Thursday, 24 June 2010
Member for Melbourne
On indulgence, I rise to advise the House that I will not be contesting the forthcoming federal election. I just wish to outline some of the reasoning behind my decision. A couple of weeks ago I spoke with the then Prime Minister indicating that it was my intention not contest the coming election. He asked me to delay consideration of this decision, indeed to reconsider. He indicated that he wanted me to stay on as a minister even if I did choose to step down. I concurred with his request and we agreed that we would revisit the matter at the end of the parliamentary sitting period. In fact, we had an appointment scheduled for 9.30 this morning to consider this matter. As you all know, by one of those strange quirks of fate that tend to occur in politics, other matters intervened. So I found myself doing what I expected to do—namely, confirming my intention not to recontest the election—slightly later in the day to a different Prime Minister, the incoming Prime Minister. I am now formally advising the House of my decision. I have indicated to the incoming Prime Minister that I am equally happy to continue serving in my current ministerial position until the election or to step aside without demur should she choose to ask me to do so.
I want to say a number of things to the House about this decision. First, I would like to make it plain that I have no future employment organised as yet, in case anybody is suspicious that I have been bought off. I do expect that I will pursue opportunities somewhere in the business and academic worlds, but that is a matter for the future. I also wish to indicate that, once I do cease to be a minister and a member of parliament, I do not intend to play a serious or significant future role in politics. I will of course do everything within my power to ensure that the government is re-elected and that the Labor Party holds my seat of Melbourne.
Once the election is over, I expect to play very little role in the future political discourse of this nation, with one significant exception. For a number of years I have been heavily committed to and heavily involved in seeking to advance the interests of a particular group of people in our nation—African Australians. That is something that I am very passionate about and something that I would urge all members of the House to pay more attention to. They are a particularly disadvantaged group in our community and I will certainly be offering my assistance to them in any way that they may find useful.
I want to stress that this decision is driven entirely and absolutely by matters of personal circumstances. There are, frankly, two little girls and two older kids who need me more than the country needs me. When I married my wife, Andrea, nine years ago, I said in the speech at the celebration that every day that we were apart was painful. I am afraid that is still true. These are circumstances that I am sure most members of the House will understand only too well—indeed, better than many in the community.
People will know from media reports that I and my wife have purchased a property just outside Melbourne. This of course is not unrelated to my decision. I am aware that in the current political environment—a rather unusual environment—all kinds of speculation and conspiracy theories will emerge with respect to the decision that I have taken. I want to assure the House that this decision is totally and absolutely unconnected with the events of the past 24 hours. It involves no reflection on either the previous Prime Minister or the incoming Prime Minister. It involves no reflection on the government’s policies and it involves no reflection on the prospects of Labor holding the seat of Melbourne. In fact, it is a little-known fact that my margin, or the margin that my successor as the candidate for Melbourne will inherit, is slightly better than it was between 2001 and 2004 in the wake of the Tampa election.
I would like to conclude by thanking, most obviously, my dear wife, Andrea, our four children and my mother, who is an ex-parliamentary staffer, believe it or not. Sadly it was for the National Party, but that is another matter. She did learn her lesson late in life, I hasten to say. I would like to thank all of my staff, past and present, ministerial and electorate, and especially my chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, media adviser and personal adviser—that is, Anthony Baker, Angela Jackson, Nardia Dazkiw and Mary Day—for their extraordinary commitment and dedication. I would like to thank the staff of Parliament House. I would particularly like to thank the people working in the Department of Finance and Deregulation, who in my view are the best public servants in the nation. I have found them virtually uniformly outstanding. Only yesterday we were celebrating a particular achievement with the reform of government travel with people in the department. I particularly thank the two heads that I have served with, Dr Ian Watt and David Tune.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues in the labour movement and the trade union movement, particularly those I served with in the Federated Clerks Union, which is now the Australian Services Union, state colleagues in my part of Melbourne, branch members and supporters in my electorate, and a range of very important individuals who have been critical mentors during the course of my career—Peter Redlich and Michael Schaefer from Holding Redlich; former senator Barney Cooney; my intellectual inspiration, Michael Schluter from the Relationships Foundation in the UK; and a range of close friends, who I do not wish to name at any great length, particularly people like Tony Douglas, Stephen Howells and Martin Foley, who is now the state member for Albert Park.
I would also like to thank the Essendon Football Club, which has paid me an honour that is at least as good as anything that I have achieved in politics and probably better—that is, being the No. 1 ticket holder for the Essendon Football Club. I would like to thank David Evans, Ray Horsburgh and Ian Robson for that. I would anticipate that, as I am now slightly devalued currency as a result of today’s announcement, I will have to step down from that position sooner rather than later. I will at least endeavour to prolong my tenure in that position until the end of the football season. I suspect it is only about eight or nine weeks away for the Bombers. Maybe I can string out my position—five and eight; it’s not looking that great.
I would like to thank my colleagues, in particular of course the now former Prime Minister and also the incoming Prime Minister. I would like to thank the Treasurer and various ministers that I have worked very closely with, such as my colleagues on the ERC, ministers that I have worked with directly, such as the minister for competition and small business, Craig Emerson, and Senator Nick Sherry. Particularly my sincere thanks go to now, sadly, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for giving me the opportunity to serve at the highest level in a Labor government.
My final brief observations, which could well be the last things I get to say in this chamber depending on what happens between now and election day: I am conscious that there will be people out in the community, including a number of people I am close to, who will feel let down or disappointed by my decision today. I am very conscious of that. A lot of people, as with most other people in this chamber, have invested in me over many years. It is a responsibility I take very seriously, so to those who do feel let down I apologise.
I would remind everybody on our side of the chamber, everybody in the Labor caucus—I think the logic applies to most of the others in this chamber as well but they can form their own view—that there is only one reason that any of us are here, no matter how brilliant we are. It is that on about 100,000 ballot papers once every three years our name appears with the words ‘Australian Labor Party’ underneath it. That is the only reason any of us here are in the Labor caucus—that reason alone. It is for that reason that I have always sought to be loyal to the labour movement, to the trade union movement and to the Labor Party and to behave as loyally as I can to the great labour movement and the great collective good that we seek to pursue for working people in this country. I do not intend to make any further public comment about my departure irrespective of my immediate future, remaining or not remaining as a minister.
I conclude by saying that I feel as if I have walked in the footsteps of giants. It has been an extraordinary privilege to be part of a Labor government. It has been an extraordinary privilege to be a member of the House of Representatives. It has been an extraordinary experience that I will remember and value for the remainder of my life. I wish all members well but particularly I wish well those who continue to carry the great banner of Labor. Thank you very much.
Honourable members—Hear, hear!
Before calling the Leader of the Opposition, I thank the member for Melbourne for a display of true parliamentarianship by making the announcement in this institution. That is very much appreciated. On a day that has had extraordinary twists and turns, when once I had thought that I had seen everything, the shock of his announcement has caught me a bit unawares. But, if the House would allow me the indulgence, I thank him for his efforts and his comradeship.
On indulgence in a similar spirit, Mr Speaker, may I rise and, on behalf of the opposition, acknowledge the contribution of the member for Melbourne and Minister for Finance and Deregulation. He has been a well-respected minister in the government and he has been a worthy opponent. Can I also acknowledge the comments that he has made about his family and his desire to be restored to them. This life is very difficult on families. Our families deserve us as well as our constituents but they do not see us as much as they should. I think families are the unsung heroes of politics and sooner or later all of us should return to them. So I pay tribute to the member for Melbourne and minister for finance for his decision. I suspect that there are political families all around this country who are wishing their family member in this place would do likewise and follow the example of the member for Melbourne.
Government member interjecting—
Don’t encourage my wife or she might be on the phone! May I also pay tribute to the work that the minister has done thus far in the current government. I think to be, as minister for finance, the guardian of fiscal rectitude must have been very difficult indeed in this government, which has, as we know, presided over a significant change in the fiscal position of the Commonwealth. The member for Melbourne and minister for finance has been, as all of us would expect and understand, a hard political player. That is the role which is inevitably thrust upon most of us here. But he has been, in my opinion and in the opinion of most of us on this side of parliament, a man of honour within the restraints that politics imposes upon us, and I suspect he must be disappointed in some way with the events of the last 24 hours. But, that said, when he says that the events of the last 24 hours had nothing to do with his decision we believe him. I am sure there is no sense of reluctance to continue serving, and I do believe that this place will be the poorer for his absence.
Mr Speaker, if I could add some remarks about my colleague Lindsay Tanner: I was sitting in the chair then trying to calculate how long we have known each other and, unfortunately, that is a calculation that is going to reveal something about our ages. But I think I first met Lindsay Tanner when I was 19 years old and I was involved in the Australian Union of Students. I suspect his early memories of me are not necessarily the fondest ones, because I do recall, in what seemed in the hurly-burly of student politics to be a crisis of remarkable dimension—and obviously now I have completely forgotten what it was about but I do remember this—in one of those pressurised moments, knocking on his door in Carlton in the middle of the night in order to seek his counsel about this crisis. It says something about the man that he never complained that I did bash on the door for a discussion at 2, 3 or 4 am about something that I am sure he considered of no particular moment. He was very generous with his time.
Obviously we have known each other all of those years since, in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party and in this place. We have worked together, we have had our moments of agreement and we have had our moments of disagreement, but I think across all of those years we have had a friendship and a respect for each other. I certainly very much respect the hard work that he has done as Minister for Finance and Deregulation, and I can understand how enthusiastic he is to return himself to his family, to break out of the windowless cabinet room and get to go home. All of our very best wishes and thoughts go with him as he moves to that next stage of his life.
On indulgence, Mr Speaker, I join with those extending best wishes to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation on the announcement of his retirement today. The finance minister would often come to the dispatch box during question time with a relatively sharp tongue, and quite often his most aggressive remarks were directed towards the Nationals. I have to say I often wondered what went wrong, because he is one of the few people on the front bench with some genuine country roots. Somebody must have done something really bad to him in his little country town, because he has managed to carry this ill-feeling right through his time as minister for finance. In spite of a loving wife, in spite of all sorts of people who may have chosen to counsel him in different directions, he always managed to find some way to criticise the worthy role of the Nationals in this parliament.
In his retirement remarks the minister spoke about how he loved the people in the finance department. Maybe I understand that better than most, and I do not think there have been too many other people in the ministry who could think of anything nice to say about the finance department. They are lovely people, but they sometimes do things that other ministers do not like very much. The burden and responsibility of being minister for perhaps the most unpopular department in the whole of the government is something that he has carried with distinction.
My very best wishes go to the member for Melbourne, the minister for finance, on his retirement. We wish him happiness and every success in his future life.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I recognise his very hard work, and I also recognise the work that he did on telecommunications while in opposition. The benefits that we will hopefully enjoy in coming decades will be partly due to the work that he put in during that period, and I congratulate him for that.
On behalf of the crossbenches, I also congratulate the Prime Minister, and the former Prime Minister for the very hard work that he did for this nation. I wish the new Prime Minister the very best of luck. I would urge her not to forget our country constituents. This is a time of challenge, when we all need to pull together—particularly in the country, where people are experiencing some difficulty.