House debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Parliamentary Representation


5:01 pm

Photo of Joanna GashJoanna Gash (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Speaker, on indulgence: I have approached this moment with great trepidation, as I did for my maiden speech and it is one of the hardest I have yet had to make. Fundamentally, these words signal my last hurrah in federal politics. In order for me to move on, I need to go back 17½ years, when in my maiden speech I said, 'Today, I stand here in this place as the first woman member of parliament for the seat of Gilmore.' In fact, for the record I am a 906th person to be elected to the Australian parliament.

I am someone who left school at 15, was an immigrant from Holland, became a sole parent with two wonderful daughters, drove taxis and worked in hotels and clubs. My daughters as a great surprise to me today flew in, unbeknownst to me. No. 1 daughter, Deborah, is a school principal, a conservatorium of music fellow. She turned 50 last week. No. 2 daughter, Sonia, is a former policewoman, now 48. And I have six wonderful grandchildren aged 13 to 23: Elizabeth, Mellisa, Samantha, Cassie, Alexandra and along came Jack. Yes, I have been blessed. This, our country Australia, has been good to me and my family.

Valedictions are about those who have helped you on your way. Without that help we could never succeed in this place. We could never have done it on our own. Parliament is a different world to my electorate work and at times transiting from one to the other can be difficult to achieve. I well remember our former Prime Minister John Howard saying on the first day in our party room, 'You must ring home twice a day, for your true friends are your family.' How true, as I have witnessed many breakdowns in partnerships and friendships of my colleagues from 1996.

There have been many highs and many lows as well. Highs include being sent to the border of Iran and Iraq to witness the first ever free election in Iraq. I was whip at the time and we were contemplating becoming a partner in the coalition of the willing in the war in Iraq. For me it stirred considerable internal turmoil, yet we held it together. The highs have been going to many countries around the world to increase my knowledge, shaking hands with many heads of government, going into communities and being with people of different cultures and experiencing their way of life.

The highlights include my three months at the United Nations in New York and to speak and eat with those from other countries who were at war with each other. You get to see how it really is—totally different from the media reports that we read. Where I learnt the most was from the experience of volunteering each Sunday at the St John of God soup kitchen in the Harlem area. Many hundreds came to eat each Sunday and had never met an Australian before. Speaker, I even learnt a trade while I was over there. For someone who had never cooked or baked a cake—and I hate cooking—I am now a deft hand at cooking and baking for 500. I still get many postcards from those people at the United Nations.

The list goes on, but one highlight I will always remember is doorknocking on a fellow who could not speak to me. He had no teeth, his breath was terrible, he had lost his wife, he had lost his family and he was in the pits. He came back to me some six months later during one of my village visits with a bunch of flowers and said, 'Do you remember me?' I said no. He said, 'Look at my teeth,' because he had new teeth. So you go from the highs to the lows—to the extremes.

I recall my preselection in 1993. Yes, David Gray of Nowra came to my home at Ranelagh House at Robertson and asked if I would stand. I know you are listening, David, and it is all your fault—17 blokes and me at that preselection. Yes, I lost by one vote and that one vote was cast by someone in the public gallery today who is now in his 90s. Even though he did not vote for me, I admire him greatly. Thank you, Artis Medinis. You made me become tougher. A member of the Liberal Party for over 60 years—well done.

We lost the seat to Labor that year and some in this place will remember Peter Knott, described by Paul Keating as the candidate from hell. I stood again in 1996 and again lost by one vote. The strain of preselection can be worse than divorce—believe me, I know. Then something happened: the Liberal Party did not endorse the same successful candidate who was endorsed in 1993. I stood again—and thanks here to Bill Heffernan, and some of you heard Bill Heffernan talk this morning—and the rest is history.

An opposition member: He's here.

Thank you, Bill, I think. Then there was the dinner with the Queen—and what a special lady she is—with my table companions Bob Hawke and Blanche. How many remember the day George Bush was in this House and the debacle with the Greens leader Bob Brown? There was the time someone jumped from the gallery and almost landed in my lap. It is a dangerous seat over there on the government side where the whip sits.

My utmost gratitude goes to John Howard, who with cabinet helped the electorate of Gilmore to move forward. How sad it is to see fewer of us women now than in 1996. Some $2 billion of infrastructure projects were realised under Howard, the most significant being Main Road 92. I acknowledge the assistance of the former member for Gilmore, the Hon. John Sharp, then minister for transport. Hopefully, at some time in the future this will be named the Shoalhaven Highway, which now connects Nowra to Canberra. This was in my maiden speech: a commitment fulfilled, yet would not have been possible without Shoalhaven City Council's $12 million contribution.

We have our own university campus—and credit here goes to our former education minister Amanda Vanstone and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong, Gerard Sutton. Gerard was a man of vision, strength and ability, who was able to make it happen, not only in the Nowra area but also in Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands and Batemans Bay—both locations in Gilmore. Later came the medical school and the nurses school. Those faculties changed the face of Gilmore for our residents, and I acknowledge the assistance of former minister Brendan Nelson, who has become a close friend. Brendan came to parliament at the same time as I did. He had a rough time but overcame the odds to become a great leader and supporter of Gilmore. As defence minister, he was very instrumental in securing the future for HMAS Albatross, which this next year will see the benefits of some of those decisions.

This House makes for strange friendships and I have been no exception to this. Don't laugh! I miss the days of Janice Crosio as opposition whip at a time when I was government whip and when women from all political parties would meet and just catch up: Chatham House rules, of course. I make mention here of Jennie George, a friend who now lives in my electorate, and, soon to live in Gilmore, Rob McClelland—welcome. Jock Cameron is someone whom I credit for returning my faith and sending me to the United States to attend a national prayer breakfast along with some 4,000 attendees from all over the world. It is the same with the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, of which I was for many years the deputy chair—again, a place to worship and have breakfast with our colleagues, many of whom face similar issues on a bipartisan basis. I hope that in time this can be resurrected like it was, as I know our chaplain, Peter Rose—and I see you up there in the gallery, Peter—would like to see members of both sides communicating with each other a lot more, something sadly lacking in this place today.

I was there the night Kevin Rudd was 'knifed' and, dare I say it, for a moment I felt for him as a person. But, as they say, 'that's politics'. My question is always: is it? To witness the mayhem when unionists broke down our front doors and many inside were hurt, schoolchildren witnessing the trauma of seeing people carried out on stretchers and the destruction created inside the Great Hall area and surrounds, is that politics? To me, it is un-Australian. There are times when I am ashamed at the erosion of our standards, the lack of respect we show to each other and, colleagues, the louder we yell does not make it right. We have an obligation to lead by the way of example by maintaining and encouraging better standards. Having said that, colleagues and supporters in the gallery, I have to confess that only once have I been thrown out of parliament—and I see you laughing—and that was by you, Madam Speaker, so my record has been blemished. But you have been forgiven, for I really did deserve it.

I turn now to the most important people in this place, those who are in the background who just go about their business. Many of you have become friends. I refer of course to the attendants, the cleaners, the caterers, tour guides and the clerks, like you, Bernard, and Jo Townsend. Joe, and his smiling face, deliver the papers. Joe, if you are listening, enjoy your soon-to-be retirement. I turn to my friends in the staff cafeteria. Tim, I hope you are listening and giving me a table for tonight because I know it is fully booked. No longer will you have to keep out the garlic and onions from my food, and I thank you.

Speaker, I leave this place having made the choice myself. There have been many in this place who have always been here when I needed it most and after 17 years I ask for your indulgence to allow me to mention some of them. To Christopher Pyne: I will always remember you were the first to call to congratulate me on being elected. I will remember Russell Broadbent for his wise counsel and the phrase, 'Jo, everything will be all right.' I wish you well in this election, Russell, and say to you, 'Everything will be all right.' I do not know if Warren Entsch is here, but he made a great comeback to again win his seat. Congratulations on your forthcoming marriage. I am so happy for you. But tell your future wife I will miss my weekly kiss in the party room—and just as well what goes on in the party room stays there!

Marise Payne, in the other place, has been an inspiration to me. Don Randall is another colleague who made a great comeback. Don, you taught me to take time out—thank you. And I remember other ministers in the Howard government for understanding the needs of Gilmore. You allowed us to grow and help ourselves by providing much needed infrastructure. To Joe Hockey, look after the back bench, as you have always done for me. To Connie Fierravanti-Wells, it has been great working with you for Gilmore and Throsby, even though both my border colleagues are here on the other side—thank you for being here, Stephen and Sharon.

To Michelle Moffatt, a very special person whose loyalty is first and foremost to the Liberal Party, thank you. And to someone—and I think he snuck in—who used to visit our guesthouse when he was at school, then did work experience and now you all know him as Richard Dowdy, who is with Tony Abbott and now tells us what to do: you are a true success story and I am very proud of you.

People often ask, who do you admire most in politics? They usually expect you to say Robert Menzies, John Howard et cetera. Yes, all of those. But, to me, the one person who knows Gilmore like the back of her hand and has never let me down is Bronwyn Bishop. I not always agree with Bronwyn, you know, but friendships came first. Bronnie, you have been my mentor and I salute you. Your knowledge and wisdom have done much for me in politics, as it has done for many others in this place, and nothing was ever too much trouble.

My 17 years have been exciting and challenging, allowing me to experience different roles, from being part of the Speaker's panel to whip, to chair of government policy on veterans' affairs and defence, to shadow tourism and parliamentary secretary. For the last few years I was deputy chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and I thank the Secretary, Jerome Brown, a true professional. Secretly, I would love to have had veterans' affairs as a portfolio, but so many opportunities have been given to me, none of which would have been possible if our community of Gilmore had not believed in me and voted me in each time.

You, the community, became my family. Even with three boundary changes I will never forget that support. Over one thousand people on the ground, each election, worked hard to see us retain Gilmore. In saying that, I remind my colleagues that without your community understanding and trusting you, you would not be here. To ministers and parliamentary secretaries in the next parliament: always remember to consult your backbench for they are the eyes and ears of the community. Never mind think tanks or 20/20 vision, you have it here in your own backbench. And always remember your first priority: it is the community you represent.

Now after 17 years in the federal arena there are a few things I would like to comment on from my own personal perspective. Over time I have come to realise that, slowly but surely, we are moving towards a nanny state and that, as a result, we are encouraging the view that mediocrity is enough. Rather than encouraging people to greater things, there is a tendency emerging that discourages achievement, pride and excellence. We are choosing to scratch with the turkeys rather than soar with the eagles, and that is disappointing. Second best is just not good enough. Effort needs to be rewarded, not discouraged. And we, as leaders, need to lead by example and have the guts to say it as it is. Australians understand the truth. They may not like it, but they will respect honesty. Colleagues, do not compromise yourselves even when the going gets tough.

Now I come to the hard part and hopefully I will not lose it. People have perceptions of politicians, as I did with John Howard. I well remember when he came to Gilmore as Leader of the Opposition before the 1996 election. It was at Worrigee House in support of our campaign. We were asked to go upstairs so 'the boss' could walk down the stairs and be greeted. John looked at me as the music started—Chariots of Fire, and you know how emotive that can be—and said, 'What's wrong?' I was shaking and about to be sick. I mumbled, 'I'm so scared'. Quite something for me to have to admit to. He just took my hand and said:' So am I. Let's go together.' And we did and I never looked back. I thank you, John.

To Mark Neeham, our state director, keep the New South Wales team together. And to the two former state and federal directors who are now shadow ministers, Scott Morrison and Andrew Robb, I always had your understanding and I wish you both well. To my campaign directors over the many years and FEC presidents, John Le Bas and Kath from 1996: John, I think you finally agreed that I did understand all those curly questions you asked me, even if I was a female. Seriously, I will not forget you or Kath. Martin Laverty, you have been overseeing my campaign for many years, including three boundary changes, and each time you gave me confidence even as each one eroded our margin. You are an amazing young man and I have watched your successes over the years from our early days in the Southern Highlands.

To John Bennett, our Gilmore FEC president for the last three elections: your loyalty to the Liberal Party is unquestionable and I hope in time that the party will realise what potential you have. Your knowledge, understanding and love of our community are what make you so special. You mean a great deal to me and I know you will continue to be a great strength to our candidate in Gilmore, Ann Sudmalis. Treasurer Wes Hindmarsh is still there from 1996, keeping us on the financial straight and narrow. Liz Tooley, our secretary: you travelled the journey with me and I thank you. To our volunteers: you have been my family, my friends and always there ready to assist. To my fishing mate, Jan Natt, I say: 'More time now to fish Jan. You ready?' To Pam Coles, I say, 'No more filing, Pam'. Jan Hancock is an absolute legend. Richard and Maxine, what can I say about you, and so many more. Door-knocker supreme, Dorothy Barker, and thousands of booth workers, not members of the party, turn up when needed.

Many of my staff have gone on to bigger and better things, and that is my reward, but I do want to mention some staff for their loyalty and trust during what has, at times, been very difficult. Janelle Brown—you are here, Janelle—was my very special first PA in 1996. She came with me from the Southern Highlands, where she worked with me in tourism. She left some years ago and, after headhunting her, she came back. Josephine Barfield, who now works for the department, was also many years with me. Pat Davis has been with me in the capacity of door-knocking volunteer since 1993. Colleagues, for a full 12 months before that election, Pat and many in the audience, who are still here today from 1993, doorknocked the whole of the Gilmore electorate, some 6,000 square kilometres. I remember how we would say, 'Where are we?' But I remember none more so than the first door I knocked on. It was in Kiama. I had a long question and answer with a resident and I knew I had to keep talking to him because I had to win one vote in every 100 in order to win. Finally he said, 'Thanks, but I'm Peter Knott'scampaign manager.'

An opposition member: I hope you got his vote.

Yes, he's marked down. Each election Pat would say, 'That's it', but she is still here and her confidentiality is something I treasure. Wal Styke is the longest serving member of some 14 years. We fight, we argue, but I reluctantly heed his advice for he is usually right and his loyalty is unquestionable. Some of you will recall that some years ago I took a three-week caravan trip around parts of Australia as shadow tourism minister. It was Wal who came with me and no-one thought we would last the distance. In fact, staff put up a curtain screen so that we would not fight. However, it was a trip in which we both gained considerable insights and moved to another level of understanding.

Julia Guy, who I know who is watching, is another person I have enormous respect for. She loves the community and has run the office for many years, with a break in between in England, and will soon be joining her husband again in England. Young Brad, you thought you got out of it: he came for work experience when he was 15, went back to university and now is a media and IT expert. You have a great future. Look after yourself.

Rachael Thompson, you are simply the best. Having been my media person and then going on to bigger and better things, I am very proud of you, Rachael, and your new son. To Jemma Tribe, who could not be here today, all I say is: stay with it; I have high expectations of you. She now serves on council with me. To Ros Woolmer, thank you, you have remained a true friend. Colleagues, it has been a passion of mine to bring out the best in people beyond their expectations. They may have seen me as difficult to work with—and of course I am not—but they certainly earned my respect through their work in the community. Thank you, I could not have asked for more.

To Chris McDiven, former federal president, who guided me along the way—and not just me, but many other women who came into politics; to Debra Klika, who taught me so much without any reward except to see me do well, sometimes, I believe, to the detriment of her own career; to my former business partner of many years Kay Jones, not here today but I know listening: without your confidence in my abilities and unlimited support I would not be here. To Chris Taylor, sitting in the gallery, who helped me to raise my daughters when the going was tough and who has allowed me to come and go from her house whilst in parliament, you will no longer have to worry who it is coming in late at night. To my family, my sister Vera, who is here today, and her husband, Paul—can I say he is a Labor supporter but always helps me at every election—their daughters, Corina and Anita, and Rosy, my great-niece, my two brothers, one a Labor supporter and the other a One Nation supporter—I guess I can't win 'em all—my own daughters, Deborah and Sonia, and their partners and Kim: thank you for being here today as well. No mother could have asked for more. We have travelled a long way together, not just in politics but on life's road. You have always supported me, at times at your own expense.

As I said at the beginning, we only make some friends that last the distance, and one of those is here today, Kay Elson, the former member for Forde. Kay retired two elections go, but we came together in 1996 and bonded. We are very similar in nature and the way we run our electorates. We are still friends, and hopefully always will be. Unknown to me until last year, she lives across the highway from my daughter in Brisbane. Thank you, Kay, for making the trip to be here with me on this special day.

To all members of the branches and friends: you have been tremendous, and I know you will continue to support our candidate as you did me. I also want to acknowledge Don Harwin, Speaker of the New South Wales upper House, who before I even entered parliament supported me all the way, listening to all my angst and concerns, often late into the night, telling me to stop worrying, we will fix it. Don, I will not forget how good you were to me. To David Smith, what can I say: always there to assist, always knew when I needed a hug and had his pocket full of jellybeans, very necessary. Love you, David, and I thank you, Sandy, for sharing him.

Colleagues, the lonely figures sitting over there—she is not lonely any more—on the floor of parliament is Shelley Hancock, Speaker of the New South Wales parliament and member for South Coast, a great success story in Gilmore. Ten years ago I asked her to stand, and Shelley, as I said then, life will never be the same. I am sure your husband, Ozzie, would agree. You have not let us down. It was a great moment for us when you won your seat, and it has been a pleasure to work with you, something which will not stop even after I leave this place. Shelley, as I leave and you become the senior Lib, get ready, for the buck now stops with you. That means having to deal with Gareth Ward, member for Kiama. It has been a challenge, but I know his heart is well and truly in supporting the Liberal Party and our candidate, Ann Sudmalis. Gareth, I say this in all sincerity: know who your friends are. It comes with age. Believe me, I know.

I need time to thank our media, the South Coast Register, Milton Ulladulla Times, the Illawarra Mercury and the Kiama Independent. Remember, colleagues, the media are extremely important to us. Over the years we have naturally not always agreed, but they have always been fair and professional, even the ABC, and I thank them for that. To Frenchie, who is probably in bed by now, from 2ST: you have been the best, a mate and one whose friendship over 40 years comes above all else. You have always kept confidences, and in your profession that is rare.

Finally—and I have left the best till last—our Liberal candidate for Gilmore. Ann Sudmalis, you are the reason that I am now able to leave Gilmore and parliament in the knowledge that you are the best for the job. You understand life and you have experienced it. You fought against all odds to win preselection because you believe in yourself. Having been born in Milton in Gilmore, you have travelled overseas as an exchange teacher for 12 months, have a science degree, have three adult children, been small business operator and grew your business from a cottage industry to, after 16 years, a lucrative export business, and are a former councillor at the Kiama Council. Heaven forbid, you worked with me for six years!

All this is very important, but to me it is your honesty, integrity and sheer determination that will hold you in good stead. You continue to do the hard yards and have done so now for 12 months. The community respects you for it. It has not been an easy ride. Just remember that your heart is with the people of Gilmore and with Tony and his team. Stay true to yourself. I am very proud of you and where you are today, and you have my utmost support. I ask you to look after those in our electorate who are less fortunate and concentrate on giving confidence back to the many small businesses to provide the employment that we so desperately need. People want and need to work, and Work for the Dole started as a pilot program in Gilmore before John Howard made it Australia-wide. I am a firm believer in mutual obligation.

To conclude, yes, I will miss this place, but no change is not an option for Jo Gash. I have been inspired by the generosity of our community, and that is why I chose to stand as mayor for the city of Shoalhaven and was rewarded with 63 per cent of the vote. Many of you in this place will know how hard certain people tried to stop me. Again, you cannot do this on your own and I acknowledge the work of my friend and local campaign manager, Eve Craddock. Some may recall that Eve and I used to race go-karts—I spoke about it once. To my council team: thank you for your faith and support. Eight out of 13 on council, and five of them women—one is here today, Patricia White; thank you for being here—was not a bad effort. This will allow me to continue to serve the community and get the job done.

Thanks to Tony, Julie and the team. Thank you, Tony, for your understanding and support in my decision to retire and run as mayor, and to Julie Bishop for all those many trips to Gilmore. Tony, in your former capacity as health minister, I will never forget you giving Gilmore the MRI as opposed to it going to Wollongong—sorry, guys! You ended up getting it. It was so desperately needed, as was the cancer treatment funding.

I assure you that Ann will make a great member, and all our thoughts and prayers are with you as you lead up to 14 September. You need to win this election, colleagues, for the sake of the Australian people and our country. To other members of this House retiring—Alex, it has been a pleasure sitting alongside of you—I wish them well along their journeys. It is an honour to have served in this House.

I have left a special mention of three people until last because they have played a vital role in getting me to where I am now. John Anderson, former Shoalhaven City councillor, has performed the role of my chaperone on more occasions than he and I would care to remember. He supported me readily and made himself available to step in as necessary when I needed him. But the two most important people in my life are my mother and father, and I know you are watching from above. You brought me here to Australia and you instilled in me the values that were necessary to succeed, with the simple message of, 'Be fair; treat others as you would want to be treated.' Speaker, colleagues: I am the sum of all those parts.

In 1996 I came in with a new Prime Minister, and I know that in 2013 I will go out with a new Prime Minister. Thank you.

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

I add my congratulations for the member for Gilmore and I thank her for her generosity to everybody in this place and for her professionalism. I wish her well in her retirement, which is not really a retirement at all but going on to other work for her community.