Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Speaker, on indulgence: I rise today in what may be my last speech in parliament but not, I hope, my last contribution to parliament. I intend to fulfil my duties as Opposition Whip to the last second. It is a position I have thoroughly enjoyed and learnt from.
Our team—the member for Leichhardt and the member for Forrest—have worked together very well. I especially thank Warren for allowing me to have my head and do things that would not necessarily be the norm, such as leading discussions in the Selection Committee on things like standing orders, where one has to have a thorough knowledge of standing orders and the Houseof Representatives Practice. I think Warren would be the first person to admit he has no idea on those sorts of things, so we work together well as a team. We have worked together as a team to advise and work with the Leader of the Opposition and the Manager of Opposition Business in the House.
I have also enjoyed my discreet debrief with Joe Hockey and Chris Pyne after each question time. I had to add that because, at our debrief after today's question time, they basically demanded that they be put in the Hansard, so there you are.
An opposition member: Joe did.
Joe did! I never tire of this job, and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the opportunity to serve the parliament and to serve the Liberal Party. Tony, I believe that you will make a great Prime Minister. The public has not seen the best of you yet, and policies like the northern development policy and the new Colombo plan I think will be policies that will be remembered for decades to come; they are that important.
Being the whip has its challenges, and I hope that in some way I have been of some help to my colleagues with advice, counselling and support. It was once said to me that being a whip is akin to herding cats, but I think it is more like trying to keep frogs in an open wheelbarrow; it is much trickier. One of my colleagues Mal Washer suggested that making me whip was like appointing the poacher as the gamekeeper. There is a bit of truth in that; I know most of the tricks because I have tried them all myself!
But I believe the whips play an important and essential role in the running of the parliament, and there are important qualities that are necessary to being a successful whip. Trust is No. 1—that is from both sides of the parliament, and I can count the whips on the other side as friends. Trust is also important because you learn confidences and what might be termed indiscretions that should not become public because they are of a private nature. I remember Speaker Harry Jenkins suggesting after I retired as a Deputy Speaker to become a whip that I had 'gone to the dark side'. There may be a grain of truth in that, which is why I reckon Harry could have made a very good Labor whip. I even lobbied for him at the recent IPU; he would have no part of it, of course.
As part of the Australian delegation to the IPU conference this year in Quito, Ecuador, I had the honour of chairing the Whips Network Meeting, which was an initiative of the former government whip, Joel Fitzgibbon. He could not attend at the last minute, due to various political manoeuvrings that had happened, so I was honoured to do that. If anyone gets a chance to be an IPU delegate, please take it up. It is a very interesting role. You go to a conference of, say, 700 or 800 delegates and about as many staff. So it is a big conference. I think Australia has a very proud record. This year the Speaker actually chaired the assembly. Dick Adams chaired one of the major sessions and did a great job. Ursula Stephens also chaired another group. With four out of the five delegates playing pretty important roles amongst all the big countries of the world, I think we can be very proud of what we do at the IPU.
I also prepared and led a session for the first and only CPA whips conference, held in the Hunter Valley in 2007. I worked with Roger Price, who was then the government whip. Interestingly, Joel Fitzgibbon came along to that, because it was in his electorate. Little did I know that he would be taking over as government whip after the election.
I can also say that I have never been kicked out of this chamber—but there is still time, Speaker. I think it is all about knowing where to draw the line. Plenty of people have come up to me and said that I get away with blue murder, but the fact is that I know where to draw the line. So I have not been kicked out yet.
But enough about whips for now. Let us go back to my parliamentary career, which started in 1998. I previously sought Liberal preselection on four occasions and had failed. I was first defeated in 1984 for the new seat of Mayo, for which they rightly preselected Alexander Downer. I then tried for a state lower house seat, won by Dean Brown, who went on to become state Premier. I also ran for a state upper house seat, where there were something like 24 candidates for five or six positions. However, I never ran for Senate preselection, because you have to draw the line somewhere—a joke of course! I am quite enthralled by the workings of the Senate and the great committee work they do and how seriously they take their references of bills process. We have tried that in the House of Representatives in this the 43rd Parliament, but I am thoroughly disappointed that, on most occasions, this government did not take it as seriously as it should have—with mere two-hour meetings and very little consultation. I think we have lost a real opportunity as the House of Representatives to get really involved in that part of parliamentary business.
On the fifth occasion my opportunity for preselection was unexpected, it was unplanned, because it came when the previous member for Barker, Ian McLachlan, suddenly announced his retirement in August 1998 after only eight years in parliament—and he was a minister. Just three weeks later I was preselected on the very day that John Howard announced the election date for five weeks later. So I had a short period to get around an electorate bigger than Tasmania, still learning the issues, especially around the GST election, which was a pretty steep learning curve. Luckily I had a reasonable understanding of how the GST worked, but it was a short and tough initiation in the world of politics.
It was also an election where the pork industry ran a strong campaign to get us to increase tariffs, bring in quotas and provide more protection and handouts—something I have always opposed. I do not believe that is a track that a government should ever go down. In fact, it was a former member for Wakefield, Bert Kelly, who had really got me interested in this issue. For years he fought an almost lone hand in opposing tariffs and the damage to efficiency of those industries with high tariff walls that made goods more expensive. When I did my economics degree it was one of those subjects I enjoyed doing my thesis on. I thought tariffs, as a general policy, had been thoroughly discredited, until very recently when another member for Wakefield called for tariffs to protect Holden. I am sure Bert Kelly would have turned in his grave.
Anyway, I digress. In those five weeks leading up to the 1998 election I remember usually getting home at midnight or later and then filling out surveys by fax from my home fax machine—we are talking about 1998 here—until the early hours and then starting out early again the next morning. I had no office and no office staff support; I just did it all myself. I am not sure if I was meant to do the surveys or not; I just did them—reams of faxes. I think we actually encourage people not to fill out those surveys now. After five weeks I was pretty exhausted by election night. I had used my own ute, my own fuel and my own time—but it was worth it, of course. I paid for my own accommodation and even paid for my own polling, because the party did not poll my seat as 'Labor would never win it and have never won it since Federation'—one of only three seats never to be won by Labor since Federation. So they must have thought that even I could not lose it! I was not so sure and I did not want to be the first.
On the night of the election the first booth to come in was the Tailem Bend booth and Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party came in with 23 per cent. People can win with that sort of vote, especially when there are nine candidates. Thankfully, that was their highest vote and ended up with about 11 per cent of the vote over the whole electorate. Eight booths out 127 favoured Labor but, by the next two elections, I had won every booth bar Nangwarry, but got up to 48.5 per cent there in 2004. Nangwarry was a forestry town and they did not like Mark Latham's intervention in the Tasmanian forestry election. So it was not my charm or expertise; it was Mark Latham. Thank God for him!
After the 1998 election I flew from Adelaide to Mount Gambier for some function, even before the declaration of the poll, and with exhaustion I fell asleep on the hour-long plane trip. When we started to come in to land, I woke up and looked out the window and my first thought was: 'The sea is on the wrong side of the plane.' My second thought was: 'I've got on the wrong plane—perhaps to Melbourne.' My third thought was: 'I can see the headlines—"New member gets on wrong plane to wrong city; oh, no!"' The explanation was much simpler: a passenger had died on the way and the plane turned around and headed back to Adelaide—hence the sea was on the wrong side.
I still remember the declaration of the poll, the orientation of new members where we were bombarded with all this information—and, frankly, I think you need another one six months later to take it all in—and of course you will always remember the first day of parliament. On the first day I was staying at the Forrest Lodge, as was the member for Lowe, now the member for Reed, John Murphy. We decided to walk to Parliament House. I got on well with John from the moment we met and we enjoyed our walk to Parliament House, only to be met by the cameras outside the door wanting to know why we walked when everyone else came by big white Comcars. We made national news that night but, being new, I am not sure that either of us knew that we could actually get a Comcar. But we sure do now.
The first day is always exciting for the new member, with the pomp and the ceremony and swearing in. Our whip then was Michael Ronaldson, now Senator Michael Ronaldson—and I will have more to say about you later, son! In his election one year his vote went up when he spent all his time in hospital and did not see anyone or go anywhere. Work that one out. Ronno, as whip on the first day, asked me whether I had written my maiden speech. Stupidly, I said, 'Mostly written,' when I had not written a word or thought about it that much. So Ronno said, 'Right, then you're speaking tomorrow morning and seconding the Governor-General's address in reply.'
I went back to my office and started writing, expecting to finish it that night back at the Forrest Lodge Hotel. Unfortunately, I got caught up with the Speaker's brother, Stuart Andrew—the Speaker at the time was Neil Andrew. Stuart could have put on the robes and literally walked in here and nobody would have known the difference—they looked so well. Stuart has a line that, on average, the Andrew family of mum and dad and four offspring were moderate drinkers but, because the other five were teetotallers, he had to make up the rest—and he did raise the average to moderate. Certainly we enjoyed a bit of cordial that night.
Somehow I finished the speech the next morning and on Remembrance Day, 11 November 1998, I gave my first speech in parliament. Parliament paused at 11 am. Then came Vietnam vet, Graham Edwards who would be known to many in this chamber, and I followed him. I remember in that speech that I quoted the few books and philosophies such as J. S. Mill, Hayek and Milton Friedman. To those I would now add another book lent to me by my good friend Kep McGovern, who is here today. That book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which shows the folly of government subsidies instead of rewarding excellence and letting excellence get on with what it does well. It was written a long time ago but it has many parallels for today.
In that maiden speech I also extolled the beauty of the electorate of Barker and its many great qualities. Like my neighbour John Forrest in Mallee, we have similar challenges but between us we represent about two-thirds of the Australian wine industry. Of course I have the best. I have the Coonawarra, Barossa, Mount Benson, Edenvale, Padtheway and Wrattonbully and so on. And so I tried to use that to my advantage as often as I could. As a member for nine years in government, I attracted 63 ministerial visits, or on average seven a year, and people wondered why a safe seat like mine was able to achieve that. Usually all I had to do was mention those wine areas and where would we would be having the functions, and that seemed to help.
Before I came to parliament, I had 11 years in local government and I always thought it important to keep in touch with my 14 local councils. I would certainly recommend that to all members, as the civic leaders are a valuable resource who know what is going on locally.
In my maiden speech I also mentioned that Barker was named after Captain Collet Barker who was sent by Charles Sturt to solve the mystery of where the mouth of the Murray River was. I noted that upon discovering the mouth in 1831, he climbed a sandy hill only to be speared by the local Indigenous people. I said it was a fate that I did not wish to replicate. However, I have been speared, metaphorically, by the local Indigenous Liberal Party members, as was a former member for Barker, James Porter, both after serving 15 years. However, that is their right, and I have moved on and am looking forward to life after politics.
The question I have been asked the most is: what got you into politics? I am sure most of those around here have been asked that question as well. My usual response is: insanity. However, that is not the real reason. I was brought up to serve the community and I am proud that I served my communities. Being the youngest of eight children sitting around the kitchen table, I soon learnt to take an interest in what was happening around the world and soon learnt to be competitive in the debates and arguments I put forward. It stood me in good stead for this place.
I think everyone owes everything to their upbringing. I am very thankful for my parents teaching me what was right and wrong, and I try to keep to those rights and wrongs. I could not bring myself to do anything that would shame my family. Dad was also our local mayor and councillor and was a great role model for all of us, as was my mother. My mother was able to come to my first day in parliament and was with us until three weeks ago, going at the ripe old age of 95. She was a lady of wit, wisdom and warmth.
Three of my siblings are here with me today, including Helen, who I mentioned in my maiden speech 15 years ago. I got told off by my other siblings for not mentioning them! Peggy is here. She is the family organiser and a dear friend and supporter. Also here is Gerard, who I played countless test cricket and AFL football games against in the backyard and down the passage with a rolled up sock. I will never forget those games. My brother Terry is a farmer on the west coast. My sister Caroline is a teacher and volunteer teacher in African countries. Andrew, another brother, was a high-ranking public servant. So we have a pretty diverse family, but all have achieved a lot in their own lives one way or another.
I am also blessed with many friends who have travelled from South Australia and Victoria to share this special moment with me: Kim Kearne, my best friend for about 55 years—and I am only 57!—so a better friend, I could not have; Jim Koerner, who I shared a Rotary group study exchange trip to Texas with in 1986 for seven weeks—Carol, his wife, is here as well. That was a wonderful experience that only Rotary could deliver. My two stepdaughters, Carmen and Megan, are here. Many of you will remember Megan as a valued staffer. It is her birthday today. Happy birthday, Megan! My four great friends in Murray Bridge—Rob and Karen Milesi and Don and Cathy Ruggerio—have travelled here as well. I thank them for their support over a number of years and the good times we have had, with more to come, I am sure.
Being a member of parliament has its ups and downs, but there are many things that make it worth while. My advice to other MPs is that you can often achieve things that you never thought possible. I will give an example of where you can use your authority to make things happen. A constituent of mine was worried about their young child who was awaiting a serious life-saving operation which had been deferred twice because of some important craniofacial operations for overseas children. So I spoke to the CEO of the Melbourne Hospital 800 kilometres away, who I did not know from a bar of soap, and faxed a letter congratulating them on their great craniofacial work but explaining the situation and suggesting it would be a good idea to look after my constituent as a matter of urgency. Some time later, the grandfather told me that the CEO came down to the family waving my fax saying they had changed their mind and that, because of my fax, they would do the operation the next morning. That child is now a healthy young person, living life to the full.
Like all members, I have helped countless constituents with phone connections, tax office solutions, Centrelink stuff-ups and numerous other bureaucratic problems. Bureaucrats try their best and the problem usually lies in the strict guidelines that they are told to follow, which are usually pretty inflexible. I often ask a question, followed by a letter, along the lines of: 'Do the guidelines say that you can't take this action?' If they say 'no', then I suggest they do it. More often than not, we have some success.
I have enjoyed and learnt from my work on several standing committees of parliament, and I would recommend this to all of my colleagues. In my 15 years, I have worked with 48 members of this present parliament—one in three—on committees of all persuasions, and with other MPs who are no longer here. It is a great way to get to know MPs from all sides. I have made many friends along the way. It is always very difficult when you mention a few of them, because some will be omitted.
Two Tasmanian cousins, as I like to call them, Dick Adams and Sid Sidebottom, have been very good comrades from my first day in parliament, due to that committee work. I know I should not single them out, because, by omission, I am leaving so many friends on the other side out. Can I mention people like Gibbo over there, Harry Jenkins, Martin Ferguson and Joel Fitzgibbon—gee, we have had some fun together. Also I mention Chris Hayes, Rob Mitchell, Ed Husic, Anthony Byrne, Rob McClelland and, more recently, Gai Brodtmann. The other side is not evil and you must not forget it. We are all here to do a job and try to do it as best we can. I liken parliament to playing sport: you play hard when the game is on, but after the game you sit down and enjoy their company.
I also have many close friends on my side. Again, omission may be a problem. Can I point out people from my own state like Andrew Southcott and Rowan Ramsey—people I would trust my life with. I also point out Peter Dutton, Bronnie, Sophie, Don Randall, Tash and Alby, members of the Tuesday lunch club at Timmy's, and many others who have joined us. Who could forget those Western Australian colleagues who came to parliament with me: Mal Washer and Barry Haase. I apologise for any omissions, but I have always tried to be friendly to all members and all staff. I have never found a reason not to be.
Another aspect of parliamentary life is enhanced by the Parliamentary Sports Group. I pay tribute to Andy Turnbull for bringing this together. I have played a fair bit of cricket and Andy Turnbull once described my spin bowling as 'wizardry' because no two balls were the same—mainly because I could not achieve that! I have played golf, where I have found it very easy to score a century; tennis; and snooker, only to be beaten Cobby in a final—damn you, Cobby! Which brings me to Ronno again: this is a warning to never let Ronno umpire. Trigger-finger Ronno once gave me out LBW when it would have missed leg stump by a good foot, and I have never let him forget it.
My staff—Alex, Deb, Karen and Sandra—are here and I thank you for all your great work, over many years, to serve the constituents of Barker. Members can only be as good as their staff, and they continually give me reason to smile for the work that they do.
Last of all, can I thank my darling wife Sharon—my rock, my love and my support for 11 years, one month and 21 days. I proposed to Sharon two weeks after our first date and that was the best decision I ever made. Her worst decision was probably to say yes! This job is a hard one and we all know our loved ones are essential in keeping a level head, keeping us grounded and sharing our confidences. For that, I thank you, darling. I refer to Sharon as my bride, with total affection. We all know that our loved ones take the criticisms of us harder than we do, as we tend to develop a thick hide. I have often said I did not care what people said about me before I came into the parliament, so why would I care after? But I did have a safe seat, so it did not matter that much really.
Can I finally thank all those I have come across in the last 15 years. Thanks for the memories and friendships. I look forward to life after politics. Vale, my friends.
Thank you, Speaker. I thought it might suit the House for me to just respond very briefly to the generous words of the member for Barker, because obviously there is going to be a period of time while he is being congratulated, and I did not want the member for Hume's contribution interrupted by the goodwill being extended to the member for Barker. But as the former Chief Government Whip and, I am sure, on behalf of the current whips—I am sure they will not mind me doing so—and, even more importantly, on a personal note, I congratulate the member for Barker on his magnificent contribution this afternoon. I too have enjoyed his friendship and the odd glass of red wine—although I have never managed to get him to admit that the Hunter wine is superior to the wine of his own region. But I will keep working on it beyond his stay in this place.
I thank him for his contribution to the international whips network. In doing so, I should acknowledge that the member for Fairfax and the former member for Chifley were the original initiators of the whips network, but I took it to a broader international sphere by seeking to have it embraced under the umbrella of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Again, my very best wishes go to the member for Barker. I think the whips make a wonderful contribution to this place. It is hard work, of course, but they play an important role. The member for Barker has certainly done a magnificent job as a whip in this place. I look forward very much to hearing from the member for Hume.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. This valedictory speech that I am going to read to you tonight is the second valedictory speech I have written over the past six or eight weeks. I wrote one, and my wife read it and she said to me, 'You're not seriously going to bring that into the chamber, are you?' She said, 'You really do have to write something a little bit softer than that, love.' So I have succumbed to that wise counsel from my wife, as I have done for many of the 51 years that we have been married, and I have written something a little bit different to what I would normally put pen to.
I am very pleased to see my family, my staff and my friends in the gallery in front of me, because they were originally up here, and they should know me well enough to know that I do not really like turning to the left to the extent that I would have had to tonight! I rise tonight in this House to bid my final farewell to colleagues, staff and friends. To say the past 15 years in this place has been a magnificent experience is an understatement, and I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the constituents of Hume, who at five elections have placed their trust in me to represent them and their concerns in the Australian parliament. I will be forever grateful to them for their trust, support and, I must say, at times justifiable tolerance.
I would not be here, of course, without the wisdom and encouragement of the Hon. Wal Fife, a former distinguished rural Liberal member of his place, and his delightful wife, Marcia, who at the suggestion of my wonderful wife, Glo, were instrumental in convincing me to enter politics 25 years ago.
I entered politics as a candidate for the Liberal Party in the state seat of Burrinjuck, which was held by father and son Terry and Billy Sheahan for 47 years—two wonderful individuals, two very good local members. I contested that seat in 1988 in a three-cornered contest with the National Party. I have to say to you that Terry Sheahan knew my family background. He knew that my grandfather was a great friend of Prime Minister Chifley. He came to me and said, 'Alby, you are a conservative? Why are you running as a Liberal candidate?' I said, 'Terry, with due respect, I am also a worker, and I wanted to work and I kept getting sent home on strikes, so that turned me off Labor politics forever.'
We went into that campaign with that man saying to me, 'How do you want it play it, Alby? Do you want to play it straight down the line or do you want to play it rough and tumble?' I said, 'I will play it any way you want to play it, Terry.' He said, 'Why don't we play it straight down the line?' To his credit and to the credit of the calibre of the man, that is exactly what he did, and I acknowledged that in my first speech in the New South Wales parliament. He and I remain friends to this day. I think that is an indication of what Patrick was just talking about in relation to the misconception out in the community that, whilst the circus goes on here during the day, we are mortal enemies outside of this chamber. We are not, and I have some very good friends on the other side of the chamber.
The friendship is unique in many instances. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which my friend Dick Adams was also a member of. It was chaired by the former member for Forde, Kay Elson, then a member of this place—a wonderful woman—who I think just left with Jo Gash's group. She decided to retire from politics, I think, leading up to the 2004 election. After the election, in the new, incoming government, the committee was left without a chair. Wilson Tuckey and I were sitting in Wilson Tuckey's room up on the second floor and a bloke came in and said, 'Wilson and Alby, good to see you here—you are both members of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry committee, aren't you?' and we said, 'Yes, we are.' He said, 'It's not official yet, but I have been appointed the new chair,' and I said, 'Oh, have you?' He said, 'I've got a problem,' and I said, 'What's the problem?' He said, 'I don't know anything about bloody agriculture.' I looked at Wilson and Wilson looked at me, and he said, 'I'll need your assistance.' I just looked at him and said, 'I'm sorry, mate, I can't give somebody that does not know anything about agriculture assistance to be the chair of a very important standing committee like that.' He moved out of the office in a huff.
Wilson said, 'You've got to do something about this,' so I rang my old mate Martin Ferguson and I said: 'Listen, Martin, I need some assistance here. I need your support to get the numbers for a vote.' What normally happens in those committees, as you know, is that there is no vote; the Prime Minister of the day appoints the chair and the secretariat that looks after the committee comes in and says, 'We've got a letter from the minister and Joe Blow is the chair.'
An honourable member: It's not how it works over here, Alby!
But in this case that actually happened. I said, 'Well, you've got another nomination,' and the secretary said, 'Who?' and I said, 'Me.' To cut a long story short, it went to a vote, as it should do in a ballot. I won by one vote with the assistance of the Independent sitting there, my old mate Tony Windsor, and the Labor members of the committee. It created history in this place. If nothing else, I have left a little bit of history that may not ever occur again. It was the first time in the history of the House of Representatives that a member of a standing committee has actually been elected by the standing committee itself. What was disappointing about the outcome of that was that I was treated with silence by this side of the House for about six months. I was told that I had fraternised with the enemy. That is the nonsense that goes on from time to time about the relationships we have with each other in the chamber.
The issue of my entering politics 25 years ago was also the beginning of what has commonly been referred to within the communities that I have represented over the years as 'The Team', which Glo and I committed to in my first slogan: 'You get two for the price of one.' Little did I know that she was a bigger drawcard for my ongoing success at the ballot box than I was. That commitment was to all constituents, regardless of political persuasion, who were in genuine need of assistance from their local member. This approach was enthusiastically embraced by the rank-and-file members of the Liberal Party branches, who not only gave us encouragement but also took the opportunity to express their concerns on matters of personal interest to them, give me valuable advice and stand firm on important issues when I was being difficult. The enormous commitment and courage and the great degree of voluntary work given by members and supporters at polling booths on both sides of the parliament on bitterly cold or wet or hot days over the years is a mammoth personal effort, and I compliment and thank them for that.
It has been a pleasure also to work with those fantastic women Merrell Davies, Ann Lawson and the wonderful Trefoil Guild ladies here in Canberra, who have worked tirelessly over a 10-year period, and as recently as last Christmas with my wife, to purchase, pack and have delivered tonnes of items including clothing, food, cosmetics, school books and toys for many families in the electorate of Hume who were and still are affected by the aftermath of drought. It was a huge emotional and caring commitment over a decade of farmer hardship, continually replicated year in and year out by volunteers and other caring Aussies everywhere.
This same unselfish concern of Australians for their fellow Aussies, regardless of their ethnic or social background surfaced again during the recent floods and bushfires across our nation, when volunteers and emergency services personnel confronted nature's destructive elements in what can only be described as high-risk life-threatening circumstances. It does not stop there. I have watched with a great sense of anguish and sadness the heart-breaking sight of farmers, emotionally drained, when they have to put down badly burnt animals, bury them and take into their homes the smell of the charred countryside and what they have had to do to their suffering animals. They are the epitome of the true Australian rural spirit, which is replicated year in and year out across our sometimes harsh, unforgiving landscape. It is something which sadly is forgotten too quickly by people in this place.
Not surprisingly, that is the one constant I have been confronted with in many ways in this and another place in the past 25 years. Marginal seat politics, party-political point scoring, failure to act on serious social issues and irresponsible waste of taxpayers' resources are both frustrating and morally wrong. As an example, in 2005 I produced a booklet based on three years of hard research about the Child Support Agency and its relentless, unjustifiable anti-male culture, which culminated in the suicide of a number of my young constituents. Confronting the very serious issue of male suicide caused by the gender biased CSA was treated as a politically sensitive no-go area by many politicians, which I embraced as a challenge on behalf of 4,000 families and individuals across the country.
That culture, despite some cosmetic changes, is still endemic in the CSA today. The increase in male suicides are due in no small part to the unrelenting anti-male culture of the CSA. The Lone Fathers Association, led by Barry Williams—the man is a saint—is taking 70,000 calls per annum from depressed males, many of whom are desperately trying to deal with CSA pressure. Were it not for him, the suicide rate would be even higher.
The incoming government would be doing a great service to oppressed payers facing criminal activity, such as entrapment and denial of natural justice—which is the modus operandi of the CSA today—and to the nation as a whole, if it introduced a parliamentary inquiry which would allow people to give evidence of the covering up of male suicides caused by the Child Support Agency. More importantly, it will give those living under threat of legal action by the CSA—if they release any part of taped conversations which prove intimidation, false information, abuse of civil rights and denial of natural justice—an opportunity to expose these issues under parliamentary protection.
I must also take this opportunity to, surprisingly, raise the issue of the fraudulent distribution of renewable energy certificates—commonly referred to as RECs—to a non-compliant Victorian wind farm in breach of Commonwealth legislation, which I have referred to the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Since then, I have obtained further evidence of two more interstate wind farms also receiving benefits of Commonwealth funds in a similar way. I might add that, since the implementation of the renewable energy target in April 2001, over 195 million renewable energy certificates, at a value of approximately $8.7 billion, have been created by the Clean Energy Regulator. Wind turbines have cost the electricity consumer approximately $2.25 billion from 1 January 2011 to 30 March 2013. That is $1 billion per year—think about what that could be used for in our communities.
What is also disturbing about this release of billions of taxpayers' money by the Clean Energy Regulator, is that some of it is going to noncompliant wind farms, and the bizarre advice from the shadow energy minister is that the CER—the Clean Energy Regulator—is not in breach of Commonwealth legislation by doing so. We apparently have no accountability measures in place to stop this dreadful rort. Where are the professional investigative journalists on this issue? It really is time to clean this expensive clean energy rort and con job up. All it requires is courage at arms length from wind turbine political influence.
Whilst these two issues are important to me—and to the nation at large—and had to be aired, I must return back to the real world of my valedictory and recognise the people who have continued to give me their loyal support, despite some of them moving on to pursue their own careers. One of the tests of community respect is the ability of staff to convey and deliver professional service to constituents on a variety of issues, and to do it in a way which people spontaneously react positively to. I must say that I have been blessed with caring, loyal, efficient and delightful staff, some of whom have gone on the enter politics themselves. Josh Manuatu—who is in the gallery tonight—who originally came into my Goulburn office on work experience, now works in a senior staff position with Senator Eric Abetz.
Daniel Try, whose talent and general knowledge assisted him in winning a considerable amount of money on Who Wants to Be a Millionairewhich he did not hesitate in sharing with his mum—works for the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop.
I have great pride in Jason Costigan who also worked in my Goulburn office. This talented television and radio sports commentator is now the member for Whitsundays in the Queensland government and a good friend to Glo and I. We wish him every success in the future.
Jai Rowell, the current member for Wollondilly in the New South Wales government, worked for me for some time and was a great team leader for new staff. I have no doubt that with his skill and political ability he will be the member for a long time.
My longest serving staff member is Debbie Schultz who has been there advising, creating the Hume Bulletin, guiding staff, having babies and attempting to keep me in line for the entire period of my federal service.
A huge thankyou to you, Deb, and also to staffers Trish, Richard, Frances and Maree, who are here with me tonight. I regret retiring as my staff now face an uncertain future, but I am confident their considerable people and professional skills will be recognised by future employers. They of course can be assured of my personal support for them.
To the many staff in parliament, may I express my thanks and appreciation for the service you all provide to members in this place. I take this opportunity to especially mention Tim Stephens in the Members and Guests Dining Room. Tim, as we all know, is exceptionally obliging and ready to assist in any way he can. Many thanks to you and your staff, Tim.
Security has an important and demanding role in this place, but always have time for a cheery word and a chuckle. Bernard Wright, Clerk of the House of Representatives, carries out his role with great grace and dignity, as do his most capable staff including all of the fantastic chamber attendants.
To my chamber mate Josh Frydenberg, the member for Kooyong, I thank you for your company, laughs and, dare I say it, wise counsel and infectious friendship. I trust your considerable high intellect and the talents of other equally capable Liberal backbenchers will be recognised in the not too distant future.
God knows the Australian public are looking for a fresh, enthusiastic and different approach, which is needed to fix the current considerable woes of this great country of ours and a new era of business and community savvy ministers who can demonstrate they are indeed capable of delivering with ability, not so-called 'political experience'. We certainly do not need another round of self-opinionated egomaniacs who started the destruction of our border security and current Commonwealth net debt of some $340 billion.
I thank you, Madam Speaker, from the bottom of my heart for the generous time you gave to my grandchildren—I know the truth hurts!—
Honourable members interjecting—
when they visited and for cooperation when we were on the Speakers panel together. You and I are in the same boat as far as that bloke is concerned. Glo and I both thank you for the beautiful arrangement of flowers which greeted us in our home after returning from more medical tests in Sydney. They are magnificent, and I thank you once again.
Leaving aside the cumbersome poor excuse for minders of the public purse, I have had the good fortune to meet some very interesting and wonderful Australians who have, for different reasons, become very close family friends. This is going to surprise a few people here because my background is a poor working-class background.
Over 20 years ago, two women thousands of kilometres apart met one day because they were each committed to assisting women in remote areas to have access to mobile mammography breast screening units and breast cancer research. This occurred before it became a popular political issue, which politicians have milked for all it is worth. What motivated them was the death of a mother and the deaths of isolated rural women from this insidious disease. That meeting has grown into a close bond of genuine friendship built around kindness, trust and care for fellow female Australians.
One of those two women was Gina Rinehart, a wonderful and successful Australian much maligned by the chattering class, bigoted class-warfare politicians and the bottom end of left-wing journalists ensconced in and beyond the Canberra commentariat. The second woman was Glo, my beautiful wife, who has never said a bad word or done anything to hurt anybody in her life. I have had the pleasure of observing this bond between these women grow into something rare and special with a great deal of pride and satisfaction.
I take this opportunity to thank Gina for the generous care, concern, love and considerable trouble she went to in visiting me in hospital, for making our 50th wedding anniversary something special and for her personal support for Glo following Glo's difficult surgery. Your critics have much to learn from you, Gina, in relation to your love for your country and your proven track record of kindness, generosity and loyalty to many, including your inner circle of special friends such as our family. Ginia, your daughter, we have watched grow into a beautiful, capable woman in every respect. She is indeed her mother's daughter, and she will be of great support to you and an integral part of your business in the future.
I also want to place on record my family's eternal gratitude to Dr Alan 'Ace' Edwards and his lovely wife, Dr Stephanie Edwards, who have used their professional skills and considerable medical knowledge to ensure that I and Glo have received first-class medical procedures and care. They took us into their home, cared for us, embraced our family, made sure we returned home safely and extended that wonderful true Aussie friendship I so often talk about, which is so unique and sometimes taken for granted.
Friendships I enjoy with many people, who are too numerous to mention but to whom I owe enormous gratitude. Thank you in particular to Kathy and Sam McGuiness—Sam is here tonight—and Mike Inkster and Charlie Arnott. It may be of some interest to know that I have good friends on the opposite side of the chamber, as I mentioned before. I take this opportunity to recognise one in particular, the Hon. Simon Crean, who was the first person to contact me when I lost my eye—and I can assure you that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it was my left eye and not my right eye! He was again on the phone giving me support and encouragement for this latest difficult challenge, and I thank him most sincerely for his genuine concern.
I also place on record my personal thanks to all of my party colleagues, including the Hon. Tony Abbott, who, with his shadow ministers, has assisted me over the years, sometimes despite my strong views on my party's failure to recognise that I represent an extremely strong block of rural based Liberals—'the lost rural legion'—who play a huge role in agriculture across rural Australia. Thank you to all of the shadows who have visited the Hume electorate to assist and support in many ways my good friend and his wonderful, hardworking wife, Louise. I refer, of course, to that wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime candidate Angus Taylor, who is here with his wife and children tonight. Rest assured he will make his mark on Australian politics.
It goes without saying that I could not have endured the difficult and sometimes challenging periods of my life in politics without the love and support of the love of my life, Glo, who for 51 years has tried to keep me in line, and my two sons, Grant and Dean, who are more like brothers to me and who have been deprived of that close, blokey association which naturally occurs between father and sons, as a result of my commitment to my politics. They, however, have blessed me with two beautiful daughter-in-laws, Dev and Bec, and five beautiful grandchildren—Ethan, Seth, Aliza, Darcie and Maggie—all of whom I love very much, are precious to me and are here today.
I acknowledge and give my heartfelt thanks, love and appreciation to my loyal, enthusiastic and supportive in-laws, Dorothy and Bruce Whitehead, who have driven from Northcote in Victoria to man polling booths for me at every state and federal election since 1988. They are here today as part of my family to listen to my unusually timid exit speech. I once again thank them for just being there during the good and bad times. It means so much to Glo and myself and my precious family.
I apologise to the House for the delay in actually being here, but I have been confronting another personal challenge which has prevented me from attending. I would like to express my gratitude to the Chief Opposition Whip, the Hon. Warren Entsch, the Leader of the House, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, and the Hon. Christopher Pyne, Manager of Opposition Business in the House, for their indulgence and patience in working within my medical schedule so I could do this valedictory here today. It means so much to me and I am overwhelmed by their cooperative effort to make it happen and I thank them.
I stand here in this House content in the knowledge I have given my all as a privileged individual who is here because of the generosity of my fellow Australians. Obviously I have not been without fault, as many of my colleagues can attest to, and I most assuredly have made mistakes from time to time. I regret one particular incident where I shirt-fronted an individual from metropolitan Melbourne because he made a disparaging remark about rural people.
I am, however, proud and honoured to be the longest-serving member for the historical federal seat of Hume since Federation, thanks to my fellow rural based Australians. I make a prediction: the person who will follow me will certainly break that record and will certainly bring into the Hume electorate a wealth of knowledge of rural Australia and the mountain country that fringes the electorate of Hume. Why will he do that? Because he comes from a long line of cattle and sheep people. His grandfather on his mother's side was Sir William Hudson, who built the Snowy Mountains scheme. This bloke is from good stock, ladies and gentlemen, and I can tell you that he is going to be something special in this place. I look forward to it because, if you think this challenge is going to beat me, you have another think coming. I thank the House.
To the faultless member for Hume, congratulations on a magnificent valedictory. To Gloria, thank you for moderating what could have been a more fascinating speech, I am sure. We all want to wish Alby the best with what is to follow after this valedictory and we all have him in our hearts at this time.