Wednesday, 19 June 2013
on indulgence—Delivering a valedictory speech is a unique experience. Doing justice to 12 years as a member of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in a brief speech—not too brief—may be impossible. But what a privilege to have the opportunity to try. I have observed a few valedictories in my time and I have learnt two things: have the tissues ready and thank those you love most early before emotions overwhelm.
So first I thank my mother, the wonderful Patricia Martin who is watching from her lounge room. Mum, you are amazing. Thank you for your ongoing love and your support. And to my two beautiful daughters, Amy and Jill, who cannot be here today but who celebrated with me recently in a special intimate dinner, to you both: look out for a mother coming your way more often. You have both always told me how proud you are of what I do, and I want to say how proud I am that I have two wonderful daughters who look beyond the surface for truth and reality and who are always guided by values of social justice and equity. Your insights have made my contributions more real and I thank you both dearly.
To my very special friends, Larry and Barbara Greentree, Alan Chawner and Carol Carter, Philip Pollard and Leigh Kearney, Dawn and Graham Mullane, Paul O'Grady and Brian Cogan, and my predecessor, Allan Morris: I could not have done it without you. To the other many close friends, caring neighbours, supporters and advisers—especially the nuts, and they will know who they are—who readily helped me along the way, thank you.
I recall my first speech in this chamber. For the first time in my life my legs shook uncontrollably. To be here, a proud daughter of the noble working class as an elected representative of the people, was entirely humbling and very moving. And that is how it should be always for everyone who comes here. No matter who you are—your background, your family, your associations, your prior achievements—there should never be a sense of entitlement. There should only ever be a sense of enduring gratitude, duty and loyalty to this great nation that we represent.
In that first speech I pledged my dedication to prospering the community of Newcastle. And prosper we have under a federal Labor government, with more than $2½ billion of investment into our infrastructure and our community, investment sorely needed after a decade of neglect under the conservative Howard government. In that speech I mentioned the potential that could flow from locating the new CSIRO Energy Technology headquarters in Newcastle. That potential has been realised under a federal Labor government. CSIRO Newcastle will guide the electricity sector to make an estimated $240 million-worth of decisions in the next two decades, decisions that CSIRO predicts could involve 20 different energy sources and different technologies and require advanced capacity to design the most efficient, low-emissions electricity grid for Australia. This world-leading research builds on our Smart Grid, Smart City program in Newcastle and on the work of CSIRO under ARENA to develop the best possible solar forecasting for the Australian electricity system.
Add those initiatives to the bid by local industry in partnership with local research institutes for Newcastle to be an energy industry innovation precinct, and you begin to understand the vision of Labor governments and the nation building only we pursue. How good is that?
Twelve years ago I talked about the Port of Newcastle as a major driver of our region's economy. The largest exporter of coal in the world, our port now handles more than 40 commodities and over $20 billion in trade annually. Yesterday, the New South Wales conservative government announced that they intend to flog it off at a miserable $700 million, playing us for fools—as conservative governments always have and always will. But right now, after six years of a federal Labor government, Newcastle enjoys an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent and a median income above the national average for the first time in our history. How good is that?
I spoke about the dignity of work and the struggle of the union movement to gain safe and fair labour conditions. Helping to rid this nation of Work Choices and being part of a government that legislated Fair Work Australia is something of which I am so proud.
I spoke of 30 years in education and drew attention to the statistics of continuously declining school funding under the Howard government. Finally, we are that close to a national agreement that guarantees funding for every student in this nation, benchmarked against high-achieving schools, with special loadings based on need. We cannot let that opportunity pass us by. We need a Gillard Labor government to get this done and nurture its development.
I also mentioned then the inspiration provided by children with disability, having ended my career as principal of a school with units for special needs children. Twelve years later, DisabilityCare Australia launches on 1 July in Newcastle—the biggest launch site in the nation. How good is that?
Twelve years ago, I said that no nation that aspires to play a major role on the global stage can afford to neglect its knowledge base. No government has invested more into the skills and knowledge of our people than this federal Labor government. In Newcastle two world-class research institutes, the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, and HMRI—the Hunter Medical Research Institute—map our innovation future. The Hunter Valley Research Foundation has moved into its federally-funded expanded centre, even though the state conservative government has slashed its base funding—the first state government to do so since the establishment of HVRF in 1956.
A government member: Shame.
I talked about investing into regional cities like Newcastle. Unlike the regional rorts of the Howard era, that is what we did. Now Newcastle and all our cities in regional communities right around Australia, have seen investment flow under this Labor government. I spoke too, about the need for affordable housing and about the unacceptable plight of the homeless. We have made significant investments there.
That brings me to my professional staff—I get wussy about them. Recently, both the state seat of Newcastle and the control of the Newcastle City Council shifted into the hands of conservatives, and that has meant many more constituents contacting our office seeking help on state and local government issues. The majority of these cases are people in crisis, needing accommodation or housing, who received no satisfactory outcome from their visit to the Liberal state member for Newcastle. Some of the toughest cases of all—people recently released from prison, families in crisis and those with mental health issues—are the people who walk through our door. Aware of this newly-growing caseload and the pressure it placed on my staff, I gave them the choice either to send those constituents back to the state member's office until he and his staff actually did something to help them, or to do whatever we can ourselves. There was no hesitation; they would not turn them away. They would continue to deal with these people with patience and compassion and do everything they could to help them.
Their approach illustrates what it is to be in an electorate office guided by Labor values. For that, and so much more, I thank them. I also thank them for their loyalty and tireless commitment, their good humour, their camaraderie, for managing political risk and for managing political opportunity; for that and so much more, I thank them from the heart. I am so proud that former and present staff are here today: Ben Farrell, Kim Hall, Fiona Ross, Nick Rippon, Matt Murray, Emma Goodwin and Hugh Arjonilla, and even Sharon Claydon, the next federal Labor member for Newcastle. Simmone Pengelly is not here but I know she is watching with her newly-born son beside her. These fine people are my second family, and I thank them.
Twelve years ago I called for reform to aged-care policy. Last week, my aged mother was placed on a comprehensive transition package to discharge her from hospital and to assist her once more to live independently—an ageing-in-place initiative from this Labor government for which I am personally very grateful. There is much more we want to do, so I look forward to the full implementation of our Living Longer, Living Better policy after our re-election. Having convened and co-chaired the Parliamentary Friends of Dementia for eight years I publicly thank Glenn Rees of Alzheimer's Australia, Sue Pieters-Hawke—you are amazing, and vale Hazel—and Ita Buttrose for the wonderful work they do to inform government and communities about living with dementia.
I have always spoken of the unique character of the people of Newcastle displayed in the earthquake of 1989, and once more during the 2007 Pasha Bulker storm and floods. Their courage and community spirit always shone through, just as it did when our families suffered the terrible 2005 Bali bombings. Back in 2001 our Knights league team had just won its second premiership, and our fledgling football team was showing promise. The Jets went on to win a premiership, but we remain impatient for another grand final. So, come on boys! State and federal Labor governments gave you a wonderful stadium to play in, so let us hear the Newcastle victory chant soon.
There is something very special about the people of Newcastle. They have always found time to thank my staff and to thank me for the work we do for them. I love that they stop me anywhere in the street to share their personal news, just as of I am one of their family. When I first announced my retirement, I received hundreds and hundreds of personal emails, phone calls and letters of appreciation and best wishes. How special is that? Thank you, Newcastle.
Following the 2001 'Tampa election' when I joined this place, I said that the insecurity that many Australians felt about their own future had made them harden their hearts to the human suffering of others seeking asylum on our shores. That has been so difficult to change. In the past six years the world has experienced the greatest movement of people leaving their countries, seeking another home and a better life. I have met Burmese in a detention centre in Italy, I have seen the vast numbers of Tamils flowing into Switzerland, I have witnessed hundreds of asylum seekers lining up daily in Kuala Lumpur and, like my colleagues, I have looked on in anguish as lives are lost in leaky boats at sea—a brief moment captured on a TV screen and too quickly forgotten as we look away. We face a global problem being experienced around this world with comparatively few people actually coming here. Yet so many Australians feel threatened. This problem demands a regional solution and Malaysia is key to a collaborative approach to better manage this enormous problem. But those opposite have no intention of allowing that to happen. Their campaign material distributed in Newcastle presents a snapshot of their approach: Blame everything on the 'illegal boat people' and the 'carbon tax'—their words, not mine. I am not sure if the so-called carbon tax is making so-called illegal boat people come here, or if those so-called illegal boat people brought that so-called carbon tax with them, but what a load of simplistic rubbish. What base material to take two of the greatest problems being experienced on this planet, displaced people and climate change, and distil them down to divisive slogans. Give us a break! Stop your deception and treat the Australian people with some respect. They are good; they are decent. Give them some bipartisanship from this parliament and they would readily be part of finding the solutions that are right for this country.
That brings me to the Australian Labor Party. Recently in Newcastle someone asked me, "How proud are you of what Labor has achieved in this hung parliament?' I am so very proud: over 500 pieces of legislation delivering some of the best outcomes and reforms this nation has ever achieved. But do not take my word for it—go to the independent online page, whathasthegovernmenteverdoneforus.com, and ask yourself why that list does not appear in our so-called independent media. For the past six years I have felt like I have been living in a parallel universe, certainly not the one portrayed in the popular media. While the actions of some individuals in the ALP may discredit or distract, the majority of my colleagues here work tirelessly for their electorates. I watch more grey hair appear and kilograms either increase or decrease, and I see the strain on your faces; but for the most part, I hear the passion in your voices and see your belief shine through. I admire you. We need more good people to put up their hands for public life, so never be discouraged. This country will always be better served by a progressive party that invests in jobs and growth, skills, knowledge and innovation, and the health and welfare of all Australians, and that appeals to our better angels. That is the ALP.
At a personal level, I came into this place as a backbencher and I leave proudly as a backbencher. I am proud of that because it says quite a lot about the principles that have guided me here. The people I owe the most to are the good people of Newcastle, who put their faith in me for four elections. In Newcastle I have been blessed by the rank-and-file members of our party who have extended their hard work, loyalty, support and friendship for over 12 years. At times we have done it tough, but we can be very proud of our Federation seat—continuously Labor since 1901. I am forever in your debt.
To the FEC executives James Marshall, Barbara Whitcher, Bernie Bernard, Mark Walmsley, Victoria Phillis, Gaylene Adamthwaite, Michelle Lancey, Morris Graham, and John Manning, and to each wonderful delegate: thank you for your advice and honest feedback. I pay special tribute today to Noel and Margaret James who have served the party in their community with such selfless dedication for decades. Sadly, Margaret passed from this world on Monday—a good life gone much too soon. To my campaign directors over time, particularly Philip Pollard, Ugo Parente, Donovan Harris, Ross Coates and Sharon Claydon: we did such good things together. Thank you.
Colleagues said to me last week, 'It's a bit of a miracle that we are still here.' Yes, it is, and it is a Julia Gillard miracle. Thank you, Prime Minister, for your unswerving leadership and your determination to steer us through this hung parliament—a task no other member of this caucus could have achieved. Thank you for the courage and dignity you have shown in the face of relentless attacks and misogynistic abuse. It has to be said that misogynistic behaviour and gender based abuse, towards you or any female leader, is an expression of gross disrespect, prejudice and intolerance. It epitomises bullying, intimidation and discrimination against women, and ultimately paves the foundation for violence against women. It is never acceptable and it is important that every one of us here raises our objections—especially every good man here who numbers his wife, his mother and sisters, and his daughters and granddaughters among the people he loves most.
But the real story of this government is told in the international ratings this nation has achieved under this federal Labor government. Australia's economy has a AAA credit rating from all three international agencies. We have moderate debt levels, low inflation, low unemployment and low interest rates. Australia is the fairest and most equitable nation in the world. We have the highest attainments for women in education in the world. We are the second-best nation in the world to live in after Switzerland and, believe it or not, we have just been ranked the happiest nation in the world. How good is that? It takes a lot of hard work, capability and resolve by us and by every Australian to achieve those amazing indicators and retain the lifestyle we enjoy. We should be so proud.
Finally, for some personal highlights, aspirations and thank yous: chairing the public accounts and audit committee was a particular privilege, and I am proud of the many reports we brought down to improve departmental performance, integrity and accountability; meeting amazing individuals such as Christopher Reeve, the former Superman star—sadly now deceased—and making sure stem cell research prolongs and improves the lives of Australians; the apologies to the Stolen Generations and those subject to forced adoptions, and the announcement of the royal commission into child abuse—thank you, Prime Minister; shaking the hand of the inspiring President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, who stares down racism every day; meeting the brave and honest and Indigenous women in remote communities who spoke candidly to me about the impacts of alcohol fuelled violence and abuse; and meeting the people in developing nations who have shared their hopes and aspirations with our delegations, and I particularly draw attention to the people of Laos and Mongolia.
The saddest time I have spent here, though, was the day this parliament sent our young people to an unjust war in Iraq, followed closely by every condolence motion for lives lost in Afghanistan. I am so pleased our government is bringing the majority of our troops home by the end of this year. Having been to Gallipoli on Anzac Day and laid wreaths in Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Sandakan, Changi and Papua New Guinea, I pay special tribute to our veterans and serving personnel—the majority of whom, despite recent events, we can be most proud of. May the peace they fought for continue to bless this nation. And may we see marriage equality, a bill of rights and a republic in the next parliament.
Finally, thank you to the class of 2001, especially Brendan O'Connor, Catherine King and Maria Vamvakinou, and the missing member of the 'Sharon faction', my dear friend Sharryn Jackson. I wish she had returned to the Senate but she would be pleased to know another outstanding Sharon, Sharon Claydon, is on her way to join Sharon Bird in the Sharon faction.
To our wise clerks, our parliamentary elders, to the Department of Parliamentary Services staff, every one of you, to all those Comcar drivers who hold a PhD in patience, to the ever cheerful Tim and his lovely predecessor, Kate Robertson, in the members dining room and to every adviser and secretariat staff member, especially to Lesley Russell, Bruce Wolpe, Denise Spinks, Ann Clark, Rondah Rietveld—and there are many more—thank you for your professional assistance and for every kindness you extended. It has been so good.
Madam Speaker, on indulgence: I thank the House for their indulgence and I congratulate the member for Newcastle as well. First of all, I would like to start by sincerely thanking my family, my wife and three daughters, Cassie, Jemma and Georgia, and our newly acquired son-in-law, Damen—it sounds a bit like we purchased him, doesn't it?—for their patience and understanding over the last 3½ years. I think that only those who actually do this job can truly understand the pressures it places on families and relationships.
All through my adult life—well, from 15 April 1978, which was the day I first dated Karen—Karen has always supported me in everything I have done. Whether it was being a mother to our children, being my business partner and No. 1 station hand on our sheep station for 30 years or filling my many community roles, particularly during my time as National President of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and as Chairman of RFDS Western Operations, Karen has always been there, although it must be said, sometimes frowning. I should add that, if we were ever working or drafting sheep, we would always kiss goodnight before we started, because we knew damn well that by the end of the day we would be not talking.
If you let it, this job can be all consuming. I am sorry to say that I have done this at times much to the detriment of my family. For this, Karen, I am truly sorry. Whilst on apologies, I need to apologise to my father as I have not succeeded in getting tawny port on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I did try with Minister Plibersek, as I am sure the minister can attest.
My time in this place has been well documented and interesting, to say the least. If you compare this hung parliament to the recent hung parliament of Western Australia, they are literally poles apart. In the WA parliament Brendon Grylls and the WA Nationals delivered an outstanding regional policy in that hung parliament in 2008. In just over three years the Royalties for Regions Fund has delivered nearly $6 billion and over 2,500 projects to regional Western Australia. It is a policy that the Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, has said is 'a regional policy the envy of all other states'.
Most importantly, the WA Nationals and their WA Liberal partners delivered stable government. This policy and position was clearly reflected in the last state election where the WA Nationals had an outstanding outcome. This, unfortunately, cannot be said for this hung parliament. For a parliament that promised so much for regional Australia by virtue of those who gave it power, it has failed dismally by comparison.
The WA Nationals went into the last federal election predicting a hung parliament—in fact, hoping for one. If this was going to be the case, there would have been no better place to concentrate our reverse the rip-off campaign, seeking a better regional infrastructure outcome and a fairer, more equitable GST return, than from the crossbench. Despite what many have tried to portray, this decision was taken well before election day. During my entire campaign I stated I was willing to be different and, if necessary, sit outside the National Party room. I urge any doubters to go to YouTube and type in 'Tony Crook'. Although it is not particularly compelling television, it is there for all the world to see and was reported on extensively prior to the election.
I have also been challenged for bringing the Prime Minister and senior government ministers to my electorate. I refute this out of hand. Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister of this great country, not put here by my voice or by my vote. It is a position that I and everyone should respect. I am proud to have had the Prime Minister accept my offer to visit the O'Connor electorate, as I know the town of Esperance and the city of Albany were to host her. I was proud that I could give the Prime Minister a firsthand look at the wonderful south coast town of Esperance, show her the port and the plans for the foreshore redevelopment, proud to have briefed the Prime Minister on the exciting PortLink Project, a project that Minister Anthony Albanese labelled 'a nation-building project without peer' when he opened the Over the Horizon conference at the invitation of me and the Esperance Chamber of Commerce.
I was equally proud to show the Prime Minister firsthand the historic King George Sound in Albany, where many of our brave ANZACs last saw Australian soil some 99 years ago as I was to peruse the plans on the site of the exciting ANZAC interpretive centre that will not only showcase Albany's historic place in history but also open up many more opportunities for Albany and the Great Southern.
I am also proud to have had Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce, John Cobb, Darren Chester, Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion and Scott Morrison—all who I hope will be senior members of the next government—accept my invitation to O'Connor. I was proud to bring anyone of influence, whether it be in this government or the next, to my electorate. In fact, I saw it as my duty to do so. To advocate for our electorates should actually be our No. 1 job in this place.
There are obviously many people to thank in what has been an exciting and challenging time. First up and apart from family, I sincerely need to thank the WA Nationals and the people of O'Connor for giving me this great privilege of representing them. I have always endeavoured to put their interests and those of regional WA first and foremost. Thank you to each and every constituent in my electorate who took time to contact me or my office on issues that were very important to them. In particular thanks go to those I called on for grass roots advice on what their town or region was thinking. This inside knowledge is always much appreciated. I must also sincerely thank my loyal and long-suffering staff, both past and present. In an electorate as large as mine, they are as much a member as I am, and I cannot thank them enough for their commitment to me and to the constituents of O'Connor. Special thanks to my daughter Jemma, who is here in the chamber today. She is far better at this job than I.
I would like to thank my fellow federal National Party colleagues, many of whom have joined us today. I thank them sincerely for the support they have given me, not just since joining the party room from the crossbench but from the very beginning. They had every right to be more than a bit miffed about my and the WA National's position coming into this parliament. They did know, however, how successful the WA Nationals had been in delivering an outstanding regional policy and stable government and what we were hoping to achieve in this parliament. I sincerely thank them all for their faith in me, for their friendship and, in Darren Chester's case, for his poor humour.
I should also apologise to them, particularly their leader, Warren Truss, and shadow agriculture minister, John Cobb, for the position I placed them in with regard to the Wheat Export Authority. This, however, was an important bill for the WA growers and I was very proud to support them. While on agriculture, this parliament must address the pressures that are on agriculture. It is totally unfair that our farmers continue to compete with their global competitors on an unfair playing field. I liken it to two evenly balanced AFL teams, and one gets to kick with the 10-goal breeze for the whole game; or two cricket teams playing with one team fielding only five men. Something must be done.
I would like to acknowledge my former crossbench colleagues, and I thank the member for Denison for joining us today. Even though I have disagreed with them pretty much all of the time, I have enjoyed their camaraderie. In the member for Denison's case, we have had many a discussion around the GST, and the member for Denison should be recorded as being, I think, the GST thief of the parliament.
An honourable member: Hear, hear!
Hear, hear! I am glad he concurs. I also extend my thanks and appreciation to those on the other side of the House for the respect and the friendship they have afforded me.
I have served on two committees, which I found very rewarding, and I would like to thank the agriculture committee chair, Dick Adams, and the regional Australia committee chairman, Tony Windsor, as well as the committee secretariats for their hard work. It should never, ever be under estimated what they do. I would also like to thank the Speakers of the House, and particularly former Speaker Jenkins for his compassion and tolerance, even at 2 am, during my endeavours to make what I thought were sensible changes to the mining tax—amendments, I might add, that would have made very little difference to the minimal return that this government receives, but certainly a big difference to investor confidence in the mining industry and to the ridiculous compliance costs that all implicated now have to suffer for no good reason. I know I have given the Speakers in this House far less grief than the previous member for O'Connor—
but I offer no guarantees for the next member. I would like to thank all who make this place run, whether it be Luke greeting us at the airport; the Comcar drivers, and particularly those back in Perth in Western Australia; ushers and attendants; Hansard; cafe and dining staff, who, I must say, have done nothing for my waistline; and everyone who makes this place tick, despite our best efforts. Special thanks to Bernard Wright, David Elder and Robyn McClelland for their unbiased wisdom and support, also Peter Rose for that wink and nod each morning.
I leave this place still deeply concerned about issues like GP and ancillary health services for regional Australia, and I welcome the former health minister Roxon here today. I certainly made her acutely aware of the problem during my time here. WA is still currently 80 GPs short. It is an issue I have raised often with both past and present health ministers. The Closing the Gap policy is not closing the gap as quickly and effectively as everyone would like to see, and I would direct members to Judi Moylan's speech on Monday for some wise and salient advice. I also leave this place disappointed and concerned where WA's GST will fall. If the answer is zero, then there are others in this place who should be deeply concerned as well. To my colleagues in the House, I still remain completely bemused that Bob Katter and I sat alone in support of my motion to place a floor on the GST return, and I am sure that the electors of WA are bemused as well.
Again, I would like to thank everyone who assisted me in getting to this place and those who helped me while I was here. It is a workplace I will never forget, that is for certain. I think the next government will be a coalition government. To Tony Abbott, Warren Truss and all members of the coalition, I wish them the very, very best. There is clearly a lot to do, and there is clearly a lot to undo. WA is a strong state, and I urge all in this place to ensure it remains so. If this is the case, WA will continue to deliver for all Australians.
Finally, the winter solstice approaches and the gods of bonfire look down upon the revered elders of the KBS. I salute them. I wish all in this place the very best for the future, whether it be here or elsewhere, because we know elsewhere is always fine. Good luck. Thank you.