find it in unrestricted libertarianism and more-command-and-control communism. In the Liberal Party, we have always believed in how great Australians rather than governments can be, with the true test being how we can enable Australians to realise their own aspirations. I suspect that much of our disillusion with politics and our institutions today is that we have put too much faith in them. At the end of the day, the state and the market are just run by imperfect people like all of us. While politics may be an important and necessary place for service, I would also warn against it being a surrogate for finding identity, ultimate meaning and purpose in life. There are far better options than politics. In The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote that the great tragedies of the 20th century came when politics was turned into a religion and when the nation, in the case of fascism, or the system in communism, was made absolute and turned into a god.

I leave this place not as one of those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. I leave having given all in that arena, and there are plenty of scars to show for it. While I left nothing of my contributions on that field, I do leave behind in that arena, where it will always remain, any bitterness, disappointments or offences that have occurred along the way.

I leave this place appreciative and thankful, unburdened by offences and released of any of the bitterness that can so often haunt post-political lives. This is due to my faith in Jesus Christ, which gives me the faith to both forgive and be honest about my own failings and shortcomings. During my time as Prime Minister, the power and necessity of forgiveness was demonstrated to me most profoundly by the Abdallah and Sakr families, whose children were taken from them, and they found the strength in their faith to forgive.

For those who perhaps may feel a bit uncomfortable with my Christian references and scripture references here or at other times, I can't apologise for that. It says in Romans 1:16: 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.' It says in 2 Timothy 1:17: 'I am not ashamed for I know what I believe and in whom and I am convinced that He is able to protect what I have entrusted to Him until that day.' In that vein, let me quote one last scripture in this place as an encouragement to all who continue to serve. 2 Thessalonians 2:16 says: 'Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God and our father, who has loved and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and deed.'

Thank you all those who join me here today or are listening elsewhere for your kind attention. As always, up, up Cronulla!


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