Thursday, 20 September 2007
Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 6) Bill 2007
Debate resumed from 13 September, on motion by Mr Costello:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I rise in this chamber, for the 1,932nd and last time, to speak on the R2883Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 6) Bill 2007, thanking our shadow minister for allowing me the 30 minute slot on it. I trust, Mr Speaker, that you are going to be liberal with standing orders on this bill today, because I am going to offend mightily over the course of the next 30 minutes. On the way in Simon Crean regaled me with a story about his dad. When he was asked how he felt when he made his last speech in the chamber, he said that he felt nowhere near as good as when he made his first. I can say amen to that! He got that absolutely right.
I want to start today at the opposite end to which most people do valedictories, and that is with my family. I want to thank my wife, Suzie, who is the love of my life and without whom I would not have been in politics for the last 17 years. She has been the support for me and she has been everything to me. I know I could not have gone on without her. For me and for many others it has been a very difficult time in politics. I owe her everything.
I want to thank my daughters, Jessica, Hannah and Rachel, for their tolerance over the years and their support to me. I also want to thank Phil and Andrew, the husbands of my two eldest daughters. I am particularly grateful that Phil and Jessica have provided me with two wonderful grandchildren, Tom and Jacob. I also want to thank my mum and dad. Dad is not in the best of health now but he was always a source of inspiration to me in going into politics.
Families do it hard in politics. I will retell one story about my tough youngest daughter. A couple of years ago she picked up the regular front page headline I got from the Australian, which was ‘Beazley indecent’. I rang Suzie and I said, ‘This is a special, Suz. Keep her home. Don’t send her to school with this one. This is too much of a temptation for the rest of the kids to give her a going over.’ She said ‘okay’ and she had a consultation with Rachel. Rachel said: ‘Oh, no, they’ll think they are idiots. Don’t worry.’ So off she went to school. When she came back at the end of the day, Suz asked her how she got on. She said: ‘Oh, it was all right. The kids all agreed with me that it was the view of idiots.’ Suz asked her how she went with the teachers. She said: ‘I did not go anywhere near the teachers, mum. At my school they are big on counselling. I didn’t want to be counselled.’ Having said that, our families really do it hard. We do not give them enough credit. The truth is that if we are all honest in this place—whether we are on the Liberal or Labor side of politics or with the National Party, or whether we are Independents, for that matter—the hard secret of our lives is that our families come second.
There is another secret too and that is that our Australian family is broader than our own. We live in a set of circumstances where our families have to share us with a broader family. We come to love the children of other people’s families and we also come to have concerns about their elderly parents.
One of the great things about politics is that it extracts you from your natural selfishness; you cannot help it. Even the most selfish human being going into politics will, over time, gradually understand the enormous responsibilities that are laid on his or her shoulders to be the father and mother of the whole nation. When you are in office it is a wonderful thing to be able to implement that. It is a thing to conjure with, a terrific way to spend your life, even if it is, for somebody like my father, only for a very short period of time. For him, it was three years in a 32-year career in politics, but for me it was quite a long time—13 years in a 27-year career.
I want to thank my staff too. I cannot actually name them all. The list I have here contains about two-thirds of their names. They will be at a function for me later this evening. It would be invidious of me to even attempt to start mentioning all of them by name, but there are three here—Karen, Denise and Helen—who have been with me for a very, very long period of time in my life as a minister, as the Leader of the Opposition and as a backbencher, and they deserve a special mention. I would also like to mention Michael Costello. Though we regularly do not see eye to eye on many things, nevertheless he gave up an enormously lucrative job. He is a great public servant to come to work for me. He has, of course, gone back to public service with the ACT. But he has made an extraordinary contribution to national life, as have many of my staff. Some of them are now senior people in the Department of Defence and some of them have been senior people in the Department of Defence. One is the Ambassador to China, and one has been the head of our trade missions in Japan and Korea. I have had some of the most able public servants of the Commonwealth working for me, and I have had some men and women who are really part of the great engine room of politics—the humble people who really serve and drive our political life. They push the paper and the ideas up to us and they make sure that we are there to do the things we ought to do in the national interests. We owe them everything, and the country owes them an awful lot. In the end, they do not do it for us as individuals; usually, almost invariably, they do it because they have deep ideological political commitments. I am sure that is the case on the Liberal side of politics, and I know that it is the case on ours. That is why we have to treasure our staff: they are more than just our staff; they are the people who give our parties life and make our parties worthwhile.
While I am on the subject of the party, I thank the Australian Labor Party. It was a strange beast when I joined it, I have to tell you. I see Bob McMullan over there. Having Bob in the House is a pity, because I would love to get into a few lies about what the Labor Party was like when I joined it, but he is a corrective on those things. He knows where my bodies are buried and I know where his are buried. That means we hold each other in terrorem. I am terrified enough to exit this place knowing that he could reply to anything I had to say, so I will leave that to one side. But I am giving a valedictory for Joe Berenson on Sunday night and he will not be there. He will know what that means.
Our political parties are the things that sustain us. I went through some of the most titanic struggles in the Labor Party in the 1960s when we changed our character. There was a fundamental issue in the Labor Party, which was this: are we a party whose basic ideology is committed to the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange or are we a party where our fundamental ideology is equality of opportunity? That was a massive debate in the Labor Party in the 1960s. It underpinned everything else and was manifest in lots of other areas: debates over state aid to private schools, debates over how to extract ourselves from the Vietnam War and debates over the priorities we would assign issues such as poverty versus things like the control ownership of various aspects of Australian industry. Those debates were all euphemisms around that central theme and so were the debates around the structure of our party.
I can remember my first conversation with Bob Hawke—he cannot remember this but I can. I was, by accident, a delegate to the national executive of the Labor Party. I was 22 years old at the time and the intervention in Victoria had been completed and it had just started on New South Wales. The numbers had switched and I had switched the numbers back. I got a call from Bob and he said, ‘Ah, young fella, if you don’t want your political career brutalised, you’ll watch to see what Ray Gietzelt does and you’ll vote with Ray every time he puts his hand up.’ I voted against Ray every time he put his hand up! That was the only meeting of the national executive of the Labor Party that I attended for a very long period of time.
It was also the executive meeting which received an invitation from Chou En-lai to visit China. It was interesting to see the issue conjured between Rex Patterson, who was our spokesman on matters related to wheat at the time, and Gough Whitlam. Gough was not anxious to go. He was genuinely of two minds, because he had seen how these issues were manipulated politically and was aware of how, at the last minute, the 1969 election had been snatched away. He was worried that perhaps we might push the barrow out just a little too far if he went to China at that point in time. But he was convinced. Mick Young was absolutely adamant that this should be done. Billy McMahon thought he had Gough trapped when Gough came out of China, and he made his very ill-advised statements on exactly the same day as it was released that Henry Kissinger was in China also and that President Nixon was about to visit. That set of factors probably destroyed the Liberal Party in 1972 more than any other.
I had not intended talking about that. It was to be about the party and how important the party is to us. The thing I will miss most, having lost the leadership of the party and in leaving it, is the opportunity to get around the place. I do like branch meetings. I do like those occasions when you get in behind candidates, when you sit there and hear one conspiracy theory after another to deflect this or that and when you get one great suggestion after another about what will be decisive that will win the election, and then, when you go back, having not won the election, being informed by the person, ‘If you’d taken some notice of me, comrade, we would have been in office.’ I love that remonstrance of the average party member; it is terrific. It is also something that I know my current leader will never experience, because I am sure he will go around the party after the next election to utter adulation. He will not experience the vicissitudes and horrors of what your party members do to you when they think you have failed them.
I also want to thank the trade union movement. I originally started off in politics, getting a place on the state executive of the Labor Party, by digging graves. That entitled me to a card membership of the Municipal Workers Union, and I then represented them on the state executive of the Labor Party. On this basis, I am classified by the Liberal Party these days as a trade unionist. I am not sure the average trade unionist would necessarily accept that this was a sufficient qualification on my part to indicate a long-term commitment to the industrial movement; nevertheless, so be it. Many others on our front bench have experienced that from time to time too.
We were a party that was an outgrowth of the trade union movement, a determination on its part that it would participate effectively in democratic politics. It is no accident that the union movement is now being abused up hill and down dale by employers in the advertising you see on your television every night and that it is being abused up hill and down dale by our political opponents in this place. Understand this: when you wish to assault democracy, first you attack the unions; when you wish to restore democracy, first you start with the unions. It is no accident that the opposition in Zimbabwe now is led by the unions. It is no accident that they are the heart and soul of what gives force and power to the democratic movement in Zimbabwe.
I recollect when I first came into this place that the walls in Eastern Europe were cracking. The Soviet empire was falling apart. What was the first indication that the Soviet empire was falling apart? Solidarity. I had a lot of Polish electors in my then constituency of Swan, and they were fascinated by what was happening with Solidarity. We held rallies, sent petitions to the Soviet embassy and the like, but what was absolutely clear was that it was a challenge that the Soviet Union could not handle. A challenge of free unions was something that a dictatorial Communist Party could not handle. That was the key to establishing democracy throughout Eastern Europe. If you undermine unions, if you undermine democracy in the workplace, then you will undermine democracy in the nation overall. First destroy the unions; then you destroy democracy.
The unions have done something else for this country. When I was a minister in the best years of my political life, they were tough times and I will talk a bit more about them later. The Prime Minister in this place quite frequently talks about the real wage growth since this government has been in office—and it is true. The statistics he gives out here are true, but they are not the story. The story is this: when manufacturing industry in this country collapsed in the early 1980s after years of sclerotic protection, when it could not be sustained even with that sclerotic protection, the union movement in this country took a deliberate decision to lift the profit share. There are union leaders in this House who were active proponents of that decision, and it cost them personally dearly when they took that decision. They lifted the profit share of the employers in order to be able to see a regeneration of the Australian economy. They got a return, of course, and that was what was called the social wage. It included things like Medicare, what we did with education and the like. It also included things on tax.
I notice there has been a little bit of discussion on tax lately. When we came into office, the top tax rate was 60c in the dollar and we cut it to 47c in the dollar, and the bottom tax rate was 30c in the dollar and we cut it to 20c in the dollar. Despite the fact that GST has been introduced, which should have foreshadowed substantial changes in the tax rates, there has been no equivalent cut in the marginal rate by this government since it has been in office. Those were very substantial tax cuts indeed by that government of the day as part of the social wage associated with a deal that was done with the union movement to ensure that Australian industry recovered.
And it is annoying now to see those ads and to see the way in which the employing class in this country has dealt with the union movement in the aftermath of this government’s election to office—to see that that decision on its part, taken to support a return to profitability, has been so comprehensively betrayed when the union movement itself has been prepared to only contemplate wage rises collectively on the basis of productivity changes. That was what it was invited to do by employers and others back in the 1980s and that is where the union movement still is, despite the fact that there have been extraordinary changes in the situation regarding the remuneration of those who own and organise capital and those who work as operatives.
I have the American figures. In 1972 the average CEO earned 30 times that of the average operative. In 1997 it had risen to 116 times that earned by the average operative, and last year it was 300 times that earned by the average operative. The same sorts of statistics would apply here. When you see those ads and you understand the meaning behind them of what happens to somebody these days on an AWA and then you watch failing executives walk away with multimillion dollar payouts, fair dinkum, Mr Speaker, there are things that are still not right in this country and part of the process of putting them right is the trade union movement.
I have been very fortunate to have led the Labor Party, but I have to say that the times of my leadership of the Labor Party have not been the Labor Party’s best years. The Labor Party’s best years in my lifetime were, of course, at the time of the Hawke and Keating governments. I have been trained to do two things in my life. One has been to be a politician. The people around me here and those who came before me trained me to be a politician. We train each other. People in the gallery train us to be politicians and the people in our branches train us to be politicians. The Liberal Party train us to be politicians and we train them. It is a mutual school, a university of hard knocks between all those people who are engaged in the political process. We are all trained, and it is a through-life training process that we engage in here. That is one of the things I have been trained for.
The other thing I have been trained to be is a historian. One of the things that historians do is to impose false order on chaos. History, of course, is written backwards and it is lived forwards. In order to impose false order on chaos, you need dates. If—and I only say if because there is no doubt at all that this next election could go either way—this next election produces a change of government, it will be a boon to historians because it will provide exactly the sort of comparative years that they love to have: 11 years of Howard-Costello, 13 years of Hawke-Keating. It is what they love. That is an incentive for the Liberal Party to try and win this election, because if that is the comparison it will be bad news for the Liberal Party. One governed in adversity; the other governed in serendipity.
When Labor came into office, we had 11 per cent unemployment and we had 11 per cent inflation. I have already talked about what was happening in the manufacturing industry. The 90-day bill rate had risen to its highest ever: 22 per cent. We hear interest rate nonsense from the Liberal Party from time to time but we remember the bill rate. The 90-day bill rate was at the time the highest it had ever been, and the budget deficit was five per cent of GDP. This was in a period where we had gone into negative growth. That was what Hawke and Keating inherited; it is what they had to deal with.
When Keating was talking about a banana republic, he was not talking about a couple of years worth of Hawke’s administration. He was talking about what Australia had managed to become over the course of the previous three decades. That is what Keating was talking about. He was talking about it because our current account deficit was six per cent of GDP. It is still six per cent of GDP, but something has changed and that is called the terms of trade. The terms of trade have changed.
I heard Mr Costello, the Treasurer, last week talking about us getting a tick from the IMF. Let me tell you a thing or two about the IMF. If Mr Costello had had Paul Keating’s terms of trade—that is, the prices that people are prepared to pay for our principal exports, in this case our energy and minerals; the prices then were not the responsibility of Mr Keating, as the prices now are not that of Mr Costello—our current account deficit, at this moment, would be 13 per cent of GDP. We would know the IMF all right: the IMF would be running the Australian Treasury, not Mr Costello, if our current account deficit were 13 per cent of GDP. It is why the Labor Party over here rants and raves about the subject of productivity and the question of trying to generate performance in value-added industries and value-added services, on the simple grounds that we do not trust that, for years to come, we will still get out of our mineral exports and our energy exports what we need in order to survive as a nation. If we do not get that, then of course we will go down hill very rapidly indeed. That is why we obsess about skills; that is why we obsess about spending on investments. That is why Hawke and Keating did. We are no different, really. We are of a different era and there are slightly different issues, but the themes are the same, as are the views that we hold. That is how you govern in adversity. But if you have serendipity, and if Saul Eslake is right—I do not know if he is or if he is not—between 2002 and 2011 what this mineral boom has meant to the bottom line of the Australian budget is $400 billion.
I used to be a finance minister of this country. If I had thought that I would have $400 billion coming into the bottom line over a decade, wouldn’t that have made life useful! I would not have had to beat up so vigorously on my colleague here, Carmen Lawrence, as I used to in those days, or on any of the others, to whom I apologise. I apologise to my colleagues for my behaviour in that period of time. Fortunately, it was done in private and nobody knows what a bad person I was—and she has forgiven me. If you had had that money, life would have been so easy. We used to argue at the ERC about the odd hundred thousand dollars. This Prime Minister walks out and yet another hundred million dollars is blown here and $2 billion on Liberal advertising is blown there. They do what they like, but it is done with $400 billion earned by West Australian and Queensland miners. That goes into the bottom line of the budget here, which allows them to take extraordinary decisions.
I was on the Expenditure Review Committee for part of the time that we were in office and I was a finance minister too, but the portfolio I loved was the defence portfolio because that was the reason that I came into politics. I was influenced into politics by the Vietnam War. We had to be able to do things better than that. We had to be able to stand up for ourselves, to think through our commitments and to get the right balance in our relationship with the United States to ensure that we had the say over the way in which things were done in the western interest in our region and that errors were not committed in a way that posed long-term threats to Australian security. So I went into politics basically to become defence minister, which is another reason why I say my wife has been critical in keeping me here for the last 17 years, because I finished that in about 1990. You might well ask, ‘What the hell have you been doing here for the last 17 years?’ Indeed, sometimes I ask myself that; I certainly know that a lot of my colleagues do! The point then was to have the opportunity to make changes.
I thank my colleagues at the time and I thank those I associated with in the defence forces. The people who join our armed services are wonderful people. They are people of great honour, people of great ingenuity and great courage. It is a privilege to be their leader, which is what you are when you are the defence minister of this country.
There are things that I am proud of. When I came into office as defence minister, 70 per cent of our equipment budget was spent overseas and 30 per cent was spent domestically. When I left, those proportions had been reversed.
In the Gulf War, if we did nothing for the United States in Iraq—no SAS, no ships, nothing—what is done by the joint facility at Pine Gap, on behalf of the United States, would be worth more to them in that conflict than what has been done in any other conflict by our troops on the ground, as critical or as useful as those contributions are from time to time. It is an essential facility.
There is no equivalent facility of the United States anywhere else on earth that has the level of national participation that we have. It is a product of the negotiation that we put in place at the time, as we were determined that Labor Party policy—that we would have full knowledge and consent of what happened there—would be properly upheld. So that was important to us, and those changes were significant. Getting the direction right and the right equipment associated with the right strategies is essential.
I do not have terribly many complaints in politics—just one: the blackguarding of the Collins class submarine, which is the most complex industrial artefact this nation has ever produced. We cannot crew it now because of the blackguarding it has got; yet it, apart from the SAS, is the only part of our force structure the US actually needs. It fills a hole in the US force structure that would not be filled if we did not have it, so it is absolutely critical. I know the sailors in those submarines—because they are my constituents—feel terrible about the way that they have been blackguarded, even though they have the best conventional submarine in the world and they know that it regularly in exercises sinks American carriers.
There were some problems with the submarine as you would expect—teething problems. This is a question of patriotism. When I became defence minister I understood this and I learned it soon, and it was a temptation to belt the Liberal Party to blazes with it. The radar of our Hornet could not identify most of the aircraft in this region as hostile—in other words, our front-line fighter could not shoot down people who would be the enemies in this region. Wasn’t that a wonderful opportunity for the Labor Party to finally lay to rest the ghost of Liberal Party claims to be the people who are best at managing the affairs of the defence of this nation? I shut up; I said nothing.
I went to the United States and, for five years, it was up hill, down dale and one knock-down drag-out after another with Cap Weinberger, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. I tried to get the codes of that blasted radar out of them. In the end, we spied on them and we extracted the codes ourselves—and we now share another radar that can actually identify them; otherwise, I would not be talking about it now. We got a radar that was capable of doing the shoot-down and the rest of what we wanted. I see there is an agreement signed by the Minister for Defence—mate, I will believe it when I see it! I will believe it when I see it from that particular agreement that you have signed with them. That is not to say that I do not love the Americans and think that they are our most important ally, but they are a bunch of people you have got to have a fight with every now and then to get what you need out of them.
I have had a terrific time here. I have been so grateful for my colleagues. The last people I ought to thank here are my caucus colleagues but, before I do, I will thank the Public Service, although I have done that by implication in many of the things I have had to say. They are a much put upon and much traduced group, but they have served this country well. Finally, my caucus colleagues—they are my family. I spent more time with them when I was a minister and the leader than I did with my own family. They have got all the eccentricities of a family: they are lovely people to be with; they are kind; they are compassionate; they love each other enormously; they treat each other unbelievably well; they engage in no smears; and they are the best of colleagues and the best of friends—as Gough Whitlam said of his colleagues when he campaigned back in 1972.
For 27 years, this House for me has been the battlefield, parade ground and mess hall of national politics. I am proud to have served with some of the great foot soldiers of our political lives, including my dear friend Mick Young. A good many have marched out of this building and some out of this world and into the annals of history. Others have taken their place and many more will take their place soon.
A new parliament will gather here with a new mandate. I hope those who have been sitting on this side these last few years will have conquered new territory. For me this tour of duty is almost done. It is time to hang up these boots, but I am not yet ready to hand in my uniform. My passion to serve this nation burns stronger than before, whatever opportunities might arise. I love this country and I believe in its future. I will look for new fields of endeavour and new battles to join in the years to come. There is so much ground for our nation to cover, some territory to win back and so much to do if Australia is to become the nation it can be.
I wish to thank the previous speaker for his speech, not necessarily for the way in which he dealt with history but for his contribution to Australia. I believe history will treat him kindly because, as a Leader of the Opposition, he has made a magnificent contribution to Australia by his personal attitudes and values. I trust the current Leader of the Opposition will continue to make the same contribution in the next parliament.
On 18 May 1974, the electors of Mitchell returned a Liberal for the first time for many years. At that time there were high interest rates, people were having difficulty paying their mortgages and there was stress on families. The Australian Labor Party had established a pattern which was to continue for the next 18 months of government: high interest rates and pressure on families. It is amazing how successive Labor parties have the same impact on the community and on Australian families—the impact of high interest rates. It was replicated by the Hawke-Keating government. Part of the problem is that there is a failure to really understand the workplace, business and families, so the intellectual input to the Australian Labor Party is so narrow that they have difficulty in maintaining close contact and a sense of realism with the world.
I was delighted to make my maiden speech shortly after my arrival, as all members do. As a boy who was basically off the farm but who was also involved in a number of industry organisations and familiar with politicians, I found that I was warmly received by my colleagues, to the extent that Kevin Cairns, who was then the member for Lilley, came to me after the speech, congratulated me and said that he did not know the reason but that one of the journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald was intensely interested in my speech and would like to interview me. I asked where I could find this man. He said: ‘If you go up to the press gallery’—this was in the old House—‘which is way up the back there somewhere, I am sure you will find him; he is anxious to interview you.’ I struggled to find my way through the labyrinth of the Old Parliament House and found the journalist that Kevin had referred me to. When I approached him he said, ‘Who are you?’ I explained why I thought he wanted to see me, and he said, ‘No, somebody has been pulling your leg; go back and learn your job.’ That was my introduction to the Liberal Party and my colleagues in this place.
It is an absolute privilege to serve in this parliament. Before coming here, when listening to the radio and to the speeches people made, I formed an opinion of their ability. I often formed a poor opinion based on their capacity to express themselves. But when I arrived here I found that even those who expressed themselves poorly in this place had a great ability and a unique individual capacity to make a contribution to the nation. Nobody in this parliament gets here if they are half-baked, nobody gets here if they do not have a contribution to make and nobody gets here unless they are worth listening to—in any seat in the Australian parliament.
My first lesson was to learn respect for the opinions of my colleagues. We all learn discipline and hard work and we learn to manage our personal affairs, our families and our interests outside this place—and they need to take second place. How you do that if you are a family person can be quite difficult. I remember trying to administer discipline by telephone to three teenage boys, which finished upon my arrival back on a Thursday night or, more often in those days, Friday morning because we used to sit late and I could not get back to Sydney. I would get back on Friday morning and Judy would present me with a long list of the discipline that needed to be administered to our three boys. The impact on them was, ‘Dad’s home; dive for cover.’ That was not very healthy. It started to build tensions in our family and I had to take strong steps to overcome it. So we built a boat. We bought a little sailing boat kit and spent the Christmas holidays talking to each other and building something we had never done before. When we launched this craft and it floated, the boys talked with some of the onlookers—there were a few spectators watching our efforts—and they asked, ‘Where did you learn to sail?’ The boys proudly replied, ‘Dad’s learnt it out of a book.’ But we did sail and we entered state competitions and things like that. That started to build links between family members, and they have been maintained. But it can be a very dangerous time.
The variety of backgrounds of members who come to this place lends it colour. It is unfortunate that, as I have observed over the years, there has been a narrowing of occupations, particularly on the opposition benches. I say to my colleagues and coalition benchers: if we narrow the pool of human resources coming to this place as elected members we will suffer for it, because every person, no matter what their background or the variety of their experience, brings some part of Australia with them. To have that wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon makes for a very important contribution. The grey experience of life working for a member of parliament or in the union movement, or perhaps even in an industrial organisation, is far from real life and contributions can be limited by that. I will continue at all times to encourage people with a wide range of interests to become involved in politics and to make a contribution. There are many ways they can do that. We need to be experts in Australia, not in a particular issue. We need to know about Australia and Australians. That is where we need to excel. We need to know their aspirations and the way they think and feel and we need to inform ourselves in detail on particular aspects of life.
In my early days here, the two people that I dealt with most were two wonderful men: Sir Robert Cotton and Sir John Carrick. They were wonderful mentors, great senators and great Australians. One was a prisoner of war from Changi; the other was a pilot and well-known war hero. They were just so helpful to new arrivals. They set so much of the attitudes that we need to remember in the Liberal Party, particularly in New South Wales. Eight years of learning in government followed 18 months of opposition. Those eight years of learning involved me having contact with people in the Prime Minister’s department like Alexander Downer, Petro Georgiou and Alan Jones, who all worked there. We spent time together and endeavoured to take that government into perhaps a more adventurous and bold period of expression than we were able to achieve. It was a formative time. That was followed by 13 years of painful, debilitating opposition. Stop laughing, Laurie! Laurie Ferguson enjoyed a period of government whereas we on the opposition benches really found that at times people just despaired of us. Then we did things that were unbelievable, like losing the absolutely winnable election, and people paid us out for losing opportunities. I remember the wonderful contributions made by federal directors of the Liberal Party—Tony Eggleton, Andrew Robb, Linton Crosby, Brian Loughnane and many others. They have been wonderful servants of the party—a great support with great knowledge and wisdom.
The policy work that went on in opposition was really significant. I found that particularly challenging but also stimulating. Of course, in so much of the policy development, John Howard led the way. But there are others here—Bronwyn is one—and not here. John Hewson played a part, as did Alexander Downer, Chris Miles and Tim Fischer. They all played a wonderful part in developing the ideas that are now being put into place for this current government. That period of rigorous discussion and refinement was an absolutely essential part of becoming a successful government. We are blessed as a nation with certainly the best Prime Minister Australia has seen and an excellent team of support, each individual worthy of the position they hold. This is a period that needs, for the sake of Australia, to continue, and we must make sure that it does.
In government, my job was first as Chief Government Whip. I tried to be a hard whip—and I think I was—because I knew that, if we were going to sit a long period in government, we had to be really disciplined. We could not have slack ideas at the start, because it is really hard to bring in more rigour, to regenerate and to focus into a disciplined future, after you have had a slack period. I see my friend and colleague Stewart McArthur smiling, because he has shared so much of it with me. Perhaps at times people thought of me as a tyrant and as unnecessarily picky about things, but I meant to do that and I have never apologised for it, because I thought it was for the benefit of our team. We needed to sow, at that time, attitudes and commitments that we would carry forward for many years. I am thankful that we have basically been able to do that.
There were great fighters and campaigners in that first parliament. It was the largest number of people any government had ever had in its ranks, and that took some management because there were people like Gary Hardgrave. When I was trying to find him at one stage, I phoned him. He had not had his poll declared at that point but he was down here in Parliament House trying to find his office. None of it had been set; nothing had been decided by the Speaker—we did not even have a Speaker. We did not have any way of finding out who was going to have what office, but Hardgrave was down here. He was so confident of winning that election that he was down here looking around for his office. That is what they have all been like: a really challenging and exciting group of people to be with.
Looking around the world, I see that MPs in Australia are far more accountable to the public than MPs anywhere else are. If you look at the UK or the USA, they do not have to front their constituents as frequently as we do ours. They do not have to be accountable face to face, day to day. They do at branch meetings, for sure, but there is also the general public. Our colleagues in other countries seem to be able to escape that accountability to a greater degree than we can, and I think that makes us a unique group of people. It makes the discussion and the debate more fruity, more genuine and closer to the needs of people.
During the period in government, it was great to work with Peter Reith, to develop franchise legislation and to work on the issue of unconscionable conduct in the Trade Practices Act, always looking for things that are important for small business. More time for business was a report that we tried to use as the basis for cutting the paperwork in small business. I think the more we cut it, the more Treasury seemed to load in at the other end at times, but I am not quite sure. I never did a count, but I had a feeling that Treasury were working on the other end of things at times. It made points of discussion between Peter Reith’s office and the Treasurer’s office.
I have been involved in parliamentary reports that I think have been important. There was the stem cells report. Even though Kevin Andrews and some Labor Party members were reluctant to get into that, I felt a national framework was necessary, otherwise we would have states all over Australia doing all sorts of different things. Rather than becoming involved in the detail of research, setting a framework was an important thing for us to do as a parliament. I was disappointed that my side of the argument was lost, of course, but we have a national framework. That is more significant, perhaps, than having no framework at all.
I was involved in inquiries on the Family Law Act and in the two inquiries on drugs. Family tax is an issue that I think we still need to deal with, I have to say. The policeman and the hairdresser are among the groups in our society who, with children, start to feel the pressure of home and work. In many families, that is the flashpoint of disagreement, argument and perhaps separation at times, because it is so hard to be paying off a house and managing family affairs if you have an inflexible workplace, if you cannot manage child care and if you have no relatives.
I represent one of the fastest growing parts of Australia. People are desperate to pay off their very expensive homes, one-third of the cost of which is due to state taxes rather than the cost of the land or the building itself. I think that is absolutely abysmal. It is deplorable that state governments should be so avaricious toward young people and young families in that way.
To be able to deal with the arrangements people make in their homes I think we need to look at the family tax situation, taking into account the cost of child care and the sort of child care people may choose. My view is that we ought to trust families to make the best choice that suits them and, in fact, back families rather than backing childcare centres. So instead of doing what we have done with schools funding—we tend to back institutions rather than individuals—I think that in child care we can go closer to the family and, for those children under the age of five, support families to make the best decisions for the child care they need.
In the press gallery there are many people who may have one or two days formal child care but then depend on relatives or close friends for the rest of the week. It is very expensive to pay for formal child care. The going rate some months ago was $53 a day. It is more than that now. In capital cities it is massively more than that. People cannot afford to pay that and expect to gain any benefit from working except for the pleasure of turning up every day, in many instances. Sometimes maintaining your skills is impossible except by working full time. But there should be some remuneration as well.
I have enjoyed the Australian political exchange program. I have been a member of the Australian Political Exchange Committee right from the beginning. To have a program whereby young people in politics and with a future in their party exchange with people from other countries to get to know the politicians in those other countries has been, I think, very constructive and useful over the 25 years that it has been running. Sir Robert Cotton started this process when he was Ambassador to the United States, and it has continued since. It has been a real pleasure for me to get agreements signed, firstly, with Japan and then Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Korea. We are looking to add India. India is a growth area. As working politicians, we need to relate to Indian politicians. We need to understand their system. We need to be able to pick up the phone and talk to significant people in India, as we can do with people in the US and in other parts of the world whom we have relationships with. But we do not have that with India yet.
I am also very thankful to the Housing Industry Association for my involvement in the Sir Phillip Lynch Award for Excellence. This award is given every year to the most excellent builder or person involved in the housing industry. That has been wonderful, and I thank Dr Ron Silberberg.
I think the challenges of the future are these. The clashes in this place are really between those people who think that the marketplace may solve the problems and those people who think that it needs to have some rules. It is a value-free versus value sort of scenario. This relates to issues such as drugs, film and television, and family law. These things can tear us apart when we have to make conscience decisions about them and try to work out what is best. I know they are difficult, but those are the challenges.
The clash between capital and labour is no longer significant because everybody works now. There is no person in Australia who does not work. There is a clash of values when it comes to issues such as: let us not decriminalise, but let us have detox instead; let us not say that the kids are okay, but let us say we care about kids. I think we should look after those things in that way, because it is the children who are most affected by these philosophies.
The life issues of euthanasia, stem cell research and late-term abortion are all issues that are very critical for this parliament to look into. I find the matter of Islam extremely challenging. We need to build the bonds across the parliament to deal with these issues. Bonds occur informally, but we need to know each other well enough to form the links that are necessary from time to time to get good results on these issues for the nation. The built and the natural environment is another issue that concerns me.
I must conclude by thanking my family, without whom I would not be in this place. All my options are open at the moment. I am looking forward to the future; but, more than anything else, I am looking forward to the safe return to this place of a Howard government.
Mr Speaker, if I may take a few seconds more, I want to thank the officers of the parliament who help us every day. Every one of them is courteous and helpful. I also want to thank my staff—many of them are listening. They have been wonderful, and without them we could not do our work.
Debate (on motion by Ms King) adjourned.