Monday, 24 June 2013
I rise today heavy of heart to address the House for the final time, to reflect on my career, to give thanks to all who have helped me along the way and to say goodbye to colleagues, many of whom have become friends for life.
On Monday, 23 November 1998 I delivered my first speech to the House. At the time I was the member for Kalgoorlie and I felt it an honour to have been elected to represent the electorate in the 39th parliament, an honour I humbly accepted and a responsibility I did not take lightly. Here we are in the 43rd parliament and I remain humble that I represent an electorate in the federal parliament, although now my responsibility has moved to the seat of Durack. As the inaugural member for Durack following the 2010 election and the 2008 electoral redistribution of the federal seat of Kalgoorlie I represent the constituents of hundreds of towns and communities within the huge electorate of Durack—63 per cent, more than 1.6 million square kilometres, of the great state of Western Australia and a quarter of Australia's land mass. Durack is the powerhouse of the nation. We have great natural resources, we have pastoralists, we have horticulturists and farmers, fishers, manufacturing, service industries and retail. No other electorate in Australia is as large, as diverse or as financially beneficial to the nation.
I have for 15 years represented the largest electorate in Australia, first Kalgoorlie and now Durack. How times have changed in the past 15 years. I have seen prime ministers, ministers, Speakers of the House come and go but never have I seen such turmoil in a reigning government as now. In recent years, much to my embarrassment, I have seen the once highly regarded position of prime minister tarnished. I have seen the position of Speaker of this House tarnished. I have witnessed the demise of our international reputation as a low sovereign risk destination. I have seen our once strong border protection policies dismantled, giving way to thousands of economic opportunists arriving on our shores. A number of pastoralists have lost their livelihoods and others are still struggling to recover from the financial setback dealt to them with the abrupt halt to live exports. Vocal minority groups are now dictating government action. Political correctness has come to the fore over the past 15 years, much to my dismay. To quote Mark Twain:
Sometimes I wonder whether the world is run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
I am told that Santa no longer says 'Ho ho ho' for fear of offending prostitutes. Fairy penguins are now little penguins, for fear of offending homosexuals. We now have a chalkboard instead of a blackboard, for fear of offending the non-Caucasian, and children are no longer ankle biters, in case we upset dog lovers. Non-Caucasians can no longer call us 'whities' and people of another religion can no longer call us Islamophobic when we do not want burkas worn in banks. Hang on a minute! Of course they can. Do you see anything wrong with the picture? Minorities and the 'Speech Police' are taking over and we are letting it happen. Political correctness is not only undermining free speech, common sense and personal responsibility; it is prohibiting it. We must stop kowtowing to vocal minorities and stand up for the majority. We are a democracy—the greatest democracy in the world—and we must retain that greatness for our children and grandchildren. We are known internationally as lovable, hardworking, honest larrikins. Future generations, just like my generation, must be allowed to enjoy all that it is to be Australian. However, if we do not stop political correctness from weaving its insidious web into all aspects of our lives, who and what will be an Australian in the future?
I now turn to a more positive note. Something that retiring members often do is talk about their achievements. I have had a few. Some of them include $3 million seed funding for the creation of an intermodal hub freight in Kalgoorlie. At the time I was representing Kalgoorlie, I won the establishment of a Child Support Agency office in the Kalgoorlie electorate, which has 16 per cent of the adult population tied up with the Child Support Agency, the highest percentage of any federal electorate.
I secured $10 million for the Outback Way, a road that links Winton in Queensland through to Laverton in Western Australia. It is referred to as the diagonal route or the third route across Australia. I chaired the 'Outback Way' committee for some three years. I got $2.5 million under the Centenary of Federation fund for the prospectors and miners Hall of Fame and later, on two separate occasions, secured an additional $1 million to keep it operating. I got $63,000 for the Shire of Leonora Stamp Mill to construct a shelter over the mill to preserve it as a tourist attraction. I got $20,000-plus for the shire for properly equipping the Leonora general practice clinic. These were huge achievements that many smile about.
I got Giles on the weather map. The Central Australian weather data collecting centre did not have Giles on the weather map, because the ABC told me there was simply no room on the map of Western Australia to get Giles noted. Think about that!
I got letterboxes for Ninga Mia, an Aboriginal community in Kalgoorlie, because they did not previously have any letterboxes in the place. So we had Australia Post install letterboxes and feed them mail at the community gate.
Handguns for pastoralists is a huge issue in Western Australia and in the pastoral industry generally. I campaigned for years and now pastoralists may apply for a handgun licence. Mixed breed wild dogs, although we are getting some state government funding, remains a problem and it needs to be fixed. I do not know what we are going to do about that into the future, but I do know that we will not have a wool industry in remote areas of Western Australia unless we fix the problem.
I have been vocal in my opposition to alcohol bans and have voiced my opinion widely in relation to the banning of alcohol. It is just a bandaid solution. What we need is alcohol management, not the banning of alcohol.
We need changes to youth allowance. A lot of work has already been done. Much remains to be done in relation to creating a level playing field so that regional students can access city institutions just as readily as their city cousins can access those institutions. The capping at $150,000 for household income for the cut-out of youth allowance is an absolute nonsense.
Do you remember the Telstra $2.20 charge for paying of Telstra accounts. We had to knock that off and I contributed to that effort.
One major and satisfying achievement that my colleagues have reminded me over this most recent period was the creation of Friends of Mining and Resources here in the House. I believe that now, six years after the establishment of that body, my colleagues in city electorates have a much greater, better and fuller understanding and appreciation of what the mining industry does for our lives, when we come across products of the mining industry in every step of our lives and yet so many city populations would decry the fact that Australia is nothing more than a quarry. As somebody famously once said, 'The area of Australia's hotel car parks is in fact greater than the footprint of Australia's mines.'
One of the great problems we have these days, apart from both the carbon tax and the supertax on resources—and the coalition will remove them—is cane toads. I think people are a little tired of hearing me wax lyrical about the problem cane toads are creating right across Northern Australia. I thank Lee Scott-Virture, from Kununurra, for her efforts in creating the Kimberley Toad Busters and for the work she has put into that, having now recruited some 5,000 members to the Kimberley Toad Busters. We need to find funds, to come up with an effective biological or viral control of cane toads. It is a major problem. They are now right across into the Kimberley and many people are saying that it is a given that they are now part of the Australian environment. I do not accept that for a moment. At some point in time we have to put sufficient funding into research, to come up with an answer to get rid of them because they are destroying our native environment.
One thing yet to be done is the fixing of the livestock export problem. I was very active at the time when this government tried to hold Indonesia under siege. We have many bridges to build there and I am pleased to note that Julie Bishop, our shadow foreign affairs minister, is doing a lot of work to bring that relationship back together.
Some people in Western Australia are in fact talking about the West Australian Nationals' call for a federally funded Royalty for Regions program. Major campaigns are underway, in the hope they can drag themselves over to Canberra on that very platform. Even though all candidates need to hang their hat on some aspirational issue, it is worth pointing out that these candidates have apparently not done their homework.
First and foremost, the federal government does not collect royalties. Secondly, one of the great Howard government programs was the Regional Partnerships Program. The electorate of Kalgoorlie, which I held for four terms, saw huge improvements and multiple projects supported by that initiative, including: $150,000 to the shire for the Mother of the Goldfields project, enhancing the Coolgardie worksites and townscape; $1.3 million to the Kambalda community for recreational facilities, constructing a centralised multipurpose community recreation facility; $132,000 for the Boulder Promotion and Development Association to renovate the historical Palace Theatre to make it safe and more functional for community and youth programs; $5,500 to the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Cemetery Board's Kalgoorlie-Boulder Cemetery Heritage Trail project for the development of a self-guided walk trail through the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Cemetery with an accompanying guidebook; $100,000 to the Eastern Goldfields YWCA to assist the Eastern Goldfields YWCA to complete works on an existing room within the Y Centre in Kalgoorlie and develop it into a youth-friendly space; $500,000 to the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder for the Goldfields Oasis stage 2—the first publicly owned wave machine in the southern part of Australia—upgrading the Goldfields Oasis leisure and aquatic facility; $220,000 to the shire for establishing the Great Beyond—Australia's inland explorer's centre; and the list goes on. This highlights the fact that Regional Partnerships, that wonderful Howard government scheme, has done a great deal of work—appropriate work—in regional Australia, and we do not need to fantasise about the creation of yet some other fund to get money out of Canberra and back into questionable causes in Western Australia.
However, we have much to do, and, as I leave this place, contributing to my heavy heart today is the knowledge that so much remains to be done. There is much talk today about closing the gap, and we know that Indigenous Australians are not enjoying the benefits of a mainstream Western society's standard of living. There needs to be a collective realisation that the major problem in closing the gap is the differential between the basic education enjoyed in mainstream society and Indigenous society. We have to do it. Education is the key, and, until such time as we collectively have the wit and wisdom to tie school attendance and welfare together, there will not be an underlining of the imperative of school attendance.
It was a very sad day when I reflected upon the loss of the seat by Malcolm Brough because I calculated it took me about 10 years to convince Mal that we had to exercise some tough love, and, of course, having done that with the cooperation of this place, we then saw him lose his seat. We then lost government and saw so many of those fine initiatives reversed. That was a shame because, so long as we have that great gap between standards of living of our original Australians and our mainstream society, we have a lot more to do.
The financial support for rural students to attend tertiary education or the tertiary access allowance is, as I said before, an issue of equity. Until such time as you fully appreciate the very high wages and the very high cost of living in many parts of remote Australia, you will not appreciate that there is a genuine need for the removal of this $150,000 cap per household for the payment of youth allowance. It is a very expensive exercise to send a student from regional Australia to attend a city university.
The taxation zone rebates that have been paid since the end of the Second World War across this country need review. Under previous governments, the review process has been carried out about every decade. It is now nearly three decades since there was any substantial review of that program, and the light at the end of the tunnel, I suggest, is the coalition's proposal of the Northern Australia policy. I have faith that within that there will be the opportunity for the creation of taxation zones and, hand-in-hand with that, I sincerely hope that some genuine work is done to create a taxation zone rebate for remote area living that in some way reflects the high cost of remote area living.
One of the issues that I have been pressing since coming into this place is the idea of assisting explorers in this country to offset the high cost of exploration and allow them to attract investment in mineral exploration in this country. We have, at best, 17 years of mine life left for our existing mines. If something is not done in a very positive way to encourage investment in exploration, we are going to run out of a mining industry that gives us the wealth and standard of living that, as Australians, we enjoy today. Thank you, Macca, and I know you, personally, are working very hard for that.
We need to attract additional funding into remote Australia for the provision of aged-care facilities. The feedback I get from the rural providers is that we need at least a 40 per cent increase in rebates for remote area aged care before the commercial sector will even contemplate the situation.
Workers' compensation for older workers—that is, 65 plus—is another issue. We are encouraging people to stay in the employment field after age 65, but we have not addressed the issue of workers' compensation. If you ask any underground miner who turns 65 what he is going to do about workers' compensation after that, you get a very blank look.
We need, in my humble opinion, a sunset clause for Indigenous-specific departments in government. Until such time as we set a target for the solving of some of these problems in relation to Indigenous affairs, I do not believe we are going to install the motivation to do so, because there is the ongoing issue of employment. We need to stop the widespread rorting in the area of Aboriginal heritage surveys. Ask any miner that is trying to get access to country and they will tell you that one of the great hurdles is getting onto country because either they cannot identify anyone who is officially associated with the country or the associated costs are just too exorbitant to consider, and when it is brought to those people who could intervene in such a situation there is no proof because there is no written evidence about the deals that are being demanded. We need to streamline the environmental assessments process for the mining and resource industry and for development projects right across this country. The absolute litany of red and green tape that developers are forced to meet is unacceptable.
I have spoken about the cane toads and their involvement in destroying all our wildlife. On that topic, we need to do something in the future about the feral cats in this country. Famously, an ex-member of this place raised the issue of feral cats. There would be a few here from Western Australia especially who remember him. He was considered to be either very, very brave or very, very foolish—perhaps he was both. I do not believe it was during a valedictory speech; I think it was during his career and it was certainly no asset to that career, although he will never be forgotten. We need to take the issue seriously. Feral cats are destroying our fauna at a rate that no amount of land development or mining or tourist development would ever achieve, and yet we choose to turn a blind eye. It is truly not acceptable.
We have to increase the services to regional Australia, as I have said, and especially medical services and GPs. We must reinstate our livestock exports to Indonesia, our nearest neighbour, and we must do a great deal of work to re-establish mutual trust. In relation to the export of livestock, something that is important is that we need to re-educate Australia's city and urban children, we need to encourage curriculum input from rural-savvy educators, in order to introduce schoolchildren to the reality of food production, because presently they are far removed from that reality. We need to replace that natural condition of half a century ago that saw city families visit rural relations with an organised arrangement of country-city school student swaps. Anyone that takes up that cause in this place will do the livestock production industry a great favour, because until such time as city kids understand country situations we are going to lose the battle to have the public on our side when it comes to the continued, very necessary raising of livestock for live export. If we allow the current evolution alone to dictate outcomes, remembering that 87 per cent of the Australian population occupy three per cent of the landmass, we will see animal production outlawed. We need to develop the north of Australia. Northern Australia is capable of becoming not only the food bowl of Australia but also the food bowl for Asia. We need to further develop the tourist potential of Northern Australia.
I know by leaving the seat of Durack in Liberal safe hands many things left undone can be achieved. It is imperative to the nation that Durack is not left floundering in the great halls of this place with no voice. It is not possible to further entrench Durack as the powerhouse of the nation without the backing of a party room. It is vital for the economy of Australia that Durack remains a Liberal seat.
Now I take this opportunity to thank those who helped me along the way. Great leaders like John Howard; a joy to work with Dr Brendan Nelson; Malcolm Turnbull; and now the next great leader of Australian politics as Prime Minister, I sincerely hope, Tony Abbott. The help to me along the way from Julie Bishop; from Peter Costello; and believe it or not—and many will not know why I single him out—from Peter Reith. The first House mentor that I had was one Geoff Prosser, whom many of you will remember, and I thank him for the wisdom of his experience and for giving me the choice of which examples he set to follow. To all my colleagues, but especially Dr Mal Washer: the services you provide this House are exceptional. To Senator Alan Eggleston. To Don Randall, a fellow Western Australian. To Warren Entsch—where would we be without that lovable Entschie? Sometimes on the right track, many say! To Rowan Ramsey, a great neighbour. I mention here my first whip, Ronno—Senator Michael Ronaldson. To Greg Hunt, who has advised and helped me a great deal. To the indomitable Ian Macfarlane, who I do hope will successfully lead this nation with regard to resources and all of those things that are vital to the Australian economy. To Nola Marino, for her wonderful, wonderful, wonderful homemade soup, thank you. To Russell Broadbent and Bronnie Bishop, who could forget you.
I particularly thank the best state director, in my opinion, that Western Australia has ever had: Ben Morton. He possesses an extremely rare combination of integrity and compassion. It is very reassuring for people who have to move through the difficulties of electorate representation in the party to seek advice in confidence from time to time. It is a difficult situation and Ben does it better than anyone I have ever seen do it in Western Australia.
I need to thank my previous staff: Marilyn Barron, my PA who set the standard, so to speak; Jodie Richardson, who started with me the day before she turned 18 and spent the last six years with me as my PA—she possesses knowledge beyond her years and was a very, very effective PA; Linda Crook, who took over from Jodie and managed the election in 2010 and did an absolutely wonderful job, but having worked hard to win that election then lost her job because I moved to Geraldton—some would say proof positive that there is no justice; Samantha Dalton, hardworking Sam; Jackie Green, who is a wonderful front desk girl; Nikki Flemming;andPam Foulkes Taylor, who recently won a marathon, which pleased her a great deal.
I thank my current staff: De-Arne O'Neil—a lot to be said there but I do not have the time or the indulgence; Leanne Thurstun; Tammy Corby; Jackie Feeney; Lorraine Turner; and Louise Waldron. And my past campaign managers: Peter Durrant; my brother Murray Haase; and Linda Crook, an eternal tower of strength.
I thank the ever-obliging House staff. You tolerate us with good humour and good grace. We would fail without your services and your help. I thank the secretariat staff—competent and committed, assisting the numerous committees I have served on over the years. I thank the shire presidents and the CEOs from my 47 local government areas. I thank the vital hardworking Liberal lay party members who toil in an apparently thankless task, staffing the 100-plus polling booths over my last five elections. My thanks to the dozens of Liberal branch presidents who keep branches viable across a third of Australia in the case of the Kalgoorlie electorate, and now a quarter of Australia in the Durack electorate.
I especially thank Tony Proctor, who recruited members to the Broome branch to make it the most successful branch in Durack. My thanks toJames Falls for having the vision and honesty to give me the confidence to plan stepping down in the knowledge there was someone with the skills, experience, understanding and commitment prepared to stand to take my place, and for telling me about it two years in advance.
Having said that, I am grateful to Sir Robert Menzies, who had the integrity to bring together like-minded people to give birth to the Australian Liberal Party that would attract and recruit members who, having served in the parliament, are prepared to come back following defeat and have another go. A major concern I have had in planning to leave parliament was that the people of Durack have a great Liberal member serving them in a Liberal government with a real plan to get Australia back on track. I thank the fine people of the Durack electorate for placing their faith in me in the highly competitive 2010 election and for their ongoing support. I hope their future support for a competent, hardworking Liberal candidate will see their needs well-articulated in the party room, contributing to a Liberal government, providing hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.
I pay special thanks to my children: my son Shane, who would have liked to have been here today, and his fiancee Kate; and my daughter Danielle, who is here today. They have both been so supportive during the election campaigns and through their hard work on polling days. I thank my sister Diane, her husband Ken Cunningham and my brother Murray Haase for their unwavering support and hard work.
I do not know where my life will take me from here on in—that is the beauty of life: its twists and turns, the mysteries and even the mistakes. But in the words of Errol Flynn:
I've had a hell of a lot of fun and I've enjoyed every minute of it.
I congratulate the member for Durack on that great valedictory and thank him for the wonderful work he has done on behalf of rural and remote Australians. We have worked together on a number of projects and I wish him well in the future. I remind the House, as I call the member for Mallee, that this is his valedictory speech and I ask you to accord him the same courtesies as we would in a maiden speech.
Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity for this my final contribution. There are a few homilies to leave for my successor, whoever that might be. I wish to reflect on some of my successes from my 20 years of contribution in this place. I wish to thank all those people, as other members have, who have made things happen here. John Forrest was not some superhuman sent to Canberra in 1993. It happened because people were prepared to put the hard work in and make it happen. I commence with a reflection on the very start of my federal political journey here when first presenting for preselection to the Nationals. Preselectors said to me that they were unsure of whether to give their support. 'You don't fit the mould,' they said. 'You're too much of a gentleman and you haven't got enough mongrel in you.' I am delighted to be honoured with the presence of my predecessor, Peter Fisher, in the gallery today. He has come down here. He will remember all of that back in 1992. How do you respond to that? I was to say, 'Well, that may be true but send me and you will have a genuine hard-working member who will always put the electorate first.' And, by the way, maybe there is something wrong with the mould.
I came to this place after a 20-year career as a civil engineer. It seems that it is a two-decade cycle in a changing of engagement. My plan was to play a constructive role in the development of Mallee as well as this great country, to see investment in important infrastructure—roads, rail, ports, bridges—and improved water supply. That is what civil engineers do; they build things. Problem solving—that is what engineers do. They are not antagonists and that has meant, apparently, that my approach to this place has been somewhat unusual. Solving problems for constituents and tackling the great challenges of the nation have been more of a priority for me, which has meant a lesser focus on the antagonism of this chamber and a greater focus on the work of committees for it is in committees that persuasive contribution can actually influence the outcome. You can sway colleagues to a point of view and influence an outcome. Rightly or wrongly, no matter what has been written about the member for Mallee, I have absolutely no regrets about adopting this approach.
On the challenges, I have achieved a reasonable amount of success and there have been some satisfying outcomes which I will detail briefly later. But there has been one initiative that I put to the nation and that is a notion that this nation needs to address its infrastructure challenges. I promoted this. You see, the parliament has a Chief Scientist, a Chief Medical Officer, a Chief Nurse, a Chief Veterinary Officer, a Chief Consul-General, a Solicitor-General, a soon-to-be-appointed Chief Allied Health Officer, the Chief of Defence Force as well as the chiefs of Navy, Army and Air Force. We have chief justices of the Federal Court, the Family Court and the High Court. Yet there is no chief engineer to guide the nation on infrastructure investment priorities.
For the nation to maximise its potential, then, efficient infrastructure is the key. To maximise productivity, it is vital that the goods produced here, particularly those from regional Australia, are efficiently and economically transported. To achieve this, efficient roads, rail and ports are vital. For example, it is a nonsense for a modern 21st century economy to have to rely on a colonially based rail system of different gauges in every state—and how many times have we heard that said? That is just one example. Another is our 100-year-old water infrastructure. When we ask our food and fibre producers to compete with countries with much more modern supply arrangements, and also because water is such a precious commodity in this dry arid continent, we cannot continue to waste it. 'Less water, more often' is an adage that I was taught at university.
We desperately need bold thinking, I believe, in the tradition of the Romans. If we are to think seriously about a population of 40 million by 2040, water will be the limiting criterion. So it is my contention that a chief engineer will help drive this imperative in the national interest rather than relying on the competitive interests of the states. I want to leave this place continuing to hope that such a notion will be seriously considered in the future. It will not cost much. The Australian Institute of Engineers will probably do it for us.
Now, I will focus on my electorate. Following the member for Durack, I am a little embarrassed by my figures, but when first selected in 1993, Mallee was 67,000 square kilometres—not measured in millions. After four electoral redistributions it now stands at 74,000 square kilometres, which is probably a little bit more closely settled than Durack and presents the same challenges in terms of giving it the representation it deserves.
Those redistributions highlight the challenge confronting regional Australia with relative population decline. This needs to be reversed by focusing on regional Australia's strengths. For example, there is a strong sense of community throughout Mallee, which is the hallmark of country people. Such valuable projects as aged care, nursing homes, education centres, and community centres would not occur without the sacrificial contribution of so many community members. Time and time again I have witnessed that during my 20 years and it has spurred me on in my desire to give them the best representation they deserve.
Mallee also offers the advantage that what is produced there is lean, clean and green, free from the contaminants suffered by our international competitors. We need to continue to develop the export marketing edge this provides for our food and fibre. And, colleagues, we must work harder to ensure that Australian-owned commodity handling and marketing entities manage the sale of what we produce, and I am anxious that this is not happening.
As I said earlier, being elected to this place did not happen because John Forrest was some superhero but instead because so many loyal people out there made it happen. So I express my deep appreciation to the membership of the Nationals for providing me with the honour that I have enjoyed in representing such a great grassroots based and regionally focused political party. A huge amount of work goes into the electorate office behind the scenes and to those many thousands of constituents out there who have received assistance from my office, I express my appreciation for continuing to send me back here with ever-increasing majorities.
None of this is possible without a dedicated team. My thanks go to my current staff including JulieTripodi, who has been with me the whole time. Of course, she started with my predecessor. To Tracey Mooney, Alison Bradley, Jenny Blackman, Peter Lamb, Melissa Adamson, Christine Cracknell and Faye Taylor, and to the other 17 staff who remarkably, in various ways, have made contributions to the office over the years and who have now moved on to other things: to each of them I offer my deep appreciation for their loyalty and dedicated service. Often when walking down the street people will approach me and thank me for some service that you have delivered. You have been my shopfront and to you belongs most of the credit for the electoral success Mallee has achieved over those seven elections. Also the work of so many voluntary community groups, local government, health and welfare, commodity and industry groups is to be acknowledged. Working cooperatively with so many organisations over such a vast spread-out area of Victoria has made my job so much easier.
It seems remarkable to me to be advised by the library that over the 20 years of my contribution here there have been 335 members and senators who have left the federal parliament in that time, who have retired, resigned, passed away or been defeated. That just seems incredible to me. That is 17 per year. I think it confirms the relatively high turnover of people in this place. I wished I had known all of them. Many of them I have known, like the 22 of my own political family, the Nationals. In referring to the National Party, I have witnessed four leadership changes in my time here. I am proud to say that three of these occurred when I was the Nationals' Chief Whip and they occurred seamlessly as a result of good whip's work in getting agreement and consensus. I am proud of that contribution.
To my current team of Nationals I say how much I have enjoyed our camaraderie, 'our family 'as the member for Hinkler made reference to this morning, and our team approach to tackling challenges. Warren Truss provides a safe and thorough pair of hands as a leader. I am going to miss you all but I offer you my best wishes for electoral success at the forthcoming election.
There is no doubt my greatest infrastructure achievement was carrying the argument forward to procure significant funding for the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline. This is a project, now valued at close to $1 billion, entirely contained within Mallee. It has assured confidence of water supply to agriculture and the small towns throughout the Wimmera and Mallee. This effort earned me the title of 'Mr Pipeline', but it is not a title I sought. There have just been many hundreds of people have worked on its promotion throughout the electorate as well as my predecessor Peter Fisher. I remember saying at my first election, in 1993, 'Send me. I will get it piped in my term'. It gives a great deal of satisfaction now to see that pledge delivered. This was a 100-year-old unlined, open channel system, the largest stock and domestic supply system in the world, but so efficient in its use of water. Piping it was the engineers' solution. The election commentator Antony Green described my political successes as 'modest' before the 2004 election. That is probably because he uses a different yardstick for measurement than I do. I suggest that for a real measure of success he consult with the people of the farms and in the regional towns of Mallee who now rely on this pipeline for their livelihoods and lifestyle in an environment of serious climate change.
There have been hundreds of other projects but time only permits me to share a few. The Calder Highway was classified as a road of national importance—duplicated now from Melbourne to Bendigo with the shoulder sealed from Bendigo to Mildura. It is a significant highway for my Sunraysia constituents and the produce that is produced up there. I pushed hard for upgrades to the Western Highway including the Sunshine Freeway and the Ararat to South Australia fatigue zone project. Millions of dollars, multi-billions of them—this highway is so important to Wimmera constituents.
I was delighted to play a role in the introduction of Roads to Recovery funding direct to local government. I continue to be concerned about the constitutional validity of this funding and, whilst I am not confident that the proposed constitutional referendum on local government will succeed despite my intention to support it, whatever the outcome of the referendum I encourage the parliament to find a way to resolve this constitutional challenge. It is very much an essential source of road funding for the nine local government municipalities of Mallee, as it is for many of the other rural constituencies throughout the country.
Rail funding of $20 million was achieved for the Mildura line. Originally intended for standardisation, it was eventually used as an upgrade in readiness for standardisation. It was disappointing that an opportunity to advance the cause of standardisation for Victoria by the then Labor government was not seized. So that remains an ongoing work in progress for Victoria.
In my first election, Mildura only had two television channels. Most of the rest of the nation had full aggregation, as did most of Victoria. But Mildura only had two. Since then, with a lot of hard work and representation, we have seen full aggregation including SBS. In more recent times the Mildura television licence was chosen as the guinea pig for conversion of analogue to digital. Working cooperatively with the Labor government ensured a smooth switchover and ensured that residents at Ouyen, Robinvale, Underbool, Warracknabeal and Murrayville were not disadvantaged. I am quite proud of that outcome given the noise that was made in my first election in 1993. The member for Mayo, as you may remember, was a young student in those days in Mildura.
Then I get to water. I thought I was making genuine, real progress on water reform when the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, announced the National Water Initiative in January 2007. I shall remain ever grateful to him and the Howard government for recognising my call for this initiative. This was a bold 10-point plan to see national investment in irrigation infrastructure, to assemble good science to deal with water overallocation, to establish a new set of governance arrangements to do so both for surface and groundwater, and to encourage the Bureau of Meteorology to collect good science to better address the challenges of climate change.
This was not just in reference to the Murray-Darling Basin but also to set out to explore future water development in northern Australia and address the restoration of the Great Artesian Basin—big nation notions, thinking like the Romans. I thought that we were there and the cornerstones of this plan was to allocate $6 billion to modernise irrigation infrastructure and a fix-the-plumbing approach, so it has always been a disappointment to lose government in 2007 and to witness the way in which the present government have used this initiative. However sincere they think they have been—and I acknowledge they believe they have been sincere in tackling the challenges of the Murray-Darling—they have changed the emphasis for which I urged.
Instead of an infrastructure emphasis, a fix-the-plumbing approach in the Roman tradition, they have followed a water-purchase focus to tackle the challenges of the Murray-Darling. This has done so much damage to the confidence of my Murray River communities. I truly hope that a change in government will redirect this emphasis and use it as an initiative for which I always intended it to be—that is, a greater focus on modernising irrigation supply throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. As I have always said, there are no quick solutions to the challenges of the river system; there are only expensive ones.
Whilst I am on the issue of water, can I say how disappointed I have been as to some of the nonsense that has been written in regard to my position on climate change. It is this very issue that has driven much of what I have tried to achieve in my time here. As a resident of my part of the world for most of my life, I have witnessed a steady decline in precipitation across the Wimmera Mallee over the past 60 years. In fact, in the mid-nineties I was raising the issues of precipitation decline in this parliament and I remember being ridiculed by now members of the government for arguing so. I set about trying to develop ameliorative measures to tackle the issue. Precipitation enhancement is mainstream science in the rest of the world—the USA, China, Israel and South Africa all invest heavily in this science, and ironically they use Australian equipment and technology developed through the seventies and eighties before Australia dropped the ball on science.
I encouraged Snowy Hydro to develop snow enhancement in the Snowy Mountains and was instrumental in convening an international symposium on precipitation enhancement in May 2007. It is very pleasing to see now, after years of trial, that project in the Snowy has progressed to being fully operational, delivering an estimated extra 190 gigalitres of water per year to the Murray system. The cooperation from Snowy Hydro to get to this point is much appreciated, and many thanks go to CEO Terry Charlton.
The funding of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre at Mildura was similarly successful. This facility is tasked with researching the impacts of climate change and recommending responses to the subsequent issues for the river. All I have ever said on this subject is that imposing a massive cost penalty on businesses already struggling to be competitive with the rest of the world was not the best policy response to the issue. Others can waste energy arguing about whether climate change is anthropogenic in its cause. I would much rather get on with addressing it with practical measures.
Most challenges confronted by this lonely planet are due to the humans that occupy it. It is obvious that we need alternatives to our unsustainable and avid dependence on fossil fuels. That is why I offered Mallee with its latitude, because it offers maximum opportunity for solar power generation. After securing $70 million in federal funding for a solar power investment before the 2007 election, I boasted my vision to make Mallee the solar power generation capital of the world, only to lose government again and be disappointed. But it is still pleasing to see that after a struggle that project has proceeded to a 1.5-megawatt installation at Carwarp near Mildura, intending to expand to 100 megawatt in the near future.
Many of the issues of neighbouring regional electorates are common, and there has been a positive working relationship on committees and with coalition solidarity in finding common causes. Neighbours have included the members for Murray and Farrer. Indeed, federal funding was obtained for a new Murray River bridge at Robinvale, and it was a great day to walk that bridge at its opening with the member for Farrer.
Mallee's southern neighbour has been the member for Wannon. Previously it was David Hawker for many years, and we shared the common interests of the wellbeing of the Glenelg river boundary. The water saved by piping to Wimmera Mallee has done much to enhance the wellbeing of that river. Of more recent times it has been young Dan Tehan, to whom I offer my best wishes for a successful parliamentary career.
Whilst referring to younger members, I have already mentioned the member for Mayo. It was on a visit to St Joseph's College in Mildura in my first term that I met a young Jamie Briggs as a college student. Perhaps it was a result of that visit that has inspired him to a political career. I wish him well for the future. I wanted to mention him because I know his parents who are my constituents in Mildura and that they are very proud of him. On Mallee's western boundary my neighbour has been the member for Barker, Pat Secker. He has my ongoing best wishes as we now leave the parliament together. We share common interests in the wheat and horticulture associated with the Riverland and Sunraysia and when it was going to rain next, so I wish Pat all the best.
Being the federal member for this part of the world has been just one of the greatest honours of my life. To my successor awaits the privilege and responsibility of continuing to ensure that those dreams, hopes and aspirations of the folks of north-west Victoria are fully realised. The Nationals have preselected young Andrew Broad, who shares the same life values system that I do, and I will be very pleased to promote him to the constituency as a worthy successor. There will be a three-cornered contest so may the best candidate win.
As a homily to whoever that might be, may I offer the following advice. There will always be critics of a parliamentarian's performance, but if one looks after the electorate—something that I have tried to do and do well—and fight hard for a fair deal for constituents, word gets around and the efforts of critics have little impact. The people who have been helped will be one's staunchest voluntary defenders; I can guarantee it.
There are just so many people to offer appreciation and thanks to. I wonder if you might pass on to the Speaker my encouragement to continue to enforce standing order 65(a), that members address their remarks through the Chair. I have raised this point of order to many Speakers over the years, believing that it would do much to enhance the demeanour of this House if members would stick to it. To her credit, she has been trying to do something about it. The use of that word 'you' often delivered with an accusing finger over the dispatch box is so unparliamentary it leads to rancour in the House. I remember the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, not taking me all that seriously once by saying that I was accusing the member for Rankin of being rancorous. Whilst I have always enjoyed Harry's quick wit and friendship, I was rather hoping to be taken more seriously.
Other Speakers have mentioned the behaviour of the parliament, and I affirm that. It causes me great distress. Frankly, I am tired of trying to defend it to my many schools who visit. I leave colleagues with this message, a comment that often reminds me of my late father. He used to say, 'Son, if you are ever involved in a debate and, if all the other side have is scorn and derision, then you can sit down considering that you have won the debate.' Other Speakers commented on this. I think that it is something that the parliament needs to make a determined effort to address to return statesmanship to the chamber. I ask colleagues to reflect on my late father's comment there.
To the Clerk, Bernard Wright, following a long line of capable clerks over 20 years of my time, and his whole team, my appreciation is due. Your courtesy, good humour and advice are much valued. Thank you, and special thanks to all of your team. I will not name them, but they will know who they are and they are much appreciated.
To the attendants around the building, to Comcar drivers for their long-suffering when waiting in the night, to Greg Zakharoff and his team in the transport office for their early-morning good humour when ordering a vehicle. To Peter Rose, the parliamentary chaplain, in addition to the member for Hinkler's remarks I offer my gratitude for what always seemed his timely visits to my office when I was confronted with some crisis back at home. I wonder how he actually did that, but it always seemed to coincide. For his efforts to support the activities of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, thank you, Peter, for helping me stick with the conviction that it is He who is the centre of the Christian expression of faith who is the best example and inspiration to follow in public life.
I should mention the member for Macmillan who providence enabled me to have located opposite my office in the corridor. For good-natured exchanges and convivial conversation in the late nights in this place, thank you to Russell Broadbent and his staff, Jenny and Prue, for their many courtesies.
To the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, I offer my sincerest best wishes for the coming election. May I express my heart of hearts that Warren Truss and Tony Abbott in strong coalition will succeed in their efforts to secure the confidence of the Australian people. The nation is due a government of strong fiscal discipline—currently lacking. That is evident, and I am sure that Australians are starting to be very concerned. It is not scaremongering; it is about addressing a very serious issue of fiscal responsibility.
I leave the ace till last, but certainly not least, to thank. Colleagues, the most precious resource you can have in this role is a life partner to share your highs and lows, someone to keep the castle well-resourced for you to retreat to when it all gets a bit too tough. I have been blessed to have such a person in my wife, Pam, and confess my awe as to her achievements. I could not have done it without you, precious, thank you. To our two daughters, Tanya and Anik, now getting on with their lives despite the legacy of a too-often absent father, to Pam belongs all the credit for that, thank you.
To so many I offer my appreciation and thanks. I conclude my remarks where I started with this valedictory—that is, to suggest thay however naive it might be to suggest that perhaps I may have made some small contribution to the notion that the expected so-called 'mould' of members of parliament needs some very serious reconsideration, there is room for the authority of humility and the power of the quiet achiever. Colleagues, God bless you all.
From the chair I acknowledge the member for Mallee, his great contribution to this place and the way he has worked with so many of us. As he said, the very quiet achievements he has achieved during his term probably have not been widely acknowledged. I do wish him and his family well into the future wherever that may take him.