Thursday, 24 June 2010
Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010
Debate resumed from 23 June, on motion by Mr Burke:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I advise the House that it has been agreed that no points of order be taken during the contribution of the honourable member for McEwen to the debate on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010.
It is 20 years since I first entered this chamber as the member for McEwen. In doing so, I became the first woman to represent a rural electorate in the House of Representatives and the first Victorian Liberal woman to win a seat in this chamber. During these 20 years, I have had constant and unconditional support from my two daughters, Amanda and Abby. Amanda is here in the chamber today. She has always described herself as the non-political member of the family, but she has frequently in her own forthright manner been able to tell me if we as a party were connecting with the public on various issues. Abby is watching this broadcast on her computer in Brussels at 3 am, and although she has worked outside Australia for the past seven years she has always been up to date and on the mark with Australian political life. They are wonderful, intelligent, articulate, forthright, loving and caring young women—and I am not at all biased! I thank them for their support and understanding of a mum who was often late for school or social functions. They always had to buy the cakes I was supposed to make for the cake stalls!
Twenty years ago, with a slender margin and as the shadow minister for consumer affairs and secretary of Fightback with responsibility for selling the first version of the GST, I became known as ‘Mrs GST’. I was an easy target for negative campaigning and lost my seat in 1993 by a few hundred votes. While I felt at the time that this was my political baptism by fire, it actually taught me valuable lessons, the most important of which was to stand up for what I believe in but at the same time to ensure that the people whose support I am asking for through their vote clearly understand a policy and its impact at both the local and national levels.
It was a difficult decision to stand again and attempt to win back McEwen three years later. I acknowledge the late Worrall Jones, my first electorate chairman, for encouraging me to stand again. History records that I did win my seat in 1996 and have won it at every election since, albeit with very slim margins. Each election has been a real challenge because of the huge outer urban population growth with demographics unfavourable to my side of politics. However, the last election made political history with a recount and a High Count challenge that resulted in my increasing my margin to 31 votes out of 106,000.
From the 1996 election to the present day I have had the good fortune to have the same team as my federal electorate council. To express my appreciation of Peter McWilliam, my chairman and campaign manager for the past five elections, the word ‘thankyou’ is totally inadequate. Peter and his wife, Kerrie, have become firm family friends and are here in the chamber today, along with Barb and Craig Jones. Barb has managed polling booth rosters with over 800 volunteers and, at one election, managed 106 polling booths. My heartfelt thanks go also to Chris Thomas, John Lithgow, Heather Tivendale and the other members of our McEwen campaign team.
I have always described working in McEwen as like being on a high wire without a safety net, but the reality is that my branch members, the Liberal women’s groups and the Liberal Party membership at large have provided me with a safety net, and I thank them all. I still vividly remember the first time I entered this chamber. I was nervous, excited and almost overwhelmed by the soaring dimensions of the chamber. I was aware of the great parliamentarians who had occupied these benches, but I had a keen sense of responsibility to all those in my electorate who had sent me here. I have always tried to do my best for the people of McEwen, and I have loved every minute of having had the privilege of representing them.
Chairing the Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services was very rewarding, and I experienced how a group of politicians from both sides, with diverse expertise, could work together to produce recommendations covering issues ranging from biosecurity to fisheries management to trade, and I thank Dick Adams, the member for Lyons, who was deputy chair, not just for his spirit of cooperation but also for his culinary expertise at the completion of an inquiry. Like so many members, I would like to see the work of committees taken more seriously by government. I am aware that the Deputy Speaker is seeking to achieve greater recognition and better responses by government, and I wish her well.
My parliamentary career has largely been spent as a member of government, the majority of which was as a member of the executive of that government—a rare opportunity for a marginal seat holder. My time as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and as the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence was hugely rewarding. My responsibilities included defence estate, corporate services, infrastructure and personnel. And I had the privilege of working with both General Peter Cosgrove and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. I am particularly proud of being able to vastly improve the living conditions for defence families and single personnel and commend the work of the Defence Housing Authority. Running the defence cadets and establishing the first Indigenous defence cadets in both the Tiwi Islands and Wadeye was very challenging but also very rewarding.
I used to joke with people who asked me what I did in the defence portfolio that if I described what I did I would then have to shoot them. However, commercial and strategic sensitivities meant that I could say very little. But what I have always had is the ability to tell any and every audience that I had the greatest privilege to serve in this area of responsibility because I saw firsthand the extraordinary sacrifice, level of training and commitment of men and women who were prepared to put their hands up and wear the uniforms of our Defence Force in the service of our country. They perform an extraordinary job on our behalf.
I should explain that I did have a prior strong relationship with defence as I have Puckapunyal in my electorate, but that relationship almost floundered initially. As a new MP I was invited to visit Puckapunyal, my first ever visit to a defence base. I was taken on a tour of inspection, and at the time Australia had 42 Leopard tanks and they were all lined up for my inspection with members of the School of Armour in attendance. Naively I asked the brigadier in charge, ‘Why do we need so many tanks in peacetime?’ There was an audible gasp of horror, and I am sure they were thinking, ‘What on earth have we got here?’ However, Brigadier Gordon Jones quietly took me aside and invited me to lunch, where he instructed me—or, as he says, ‘guided my thinking’—about the use of armour. He was very persuasive because within a month I was on my feet in this chamber extolling the virtues of armour in peacetime to anyone who would listen.
I should also come clean to my leader and the member for Mackellar that I am the person who argued the case to move the School of Artillery from that very exclusive piece of real estate with the okay views, known as North Head, to Puckapunyal by portraying Puckapunyal as the Tuscany of the south. But I confess the ability to fire live ammunition was really the determining factor.
I was a member of the Small Business Association of Australia before entering parliament, and a strong advocate for reform for that sector. I was therefore thrilled when Prime Minister John Howard made me the Minister for Small Business and Tourism and enormously proud that we reformed the Trade Practices Act in favour of small business. Other highlights were reducing the compliance burden for small business by over $450 million by both harmonising and eliminating regulations, overhauling the franchise code of conduct, increasing transparency for franchisees and establishing a code of conduct for the smash repair industry, replacing a decade of infighting and disagreement.
I am proud that during my time as the minister for tourism the industry grew to an $87 billion industry, and that very cheeky advertising campaign ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ added $4.2 billion to the industry’s bottom line. While that advertising campaign certainly had its detractors here in Australia, it was designed for the international market and particularly the UK, US and European markets. Industry there loved it, and it was seen as typically Australian: friendly and inviting. There was, however, one negative response overseas, from the British advertising standards board. It controlled TV advertising and decided it would ban our ad. I was dispatched to London by the Prime Minister with instructions to ‘sort it out’. The media frenzy began as soon as I landed at 6 am and did not stop for three days. A certain Blair cabinet minister facing yet another sex scandal was eternally grateful as we pushed him off the front page of major newspapers. My thanks to our high commission staff and to Sir Alastair Goodlad, the former British High Commissioner to Australia, for their assistance.
British people, and no doubt many expat Australians, helped by ringing in to talkback shows and asking how an authority could allow shows like Little Britain to run in prime time but not our ad. Our campaign became the talk of the town, and we certainly could not have afforded to pay for all the free publicity we received. The end result was that the BASB, which had never in its history reversed a decision, did so and decided in our favour—a great result for our tourism industry.
My thanks to all my ministerial staff for being so dedicated to their jobs—never simply agreeing with me but always willing to push me—and to my former chief of staff, Dan Tehan, in particular, who hopefully will join my colleagues as the next member for Wannon.
To be the member for McEwen has been a personally fulfilling experience. The people, the 107 communities, their issues, their achievements and their hopes for the future have always inspired me to work harder. There have been many successes and challenges over the years, but there has been no bigger challenge, with more impact on individuals, than the Black Saturday bushfires that devastated so many of my communities. I would like to share with the House a description of bushfire:
From early morning the fire was accompanied by a hot wind, almost the strength of a hurricane and throughout the day, the surface of the country was exposed to the full power of its withering influence. Bushfires raged across hundreds of miles of country, sweeping along with almost the speed of lightning and destroying almost instantaneously, men, women, children, homes, fences, gardens, crops, animals.
That, however, was not a description of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009 but a description of Black Thursday of 1851, written in the Argus. People said then that such a fire could never happen again. The reality is that bushfire presents the greatest threat of disaster. Since 1851, when the number of deaths resulting from bushfire was first recorded, 815 people Australia wide have died—but, significantly, 561 of those deaths have occurred in Victoria and almost half of those Victorian deaths have occurred in my electorate.
When I spoke in this chamber on 24 February 2009, I nominated key issues that must be addressed if we are to prevent a disaster of the magnitude of Black Saturday, when those 173 people lost their lives, from ever happening again. The key issues I nominated were an efficient and sustained fuel reduction program, an early warning system, safe shelters and the use of early fire detection technology. Sixteen months on, we do not have one of these measures in place. To give credit where it is due, however, both the former Prime Minister and the Attorney-General listened to my presentation of the FireWatch early fire detection technology that I brought back from the German Aerospace Centre and have funded a pilot program that is currently being assessed by the CSIRO. This technology has reduced forest fire in Germany by 93 per cent—but, most importantly, it has saved lives. To install this system in fire risk areas will be expensive, but I say to the future government: consider partnering with the insurance industry to install this technology. It has recently paid out $1.2 billion just on homes that were destroyed in Victoria as a result of Black Saturday.
We have learnt a great deal from our recent experiences in Victoria, and I believe it is imperative that we as a nation learn from them. I strongly believe—after many months of working side by side with people, listening to them, attending meetings, sharing their frustrations and disillusionment, and researching—that the model for recovery that was implemented in Victoria and funded extensively by the Commonwealth is the wrong model. It is based on the command and control model, where decision making is centralised and hierarchical, is part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and has no decision-making power in its own right.
Of course governments at all levels through their agencies play a vital role. In the aftermath of Black Saturday, there were 12 federal government departments involved and they performed magnificently. However, research from around the world shows us that greater emphasis is placed on organised community action and control in determining the nature of the response to the disaster. It is local people who are best placed to coordinate and prioritise activities, use their local knowledge to advise government officials and be actively involved in decision making. All the research I have studied agrees that it is the local communities who provide the sense of continuity—the connection that people need. I have found that people look for and need the social and economic structures that existed before the disaster, and their priority is to regenerate those rather than having to create new ones.
Philip Berke, who is internationally recognised for his work in this area, says:
Effective response to recovery after disaster cannot be achieved through top down, inflexible approaches. Success is based on a process of bottom-up policy and organisational development.
I agree wholeheartedly. Whether the disaster is bushfire, flood or cyclone, there is a need for the Commonwealth as the major source of funding to take a leadership role in ensuring that disaster recovery models are community based, with a board independent of government, to ensure strategic targeting of funding for recovery. I encourage every member of this House to support this proposal. Disaster can occur anywhere with tragic results. The recovery process should never further traumatise affected people.
The past 16 months have been the most challenging ever for my staff and I place on record my thanks and appreciation to them. They have acted with compassion and commitment that has far exceeded any job description. I do have some regrets in leaving the parliament. I regret that in a country as affluent as ours we have not better looked after our disabled fellow Australians and their families, I regret that we do not have a Noel Pearson in this parliament and I regret that governments feel the need to spend vast amounts of money on spinning their message. Imagine the benefits for every Australian if that same funding was invested in medical research. Who in the next parliament will have the courage to cap the amount of funding government spends selling itself? Overwhelmingly, I leave this parliament with a great appreciation of what this parliament achieves and an enormous sense of appreciation for having the privilege of having served as the member for McEwen.
Order! To the member for McEwen: as the member for Scullin, I apologise that within partisan politics I may have caused her some headaches. But she has the solace that they were largely unsuccessful. Beyond partisan politics, I thank her for her cooperation in the fulfilment and pursuit of aspirations of those that we jointly represent in this place in the outer north-east of Melbourne. I wish her all the best for her voluntary retirement. In the preliminaries, before I call the member for Riverina, I understand it is the wish of the House that the member should not be interrupted with points of order.
Who would have ever imagined that an insignificant girl from Guyra could be one of those fewer than 1,000 people to have been elected to the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in over 100 years? On this historic day I am more acutely aware of the significance and the privilege of being an elected member of this House. On this day, 24 June 2010, I am here in this place to witness the entrance of the first female Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. I guess the question now has to be asked: is it the gender of the Prime Minister that is important or is it the quality of the person who is at the helm? Let us not forget that the woman who is now Prime Minister of Australia has been at the table and has exerted extreme influence in support of every decision that has been responsible for the demise of Kevin Rudd. Julia Gillard has supported and championed every single bad decision that has put this country into significant debt. She has strongly supported the introduction of a mining tax and is directly responsible for the $1.7 billion blow-out of the BER; for a wasted $5 billion simply through mismanagement; for a $1.2 billion blow-out of the computers in schools program, still only 300,000 of the 970,000 laptops having been delivered; for promising the 260 childcare centres, delivering only 38 centres and then abolishing the program; and for removing the opportunity for thousands of our regional kids to get access to a tertiary education by changing the rules on youth allowance. So today is indeed a significant day.
I came to this place with a determination to use my voice to ensure that the voice of regional people was heard, particularly those in the electorate of Riverina. It was my choice to not take a seat on the frontbench when it was offered. However, I did feel honoured and I appreciated the fact that I was approached, but I have never regretted my decision. I place on record my appreciation to the voters of the Riverina who have given me the honour and the privilege to have served in this parliament. I am deeply moved to have had such amazing support over the years.
I have been fortunate to have been able to deliver some really good outcomes for the Riverina. I feel that I can justifiably take full credit for the fact that RAAF Base Wagga with 1,000 jobs is now secured and that, rather than close as it was scheduled to do, we were able to expand it. Now all the Defence recruit training commences in Wagga Wagga. I feel very proud of this outcome and I will never forget the day that Prime Minister Howard rang me to tell me that I had been successful in presenting my case and that the base would stay open. I was also successful in securing millions of dollars in health program grant funding for two linacs in the Riverina Cancer Care Centre, which was built entirely through communities raising over $4 million from across the Riverina and has delivered some equity in treatment for cancer sufferers. I am so aware of the significance of having this facility in a regional community, having lost my brother, my father and my mother to this disease.
Charles Sturt University now offer veterinary science, and their remarkable new dental school will see dentists once again returning to practise in regional Australia. I am honoured that the veterinary science and animal hospital has been dedicated with my name.
It is exciting to get hundreds of millions of dollars for projects we have worked hard for, but it is equally exciting to deliver small projects that build and sustain our communities, such as walk-in walk-out medical centres, rural transaction centres and regional communications centres. Our Regional Partnerships program was something to be proud of in the way it delivered local answers to our local communities in the Riverina. Every dollar spent was truly accounted for and never ever questionable.
There have been many issues that have taken an exhaustive commitment. Thus was my five-year, three Assistant Treasurers battle trying to change legislation that would see hundreds of millions of dollars spent on water infrastructure replacement projects rather than going back to the Treasury as income tax for Murrumbidgee Irrigation after the privatisation of water companies in 1999. Winning the Coleambally Irrigation mutuality issue took a little longer still. But, again, we never gave up, and I really do need to thank former Assistant Treasurer Helen Coonan for not just accepting the advice that it could not be done and for listening to us. The Coleambally community are very special to me and I am very proud of my ‘Kay Hull’ bridge on the Sturt Highway over the main canal.
This takes me to our Pratt Water project in the Murrumbidgee. Richard Pratt was a man with vision before his time. Had we listened to and acted on Richard Pratt’s advice on water, then we would not be in the position that we are today—fighting to maintain food security to feed our nation and securing access to water for productive use.
During the years that I spent as part of the coalition government we faced a deluge of challenges. This government may think it has done it tough with the GFC. Well, let me say we on this side of the House know what tough really is! There was a new tax system in the GST, and the Labor Party did all that they could to instil fear into the hearts and minds of all Australians. We had the job of trying to overcome that extreme mischief, and we did it. We had to bear the collapse of HIH that impacted on industry and businesses right across our nation. Then UMP collapsed, leaving all of our medical practitioners without insurance, and our obstetricians left the workforce en masse because of the difficulty getting indemnity. Tony Abbott rose to the challenge at this time and underwrote those medical services when he was the health minister. Labor throughout the entire process were scathing of our government for doing that.
We then had the collapse of Ansett. Minister John Anderson made the courageous decision—with a fair bit of persuasion, might I add—to stake a regional carrier, and from that we have seen Rex emerge and win many awards, including one for the best regional carrier internationally. I am very proud of this significant success and of my dedicated Saab VHTRX in recognition of my fight for Rex. I also need to praise the efforts of QantasLink at that time for the sensational way that they supported regional areas through those difficult times.
We governed through the worst drought in 100 years. That required huge investments in EC and interest rate subsidies over 10 long years. We had to stand by the decision to send our troops to war in Iraq, which was terribly unpopular, and each and every member of the government at that time felt that pain personally. These are just a few of the big issues that one dealt with as a backbencher in government, and it was not easy. However, one of the hardest things I had to bear was the decision by the Howard government, and then later supported by the Labor Party, to sell the remainder of Telstra.
I argued my case strongly that we should structurally separate Telstra and sell off the retail arm, keep the wholesale section and build a state-of-the-art network and then rent it off to all of our competitive carriers. That sounds a bit familiar! It was a significant and disturbing time for me, and I must say that I had to endure quite a lot of hostility. I certainly was not popular in my electorate because my local daily paper had beat up a story that said I had missed a critical party meeting where the decision was made to sell Telstra. This was categorically untrue. I was at a meeting advocating for those with a disability. There was absolutely no notice on the party room agenda that Helen Coonan was going to come to the party room and declare that she was preparing a scope for the sale of Telstra. I was assured afterwards by the attendees at that party meeting that when Senator Coonan announced this in the joint party room there was no debate on it, there were no questions asked on what and when she was doing it and there was no vote on whether or not we should agree to sell Telstra. There was no discussion at all. But that did not stop my local press from running what I believe to have been the most offensive article that I have ever had to endure. If I was ever maligned unfairly and unjustly in my career it was by this one article. In fact, the issue and the legislation did not come back to the party room for discussion for some nine months.
Then came the day of the vote. I will never forget that day of despair. In the sitting weeks leading up to the vote I had to case the parameter of the chamber, as I knew that my crossing the floor would not be simple on that day. I knew that there would be pious amendments thrown in from the Labor Party that were not serious to them, or acceptable to the coalition, and that there could be many divisions. So I had to find a place where I could follow the proceedings but still make it into the House in a one-minute division. So there I was, stepping out the House and timing myself to the chamber and in through the door—and it just simply wasn’t working from anywhere! It was always taking longer than one minute. I bought a stopwatch and I kept walking and clicking the routes. I could not be in my office because it was in R.1.76 and it took much longer than a minute from there. I finally found a solution. I waited in the downstairs library, I watched what was happening in the chamber on the TV, and then I made my dash. Having timed myself over and over, I was willing my legs to carry me even though they felt like jelly. It was a one-minute division and I was coming down that walkway, the guard was holding the door open and mouthing, ‘Hurry, hurry,’ and I was praying, ‘Please don’t shut the door.’ And then I was inside, taking my seat on the opposite side to the party members that I loved and respected. I was in despair, but I knew my actions were right. When I look at what is happening today, I know I am vindicated.
The pain I felt that day has only been surpassed once since, and that was when I sat in this chamber and watched the Rudd Labor government dismantle the single desk on wheat. I watched this House take action that would damage people who were salt-of-the-earth Australians who had done absolutely nothing wrong but been faithful to a company that had been imposed upon them by a former government. They were Australians who faced the most gigantic challenges known to man at times and they overcame them, yet they were sold out here in this House. I could not help but cry tears of despair for them on that day here in this chamber. These battling farmers told us that the Iraqi AWB wheat sales were nothing to do with the single desk on wheat, and they were correct.
I have been given many opportunities in this place. I have had the privilege of meeting the Queen of England; the US President George Bush; the British Prime Minister Tony Blair; and the most spiritual of all men, the Dalai Lama. I have been encouraged to pursue my advocacy on behalf of those I believe to be the most marginalised people in Australia and across the world, and they are people who are living with HIV. I have been supported by this parliament in my four-year appointment to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Advisory Group on HIV-AIDS. Working with people living with HIV is not everyone’s ambition; however, I have found within me a skill that I would like to continue to cultivate. I have been confronted with some of the most shocking experiences and I know that I can make a small difference to the lives of some people living with HIV.
I believe that the work that I have done on committees has assisted people across Australia. The committee that I chaired—the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs—along with my very good friend and very capable deputy chair, Julia Irwin, handed down two very good reports. The report entitled Road to recovery was on substance abuse, andthe members of the committee were faced with overwhelming and confronting issues that were affecting the everyday lives of so many, and I thought I would never have to do anything more difficult. Sadly, that was not the case. We then went on to do the child custody inquiry and handed down the report entitled Every picture tells a story. This report has been mentioned in valedictories in the last few days. It set the standard in committee reports and is widely recognised as one of the best reports to have been delivered in this place. It was an inquiry that left many on the committee feeling that they might never be the same again. We saw the grief, the pain and the trauma of partner separation and the effect that it had on the children of those relationships. Every picture tells a story had 28 recommendations; the Howard government implemented all but one of those recommendations.
I chose to stand down as chair of the family and community affairs committee in order that I could join every committee that would deal with the recommendations, from 2004 to 2007. I did this and guided the legislation through the legal and constitutional affairs committee and then the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. We then introduced the legislation, and it was enacted in late 2006 and early 2007. It is extremely disappointing to see that the current Attorney-General is now looking to unwind that very good work that was recommended in a bipartisan report. He is committing an assault on the Federal Magistrates Court by moving the family law cases back into the Family Court. I have a strong commitment from the coalition that, if they are elected, they will immediately stop this action and leave family law where it is best managed—that is, within the Federal Magistrates Court.
Thank you to all of those fabulous, hardworking committee secretariats over the years; to the attendants who have become such good friends; to the Comcar drivers and the security staff; and, of course, to the valuable clerks, who have always been there to give advice and comfort. I thanked Ian Harris before he left the Clerk position, but I would like to give particular thanks to Bernard Wright. Thank you, Bernard; you have been such a wonderful confidant for me, and what I said upon Ian’s departure is exactly true—that they searched all over the world for a replacement for Ian only to find you, the best man for the job, right here in Australia, in Parliament House. Mr Speaker, you have been an accomplished and splendid Speaker of this House. In addition, you have given me significant encouragement in my endeavours on HIV, and I truly thank you for your genuine interest.
I appreciate all of the friendships that I have made in the House and I would like to correct the misconception that government and opposition members are always at war. I have the deepest and most abiding respect for many Labor members of parliament. In fact, I would consider the member for Throsby, Jennie George, to be one of the finest people I know; and again, in the last parliament, I valued my friendship with the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, among many others. Thank you to Jill Hall, the Government Whip, for the great working relationship we have had when counting on the floor of this chamber. Working with you, Alex Somlyay, whip to whip, has been so special. Also, to Nola, Patrick and the fabulous staff: you have all been a warm and most refreshing experience.
I have enjoyed my relationships with Liberal members, including the member for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire. I have been privileged to have known you all and to have worked so closely with such committed members of parliament. Members like Judi Moylan, such a good friend, have my absolute respect and admiration for their integrity and their commitment to their beliefs.
I would like to acknowledge an amazing woman here today. Emily Gardner has shared her home with me for almost 10 years. Thank you, Em; you are so very, very special. Your true spirit has shone in your battle with lung cancer. You are an inspiration of positive thought power, and this has been such a lesson in life for me, Em. Thank you so much.
The Nationals celebrate 90 proud years this year, and I have enjoyed every moment of my association with them. I have been honoured to have worked with National leaders Tim Fischer, John Anderson and Mark Vaile as deputy prime ministers and now with the outstanding and loyal Warren Truss as the Leader of the Nationals in opposition. I would like to say to my fellow Nationals members and senators how deeply I respect each of them for the energy, drive and determination they all display in representing the people of regional Australia. It is very tough being the small party that we are, but it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog—and I am very proud of the size of the fight in each and every one of you. Regional Australia needs us, and I wish you all a resounding re-election, with even more Nationals joining you in our friendly party room.
The Nationals branch members have been such tireless supporters and have never once let me down. My campaign team over four elections have proven that they certainly have what it takes to get the Nationals elected. Thanks to all of those energetic and committed polling booth workers who have manned over 90 booths all these years. I know that we will also be successful in getting the Nationals candidate Michael McCormack seated in this House after the next election.
My dedicated staff members, both past and present, have served the Riverina electorate with distinction on every occasion. I have had the most amazing staff and I have sincerely appreciated each and every one of you for your loyalty and dedication not only to me but to the entire Riverina electorate, regardless of politics. In particular, I need to thank you for the way in which you have all treated those who suffer from mental health disorders; you have given them the respect and dignity that they deserve, and your patience and empathy have been uniquely compassionate.
Today I have in the gallery Angela, Donna, Tina, Lucy, Joe, and Gerrie, who was the Nationals whips clerk for over 30 years. Doris, who has been with me the entire time I have been a member, unfortunately could not be here today. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I could never have done it without your team work, expertise and attention to detail. You are all so precious to me and I am so proud of you.
I need to give thanks for the job that gave me the most amazing addition to my family. In 2000 I met a humble little Ethiopian man who had been forced apart from his wife and two little girls, aged four and two, by war atrocities in his country. He lived only for the day that he could be reunited with his family. Then he found that his young wife had lost her life and his children had no parents to guide them. This gentle man filled me with a need to make his dream come true. He had suffered so much but he had never lost hope. He continued to search for his children, even in the most dangerous of circumstances, and he needed help. The most incredible and long journey began—of finding a son who was not known of; of commencing the immigration process for three children and a fourth born in Addis Ababa; of reuniting the children with their father after 14 years and introducing him to his little grandson; of finding out a secret, that he had one more child, who had been born in the village; and of then reuniting him with the mother he had never known. Watching them learn about each other gave me the most amazing satisfaction. The story of this heart-warming journey is a book to some day be written.
Seated in this chamber with my husband, Graeme, who has always supported this special journey, is Feseha Takele. Together, we are the father and mother to Freweni, Tsega, Walta Aman, Aduny and now Abi, who came from Ethiopia last year and was welcomed into our family when he and Freweni married in August last year. Walta could not be here today as he has just returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan as an Australian soldier. Thank you for giving us a greater understanding and appreciation of the gift of life.
To my sister, Pam, and her husband, Harley, who are sitting here on the floor today: Pam, you are not just my dearly-loved only sister; you are my deepest and most cherished best friend. Thank you for taking such wonderful care of our mother during her battle with cancer whilst I was so busy doing this job. I will always be indebted to you. There is only one regret in my life here in this House and that is that I did not take leave and spend more time with mum as she fought the hardest battle of all and lost it.
Finally, I offer my gratitude and my deepest love and respect to my husband, Graeme, the long-suffering man who has kept everything afloat whist I have been committed to this role. Thank you for always being my rock and my greatest supporter. We have been a team for 35 years. We have had our children, started our business and worked through some tough times. You have spent many years now without companionship, and I look forward to re-establishing a normal life together, but just for the record: I will not be walking the greyhounds!
To my much-loved sons, Darren, Danny and Brett; their partners, my lovely and beautiful daughters-in-law, Tonie, Anne and Chloe; and my most cherished grandchildren, Nicholas, Joshua, Aaron, Emily and baby Ashton: there is nothing that compares with my pride in and the love I have for you all. Thank you for the unconditional love and support you have all given me over the years. Without your sacrifices and understanding, I could not have managed to commit myself so entirely to my work. I am eternally grateful for your devotion. I thank you for being here with me today and for never, ever leaving me to walk alone in the troubled times.
This chapter in the life of a girl from Guyra is now concluded. Thank you.
by leave—I rise to speak again on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. We get it wrong in agriculture when we fail to take hard, pro-business decisions. So I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution Dr Henry Schapper made to the great agricultural industry of Western Australia through agricultural economics, public policy, farm management and strong business practices in farming. Dr Schapper was an articulate and determined man who lost his battle with illness on 27 April this year. He fought his battle in the same way that he lived: with strength, integrity, courage and a grumpy sense of self-reliance and self-assurance.
Dr Schapper was an extraordinary man often known for his sceptical views, which he put forward in a frank, provocative and compelling manner. He had been a farm labourer, a clerk and a factory hand when at 25 he began studying economics in order to better understand society. This decision paved his future path and led to the significant contribution that he made to agricultural economics.
Dr Henry Schapper introduced agricultural economics to Western Australia in both policy and farm management business accounting. He often incensed the agricultural community with his direct and confrontational manner. In spite of this, he made sure people discussed, thought about and frequently acted upon what he was saying. In the Western Australian wheat belt, success was made through the application of science, chemistry and capital. Farmers went from subsistence to prosperity through science based farming and rational business practices. This made Henry Schapper a household name in the Western Australian wheat belt. Whether the direct and confrontational manner I have referred to was Dr Schapper’s natural style or simply a means of ensuring his logic was heard is for others to determine. It was successful as a tactic because people certainly listened to what he had to say.
We need to remember the message he had: the need for the application of hard, dry, market-driven policy in agriculture. It was largely anathema to postwar agriculture anywhere in the developed world. Subsidised agriculture was then the norm; indeed, in Europe and the United States featherbedding continued to be the mainstay of agricultural policy for decades. Dr Schapper’s logic was neither populist nor particularly welcome in many circles. Dr Schapper had concerns about traditional agricultural extension programs—such as the former Premier Sir Charles Court’s land release policy of a million acres a year—and how such schemes diminished attempts to control land value, salinity and good farm practices. This policy was overturned by Labor in 1983 and has not been restored since.
Henry’s views may have been confronting and somewhat controversial, but they became the basis for building the most competitive agricultural industry in the developed world. There is no doubt that Dr Schapper was a tremendous advocate for the agricultural sector in regional Australia. He played a major part in setting up some of the first farm management groups and mentored them through the Farm Management Foundation to make sure they were effective. Dr Schapper used antiprotectionist thinking, which emerged after the Depression, to communicate with farmers. By bringing modern thinking to Western Australia, he made farmers aware of the importance of managing their affairs.
Dr Schapper was also a champion for Aboriginal development. While undertaking a study of investment in the Kimberley cattle industry, Dr Schapper was aghast at the conditions the Aboriginal people were living in there. He found it ironic that Australian agricultural economists travelled abroad to advise on rural development when one of the most intractable development issues in the world was not being addressed by them at home. It led him to publish Agricultural Advancement to Integration in 1970. He continued to press strongly for Aboriginal development thereafter.
A lecturer at UWA from 1959 until his retirement in 1984, he made an excellent Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and left a lasting impression on many students, including Professor Mike Ewing, the Deputy Director of the Future Farm Industries CRC; David Morrison of the Department of Treasury and Finance; Dr Ross Kingwell, senior economist with the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia; Dr Brian Martin, a private consultant and former Head of the Division of Marketing and Economics in the Department of Agriculture; Sally Marsh, a research assistant professor at the University of Western Australia; John Salerian, Assistant Commissioner of the Productivity Commission; and, of course, Alan Robson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia.
He also made a significant impression on political figures, such as former finance minister Senator Peter Walsh, former agriculture minister John Kerin, former WA agriculture ministers Kim Chance and Julian Grill and former Minister for Forestry and Conservation and later Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government Wilson Tuckey. All have achieved great things.
It is only right to honour his ability to encourage students to think critically for themselves. In 1999 Dr Schapper was recognised when he was awarded a distinguished fellow by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society. In April 2006, Dr Schapper’s commitment to agricultural economics earned him a place in the Agricultural Hall of Fame. This is a significant achievement—one we should not overlook. Although always humble about his role, Dr Schapper’s commitment and dedication to the agricultural community and regional Australia was absolutely outstanding. He was an exceptional economist and has left a firm imprint on the farming community and agricultural sector in Western Australia. He has left his mark.
Dr Schapper’s perseverance, courage in life and dedication to the community and his students is inspirational. I am reminded that in the condolences book at Henry’s funeral the following words were written: ‘The only thing that matters is love.’ Derek, Henry’s son, wrote in reply: ‘Why is it that we only receive this late in life?’ My thoughts go to Dr Schapper’s family, including his feisty, assertive and pugnacious daughter-in-law Alannah MacTiernan, the Labor candidate for Canning. He is survived by three children—Kathleen, Paul and Derek—six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Dr Schapper’s experience is a reminder to us all that we should evaluate arguments on their merits, listen to alternative views and challenge our own perhaps comfortable traditional positions. Dr Schapper showed through his career that we must be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. The bill we are debating today is a new way of thinking about exceptional circumstances, EC. It is time that the government reviewed the appropriateness of current arrangements and created a better system—one that Dr Henry Schapper would have been proud of. I hope he would be proud of us today. I commend the bill to the House.
I too wish to support the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. It is of critical concern to the coalition that farmers who are in what we have called exceptional circumstances do get some support from state, federal and local governments. After all, if we want to have sustained food security in this country and if we want to be able to go into the supermarket and see fresh and manufactured foods that are grown in our country then we have to make sure that our farmers survive. There are a whole range of reasons why it is more difficult right now to survive, particularly under the Rudd-Gillard Labor government, than before.
There has been a long period when exceptional circumstances have focused on drought relief, particularly in my electorate of Murray. In fact, we have had the worst drought on record. It is continuing now into its 10th year. There is absolutely no doubt that, without the payments from the exceptional circumstances program to thousands of my farm families over that period of time, we would have had a complete collapse of the economy in northern Victoria and more farmers would have exited the business. The economies of scale of dairy production in particular but also livestock and cropping production would have been so reduced without that EC support that our food manufacturing sector would also have collapsed, leading to major losses of jobs in manufacturing, transport and the commercial supports for the food manufacturing businesses.
We have to get it right in terms of support for the farm sector when faced with circumstances beyond their control. This bill looks at a pilot in Western Australia which is going to assume that the people involved in the pilot are in fact exceptional circumstances designated. They will have offered to them a series of measures. I understand this government will measure the impact of this pilot, which will then direct them in framing special support in the future for farmers who are caught up in difficult circumstances, which might be due to drought, climate change or another desperate circumstance that is beyond their control.
The Western Australian trial will include Farm Family Support with income to help meet basic household expenses. I presume that will echo what is currently happening with the exceptional circumstances payment. There will be Farm Social Support, including better ways to meet mental health issues, counselling and other social needs of farm families and communities. There will be a Building Farm Businesses set of grants of up to $60,000 to help farm businesses prepare for the impacts of drought, reduced water access and changed climate.
We are told there will also be support for on-farm Landcare activities. I am very pleased to see Landcare mentioned there because this government has gutted the funding for Landcare, a most important and significant program for more than 20 years in Australia and one that has kept a lot of our landscape in reasonable condition. It has rehabilitated a lot of landscape. Without additional funding those who are the land carers just simply cannot go on.
There is also support in this trial with Farm Planning, where farmers will be able to undertake training that will help them in their farm businesses in the future. We are told that the training will relate to future challenges. There will be stronger rural communities grants. They will go to local governments, and local governments will then try to ensure their rural communities are more resilient in downturns. There will be Farm Exit Support, with grants up to $170,000 to support farmers who have to leave their properties. There is, we are told, Beyond Farming, a special measure that will put current farmers in touch with previous farmers to help them understand what opportunities there might be outside farming, given they have to exit what they do.
This pilot is, as I say, part of the process of looking at how better we can prepare farm families for the seasonal and other catastrophes that meet them in the future. We are looking forward to a careful evaluation of how this pilot works out on the ground. There are some issues that have not as yet been properly dealt with, unfortunately. One is the guidelines for the Farm Family Support Scheme. We do not yet know what those guidelines are. Clearly they need to be made public and we need to ensure that they are appropriate. We also do not know yet how ‘hardship’ is to be defined. Of course, farmers have to demonstrate they are in hardship in order to access support through this pilot program. How is hardship defined? Is it a measure of income loss? Is it a measure of something else? We need to know what that is, obviously, to be assured that this pilot is going to be on a sound footing.
We commend the pilot and we hope it succeeds. There are serious implications for the future of our nation as we face a whole range of seasonal challenges, but there are other problems as well for the farm sector. I want to talk about those and put to this government the question of how they are to be dealt with if we are going to continue to have Australian grown food on our tables and if our food production is to be secure. It is under threat on so many fronts.
We know that if you have a non-viable farm sector, since the farm community actually manages the environmental services production of this country, your environment itself becomes degraded. By that I mean that a viable farm sector manages water quality, soil quality, biodiversity protection and habitat protection. When a farm is on a sustainable footing there are sufficient funds to put back into fencing out that last remnant of vegetation, for example, or to make sure that the groundwater is properly managed and soil cover is retained so there it is not a blow when it gets into dry conditions. All of that is contingent on the farm being viable. Unfortunately, we have right now a situation where, due to a number of factors, too many farms are becoming or are heavily indebted. Therefore, it is much more difficult for these farms to maintain and sustain the landscape, the natural resources and to produce the environmental services which all of the Australian population—indeed, our society itself—depends on. The connection between the environment and viable farms is of critical and highly significant importance, and I do not think it is understood at all by this government—this new Labor government. I just hope the new Prime Minister begins to understand differently.
We have in Australia a duopoly in the form of the incredible concentration of supermarket ownership. That duopoly squeezes prices to the farm sector for both fresh and manufactured food product. Squeezing those prices and making the margins so slim constantly puts pressure on farmers to survive commercially. We have to look very closely at how to manage better the concentration of ownership and at how to make sure there is not unconscionable action so that farmers—at the bottom of the value chain as the initial suppliers of the goods that end up on our plates—are not the victims of this duopoly. Those supermarkets can so easily reach offshore for alternative product. It is cheaper. If imported product goes into their own generic labels, it is hard for the shopper to distinguish where that product has come from. Is it beetroot from the Balkans or is it beetroot from somewhere in Australia? We need to be able to have the shopper understand exactly where their food is coming from. Unfortunately, because of the confusion of our food labelling laws, too many of our discerning food shoppers—our household buyers—cannot work out just how much of the can or jar of product actually comes from Australia and how much is overseas in origin. We have to do better with our food labelling laws, because unfortunately we are jeopardising the future of Australia’s own food security. That will continue for as long as we do not carefully identify just what is in that product—and in that manufactured product, in particular.
We also have the disastrous Labor government water buyback policy. It comes at a time when we have the worst drought on record and some of the lowest prices for commodities, like milk and cereals, on record. When you combine the disastrous water buyback policy with the commercial pressures, cost-of-production increases and farm family distress, you have disaster. In my electorate of Murray, farmers are in their 10th year of drought. Their banks and other lenders have been patient, but now there are a series of water buy-back tenders and these farmers are being told: ‘You owe us hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your water is worth about that or a little more. Sell your water, get yourself out of debt and we as your lenders will be the happier because you are at the end of your lending possibilities.’
Selling your water in a region which has low natural rainfall is the same as selling your dairy herd. Your means of production are gone. But there is a win-win solution, an alternative, which I am afraid this government refuses to tune into. Why can’t we have a win-win scenario instead of water buybacks from so-called ‘willing sellers’? There is no such thing as a willing seller when you are a young farmer with a dairy herd and with investment of perhaps many hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital for dairy, laser grading and a whole range of other on-farm works and when you have gone through 10 years of drought. There is no hope for you unless you have on-farm water use efficiency support. But what we have at the moment is just buyback.
We keep having groups like the Wentworth group of so-called independent scientists saying, ‘Look, it’s much cheaper to just go into the market and buy the water off these food producers.’ Yes, it is cheaper. You can get that water for about $1,400 a megalitre. But, if you are in fact to have a sustainable food production capacity for this country, you have to have water security. Water security can be a by-product of better environmental security and management as well—for example, if you have on-farm water use efficiency support funding for something like subsurface irrigation or more pressurised irrigation systems. These technologies are not always in place, particularly in horticulture. Where you invest in those measures you have the outcomes of higher production and lower water use, and the water that is saved can be put back into our rivers and streams.
At the moment, this government talks about a hierarchy of need. It has the environment at the top, then critical human need and then under that is the use of water for production—for example, irrigation or tourism. In fact, it is not a hierarchy of need; it is a virtual circle. In relation to the environment and its management, whether it is rivers and streams and/or the landscape itself, that environment depends on viable human communities to manage it. Once you beggar the human communities that have for generations in Australia managed that landscape effectively and constantly improved their practices and drive them out of business, what you have left is degraded farmland—that is, farmland where there is no-one to kill the weeds, destroy the feral animals, maintain the remnant vegetation, manage the soils so that they do not blow away, manage the groundwater systems or manage the surface water systems. If you have impoverished the human communities, they cannot do the environmental service production that I referred to at the beginning of my remarks. But that is what is happening throughout the southern Murray-Darling Basin.
I invite the Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water, Senator Penny Wong, to come and visit northern Victoria at the height of summer and to look at the properties that were once highly productive in dairying, fruits, oil seeds, cropping and livestock. Those communities have been forced to sell their water. The landscape in those communities is now blowing dust and is knee-high in weeds. The remnant vegetation is dying and the Landcare work that was done on roadside and other vegetation is not being maintained because those human communities have been deprived of their means of production and their capacity to sustain their properties and make a reasonable living. Is that what this government actually wanted? Is that what their so-called ‘environmental policy’ was meant to produce—the destruction of human communities, of country towns and of country places?
It was those country places that managed the landscape. If you say: ‘Oh, it’s not a problem. We can bring in the public servants. We’ll just simply pump up the numbers of contractors and people working for the department of sustainability and environment or the department of primary industries. We’ll put all of them out there on the ground to do the work that was once done as part of their farming activity by the land managers, who were farmers. They’ll do the work that should be done to maintain the landscape and the environment.’ They do not do it. There has never yet in the history of Australia been enough resources to put into the public sector to do the sort of environmental service, management and protection that needs to be done.
I am desperately worried about how we can maintain our farming populations when they are under such incredible threat across so many sectors, whether it is the price pressures on the domestic market brought about because of the duopolies and the power of the supermarkets or whether it is because when they export their foods they do so into corrupt world food markets. Everyone knows that the food trade internationally is subject to a whole range of different government interventions. Food trade is often confused with aid, so we have a long-established market that is often corrupted and distorted by dumped product—that is, product that is moved around the world in response to political pressures back home rather than in response to a market that responds to supply and demand.
Too often food sales into our export markets do not give back to the primary producer their costs of production. There is no long-term security for how we go about growing those markets in the face of government interventions in food trade. Then, as I have mentioned, we have problems with food labelling laws in Australia. We have serious issues with the growing costs of production. Even the new mining tax changes that this government wants to bring about will cost our farmers enormously in the inputs to all that they do, including the superphosphates and other fertilisers that are extracted out of the ground. They will get caught up in the mining laws.
Most of all, I am hugely concerned about the new sustainable delivery limits that are about to be announced in the Murray-Darling Basin by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. They will take more of the water supply that food producers—that is, the farmers—are currently able to access. When those SDLs are announced, we presume in the coming weeks, how will farm family communities survive with even less water and with a government that has no intention of investing in on-farm water use efficiency support?
There was a tiny grant basket offered for on-farm water efficiency by this government. It was not the more than $3 billion that the coalition offered for the Murray-Darling Basin, but a tiny basket of grant moneys was made available recently by the minister, Penny Wong. Then she put all these caveats over what that money could be used for. In my electorate, for example, where we know sub-surface irrigation has major potential as a way to reduce water use but increase productivity, we were told that was not allowed to be one of the ways that such a grant could be used. We were also told that the use of things like overhead sprinklers—big centrifugal sprinklers—would also not be allowed. Who decided what technology was appropriate? It was clearly not anybody who understood anything about what works best in my part of the world.
We have nonsense coming out of this federal government on the risks that farmers now face and how they are best supported. We support this trial in Western Australia to work out how best to assist farms, farm communities and their local governments to survive disasters which are beyond an individual or community’s control. We have to do much better. Let us hope that, when this trial is completed, it is looked at with eyes that are better informed and there are better motives than this government has shown in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. That goes for its water buyback schemes, its cutting back on Landcare funding and its cutting back on regional development support—in all shapes and forms. I can tell you that, where I come from in rural and regional Australia, my communities are in despair. They wonder why it is that they are overlooked—(Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. The events of the last 24 hours should bring home with a vengeance to the politicians in this parliament and the members of parliament—and I think they are two different things—that the people of Australia really have had enough. The people of Australia watched this place completely destroy manufacturing industries. The policies of this parliament destroyed manufacturing in this country. When Mr Keating spoke about free trade, I thought: ‘Is the man completely mad? Does he think that we are going to work for Asian Third World wages? Or are we going to close down the industries?’ There was no in-between there. I did not think for one moment that he had countenanced that the industries would be closed down. But, since he must have known they were being closed down and he never changed his policies, he decided that we would not have any manufacturing industries in this country.
We then moved on to the next government, the Howard government. Whilst great destruction had been wreaked by Keating, it continued for the next 12 years under the coalition government. It amuses me no end to see people from the National Party—not that there is much left of it. There are only four members from New South Wales and two from Victoria in this place. The others are members of the Liberal Party. Their leader is a member of the division of the Liberal Party and I think it is about time the House sorted out that problem as well.
We went into a second phase when agriculture was completely shattered. It was shattered initially by Mr Keating in the wool industry. Few people realise that in 1990—not ancient history—wool was earning more for this country than the golden coal industry. Wool was a bigger export earner than coal. What has happened to it? It has vanished. It does not get a mention in the top 15 export items. Mr Keating decided to deregulate it. Whilst I very much respect the wisdom and wit of the honourable member for O’Connor from Western Australia—and I read with interest his speech on this bill—I was sorry for his speech because he mentioned the wheat industry but he completely failed to mention the wool industry.
I was very much aware of the collapse of the wool industry back in the late sixties and arguably the early seventies. I thought there was absolutely no hope for wool. That very great Australian Doug Anthony introduced the wool scheme. Having had somewhat of a university education, I said: ‘Supply and demand will determine price. You cannot really get around that.’ I said that the next year when the price rose 30 or 40 per cent and I said that the next year when the price rose 30 or 40 per cent, and after five years of watching the price rise I sort of forgot about what I had been taught at the university. It was quite clear to me that collective aggressive marketing policies would dramatically increase the return that you received for a product. Orderly marketing schemes—as they are sometimes called—or statutory marketing schemes were needed if we were going to prosper.
The great Jack McEwen—one of the finest and greatest men to ever set foot into this parliament—said, ‘It was one of my proudest boasts that when I left the federal parliament every single industry was under statutory marketing arrangements.’ In fact, he was wrong. The wool and cattle industries were not. Doug Anthony, in the teeth of opposition from graziers, introduced the scheme. For the next 20 years we had continuing prosperity in this industry. It was not a great prosperity; a lot of people said, ‘You precipitated a great growth in numbers.’ There was never any great growth in numbers. The wool numbers never moved up dramatically. They moved up significantly, but most certainly not dramatically, so that effect did not occur. It is false to say that it did.
The price doubled over the next three years after the regulatory marketing scheme was introduced. We had this marvellous scheme for 20 years. Mr Keating deregulated the scheme and—surprise, surprise—within three years the price had dropped clean in half. I was corrected the other day when I said that there has been a 40 per cent drop in sheep numbers. A person shouted out that there has been a 60 per cent reduction. There is no doubt that the sheep industry’s numbers have dropped clean in half.
From then on we saw, sadly, the Howard government—which I was part of, initially—deregulate all the other industries: eggs, maize, tobacco, fishing and sugar. All of them were deregulated. You would have thought, after the enormous destruction of manufacturing and the complete collapse of the wool industry under deregulation, that someone in here would have said: ‘Hold on a minute, fellas. This ain’t such a good idea. This is working out really badly.’ There was a most wonderful cartoon which I thought epitomised the era magnificently well. It showed Mr Keating reading a book on the Japanese economy and saying: ‘They’re doomed to failure. It works in practice but it’ll never work in theory.’ I thought, ‘That says it all.’
I watched the wipe-out of the maize industry. We buried a hero son from the Atherton Tablelands who lost his life in Afghanistan. The great landmark and icon of Atherton were the grain silos. It was a huge maize-growing area for the dairy industry. We did not need it, of course, because now we have hardly any dairy industry left. We have gone from 240 farmers under deregulation down to 60 farmers. There is no sense of responsibility in this place. There is no sense of failure. There is no admission of being wrong. In the dramatic events of the past 24 hours it was interesting to see that the Australian people have had enough. They have had the two-party system telling them that this is going to be wonderful. They watched the annihilation of the manufacturing industry and then they watched the slow and agonising death of agriculture in this country.
I will be very specific. I have not checked on the wool figures recently, but I am told that they are down 60 per cent. Sheep numbers in Australia have most certainly fallen by half and they will not come back. Cattle numbers are down 20 to 25 per cent. The sugar industry is closing six mills every 10 years. We have only 23 mills to go, and then it will all be gone—wrapped up. This industry has been among the top 10 export earners for this country—minerals, coal and everything thrown in—for the nation’s entire history. The sugar industry was the industry that dragged us out of the Great Depression. It employs 50,000 people and it was shattered and wrecked by the removal of tariffs. It is a great idea to remove tariffs if other people are doing it; it is a really dumb idea if nobody else is doing it. Of course, we fit into the really dumb class.
Just to give you some idea, last time I looked at the figures, a few years ago now, the Europeans were getting $1,000 a tonne for their sugar, the Americans were getting $660 a tonne for their sugar and the Australians were getting the world price of $270 a tonne for their sugar. The Brazilians admitted in the WTO that there was a $2,000 million a year subsidy to their industry via the ethanol industry. In fairness to them, they had done as much to clean up the pollution and to help people dying of lung disease in Sao Paulo as they had done to help their farmers and to provide themselves with a safe source of petrol. They did not have to rely on outsiders.
Having said all those things, government is here to help, to ensure that our industries win. Government is not a spectator sport. Yes, risks have to be taken. Doug Anthony placed his entire political career and income for his family upon his judgment that he was right in introducing that wool scheme. I, for one, did not think he was right at the time, but I admired the man and I went along with him in loyalty to a party that had served us greatly and well in rural Australia. He proved to be dead right and I became a very enthusiastic supporter of the sorts of philosophies and policies that were expounded in this place by Jack McEwen and then later by Doug Anthony. They made us one of the most successful and aggressive farming nations on earth.
Where are we today in farming? We are a joke. The wool industry has almost ceased to exist. The cattle industry is currently collapsing. The dairy industry, which is the next biggest industry, is down by 15 per cent, which quite amazes me—I would have thought that people still have to drink milk. The loss of the manufacturing sector is so huge that it has dragged down the overall demand for dairy throughout Australia. The fifth giant industry that we have is the sugar industry, and, as I said, we are closing six mills every 10 years and have only 20-odd mills to go before we have no industry at all. This is something to be proud of! Australian governments over the past 30 years have had great achievements: they have wiped out manufacturing and destroyed farming! But, over the past two months, the Australian people have jacked up; they have had enough. When this place was going to put the king hit on mining, they said: ‘No. We’ve had enough of your stupidity and your stupid two-party system, where you agree with each other on your stupidities. You’ve wrecked every industry in the country, but you’re not going to wreck mining.’ And we have seen the events of the past 24 hours.
It appears that people in this place could not care less about their country. They could not care less that in this nation a farmer commits suicide every four days. Is that something to be proud of as a race of people—that every four days a farmer in your country commits suicide? I unfortunately have the indignity of presiding over two of the towns with the highest suicide rate in Australia, both of them in the heartland of the dairy industry—or what was once the dairy industry area. It was wrecked by this place.
I will illustrate your incredible stupidity. There are a million people—five per cent of the Australian population—living in North Queensland. Their milk is now being sent down to southern Queensland—because they have access to Woolworths and Coles—and southern milk is being transported to North Queensland. They wave to each other as the milk trains go past and say: ‘Hello, fellows. How are you going?’ So now we are carting milk 2,000 kilometres south and 2,000 kilometres north—4,000 kilometres the milk is being carted, whereas before it was being carted 100 or 200 kilometres at the outside. And five per cent of the nation are being serviced this way. That is so very clever! Is it any wonder that the people of Australia hate politicians? When I go into a bar, the last thing I own up to, if they do not know who I am, is to being a politician, I can assure you.
We have taken away the EC and I would agree with the remarks of the member for O’Connor when he says there is probably a better way to deal with exceptional circumstances than the way we have been dealing with them to date. In the last floods, the people who stood on their hind legs and fought to get government assistance to rescue the industry of the frontier of Australia—the Gulf Country of Australia, our frontier—were not just fighting for themselves. A number of them could sell up and retire as very wealthy people. They include Ian and Ellen Martin; Mick, Nola and Troy Gallagher and Ashley, who was also mayor of Normanton; Paul Edwards at Delta Downs; another mayor of North Queensland in Fred Pascoe; Luke and Helen Symons; the Secombes, a pioneering family of Central Queensland and now a pioneering family of the Gulf Country; Noelene Gross, a tenacious little fighter who has earned the great admiration of everybody who has come into contact with her; and John Nelson, my good friend, one of the most successful cattlemen in the country and one of the most successful businessmen in North Queensland, and his dynamic daughter, Sarah, who was a real tiger in the battle over the flooding devastation in North Queensland—her wonderful work brought it home to every single person in Australia and we pay great tribute to her.
We also thank the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for having an enlightened attitude towards our situation. People said: ‘It is for droughts. Have you got a drought?’ Yes, we had a drought that was created by flood. It killed all of the grass, so we had no grass for the cattle to eat. If that is not a drought, I do not know what is. We thank the minister, because we think his aggression on this matter helped us get agreement out of the state government, which was very critical. I also thank the state minister. At first he was recalcitrant, but I think he found his conscience and God bless him for doing so. We thank those people.
We set up a state bank in Queensland. People think that we troglodyte people who live in the past, those of us from the old Country Party, are a bunch of hick numbskulls. Yes, we were the hick numbskulls that created the greatest agricultural nation on earth. That is what we created. What the hell did you do? You destroyed it, all you clever people in here.
Yes, Deputy Speaker Sidebottom. I speak to the Parliament of Australia in saying this and I do not apologise for my remarks—far from it. On almost a weekly or monthly basis at the very least, I have to sit and watch people I know in North Queensland committing suicide thanks to the decisions of this place. If I speak with great passion and anger, it is because I feel great passion and anger.
I conclude by saying that we were a Queensland government of business people—people who had backed our judgment with our own money and who had dirt under our fingernails. We had not asked other people to do the work for us; we had done it ourselves. We had lived in the mustering camps; we had worked down the mines; we had cut cane by hand. Of the cabinet ministers, 13 had cut cane by hand. Those were the sorts of people who manned the cabinet in Queensland.
We decided that we could do a lot better by having our own bank—one that would look after our people. We conceived of this bank to help people, but it was the government of Queensland that it helped most. We made a huge amount of money out of it. We laugh at all the great free marketeers. Unfortunately, the party lost its way. It was actually the National Party that sold the bank and they made a thousand million dollars out of it. Bill Gunn and I were made responsible to cabinet for that bank. It pulled 25 per cent of the sugar industry through. In this place a lot of people dragged up the fact that I had been personally responsible for sacking the head when we were turning it into a bank. Yes, I had been. He said: ‘Bob, we are men of the world. Thirty per cent of the sugar industry has to go.’ I said: ‘Listen, Graham, the price of sugar goes up and down like a yo-yo, you imbecile. I will bring you down the graphs.’ I did not say ‘imbecile’. I was more restrained in those days. I took him down graphs of beef industry prices, wool industry prices and sugar industry prices. They go up and down, but what happens to us in agriculture is that, when the price goes up, it is truncated by taxation. When the price goes down, the banks add on, add on, add on. The interest rate was 17 per cent. In my last year in St Francis, we paid 29 per cent—an extra 2½ per cent because we were an at-risk industry, an extra three per cent because we were in an at-risk area and another three per cent because we were in drought. By the time you added it all up, we were paying 29 per cent and that is how we overcame the development bank. (Time expired)
I had great difficulty starting this speech. How do you distil 14 years into 20 minutes? There is a lot to tell, a lot of successes, a few monumental stuff-ups, a lot of memories and a lot of good people to thank, including the 97,000 people in the electorate of Hughes. In a way, this valedictory is a companion to the first speech I made in this House as a member of the ‘Class of 96’. As bookends they will provide my constituents, my family, my friends and supporters, indeed all the people of Australia, with a measure by which they can judge if I have discharged the awesome responsibility and been worthy of the hope and trust they placed in me back in 1996.
The road to Canberra was hard and long, but it was not a lonely road. There were many good people who began the walk with me and without whose support and assistance I would not have been able to serve as the member for Hughes during the golden years of the Howard coalition government. We should never forget that the real reason the Australian economy is doing so well today is the tough decisions made by the Howard government and that Costello legislation that imposed the strong prudential rules that underpin our banking here in Australia. I was proud to be on team Howard during those challenging years.
Women often define themselves and their place in the world by their relationships. So, firstly, I acknowledge my long-suffering husband, Bob, for his love and his friendship and his longstanding support. Before the journey began, I did seek his permission and I did ask him what he thought about me standing as the member for Hughes. Actually, I knew what he thought. It was a safe Labor seat, I was going against a minister of the Crown, I needed a 6½ per cent swing, I was an unknown working mum: I had no chance. But he said, ‘You go for it, love. You know I’ll support you.’ Much to his astonishment, we did win the election in 1996 and we won with a swing of 11.6 per cent. His world has never been the same since. But he has been true to his word. Despite the fact that he has often said, ‘I married her for better or for worse; she never said a word about politics at the time,’ he has been there to support me in the good times and in the tough times and I am grateful for his love and affection and for the fine character of the man that he is.
The role of a federal member of parliament and its impact on time and distance places a lot of pressure on relationships. Of the 39 members of that unique Class of 96, there are not very many of us left who are still married to the same person. There were times when I wondered if Bob and I would be one of those casualties. Yet, in so many ways, we have grown stronger for the journey. As we go towards our 45th anniversary, it is now my turn to honour him and to start cooking those home baked dinners that he has missed so much. After all, he is the only husband I have and I plan to make him last!
I also acknowledge the strong relationship that I have had with my local branch members of the Liberal Party and I publicly record the high value I place on the friendship I share with all members of the Hughes Federal Electoral Council. They began their journey with me and, with their hard work and commitment on election day, made the success possible. While I cannot name each and every one, my special thanks do go to Brett Thomas, who took the onerous role of campaign manager back in 1995 and has remained at the helm for the following four elections and is a good mate. My special thanks also go to the Hon. Chris Downy, once the state member for Sutherland, whose political nous and strategic devilry make him a great campaign director. Thanks to our generals in the field: core stalwarts like Lee Evans and his late dad, Keith; Gary and Julie Law; Peter Vermeer; Coral Slattery; Berenice Nixon; Don Minehan and his son Matthew; Michael Darby; Simon Newport, who is also doing a sterling job as our FEC president; Bob Osborne; Kristine Thomas; Pat White; Max Lombe; Councillors Ned Mannoun and Melanie Gibbons; and special friend Michael Henry. Dear friends Bill Meehan and his son Luke must be added also to that list. Bill efficiently managed my electorate office for me for over eight years. When I first met Bill, his son Luke was only seven, but he would always come along with his dad on the campaign. At the last election Luke captained his own booth for us. Like so many friends and supporters, young Luke has been with us every step of the way.
Warm thanks also go to my branch president, Lorraine Rodden, and branch treasurer, Val Wilkinson, for their commitment and treasured friendship formed over many years. I found Lorraine to be a formidable woman of substance when, as mayor of Sutherland Shire Council, she stood with me to fight against the Holsworthy airport proposal on behalf of our local community. We have been firm friends ever since. Also on the team in another way were our faithful supporters, who have contributed in so many ways to the success of our campaign. I say thanks to the Britton boys, Bob and Steve; to the laughing Brett Thompson; to Ron Stapleton; to Jon Eaman; to my late friend Max Vidler and his family; and to my old boss, solicitor Mr Sam Macedone and his wife, Margaret.
Special thanks must also go to my electorate staff over the years who have helped me to serve the people of our electorate. Thanks to our blonde bombshell, Ros Bowker, who has been with me for nearly 12 years and who is in the gallery today. Thanks Marc Landrigan, Britt Keneally, Alan Hornery, Aarron Findlay and workers Rita Alvaro, Neville Ashdown and Michelle Cotterrill.
Since 1996 the electorate has had four boundary changes, yet the well-honed Hughes campaign team secured the success of all our campaigns in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007. In the 1998 election Hughes was the only seat in Australia that recorded a swing to the Howard coalition government. In 2001 we won every one of our 47 booths. The Hughes campaign team deserve to be applauded. I would not be here without them.
I acknowledge with humble thanks the reason that I am here: the special relationship that I have with the people of my electorate. I spent eight months doorknocking the electorate before the 1996 election. Because we did not have any money, Bob paid for a small business card out of our family budget that I left with residents. Written on the back was an old Chinese proverb which encapsulated my values and which has been on the back of my cards ever since. I also promised the residents of Hughes that I would be their public voice in Canberra. At the time I did not realise how soon that promise would need to be delivered.
In the early days of the Howard government a second airport for Sydney was proposed for Holsworthy in my electorate. My very first speech in the party room was a declaration of war. Some colleagues here may still remember. Not long after, I was grateful for a telephone call from the legendary Peter Reith who advised, ‘You stick to your constituents, Dana, and they will stick by you.’ There are no instruction books on how to be a parliamentarian and as a brand new member with training wheels I was greatly encouraged by the kindness of this senior cabinet minister. His sage advice proved to be true. I have stuck by the people of my electorate and they have stuck me. Together we were ultimately successful in our community campaign against the Holsworthy airport. It provided valuable lessons and I met so many people from all corners of the electorate.
It is the pastoral nature of the role of a member of parliament in caring for and supporting the people in the electorate that has given me great satisfaction. While I cannot change the world, I learnt that I could change the world for one person and I did many times. The people of Hughes are well-educated, articulate, very community minded and they know how to press a cause. We had many successes and in the finite space available I would like to mention only two.
Local parents, Senia Gaunson and Brad le Hay of the Moorebank junior cricket club made representations to me about the need for a new cricket field some years ago. Working together we eventually gained a new playing field for the Moorebank sports club located near Harris Creek. I was able to secure excess defence land and a sum of $750,000 from the government for its development. Known as Kokoda Field, it has now been in use for almost two years and is being put to excellent use by our local junior cricket and AFL teams.
Another successful effort began when working with passionate local resident Judie Stevens to amend the tax act to allow accident victims to take a compensation payment as a structured settlement without attracting a tax liability. After a very tragic motor vehicle accident involving her family, Judie saw the urgent need for such an amendment and it was a great outcome for Judie and a great satisfaction to me to see the Taxation Laws Amendment (Structured Settlements and Structured Orders) Act 2002 become law for the benefit of many of our fellow Australians.
There were other less public efforts made on behalf of the people of my electorate which I saw as my clear responsibility. One was to put a stop to a cabinet discussion to put a nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Lucas Heights in my electorate. For the record, I found that Prime Minister John Howard was always available to speak with his backbench and often I was able to use such access for the benefit of the people of my electorate. One such private, frank and forthright discussion, as they say, was in regard to an idea before cabinet to put a nuclear waste reprocessing plant in my electorate at Lucas Heights. Prime Minister Howard finally saw it my way and I had a great sense of relief when the suggestion was dropped.
ARPANSA was another matter. It stands for Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and, depending on your point of view, I will either take the blame or the credit for its existence. With the prospect of a new reactor at Lucas Heights to replace the ageing HIFAR reactor, I convinced Prime Minister Howard that, following world’s best practice, it was high time Australia had its own independent nuclear oversight agency. While I do thank the then minister for health, the honourable Dr Michael Wooldridge, for his efforts in this regard, I make no apology for my harassment of him in pursuing the progress of the legislation. I was a woman on a mission and was immensely satisfied when the mission was finally accomplished and the enabling legislation was passed in 1998. The establishment of this independent nuclear oversight agency was essential, not just for the people of my electorate, but also for Australia. I also acknowledge the fine work of the first CEO of ARPANSA, Dr John Loy, and thank him for establishing the excellent reputation for which this institution has since been renowned.
Australia is a gold-clad democracy; it is the finest in the world. The reach of our backbench can stretch into the cabinet room and can provide members in this place with a real opportunity to make real changes for the benefit of the people we represent. Sometimes, however, an issue might arise which is not about your electorate but is one about which one feels very deeply and may drive one to consider committing political harikari for a higher cause. For me, one such defining issue was that of mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory in 1998. Prior to coming to parliament, I had been a Children’s Court duty solicitor and was the founding coordinator of the Sutherland community aid panel for first offenders. Those Northern Territory mandatory sentencing laws were an anathema to me. Amongst other things, they dealt with 17-year-olds as adults and sent them to adult prison on their very first offence. I thought, ‘Not in my country they don’t.’ The issue ran hot in the media for weeks and my colleague, the member for Murray, Sharman Stone, may remember being with me on that Tuesday morning. The then Prime Minister had suspended the party room.
A private member’s bill on topic by the late Peter Andren, the member for Calare, was to come before the House the following Monday and that morning three of us in the party room had indicated we would reserve our right. That morning, I asked Prime Minister Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello for funding for diversionary programs for the Territory, for a juvenile court protocol, for funding for interpreter services, to raise the age of majority to 18 years, to hold a review of the initiative in 12 months’ time and, not very humbly, to appoint me on the committee to oversee the program—then I would not need to cross the floor.
I take this time to record my respect and admiration for two of my fellow members, who I found to be men of outstanding principle and commitment on this issue. They appeared to share my outrage and I name them. They were the member for Kooyong, Petro Georgiou, and the then member for Astin, the late Peter Nugent. I was grateful that they were both prepared to support this solution, which secured $20 million over the next four years, to implement these initiatives for the young people in the Territory, and this was later repeated for a second four-year period. Speaking for myself, I thought I had committed political harikari that day. I did learn a lot about political leverage though and I learnt a lot about the character of the good people with whom I was privileged to work in this House.
In the end, we three did get a good result and it did change the world for the young people in the Territory. To that end, I also acknowledge the fine efforts of Ms Jane Halton, who was then of PM&C, and Police Inspector Graham Waite, an officer of first rank with the Northern Territory Police Force, who is here with me today in the gallery. Both were charged to ensure the delivery of the initiatives and the diversionary programs and both were committed to exemplary outcomes.
After this, it was a bit of a shock to receive a telephone call from the Prime Minister in 2001 inviting me to be the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence. I recall I was painting the front bedroom at the time and I fell off the ladder.
To me, this ministry was a sacred responsibility and in my role as minister I was exceptionally well served by the highly professional people in my ministerial office. Thank you to Paul Evans, a sound political and strategic thinker who worked tirelessly as my first chief of staff; to advisers Ben Hayes and Eacham Curry and to the diligent Jo Hutchinson; to my first media adviser, the excellent Rachel Thompson, and latterly, the efficient Clare Bannon. Thanks also to my last Chief of Staff, the venerable Warwick Bracken, valued not only for his sagacious advice but also for his treasured friendship and that of his wife, Fay, ever since. They all put in long hours and worked very hard to ensure I had an efficient and effective team—and as a team they did their best to keep me out of trouble as their minister. However, because I often managed to thwart their best efforts, I confess here for the record that any stuff-ups were mine.
I was deeply aware of the profound privilege to serve our veteran and war widow community as minister. Like many Australians, my own family was touched by war. I was the granddaughter of a digger whose name is on the Menin Gate. Private Donald Peter Dempsey died at Ypres, in the third battle of Passchendaele in October 1917. I thank John Howard for one of the defining moments of my life when, as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I was able to represent Australia at the Menin Gate on Anzac Day in 2003. My grandfather’s name on the gate was marked with a flower, from Passchendaele, by the good people of Ypres—I am not really crying, Mr Speaker. That day is indelibly etched upon my soul and will remain there for my eternity. After the Great War, my grandmother raised my mother in great hardship. There was no welfare then. There was no Legacy, because it did not exist in those early days.
As minister, it was satisfying to know that we were able to deliver in real terms to increase and enhance the service in support of our veterans and war widows, because this community so richly deserved it. During my watch, from 2001 to 2004, the budget for this portfolio increased from around $6 billion to $10 billion. In an initial response to the Clarke review of veterans’ entitlements, we increased services and benefits by almost $280 million. My appreciation and thanks must go to my friend the member for Gilmore, the indomitable Joanna Gash, and to the very able member for Dunkley, Bruce Billson, for their strong support and advocacy.
I had the benefit of the best professional support from executive teams of both the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defence. As other members have found, it is an edifying experience to work with our defence personnel. To work with officers of the calibre of General Peter Cosgrove, then CDF; Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, then COA; Air Marshall Angus Houston, then COAF and now CDF, is to name only a few—it is to work with Australia’s finest, but I could name a private. We have all been inspired by their shining integrity, their disciplined focus, their strong work ethic and, when appropriate, a larrikin camaraderie. Such values are legendary in our defence personnel and one is left ennobled by the experience of exposure.
A similar ethos operated at Veterans’ Affairs and I was extremely fortunate to have been so ably served by Dr Neil Johnson as secretary of the department. Thoughtful and measured, his quiet presence reflected the authority of an exemplary public servant at the top of his game. Together with his tough-minded deputy, the forensic Ian Campbell, and two excellent repatriation commissioners, Major General Paul Stevens and later Rear Admiral Simon Harrington, they were the Repatriation Commission and they presented a formidable team. I also acknowledge with great respect and regard the remarkable Brigadier Bill Rolf, Chair of the Repatriation Tribunal. However, I applaud the excellent efforts of the intrepid Air Vice Marshall Garry Beck, then Director of Australian War Graves, who created an Australian legend in London. He tackled the impossible and built a unique war memorial for Australian service men and women at Hyde Park Corner in London in less than 11 months from design concept to completion despite the distance of over 13,000 kilometres. Her Majesty was to officiate at its opening with our Prime Minister on the morning of Remembrance Day 2003. The landscaping of the memorial was completed at midnight on 10 November 2003. His success in meeting the full completion of his warrant on time is testament to his immense executive ability, and I publicly acknowledge his excellent effort.
One other significant memorial built on my watch, by Air Vice Marshall Beck, and one in which I took a personal interest, is the elegant but powerful memorial at Isurava on the Kokoda Track, which literally sets in stone the legends of the ANZACs that forged the foundation of our nationhood. Etched in gold on four mighty granite pillars are these words: courage, endurance, sacrifice and mateship. They stand framed by the beautiful Kokoda Valley in the background. I thank my friend and colleague Bronwyn Bishop, who walked on the Kokoda Track and was there for the opening of that memorial.
The most important area of responsibility in the portfolio is the care of our serving personnel and their families. I was pleased to see the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act come into law in 2004. This benchmark legislation was framed and passed on my watch and set in place the most comprehensive changes in military compensation legislation in nearly two decades. Its drafting meant tough, long hours for Dr Johnson, Ian Campbell and Paul Stevens and those DVA officials who had the complex task of melding two pieces of earlier legislation—drafted for different purposes—the VEA and the SRCA. While I congratulate all departmental officers involved, special recognition must go to the principal officers for the intellectual rigor they each brought to the table. I also thank Arthur Edgar, Andrew Moorhead and Bill Maxwell from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Mal Pierce from the Department of Defence. This military-specific legislation makes realistic provision for the widows and families of our defence personnel and it was long overdue—it benchmarks the world.
In the rarefied atmosphere that marks this place there are many fellow members who I have come to respect and admire for the values and other worthy attributes that they bring to this place. I feel a better person for having worked with them. I have been warned not to name anyone if I cannot name them all. But I do need to recognise one or two, because I have worked in close association with them for some purpose or another. I want to recognise the admirable Brendan Nelson, the best Prime Minister we never had, and Kerry Bartlett, Kay Elson and Gary Nairn, who have gone before. I will miss you, Joanna Gash, Margaret May, John Forrest, Kay Hull, Judy Moylan, Andrew Robb, Russell Broadbent, Nola Marino, Don Randall, Dennis Jensen and Alex Somlyay. From the other place, I will miss senators Nick Minchin, Ian Macdonald, Cory Bernardi, Gary Humphries and Marise Payne. It was great to serve with you here in Parliament House in our great Liberal Party and I regret that I will not be here with you fighting the good fight next time. And we do have a winning chance next time.
The House standing committees are very much part of the real nuts and bolts of parliament and are very rewarding. Many of our members recognise this. I have found goodwill and sound cooperation across party lines as committee members work together at meetings and public hearings and I thank the secretariat, led by the excellent Anna Dacre and her team, who make the work appear easy. It has been rewarding to work as deputy to the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Michael Danby. I thank him and all the dedicated members of that committee. It is good to know that some of our recommendations have already become law, which just goes to show how effective committees can be at addressing issues of concern to the wider Australian community.
I also acknowledge the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Bob Debus, and the earlier chair, Richard Marles. I hope that we get to finish our important report on Indigenous juvenile justice, in which I am passionately interested. At public hearings across Australia committee members meet fellow Australians at the delivery end of the legislation that we create here in this place. Sometimes we come across some good success stories. Back in 2006, this ATSI committee, chaired by Barry Wakelin, then member for Grey, we discovered the Cairns and District Regional Housing Corporation under CEO Jack Szydzik and his board of Indigenous traditional owners, who not only provided quality housing for local Indigenous families but had an Indigenous employment component on their maintenance teams of around 70 per cent. That is not bad when the national average for Indigenous employment was two per cent. It is hard to argue with audited success, but this corporation, which operates under sound business principles and world’s best practice, cannot even get an appointment with the minister. One has to ask why not.
Regrets, I have a few. I regret that I could not do anything about bad government industries, especially those related to Indigenous issues and the methadone program, which I believe is a program that uses a dirty, synthetic, addictive opioid that kills people. But they are battles for another time in another place.
Mr Speaker, thank you for being the Speaker. Thank you, too, to all your staff here in Parliament House. I know that I have had the benefit and privilege of working with you on parliamentary standing committees. I also thank the Clerks, Ian Harris and Bernard Wright; the House attendants; the security officers; and especially our Comcar drivers. In one way or another, they have all looked after me since I arrived.
The future offers an unknown adventure but I surrender to the greater destiny which shapes all our ends because I leave this place with a spirit that has been forged to a higher tensile strength by the unique pressures of the role. I thank the worthy John Miller, Jock Cameron, our Parliamentary Chaplain Peter Rose and other spiritual leaders for their stewardship and good counsel when I found myself on the edge of the political plank, which seemed to happen often. If I fell, I was aware that the media were ready to publicly disembowel me. You have to know who you are when you come to this place and what values you fly by. Otherwise, you do not fly at all. The reasons I stood against embryonic stem cell testing, abortion drugs and pornography are well documented in Hansard for the world to see. They are an extension of my Christian faith and my values.
Mr Speaker, for the record I would like to share with you and the House the Chinese proverb of which I spoke which is on the back of my card:
Where there is light in the soul,
There will be beauty in the person.
Where there is beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the house.
Where there is harmony in the house,
There will be order in the nation.
Where there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.
That means that peace starts with me, and I accept the responsibility.
I wish all my colleagues every good success at the next election. Tony Abbott is prime minister material. He is a man of principle, of soul and of great intellectual velocity and I wish him and the team the success that they deserve in the election. We have a good chance to win in Hughes with our Liberal candidate, local resident and local businessman Craig Kelly. I will be working with Craig to ensure that we continue to have a Liberal member for Hughes.
I hope to continue to make a contribution to my community. But the immediate future belongs to the long-suffering Bob. We will earn our stripes as grandparents and learn to be enchanted by the wonderful grandchildren that our fine sons and their wives—our Robert and Belinda; Christopher and Suzanna; Matthew and Sonja, and Alexander and Melanie—have presented to us. I say to my children: you are the only glory that I ever wanted and I love you so much. And I love you, too, Bob; I love you, darling. I know that these last fourteen years have not been easy for you. Thank you for saving the last dance for me.
God bless you all, and God bless Australia.