House debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Parliamentary Representation


4:33 pm

Photo of Robert McClellandRobert McClelland (Barton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—I appreciate the indulgence of the House and the presence of those members who have come into the House—and indeed Senator Brandis has come across, which I appreciate. In preparing this, my last speech, I went back to the time of my first speech. But it was not my first official speech; it was actually a speech on a condolence motion for Mick Young. Mick, and my father, I suppose, were my political mentors. I had regard to Mick's impact on our nation's history and, indeed, political history and I think it is fair to say that Mick, as much as anyone, was responsible for bringing the Australian Labor Party from the language of class warfare to being a party that aspired to, and was capable of, governing for all Australians. Indeed, Mick proposed what was unthinkable to many in those days: he proposed establishing links with business. The business community then provided advice, established relationships and, in many cases, helpfully provided support. If Mick had not taken that step, the Australian Labor Party, I would suggest, would have remained unelectable.

It was, in fact, by building on Mick's legacy that the Hawke and Keating governments were able to draw together the combined resources of government, employers and the trade union movement to develop the Accord. I think that period of the Accord, from an economic point of view, had as much as anything to do with Australia coming into the 21st century as a modern economy. Indeed, it was during Mick's time that the famous 'It's Time' campaign was launched by Gough Whitlam in Bowman Hall in Blacktown in November 1972. Many of us can recall that famous speech where Gough stood up with his stature and commenced with the words, 'Men and women of Australia'. Those words were, in fact, used by Ben Chifley to launch the campaign in 1943, but Gough has subsequently confirmed in an interview that the use of those words, 'Men and women', was deliberate, conveying an intention of the Australian Labor Party to govern in the interests of all Australians.

I am very proud to be the parliamentary representative of a party of such a tradition of bringing Australians together to act in the national interest, and I agree entirely with statements that have recently been made by the member for Hotham and the member for Batman that that tradition is inherently part of the tradition of Labor that we all have a responsibility to live up to. Indeed, it is a tradition that is very relevant to my electorate. My electorate of Barton is a remarkable area but the people are even more remarkable. It is very old in many ways, one of the oldest electorates in terms of people over the age of 60, but it is also very young, with 42 per cent of the electorate either coming from overseas or having a parent who was born overseas. What we have seen there is a snapshot of a real Australian success story: first-generation migrants coming out and often working in very menial jobs but, through their commitment to hard work, their commitment to family and their commitment to education, we are now seeing second and third generations who are literally leaders in their community—doctors, lawyers, accountants and professionals of all descriptions, very successful tradespeople, local business people and, indeed, political leaders at all levels of government. Can I at this point most significantly thank the people of Barton for their support for me in electing me and re-electing me on five successive occasions.

Obviously the highlight of my political career was the period that I spent as Attorney-General. But I can say that even there my experience as the member for Barton influenced the decisions and actions that I took. For instance, in implementing the Human Rights Framework that arose from the excellent report by Father Frank Brennan, I had very much in mind my constituents as a snapshot of Australia. The framework requires legislation to be assessed against Australian's human rights obligations. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Hon. Harry Jenkins, the former Speaker, who will also be making his valedictory speech next week, is a committee that very much engages with the community to give them the opportunity of providing input on how their rights have been affected. This is relevant not simply to so-called minority groups but very, very relevant to regional Australia, where in many cases services are still lacking when compared to their city cousins.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the very valued friendships I have made across both sides of the chamber. I know that Dr Mal Washer will be giving his valedictory speech later this afternoon. From my point of view—and I think it is a universally held view—Mal is one of the finest men that I have ever met, and he will be a real loss to the parliament, as indeed will other members.

I also specifically acknowledge the relationship I have had with those members of the opposition I have been a shadow minister to and who, indeed, have been a shadow minister to me. Obviously in a political environment you do not always see eye to eye, but I can say that, on each and every occasion I dealt with them—in this case they were men—they dealt with me in good faith and I never, ever once questioned their motives, and those motives were to act in the best interests of our nation. I think voters expect nothing more from their elected representatives and they are entitled to nothing less than that from their elected representatives.

It is very fortunate that Senator Brandis has come across to the House, for which I thank him. In my capacity as Attorney-General obviously I had most to do with him. We obviously had our disagreements but, on every occasion we had discussion, those discussions were cordial and constructive. Anything said in confidence remained in confidence and matters that could be resolved were resolved and, indeed, many successes from our collective point of view—that is, the parliament's collective point of view—were achieved. For instance, George's support for legislation amending some 80 pieces of legislation to remove discrimination against some same-sex couples was vital, as indeed was his support for introducing legislation to prohibit capital punishment from being reintroduced in Australia, which was potentially controversial. I am proud of the fact that both houses of parliament unanimously passed every bit of legislation in that context. That was in substantial part as a result of the support and decency, I thought, of Senator Brandis during that process.

My colleague the member for Batman spoke the other day of his relationship with state and territory counterpart ministers through the ministerial councils that are a vital part of the effective functioning of our federal system. Could I also add to that—and I am sure he would agree with me—the contribution made by representatives from New Zealand. I am fortunate to say that I have made a lifelong friendships from those associations. I think collectively we can be very proud of our achievements.

If I had had a little longer in the role of Attorney-General—and I must say I did want a little longer—there were several things I would have liked to have finished. One of them—we almost got there but not quite—was the establishment of a national legal profession. I think that is important. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation in particular for the work of the New South Wales Attorney General, Greg Smith, and also the Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, and their stellar support in that project. I wish every strength to their collective arms in further progressing that. I think it is a particularly important step. If a national legal profession is established it can literally be a trailblazer to business throughout Australia taking advantage of the massive opportunities that now exist in Asia.

The second issue that I should place on record is—again, I think it is fair to say—our collective concern as attorneys-general with the issue of Indigenous justice. That includes the rate of victimisation but also the rate of incarceration, particularly of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. If I can have a further indulgence within an indulgence to give an example of that: I toured Kununurra and went on a night patrol with the local police. They took me to the township of Kununurra and standing on the street corners were teams of young people, some as young as eight. They expressed concern that later in the evening there was every prospect that those people would get into trouble. They then took me to the suburbs where these kids lived and you saw the reason they were on the streets. Quite frankly, the suburbs were dysfunctional because of the mayhem that alcohol had caused, and that was the reason the kids were on the street.

The advice of the police as to what they thought would help them was a drop-in centre and being a minister—and people will have this opportunity after this election—it was relatively easy to find the $250,000-odd from departmental resources to establish such a drop-in centre. I visited that centre some 12 months later and saw about 40 kids. Some were playing basketball, some using computers and some watching videos—all in safety. It was pointed out to me, and I think tellingly pointed out to me, that the $250,000 that the department had easily found was the cost of detaining one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child in juvenile detention for a year. I think those figures are telling. That is obviously a simplistic example of a very complex problem, but I think it just underlines what can be done—again on a very limited scale. All attorneys-general really want to focus on that issue and I think the time has come where not only the rates of victimisation but also the rates of incarceration, bringing down those rates, need to be made part of the Closing the Gap targets.

I will not continue on the ministerial councils for too long, but could I also acknowledge the work of the ministers on the emergency management side of the equation, who also made an excellent contribution. One of the outstanding things we collectively did was the establishment of the national emergency warning system, which has now sent out some seven million messages and, in the next few months, will probably become the world leader in its capacity to send out location based warnings for wherever someone's telephone headset is.

Again, by way of indulgence—as I suppose I am entitled to do at this stage of my career—can I compare my experience as Attorney-General, intimately involved in the national security side of the equation in the national security infrastructure, to that of my experience in my role as emergency management minister. I can say, unequivocally, that the capabilities we have in the national security area—the structures, the systems, the infrastructure—is world-class. It is absolutely best practice. Regrettably, I cannot say that in respect of the area of emergency management. The reality is that Australians are going to suffer far greater loss, injury and, unfortunately, loss of life from natural disasters—even greater than we would from a terrorist event—and we have not given enough attention to that area. In particular, we tend to have a focus on showing empathy with individual payments that are made after an event. It is appropriate that we do show empathy and provide some assistance for those who have suffered, but the task, I suggest, should be shifting the resources to the front end—to preventative measures—to prevent them suffering injury and loss in the first place, or at least to mitigate the extent of that. I think that is something that requires a dedicated Council of Australian Government meeting in itself.

Can I briefly express my appreciation to the public servants I worked with. I must say that I found them to be outstanding and, at risk of blurring the separation of powers, could I include court officers and judicial officers in that, as well as the outstanding service we receive in this House through the parliamentary officers who, despite the highly-charged atmosphere, have the universal respect of every member of this House. I think that is very important. It is my view, having observed the public service in operation—and having observed for a long time the parliament in operation—that we are doing so well as a country because of the quality of public servants, despite the shenanigans that can often take place in the parliamentary side of the equation.

I will move to those who have been, at a personal level, vital to the success I have had in parliamentary life. I thank my staff—many of whom are up in the gallery today—and that obviously includes my electoral staff, who have been outstanding. One of them I inherited from Gary Punch and one of my ministerial staff I inherited from Philip Ruddock, and they are both still with me. Among the ministerial staff, I should also specifically acknowledge the departmental liaison officers. There were no distinctions in my office; they were all equally valued and they were certainly all equally dedicated and competent, and I thank them for the assistance that they gave.

As with all members, my friends, supporters and party members have all been crucial to our electoral success. I suppose, like all members, I am embarrassed to reflect that in many instances I only contacted the friends in recent years to invite them along to a fundraiser or to ask them to hand out on holding booths, and I daresay they are going to call me to account with lunches that I need to repay in the coming months—but that is something that I will look forward to.

I will move into what is obviously the foundation for all our work, and that is the family. I have been blessed in that respect. My mother and father are still well and still very supportive. My father does not stop providing me with advice every day, and that is despite the fact that he advised me against going into parliament in the first place and instead advised me to concentrate on a legal career. There have obviously been ups and downs, but I have no regrets. It has been an honour to follow in his steps and, indeed, in his fathers steps, as part of that tradition to which I have referred. My sisters and their partners have also been wonderful. I have my three daughters here today: Caitlin, Jessica and Claudia. That is in descending order of age. I could do the reverse in ascending order of height: Claudia, at 13, is taller. My son David is currently doing an exam and is unable to be here. They have been a tremendous strength, and Michelle and I are incredibly proud of them. They have pointed out to me that, over the last 17½ years, I have been away for about seven of those, and that is something that I will make amends for—at least until they get sick of it.

I also thank them for their humour. My son, David, I must say, is terrible. His political observations are very clever. They are usually directed at me and the office that I do or do not hold—and at my weight—but they are always well meaning. When I get out, I might write a book on some of his contributions. I must acknowledge—but perhaps I should not—that I cringed at some of the tweets he sent to David Speers and some other journalists, but good-natured humour appropriately brings us all down a peg.

My wife Michelle has been my bedrock. In 1996, the only way I persuaded her to allow me to go into parliament was to give an iron-clad guarantee—which are often given in politics—that I would be out by 50. I am now 55, but she has tolerated that. For those who know her, she is a remarkable lady. She is not someone to be crossed, as people have found out, but she has been incredibly loyal to me and she has kept me grounded. If I can give you an example of Michelle, I recall that after the victory that the Labor Party had in 2007—obviously a big night—I woke up and I expected, hopefully, to get a phone call to discuss possible ministries and so forth. The first thing Michelle said to me was, 'Remember that retaining wall you promised to build after the election?' I said yes. She said, 'Well, it's after the election.' So, hangover or not, I was out there with the chainsaw and the sledgehammer building that wall. When she says, 'Do something,' you do it.

On this point, there is also the famous three-day rule that she has. Inevitably, as part of the democratic process, people will lose their seats, and inevitably we will be down as a result of that; the commitment to the work they have been doing and so forth will end. But she gave me three days. Invariably she would say to me after that time: 'Listen. You've been completely obnoxious for three days. Get over it or else.' Those who know Michelle knew that it was time to get over it. From the point of view of the McClelland household at least, she now holds an office that is far more significant than any I have ever attained: she was recently appointed as a director of St George Rugby League. When the coach finds out what a hidden weapon he has, she will be down giving the players a pep talk, and there is no question that we will make the final eight.

In conclusion, can I thank all those members who have paid me the courtesy of coming in. I thank all the friends and supporters. Indeed, I have a friend, Michael Forsyth—who is the General Manager of Kiama Council and who we went to primary school and high school with—who has popped in. Friends I have had throughout my life have been very important to me as well. I thank everyone once again. For those I have not thanked, I simply conclude by saying that I hope I have lived up to the support that they have been so wonderful in giving me. Thank you.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate the member for Barton on his speech. I wish him well in his retirement. I know he is not going to be taking too much time off, though. I think the member for Barton is one of those characters who will not take a lot of time off, as his wife is nodding in the gallery. I give the member for Moore the call on indulgence. I understand people will be congratulating the member for Barton, but I call the member for Moore on indulgence to make his remarks.

4:55 pm

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Rob, I congratulate you too. I cannot come over and shake his hand, because I have to make a speech, but he is a dear friend and I will miss him. I rise today with the opportunity to briefly reflect on nearly 15 years in this great institution as a serving parliamentarian for the constituency of Moore in Western Australia. It was early in 1998 that I had a visit from the president of the Moore division, Greg Sharp, who advised me that the seat of Moore needed a Liberal candidate. Given that I had been in general practice in the area for 26 years, and still was, he suggested strongly that I make application for preselection, which I won unopposed.

It was then I realised a whole new world was opening up before me. I told my family of my endeavours, and my wife, son and daughter thought I was ready for committal. I told my practice manager, Gloria—who I think you all know—of my idea to run for the seat of Moore in the federal parliament, and her response was: 'It's all right for you; if you lose, you can return to medicine. But what would an old chook like me do?' I quickly came back with the answer, and that was: 'Put it this way: if you come with me, you'll never be bored.'

A campaign committee was formed consisting of Senator Alan Eggleston; Geoffrey Paddick; Colin Edwards; Iain MacLean; Chris Baker, the state member for Joondalup; and Ian Goodenough. Others were Tess and Gary MacLean and Mary Anglin. The rest are too numerous to mention. I was encouraged to doorknock the electorate, which I must admit I was a bit reluctant to do. I did not normally do home visits, as I had 29 doctors working for me. I do not want to sound arrogant, but I usually got the younger ones to do. But I did it. When I had all the helpers—because I took a heck of a lot of helpers—my old patients were not fooled by the message, 'Sorry I missed you,' in the letterbox when a member of my team visited, because they knew my handwriting was illegible. I had them ringing me and saying: 'Bulldust! You didn't leave that message.'

I was one of the members of the class of '98. They were and remain a great bunch of people who served and continue to serve this country with distinction.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you are one of them, are you? We all got on well, and it was a pleasure to note that some have gone to greater heights and others, like me, have stayed put. Coming to this place as a novice was, to borrow from my friend Judi Moylan, 'a great leap'. I did not always land in the target zone, but there were always many friends around to pick me up and point me in the right direction. I particularly welcomed the parties permitting conscience votes, enabling the lifting of the sometimes onerous shackles of party discipline so that members were free to express their individual opinions. Let us hope that this remains a cornerstone of free speech and expression as we contend with the greater need to balance ideals and individual opinion against the realities of political life.

I use this occasion to reflect also on the extension of my previous career as a prescribing doctor in a place where the Hippocratic oath I made as a general practitioner changed to the Samaritan oath as the House medical practitioner. That means I do not get paid, so you do not have to worry! Wine is always readily acceptable! I was in this role, and I rapidly came to know firsthand how the rigours, the intellectual toll and the sheer physical demands of being a representative of the people of Australia affected the lives and health of us all here. These stresses and anxieties take a terrible toll on some of us. Our working hours remain a serious challenge not only to our health and wellbeing but also to our productivity. I sincerely hope all future parliaments look at streamlining the hours for the sake of the health of the people who serve in it. Remember also it is the staff of this House and not just us to whom we have a responsibility.

As a medical practitioner here I feel humbled yet grateful for the many confidences shared, the trust shown and the friendships that have grown around the privilege of assisting and treating many of my parliamentary colleagues and staff members. I thank you for that.

I have endeavoured also throughout my time in this place to make a real difference not just to my colleagues but also to my constituents. I am particularly proud of the work I have been privileged to undertake in advancing the rights of women, both here and internationally, through my membership of the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development. We cannot have environmental sustainability without global population sustainability. We need to ensure that women throughout the world have equality, that they have the right to choose when and how many children they have and that they do not die in unwanted childbirth. We must continue to challenge the social, religious and other barriers to women's rights around the world. Achieving most of the millennium development goals depends on this.

I would like to think that my experience as a general practitioner has also been a assistance in advancing health policy in many areas. Being able to serve as a member of the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group founded by the Hon. Judi Moylan has been a great honour, particularly with the Kids in the House. I think Judi loved that.

Throughout my time here I have been a firm proponent of stem cell research, and it is my earnest hope that scientific endeavours in this area will one day deliver the cures we so desperately need for the cruellest of the diseases affecting mankind. In America a week or so ago they did perfect somatic stem cell nuclear transfer. That is a great breakthrough. I pressed hard also for fewer barriers to accessing innovative medicines on the PBS and proper funding for all avenues of medical research. Perhaps my retirement from the House may reduce the usage of the PBS.

One of the causes I have been most passionate about is the issue of the use of illicit drugs and its treatment as a criminal offence. Whilst the popular refrain 'tough on drugs' is an easy phrase, the issues are much more complex and need sensitive consideration in line with mental health and social welfare issues. As chair of the Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform I have lobbied governments and oppositions around the country to change the laws. We have also lobbied to have a reference to the Productivity Commission to consider the true cost to the Australian community of the current policies on the use of illicit drugs, thus enabling us to compare the cost of law enforcement versus harm reduction and prevention.

The use of some illicit drugs needs to be decriminalised. The use of some should change. We are losing too many of our young people because they are seen as criminals and, as a result, do not seek medical help. They are convicted of drug crimes rather than being helped with underlying causes. This impacts on their future options to be fully participating members of our society. I have been particularly concerned with the high rate of incarceration of Indigenous users, who are not helped but damaged by our current policies.

In my time here I have had the privilege of serving on many joint parliamentary committees and have chaired or participated in a number, including the Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts Committee—the name of this committee keeps getting longer—the Industry, Science and Resources Committee and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, to name a few.

There can be nothing more important than identifying work towards the measures that are going to protect our planet for the generations to come. I have seen firsthand the reality of the effect of climate change on this country and its biodiversity. Visiting every state and territory, the members of the committee on this have witnessed coastal erosion and forest degradation with potentially devastating effects. Leadership by this parliament and its successors in the creation of a sustainable future is a critical and growing priority for all Australians.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues with whom I have served on all these committees for the productive, selfless and non-partisan devotion they have shown in the interests of Australians. Many of us are retiring on a voluntary basis at the end of this term. But I say to those who may be retiring involuntarily: stand tall and count yourself proud that you have been part of history serving in these hallowed halls. I will miss some of the fun I have had being a parliamentarian.

Like all of you present, I understand the art of doorknocking and the thrill of the first encounter of the dog. I like dogs though. My experience of larger dogs is that I have become an instant expert at the high-speed escape down the driveway in the absence of someone to answer the flaming door. Another skill we developed in the electorate was something we stole from John Major and Bill Clinton—the life-size cut-out cardboard person. In the two elections following my introduction to parliament, I used life-size stand-up cut-out cardboard models of yours truly dressed up in the booths. They worked really well, especially for my older aged patients with failing vision who are prone to having a lengthy conversation with them before they realise they may have been had. These models are also appreciated by the local dogs, keen to mark them as part of their territory.

After the election, the electorate of Moore had a number of visits from party leaders, including John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello. The function we ran with Peter Costello, who was a good Treasurer but who also could be the victim of the odd practical joke, proved it when he remarked on the brightness in the West of the big harvest full moon we sometimes get. He found it incredible. I explained to Peter the difference was due to the fact that he was looking at the face of it instead of the rear end of it.

On this note I must remind members that, despite views randomly expressed to the contrary, I consider myself to be one of the better behaved members of the House of Representatives. Even though I have unavoidably missed several divisions in almost 15 years, I have, surprisingly, yet to be removed from the chamber—and I am not looking to change that. Michael Ronaldson, who was the whip at the time when I was first here, experienced me missing the first division. If you want a disaster, this was a disaster. He was really proud of me.

I came downstairs from a committee at 1.55. The technology in this place is not that good. Rather than returning to my room—I am on the outer fringes—I entered the chamber in readiness for question time. I noticed on my desk I had question No. 1 to John Howard, the Prime Minister. Members were entering the chamber early, and I thought they were very responsible. Disregarding this, I went out the door to go get question 1. Because, of course, I was in the vicinity of the chamber, the pager did not work and did not tell me of an impending division. So I went out and collected the question. They shut the doors and had a division, and Michael was unimpressed. I was treated to what is diplomatically called an 'expletive deleted' from Michael when he became aware I was not in my seat. That means there were some words I cannot use, and they were not four-letter words like 'icon'!

Another occasion that comes to mind is one of the last sittings at Christmas a few years ago. Labor members Graham Edwards and Kim Wilkie conned me into wearing reindeer horns at the end of question time after they had struck a deal with The West Australian newspaper that we would raise money for Anglicare. Brown paper bags containing the reindeer horns were taken to the chamber at 2 pm by each of us. As question time finished, Kim grabbed Graham in his wheelchair and whizzed him around to my side of the chamber, and all three of us donned these reindeer horns. The speaker of the day, Neil Andrew, tried unsuccessfully to call to order; unfortunately, order disintegrated rapidly. Kim Wilkie then decided to exit the scene with alacrity and grabbed Graham's wheelchair, whisking him out of this chamber and leaving burn marks on the carpet here. That left yours truly alone to suffer the wrath of Neil Andrew. Regardless, we managed to raise $2,000 for Anglicare, so it was worth it. And he didn't throw me out!

I would like to close by thanking those who have made my contribution to this parliament possible. Without them, it would not have happened. Thanks to my party, the crossbench friends and the staff of this Parliament House. I would like to pay tribute to Ian Macfarlane, who was my neighbour in the early days and always a good friend and companion. When he got promoted to the front bench he gave support to my campaigns in the west, and I appreciate him continuing his friendship. To all my dear and valued friends in this place: I thank you all for your support and friendship. I also record my thanks and delight in being able to serve on the population development group with Senator Claire Moore, who proudly chairs the group. Others I want to thank are Ian Goodenough, the endorsed Liberal candidate for Moore and former president of the Moore division; his mother and father, Mary and Reg; and my good friends and electoral supporters Monika Dunnet and Alan Brown.

One thing I have learned over the years is the value of loyal and devoted staff. I would like to thank my personal staff at the Joondalup electoral office for their care and concern in dealing patiently with the various inquiries from my constituents; my office staff Jodie, Noelene, Dalma, Penny and Sue; Tim in the members' dining room, who tolerates Julie's complaining about the food all the time; the Comcar people; security staff; and everyone.

I would especially like to thank Gloria, my long-suffering, loyal and devoted PA—although I think the suffering is reciprocated by me sometimes! We have worked together for 35 years. It has sort of been a love-hate relationship. I have tried to get her certified, but her doctors are too frightened to support me doing it! She was known as 'Dragon Lady'. Kevin, you will be proud to know they tattooed 'Kevin 07' on her—I think she told you the story—when they had her as a victim under anaesthetic. Which she thoroughly deserved and couldn't get off for some time! A special and heartfelt vote of thanks to you, Gloria. I think I accurately predicted to you that this journey into public life would never be boring.

Last but by no means least, a particularly big and special thanks to my wife, Nola, and my kids for their support and understanding over the years.

I cannot think of one person I have met in this long journey I would not regard as a friend. I will miss all of you equally, and I wish you the best for your future endeavours. Thank you.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate and thank the member for Moore and wish him well in his retirement from this place.

5:13 pm

Photo of Steve GibbonsSteve Gibbons (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence: how do I follow an act like the delightful Dr Mal Washer? I wish him well.

I am going to start with the thankyous because I do not want to miss out on people who deserve to be thanked. I will start with my campaign team over what has been almost 15 years. I am talking about Liese Venson, Sue McKenzie, Mardy Stradbrook, Elaine Walsh and Bill Murray. Then, of course, there is my staff. I understand they are all watching this on the Sky channel in the office, probably drinking copious cups of tea and coffee. To Sue McKenzie, Liese, Elaine, Mardy Stradbrook, Jacinta Allen, Elaine Harrington, Neil Wilson—Neil is, unfortunately, no longer on this earth, but I will never forget the day he came to the office to deliver a phone message and his tie was completely shredded. He had leaned over the shredder to do something, and his tie dangled into it. He had this big, silly grin on his face and a shredded tie. Lorna Erwin, Peter Downs, the late Richard Clarke, Shannon Farley, Cassie Farley, Sandra Shenhul, Natalie Pretlove, Jackie Diamond, Katie Conway, Fabian Reed, Mark Dericott, Bill Muray, Jamie Driscoll, Stuart McKenzie and Louise Fisher.

Of course I have to thank my wife, Diane. We have been constant companions since we were both 17 years of age. She has been a tower of strength for me. Our relationship has endured 35 years of the music sector, 35 years involvement in politics—and my support for the Collingwood Football Club. I would be lost without her.

I thought I would start by talking about my first speech in this House. I remember it well because we had a whip at that stage called Leo McLeay, and Leo used to delight in making things very difficult for people, especially if you happened to be from the Left. He did not even give me a day's notice: he told me on the day that I would be delivering my first speech later that afternoon—to which I said, 'Thank you very much.' So I had the speech prepared, and I remember sitting down just prior to the time I was due to get up, looking through the pages and noticing page 2 was missing. So I got up, sprinted out of the chamber, down the corridor, into the lift, up to the second floor, into my office, printed it off again, got all the way back and sat down just prior to getting the call. Of course, when I stood up to start delivering the speech I was puffing, panting and sweating. I could hear voices saying, 'Look, the poor soul, he's nervous, he's very concerned.' The truth is I was only slightly nervous but I was totally knackered!

On to more serious matters. I joined the Australian Labor Party on 3 September 1976. I remember that precise date because I got married on 4 September 1976. It was Labor's opposition to the war in Vietnam and particularly the influence of the late Dr Jim Cairns that guided me into 37 years of party membership and resulted in my election to this place in 1998. I am extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve since that date, and when I say 'we' I am talking about my office and the people associated with it.

Naturally I would have liked to have served on the front bench, in opposition or in government, administering a portfolio, but that was not to be. I had to defend some very narrow margins in the Bendigo electorate, especially during the early years, and I could not see any point in being away from the electorate to the extent required to manage a portfolio and then losing the seat as a result. Besides, during my first three parliamentary terms, to be available for promotion you had to kiss the backside of some of the subfactional warlords, usually self-appointed, to be guaranteed a spot. I was never prepared to do that. And as I am the sole member of my own subfaction, it would have been a little difficult for me to perform that task, actually. We changed the method of frontbench appointments in 2008 to allow the leader to select the team. I opposed that then and I still do. Consequently, I did not spend any time waiting, nor did I expect a phone call re promotion from either leader—and, of course, neither of them disappointed me.

But I am more than happy in what we—my office—have achieved. Our office has responded to more than 150,000 inquiries, always in a courteous and professional manner. For the period of 2007 to 2013 under the Labor governments, the Bendigo electorate has received more than $1.26 billion of federal government funding to improve community, education and health facilities, to maintain employment and social cohesion, to improve living standards and to address some of the major challenges facing our community, such as climate change and future communications needs.

I am proud to be a member of a party that has initiated milestone initiatives like: the price on carbon; exceptional management of the impact of the global financial crisis; low unemployment; low inflation and a low interest rate; the AAA credit rating; national education reform; the national disability scheme; the National Broadband Network; the resource rent tax, which is tax on mining company superprofits; the Murray-Darling Basin reform; and the apology to the stolen generation. It was very moving when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered that great speech and it was a great privilege to be in the chamber then.

There have been a range of local campaigns which I am proud to be associated with. The Calder Highway campaign was a classic. We had a four-year campaign of struggle to get the Howard government to honour its commitment and fund a duplicated highway from Melbourne all the way to Bendigo. That was a major struggle and I am pleased to say it was delivered just prior to the 2007 election. The opposition, the Liberals, took the view then that they had no chance of winning the seat of Bendigo unless that was completed. They completed it, and I still won the seat. I am very proud of that.

There was the big campaign to maintain the Bushmaster contract. You would all be familiar with the Bushmaster, the armoured personnel carrier that is saving lives in Afghanistan as we speak. In 1997 the initial contract was signed with what was then Australian Defence Industries when the ADI Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle was chosen as the preferred option over the ASVS Taipan vehicle to proceed to the next stage. A production contract was signed with ADI for 370 Bushmasters to be delivered by 2002. There was and, believe it or not, there is still considerable opposition from senior Army and defence personnel regarding the suitability of the Bushmaster vehicle, with a clear preference from some for an overseas product. I still cannot believe that that exists today, even after all the success. In 2001 Peter Reith replaced John Moore as the defence minister and, after receiving a Defence recommendation, announced he intended cancelling the Bushmaster contract.

Labor made the Bushmaster contract and the Calder Highway the main issues in the 2001 federal election campaign. The Howard government won that election, but I was re-elected on that particular platform. In 2002 I took a deputation to the new defence minister, Senator Robert Hill, to argue the case for retaining the contract with what was then still Australian Defence Industries. On 26 June 2002 Defence Minister Hill announced that the government would honour a revised Bushmaster contract with ADI, with a reduced number of vehicles—I think it was down from 370 to 299. Thales Bendigo have now produced 1,000 Bushmasters. Just last Friday we celebrated the one-thousandth machine, and the former Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, told a large gathering of Thales employees recently that the ADF estimated that Bushmasters have saved close to 300 lives, mostly Australian, in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very, very proud of that.

The Australian Department of Defence LAND 121 Phase 4 vehicle replacement program will provide the ADF with up to 1,300 light protected mobility vehicles, or PMV-Ls, and some non-armoured vehicles to replace part of the current Land Rover fleet. Thales, the company that now owns ADI, had designed and built the Hawkei PMV-L to compete for this contract and, again, there was and still is, believe it or not, considerable opposition to Australian design from the Defence department, both military and civilian. On 23 April 2009, I took a briefing from the most senior people in the DMO on the LAND 121 Phase 4 project and the officials told me—and I had my senior staff member, Stuart Mackenzie, with me at the time—that they did not believe Thales was capable of producing a light protected mobility vehicle. So we started an intensive lobbying campaign similar to the Bushmaster campaign of those earlier years.

On 26 May 2010, the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, announced funding for three Australian manufactured PMV-L vehicles to compete against the US JLTV. Thales, Force Protection and General Dynamics each received up to $9 million to develop prototypes. Thales' Hawkei was the only Australian designed and manufactured prototype in the competition. On 24 February 2011, Thales delivered two Hawkei prototypes to Defence for an intensive test and appraisal process. A recommendation to government on the preferred Australian PMV-L to compete with the successful US JLTV was anticipated later that year, with 2013 or early 2014 cited as a possible date for financial decision and a contract negotiation.

On 19 April, 300 people rallied in Bendigo in support of Australian defence manufacturing and Thales vehicle contracts. The Thales Hawkei won the Australian Defence Force 'Down Select' process—what we call the preferred tenderer status. This is the vehicle that they said Thales would never build and suddenly it had won the Down Select. It is now the preferred vehicle.

Defence minister, Stephen Smith, announced future prototype development funding for the Hawkei program. Thales has been granted another $38 million for Hawkei prototype development under the Defence Materiel Organisation first pass approval process and this brings the total Commonwealth investment to $47 million. So I am particularly proud of that. That is a contract worth potentially between $1.3 billion to Bendigo. Final testing and prototype development will continue throughout 2013-14 when contract negotiations should commence. All the hard work has been done and I think that the only risk that could lose a contract worth potentially $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion is the election of a coalition government. Both Tony Abbott and shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have refused to guarantee that they will support funding for prototype development for the Hawkei, and that is a real shame. But I am confident that Labor will win the election anyway and it will be fine.

One of the other big campaigns I am proud to be associated with was the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, or DIGO. There was a recommendation from the Defence department to relocate that from Bendigo, where it has been since 1942, up to Canberra with about 130 jobs associated with it. Again we waged a major campaign and a deputation to Defence Minister Robert Hill. Bendigo has a lot to thank Senator Robert Hill for, I must say. He has been very, very supportive in giving us appointments in the first place, listening to the argument and then acting on it, usually in our favour. So I am always indebted to him. He announced that DIGO would stay in Bendigo. They would vacate Fortuna, the old historic mansion, and move to a new building which was yet to be built at a cost of about $11 million, and that has happened.

Another defence-related Bendigo success story is Australian Defence Apparel, ADA. This innovative company manufactures uniforms and personal body armour for defence requirements. One of the things I am very proud about in our defence manufacturing capability in Bendigo is the fact that we only make things that save lives; we do not make things that kill people. All our defence manufacturing is very philosophically pure. We make things like Bushmasters, that have saved 300 lives, and armour protection that saves the lives of people who serve in war zones.

I want to particularly acknowledge the outstanding contribution to Bendigo's economy through ADA by its founder, Brian Rush, who really needs to be canonised. He took on this company, bought it from Australian Defence Industry and privatised it. It is a privatisation success story that I am almost reluctant to talk about for obvious reasons, but it is a great success story and it is Brian's stewardship that it has certainly done it.

ADA has always invested its own resources into research and development and is constantly developing new products, like ceramics for lifesaving body armour, and, far from just sitting around waiting for lucrative government contracts, Brian Rush has always had the courage to invest in new materials and new products. And I am sure that under the new CEO David Giles Kaye we will also see ADA continue to provide innovative solutions in armour protection for our service men and women.

I have deliberately spent some time during this speech on Bendigo's defence and defence industry sector, and for a good reason. It is vital to our economy and jobs. In fact research by the City of Greater Bendigo Council—research that my office, or I, commissioned—showed that the sector is worth a massive $750 million in total output per year to Bendigo's economy and is responsible for around 830 direct jobs, with a full consumption effect of over 1,600 indirect jobs. Defence and defence manufacturing are vital components of the Bendigo economy.

I am particularly proud of the campaign we waged to make sure that the La Trobe University campus in Bendigo stayed, a major university in Bendigo, and that it was not gutted with all of the resources going to Bundoora—and I know that the member for Scullin and my good friend the member for Batman probably shared that same view. I commissioned four well-known Bendigo identities, Andrew Cairns, Jan Boynton, Ian McBean and my former chief of staff, the late Richard Clarke, to prepare a report on La Trobe University's future in Bendigo and the impact that it makes in Bendigo's economy. It is a major powerhouse in Bendigo's economy. They produced a great report, and when La Trobe was going through its own processes of what they called 'vertical integration', they actually adopted a lot of the recommendations from that report that I had commissioned. So I am particularly proud of that.

I am particularly proud of the campaign to preserve the book-printing industry in Maryborough, and my good mate the member for Hotham, sitting in front of me, would be well aware of that. He has been there and has visited plenty of times. Maryborough is a very small community in my electorate of Bendigo. It is one of the most depressed regions in Bendigo and this had the potential to devastate the biggest employer in that town. I lobbied cabinet ministers and just about everybody who would listen that this was a very, very silly move to make and I am pleased to say that the cabinet finally resolved in my favour—by one vote. But it was enough.

I am indebted to the local Bendigo media because, without their interest and assistance, the campaigns that I have just mentioned would have been much harder, and much, much harder. I am pleased to say that I have had an effective relationship with the Canberra press gallery; I have never annoyed them too much and by and large they have left me alone—and I appreciate that. That system worked very well!

I have been fortunate enough to make some lasting friendships from all sides of this House and from the staff—security staff, attendants and COMCAR drivers. I have enjoyed working with members opposite, and on various committees over the past 15 years, and I refer particularly to the member for Hinkler, the member for Barker and the member for New England, among others. In all seriousness, this parliament, and indeed this nation, is fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Tony Windsor in its ranks. I wish him well for the forthcoming election.

There are two members of the opposition that I regard as close friends. I will not name them—

Photo of Steve GibbonsSteve Gibbons (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will not name them because I do not want to embarrass them! But then again, the former member for Corangamite used to do a great job of embarrassing himself. Particularly, I say to all of them and to those who I am referring to, that friends of mine are friends for life.

This 43rd parliament has been particularly difficult and we have all had to make sacrifices. I have had to refrain from enjoying that extra scotch before dinner for fear of knocking myself out and missing a division! But sacrifices had to be made.

Valedictory speeches are a time for reflection, and generally for reflection about the past. I am going to be serious for a minute and now would like to spend a few moments reflecting on our nation's future, in particular two of the challenges that will face my successor as the member for Bendigo and the 44th parliament as a whole.

The first of these is climate change. Scientists tell us that the actions that the world takes in the next decade will be critical; critical to whether we manage to slow the effects of man-made global warming during the 21st century, or whether we leave our children and grandchildren to contend with potentially catastrophic changes to their way of life. I am proud of the fact that Labor came into office in 2007 recognising the importance of this challenge, and I am proud that as I leave this House Australia is doing its part by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon-pricing scheme introduced into this parliament has placed Australia among the 35 countries and 13 regions that have implemented emissions trading schemes. Just yesterday, the city of Shenzhen in China launched an ETS that covers more emissions than Australia's entire carbon market. We have started doing our part, and it would be a tragedy if the anti-science attitude from the vested interests manages to divert us from that course.

The second great challenge for the next and subsequent parliaments is the shift of economic and political power from the Western nations to Asia. As the government's white paper recognises, the rise of Asia will be a defining feature of the 21st century. Within the life of the next couple of parliaments, Asia will not only be the world's largest producer of goods and services but will also be the world's largest consumer of them. It is already the most populous region in the world, and it will soon become home to most of the world's middle-class—I do not really like to use that term.

And we must not forget that there is more to Asia than India and China. Our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, is the fourth-largest country in the world. Its 17,000 islands command the air and sea approaches to Australia, yet still we know so little about this country that is on our own doorstep and which is already the 15th-largest economy in the world. It is somewhere we fly over on the way to somewhere else, or go to to enjoy the beaches. The changes going on to our north represent terrific opportunities for this country if we have the courage to take them.

But in order to do this, we must make some changes too. We have to be prepared to increase our engagement with the region. If we better understand its people and its cultures, we can be a major beneficiary of Asia's rising position in the world. Steering the country through these changes will be a major challenge for members of future parliaments. I leave this House optimistic about our nation's future; optimistic that we will be able to deal with the major challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that we face in the 21st century.

And that is probably an appropriate note on which to conclude my final speech in this place. I thank you all for attending.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to congratulate the member for Bendigo on his speech and wish him well in his retirement from this place.